Jim Miles is a young man with a MIDI keyboard, a Pro Tools rig and a discography to rival Bob Pollard's. His Bandcamp page is littered with home-recorded releases and splits, tending toward progressive rock and experimental noise, but his latest ongoing project is a testament to (or possibly a piss-take on) the pop-music firmament. Every two months Miles plans on releasing an EP of cover songs from well-established sources, all in alphabetical order. That Miles, a competent but unremarkable singer, chose to start this ambitious series with ABBA and the Beach Boys, two of the most harmonically complex, vocally driven bands in pop-music history, is proof of his chutzpah. Depending on your level of reverence, it may be a sign of his hubris. (Dig around on his Bandcamp page and you'll find the Dez Lepplyn EP, featuring an abbreviated, backward version of "Stairway to Heaven"; he has a knack for messing with the canon.) But if you can't have a little fun treating these classics like Silly Putty, you might be listening to rock & roll for the wrong reasons.
All of which is not to say that Miles vastly improves on the originals; that's a tall, probably impossible, order. He wisely recasts them — extending the intros and outros, shifting time signatures — rather than mimic the classics. Miles kicks off the two-song ABBA set with "Voulez-Vous," delighting in that knotty opening guitar line and delivered here with one of many '70s analog keyboard tones. The pace is a little quicker, and his layered delivery more neurotic than Agnetha and Anni-Frid's coy come-ons. The other cut is "SOS," quite possibly ABBA's best song, marked by Kraut-rock organ and proggy time shifts; "SOS" starts at a plodding pace, with big piano chords thudding out the song's main melody. By the end of the twelve-minute run time, you'll likely be envisioning a cape-adorned Rick Wakemen surrounded by synths instead of a handsomely bearded Swede behind a baby grand.
The Beach Boys set is far-out in a more conventional sense, with a little more Animal Collective and a little less Tangerine Dream. Miles stacks his harmonies with added sweetness in the falsetto on "I Get Around," here slowed down and layered with plenty of reverb and delay, while "Wouldn't It Be Nice" thrums with raga drones and squirrely synth movements, eventually morphing into a 5/4 time signature. "Surf's Up," the great remnant from the long-abandoned SMiLE album and the best marriage of Brian Wilson's music and Van Dyke Parks' boundless lyricism, becomes a slow and steady New Age meditation until ukulele and a loping bass line bring it back to the beach.
If Miles continues with these covers EPs at his current pace, he'll be releasing them for well into the next four years — and here's hoping he does. In fact, he is taking suggestions for volume "C" on his Bandcamp page. (Costello? Clash? Cohen? Carpenters? Oh God, please let it be the Carpenters.) In a city that regularly flocks to cover bands and tribute nights, Miles' project is a refreshing reminder of what can come when musicians take liberties with their heroes' music instead of just playing dress-up.
Want your CD to be considered for a review in this space? Send music c/o Riverfront Times, Attn: Homespun, 6358 Delmar Boulevard, Suite 200, St. Louis, Missouri, 63130. Email email@example.com for more information.