The Gurus – S/T

There are so many bands that worship at the altar of Lennon and McCarthy that it’s easy for lazy reviewers and cultural critics to toss the term “Beatlesque” at every pop-rock quartet that drops vocal harmonies over carefully crafted hooks. In doing this, it could be argued, the enduring genius of the Fab Four continues to be watered down by the lackluster (or formulaic) recordings of those bands dubbed its “successors.” It also could be argued that countless bands become stigmatized as carriers of The Beatles’ ever-growing legend, a weighty responsibility that could crush the ambitions and talents of even those rightfully dubbed The Next Big Thing. The debut recording from Barcelona-based The Gurus tackles both these arguments, somewhat unknowingly, giving critics a reason to celebrate the trio’s obvious debt to John, Paul, George, and Ringo — and others — while not limiting the record’s greatness in its own right.

That being said, it’s quite a spectacle — and occasionally downright frightening — to hear just how good The Gurus sound on this record and how closely the band resembles and echoes acts like The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Grateful Dead, and other rock luminaries. The album-opening “Big Sea” may say it all: over shimmering pop-rock guitars, skittering drums and a simple, pulsing bass beat, Emili Ramirez and Sergio Bartel carefully multi-track their harmonies to sound like they were pulled right from the old vinyl grooves of Revolver or Sgt. Pepper.

This song alone could prove the band’s prowess but the listener is treated to 14 more. We get choppy, head-bouncing pop-rock (“Kamala Pt. 2,” “Good Morning,” “Sleeping Girl”), shiny pseudo-ballads (“My Beautiful Home”), psychedelic-rock wanderings (“Kamala Pt. 1,” “Hard Work”), and smooth, almost-funky pop ruminations (“Fly So High”). And then there’s tracks like “Let’s Have a Change,” a song whose psychedelic intro and addictive march of a verse you’ll swear you’ve heard elsewhere. (The same goes for the incredible “Silver Rain” or “Falling I’m Falling,” both of which should raise the hairs on the back of Paul McCartney’s head.)

Occasionally, The Gurus walk so closely to the material that inspires them that they feel like they’re bordering on mimicry (consider “It’s Only Love,” which is incredible but sometimes feels eerily like a B-side from Meet the Beatles). But they seem to realize this proximity and toss into the mix slightly more daring and original variations on the material, such as the mysterious spy-theme guitars of “Purple Blue” or the strange samples that break into the otherwise straight-forward verse/chorus/verse bubblegum of “Feeling Afraid.” Only once does going out on a limb prove slightly dangerous for The Gurus. On the record’s closing track, “Gerdundula,” the trio abandons the smooth facades it has spent the preceding dozen or so tracks building in favor of LSD-laden electronica, something that works — or works effectively — only in the song’s quieter parts.

Much could be said and written about what The Beatles (and Brian Wilson and Jerry Garcia and …) have done to the contemporary landscape of pop and independent rock. Their legacy is substantial and not without reason. The Gurus not only tap into this legacy but walk amazingly close to claiming it, to a degree, as something they’re seeking to inherit. To point this out may be unfair or reductive — the band, after all, isn’t The Beatles, I know — but it may also be somewhat necessary. There are Beatles purists who may discard The Gurus as obvious and sophomoric, claiming it borrows or apes the once-revolutionary popscapes Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr refined to near-perfection. There are others who may listen to this record and start shipping off copies to Paul and Ringo, as proof that not every pop-rock band is clueless when it comes to referencing some of the best their forebears put on the airwaves and on vinyl. It could be argued both ways. But it’s not every day a new band comes along to trigger that sort of discussion. That alone may be reason enough to hunt down this disc.