Saturday, May 31, 2008

Adam Schmitt - World So Bright - 1991


There's always a buzz surrounding young performers who can do more than just make it through other people's songs. But in the case of World So Bright, any hype about Adam Schmitt being precocious was certainly warranted. Barely out of his twenties, the Illinois singer/songwriter showed astounding command on his major-label debut, playing most of the instruments (with occasional assists from drummer Kenny Aronoff and violinist Lisa Germano, best known for their work with John Cougar Mellencamp), singing most of the harmonies, and including at least half a dozen power pop treasures among the album's 12 cuts. The title track and "Garden of Love" soar with delectable vocal arrangements, while "Dead End," "Can't Get You on My Mind," and "My Killer" have the candy crunch of classic Cheap Trick. Things are less impressive when the amps get cranked too high ("River Black"), but fortunately that's not a frequent mistake, and one that's more than redeemed by songs like the wistful, touching ballad "Elizabeth Einstein." It all seemed to point the way to mainstream success; that it didn't work out that way was one of the most unfortunate musical developments of the '90s, mirroring the career of the similarly brilliant and underexposed Tommy Keene, with whom Schmitt has since worked. -AMG

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Chris Church - Let The Echo Decide - 2004


North Carolina singer/songwriter/guitarist Chris Church puts the crunch back in powerpop with his brand new disc"LET THE ECHO DECIDE".The 12 song disc(released on Tim Anthony's label Jealousy records)earns Church favorable comparisons to Tommy Keene,the Washington,D.C area singer /songwriter/guitarist who became a cult hero of the 1980's with his hot vocal passion, rich guitar melody and cool persona. Church mixes a lot of break-up songs with an optomistic tale or two."So your're never gonna hear this song",he edgily decides on the cd opener,"You Better Move On Now Baby"Then he is sweet as can be on "Julie ,I Probably Shouldn't." "Are You On Fire" sets a suspenseful acoustic spell; "Ready To Rock, Ready To Die" rockets off with quite the mission statement ,but is really all about misdirection and misconceptions.
With Church,guitar is God and melody is King.All in all, Church grabs a raw groove ,polishes it just enough to bring out the shine and keep the edges and lets it rip.
Jealousy Records is really cool powerpop label and this is a really cool record go and get it.
I give it 3.5 stars out of 4. -Mark Bialczak, Syracuse Post Standard

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The Scientists - Scientists (The Pink Album) - 1981


The first, self-titled album by Perth's Scientists bares almost no resemblance to the Scientists that released so many wonderfully dirgy records in the '80s. Rather, this LP serves as a predecessor for another Australian rock institution, the recently defunct Hoodoo Gurus. As on all Scientists releases, this one features Kim Salmon on vocals and guitar, but here he is joined by future Gurus rhythm section, James Baker (Victims) and Ian Sharples, on THE drums and bass respectively. The music chugs along with all the right influences, including Big Star, the Ramones, Johnny Thunders and the Troggs. Not quite punk, but in Perth, circa 1980, it must've seemed pretty radical. With the simple themes of teen romance ("Walk the Plank"), teen alienation ("Larry," "Teenage Dreamer") and girls ("Girl"), this record comes out of nowhere to bring you right back to that place when these subjects fixated YOU. The album was recorded as the band was breaking up and may be a bit over-produced (read: loud drums, separation of instruments), but the music stands on it's own as a joyful ode to simpler times, before Kim Salmon's heart was in a place called "Swampland," which is, of course, nine parts water and one part sand. Salmon later reformed the Scientists, taking the band in a radically different and darker direction. While not indicative of the Scientists' sound (generally more Birthday Party-like) this LP stands as their best, as well as one of the finest moments in early-'80s Australian rock. Note: You also can't go wrong with their original EP which has been re-issued under the title Sweet Corn Sessions and features the classic, "Frantic Romantic." -AMG

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The Scientists - Scientists - 1981
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Friday, May 30, 2008

Craig Marshall - Popular Crimes - 2002


Longtime front man for The Lucky Strikes, Craig Marshall is now pursuing a solo career as well focused on writing and performing radio-friendly guitar pop/rock. . "Popular Crimes" featured an all-star lineup, including appearances by Tony Scalzo (Fastball), Ron Flynt (20/20), George Reiff (Cotton Mather), John Notarthomas (Paul Collins' Band) and Derek Morris (Bob Schneider). Following the album's success, Marshall was invited to play the International Pop Overthrow in Chicago. The event was well received and his first run of his debut album sold out, shortly thereafter. Produced by Darin Murphy, the album sparked heavy interest in Europe and received critical acclaim from fans and journalists in other locations including Japan. "...all down the line the songs continue their parade of strong pop-rock, " says the Austin Chronicle. The year 2005 brought much success, as Marshall was chosen as a featured showcase artist at the annual SXSW music festival. Marshall’s sophomore effort "Before The Fadeaway" produced by Darwin Smith boasts another stellar line up, including Kevin Lovejoy (John Mayer) and Darin Murphy . Fans of indie pop/rock have come to identify with Craig's unique attitude toward music. As he puts it: "You're only as good as your next song. -www.myspace.com/cmarshall

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Elvis Costello - Armed Forces - 1979


After releasing and touring the intense This Year's Model, Elvis Costello quickly returned to the studio with the Attractions to record his third album, Armed Forces. In contrast to the stripped-down pop and rock of his first two albums, Armed Forces boasted a detailed and textured pop production, but it was hardly lavish. However, the more spacious arrangements — complete with ringing pianos, echoing reverb, layered guitars, and harmonies — accent Costello's melodies, making the record more accessible than his first two albums. Perversely, while the sound of Costello's music was becoming more open and welcoming, his songs became more insular and paranoid, even though he cloaked his emotions well. Many of the songs on Armed Forces use politics as a metaphor for personal relationships, particularly fascism, which explains its working title, Emotional Fascism. Occasionally, the lyrics are forced, but the music never is — the album demonstrates the depth of Costello's compositional talents and how he can move from the hook-laden pop of "Accidents Will Happen" to the paranoid "Goon Squad" with ease. Some of the songs, like the light reggae of "Two Little Hitlers" and the impassioned "Party Girl," build on his strengths, while others like the layered "Oliver's Army" take Costello into new territories. It's a dense but accessible pop record and ranks as his third masterpiece in a row. [The Rykodisc/Demon 1993 CD reissue of Armed Forces restored the album to its original British running order, adding the B-side cover of Nick Lowe's "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding" — which had been substituted for "Sunday's Best" on the American version of Armed Forces — as one of the disc's bonus tracks. The CD also includes the B-sides "My Funny Valentine," "Tiny Steps," "Clean Money," the free single "Talking in the Dark"/"Wednesday Week," which was included with the initial Radar pressings of Armed Forces, and the Live at Hollywood High EP, which was also included on the first Radar edition.] -AMG

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Joe, Marc's Brother - The Debut Of Joe, Marc's Brother - 1996


The debut of the Memphis-based rock outfit Joe, Marc's Brother is an agreeable enough collection of roots rock and offbeat pop numbers, but there is little that will immediately grab the listener's attention. The lyrical themes are easy to relate to without being trite, but lead singer Marc Pisapia's delivery is often strained and self-conscious. "Together" is a bright piece of acoustic guitar-driven bossa nova, and "It Still Hurts" mixes rock guitars and a country beat with decent results, but both suffer from lackluster vocals. Later on in the group's career, Joe, Marc's Brother would overcome many of the problems that hamper this release, but the debut is an often unremarkable effort with a few moments that hint at the band's untapped potential. -AMG

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Tories - The Upside of Down - 2001


Four years separated the Tories' debut Wonderful Life and its follow-up, Upside of Down. During that time, a lot happened to the Tories: Drummer Brent Klopp departed and, most notably, their "Time for You" was chosen as the theme song to the Christina Applegate sitcom Jessie. The show was troubled, and faced a total of three major overhauls before ultimately being cancelled after only one season. However, for that time, it had potentially the best TV theme on the air. While the Tories' debut album was a sparkling example of Jellyfish-inspired power pop, it did lack an instantly memorable single. All of it was well-crafted and expertly executed and produced, but none of it seemed primed for radio. "Time for You" was the Tories' strike of pop brilliance. At two-and-a-half minutes, it blasts through a mountain of hooks and countless influences from the Monkees to the Rembrandts. The tragedy, however, was that the television show was cancelled long before Upside of Down appeared in stores in early 2001, so by then the buzz wore off and few people remembered Jessie — never mind its theme song — anymore. While Upside of Down does include the excellent "Time for You," there is a lot more to the Tories' sophomore effort than that single. Since so much time had passed since 1997's Wonderful Life, the style of the band had evolved considerably as well. The Jellyfish influence is far less pronounced this time around, and instead the band leans more toward mainstream pop/rock much of the time. That may mean that songs like "Come Unglued" and "Greatest Foe" rock considerably harder (and also have weaker hooks) than material on the first album, but it doesn't mean that the album suffers. If Wonderful Life was a standout album, Upside of Down is less an album than a collection of excellent singles with some merely OK tracks in between. So the strengths here are in the songs themselves, like the slick pop of the opener "Would You Notice," the dark power ballad "Point of View," the excellent summer anthem "Superconductor," or the circus-like "The End" (obviously the most obvious Jellyfish footnote here). Wonderful Life may be a better album, but Upside of Down contains some killer singles — singles better than any individual songs on the debut — and that will certainly make up for any minor flaws in this excellent release. -AMG

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The Tories - The Upside of Down - 2001 pt 1
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The Flamin' Groovies - Shake Some Action - 1976


A lot had happened with the Flamin' Groovies in the nearly five years that separated the epochal Teenage Head album and their return to American record racks with Shake Some Action. The Groovies lost their record deal with Buddah, lead singer Roy Loney had quit the band leaving Cyril Jordan as uncontested leader, and they had spent a lot of time in Europe, building a significant following in the United Kingdom. As a result, the Flamin' Groovies on Shake Some Action almost sound like a different band, albeit one driven by a similar obsession with the utter coolness of pre-hippie rock & roll. (The fact that Jordan and bassist George Alexander were the only holdovers from the Teenage Head lineup probably had a lot to do with the different approach as well.) The rawer blues and rockabilly accents were gone from the Groovies' sound, with the guitar-fueled cool of the British Invasion era taking their place. While this version of the Flamin' Groovies didn't rock out with the same manic fervor as they did on Flamingo or Teenage Head, they could indeed rock when they felt so inclined, as demonstrated by the glorious "Please Please Girl," "I Can't Hide," and "Let the Boy Rock and Roll," while the Brit-flavored take on "St. Louis Blues" showed that some shades of the old band were still visible. And the title cut was a stunner — a brilliant evocation of the adventurous side of British rock circa 1966, "Shake Some Action" was tough, moody, wounded, and gloriously melodic all at once, and by its lonesome served as a superb justification for the Groovies' new creative direction. If Shake Some Action was the first salvo from the new and improved Flamin' Groovies, it also demonstrated that this edition of the band had as much promise as the Loney-fronted group. -AMG

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The Stereotypes - 2 - 2004


With 2, Southern California's the Stereotypes have created one of 2004's finest EPs. Featuring eight superbly crafted songs, the quintet's dirty sound is prevalent on "New Situation," a garage punk stomper as good as anything in the Hives' catalog. Boasting the proclamation, "I feel like a winner," the sentiment holds true on nuggets like "I Drink," a staggering, swaggering anthem, and the riotous "Dirty Sheets," which could be confused as "the Strokes," except that the Stereotypes have a richer presentation and a better knack for melody. The group also recalls Australian bands like the Ups and Downs and the Church on beautiful, Rickenbacker-driven numbers like "Stars" and "Almost Lost," making them one of the underground's secret weapons — but not for long. -AMG

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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Nines - Wonderworld Of Colourful - 1998


This release of 13 upbeat and perky pop tunes meanders along as though the grunge days of the 1990s never happened. From the simplicity of Beach Boys' harmonies on "What Can I Do" and "Ghost Town Sunday" to the easy XTC-like choruses of "Days and Days" and "I'm Sorry," the Nines combine catchy pop grooves with intentional touches of aggressive, chugging rock guitar. Lead singer Steve Eggers vocalizes with gentle sincerity over the Brit-pop riffs of Sam Tallo and Andrew Webb. An intriguing cut is "When the Day Is Through." For one thing, it's relatively short (clocking in at less than two minutes), and for another, it sounds eerily like a Pink Floyd tune. Other tracks, such as the fuzzy-amp textured "Jules Maxi," play into a psychedelic Beatles fantasy. But for the most part, the rhythms on Wonderworld of Colourful are subtle and sunny, mid-tempo, and joyfully executed. -AMG

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The Nines - Wonderworld Of Colourful - 1998 pt1
The Nines - Wonderworld Of Colourful - 1998 pt2
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The Bears - Eureka! - 2007


The guitarist aging art-rockers turn to for a sublime and stirring mixture of solid chops and wild-eyed invention, Adrian Belew (born in Kentucky, raised in Ohio) has played a crucial long-term role in the careers of David Bowie and King Crimson, while also making important contributions to Frank Zappa, Talking Heads, the Tom Tom Club and others. In between commitments like Bowie's Sound + Vision tour, Belew has found the time to pursue a pop career of his own. Nearly every LP contains at least one or two songs in which Belew's Beatlesque songwriting, unpretentious humanism, MIDI-processed guitar adventures and yelping vocals ring the delightful popcraft bell. At times, he seems very much like a latter-day Todd Rundgren with smaller computers. -[Jon Young/Mark Fleischmann/Dave Schulps/Ira Robbins] Trouser Press

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Dramarama - Cinéma Vérité - 1985


Probably the greatest rock release from 1985 that almost no one has ever heard, Cinema Verite is a simply fantastic album. Blending everything from British Invasion panache and glam influences to punk energy and back again, its cult legend was established by L.A. DJ legend Rodney Bingenheimer. He played "Anything, Anything (I'll Give You)" to death on his show and created a sizeable following for the New Jersey band in Southern California. It's no surprise why: "Anything, Anything" simply smokes, a rave-up for the modern day that starts with a blasting riff before hitting a high-speed punch that doesn't stop, while singer John Easdale details the highs and lows of a relationship with a breathless yowl. There's much more to Cinema Verite than that song, though, as even a casual listen demonstrates. Guitarists Mr. E Boy and Peter Wood distill the kick of performers like Keith Richards, Mick Ronson, and Mott the Hoople-era Mick Ralphs into a hot-wired combination, while rhythm section Chris Carter (bass) and Jesse (drums) hit the beat with heart and talent. Add in keyboardist Theothorous Athanasious Ellenis for final flair and the results are jaw dropping. "Scenario," for instance, is the greatest song the Psychedelic Furs never wrote, with a chugging beat, cut-to-the-chase solos, and Easdale's delicious Dylan-into-Ian Hunter-via-Bowie vocals creating the definition of energetic melancholia. Speaking of Bowie, there's a fantastic cover of his "Candidate," the freaked-out psychosis fully intact, not to mention a nicely dissipated take on the Velvet Underground's "Femme Fatale." Add in everything from the anguished kick of "Questions?" and the building explosion of "Some Crazy Dame" to the concluding elegance of "Emerald City," and this isn't a cult classic, but classic, period. Rhino's welcome reissue in 1995 tacked on eight bonus tracks, including demo takes and sparer, nervous early singles, and two extensive essays celebrating both the band and this wonderful record. -AMG

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

All Night Chemists - Spots - 2007


Len Monachello grew up on Long Island and lives in Brooklyn, but in his heart of hearts he must be British. First, he calls his band All Night Chemists. Then he opens for Supergrass and Echo & the Bunnymen. And to top it all of, he records his second full-length in Liverpool with a producer who’s worked with Gomez and Badly Drawn Boy. So you’ll not be surprised to learn that Spots is heavily Britpop-influenced. His flat American accent might give him away as a Yankee, but Monachello does was he can to cover it up with anthemic choruses, a healthy dose of horns, and a songwriting talent that’s as comfortable reproducing the cold detachment of Blur-era Blur ("Sorbet", “The Fog") as the warmer, catchier sounds of a Supergrass or a Gomez ("Wake Up"). All Night Chemists might not be a Britpop band, but they do a decent impression of one. -[Adam Bunch] popmatters.com

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LMNOP - Numbles - 1989


Stephen Fievet is LMNOP. Drawing from a consistent and seemingly bottomless well of neat melodies, memorable hooks and substantial personal lyrics, the one-man power pop auteur from Atlanta loads each perky studio arrangement with rich layers of guitar, harmony vocals and whatever else his febrile invention may contrive to add. Once a devotee of pop's charm and innocence (although he always evinced a weakness for corny puns and gratuitous vulgarity — LMNO3's "Sitting on Uranus" being an example of both), Fievet has displayed a deepening well of viciousness and despair, which makes LMNOP a bewildering psychic ride.

LMNOP's darker side (no secret to readers of the deeply disconcerting and outrageously crude Baby Sue comic Fievet draws and publishes as Dr. Don W. Seven) began to surface in the lyrics of the excellent Numbles. In a delightful voice, Fievet sings such unsettling hummables as "You're getting headaches so much of the time/Your memory has run dry and darkness is all you feel." With nine of the best tracks from Pony and Elemen Opee Elpee added as a bonus, the French Numbles CD is an essential introduction to Fievet's bent world of wonder. -[Ira Robbins] Triuser Press

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Squeeze - Argybargy - 1980


Where Cool for Cats marked a great leap over the debut, Argybargy improved at least that far over its own predecessor. Still a distinctly British band, Squeeze compensated with an incredibly catchy batch of songs that, despite the subject matter, spoke the universal language of bright, bouncy, instantly endearing pop. The acute observations of the British working class were even more vivid — none so poignant as the classic "Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)," which offers a series of detailed snapshots of the different walks of life on a seaside holiday, or the often-overlooked courting-to-breakup story-song "Vicky Verky," which nearly matched "Up the Junction"'s brilliance. Argybargy is simply packed with perfect, timeless pop that stands not only as the band's crowning achievement, but also as a landmark recording of the era. -AMG

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Monday, May 26, 2008

The Redwalls - De Nova - 2005


That the Redwalls are young lovers of the classic rock sounds of the '60s and '70s is not disputed. Every note on their second album, De Nova, has been played before; every sound has come blasting from a Dylan, Beatles, Stones, Band, or Kinks record, from the soothing horn section and Mellotrons to the swooping Hammond organ to the hard-charging dual guitar attack to Logan Baren's Dylan-whine vocals. To try to deny it would be foolish, so the band does what so many others in its position might shy away from and embraces its love of the past with a big, sloppy rock & roll smooch. As with their first album, what saves the day is the group's absolute dedication and commitment to their sound and their songs. They play with the fire and fury of true believers, and it's hard not to get swept up along with them. The record's first song, "Robinson Crusoe," is a call to arms that you'd have to be two steps from dead to ignore. Shuddering like the Rolling Thunder Revue with the wheels about to fall off, the horns and sloppy guitars create a woozy wall of sound that Baren weaves through like vintage Jim Brown. All rock & roll records should kick off with songs this hot and bothered. The band can't keep the pace up and doesn't even try. The rest of the record is evenly paced with a mix of ballads (the aching "Hung Up on the Way I'm Feeling" and "How the Story Goes"), mid-tempo blue-eyed soul ("Thank You," "Build a Bridge"), jittery new wave-influenced songs ("Love Her"), and pounding rockers ("On My Way," "It's Alright"). The band and producer Rob Schnapf conjure up a sound that is both simple and direct and is layered with all kinds of instruments and textures. You could argue that the band doesn't take enough chances and sounds too traditional, but with songs as strong as these, it doesn't matter that they play it safe. Besides, it's kind of refreshing to find a band that doesn't feel the need to do anything at all that might be considered contemporary (apart from the FCC-deriding lyrics in the Television-influenced "Falling Down"). The only song that falls flat is the most modern sounding (the acoustic protest song "Glory of War"), as the subject matter is too weighty and earnest and, while the sentiments are admirable, it just doesn't fit the mood of the album. The band even seems to acknowledge it by following the song with the mindless and goofy romp "Rock & Roll." Chalk it up to the conflicting passions of involved and emotional youth. It is exactly that kind of post-teenage fire that makes De Nova the exciting and breathlessly alive record that it is. The Redwalls may not be able to keep it up as they grow older and (inevitably) more mature, but if you like your rock & roll classic and loaded to the top with passion, guts, and tunes, enjoy it while it lasts. -AMG

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Squire - Get Smart! - 1983


Somewhere between the delicate power pop of Shoes and the classy British pop of mid-period Jam sits the wonderful world of Squire. No, not Billy "The Stroke" Squier. This is Squire, the groovy mod trio fronted by Anthony Meynell, one of pop music's unsung heroes. Spanning the years 1980-1984, this exceptional compilation concentrates on the latter half of the band's career, and contains almost their entire Get Smart album. By this point in the band's career, Meynell had tired of the musical restrictions that the mod scene had thrust upon him. Adding more overdubs in the studio (including a horn section), Meynell created some of the brightest, most exhilarating, guitar-based pop music of the early '80s. Sidestepping such influences as the Who and the Kinks, and embracing Lennon's edge from the Beatles ("No Time Tomorrow"), and the bright, sunny vibe from the Monkees ("Standing In The Rain"), Squire did not create disposable pop, they created timeless pop. Many of these tracks could have been released in the mid-'60s or even in the early '90s at the height of Brit-pop. "Every Trick In The Book Of Love," "You're the One," "My Mind Goes Round In Circles," "Girl On A Train," "Stop That Girl," and "Take A Look" are nothing less than perfect pop songs. When Meynell puts down his pen and records a cover version (including Shoes' "Boys Don't Lie" and Big Star's "September Gurls"), the results are nothing less than Squire-like. Sadly, the only low point on this disc is the A-side of their fan club-only final single, "The Young Idea," which, strangely enough, was probably considered a high point when first released! Mod and power pop fans should keep their eyes peeled for this gem of a CD. It's worth the hype! -AMG

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The And/Ors - Will Self-Destruct - 2001


The first album from the And/Ors could be hailed as some sort of instant masterwork were it not for the instantly identifiable touchstones that were used to erect the band's sound. Will Self-Destruct is the sort of album that doesn't even attempt to conceal its inspirations, but for which those inspirations amount to little more than moot points (other than as references) in the face of such thrilling clatter. In fact, it is pretty much an instant masterwork anyway, regardless, a warped confiscation of pop that sonically goes straight for the jugular vein and nary lets go for the length of its running time. As on the Pavement-style squalor of "Terror Eyes," the music is self-consciously messy at times. Like Slanted & Enchanted it is a first album where even the intentionally jarring disorder cannot obscure the catchy tunes and, in fact, accentuates how fine they are. The guitars bleat like warning sirens or chime like loose coins, while the rhythm tracks splinter off in every punky direction, but never in a way that works against Daniel Black's ragged, anthemic songcraft. And like Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain or Wowee Zowee, it has an eclectic array of sources that emerge from the white noise. The stiff and angular riffs of "Candy Takes the Cake" take new wave into the new millennium. "The Slider" is a hybrid ambient landscape that references Spiritualized's hazy space rock and My Bloody Valentine's melodic wall of noise. The gentle respite "At the Saturn Bar," a strummed acoustic ballad that sounds as if Captain Beefheart produced a Neil Young session, borders on fried, zoned-out country-rock. The other guiding voice for the band, though, is Guided By Voices. "As We Play the Tape Tricks Us" is straight out of the Robert Pollard sub-minute songbook, while cracked fantastical narratives like "The Black Diamond Prince," "Regarding Mr. Right," and "Neo-Disney® Hype-Trip," and the goofy lo-fi "Rockets" are very much Pollard-esque in their manner — loose and whimsical but with an undertone of austerity, and a legitimate desire to fold all of pop's past into brief alternate universes of splintered melody. Regardless of references, though, Black's songwriting never falters over the course of the album, and he has a unique way with off the beaten path hooks. For instance, if feedback-laden punk had replaced the disco element in Grease, one of the movie's songs might have sounded something like "Flexiclocks," with Black and bassist Arabella Harrison tussling aggressively but bewitchingly around each other as if they were John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John on amphetamines. It is a sensational album that might have been called visionary had it arrived six or eight years earlier. But even if a fraction of its beauty is reflected from the indie pop leading lights of the previous half decade or so, Will Self-Destruct builds up plenty of its own steam. It is not revolutionary music, at least not for 2001, but it is inventive, exhilarating, and entirely enthralling, and it promises much. -AMG

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Jim Noir - Jim Noir - 2008


His debut album Tower of Love set the bar pretty high for the one-chap band that is Jim Noir. The tunes were all super memorable and the sound was a bliss inducing mixture of burbling electronic beats, layered vocals reminiscent of '60s sunshine pop, trippy arrangements that harken back to the heyday of British psychedelia, goofy lyrics that always bring a smile, and instantly familiar melodies. Apparently, Noir liked the sound, too, since his second album replicates it, refines it and, in the best possible way, retreads it. It's easy to cut him and the album some slack since it's only the second one he's released. If it were his third, or fifth, record to have the same sound and feel, then it'd be a problem. On Jim Noir, it's like a second helping of a particularly good meal. Or more specifically, a second giant cupcake with a big glop of frosting on top. The songs are just as bubbly, the lyrics reach acceptable levels of silly (CDs vs. vinyl, going on a holiday, and having songs stuck in your head are some of the topics covered) and Noir generally sounds like he's having the time of his life making this album. The only problem with the record is that there are no stand-out tracks like Tower of Love's "My Patch" or "Eenie Meenie" to be found. As the stereotypical A&R weasel might say; "I don't hear a single." That could be a fatal flaw except that the overall quality of the record is so high and the sound is so perfect, you don't feel like there is something so terribly important missing. Songs like the lovely ballad "On a Different Shelf," the tough as nails rocker "What U Gonna Do" (which is sure to get played like crazy on Little Steven's Underground Garage) or the impossibly chipper and bouncy "Happy Day Today" are more than enough to salve any wounds and make the album a satisfying listening experience. If the third album comes out sounding exactly like this, we may need to re-examine Mr. Noir and his bubble machine, but for now it's enough to frolic giddily in the froth. -AMG

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Walter Clevenger & The Dairy Kings - Love Songs To Myself - 1999


Los Angeles power pop singer/songwriter/guitarist Walter Clevenger has a rootsy, laid-back sound highly reminiscent of Nick Lowe and Rockpile. Clevenger grew up listening to country music and discovered the Beatles in fourth grade, later branching into power pop and forming a band in high school. But it was Nick Lowe's fusion of the two sounds that inspired Clevenger to pick up his pen and guitar in earnest. A home-recorded cassette, PoPgOeStHeMuSiC (no longer in print), made its way out of a circle of family and friends and got Clevenger signed to Not Lame Records. Clevenger recorded a proper album, The Man With the X-Ray Eyes, with his backing band the Dairy Kings (guitarist Steve Bancroft, bassist Henry Clift, and drummer Mike Fernandez) in 1997. Love Songs to Myself followed two years later. -AMG

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Donnie Iris - Back on the Streets - 1980


Donnie Iris emerged fronting his own band in the late '70s after stints with the Jaggerz and Wild Cherry. Hailing from Western Pennsylvania, Iris became a popular live draw before signing with RCA and releasing his debut record Back on the Streets (later reissued by Razor & Tie).Working closely with Mark Avsec, who co-wrote, produced, and played keyboards, Back on the Streets is a blend of meat-and-potatoes rock and new wave, which succeeds due to its simple nature and some infectious hooks. The big hit was "Ah! Leah!" which, with its throbbing bassline and crunchy riffs, climbed to number 29, but there's more here. Other choice cuts include the finger-snapping melody "I Can't Hear You" and the bar room love song "Agnes," which owes a debt to the Spencer Davis Group hit "Gimme Some Lovin'." -AMG

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Saturday, May 24, 2008

The Modern Lovers - The Modern Lovers - 1976


Compiled of demos the band recorded with John Cale in 1973, The Modern Lovers is one of the great proto-punk albums of all time, capturing an angst-ridden adolescent geekiness which is married to a stripped-down, minimalistic rock & roll derived from the art punk of the Velvet Underground. While the sound is in debt to the primal three-chord pounding of early Velvet Underground, the attitude of Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers is a million miles away from Lou Reed's jaded urban nightmares. As he says in the classic two-chord anthem "Roadrunner," Richman is in love with the modern world and rock & roll. He's still a teenager at heart, which means he's not only in love with girls he can't have, but also radios, suburbs, and fast food, and it also means he'll crack jokes like "Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole...not like you." "Pablo Picasso" is the classic sneer, but "She Cracked" and "I'm Straight" are just as nasty, made all the more edgy by the Modern Lovers' amateurish, minimalist drive. But beneath his adolescent posturing, Richman is also nakedly emotional, pleading for a lover on "Someone I Care About" and "Girl Friend," or romanticizing the future on "Dignified and Old." That combination of musical simplicity, driving rock & roll, and gawky emotional confessions makes The Modern Lovers one of the most startling proto-punk records — it strips rock & roll to its core and establishes the rock tradition of the geeky, awkward social outcast venting his frustrations. More importantly, the music is just as raw and exciting now as when it was recorded in 1973, or when it was belatedly released in 1976. -AMG

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The Drowners - Cease To Be - 2007



I’m not sure why Swedes do pop music better than most every other nationality these days -- they just do. The Drowners are from Skelleftea, to be specific, and sincere fans of melodic rock will gladly take on deadly dosages of water to fully experience Cease To Be. You get the impression these guys are on a quest to create the perfect pop song, much like Fountains Of Wayne and others. And with “Words (Don’t Come Easy)”, this quintet might have discovered its Holy Grail. In it, vocalist Magnus Vikstrom confesses to being a simple music man; a calling where melodies are his best friend. Yet he cannot find the right words to tell his girl he loves her. Its lyric works for writer’s block as well as that universal struggle to verbally express deep affection. It then comes as no big surprise Cease To Be opens with “Perfect Girlfriend,” a similar search - only this time for romantic perfection. With crunching guitar chords, which ping pong back and forth from speaker to speaker, this one paints perfectionists as not such annoying people after all. All throughout, it’s impossible to resist The Drowners’ spot-on hard rock guitar-isms (amply displayed during “10000 Signs”) which are matched to melodic hooks sown into the disc’s overall fabric. Thus, The Drowners are no downers. - [Dan MacIntosh] amplifiermagazine.com


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Graham Parker - Another Grey Area - 1982


When Graham Parker issued the Jack Nitzsche-produced Squeezing out Sparks in 1979, many inside the music industry — from execs to critics — figured that his next one would be it, since Squeezing just missed, though it was celebrated by nearly everyone who heard it. Two of Parker's first three albums — Howlin' Wind and Heat Treatment — were top-notch, hard hitting rock & roll albums full of great songs and mud-slinging pub rock production that connected in England. It felt like only a matter of time. Arista in its infinite wisdom paired Parker with Jimmy Iovine for The Up Escalator in 1980, and for some reason, Iovine decided to slicken up the singer/songwriter and his band rather than the hard-edged production that clicked when he worked with Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty. While the songs were there, the sound wasn't, and it must have been discouraging for Parker. His moment had come and gone. Parker wasn't about to let fate cheat him, though, and for 1982's Another Grey Area, he teamed with veteran producer Jack Douglas, and placed his band on recording hiatus in favor of a slew of studio musicians including Nicky Hopkins, Hugh McCracken (!), David Brown and George Small among others. Things start well enough with the mid-tempo rocker "Temporary Beauty"; with its Springsteen-esque piano and ondioline courtesy of Hopkins, the rounded lead guitar lines fall into place, wrapping themselves around Parker's voice on the refrains, and it works. Parker nearly spits out his words, full of irony, empathy, piss and vinegar. They even hold up on the title track, which cooks along with a bitter edge, a brisk tempo set by a snare/hi-hat combination and six strings upfront pushing the singer. Female backing vocals to fill it in and the bassline nearly percolates. But Douglas' production begins to wear thin by "Big Fat Zero," despite Parker's fine writing. He doesn't seem to be able to capture the knife edge the band tries to counter the vocals with. It's all swirl and twirl without resolution or warmth. Ironically, it's the rawness on Parker's earlier records that made them warm. The reliance on "new wave" sounding electric keyboards also mars the tunes. The ballad "Dark Side of the Bright Lights," works well, as does the horn-driven, funky "You Hit the Spot." But the sameness of some of the rockers such as "Can't Waste a Minute" and the poignant "Crying for Attention" suffer. "It's All Worth Nothing Alone" is punched up a bit, but there still seems to be this glassfloor sheen on everything, which is entirely at odds with the biting humor and scathing social observations Parker makes in both his lyrics and his delivery. Ultimately, Another Grey Area is another "might have been if" set for Parker, and about the last time he believed a word of what anyone from a record company ever said to him. -AMG

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Graham Parker - Another Grey Area - 1982


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Friday, May 23, 2008

Robin Lane And The Chartbusters - Robin Lane And The Chartbusters - 1980


Her three song EP on manager Mike Lembo's Deli Platters label, featuring "The Letter" (an original not recorded for this album), "Why Do You Tell Lies," and "When Things Go Wrong," reportedly sold in excess of 10,000 units, many in the Northeast. Robin Lane's Warner Brothers debut was produced by Joe Wissert and features the musicianship of Asa Brebner and Leroy Radcliffe on guitars, Tim Jackson on drums, and Scott Baerenwald on bass. With alum from Jonathan Richman's Modern Lovers and all band members singing, they had the elements for mega success. These songs are all great, but the Wissert production stripped the band of what made them so popular in the Boston area. The three guitar attack onstage sounded like The Byrds with a superb female vocalist. The lack of guitar in the middle of "Don't Cry" with just an annoying cymbal ride is the kind of sparse production which turned a powerful act into a low-key Pretenders on record. That's the problem when a record label doesn't understand the nuances of great musicians and the are they are creating. Warner released a five song EP of the band recorded live at the Orpheum Theater in Boston in 1980, sold at a special price — kind of admitting that the first album lacked the magic the band generated in performance. The live EP, produced by Michael Golub, captures some of that sparkle, but it too misses the mark with the guitars mixed way down. Hearing a song like "Why Do You Tell Lies" on the studio recording, without the lush guitar sound it cries out for, is discouraging. This is a band that deserved to craft pop hits for radio and were never given the proper chance. The songwriting and musicianship breaks through the thin production, and you can hear the potential. "Many Years Ago" and "Waiting in Line" actually sound very '90s, the high end and the hollow sound would actually come into vogue years later. But that's not what this band was about. There are some great songs here, especially "When Things Go Wrong." One can only hope someone comes along to record this material in a way that it can be appreciated by the masses. "Be Mine Tonite" is heavier, but still feels restrained. The inner sleeve contains the lyrics and some very cool snapshots of the band. -AMG

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Fooled By April - Fooled By April - 2005


Too pop to be rock, too rock to be pop, the band's ragged rock-and-roll enthusiasm is always tempered by the need to get those four-part harmonies just right.Fooled By April has always been a bundle of contradictions. Some describe them as the bastard sons of Cheap Trick and Fountains Of Wayne, while others compare them more to what the Clash might have been had they listened to a lot more KISS. Too pop to be rock, too rock to be pop, the band's ragged rock-and-roll enthusiasm is always tempered by the need to get those four-part harmonies just right. -CD Baby.com

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The Cynics - Living Is The Best Revenge - 2002


After an eight-year break, the Cynics returned with Living Is the Best Revenge, which opens with Kastelic's righteous, raspy wail, frequently matched by Kostelich's righteous guitar fuzz. Smith Hutchings is the new bass player, and Tom Hohn, who skipped Get Our Way, is back on drums. They ditch the psychedelic leanings, and producer Tim Kerr captures the energy missing from Learn to Lose. The title track is clearly the album's centerpiece, an ode to the benefits of leaving behind one's vices. A guest organist provides Hammond riffs that recall "Like a Rolling Stone," a connection underscored when Kastelic adds harmonica to "Ballad of J.C. Holmes." Covers include the 13th Floor Elevators' "She Lives (In a Time of Her Own)," the Electric Prunes' "You've Never Had it Better" and "Making Deals" (the only single by a group called the Satans and a clear precursor to "Sympathy for the Devil"). Living Is the Best Revenge is the Cynics' tightest, most spirited effort since Rock'n'Roll. -Trowser Press

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Dirty Novels - Pack Your Pistols - 2007


Welcome to the Glam Side of Life, where music is king, kisses are currency and flirting is mandated by law. This is where The Dirty Novels call home. Here you share the stage with legendery rockers MC5 as well as newer sensations like Von Bondies and Kings of Leon. But you dont stop there. No, far from it. You also have music from your recently released, full-length recording featured on MTVs Meet the Barkers "Parental Control" and "8th and Ocean." Then, just for good measure, you tour the country from coast to coast, stealing hearts, shocking parents and winking at their daughters. Its a good place to be. Vintage and modern by design, they blend rock n roll's past with the rock n roll future. They are infatuated with such influences as 60's Freak Beats, 70's Blank Generation and 80's NoWave. -CD Baby.com

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Einstein's Sister - Humble Creatures - 2000


Four albums in, and not much has changed in the world of Einstein's Sister. The guitars still jangle, the hooks are still bright and brassy, and the major musical references are taken from the textbooks of British pop. It must be rough being a pop band from Moline, IL, if only because a lot of good new music has a tough time making it down I-80 and into the middle of the country. Because of this, it's not surprising that with their fourth album, Humble Creatures, Einstein's Sister are still doing basically the same thing they've always done (albeit with some minor changes). What is surprising is that it still does work. The only strike against Humble Creatures is its similarity to Learning Curves, but a pop devotee will notice the subtle differences. "This Is the Day" cops a rootsy vibe, the wonderful mock-Merseybeat of "Mermaid Parade" references late-period Beatles with its trumpet solo, and (despite some slightly saccharine lyrics) "Solar Circle Girl" plays with the stew that is Einstein's Sister by adding reggae pop. In many ways, Humble Creatures is the most direct and glossy (and therefore accessible) album yet in the band's catalog, especially in the return of more full XTC-like guitar sound and their willingness to tweak the formula just a bit. It may be evidence of a holding pattern, but the band is at least holding on at the right point in their career. -AMG

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The Kings - The Kings Are Here - 1980


Vocalist/bassist David Diamond, keyboard player Sonny Keyes, drummer Max Styles and guitarist Mister Zero founded the Kings in Ontario in 1979. Somewhere between new wave and rock, the band released a 1980 single, "Switchin' to Glide," that did well in the U.S. as well as Canada. The Kings Are Here appeared the same year, but the band faded quickly; a re-formed Kings appeared in the mid-'90s, and recorded Unstoppable. -AMG

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Young Fresh Fellows - The Men Who Loved Music - 1987


If the Young Fresh Fellows had been paid a quarter every time they were compared to the Replacements (which happened even before Paul Westerberg began name-checking them as one of his favorite bands), they probably could have bought a beer for everyone who owned The Fabulous Sounds of the Pacific Northwest. But while the Replacements loved sloppy hard rock and liked to play dumb (or at least dumber than they really were), the Fellows' tastes ran more towards revved-up pop, and their sense of humor struck a near-perfect balance between clever and goofiness. The Men Who Loved Music is one of the band's finest albums, and certainly their most purely enjoyable; by the time the Fellows made their third album, they'd grown enough as musicians to sound tight and versatile without getting self-conscious about it, and their record-making skills had grown by leaps and bounds over their debut. And while nearly every song on The Men Who Loved Music is centered around some kind of joke, the jokes are actually funny (and bear repeated listening) — there's no getting to the bottom of the cathode ray nightmare of "TV Dream," the clueless nerds of "When the Girls Get Here" are charming in their social ineptitude ("when the girls get here/we'll talk about integrated circuits and things/to show 'em how smart we are!"), "Amy Grant" has the good sense to play for absurdity more than nastiness (even as Grant receives career advise from God and indulges in dirty thoughts about Barry White), and "Hank, Karen, and Elvis" says more about America's obsession with celebrity than most serious songs on the subject. Best of all, take the laughs away from The Men Who Loved Music and you've still got a great record; the wah-wah fueled "Amy Grant" really does cut the funk, "Get Outta My Cave" boats credible hard rock crunch, the rollicking "Unimaginable Zero Summer" beautifully merges tightness and slop (with NRBQ's Terry Adams adding appropriate piano), and "Where the Hell Did They Go?" rocks with palpable joy, despite it's sad subject matter. A gem of an album, and the CD version guilds the lily with the seven-cut Refreshments EP, which includes their editorial on the joys of corporate sponsorship, "Beer Money." -AMG


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The Fast Computers - Heart Geometry - 2007


One of this year's best local releases is Heart Geometry, the debut long-player from Fast Computers. It only takes one song, the fascinating opener 'Sweden Hasn't Changed, You Have,' to see that this trio is not messing around. Balancing human warmth with icicle-cold keyboards is a tricky act, and Fast Computers pull it off with the greatest of ease... Heart Geometry props itself up not with the easy nostalgia of quaint new-wave revivalists, but instead by delicately spacing each song with tempered vocals and open-ended instrumentation. The result is an absolutely gorgeous record... -Portland Mercury

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The Beat - The Beat - 1979


A minor classic of late-'70s power pop, The Beat proves that Paul Collins learned his lessons well from his tenure with pioneering L.A. popmeisters the Nerves. If Collins' songs on this set aren't quite as good as what fellow Nerve Peter Case brought to their old band (and would bring to the Plimsouls), he works the classic themes of girls and guitars with winning enthusiasm, and as a band the Beat were leaner, harder, tighter, and lighter on their feet than the Nerves ever were. Compared to the Knack, then the rulers of California's pop scene, the Beat were a lot more fun to listen to and seemed to actually like women, compared to arch misogynist Doug Fieger. The Beat's 13 cuts are full of hooky snaps, especially "Rock N Roll Girl," "Walking Out on Love," and the shoulda-been-a-hit "Don't Wait Up for Me Tonight," and Collins' and Larry Whitman's guitars sing out with passionate energy. The Beat won't change your life, but it will make 35 minutes of it a lot more fun. -AMG

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Chewy Marble - Bowl of Surreal - 2001


Bowl of Surreal, the appropriately titled sophomore debut from Los Angeles-based popsters Chewy Marble, is another solid pop effort in the same vein as their eponymous debut. Ex-Wondermint Brian Kassan is the mastermind here; the true talent of Bowl of Surreal is its ability to subvert the pop tag by incorporating disparate influences (from an obvious XTC influence to '60s pop like the Zombies and the Turtles, as well as '90s revivalists like Jellyfish). It's no surprise, then, that the album's charm and its flaws are born out of the fact that it's all over the place. So while the jazzy pop of "Reasons Why," the '70s-styled opener "Inside My Head," and the chunky pop of the title track all work very well, there are almost as many slow spots scattered throughout. Bowl of Surreal is not perfect, then, but it is a thoroughly enjoyable and endearingly dynamic sophomore effort. -AMG

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Ian McLagan - Troublemaker - 1979


Ian McLagan's Troublemaker is a sequel five years in the making to the Ron Wood 1974 disc I've Got My Own Album to Do. Guitarist Johnny Lee Schell augments Keith Richards and Ron Wood here, while Stanley Clarke and Paul Stallworth provide the bass (it was the wonderful Willie Weeks holding the bottom on the Wood disc), with Ringo Starr and Jim Keltner on drums (Wood's album had Andy Newmark). Though McLagan's third album, 2000's Best of British, is the real phenomenon, Troublemaker has lots to rave about. There's a tremendous Ronnie Wood tune which concludes the album, "Mystifies Me," a bit of gospel, a bit of reggae, these veteran rockers giving it that intangible which keeps kids in their garages banging away to find the same magic. Six of the ten tunes are Ian McLagan compositions, the opener, "La De La," a perfect choice for when Rod Stewart and the boys put the Faces back together. "Headlines" follows the opener with rowdy guitars and solid production. It could be mistaken for Mott the Hoople doing the Rolling Stones' "Shattered." Well, what the heck, with Keith Richards, Ron Wood, and Bobby Keyes participating on different portions of this disc, it's going to lean as much towards the Stones as it will the Faces. This version of Carl Levy's "Truly" borrows heavily from the 1973 Johnny Nash reggae hit, "Stir It Up," and at almost six minutes, it is pretty much double the two-and-a-half to three-and-a-half minute range framework that the other nine tunes stay within. Speaking of Mott the Hoople, McLagan's closing number on side one sounds like a distant cousin to that band's "Jerkin' Crocus." The title track tumbles off of side two with enthusiasm and spirit, the keyboard player for Small Faces has his friends from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones creating some instant fun all over this very musical disc. Another McLagan original, "If It's Alright," has that "Country Honk" ragged edge that served the Stones so well, the record with just enough of a laid-back attitude to avoid the sterile atmosphere some of the Faces tracks got bogged down with. "Sign" is one of the more polished tunes, McLagan co-writing with guitarist Schell, nice organ runs bubbling under the beat. There are no surprises on this amazing musician's debut solo disc: It is what you expect, and fans of the Beatles and the Stones will consider it a must-have for the collection, but one that you won't mind pulling out and playing when your party guests want a nice change of pace at 3 a.m. -AMG

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DM3 - Road To Rome - 1996


Power pop fans have occasionally pointed to this, Australian outfit DM3's sophomore release, as one of the best pop albums to come out of the mid-'90s and one of the cornerstone albums of the '90s Australian pop movement. Both may be true to varying degrees: Road to Rome is possibly the "classic" disc in the late-'90s Australian power pop scene, which included similarly talented bands like Ice Cream Hands, Even, Challenger 7, and Michael Carpenter. While the debit of Australian power pop is that it often favors slavish imitation over solid songwriting, Dom Mariani's ear for a hook is what makes Road to Rome stand out. Well, that and Mitch Easter's arena-ready production. Sounding like the Plimsouls playing with Badfinger and the Who, Mariani cranks it to ten more than a few times here. It lends songs like the excellent "Please Don't Lie" or the riff-heavy "Soultop" a glossy, almost '80s stadium rock vibe — in a good way. Sure, sometimes DM3 can get a little derivative and rest on their skinny tie-shaped laurels, but for the most part the chunky riffage and Easter's boomy production will be more than enough to please anyone who is motivated enough to seek this album out in the first place. -AMG

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Monday, May 19, 2008

The Grip Weeds - House Of Vibes Revisited - 1994


On its first full-length, the Grip Weeds immediately cut a wild swath to the front of the nineties pop line with its vibrant pop, partly because it eschewed the giddiness that many bands falsely take from Sixties pop, instead infusing its plucky melodies with Eastern-psyche progressions and mysterious-sounding modal harmonies. Put simply, a Grip Weeds song is so distinctive and unique that it obliterates most pop pretenders, retro-mongers, and fetishists, showing them for what they are: copyists working according to genre rather than inspiration. And there is plenty of inspiration on House of Vibes, plenty of odd vocal touches and indefatigable playing, and the Reil brothers seem to have mastered the art of two- and three-part harmony. The normal shorthand would probably go something like this: the band plays Byrds-by-way-of-the Who ("Out of Today," "Realize," "Haunted," others) or Who-by-way-of-the Byrds ("someone, " particularly, and Kurt Reil's propulsive drumming throughout), while occasionally displaying the mellow country lope of Buffalo Springfield on "Salad Days" and "Realize," filtering them all through Middle Eastern melodies, psych-styled guitar, and an uncommon spiritual yearning. And those touchstones would seemingly place them firmly in the backward-looking notion of Sixties pop synthesizers and hopeless retroists. But it simply is not so, and that sort of cynicism is mislead anyway. The Grip Weeds progress from various musical precedents just as Sixties pop acts were progressing from the wellspring of early rock & roll (though the divergences were much more pronounced then because there were far fewer sources). And like those Sixties band, the Grip Weeds do not wear their influences on their sleeve, they have absorbed them, and have used them to create melodies so good that they seem to have always existed. Both Reil brothers display tremendous songwriting skills, and bassist Mick Hargrave raises the number of strong songwriters in the band to three. And the music, rather than sounding either trendy or antiquated, shows aspirations that reach beyond simple commercial success. If there is one way in which House of Vibes does harken back, it is this: the music recalls a era when a pop song had the capacity to change the way the world looked, the way you look at the world. That is a quality too often missing in any music. -AMG

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Even - Free Kicks - 2004


More so than You Am I, Australia's Even is a band unashamedly influenced and emulating the classic pop/rock of the '60s and '70s. Even's leader, singer and guitarist Ashley Naylor lives for playing and creating music and most of the time will be found playing with more than one act at a time, leading his own group and playing sideman for others. At 17, Naylor fronted the Swarm but soon gave up that group's indie leanings (R.E.M., Smiths) for the classic pop that inspires him. Even was formed in March 1994 with fellow ex-Swarm Matthew Cotter, and it was completed by bass player Wally Kempton, moonlighting from his duties with Melbourne-based power pop exponents the Meanies. -AMG

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Marshall Crenshaw - Marshall Crenshaw - 1982


On the cover of his self-titled LP, Marshall Crenshaw — complete with crew-cut, thick glasses and unfashionable suit — looks like nothing so much as the second coming of Buddy Holly, or possibly an Americanized Elvis Costello; listening to the record itself does little to alter those first impressions, and even if his subsequent LPs failed to live up to such immense promise, there's no doubting this debut release's enduring greatness. Working without any kind of smoke or mirrors, Crenshaw delivers simple, straightforward pop music invested with remarkable melodic ingenuity; his material is timeless and fresh — gems like "Someday, Someway," "She Can't Dance," and "Not for Me," are the kinds of songs which would fit like a glove on both oldies radio and contemporary Top 40 play lists in any era. Witty, assured, and utterly infectious, Marshall Crenshaw remains among the finest debuts of its day. -AMG

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Paramore - Riot - 2007


Move over, Avril, there's a new gun in town. And even though Paramore's lead singer, Hayley Williams, is a few years younger, she has a way bigger set of vocal pipes. The two share a similar register, but Williams belts it out with way more control and authority. She may even be more of a respectable pop idol since her image isn't manufactured to be rebellious and angst-ridden, but she instead appears to be a genuinely sweet girl, bottling up a huge voice and a heart full of lost loves. On Riot! she fills the majority of the punk-pop tunes with tales of emo angst and declarations of boy woes. Although her lyrics can seem contrived, they also feel representative of actual teenage puppy love, where a breakup feels like the end of the world. The songs are all pretty good tunes performed well, with catchy hooks in the vein of Boys Like Girls fronted by a young Shirley Manson(although that analogy might be lost, since most people who like Boys Like Girls probably aren't familiar with oldies like Garbage.) As with all of the bands on the Fueled by Ramen roster, the band is an energetic troupe of rockers with precise haircuts who rock pretty hard. The production is sparkling and heavily compressed due to the golden hands of David Bendeth, but this is potentially a downside. Since the sound quality is ultra-clean, it makes the listening experience relatively risk-free and also brings attention to the fact that there's not a lot of ground being broken here. Most songs have an interesting breakdown of some sort in the bridge, which helps break up the entirety of the disc, and there are a few power ballads (think "Don't Speak") that work well, but overall there's a consistent distorted guitar chug and driving beats that never stray too far from Fall Out Boy's formula. The lack of originality is forgivable when Williams' girlish charm takes over. It's a lot like the scene in High Fidelity where the jaded record clerks hear Lisa Bonet's character singing a Frampton song that's worn to death, but because of her beauty and sweet voice, they love the performance. In the last track, "Born for This" Williams takes a break from her love confessions, and commands everyone to sing like it's the last song they will ever sing, making for a perfect live show closer. Ultimately, this disc has enormous crossover potential, and will probably appeal to those who are fans of the genre, and for those who aren't, there's a good chance of it becoming a guilty pleasure. -AMG

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Mystery Machine - Glazed - 1993


Can a group overcome a number of obvious influences? In the case of Mystery Machine, the answer is "yes, for the most part." The obvious influences on the debut album are a veritable who's-who of the indie rock world of the '80s, most notably Dinosaur Jr., Sonic Youth, and Ride (who they even name check with one of the song titles). Tempos shift, guitar playing is melodically dissonant (oddly enough) and jagged, and everything is layered into a big wash of sound. Sure, it's a bit naïve in places, but Mystery Machine does a pretty good job of not sounding like any one of its influences for too long in any one place, which is a feat in and of itself, especially when many other '90s acts chose to simply rip off their heroes shamelessly. -AMG

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Tommy Tutone - Tommy Tutone 2 - 1981

Tommy Tutone were an early-'80s power pop band led by vocalist Tommy Heath and guitarist Jim Keller. The group's first single, 1980's "Angel Say No," scraped the bottom of the American Top 40, yet it was 1981's "867-5309/Jenny" that sent the group to the top of the charts. Peaking in early 1982, the single hit number four and went gold. Tommy Tutone was never able to duplicate that success and the band broke up after the release of their third album, 1983's National Emotion.
The band's breakthrough features the unforgettable "867-5309/Jenny" and its lesser follow-up, "Which Man Are You" along with a batch of similar sounding originals. Tommy Tutone-2 is consistently fun, hard-driving, working-class power-pop that was unfortunately overshadowed by the smash hit single. -AMG

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