Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Hutchinsons - Plastic Fruit and Popcorn - 1997


The Hutchinsons are a hard-rocking L.A.-based power pop trio led by brothers Jimmy (drums, vocals) and Joe Hutchinson (guitar, vocals), who are joined by bassist Glenn Hays. They released a self-titled EP on RTG Records in 1996, followed in 1997 by Plastic Fruit and Popcorn. -AMG

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The Hutchinsons - Plastic Fruit and Popcorn - 1997 pt1
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The Haggs - The Haggs - 2005


A long time ago, in a recording studio far, far away, two members of Omaha, Nebraska bands formed a side recording project to explore the multi-step process of writing, recording, performing, engineering, and mixing an entire album with complete and total control. The result was "The Haggs", a fourteen song, 60 minute cd which was recorded slowly and sensually over a four year period.
Taking the folk rock songwriting of guitarist Rex Gray and the pop influences of drummer/bassist Steve Aden, "The Haggs" is a blend of several musical styles of the mid-sixties. From the surf-guitar sounds of "B-E-Z" to the Lennon-ish "Lose My Mind" to the Boyce & Hart-inspired "(She's A)Wrecking Ball", the album takes you on a musical trip culminating with "Ukelele", a dreamy Hawaiian chant. -CD Baby

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The Haggs - The Haggs - 2005 pt1
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Monday, September 29, 2008

The Bon Mots - Forty Days and Forty Nights with The Bon Mots - 2007


Michigan based music vets The Bon Mots are one of indie rock's best kept secrets. Opening with "Walk to California" it's a hook filled mix of guitar jangle and sleepy organ. Leader Eric Chial has a great rock vocal, similar in cadence to Steve Winwood that evokes a blues soul and free spirit. Mike Coy does vocals on the other half of the songs here and has a even gentler pop style, similar to Keane."Past or Present" rely on the ambiance and bass lines of past jangle bands REM, The Church and even The La's. You couldn't get a better Byrds sounding opening lick than on "Oh Her Telephone." The song is a mid-tempo ballad that flows through your ears with that lush Rickenbacker texture. The next tune, "Reasons, Dear" is truly beautiful pop and the ever changing chords and lyrical story to keep the listener interested. Almost every song here shines, including the very Zombies meets Donovan vibe on "Festival Girls" and it's another amazing gem. The latter half of the album gets a bit softer and gentler, like in "Last Time" but is not likely to have you hit a forward on the player. The musicanship here is immpecable as well, the classic sound just works well for them and the harmonies and jazzy guitar jams in the choruses make it a perfect psychedelic pop mix that I haven't heard since The Mother Hips. -powerpopaholic

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Michael Lord - Sway - 2004


Melodic mojo. Ethereal bliss. Sway is a sophisticated, sonically adventurous modern rock debut that's at once gorgeous, deep and fragile.
Driven by melody, embellished with sumptuous arrangements, and anchored by emotionally acute lyrics, Sway is the moving solo CD debut by Michael Lord, a remarkable new singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who draws quiet strength and inspiration from volatile relationships, intimate moments, and invisible scars.
Throughout his self-produced CD, Lord paints his delicate, heartfelt songs with lushly textured layers of sound. With soaring melodies always at the core, he creates engulfing soundscapes by recording instrument after instrument, and by dubbing his own three- and four-part harmonies. Most all of what you hear is him: guitars, piano, loops, percussion, and Lord's seductive vocals that rival anything you've heard. - CDBaby

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Michael Lord - Sway - 2004
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Flashing Lights - Sweet Release - 2001


The second full-length from the Flashing Lights finds the band expanding the sound they experimented with on their Elevature EP. Like that EP, Sweet Release is a bit more laid-back than the engaging pop/rock found on Where the Change Is. For that reason, it may take Flashing Lights fans — or Super Friendz fans, lead singer Matt Murphy's former indie pop/rock outfit — several listens to fully enjoy Sweet Release. That said, the Lights experiment with their influences — Television, the Kinks, the Rolling Stones, the Who, the MC5 — while keeping some of their crisp pop/rock sound. Bluesy jams, hard rock guitar riffs, and blues organ were hinted at on Where the Change Is, but here the band relaxes and expands these sounds for a fun, captivating listen. "Same Thing Twice" uses an overtired lyric ("Tonight, tonight") and makes it fresh, while its T. Rex and Sweet vibe only adds to the song's appeal. "Too Delightful" dabbles in garage rock, and "It's Alright" is a good-time romp with an extended jam. The standout track is "Friends You Learn to Hate" — its lush, genuine energy is quintessential Lights. The album falters a bit on some tracks that don't have as much steam — the quirky "Keep It to Yourself" takes the worst of Wings and adds over-emoting for a "Seasons in the Sun" sense of doom. But the Flashing Lights obviously love what they do, and their infectious enthusiasm and fondness for smooth pop harmonies make up for any unevenness found on Sweet Release. -AMG

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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Linus of Hollywood - Your Favorite Record - 2000


Certain albums, as light-of-touch and precious as they are, hold an inexplicable grasp on the imagination, their melodies so delicately beautiful and their sentiments so guilelessly injected with emotion that they become the best parts of you. Many of these sorts of albums found their genesis in the 1960s: the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds and Millennium's Begin are two particular examples. Linus of Hollywood's debut solo album, Your Favorite Record, is yet another opus in line with those sacred pop music morsels, a record that grows closer and closer to your heart each time you listen to it. The influence of Brian Wilson and Paul McCartney hovers around the perimeter of these songs, so full of ebullient chamber pop melodies as they are, and the album has the same sense of joyous independence as the early-'70s solo albums from one-man-band Emitt Rhodes while also betraying the easy sway of Harry Nilsson and Randy Newman. Linus has one of those angelic voices, a clear and dreamy teen-idol croon, and he sings out his sour introspection with such sweet conviction that the music of Gilbert O'Sullivan comes to mind. The only real significance those comparisons point to, however, is the frequently heartrending music that each artist made. Your Favorite Record stands up to them in every way. It is an enchantingly crafted, romantic gem of a record full of tender, moody songs like "Say Hello to Another Goodbye" and the beautiful, hopeful good morning of "When I Get to California." The arrangements can be simple, as on the swift, XTC-like acoustic tune, "The Man Who Tells the Crazy People What to Say," but are generally magnificently involved. Linus has all the gifts: the songwriting vision, the gorgeous falsetto ("Heavenly"), and the ability to harmonically invoke innocent romance ("Let's Take a Bath"). He creates swaying, textured harmonies (via waves of overdubs) that cascade like updated versions of the Mamas & the Papas or Spanky & Our Gang. The album, in fact, contains a cover of the latter's 1968 hit, "Sunday Morning." Cult '60s soft pop songwriter Margo Guryan actually wrote that song, and she lends Linus an additional hand on piano on another of her songs, the luscious, pensive "Shine." Melodically the album certainly draws on 1960s California pop and the attention to sonic detail on the album stands next to the best recordings from the era, but you can call it retro or derivative only insofar as you can label a whole genre of music as such. That type of criticism stands little chance against music this accomplished. Your Favorite Record is one of those albums that marks a moment in your life. It is only pop music, yes, but it is packed with big-hearted sounds and sentiments, lush and affecting, with that inexpressible touch of magic. -AMG

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Linus of Hollywood - Your Favorite Record - 2000
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The Blondes - Swedish Heat - 2004


The sound of 1970s guitar pop has staying power. Many, many bands have paid homage to the radio-ready sounds of bands like the Raspberries, the Rubinoos, Cheap Trick, and the Records. Many bands flat out get it wrong; by being too wacky, by being too reverential, or by not having strong hooks. There are also a few bands who manage to transcend their debt to the '70s, and are inclined to create music that looks forward as well as backward. Redd Kross, Jellyfish, maybe Fountains of Wayne, to name a few. The Blondes are not ready to be added to that list yet. Far from it. Their debut full-length record is filled with all the trappings of '70s pop, with soaring vocals, harmony guitar leads, walls of overdriven guitars, and sweet, catchy, dumb songs. Unfortunately, the songs are on the far side of goofy. Numbers like "Teenage Foxes," "Suzi Quatro," and "Vesna Velovic" are not half as witty as the band seems to think. No one expects epic poetry to be sung over the rush of power chords and swooping synths, but they might expect lyrics that are not quite so feyly clever. Also, by the time the record reaches about track eight or so, the same-yness of the arrangements and guitar sounds begins to drag the listener down, and gets them to thinking about what they will listen to next. The Blondes do have potential however; some of the melodies approach timelessness and the record is well-recorded; the music seems to leap right out of the speakers. Chalk it up as a mildly entertaining power pop nostalgia trip, and hope the band grows up (just a touch) before their next album is released. -AMG

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The Blondes - Swedish Heat - 2004
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Girls Say Yes - To The Boys Who Say No - 2001


More a collective than a band, Girls Say Yes is actually the concept of one Jim Huie, a journeyman drummer with an until now unfulfilled ambition. On the evidence of this project, those talents until now sadly untapped, have been awakened to great effect. Girls Say Yes and their debut album' To Boys Who Say No' is teeming with joyous and accomplished pop music that is rich in diversity and executed with flair and imagination. The band's name, the album's title and the sleeve art were inspired by an anti draft campaign poster from the 60s at the time of the Vietnam War. Virtually entirely written by Huie, the album has taken more than three years to complete. Recorded in a multitude of studios across the U.S. and Canada and featuring what seems like a cast of thousands in support, (well I counted at least twenty ), the finished article sounds like a potential classic. Hopefully it won't be a lost one. It's a sad fact that even though albums as good as this are few and far between, the dictates of marketing and commercial pressures just won't allow the album to be found, let alone heard by the size of audience it deserves. Covering a multitude of influences, from the Eastern-flavoured psychedelia of the album's opener Another Life via the roots-pop twang of Don't Call Me, the 80s funk-tinged pop of She Married A Loser to the 60s vocal pop à la The Association or The Millennium of Burning Inside Out, the points of reference may be relatively easy to identify, yet the material is as fresh and invigorating as it is derivative. The long list of contributors includes Mitch Easter, Adam Marsland (Cockeyed Ghost), Russ Tolman (True West) and Bobby Sutliff (The Windbreakers) with most of the mixing having been handled by Tom Mallon (American Music Club, Thin White Rope). Overall though it's the efforts of all those involved in the support of Jim Huie's vision which make the album so memorable. Girls Say Yes 'To Boys Who Say No' is an exceptional debut and a rare beacon of light in an ocean of mediocrity. -Geraint Jones

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Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Janglemen - Tearjerker and 9 others - 2007


The Janglemen certainly live up to their name and the album "Tearjerker and 9 others" offers listeners classic Roger McGuinn Rickenbacker guitar strum and catchy melody. You can't get more "jangle" than this. Fans of Jamie Hoover, Bobby Sutliff, and even early Elvis Costello will enjoy this. The vocals are loose and the band has a punk swagger, so this is not a tribute band, but something different. "New and Different Ways" is a autobiographical track that even includes a dog bark in the chorus! If you ever wanted to hear a mix of Paul Westerberg and The Monkees - pick this one up! -powerpopaholic

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Linus of Hollywood - Let Yourself Be Happy - 2001


Let Yourself Be Happy is a slight step down from the euphoric highs of Your Favorite Record; that's not necessarily a harsh appraisal, considering how incredible the first Linus of Hollywood album was. But even if it doesn't quite sustain the same sparkle as the debut, the album is just as endearing, and many of the songs are nearly as memorable. The album was again recorded solo, mostly in Linus of Hollywood's bedroom home studio, and has the same guileless charm that characterized his previous effort. He is without a doubt an artist of nearly unrivaled (Brian Wilson might have something to say about that) and unabashed romantic yearning, which is nowhere more evident than on an almost unrecognizable cover of Ozzy Osborne's "Goodbye to Romance." This time around Linus traded in some of the overt '60s sunshine pop predilections for '70s soft rock ones. The crisp sheen of the era's AM radio pop hovers over the album like L.A. smog. "I've Lost My Mind" breaks into a full-bloom Fleetwood Mac chorus that would probably fool even the members of the band into believing that they had recorded the song back in their hazy Laurel Canyon days. And when Linus ascends into falsetto, he could almost pass for Leo Sayer. But the album also jumps around the stylistic map a bit more, specifically trying out early rock & roll and doo wop influences, while also dipping into bossa nova with delightful results on "Whole New Country" and a cover the Smoking Popes' "Need You Around." Even more so, Let Yourself Be Happy owes a heavy debut to Phil Spector and the early-'60s Brill Building factory, right down to the angst-filled melodrama on swoony tunes like "Every Day I Fall in Love Again," the sweetly naïve "To Be a Girl," and "Where Are You," any of which would have been perfect vehicles for the Ronettes or Lesley Gore. And the album also offered the songwriter a chance to progress in other ways, not the least of which is his experimentation with new production and arranging techniques, as on "Thank You for Making Me Feel...Better," amazingly recorded using only beer bottles, and the vaudevillian pop of "The Girl I'll Never Have." Like Todd Rundgren, Linus proves himself more than capable of reproducing exactly the sonic quality of any pop era he wants, but more importantly, he is able to incorporate those sounds into his own unique and cohesive vision. There is nothing quite as sensational as "When I Get to California" or "Shine" on the album, and it is so blithe and breezy that it almost passes by before it can make much of an impression. But its superficial attributes alone are enough to reveal yet another level of Linus of Hollywood's impressive craftsmanship. -AMG

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Friday, September 26, 2008

The Orchid Highway - The Orchid Highway - 2008


It's tough for current pop bands to channel the Beatles without coming off as goofily retro or slavishly derivative, but Canadian quintet The Orchid Highway do a pretty damned spiffy job of it on their self-titled effort. Matter of fact, The Orchid Highway often sounds not unlike what the Beatles may have sounded like had they recorded Revolver in 2008. From the languid, slightly trippy "Let's Stay in Instead" and the jangly - yet insistently rockin' - Rickenbacker fest "Next World" to the Stonesy "Pop Tart Girl" (dig the "Brown Sugar"-inspired guitar riff that kicks things off) and the instant power pop classic "Time For a Change," the quality is always top notch, with spot-on lead vocals by brothers Jamie and Rory Macdonald and expert musicianship that balances slickness and rawness quite nicely. Pick this one up and if the aforementioned tunes don't become your fave raves, you may cotton to the dreamy "Sofa Surfer Girl" or the fantastic, hyper-poppin' "Medicine Tree" instead. Excellent stuff.--John M. Borack

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Seven O' Clock Junkies - Here Come's Everything - 2008


The History of the Seven O'clock Junkies looks back over 5 years. The first album “Here come’s everything” was meant to be a, mini solo album by Darryl Everitt, of songs written (and shoe horned in) whilst playing for “proper bands” in London. Musicians came and went from various tours and festivals with their main bands, but the songs just got more and more stunning as the sessions went on. The only problem was, in the end the album got bigger and bigger and the years rolled by… The first demos were finished off and sent to radio stations as early as 2001. Bob Geldoff came to hear of the band whilst he was doing a stint as a Dj on Londons Xfm radio station. Bob had been handed a copy of a 4 song demo by a friend of ours and was heard saying on a music program, that this band “restored his faith in pop music” and that “somebody should give them a proper release”…….he later aired many views on London’s XFM, one of which had him mentioning the band a second time and saying, he thought they we have been signed by now and that they we playing gigs in the area. (We weren’t signed, but we were playing live!) “Everyone’s allowed a little dreaming” received repeated airplay on Xfm radio but no one could get hold of a copy….It didn’t matter; we’ll finish the album soon, what’s the rush….Recording moved permanently to Shonk studios in Oxford, where The Candy Skins Bret Gordon and John Halliday re- recorded and recorded more songs. Charly Coombes from the 22-20’s and brothers Supergrass breezed through and absolutely made you want to die with a smile on your face with the keyboards he brought to the sessions.Then as the recording finished after a few crazy little gigs in London, we sat on the whole project.......... and went back to work with our various bands! -http://www.reverbnation.com/

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Chewy Marble - Modulations - 2008


Chewy Marble was formed by Wondermints bassist Brian Kassan in 1995 and the first two albums of the band did not stray far from the Wondermints tree, with Beatlesque melodies and sunny pop harmonies in it's self-titled debut and the 2001 follow up "Bowl of Surreal." Over the next six years, Brian wrote songs for "Modulations" and enlisted Nelson Bragg of Brian’s Wilson’s touring band and others to update the sound. Lots of stylistic variety here. Less pop and closer to traditional rock, the opener "She Roxx" has the hooks that make this a cut above. The clean power pop melody shine on "Cross Hatched World" with those wonderful choruses sure to please fans of the previous albums. The follow up "Somewhere Else" takes a psychedelic turn, as it resembles a track from The Pillbugs. Midway through the tracks, the tone changes and it's not all sunshine, but a variety of personal reflections as illustrated by "Black and White" with it's compelling lyrics and guitar breaks. Fans of Alan Parsons Project will appreciate the melodic tones combined with the adult subject matter. The shuffle of the ballad "Flicker" plays like a sober Syd Barrett seeing time pass by. This theme continues on "My Monster" and the poignant ballad "Hey Dad" is a perfect Father's Day song. The album ender "Clutter" is another heart felt narrative from the point of view of a pack rat, and one of my favorites on this album. It opens with the lyric, "The more I collect, I can't throw away..." when it comes to music I can identify with that. -Powerpopaholic.blogspot.com

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The Breakup Society - James At 35 - 2004


Conventional wisdom has it that lots of guys join rock and roll bands because it's a good way to impress girls, but the sad truth is, the average geeky rock dude who picks up a guitar in the hopes it will make him more like, say, Robin Zander, discovers he's become Rick Nielsen instead, a nerdy guy whose newly electrified angst makes him no more popular with the ladies than he ever was before. Ed Masley made something of a career out of chronicling the frustrations of regular guys with his woefully underrated band the Frampton Brothers, and the first song on the debut album from his new group, the Breakup Society finds him examining the very same Geeky Rock Guy Conundrum as he ponders the fact that every girl he was nuts about in high school was in love with the same guy — Robin Zander. James at 35 is a de facto concept album about various and sundry forms of girl trouble which suggests that, like many of us, Masley's understanding of the opposite sex has only progressed so far in the 18 years since he got out of high school. Fortunately, Masley is smart enough to be fully aware of this, and more importantly, he's written a batch of witty (and painfully accurate) songs about the joys and terrors of post-adolescent romance. On James at 35, Masley bemoans the fact that academia taught him nothing about women; he puzzles over his crushes on a teen idol with questionable talent; realizes his taste in clothes is just as bad as his girlfriend's choice of friends; visits a fond landmark from a previous relationship that his ex doesn't even remember, and wonders out loud why his latest love likes him so much, as he and the Breakup Society kick up a storm of pop-smart rock and roll, with the guitars of Masley and Sean Lally striking a solid balance between hooky bliss and solid crunch, while the rhythm section makes off with a solid wallop. Ed Masley is hardly the first guy to write songs about his romantic problems, but it's been a while since someone wrapped so many good ones into a package that's as satisfying as James at 35, and the Breakup Society's freshman offering is a must for anyone who loves tough but hook-laden pop-rock with guts, smarts, and plenty of humor. -AMG

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The Shorewoods - Long Weekend - 2003


The shorewoods started sometime in 1998 when joe lawless began taking "guitar breaks" with Sean Bentley on the grounds of their employer's campus. Over the next two years, several songs began to take the shape of something that should probably be recorded.
Jay Weaver and Mike Bristow were recruited to provide some rhythm and bass to the tunes and rehearsals began during the winter of 2000 in lawless' living room.
The following spring, recording began at Seattle's Egg studios for what would become the Shorewoods' debut cd, "Long Weekend." -theshorewoods.com

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Invisible Mind Circus - Look Inside - 2005


The Invisible Mind Circus is a 4 piece band whose mission is to create pop music with a definite nod to 60's garage/psychedelia while keeping a strong relevance for today.In other words The Invisible Mind Circus is:"Runnin' Round the Future With Shades of Yesterday".The band was started by Mike Armstrong(guitarist/songwriter).After several failed attempts Mike recruited the services of veteran Knoxville musicians Duane Parks(multi-instrumentalist) and Rick Vance(drums).The trio rehearsed 13 of Mike's original tunes to play live while looking for a 2nd guitarist.In the meantime the opportunity arose in early April 2004 for the band to work with former Superdrag drummer turned recording engineer/producer Don Coffey Jr. so the gear was packed up and carted down to 613 Studio in Knoxville to begin recording sessions for a possible E.P. Once the boys got started with Captain Coffey at the helm twiddling the knobs they realized after their 3 day stint they had accomplished much more than the average bear so the E.P. idea was scrapped and a 2nd 3 days of studio time was procurred to create a full-blown 13 song cd! About this time veteran indie rock icon Tim Lee(Windbreakers) dropped in to play some psychedelic hammond b3 sounds and some downright nasty fuzz guitar as any good neighbor would do. After the 2nd round of sessions the material was mixed in the Coffey sound lab by Captain Don with helpful/annoying suggestions from Mike and Duane.A quick trip to Yes Master Studios in Nasville to see Jim Demain for mastering and the band had it's debut cd "Look Inside".In September 2004 Jeff Comas(Candy Cream and the Wet Dream)joined the band on guitar.Jeremy Moore is the new drummer for the IMC. -www.allmoroccogift.com

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Tommy 16 - Shauna - 1995


Born under the original moniker Hardy Nilsson, Tommy 16 brought on their influences of Teenage Fanclub and Big Star to their home country of Sweden. Consisting of Urban Holmberg (vocals/ guitar), Lars Hall (guitar /vocals), Jan Pettersson (guitar), Niclas Marklund (guitar), Mikael Eriksson (bass) and Patrik Sundqvist (drums), Tommy 16 soon found themselves being heard on the radio with the release of their first single appropriately titled "#1 single." After signing to the local indie label A West Side Foundation, Tommy 16 soon established themselves as Swedish pop icons with their first album Shauna. -CD Baby

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The Moptops - Ground Floor Man - 2008


Imagine yourself a cake baked on Tom Petty´s groove, the melodies from The Beatles and the harmonies from The Byrds and you’re quite near the power of The Mop Tops music.The Mop Tops started out already back in 1985. Their first CD “Inside” came out in 1995 and was a great success. Now, 13 years after that CD, it´s finally time for the long-awaited follow up. The CD “Ground Floor Man” has been recorded in their hometown of Falköping, Sweden, and it has been mixed by Eric Ambel in New York. Eric is known for playing guitar with Steve Earle, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts as well as with the bands The Del-Lords and The Yayhoos. He´s also been producing lots of great music such as The Bottle Rockets and more. All the songs on the CD are written by singer/guitar player Tomas Nilsson and show his love for great pop music and bands such as The Beatles, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers and The Byrds. Tomas manages to take these great influences and make it into something that sounds nothing but like The Mop Tops.The band has appeared on several different compilations, and for the Gene Clark tribute CD “Full Circle”, the band managed to find the unreleased Gene Clark song “Christine”, and they recorded a great version of it. The band has played at The International Pop Overthrow festival on several occasions both in Liverpool, UK and in New York. The last time was in May 2008 when they played four shows at the legendary Cavern Club in Liverpool. The band has also played at The Lakeside Lounge and The Parkside Lounge in New York. -CD Baby

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Duffy - I Love My Friends - 1998


Stephen Duffy (or Duffy, as he prefers to be known on this release) put together an almost perfect album with this one. Following a year of difficulty securing a record deal (the alternate title of this CD is Looking for a Deal), Duffy took his management into his own hands and recorded this CD with a few friends: XTC's Andy Partridge, Aimee Mann, Blur's Alex James, and Elastica's Justin Welch (Duffy formed a side project with James and Welch called Me Me Me). The result is everything good about Britpop. The CD begins with "Tune In," a short piece of a radio dial being tuned to various songs from Duffy's long, somewhat complicated career. This basically sets the tone for this seemingly autobiographical, almost confessional album. Musically, Duffy seems to be leaning toward his Lilac Time days, which means it is more folk than dance (in fact, "Twenty Three" sounds very similar to "Return to Yesterday"). Duffy's voice is in fine form, and lyrically it is in the same vein as Lennon's Plastic Ono Band, and Dylan's Blood on the Tracks. At times, a difficult CD to listen to ("Postcard" certainly brings a lump to the throat), but it is refreshing to hear an artist reflect on his life, both professionally and personally. There is not a weak track on the CD, and although it has a folky tinge to it, it still features some of the finest pop melodies to be written in the '90s. "What If I Fall In Love With You" and "You Are" have tunes that after just one listening stick in your memory. This is intelligent music, accessible to most, and it serves as an excellent introduction to Duffy. Expertly produced (by Duffy and Stephen Street, and Andy Partridge), and extremely well recorded, it has a warm sound while utilizing '90s technology. A well-crafted album which not only survives repeated listenings, but almost cries out for constant attention, which is well deserved. - AMG

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Telepathic Butterflies - Breakfast in Suburbia - 2008


Over 40 years after the Beatles grabbed North America's musical consciousness by the lapels and gave it a friendly shake, their brand of guitar-based pop is still influencing bands here, there, and everywhere, and the third album from Winnipeg's the Telepathic Butterflies, Breakfast in Suburbia, shows that plenty of good things can still be built from the Fab Four's model. The Telepathic Butterflies aren't devoted to the Beatles at the exclusion of all else — "Telescope" shows flashes of both the Hollies and the Kinks, and "If It's All Too Much" suggests someone in this band listened to a lot of Who records. But the clean melodic lines and energetic guitar figures of the Beatles circa 1963-1965 clearly loom large in the Telepathic Butterflies' pantheon of influences, and they certainly do right by their role models. Réjean Ricard's guitar work is sharp and engaging, and he's a first-class songwriter to boot, sounding equally clever as a lyricist and tunesmith, and Jacques Dubois and Eric Van Buren are an excellent rhythm section, giving the songs plenty of snap and crackle while pushing the tunes forward with just the right degree of force. Though it isn't difficult to suss out this group's influences, the Telepathic Butterflies aren't overwhelmed by them, or living in a bygone era; these are simply bandmembers who understand the virtues of a smart, well-crafted pop tune played with fire and skill, and they have the talent to apply those lessons to their own work. Breakfast in Suburbia is superb pop/rock in the classic style that anyone who still believes in the curative power of the electric guitar will want to hear. -AMG

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P. Hux - Purgatory Falls - 2001


Simply, the 10 songs here are a story arc based on Huxley`s last 7 years of his life, meeting his soon-to-wife, finding out she had cancer,losing her, learning to love again. If these songs fail to move your soul, then move on to your next life as this is so `real` it hurts. But in themost beautiful and meaningful way as all 10 songs are just perfect, totally realized work. Many will be left speechless, others will cry...with joy, sadness, then joy again. Spare and containing all his signature song styles that any fan will embrace with great ease, Purgatory Falls is absolutely one of the Top 10 releases of 2001. -Not Lame

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Incredible Kidda Band - Too Much, Too Little, Too Late! - 2001


Remember during the good ol' days of late '70s and early '80s guitar-based new wave and power pop? Remember when the Boys had a new release, and how the raw energy almost ripped holes in your speakers? Prepare to relive those days, cuz here come two CDs of raw, unpretentious energy, dressed up in the catchiest hooks this side of the Boys. Recorded between 1977 and 1981, the Kiddas never got the break they deserved, due to circumstances beyond their control. They certainly had the talent and the songs, but it just didn't work out for them. With 29 tracks, there's something for every guitar pop fan. All the tracks are raw and primitive, but not sloppy. And each song, written by leader Alan Hammonds, has so much snap, crackle, and pop, you'll be stuffed silly by the time Disc Two ends. "Can I Take the Car Tonight" sounds like it could've been at least a regional hit way back then! "While the 1979-1981 material is in stereo, the earlier 1977 recordings are in mono, enhancing the experience for the fan, while irritating the audiophiles at the same time! "Fighting My Way Back" musically resembles a mix 'tween power pop favorites Bram Tchaikovsky and the Records "If Looks Could Kill," "Big Boys Don't Cry," and "Get Off the Telephone" are such nice, hooky little songs, that you have to wonder why no major label snapped them up. Though the sound quality is debatable in a few places, the songs speak for themselves. -AMG

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Captain Wilberforce - Everyone Loves A Villain - 2008


Simon Bristoll frustratingly continues to remain a blind spot for the disc buying public, a fact that's even harder to fathom in the light of this new album If you were to splice the DNA of Squeeze with that of the Guillemots, Burt Bacharach and Lennon and McCartney, this is what you'd likely get, a melody drenched album of superbly arranged intelligent grown up pop, rippling with quality songs that wear their 80s influences without shame but also sound like they were minted tomorrow. There's not a duff track here, but special attention should really be directed at the title track which is both reminiscent of and as good as anything Sgt Pepper, while spaghetti western guitars lay the ground for Confetti, Champagne And Roses which takes the best of early Costello and wraps it in a Difford and Tilbrook parcel, and Born Again Brand New Man swaggers down synthpop street like Badfinger on the arm of Stephen Duffy. And, quite frankly, McCartney should be strapped to a chair and made to listen to both eco-warning The Twilight Kids and the bittersweet The Girl Who Broke Her Own Heart as a reminder of the sort of class he used to write. - Mike Davies

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Grand Atlantic - This Is Grand Atlantic - 2007


"This Is Grand Atlantic" is exactly the sort of album that makes power pop a frustrating genre to write reviews of. The Brisbane quartet led by singer/songwriter Phil Usher has an undeniable knack for mimicry that makes their songs quite appealing on the surface but frustratingly hollow upon more careful listening. At first, a song like "Chaos Theory" sounds an absolute corker, but on a second pass, one notes that it's basically a new set of lyrics and a slightly different melody grafted onto the rhythm track to the Beatles' "Rain." Similarly, interest in the impressively overdramatic power ballad "Wonderful Tragedy" wanes as soon as the listener recalls just where he's heard that vocal melody on the verses before (answer: the oft-covered old Leon Russell tune "Superstar") and who it is the arrangement sounds so much like (answer: Oasis; in fact, this is usually the answer throughout the album). The thing is, Usher and crew are really good at this kind of respectful genre thievery, and it makes This Is Grand Atlantic an enjoyable listen for the first half-dozen spins, but just as a standup impressionist's act palls quickly, eventually it's just more satisfying to listen to the bands Grand Atlantic does such a good job of sounding like. Just a hint more personality or invention would go a long, long way toward making This Is Grand Atlantic a longer-lasting gem. -AMG

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

Various Artists - Big Star Small World - 2006


During their all too short lifespan, Big Star were a brilliant band who could not catch a break (their influence is still wildly out of proportion with the size of their audience), and for years this tribute album didn't seem destined for a brighter fate than the group who inspired it. Compiled by an independent label called Ignition Records with the participation of original Big Star drummer Jody Stephens, Big Star Small World was scheduled for release in the spring of 1998, but Ignition went under before the album ever made it way into stores, and the project sat in limbo until Koch Records obtained the rights to the tapes in 2006. As a result, Big Star Small World features tracks from three bands who no longer exist (the Afghan Whigs, Whiskeytown, and Idle Wilds), while two others have managed to split up and reunite during the eight-year waiting period (the Posies and the Gin Blossoms). One can be excused for wishing that after such a long gestation Big Star Small World would be some sort of landmark in the land of the tribute album, but that isn't quite the case. While pretty much everyone onboard sounds pleased as punch to be paying homage to Alex Chilton and his partners in power pop, too many of the performances on Big Star Small World sound like slavish covers of the original recordings (especially Juliana Hatfield's "Don't Lie to Me," the Gin Blossoms' "Back of a Car," and "The Ballad of El Goodo" from Matthew Sweet). The best tracks tend to be the ones that put a new spin on the songs, such as the Afghan Whigs' ominous stroll through "Nighttime," Teenage Fanclub's sprightly and Byrds-ian take on "Jesus Christ," and a cover of "What's Goin' Ahn" from the Posies that suggests they remembered well the lessons on Frosting on the Beater. And while neither Kelly Willis nor Wilco add anything especially unusual on their contributions, they get over on the strength of their delivery, with Willis' gorgeous country pipes buoying "When My Baby's Beside Me," while Jeff Tweedy is all glorious wonder and confusion as he sings "Thirteen." Big Star Small World's anti-climax comes with what was supposed to be its most important moment — Big Star cut a new song for this, their first studio material since their 1993 live reunion, but "Hot Thing" is an uninspired R&B pastiche that has little in common with the pop genius of the group's salad days. There's just enough good stuff on Big Star Small World to justify its belated release, but not enough to make it essential to anyone besides obsessive fans of either Big Star or the artists included. -AMG


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Brilliant Fanzine - Then Comes Monday - 2007


In a period where the 70s and 80s have run wild across the musical landscape it’s possible that Brilliant Fanzine’s carefullyorchestrated pop could be the hand that rocks the big riff cradle in 2007. If you’re looking for a band that can tie-up the 90s insuch a way that its aural trademarks are delivered with only a hint of nostalgia and a finish that makes it a sound for the futurethen Brilliant Fanzine definitely have what it takes to be your 21st Century boys. -SuperFurry, http://www.fasterlouder.com.au/

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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Fourbanger - Imagination Overdose (EP) - 2004


From the mean streets of Mesa, AZ comes Fourbanger. Fourbanger has an incomparable sound that fuses crisp, vocal harmonies and equally tantalizing guitar riffs with infectious pop melodies. With catchy melodies, tight guitar riffs, and an energized live show, this band has gained a reputation that has put them on the must-see radar. -CD Baby

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The Goldstars - Gotta Get Out! - 2003


Chicago's Goldstars emerged in the early 2000s from the ranks of a few local outfits. Organist Skipper and drummer Goodtime (their Christian names) were from New Duncan Imperials, while white soul brother vocalist and bassist Sal had done time with the Krinkles. The band's guitar position was initially fluid, since the Goldstars weren't meant to be full-time anyway, and most shows were spent bashing the hell out of old rock and R&B chestnuts that any axeman worth his weight in pocket change ought to know. Still, the spot finally solidified with the arrival of the fabulously named Dag Juhlin, another notable local who'd broken a few hearts as a member of the Slugs. The Stars soon became a fixture around town, bringing their glitter and hip shake to happy audiences from Rogers Park to Pullman. November 2003 saw the first all-original Goldstars material put to wax, with the Pravda issue of Gotta Get Out! Track titles like "She Don't Like," "Can You Satisfy," and "Oh Yeah!" were a good indication of the raucous raveosity that lay inside its hot pink sleeve. -AMG

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Friday, September 19, 2008

The Redwalls - The Redwalls - 2007


It takes a lot of chutzpah for a band like the Redwalls to write a tune whose chorus is built around the line "they say its all been done before," since even the group's most loyal adherents will acknowledge they don't have an original bone in their collective body, having lifted their sound and style from several dozen cherished bands of the '60s and '70s. On The Redwalls, the opener "Hangman" could pass for the Faces in dim light, "Put Us Down" is pure British Invasion-era pop, "Game of Love" recalls the grand scale angst of the Walker Brothers, the slightly woozy psychedelic accents of "Into the Maelstrom" owe more than a bit to the Creation, and "Little Sister" recalls Buffalo Springfield's more navel-gazing moments. But as someone once said, "mediocre artists borrow, great artists steal," and while calling the Redwalls' self-titled third album "great" is going a bit far, the Chicago-based quartet certainly know how to build a catchy and solidly rocking disc out of the bits and pieces they've gleaned from their favorite bands. Bounced from a brief association with a major label, the Redwalls recorded album number three in Sweden with producer Tore Johansson (who previously worked with the Cardigans, OK Go, and Franz Ferdinand), and the results put a slightly more contemporary sheen on this band's retro style, at least moving them into the '90s with some Brit-pop accents on songs like " "Modern Diet" and "Summer Romance" (then again, they have also come from touring with Oasis in 2005). Listening to The Redwalls, you might get the feeling you've heard some of this stuff before, but that doesn't mean you won't enjoy its swagger and spirit. -AMG

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Zach Ziskin - Real As the Memory - 2002


Zach Ziskin defines modern pop with a fresh sound that wraps instantly memorable melodies in concise, hook-laden songs. The South Florida native's retro-style songwriting and rich, textured sound are steeped in classic pop sensibility, echoing the past but with a modern edge that draws from a wide range of influences including Jeff Buckley, Jellyfish, The Beatles, Coldplay and U2, among others. -CD Baby

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Shins - Wincing the Night Away - 2007


"The Shins will change your life!" That kind of proclamation is loaded with expectations when it's just one friend talking up a band to another, but it's magnified a thousandfold when Natalie Portman says it in a hit movie. The band's popularity was already growing steadily with each album they released, but Garden State took them to another level entirely — if anyone's life was changed by that praise-filled cameo, it was the Shins'. The expectations and pressure that the Garden State effect brought could've been too much for any band, especially a delicate, wistful one like the Shins. Though they took a little while to deliver a new album, Wincing the Night Away shows that time was well spent. Neither a retread nor a radical departure — nor, thankfully, a conscious attempt at making "life-changing" music — the album is a mix of quintessentially Shins songs and tracks that take their sound in subtly different directions. Wincing's clean, borderline slick production is the main concession to the band's post-Garden State fame, but this just makes joyfully sad songs like "Australia" and "Turn on Me" sound like nods to jangly '80s indie instead of jangly '60s guitar pop. "Phantom Limb," Wincing the Night Away's single, is the closest the album comes to the Shins-by-numbers that some fans feared this album would be in the wake of their mainstream success, though the strange, soaring chord change that leads into the chorus keeps things from being too predictable. Actually, many of the album's best moments show how the Shins' music has progressed: "Sleeping Lessons" begins and defines Wincing the Night Away, moving from shimmery opening keyboards to strummy acoustic guitars to a rousing, electrified finish. "Black Wave" is another standout, a stark ballad with chilly layers of electronic textures surrounding James Mercer's plaintive vocals, and "Split Needles" continues this dark, dreamy, synth-heavy feel. The band ventures even farther from familiar territory with "Sea Legs"' slinky beat and funky bassline, and with "Red Rabbits"' keyboards, which sound like a cross between dripping water and steel drums. These experiments never feel contrived, and never get in the way of the vulnerable heart of the Shins' music (which beats loudest on the hopeful album closer, "A Comet Appears"). Wincing the Night Away is the sound of the Shins acknowledging where they've been and moving on to new territory, and while it probably won't change your life, it probably will make it more enjoyable — and, most likely, that's all the Shins wanted to do in the first place. -AMG

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The Allies - The Allies - 1982


While thinking about all the notable rock bands/artists that Washington has spawned over the years, genres such as psychedelic rock (Jimi Hendrix), arena rock (Heart), grunge (Nirvana), and even heavy metal (Queensrÿche) are all well represented. But what about power pop? Although they're not as widely renowned a name as the aforementioned acts, the region did in fact spawn a power pop act in the early '80s that was as strong as any of the other skinny tie/headband-wearing groups at the time — the Allies. Comparable to the likes of the Shoes and 20/20, the Allies seemed destined for greatness, but at the time, record label heads weren't exactly flocking to Seattle to sign bands — in the same way the would have if the band hailed from say, New York City or Los Angeles. Despite no major-label takers, the group issued a lone album in 1982, Allies, via their own label. And while local radio and even MTV got behind the leadoff track, "Emma Peel," this would prove to be the group's one and only full-length before calling it quits in 1985. Fourteen years after their split, the Allies' leader, Dave Kincaid, reissued the album via his Haunted Field Music label, and listening to it all these years later, there's really no reason why the group shouldn't have followed other similarly styled acts up the charts. This is especially evident on the aforementioned "Emma Peel" (arguably the best thing the Allies did), as well as the Tommy Tutone-ish "Keep Your Eyes on Your Heart," the Records-esque "Hide in the City," and the slashing guitar-based "The Fanatic Rag." Hopefully, this reissue will bring some much-deserved attention to one of the more overlooked bands of the early-'80s power pop era. -AMG

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Tommy Tutone - Tommy Tutone - 1980


Main songwriters Jim Keller and Tom Heath show a rare talent for writing catchy hook and memorable melodies on this fine debut. Despite a considerable promotional push from Columbia and no shortage of quality material, this record lacked the extra something needed to distinguish it from the masses of similar sounding bands of the time. The single, "Angel Say No" was a minor U.S. hit. -AMG

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Shame Idols - The Light is Always On - 2007


Formed in the early 90s, the Shame Idols released two critically-lauded albums in the mid-'90s on the estimable Frontier Records. Singer/songwriter and guitarist Tim Boykin (ex-Carnival Season) formed the group in Birmingham in 1991 when his previous group, Pinky The Stabber, split up. The other band members, guitarist Bryan Price, bassist Buddy Banks, and drummer Jesse-Diego Suttle, had previously played together in the punk band Working Mothers.An early fan of the group, the Young Fresh Fellows' Scott McCaughey, hooked the band up with his then-current label, Frontier, and also introduced him to Seattle-based indie producer extraordinaire Conrad Uno, who produced both 1995's I Got Time and 1996's Rocket Cat. The Shame Idols split up in the late 90s, Boykin doing several albums with power pop favorites the Lolas. In September 2004 Shame Idols start to rehearse after not playing together for several years. New member Alan Helms, who played with Bryan and Jesse in Working Mothers, is added on bass guitar. Local shows and new material are well-received, and the band set about recording their third album, The Light Is Always On. -CD Baby

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

tenniscourts - tenniscourts - 2007


If English pop mined the deadpan sincerity of Randy Newman with the flair of Cheap Trick, you’d have Tenniscourts. Let’s just settle for a “post-punk Kinks” to describe this populist Chicago trio. Bits of Jam, Pulp, Small Faces, Who, T-Rex and straight-ahead American rock belie the musical sophistication of a songwriter who cites Syd Barrett as his inspiration for picking up a guitar. -CD Baby

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The Krayolas - The Best Riffs Only - 2007


Sixteen tracks recorded between 1977 and 1988 are compiled on this CD collection of this San Antonio band, taken from (according to the brief liner notes) "long unavailable, out-of-print indie vinyl singles and rarities," though exact sources and dates for individual tracks aren't given. While Hector and David Saldana were always in the band during this period, the personnel changed quite a bit, and more than half-a-dozen different lineups are represented on this anthology. Partly for that reason, and partly due to its decade-plus chronological span, there's such a variety of styles on display that at times it seems like several different bands are represented on the disc. Generally speaking, however, it's well-done, high-spirited retro-rock encompassing several styles, including Merseybeat (particularly on their debut single "All I Do Is Try"/"Sometime"), instrumental surf ("Alamo Dragway"), power pop, roadhouse blue-eyed soul ("Roadrunner"), Tex-Mex-influenced new wave ("The Sphinx Won't Tell" sounds like a mixture of Elvis Costello and border music), and even '70s Van Morrison-styled horn rock ("Times Together"). Ultimately, British Invasion and power pop seemed to be their favored calling cards, though the two tracks with John Harris on vocals (the aforementioned "Roadrunner" and "Times Together") indicate that they might have gone through an R&B phase, so different do they sound than their surroundings. -AMG

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Cloud Eleven - Terrestrial Ballet - 2004


As far as winsome, winning psych-pop goes, you can't do much better than Rick Gallego and Cloud Eleven. The 23-track Terrestrial Ballet is a collection of tribute album offerings, previously unreleased goodies, demos and other rarities, all wrapped in a soft, pleasant, acid-dipped gauze. Muscular pop rock ("Serendipic Wheel," "Apricot Ash"), '67 Beach Boys-cum-Tommy James fare ("Clover"), sprightly singer-songwriter acoustic stuff ("Waiting There Without You"), sitar-laced moodiness ("Glistening"), Shoes-like power pop ("It Does"), synthed-out grooviness ("Tuesday Letter"), Beatled-up cheeriness ("The One"), covers of Shoes, Teenage Fanclub and The Who---it's all here and it's all flat out wonderful, graceful and often poetic. As good as Cloud Eleven's albums proper are, this one's even better, and I'm not sure I'm prepared to say exactly why that is; perhaps it's due to the sheer variety of styles on display (as well as Gallego's ample songwriting skills). One of the lyrics from Gallego's homage to his musical heroes, "Sound on Sound," goes a long way towards describing Terrestrial Ballet : "Every move that you make sends me reeling when I hear that sound on sound." Believe it. -John M. Borack

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The Excessories - Pure Pop For Punk People - 2001


In 2001, pop/punk has deteriorated from a once-valid description into an overused misnomer best utilized in reference to some of the most watered-down musical clichés to seep their way into the hearts and wallets of record buyers since the concoction of the word grunge. Enter the Excessories -- vocalist-guitarist Melanie Coffee, guitarist Rich Coffee, bassist Janet Housden and drummer Roy J. Morgan -- a gang of musical misfits who rightfully restore the misrepresentative term to its true meaning with Pure Pop for Punk People, an album bursting forth with first-class power-pop, fuzzed-out surf punk and sassy, '60s girl-group allure. This should come as no surprise when you consider that, collectively, the band members boast stints in such notorious local scene machines as Redd Kross, Sluts for Hire, the Darlings, the Tommyknockers and the Shakes. From the cleverly tweaked use of Nick Lowe's debut album title to the tunefully giddy tributes to Cheap Trick, the Go-Go's and Blondie contained within, the quartet's initial offering is sonically indebted to that musically schizophrenic year of 1981 -- the year responsible for such striped-shirt staples as Beauty and the Beat, I Love Rock 'n' Roll and debut discs from the Plimsouls and the Barracudas. Pushed to the limit by buzz-saw guitars, manic drumming and sun-kissed harmonies, Melanie's candy-coated odes to punk rock boys, teenage daydreams, summer vacation and L.A. seismology (in a spot-on cover of "The Earthquake Song," by where-are-they-now new-wave duo Little Girls) explode with all of the tongue-tickling goodness of a package of Pop Rocks or a gigantic wad of Bubblicious. Twenty-five minutes after the album's opening snare blast, the Excessories will more than likely have you convinced that if this isn't damn near the best music on earth, it's certainly a refreshing reminder of why -- as our heroine Miss Melanie sings -- "Pacific Coast/Yeah, it really is the most."- Jim Freek - Los Angeles New Times

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Thee Fourgiven - It Ain't Pretty Down Here - 1985


The '60s-influenced Thee Fourgiven consisted of members Ray Flores (bass, vocals), Matt Roberts (drums), and Bela Horvath (guitar), rising from the ashes of another similarly styled outfit, the Unclaimed. Formed in the '80s and owing a thing or two to such yesteryear Motor City rockers as the MC5 and Up, the trio issued several albums (It Ain't Pretty Down Here, Testify!, and Salvation Guaranteed), as well as numerous singles and appearances on compilations. The group split up in early 1989. -AMG

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Various Artists - West Of Eden - 2005


California may not be a perfect paradise, but spending one hour with this current crop of amazing artists is damn close to heaven.
‘West of Eden” showcases seventeen California artists and each track takes you to the state which is kissed by the sun and blessed with incredible music! From Hollywood to the fruited plains of the Central Valley, pop is alive, well and plentiful. Zip Records, based in San Francisco has scored. West of Eden is more than "Various Artists"... it's the BEST Artists! -Zip Records

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Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Sensitive Guy's Guide To Groovy Music - Various Artists - 2004


As one of the last proponents of jangle pop in the 21st century, the Paisley Pop label has gathered up 22 shining examples of its progeny from North America and the U.K.
THE SENSITIVE GUY’S GUIDE TO GROOVY MUSIC serves as a terrific introduction to the world of underground pop. Focusing on artists on fledgling independent labels including Paisley Pop, BongoBeat, 1-2-5,Groove Disques, and Gadfly, TSGGTGM brings forth otherwise obscure artists like Stephen Lawrenson, Joe Mannix, The Swivel Chairs and Milkshake Jones to rub shoulders with offerings from more prominent musicians including Jamie Hoover & Bill Lloyd, Kimberly Rew (writer of the 80s hit Walking On Sunshine and former Soft Boy), Huw Gower (lead guitarist on the 1979 Billboard smash single "Starry Eyes"), and Jill Olson (John Wesley Harding, Red Meat, Mare Winningham).
Paisley Pop has mined artists from across the country, bringing together artists from not only its hometown of Portland, OR (The Quags & Crack City Rockers), but as far away as Cambridge, England (Kimberley Rew). Artists on the Sensitive Guy’s Guide span from the downtown folk scene of New York City (Joe Mannix, Huw Gower) to Ottumwa, Iowa by way of San Francisco (Jill Olson); with states like Texas (Rite Flyers, Happiness Factor), Tennessee (Bill Lloyd, Tim Lee) and Pennsylvania (Milkshake Jones, Trolleyvox, Stephen Lawrenson) all contributing several groups each.

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The Sensitive Guy's Guide To Groovy Music - Various Artists - 2004 pt1
The Sensitive Guy's Guide To Groovy Music - Various Artists - 2004 pt2
The Sensitive Guy's Guide To Groovy Music - Various Artists - 2004 pt3
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The Len Price 3 - Rent a Crowd - 2007


The Medway is a good distance from the Mersey, Maidstone is a far cry from Liverpool, and 40 years further separate the Len Price 3 from the heady days of the British Invasion, but so determined is this trio to resurrect the past, that it's best to just let them get on with it. It's hard to believe that the trio once had to brave the taunts and jeers of the "next big things" with their "Rent a Crowd" fans, and the band put that ilk firmly in their place with the critical success of their debut album Chinese Burn, and now put the boot in with the title track of their follow-up set. With their insouciant blend of infectious Beatlesque hooks, Pete Townshend styled power chords, Kinks-like melodies, and enough slapdash energy to put even the Small Faces to shame, the group slam through a baker's dozen tracks in just over 30 minutes, and that includes the hidden bonus blues track. But short and sharp is the name of their game, just like it was back before pop bands grew their hair and transformed into rockers. The Len Price 3 prefer their hair short and their songs quick, upbeat, and with a sharp edge that beautifully bridges the gap between the likes of the Pretty Things and the Small Faces and their offspring: Generation X, the Rezillos, and the Buzzcocks. It's virtually impossible to pick favorites from such a strong set, but the boisterous Who-esque title track, the punky, swaggering "Sailors Sweetheart," the Byrds-ish beauty of "Doctor Gee," the Kinks-infected "Girl Like You" and "Mesmer," the exuberant "She's Not Really There," the harmony laced "Australia," and the utterly irrepressible "If I Ain't Got You" taken together at least showcase their musical range. Rare is a set, beyond a best-of compilation, where every track sounds like a hit, but Len Price 3 has no need to Rent a Crowd any more: this album should send the public screaming after them all on its own accord. -AMG

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Friday, September 12, 2008

The Contrast - Forget to Tell the Time - 2005



With their fourth and best album, Peterborough, England's the Contrast roll out 14 tunes that pay tribute to 1980s college radio icons like the Smithereens and R.E.M. with spirit, talent, and conviction. The fiery "Caught in a Trap" charges forth with the melodic gifts of singer/songwriter/guitarist David Reid, but the three-part harmonies of "Forget to Tell the Time" and the Kinks-on-steroids thump of "Different Again" are just gateways to mid-album keepers like the contagious, simple pop of "Someone Else's Logo," the Costello-like blues/jazz crawl of "Hold Your Fire," and the bittersweet, Rickenbacker-steered "Ink." Embraced by Little Steven on his Underground Garage radio show for good reason, these gents keep it tight and interesting. An exceptional effort, Forget to Tell the Time finds the Contrast coming in clear and in Technicolor. -AMG

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The Doughboys - Is It Now? - 2007


Conduct a Google search on the name "Doughboys", and a lot of info will come up about a Montreal, Canada-based alternative rock band that was active in the '80s and '90s. But the foursome that is heard on Is It Now? is a different band. These Doughboys were around long before the Canadian Doughboys, and they aren't Canadian; this garage rock/rock & roll outfit was active in northern New Jersey and New York City in the '60s (when they put out a few singles) and broke up at the end of that decade. Is It Now?, their reunion album of 2007, unites three people who were part of the Doughboys in the '60s (singer Myke Scavone, bassist Mike Caruso, and drummer Richard X. Heyman) with guitarist Gar Francis. Heyman, of course, has had an impressive solo career as a singer/songwriter, while Scavone was the leader of the '70s heavy metal/hard rock combo Ram Jam (of "Black Betty" fame). But Is It Now? doesn't sound anything at all like Ram Jam. The focus of this CD is '60s-style garage rock, and the Doughboys' allegiance to the '60s (especially the early recordings of the Rolling Stones) is impossible to miss on original material as well as gritty, memorable covers of the Rascals-associated "Ain't Gonna Eat My Heart Out Anymore" and Bobby Troup's "Route 66." The latter is a gem that was made famous by the Nat King Cole Trio in 1946 and became a major hit for the Stones when they covered it in the '60s; the Doughboys' inspired version is closer to the Stones' version, although not an exact replica. Is It Now? doesn't pretend to be groundbreaking, but lovers of '60s-style garage rock will find it to be an excellent and thoroughly rewarding reunion album for the Doughboys. -AMG


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Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Black Hollies - Crimson Reflections - 2006


At ten tracks running just over a half-hour, this debut from the NYC-based garage revivalists Black Hollies could be considered an EP. But the disc is power packed and by the time it's done, there isn't much left to say. The album is filled with snappy riffs and a '60s psychedelic esthetic borrowed from both British ("Crimson Reflections Through Looking Glass Mind" sounds like it was recorded around the Stones' "Dandelion"-period, "Come and Tell Me" would have made a great Searchers tune) and American ("You've Been Gone Too Long" cranks out a Standells/Seeds-styled vibe) sources. While the quartet won't win any originality contests even among contemporary bands such as the Chesterfield Kings who mine similar territory, they attack this music with appropriate raw power. You may find yourself playing "spot the riff" on much Crimson Reflections, but that just adds to the fun. And even when the group steals from sources as obvious as the Beatles (hey, there's the "Taxman" lick in "Get Yourself Together, Girl"), the effect is more joyous celebration than flippant rip-off. The tunes never overstay their welcome, nailing a groove and then moving on. The energy explodes out of the speakers and is as contagious as pink eye. Lead vocalist Justin Angelo Morey sounds inspired throughout spitting out his lyrics to these ten originals and the dueling lead guitars on the opening "No Need to Be Rude" are nearly as crude as anything the Sonics ever laid down on tape. Fans of Little Steven's Underground Garage radio show will eat this up, but anyone interested in garage rock's roots will enjoy the Black Hollies' animated offering. -AMG

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Jensen Bell - Modern Dating Tips - 2005


Modern Dating Tips is essentially as the title alludes, or as the artist himself puts it, “an evolving view of the arc of a modern person’s dating life”. Irony is the major theme within and to add one more, though Bell is an Angelino, his songwriting style is very “east coast,” as it will remind the listener of New York heavyweights like Fountains Of Wayne, Richard X. Heyman, and George Usher. Most of the songs on Modern Dating Tips clock in at under three minutes and have hooks in all the right places, with sardonic lyrics that always bring home the point. His line of “I’d swear off girls if I wasn’t straight” pretty much sums up the dating frustrations many men go through, but in the end never really live by. The album features several luminaries of the L.A. music scene, including Kim Shattuck (with whom Bell duets on the appropriately Muffs-like “Happy Chocolate) and the guardian angel of L.A. power-pop: Robbie Rist. This is one helluva pop album, and you won’t want to be without it. -David Bash - Amplifier Magazine

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Brainpool - You Are Here - 1999


Part of the late-'90s explosion of Swedish guitar pop bands, Brainpool was formed in Lund, Sweden, by vocalist Janne Kask, guitarist David Birde, bassist Christoffer Lundquist, and drummer Jens Jansson. Their Beatles influence was displayed on such albums as 1994's Soda, 1995's Painkiller, and 1996's Stay Free. Kask left the band in 1997, but the remaining members stayed together, releasing You Are Here in 1999. -AMG

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Essex Green - Everything Is Green - 1999


The Essex Green's debut album captures the sound and spirit of the psychedelic era with an uncanny accuracy which makes the rest of the Elephant 6 collective seem positively postmodern by comparison. It's hardly paint-by-numbers, however — for all of its colorful guitar effects, orchestral spangles, and studio trickery, what's impressive about Everything Is Green is the subtle mastery with which the band deploys these cues, soaring so far beyond their music's superficial similarities to psychedelia that the album seems less like a latter-day homage to the late '60s than an actual artifact of the times; songs like "Primrose" and the majestic "Mrs. Bean" are both wonderfully unique and instantly familiar, evoking not merely the sonic grandeur of pop's past but its limitless possibilities as well. -AMG

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Stereolab - Chemical Chords - 2008


At times, Stereolab's music seems so unchanging that it feels more like it was generated by a laser-guided, lounge pop-meets-Krautrock machine than an actual "groop," but the small tweaks they make to their master plan on each album end up making a big impact. On Chemical Chords, Stereolab's 4AD debut, they take a much more pop-focused approach than their immediately previous work — which is saying something, since neither Fab Four Suture nor Margerine Eclipse were among their more experimental moments in the first place. Actually, the shortness and directness of these songs could be seen as a bigger experiment for the band than their frequent lockgrooves and hypnotic passages; with those trimmed, Chemical Chords presents a version of Stereolab's sound that is just as vivid as their earlier output, but fizzing with immediacy and urgency. "Neon Beanbag" jumps in hooks first, opening the album with a surprisingly swift rhythm and Laetitia Sadier's more familiar, bopping backing vocals. "One Finger Symphony"'s animated brass, guitars, and percussion suggest gears rotating and levers lifting and falling in playful but somewhat sinister fashion; "Daisy Click Clack" swishes in on brisk drums and a quaint melody that could be borrowed from a piano rag. Despite its name, Chemical Chords actually features some of Stereolab's most organic-sounding music in some time, downplaying their arsenal of analog synths in favor of live instrumentation — the burbling synths on "Self Portrait with Electric Brain" support the song's snazzy brass and strings rather than dominating them. Likewise, Stereolab's version of "going pop" means looking beyond what "pop" means in the moment. A strong '60s feel permeates much of the album, but the way the band reconfigures these sounds prevents it from sounding archaic. "Three Women"'s rock-solid bass and tambourine shout out to Motown's heyday, but its buzzing organs and bongos feel like they were channeled from a long-lost exotic novelty album. "Cellulose Sunshine"'s gorgeous lysergic chamber pop could be a throwback, if it weren't so modishly sleek, and "Pop Molecule"'s massive synths and big, backward drums offer a futuristic take on acid rock. The band also revisits its own pop heyday on "Valley Hi!" and "Nous Vous Demandons Pardons," boasting the clever counterpoint and fuzzy Moogs of the Mars Audiac Quintet era. Chemical Chords manages to be even more concisely charming than that album, sacrificing little of Stereolab's distinctive sound for its immediacy. -AMG

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