Friday, October 31, 2008

The Winnerys - Daily Urban Times - 2006

What hath the Flamin Groovies wrought? Ever since Cyril Jordan and company released their three Sire albums in the latter half of the '70s, there has been a subset of power pop bands who base their entire concept of artistic success on how closely they resemble some fantasy mash-up of the Beatles, the Kinks, the Hollies, Big Star, and Badfinger. It's not that there's anything wrong with any of those bands, of course. It's just that given how many twee little acoustic love songs Paul McCartney has written over the decades, does one really need to hear Spanish retro-pop band the Winnerys do a note-perfect simulacrum of same on "My Little Good Friend"? Well, no, but there's a certain dorky charm to the band's refusal to do anything beyond being the Castilian Rutles (the Iberian Dukes of Stratosphear?), and it's true that they do what they do extremely well. Singer-guitarist Fausto Martin does such a dead-on McCartney impersonation that one almost starts to look forward to hearing the different ways it crops up from song to song, and his creative foil, bassist Javier Polo, has an equally impressive, pure pop vocal style. As long as the listener doesn't expect much beyond the merest pro forma feints towards originality, Daily Urban Times is an entertaining listen. -AMG

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The Go Betweens - 16 Lovers Lane - 1988

Arguably Australia's greatest pop group ever, The Go-Betweens seemed to save the best for last when they split in 1989. (They reunited in 1999, and have issued two more studio recordings since that time). 16 Lovers Lane is simply breathtaking; it is a deeply moving, aurally sensual collection of songs about relationships and the broken side of love that never lapses into cheap sentimentality or cynicism. Songwriters Robert Forster and Grant McLennan had always been visionary when it came to charting personal and relational melancholy and heartbreak, but here, their resolve focused on charting the depths of the romantic's soul when it has been disillusioned or crestfallen, is simply and convincingly taut. While it's true that the group was going through its own version of a soap opera-styled romantic saga, that emotional quagmire seemingly fueled its energies and focus, resulting in an album so texturally rich, lyrically sharp, and musically honest, its effect is nothing less than searing on an any listener who doesn't have sawdust instead of blood in his or her veins.Opening with McLennan's "Love Goes On," the stage is set for a kind of refined yet primal emotional transference that pop music is rarely capable of revealing. As he sings: "There are times when I want you/I want you so much I could bust/I know a thing about lovers/Lovers lie down in trust/The people next door they got problems/They got things they can't name/I know about things about lovers/ Lovers don't feel any shame/Late not night when the light's down low/The candle burns to the end/I know a thing about darkness/Darkness ain't my friend/Love goes on anyway," the doorway to the heart and its secrets opens. In the grain of his voice lie the flowers in the dustbin whose names are desperation and affirmation. With its hyperactive acoustic guitars, Amanda Brown's cooing string arrangements, and the deftly layered, subtly played brass instruments, the tune becomes a gauzy anthem; it celebrates the ravaged heart as a beacon of strained hope in the entryway to a hall of bewilderment. He follows it with "Quiet Heart," a song whose opening was admittedly influenced in structure by U2's "With Or Without You," but blows it away lyrically and with its subtly shifting melody and harmony between the guitars. Brown's multi-layered strings actually stride the backbeat's pulse. His protagonist speaks to an absent lover. His ache offers a view of his own weakness, desperation, and an all-consuming tenderness: "I tried to tell you/But I can only say when we're apart/How I miss your quiet, quiet heart." Forster seems to underline McLennan' s raw emotionalism with his painterly, nearly baroque, "Love Is A Sign," where images from visual art, remembered scenarios, and real life brokenness intermingle effortlessly with the elegance of mandolins, a string orchestra, and a shimmering bassline. With "Streets Of Your Town," the Go-Betweens scored a minor hit in the U.K., and even got played on American radio for a moment, but despite the fact that it has the most memorable hook on a record filled with them, it merely underscores how constant the quality is on the record. Evidenced further by "The Devil's Eye," and the shattering closer "Dive For Your Memory," 16 Lovers Lane is melancholy and somber in theme, but gloriously and romantically presented. Despite the fact that band has but a cult following, even in the 21st century, the Go-Betweens have nonetheless given us a far more literate, magnificently written, performed, and produced slab of pop classicism, than Fleetwood Mac's wonderfully coked out, love as co-dependency fest, Rumours. -AMG

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The Go Betweens - 16 Lovers Lane - 1988/rs
The Go Betweens - 16 Lovers Lane - 1988/sb

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Vinyl Kings - Time Machine - 2005

Unlike many similar bands, the Vinyl Kings are at least upfront about what they're trying to accomplish. This seven-piece band is unapologetically obsessed with the pop music of the era roughly between 1963 and 1971, and their second album is a hodgepodge of lifts from the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and all the rest. (There's also a strong resemblance to classic-era Electric Light Orchestra in spots, mostly because Jeff Lynne himself was so enamored of the same pop music era.) Thing is, because the Vinyl Kings don't pretend to be anything other than a bunch of middle-aged Beatles fans who don't care about any music released after 1981 -- the lyrics of several songs, most notably "'67 (Home)" and the title track, are about this very obsession -- then it's possible to enjoy Time Machine for what it is: catchy, tuneful pop music of very little substance. It's only when contemporary bands try to "update" or "re-imagine" this brand of '60s pop that the results get truly tiresome; Time Machine is so unashamed of its tribute-band intentions that the unpretentious charms of the songs come through more strongly. -AMG

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Boss Martians - Move! - 2000

For their third and final album for the Dionysus label, the Boss Martians haven't moved too far away from their reverent yet formulaic rendering of mid-'60s West Coast teen rock, rockabilly, surf, garage rock, and power pop. In 1998, the Seattle-based band's longtime drummer, Dan Israel, departed from the group, forcing group leader/guitarist/vocalist Evan Foster to recruit former Untamed Youth drummer Joel Trueblood for their next recording sessions. Bassist Scott Betts was the next to leave, taking off on his honeymoon; he was replaced by Steve "Esquerita" Davis. Finally, drummer Jason Reavis came aboard, taking over for the substituting Trueblood. With this game of musical chairs going on during the recordings, you'd half expect the new lineup to have invigorated the group, but all it does is point out that Foster and his group don't seem to want to be taken too seriously anyway. For the most part, the Boss Martians are still replicating the same stuff they've been doing since they formed eight years earlier. Move! -- clocking in at a mere 35 minutes -- is a ramshackle mix of '60s song styles and subgenres, pinballing between vocal tracks and various odd instrumentals. Of the latter, the surfalicious "The Last Ride" has a nice vibrato electric piano break, while the perky "Intermission" is a bossa nova-meets-Korla Pandit bit of whimsy. "Trouble on Two Wheels" veers off the path and crashes into a Middle Eastern-sounding klezmer breakdown with a clarinet riff that couldn't possibly sound more out-of-place on a rock & roll album. Other instrumentals include "Chihuahua del Diablo," a slow, Latinesque surf instrumental with a sultry acoustic guitar lead, and "Pandilla en Motocicleta," which sounds like an uninspired mix of Davie Allan's polished '90s-style fuzz guitar and standard disco drumbeats. The vocal tracks fare better, though they're a scattershot mix as well. "Never Trust a Chick (In a 3 Window Coupe)" wouldn't have sounded too out of place on a Bobby Fuller Four's hot rod album. Several of the other tracks are muscular power pop, the kind that Paul Collins' Beat or 20/20 used to play back in the early '80s; not too surprisingly, both Foster and keyboardist Nick Contento also have a power pop band, the Mystery Action. The rumbling "This Time Around" has a ripping guitar lead and a simplistic synth riff that repeats, ad infinitum. Foster even tosses an unnecessary wah-wah guitar into the title track, "Move!" Foster's chirpy Beach Boys-style vocals are somewhat huskier throughout, especially on "She's In, You're Gone," which, as the leadoff track, is probably the album's best track. "Introducing - The 1971 Dodge Super Bee" and "Bad Ass Dodge '71 Super Bee" are just plain corny, nuff said, and the band's cover of the Kingsmen's "Little Sally Tease" comes across as largely uneventful. An unlisted bonus track is tacked on to the end of track 14. -AMG

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Apples in Stereo - Tone Soul Evolution - 1997

The second full-length album by the Apples in Stereo isn't as surprising as their debut, 1995's Fun Trick Noisemaker, but it doesn't sound like simply more of the same. Graced with a larger budget and access to a fully equipped 24-track recording studio for the first time, the group (particularly singer/songwriter/producer Robert Schneider) is working with a much larger canvas now, and it shows. The sound of this album is just remarkable, as layered as any of Jeff Lynne's mid-'70s Electric Light Orchestra albums, but with a freshness and energy that keeps things from merely sounding slick. Schneider explores his fascination with Smile-era Brian Wilson on atmospheric linking tracks like "The Silvery Light of a Dream" and the album's wordless coda, giving the record a sonic unity arguably missing from the all-over-the-map Fun Trick Noisemaker. The one flaw is that the songwriting is not quite up to the consistency of the debut; while songs like "You Said That Last Night," "Seems So," and especially "Shine a Light" are exemplary, there are a couple of tracks that have a whiff of filler about them. Aside from that, Tone Soul Evolution is a fine follow-up. -AMG

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The Apples in Stereo - Tone Soul Evolution - 1997/mu

The Lapdancers - The Ghost of Alcohol and Song - 2006

The Lapdancers are a new power pop alternative band that play rough enough to almost cross into emo territory with some great buzzsaw guitar riffs, but still have enough melody to keep you interested. It almost reminds me of the old John Faye group, The Caulfields mixed with The Posies. The album definitely has moments of greatness. "Don's John" is a rolling epic of a song that demands attention. And "Stuck in My Head" will do just that. My one problem is that some of the ballads are a bit too much like second-rate Toad the Wet Sprocket. Other than the excellent "Just a little bit" - the slower tunes bring the album to a halt and had me pressing the skip button. Overall, a very good effort. -Powerpopaholic

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Ashley Naylor - Four Track Mind - 2004

One can't say that Australian Ashley Naylor isn't clear with his intent, as Ashley Naylor's Four-Track Mind does have the rough and ready feeling of just that kind of recording, and he does pretty well with it, at that. Rather than simply trying to create overly perfect pop in a freeze-dried post-Beatles sense -- a plague that far too many people subscribe to as a cure rather than a disease -- Naylor, though he clearly has that jones, is out to let the ragged parts show through, in a way that any number of lo-fi acts would appreciate. Naylor's not out to push the bounds of music, though, and if one isn't inclined to hooky if stripped down guitar pop with gently mournful harmonies, then Four-Track Mind won't be of much interest. For those who are, though, the album's a sweet little treat, capturing elements ranging from pre-Ziggy Stardust Bowie to the Kinks' taut character portrayals to Chris Knox's wild and wired experiments. Naylor's reliance on acoustic guitar plus other instruments -- ragged keyboards on songs like "Merry-Go-Round," drowned piano on "Soothe Me with Your Song" -- actually gives the album an unexpectedly fragile edge that's quite becoming. Other high points include the ambling instrumental "Pyjama Stars," with a great contrast between major and minor key parts on the guitar, and the even more rambling "I Made Up My Mind," with a minimal lyric but with a great country/gospel beat and a series of extended, frazzled solos that Naylor should explore more of, as he's quite good with them. -AMG

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Ashley Naylor - Four Track Mind - 2004

The Ease Down - Shapeshifter - 2007

Even while the Ben Folds likeness is so bold and unabashed that you may find yourself double-checking the CD case, The Ease Down inhabits this style so convincingly and with such personal, driven conviction that in the end, the affinity ends up working only in their favor. After all, they practically do Ben Folds better than Ben himself. Not surprisingly, the songs are generally propelled by chordy, punchy piano themes with rippling jazz influences pushing at the edges, a little rock attitude leaking through the rhythms and full-force male vocals with such presence that they are able to penetrate all these layers of juicy instrumentation and harmonic color with ease and coherency. Bringing in a touch of funk and toying with a spout of 70s influences, Shapeshifter is solidly engaging. -CD Baby

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Monday, October 27, 2008

The John Faye Power Trip - The John Faye Power Trip - 1999

After the Caulfields disbanded in 1997, it seemed unlikely that singer/songwriter John Faye would return, never mind with an album as excellent as this. Filled to the brim with sunny hooks, crackling guitars, and catchy melodies, John Faye Power Trip is truly one of the finest power pop releases of 1999. Led by the first two singles, "Miss Catch 22" (a clever, uptempo rocker) and "Dancing In Your Shadow" (a moving ballad), the album is nearly seamless. The opening "Hand Me Down" is a late-era Replacements-style rocker, and the hard rocking closer "Translation" would sound at home on modern alternative rock radio. Also by employing strange sound samples and bizarre time signatures, Faye has made this album sound completely fresh and new. Part of the true genius is that behind the sunny melodicism lays true lyrical depth; Faye openly addresses growing up half Asian in a white-dominated society on several tracks here, most notably the powerful "Whisper at the Top of My Lungs" and "Hand Me Down." This is a highly recommended debut album from an artist who is just beginning to exhibit his complete potential. -AMG

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V/A - Pop Under The Surface Volume 4 - 2001

As he did on the previous three volumes of Pop Under the Surface, Stefan Johansson -- of Sweden's Yesterday Girl Records -- compiled Pop Under the Surface: Vol. 4, which features 24 pop groups and artists on one the better collections in the entire series. New Jersey's Evelyn Forever, the Sid Griffin-led Western Electric, Eytan Mirsky, Brian Wilson-sideman Jeffrey Foskett, and L.A.'s Cockeyed Ghost (led by Adam Marsland) provide some of the highlights on this disc. This time around, the series was released via Zip Records. As with the first three volumes, many of the tracks on Pop Under The Surface: Vol. 4 -- which comes with a 28-page booklet with information on all the artists, their discographies, and contact addresses -- were completely unavailable at the time of its release. A stellar comp. -AMG

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

IKE - Parallel Universe - 2003

There are more than a few eff-you songs on Ike's debut disc, Parallel Universe, and can you blame them? The Philly power-pop quartet actually had half of the disc recorded before a hard drive turned on them. In a blink, they lost everything and had to start over. Maybe that's where "Deathbed (Na, Na, Na)" -- a big, fun kiss-my-ass anthem -- comes from. But Ike has plenty to be happy about, like the $18,000-record budget they received from fans/patrons who believed the band had a great record in them. They were right. Singer/songwriter/guitarist John Faye (currently of The Jane Anchor, formerly of The Caulfields and others) and company make slick but humble rock full of stop-start, upbeat melodies and sincere (sometimes snarky) lyrics. -Patrick Rapa



Adam Daniel - Blue Pop - 1999

Blue Pop stands among the best guitar-pop albums of the '90s with swirling melodies, unforgettable hooks, and heartbreaking sincerity. With its release, Adam Daniel establishes himself as another gifted, though commercially overlooked, songwriter in the vein of Tommy Keene and Marshall Crenshaw. Ranging from spiteful ("Breaking Up") to unabashedly optimistic ("Simple Things"), Daniel hits every point on the romantic spectrum. Though he deals with typical subject matter, he manages to inject enough personality into his songs to make them unique. "Her Shake" is an energetic attack of punchy guitars and singalong harmonies that will leave any true pop fan reeling, while "Cured twists and turns until it's completely embedded into your brain. Other highlights include the tragically sad "Why I Can't Be Beside You" and the dreamy "Battle Song." -AMG

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Bleu - Redhead - 2003

Headroom established Bleu as a Boston sensation, but his "Somebody Else" on the blockbuster soundtrack to Spiderman introduced him to more mainstream audiences and paved the way for his second record, Redhead. While it is the proper follow-up to Headroom, Redhead also includes re-recorded versions of four cuts from that album, along with "Somebody Else" and nine new tracks. The most noticeable change from the debut is evident in the execution: The subtle electronic elements on Headroom, along with some of that disc's charming quirkiness, have been replaced with a muscular, straightforward mainstream rock sound. At first this can be a little disconcerting, since Redhead feels like a slightly more anonymous work, but the quality of the new cuts saves the entire affair. The Andy Sturmer co-penned cut "Could Be Worse" sounds exactly like you'd imagine -- Bleu and Jellyfish mixed together, with an end product something like Supertramp. Storming power pop like "Ursula Major, Ursula Minor" sits comfortably next to gorgeous ballads like "We'll Do It All Again." Bleu does occasionally let his more maudlin, dramatic vocal sensibilities run wild here, making him at times sound like a rockier Rufus Wainwright, but even the biggest departures aren't shockingly different from Headroom. Redhead is just a pop record, but it feels like a manifesto, playing smoothly from end to end. Fans of modern guitar pop and singer/songwriters can't miss with this. -AMG

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Cheap Trick - At Budokan - 1979

While their records were entertaining and full of skillful pop, it wasn't until At Budokan that Cheap Trick's vision truly gelled. Many of these songs, like "I Want You to Want Me" and "Big Eyes," were pleasant in their original form, but seemed more like sketches compared to the roaring versions on this album. With their ear-shatteringly loud guitars and sweet melodies, Cheap Trick unwittingly paved the way for much of the hard rock of the next decade, as well as a surprising amount of alternative rock of the 1990s, and it was At Budokan that captured the band in all of its power. -AMG

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Cheap Trick - At Budokan - 1979 pt1/rs
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Friday, October 24, 2008

The Doits - Lost, Lonely & Vicious - 2006

Consisting almost entirely of three-minute power-pop rock songs, Lost, Lonely and Vicious is a testament to the powers of tight Scandinavian musicianship. The Doits consist of brothers Altay and David Sagesen (Altay's the front-man, David's on bass), with Tero Hakorinne on drums and Anders Gransson on guitar and backing vocals. They hail from Skellefte in northern Sweden, but shifted themselves to Stockholm to build a fan-base and live the dream. And they're doing well so far. They've toured Scandinavia and the rest of Europe, their first album (This is Rocket Science Wild Kingdom, 2004) got decent reviews, and their second one does the job too.
Altay sounds uncannily like Joe Strummer (Rest His Soul), especially on track 7 - Hurt Someone. But if you're going to sound like a band, The Clash is a good choice. In parts, Lost, Lonely and Vicious will remind listeners of The Buzzcocks, The Undertones, The Vibrators, The Barracudas, and other such punky, power-poppy acts from the late 70s to the early 80s. It's as if Altay, David, Tero and Anders were frozen alive around 1982 (it's cold up in north Sweden), got defrosted in 2004, grabbed a couple of leccy guitars, a bass and a drum kit, and just started rockin.
Stand out tracks are the catchy Lose All the Time, The-Only-Ones-esque Love You From the Planet I'm On, the aforementioned Hurt Someone, and the title track. None of the tracks are bad on the album. The first song is called Solid Ground, and this is fitting, because what's built on top of it holds together well. The only criticism one can make is regarding the strict mono-style throughout. But, in a world of computerized music, it's good to know people can still play. Lost, Lonely and Vicious is well crafted, professional, straight-down-the-line punk rock; no less, but, sadly, no more.

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The Doits - Lost, Lonely & Vicious - 2006 / sb

Delays - Faded Seaside Glamour - 2004

Had Delays arrived when the Brit-pop battle between Blur and Oasis was wooing music fans during the mid-'90s, their warm pop sound wouldn't have stood a chance. They would have gone the way of Baby Bird, Cast, and Menswear, praised for a few hit singles and later proving to the English press that they're more than just a fashion statement before finally fizzling out. Luckily the brothers Gilbert and the brothers Fox gave up that dream with their band Corky and switched formats for Delays. Faded Seaside Glamour trades in the band's dreary English roots for radiating waves and rays of '60s California pop. It's a slick transition, an honest presentation soaked in Delays' crisp musicianship and the foursome's lush harmonies. From the steel drum ring of "Wanderlust," Faded Seaside Glamour instantly comes off genuine. Frontman Greg Gilbert delivers a lamblike falsetto, an intriguing arrangement that's both gentle and slightly unrefined, much like the sand and the sea itself. Delays take comfort in seeing the world through an aged set of eyes, and songs such as the amber lull of "Nearer Than Heaven" and the brisk acoustic guitars of "No Ending" accept an innocence lost. Still, enthusiasm glitters throughout Faded Seaside Glamour, and it's partly because of Gilbert's girlishly sweet vocals. Between that and the band's honest to goodness melodic tones, such an equation is hardly deniable. "Long Time Coming" flirts with these exact hints of wonder as does "Hey Girl," the album's shiniest moment. Some of summer's tufts turn soft during the bulk of Faded Seaside Glamour and concluding its charming grace is the neo-psychedelic gospel of "On." All in all, Delays look beyond Coldplay's pretty heartaches and the luminous power of Doves. For what could have been a quick visit years ago, Delays showed up at the right time. -AMG

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Swervedriver - Raise - 1991

A molten hybrid of Daydream Nation-era Sonic Youth, the drill-press rhythms of the Stooges, and early Dinosaur Jr., Raise sounds like a record made by young record shop rats from the Midwest. Adding to this notion is the lyrical fascination with cars. With this in mind, it's no small wonder that the Oxford, London-based Swervedriver found a home on even the most Anglophobic turntables in the States. Through loads of effects pedals and buried vocals, the band was initially lumped in with the shoegaze scene. But with a heavier aesthetic caused by their love for the above-mentioned bands, as well as the likes of the well-named Loop and Spacemen 3, they were unique -- even with their earliest material. Oddly, Raise only contains six new songs for those who bought their excellent trio of preceding singles. The new tracks rival their greatness. Jimmy Hartridge's and Adam Franklin's guitars definitely carry a soaring, seering quality, but the record is largely bass driven, thanks to Adi Vines' thick lines (see "Pile Up" and "Sunset" for the best examples). And though buried to the point of serving merely as another instrument, Franklin's vocals sound like that of a road trip lifer, made weary by constant sun exposure on the eyes. Other than what might seem as the band trying too hard to prove themselves through complexity, there aren't many faults to be found. Though it does seem to favor texture over anything else, the somewhat murky production suits the songs well. It actually sounds dark, like green-skied, pre-tornado weather. It's not too hard to pick apart each instrument on each song, but they still sound a bit mashed together. A fantastic debut that merely hinted at the band's talents. -AMG

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The Futureheads - The Futureheads - 2004

On their self-titled full-length debut, the Futureheads turn the promise of their early EPs and singles into an almost relentlessly playful, lively, and smart album of zippy post-punk-pop. Even though shades of XTC, the Jam, and Gang of Four (whose Andy Gill produced the album) jump out at almost every turn on Futureheads, the band's chiming, precise vocal harmonies -- which sound more British Invasion than new wave -- give their sound a distinctive kick. And, while they follow in roughly the same footsteps that other post-punk/new wave renovators like their friends Franz Ferdinand, the Futureheads sound too spazzy to be quite that fashionable; likewise, they're bouncy and danceable without being tied into the increasingly tired dance-punk sound. Futureheads includes a few songs from the 123 Nul and First Day EPs, and while the album doesn't exactly suffer from the inclusion of tracks like "Robot," "Carnival Kids," and "First Day," the band's newer work shows how they've already refined and expanded their sound since they wrote these songs. With its slower pace and doo wop-inspired vocal arrangement, "Danger of the Water" finds the group trying on different ideas for size. The breezy "Meantime" and "Trying Not to Think About Time" stretch and snap in all directions, with tight dynamic shifts and wound-up melodies. As distinctive as the Futureheads' sound is, the album's standout track is a cover: their tremendous version of Kate Bush's "Hounds of Love" captures the breathless buzz of falling in love. It's the perfect combination of the band's thrilling sound and strong, evocative songwriting, a department in which the band's own work can fall a little flat: individually, tracks like "Le Garage," "He Knows," and "Alms" are bracing fun, but they tend to blur together within the album's context. Fortunately, singles like "A to B" and "Decent Days and Nights" and final track "Man Ray" show that the Futureheads can write songs that don't just depend on their emphatic delivery. While a little more depth in their songwriting would make them unstoppable, the Futureheads' first full-length is an undeniably exciting debut that just gets better with repeated listens. -AMG

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The Futureheads - The Futureheads - 2004/sb

The Squires of the Subterrain - Pop in a CD - 1998

How can you go wrong with an artist who has his own theme song à la the Monkees? The Squires of the Subterrain -- in truth, one-man brainchild Christopher Earl, a ubiquitous presence on the Rochester music scene of the 1990s -- has exactly that in, well, "Theme Song," and it kicks off the debut CD, Pop in a CD, culled from a decade-long string of way underground (but way outstanding) four- and eight-track cassette releases that he recorded on the sly as the Squires while doing stints in many a local rock and pop combo. As a result, the music on the album is understandably inconsistent from a stylistic point of view, but it does not deviate in quality and, after moving into its second half, turns near-genius as an ambitious and unique pastiche. The Squires graft together a list of influences into a hybrid that recalls the work of Brian Wilson (at his most off-center), the Beatles (both John and Paul), Ray Davies, Syd Barrett, and XTC, or, as Earl himself once confessed unabashedly, "I yearn to hear more of that kind of music…and if it takes writing it, so be it." That kind of music turns out to be at the most gloriously eccentric end of the spectrum, where phasing, reverb, and intriguingly structured (but somehow accessible, an attribute that some of his heroes couldn't even manage) tunes draw on everything from complex psychedelia to the sweetest pop/rock and bubblegum music to the jauntiness of Tin Pan Alley. Earl never seems overburdened by his influences and, as a result, the music is never heavy with the weight of its inspirations, but by and large is its own unique animal. There is a surface level of derivation, certainly, but Earl does wonderful and unique things with the tricks that he nicks, from Phil Spector-ish production ("East Coast Surfin'") to brilliantly loopy Turtles-style folk-pop ("Mrs. Maude") to jaw-dropping mid-period Beatlesque inventions ("Scrapbook"). The first half of the album, as accomplished as it is, features mostly lighter, breezier fare, whether the Squires are replicating Paul McCartney's early solo work on "Admiral Albert's Apparition" or an Emitt Rhodes-by-way-of-Peter Noone ditty ("She Fell Down"), and it shows that Earl does not take himself too seriously, unlike so many other artists working with similar raw materials. His music, however, can only be taken seriously, especially when it begins to grow in scale on the disc's second half. The lost Beach Boys masterwork Smile looms largest over this part of Pop in a CD, and the grasp that the Squires have on that mysteriously odd and appealing music is virtually complete, most exceptionally on "Into a Void" and "Stained Glass Summer." Earl doesn't short shrift the later, ruggedly blue-eyed soulful comedown years of the band either, as "Leave It to Pam" (with its interesting Hawaiian slack key guitar sound) shows. It doesn't do justice to call the music "lo-fi" (although that is precisely what it is) because it is so layered with sophisticated production touches and full of intriguing ideas. With many or all of the early cassettes virtually impossible to come by anymore, this CD is the place to begin delving into the amazing world of the Squires of the Subterrain. Hopefully it is not the last of the music from those initial tapes to see wider release. - AMG


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Steve Ward - Opening Night - 2000

Stepping out from full-time duty as frontman to power-popsters Cherry Twister, Steve Ward’s solo debut stands head and shoulders above much of what purports to be heartfelt in the world of cosmetically-enhanced uber-pop. Much of Opening Night reads like an open letter to a lost love, often so beautifully presented one wonders if these songs re-kindled the dormant flame. Opener I Missed The Mark is a classic example of just how affecting pop music can be, a slow-building, layered epic with Ward’s voice hitting home at just above a whisper - “From a strange land / You’re making plans / In a language I can’t understand.” Subdued harmonies and a spot-on arrangement make the title an unintentional gag. The radio-friendly fodder of Switch It On follows, a sprightly throwaway in classic Matthew Sweet/Owsley style, though it’s here that the disconcerting similarity of Ward’s vocals to those of both Sweet and Del Amitri’s Justin Currie shines through. By the third track, California, it’s clear Ward is a master-pop-craftsman, but it’s the slow-burning delights of Lucky Charm, Wings and Still Life (a none-too-distant stripped-down relative to I Missed The Mark) that show his originality making the more derivative Sweet-a-likes (the whimsical Good, the Smog Moon atmosphere of You Can Shine) seem less substantial. That said, Opening Night sets the standard for this year’s inevitable continued onslaught of pop. -Matt Dornan

If you like "Opening Night" get it here!

Steve Ward - Opening Night - 2000/rs
Steve Ward - Opening Night - 2000/sb

Buva - All This Humming - 2006

Buva's All This Humming: Buva's Tom Wolfe is an admirer of Brian Wilson, Revolver-era Beatles and Gram Parsons (or is that the Eagles?). Buva's All This Humming (Hi-fi In Motion) gorgeously navigates the gentle waters between Pet Sounds and Paul McCartney's "Maybe I'm Amazed," a sweet-kneed album of soft boy vocals and swirling arrangements that ring in your memory like a good dream. And Buva doesn't come by this muse accidentally. Like Jon Brion and Aimee Mann, Wolfe is a master at creating cinematic moods and lovesick tone poems within glowing, gently pulsating production epics. Playing all the instruments himself (except for the guitar of Beck's Lyle Workman), Wolfe spins Mellotron, drums, guitars, glockenspiels and the kitchen sink into a lush, Senssuround world of melodic bliss. All This Humming cements Wolfe's rep as major domo of sonic splendor, creating a daydream nation for all those who long for sweet melodies, gentle rhythms and memorable tunes. Prepare your MP3 player for the backwards guitars, twinkling bells and shiny happy message of "She Makes Me Fall Down." "Out Of My Mouth" recalls Fountains of Wayne, if they had the gusto to reimagine The Beatles' "If I Needed Someone" or George Harrison's "Give Me Love." The song's glistening harmonies send shivers with angelic ascension. "Just Step Away" furthers Buva's bliss, a hush of brushed drums, clarinets, Mellotron and steel guitars creating a dew eyed, misty morning classic. And Buva rocks out too, "Something That I Need To Hear" cruising high and mighty, a driving tune for weekend escapes. -Ken Micallef YAHOO! Music

If you like "All This Humming" get it here!

Buva - All This Humming - 2006 pt1 / rs
Buva - All This Humming - 2006 pt2 / rs

Buva - All This Humming - 2006 pt1 / sb
Buva - All This Humming - 2006 pt2 / sb

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Gonna Take a Couple of Days Off

I am going to take a short break. Don't forget to comment and please share your requests! Also don't forget to vote for your top Power pop albums (the link is to your right). Voting ends 10/31.

See ya

The Contestants - A Fitting Retreat - 2008

The Contestants hail from the musical wonderland of Portland, Oregon and came into being over the course of several years and several lineup changes. After recording their first two EP’s and a full-length album under the name The Empty Set, some members left as others were added. The new lineup -- Josh Kirby, Darin Fabrick, John Meyer, L.S. Walker and Jean-Paul Ramos -- began recording as The Contestants in the Winter of 2006. It was an exciting time for the band, both creatively and collaboratively. No idea or whim was held back. No filters. No timetables.In the end, what came out of those nearly two years of work and play was a streamlined quartet (L.S. Walker departed during mixing), a collection of 12 songs entitled “A Fitting Retreat,” and a new identity as The Contestants.

If you like "A Fitting Retreat" get it here!

The Contestants - A Fitting Retreat - 2008 pt1
The Contestants - A Fitting Retreat - 2008 pt2

Jules and the Polar Bears - Phonetics/Fenetiks - 1979

The second Polar Bears album follows much of the same formula as Got No Breeding, with less memorable results. The band still rocks in places but the overall production is slicker and a little more synthesizer heavy. Shear's songwriting is top-notch ranging from the pure pop of "Good Reason" to the beautiful ballad "Real Enough to Love." His delivery seems more restrained this time around. -AMG

If you like "Fanatkis" get it here!

Jules and the Polar Bears - Phonetics/Fenetiks - 1979 pt1
Jules and the Polar Bears - Phonetics/Fenetiks - 1979 pt2

Friday, October 17, 2008

SeepeopleS - Apocalypse Cow Vol. I - 2007

Asheville, NC-based emerging artist SeepeopleS present their full-length album, Apocalypse Cow Vol. I. The 15 original songs on the album range from rock anthems to introspective ballads that showcase SeepeopleS' confident, agile songwriting, soaring vocals, and bold, majestic instrumentation. Produced by long-time SeepeopleS 'fifth member' Will Holland (The Pixies, Dead Can Dance), Apocalypse Cow Vol. I opens with unsettling minimalism on the guitar-driven "Don't Panic," and proceeds to take the listener on a thought-provoking and sonically-engrossing journey through time and context, culminating with the grandiose and heartbreaking "Say Goodbye," a melancholy swan song bathed in a cascading arrangement of cello and violin. Apocalypse Cow Vol. I is the story of bandleader Will Bradford's personal journey; that of a man coming of age in a world that often seems built on nonsense. Bradford touches upon war, love, spirituality and personal tragedy, often shifting the listener's perspective throughout--Bradford sings from the viewpoint of a soldier, a dying man, a Cassandra and, perhaps for the first time, finds his own unadulterated, pure voice. Met with much anticipation from fans and media, Apocalypse Cow Vol. I is sure to delight devotees and newcomers alike with its straightforward rock attitude, stylistic quirks and unique presentation. -CD Baby

If you like "Apocalypse Cow Vol. I" get it here!

SeepeopleS - Apocalypse Cow Vol. I - 2007 pt1
SeepeopleS - Apocalypse Cow Vol. I - 2007 pt2

The Brian Jonestown Massacre - Their Satanic Majesties' Second Request - 1996

Truth in advertising: the Brian Jonestown Massacre's sophomore album does, as promised, spring forth from the Rolling Stones' long-underrated 1967 masterpiece Their Satanic Majesties Request, copping not only Mick and Keith's leering bad-boy attitude but also their their rock-and-roll-circus spirit. Opening with the brilliant "All Around You (Intro)," a tongue-in-cheek guide to the mind-altering journey ahead, the record is a kaleidoscopic, drug-fueled freakout -- like the Stones' namesake album, Second Request is painted by Eastern drones and psychedelic tangents, each track bubbling with dozens of sound effects including sitars, mellotrons, farfisas, didgeridoos, tablas, congas, and glockenspiels. Travelling through the past, darkly, the Massacre arrives on the other side unscathed; their music is too rich to be merely retro, and too knowing to be merely slavish -- the Stones themselves haven't made a record this strong or entertaining in years. -AMG
If you like "Their Satanic Majesties' Second Request" get it here!

The Brian Jonestown Massacre - Their Satanic Majesties' Second Request - 1996 pt1

The Brian Jonestown Massacre - Their Satanic Majesties' Second Request - 1996 pt2

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Marshall Crenshaw - Miracle of Science - 1996

Crenshaw's first studio effort for the indie Razor & Tie imprint also marks a return to his earlier, stripped-down approach of his debut album. Playing most of the instruments himself (including drums), there's a far more organic feel to the tunes presented here than his last major-label efforts. In addition to solid Crenshaw pop originals like "What Do You Dream Of?," "Laughter," and "Starless Summer Sky," his takes on Dobie Gray's "The 'In' Crowd" and the countryish "Who Stole That Train" also show him as always to be a prime interpreter of other folks' great songs as well. -AMG

If you like "Miracle of Science" get it here!

Marshall Crenshaw - Miracle of Science - 1996 pt1
Marshall Crenshaw - Miracle of Science - 1996 pt2

Mandrew - The Wonderful World of Mandrew - 2007

WOW!! Their sophomore effort is another crunchy and jangly treat! "Sometimes near-perfect power-pop tunes are like a syrupy mess: sugarcoated love made in a mill and missing every natural ingredient known to man. But while Mike Andrew (a.k.a. Mandrew) has perfected that formula, he loads it up with all kinds of honest, saccharine-free goodness - like love and handclaps, tambourines and gritty guitars, and perfectly crafted melodies reminiscent of Matthew Sweet, the Raspberries, and Alex Chilton. At times his vocals are pushing and pulling like heartstrings. Other times his voice is filled with longing, like on the beautiful Brit-pop-inspired 'Princess on the Porch,' whose infectious chorus sticks in your gut like lost love. But mostly Mandrew's songs are all his, and pop doesn't get any purer than that!" - "It falls somewhere between 'power pop' and 'indie pop'. Whether it's the rocking 'Burning' (which sounds like McCartney fronting Collective Soul), the Jon Brion-ish 'Expanding The Collection', the Beatles-by-way-of-Matthew-Sweet 'I Can't Write', the Posies-esque 'Obsceneries' or the AC Newman-influenced 'Note to Self', his world is a wonderful one indeed, and this needs to go to the top of your current power pop wish list. I'm going to have to make room in my top 10 for it!" - High praise indeed! And spot on, we might add! Can't say enough about this! GREAT!!!! -Kool Kat Musik

If you like " The Wonderful World of Mandrew" get it here!

Mandrew - The Wonderful World of Mandrew - 2007

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Farrah - Cut Out and Keep - 2007

Ever since Farrah came out with "Moustache" in 1999, they have been a nicely evolving power pop band. After the hard sounding "Me Too" they matured with the new "Cut Out and Keep." This is an excellent album, and does a great job starting with the corny "Dumb Dumb Ditty" a term referring to a clever homonym (the song itself is a dumb ditty). The lyrical and musical content has improved to the level of Fountains of Wayne and Weezer, and will definitely please fans of either band here. The gentle ballad "As Soon As I Get Over You" has wonderful lyrical rhyme like "As soon as I get over you, I'll change the name on my tattoo." The very energetic "Awkward Situation" has all the hallmarks of a power pop classic. "Fear of Flying" tells a great story in the lyric and the most Adam Schlesinger sounding tune of the bunch. "No Reason Why" is a Jellyfish-like a song filled with trumpet trills and rocking guitars that is my favorite here. The tracks are all killer and no filler. This is a no-brainer if you have and a good excuse to open an account if you don't. Bottom line here is that this is a top ten album for 2007. -powerpopaholic
If you like "Cut Out and Keep" get it here!

Removed at copyright holders request

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Bill Fox - Shelter from the Smoke - 1997

Bill Fox had been MIA from the American indie scene for nearly a decade when he resurfaced with this solo debut; quickly shaking off any cobwebs, Shelter from the Smoke is the result of years of pent-up creativity finally unleashed, its crisp melodies and lo-fi production both timeless and completely of the moment. Originally released in an edition of only 1000 copies, spinART's reissue of offers not only a remastered recording but also a number of bonus tracks.-AMG

If you like "Bill Fox - Shelter from the Smoke - 1997" get it here!

Bill Fox - Shelter from the Smoke - 1997 pt1
Bill Fox - Shelter from the Smoke - 1997 pt2

Popgun - A Day and a Half in Half a Day - 2007

Embracing the classics while creating fresh sounds in music is a difficult endeavor; Scandinavia's own Popgun has done so with style and a proper ounce of grit. This band will please even the most jaded of true rock-n-roll fans. Citing such influences as the Kinks, Nick Lowe, Teenage Fanclub, and beer, they are playful yet well crafted. The guitars on "The Bend" bob and weave through an infectious chorus, their trails and distortions accenting the songs crescendo. The quirky breakdown, slickly ascending drum line, and early Beatle-stylings make "A Brilliant Fake" an enjoyable sonic history lesson without calling attention to itself. This is the common thread throughout A Day and a Half in a Day; take in everything while forgetting nothing, yet keep moving forward. The opening lines to "My Machinery", bullet holes this point: "If you're still thinking bout that photograph I've got nothing left to say. You want the past but it's a broken path I was not walking anyway." These guys are musical wanderers with their own compass. In a digital age where music is merely a marketing ring tone, Popgun has made an album which leaves a real music fan wanting for nothing.

If you like "A Day and a Half in Half a Day" get it here!

Popgun - A Day and a Half in Half a Day - 2007

Monday, October 13, 2008

Boston Spaceships - Brown Submarine - 2008

After two years of treading water following the break-up of Guided by Voices, Robert Pollard finally seems to be reconnecting with his muse in a real way. Robert Pollard Is Off To Business has returned with a new band, Boston Spaceships, featuring , his first album after parting ways with Merge Records and launching his own label, was the strongest and most consistent set he's released since going solo, and four months later PollardJohn Moen of the Decemberists and the Dharma Bums and Chris Slusarenko of the Takeovers and Sprinkler. Teaming up with some fresh collaborators seems to have done Pollard a world of good after recording the bulk of his post-GBV work with Todd Tobias handling all the instruments; Moen and Slusarenko don't bring a striking level of chops to Brown Submarine, Boston Spaceships' debut album, but their work has an organic feel and a natural energy that helps these sessions sound like the work of a real band, and Pollard has thankfully focused on quality rather than quantity in his songwriting, with most of these 14 tunes suggesting the vitality of GBV's peak period without sounding as if he's rewriting his old work, which was the case with too much of his work in 2006 and 2007. Pollard and his partners don't sound as if they're breaking much new ground on Brown Submarine, but that doesn't seem to be the point with this album -- it doesn't reinvent the wheel but it lets it roll very well indeed, and hopefully this is a sign that Pollard is ready to make up for lost time after an unexpected fallow period. -AMG

If you like "Brown Submarine" get it here!

Boston Spaceships - Brown Submarine - 2008

The Rattlers - Rattled - 1985

The Rattlers were a New York City band whose sound straddled the thin line between punk and power-pop. This disc anthologizes the 1985 album Rattled! with two singles from 1979 and 1983, respectively. The singles, released on tiny independent labels, boast a crisper, more compact production than the album, originally released on the larger label PVC. Lead Rattler Mickey Leigh is Joey Ramone's brother. The Rattlers, however, staked out their own musical territory based more on an updated '60s garage rock sound. The Rattlers' most obvious '60s influence is the Who, with "Pure and Simple" hinting at "My Generation"'s chord progression and having "Magic Bus"-like between-chorus exclamations of "No-ooo". The lyrics are also more from the Pete Townshend school of introspection than the Mick Jagger-esque blustering bravado typical of many similar groups. The Who influences are however, a foundation for the band rather than a crutch, as Leigh and company bring original ideas into their music. There are stylistic nods to brother Joey's group. Both bands cover obscure '60s tunes, with repertoires incorporating garage nuggets (the Nightcrawlers' "Little Black Egg") as well as shameless pop (a sincere version of the Amen Corner's "(If Paradise Is) Half As Nice"). They also both feature odes to dementia; "I'm In Love With My Walls," the Rattlers' entry, was penned by veteran rock scribe Lester Bangs. The Rattlers' approach, however, is more understated than the Ramones'. -AMG

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Soundtrack of Our Lives - Behind the Music - 2001

The third album from Sweden's Soundtrack of Our Lives is their most concise and rocking effort. After the daunting eclecticism of 1996's Welcome to the Infant Freebase and the trippy ethereality of 1998's Extended Revelation, the relatively straightforward psychedelic rock of Behind the Music is something of a surprise. The thumping and clattering opener, "Infra Riot," is one of the catchiest songs they've ever done, and things just build from there. The booming drums and sharply strummed acoustic rhythm guitars of "Sister Surround" bear a startling resemblance to late-'60s Stones, followed immediately by a pretty but tense acoustic interlude called "In Someone Else's Mind" that would not sound out of place on a Syd Barrett album, itself the precursor to "Mind the Gap," which recalls the more melodic moments of the post-BarrettPink Floyd. The album goes on in this vein for just under an hour, with one terrific song after another that sounds immediately like some classic forebear (there are hints of the Stooges, Love, and even Zappa in spots), but has the presence and strength to stand up on its own merits. Behind the Music lacks the totality and sonic impact of Extended Revelation, but the songs are more consistently memorable. Impressive stuff, and probably the Soundtrack of Our Lives album to start with for all but the most devoted psych/prog fan. -AMG

If you like "
Behind the Music" get it here!

The Soundtrack of Our Lives - Behind the Music - 2001 pt1
The Soundtrack of Our Lives - Behind the Music - 2001 pt2

Tegan and Sara - So Jealous - 2004

Tegan and Sara's third album, So Jealous, is by far their most ambitious and liveliest record, opening up their punk-folk sound with a heavy dose of new wave sensibility and pop hooks. They started moving in this direction on their previous album, but here they dive headfirst into slick, shiny surfaces, insistent synths, clean guitars, and bright, playful melodies that sound sunny even in minor keys. This musical revamp doesn't betray their nervy emotionalism. Instead, it focuses them, giving their music style and flair that focuses them while making the duo more accessible. And So Jealous is indeed the Tegan and Sara album that could play to a wider audience, but the group remains an acquired taste for one reason: their thin, squeaky voices and close harmonies can be grating to the uninitiated. Nevertheless, for those who have acquired that taste, So Jealous is the most satisfying album Tegan and Sara have yet made. -AMG

If you like "So Jealous" get it here!

Tegan and Sara - So Jealous - 2004 pt1
Tegan and Sara - So Jealous - 2004 pt2

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Erik Voeks - Sandbox - 1993

Released a couple of 45’s on Bus Stop records in the early 90’s. Released a CD on Rockville called "Sandbox". Played a few shows. Released a Xmas 45 on Parasol Records. Played a few shows. Recorded some home demos. Played with a few friends as The Octopus Frontier. Recorded some more home demos. Might play a few more shows in the future. That’s about it really. -Erik Voeks

Friday, October 10, 2008


It’s been one of the most controversial, critically acclaimed and groundbreaking lists in musical history.

And now “We” are taking it on! Together with Power Pop Criminal$ and Ratboy 69, Power Pop Overdose wants to know what you think!

  • Can you improve on Borack's list?
  • What would you change?
  • Who is left on?
  • Who is left off?
  • Are the sands of time running out for Batman and Robin?
If you have the intestinal fortitude to shape the answers to these questions then follow the link at the top right and let us know what your top 5 All-Time Power Pop Albums are!

Do It Now!

Voting will continue thru 10/31/08 and we will post the Top 200 in November!

The Grip Weeds - Summer Of A Thousand Years - 2001

No one will ever accuse the Grip Weeds of being the most innovative or forward-thinking band of the 1990s and 2000s. Their music is unapologetically retro-1960s and, even though Summer of a Thousand Years was recorded in 2001, it sounds like it could have been recorded in 1967. This CD sounds dated, but dated isn't necessarily a bad thing -- at least not if you hold the music of a particular era in high regard. And if you worship all things 1960s, Summer of a Thousand Years is dated in the best, most positive sense of the word. The Grip Weeds offer no acknowledgment of 2001's alternative rock scene; their turf is the psychedelic pop/rock and jangly guitar pop of the 1960s, and they excel by sticking with the type of music that they obviously cherish the most. Retro gems like "Moving Circle," "She Surrounds Me," and "Love That Never Ends" aren't the least bit groundbreaking, but they're certainly rewarding and heartfelt -- if you've spent hours and hours savoring the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, the Yardbirds, and Revolver-era Beatles, it is impossible not to fall in love with Summer of a Thousand Years. The melodies are enriching, and lead singer Kurt Reil knows how to make the lyrics come alive. Although original material dominates the CD, Summer of a Thousand Years also contains an inspired remake of the Who's "Melancholia" (which finds lead guitarist Kristin Pinell singing lead, although Reil handles 90 percent of the album's lead vocals). Summer of a Thousand Years isn't for those who think that all rock releases have to be innovative (an unrealistic and foolish expectation), but it offers considerable rewards to lovers of 1960s rock. -AMG

If you like "Summer Of A Thousand Years" get it here!

The Mockers - Smells Like Spain - 1997

Though the Mockers have included a large cast of musicians hailing from all corners of the U.S. rock scene, the band's foundations were laid by two preteen Beatles fans living in Spain in the early '70s. Tony Leventhal and Seth Gordon were the children of New York expats living on the southern coast of Spain when they met. The third-graders quickly discovered their common love for rock & roll and formed a friendship that would last a lifetime. When their families eventually moved back to the States, both began learning guitar and keeping in touch regarding their plans to form their long-awaited rock band. Many years later the two converged in Virginia, creating the surf-pop band the Mockers. With a rotating cast of lead guitarists and drummers, the Mockers climbed their way to the top of the live music scene in Virginia. They spent the next several years touring tirelessly, sometimes playing as many as 20 engagements a month. As the band conquered the East Coast and Midwest, they earned the attention of the local press. Their relentless schedule began to wear thin, and the bandmembers took a long break to regain their creative spark. Some years later Leventhal and Gordon decided it was time for the Mockers to record their debut CD. The 1995 release Somewhere Between Mocksville and Harmony garnered excellent reviews, including a Billboard Critic's Choice Award. Ironically, the disc saw the greatest amount of airplay in Spain, resulting in heavy touring throughout the country and a reconnection with the boy's old stomping grounds. The band's follow-up disc, Living in the Holland Tunnel, was similarly well received, both at home and abroad. The Mockers continue to thrive in the American and European underground pop world, enjoying regular touring and healthy record sales. Released in 2005, The Lonesome Death of Electric Campfire helped in adding Japan to the list of nations in which the Mockers claim a thriving fan base. -AMG

If you like "Smells Like Spain" get it here!

The Mockers - Smells Like Spain - 1997


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