The second album from this Detroit pop trio is awash in fetching melodies and beautifully crafted harmonies that will remind you of the Beach Boys, Badfinger, Rubinoos, Raspberries, Posies, XTC, Matthew Sweet and Fountains of Wayne. That’s heady company, but earned by an album whose sunny melodies, sweet lead vocals and complex backings are in perfect balance. The band’s themes of infatuation, pining, coupling, misunderstanding, discord and regret come to an emotional conclusion in “Pulled My String,” as Keith Klingensmith wallows in the emotion-blinding bleakness of heartbreak. His bandmates’ harmonies and strummed guitars strive to lighten the mood, but they can’t illuminate an exit. The prideful outsiderness of “The Cool Kid,” and nostalgic “Short Term Memory” broaden the topics beyond matters of the heart. There’s falsetto vocals that suggest Brian Wilson’s prime and a lovely vocal crescendo on “More Birds Less Bees,” and the album ends on ambivalent notes of optimism and introspection in “Better Days.” This is a terrifically poised sophomore effort from an incredibly talented band. [©2016 Hyperbolium]
Posts Tagged ‘Power Pop’
Hailing from St. Paul, Minnesota (home to the world record Lite Brite installation), the Persian Leaps’ power pop will remind you of the more muscular sounds of Teenage Fanclub, Guided By Voices and Matthew Sweet, but also the ironic vocal style of ’80s and ’90s post-punk bands. The songs deviate from the usual menu of power pop pining for lyrics of terminal illness, social anxiety and anthropogenic global warming. The latter is the subject of the confrontational “The Weather,” a song that should be piped into Scott Pruitt’s office every morning as a catchy reminder of prevailing scientific thought. Closing the EP is “Short and Sour,” a brutally frank kiss-off that opens with the dagger “if silence were golden, you’d always be broke.” Five songs, thirteen minutes and lots of guitars, bass, drums and melody. Great stuff! [©2016 Hyperbolium]
Boston basement rock is alive and still sweating
Boston’s M. Holland (Tulsa, Mean Creek, Trabants) has been working as a solo act for the past few years, pressing friends into guest roles, and releasing a string of singles and EPs as The Dazies. In late 2014 he began working with multi-instrumentalist and engineer Kurt Schneider, and together they recorded this six song EP. The opening “Little Things” and “1-2-3 (What You Do To Me)” conjure the ‘70s punk-adjacent power pop of Tom Petty and Dwight Twilley, mating catchy hooks delivered and DIY verve. Holland name-checks an ‘80s juggernaut with the thrashing guitars and distressed vocal of “Nirvana Summer,” riffs through the should-be nationwide dance craze (and ode to the Creaturos) “Do the Snake,” returns to power pop with “Stuck,” and echoes the drive of the Vibrators and Undertones on “Piece of My Love.” If you were there for the Neighborhoods, Nervous Eaters and Real Kids, this will take you back; if you weren’t, this will clue you in to what you missed. [©2016 Hyperbolium]
Although the Well Wishers present themselves in plural, they are, or it is, or he is Jeff Shelton. After a decade with Spinning Jennies, Shelton ventured out on his own, all alone in the studio with the magic of multi-track recording. The results have the singular vision of a singer-songwriter, but the dynamism of a band. Think Paul McCartney’s and Emitt Rhodes’ eponymous albums, Todd Rundgren’s Something/Anything and Richard X. Heyman’s Hey Man. The hard-charging rhythm guitar and stacked vocals of “Impossible to Blame” bring to mind the Posies and the melody of “Come Around” suggests XTC. You can hear influences of Shoes, 20/20 and others, but Shelton’s romantic anguish is as original as his melodic hooks – rooted in something familiar, yet fresh. On “Ill-Equipped” he repeats the perfectly discouraged tagline “I don’t have what it takes to be alone,” which may be true in matters of the heart, but clearly not so in the studio, where he flourishes by himself. [©2016 Hyperbolium]
Although Paul Chastain and drummer Ric Menck recorded a number of singles as Choo Choo Train, Bag-O-Shells and The Springfields, they first came to wider notice as Velvet Crush with 1991’s In the Presence of Greatness. Critics and fans latched on, but it wasn’t until they released 1994’s Teenage Symphonies to God, with U.S. distribution by Sony, that they made their biggest splash. Three years and a change of producers (Mitch Easter replacing Matthew Sweet) between the two albums left a gap bridged by a few singles and an EP. The post-album afterward yawned even wider as the band mostly parked themselves, recording with Stephen Duffy, and didn’t re-emerge as Velvet Crush until the release of 1998’s Heavy Changes.
Omnivore’s sixteen-track collection helps fill the gaps, offering up Teenage-era demos and live performances. The first eight tracks cherry-pick demos previously released on the out-of-print Melody Freaks. Included are early versions of six album tracks, plus the otherwise lost “Not Standing Down,” and a cover of Three Hour Tour’s “Turn Down.” For listeners whose neurons have been organized by repeated spins of Teenage Symphonies to God, the demos provide an opportunity for renewal. You know these songs, but then again, you don’t. The pieces are there – lyrics, melodies and guitars – but not the final polish; but what the demos give up in nuanced construction they redeem in initial discovery. It’s the difference between a candid snapshot and a posed portrait – they each say something about the subject, but they also say something about each other.
Mitch Easter helped the band wring more out of their songs, and while the demos provided templates for the master takes, the album cuts provided the same for the live performances. The eight live tracks, recorded in a November 1994 opening slot at Chicago’s Cabaret Metro (and previously released on Rock Concert), show the band to be a ferocious live act. With Tommy Keene added as lead guitarist, the band goes all out to win over the crowd with their thirty minute set, and as Ric Menck said, “we got ’em by the end.” No small feat, considering they were opening for the Jesus and Mary Chain and Mazzy Star. The live set includes numbers from both Teenage Symphonies and Presence (“Window to the World” and “Ash and Earth”) and a closing cover of 20/20’s “Remember the Lightning.” This is a terrific companion to Teenage Symphonies, and an essential for the album’s fans. [©2016 Hyperbolium]
To their credit, the Posies have never abandoned the DIY pop melodicism of their debut, Failure, but neither have they stood still. Their tours of duty with Big Star helped resurrect the iconic band as both a touring entity and recording outfit, and while it may have further informed the Posies, it didn’t turn them into a clone. The enduring chemistry between Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow has seen the Posies through more than three decades of changes, including divorces, relocations and the passing of bandmates. The duo’s melodic and harmonic connections draw a line through their catalog, even as their latest – their first album of original material since 2010’s Blood/Candy – lowers the guitar quotient for productions often driven by keyboards.
Thirty years in, the pair is more musically sophisticated and their studio technology is greatly advanced from the late-80s, but the enthusiasm and freedom of their debut repeats itself here. As the band has pointed out, in many ways this represents a return to the self-produced home studio recordings of their debut. And with the passing of their rhythm section, they are effectively a duo again. There’s a modern tone to the anthemic “Titanic,” as there is to much of the album, but with the warmth of a musician’s humanity that’s missing from most of today’s producer-helmed pop hits. The keyboards are ingratiating, and the percussion deftly mixes electronic and acoustic elements.
It’s a departure, but one that fans will easily take to, and one that’s papered over with the familiarity of the duo’s voices and hooks. The album opens with the call-to-arms “We Are Power,” exhorting collective action over individual passivity. Anti-authoritarianism pops up again in “Squirrel vs. Snake” and “The Plague,” and “M Doll” eviscerates the culture of celebrity marketing mannequins. But it’s not all social critique, as there are several songs of romantic rapprochement, cautiously seeking to engage, resurrect or simply support, and the easy synthpop soul of “Rollercoaster Zen” has a hook that’s hypnotic in its repetition.
Auer and Stringfellow play everything here but drums, which fall variously to Frankie Siragusa and Kliph Scurlock, and add a few guest voices to the backing choruses. Their melodies span from immediately hummable to complex, with several suggesting the minor-key sophistication of the Zombies. Those who have been enamored of the Posies melody-rich music will find it intact; it’s not a rehash of what they’ve done before, it’s a musical extension that breaks new ground while hanging on to the band’s essence. [©2016 Hyperbolium]
It’s been ten years since this Swedish quartet broke on the power-pop scene with their Teenage Fanclub tribute, “Norman Blake.” They’ve released the odd single and EP over the intervening years, but it’s taken a full decade for them to write and record a proper debut album. And yes, it was worth the wait. The group’s harmonies are gorgeous, the guitar sounds superb, and the first single, “Winter,” is awash in Byrdsian jangle and folk-styled harmonies. The group’s fascination with Teenage Fanclub hasn’t abated, but you can also hear the influences of the Searchers, Motors and Beach Boys. The album is awash in catchy melodies, tight harmonies and walls of electric guitars, all finely balanced against a solid rhythm section of hummable bass lines and full-kit drum fills. The group’s amalgam of pop influences may not break new ground, but the precision and joie de vivre with which they weave it all together is quite endearing. [©2016 Hyperbolium]
After the Knack’s blazing success with 1979’s Get the Knack and its omnipresent single “My Sharona,” the band’s commercial fortunes quickly faded amid critical blowback. Two more albums and the band went its separate ways after 1981’s Round Trip. But there was too much chemistry – particularly on-stage – for them to remain apart, and the next decade saw reunions for tours and studio albums, two of which (Zoom and Normal as the Next Guy) are now joined in reissue by the group’s last recording project, 2001’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Fun House. They’d continue to tour until lead vocalist Doug Feiger’s passing in 2010, but this live-in-the-studio project was their last full project together, resulting in both a CD and DVD.
Recorded in a television studio, in front of a small audience of friends, family and fans, the group showed off the live show that had built the fan base that had launched their career. The song list is a well-crafted mix of hits, album tracks and a closing medley of “Tequila” and “Break on Through (to the Other Side)” that shows off the group’s sense of whimsy, musical reach and Berton Averre’s stellar lead guitar. The original fifteen tracks are augmented on this reissue by a pair of performances (“It’s Not Me” and “Seven Days of Heaven,” drawn from Normal as the Next Guy) that were left off the original CD. This may be an even better introduction to the Knack than a greatest hits album, since it highlights both their hits and stage show. Great for fans and newbies alike. [©2015 Hyperbolium]
After the blowback that greeted the meteoric success of “My Sharona” and Get the Knack, this Los Angeles pop quartet never fully recovered their commercial footing. Two more albums in two years, and they were gone; though not for good. They reunited for 1991’s Serious Fun, 1998’s Zoom and this final 2001 studio release. By this point the group was on its fifth drummer, David Henderson (as well as reteaming with their second drummer, Pat Torpey), but the core of lead vocalist Doug Feiger, guitarist Berton Averre and bassist Prescott Niles was still intact, as was Feiger and Averre’s songwriting, and Feiger’s youthful voice.
The material on their reunion albums had largely graduated from the leering of their early albums, and though they retained their pop sensibility to the end, they also expanded upon their power pop roots. In addition to the Byrdsian “It’s Not Me” and superb vocal harmony on a remake of “One Day at a Time,” there’s Oingo Boingo-styled post-punk in “Normal as the Next Guy,” country twang for “Spiritual Pursuit,” Steely Dan-styled jazz-pop on “Dance of Romance,” and a moody, full-on Beach Boys tribute, “The Man on the Beach.” The songs aren’t as uniformly ingratiating as the band’s previous reunion, but when they hit the pop-rock groove, they still take off.
Omnivore’s 2015 reissue adds three bonus tracks that feature Doug Feiger laying down songwriter demos with his acoustic guitar. All three make nice additions, but “Reason to Live,” is particularly revealing of Feiger’s emotional investment in his songwriting. The disc’s 12-page booklet includes liner notes by Lee Lodyga and Prescott Niles, and song notes by Niles and Averre. Though not the band’s best album, it’s a bit of a patchwork of songs written for the Knack and for non-Knack projects, there are enough Knack-tastic moments to make this an essential part of a fan’s collection. [©2015 Hyperbolium]