With the calendar switching recently over to summer, the time seemed ripe to do a show devoted entirely to summer songs.
The Big Show #2 includes twenty such songs, and progresses from songs anticipating summer’s imminent arrival, to songs proclaiming the simple joys of summer to songs caught in summer rain to songs announcing the end of summer.
It concludes with SunriseHighway singing about “The Endless Summer.”
“Summer Songs” is posted at Mixcloud, but you can hear it directly in this post by clicking on the picture, below. The complete track list appears directly below that:
1. Attic Lights, “Summer’s Coming Back”
2. Michael Carpenter and King’s Road: “Summertime”
As a compliment to this blog, I launched my own on-line streaming radio station at Live365. It streams 24-7, and plays the music discussed on this blog, and a whole lot more.
The station profile says in summary form that it spins a lot of different types of melodically-driven rock ‘n roll — “Power Pop, New Wave, Indie rock, lo-fi, British Invasion, Garage Rock, Psychedelic, West Coast Pop, Baroque Pop, Chamber Pop, Brit Pop.”
More specifically, you will hear today’s best indie pop artists, particularly those that placed a track on my Top 20 of 2013 — Eric Barao, The Sharp Things, Nick Piunti, An American Underdog, Stephen Lawrenson, Wyatt Funderburk, Lisa Mychols, And The Professors,Vegas With Randolph, Bye Bye Blackbirds, etc. The artists featured in my recent Indie Pop Playlist post feature prominently, as do those in my earlier two posts on playlists I created and uploaded. Those can be found here and here.
You also will hear Power Pop dating to its inception in the 1970s, both well-known (TheRaspberries, Big Star, The Plimsouls), and somewhat obscure (The Pranks, TheSecrets*, Gary Charlson, The Shivvers).
Early New Wave and Punk Rock is prominently featured, and represented by the likes of Elvis Costello, The Clash, Blondie, The Jam, and Joe Jackson.
The alternative rock scene starting in the early-1980s checks in with R.E.M., The Replacements, Husker Du, The Pixies,Guided By Voices, and others.
There are also doses of 60s rock from The Beatles, The Kinks, The Small Faces, Manfred Mann, The Beach Boys, The Zombies, Love, The Move, The Creation, The Pretty Things, etc.
For good measure, you’ll also hear earlier trailblazing pioneers of melodically-driven rock — Buddy Holly and The Everly Brothers.
So, stop by frequently. I plan to rotate tracks into the playlist — more than 44 hours long — from my personal library on a weekly basis. Just follow this link.
Today I am starting a new regular feature called “Five Track Draw.” It will focus on five melodic rock tracks that made it to my attention recently by “happenstance,” either through an internet radio service, algorithm or social media, or practically anywhere else as long as I did not purposefully cue them on a listening device.
The focus of this feature will be primarily on lesser known artists, or lesser known tracks by better known artists. The tracks may be new or old (or somewhere in between) because even old music is “new” if you haven’t heard it.
This first installment comes via internet radio. Each has a lighter feel, with The Beach Boys looming as the primary influence as summer fades increasingly further into the rear-view mirror.
Sunrise Highway, “Endless Summer”: This could easily be a Beach Boys sound-a-like, but grafting its seamless, endless harmonies onto jangly twelve-string guitars lifts this song far from the realm of the mere copycats:
Bryan Estepa, “Western Tale”: Its six-minute length is usually a red flag for me since songs should remain the three-minute range. But this is actually a couple of songs rolled into one, and moves along at a brisk pace with its soaring harmonies and production and background vocals supplied by Michael Carpenter, about whom I have written previously. The first line of the chorus — “And if the tide is high, baby move over, and over and over” — can stick in your head for days:
Adrian Whitehead, “Cailtlin’s 60’s Pop Song”: The title does not lie. This is indeed a 60s pop song anchored by piano, harmony and analog-styled production from days gone by. That makes this song about a girl “so beautiful . . . from above” very pretty without sounding like a museum piece:
Linus Of Hollywood, “Heavenly”: This one amps up the 60s sunshine pop vibe (as much as sunshine pop can be amped up) by adding a driving beat to the mix by the time the chorus kicks in. Otherwise, you get big doses of swirling multi-voiced harmonies, strings, keyboards and upper register lead vocals:
Frank Bango, “Summerdress”: Who needs autumn sweaters and winter coats when you can sing giddily for a few minutes about pretty girls in summer dresses? Bango’s circa-1978 Elvis Costello-esque vocals work nicely over the organs and strings on the most relentlessly upbeat song of this post:
You can’t go wrong with either of these sweet sounds of summer as we head through autumn.
Time does have a tendency to fly away. Here are some short takes on some of the best albums of 2013 that have been recently spinning on my music device:
Eric Barao, EricBarao: Barao’s lushly produced debut album recalls Elvis Costello’sImperial Bedroom with its swirling melodies, complex arrangements, occasional instrumental flourishes and tales of broken hearts. The lead track, “On Holiday,” with its tension-release structure and Barao’s strong vocals, is a candidate for song of the year:
Nick Piunti, 13 In My Head: Piunti’s debut evokes one of my other all-time favorites, The Replacements. He employs a more basic approach. Bass, guitars and drums propel succinct bursts of timeless powerpop that could have been recorded at any time since 1972. Piunti’sPaul Westerberg-meets-Faces-era-Rod-Stewart vocals, and pitch-perfect backing harmonies, should make this a car stereo favorite for years to come. Selecting a “best” song is difficult — there is not a misfire among the ten tracks — but the mid-tempo “On the Way Out” is a good place to start:
The Dead Girls, Fade In/Fade Out:Think Big Star, but about a dozen pounds heavier. Fade In/Fade Out has all of the requisite melodic rock elements discussed throughout this site, but amped up with big riffs and occasionally even bigger percussion. “Find Your Way To Me (Oh My Soul)” is the best six-minute plus song Big Star never recorded. For good measure, the band closes the collection with a perfect, harmony-filled cover of Chris Bell’s enduringly beautiful “You And Your Sister”:
Scott Brookman, Smellicopter: Brookman has been quietly self-releasing sunny pop gems for quite some time. His 2000 release, For Those Who Like POP, has gotten quite a few spins on iPhone. Smellicopter, though, is his best excursion to date into BeachBoys/Bacharach territory. The second track, “Summer’s Two Weeks Notice” might be the best exemplar of Brookman’s basic style with its decidedly Pet Sounds vibe, but I’m kind of partial to more jaunty “Very Anne”:
Lisa Mychols, Above Beyond & In Between:I’ve written previously about Mychols as a member of the Masticators and Nushu. Her third solo album is a perfect distillation of everything that was once great about AM radio, transported to 2013. Its twelve tracks of non-stop hooks and melodies that would sound great on a long, sunny day at the beach. It proudly flashes its influences, but is no mere nostalgia project. A proper, well-produced video for the terrific ballad “Ferris Wheel” can be found here, but Mychols’ own homemade, low-fi clip for the upbeat “Foolin’ The World” is far more endearing:
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So, there’s five of my favorite albums of 2013. Each are worthy of extended play. Tell me what you think.
Sometimes I’m in the mood for straightforward bass-guitar-drums and voice rock and roll. Other times, though, I reach for more elaborate, intricately arranged and lushly detailed pop. Elephants into Swans, the new record by The Sun Sawed in 1/2 — their first in thirteen years — fits squarely into the latter category. Its one of the best, most exuberant releases in quite some time.
The Sun Sawed in 1/2 is (very) often compared to Jellyfish, and for good reason. Its sound is equal parts brash, quirky, serious, not serious, psychedelic, fun, and purposefully over-the-top. Elephants into Swans is all of that. It’s also smart, melodic and filled with hooks that increasingly grab your attention upon repeated listening. And, for good measure, it picks up steam as it proceeds, making it the rare record that does front-load its virtues.
It all kicks into high gear by the third track, “Brittle Star,” a sunny up-beat tune about a mercurial girl made of “lightning, passion and rope.” “Countess I Fear Something’s Wrong,” probably my favorite track in the set, is about stolen opportunity –“they cut your song out/with pinking shears and rusted years/they gauged and gauzed it/I press to make repeat then I scan and pause it” — that concludes with a nice Beach Boys flourish for no real reason other than it just sounds great. There’s never anything wrong with that:
Indeed, “sounding great” is the partly the reason for Elephants into Swans to be. “She Offers Her Heart” adds horns to the chorus to up the exuberance factor: “She offers me her heart/and now I’m in love and now I’m in love/and now I’m in love and now I’m in love.” You can’t get any more enthusiastic than that.
Horns also help give “This Girl’s My Lullaby” a swinging, 60’s adult pop feel that veers into decidedly Bacharach territory:
The record closes with more horns on the unrelentingly upbeat and optimistic “Waltzing In Clover.” What else can be made out of these words: “I’ll marry the whole of you/Ten ways amazed for the rest of my days/I’ll marry the whole of you/I’ll drink your gaze sunlit sparkly glazed/I’ll marry the whole of you/You you you you you you’re my love”:
By the end of it, with the words “waltzing in clover” sung over themselves in a dizzying carousel of joy, you can’t help but think: “all you need is love,” in the words of one of The Sun Sawed In 1/2’s other major influences. Indeed, that could very well be the point made by the entire record.
Elephants into Swans can be downloaded for $9 on Bandcamp, a cheap price for such gleeful happiness.
I went to a whole lot of Bar Mitzvahs back in 1977. There was one band that played at almost every one. It was composed of four or five guys who worked as dentists during the week. They played these weekend parties in three-piece suits — or, sometimes, open vests over puffy shirts — that went quite nicely with their well-trimmed beards. This was, of course, 1977.
For some reason, the song that got everyone on the dance floor, at every party, was “Evil Woman” by ELO. I never pegged the song as a “dance” tune coming, as it did, in the middle of the disco age. Maybe it was the jazzy, scratchy guitars, or the slightly funky keyboards that got everyone moving. The whole scene still seems kind of mysterious even after all these years. A truly “live” (meaning not “lip-synched”) version of “Evil Woman,” culled from The Midnight Special television program, best captures its essence and Jeff Lynne’s not-so-well-trimmed hair:
Fast-forward a couple of decades.
Brian Kassan, who played bass and guitar in the Wondermints before they backed Brian Wilson, founded a band called Chewy Marble in 1995. The All Music Guide described its 1998 self-titled debut as:
a sparkling power-pop effort spotlighting founder Brian Kassan’s versatile songwriting skills, which touch on influences ranging from Badfinger (‘Loneliest Man’) to the Zombies (‘Peculiar’) to even contemporary chamber-pop revivalists like the High Llamas (‘Teacher’s Pet’).
When you listen to the band’s follow-up effort, 2001’s Bowl Of Surreal, you can add “mid-70s Bar Mitzvah dance music” to their range of influences. “Reasons Why,” the tenth track on the longplayer, makes me think back to those days of dancing to “Evil Woman” on Saturday afternoons and Saturday evenings. The song is all about swing-y keyboards, lounge-y lead vocals, scratchy guitars, dreamy background vocals and string instrument sounds. You know, kind of like ELO, even if Lynne often sang with more conviction that your basic lounge singer:
A couple of years ago, Kassandiscussed on Power Popaholic his early early days in the Wondermints playing a “small dive bar” called The Irish Mist:
we were playing tons of fun covers that most bar bands wouldn’t attempt or even know for that matter…’Magic’ ‘Go All The Way’ ‘Love is Like Oxygen’ ‘Telephone Line’ and many others!
“Telephone Line” was, of course, recorded by ELO and released in May 1977 — the peak of the Bar Mitzvah season that year. The Wondermints’ version of the song, if you can find it, is awesome. And so is “Reasons Why.” I feel “all 70s” whenever it comes on, which Kassan obviously intended.
Some albums stay with you for a long time. Those are the one you keep coming back to. Sometimes the lyrics speak to you. Sometimes it’s the sound. Sometimes the melodies swirl around in your head for days without prompting.
One such record for me is Seth Swirsky’s 2010 release Watercolor Day. Swirsky worked previously in the music business as a staff songwriter at Chappell Music, Warner-Chappell Music and EMI Music, where he penned songs recorded by Rufus Wainwright, Al Green, and Smokey Robinson, among others. He co-wrote “Tell It To My Heart,” a big hit for Taylor Dayne back in 1987.
As a performer, Swirsky describes his sound as “old school.” It certainly is. Its a magical trip back in time to the pure pop stylings of the 1960s, where an idea, catchy melodies, gorgeous multi-part harmonies, and two-and-a-half minutes of vinyl could yield glorious results.
Although the Beatles are an obvious influence on Swirsky’s solo work, and on the two records released by his band, The Red Button, Watercolor Day feels much more like the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. Trumpets, french horns, violas, cellos, oboes and trombones appear seemingly out of nowhere, but nevertheless fit perfectly in the mix and saturate the sound with texture. Swirsky also makes use of the pre-synthesizer Mellotron, an “electro-mechanical, polyphonic tape replay keyboard originally developed and built in Birmingham, England, in the early 1960s.” Or, in other words, a Mellotron uses magnetic tape to coax the sound of virtually any instrument out of a basic keyboard. It was was utilized to great effect on numerous songs in the psychedelic era. Watercolor Day is analog candy for the digital age.
And the candy is attuned to the rhythm of seasons. Much of Watercolor Day evokes the easy, breezy days of summer at the beach. The title song, however, is about a “colder” December day: “It’s a watercolor day/Skies of blue have turned to grey/Her green eyes mix with the sunrise/As the butterflies melt away”:
Summer returns, though, on the next song, “Summer In Her Hair,” which, of course, is all about a girl who’s “got the summer in her long, blond hair.” “4 O’Clock Sun” is a short instrumental with harmonizing voices that feels like a warm late-afternoon at the beach as it starts to fade toward night. Full-circle is achieved by the last song, “Amen,” an ode to the return of autumn, red leaves, bare trees, the rain and an eternal caring hand. The watercolor days of December will soon return.
If all of this sounds like a cloyingly sweet confection devoid of substance, it’s not. The songs are richly detailed soundscapes about, well, life. And Swirsky often gets a phrase down just right. The minor key “Living Room” begins “Empty picture frame, it used to have a photograph/Of her smiling.” We’ve all been there before, in one way or the other. On “She’s Doing Fine,” he sings “she’s doing fine, that’s what her note said/she’s doing fine, she left it on the bed.” More basic truth. His tribute to Harry Nilsson, “(I Never Knew You) Harry” begins “I heard you back in ‘69/’Everybody’s Talkin’ was playing all the time.”
He even attempts a kind of mini-Side 2 of Abbey Road on “I’m Just Sayin,’” a medley of some of the prior songs on Watercolor Day. It also closes with some seriously Beatleseque guitars. “The coda at the end of the album is something that Sir Paul McCartney has done brilliantly over the years and I wanted to attempt it.,” Swirsky says on his website.
And he certainly achieved it. Watercolor Day is one of the best albums of the past decade. It has a handmade, craftsman-like quality that you don’t get very often in these days of processed beats and auto-tuned voices. Not a moment is wasted in the 18 hook-laden songs, some of which clock in at less than two minutes long. Why create clutter? Its far better to get in, get out and leave a lasting footprint on the mind of the listener. That’s exactly what Watercolor Day does.