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Seven Decades Of Melodic Rock & Roll

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Best LPs Of 2016 — Part 3

a3676489916_16We conclude our rundown of the Best LPs Of 2016 with the best of the best. Also, be sure to check out the list of five other 2016 longplayers deserving of a listen.

10.  The Cleaners From VenusLast Boy In The Locarno: Martin Newell returns with twelve tracks of great stories, intriguing character studies and winsome nostalgia surrounded by deft melodies and the usual assortment of unexpected twists and turns. Listen and buy here.

9.  Trolley Caught In The Darkness: Trolley distills the entire history of psychedelic — and psych-inspired — rock ‘n’ roll into this blistering twelve song set. Listen loudly and buy here.

8.  Cotton MatherDeath Of The Cool: This one summons the spirit, depth and quality of Kontiki, one of the greatest albums of the 1990s. That’s all you need to know. Sample and buy here.

7.  SomerdaleShake It Maggie: The guys in Somerdale are proud proponents of a style of music — Power Pop — that is “so out of style, its cool.” And this is certainly one of the coolest records of the year — ten proper tracks, and a reprise — recalling the days when radio was king. Listen and buy here.

6.  Tuns — S/T: Chris Murphy of Sloan, Mike O’Neill of The Inbreds and Matt Murphy of The Super Friendz join forces to release perhaps the greatest unassuming record ever released. This one delivers nine perfectly conceived rockin’ pop songs expertly executed. Sample and buy here.

5.  Teenage FanclubHere: How does one compose a pithy sentence about a release by an all-time favorite? One doesn’t. Just sample and buy here. You’ll get the point.

4.  Coke BeldaNummer Zwei: This late-2015 release is a delight from beginning to end, mining all manner of classic pop styles amid sharp songwriting and musicianship and beautiful production. Listen and buy here.

3.  Nick PiuntiTrust Your Instincts: Piunti is a perennial on these pages, and this release does not disappoint as he delivers ten stellar examples of some of the finest rockin’ pop on the planet. Listen and buy here.

2.  The Legal MattersConrad: State of the art pop from the Fab Three, with a little help from their friends. Sample and buy here.

1.  Ryan Allen and His Extra ArmsBasement Punk: The sheer energy packed into these eleven tracks takes Basement Punk to a photo finish victory. Allen’s often quite personal songs soundcheck the great pop rock of the 60’s through the 90’s in a manner that remains contemporary and fresh. Listen and buy here.

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Bubbling Under

A few other albums released in 2016 deserve some love, as well:

Tommy and the RocketsBeer And Fun And Rock ‘n’ Roll: What the Ramones might have sounded like had they grown up in a Southern California beach community and had Danish roots. Listen and buy here.

Bill ShaouyThe Other Town: Shaouy operates as kind of a one-man XTC. Check out “Christopher Walken Told Me,” in particular. Sample and buy here.

Starry Eyed CadetPlaces We Don’t Belong: A sharp update of 80’s dream pop stylings. Listen and buy here.

Rob Clarke And The Wooltones, Are You Wooltoned?: Need a fix of 1966? Listen and buy here.

The Jeckylls, The One I Want, The One I Need: Siting at the crossroads where Mod and Power Pop meet. Listen and buy here.

Best LPs Of 2016 — Part 1

a1483495219_16We decided to add context to out annual “best of” lists instead of simply providing long lists with no discussion. So, our look at the Best 30 LPs of 2016 will come in three installments.

Because good music does not necessarily hue to annual time periods, our list contains a couple of late-2015 releases that, in actuality, are 2016 LPs to us. By the same token, late-2016 releases will need to wait until next year.

As always, some of the distinctions here sit on a rather fine line. Each of the albums of our list, however, is highly recommended.

Without further adieu:

30.  Andy KlingensmithFantasy Island: On his first longplayer, Klingensmith applies contemporary rhythms to his basic psych-folk template to great effect. Listen and buy here.

29.  Colman GotaTape: Gota’s hook-filled adult guitar rock reminds us that the phrase “alt rock” did not always induce eye rolls. Sample and buy here.

28The WeeklingsStudio 2: The New Jersey-based band’s second stellar collection of Beatles-inspired rockin’ pop with spot-on harmonies, Rickenbacker guitars, sweet ballads and an ode to Chuck Berry. Sample and buy here.

27.  Butch YoungMercury Man: Young takes his inspiration from the later-period Beatles. The right doses of horns and orchestration add drama to his complex melodies. Sample and buy here.

26. Ed RyanRoadmap: Ryan’s old-school Power Pop never wears old or thin. These ten rockin’ pop tracks are guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Listen and buy here.

25. Gretchen’s WheelBehind The Curtain: Lindsay Murray’s second longplayer is more rocking than last year’s Fragile State, which also made our year-end list. Get this, though, for her voice, a beguiling mix of strength and fragility. Listen and buy here.

24.  Mimi BetinisMusic Sounds: This is one of more varied albums on our list, as Bitinis effortlessly mixes and matches classic pop and rock stylings over this thoroughly enjoyable eleven-song set. Sample and buy here.

23.  Steve IsonOn The Way Up: Ison’s sound is rooted in British singer-songwriters of the late-60s and early-70s, with indelible nods to Bowie and Donovan. There is not a bum track to be found. Listen and buy here.

22.  Cheap StarSongs For The Farrelly Brothers: This one sit in decidedly late-period Teenage Fanclub territory, with layered acoustic guitars and restrained harmonies. The version of the Lemonheads “Into Your Arms” found here might even top the original. Sample and buy here.

21.  Diamond Hands — S/T:  Not a single song on this eleven-track, hook-and-jangle-heavy romp through various 60’s rock styles reaches the three-minute mark. Is this retro? Hell yeah, and that’s a very good thing when laid down by the four capable hands that comprise this Los Angeles-based duo. Listen and buy here.

It’s Troc Time, Baby

Frenzy In The HipsThe New Trocaderos should be quite familiar to readers of this blog. They consist of Geoffrey Palmer and Brad Marino of The Connection, and Kurt Baker. Their “debut” two-sided single, released in late-2013, was reviewed here. One of those songs, “The Kids,” made my list of the best 30 songs of 2014. Their 2014 EP, Kick Your Ass, was reviewed here, and made my list of the best 10 EPs of 2014. They also have scored two “Coolest Songs” on Little Steven’s Underground Garage. [You can hear the double-sided single here, and the EP here.]

Kook Kat Musik is distributing a “compilation” EP — released by Uncle Mike’s  RnR — containing the five previously released songs, while including a new track, “Luckiest Man In The World,” another bristling slice of hook-filled rockin’ pop rooted deeply in the British Invasion and garage rock sounds of the 1960s. Like the five prior Troc tracks, “Luckiest” bears the indelible stamp of its primary songwriter, Michael Chaney, who has a penchant for penning short, memorable lines, like the key lyric in “Luckiest”: “Robber shot a bullet straight at his head/Bullet took a U-turn, killed the robber instead/He’s the luckiest man in the world.”

Chaney is a Los Angeles-based criminal defense lawyer who had no professional songwriting experience before the Trocs recorded six of his songs. I had a chance to speak with him about the genesis of his alternate career, his influences, and what the future may hold for him and the Trocs.

Q. You live in Los Angeles. How did an older (sorry) West Coast guy, a lawyer no less, get hooked up with young New England musicians?

A.  About three years ago I went looking for new music and by random chance stumbled upon Kurt Baker’s songs, and they knocked me out. I’d already checked out many hundreds of songs from a couple hundred bands and was about to give up on finding anything truly stellar. I bought all of Kurt’s music and out of the blue I got an email from him thanking me.

Not being aware then of what indie artists need to do these days to promote themselves — I found out later just how tough the indie scene really is — I was blown away that such a talented guy had taken the time to write to a single fan, which I told him. We started talking rock ‘n’ roll and it turned out that a lot of my influences were his influences, too, despite our considerable age difference, and he was every bit as well versed in the music as people who came up with Buddy Holly and Elvis and the great ‘60s bands. Aside from having The Beatles, The Stones, The Beach Boys, The Kinks, The Who, and others, in common, I’d seen Rockpile at The Roxy and The Knack a half-dozen times, Elvis Costello and The Ramones at The Whisky in the ’70s, and a lot of other small club gigs back in the day, and Kurt was fascinated. I think he felt he was born about 30 years too late.

Q.  Geoff Palmer and Brad Marino are the other New Trocaderos. How did you get to know them?

A.  I asked Kurt if any other indie bands were making great new music and he recommended The Connection. At that point, The Connection only had New England’s Newest Hit Makers out. I listened to it and was floored. I mean, if those songs had been released in the sixties in England I have no doubt they’d have been Top Ten Hits. I bought the EP and Geoff Palmer wrote back. I told him Kurt turned me on to his band, and found out Geoff also plays guitar in Kurt’s band. Geoff and I started e-mailing. He had the same influences, too, as did Brad Marino, Geoff’s songwriting partner, although Geoff is more a Beatles guy and Brad is more into The Stones.

Q.  What happened next?

A.   I found out that Kurt, Geoff and Brad, aside from being extremely knowledgeable about rock music history, are terrific people. Very funny, upbeat guys, and very committed to real rock ‘n’ roll. You’ll never see them copping out to get ahead or to get a record deal. They play it the way they feel it and that’s that. They don’t care that they’re “out of step” with what passes for popular music these days.

In other words, they have musical integrity, along with great musical taste. So I liked them personally, and I wanted to help them get the recognition they deserve. I did some legal work for both bands, but as a criminal defense lawyer I wasn’t well versed in music law. But I have a buddy who is — a guy named Doug Mark who’s the lawyer for Epitaph Records and a long list of household name bands — and he’s been very gracious with his time and expertise. And I’ve learned a lot. And notwithstanding that I’m not tight with many heavies in the LA music scene, I’ve been doing what I can to try to get the guys the break they deserve, notwithstanding that a lot of people who should know better keep ignoring me.

Q.  Has anything come from that?

A.   Not nearly as much as their talent warrants, but so far, the biggest coup was getting The Connection booked to play a huge event sponsored by the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. I got a home-made “best of ” CD to Greg Harris, the CEO of the Rock Hall, and he listened and liked the music enough to OK hiring the band to play for 1,000 Rock Hall VIPS at the Rock Hall’s annual Spring Benefit last year. I drafted a press release to tout the event.

The gig was at the Cleveland Auditorium, the same venue where The Beatles, Stones, The Who, etc., all had played. Hall and Oates played later that evening to a packed house. The Connection went over really well. There was a big success with Kurt, too, but there’s a confidentiality agreement in place that prohibits me from talking about it. Except to say that the result validated the exceptional level of Kurt’s songwriting.

Also, Brad and Geoff, especially Brad, are huge Ramones fans. I happened to be friends with Ed Stasium, who either engineered or produced (or both) The Ramones best albums, so I arranged for Ed to mix and master a Connection song. Ed ended up writing and playing the guitar solo on it, too. The song was “Gonna Leave You.” That went over well with Brad and the band. Another little coup was hooking Kurt up with The Dahlmanns and The Dahlmanns up with Ed Stasium. Andre Dahlmann is a huge Ramones fan and he’d said he’d love to work with Ed. Kurt had written a song years ago for an Italian all-girl band to record, but they broke up before that happened. Kurt sent it to The Dahlmanns, who recorded it. Ed produced, mixed, and mastered it, and it ended up being a Coolest Song in the World at The Underground Garage. That was “He’s A Drag.” So that deal was very cool all the way around.

Q.  How did The New Trocaderos come about?

A.   As we got to know each other better, Geoff and Brad began sending demos of new Connection songs, and we’d go back and forth talking about lyric changes and instrumentation. Along the way, I mentioned that over the years I’d written some lyrics and melodies. Geoff asked me to send them to him. I told Geoff I’d give him $50 if he did a demo for me. That’s all I wanted, a recording of one of my songs, “Money Talks” — even a crude one. But the next thing I knew, Brad and Geoff and Kurt said they wanted to record the song, which I had written for fun 30 years earlier. Their idea was to blow my mind as a way of saying thanks for me trying to help them advance their careers.

Q.  When did you become a songwriter?

A.  I never thought of myself in that way. I can barely play basic guitar and have a horrible singing voice. But ever since I was a kid I’ve been putting lyrics to melodies. I remember hearing “19th Nervous Breakdown” and “Get Off Of My Cloud” and “Satisfaction” on AM radio and not being able to tell what the hell Mick was singing . . . at least on the verses. So I’d make up words that seemed to fit. From that habit came ideas for lines or verses or song titles, but I never paid attention to them and usually forgot what I’d come up with. “Money Talks” I did write down, probably because I thought it was funny.

Q.  How about the other song on the first New Trocoderos EP?

A.   The guys decided they needed a second song to record and I wrote “The Kids.” I have only a vague idea where it came from. But once I got started it seemed to almost write itself. Geoff especially was pushing me to write down ideas, not to forget them, and to finish ideas, to really try to write songs, so I started doing that. Without his enthusiasm and encouragement, I probably would have just gone on amusing myself, coming up with things then forgetting them. I mean, I’m a lawyer, not a songwriter. Who am I kidding? That was my state of mind until a couple years ago and Geoff turned up the heat on me.

Q.  What was it like being in the studio with the band?

A.   For the first EP, I wasn’t there. Geoff and Kurt had done demos and we tweaked the songs via text messages and e-mails until we all felt they were tight. Kurt, Brad, and Geoff then went into the studio, The Wild Arctic in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and knocked them off like the pros they are. They played all the instruments.

Brad is a rhythm and lead guitar player in The Connection, but he can play drums, too, and did so (really well) on that first New Trocs EP. He was channeling Charlie Watts. Kurt primarily is a bassist, but he played rhythm guitar on both songs.

Then, Dean Baltulonis, the engineer, and I exchanged a bunch of emails and phone calls about the mixes and finally the songs were done.

Let me tell you, it was thrilling, from start to finish. I mean, my days usually are spent on serious things, from misdemeanors to murder cases, and it was so refreshing to be involved in something creative with such great players. And then after the songs were recorded, to compare the original half-formed ideas with the finished songs was revelatory. Just the greatest buzz you can imagine.

Q.  The EP was well received. That must have given you a boost.

A.   Yes, a huge boost. The EP got good reviews, including here at Pop That Goes Crunch (thank you again). Then out of nowhere Steve Van Zandt picked “The Kids” as a Coolest Song in the World, which totally knocked me out, and also played “Money Talks” on his Underground Garage station. The Connection already had had a bunch of Coolest Songs and Kurt had had one at that point, but I never expected that The New Trocs would get that kind of recognition.

Q.  So the band was on a roll.

A.  Yes, absolutely. The New Trocs had started out as a “one-off” kind of deal, but the EP sold out and the guys wanted to do another one. So last September they recorded three new songs, and we released “Kick Your Ass.” This time we got Craig Sala to play drums and Kris “Fingers” Rodgers to play keys. Both those guys are total pros, too. Both graduated from Berklee School of Music in Boston, and are veterans of a number of bands. And both had played with Kurt and with The Connection. They’re all tight buddies who help each other out whenever one of them asks.

Q.  Where did the new songs come from?

A.  “Real Gone Kitty” I wrote years ago, and forgot about. My old friend, Bill Bartlett, inspired it. Bill’s best known for “Black Betty” (that’s him on guitar and vocals), and for “Green Tambourine” (he was in The Lemon Pipers), but his heart never left the late ’50s and Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, Elvis.

“Dream Girl” was written last year. Geoff did the demos for it and added a lot of great touches, so he and I share the writing credit. Geoff sings that one and really nails it.

“Brain Gone Dead” I wrote as a joke 35 years ago at the height of the punk scene here in LA, inspired by the Karen Ann Quinlan controversy. Brad did the demo and came up with the killer music for it, so he and I share credit on that one.

QKick Your Ass also was well received.

A.  Yes, the blog reviews and the Goldmine Magazine review (thank you John Borack) have been terrific, and Little Steven struck again by making “Dream Girl” a Coolest Song in the World in early January. I’m told The Underground Garage also will be adding “Brain Gone Dead.”

It’s totally mind-blowing to me, but on the other hand, I’m really glad that Brad and Geoff and Kurt are getting some of the credit and recognition they deserve. They recorded all the songs with minimal rehearsal in only a few takes. They’re total pros and I’m thrilled for them. I’m not kidding myself; those guys get the credit for the New Trocs’ success.

Q.  Were you there for the recording sessions this time?

A.  Yes, I flew back and spent a week hanging out with those wild men and their girlfriends and pals. They were all totally cool. It was a tremendous amount of fun. Unlike Kurt and Craig, though, who slept on Geoff’s floor, I stayed at a hotel. Ha-ha. This time it was so much easier to get the songs together than it was the first time around. Two hours of rehearsal and two days in the studio and all three songs were recorded, overdubbed, tweaked, mixed, and done.

Craig Sala nailed the drums, no problem, and Kris Rodgers is a virtuoso on keys. On “Brain Gone Dead” we wanted a cheesy Farfisa sound, and on “Dream Girl” we wanted a Garth Hudson sounding organ, and Kris got both, one take each. He’d stopped in the studio on the way to a gig and was there for about 90 minutes total. He did those two organ parts and the piano on “Kitty” in that time, and much of the 90 minutes was spent just shootin’ the breeze.

Q.  Where did the band name come from?

I’d always thought that the word Trocadero sounded cool. I think it was the name of an LA gangster nightclub in the ’40s. It might still be around. Since the Trocs was a side band for Kurt and Geoff and Brad, I added “New” to it, like Keith and Woody did with The New Barbarians. And also in case there happened already to be a band called The Trocaderos. It was funny; when Steve Van Zandt talked about “The Kids,” the first thing he said was, “But who were the old Trocaderos?”

Q.  The band has a new EP out on CD.

A.   Yes, it’s a sort of compilation CD called Frenzy In The Hips that’s out on Kool Kat Musik. Doing it was the idea of Ray Gianchetti, the guy who runs Kool Kat.

The CD contains the five previously issued songs and a new one done very recently called “Luckiest Man in the World” that Geoff recorded and produced. Geoff did the demo and made the song come alive with some great touches, so he’s a co-writer. Kurt emailed his bass and background vocal tracks in from Madrid. He lives most of the time there now, where he plays to packed houses. The Spanish and the Italians love him and power pop generally, much more than Americans seem to. And they love The Connection over there, too. Frenzy is due out on February 6th. It’ll be the only place where people can get all six Trocs songs on one disc.

Q.  What’s your takeaway from this whole experience?

A.   As I mentioned earlier, one shocking thing I’ve found out is that it almost doesn’t matter to today’s music industry how good a band’s music might be, which I find to be un-effin-believable. In the old days, as you know, A&R guys would hear a promising band in a club and sign them and bring them along and hope the band panned out. The labels were leaders, and at least some of the TV people were leaders. They turned the country on to new music.

Now, it’s the opposite. Bands like The Connection and The Kurt Baker Band and The Dahlmanns, another favorite of mine, and others, can make truly great music and go largely ignored. My friend Doug Mark filled me in on this sad and shocking reality and it took a long time for me to get my mind around it fully.

But it’s true. I mean, if Meet The Beatles were self-released now and it didn’t result in 25,000 You Tube hits and huge self-generated sales, the people with the power would ignore the band.

So today’s indie bands are in a real bind. It’s very hard to reach broad audiences without some kind of backing, which almost no indie band has. Most of the young players I know of have day jobs. They have to, to pay the rent. They don’t have money to saturate America, or even their hometown, with advertising and promotions. They just make the best music they can and when they’ve saved a few bucks they release it and socially promote it and hope for the best.

So nowadays, how good a band’s music might be is almost irrelevant. A band making crap music that somehow has a lot of followers has a much better chance of getting signed than the band that’s releasing killer music. The big question for me is, when is someone with money and/or power going to wake up and realize that the best music being created today is going largely unheard, and do something about it. Aren’t there any leaders left in the music industry?

Q.  If the odds are so long, why do you think all these indie pop/rock bands keep releasing music?

A.   I think the short answer is that they love what they’re doing. You tell me, but I assume that’s the reason why you run your blog and do your radio show. You love the music. Being engaged with the kind of music you love is all the reward you need.

Geoff and Brad just wrote a song for The Connection that talks about this issue. It’s called “Labor of Love” (it’s terrific, by the way), and it says it all in a nutshell. Bands write and record and play it like they feel it, and that, in and of itself, makes it all worthwhile. It’s honest, it feels good, it’s exciting. If they get airplay or recognition of some kind, that’s a bonus, but they don’t expect it.

Q.  What’s next for The New Trocaderos?

A.   The guys want to record a full LP, in June, when Kurt’s back from Madrid for a few weeks. I have 8 originals I’m working on, and the band wants to do a few covers, too, probably 4. And we may try to do a Christmas song or two to release in November.

Q.  Any final thoughts?

A.   Rock ‘n’ roll is the great unifier. I’m in my 60s and Brad and Kurt and Fingers are 28. Geoff is 35. They’re either one or two generations behind me, yet when we talk music, age means nothing. I learn a lot from them. I really value their friendship. And it never would have come about were it not for a shared love of the best music ever recorded, British Invasion-style rock ‘n’ roll and power pop.

 

 

The Big Show #1: Cover Me

Deep Fried FanclunLast week, I premiered at Pop That Goes Crunch radio, a weekly show hosted by me called “The Big Show.” Each show will be approximately a hour-long. They usually will be themed.

The first show consisted entirely of “covers.” The focus, however, was on covers of well-known songs by well-known artists, but which themselves are not particularly well-known.

Included within “Cover Me” is:

  • Teenage Fanclub covering The Beatles’ “The Ballad Of John & Yoko,” from their odds and sods compilation, Deep Fried Fanclub, pictured above.
  • The Jam covering The Beatles’ “Rain”.
  • Jellyfish covering The Move’s “I Can Hear The Grass Grow.”
  • Wondermints covering Elvis Costello’s “I Hope You’re Happy Now.”
  • Old 97’s covering R.E.M.’s “Driver 8.”

“Cover Me” is posted on Mixcloud, but you can hear it directly in this post by clicking on the picture below. The complete track list appears below that.

 

Track List:

1.  Teenage Fanclub, “The Ballad Of John & Yoko”

2.  Redd Kross, “It Won’t Be Long.”

3.  The Jam, “Rain”

4.  Cheap Trick, “California Man”

5.  Jellyfish, “I Can Hear The Grass Grow.”

6.  Andy Reed, “The Glutton Of Sympathy”

7.  Hippodrome, “Foggy Notion”

8.  Big Star, “Femme Fatale”

9.  The Dead Girls, “You And Your Sister”

10. The Posies, “I Am The Cosmos”

11. Wondermints, “I Hope You’re Happy Now”

12. Elvis Costello, “I Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down”

13. Grant Lindberg, “On A Plain”

14. Nirvana, “The Man Who Sold The World”

15. R.E.M., “Crazy”

16. Old 97’s, “Driver 8”

17. Kurt Baker, “Hangin’ On The Telephone”

18. The Muffs, “Rock & Roll Girl.”

Toxic Melons Deserve Your Support

Toxic Melons -- Bus ThearpyThe last post on this site discussed five tracks that proved to be quite popular in the inaugural month of Pop That Goes Crunch radio. One of the highlighted tracks is “Diffidence” by Toxic Melons. I’ve now had a chance to listen to the soon-to-be released Bus Therapy by Paul Fairbairn and pals in its entirety. It is one of the most wildly eclectic pop albums you likely will hear this year, or any other year for that matter. A Kickstarter campaign is nearing its conclusion. Here’s why you should happily contribute to this effort, as I did last month.

Fairbairn says on the Kickstarter page “if you’re a fan of The Beatles, Jellyfish, Queen, The Beach Boys, E.L.O and Power Pop in general, I think you might enjoy the album!” Indeed you will as Bus Therapy takes you on a dizzying roadtrip through the last five decades of pop music in just thirty-three minutes.

The festivities begin rather quickly with “More Or Less,” a song about accepting that not everything in life is black or white but enjoying the “bumper ride” anyway, propelled by swirling keyboards and copious harmonies. “Journey” takes us on the first of many wide left turns — a slow instrumental right up front. “Let Me Sleep” is, well, a rather sleepy track about begging to sleep for another ten minutes and features a nicely placed glam flourish here and there.

The two best tracks come soon thereafter.

“Change The World” is sung beautifully throughout by Linus Of Hollywood. Fairbairn’s keyboards and accordion, and the overall waltzing tempo of the track, give the whole thing a wonderfully circus-like feel.

Keith Klingensmith lends his pitch perfect vocals to the rather jaunty “Not In Love?” which, as far as I can tell, must have knocked an Elton John song off of the top spot on Billboard charts back when I was in elementary school. Like “Change The World,” it also has been added to Pop That Goes Crunch radio.

“Getting Old” wraps piano, strings and trumpet around decidedly craggy vocals about fighting the inevitable. Quite naturally, then, the track is followed by the closer, “Take Me Back” a bit of sublime Beach Boys pop nostalgia about days gone by.

You can stream the whole thing right here:

 

 

 

Now Streaming — Pop The Goes Crunch Radio

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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 2013Eric Barao, The Sharp Things, Nick PiuntiAn 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 (The Raspberries, Big Star, The Plimsouls), and somewhat obscure (The Pranks, The Secrets*, 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.

The Sun Sawed in 1/2’s Rational Exuberance

Elephants Into SwansSometimes 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.

Seth Swirsky’s Watercolor Day: Analog Candy For The Digital Age

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.

[Originally published on the defunct MT Weekly]

Speed Of Live: A Live Record That Is Actually Quite Good

Most live records are kind of lame. They often lack the immediacy that comes with actually being at the recorded performance. Sometimes the playing is ragged. Sometimes the singing is ragged. Sometimes the recording quality is ragged. Sometimes all of the raggedness of a live recording gets covered up by studio lip gloss, thus defeating entirely the concept of a “live” record. You thus are left essentially with new, likely inferior, studio versions of old songs you probably already have. Why bother?

None of that applies to the live released earlier this year by The Grip Weeds called Speed Of Live. The Grip Weeds are a New Jersey band that took their name from John Lennon’s Private Gripweed character in the 1967 film How I Won The War. That, plus a short list of some of the songs they’ve covered in the past, will give you an idea of the musical spectrum from which they hail:

  • “I Can Hear The Grass Grow” — The Move
  • “Down To The Wire” — Buffalo Springfield
  • “She Don’t Care About Time” — The Byrds

Does that mean The Grip Weeds are hopelessly retro and mired in the good old days of the 60s? Not really. They are, first and foremost, a rock and roll band. And they sure can rock. But they are a rock band steeped in the virtues of melody and multi-part harmonies like, well, The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield. And, like those bands, the guitars occasionally jangle and sometimes sound like they came from somewhere in the Middle East.

All of these virtues are evident on Speed Of Live. Immediately after the announcer introduces “this band” as “one of my favorite bands” to start the record, Speed Of Live then proceeds to deliver powerful renditions of thirteen of the band’s best known tracks, and two covers, performed in small clubs in the Northeast. This is hardly a document of cigarette lighter-raised arena rock bloat, replete with endless noodling and solos. It instead shows just how good the band is “in concert.” The singing is sharp. The playing is concise and tight throughout the fifty-seven minutes of bass, guitars and drums.

I can listen to the live version of “Salad Days,” with its occasional “Taxman”-like bassline, over-and-over again. “Infinite Soul,” already one of my favorite songs by the band, has an intimate feel on Speed Of Live as if it was recorded in my living room.

The soaring “Speed Of Life” sounds at least as good live as it does on the band’s last “proper” studio recording, 2010’s Strange Change Machine. “Love’s Lost On You” goes on for six minutes on Speed Of Live, without wasting even one of them. Here’s a shorter version of the song, recorded live in the studio:

The two covers on Speed Of Live? “(So You Want To Be A) Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” by, of course, The Byrds. This version seriously rocks, with absolutely perfect harmonies, spectacular guitar playing and lots of “la la la’s.” They also do one of the best versions of “Shakin’ All Over,” which has been recorded dozens of times, most famously by the Guess Who and The Who.

Speed Of Live is not a live record that is just “not lame.” Its fifty-seven minutes go by in what seems like an instant. There is not a single weak song in the collection, or a dull interlude in any of the fifteen songs. The record sounds great whether you are listening with headphones, or driving around in traffic at the end of a tough day at the office. In other words, Speed Of Live is just great rock and roll by a band that deserves a whole lot more attention than it receives. Go out and get it.

[This appeared originally in the now-defunct MT Weekly]

Big Star’s “Breathtakingly Beautiful Music”

Today I am reblogging a piece from last month on Big Star. As Brian Westbye notes, they indeed put out “breathtakingly beautiful music.” My earlier post on the band, and “September Gurls” in particular, can be found here: https://popthatgoescrunch.com/2011/12/19/the-greatest-song-you-probably-never-heard/

brian westbye

This is the third installment of a series. Due to the subjective nature of what quantifies a One Hit Wonder, how much of the band must be dead to be a One Hit Wonder With Dead Guys, etc., etc., etc., there will be some shifting of the goal posts across these essays. Such is life and rock ‘n roll.

Goal Post Shift 1: Big Star never got anywhere near a hit. Big Star’s singer/guitarist Alex Chilton did have a #1 – “The Letter” – with his previous band, The Box Tops, for four weeks in the summer of 1967, when he was sixteen (with a much older voice). But the closest Big Star got to the charts during their existence from 1971 – 1974 was nowhere, and the closest they got to public acclaim was in 1998, when the song “In the Street” was appropriated as the theme song of…

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