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Seven Decades Of Melodic Rock & Roll

Archive for the tag “Big Star”

Mark Helm’s Lost And Found Classic

Mark Helm -- everything;s ok

Mark Helm released his one solo album, everything’s ok, in 2001. Reviews were great. “Elegant…more hooks than a fly fisherman’s vest,” declared the Washington Post. An “orch-pop noir gem,” gushed Gary “Pig” Gold.

Years passed. The road of life took its unexpected twists and turns. Helm ultimately found his way to Nashville, and to a career as an English professor. Music seemed to be a part of the increasingly distant past.

Helm, however, dusted off everything’s ok in July 2015, and reissued the long-player on Bandcamp, along with a generous (and growing) collection of odds and ends. This is a work of broad eclecticism. Its sounds run the gamut from guitar-propelled Power Pop to quiet orchestration to acoustic folk to “alt rock” to baroque pop. Its themes capture life’s ups and downs, the good, the bad, the in-between and the indifferent. It is at once a deeply personal work, but it nevertheless conveys universal truths and familiar emotions. Its “handmade” quality is reminiscent of Cotton Mather’s Kontiki, in execution and in the way Helm expertly melds disparate pop and rock elements into a cohesive whole whose overall quality exceeds the combined virtues of its various parts.

everything’s ok begins with “So Faraway,” its spare instrumentation and harmonies imparting a hymnal quality to this brief tale of loss. Next, the rocking “Galaxy Of Cars” rips the hooks right off of that fly fisherman’s vest, and delivers a chorus that will unconsciously ring around in your head all day long:

“What Holds The World Together” emerges from a dream and sits in delicate suspension, broken only by a brief baroque interlude. “[T]his is a very obvious nod to ‘strawberry fields’/’penny lane,” Helm says in the notes that accompany the reissue. The acoustic “Haircut” would feel quite at home on Big Star’s Third. “Week Of Days” begins with a blast of distorted guitar. Then, a muscular sound takes over and nicely compliments the song’s themes of romantic ambiguity and mystery. “Airplanes and Radiosignals” is a quiet rumination about crossed signals and how, sometimes, its “hard to tell what’s real, what’s ridiculous.” That everything’s ok is an ambitious, challenging and ultimately quite stunning work is evidenced by the beautiful, orchestral piece, “Sweet Dreams Baby,” which appears about three-quarters of the way in:

The digital reissue of everything’s ok is rounded out by a collection of ten bonus tracks, including a nice, digital four-track acoustic recording of “God Only Knows,” and Helm’s covers of Gene Clark’s “American Dreamer” and ELO’s “Strange Magic,” both of which appeared originally on tribute LPs released by Not Lame Recordings.

everthing’s ok is a great “lost and found” record, rising unannounced to enliven the second half of the year. This is music that can be enjoyed equally on a dark and lonely night, or on the brightest and sunniest of days. Its also a steal — 26 tracks for a mere $5. Run, don’t walk, to Bandcamp and get it. Or, you can simply click right here.

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The Big Show, Season 2, Show #8

The Big Show

The eighth installment of the second season of The Big Show features a  Southern California, summertime feel. The accompanying photo on the left was taken recently at sunset behind Lifeguard Station No. 30 at La Jolla Shores in San Diego, California.

William Duke kicks off Show No. 8 with the title track from his wonderful long-player, The Dark Beautiful Sun. Drink in the tasty harmonies alternating perfectly with the song’s memorable guitar riff. We’ll be hearing more from Duke in coming shows.

One Like Son follow “The Dark Beautiful Sun” with some late-summer reverie, “Summer Days,” which appears on their excellent, recently released LP, Classic.

Caddy checks in with the first of two tracks from The Better End, one of the finest albums of the year. “Beautiful Strange,” the third song in the show, is a shoo-in for my year-end list of the best songs of the year.

The sunny vibes continue with Summer Fiction doing “On And On” from this year’s Himalaya long-player. Trip Wire and Susan James, featured in Show No. 7, contribute two fine tracks, “330 Days Of Sunshine” and “Truth or Consequences,” respectively.

Gordon Weiss and Identical Suns round out the episode’s recently released music, with “I’m Your Fan” and “Baby I’m Down.”

Make sure to listen to the end of the show. Andy Reed and Brandon Schott do a beautiful acoustic version of the Big Star classic, “Ballad Of El Goodo,” that you most certainly need to hear.

As always, the entire tracklist is below the embed. Crank up the volume, and check out Pop That Goes Crunch radio, streaming the finest in melodic rock n’ roll 24/7.

Tracklist:

1.  William Duke, “The Dark Beautiful Sun”

2.  One Like Son, “Summer Days”

3.  Caddy, “Beautiful Strange”

4.  Summer Fiction, “On And On”

5.  The Autumn Defense, “Winterlight”

6.  Susan James, “Truth Or Consequence”

7.  Identical Suns, “Baby I’m Down”

8.  Bill Simpson, “It’s Been A Long Time”

9.  Cosmic Rough Riders, “Annie”

10. Matthew Shacallis, “Where Were You”

11. Caddy, “Chasing Clouds”

12. Trip Wire, “330 Days Of Sunshine”

13. The Bopp, “Paisley Underground”

14. Gretchen’s Wheel, “The Fourth Wall”

15. The Greek Theatre, “Even You Will Find A Home My Friend”

16. Lightships, “Sweetness In Her Spark”

17. The New Mendicants, “High On The Skyline”

18. Nada Surf, “Whose Authority”

19. Michael Oliver & The Sacred Band, “Neverlast”

20. Gordon Weiss, “I’m Your Fan”

21. Ice Cream Hands, “Embarrassment Head”

22. Andy Reed and Brandon Schott, “The Ballad Of El Goodo”

The Big Show #10: Rockin’ The Planet

Hi-fiThis tenth edition of The Big Show spins rockin’ pop tunes from places near and far.

The second set features a bit of Southern Power Pop from The Shazam, Nine Times Blue and The Semantics.

New music is represented by Linus of Hollywood, The Persian Leaps, Ballard and The Dowling Poole.

Big Star checks in with an alternate version of their cover of The Kinks’ classic “Till The End Of The Day.”

Rounding it all out is The Move doing their own classic “Night Of Fear,” Pixies doing “Here Comes Your Man,” and Wondermints contributing a bit of surf music on the ski slopes with “Ski Party.”

There is, of course, much, much more. The complete track list appears after the embed

So, why not give it a spin, and check out the main mix at Pop That Goes Crunch radio, streaming 24/7?

Track List

1.  Cliff Hillis, “Coming Out Alive”

2.  Linus Of Hollywood, “Caught Up In A Feeling”

3.  The Lost Boys, “In My Sleep”

4.  The Shazam, “Calling Sydney”

5.  Nine Times Blue, “I Can’t See You”

6.  The Semantics, “Merry Go Round”

7.  Ballard, “Crossing Every Line”

8.  Big Star, “Till The End Of The Day”

9.  The Persian Leaps, “Pretty Boy”

10. The Move, “Night Of Fear”

11. The Dowling Poole, “The Sun Is Mine”

12. Hector and The Leaves, “Problems”

13. Old 97’s, “Designs On You”

14. phonograph, “Waiting For The Sun”

15. Rocket Bureau, “Clarabelle”

16. Eugene Edwards, “It Doesn’t Get Better Than  This”

17. The Zags, “Tattoo”

18. Pernice Brothers, “Bechamel”

19. Pixies, “Here Comes Your Man”

20. Cockeyed Ghost, “Dirty Bastard”

21. The Idea, “Only Reason”

22. Wondermints, “Ski Party”

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.”

Tweaking The Top 200 Power Pop Albums

Shake Some Action“If you’re a power pop fan, you’ve got the book, and quite a labor of love it was. But if you could tweak John Borack’s 200, what albums would be #1-#10?” So went a question posed in an on-line discussion group.

The book in question is Shake Some Action, a photograph of which appears to the left. It’s out-of print, but a list of the Top 200 can be found (with an occasional Spotify link) here

Lists of “the best” of anything can be difficult to compile. A fine line distinction between, say, Number 4 and Number 5 can be agonizing and, ultimately, quite arbitrary.

But this assignment was different. It used someone else’s list as a jumping off point. There were also “rules,” most particularly that there could only be one entry per artist on the list, and that “two-fers” could be included.

So I was game. Have I listened to every album in the Top 200? Of course not. That limited the playing field even more.

So here’s my quick, down and dirty tweaking of “John Borack’s 200.” No agonizing over fine line distinctions went into creating this list:

1.  Big Star, #1 Record/Radio City: All roads lead to and from this “two-fer.” If I created a list of my Top 100 songs of all-time, it would include “September Gurls,” “Thirteen,” “The Ballad of El Goodo,” “When My Baby’s Beside Me,” etc., etc., etc.

2.  Myracle Brah, Life On Planet Eartsnop: 20 songs meant for blasting out of an AM car radio in 1972 while driving around town with windows open and without a care in the world. The lead track, “Whisper Softly,” sets the tone for everything that comes after:

3.  Cotton Mather, Kontiki: The yin and yang of melodic rock. Slow, dreamy stuff (“Spin My Wheels”) slides effortlessly into full-throttled Power Pop (“My Before and After”). And it does it over-and-over again.

4.  Jellyfish, Spilt Milk: Some bands fly under your radar and are never noticed. Some are simply overlooked. Some are purposefully avoided. Jellyfish fits into the last category for me. No way, no how was I going to listen to this “hippie” stuff in the early-90s. That was just so wrong. Spilt Milk is simply the most brilliant collection of self-indulgent, over-the-top, bombastic circus pop ever released.

5.  Matthew Sweet, Girlfriend: This grafts some of the greatest guitar playing in the entire Power Pop universe onto fifteen almost perfect songs. More than twenty years after-the-fact, it sounds like it could have been released last month.

6.  Wondermints, Wondermints: Beautifully encapsulates almost the entire history of rock and roll as it existed in 1995. The finesse with which the band handles such a wide variety of styles is all the more remarkable because it seems so effortless:

7.  Chris von Sniedern, Big White Lies: One meticulously crafted pure pop gem after another by one of the true craftsmen around. A slightly softer version of the recreated AM rock experience of the early-70s than Life On Planet Eartsnop.

8.  Eugene Edwards, My Favorite Revolution: It grabs you immediately and refuses to let go. And it shouldn’t. Its un-fancy, bass-guitars-and-drum rock and roll, smartly written from start to finish:

9.  The Plimsouls, The Plimsouls . . . Plus: Some of this supplied one of the soundtracks to my high school years. Its Power Pop, but with some R&B and garage rock sprinkled into the mix. “Zero Hour,” “Now,” “Everyday Things,” “Great Big World,” “How Long Will It Take” and “Great Big World” remain perennials for me more than thirty years later.

10. The Merrymakers, Bubblegun: This is pretty sounding Power Pop. Not only is “April’s Fool” one of the best songs of the past two decades, it is easily the most exuberant song about being “dumped” that I have ever heard. For good measure, Andy Sturmer of Jellyfish (see No. 4) assisted with production and percussion — and is listed as co-writer of “April’s Fool” — so my circle is entirely complete.

And that’s my current tweaking of the Top 200. These things change over time. Who knows, maybe there is a to-be-discovered gem in the 200 that I have not yet heard.

Late Summer “Mini” Reviews

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, Eric Barao: Barao’s lushly produced debut album recalls Elvis Costello’s Imperial 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’s Paul 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 Beach Boys/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:

* * * * * * * * * *

So, there’s five of my favorite albums of 2013. Each are worthy of extended play. Tell me what you think.

Starbelly’s Lemonfresh: Still Tasty After All These Years

Starbelly's Lemonfresh

Easy come, easy go.

A piece I wrote last year on the digital download-only reissue of the expanded version Starbelly’s 1998 release, Lemonfresh, has evaporated into the digital ether. So I am updating it and re-publishing it, here.

Back in 1998, three guys put out a limited release, eleven track CD of Rubber Soul/Big Star-oriented chiming guitar pop on Not Lame Recordings called Lemonfresh to great acclaim. The CD sold out, and disappeared. Not Lame reissued the CD in 2009 with twelve bonus tracks and a CR-R of a live show. Not Lame went out-of-business in 2010. You can buy the CD re-issue of Lemonfresh used for about $60 — if you can find it.

But nothing really dies in the age of the internet. So enter Futureman Records. Futureman, though, does not merely issue “records.” It also re-issues lost Power Pop classics, exclusively by digital download, from its perch on Bandcamp. The twenty-three track reissue of Lemonfresh is available now for the princely sum of $10, in virtually any digital format you desire.

Lemonfresh is as fresh today as it was fourteen years ago. The “record” is seventy-plus minutes of non-stop hooks, melodies, chiming jangly guitars, occasional big beats and consistently clean production. It has all of the stuff to be a massive hit in a different world. But in our world, we can just drink down its poppy goodness.

The opening track, “This Time,” sets the tone for all that comes afterward. It’s a one-minute forty-three second look at romantic disentanglement — attempted, imagined or achieved — set amid perfect vocal harmonies, concise guitars and driving beat:

“She’s So Real” is the kind of song that will play in your head for hours after listening, with its direct statement of lyrical and musical purpose, and the tasty interplay between the lead vocals and background harmonies:

“What You Will” might very well have the blueprint for half of everything Wilco has done since 1999’s Summerteeth. It’s all about personal illusion, or delusion — “Look under your bed/it’s all in your head” — punctuated by strings and those pitch perfect harmonies, once again:

Indeed,Lemonfresh features just about the consistently best vocals you will hear on any rock record, well, this year — even though it was recorded in the late-1990s. Guitarist Cliff Hillis and bassist Dennis Schocket trade lead vocals over the course of the twenty-three tracks, lending the songs a distinct yin-and-yang feel that keeps the proceedings all the more interesting over the course of an hour-and-change. And, as is required in this genre, Lemonfresh features a song about a particular girl. “Letters To Mary” closed the original 1998 release, and would have felt at home on Abbey Road:

There truly is not a weak track on the expanded version of Lemonfresh. That’s quite an achievement over twenty-three songs. Play it in your car and it will keep your head bopping throughout that long, boring commute.

Although Hillis left the band after Lemonfresh was released, and the band hasn’t put out anything new since 2002, he has said that the original members of Starbelly, along with his replacement, are working on new songs for a future release. The band also in playing at one of the shows in the New York installment of this year’s International Pop Overthrow.

In the meantime, though, give Futureman 43 cents for each of the twenty-three songs on Lemonfresh. That’s a steal.

The Raspberries’ Bright And Shiny Power Pop

K-Tel FantasticThe most recent post on this site discussed the AM rock experience of the late-60s and early-70s. By the early-70s, though, that experience would not have been complete without the frequent appearance of the K-Tel compilation extravaganzas.

The name “K-Tel” was obviously intended to evoke a radio station playing an assortment of “original hits” by the “original artists,” even if some of those “original hits” were severely edited so they could all fit on a single vinyl platter.But at $3.98 for at least 20 songs, you couldn’t really complain about clipped version of some of the tunes. “Radio edits” appeared frequently on 45’s back then, so the practice was hardly novel.

The 1973 release, Fantastic, is the one that most sticks out in my mind. Besides its groovy rainbow cover, the record managed to combine some great moments in pop history with sheer, unabashed garbage. One minute, you’ve got Elton John at the beginning of the peak or his powers doing “Crocodile Rock,” the next minute you’ve got Donny Osmond doing “The Twelfth Of Never.” One minute, you’ve got Bill Withers’ soulful, earnest “Lean On Me,” the next minute you’ve got Focus yodeling their way through “Hocus Pocus.”

The best thing on the disk, however, was “I Wanna Be With You” by The Raspberries. Along with Big Star and Badfinger, The Raspberries comprise the holy triumvirate of early-70s rock bands that influenced all of the Power Pop that came afterward.

“I Wanna Be With You” was not, however, the first song by The Raspberries to grace a K-Tel disk. Their three-minute ode to convincing a certain lady friend to have sex, “Go All The Way,” anchored a prior K-Tel release, Believe In Music. On that one, K-Tel quite nicely displayed its penchant for the yin and the yang and the good and the bad. Believe In Music also included the aforementioned Mr. Osmond doing “Go Away Little Girl” as a kind of counter-perspective to Eric Carmen’s relentless persistence in trying to get his sweetheart to “please, please go all the way.” K-Tel was not about to be accused of bias.

“I Wanna Be With You” is a perfect pop song, with its ringing guitars, pounding beat, simple call-and-response chorus repeated several times and Carmen’s spot-on, expressive vocals. Although treading the same thematic ground as “Go All The Way,” ‘I Wanna Be With You” is a tad less blatant in its declaration of romantic desire. But only a tad:

If we were older we wouldn’t have to be worried tonight
Baby, oh, I wanna be with you so bad
Oh baby I wanna be with you
Oh yeah … well tonight
Tonight we always knew it would feel so right
So come on baby, I just wanna be with you

Perhaps you could say that “I just wanna be with you” is not the same things as “please, please go all the way,” but that might be making a fine line distinction that Carmen probably did not intend. Both are great songs, among the best of the entire decade of the 1970s. Here’s an excellent live performance of “I Wanna Be With You” from 1978:

The Raspberries’ influence on the music discussed on this site was immense, as we shall see in a future post.

Alex Chilton Does The Rolling Stones

Alex Chilton

I’ve written previously about Big Star, here and at the bottom of this. As I noted previously, the band probably influenced everything else discussed on this site. They rank as an all-time favorite.

A fellow music blogger, Loosehandlebars, recently posted a great piece on three covers of Rolling Stones songs. One of those covers was “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” that Alex Chilton recorded in 1970, two years before Big Star released its debut, #1 Record. Loosehandlbars captures quite nicely what is so great about Chilton’s cover of one of the Stones’ most enduring and popular tracks:

This is the Big Star sound he was looking for. A combination of drive & melody which evokes the best of 60s British rock but has its own thing going on. The fluidity of Chilton’s guitar work is a thing of beauty & this cover, like the best of the band’s work, makes you go ‘Oh Boy! This is how it is done’. Every rock music writer ever has said their piece about Big Star. All I want to add is that halfway through their classic songs you go, Whoa ! if only all music was this good. My favourite Stones cover I think.

Mine too. Loosehandlebars later responded to my comment on his piece by noting “this cover has, for me, a touch of ‘Back Of A Car’ about it. No higher praise.” Here is  Chilton’s wonderful version of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash”:

For good measure, here’s Big Star’s “Back Of A Car” from the band’s second record, Radio City:

While you are at it, go check out Loosehandlebars’ almost daily writings on music, often from a personal perspective. They are insightful, and always interesting. They can be found here, or in the “blogroll” to the right. Fans of melodic rock might will found his piece on the Go-Betweens, another all-time favorite, particularly interesting.

Best Listens Of 2012

Michael Carpenter

Michael Carpenter

This site is not necessarily about the “latest” music. Its about the past seven decades of a certain type of music. It proceeds from the viewpoint that “if I haven’t heard it, its new to me.” And, of course, “if you haven’t heard it, its new to you, too.”

So, what follows is some music I really liked in 2012. It’s in no particular order. Some of it was released in 2012. Some of it was released more than forty years ago. Some of the older music I knew previously — even liked quite a lot in the past — but which nevertheless resonated more over the past twelve months than it did in years gone by:

Cotton Mather, Kontiki (Deluxe Edition): Back in 1998 when Kontiki was originally released, music discovery was not quite what it is now. On-line resources were limited and were accessed largely by dial-up modem. My music discovery in the old days consisted of reading about something new and different, or driving to the Virgin Megastore to use its many CD listening stations.

I first heard Kontiki in its entirety after it was re-released earlier this year, along with twelve bonus tracks, following a successful Kickstarter campaign. The results are glorious, and Kontiki brings to mind The Beatles’ Revolver with straight-ahead pop songs blending seamlessly with more reflective psychedelic pieces punctuated by wood and string instruments, piano and analog tape tricks.

Starbelly, Lemonfresh (Deluxe Edition): This is another reissue of a 1998 release that I heard for the first time in the past year. Actually, this is a digital-only reissue by Futureman Records of an earlier reissue that added twelve bonus tracks to the stew. Its one one of those records that makes you think on its first listen “damn, this is good.” Its more than seventy minutes of non-stop hooks, melodies, chiming jangly guitars, occasional big beats and consistently clean production. There is not a bum track in the entire twenty-three song collection, although the eleven that comprised the original 1998 release remain the standouts.

Michael Carpenter, SOOP Sampler: Carpenter has released five records of “songs of other people” (“SOOP”) over the years. A twenty-one track digital download sampler from Futureman Records (for a whopping $7) is a good place to start exploring this substantial and consistently great body of work. The highlights on this collection include Carpenter’s versions of The Hollies’ “Look Through Any Window,” “(What’s So Funny About) Peace, Love and Understanding” and “Wild Honey,” which bests the Beach Boys’ original. My favorite, though, is Carpenter’s version of The Zombies’ brilliant and beautiful, “This Will Be Our Year”:

The Supahip, Seize The World: Carpenter recorded this one-off back in 2006 with Mark Moldre. “They set about the idea of writing, recording and mixing a track… arriving in the morning with nothing except maybe some loose snippets of songs, and leaving with a completed track.” And it worked. Seize The World delivers twelve uncluttered, melodic pop songs (you even get “mono” versions of ten of the tracks) that go down easy and will stay in your brain for days, particular the quiet, reflective “No Tomorrow”:

Seth Swikrsy, Watercolor Day: This 2010 release was on my car stereo almost daily for a couple of months this year. Its just addictive. As I wrote previously, the Beatles are an obvious influence on Swirsky’s solo work, yet 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.

Cliff Hillis, Dream Good: Hillis wrote, sang and played on Starbelly’s Lemonfresh. His fourth solo outing is my favorite record that was actually released for the first time in 2012. Its a textbook example of perfect pure pop, covering all the necessary territory from mid-tempo pieces with acoustic guitars to full-fledged rockers to grand, more baroque pop, all of which is beautifully sung and played.

Myracle Brah, “Simplified”: Three-chord rock? Think one-chord rock on this one from 2001. That’s why it works. It just pounds its way relentlessly into your brain for a minute, fifty-four seconds and then refuses to leave. Its as simple and as powerful as it gets.

Doug Powell, “When She Awoke”: Powell wrote and performed this one from 1998 on cassette 8 track with Tom Petersson of Cheap Trick. Despite using a recording process that Powell calls “the audio equivalent of drawing in the sand with a stick,” the song nevertheless occupies the opposite end of the pop spectrum from “Simplified.” It’s  lush, elaborate and dreamy, and filled to the brim (actually, far beyond the brim) with gorgeous harmonies.

The Jayhawks, Mockingbird Time: “Waiting For The Sun” from 1992’s Hollywood Town Hall ranks in my all-time Top 40. The Jayhawks, though, were never quite the same after Mark Olson left the band in 1996 to follow his inner-Gram Parsons. His return on Mockingbird Time, released in September 2011, marked a return to form for the band. All of the trademark Jayhawks elements are present — the sharp songwriting, the full sound and, most importantly, the beautiful harmonizing of Olson and Gary Louris.

Big Star, “The Ballad Of El Goodo”: I’ve written about Big Star on this site, and I have liked “The Ballad Of El Goodo” for years. But this year, I really came to love this song about hope and perseverance against “unbelievable odds.” It features one of Alex Chilton’s finest vocal performances, great backing harmonies and is one of the band’s best songs. It also directly or indirectly influenced everything else on this list.

So, that’s a capsule of the music that made me the happiest over the past twelve months. How about you?

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