The first annual Pop That Goes Crunch Holiday Show has been uploaded for your listening pleasure while trimming the tree, wrapping presents, drinking eggnog, etc. It delivers good holiday tidings while spinning 25 rockin’ pop tunes by some of the brightest lights in the Power Pop and Indie Pop World.
So, sit back and enjoy the season with Kurt Baker, Michael Carpenter, The Grip Weeds, The Connection, Lannie Flowers, Wyatt Funderburk, The Tor Guides, Cliff Hillis, Stephen Lawrenson, and a whole lot more. And, for good measure, Elvis makes his first appearance on this site and on Pop That Goes Crunch radio with the rollicking, unrestrained “Santa Claus Is Back In Town.”
The complete tracklist appears after the embed.
1. Kurt Baker, “Christmas In The Sand”
2. Maple Mars, “Christmastime In The City”
3. The Honeymoon Stallions, “Snowbirds”
4. Dukes Of Surf, “Aloha Christmas”
5. Shake Some Action, “Christmas In The Sun”
6. Cirrone, “Christmas’ Sun”
7. Michael Carpenter, “Sunny Day For Xmas”
8. The Grip Weeds, “Christmas Dream”
9. The Connection, “Rock ‘N Roll Christmas”
10. Lannie Flowers, “Christmas Without You”
11. Wyatt Funderburk, “Merry Christmas (I’m In Love With You)”
12. Ether Park, “Put One Foot In Front Of The Other”
EPs are all over the map. Some are short, worthwhile bursts of creativity. Some are afterthoughts and throw-aways. Some are collections of odds and ends with varying degrees of interest. Some find the artist sitting in a holding pattern.
Here are three recently released EPs that are quite worthy of your attention and, perhaps more importantly, your hard-earned cash.
Cliff Hillis, Song Machine: This seven-song EP was inspired by a weekly songwriting group to which Hillis belongs. Each of the songs is intricately drawn, and Hillis has a keen ability to add touches of drama, detail and personal observation to his compositions. Clever phrasing abounds on SongMachine, but Hillis is also able to take a step back and apply restraint and a light touch when necessary.
I’ve written previously about the opening track, “Dashboard,” and called it one of the twenty coolest songs released so far this year. Its understated drama commands your undivided attention immediately upon releasing its opening lines over a simple, strummed acoustic guitar, rumbling bass and drum: “Put your feet up on the dashboard, I don’t mind/we can talk but if not, then that’s just fine.” The tension builds until a piano kicks off a 40 second instrumental closing just as the evening drive comes to an end:
“Dashboard” is hard to follow, but the remainder of Song Machine keeps up quite nicely.
“Turn On A Dime” could be a typical pop love song, but it’s not. Yeah, she might be able to “stand with Marilyn Monroe” when all made up and with everything else in place, “but the you that I love best, has your hair all in a mess/and overalls, or nothing on at all. “Just One More” rounds out its jangling guitars with a swinging, late-60s Bacharach-like vibe. “Could You Be The Enemy” fairly rocks and will keep your head bouncing for its duration. “Goodnight Sunlight” closes the collection by cleverly playing its theme of emotional storm and sorrow against a quiet and warm acoustic arrangement in front of Hillis’ sumptuous vocal.
Song Machine is beautifully written, performed and recorded throughout its all-too-brief time with the listener. Run, don’t walk, to wherever you purchase fine music and get yourself a copy.
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The Persian Leaps,Drive, Drive, Delay: The Persian Leaps is a self-described “noise pop” band from Saint Paul, Minnesota that sprinkles its melodic pop exercises with well-placed fuzz guitar sounds and, well, noise. The result is a wonderful five-song EP drenched in late-80s and early-90s indie-rock stylings. That does not make it retro. It makes it compelling.
The lead single, “Pretty Boy,” does a nice job of pounding itself relentlessly into your consciousness for two-minutes-and-change. You likely won’t be able to get this one out of your head for quite some time:
The opening track, “Fire Starter,” seems like it’s all guitars, even though it not. That’s a very good thing. “(Goodbye To) South Carolina” adds a subtle chiming guitar to its full mix of pretty guitar noise. Guitars also carry the day on the mid-tempo “Truth = Consequences.” In a collection of otherwise two-minute plus songs that pass at the speed of light, the nearly five-minute closing track, “Permission,” is practically epic. It has a hypnotic, soaring quality that needs all that time to say its peace.
Drive, Drive, Delay is one of the best guitar records I have heard in quite some time. It drops on September 12. You will be able to get it right here, and you most certainly should do so.
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The 286, EP: This is full-fledged symphonic pop-rock in the intentionally ELO vein, with violins and cellos complimenting the basic bass-guitars-drum approach. EP is a mini-EP, with three songs and a separate “radio edit” of its centerpiece, “Let The Rain Fall Down,” a gorgeous song driven by the string instruments:
“Miracle On 286th Street” is a three-and-a-half minute instrumental that nicely conveys a sense of movement. “Little Louisa” is an old-school stomping rocker punctuated by those violins and cellos:
EP comes and goes in about twelve minutes, which makes it a perfect interlude when time is pressed.
This edition of The Big Show spins 20 of the coolest songs released so far this year. Well, technically, one was released in mid-December 2013, but its a 2014 song nevertheless.
Most of the songs played from “20 of the coolest” have been discussed on these pages previously. They were great when I first heard them, and they’re still great. The complete tracklist appears below the embed, but I’ll first say a few words about the songs about which I have not previously written.
honeychain, “I’m On Fire”: This particularly rockin’ version of the Dwight Twilley classic begins the festivities propelled by slashing guitars, a non-stop, pounding beat and Hillary Burton’s cool vocals. It can be found on the quite tasty Dwight Twilley Band tribute album released recently by Zero Hour Records.
The Britannicas, “Got A Hold On Me”: The recently released High Teaby this truly international band is one of the best long-players of the year. True to its title, “Got A Hold On Me” is the kind of song that finds its way into your head when you first wake up in the morning. Its a relentlessly catchy piece of jangle pop marked perfectly by the interplay between Herb Eimerman’s lead vocals and the supporting harmonizing.
The Above, “Do You Have A Healthy Mind?”: The band’s recently released Waterbury Street LP is a wonderful romp through everything good and scared in the Nuggetsbox set. “Healthy Mind” is stomping and melodic garage rock circa 1964, complete with lyrics like “have you taken your medicine lately/I can’t comprehend you, baby.” Yeah, its stridently retro. And timeless.
The Paul & John, “Inner Sunset”: The title track from the duo’s recent release is the feel-good song of the year. It also undoubtedly will place high on my list of the best of the year, as will the album. “Don’t let the darkness drag you down” and “let your inner sunset shine.” Words to live by.
Cliff Hillis, “Dashboard”: This is an immediately captivating song. Its three-and-a-half minutes of understated drama, and makes the case for Hillis as being one of the very best songwriters anywhere. “Put your feet up on the dashboard, I don’t mind/we can talk but if not, then that’s just fine,” it starts, setting the tone brilliantly for everything that follows.
Linus Of Hollywood, “Biography”: This is an understated piece of acoustic pop about memories lingering long after love vanishes and the protagonists go their separate ways. The key lyric delivers universal truth: “You can’t write me out of your biography/you can’t take me out of your memory.”
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That’s just 6 of 20 of the coolest songs released so far this year. You hear the show in its entirety by clicking below. The complete track list follows.
1. honeychain, “I’m On Fire”
2. The New Trocaderos, “The Kids”
3. The Jellybricks, “About The Weekend”
4. Sunrise Highway, “Windows”
5. The Crush, “Around”
6. The Britannicas, “Got A Hold On Me”
7. phonograph, “Don’t Bring Me Down”
8. The Above, “Do You Have A Healthy Mind?”
9. The Legal Matters, “The Legend Of Walter Wright”
10. Nick Piunti, “Believe It”
11. The Paul & John, “Inner Sunset”
12. The Corner Laughers, “Midsommar”
13. Trip Wire, “Stay”
14. Propeller, “You Remind Me Of You”
15. Cliff Hillis, “Dashboard”
16. Linus of Hollywood, “Biography”
17. Phil Ajjarapu, “Sing Along Until You Feel Better”
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.
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?
Powerpop compilations are a good bargain. You get a lot of songs, by a lot of different artists. They’re inexpensive. You get an “instant playlist” created by someone else. You also get to sample tracks you may have overlooked or never knew even existed.
The International Pop Overthrow CDs — coniciding witht the annual multi-city Powerpop festivals of the same name — are well-known in this regard. Not Lame Recordings released several spectacular Powerpop complilations before closing its doors in 2010. SymPophony #1 and its Six Years Of Powerpop are particularly noteworthy. The company’s former owner, Bruce Brodeen, continues to release compliations through his new venture, Pop Geek Heaven.
The “Original Soundtrack” to the Powerpaholic Fest held this past September in Port Jefferson, New York, is a newcomer to the field, and its also a good one. The collection is put out by the folks behind the Powerpopaholic blog, which has been listed on the blogroll on the right-side of this page for the past year.
The really good stuff in this set comes early.
Lannie Flowers kicks off the set. “Give Me A Chance,” from his 2008 release Same Old Story, itself appears on at least two Powerpop compilations that I have, and for good reason. Its a jangle pop classic that will stew around in your mind for days and days. “Come On Girl,” on this collection, is in the same vein with its perfect melodic hooks and jangly guitars right out of 1965. Here it is:
Cliff Hillis, who sang and played on Starbelly’s classic 1998 release Lemonfresh — about which I wrote recently on another site — contributes “Taking Tree” from his recent release, Dream Good. The song conjures XTC and late-60s Kinks, and throws in short, bouncy beats to keep you bopping.
“Every Now And Then” by The Honeymoon Stallions sound like a lost track from John Lennon’s Double Fantasy. “Bawl And Change” by King Washington harkens to the early-70s days of Badfinger and Big Star. Eytan Mirsky’s “Another Week Or Two” is pure pop goodness that flies by in its 3 minutes, 41 seconds.
Is everything on the “Original Soundtrack” as good as those five songs? Of course not. But the collection runs the gamut of the broad genre of Powerpop, from simple songs with loud, fast bright and shiny guitars to introspective pieces with more complex arrangements.
In a perfect world, the set would give you 18 big fat hits by 18 original artists, just like the old K-Tel collections from the 1970s. The Powerpopahlic folks even made their own “K-Tel style commercial” to commemorate the release:
Go check out the Powerpopaholic “Original Soundtrack.” Complete tracks can be sampled, and the entire collection purchased in any format you desire, on Bandcamp. And, for good measure, all profits go to Sandy relief efforts.