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Seven Decades Of Melodic Rock & Roll

Archive for the tag “Futureman Records”

The Sloan Tribute: It Sounds Great, Get It

Sloan TributeVarious Artists, If It Feels Good Do It — A Sloan Tribute: On-line searches for “tribute albums” will yield numerous rants bellyaching about the very concept of the “tribute album.” Its kind of cool to trash tribute albums, even if the music they impart is good, or even great. Snooze.

The good folks at Futureman Records have assembled a collection of thirty-one covers of some of the finest songs released by the Toronto-based quartet, Sloan, over the course of their two+ decades of releasing consistently tasty works of melodically based rock ‘n’ roll. Call it Power Pop, if you like. Indeed, many of the contributing artists to If It Feels Good will be quite well-known to visitors of this site. Many have placed high on my lists of the best songs, LPs and EPs over the past three years.

Undoubtedly, one approaches an album such as If It Feels Good from an inherently biased perspective based on one’s assessment of the source material. My personal collection counts more than 150 tracks by Sloan. I would be predisposed to enjoying If It Feels Good.

Never mind, though. Futureman has succeeded in releasing the finest tribute album I have heard. The collection is expertly curated and assembled, down to the artwork which is reproduced at the top of this post. The performances on If It Feels Good are, without a fault, first-rate. The interpretations of tracks from Sloan’s large catalog are thoughtful and remain, with one exception, generally “true” to the originals, even while the artists put their own spins on the soundscapes. The recording, production and mastering are superb throughout, and glue the collection together into a cohesive whole. If It Feels Good is more than worth your valuable time and money.

I could easily write about each of the thirty-one tracks on If It Feels Good. There is not a duffer in the bunch. I’ll focus, however, on some of my favorites.

Stereo Tiger, which grabbed the number 7 spot on my list of the best longplayers of 2015, kicks off the festivities with a nice version of “C’mon C’mon,” that is slightly brighter than Sloan’s original. The drums also kick in a bit stronger and the vocals, like most on the collection, shine throughout the track.

The Hangabouts, another top 10 finisher on my 2015 list, manage the seemingly impossible. They sweeten a Jay Ferguson track — the brilliant “The Answer Was You” — by adding acoustic guitars and smoothing the vocals relative to Ferguson’s naturally smooth style. You should hear this one right now:

Paul Melancon contributes a strong vocals in front of The New Insecurities on the bittersweet “It’s In Your Eyes.” Chris Richards handles the complex lead vocal on “Coax Me” with aplomb. It would be easy to mistake “Right Or Wrong” as a Nick Piunti original. The voice and sound are unmistakable, yet the final result is rooted firmly in the source material. The Well Wishers pull off a similar feat, to great effect, on “The Lines You Amend.”

Another standout is Pop 4’s expanded version of “Flying High Again” (the original clocks in at less that a minute-thirty). The male-female vocal and harmonizing lift the virtual supergroup’s version to the top of the collection:

“Misty’s Beside Herself” ranks as one of my favorite Sloan tracks. Paul Myers adds electronics to the track, and pulls it off brilliantly. Phil Ajjarapu contributes a nice version of “Set In Motion” to the collection. Head Futureman, Keith Klingensmith, shines brightly on “I Wanna Thank You.” A track from my Number 1 EP of 2015, Andy Reed’s version of “I Love A Long Goodbye,” also appears here, and is, of course, essential.

Will you find yourself firing up If If Feels Good, and listen to start to finish? Maybe, maybe not. At the very least, stick the thirty-one tracks into a big playlist, hit shuffle, and marvel at the great skill, care and love devoted to covering some of the finest songs released by one of the best bands of the past two decades.

You can get it right here.

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The Effection: Lost Power Pop Resurrected

The EffectionThe Effection released its sole long-player, Soundtrack To A Moment, in 2003. Although they hailed from the region in which I live, I can’t say that I paid any attention to them. Neither did too many people, apparently, and Soundtrack To A Moment went out-of-print.

In the digital age, however, what’s old can become new again, and that great resuscitator of given-up-for-dead Power Pop, Futureman Records, recently made Soundtrack To A Moment available for digital download for the ridiculously low price of $7. Go get this one right now, and bask in the glow of its punk rock/new wave Power Pop ripped from the glory days of 1979.

This is apparent from the first line of the opening track, “The Sound Effection,” where the words “this is the sound effection” announces the driving guitar rock that follows, just like The Jam opened its second long-player with the call to arms of “this is the modern world”:

The title track covers similar sonic ground in the mold of The Jam, but spins it with a decidedly American take on the proceedings in a song about “nothing to do around here”:

But Soundtrack To A Moment is not all loud and thrashing punk rock. Its best track, “Somewhere Souvenir,” takes the mid-tempo approach and adds breezy guitars and gorgeous 60s-styled vocal harmonies:

The band even slows it down completely on “Agony,” while throwing in some slightly jangling guitars to go with those great harmonies that fill the entire album:

To say that Soundtrack To A Moment is a “find” out of nowhere is an understatement. Like the best bands of the early days of punk rock and new wave, The Effection move seamlessly from full-fledged high energy rockers to more “sophisticated” and contemplative stuff. It takes you back in time, moves to 2003 and yet sounds entirely fresh a decade later. My only regret is not getting hip to this sooner.

Better late than never, of course.

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 Masticators Doing That 60s AM Rock Radio Thing

My profile on a now-defunct site said that one of my earliest memories of music involved sitting in the backseat of my parents’ avocado green late-60s Chevy Malibu listening endlessly to 93KHJ while stuck in traffic in Los Angeles. The Chevy Malibu, with its black top and black vinyl seats, looked like this:

Chevrolet Malibu, Late-1960s

KHJ ruled the roost in Los Angeles for many years. Its Boss Radio format was copied all over the country:

On May 3, 1965, KHJ was the site chosen for the birth of the new format designed by Bill Drake and Gene Chenault. Ron Jacobs was selected as the first Program Director. BOSS RADIO utilized a tight rotation, top drawer talent, and the elimination of almost all non-essential talk. The Johnny Mann Singers’ jingles didn’t hurt either. Within months, the format spread from coast to coast, and Boss Radio was the king in most markets.

The blogsite 93 KHJ/Boss Radio collects an abundant amount of old Boss Radio material, including images of the station’s weekly Top 30 “Records In Southern California.” These weekly Top 30 lists were available for years “wherever records are sold.” Back then, that included department stores. I remember picking them up at the May Company on Pico Boulevard.

The top songs were, of course, played several times a day. Spending a lot of time in the car, or listening to KHJ at home with the flu, would sear those songs forever into your memory.

It wasn’t just repetition that glued those songs to your mind. It was also the nature of the two-and-a-half minute pop song of the-late 60s and early-70s. They were hooks and melody, hooks and melody, hooks and melody. They were intended to stay in your mind for hours, days and weeks.

Here is the Top 30 from February 22, 1967, as it appears on the Boss Radio siteKHJ Top 30.

“Happy Together” by The Turtles was No. 1.

“Ruby Tuesday” by The Rolling Stones was No. 3.

“There’s A Kind Of Hush/No Milk Today” by Herman’s Hermits was No. 7 (although “No Milk Today” is the vastly superior track).

“I Had Too Much To Dream (Last Night)” by The Electric Prunes was No. 10.

“Gimme Some Lovin'” by The Spencer Davis Group was No. 17.

“(We Ain’t Got) Nothin’ Yet” by The Blues Magoos was No. 23.

The greatest double-sided single of all-time, “Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever,” debuted on the chart that week at No. 13.

The following week saw the debut on the chart of “Live” by The Merry-Go-Round, one of the greatest pieces of Southern California “sunshine pop” ever put to wax.

Just reading that list, and looking at other late-60s, early-70s lists on the Boss Radio site, will cause an endless number of songs to run through your mind for a very long time.

This all changed by the mid-70s. Melodic rock on the AM dial was replaced by Bloat Rock (Boston, Kansas, Supertramp), Cock Rock (Foreigner) and Plain Old Boring Rock (Bad Company). Kiss and Queen are certifiable geniuses in comparison. Punk and New Wave were cultural imperatives. They just had to happen.

Fast-forward to today. A company called Zikera has created a wonderful application for iOS and Windows 8 devices called “Groove.” Among other things, it sans your devices to create “Groovy Mixes” of songs that work well together based, in part, on data supplied by Last.fm users. It has become my most used “app” since it automatically creates an endless array of playlists.

I was driving to work the other day and a particular “Groovy Mix” played three consecutive songs that, combined, perfectly capture the essence of the melodic rock that comprised the Boss Radio of the late-60s and early-70s.

The aptly named “Pop Sound” by The Masticators came up first. The Masticators were a late-90s Los Angelers-based Power Pop band made up, in part, by Lisa Mychols, about whom I wrote recently. Futureman Records has issued a 33-track compendium of the band’s entire recorded output. Its worth checking out in its entirety for some of the tightest, most head-bopping-est Power Pop around. “Pop Sound” is just that — a joyous, three-chord celebration of rhythm and melody anchored by Mychols’ confident, sexy vocals and a driving, basic beat:

Next up was “Pete Ham” by Crash Into June, a tribute to the late Badfinger singer/songwriter/guitarist. It begins with this bit of resonance: “What’s that song it sounds like heaven/I heard it once when I was seven/You could say it reminds me of summer days/Summer days.” True that, true that. It continues shortly later: “It’s got the 60’s British feeling/Hooks that keep me on the ceiling/I hear it now, its got that pure infectious sound/It keeps my head all spinning around/Spinning around.”

“Pete Ham” is three-and-a-half minutes of pure jangle pop perfection:

The final song in my commuting trilogy was “She Dreams,” from Michael Carpenter’s 1999 debut Baby. “She Dreams” is perfect, joyful “sunshine pop” that gives “Live” a run for its money:

So, there you have it. The old AM rock radio groove hasn’t disappeared in these days of overly processed, mechanical dance pop. You just have to know where to find it. When you do, you will be transported to another place

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