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Archive for the tag “Kurt Baker”

Timeless Music From Kurt Baker and Cleaners From Venus

Kurt Baker, Play It Cool

Kurt Baker, Play It CoolKurt Baker is a hit machine. He has the uncanny ability to record song-after-song filled with hooks, sing-along choruses and memorable melodies. You can call it Power Pop, if you want. Back in the day, though, Baker’s sound was just called “rock ‘n’ roll.” Whatever the label, his new long-player, Play It Cool, hardly disappoints. It delivers twelve rockin’ pop nuggets that should keep you movin’ and groovin’ over the coming cold months of winter.

The festivities start with “Sends Me To Mars,” a riff rocking garage stomper. Then, “Enough’s Enough” finds itself in more familiar Baker territory, with big vocals, hooks galore and some tasty keyboard parts. It’s a chart-topper . . . somewhere:

The next track, the breakneck “I Got You” will get you boppin’ along like its 1979. “Just a Little Bit” slows things down, but just a little bit. The basic riff of “Can’t Say No” sound-checks Joe Jackson’s “I’m The Man” as it tells the tale of a busted relationship that just won’t go away:

Play It Cool remains throughout quite indebted to the history of the rock ‘n’ roll form, but without residing in lifeless suspension at some wax museum. “Talk Is Talk” is a cool mid-60s rockin’ pop song, complete with 12-string guitar and vintage electric piano. “Prime Targets” might have been playing on “new wave” radio back in ’82, with its space age analog synth parts taking center stage. “Back For Good” time travels further to the glory days of AM radio with sweet harmonies and an easy-going chorus. The LP comes to a close with “I Can’t Wait,” which is probably playing right now in a bar near you. This is timeless music for today’s people. 

Play It Cool is, well, just cool. It’s also one of the finest slices of rock ‘n’ roll released the year. Get it via Bandcamp, either digitally or on disc from those stellar purveyors of real rock ‘n’ roll at Rum Bar Records.

Cleaners From Venus, Rose Of The Lanes

Cleaners From Venus, Rose Of the Lanes: Martin Newell returns with another fabulous collection of low-key pop and psych tunes recorded entirely on a Tascam DP-006 Pocketstudio with the assistance of Audacity freeware. As noted by the folks at Soft Bodies Records, the company that released Rose of the Lanes, these are “songs of immense distinction.” They’re stripped down and seemingly effortless. They are, however, constructed with great care, and Newell’s writing continues to be marked by a keen attention to detail. These are songs that make you take notice immediately.

The title track sets the tone for the fourteen that follow. Its consisted largely of a simple strummed acoustic guitar, a muted lead guitar, and rather uncomplicated drumming and percussion. Its nothing fancy at all. Its melody, however, conveys a beautiful, swaying melancholy that doesn’t easily let go:

“Little French Blue” is more muscular, with a slightly fuzzy electric guitar sitting in the middle to  compliment Newell’s urgent vocals. “Isn’t She The Biz” practically defines simplicity. Its hook is so basic — “isn’t she the biz/isn’t she the buzz” — that it seems like its been done thousands of times previously. It hasn’t, though. Its pure Newell, and completely original:

“Queen Khartoum” adds a bit of exoticism and a slow, burning lead guitar to the mix. “Third Summer of Love” bounces around amid slashing 80’s “alt rock” guitars, while asking the question “what if those hippies had been right all along?” “Lazy Elaine” is positively “old timey.”

But its the more “pop” songs that ultimately carry the day on Rose of the Lanes. The jangling “Liverpool Judy” is another slice of pop perfection, with yet another simple chorus — “Liverpool Judy/Liverpool Jude/you were the only one for me” — that thoroughly resonates. The even more jangling “Billy Liar” plays homage to the novel and film of the same name. The brooding “Denmark Street” places the listener on the historic London street famous for its publishing houses, recording studios and music shops, but threatened by continuing “redevelopment.”

Rose of the Lanes is, simply, a wonderful record of rich textures and engaging melodies hiding behind a casual facade. It’s a thoughtful record that is rooted in the great pop craft of the best of the past fifty years of English rock, and a shoo-in for my “Best Of” list this year. Get it via Bandcamp.

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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.

 

 

First Annual Pop That Goes Crunch Holiday Show

Retro Christmas

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.

Tracklist:

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”

13. The Tor Guides, “Beatles Vinyl”

14. Cliff Hillis, “On A Day Like Christmas”

15. The Jigsaw Seen, “What About Christmas?”

16. Stephen Lawrenson, “Glad Its Christmas”

17. Mike Fornatale, “Xmas Wish”

18. Elvis Presley, “Santa Claus Is Back In Town”

19. Frank Royster, “Christmas Is Fun”

20. Liar’s Club, “Agnostic Christmas”

21. The Goldbergs, “Chanukah Guy”

22. The Split Squad, “Another Lonely Christmas”

23. Dana Countryman, “A Very Lonely Christmas”

24. Stratocruiser, “Santa, We’re Through”

25. Bill Lloyd, “The Day After Christmas”

 

Three More EPs Worthy Of Your Cash

Here’s another run-down on three EPs that are worthy of your hard-earned cash.

New TrocaderosThe New Trocaderos, Kick Your Ass: The New Trocaderos are a mini-Supergroup consisting of Brad Marino and Geoff Palmer of The Connection and Kurt Baker, perennial favorites of this site. My review of the band’s double-sided single released in late-2013 can be found here. They’ve returned with three new songs co-written by pal Michael Chaney. True to its title, this one gives you a swift and powerful kick to the backside, or rather several swift and powerful kicks to the backside.

Baker gets the festivities started with “Real Gone Kitty,” and takes you back to the days when Jerry Lee Lewis was boppin’ at the high school hop and Joey Dee was doin’ the Peppermint Twist. The guitars scream like banshees on this one, and the piano keys fly by at a mile a minute thanks some nifty vintage playing by Kris “Fingers” Rodgers. You won’t be able to sit still while this one is on. In fact, you quite likely will need to take a breather and get some water after working your way through this two-minute-and-change romp:

 

Palmer takes over lead vox on “Dream Girl,” which you will swear was a big hit back in the summer of ’65 with its pretty jangling guitars and equally gorgeous harmonizing. Personal experience says it will be ringing around in your head the moment you wake up in the morning:

 

Marino grabs lead vocals on “Brain Gone Dead,” the most “modern” of the three songs with its Ramones-like vibe straight out of 1976. This one is quite a  bopper. It runs a whole minute-and-a-half, and sports lyrics like “Take ten reds/Quart of gin/Notify/Next of kin.” It’s Jim Carroll’s “People Who Died,” stripped to its essence:

 

Get Kick Your Ass.

Now.

Right here.

*   *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Jennie VeeJennie Vee, Die Alone: Vee puts a contemporary sheen onto late-80s/early-90s indie pop from her apartment in New York. She describes her sound on her Bandcamp page as including “pop punk,” “post-punk revival” and “shogaze.”

All of that is quite apparent from the ringing opening guitar riffs of the title track of her five-song EP. It will transport you to an underground dance club sometime in the 1980s. The next track, “Wicked,” cuts the gloom with a nice, almost sing-a-long chorus:

“Say Goodbye” is updated noise pop. The closer, “Gone Away,” is a kiss off to the definitive jerk that will have you unconsciously tapping your feet to its syncopated vibe.

Die Alone is a promising debut. Hopefully, Vee has more in the pipeline. You can get Die Alone right here.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Soft Peaks

Soft Peaks, Altocumular: Soft Peaks is a Baltimore-based band that skillfully dishes out traditional, no-frills guitar-based Power Pop on its second five-track EP of 2014.

Bright and shiny guitar riffs open “All The Way,” and set the tone for what follows.  “Everybody Wants Her” is an unassuming bit of guitar pop with the best hooks on the collection:

The band also can also rock harder, as displayed on “Winemakr” (spelled correctly) and the noisy and stomping closing track, “New Mean::

The two Soft Peaks EPs released in 2014 make for quite a nice longplayer of basic, enjoyable Powerpop. Sometimes that’s the best tonic after a tough day in the jungle. You can get Altocumular right here.

Cheap Thrills From The New Trocaderos And Quiz Kids

The Quiz Kids

Tapped out by the holidays? Here are two brief recent releases that deliver big bang for small coin.

Quiz Kids, Dynamite!: Quiz Kids is a three-piece “supergroup” of sorts recording for the “micro label,” February Records. This three-song EP was produced, in part, by Mitch Easter, who previously helmed long-players for R.E.M., Game Theory and Velvet Crush, among others.

The Velvet Underground is the most prominent reference point here. The band blends elements of noise pop with strong melodies and an occasional jangle. A lo-fi, analog feel permeates the EP. To that end, Easter assists with an electric sitar on one track, while the other two feature an Electone organ and a Moog synthesizer.

The best of the three offerings, “I Want You To Know,” recalls The Velvets’ “I Can’t Stand It,” with its persistent, steady rhythm and minimal changes:

Dynamite! won’t actually cost you any coin at all, since you can get it free right here, or you can name your own price and drop some cash into the tip jar.

New Trocaderos The New Trocaderos, S/T. This is a two-sided single from Brad Marino and Geoff Palmer of The Connection (which released the No. 14 song on my year-end list of the 20 best songs of 2013), and Kurt Baker. There is nothing fancy at all here. It’s just good old-fashioned rock and roll done flawlessly.

The lead track, “Money Talks” is about as old school as they come, with its Chuck Berry-style lead guitar over a basic rock rhythm and blues structure bolstered by perfectly placed harmonies. “Well money talk and boo–she–waw,” Marino sings a couple of times in this tale of love lost to the guy with the much bigger bank account. Words to live by.

Baker takes lead vocal on “The Kids,” a thematic update on the MC5’s “Shakin’ Street” set amid a tight and shiny New Wave/Power Pop groove ripped from the late-70s. “The Kids” is a paean to the potentially transcendent power of rock and roll. No matter how bad things can get growing up in a seemingly nowhere place, there’s always the music to lead the way: “Sometimes my parents take my records away/But that don’t matter, they’re all in my head/Playing all night and all day, yeah.” Yes, indeed:

So, what are you waiting for? Plunk down a couple of dollars, and get five cool songs you probably haven’t heard yet. Your wallet will hardly notice the difference.

Putting iTunes Radio To The Test, Indie Pop Style

iTunes Radio

I listen to a lot music during my two-hour daily commutes to and from work. Each way involves going over a bridge, through three tunnels and zigging and zagging down narrow streets with seemingly perpetual construction. There are many opportunities to go stark raving mad. Good music therefore is key. Its essential.

I decided the other day to put iTunes Radio to the test. The cool kids are not supposed to like this. Gizmodo says its a “sucky money-maker,” “boring, and packed with shortcomings and missed opportunities.” Its a mere Pandora clone, but with about twenty-seven times the number of tracks.

Meh.

Gizmodo really isn’t very cool, anyway. Its “review” is pretty lame and closes with a suggestion to make the service better in a way that it acknowledges probably “can’t be profitable.” Apple, of course, is in the business of not being profitable.

Nevertheless, anything with twenty-seven million tracks sitting on its servers has the opportunity to be pretty interesting. Pandora has about a million. It gets pretty boring, pretty quickly.

So, for my little test, I created a radio station from the music of Stephen Lawrenson, whose recent work, Obscuriosity, is a candidate for album-of-the-year. You can check out the gorgeous twelve-string driven brilliance of its best track, “Words To Say,” right here. That was the vibe I was trying to achieve for my morning commute.

“Stephen Lawrenson Radio” certainly delivered the goods . . . for a while. I got cool tracks from Greg Pope and Throwback Suburbia. Some tasty mid-60s vibes were delivered by Marco Joachim, whom I had never heard previously. His song “Those Days” sounded great on the freeway.

The Connection, about whom I wrote recently, chimed in with some more hook-filled goodness right out of 1964. This one is so good, in fact, that you should listen to it in this post:

And, who out there would not smile when being served up Kurt Baker doing Nick Lowe’s classic “Cruel To Be Kind“? Listen to that one right here, too:

So far, so good.

But when iTunes Radio starts veering off course, it can go haywire.

Although I don’t have much of an interest in hearing Nirvana these days, “Come As You Are” remains a great song. But, two songs later, I was “treated” to Bruno Mars. Whatever Bruno Mars has to do with Stephen Lawrenson is far beyond me. That then gave way to Linkin Park (great stuff if you were 17 about 10 years ago), The Fray, some dull latter-day Alice Cooper, and Mumford & Sons. Weird, but perhaps understandable in some far-off way. There is no rational explanation, however, for trying to make me listen to Pink. Not gonna happen. Ever.

Order, though, was quickly restored to the world by Teenage Fanclub doing “I’ll Make It Clear”:

Perhaps iTunes Radio needs to learn the user’s preferences. There are some twenty-seven million tracks from which to choose, which is quite a collection. I skipped the Bruno Mars to Mumford set entirely. I trashed the Pink tune immediately. Maybe they’ll be sent to my digital oblivion.

Nevertheless, on what was its second day of its availability to the public-at-large, iTunes Radio wasn’t bad. It was actually pretty good. Indie pop listeners can certainly dig getting big doses of the likes of Throwback Suburbia, Kurt Baker and The Connection selected algorithmically for them.

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