It’s not all hard-driving Power Pop here at Pop That Goes Crunch. Quieter, more introspective work is occasionally in order. Dave Caruso’s new long-player, Cardboard Vegas Roundabout, fits beautifully into that space and delivers ten finely crafted tunes that sound particularly great on the car stereo (especially with the top down or the sunroof wide open), or on the headphones late at night after a hard day of work or play.
Caruso cites his main influences as “Elvis Costello, Neil Finn, Elton John, Del Amitri, Ben Folds, The Beach Boys and The Beatles.” That’s a rather tall order, but Caruso is more than up to the task.
“Mystery & Sweetness” begins the festivities with a swaying mid-70s vibe and sweet vocal harmonies on top of a beautifully strummed acoustic guitar. The harmonies kick into high gear on the next track, “Champion,” in which Caruso lays down some of the most complex vocal arrangements of the year, and succeeds over-and-over again. “Your Fake Friends” is a relatively driving piece of jangle pop that nicely skewers supposed camaraderie in an age of status updates and social media “likes.” These virtues crystallize in “The Art of Erica,” in which Caruso serves up the bitter with the sweet in a track that likely will find its way onto my year-end “Best Of” list.
Samples of each song on Vegas can be heard on Caruso’swebsite, where you can purchase the download of the album, as well an extended 22-track CD which includes alternate versions demos, bonus mixes and 12-page booklet with song lyrics, photos, liner notes and credits. Click over there right now, and drink in Caruso’s tasty songcraft.
The last post on this site discussed five tracks that proved to be quite popular in the inaugural month of Pop That Goes Crunchradio. One of the highlighted tracks is “Diffidence” by Toxic Melons. I’ve now had a chance to listen to the soon-to-be released Bus Therapy by Paul Fairbairn and pals in its entirety. It is one of the most wildly eclectic pop albums you likely will hear this year, or any other year for that matter. A Kickstarter campaign is nearing its conclusion. Here’s why you should happily contribute to this effort, as I did last month.
Fairbairn says on the Kickstarter page “if you’re a fan of The Beatles, Jellyfish, Queen, The Beach Boys, E.L.O and Power Pop in general, I think you might enjoy the album!” Indeed you will as Bus Therapy takes you on a dizzying roadtrip through the last five decades of pop music in just thirty-three minutes.
The festivities begin rather quickly with “More Or Less,” a song about accepting that not everything in life is black or white but enjoying the “bumper ride” anyway, propelled by swirling keyboards and copious harmonies. “Journey” takes us on the first of many wide left turns — a slow instrumental right up front. “Let Me Sleep” is, well, a rather sleepy track about begging to sleep for another ten minutes and features a nicely placed glam flourish here and there.
The two best tracks come soon thereafter.
“Change The World” is sung beautifully throughout by Linus OfHollywood. Fairbairn’s keyboards and accordion, and the overall waltzing tempo of the track, give the whole thing a wonderfully circus-like feel.
Keith Klingensmith lends his pitch perfect vocals to the rather jaunty “Not In Love?” which, as far as I can tell, must have knocked an Elton John song off of the top spot on Billboard charts back when I was in elementary school. Like “Change The World,” it also has been added to Pop That Goes Crunchradio.
“Getting Old” wraps piano, strings and trumpet around decidedly craggy vocals about fighting the inevitable. Quite naturally, then, the track is followed by the closer, “Take Me Back” a bit of sublime Beach Boys pop nostalgia about days gone by.
The Sharp Things’ second release this year, The Truth Is Like The Sun, is informed by a long-span of music history. While its predecessor, February’s Green Is Good, also incorporated “baroque” pop elements, the feeling on The Truth Is Like The Sun is often more “baroque” than “pop.” Its arrangements are bigger, more sweeping and more orchestral than its predecessor. It is anchored by piano, strings and brass, and then sprinkled occasionally by a dulcimer, a banjo, and a glockenspiel to make things even more interesting.
TheTruthIs Like The Sun thus takes an even more scenic route to its destination than did Green Is Good. It is the most distinctive release I have heard this year. It may also be the single best.
“Flesh And Bone” likely will draw numerous comparisons to The Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows,” both sonically and thematically. The track about being “lost in the enchanting reverie of you” is one of the standouts in the collection:
The prior song, “Lulubelle” takes a quieter, gentler tact and almost feels like a long-lost holiday song. Perry Serpa’s pitch perfect vocals lead into a multi-voice chorus amid swirling brass and winds:
A theme of “reverie” returns in “Light In My Harbor,” with its key lyric, “I love your face/And the tales it tells, it’s true/You’re the light in my harbor.” Here, we get soulful vocals from Serpa, layered backing harmonies and a nice jazzy piano fill about half way through:
The remaining tracks on Truth fit into this basic construct, and then expand upon it. “Talk To Me” has a cool mid-70s “lite rock” feel, and riffs off of Randy VanWarmer’s “Just When I Needed You Most.” “View From A Room” updates The Left Banke. The lead track, “Can’t Get Started,” about which I wrote here, builds dramatically to a quick wall of sound at its conclusion.
The Sharp Things have now released twenty songs on two albums this year without a single misstep. The ten on Truth Is Like The Sun are each beautifully written, arranged, sung and played. You can “name your price” and pick up perhaps the best album of the year right here. Do it as quickly as you can.
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?