A Power Pop Music Blog Where guitars either chime or jangle all the live long day.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Single Review: Mark Bacino - "Not That Guy"

I had the good fortune recently to spend an hour or so chatting with power pop songwriter and performer Mark Bacino. During our conversation I learned a few things. For starters, his family Americanized the name back in the day so it's pronounced "Bah-see-no" and doesn't rhyme with "Al Pacino" at all. Oh, and if you want Willie Wisely to sing on your record you can start by simply asking him to sing on your record. (Who knew?) I also learned Bacino takes a broad view of his brand of music making. To my ears Bacino's music has always put me in mind of 70's AM radio, with a touch of Todd Rundgren and Marshall Crenshaw thrown into the mix.

On hearing this Bacino laughed and said, "Yeah, thanks. Most people when they think about my stuff say the Beach Boys and the Beatles, and, sure, I love that music and it is definitely an influence.... I'm not saying it isn't.... but yeah I love that 70's stuff... Harry Nilsson... early Hall and Oates records... all that kind of thing."

Certainly the breadth of Bacino's interests can be heard in his output to date. After releasing two well regarded power pop records in the classic vein, Pop Job (1998) and The Million Dollar Milkshake (2003), Bacino returned with a quieter and more lyrical song suite, Queens English, in 2010. During our conversation I mentioned I considered this album his Village Green Preservation Society.

"Exactly!" he responded. "Or Muswell Hillbillies. It's funny that album got mostly positive reviews, but I did hear it from a few of the hardcore power pop guys. I never got that. I was exploring a Ray Davies kind of thing on that record. How is that not part of this kind of music?"

Luckily, Bacino is more interested in following his instincts when it comes to the music he wants to make. This is evident on the first listen to his new single "Not That Guy" (available at Amazon and iTunes.) For the opening few seconds the music sounds as if it is coming straight out of a transistor radio from 1971, before Bacino's vocal comes in over a bouncy piano that propels the song forward. The lyric is a take on the whole "nice guys finish last" scenario, which all of us nice guys have lived through often enough to add the appropriate level of poignancy here. The songwriting is top notch, and the singing and production are also excellent. It certainly should bring a smile to anyone who loved Pop Job.

There is also the good news to report that there are more sounds coming from Bacino. "I've got my own studio space now. Someplace I can go at 3 p.m. or 3 a.m. where I can work and not be annoyed with outside noise..... Actually, the next single is almost ready to go. It just needs to be mastered. The plan is to release a couple more singles and, hopefully, record the balance of tracks for a new album in the future."

If "Not That Guy" returns, at least a little bit, to the Pop Job sound the next single promises a slightly more Queens English vibe. After mentioning this to me Bacino laughed and stated, "The power pop guys might not be happy about that."

I don't know. This power pop guy will be pleased as punch.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Review: Bill Lloyd - Lloydering

The Premise: A compilation of 12 tracks power pop vet Bill Lloyd recorded for assorted and sundry artist tribute albums over the years.

The Verdict: One of the all time no-brainers of no-brainers.

What? You need more? Really you shouldn't, but on the off chance you are one of those people who have been raised by wolves and are only recently returned to civilization I'll go into a little more detail.

Well, for starters, the artists covered read like a Who's Who of good taste: The Beatles, Todd Rundgren, The Byrds, Badfinger, The dB's, and The Hollies are all represented with killer tracks, each one seemingly selected to perfectly showcase Lloyd's particular style of music making. For example, the Badfinger entry "Lonely You" winds up sounding more like a Bill Lloyd song than anything else. So much so you start to wonder what sort of time machine Badfinger used to jump into the future to steal it (time paradoxes be damned.) "Step Inside," originally Lloyd's contribution to the classic Sing Hollies in Reverse tribute disc, is, if anything, better than the original. The multi-tracked vocals layer upon each other dripping with warmth and delicious harmony. It is simply gorgeous start to finish.

In general the versions here are faithful to the original records. Lloyd's version of "Coconut Grove" is a little slower and a little more trippy than The Lovin' Spoonful did it, but then again, why the hell not? John Lennon's "Across the Universe" gets a suitably reverent, if also slower, rendition that sounds both sparse and lush at the same time. Technically speaking that shouldn't be possible but Lloyd pulled it off.

Lest you think Lloyd skews entirely towards 60's and 70's material, he adds classic alt-80's fare with note perfect renditions of The dB's jaunty "Neverland" and Let's Active's hook laden "Every Word Means No" as well as a groovy take on Wreckless Eric's pop staple "Whole Wide World."

This album is so much fun first note to last that any fan of this type of music will only be sorry to hear it end. Of course, that is why God invented "repeat" buttons.

Grade: A

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Review: Nick Piunti - Beyond The Static

The basic needs of humanity are pretty simple: food, water, shelter, companionship, sex, and electric guitars. Okay, okay... so there is some debate about the absolute necessity of sex but the others are indisputable.

I'm pretty sure Nick Piunti would agree with me on this, as his 2015 release Beyond The Static is crunchy guitar power pop at its most elemental and vital. The approach here both in songwriting and production is direct. There are no baroque flourishes to distract a listener, only good, simple, honest tunesmithing by a skilled practitioner of the art. It's a sound, part Posies, part Matthew Sweet, part 70's bar band, that defined the center of power pop in the first decade of the 21st Century. It is as worn and warm as a favorite comfy sofa. The only thing required is to sink into it and feel good.

"It's a Trap" kicks things off with high energy and a driving beat. It is the sort of song that pulls you along because it is so straightforward and earnest. In a similar vein "Time Machine" piles on the chunky power chords and keeps things revved up to a high pitch.

Songs like "Six Bands," the closest thing to a ballad on the record, give us a bit of a breather with its clever lyric expounding on a girl "drowning in the talent pool." The bouncy strum of "Seven Days a Week" is another winner, as is the highly polished "Fell For You" which wears its heart on its sleeve, which a song this direct and heartfelt should. Once again, the feel is just right.

The absolute best thing on the record is the second track on it, "Heart Stops Beating." It is a glorious power pop tour de force filled with hand claps, call and response vocals, dreamy sounding keyboards, and one of the most perfectly placed "hey!"s in the history of rock music. Alone this song would make the album worth picking up. The fact that so much of the album is also terrific makes it all the better.

Maybe owning this record wouldn't forestall the need for sex forever, but it would sure make celibacy a lot more tolerable.


Grade: A-


Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Review: Nerf Herder - Rockingham

I must confess I'm not a huge fan of the whole nerd culture thing. It's all too self-consciously precious and, at its worst, narcissistic to appeal to me despite my admitted affinities for Monty Python, complex board games and MST3K. As a result an album dedicated to this particular pseudo sub-culture isn't exactly in my wheelhouse. That being said, I've enjoyed Parry Gripp's amusing songs on YouTube, and I simply adore Linus Dotson (not that there is anything wrong with that,) so when the chance came to pre-order this album I thought "oh, what the hell."

I'm glad I did. Rockingham is not going to cause anyone to shun their copy of Revolver or even the first Fountains of Wayne record, but there are far worse ways to spend an hour. "Portland" kicks off with a rant against everything that, frankly, needed to ranted about when it comes to rainy Pacific Northwest cities obsessed with their own shit. Sure, it is a bit of an easy target, but no one can claim they don't deserve it. "At the Con" and "Allie Goertz" win with wit and obvious charm.

The high point of the album comes with the terrific "We Opened for Weezer" a fond reminiscence of 1990's days gone by that rises above being an exercise in simple name dropping. They might not have meant to do it but they struck genuine poignancy. However, the album will not allow us to grow melancholic. Before you can blink the high octane power pop of "Jackie Got Married" is ready to whisk you away and that is a very good thing.

The second half of the album loses a little steam. "I'm the Droid (You're Looking For)" never really lives up to its title. "Ghostbusters III" and "Doctor Who" are energetic but a little one note. Luckily, the truly funny and catchy "Stock Photo Girl" comes along to entertain, while the album ender "Close Your Eyes and Dream" comes across like an inside joke we've all been invited to join. It's a bit of a microcosm of the whole album in that it asks "Why don't you come along? This will be fun!" They're not wrong.

Grade: B+

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Review: Elvyn - Valley Of The Kilowatt Hour

It is a sad age we live in.

Growing up in the 1970's and coming of age in the 1980's I would have never imagined living long enough to experience the nadir of the album as an artform. Little did I realize it would take less than 25 years for the vital impulse that brought us everything from Rubber Soul and Pet Sounds to Spilt Milk and Girlfriend, not to mention everything in-between, to come sputtering to a halt. Instead we live in an age where pop music is all about the single, the novelty, the intangible, the disposable. We've even witnessed the sad spectacle of established artists giving away their new album as if they were slightly embarrassed at having created such a product so at odds with the ethos of today.

Unlike impotent critics like yours truly (culturally speaking only, thankfully), Canadian power poppers Elvyn can do more than rage against the machine. With their late 2015 release, Valley of the Kilowatt Hour, Elvyn reminds us all what the album had and has to offer. Maybe it was the circa 1965 album art that triggered this particular rant of mine, but the look and feel of the cover fits perfectly with the sounds contained within.

I am not saying the album sounds like mid 60's pop music. Oh, there is a lovely Beach Boys tinged track ("Robins Song"), but the emphasis is on the band displaying an impressive mastery of their own sound. That sounds draws equally from americana/roots music, think of the poppier side of fellow Canadians Blue Rodeo, and 90's alt guitar rock in the Toad the Wet Sprocket vein, with occasional nods to classic 60's sounds like the aforementioned Beach Boys and Simon & Garfunkel.

There are 11 tracks on this album and it is almost right to say there are 11 highlights on it. "Ellie" invites you to sing your heart out with its lovely melody and "everyone join in" chorus. "This is the End" with its working stiff anthem lyric is just as engaging, and the groovy shuffle of "Landslide Cities" could get even the most lethargic of us to get on their feet to sway rhythmically. "Turning me Down" is an acoustic guitar and electric organ toe-tapper (yeah, that's a thing) that simply charms.

"AM" is probably the heart and soul of the record. Part lament for the musical world we have lost and part of a celebration of what we still have to enjoy, it is propelled by a gloriously slutty guitar riff. It's not trashy, it just wants it so bad, whatever "it" might be.

Maybe we are walking among our own ruins and we haven't realized it yet. However, if we can have albums like this one playing in the background it won't be nearly as bad as it might be.

Grade: A

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

New Lolas Demos

It should be pretty obvious that The Lolas would be a band that hits a sweet spot for me. So when main man Tim Boykin starts putting up a bunch of new Lolas demos it makes for a good day for yours truly.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

I Really Thought I'd Sail Right Through This...

...but I must confess the official end of The Pure Pop Pub radio station hurts.

I keep telling myself, "C'mon Rich, it was just a damn hobby... and one you didn't always follow with the greatest of enthusiasm."

That is true..... but it was always there. For almost eight years I could plug myself into this little niche corner of the musical world and get lost for a bit. I could be a devotee... and there is precious little in this world worthy of being a devotee of in my book. There certainly isn't one that cover so many bases, so many of my own personal primordial pushbuttons, as did this silly little radio station.

This isn't rolling off my back. Color me surprised.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

It's Official, It Is An Ex-Radio Station

I've looked at the other "alternatives" to continue my online radio hobby and, simply put, none of them are affordable for me. This means that Jan. 31st will be the last day for The Pure Pop Pub as a streaming station. I'm pretty sure this means the name will only be in existence for this blog. (I'm not certain what this might mean for the "Let's Go Pop!" podcast, but that too might have to die a horrible death. We shall see.)

Nothing but bad news I'm afraid. If you will excuse me I need to go downstairs and crank Jellyfish's "Brighter Day" at ear splitting volumes.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

All Things Must Pass... Dammit All To Hell

I've updated this elsewhere but I should make it official here. The Pure Pop Pub radio station will soon cease to be. I received an email yesterday that the Live365 platform is most likely going under for good within the next month or so. The rules for royalties are changing and the upshot is small niche broadcasters like myself will no longer have a way to continue, and as we made up a large part of the Live365 business model they are being squeezed out as well. I could, if I wanted, spend upwards of $1000 a year to continue to broadcast but, yeah, that ain't gonna happen. I like all my listeners very much but I do not have that kind of money to throw into what is essentially a hobby.

The Pure Pop Pub ran for over 7 years and in that time I have had countless interactions with listeners and artists that have made the whole experience incredibly rewarding, even if I was paying for the privilege. I am most saddened by the fact that yet another outlet for indie artists to get their music known is being silenced. Something may rise in the future to take its place but from the looks of things it may be awhile in coming.

I will do my bit here on the Pure Pop Pub blog where I will continue my vain effort to dance about architecture. The "Let's Go Pop!" podcast may or may not continue. I have not heard from my podcast platform but the new rules may also bring about the end of most music podcasts as well. A wait and see approach will have to be adopted.

It is quite a somber note to end 2015 on. Let's hope 2016 brings us all more cool sounds.

Allow me to wish you all a very happy New Year.

Cheers!

Rich Horton





Monday, September 21, 2015

Review: Pugwash - Play This Intimately (as if among friends)

A truly great rock and roll record is supposed to have a bit of violence associated with it. After all, it's built into the name of the genre. We talk about people's worlds being "rocked" when they are turned upside down by turmoil and tumult. Successful records are declared to be "hits" and "smashes!" "Let's rock and roll" has become synonymous with engaging in any sort of decisive action, from starting a long road trip to starting a long war. Even the sexual connotations associated with rock and roll are more violent than not. Rock and roll sex isn't gentle lovemaking, its two, at least, frenzied people trying to screw each others brains out.

However, this music is also about breaking the rules and not giving a damn about what is "supposed" to be. Good thing too, because its how we wind up with records like Play This Intimately (as if among freinds), Pugwash's intricate and subtle triumph.

This isn't to say that the record is devoid of energy. "Kicking and Screaming" starts the album off in glorious pop/rock fashion. It's all chiming guitars and all pop hooks all the time. "Hung Myself Out To Dry" is a bouncy and jaunty slice of pop magic of a vein well mined before in the Pugwash catalog, but welcome all the same. Nobody on earth does this sort of thing better than Thomas Walsh and company. "You Could Always Cry" effects a pop/country/folk vibe complete with chugging train harmonica. When you listen to it you hope someone is back there playing their washboard.

As good as the quicker songs are it is the slower material that pushes the album to its greatest heights. "Lucky in Every Way" offers a lush and tuneful soundscape that floats on your ears like a cool breeze on a summer's day.... or something like that. I swear whenever I hear it I just want to open a couple bottles of wine and sink into bliss. "Oh Happy Days" sounds like it was pulled off the Kinks' Village Green Preservation Society sessions, which is probably why Pugwash got Ray Davies to help with the backing vocals on the track. It is damn near perfect.

"All The Way From Love" is a Roy Orbison's style crooner positively dripping with style and substance. The album ending track, "We Are Everywhere," takes the moody mellotron vibe of "Blue Jay Way" and tweaks it into something even more substantial. When it ends, announced by the boom of a last bass drum, you know you've been on one hell of a trip with your good friends in Pugwash.

So go ahead. Rock and roll.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Power Pop Terrorizes Nation's College Students

Norfolk, VA

Four members of the Old Dominion University student body were publicly executed and their corpses summarily expelled from the school when it was discovered the students had callously and deliberately played the song “Stacy’s Mom” at a Opening Week Bar-B-Que. The song, written and performed by the terrorist front group Fountains of Wayne, features lewd and indecent lyrics which insist that “Stacy’s mom has got it going on” and depicts the treasured societal icon is a state of undress (“with just a towel on”.)

While the quick and decisive action by the university, which has a solid reputation for graduating only virgins, was applauded by most, some worried there had been undue haste shown. “It all happened so fast we never even had the chance to publicly flog these vile perpetrators!” lamented Sheri Abercrombisen of the student led organization, Aggrieved Sisterhood of Solidarity (or A.S.S.).  A.S.S., best known for their campaign to place trigger warnings on campus for the Sun (“It is so bright and cheerful all the time. Doesn’t it know some of us are really hurting?”) complained other dangerous conduct was going on right under the noses of authorities. “I know for a fact,” said Abercrombisen at a hastily convened news conference attended by 317 journalists, “that another party was playing a Rock Hit’s of the 70’s compilation which included a vile song which depicts a mother having sexual relations on a living room floor, all the while the song repeats that “we’re all all right” when we very clearly are not all all right.”

Ms. Abercrombisen subsequently had to be sedated and placed under a doctor’s care.

At press time Robin Zander was unavailable for comment.