Saturday, December 24, 2011

Review: Fountains Of Wayne - Sky Full Of Holes

This is a power pop blog. Did you really think I could not review the latest Fountains of Wayne album? Its inevitable, just like death, taxes and Beatles re-releases.

Luckily, for us, Sky Full Of Holes is inevitably good.

If you have heard any of the previous FoW albums, nothing here should surprise you. For all of the talk of "new found" maturity and "serious subject matter" you could read about in the mainstream music press, FoW fans will see more continuity than change. This is fine with me as Collingwood and Schlesinger are about as consistent a pair of tunesmiths as are working today.

OK, to say the album is good is no great surprise either. The question is how good is it? For my money, pretty damn good. I would certainly rate it higher than their previous effort Traffic & Weather. In fact, there are a couple of songs here (namely "A Dip in the Ocean" and "Acela") that come off as "improved" versions of tracks off that earlier effort. It is almost as if they weren't quite satisfied with what they had done, and they wanted to nail it this time.

Mission accomplished.

There is probably a solid half dozen songs here that can rank with the best of their career output. "Action Hero" and "Hate to See you Like This" cranks up the pathos to eleven, but work beautifully. "Richie and Reuben" and "A Road Song" display their customary wit, with the latter's reference to Steve Perry generating a guffaw from your truly. "Cemetery Guns" continues FoW's run of interesting and lovely album enders.

My advice is to enjoy the hell out of this.

Grade: B+/A-

Friday, December 23, 2011

Review: Buffalo Tom - Skins

It's funny what one song can do. I'll admit, Buffalo Tom was completely new to me when I got a compilation disc from a buddy that contained a perfect little pop song entitled "She's Not Your Thing."

After listening to the song twice in a row I said aloud (to myself), "OK I need more of that."

"What was that?" asked my wife.

"Oh, nothing," I replied, ashamed my inner dialogue had leaked out... again.

In any event, it happily turns out I really did need more Buffalo Tom. Skins is a fine pop/rock album. It may not have been exactly what I was expecting based upon the tight Teenage Fanclub-esque "Thing" but the album delivers a boat load of memorable of slightly rootsy rock numbers which often evoke a Toad The Wet Sprocket quality.

"Arise, Watch" probably exemplifies the Toad qualities most explicitly. though the pretty "Don't Forget Me" and straight forward (and classy) "Here I Come" hail from the same zip code.

"Lost Weekend" is a great little rocker in a Blue Rodeo vein, while "Paper Knife" is a nice slice (see what I did there?) of John Hiatt style balladry. "The Kids Just Sleep" pops out late to give "She's Not Your Thing" a run for its money in the competition for best song on the album.

This is a solid album.

Grade: B+

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

"Love Me Do"

My Beatles criticism project continued:

The song begins with a healthy dose of John's harmonica, with studio session man Andy White's drums and Ringo's tambourine playing the next most obvious presence. Paul's bass is right there but he isn't doing much to make it distinctive.

"Love Me Do" is simplicity itself. The song contains four verses, one bridge and they fit in an harmonica solo as well. Paul handles the solo vocals, but there is a heavy backing vocal to help fill out the sound. It is a mid-tempo shuffle that doesn't have a strong "rock and roll" feel to it. In many ways the song feels like the last stand of the Quarrymen, the skiffle group that grew into the Beatles.

The lyrics couldn't be simpler. "Love, love me do. You know I love you. I'll always be true. So please, love me do." That covers all of the lyrics for all four verses. The bridge adds "Someone to love, somebody new. Someone to love, someone like you." The chord progression also follows a simple G & C chord structure, with a D chord being thrown in on the bridge. Hardly the stuff of virtuoso performances.

Yet, somehow, the song manages to add to more than the sum of its parts. The group vocals are particularly strong. The harmony used on the elongated "please" in the verses is quite gorgeous. They also layer the vocal effectively. When Paul's voice alone sings "Love me do" it contrasts nicely with the fuller vocal sound on the rest of the record. The harmonica also provides a sort of commentary throughout the song. It adds musical interest to a song that might otherwise have gotten monotonous.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Review: Meyerman - Who Do You Think You Are?

The way the whole music review thing usually works is I give you a sense of whether or not I like an album along with some sense of what the music sounds like. The latter is accomplished by making comparisons with other artist's music with which folks may be familiar. The point isn't really to say the music being reviewed could be mistaken in any way with that of the other artists mentioned. It usually just means the general approach to their material is akin to things the comparison artist has done. It doesn't mean if you like the artists employed in the comparison you will necessarily like this reviewed work.

This isn't the usual review. I can say it straight out. If you like the fantastic English band The Candyskins you will dig Meyerman's Who Do You Think You Are? A lot.

I have no idea if the similarities represent an intentional choice or if it is a happy accident, but the parallels are unmistakable. The album begins with the track "Tonight," a great tune which would have easily been at home had it appeared on The Candyskins Death Of A Minor TV Celebrity. There is simply something about the way many of these songs are put together, from phrasing to instrumentation to production, you could sometimes swear you are listening to a band from Oxfordshire and not New Jersey. The groovy "Xrayspex" is another great tune where the Candyskin-esque qualities shine.

This is not to say this material is simply derivative. It isn't. It stands on its own two feet, and kicks ass on its own terms.

"Immaculate Mansions" and "New Direction" cover old power pop subject matters, life in the burbs and the drive for music industry success, but does so with venom and irony as needed. "Bitter End" is a driving rocker that may just be the best thing on the album.

The best quality of this album is the way some tunes are unabashed goodtime sing-alongs (the uber-power poppy "Permission to Rock You" leaps to mind), while others are much more ambitious (the great album ender "Elephants"). This leaves this listener really wanting to hear where Meyerman goes from here.

Grade: B+/A-

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

"Please Please Me"

My Beatles criticism project continued:

With guitar and drum announcing "da-DUM" we are thrown straight into a quick intro with a prominent theme played on harmonica twice. The first verse enters with John providing the lead vocals and Paul offering harmony vocals in a higher register.

The lyric beings with "Last night I said these words to my girl,' which immediately puts us into a specific frame of reference. Presumably we are to think that the protagonist is telling his buddies about his experiences of the night before. Also one might suppose that he would be telling his buddies not to just inform them of the complaints he had to make ("I know you never even try, girl") but to let them know of his ultimate success. There is no doubt that the singer is a braggart and engaging in some male "locker room" talk.

A lovely guitar riff introduces the chorus, which follows quickly after the short two line verses, with four sets of call and answer "Come On"s. As each call "Come On" is sung the answer rises in pitch and the tension increases. The resulting "Please please me oh yeah like I please you" acts as something of a release.

Throughout the verses and choruses Paul's bass thumps along merrily, Ringo's drums offer killer fills (particularly leading into the bridge) and the guitars offer what I can only call chunky chords...there seems to be a real weight behind them.

After the second verse and chorus, the bridge follows. In it our protagonist offers more of an explanation ("I dont mean to sound complaining...") for his bitching. The man gives and gives (or so he says) and he get's nothing but grief ("Oh yeah, why do you make me blue?") in return. When the song careens back into the verse/chorus structure you are left in little doubt that his little scene will produce the desired results.

Taken as a whole "Please Please Me" is something of a little miracle. The sheer energy and pure joy of it all is undeniable. Even 40+ years later it sounds like the start of something new. Each of the elements, from instrumentation and vocal arrangement, to the memorable melody line and harmonies, work perfectly. Just like the guy's complaining.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Review: Scott Gagner - Rhapsody In Blonde

We all require different things from our music from time to time. Sometimes we need it raw and ready, other times we need it soft and comfortable... hmm... sort of sounds like like something else we all need from time to time.... but I digress.

There are times my ears ache for something highly polished and downright slick. Scott Gagner's "Rhapsody In Blonde" is about as slick as it gets. This is achieved not only through the full round sound - though the production values are top notch here - but also through Gagner's songwriting which comes across as effortless and silky smooth.

"I Hate To Say" begins things with a Lenny Kravitz vibe placed atop a lyric filled with slightly twisted maxims and cliches. The juxtaposition is a clever one and just ironic enough to not become too jokey. "Laura No. 1" is a joyous pop tune with echoes of Kristian Hoffman's best work. "Houdini" is a pretty song with a deep sonic texture reminiscent of the softer side of Jason Falkner.

Kravitz... Hoffman... Falkner... those names should give you some idea of the terrain being covered here, though Gagner definitely has his own voice even on his cover of the GnR classic "Sweet Child o' Mine," which actually comes across as sticky sweet... in a good way.

I must say, however, I'm not sold on the sequencing of the disc. The flow of the album is dominated by stretches of slower songs one after another, only really broken up in the second half of the album by the back-to-back up-tempo numbers "Take Two" and "Ride." The softer material can wash out a little as a result... though when there is a gem like "Houdini" in there it is worthwhile to pull them out of context so each can shine on its own.

Grade: A-

Thursday, October 6, 2011

"Ask Me Why"

My Beatles criticism project continued:

Whatever can be said about this Lennon & McCartney tune, it's not rock and roll. From its light almost latinesque rhythms and percussion to the "woo woo woo woo"s of its vocals, "Ask Me Why" is the very essence of "pop" music.

The verses begin with the boys singing "I Love you - woo woo woo woo" followed by Lennon alone singing "Cause you tell me things I want to know." This trading of vocals back and forth is prevalent throughout. When an almost stuttering Lennon ends the fist (and third) verse with the words "I,I,I,I should never, never, never be blue!" you can be forgiven if you think it's not the most compelling lyrics you've ever heard.

An abbreviated bridge follows the second verse, and the latin feel of the song is reinforced. You almost want to add a "cha cha cha" to the line "I can't conceive of any more [cha cha cha] misery." Actually, that might have added a needed bit of spice. As it is the line falls flat.

The chorus, if such it can called, is nearly anti-climatic. "Ask me why, I'll tell you I love you, and I'm always thinking of you." Nice sentiments maybe, but in the context of this song they couldn't sound less convincing.

As a piece of pop music "Ask Me Why" is forgettable filler.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


My Beatles criticism project continued:

The rhythm section gets a workout in this Dixon/Farrell penned number. In terms of instrumentation it is Paul's bass and Ringo's drums that are most prominent. Ringo takes his turn at lead vocals, and Paul's voice is the most prominent among the backing vocals. George has a solo, but for the most part the guitarists are just along for the ride.

This fast rocker gets started with a quick "rat-tat-tat" from the drums. A thumping bass line and restrained commentary from lead guitar lead into the vocals. Ringo's vocal range is limited (to say the least) but "Boys" is well suited to it. Each line in the verse is punctuated not only by Paul's bass but by the backing vocals chiming in with welcome "bop-shoo-op"s in a classic rock'n'roll style.

The chorus has a call/answer feel as Ringo's "Well, I talk about boys" generates a backing vocal response of "Yeah Yeah Boys!" Throughout the song the backing vocals, with the help of an occasional shout or scream, add to the feel of a good time gone great.

George's solo is a neat little package, much akin to his solo on "I Saw Her Standing There" but with a greater blues feel. Or is that rockabilly? At the speed that "Boys" is played it all comes to one in the end.

Thursday, September 29, 2011


My Beatles criticism project continued:

The sound of an harmonica in the opening bars of this mid-tempo number is almost all the real interest that will be generated for the next 2:23. The song, written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, is presented in such a matter-of-fact manner that emotion seems strangely absent. This is all the more striking given the obvious bluesy roots of the song.

The verses feature group vocals by John, George & Paul, while George takes the bridge vocals solo. The vocals of the verses are nice, but so dry and clipped that lyrics such as "Whoa, these chains of love have a hold on me. Yeah." lack any punch, even with the two exclamations. When the bridge kicks in (George's "I want to tell you pretty baby...") the singing is smooth and assured, but it sounds so clinically clean and innocent that it seems to have nothing to do with the world weary lyrics.

The song is presented so straightforwardly that by the end it has become monotonous. Only as the song fades out do you hear George's voice start playing with the bluesy edges of the song. By that point its too late.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"Anna (Go to Him)"

My Beatles criticism project continued:

This ballad, a cover of a song by Arthur Alexander, begins with drum and rhythm guitar. A hesitant staccato lead guitar line then enters and sets the musical tone for the rest of the song.

Alexander's lyrics of self sacrifice and anguish display a confident piece of songwriting. The tone of the lyric is not self-pitying or maudlin in any way, and Lennon's vocal take on it is a thing to behold. Working mostly in his lower register, Lennon sounds silky smooth on the verses which are lyrically set up to be sung to the girl in question. When the bridge comes the lyrics become an internal monologue, and it is here that the power & raw edge to Lennon's voice comes to the forefront. For the listener the contrast is stark between the outward show of emotion in the verse (the resigned "Go to him"), and the inward cry of the bridge (a heartbroken "What am I, What am I supposed to do?")

Another nice addition can be found in George's backing vocals as the song comes to a conclusion. His sing-songy "Anna"s add an almost ghostly touch from the girl that's forever gone.

All in all this is a masterful record that deserves to be remembered as such.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


My Beatles criticism project continued:

With a flourish of George Martin's piano as intro, Lennon, in his best melodramatic voice, intones "The world is treating me bad.......," and then with tongue planted fimrly in cheek, "Misery!" So begins this mid-tempo shuffle.

As an arrangement there isn't a lot of variety in the song, excepting Martin's piano offering a bit of spice. Lyrically it's no great shakes either. Boy loses girl and is none too happy about it. The second verse offers an almost disastrous near-rhyme in the line, "I've lost her now for Sure, I won't see her no More" which gets by only because of John's broad Liverpudlian accent and the goodwill generated by the next (and best) lyric in the song, "It's gonna be a drag-------Misery!"

The bridge follows and re-introduces the piano which adds a Chopinesque flair after the line "I'll remember all the little things we've done" but the jokeyness of the song returns as the piano hits single notes to accentuate the words "only one " twice.

A new third verse is followed by the bridge repeated, changing the second "Only One" to "Lonely One". The third verse is revisited as the fourth verse, and the song fades out as the words "In Misery" are repeated interspersed with various "Ooo"s and "La La"s.

There is no doubt that the song is slight. Were it played completely straight it might have been truly terrible. But the good humor of it all and its gentle mocking of youthful sensibilities of "love lost" redeems it somewhat.

"I Saw Her Standing There"

Note: Several years ago I began a project running through the Beatles' catalog. I didn't get very far in that effort, but I felt it was worthwhile archiving that work here. Enjoy, if you dare!

For a song nearly 3 minutes long, "I Saw Her Standing There" (ISHST) sures packs a lot into the first 7 seconds. Paul counts us in with a "One, two three" and a shouted "Four!" While the guitars riff on an E chord, Paul's bass line starts pounding away. Overlaying it all, handclaps are heard; two quick claps on the second beat, another on the fourth.

The lyric begins will Paul informing us, with a nod and a wink, that, "Well, she was just 17, you know what I mean." Immediately the stage is set for this rollicking fast rocker. The dancefloor looms before us, and all the lustful pursuits of teenage boys are on display. Lustful but, in the end, rather innocent as in the bridge Paul's voice rises when he tells us all that he "held her hand in mine!"

The song is propelled along by its sheer velocity and the force of its precocious sexuality. When Paul starts to scream going into George's solo it is one of joy not release. The solo begins rather slowly and has a meandering quality to it, which might work against most other quick rockers, however, the bass line and hand claps are so forceful throughout that the solo feels like the sonic equivalent of picking your way across a crowded room. The stops and starts feel authentic.

Ringo's drums roll us out of the solo and into the bridge a second time. The song ends on pretty much the note it started. We haven't left the dance floor, although the band has stopped to take a bow. Who knows if true love will be found with the 17 year old girl. But when you are on the dance floor, who cares?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

A 16.7% Bonus In The Area Of What You Said...

Good news on the broadcasting front. Live365 has increased the amount of data storage for the package I use by 16.7%. This will result in my playlists being 16.7% longer (or something thereabouts.)

Speaking of playlists, I've uploaded 23 new to the Pub tunes in the last 24 hours. Have fun and keep popping in a powered fashion!

Friday, July 22, 2011

An Attempt At A Power Pop Biography: Introduction

As I've been a poor correspondent of late I'm going to try something a little bit different. Indulge me.

One of the hallmarks of any discussion of power pop as a genre of music stumbles upon the definition of just what the hell power pop is. Some have chosen an appeal to authority, usually invoking Pete Townshend and early Who. Others have performed a bit of audio vivisection and determined The Beatles brought together all of the elements of the genre. Still others have followed an archaeological approach going back to the 50's tracing the rock and pop influences of artists like Buddy Holly. Further evolutionary thinkers eschew the neanderthal or cro-magnon predecessors in favor of the 1970's emergence of homo power popus, otherwise know as Badfinger, Big Star and The Raspberries. It turns out it is possible to trot out as many different definitions of power pop as there are people listening to it. Power pop, as such, turns out to be a little like obscenity; we cannot define it but we know it when we hear it.

What I propose to do here is give in to the idiosyncratic nature of it all and sketch out a listening life that led this individual to Power Pop in all of its weird glory. In doing this I'm not suggesting the previous attempts and approaches to defining the genre were wrong as such, but I am suggesting it is the emotional attachment of the individual which is inseparable from the listening experience. Somewhere out there exists a person who vividly remembers being a teenager and putting on their copy of The Flamin' Groovies "Shake Some Action" and being transported away from whatever was making life less than palatable for them at that time. That experience, however, isn't mine. It is in fact inaccessible to someone like myself who didn't really come to know the Groovies until he was in his 30's. (Sad but true.) As a result of this any definition of the genre which jibes with that emotional component will probably feel right for the Groovies' fan, at the same time it doesn't do anything for someone like me. Now, the subjective nature of all this doesn't make it wrong. Deciding we like some music and dislike other music is inherently a subjective enterprise, but it is only human to want to share what we know and feel, thus we seek out a common vocabulary in order to talk about this stuff. So, we search for definitions, however partial or inadequate they may be.

The biographical approach I am taking is meant to flesh out exactly what these definitions mean to me. How did I come to find the music I love so much and that I choose to make available to anyone in the world who wants to listen to The Pure Pop Pub? When you think about it, just putting this radio station on the air is an act of almost unimaginable egotism only made palatable (some could argue) by the fact it is free. But these days most every committed music fan is in may ways a disc jockey. Sure they may be spinning tunes for only themselves or a few friends for whom they make mix discs, but that is every bit as much an expression of their personal musical biography as my scribblings here.

So, in writing this I'm making no special claim of privilege. Hundreds of thousands of others could do the same if they took the time. What I hope this reveals is my take on this multi-dimensional beast we call Power Pop. Some of it could resonate with your own experiences, or may seem quite alien. Generational differences could loom large for some, while for others they are transcended.

As far as I can see all such reactions are to the good...but I promise you the soundtrack is better.

[I reserve the right to edit the ever living shit out of this thing as this first part came out almost in a stream of consciousness.]

Monday, July 18, 2011


Once upon a time this band was underrated. Thankfully times are different.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Review: The Smithereens - 2011

Evidently, The Smithereens are not content to be a reverse Spongetones (i.e. a originals band that becomes a Beatles cover band).

With over a decade passing since their last non-covers effort, I was a bit skeptical of 2011 despite the positive buzz I'd heard. After all, I was completely jazzed about 1999's God Save The Smithereens after hearing the killer "She's Got a Way" but the rest of the album fizzled. Would history repeat itself?

Luckily for all of us the answer to that question is a resounding NO! 2011 turns out to be the best collection of Smithereen tunes since at least Blow Up!, and may be the best since 11. "Sorry" kicks things off in vintage Smithereens style, easily the equal of earlier Smithereens classics. And this just begins a run of strong numbers: "One Look at You," "Keep on Running," and "Rings on Her Fingers" all hit exactly the right balance. It all sounds the way you would want a Smithereens album to sound.

The stately ballad "As Long As You Are Near Me" makes a serious claim to being the best one the band has ever recorded. Pat DiNizio's voice carries the tune along with a certain gravity, which is somehow enhanced by background "na na na na na na"s. Great stuff.

"Nobody Lives Forever" is a wonderfully understated rocker, one part personal philosophy, one part hand clapping sing-a-long, and all together fun. "All the Same" shows how recording all those early Beatles tunes has been rubbing off on the boys. Ringo's gonna demand a cut for the drum work alone.

All in all it has to be said this album works. There is less experimentation here, but that has to be expected for a band that has been at this as long as these guys have. The thing here is the songs and those kick ass.

Grade: A-/A

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Older Music

One of the great things about being obsessed with power pop music is it is so large a genre of music that there is always something to discover. Oh, it might be an artist you have heard something of before, but you might not be aware of the depth involved in their catalog. That is the phase I'm in at the moment with a couple of artists. The first is the Lolas. I'd heard their "Little Deedra" a couple of years ago. I loved it at first listen, but I didn't follow up on the band until recently. I'm in the process of rectifying that glaring error right now. You can too (if they are not already in heavy rotation at your house that is): I've also been enjoying the Parallax Project album I Hate Girls (from 2009). It's a little too old to write a full blown review for but you will certainly be hearing cuts from this record, as well as Lolas tracks, on the Pub. Keep poppin' in a powered fashion!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Cotton Mather - Kontiki

Great news emerging about one of the best records of the 1990's and one of the best power pop albums ever:

In 1997 my band Cotton Mather recorded our second record, Kontiki, on 4 track cassette and ADAT in an old house about 30 minutes outside of Austin. It was released in the US without much fanfare on a little label called Copper. But when the record made its way to the UK a year later on the Rainbow Quartz label Kontiki was quite the hit with the press and music fans.

Now Kontiki, the "lost classic" has been out of print for years. I (Robert Harrison) have been busy readying a re-release of Kontiki which will include an entire second disc of bonus tracks. Not just a few out-takes but an entire discs worth of extras because when I dug back into the archives I found some real treasure...

The money we raise will pay for mixing an 11 track bonus CD (the first one will remain as it was), mastering, new artwork with extensive liner notes about the making of Kontiki and the history of Cotton Mather, manufacturing, publicity and and if we go past the target a good ways- a vinyl pressing.

Kontiki has been a staple on the Pub from day one so I am thrilled at the prospect of an expanded edition release. Follow the link over to Kickstarter to watch the amusing promotional video Robert Harrison and friends put together.

Who knows, you may find yourself hitting the pledge button.

To my mind that would be the best money you could spend today... (unless you are buying medicine for a sick child or something... but in regards to spending on music this would be tops.)


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Linus of Hollywood - A Girl That I Like

This is not really a review as much as it is a simple heads-up to folks. Linus of Hollywood has a new single out on ITunes. It is everything one could hope for from a LoH tune. Listen for it here on the Pub, and then go drop the 99 cents on it.

It's worth every penny and then some.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Review: Tim Butler - All The Rest

This album is the indie pop equivalent of comfort food. There is something familiar, warm and inviting about all of the tracks. Is All The Rest going to blow you away with songs the like of which you've never heard before? No, it is not. However, sometimes you just need to sink your teeth into the tried and true.

That is the key here. This music is tried, never tired. "Reaching Out" is a classic album opener, all driving force and crunchy guitars. "We Can Have It All" is another classy tune, this time with a Crowded House feel in evidence.

An even earlier era is evoked in the fantastic "I Feel what I Feel" which updates 60's AM pop/rock radio, all bright sunshine and harmonies. "The Choice is Yours" is the best of the up-tempo numbers, laden with hooks and great guitar licks.

Really, there are no clunkers on the nine tracks here, and when the "la la la"s appear on the finale "I Feel Love" it hits the spot perfectly, just like that scoop of ice cream you get with a slice of hot apple pie.

My recommendation: Go get this album... and some meatloaf.

Grade: B+/A-

Friday, March 4, 2011

Review: Lannie Flowers - Circles

As far as Lannie Flowers is concerned there can never be too much of a good thing, especially when that good thing is juicy melodic power pop. While Flowers' 2008 release Same Old Story could be viewed as something of an oddity with its 30+ song snippets linked together like the second side of Abbey Road on steroids, Circles is a more conventional effort.

However, it is an effort overflowing with inventive ideas, wonderful hooks, and engaging lyrics. The title track is a full length re-working of one of the Same Old Story tunes and kicks off the album perfectly. "Turn Up Your Radio" sounds like it was recorded in Tulsa in 1978, if you know what I mean by that. "Around the World" contains my favorite lyric on the album; a tale of late night woe told by a fellow who realizes he's been had a little too late to enjoy any sleep.

The sound here is vintage Midwestern power pop with a little roots/Americana tinge here and there. As a result a song like "Where Does Love Go" sounds like an old friend you've just met for the first time. Is there a suggestion of the album being a little too familiar? Maybe, but the song writing is so polished you'll never care. This is the type of album crying out for inclusion on mix CD's. Taken out of the context of the album nearly every track would sparkle on its own as a little gem.

That's more than enough for me.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Curse My Location!

Not only is it still freezing around here (6 below zero last night, in freakin' March), but now I get word of the concert of the year. From Webb Wilder's website:

Thursday, March 17th, 2011 - Americana Music Association Presents: AMA at the Bluebird Cafe (website) 4101 Hillsboro Pike Nashville, TN 37215 (map) (615) 383-1461 That Thursday evening, Webb and one other Beatneck will be performing as a duo, as part of this special AMA event. Also performing will be Brad Jones and Hans Rotenberry. The set is expected to last about ninety minutes, or perhaps a bit longer depending on how the evening flows. Tickets go on sale March 10th, at the Bluebird Cafe website.

I need to talk the wife into moving to Nashville.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Review: Matthew Pop - Reinventing The Cosmos

With a name like Matthew Pop and sporting an album cover more than a little reminiscent of an album entitled 100% Fun, it is difficult to not expect a Matthew Sweet style power pop assault from this fourth effort by Mr. Pop.

That's not exactly what one gets, however. There is little of Sweet's, well, sweetness here. The sound reminds one more of Frank Barajas or, especially, Jason Falkner. "Without You" is a sonic treat with a odd and engaging song structure. "Everytime You Say Goodbye" is the best up-tempo track on the album and almost overburdened with hooks. "Take Me Home" is a first class rocker. "Carolina Crush" is a great mid-tempo offering in a Del Amitri vein.

The album doesn't sustain its strong beginning completely. "Juggernaut" doesn't live up to its title, and "The Younger Kind" tries to make an interesting use of auto-tune...well, I'll give him credit for trying.

"Headstones and Rocketships" gets things going back in the right direction, and the rest of the album follows in good form, even if it never quite matches the album's beginning. Still, this is a good album which never overstays its welcome.

Grade: B/B+

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Review: Greg Pope - Blue Ocean Sky

Ho-hum. Another Greg Pope album, another aural explosion of power pop goodliness.

Did I say "ho-hum"? I'm sorry, I meant to say...


It's just that over the last five years or so no artist working in this genre has been as consistently great as Pope, as witnessed by him popping up twice in the Pub's best of the decade list. Blue Ocean Sky keeps the streak going strong.

The album has a bit of a quirky beginning. "The Awful Whisper" and "My Resignation" are short song-lets which almost sound as if they belong in a second side of Abbey Road style medley. And, that isn't the only Beatley moment on the record. "I Tried To Like You" has chiming guitars and a great prominent bass line which wouldn't sound out of place if it were inserted into the running order of Revolver.

"Underneath The Sun" is a wonderful slice of early 90's style power pop in a Matthew Sweet vein. "Back Together" is a tune which gets up to speed quickly and never lets up. "Head Above Water" and "You Don't Really Mean a Word" are great back-to-back tracks which achieve a Hollies/CSN vibe with 70's R&B overtones. (Or something like that. You listen to it and tell me what you hear! Either way they are awesome....that's the point!)

It is not the weightiest album you'll ever hear (and the lark-ish "Christmas Snow" adds to that lighter touch), but this is fine music presented expertly. If anything Pope's voice sounds better here than on anything else he's recorded.

This is well worth picking up.

Grade: B+/A-

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Ugh! Too Busy

Life is doing its best to kick my ass, thus the lack of new material here. Hopefully, this will change soon and I can get back to more regular posting.

I have updated the Pub's play list with a couple killer tracks off of Greg Pope's new one, Blue Ocean Sky. I should get a full length review of the album up soon.

I'll be back.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Review: China Syndrome - Nothing's Not Worth Knowing

I wonder if its something in the water up there?

On first listen to this second effort from China Syndrome (though the first I've heard from them), the band I immediately thought of was another Vancouver B.C. outfit, The Tomorrows. Indeed, this album sounds like a less polished version of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, the 2009 Tomorrows release.

The good news is it's that less polished rough edge which gives this album character. "Let's Stay at Home and Let it all Hang Out" kicks the album out of the starting gate with high energy. In a similar vein, the Stones meets The Replacements vibe on "Falling Behind" is hard to beat.

"Friend or Enemy?" is an unexpected foray into 80's pop/rock reminiscent of The Tubes, and its a lot of fun. "Lost in the Bag" is a quirky number, with an engaging lyric to help it along. "Apropos of Nothing" sees China Syndrome in its best 10cc songwriting form along the lines of a song like "Dreadlock Holiday." Its oddly engaging.

The bad news is a number of the songs don't add a whole lot to the proceedings. "Get a Life," "See You Around," and "You'll Get Me Back" simply are unmemorable. As a result the album is never able to generate much momentum behind it. Still, the high points are high enough for repeated listens.

Grade: B-/B

Monday, January 31, 2011

An Update & A Thank You!

Just a quick word letting people know that regularly scheduled programming has resumed on the Pub. The new playlist is including new tracks from Lannie Flowers, China Syndrome, and Neil MacDonald. Look for more new power pop later in the week.

Also, this weekend's special Top 40 Albums of the Decade broadcast was a great success. In fact, the Pub had the most Saturday listeners in its history. Thank you for tuning in, and thanks to everyone who helped out!

Keep popping (in a powered fashion.)

Rich @ The Pure Pop Pub

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Pure Pop Pub Top 40 Weekend Underway!

Technically, I was 16 minutes late getting the broadcast started, but better late than never!

A special shout out to all the artists who recorded exclusive bumpers for the show this weekend. It just makes it all that much more fun for yours truly. Thanks!

Enjoy the music folks.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Pure Pop Pub's Top 40 2001-2010: #5 - #1


#5 Fountains of Wayne - Welcome Interstate Managers (S-Curve Records, 2003)

This album could be subtitled "Welcome to your pseudo-adulthood." There is a recurring air about it which speaks to a post-college graduation twenty something. You can hear it in the incomprehension of the working world in "Bright Future in Sales" or the juxtaposed imagery in "Mexican Wine." In a more reflective vein "Hackensack" casts a slightly weary eye towards the past. The Simon & Garfunkel-ish "Hey Julie" is just as weary about the present. The music cover a vast swath of popular music, from the folky "Valley Winter Song," to the 80's pop sound of "Stacy's Mom," to the mock country of "Hung up on You," to XTC style psychedelia of "Supercollider." The invention and tunefulness never lags for a moment.

#4 Splitsville - Incorporated (Houston Party, 2003)

This album ranks as the slickest pop record of the decade. Every track sparkles in a way that would have seemed impossible for those familiar with a record like Ultrasound. Luckily, none of the heart is missing for all its shininess. "Brink" is a first rate rocker with a perfect Van Halen call back moment. "Headache" hearkens back to the best of the Greenberry Woods material of the 90's, and probably improves on it. "California" and "Trouble" are pop rock done right. However, it is the ballads on the album which elevate this release above most of its peers. The spacy (in a good way) "White Dwarf" is a gutsy album opener, but it work beautifully. "Sasha" also works in every way imaginable. But the best is the album closer "I Wish I Never Met You," which, for my money, has the finest lyrical moment of the decade:

Because you never show me
The poetry you keep under your bed
The sentimental stories
And bitter words you wish you might have said

That crawl up through the top sheet
And penetrate my sweet dreams
'Til I'm the one that can't sleep

It's too sweet to be bitter, too bitter to be sweet, and too painful to be bittersweet. Whatever you call it, its masterful pop music making.

#3 Brendan Benson - Lapalco (Startime, 2002)

Here is a collection of power pop songs presented without pretension and without fear even if, as the track "Folk Singer" informs us, Benson is "not John Lennon." That's ok, because the twelve tracks prove being Brendan Benson is enough. "Tiny Spark" sets the tone with its playful insistency. "Life in the D" is the sort of nonsense Edward Lear merry-go-ride which only someone who doesn't give a crap what anyone thinks could get away with. As a result its a little pop gem. The rock numbers, though, are what propels the album. "Good to Me," "You're Quiet," and "I'm Easy" grab hold of the listener and never let go. Not that you'd ever mind.

#2 P. Hux - Kiss The Monster (Voiceprint Records, 2007)

You have to admire the confidence of an artist who would kick off an album with a track titled "Perfect." After the first listen to the track I was willing to say, "pretty much." Indeed the entire album builds from that joyous opening number. "Yet to Say" and "Wear My Ring" continue the theme of romantic optimism with power pop aplomb. (Yeah, I wrote it!)

Huxley doesn't stay in the slightly giddy mode throughout. "Come Clean" and "My Friend Hates Me" explores darker themes with genuine pathos and genuine humor. However, there is no doubt the good times are meant to roll here, as proved by a delightful rendition of the Beatles' "I'm Looking Through You" offered here, as well the new power pop classic "Better Than Good" and the trippy "Just Might Fly." All in all, this album is a reminder that sometimes its ok to feel good.

#1 Eugene Edwards - My Favorite Revolution (Tallboy Records, 2004)

This album is everything you'd ever want from a guitar driven pop record; all of the songs are memorable; influences abound, but the song writing is never derivative; the playing and singing is top notch; and when its all over you want to do it all over again. If only sex was always this enjoyable.

Highlights? Every song is a highlight here. I'll take time to mention the Nick Lowe-ish "It Doesn't Get Better Than This" and the Marshall Crenshaw-ish "Congratulations, My Darling." OH, and don't forget the Elvis Costello-ey "At Your Place" or the Eugene Edward-ish "All About You." (Hey, its only fair.) For any pop geek, and you know who you are, its impossible to not fall in love with a song like "My Favorite Revolution" which gets it in a way friends and lovers sometimes don't...

Where would we be without them?
Thank God we’ll never know
We’re safe and sound as angels
When it’s dark and we dance slow
And it’s my favorite revolution

And, this decade at least, this record is my favorite revolution.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Pure Pop Pub's Top 40 2001-2010: #10 - #6


#10 The New Fidelity - Tiny Slivers (The New Fidelity, 2007)

"Are you a mod or a rocker?" the reporter asks Ringo in A Hard Days Night. "I'm a mocker," is the Liverpudlian reply.

Welcome to The New Fidelity, mockers of the highest order.

The eleven tracks on this album flow over the listener in wave after wave of British invasion pop splashed with a bit of California sunshine. The result is bright, happy, and incredibly infectious. "2nd Once in a Lifetime Girl" and "Blue Eyed Girl" are classic singles that seem to scream for 7 inches of vinyl. "Right Track" is a slice of Box Tops type soul expertly done. "She's Electric" is a terrific rock number that gives a nod to 90's Manchester, without the pointless meandering of the real thing. Indeed, The New Fidelity have the virtue of always getting to the point. For example, when in the great track "Sweetness" they sing the line, " know that I could smash him with my Fender Telecaster," I'm pretty sure they mean it.

#9 Myracle Brah - Can You Hear The Myracle Brah? (Rainbow Quartz, 2007)

I'm assuming Andy Bopp is not the world's most patient person. This album sounds exactly like Bopp got so fed up waiting for Matthew Sweet to record an album like his 90's masterpieces he decided to do it himself. Don't get me wrong, the songs here are all Myracle Brah but there is little doubt in tracks such as the awesome "Big Mistake" and the rootsy "Run to the Voices" there are Sweetish overtones. Highlights abound on this album; "No More Words," "Best Friend," "First Kiss," and the bouncy piano number "Hurry Now" are all first rate. The absolute top of the pops is reached on the smash and screaming fury of "Big Kids Wanna Rock," and the perfect "Walking on Water."

#8 Bill Lloyd - Back to Even (New Boss Sounds, 2004)

Power pop vet Bill Lloyd sure knows how to write this type of stuff, and how to stamp his own style upon it. I'm sure he has his sources of inspiration, but it all comes out sounding like 100% Lloyd. There is nothing wrong with that, particularly when he produces an album's worth of top drawer material. The title track sets the tone and spirit of the album with its theme of equilibrium. The country flavored "Dancing with the Past" and the rocking "Dial Nine" follow up with energy. "I Got it Bad" and "For the Longest Time" lend an introspective air to the proceedings. "Kissed Your Sister" serves up some humor in a catchy way. "Me Against Me" sounds like early Smithereens. "The World is a Different Place Without You" can lay a claim at being the prettiest song of the decade. Great, great stuff.

#7 The Lackloves - The Beat and the Time (Rainbow Quartz, 2004)

"Its a mighty fine day for taking over airwaves," croons Mike Jarvis on "The Radio's Mine" the first track on this stellar album. The rest of the album proves this is Jarvis' world, we just live here. "Still Missing You" is a pop sing along which will have even the most tone deaf person chiming in despite themselves. "If Ever I" is a gorgeous Beatles inspired tune which has caused me to throw in a "Besame Mucho"-ish "cha cha cha." "Misfits Collide" is a great song with a lyric seemingly inspired by repeated listens to the Posies' Dear 23. "Do You Love Someone?" and "Excuse Me, Use Me" dial up the rock quotient and are simply a gas. The album is unfailingly inventive and inviting beginning to end.

#6 Greg Pope - Popmonster (Octoberville Records, 2008)

This album can only classified as a first degree power pop assault on the listener; the only type of assault, I must add, where the victim asks "More please?" From the Big Star meets Matthew Sweet opener "Sky Burn Down" to the slightly dreamy and bitter finale "Backwards" Pope throws everything he's got onto this record. The overarching theme is the trials and tribulations of the power pop music maker. "I Got a Life," "Playing Nashville," and "Rock and Roll Dream" each touch on tough aspects of living such a life, but with such truthfulness it never even threatens to devolve into "woe is me" bullshit. In fact Pope seem to understand this intuitively, as can be seen on the best track of the album "Burden," which has a classic repeated refrain, "So who can I dump this on?" This is a super fine album which, as far as one man band albums go, can rank right up there with Rundgren's Something/Anything?.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Pure Pop Pub's Top 40 2001-2010: #15 - #11


#15 The Everyday Things - Lighten Up, Francis (Not Lame Records, 2005)

Mod pop for a post-mod age! The Everyday Things certainly do seem to be living in another century on Lighten Up, Francis. Good thing too. It's possible to hear hints of early Kinks, The Easybeats, The Hollies, and even The Monkees on this perfect party album. "She Likes it Like That," "Time to Realize" and "I've Got My Eye on You" are jolts of high energy power pop. "Falling in Love" and "Colleen Colleen" represent the sweeter sounding side of the band. Tracks like the blistering "Found You Out" are over in a flash; a flash that will sear itself onto your eardrums. "She Wouldn't Listen" reminds this listener of the best Cherry Twister records. Yeah, it's that good.

#14 Owsley - The Hard Way (Lakeview, 2004)

It's almost amazing now to think how disappointed a lot of Owsley fans were with this second and, sadly, final Owsley album. The fans got it wrong. Sure, Owsley zigged when the fans were expecting him to zag, but this album hits all the right notes. Gone is the frivolity of his eponymous effort, replaced by a more serious and introspective songwriting style. "Be With You" and "She's The One" offer optimism tempered by hard experience. "Matriarch" and the title track examine different aspects of loss, natural and self-imposed. Only the last two tracks seem to make direct acknowledgement of Owsley's previous album, with "Dirty Bird" and "Rainy Day People" featuring the quirky song writing and sound that marked the first effort. The latter also has a killer guitar solo. Throw in a wonderful cover of "Band on the Run" and, damn it all, you've got one fine album.

#13 Wiretree - Luck (Cobaltworks, 2009)

This is the type of album that grows on you like one of those flesh eating bacterium. The sound here is slightly folky and slightly funky, sort of like the best of Toad The Wet Sprocket's work, but with a heavier pop veneer. "Back in Town" and "Rail" build up early momentum and the album never lets it go. "Falling" is the sort of lush pop song you expect to hear a female singing (maybe Bic Runga), but somehow Kevin Peroni's vocals do it justice. "Information" is an amazing song which builds and builds until it bursts, after a classic false ending. The only better song on the album is the amazing "Satellite Song" which sounds like the Fixx would if they recorded better material.

#12 Edmund's Crown - Regrets of a Company Man (Edmund's Crown, 2006)

This is a band that plays both kinds of music; rock AND roll. They can do it all. From slick pop rock ("Feet on the Ground"), to gritty Americana ("Damsel"), to power pop balladry ("Company Man"), to straight ahead rock ("Stuck in an Office"). And that's all within the first four songs. There are fourteen more, and the highlights are very high indeed. The bluesy "Keith Richards" wittily tries to end an interminable argument - you gotta give them credit for trying - "Eight Years Ago" is a sort of mix between a Graham Parker song and a Brad Jones song, and every bit as amazing as that sounds. The absolute best, however, is the track "Not That It Matters" which you can think of as an up-tempo kissin' cousin to 10cc's "I'm Not In Love." It's utterly perfect, and a serious contender for song of the decade. Wow, just wow.

#11 The Humbugs - On The Up Side (Oddvious Records, 2009)

This is the album where The Humbugs put it all together. The album begins with a Posies-ish flourish in the rocking "One More Day" and it only gets better from there. "Lies Behind The Glass" is a bouncy pop number in a Squeeze vein with wonderful guitar work and a sassy lead vocal. "Calico Eyes" and "Fireflies" push the tempo in a wonderfully tuneful way. Depth is added to the album in the tortuous resignation of the protagonist in "Employee of the Month", and in a poignant reflection on the nature of forgiveness ("Crash on your Couch"). Even Jellyfish gets a nod in the deliriously delicious "Walking Home To You" (which comes complete with mock brass marching band.) On The Up Side is a pop tour de force.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Pure Pop Pub's Top 40 2001-2010: #20 - #16


#20 Cheap Trick - The Latest (Cheap Trick Unlimited, 2009)

You know, its easy to respect your elders when, musically speaking at least, they can kick your ass. Thirty plus years after they started Cheap Trick proved what they are best at is being Cheap Trick. From the happy-go-lucky cover of the Slade sing-along "When The Lights Are Out," to the hard rocking "Sick Man of Europe," to the power ballad "These Days," this albums goes from strength to strength like a checklist. "Miracle" sounds like it belongs in a catalog with the best of John Lennon's solo work, and "Smile" brings the album to close with class. Indeed, that is the word that sums up the whole album: class.

#19 Joey Sykes - Joey Sykes (Purple Virgo Records, 2010)

Sykes music is straight ahead pop/rock which derives its power from fine song writing. The craftsman's touch is apparent in great tunes like the wannabe single "Loveless Crowd," and the poignant "This is My Battlecry." The bouncy optimism of a track like "It's Good to be Alive" is outrageously infectious. Sykes isn't above taking a stab at melodrama ("Baby Breathe"), which is fine by me as it hearkens back to 70's era John Miles. The finest moment on the record is the rootsy "It's Easier to Run Away" which is a perfect showcase for Sykes writing and his fine rock singing.

#18 Paul McCartney - Chaos & Creation in the Backyard (Capitol, 2005)

Talk about a surprise. After the mess that was 2001's Driving Rain it was an open question as to if McCartney would be able to put together an album's worth of good material again. Chaos put any doubts to rest. "Fine Line," "Jenny Wren," "At The Mercy," and "Riding to Vanity Fair" have to rank highly in McCartney's solo work taken as a whole. Here they are the supporting cast. The real highlights are the insanely catchy "Friends to Go," the nostalgia-fest "English Tea" (complete with Paul on the recorder), and, most especially, the classic "Too Much Rain."

#17 Cliff Hillis - Be Seeing You (Not Lame Records, 2001)

I'm sure this album was insanely difficult to write and record. It just sounds effortless. Every song seems to have every note exactly where it was meant to be. "Coming Out Alive," "Grounded," and "Before and After" feel like they have always existed and Hillis merely discovered them forgotten in some dark attic. The groove of a song like "Medicine" is something experienced all too infrequently. "Me & You" is classic power pop single material. Hell, the whole album is.

#16 Walter Clevenger & The Dairy Kings - Full Tilt & Swing (Brewery Records, 2003)

Change isn't always a good thing in the world of pop music. All too often an artist who can display real artistry in one musical form wastes our time as well as their own trying something new. (Yeah, Rundgren. I'm looking at you.) But sometimes change is good.

Clevenger had perfected a Beatles/Holly/Crenshaw writing style on the great Love Songs To Myself album, but the approach here is less pithy and the result is greater depth. Clevenger uses that depth to great affect on tracks such as the Blue Rodeo-ish "Hold on Tight" and the Tom Petty-ish "Jonathan Doe." A rootsy/folky vibe infuses the album which is just right on songs like the sweet lullaby "I'll Be The One" and the 3/4 time "Let Your Hair Down Tonight." The harder material is just as smartly done, with the standouts including the opening roots rocker "Love Don't Mean Anything" and the closing number "Radio Sea" which reigns supreme in the kingdom of "songs that bitch about the state of radio these days."

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Review: Wild Bores - Welldone & Charred

You gotta like a power pop act that comes out with a record seemingly every year.

You gotta love said act when the albums just keep getting better.

Album number three from the Bores builds upon the musical success that was last year's We Think Alike, itself one of the Pub's Top 5 albums of 2010. But, where that effort played around with a softer, more ethereal quality, Welldone & Charred rocks more.

Oh my, how it rocks. "Biology" is an "everything and the kitchen sink" kinda production that will have even the most jaded (or sedentary) person up on their feet. Yes. It makes me want to dance. You got a problem with that?

"Freake" is another great rocker with a lyric about the oddly appealing dorky girl a lot of us wanted to get to know better in high school. (Why am I thinking about Winona Ryder in the movie Lucas?) "Prettyhead" builds up a nice head of steam as well, though in many ways the most interesting of the harder tracks is the finale, "Same Time Tomorrow." Whatever I was expecting on this album it wasn't to hear Bores' lead singer John Whildin channel his inner Weird Al Yankovic, and to do so perfectly. Though I'd challenge anyone to sing the lines...

That guy hasn't got a clue
his hair's got a lot of mousse
and I doubt that he knows kung fu

...without reminding everyone of Weird Al. It certainly helps the song is a riot first note to last.

The album also features the Bores' patented slightly funky groovy sound on tracks like "Making a Sun" and the great "Expect Me Now."

Strangely, the absolute best moment on the album may be the track "Band of Thieves" which contains echoes of English folk music... medieval English folk music at that. Add ghostly guitar sounds and a wonderful backing vocal (by Lina Chern who deserves a shout out here), and the song takes on a haunting quality all its own.

This is a great album

Grade: A-/A

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Pure Pop Pub's Top 40 Weekend

Coming the weekend of January 29th and 30th the Pure Pop Pub will be honoring the Top 40 albums of the first decade of the 21st Century. The entire playlist will be pulled from those 40 albums.

As an added bonus, we may even hear from some of the artists themselves.

Be sure to tune in starting at 12:01 AM (CST) Saturday, the 29th.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Pure Pop Pub's Top 40 2001-2010: #25 - #21

#25 John Wesley Harding - Who Was Changed And Who Was Dead (Popover, 2009)

John Wesley Harding is the nom de l'enregistrement of multi-talented Wesley Stace. Who Was Changed And Who Was Dead marked the first album in five years for Stace. The time off seemed to rejuvenate the pop/folk artist. "My Favourite Angel" revisits the whole God/Satan thing with aplomb, and its obvious Stace relishes singing the line " I love you Lucifer." "Love or Nothing," "Oh! Pandora," and "Sleepy People" are all clever tunes expertly done. The semi-autobiographical "Top of the Bottom" is good dirty fun. The two best tracks are undoubtedly the hyper word fest "The End" and the poignant "Someday Son." This album is first class entertainment from beginning to end.

#24 Graham Parker - Songs Of No Consequence (Bloodshot Records, 2005)

With the more than adequate backing support of The Figgs, this release sees Parker in fine voice and finer writing form. "Vanity Press" kicks the album off in classic Parker style (think Up Escalator era.) "Bad Chardonnay," "There's Nothing on the Radio," and "Did Everybody Just Get Old?" provide the propulsive force, while the heart is supplied by the bittersweet "She Swallows It" and the introspective "Dislocated Life." Then there is the companion piece "Local Boys" which offers an interesting comparison to 1979's "Local Girls" if you wanted to look at it from a feminist perspective. The album's finest moment is the perfect "Ambivalent."

#23 The Well Wishers - Jigsaw Days (The Well Wishers, 2008)

Jeff Shelton's project The Well Wishers put together as solid a body of work so far this millennium as anyone going, but Jigsaw Days was the best of the lot. "Heroes" and "All the Suckers" kick the album off with high energy power pop in a Posies mode, a mode Shelton seems to be able to reach effortlessly but doesn't overplay. "Conscience Breaking Down" and "Love Lies" are sweet touching songs. "Drunk on the Tilt-O-Wheel" captures a low-fi Replacements feel very nicely (think "Skyway.") This is a great album from start to finish.

#22 Wild Bores - We Think Alike (Wild Bores, 2010)

The Wild Bores play infectious, slightly groovy power pop unlike anyone else around. We Think Alike dances all over the pop music map. "In Front of Me" comes as close as anything of representing the core Bores' style, with its tender lyric. "I Still Think She's Mine" gets a whole early 60's R&B vibe going. "Sight of Gold" represents the harder edge of the band. "Life is Fine" with its lyrics supplied by a Langston Hughes poem is wonderfully quirky. The sparse and spacey title track takes on a life of its own. (It needs to be heard to be understood, really. I could say think of a rootsier version of XTC's "Another Satellite" but I'm not sure that is quite it.) The album ending track is the Cracker-ish "Anecdote" which is truly one of the great tracks of the decade.

#21 The Spongetones - Too Clever By Half (Loaded Goat, 2008)

Welcome to the power pop smorgasbord! This 18 track album almost overwhelms the listener with all of its options. You can't swing a dead hedgehog here without hitting a great pop tune. "Invisible Girl" and "Man With No Skin" are representative of the material written by Steve Stoeckel, who was certainly feeling it at the time. Jamie Hoover was just as prolific, writing alone (the lovely "Three Kisses for You" and "Must be Lust"), writing with fellow power pop legend Bill Lloyd ("I'd Love You" and "When It's You"), or writing with bandmate Stoeckel (the neo-baroque title track and the Nick Lowe-ish "Church of Gabrielle"). By the time this album ends you will be blissfully popped out.

Audities Best Of 2010

The results of the Audities Best Of 2010 Poll have been posted on Pop Underground. Here is the Top Ten:

1 Belle & Sebastian // Write About Love
2 Seth Swirsky // Watercolor Day
3 Teenage Fanclub // Shadows
4 Field Music // Measure
5 Farrah // Farrah
6 The Posies // Blood/Candy
7 Agony Aunts // Greater Miranda
8 Bleu // Four
9 The Grip Weeds // Strange Change Machine
10 Mark Bacino // Queens English

Go on over to Pop Underground for the full list. (A list with 299 places! That should keep anyone off the street for awhile.)

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Pure Pop Pub's Top 40 2001-2010: #30 - #26


#30 Jason Falkner - Necessity (spinART Records, 2001)

This collection of demos, both of previously released and unreleased material, shows the multi-talented Falkner at his engaging best. In many ways these less busy recordings show better than those on his full blown albums. "She Goes To Bed" and "Miracle Medicine" are two tracks where the demo is vastly superior to the album version. "His Train" shows a side of Falkner's song writing unseen before (or since for that matter.) The two best of the new tracks on the album are undoubtedly "My Home Is Not A House" and the slick "She's Not The Enemy."

#29 Frank Barajas - Better Times (Operation Big Beat, 2008)

There is something unabashedly old fashioned, in more ways than one, about this fine collection of songs. The song writing hearkens back to a number of different artists of the last 30 years and beyond. "Neon Lights" and "Heartbreak Time" could be a long lost Marshall Crenshaw numbers; "Better Times, Better Days" could be the same for Dwight Twilley; "Apollo 13" sounds like an out-take from Sugar's Copper Blue. All of them are top drawer songs. Other highlights include the homage to silent films "Without Sound" and the vaudeville show stopper "Roxy Street."

#28 Linus Of Hollywood - Let Yourself Be Happy (Franklin Castle, 2001)

I cannot imagine what type of poser hard-ass one would have to be to actively dislike this album, I'm simply happy I'm not one of them. From first note to last Let Yourself Be Happy is a joyful pop fest over brimming with ideas and tunefulness. When you consider the first two songs include one which incorporates "Greensleeves" and another which is a cover of Ozzy Osbourne's "Goodbye To Romance" you sort of know that everything is on the table. Highlights include the breezy "A Whole New Country," the ELO-ish "Where Are You?", and the more-fun-than-allowed-by-law "The Girl I'll Never Have." Wow.

#27 Starbelly - Everyday And Then Some (Not Lame Records, 2002)

This album is full of songwriting that, if it doesn't work just right, can be a total mess.

It works just right.

"Hello, Hello" sort of stumbles into existence, which is risky for an opening track, but when it hits its full stride its revelatory. The inventiveness continues on consummate pop numbers such as "Everyday," "Mother Of Pearl," and "Broken Hearts In Stereo." Softer sounds abound in the gorgeous "Baby's Eyes" and the marvelous "Beautiful." The sound of the record is very much in the Myracle Brah vein thanks to Andy Bopp's production. This really shows in "Plateau" and "Near Me" which should result in nods of approval from Brah fans everywhere.

#26 Matthew Sweet - Kimi Ga Suki (Superdeformed/RCAM, 2003)

The first ten years of the 21st Century could be viewed as a "lost decade" in the career of Matthew Sweet. His releases ranged from the pleasant but unimportant (Under The Covers Vols. I and II), to the wildly uneven (Living Things), to the truly head-scratching (Sunshine Lies). The lone exception is this Japan only release which hits all the right chords. It is full of classic Sweet moments, recalling the best of his Girlfriend and 100% Fun albums. "Dead Smile," "The Ocean In-Between," and "I Don't Want To Know" seem almost effortless in their writing and performance. "Love Is Gone" is a worthy successor to a song such as "Nothing Lasts." "Hear This" sounds more like "Girlfriend" or "Evangeline" than anything Sweet has done in 15 years. But this is no nostalgia trip, Kimi Ga Suki definitely can stand on its own merits.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Review: Hans Rotenberry & Brad Jones - Mountain Jack

All I can say is, you have to be kidding me.

Given the track record of Rotenberry and Jones individually, I was prepared for a pretty good album when I heard about this duo effort. What I got was an album of damn near perfection.

Mountain Jack sonically has more in common with Jones' 90's release Gilt Flake than it does with most of the output of The Shazam. Given this roots tinged collection of pop songs that approach is just right. Indeed, the songs on which Jones sings lead vocals sound of a piece with that earlier record. "A Likely Lad" with its wonderful "Mother can you spare a dime?" tagline is a worthy successor to the best of Jones' work, such as "Miss July" or "Ophelia Floats Away."

The Rotenberry lead material is just as good. "Froggy Mountain Shakedown" and "Back to Bristol" are maddeningly catchy numbers which distill good ol' fashioned country through Muswell Hillbillies era Kinks. There simply is nothing wrong with that.

In fact, the whole album works in every way imaginable except one. At 10 tracks long it simply is too short, though it is so good you won't mind listening to it twice in a row.

Simply a new classic.

Grade: A (At least)

Note: This album is available as a download from the usual suspects, but if you want a copy of the physical CD (like I did) you'll need to order it from 50 Ft Records directly.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Review: Farrah s/t

Over the past month or so members of the Audities mailing list have been posting lists of their favorites of 2010. In general there has not been a lot in the way of overlap on those lists. This is heartening in a sense. The world of power pop/indie pop is still large enough to offer plenty in the way of new experiences and yet to be explored sounds. As far as I'm concerned, that is quite cool.

I did notice, however, that one album many lists had in common: Farrah's self titled 2010 release seem to strike a chord. That was enough for me and a bit of my hard earned (or ill gotten) cash was exchanged for a copy sound unheard.

Good thing too.

This album is a bright shiny contraption. It is so clean and new sounding it ought to come with the CD equivalent of "new car smell." The core of the album are the bouncy piano numbers ("Swings & Roundabout" and "If You Were Mine") which manage to sound like updated ELO, Jellyfish, Pugwash and Farrah all at once. Guitars definitely take a bit of a back seat here, though numbers such as "Missed The Boat" and "Just Driving" have a straightforward approach which is welcome change amongst the more adventurous musical constructions.

Of the other tracks the standouts include the Fountains of Wayne-ish "Scarborough," the pretty "Abby's Going Out," and the almost perfect "Stereotypes," which I simply wish didn't peter out the way it does.

In all Farrah can be recommended to anyone interested in a unabashed pop album full of bright melodies, crisp playing, and inventiveness. A couple of tracks are more unoffensive than memorable ("Wasting Time" "Above The Covers"), but that is hardly the worst thing to say about an album these days.

Grade: B+

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Pure Pop Pub's Top 40 2001-2010: #35 - #31


#35 Cotton Mather - The Big Picture (Rainbow Quartz, 2001)

The question raises itself once again: How do you follow up a classic? For Cotton Mather The Big Picture is the only answer needed. Sure, it may not be the towering triumph that was Kon Tiki, but it shines as a gem on its own merits. The album rocks ("Marathon Man" and "Amps of Sugarland" especially), blisses out ("Baby Freeze Queen"), and even dabbles in a bit of McCartney-esque preciousness ("Story of Anna"). "Panama Slides" and "40 Watt Solution" easily rank as two of the best songs of the last decade.

#34 Bowman - Living to Dream (Bill Bowman, 2004)

This is an album that wears its influences on its sleeve. If you don't hear hints of Will Owsley or Matthew Sweet here you need to swab out those ears. The Owsley touch is especially evident on great tracks like "Save Me," "Enemy," and "Thanksgiving." Thankfully, Bowman uses these influences as jumping off points and not as the destination. The writing on the ballad "So Many ways to say Goodbye" and the rocker "Scream" is top notch.

#33 Psychodots - Terminal Blvd. (Baby Ranch, 2005)

Veteran Ohio rockers Psychodots are always interesting, if sometimes more than a little "out there". This time out, however, feet are definitely on the ground. The result is a nine track album which leaves listeners wanting more. Highlights include "Disposable Man," the title track, "The Problem Song," and the ode to Ronald Reagan "The Great Communicator." Mommy!

#32 Tim Finn - Feeding The Gods (Periscope, 2001)

New Zealand icon Tim Finn entered the new millennium firing on all cylinders. This album is filled to the brim with ideas, hooks, spit, piss, and songs that live with you. "Songline," "Subway Dreaming," "Say it is So," and the blistering "What You've Done" begin the album with the bang of a thermonuclear device. The second half of the album may not reach the explosive power of the first half, though "Party was You" and "Incognito in California" send it off in grand style.

#31 Wisely - Parador (Not Lame Reords, 2006)

Is there anything Wisely cannot do? If this album is any indication the answer may have to be "no." You name the human emotion and there is a song on here to suit it. Got a broken heart? Drink along while Wisely sings "Too Quick To Love." Drank too much but don't really care? "Drink Up" Wisely advises. Kinda hung over the next day? "Stayin' Home Again" is probably the Wisely choice. The dreamy title track ends the album on a note that is just right.