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.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Pure Pop Pub's Top 40 2001-2010: #40 - #36

With the turn of the calendar to 2011 the time has come for a retrospective of the decade which has just ended, the first decade of the new millennium. To that end I offer this list of the best albums to be released between the years 2001 and 2010. I make no pretension that the scope of this endeavor will be exhaustive of the pop music world more generally. If, however, you are conversant in the indie pop/power pop vernacular there should be much to agree or argue with, which is always the point of these types of lists.

That being said, let's get to work!

#40 Michael Carpenter - Rolling Ball (Not Lame Records, 2004)

The vibe is a little less frenetic than on some of Carpenter's other work, which works well on this collection of tunes. The feel is more 70's AM radio than the 60's California sound prevalent on albums like Baby. The title track, "Everyday," "You & Me," and "On My Mind" stand out here.

#39 The Holloways - So This Is Great Britain (TVT Records, 2007)

Upon hearing "Generator" from The Holloways a buddy of mine commented, "Oh, ska. I like a little ska sometimes." To my ears this was a completely inadequate response to one of the truly great tracks of the last ten years. Sure, the comparison to groups like Madness are easily made, but The Holloways offer so much more. In spirit the title track has more in common with the Pistols' "God Save The Queen" than it does with "Our House." Other standouts include "Two Left Feet," "Fit for a Fortnight," "F**k Ups," and, especially, the wonderfully quirky "Malcontented One."

#38 The Wellingtons - Heading North for the Winter (Lojinx, 2008)

This records flirts with being too precious for its own good. For me, however, it always remains on the correct side of the line. "Come Undone" and "I Get my Heart Broken Everyday" offer as formidable a one two punch as you are likely to find on a power pop record and, in another era, would have made a killer double A-sided single. "For Friends in Far Away Places," "Song for Kim," and "On & Off" keep things moving, but it is a vastly superior bonus acoustic version of their 2005 song "Help Me Fall" which really elevates this fine album.

#37 Paul Collins - King of Power Pop (Alive Records, 2010)

This is the type of album that offers the listener a choice; love it or hate it. The spirit of the album tries to channel what would happen if a 20-something wannabe popster where given the keys to a recording studio in 1979 and told, "It's yours until 9AM tomorrow, kid. Make the most of it." At times clean and polished, at times raw and rough, the energy rarely lags. "Do You Wanna Love Me?," "Doin' it for the Ladies," "Losing Your Cool" and the stylish "Hurtin's on my Side" stand out here. Cool covers of "The Letter" (surprisingly effective) and "You Tore Me Down" (miscast as the album ender) add to the proceedings.

#36 Webb Wilder - About Time (Landslide, 2005)

Webb Wilder has forgotten more about rock n' roll than most artists will ever know. This album finds him mastering an absolutely vast expanse of popular American music. Everything from the jokey ("Down on the Farm"), to the slick ("I Just Had to Laugh") to the sublime ("The Only One") is handled with deceptive ease. Hell, if you ever longed for something new and Johnny Horton-esque, Webb's got that covered as well ("Scattergun").

Best of 2024

 I'm gonna get a head start on next year's Best Of list.