THE CAMPBELL APARTMENT – KEEPING IT SHORT & SWEET WITH THE SUNDOGS EP

CampbellApt

The Campbell Apartment, named after a bar hidden inside New York’s Grand Central Station, is the brainchild of Russian born singer-songwriter and oil painter Ari Vais. Ari’s new Sundogs EP is the proverbial breath of fresh air in a modern rock scene obsessed with superficialities. No such issues with Vais and his straightforward musical agenda. The songs take top priority – memorable melodies and relatable lyrics – clothed in classic pop-rock arrangements and instrumentation. Tracks like “Something in the Way” and “Heroic Audio Display” hearken back to a kinder & gentler times (the 90s), the last hurrah of the Pop Underground, where thought and effort are put into communicating a genuine emotional resonance through words and tunes. By the time one gets to the music hall jauntiness of final number “What Do You Think Of That”, it’s easy to feel a sense of regret that there isn’t more. But that’s the harsh reality of releasing marginalised forms of music in 2014. So if you love songs that balances intelligence with musicality, support The Campbell Apartment and the Sundogs EP! Find out below how and why Ari Vais does what he does!

How did you start writing songs?

I must have learned how to play guitar well enough as a 10 year old to learn a bunch of Beatles songs by the time I was in high school, and then Floyd, Zeppelin, finally some REM and Lou Reed songs, and then around 16, a slew of my own songs where the burst of writing didn’t cease until recent years. I still write but not as prolifically. I guess when I started as a teen, the tunes were based on traditional chords, as well as chords that I had no idea what they were, where my fingers were just doing some formation that happened to sound cool and go with the song, because I still didn’t know my way around a guitar that well, and trying for clever words or earnest poetic ones, hopefully with a tiny dash of humor, and a strong melody. The last bit was the most important, and very much still is.

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THE HANGABOUTS DELIVER THE PERFECT POP UNDERGROUND THROWBACK WITH ILLUSTRATED BIRD

Hangabouts

Yes so why does it seem that the music of yester-year is miles better than anything new? Seems to have been the case since Y2K (mayhaps that was what the Millennium Bug was really about?). Consisting of John Lowry, Greg Addington and Chip Saam, the Hangabouts bring to mind the wonderful pop-rock music of 90s bands like Fountains of Wayne, Pernice Brothers and Teenage Fanclub where melody is paramount above all else. Lovers of that special rock era will never tire of what the band has to offer and will savour Illustrated Bird from beginning to end. Of course, suffice to say that the three Bs loom large as influences i.e. The Beatles, The Beach Boys and The Byrds. It does not get any better than this when it comes together this well. Check out the interview we did with the band below.

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MYRACLE BRAH RELEASES NEW “THE PEACH EP” VIA FREE DOWNLOAD AT BANDCAMP

MyracleBrah

“Myracle Brah is an American indie pop/power pop band primarily centered on singer-songwriter Andy Bopp.”

What it fails to say that at one point in the 90s, Brah’s debut LP – Life on Planet Eartsnop – was on heavy rotation, not only in my CD player but in my very consciousness. This LP served to be my doorway to the 90s Pop Underground, which was a magical epoch of 60s retrolicious goodness. Since that epochal album, there have been highs and lows for Andy Bopp’s music BUT I am so glad to report a spanking new EP that rekindles this pop lover’s belief in the POWER of POP!

For the time being, the EP is free via download at Bandcamp. If like me, you dig bands that channel The Beatles, Big Star & Badfinger without sacrificing an iota of self-expression then The Peach EP is a godsend! What are you waiting for?

... still there’s more … 

DISCOVERED @ SPOTIFY

Yeah, more power pop/pop underground music you should be listening to if you dig sophisticated melodies with crunchy guitars and clever arrangements. Please take notes…

SPLITSVILLE

The last time this wonderful band released new material was 2003 – unsure whether the band still exists as the official site has not been updated since 2004! Tough being a power pop in this current environment. In any case, I need to highlight three essential LPs that need your attention. Enjoy!

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ZALLEN – S/T [REVIEW]

Zallen (aka Mike Jones) has been laboring as an alternative pop artist for 15 years now and I have been awfully privileged to have been one of the few ‘in the know’. Zallen is a pop alchemist – able to take key 60s/70s pop influences and transform them into something personal and unique.

This is obvious from the get-go. The opening track of Zallen’s latest album – “Which Way Up” – manages to splice together the DNAs of 60s psychedelia (Barrett’s Pink Floyd, The Move and Traffic) with 70’s powerpop (Raspberries, Cheap Trick), not to mention a healthy dose of Bowie.

Ah yes, Bowie. This time around, it seems that Zallen has filtered much of the songwriting, arrangements and instrumentation through the lens of the legendary iconoclast. Tracks like “Grime”, “Stolen” and of course, “Bowie The Android Boy” are the clearest examples of this approach, without ever sounding outright derivative.

Indeed, Zallen utilizes Bowie’s penchant for eclecticism to spur him into expansive territory as the clean and uncluttered pop sounds of “Happy Puppy” and “Shy Boy” provide a wonderful contrast to the darker, buzzier compositions that pervade the album.

The CD comes with bonus enhanced portion with video, photos, lyrics and Zallen’s excellent artwork as well.

Official Site

HOT NUN [REVIEW]

No frills melodic rock n’ roll is the only item on the Hot Nun agenda and why the hell not? With a bio that declares that rock is not dead, Jeff Shelton (guitars, vocals, bass) and Braden McGraw (drums) keep things simple and straightforward on this eponymous debut. With eight songs that celebrate “The Spirit of ’76”, the album is aimed directly at classic rock n roll lovers and fans of Cheap Trick, KISS, T. Rex and Glam-era Bowie. Rollicking numbers like “Who Do You Love” and “Fight Fight Fight” will get adrenaline pumping easy enough. No denying the sheer power of this uncanny album, with the faithful rendition of Bowie’s “Queen Bitch” the perfect touchstone of what Hot Nun is all about.

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BLAST FROM THE PAST: THE POP UNDERGROUND

Back in the good ol’ days, Power of Pop focused mainly on the Pop Underground – melodic pop-rock inspired by the 60s/70s. Much of the content is no longer available and so this special feature will correct that oversight. Get ready to be educated, hipster kids!

THE FORMAT – Dog Problems (Vanity, 2006)

There is a thin line between emo punk and powerpop.

What am I talking about?

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BLAST FROM THE PAST: THE POP UNDERGROUND

Back in the good ol’ days, Power of Pop focused mainly on the Pop Underground – melodic pop-rock inspired by the 60s/70s. Much of the content is no longer available and so this special feature will correct that oversight. Get ready to be educated, hipster kids!

BMX BANDITS Down At the Hop (Shoeshine, 2003)

With seven years between Down At the Hop and preceding release – 1996’s Kim Fowley-produced “Theme Park” – it’s comforting to know that the Bandits are still able to deliver sun-kissed Beach Boys-obsessed pop like they’ve never been away.

Continue reading “BLAST FROM THE PAST: THE POP UNDERGROUND”

BLAST FROM THE PAST: THE POP UNDERGROUND

Back in the good ol’ days, Power of Pop focused mainly on the Pop Underground – melodic pop-rock inspired by the 60s/70s. Much of the content is no longer available and so this special feature will correct that oversight. Get ready to be educated, hipster kids!

SPLITSVILLE Incorporated (Houston Party, 2003)

Discounting the Beatles-Beach Boys pastiche cum tribute that was The Complete Pet Soul, Incorporated is actually Splitsville’s first album of all-new material in close to five years (since 1998’s Repeater in fact).

Continue reading “BLAST FROM THE PAST: THE POP UNDERGROUND”

BLAST FROM THE PAST: THE POP UNDERGROUND

Back in the good ol’ days, Power of Pop focused mainly on the Pop Underground – melodic pop-rock inspired by the 60s/70s. Much of the content is no longer available and so this special feature will correct that oversight. Get ready to be educated, hipster kids!

ALVA STAR – Down Escalator (Princess, 2006)

John Hermanson is perhaps best known as one half of Storyhill, a folk duo that has achieved minor commercial success – the press release boldly proclaims that Storyhill has sold more than 35,000 CDs. Personally, I am not sure if such a statement is a pro or con in respect of promoting Alva Star. Whatever.

Continue reading “BLAST FROM THE PAST: THE POP UNDERGROUND”

BLAST FROM THE PAST – THE POP UNDERGROUND

Back in the good ol’ days, Power of Pop focused mainly on the Pop Underground – melodic pop-rock inspired by the 60s/70s. Much of the content is no longer available and so this special feature will correct that oversight. Get ready to be educated, hipster kids!

MICHAEL CARPENTER – Rolling Ball (Not Lame, 2004)

Can I boast a little? I actually had the distinct privilege of listening to these songs in Carpenter’s Sydney suburban studio sometime in March, earlier this year.

Back then, two tracks clearly stood out – the poptastic “Emily Says” and the gorgeous Crowded House-evoking “Good Enough” – as good as any pop songs you’re likely to hear in 2004.

Continue reading “BLAST FROM THE PAST – THE POP UNDERGROUND”

BLAST FROM THE PAST: THE POP UNDERGROUND

Back in the good ol’ days, Power of Pop focused mainly on the Pop Underground – melodic pop-rock inspired by the 60s/70s. Much of the content is no longer available and so this special feature will correct that oversight. Get ready to be educated, hipster kids!

BOBBY SUTLIFF – Bitter Fruit (Not Lame, 2000)

After going MIA for almost a decade, Bobby Sutliff returns with a spiffy new album of prime jangle pop. Sutliff did the bulk of his music-making in the 1980s releasing several albums under his own name (viz Another Jangly Mess, Only Ghosts Remain) and with partner Tim Lee as the Windbreakers (viz Terminal, At Home With Bobby & Tim and Electric Landlady).

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PoPTV: FRANK BANGO – SUMMERDRESS

One of my favourite singer-songwriters from the Pop Underground, Frank Bango impressed me with his erudite/caustic lyrics delivered by a Elvis Costello-inspired larynx and a pop sensibility that cherry picked the best bits of the great pop songwriters of the previous decades.

“Summerdress” is a standout track amongst standout tracks (!) found on the wonderful The Sweet Songs of Decay (fuckin’ love that title) which finds Costello fronting Belle & Sebastian coming across melancholy and bittersweet with a sound that matches folk-rock and chamber pop! Magnificent. Check out the video (audio only) below and stay tuned for the next Blast of the Past featuring the incomparable Frank Bango!

 

BLAST FROM THE PAST: THE POP UNDERGROUND

Back in the good ol’ days, Power of Pop focused mainly on the Pop Underground – melodic pop-rock inspired by the 60s/70s. Much of the content is no longer available and so this special feature will correct that oversight. Get ready to be educated, hipster kids!

WISELY – Parador (Not Lame, 2006)

Wisely returns with a rustic snapshot of arch powerpop that (largely) eschews orchestration for a more earthy flavour. Gone is the lush soft pop Wisely has long been associated with and in its place a pleasing sinewy melodic folk-rock that grabs hold of your heart from track one and never lets go.

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SMASH PALACE

RETRO STYLE

Smash Palace has been a stalwart of the Pop Underground scene for some time now and new album Do It Again (from Zip Records) is its seventh effort. Power pop is not an easy ‘genre’ to excel in due to the stringent comparisons with the seminal music of the past but it must be said that Smash Palace succeeds better than most. The key factor that sets Smash Palace apart is the superior songwriting that the Butler brothers Stephen and Brian bring to the party.

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RICK MURNANE

GOOD AS GOLD

There is a familiar, endearing (yes even enduring) quality about Rick Murnane‘s Wednesday Child. It is something magical that is rooted in the sounds of classic timeless pop music – birthed and nurtured throughout the golden age of the 60s and 70s. Murnane, with the help of his friend (in this case neighbour, Chris Collingwood of the Fountains of Wayne – who played drums and engineered the album) has concocted a fabulous collection of memorable pop tunes that recall the jangly, psychedelic folk-rock majesty of the Byrds, the Beatles and the Searchers, with a larynx that is reminiscent of both John Lennon and Roger McGuinn. Wednesday Child is the kind of musical treasure the card-carrying members of the Pop Underground spend hours obsessing over.

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THE SQUIRES OF THE SUBTERRAIN

ON THE BEACH

If Robert Pollard was more obsessed with Brian Wilson/Beach Boys and less with Pete Townshend/The Who, perhaps then Guided By Voices would have sounded more like The Squires of the Subterrain. A cursory search online will tell you that “The Squires of the Subterrain springs from the do-it-yourself, lo-fi (but certainly not low-quality) pop ingenuity of a single man, Christopher Earl (born Christopher Earl Zajkowski)” and with six albums already released (since the 90s), there’s a lot to say about the stamina and self-belief of Christopher Earl.

And so Sandbox arrives as album #7, the title inspired by Brian Wilson’s notorious installation of a sandbox in his living room whereupon he placed a piano so that he could feel the sand between his toes as he composed! So it’s no stretch to describe Sandbox as chock full of Beach Boys-referencing pastiches from the early surf-rock days (“Idling in the Sun”, “Surfin’ Indiana”) to the psychedelic Smile-infused “(I Still) Mow Your Lawn”, “Fun House” and “Woodrow Wilson”. The latter track is a absolute Wilsonesque gem that fans of the legend will thoroughly savour.

Fair warning – the production is ‘lo-fi’ and Earl’s vocals (despite his best efforts) could never match his one true inspiration but that’s never an issue if one is able to appreciate the sheer love, passion, dedication and craft that Earl has put into yet another album. Lovers of sixties pop will dig Sandbox.

Get your Sandbox (and other Squires albums) here.

SWEET DISS AND THE COMEBACKS

DIG DISS!

To be honest I didn’t like Sweet Diss and the ComebacksEmerald City Love Song on first listen. Somehow, my state of mind dictated that the band was twee, fey and (probably) listened to too many Broadway musicals (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Well, obviously I was wrong (so what’s new?). Subsequent critical listens have revealed that Sweet Diss and the Comebacks (which is an unfortunate name) is a powerpop band in every sense of that word. Equal parts power and pop!

Power – crunching guitars help of course but it’s really about the dynamism of those song arrangements – hooks that stick in your head and the little sonic details (like percussive patterns) that make you go – “aha that’s cool!” Not to mention the sheer ambition (and balls!) of including a song suite (hence the earlier Broadway musical reference) viz. “Seattle’s Best” which consists of five parts and documents the eclecticism of Sweet Diss and the Comebacks (yeah it’s a mouthful). Sophisticated melodies, careening variations in mood and tone with tongue firmly in cheek. Genius!

Pop – think of The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Badfinger, Sparks, Queen, Todd Rundgren, Cheap Trick, Jellyfish, Weezer, Fountains of Wayne as Emerald City Love Song transport the faithful true blue POP listener (that’s you, kind visitor!) into the kind of pop Shangri-la that almost doesn’t exist anymore. I mean, “Never Stop Wooing You”, “Maybe Someday” and “Hey Indie Girl” are examples of driving, hummable powerpop magic that would teach those so-called ‘punk-pop’ (UGH!) poseurs (you know who the fuck you are!) how it’s all supposed to be done! They remind me of the sadly missed Splitsville (to these ears anyways) and other mighty 90s pop underground legends.

So if you have been reading this review all this while and you are still not convinced on the merits of powerpop and in particular Sweet Diss and the Comebacks then perhaps a pop cleansing of sorts need to be conducted in order to align the planets once more in the direction of true blue pop! Picking up Emerald City Love Song would be the perfect start…

Official Site

Check out “Hey Indie Girl” below.

LIVING IN THE PAST

HINDU RODEO

Indulge me, folks, as I muse a little. A great comic book writer named Mike (Nexus, Punisher, Flash) Baron introduced me to the world of the powerpop underground in the late 90s. One of his strongest recommendations was an album by a band with the oddest name – Hindu Rodeo. This power trio (consisting of drummer Jimi Englund, guitarist Dirk Freymuth and singer-songwriter-bassist Joel Sayles) released a fabulous debut eponymous album in 1995, which is a buried treasure and a wonder to discover.

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THE BRITANNICAS

THE BRITANNICAS S/t (Kool Kat Musik)

I guess you could say that the Britannicas (Magnus Karlsson – Guitar/Vocals, Herb Eimerman – Bass/Vocals, Joe Algeri – Drums/Vocals) offer a encyclopedic approach to their power pop music making. The eponymous album covers quintessential power pop viz. 60s Merseybeat (Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Beatles), jangle pop (the Searchers, the Byrds) and 70s classic pop-rock (Raspberries, Badfinger).

Recorded in the members’ home studios spread out over three continents – Sweden, USA and Australia – the execution of the pristine power pop ideas suffers a little due to this, in my view. In particular, I feel that a fair amount of the vocals just do not complement the music and lets down the overall melodic content somewhat.

That said, a number of songs do offer sumptuous tunes (Eg. Stars, Ordinary Day and Blue Sky Grey) with welcomed diversions into country and chamber pop, that raises the material above the technical and production difficulties. I would certainly recommend the Britannicas to lovers of power pop the way it was meant to be approached and presented.

Myspace | Kool Kat Musik

SETH SWIRSKY

SETH SWIRSKY Watercolor Day (Grimble)

Sometimes I truly believe that the reason why Power of Pop exists is so that I can ruminate about albums like Watercolor Day.

I’ve heard folks talk about rock ‘n’ roll as “classical music” to modern rock but really its more like the groundbreaking music of the 60s and 70s – y’know true pop music. You know what I mean. And like classical music, true pop music can only be properly performed by accomplished craftsmen, experts in the form.

Someone like Seth Swirsky.

Swirsky is a published songwriter in his own right, having penned notable songs for Taylor Dayne, Al Green and Rufus Wainwright, amongst others. But not only that, Swirsky has – with his debut solo album, Instant Pleasure and with The Red Button – demonstrated an uncanny affinity to distill the key ingredients of true pop music to serve pop lovers a veritable feast of sophisticated melodic gems.

Now with his second solo album – Watercolor Day – Swirsky continues to build on his brilliant work with music that is firmly grounded in the Beatles, Beach Boys, the Byrds, the Kinks, the Zombies, Left Banke, ELO, Harry Nilsson, Badfinger and their numerous followers.

Immaculately produced (by Swirsky and Cloud Eleven’s Rick Gallego), the 18 tracks on Watercolor Day will transport the willing listener to another time, when melody was king and dense arrangements/productions were the order of the day. Drawing from the inspirations of Phil Spector, Brian Wilson, Todd Rundgren, Lindsay Buckingham and the like, the lush production on Watercolor Day will thrill scholars of the art of true pop.

I’m glad to say that together with Mark Bacino’s Queens English, Watercolor Day is proof positive that true pop is alive, well and kicking ass!

Official Site

Myspace

PLASTICSOUL

PlasticSoul

PLASTICSOUL Peacock Swagger (Self-released)

A little bit of pop trivia before we begin. “Plastic Soul” is of course, a term originally coined by an unknown black musician to describe Mick Jagger. Paul McCartney cited it as an influence on the album title of Rubber Soul. Whilst David Bowie described his excursions in soul and funk with the Young Americans album also as “plastic soul”.

So now you know.

Which does indeed help to put pop underground band Plasticsoul’s classic pop agenda into some perspective. For fans of genuine powerpop (and NOT the pathetic modern rock/emo punk posturing calling itself “powerpop”), Peacock Swagger is a mini-godsend as the album is chock full of the right influences viz. the Beatles, the Byrds, the Kinks, the Stones, Badfinger, Nick Drake, Todd Rundgren and every other top-notch classic pop follower down the line & through the intervening years.

Definite highlights include the ambitious opener You Sentimental Fucks/Life On Other Planets, the folky Cancer, the pastoral What Do You Wanna Know Rock and Roll, the countrified Shame, the fragile soft pop channeling San Francisco and the blistering Cock Rock 101.

It’s gratifying to know that the pop underground that gave me so much solace and excitement in the late 90s remains alive and kicking with bands like Plasticsoul.

Official Site

MySpace

BRYAN SCARY

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BRYAN SCARY & THE SHREDDING TEARS Mad Valentines EP (Simian/Old Flame)

After two critically acclaimed super-duper powerpop albums, Bryan Scary & the Shredding Tears return with a new EP that continues to enhance their reputation as the finest sophisticated powerpop band since the demise of the legendary Jellyfish. Like Jellyfish, Bryan Scary reaches back into the misty depths of time to pluck out such gorgeous pop influences like ELO, Supertramp, Zombies, Queen and XTC, to name but few.

From the moment the frenetic piano opens the EP with the hyperactive Andromeda’s Eyes, you know you’re in for a rare treat. I mean, its tongue-in-cheek humour blended in with instrumental virtuosity and melodic invention to top it all off! From then on, the creative peaks keep coming, almost impossibly, as Scary as his crack band deliver a veritable treatise on the joys of 70s classic pop-rock.

There’s the jazzy R&B feel of (Its A) Gambler Whirl, the bouncy Jeff Lynne-channeling The Garden Eleanor, the wistful classical Maria Saint Clare, the soaring cinematic Bye Bye Babylon and the jaunty Beatlesque The Red Umbrella to fulfil every pure pop fantasy.

Powerpop fans need not hesitate. Get your Mad Valentines now!

Myspace