MICHAEL CARPENTER

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MICHAEL CARPENTER Redemption #39 (Big Radio)

It’s been a while since Australia’s most consistent purveyor of pristine powerpop released an album of original material (since 2004’s Rolling Ball, if I’m not wrong, not counting SOOP#2 and the Cuban Heels side project) but finally the new Michael Carpenter album’s here!

And really, if you’re a fan of Elvis Costello, Tom Petty, the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Crowded House, then hooking up with Carpenter’s authentic powerpop (laced with country-folk influences as well) is a no-brainer. After all, its breezy melodies, tight musicianship, sweet harmonies and quality production work will easily win over any (true) pop lover.

On Redemption #39, Carpenter spreads his wings a little wider with a song like the King of the Scene, a brilliant evocation of Queen and ELO (as well as Jellyfish) that hits all the right spots. A little more mannered and structured than usual for Carpenter’s music but it’s a pleasant surprise.

By and large, its par for the course – the Beatlesque pop of Can’t Go Back, the bouncy twangy title track, the rollicking Workin’ for a Livin’, the soulful Don’t Let Me Down Again, the Fannies-channeling I Want Everything – evidence that Carpenter is still on top of his game. Good news for all powerpop fans everywhere!

Official site

Myspace

CHRIS ENGLISH

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CHRIS ENGLISH Dreamtown (SideBMusic)

After numerous years in the music biz, singer-songwriter English has finally released his debut solo album – Dreamtown – and all I say is: why did it take so long to get such enjoyable/likable music to us? Huh?

Better late than never is probably a better response but fans of such texturally dense & melodic brawny artists like the Beach Boys, XTC, Alan Parsons Project and Peter Gabriel will be wondering how much joy has been denied them in the intervening years. Whatever.

On the album cover, English holds the much revered Rickenbacker guitar popularized by the Beatles and the Byrds and whilst, Dreamtown isn’t too heavy on the jangle pop, the chiming signature of this famous guitar does lend its dreamy allure to the magical quality of this strong debut.

The perfect soundtrack to melancholy Sunday nights (which it is as I’m typing this), Dreamtown will envelope with luscious harmonies and atmospheric vibes that will transport you to happier climes. Tracks like the psychedelic I Can See Everything, the gorgeous Autumn, the heady Into the Blue, sunshiny Summer Revisited and jangly The River, firmly establish Dreamtown as essential listening for the Pop Underground.

Check out Chris English’s Myspace page.

Download “I Can See Everything”

CHRIS MCKAY & THE CRITICAL DARLINGS

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CHRIS MCKAY & THE CRITICAL DARLINGS C’mon Accept Your Joy (Side B Music)

McKay is probably better known as a photographer than a rock musician but you can’t keep a good artist down. C’mon Accept Your Joy is actually a re-issue of the Critical Darlings’ debut album and is a revealing introduction to the band’s interpretation of 70s powerpop and 80s new wave. Thus, astute listeners will find references to Big Star, the Raspberries, the Knack, Cheap Trick, the Cars and the Smithereens sprinkled across this competent album. Personally, the songs that caught by ear are the Doug Fieger-channelling Sometimes I’m Sam, the sweetly balladic “Down”, the blistering raucous Until the Road Ends and of course, the irresistible opener Towel Cape Song. Recommended for all members of the pop underground who did not pick up on this fine album the first time around.

Check out the band’s Myspace page. A video of Towel Cape Song is embedded below.

BIG FRESH

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BIG FRESH B.F.F. (Big Fresh Forever) (Garden Gate)

I hate bands like Big Fresh!

Why?

Well, I’m annoyed by the level of pop magnificence they somehow manage to concoct in these home recordings. I detest the way the band creates these decidedly lo-fi albeit inventive pop gems with such seeming ease and much aplomb. I abhor the cute litte psychedelic touches, the electronic bleeps which make the songs all precious and spacey.

OK.

Let me put it in another way. I find it positively inspiring that so much has been achieved with (allegedly) so little. This is the bloody mythic core of pop tunesmithery – throwing the collective consciousness of pop cool (e.g. the Move, Syd-era Pink Floyd, Smile-era Beach Boys, ELO, XTC, Flaming Lips, Guided By Voices, Fountains of Wayne, Blur, even MGMT et al) into the melting pot and mixing it up!

Nothing is sacred as Big Fresh explores corny old school synths (Entertainment), psychedelic-folk (Joy Bombs #1), luscious surf harmonies (W.L.U.V.), Rhodes-channeled whimsy (Satan, No) and falsetto-tinged dirges (Heat Death of the Universe), in the supreme hope that we will cotton on to the buried treasures locked into every groove, melody line and instrumental choice. And we will…

Check out Big Fresh’s Myspace page and the video of Lost and Found (not on B.F.F.).

PAUL STEEL

 

PAUL STEEL Moon Rock (Raygun)

Young singer-songwriter Paul Steel does all us music journos a favour by listing his influences inside the CD sleeve of Moon Rock. Handy, huh? Amongst them, we get the usual pop suspects viz. Brian Wilson & the Beach Boys, the Beatles, XTC, High Llamas, Super Furry Animals, Grandaddy and Supergrass. A first rate list. I must confess.

However, to these (weathered) ears, Steel seems to have omitted the most obvious inspiration of all – JELLYFISH! Yeah, the short-lived but beloved band fronted by Andy Sturmer and Roger Joseph Manning Jr that released two memorable albums, Bellybutton and Spilt Milk, in the early 90s, during the height (depths?) of grunge.

Throughout Moon Rock, the Jellyfish vibe is so pervading that you might even mistake this delightful debut LP for the long-lost 3rd Jellyfish album. Which is the best news for all fans of sophisticated pop. Don’t get me wrong. This is not a putdown of Steel’s own abilities. Neither does it take away from the achievement of Moon Rock. I’m not saying that Steel rips off or that his music is derivative of Jellyfish. Rather that Moon Rock is an album created in the spirit of Jellyfish.

In the same way that Jellyfish took the elements of classic pop-rock of the Beatles, Beach Boys, Todd Rundgren, Supertramp, Queen and XTC to point the way forward for powerpoppers everywhere, Steel is flying the flag high for modern day proponents of this much underrated (and maligned) genre.

Favouring dense instrumentation and arrangements, melodic hooks galore, whimsical moments and trainspotting references, Moon Rock is one of those albums that true pop enthusiasts will obsess over for weeks on repeat mode, headphones on, salivating over every nuance.

Highlights are aplenty – the instrumental coda to the title track, the helium-inflected jaunty Oh No! Oh Yeah!, the softly infectious I Will Make You Disappear, the pleasing balladry of Rust & Dust, the 90s Britpop dynamism of Your Loss and the delicate beauty of Summer Song.

So exciting news for the pop underground, for I have seen the future of sophisticated pop and his name is Paul Steel.

Check out Paul Steel’s Myspace page and the video of Oh No! Oh Yeah! below.

MAPLE MARS

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Maple Mars is a brilliant name for Rick Hromadka’s powerpop outfit. Equal part melodic sweetness and spaced out bliss. With three definitive powerpop albums – viz. Welcome to Maple Mars, Circular Haze (one of PoP’s top albums of 2003) and Beautiful Mess – Maple Mars has established itself as one of the premier bands of the pop underground. Good news is that Maple Mars has a new album in the can and embedded below is Transcendental Guidance, a teaser of the joys to come. To these ears, the new song is a tasty amalgam of Syd Barrett psychedelia, Byrdsy folk-rock and prog-rock instrumentalism. Enjoy…

Check out Maple Mars’ Myspace page.