ALBUM REVIEW: COTTON MATHER – DEATH OF THE COOL

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Photo credit: Valerie Fremin

Background
Highly acclaimed 90s Pop Underground faves Cotton Mather returns with a new album after an absence of 15 years! Death of the Cool contains singer-songwriter Robert Harrison’s pure pop meditations on Chinese philosophy – in particular, one song each for each hexagram (or reading) of the I Ching! How 60s can one get?!?

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ALBUM REVIEW: KEN SHARP – NEW MOURNING

Ken Sharp New Mourning

Background
Produced by Fernando Perdomo (Todd Rundgren/Jakob Dylan) and Ken Sharp, this record (Sharp’s fourth album and first in nine years) showcases musical contributions from Rick Springfield (“Burn & Crash”, “Satellite”), guitarist Wally Stocker of The Babys, bassist Prescott Niles of The Knack and keyboardist Jimmy Waldo of New England alongside the team of Perdomo and gifted musicians Rob Bonfiglio (Wanderlust/Wilson Phillips) and Ritchie Rubini (The Caulfields).

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ALBUM REVIEW: THE LEES OF MEMORY – UNNECESSARY EVIL

The Lees of Memory

Background
The Lees Of Memory — which features erstwhile Superdrag frontman John Davis & guitarist Brandon Fisher, along with drummer Nick Slack — recently released its sophomore LP, Unnecessary Evil. The new album, a follow up to the band’s 2014 debut Sisyphus Says, once again saw them working with Grammy-winning producer Nick Raskulinecz and his team at Rock Falcon Studios in TN.

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ALBUM REVIEW: A GIANT DOG – PILE

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Background
Forging their friendships in the crucible of their Houston, TX, high school, Sabrina Ellis (vocals), Andrew Cashen (vocals, guitar), and Orville Neeley (drums) first got their start covering AC/DC, The Ramones, Joan Jett, and the finer points of the Back to the Future soundtrack at school dances under the band name Youth In Asia. Reuniting in Austin in 2008, they enlisted their pals Andy Bauer (guitar) and Graham Low (bass) and christened the act A Giant Dog.

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ALBUM REVIEW: BEST COAST’S CALIFORNIA NIGHTS IS POWER POP GOODNESS SO WHY DO THEY GET THE HATE RESERVED FOR HIPSTER BANDS?

BestCoast

Best Coast is one of those bands that critics love to hate. There’s the common accusation that the hype over the band is over singer Bethany Cosentino and the gossip surrounding her life and not the music. Trolls claim that Best Coast’s music is simple and dumb, writing the band off as any kind of musical force.

While I do agree that Best Coast’s music is simple, that in itself does not make the music dumb. To be honest, the kind of power pop parlayed by Best Coast has been bettered decades ago by The Muffs, Essex Green and Dressy Bessy but compared to what passes for modern pop in 2015, Best Coast is a breath of fresh air!

Like Vivian Girls and Cults, Best Coast owes a huge debt to the 60s girl groups, 70s power pop and 80s indie pop and there’s nothing wrong with that if one is able to crank out infectious numbers like “Feeling Ok”, “Heaven Sent” and “So Unaware”. More power to Best Coast – keep the pop coming!

ROCK ‘N’ ROLL – CRISIS? WHAT CRISIS?

15 Aug 1993 --- Rock Band Nirvana --- Image by © Jesse Frohman/CORBIS OUTLINE
© Jesse Frohman/CORBIS OUTLINE

Will we ever see a band like Nirvana again? It’s hard to believe that the Nevermind album – which changed the face of the music industry in the early 90s – is now 24 years old! And since the decline of rock ‘n’ roll music in the late 90s, no other rock band has come remotely close to replicating the impact of Nirvana. Yes, we have had successful rock bands since viz. Nickelback, The Strokes, The Killers, Arctic Monkeys, Coldplay et al BUT relatively speaking, these have been minor successes when compared to the seismic pop culture impact of Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Beyonce and the like. Artistically as well, most of these aforementioned bands have failed to deliver.

Curiously enough, the last time critics declared the demise of rock ‘n’ roll was in the late 80s, when Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston ruled the roost, but as the wheel turned rock bands like R.E.M., Nirvana and the Seattle grunge scene ascended to the top of the charts. Well, it’s almost 25 years now and there appears to be no sign of rock ‘n’ roll ever returning to those levels of influence in the mainstream pop industry.

Still, that does not mean that good rock ‘n’ roll music (whether in the guise of pop-rock, indie pop, hard rock, electro-pop, blues rock, garage or punk) wasn’t being made in the last 15 odd years, it’s just that the environment of the music industry has been altered so drastically that it is virtually impossible for what happened in the early 90s to occur once again. The decline in record sales, the rise of singing contests (American Idol, X-Factor etc) and the ubiquity of Youtube, has meant that the major labels have had to hedge their bets and cynically control the musical output and fan appreciation thereof.

This has resulted in the most basic pop formulas viz. hip-hop/R&B accounting for the lion’s share of the chart action. These are 3 of the top 5 singles on Billboard’s Hot 100 right now.

The one main thing connecting all three singles is a highly designed discipline to present the melody/rhythms as simplistically and repetitively as possible so that the hooks are very easy to remember. A deliberate lack of musical sophistication that dumbs down to the lowest common denominator creating an audience that is not able to appreciate anything that does not sound like what it hears on a non-stop basis on the radio. The perfect marketing tactic.

In fact, guitar rock is totally absent for the Top 20, with the nearest example being Maroon 5, and even though the music video for “Sugar” shows the band with guitars, it does not sound like there are any guitars on the song itself! In fact, it adheres greatly to the hip-hop/R&B formula with Adam Levine’s vocals heavily auto-tuned. Talk about soul-less! Going down the rest of the chart will depress any fan of rock ‘n’ roll with the genre’s utter lack of representation.

So, are the rumours true? Is rock ‘n’ roll dead? Well, not at the grass roots level of course, as both in the USA and the UK, there continues to be scores of bands who create great rock ‘n’ roll music, it’s just that even with the oft assumed ability of the internet to connect bands and fans, it’s the major labels leveraging on radio stations, streaming services and Youtube (again!) who will have the attention of mainstream music fans.

There’s the rub. If the major labels feel that the new rock ‘n’ roll have the fan base to make them sit up and notice, then they might feel the need to throw money that way. The question is — will the youth of today ever get tired of the formulaic pop stars being paraded before them? Will they ever hunger for something different enough to alter their listening habits? The signs have not been encouraging. The irony is that whilst the internet is always being trumpeted as the champion of free and alternative choices, the harsh reality is that the internet is still ultimately the tool of our corporate masters to dictate what food we should eat, what clothes we should wear and of course, what music we should listen to.

However, for those of us who are able to think critically for ourselves, the internet provides a means of escaping these corporate shackles and we can only do this by supporting the bands that do not conform to the grand masterplan of our overlords. Then, these bands might have the opportunity and liberty to create the kind of music we desire and love. So, is rock ‘n’ roll in a crisis? Not if rock ‘n’ roll fans continue to support the right bands and be evangelistic about the music they love.

Yes, PoP visitors, the ball is in YOUR court…

In the meantime, check out the Power of Pop playlist at Spotify highlighting 30-odd British guitar rock bands you should be supporting! Please FOLLOW!

… still there’s more … 

DISCOVERED AT POWER OF POP

DISCOVEREDPOP

What’s new? Well, here’s three melodic pop-rock gems you can stream without fear! Dive in!!

VERUCA SALT – GHOST NOTES

Talking about a 90s rock revival, here’s the reunion album of Veruca Salt, sounding smashing in a beefy Brad Wood production. First rate songs that make the years melt away.

https://www.facebook.com/verucasaltband

BEST FRIENDS – HOT. RECKLESS. TOTALLY INSANE

More actual evidence of a 90s rock revival comes in the form of Sheffield’s Best Friends. Fuzzy guitars, knowing pop tunes and punk rhythms. It’s happening, boys and girls!

https://www.facebook.com/bestfriendspartyhard

EZTV – CALLING OUT

Power pop band hailing from Brooklyn, that has a good handle of 90s pop underground dynamics viz. infectious melodies, jangly guitar tones and sophisticated chord changes. Highly promising.

https://www.facebook.com/EzTVeeee

 

… still there’s more …

LAZY LIONS LET OUT A POP-ROCK ROAR WITH WHEN DREAMING LETS YOU DOWN

Photo by Erik S. Lieber. (L-R: Anne-Marie Stehn, Jim Allen, Sean McMorris, Robert Sorkin).
Photo by Erik S. Lieber. (L-R: Anne-Marie Stehn, Jim Allen, Sean McMorris, Robert Sorkin).

There is a quiet self-assurance in the manner in which New York melodic rock outfit Lazy Lions approach their music. Certainly, a band has to be if it decides to play in the 60s/70s pop-rock sandbox. The pop-rock of the 80s to be more precise, as the band lays claim to the influences of Elvis Costello, Squeeze, Joe Jackson, The Cars and Crowded House. The tunes have an easy charm about them – on songs like “Tiny Little Cracks” and “Diane”, it’s not difficult for the unwary listener to begin humming to the refrains. Quirky numbers like “Let the Bad Times Roll” and “Scientific” help to keep thing somewhat interesting. Songs tend to be mid-tempo as a rule and a change in pace now and then would not have hurt. That all said, the slinky “You Can Run” and the smoky “Creep Across the Night” offer enough of a variation to demonstrate promising versatility. But if it’s straight-ahead rocking pop songs you want then “February” and most of When Dreaming Lets You Down, will not… erm… let you down. Jim Allen shared with us a couple of his thoughts about the band and their music.

Why did the four of you come together as Lazy Lions?

We had all done a lot of different things individually. I put out three records as a solo singer/songwriter, Rob had been a classical French horn player (who just happened to also be a killer guitarist), Anne-Marie had been in a band that ended up on a major label and did a ton of touring, and Sean had played with Richard Lloyd of Television besides being a singer/songwriter himself with solo albums out. To be totally honest, I just heard somebody say the words “lazy lions” one day and thought “What a great band name, I’m gonna start a band and call it that!” So I did. That’s really how it started!

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FLYING THE POWER POP FLAG WITH RANSOM AND THE SUBSET

Ransom

Power of Pop is always on the lookout for new music that stays faithful to the 60s/70s template for melodic pop-rock or rock ‘n’ roll or power pop. Ransom and the Subset – one fine example of this – is the brainchild of singer/songwriter/guitarist RanDair Porter. It’s latest album, No Time to Lose, was released in September 2014 but it’s always better late than never when it comes to great music. For Pop Underground fans, this is really a no-brainer – from the opening Jellyfish-referencing power chords of the infectious “Anna”, it’s clear that Ransom and the Subset has got what it takes to hypnotise like-minded fans of The Cars and Weezer. In particular, the single “Million Out of Me” is an effective ear-worm that will have melody junkies hitting repeat. Read what RanDair has to say about the band and the music.

How did the band get together?

I had a cover band together for the last few years – The band was called “Subset”, because the members were a subset of a band I had in High School. The bass player lived in San Diego and me and the drummer up in Seattle. I had become interested in recording some of my originals but, for whatever reason the project wasn’t something the of the other members were able to participate in. I called the project “Ransom and the Subset” – I did this because I wasn’t sure who would be singing on the project and I did not want to name the band after a single individual. There is no one named “Ransom” in the band.

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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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REMAKE, REMODEL, RE-WIND!

Re-Wind

The original line up of Miami Power Pop legends, The Wind, are back with their first release in 30 years….Re-Wind!

Singer-songwriters, Lane Steinberg & Steven Katz (aka Steve Barry) have worked together as both the creative force behind The Wind (1981-1988), and as a duo under the name Tan Sleeve (1998-present).

Now that drummer Steve Burdick is back, Re-Wind represents the trio’s first recordings for over 25 years and for power pop fans, it’s good news. Very good, in fact. The moment “Fight Like a Girl” kicks in with its guitar arpeggios and floor toms, it’s obvious that the band has lost none of its chops and sets the tone for the rest of this album. The warm balladry of “Let Me Show You How It’s Done”, the jaunty jollity of “Weak Spot” and the folk-rock of “Yes and No”demonstrate The Wind’s mastery over the melodic rock form, complemented superbly by the high production values. Re-Wind is a great-sounding album and comes with our highest recommendations.

We managed to pick Steve Katz’s brains to talk about the return of The Wind.

What was the impetus to re-form The Wind?

When Lane Steinberg and I look back on all our musical endeavors over the years, both together and separately, the early years of The Wind was the high point, due to the chemistry we had with drummer Steve Burdick. Steve had played drums on several songs on all the Tan Sleeve CDs. So it was almost The Wind, but not quite. Making a whole album as The Wind seemed like a logical step that we should have taken awhile ago.

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PoP RECOMMENDS: THE SINGLES

PoP is on a quest to discover the best contemporary bands out there trading in classic pop-rock, power-pop and garage-rock and we aim to please ourselves as often as humanly possible. The Singles viz. Vincent Frederick (guitar/lead vocals) and Nicky Veltman (drums/back-up vocals) are the real deal! This LA based duo have just released Look How Fast A Heart Can Break and it is a winner. It’s fair to say that they don’t sound like any one band directly but there’s certainly a healthy dollop of Big Star, The Replacements, T. Rex and more, in their musical agenda. Best part is that it gets hearts pounding and adrenaline rushing for all the best reasons. Check ’em out!

Official Site

PLAY ON: POWER POP HEROES BY KEN SHARP

Writer Ken Sharp’s new book Play On!: Power Pop Heroes Volume One is available for pre-orders for 1 month with a cut off sale date of October 28th.

In the first installment of a three-volume series, Ken Sharp honors the musical innovators who built the genre’s foundation. Featuring a foreword by Eric Carmen of Raspberries, the 480-page book culls exclusive extended interviews with 20 artists that defined the genre, including members of the Beatles, the Who, the Kinks, the Beach Boys, the Byrds, the Hollies, the Dave Clark Five, the Zombies, Bee Gees, the Turtles, the Left Banke, Small Faces, the Move, Jeff Lynne and others. Also covered in this volume are representatives of the first generation of dedicated acolytes who followed the progenitors’ trail: Badfinger, Raspberries, Big Star and Emitt Rhodes.

 

Available exclusively from http://www.ken-sharp.com/power_pop/index.html

ARMY NAVY – THE WILDERNESS INSIDE

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Here’s another album that fits Power of Pop’s criterion of POP with POWER! LA trio Army Navy’s third LP is chock full of unforgettable tunes allied with a 90s alt-rock sensibility that is always refreshing in this post-punk-revival obsessed times. In that respect, Army Navy (Justin Kennedy – Lead vocals, Guitar/Louie Schultz – Lead guitar, Vocals/Douglas Randall – Drums, Vocals) succeed wildly.

The agenda is straightforward enough, as tracks like the jangly “The Mistakes”, the driving shoegazy “Crushed Like the Car”, the Fannnies-imbued “Waiting to Win” and the unabashedly retro “World’s End” attest. Uncomplicated arrangements enhance the memorably melancholy pop melodies that make The Wilderness Inside essential listening for fans of gorgeous 90s alt-rock and especially good old fashioned power pop!

POWER OF POP INTERVIEW: JEREMY NEALE

I absolutely loved Brisbane artist Jeremy Neale at Music Matters Live last month. Not only for his music but his general approach to being… Jeremy Neale! This man deserves to be bigger than Justin Bieber. Seriously. So I sent him these questions via email and waited with bated breath on the answers. Here’s what came back…

How did you get your start in music?

I was fortunate that my best friend when I was 13 started learning the drums. She would get drum lessons and then teach me what she knew. I went on to continue playing drums in High School and picked up other instruments along the way. This left me primed to be able to experiment with songwriting and I guess eventually I must have written something halfway decent. Finally had the guts to write for a band towards the end of 2008 and then started doing the solo thing in 2011.

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