THE LUXURY

THE LUXURY In the Wake Of What Won’t Change (Self-released)

Better late than never.

If I had listened to this excellent album in 2009, I would have certainly listed it in my top albums of that year. No doubt!

Suffice to say that this Boston-based band has produced a pop-rock classic which encapsulates everything that the Power of Pop believes passionately about music. Eclectic at its core, defiantly melodic (and harmonic) and referencing all the coolest bits of powerpop, Britpop, psychedelia, prog and post-punk (in a manner I had previously considered impossible), In the Wake Of What Won’t Change is one of those rare albums where swallowing it whole is essential to its full appreciation.

The album opens with electronic noise which seques into epic washes of sound and then kicks off with Getaway Car, a thrilling driving song that recalls Be Bop Deluxe. From then on, the keen listener needs to be strapped in for the ride as The Luxury delivers the amazing chorus of Take It Back (think: the Alan Parsons Project), the epic ‘Til Your Last Day (recalling best prog-pop exercises of Asia and Trevor Rabin-era Yes), the dynamic Next in Line, the jaunty Straitjacket and so on.

Better late than never indeed.

Official site

Myspace

CHASE HAMBLIN

CHASE HAMBLIN A Fine Time (Self-released)

In this day and age of throwaway, disposable pop, anyone crafting such inventive yet melodious pop music has got to be incredibly passionate and dedicated to his or her chosen musical style or genre. Singer-songwriter Chase Hamblin has been obviously influenced by the glorious 60s pop era as his 5-track EP contains knowing nods to the Beatles, the Bee Gees, the Beach Boys, the Monkees, the Kinks, Herman’s Hermits and so on.

Formerly of the now defunct Houston glam-metal outfit Penny Royal, Hamblin’s music recalls the pure pop stylings of Jellyfish, the Merrymakers, Sun Sawed in 1/2 and Bryan Scary and the Shredding Tears, which means there are choice whimsical, music hall moments alonside the serene chamber pop ones. The standout tracks being the jaunty A Fine Time, the dynamic Think of the Good Times and the pastoral Bye Bye.

So for power pop fans, let me just say that Hamblin is the real deal, there’s enough ear candy and intricately textural work to satisfy all your cravings.

Trivia note – Hamblin grew up in Singapore (’85 to ’93)!

Official Site

Myspace

KEN STRINGFELLOW LIVE IN SINGAPORE

The mark of a truly accomplished singer-songwriter is the ability to win over an audience totally unfamiliar with said singer-songwriter’s work. I’m pretty sure that most of the audience at the Esplanade Outdoor Theatre were the usual weekend casual visitors who had no clue who the gaunt gentlemen with the black-painted fingernails was.

But the crowd exhibited its appreciation when Ken Stringfellow (best known as part of the 90s powerpop band The Posies), stood on the bleaches (instead of the stage) to belt out his intricate pop tunes without the benefit of a mic. Demonstrating an impressive set of pipes, guitar technique and superior songcraft, Stringfellow entertained the largely neophyte audience with his passion, talent and good humour.

Drawn mainly from his three solo albums, Stringfellow’s two sets were a sheer pleasure to behold. The musicians amongst us, were fixated on his chord shapes and structures, nodding our heads in unison with every nuance. Indeed, 2010 has gotten off to a magnificent musical start, with more to come…

Official Site

Myspace

MAPLE MARS

This is a video of New Day from Maple Mars’ forthcoming album Galaxyland, due out in March on Kool Kat Musik.

Written by Mark Radice in the 1970’s, Maple Mars’ version features Mark playing piano, arranging strings and co-producing with Rick Hromadka.

Enjoy!

KEN STRINGFELLOW

Ken Stringfellow – out of the legendary powerpop band the Posies – will be performing two sets at the Esplanade Outdoor Theatre on Sunday, 10 Jan 10 at 7.30pm and 8.45pm respectively. Malaysian singer-songwriter Mohd Jayzuan will be opening. Do not miss this once-in-a-lifetime gig. Especially when its FREE. Brought to you by the great folks at Walk On Music.

Myspace

BLAKES

BLAKES Souvenir (WE ARE OK)

The success of the Beatles in the USA, signalled the first wave of the British Invasion as bands like Rolling Stones, The Kinks and The Who made their collective mark on the American rock consciousness. The result was garage-rock, with the Seattle music scene playing a significant role with the likes of the Sonics, The Kingsmen, Paul Revere and the Raiders and the Regents.

Certainly, Seattle band the Blakes carries on the tradition of its predecessors with this faithful revocation of classic 60s garage-rock. Souvenir is filled to the brim with raucous, rollicking rave-ups that never compromise on the melody department. Band out of time? Maybe but if you dug the recent garage-rock revival of White Stripes and Jet, certainly the Blakes punch above their own weight and mix it up with potent doses of powerpop as well. Something for everyone.

Official Site

MySpace

JEREMY

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JEREMY Journey to the Center of the Heart (Jam)

Jeremy Morris is another powerpop stalwart that Power of Pop has had the honor of reviewing for close to a decade and I must admit that this latest release from the ever prolific Mr Morris may be his best yet! Sure, Jeremy never quite strays from the formula viz. jangly Byrdsy guitars, sunshiney melodies, happy positive lyrical concepts and a vocal approach that is halfway between Lennon and McGuinn – but if that’s what you dig, well, Jeremy delivers consistently EVERY time.

Extremely 60s-centric in material source, songs like the gorgeous title track, the chiming Vanity Fare, the reverent Church of Byrds (a brilliant evocation), the raucous (for Jeremy anyway!) No More Lies and the dreamlike Sailing Homeward are reasons enough to give Jeremy’s latest a go.

For fans of the Beatles and the Byrds (circa ’65), Journey to the Center of the Heart is indispensable!

Official Site

Myspace

JON AUER/CHEAP STAR

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JON AUER/CHEAP STAR Two for the Money (Z&Zoe)

Here’s a cool tidbit from France. A split CD between the legendary Jon Auer (the Posies, of course) and French powerpoppers Cheap Star. Six cool tracks altogether, three each from Auer and Cheap Star make Two for the Money a nice acquisition for fans of 90s powerpop.

Cheap Star’s contribution is steeped in 90s jangle pop and college rock, informed by Neil Young, the Byrds, REM, the Posies et al, which maintains your interest without relying on being (too) derivative. Jon Auer, on the other hand, comes across like the master with his acoustic-based, electronic keys-infused tracks full of sophistication and populist charm.

Any music that Auer produces is worth your time…so come and get it.

Jon Auer’s Myspace

Cheap Star’s Myspace

SARAKULA

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SARAKULA City Heart (Self-released)

Aussie powerpop is one of the best on the planet. No disputing that. Too many to mention, in fact.

Add Sydney singer-songwriter Joel Sarakula (or just plain Sarakula) to the list, who like Billy Joel and Ben Folds favours subtle keyboards over guitar crunch. So maybe more soft pop than powerpop. Whatever.

The vital ingredient is of course, a melody that rings true in your heart and soul. Sarakula’s approach is easy on the ear with emphasis on jazz chords and mid-tempo rhythms. 60s/70s pop music is a weighty influence. Certainly a light Beatlesque touch is evident throughout (circa Let It Be/Abbey Road).

Bottom line is that its good old fashioned pop music that sadly, goes too much under the radar in these modern times. It’s jaunty, heartfelt and vibrant mostly with the highlights being the dynamic Cold War Love, the pulsating City Beat, the driving Matchstick Girl, the Lennon-channeling Driving with the Devil and the ornate Marlene.

For true pop buffs, Sarakula is worth investigation.

Official Site

Myspace

KEVIN MCADAMS

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KEVIN MCADAMS It’s My Time To Lose My Mind (Self-released)

Drummers are a special breed eh? Especially when they also sing and write their own music. Notable examples – Ringo Starr, Phil Collins, Don Henley and Andy Sturmer. Well, Kevin McAdams played drums for indie rock outfit Elefant and his new solo album It’s Time To Lose My Mind is proof that there are more to drummers than the cliched jokes will let on.

With Elefant guitarist Mod Alien on board as producer, this enjoyable album is a fine blend of powerpop, new wave and post-punk influences and styles, with an emphasis on catchy melodies throughout. McAdams primarily instrument here is keyboards and without degenerating into fey Keane/Coldplay histrionics, McAdams utilizes different keyboard sonic approaches in a fashion recallin the likes of Todd Rundgren, Ivy, Paul McCartney, Grandaddy and the Cars.

There’s a freewheeling, devil-may-care, eclecticism in memorable tracks like Start Over Again, The Bannerman Nightmare, Hourglass, Small Town Livin’ and the like. Fans of modern-day D-I-Y pop masters like Jason Falkner, Jon Brion and Brendon Benson will thrill to Kevin McAdams.

Myspace

GRACE BASEMENT

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GRACE BASEMENT Gunmetal Gray (Undertow)

As as if it wasn’t already enough that St. Louis’ Grace Basement manages to deliver a pleasing reading of fine melodic alt-rock influences like Wilco, Flaming Lips, Guided By Voices and Superchunk, the band also incorporates more rustic instrumentation into the powerful mix. Thus, we are treated to the likes of fiddle, viola, lap steel, banjo, harp, accordion, concertina, horns and even uilleann pipes, which brings the band’s sophomore album to an entire different level.

You’ve gotta respect the attention to textural detail that singer-songwriter-producer Kevin Buckley pays to these pop tunes – wonderfully indebted to the Beatles, XTC, the Beach Boys and Big Star for melodic invention. There is a magical balance between the sweet and raw qualities that blending the genres of powerpop and country-folk-blues results in. I am rather taken by this unique-sounding album. From the pulsating opening There He Goes onwards, one is never quite sure what twists and turns the impressive material would take, completely subverting expectations at all the right places. Which to me, is a testimony to a creative mind in action.

Official site

Myspace

Undertow Music

STRANGEFINGER

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STRANGEFINGER Into the Blue (SideBMusic)

The problem with a band in 2009 having classic pop-rock influences (if you can call it a problem) is that sometimes those very influences are so pervasive and so overwhelming that such bands tend to become derivative and worst, retrogarde. It’s all well and good preaching to the converted who may be easily impressed but beyond being able to reproduce the sounds and styles of their musical heroes, what can these bands offer to music fans in this day and age?

Yes, folks, you’re probably guessing that I’m going to say that the above paragraph does not apply to  Strangefinger. Well, yes and no. Sufe, this Californian band – Freddie Lemke (vocals, keyboards), Blake Engeldorf (bass), Patrick Mercier (guitar) and Joaquin Spengemann (drums) – which it seems, does not take the music of their forbears for granted. Of course, the keyboards-oriented material is closely aligned to classic pop-rock of the 70s, too close at times and definitely, criticism due to this fact may be levelled at the band.

That said, there is a looseness and healthy irreverence about the whole process that holds Strangefinger back from that particular abyss. There’s no doubt that Into the Blue will appeal to the fans of the Pop Underground, especially considering that Jellyfish’s Chris Manning produced the album. In addition, the knowing references to the Beach Boys (the early 70s version), Billy Joel, Harry Nilsson, 10cc (the Stewart-Gouldman edition) and the odd McCartney-isms on Into the Blue will endear it to powerpop fans rather effortlessly.

And…?

In the final analysis, Into the Blue is a collection of well-produced and highly crafted pop songs that whilst seemingly exists in a time bubble, I detect a certain verve and tenacity about the album that is pretty much hard to ignore or dismiss. I believe that Into the Blue is one of those musical works that requires a couple of listens before a full appreciation of its strengths may be discerned. Perhaps it’s more than a sum of its intelligent touches, smart moves and stylistic flourishes. Pop fans would do well to give it a chance to do so…

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

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

THE APPLES IN STEREO

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THE APPLES IN STEREO #1 Hits Explosion (Yep Roc)

I don’t mean to be rude but it doesn’t matter what kind of music you may personally dig, you need this truly awesome compilation in your life and like, NOW! Sure, the title is ironic but that’s irrelevant as this album takes the listener through 16 high-octane sweet chunks of pure melody. Believe me, swallowing this album whole will give you a sugar rush you’ll never forget.

You want genres? Well, powerpop, bubblegum, sunshine pop, merseybeat, jangle pop, freak beat, psych rock (and so on) are covered with much aplomb (and dollops of fun). Influences? Too many to mention but if it makes you feel any better, Beach Boys, Beatles, the Byrds, the Move, ELO et al.

#1 Hits Explosion is the perfect introduction-sampler to the wondrous delights of the Apples in Stereo, once you’ve picked up this gorgeous item you would do well then to check out them albums e.g. Tone Soul Evolution, Her Wallpaper Reverie and The Discovery of a World Inside the Moone.

So, what are you waiting for?

Official site

Myspace

CHRIS COLLINGWOOD – LIVE IN SINGAPORE

 

We ran off the stage anticipating an encore – Leave the Biker – but the host killed it for us by anouncing the end of the set instead of attempting to coax one more song from us. So things did not quite go to plan and my dream gig was over.

Over.

Four intense days of jamming, bonding through food & shared musical interests culminated in a thrilling (albeit terrifying) 45-minute set at the Esplanade Outdoor Theatre.

From Wednesday to Friday, the band (Desmond Sim, Eugene Wee, Alexius Cai and I) jammed with Chris to work out the songs that we would perform on Saturday night. By the time we sound checked on Saturday afternoon, we had a set list all planned out and we were in good shape for the performance.

Chris asked me if I would back him up for Troubled Times for his solo acoustic set for early Saturday night at the Concourse. The song had been dropped from the full band set list and I felt honoured by his request. But before that, the five of us were featured artists at the library@esplanade for the “observation deck” segment. It was great to see familiar faces in the crowd – Tim, Chang Kang, Weiwen, Daniel – as we manoeuvred our way through the usual questions.

From then on time seemed to freeze and fly past at the same time – if that makes any sense. Chris played his solo acoustic set, I backed him on Troubled Times (which was almost dream-like, surreal even), we set up at the Outdoor Theatre, cracked opened the set and ran through the songs, trying hard to remember my vocal, guitar and keyboard parts. The highlight for me personally was seeing all the familiar faces in the crowd, the missus, my eldest son Wesley, Narisa, Cindy, Roland, Weiwen, Thomas, Poh Soo. The audience reaction to I Love Singapore was bigger than I expected – Chris described it as the “biggest hit of the night” – a fantastic high!

Then it was done. I felt relieved that it went down well and yet was slightly disappointed that it was over. I want to thank to everyone who made this once-in-a-lifetime experience possible. The folks at Esplanade – Chloe, Keith and Junmin, the awesome band – Des, Gene and Al and of course Chris. I have been blessed to have collaborated with talented people like Skye, the Great Spy Experiment, Jon Chan, Jack and Rai but working with Chris has been phenomenal.

Truly unforgettable … but there’s more…

Set list – Please don’t rock me tonight/No Better Place/Sink to the Bottom/Red Dragon Tatoo/Wasting Time/Hackensack/All Kinds of Time/Mexican Wine/I Love Singapore/Sick Day/Radiation Vibe/Stacy’s Mom/Survival Car.

SOUNDTRACK OF MY LIFE

Starting a new feature where I highlight some music that made an impression on my life. Music that soundtracked my existence, you might say.

In the 90s, alternative rock got a shot in the arm from the success of Nirvana, whose melodic crunch was labelled (crassly) as grunge. However, it would probably be more accurate to say that Nirvana were closer to being a powerpop band than a metal band with influences that included, amongst others, the Beatles and Neil Young.

Post-grunge, the alternative rock scene threw up many great like-minded great bands who were deft at combining catchy tunes with muscular guitar rock. Even as I revisit this heady music for a new project band, I am discovering how special that rock epoch truly was and I hope that this new feature will inspire you to check out these fine bands and their essential albums.

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TEENAGE FANCLUB Grand Prix (Creation, 1995)

No doubt in my mind that Grand Prix was the creative peak of the Fannies where their tremendous potential finally became reality. Melodies, harmonies, chiming & crunching guitars were the order of the day. Almost perfect. Highlights – Don’t Look Back (the opening guitar lines still gives me chills), Neil Jung (geddit? Possibly the one of the best Shakey tributes out there), Tears (thrilling blue-eyed soul) and Discolite (Gerard Love really has a way with tunes).

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DINOSAUR JR Where You Been (Sire, 1993)

Talk about tributes to Neil Young! With the hype surrounding “grunge” in the early 90s, how J Mascis and Dinosaur Jr remained fairly below the radar is beyond me. Where You Been was Dinosaur Jr’s 5th album and probably among their most commerically successful albums. Highlights – Start Choppin’ (when the guitar solo begins to soar halfway through – heaven!), What Else Is New? (probably the closest Dinosaur Jr gets to a pure pop song, with the fretwork kicking ass!), Not the Same (an epic ballad no less, where the spectre of Neil Young looms largest) and Out There (the anthemic opener).

Well, that’s just the first instalment.

…still there’s more…

GET BACK LORETTA

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GET BACK LORETTA Where Did You Go? EP (Pacific)

Get Back Loretta does exactly what it says on the tin…in the fact that what is said on the tin is taken from a Beatles song title. To say that Oasis ripped off The Beatles has always been a matter of debate (more so for me as no one mentions the shameless T Rex part of that rip off). If critics insist that the lads from Manchester ripped off The Beatles, then Get Back Loretta may as well be a tribute band. It is impossible to listen to opening track When You Notice without noticing (did you see what I did there?) that these guys wear their ‘we really really love The Beatles’ badges warmly on their sleeves.

The trouble is as you delve deeper into the San Diego’s six track Where Did You Go? you begin to hear even deeper influences, to the point where you are stumbling around, confused from one point of reference to the next and you have to stop and ask yourself, is this the beauty of this band? I cannot lie to you, despite my initial dismissal of this band, I started to like them. At one point I was hearing Queen, the next Radiohead were making an appearance, but all along this is mixed so beautifully together to form Get Back Loretta. It is almost as if the band have spread their record collection out in front of you in music form, but done it in such an original way that you cannot dislike them for it.

What this forms is a purely rock album, I hate to use that term but there is no other way around it. It is so straight forward and direct in only a way that a rock band can be. You can tell this band love writing, love playing together and want you to feel as much a part of the experience as they are. When You Notice bounces along, stashed away in the seventies but peaking over the brow of the modern hill with a cheeky smile. Grown so Cold shuffles it’s feet along the stage and tips it’s hat to the audience. We then move on into the amazing title tack Where Did You Go? with a deep, solid bass line and a chorus that refuses to leave you hours after listening to it. Mrs Miller has a lead riff that you swear you have heard before but you will never place it and finally everything comes to a close with a jig in Lottie Dottie. It really seems to skip by that quickly but that is part of the whole experience of Where Did You Go?, it passes you by before you have even noticed and is on another trip around much sooner than you had expected.

I honestly recommend this album to anyone purely to have the fun of listening to it and picking out who you can hear. That is not an insult to Get Back Loretta at all, I mean who or what is original anymore? Who does not lend from the artists who have inspired them in the first place? The difference is some do it purely because they cannot come up with something more. This is not the case with Get Back Loretta, they have pulled together all the best bits and mixed it into their own sound.

(Adam Gregory)

Myspace

CHRIS COLLINGWOOD – LIVE IN SINGAPORE

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Dreams do come true! Sometime in 2008, I posted an event on Facebook for my performance (with the Groovy People) at Rock the Sub. I got a bit of a shock when Chris Collingwood (the voice of power pop legends Fountains of Wayne) wrote on the event wall that he would love to play in Singapore!

Well, in about 5 weeks’ time, Collingwood will in fact be playing in Singapore at Baybeats 2009 on the 29th of August to be precise. And if that wasn’t exciting enough, yours truly will be backing Chris playing rhythm guitar and singing backing vox! Yes! Really!

Let’s just say that I have been a big fan of FOW since their gorgeous eponymous album was released in 1996 – the one with the kid playing Superman holding his pet bunny – and I can barely wrap my head around the fact that I will be on stage with Chris playing great songs like Radiation Vibe, Sick Day (my favorite!), Red Dragon Tattoo and Stacy’s Mom!

So, stay tuned as Power of Pop begins its countdown to Baybeats 2009, with special emphasis on my experiences with Chris in the coming weeks! Oh by the way, rounding up the band are Eugene Wee and Desmond Sim out of S-ROCK legends The Lilac Saints!

Check out my review of FOW’s third album, Welcome Interstate Managers, which I wrote a few years back. Still there’s more.

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Ten tracks into this, the third and latest album from Adam Schlesinger, Chris Collingwood and company, Fountains of Wayne delivers a truly incandescent pop moment with the ‘70s soft-rock evoking “Halley’s Waitress.” With the inspirations of Burt Bacharach and the Carpenters trailing in its wake, “Halley’s Waitress,” with its baroque piano, poignant string arrangement, vibes and theme of wistful regret, represents the rare indications of heart (rather than mind) dictating the Fountains Of Wayne pop agenda.

This superior mood and tone is mirrored in the folky “Hackensack” and the balladic Fire Island, not to mention the radio-friendly “All Kinds of Time.”

Not that the band’s trademark driving sunshine pop-rock doesn’t in itself justify a recommendation. It’s just that I’ve always felt that this particular kind of Cheap Trick meets Pixies melodic crunch has been better served up by the likes of Weezer and Grandaddy. Worse still when juvenile urges are indulged with the rather distasteful “Stacy’s Mom” – imagine a much creepier “Jesse’s Girl,” where instead of lusting after another guy’s girlfriend, this time it’s your girlfriend’s erm mother – although I presume it’s done as a parody but why go there at all?

That aberration apart, the songwriting duo’s knack for stitching together vivid novelettes ala Ray Davies remains intact. The working class dilemma is outlined in tracks like “Mexican Wine” – “I used to fly for United Airlines/Then I got fired for reading High Times,” “Bright Future in Sales” – “I had a line on a brand new account/But now I can’t seem to find/Where I wrote that number down” and “Little Red Light” – “Stuck in a meeting on a Monday night/trying to get the numbers to come out right.” Even happier to report that the boys’ sense of humour is not lost in songs like the bizarre action-replay paean “All Kinds Of Time,” which simply describes an American Football TV scene, “No Better Place” with “Is that supposed to be your poker face/Or was someone run over by a train” and “Hey Julie” which illustrates the mundanity of the working stiff – “Working all day for a mean little man/With a clip-on tie and a rub-on tan.”

Hailed years ago as the Great White Hope of power pop, Fountains of Wayne do not disappoint with Welcome Interstate Managers, clocking in at 55-plus minutes and 16 tracks, discerning pop fans will relish every nuance and every lick. Indispensable.

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.).

SORRY

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SORRY The RSVP EP (Self released)

The new power trios never get too bogged down with the traditional concepts of sonic power. From the Police to Nirvana to Nada Surf, the redefinition of the power trio finds the dynamism in the spaces between the instruments, in the exploration of seemingly conflicting genres and styles.

That’s certainly true of Auburn WA power trio, Sorry. Comprising of the Brozovich brothers (Alan and Stephen) on guitars, basses and vocals with Derek Butcher on drums, Sorry colasce open chords, odd time signatures, fragile melodies and fractured thoughts into emotional highs, percussive conundrums and subtle violence.

Deceptively simple and straightforward, their press release comparisons with the Posies and Hang Ups belie the intensity and depth of their craft. The interplay between strings and voices showcases the genetic sibling harmonics that builds up each track into a crescendo of grace and beauty.

The ambience moves from the insistent jazz strokes of Autobiography, the jaunty whip shots of Bicycle, the gorgeous folk strains of Set Sail to the sinister menace of Autopilot. Considering the tracks, by and large, sound like live recordings, the fact that the songs never come across the same way is an astounding achievement.

I absolutely love the way Sorry weaves diverse strands of post-punk, twee, powerpop and indie rock into a pleasing multicoloured quilt. This is a band to keep a firm eye (and ear) on.

Check out Sorry’s website.

GLADSHOT

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GLADSHOT Burn Up and Shine (Self released)

I love this album! Yes, it’s simple as that. Back to basics pop songcraft that maintains a consistently high quality of music and lyrics, laden with fresh sounds despite the weight of the obvious debts to the 60s and 70s. Immediately lovable yet filled with nuances that begs for repeated study, hearkening back to the time where the melange of country music and pop-rock still resided in experimental mode, full of excitement, wide-eyed optimism and unbridled enthusiasm.

References galore, boys and girls – from the classic viz. the Beatles, the Byrds, Gram Parsons, Gene Clark, Big Star, Blondie to the modern viz. REM, Wilco, the Jayhawks, Teenage Fanclub, Belle and Sebastian and the Elephant 6 collective – this album’s for all the ‘true’ pop kids out there.

Gladshot hails from New York and is made up of Debbie Andrews and Mike Blaxill and Burn Up and Shine is their third album (produced by John Agnello, who has worked with Sonic Youth & Hold Steady, amongst others) & is a band that the pop underground needs to champion and how!

Personal faves? All I Want is a really infectious pop ditty, Like the Angels Do is a smooth groover, American Night is a raucous country rock ‘n’ roller, Fabulous Friends is a tongue-in-cheek ode to materialism and 1961 (You Could Still Get Lost) is a spine tingling piano ballad. That said, Burn Up and Shine is an album you can listen to from beginning to end without reservation.

A shot in the arm for anyone feeling the depressing blues of a world in perpetual crisis.

Check out Gladshot’s Myspace page.

Download: All I Want

CHEWY MARBLE

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Brian Kassan formed power poppers Chewy Marble in 1995. In the years since, the band has been fairly active in the pop underground releasing two albums. New album Modulations – six years in the making – is perhaps its best so far. As expected, it draws from the usual power pop influences which any keen observer of the pop undergroung would be familiar with. That said, in order to appreciate Chewy Marble and Modulation, one has to realize that most of the material here are slow-burners. They may lack the immediency of Sloan (or even the energy) but careful repeated listens wil reveal nuggets of melodic inspiration.

Highlights include the twisting tune of Cross-Hatched World, the 70s rock-channelling Black and White, the psych-folk Picture the Finger and bossa nova XTC referencing instrumental Mental Toothache. Be warned though, much of the repertoire showcased on Modulations sound unfinished in terms of arrangements, almost to the point of coming across like demos in parts. Which is the only serious reservation I’ve always had about Chewy Marble – great musical ideas and concepts but somehow lacking in the final execution.

Strictly for fans of the band and the genre.

Check out Chewy Marble’s Myspace page.