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.