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 РWatercolor Day РSwirsky 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!

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MARK BACINO

MARK BACINO Queens English (DreamCrush Music)

When I first started the Power of Pop – back in 1998 – I focused pretty much on the US Pop Underground which was vibrant at the time. One of its chief proponents was New Yorker Mark Bacino and his wonderfully sweet powerpop album Popjob, an album which was prominent on my playlist back then.

Five years later, Bacino released Million Dollar Milkshake, which moved me to describe it as “a 12-track journey into the heart of soft pop bliss where the aim is to please, sooth and caress (all in a family-oriented way, of course!) the jaded rock and pop enthusiast”.

Well, it may have been seven long years but on 18th May, that third Bacino album – Queens English – will finally be released and I am glad to report that it’s definitely worth the wait!

It’s been a while since a “traditional” powerpop album has excited me in this way. With Queens English, Bacino has developed his craft even further with the inclusion of baroque instrumentation (strings and horns) to imbue his soft pop leanings with chamber pop elements.

Much of Bacino’s lyrical concepts deal with his family life especially in songs like the jaunty Muffin in the Oven and the cheeky piano ballad ¬†Camp Elmo. In fact, there is an altogether welcome absence of angst throughout Queens English, which is indeed refreshing. Songs like the funny rockin’ title track (Queens, NYC not Queen of England, heh!), the music hall-channeling Happy, the lushly orchestrated Bridge and Tunnel and the folk-poppy Ballad of M and LJ, complete this picture of contentment.

Musically, Bacino never strays too far from his strengths, keeping faith with his fabulous melodies and the inspirations of the Kinks, Elvis Costello, Brian Wilson, Burt Bacharach and Jellyfish. Which is fine in my book. If there is only one powerpop album you pick up in 2010, it would have to be Queens English.

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CLARE AND THE REASONS

CLARE AND THE REASONS Arrow (Frog Stand)

If you were a mad scientist and discovered a means to distill the talents of Paul McCartney, XTC, John Cale and Brian Wilson and add a huge dollop of female sensibility, you’d probably end up with Clare and the Reasons. This Brooklyn-based band follow up their critically lauded debut Movie with an even more accomplished pure pop effort. Rather astonishing actually.

Eclectic at its core, the music on Arrow mixes and mashed chamber pop (with lush classical arrangements), electronica (throbbing, pulsing synth patterns), music hall quirkiness (check out the bizarre cover of Genesis’ That’s All!) and general pop mellifluousness.

Together with Elizabeth and the Catapult’s Taller Children, Arrow might just be the pop album of the year!

Essential, of course.

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BROOKVILLE

brookville

BROOKVILLE Broken Lights (Unfiltered)

Let’s play six degrees of separation, shall we? Let’s see, Brookville’s main man is Andy Chase. Chase and Adam Schlesinger are both in Ivy. Then, Schlesinger and Chris Collingwood form the nucleus of Fountains of Wayne. Of course, Chris and I played at Baybeats together in August! 5 degrees!

Pardon my self-indulgence but I always need to keep things interesting when reviewing CDs. Fact is, I’ve been criminally negligent in taking so long in reviewing Broken Lights as it is a sumptous album that every serious Pop enthusiast will thrill to. Think of Broken Lights as a loving paean to all things British indie twee pop married with muscular melodicism of 80s blue-eyed soul-pop. A perfect combination, believe me!

Did I just say, soulful and twee? Yep! Sure, Chase and co never quicken the pace too much but this album contains enough jazz-inflected, soft-pop channeling R&B nuggets that bridges both sides of the Atlantic to make this appealing to the US pop underground and the British indie dance scene.

From start to finish, the songs are immaculate as Chase creates his own world of Rhodes keyboards, spidery fretplay, Spectoresque percussion and breathy vocals, which will easily transport the unsuspecting listener to bliss. Highly recommended.

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Watch the music video for Great Mistake below.