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RICK MURNANE

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May 182012
 

GOOD AS GOLD

There is a familiar, endearing (yes even enduring) quality about Rick Murnane‘s Wednesday Child. It is something magical that is rooted in the sounds of classic timeless pop music – birthed and nurtured throughout the golden age of the 60s and 70s. Murnane, with the help of his friend (in this case neighbour, Chris Collingwood of the Fountains of Wayne – who played drums and engineered the album) has concocted a fabulous collection of memorable pop tunes that recall the jangly, psychedelic folk-rock majesty of the Byrds, the Beatles and the Searchers, with a larynx that is reminiscent of both John Lennon and Roger McGuinn. Wednesday Child is the kind of musical treasure the card-carrying members of the Pop Underground spend hours obsessing over.

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Apr 032012
 

ON THE BEACH

If Robert Pollard was more obsessed with Brian Wilson/Beach Boys and less with Pete Townshend/The Who, perhaps then Guided By Voices would have sounded more like The Squires of the Subterrain. A cursory search online will tell you that “The Squires of the Subterrain springs from the do-it-yourself, lo-fi (but certainly not low-quality) pop ingenuity of a single man, Christopher Earl (born Christopher Earl Zajkowski)” and with six albums already released (since the 90s), there’s a lot to say about the stamina and self-belief of Christopher Earl.

And so Sandbox arrives as album #7, the title inspired by Brian Wilson’s notorious installation of a sandbox in his living room whereupon he placed a piano so that he could feel the sand between his toes as he composed! So it’s no stretch to describe Sandbox as chock full of Beach Boys-referencing pastiches from the early surf-rock days (“Idling in the Sun”, “Surfin’ Indiana”) to the psychedelic Smile-infused “(I Still) Mow Your Lawn”, “Fun House” and “Woodrow Wilson”. The latter track is a absolute Wilsonesque gem that fans of the legend will thoroughly savour.

Fair warning – the production is ‘lo-fi’ and Earl’s vocals (despite his best efforts) could never match his one true inspiration but that’s never an issue if one is able to appreciate the sheer love, passion, dedication and craft that Earl has put into yet another album. Lovers of sixties pop will dig Sandbox.

Get your Sandbox (and other Squires albums) here.

Mar 282012
 

DIG DISS!

To be honest I didn’t like Sweet Diss and the ComebacksEmerald City Love Song on first listen. Somehow, my state of mind dictated that the band was twee, fey and (probably) listened to too many Broadway musicals (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Well, obviously I was wrong (so what’s new?). Subsequent critical listens have revealed that Sweet Diss and the Comebacks (which is an unfortunate name) is a powerpop band in every sense of that word. Equal parts power and pop!

Power – crunching guitars help of course but it’s really about the dynamism of those song arrangements – hooks that stick in your head and the little sonic details (like percussive patterns) that make you go – “aha that’s cool!” Not to mention the sheer ambition (and balls!) of including a song suite (hence the earlier Broadway musical reference) viz. “Seattle’s Best” which consists of five parts and documents the eclecticism of Sweet Diss and the Comebacks (yeah it’s a mouthful). Sophisticated melodies, careening variations in mood and tone with tongue firmly in cheek. Genius!

Pop – think of The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Badfinger, Sparks, Queen, Todd Rundgren, Cheap Trick, Jellyfish, Weezer, Fountains of Wayne as Emerald City Love Song transport the faithful true blue POP listener (that’s you, kind visitor!) into the kind of pop Shangri-la that almost doesn’t exist anymore. I mean, “Never Stop Wooing You”, “Maybe Someday” and “Hey Indie Girl” are examples of driving, hummable powerpop magic that would teach those so-called ‘punk-pop’ (UGH!) poseurs (you know who the fuck you are!) how it’s all supposed to be done! They remind me of the sadly missed Splitsville (to these ears anyways) and other mighty 90s pop underground legends.

So if you have been reading this review all this while and you are still not convinced on the merits of powerpop and in particular Sweet Diss and the Comebacks then perhaps a pop cleansing of sorts need to be conducted in order to align the planets once more in the direction of true blue pop! Picking up Emerald City Love Song would be the perfect start…

Official Site

Check out “Hey Indie Girl” below.

Sep 202010
 

HINDU RODEO

Indulge me, folks, as I muse a little. A great comic book writer named Mike (Nexus, Punisher, Flash) Baron introduced me to the world of the powerpop underground in the late 90s. One of his strongest recommendations was an album by a band with the oddest name – Hindu Rodeo. This power trio (consisting of drummer Jimi Englund, guitarist Dirk Freymuth and singer-songwriter-bassist Joel Sayles) released a fabulous debut eponymous album in 1995, which is a buried treasure and a wonder to discover.

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THE BRITANNICAS

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Jun 222010
 

THE BRITANNICAS S/t (Kool Kat Musik)

I guess you could say that the Britannicas (Magnus Karlsson – Guitar/Vocals, Herb Eimerman – Bass/Vocals, Joe Algeri – Drums/Vocals) offer a encyclopedic approach to their power pop music making. The eponymous album covers quintessential power pop viz. 60s Merseybeat (Gerry and the Pacemakers, the Beatles), jangle pop (the Searchers, the Byrds) and 70s classic pop-rock (Raspberries, Badfinger).

Recorded in the members’ home studios spread out over three continents – Sweden, USA and Australia – the execution of the pristine power pop ideas suffers a little due to this, in my view. In particular, I feel that a fair amount of the vocals just do not complement the music and lets down the overall melodic content somewhat.

That said, a number of songs do offer sumptuous tunes (Eg. Stars, Ordinary Day and Blue Sky Grey) with welcomed diversions into country and chamber pop, that raises the material above the technical and production difficulties. I would certainly recommend the Britannicas to lovers of power pop the way it was meant to be approached and presented.

Myspace | Kool Kat Musik

SETH SWIRSKY

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May 232010
 

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 – Watercolor Day – Swirsky 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!

Official Site

Myspace

PLASTICSOUL

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Dec 062009
 

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PLASTICSOUL Peacock Swagger (Self-released)

A little bit of pop trivia before we begin. “Plastic Soul” is of course, a term originally coined by an unknown black musician to describe Mick Jagger. Paul McCartney cited it as an influence on the album title of Rubber Soul. Whilst David Bowie described his excursions in soul and funk with the Young Americans album also as “plastic soul”.

So now you know.

Which does indeed help to put pop underground band Plasticsoul’s classic pop agenda into some perspective. For fans of genuine powerpop (and NOT the pathetic modern rock/emo punk posturing calling itself “powerpop”), Peacock Swagger is a mini-godsend as the album is chock full of the right influences viz. the Beatles, the Byrds, the Kinks, the Stones, Badfinger, Nick Drake, Todd Rundgren and every other top-notch classic pop follower down the line & through the intervening years.

Definite highlights include the ambitious opener You Sentimental Fucks/Life On Other Planets, the folky Cancer, the pastoral What Do You Wanna Know Rock and Roll, the countrified Shame, the fragile soft pop channeling San Francisco and the blistering Cock Rock 101.

It’s gratifying to know that the pop underground that gave me so much solace and excitement in the late 90s remains alive and kicking with bands like Plasticsoul.

Official Site

MySpace

BRYAN SCARY

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Sep 112009
 

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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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Sep 052009
 

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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

 

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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”

 

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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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May 232009
 

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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

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May 232009
 

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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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Apr 112009
 

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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.

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