Thursday, May 28, 2009

CD of the Day, 5/28/09: The Layaways-The Space Between

For at least a couple of years now, I've been a regular reader of David Harrell's Digital Audio Insider blog. Although he posts somewhat infrequently (I can identify with that), he usually has an interesting take on the state of digital music and how it relates to independent bands. And his take comes from the fact he's a guitarist and lead vocalist for The Layaways, a Chicago indie pop band. Somehow in all this time reading his blog I never managed to listen to his band as it was one of those "I'll get around to it at some point" things. Well, the loss was mine as their latest disc, The Space Between, is about as melodic and hooky as indie pop can get.

If you want some touchstones for their sound, Spoon and Earlimart come to mind, with the former an apparent influence on opening track "Keep it to Yourself", at least in its spare, tough open. But then comes the chorus, and it's bright and melodic as any power pop can aspire to be (it also helps that Harrell and Mike Porter are warmer vocalists than Britt Daniel). "All Around the World" shares its title with an Oasis classic and shares the band's affinity for 60s pop as its jaunty beat and swirling chorus would make The Spongetones proud. The moody "January" recalls Joe Pernice as well as Colin Blunstone, and "Come Back Home" is where the Earlimart comparison comes into play. Another standout is the gentle "Too Little Too Late", a wonderful rainy day song. So don't make my mistake and put this one on layaway - get it on your music player of choice now.

CD Baby | MySpace | iTunes

All Around the World
Keep it to Yourself
Come Back Home

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

CD of the Day, 5/27/09: Tony Cox-Unpublished

If you've been asking yourself "Where can I find some classic 60s-styled British pop that has a timeless quality to it?", then Tony Cox has the answer. Unpublished is his debut album, and thankfully for us he actually did publish it. There is one twist here: although Cox wrote all the tracks and plays guitar and keyboards, the lead vocalist is Nigel Clark, not Cox. If that name sounds familiar, Clark is the onetime frontman of Dodgy, and released a quality solo disc in 2006 titled 21st Century Man.

"Sweet Elaine" and "Feel Real Love" open the disc in grand fashion, incorporating Northern Soul (dig those horns) and a Motown bassline, together with sunshine melodies. If you dug last year's Rinaldi Sings disc, stop reading this review and immediately go to the link below and order this one. "Jamelia" adds an insistent guitar hook to the mix while "Fallen" lays on the jangle. The midtempo "Chills" recalls Merseysiders like Peter & Gordon and Herman's Hermits, while "Say the Word" continues the 60s tour with some Beach Boys influence. The only question I have is how did "Life is Hardcore" end up on this disc? With its heavy synths it's about 20 years figuratively removed from the rest of the album. That minor quibble aside, Tony Cox has the Carnaby Street Album of 2009 on his hands. He may be retro, but he has the tunes.

CD Baby | MySpace | iTunes

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

New Michael Carpenter album on the way!

Here's some good news to brighten up your back-to-work-from-a-long-holiday-weekend morning: Michael Carpenter is set to release his first solo album since 2004's Rolling Ball - and you won't have to wait long for it. Redemption #39 will be available on June 8 from the usual suspects (Not Lame, Kool Kat, Jam). Much as Carpenter has done with previous releases (such as Rolling Ball and the Supahip album), he'll be offering a limited edition bonus disc containing a stripped-down, acoustic version of the album, so get it early.

Here's a video for the album's opening track, "Can't Go Back":

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Jay Bennett, R.I.P.

It was with great sadness that moments ago I learned that Jay Bennett, formerly of Wilco, died today at the age of 45. Sadly, most people will end up remembering him as the "obnoxious" guy that Jeff Tweedy had to boot out of the band during the Yankee Hotel Foxtrot sessions in 2001, courtesy of the documentary I Am Trying To Break Your Heart. I'll remember him as a kind of mad pop genius, and I've always been of the opinion that Wilco went downhill after he was ousted from the band.

Bennett was an accomplished multi-instrumentalist, and he joined Wilco for their critically acclaimed 2nd album, Being There. But it was 1999's Summerteeth when Bennett really took over. Its swirling pop melodies and walls of sound were as much Bennett as they were Tweedy, and it stands as a pop masterpiece in my book (the lovely ballad "My Darling" was a Bennett composition, for one). And his stamp was all over the avant-garde sounds of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (he was sacked at the end of the recording sessions). I don't mean to belittle what Tweedy did on these albums, but without Bennett playing Lennon to his McCartney (or the other way around), neither of these discs would have been the classics they were. In 2002, Bennett teamed up with Edward Burch to release The Palace at 4AM, an overlooked gem that let him unleash his inner Jeff Lynne on a series of densely produced pop nuggets, the highlight of which is "Shakin' Sugar", an outtake from the YHF sessions also known as "Alone", and one of the best ELO songs Lynne (or Bleu in LEO) never wrote. Bennett wasn't the world's greatest singer, but he does a passable Elvis Costello on songs such as "Whispers and Screams" and "Puzzle Heart", while "Talk to Me" and "Drinking on Your Dime" are also standouts. His turn on another Wilco outtake, the aching ballad "Venus Stopped the Train", is also excellent. I can't find a Lala embed for it, but you can listen to it through Rhapsody here:

The Palace At 4am (Part 1) by Jay Bennett/Edward Burch

Bennett's solo career after Palace was kind of checkered. He released a couple of acoustic-based albums, which to me just weren't his metier. His 2007 release The Magnificent Defeat was a step back in the right direction, and he had a new album in the can before his death. Meanwhile, at least in my opinion, Wilco since he left has had a musically aimless and unfocused sound, and I haven't been much of a fan of A Ghost is Born or Sky Blue Sky, and what little I've heard of Wilco (The Album) isn't hearkening back to the glory days of turn-of-the-century Wilco. Meanwhile, Bennett in recent times has continued to come off as an unsympathetic character; his most recent stint in the news came from a lawsuit he filed against Tweedy regarding royalties from I Am Trying to Break Your Heart. But before anyone makes him out to be the 100% bad guy, remember that Tweedy has left quite a "body count" in his wake when it came to musical partnerships; aside from his acrimonious break with Jay Farrar in Uncle Tupelo, he's managed to purge everyone sans John Stirratt from the early days of Wilco, and until recently the band was a revolving door of supporting players.

Jay Bennett will be missed, but I'd already been missing him for years. Maybe in death he'll get the credit he was due in Wilco. Rest in peace, Jay.

Big Star Box Set on the Way!

Read all about it here.

And for all you BS fans out there (of which I count myself a big one, just note my email addy), make sure you bookmark Bruce Eaton's Big Star blog. I'm currently reading his Radio City book, about which I'll have more to say when I'm done, but you could do worse than picking up a copy in the meantime.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Stream the new Bleu album!

It doesn't hit the street until July 14, but you can stream the new Bleu album, A Watched Pot, at his official site. The album has been in the can for a couple of years now and is finally seeing the light of day. It's quite good, especially the anthemic "Go", and for those of you who loved his slower stuff on the LEO disc, "There's No Such Thing as Love" is a great Jeff Lynne-esque ballad.

(If you're wondering why there's a "parental advisory" sticker on the cover, just take a gander at one of the song titles.)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Wednesday Roundup.

Dion Read & The Afterthoughts-Be Here Right Now. Last year, Dion Read & Co. had one of the more promising debuts with their Shoes & Gloves EP. Now the Aussie piano power popper is back with his second EP, and it's another treat. Since it's de rigeur to compare piano power poppers to Ben Folds, let me analogize in this fashion: Read's new EP is to his last one what The Unauthorized Biography of Reinhold Messner was to Whatever and Ever Amen. For the Folds-unfamiliar, the new EP is more understated affair than the first, which doesn't mean it isn't fine in its own right. The title track is the peppiest of the bunch, while "The Blame" recalls Folds' "Don't Change Your Plans" from Messner. And the closer "Air Balloons" is a wonderful ballad that ranks up there with "Smoke" or "The Luckiest". Don't let this one be an afterthought.

CD Baby
| MySpace | iTunes

Willie Nile-House of a Thousand Guitars. Nile is a veteran NYC rocker who could be called a rock'n'roll true believer. Equal parts Springsteen, Lou Reed and Bob Dylan, Nile falls more in the classic rock category than power pop, but he has a sound that should appeal to power poppers in any event (his "Asking Annie Out" from his 2006 comeback album Streets of New York is a power pop gem). I can't recommend all the songs here (especially "Now That The War is Over"), but the highlights are true highs: the stomping "Magdalena", the Beatlesque ballad "Her Love Falls Like Rain", and the rocking "Run" are worth an immediate listen below. And beware: the chorus of the anthemic "Little Light" will stick in your head for hours if you aren't careful.

CD Baby | MySpace | iTunes

Wiretree mp3

Last week, I mentioned that Wiretree had a new track out and that you could stream it at MySpace. Now you can download the mp3 of "Back in Town", courtesy of Austin Sound.

Austin Sound

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Absolute Powerpop on the Kindle.

For those of you out there with a Kindle, you can now subscribe to Absolute Powerpop for the Kindle at the low monthly price of $1.99:

It comes with a 14-day free trial.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Major label Friday.

Actually, "major label" is a bit of misnomer (these releases haven't been featured in your latest Best Buy ad), but these are well-known acts with big-time distribution, so we'll use that particular shorthand here. I've been meaning to weigh in on these three for a while, so better late than never:

Fastball-Little White Lies. Fastball needs no introduction to those who read this blog, so the operative question here is how does it stack up to the rest of their catalog? And the answer is "quite well". In fact, song for song this might be their best ever, even if there isn't a "The Way" or "Fire Escape" on here. Frontmen Tony Scalzo and Miles Zuniga team up for the effervescent "All I Was Looking for Was You, while Scalzo pens a sequel of sorts to "The Way" with "The Malcontent (The Modern World)" wondering if the former is "still saying anything to you" while lamenting the disposable pop that pushed "The Way" and its like off the radio at the turn of the century. Zuniga is the purer popper of the two and his highlight here is hyper-catchy "Mono to Stereo", which is right up there with classics of his like "Fire Escape" and "Airstream". A welcome return from these veteran Texas power poppers.


Tinted Windows-Tinted Windows. Also getting a lot of publicity lately is power pop supergroup Tinted Windows, consisting of Taylor Hanson (from Hanson), Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne), James Iha (Smashing Pumpkins) and Bun E. Carlos (Cheap Trick). It doesn't get much better than that on paper, but on disc the whole is a bit less than the sum of its parts. Don't get me wrong - this is a fun, catchy power pop album. But it's fairly generic for the genre, although I can see this being the power pop album for people that aren't that big into power pop, given the names involved. "Kind of a Girl" is pretty catchy, with its "whoa-whoas" in the chorus, the Cheap Trick-esque power ballad "Back With You" and the driving "Without Live" are the highlights here.


Superdrag-Industry Giants. When John Davis put an apparent end to Superdrag after becoming a born-again Christian in the wake of 2002's brilliant Last Call for Vitriol, it appeared that we'd never heard from them as a band again. But seven years later, Davis reformed the band and it seems as the goal here is to make up for the absence by rocking harder and louder than ever, no small feat for a band that was already one of the harder-rocking power pop bands around. Unfortunately, though, they've sacrificed some melody in the process, making Industry Giants an uneven affair. "Slow to Anger" demonstrates this right off the bat, a three-chord rant that's pretty hookless. The ship is righted a bit with the melancholy "Live and Breathe", recalling the Superdrag of Vitriol, and "I Only Want a Place to Stay" takes an equally satisfying less-is-more approach. But most of the rest of the disc comes up kind of short in the memorable melody department, making it a good candidate to cherry pick downloads from.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Odds and Ends.

* Longtime AbPow favorite Wiretree has a new track up on their MySpace, "Back in Town", from their forthcoming album due later this year. Check it out.

* BrownLine Fiasco is now known as HiFi Superstar. They have a new MySpace page up as well.

Monday, May 11, 2009

CD of the Day, 5/11/09: Vegas With Randolph-Vegas With Randolph

Vegas With Randolph is a band from the Washington DC area (not Las Vegas) that's fronted by John Ratts and Eric Kern, who have been writing songs (500 of 'em, according to their notes) since high school. They've been playing the songs on their debut album for several years now, and it shows as they've honed a pop delight here. Reminiscent at times of other multi-fronted power pop groups (Fastball, Sloan) as well as Willie Wisely and Fountains of Wayne, the result is a left-field surprise that deserves attention in the power pop community.

Normally, I'll start a review with the first track because usually in power pop, the goal is the catch the listener's ear right away. But I'm going to start at the end here, with VWR's ambitious "Longplay" suite - six mini-songs woven together. While not quite Side 2 of Abbey Road, it compares favorably with last year's Lannie Flowers disc as well as the last two from Sloan. "Got to Have Your Love" and in particular, "Dreams of the Night" are highlights of the suite, reminding me of Eric Carmen and Paul McCartney.

As for the proper tracks, there are plenty of standouts. "Be the One", with its playful piano backing, channels the 50s through the 70s, "Milky Way Girl" sounds like it was recorded by a skinny-tie late 70s/early 80s power pop band, "When" recalls The Tomorrows & The Roswells, and if Noel Gallagher ever wrote a song about the French Revolution, "Versailles" would be it. Elsewhere "Arizona Blue" is a first-class ballad, and "Buses, Trains & Planes" answers the musical question "what would Fountains of Wayne & Belle and Sebastian sound like if they collaborated?". As you can tell by now, this one touches all the power pop bases, so listen below and you'll find something you like.

CD Baby | MySpace

Friday, May 08, 2009

Friday roundup.

The Evening Rig-Is Doin' Stuff. This Minneapolis band lives up to their hometown sound with 11 tracks of rip-roarin' Replacements-style rock'n'roll with a twinge of Americana. Fans of bands I've featured here like High on Stress and The Daylight Titans will find a lot to like here, from the blistering opener "The Steve McQueens" to the Westerbergian "Half Asleep" to the pensive yet rocking "Right Where She Wants Me". You can't always judge an album by its song titles, but "Goddamn, I Could Use a Drink" will give you a pretty good idea of what you're getting here. Here's some stuff to do: listen to the Lala embed below.

CD Baby | MySpace | iTunes

The Goodfight-Good & Evil. The Goodfight is Atlanta's Jonathan Rich, and this release is actually a double EP, broken up into "good" and "evil" sides. Whatever your moral inclinations, this is high-quality indie pop that will appeal to the hipsters as well as the power poppers. The first half (the Good EP?) is filled with tracks that have titles as convoluted as any this side of The Deathray Davies yet are musically straightfoward; the best of these are the propulsive "I Put You in a Box But I'm the One Who's Boxed In" and the Sloan-like "She's Too Pretty to be So Ugly". The second half (the Evil EP?) consists of songs with one-word titles of basics such as "Love", "Blind", and "Revolution" and is the more "indie" sounding of the two. "Revolution" is the tour de force here, a nearly six-minute track that builds to a lovely outro, and "Love" recalls The Eels. So in other words, there's something here for everyone.

Buy @Rebuilt Records | MySpace

First in Space-This is Not Here. Never mind the bollocks. If you're just looking for a straight-ahead melodic, power-poppin' disc without any bells and whistles, grab this release from Ohio's First in Space, who just got done playing IPO Chicago last month. Their sound is a mix of R.E.M., Gin Blossoms and The Raspberries, with a Midwestern sensibility. Standout tracks: "Jenny" (a great driving opener), "What You Need" (Middle American Mersey), the jangly "Anything at All" and the effervescent "Lock it Away". So be first on your block to be First in Space!

MySpace | iTunes

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

CD of the Day, 5/5/09: Sons of Great Dane-Why Ramble?

History is littered with alternate universe questions. What if the Allies lost World War II? What if the South won the Civil War? These questions can never be answered for sure, but the debut disc from the Kansas City band Sons of Great Dane gives us a plausible answer to the counterfactual that asks what if Alex Chilton and Chris Bell were into country-rock instead of the Beatles?

Blending power pop and country in a tuneful fashion not heard since the turn of the century heyday of Wilco's Summerteeth, Old 97s' Fight Songs and The Jayhawks' Smile, Sons of Great Dane have one of the early 2009 best-of frontrunners on their hands. Opener "Early Train" leans to the pop side, and recalls Red Guitar, The Meadows and other contemporary country-influenced pop bands, while "Always Wrong, Always Right" has a western noir sound that brings to mind Joe Pernice's "Bum Leg".

The bright pop of "Bullet Left Its Barrel's Head" is another album highlight, "The Ballad of Lou Baker" is Elliott Smith in a cowboy hat, and "One Man (Wishful Thinking") is Midwestern pop/rock in the vein of The BoDeans. Elsewhere, "Drug Queen Beauty" rocks a la Wilco's "Monday" (from Being There, which their producer Lou Whitney worked on as well), and while "Question" shares its title with a classic Old 97s track, the resemblance ends there as instead of an acoustic number, it's a densely produced pop/rock gem that turns into a guitar freak-out at the 4-minute mark and doesn't look back over the next 2 1/2 minutes. And the closing triumvirate of "St. Andrew", "Cut/Paste" and "Something" hold up their end of the album in melodic rocking fashion.

This one's a treat, and it holds the promise of uniting the No Depression crowd and the IPO crowd if it can get before enough ears, something for which I'm doing my part.

CD Baby | MySpace | iTunes | Download 3 tracks here

Friday, May 01, 2009

Friday 3-pack.

Calico Brothers-Tell it to the Sun. The New Zealand act which brought us one of 2008's top EPs makes their full length debut and picks up where they left off. Tell it the Sun is another serving of jangly popicana from the Calico Brothers, with a bit more of a country-rock orientation than the EP. You'll notice it with the banjos and harmonica on the title track and "Tread Carefully", while they lean to the pop side on the Beatleseque "Is There Anyone There?" and "Up for Air". Fans of The Jayhawks, The Meadows, Additional Moog and other similarly-oriented bands will love this one, as well of course fans of the original EP.

CD Baby | MySpace | iTunes

Matt Beck-Anything Which Gives You Pleasure. The pop/power pop genre has been a fertile one in recent years for sidemen, from Rusty Anderson to Craig Bartock to Bill Majoros (The Foreign Films) to Waz, and the latest sideman to step out is Matt Beck, who's worked with artists as diverse as Rod Stewart, Matchbox Twenty and Lisa Loeb and was picked by Bono & The Edge to provide guitar on an upcoming U2 musical. Needless to say, Beck has pop smarts and his debut disc is quite reminiscent of another sideman who's made a name for himself, Jim Boggia. "Nothing Ever Comes of It" has that Boggia/Brion/Penn feel, and "Wasted and Wanting" recalls George Harrison, slide guitar and all. Other highlights include the poptastic "Blessing in Disguise", the moody midtempo "Surround the Accident", and the beautiful ballad "Shelter Me". This disc will certainly give you pleasure.

CD Baby | MySpace | iTunes

The Beat Seekers-Dead Air Radio. This Nebraska band has a classic power pop sound that reminds me of fellow Midwestern power pop bands The Backroom and Ash Avenue as well as retro-poppers like The Rubinoos. Standouts include "All Dolled Up", which closes in a burst of frenetic energy, the infectious and pulsating title track, the "Lust for Life"-inspired "Passerby" and the mod sounding "Anything Won't Do". These guys put some rock'n'roll in their power pop, and they'll keep your toes tapping.

MySpace | iTunes | AmieStreet (currently $2.52)