Friday, August 29, 2008

CD of the Day, 8/29/08: Jim Boggia-Misadventures In Stereo

Boggia is back. Those three words are all some power pop fans will need to hear, but for the uninitiated, Jim Boggia is one of the top artists in the power pop field these days, and Misadventures In Stereo, his followup to 2005's superb Safe In Sound, is another feather in his cap. He's been a session pro for years, and he's a musician's musician.

You know you're in for quality right away with the catchy "Johnnie's Going Down", an uptempo shuffle that combines clever lyrics, fine harmonies and a Bachrachian horn section and screams pop perfection. He has a way with the slower numbers as well, which comprise the middle of the disc: "No Way Out" is like a cross between Emmit Rhodes (who appeared on Safe In Sound) and Aimee Mann (who did likewise), while "So" and the wistful "Nothing's Changed" dive into Elliott Smith territory.

The tempo comes back with the disc's centerpiece, "8-Track", which seems on the surface an ode to the much-maligned and long-forgotten music platform. Boggia cleverly notes how songs were cut in half, how clunky the format was, and how his sister used to listen to them all the time. But then when he abruptly stops the song midway through, admitting that he was too young to listen to 8-tracks and never even really had a sister, the message of how we value nostalgia for nostalgia's sake comes through. Boggia follows with "Listening to NRBQ", a tribute of sorts to the legendary band which features a guitar solo from none other than NRBQ's Al Anderson. The Beatlesque "Chalk One Up for Albert's Side" is another highlight, and the album closes with the elegiac "Three Weeks Shy", a moving tribute to an Iraq war soldier who dies three weeks short of the end of his tour of duty, and which closes with a reading of the names of his fallen comrades in arms.

There's no misadventure here in picking up this disc - it's a pop tour de force that's a cut above most of the genre. Boggia has done it again.

CD Baby | MySpace

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Wednesday Roundup.

Billy Kill-Minuits in the Making. Billy Kill hails from Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, a Philly suburb, and his debut disc is a definite ear-catcher. It's kind of a combination of Doug Powell and Bryan Scary with a bit of Jason Falkner thrown in. Top tracks: "You Belong to Me", "Big Things Come", the 80s-kitschy "Destination Love", the gay wedding celebration of "Patti & Susie" (where the Bryan Scary comparison comes in), and "Salvadore Dali", whose art inspired the album cover. And the hometown tribute "Conshohocken Strut" closes the disc with a perfect dose of whimsy. I can definitely see this one being big among fans of the more baroque power poppers mentioned above.

CD Baby

Kai Reiner-Kai Reiner. We all know the old saying about judging a book by its cover, but this is one case where you can most definitely judge a disc by its cover art. The Rickenbacker pictured on the cover of Kai Rainer's debut disc says it all: 11 tracks of jangle. Although he's German, there's a Swedish power pop sound at work here (I hear The Tangerines) as well as a definite Teenage Fanclub influence. Top tracks: "Cold Summer", "Only We Both Know", "I Don't Want Your Crown" (definite TF sound), and the driving "Brown Eyes". There's a real uniform quality to these tracks, and if jangle's your thing, Kai Reiner's your man.

CD Baby | MySpace

Radio Days-Midnight Cemetery Rendezvous. At Absolute Powerpop, we scour the globe for power pop, leaving no stone unturned. Our latest global find is Italy's Radio Days, and their enjoyable EP Midnight Cemetery Rendezvous (OK, truth be told, we haven't left Florida and they sent a disc for review). These guys do put the power in power pop, and recall a mix of Cheap Trick and the Paul Collins Beat. "Brand New Life" comes right out the gate with hooks, guitars and more, "Don't Keep Me Waiting" throws a bit of Beatlesque melody into their crunchy mix, and "Rock 'n' Roll Girl" will have your head a-bobbin'. Bravissimo, guys!

MySpace | Buy Here

Monday, August 25, 2008

CD of the Day, 8/25/08: Waz-The Sweet Bye and Bye

This one has been steadily growing on me until it reached the point where in good conscience I couldn't not feature it. A few weeks back, I mentioned it on my Twitter feed with the idea I'd leave it at that, but more and more listens have convinced me otherwise. Anyway, Waz is an LA musician who used to be a sideman for Pete Yorn, and with The Sweet Bye and Bye he's crafted one of the best soft pop/folky pop/singer-songwriter discs of the year as it turns out. Points of reference include Gus Black, AM, Adam Merrin and maybe even a more conventional Michael Penn.

"Hardly Enough" opens the disc and encapsulates Waz's sound: starting off soft and slow, building to a crescendo, and highly melodic. The guitar-based "Home" is another winner, reminding me of Ben Forrest Davis' "Roughs" album from last year, and "Mine to Remember" builds off a nice piano hook. "Why Can't We" is one of the more rocking songs on the disc, and bears the most resemblance to the sound of his former boss. "She's Gone" has the right mix of despair, melancholy and melody to live up to its title; and "Sleep In The Day" has a gorgeous, Neil Finn-style melody to it.

If you're a fan of this style of music, don't less this one pass you "Bye".

CD Baby | MySpace

Saturday, August 23, 2008

New Jackdaw 4 track (for free!)

Jackdaw4 has a new track they've recorded for a British TV series, and they're making it available as a free mp3 download from their official site. It's called "The Beautiful Game" and it comes as part of a .zip file download with 4 additional tracks, two from each of their first two discs. So even if you've been immune to Jackdaw4's charms, this is a great chance to sample them.

(h/t: Audities)

Friday, August 22, 2008

CD of the Day, 8/22/08: Patrick Leonard-Begin The Beginning

A couple of years ago on his Tangerine album, David Mead wrote a song called "Hard to Remember", which he said was inspired by his fairly nondescript name being just that. Well the name Patrick Leonard doesn't exactly jump off the page either as particularly exotic or memorable, but the Californian stands a real chance at making a name for himself in the pop community thanks to his top-notch debut album Begin The Beginning. Leonard comes across as a pop stylist in the manner of Michael Penn, Jon Brion and Elliott Smith, and fans of these artists as well as those of Braden Blake and the recent Andy Reed and Adrian Whitehead discs will enjoy this one as well.

Naturally, the title track begins the disc, and it's a wonderful mix of swirling melodies, intricate hooks and Lennonesque vocals. The rocking "No One Else" is another gem, with a bit of an Oasis-like swagger, while "Mars Theme" is pop near-perfection and "Down South" is a fun George Harrison-influenced shuffle. Speaking of Harrison, "The One" also bears his influence with a bit of a mystic sound yet is still highly melodic. The dreamy "Light of My Love" is definitely Brionesque, while the low-key "Be Loved" recalls E.Smith. The penultimate track, "Miss You", is a fine jangler in the vein of Michael Carpenter, and the disc closes with "Majicku", a trippy, exotic number that brings Peter Gabriel to mind.

All in all, this is an outstanding debut of sophisticated pop that I can see making more than a few year-end lists, and hopefully this is just "The Beginning" for Mr. Leonard.

CD Baby | MySpace

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

CD of the Day, 8/20/08: The Doll Test-Mosque Alarm Clock

Seattle's The Doll Test made a splash two years back with their debut EP Gasoline and Banks, a hard-driving, power-poppin' effort inspired by The Who and The Kinks. Now they're back with their full-length debut, provocatively titled Mosque Alarm Clock and not afraid to mix it up politically.

"I'd Rather Be Asleep" opens the disc with a distinct 60s-garage sound. "Everything's Fine" is a rocking look at the effort it takes to get through the day, and it makes way for the wonderfully jangly "Fall Away", which itself is followed by the "harder" jangle of "The Bell, The Map, The Stars". Meanwhile, "My Future Self", with its spoken verses and retro chorus, sounds as if it came from 1969, and "Ballad of Your Blue-Eyed Boy" sounds like a cross between John Lennon's "Mind Games" and Oasis' "Don't Look Back In Anger".

The political is represented by "The Decider" (which is about you-know-who) and "The Last Rung", a "Street Fighting Man"-type rocker with horns (both literally - there's a horn section - and metaphorically). Overall, the disc is quite sonically similar to the Shake Some Action! albums, which is starting to lead me to believe there may be a distinctive "Seattle Power Pop" sound out there.

CD Baby | MySpace

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Hurricane roundup.

As it now appears that Tropical Storm Fay has bypassed my home area (Tampa Bay), it's time to get back to business here.

Steve Caraway-Hurricane Season. Well of course I just had to include this disc in today's roundup. Despite the title, Caraway hails from Gloucester, Mass., not Florida or the Gulf Coast (MA hasn't been hit since Bob in 1991), but we'll overlook that since he's put out a fine disc of rootsy power pop. Caraway played the Charlotte Pop fest recently, and his set was well-received there. The sound here is The Smithereens meet Petty/Springsteen, and highlights include "Before You Run Away" (reminds me of Marah), the jangly "When I Change My Mind", the rocking "Rabbit" and the 80s pop of "Evangeline". It's good to be able to say something nice about hurricane season for a change.

| eMusic

The Bellfuries-Palmyra. This Texas band has a pleasingly retro sound, not unlike The Offbeat, The Scruffs or fellow Texans The Krayolas. If you want a clean, classic, 60's pop-sounding disc, this one's for you. Standout tracks: leadoff grabber "Welcome to the Club", the merseybeat of "Sung by Someone Lonely", and the jangly "Give It, Get It" (mp3 link below). Retro-a-go-go!

CD Baby | MySpace | "Give It, Get It" mp3

Owen Sartori-Another Beautiful Day In The Cube. Here's a find. This Minneapolis popster has come out of left field with a sophisticated yet poptastic disc that will have fans of everyone from Ben Folds to Jason Falkner to Josh Fix excited. It's a look in some respects of the life of a newly-turned thirtysomething stuck in a dead-end office job, but it's more than Dilbert-rock. The bright, piano-based "Could You Be The One" is a particular highlight, as is the FoWesque "Punching Bag", as well as the lush ballad "Separate". An extremely promising debut.

CD Baby | MySpace

Friday, August 15, 2008

CD of the Day, 8/15/08: Jeff Larson-Left of a Dream

We all know the cliche about death and taxes being the only certainties, but there's another one to add to the list: about once a year, Jeff Larson will release a quality disc of laid-back California pop in the vein of America, Dan Fogelberg and The Eagles and make it sound effortless. He's done it again with Left of a Dream, his best since his 2006 career-highlight Swimming in the Make Believe.

After opening with the fine-but-brief "Wake Up", Larson gets down to business with "Anywhere She Goes", complete with guest vocals from America's Dewey Bunnell. "Ghosts of San Miguel", is California soft-pop noir featuring backing vocals from the other half of America, Gerry Buckley. Meanwhile, "Red to Rust" stands out as a particular highlight with its upbeat melody and Larson's use of the gitjo, which as its name implies, is a guitar-banjo hybrid. "Where Is Indio, CA" is another winner, and although Buckley's harmonies are prominent here, the sound is more Jayhawks than America.

Other standouts include "California Rail", which features the gitjo again and sounds as rustic as the title would indicate; the Eaglesque "Easy on Me" (both of which feature Brian Wilson bandmember Jeffrey Foskett on backing vocals), and album closer "Be Here Anyway", which just seems to be the quintessential Jeff Larson track.
Larson isn't plowing any new ground here, but that's OK - with the Eagles and America only making new discs about once a decade, he fills a niche that's certainly worth filling.

CD Baby | MySpace

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

CD of the Day, 8/13/08: Ben Sadock-You Are The Beneficiary of Us

And now for something completely different. OK, not completely different, but not quite power pop. New Yorker Ben Sadock has given us the album we didn't know we were waiting for until we heard it with You Are The Beneficiary of Us, in which we get a return to the sound of pre-Graceland Paul Simon, Can't Buy a Thrill-era Steely Dan, leavened with a dash of Randy Newman. In other words, NYC-influenced, sophisticated 70s singer-songwriter pop that takes its cues in equal doses from The Brill Building and Motown.

The disc opens with "Pity the Fool", and it sets the tone both musically and in terms of sensibility. A catchy midtempo number heavy on electric piano, the promise of the song's title is kept with a reference to Mr. T. "Stepping out of Jersey" might be the best track here, with a hooky melody and a nod to the sentiment of "Born to Run" (the song, not the album) without the teenage melodrama. Elsewhere "Wise Women" calls to mind the early Steely Dan tracks on Can't Buy a Thrill when David Palmer sang lead instead of Donald Fagen; "Help Yourself, She Said" is a fine, soulful ballad; the piano-based "Glory Be" is where the Newman comparisons come into play; and "The Most Important Thing" recalls some of Stevie Wonder's breezier tunes from the early 70s. Speaking of Stevie Wonder, the bouncy "No More Loving" makes explicit several of the reference points just mentioned, quoting lines from "Sir Duke", Steely Dan's "My Old School" and even "The Way We Were".

If you grew up in the 70s (especially the first half of the decade), this type of sound was as integral to the pop landscape of the time as any other, but it's been woefully underrepresented among today's revivalists. So bravo to Ben Sadock for bringing back a piece of our memories. Even the misty, water-colored ones.

CD Baby | MySpace

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

CD of the Day, 8/12/08: Khalid Hanifi-Pamplemousse Presse

Those of us who remember the 2000 (re-released in 2005) Maypops disc Spirits of Agnew remember the name Khalid Hanifi, and know that seeing his name adorn a new 2008 solo release is a big deal. Those who don't will soon learn, if it's anything I have a say about. Spirits of Agnew was a power-poppin' gem, and Hanifi's 2008 solo debut Pamplemousse Presse is another winner, sure to appeal to fans of the poppier side of Elvis Costello, The Odds, and David Grahame.

"Mr. Wonderful" opens the disc, and the midtempo number is quite reminiscent of the recent Rip Off artists release. "When You Wake Up" is another fine track, piano-based with a stacatto guitar hook that just won't quit. The soft pop of "I'm Gonna Dedicate This One to You" gives way to the lovely "Hard to Believe", which features fine harmony vocals from his sister Sophie.

Meanwhile, the bouncy "Truck" should satisfy anyone's powerpop jones, and "Don't Hurry Me" offers up a bluesy vibe, and perhaps the disc's high point comes with the combo of "July" and "Idiot Box": the former glides along on an effortless melody, while the latter cuts like a lost Posies track. All in all, this disc is a quality addition to anyone who values smart, sophisticated pop in the vein of the artists mentioned above.

CD Baby | MySpace

Thursday, August 07, 2008

CD of the Day, 8/7/08: BrownLine Fiasco-Superstar

Chicago's BrownLine Fiasco is back with another disc of what they call "positive power pop", on the heels of their fine debut disc of late 2006, New Revolution. I first came across these guys on the strength of their track "Milk & Honey" on last year's IPO compilation, and I'm glad I did, as Superstar is a leap forward from the first disc and a great example of crunchy power pop a la Cheap Trick, The Knack and contemporaries such as Rooney and Weezer.

After the somewhat trippy opener "Lovely Day", the boys get down to business on the title track, which has enough power chords and riffs to keep you busy for a while and gives off a late 90s Collective Soul/Better Than Ezra vibe. "Over Our Heads" is a bit more midtempo and could pass for a Gin Blossoms tune, and "Without Love" is a real gem - a sugary confection with hooky harmonies that recalls Big Kid at their best.

Elsewhere, the midtempo "You're Not Alone" is radio-friendly, and the nearly-six minute "So Into You" takes a sonic detour, as it's a bit of a mini-suite that goes from strings to rock and back before it's over. The album concludes with "Look of Amazement", a catchy track that flirts with an R&B groove. Despite the band's name, Superstar is anything but a fiasco.

CD Baby | MySpace

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

CD of the Day, 8/5/08: Andy Reed-Fast Forward

Many of you may not know Michigan's Andy Reed, but those who snagged his 2006 debut EP The Great Compression certainly remember him, and now that he's released his first full-length the power pop community is going to take notice. The EP was quite good, but it didn't prepare me for how stunningly good Fast Forward is. If your tastes run in the Jon Brion/David Grahame/Emmit Rhodes/Elliott Smith area, just go ahead and click on the links below.

Two other albums that spring to mind here are the recent Adrian Whitehead disc and Braden Blake's A Year In Pajamas from 2004, pure pop with a sophisticated edge and pristine melodies. "The Ballad of...." kicks things off, and it's about a perfect an opener for this kind of sound as it switches between Brionesque balladry and Beatlesque bop without missing a beat. "Crazy Things" is a lush, string-laden number that calls to mind Jellyfish's quieter moments, while "The Criminal" and its breezy feel is Joe Pernice-meets-Paul McCartney country. "Novacaine" is as languid as its title may imply, but that doesn't mean this beautiful ballad will put you to sleep.

Meanwhile, the tempo picks up mid-album with "Thank You", a high-quality traditional power pop number in the vein of Michael Carpenter, and the Cars-like synths and distorted guitars of "Tied Up". "Around the Town" is a jaunty acoustic guitar-and-honky tonk piano number that boasts another of Reed's signature melodies, and the disc ends where it began with "Are You Listening?", another fine Brion/Beatles-influenced track that concludes with some outstanding guitar work. There's a good chance I'll be making room in year-end top 10 for this one, and you should be making room on your CD shelf as well.

CD Baby
| Kool Kat (with bonus EP) | MySpace

Monday, August 04, 2008

CD of the Day, 8/4/08: The Jellybricks-Goodnight to Everyone

The Jellybricks are never going to be know as prolific, releasing their last three discs in 1999, 2004 and now, but as long as this Pennsylvania band is going to put out discs like Goodnight to Everyone, we won't complain about the next one probably not coming out until 2012 or 2013. Bringing us power pop with a capital "P", the 'Bricks bring to mind statemates Ike (former Ike Cliff Hillis produced their previous disc, Power This), as well as Matthew Sweet and The Tories. Saul Zonana co-produced, played on and mixed several of the tracks, and his fans should enjoy this one as well.

"Eyes Wide" is a great, fast-paced opener that draws the Ike comparisons, and it's followed by the title track, a classic power pop number with an indelible chorus. (By the way, while titling a disc Goodnight to Everyone might seem like it's a swan song for the band, thankfully there's no indication that that's the case here). "Ruin Us" and "More to Lose" are a bit more on the janglier (yet still rocking) side, reminiscent of fellow Northeasterners Smash Palace, while "Nobody Else" might be the best track on the disc, a wonderfully catchy tune with Jellyfish/ELO-like backing vocals. And in a nice touch, the disc closes with "Heartache Begins", the kind of lush, anthemic ballad you just don't see enough power pop bands save for the end. Goodnight to Everyone is classic power pop at its finest, and the 'Bricks can take as long as they want for the next one.

CD Baby | MySpace | Kool Kat

Friday, August 01, 2008

CD of the Day, 8/1/08: The Favorites-Bright Nights, Bright Lights

Straight outta Houston come The Favorites, who may soon be yours after crafting one of the brightest discs of 2008 with Bright Nights, Bright Lights. They remind me quite a bit of The Meadows (more their first album that the new one), The Gin Blossoms, The Rembrandts, and to some extent a less smart-assed Fountains of Wayne or an Americanized The Feeling.

"Something That You're Missing" and "In Case You're Wondering" are a great 1-2 punch to open the disc that immediately let you know what kind of sound you're in for: hooky, upbeat and hard to shake from your head. "Hope In The Sky" throws in some tasteful synths and rocks harder than the first two - it's more Waltham than The Gin Blossoms. "I've Got a Feeling" (not a Beatles cover) is heartland rock a la Tom Petty, and the lovely "Golden Like The Fall" shows that The Favorites know their way around the slower numbers as well.

Elsewhere, "Try, Try, Try" is where the Fountains of Wayne comparison comes in, and they share that popular band's wry outlook in "The Great Outdoors", a humorous look at a camping trip gone bad. "Let Me Come Home" is a power ballad whose title sums it up; and they channel Jeff Lynne on the outstanding "Pity Me Parade". Rounding things out are the Tex-Mex "La Tortuga Terrible" and closing ballad "8:00 am".

This is one of those discs that will jump right out of the speakers at you, and one I can see slotting into my Top 20 or better come year's end.

CD Baby
| MySpace