Thursday, October 30, 2008

CD of the Day, 10/30/08: Class Three Overbite-Horses for Courses

Mike Elgert and Brad Jendza have done it again. The duo known as Class Three Overbite has followed up their 2007 debut Rendezvous with perhaps an ever better disc this time with Horses for Courses. Lots of bands can capture the sound of the 70s, but few can capture its spirit, and CTO are one of those bands. Equal parts the sound of Queen, T-Rex, Jellyfish and other band who aren't afraid of putting some spunk in their power pop, Class Three Overbite still manages to not bite off more than it can chew.

That becomes apparent right off the bat with "Storm's Comin'", a cornucopia of falsetto vocalls, funky riffs, and guitars that rawk. If this one doesn't grab you, you may already be comatose. "Chasin' The Rabbit" sounds like a secular Rick Altizer fronting Queen, and "Sunshine" is Freddie Mercury gone flower child. "Reptiles" will make the day, if not week or month, of anyone who thinks the power pop world revolves around Jellyfish, and if there's any justice in the world, Paul Thomas Anderson will re-release the movie Boogie Nights with "Porn Addict" included in the soundtrack. "Wait For Me" is another standout with its Brian May guitar sound, "She Can't Make a Decision" is pure rock, and I always thought "Lex Luthor" deserved his own song. Finally, "You'd Better Love" is the perfect kind of overblown (and I mean that in a good way) power ballad to close out an album like this.

Coming back to their most profound influence, I'd say this is the best Queen album not named after a Marx Brothers movie that you'll find, and another year-end top-part-of-the-list contender to a year that started off slowly but is finishing strong.

CD Baby
| MySpace

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

CD of the Day, 10/28/08: Allen Devine-Poportunity

Boston's Allen Devine has been around for a while - this is his fourth solo release - but he's mostly focused on the instrumental side of guitar rock. Fortunately for us he's decided to go the power pop route, and the results are one of the year's more pleasant surprises. Poportunity (love those titles with the "pop" play on "op-" words - when do we get Poperation or Poptimist or Poptometry?) is classic power pop in the vein of The Goldbergs, Marshall Crenshaw, the recent Galaxies release and others that just have "that" sound.

"What In The World" starts things off with some meat-and-potatoes power pop with a few neat flourishes, such as the Del Shannon-like guitar bits and some rock 'n' roll piano. "It's on the Way" (now playing over to your right) has a mellow-but-jangly vibe that recalls Bobby Sutliff; "Tonight" really does sound like a track from one of the Goldbergs discs; the 1:53 "Janine" has a 60s feel, and "My Baby Sezz" throws a bit of a curveball, a country-ish honky tonk number with sax. Elsewhere, "I Never Really Said Goodbye" sounds like a Big Star-era Alex Chilton ballad, and "Change" rocks with abandon. In keeping with the best traditions of power pop, the whole affair consists of 10 tracks clocking in at just under 25 minutes, so Poportunity never comes close to wearing out its welcome. If you're starved for vintage power pop, this disc may be your best "poption".

CD Baby | MySpace | eMusic | Listen at Lala

Friday, October 24, 2008

Another singer-songwriter roundup.

Jonathan Rundman-Insomnia - ccomplishments. Jonathan Rundman has been one of the more underappreciated artists of the decade in the genre, and his 2004 release Public Library was a real treat: smart, literate, wry and rocking. For the unfamiliar, you might also want to get a start with his recently-released best-of. Or you can jump right in with his latest, Insomniaccomplishments, consisting of songs written while going through the sleep-deprived days of being a father of a newborn child (been there, done that). Rundman's at his best mixing rock, power pop, Americana and singer-songwriter balladry, and his latest is 18 tracks of just that. Tracks to check out: "If You Have a Question", "Imperfection", "Nothing Downtown" and "Here at 2141". Worth staying awake for.

CD Baby | MySpace

Daniel Christian-I Am Merely Sand. Normally, I don't review older releases, but this 2006 gem just recently came to my attention. Christian reminds me of a cross between James Taylor and Todd Herfindal of The Meadows, and if that sounds intriguing to you, give his disc a listen. Whether it's the Americana of "New Sun Rising" or the hooky pop of "...Unto Herself" or the storytelling of "Estella", Christian is a quality singer-songwriter. Also of note is the 8-minute closing track, "Water From The River", which is kind of a pastiche of all the facets of his sound.

CD Baby | MySpace

Dave Yaden-Bear Me Up. Sometimes the artists do the work for me, at least when it comes to analogizing their sound. Right there on Dave Yaden's CD Baby page it says "Billy Joel meets The Band", and damned if he isn't right. In fact, Joel himself had a few "meets-The-Band" moments on his first couple of pre-superstardom discs and at times that sound is present here. The disc is produced by Todd Beauchamp, who had a pretty good disc of his own last year, and the sound is upbeat and radio-friendly. The upbeat "Can't Let Go" is a high-quality opener, "Alexandra" is where The Band's influence comes in, and "Down the Line" is a midtempo marvel.

CD Baby | MySpace | Listen at Lala

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Lala. (Updated)

Many of you may have noticed on my last couple of reviews I've added a "Listen at Lala" link at the end. For those who haven't heard, has relaunched itself and in the process might be the most exciting thing in online music since eMusic and iTunes. Create a free account, and you can listen to any disc it has (most of the majors and a considerable amount of independent, CD Baby-type stuff) once in its entirety for free. After that, you can buy a stream of any track for 10 cents, which lets you listen to it online as many times as you want (You get 50 free permanent streams for signing up before you have to start spending a dime). Like the other services, you can still buy the mp3 for less than a dollar if you prefer.

The other cool aspect of it is that you can use it as a digital locker for your online music collection; you can download a small app that scans your music collection and either matches the tracks in their own database or uploads the tracks they don't have to their server so that you can listen to it all from any computer. They use an iTunes-like interface to manage this, and it's pretty neat. They're also on the verge of releasing a iPhone app that will let you stream your collection.

The big catch, though, is that it's available in the U.S. only at the present time. The upshot of it for this site is that any time I review a disc they have, you'll have the opportunity to listen to it one time all the way through for free, which is a big deal especially now that CD Baby has cut the samples on its site for new discs from 2 minutes to 29 seconds due to ASCAP/BMI licensing issues. CD Baby is still the best place to buy if you want the physical disc and/or to see the artist get paid, but Lala is now the best place to sample.

UPDATE: They have a "forecast" feature which allows you to select four songs that you can have anyone listen to, and if you look to the right, you'll see mine. I plan on featuring 4 songs that either strike my fancy at the moment and/or come from discs I recently reviewed.

CD of the Day, 10/23/08: Hey Now, Morris Fader-Ride The Fader

Hey Now, Morris Fader is a 2-man band out of Boston, and with Ride The Fader (the title being an apparent homage to the NY indie band Chavez' famous 90s disc of the same name, as well as their own name), they've managed to come up with one of the top piano-pop discs of the year. Ride The Fader will definitely appeal to fans of Jack's Mannequin, Frank Ciampi, and yes, that guy with the initials "B.F." who tends to get mentioned in every piano pop review.

Opener "Vanishing" sounds as if it come come from The Biography of Reinhold Messner, the initialed one's final band disc, with its pensive piano sound. "Airport Song" is a real delight, with a 70s vibe and some damn fine playing from frontman and pianist Brooks Milgate. Other standouts include the insistent "Down In Front", the upbeat and poptastic "Hypochondriac", which recalls fellow Bostonian Ciampi, and the jaunty "Talk to Myself". The common thread on all these songs is the workout Milgate gives his piano, and his technical ability reminds me quite a bit of Bruce Hornsby as well. If you ears are tickled by the tickling of ivories in support of quality pop tunes, you'll want to Ride The Fader.

CD Baby | MySpace | eMusic | Listen at Lala

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

CD of the Day, 10/22/08: Cliff Hillis-The Long Now

With so many artists out there and so many records to hear, and so little time in which to listen to it all, an artist who delivers consistently great music is worth his or her weight in gold. And in the power pop community, very few artists fit this bill as Cliff Hillis does. From his work in Starbelly (whose brilliant 2002 release Everyday and Then Some deserves a spot in the Top 20 power pop discs of the decade) and Ike to his high-quality solo work, Hillis is a known quantity, and his brand new solo disc The Long Now is another feather in his cap.

All of what I said above means that I'd buy his records sight unseen (or hearing unheard I guess), making the rest of this review superfluous for those familiar with his work, but for the uninitiated or those who have overlooked him, Hillis' sound is the golden mean of power pop - punchy enough to satisfy fans of Fountains of Wayne or Cheap Trick, but melodic enough to satisfy fans of Squeeze, Michael Carpenter and Paul McCartney. The rollicking, acoustic-based "She Sees" opens the track in "I've Just Seen a Face" territory, and it's followed by the brilliant "Never Understand", an electric guitar-heavy melodic gem that recalls his Starbelly days. By the time "Elevator" rolls around three tracks in, you're left to marvel at how effortless his sound seems as another near-perfect melody wafts through your speakers. And the rest of the album lives up to the standards - "Northern Lights" rocks with grace; "Follow You Anywhere" is more bright pop; "Like an Island" is positively majestic; and "All For The Sake" has a laid-back, country-rock-pop sound that reminds me of Carpenter and Bryan Estepa.

When the year-end list rolls around, there may be only be one digit in front of the period on this one, and make sure you pick it up through Not Lame or Kool Kat, where you get a bonus EP of 6 songs that include tribute tracks (including a cover of McCartney's "This One") and his contest-winning Chili's baby back ribs jingle.

Not Lame | Kool Kat | MySpace | Listen at Lala

Friday, October 17, 2008

Friday Roundup.

All Day Sucker-The Big Pretend. I noted these guys back in January from last year's IPO compilation, and they've now unleashed The Big Pretend, their second-full length disc. They strike me as kind of a cross between Orson, Weezer and Everclear, and have a big, radio-friendly pop sound. The disc is sort of an LA concept album, complete with an amusing 40s/50s-sounding introductory theme. The IPO teaser track, "The Picture (That Took Me)" is here, and it's the highlight, but there are several more interesting tracks including the manic pop of "Life In The Passing Lane", the quite catchy "Santa Ana", and the baroque nostalgia of "Beverly Park". A fun disc that will make you feel like you're in L.A., regardless of where you are.

CD Baby | MySpace

Goh Nakamura-Ulysses. Staying in the Golden State but moving up the coast, San Francisco's Goh Nakamura is quite the pleasant surprise (although this is his third disc) to discover. He's got an excellent folk-rock/pop sound that is quite Beatlesque in spots; in other words, he's like a less depressing Elliot Smith. "Somewhere" wouldn't sound out of place on a Jon Brion album; "Sarah Rose" has all the charm and melody of McCartney at his acoustic best; and the title track conjures up the denser sound that Smith had on his last two albums. Now I'm going to go back and check out his first two discs.

CD Baby | MySpace

Big Bus Dream-The Jesters of Xmas Town. Big Bus Dream is another example of Charlotte's thriving pop scene, which has brought us the likes of Jamie Hoover, James Deem, Transmission Fields, and some other high-quality artist whose name I'm likely forgetting at the moment. This is their second full-length (the debut was produced by Hoover) and they have a sophisticated pop sound that's very similar to The Eels; in fact, frontman Mike Shannon (a former CBGB's fixture) is a vocal ringer for Mr. E himself. If you start at the beginning, you'll notice this resemblance off the bat in "Another Me", and their understated folk-pop also carries some Elvis Costello and Lou Reed influence, nowhere more so than the biting "Money Trumps Everything". Other highlights include the Willie Nile-style "Tremble", the languid "Already Gone" (which has a hint of the Pernice to it), and the fiddle-friendly "Since You Left". This is one Bus you'll want to catch.

CD Baby | MySpace | mp3s at Sonicbids

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

CD of the Day, 10/15/08: Greg Pope-Popmonster

One of the more underrated power pop bands of the last several years has been Edmund's Crown, whose Regrets of a Company Man was one of my favorite releases of 2006. The Tennessee band has been one of the leaders of "southern power pop", along with artists like The Luxury Liners (whose frontman David Dewese has ironically just released a solo disc of his own), The Rewinds and Bill Lloyd. The man behind the Crown is Greg Pope, and he's out with his solo debut that not only continues the Edmund's Crown sound but expands upon it (and which sports pretty cool album art to boot). Popmonster is a true solo debut as well, with Pope writing, singing and playing all the instruments on each track.

Freed to do his own thing, Pope lets loose a total of 16 tracks here but there really isn't any filler. Opener "Sky Burn Down" lets you know you're not in Kansas (or at least Tennessee) any more as he revs up a Robert Pollard-style rocker in both sound and length (2:08). "I Got a Life" is another infectious barnburner which recalls both Matthew Sweet and The Who in places, while "Lost My Friend" and "Playing Nashville" travel in more familiar Edmund's Crown territory. "The Only Thing I've Got" also clocks in around 2 minutes, and has a definite Alex-Chilton-by-way-of-Paul-Westerberg vibe. Other standouts include the aching Jon Brionesque pop of "Only One You", the jangly "Footpath", the bright Americana-influenced "Little Things", and "Reason With You", another track that would have fit on nicely on Regrets of a Company Man.

A real tour-de-force and with Halloween approaching, this Popmonster will be scaring its way up my year-end list.

CD Baby | MySpace

Monday, October 13, 2008

Singer/Songwriter Monday.

Three quality singer/songwriter offerings to start the work week:

Preston Girard-Along Chicago. Despite the album title Girard is from Kansas City, and he works in the idiom of singer-songwriters like AM, Gus Black and David Gray. From the defiant start-stop of "Pretty" to the jangle of the title track to the balladry of "Under", Girard shows a real command of his craft. But the real standout here is "Little People", near-power pop with a chorus that will stay in your head.

CD Baby | MySpace

Tyler Burkum-Darling, Maybe Someday. This Minneapolis artist comes down more on the alt-country side of singer/songwriterdom, but with a pop sheen that recalls Ryan Adams before he got (too) full of himself and some of Jeff Tweedy's more sublime moments in Wilco. Opener "Blue as the Sky" sets the tone with its achingly beautiful melody and arrangement; the midtempo "Gales of November" veers into Counting Crows territory; "Hurricane" channels Adams circa Heartbreaker, and "Everything You Said" is pure pop. An impressive full-length debut for anyone who values the laid-back and melodic.

CD Baby | MySpace

David Kitchen-Underground. Here's one to watch. This is the debut EP from Virginia's David Kitchen, and it's a pop fest that brings to mind everyone from Nick Lowe to Tal Bachman to Steely Dan. Exhibit "A" is the dizzyingly catchy "Underground", which might be one of the tracks of the year. "Mean Old Mister Gravity" is another toe tapper that features horns and flutes; "You Know That I Will" is a pleasant midtempo number, and closer "Remembering" mixes jangle with some fine guitar solo work in service of another catchy tune. I will now state the obvious and obligatory: Bring on the full length!

CD Baby | MySpace

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Thursday Roundup.

Readymade Breakup-Alive on the Vine. New Jersey's Readymade Breakup is back with their followup to last year's Isn't That What It's For? and they're better than ever. This is vintage power pop with a radio-ready sheen that fans of The Jellybricks, The Shazam and The Meadows will enjoy. "One by One" is a scintillating opener, "Surrender" reminds me of The Raspberries, and "Stretch Your Head" incorporates a bit of soul in the mix. These guys know their craft, and will not disappoint.

Not Lame | Kool Kat | MySpace

Private Jets-Jet Sounds. How Swede it is! These Swedish retro power-poppers are back as well, following up their debut EP, and it's a delight. Of course the comparisons to other Swedish poppers like The Merrymakers and The Tangerines are in order, but they also have a more classic, British-sounding 60s vibe (fittingly they played IPO at The Cavern Club this summer). "I Wanna Be a Private Jet" enthusiastically gets things started, while "Speak Up, Speak Out" channels "Ain't That a Shame". Elsewhere, "Starshaped World" is vintage, sunshine-y pop, and "First Division of Love" lays on the sports metaphors to a jaunty love song. Chances are if your hairline's receding like the band members on the cover (like mine), you'll be loving this one.

CD Baby | MySpace

Gigantic-Gigantaphonic Sounds. Well, if Jet Sounds weren't big enough for you, how about Gigantaphonic Sounds? This "big-name" Australian band has finally released this 2006 disc in North America through Zip Records (also home of The Wellingtons, whose new disc arrived in my mailbox yesterday, thanks) and they have a fine guitar pop sound that recalls The Gin Blossoms, Teenage Fanclub, and everyone in between. The jangly "Some Suburban Road" is a real treat, and other standouts include the TF-friendly "Balloon Animals", the rocking "Mr. Sound", and "Lied To", which has hooks that will stick with you.

Not Lame | MySpace

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The election is upon us!

No, I'm not talking Obama vs. McCain (not much suspense there any more). I'm talking about the "Shake Some Action" Revisited site, where your vote for the top 5 power pop albums of all time is being solicited for the rest of this month in order to come up with a fans' list to go with the Top 200 list John Borack compiled in his excellent Shake Some Action book.

Of course being the opinionated sort that I am, I have my own top 5 picks, which consist of one unsurprising pick, one not-too-unsurprising pick, two unsurprising artists but surprising discs, and one out of left field. Here I go:

1. Big Star-#1 Record/Radio City. The Rosetta Stone of power pop. I don't have any grand new insights on this legendary disc, but I will state that "September Gurls" might just be the perfect song.

2. Cotton Mather-Kon Tiki. I've waxed poetic on this one before, but I will simply state it comes closest to approximating a Beatles album than anything else out there, and I don't mean it simply in the sense of aping the Beatles sound, which a lot of bands are quite capable of. And if Kon Tiki was the best album the Beatles never released, "My Before and After" was the best song they never released.

3. Matthew Sweet-100% Fun
. I've taken some heat for picking Clint Sutton as the #1 disc of 2008 in my spring list, and although I'm not sure it'll stay at the spot at year's end, the reason I love it so much is that reminds me of what I consider Sweet's best album and a stone classic. Although Girlfriend gets all the praise and the list mentions, I always thought 100% Fun was the more focused, tighter, melodic and rocking of the two. The first couple of seconds of "Sick of Myself" might be best way to open an album I've ever heard, and the wonderful "Get Older" is probably the most overlooked great song on this disc. (Side note on Sweet: The title is the notoriously thin-skinned Sweet's response to complaints that the Girlfriend followup, Altered Beast, was too "dark". Later, after the 100% Fun followup Blue Sky on Mars took some critical heat, Sweet responded with the bitter "Write Your Own Song" on 1999's In Reverse. So I sure hope he isn't reading this when I mention that his new disc, Sunshine Lies, didn't do much for me.)

4. Marshall Crenshaw-Field Day
. Like the pick above, this isn't the disc people have in mind when they think of the artist, and while his self-titled debut would find a spot in my all-time top 20, this one to me is his true best. Maligned at the time as a result of Steve Lillywhite's reverb-heavy production, the controversy about the sound obscured the fact that this was Crenshaw's strongest set of songs, from the perfect power pop of the album's lone hit, "Whenever You're on My Mind", to gems like "For Her Love" and "Monday Morning Rock". My only knock on the debut was that it was a bit too retro-conscious, and what makes Field Day so great is that it marries Crenshaw's brilliant songcraft (which shows a greater depth and maturity here) to a more up-to-date vibe, even without considering Lillywhite's production.

5. Valley Lodge-Valley Lodge
. Wha??? Alert and/or longtime readers might recall that this wasn't even my #1 disc of 2005, so what's it doing at #5 of all-freaking-time? Well, first of all if I had to re-do my 2005 list, this one probably would be at the top, and secondly, I've been listening to it a lot lately. But the more I listen, the more I'm convinced this might be the purest, most fun, power pop album I've ever heard, and here I mean power pop in the narrowest sense: rocking guitars, sugary melodies, etc - not the broad parameters I use in the choice of discs I review on this site. This disc has it all - aside from songs that deliver one hook after another, there's an intelligence and sense of humor that prevails here, unsurprising since frontman Dave Hill (ex-Uptown Sinclair) is an adept a professional comedian as he is a rocker. And what seals the deal for me is Hill's penchant for slipping into falsetto in the middle of verses and choruses, which makes these songs so much damn fun to sing along to. If you've been somehow immune to this disc's charms these past three years, do yourself a favor and check it out.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Black Monday Roundup.

With the Dow down 700+ points today, it's best to take your mind off finances and get into a power pop mindset. Here are three discs to help you do just that:

The Strand-Another Season Passes. Kudos to Kool Kat (that's so much fun to say) as they've released the comeback album from 80s new wave popsters The Strand. Fans of the Paul Collins Beat, Tommy Keene, the Plimsouls and other 80s power poppers will need to be all over this one. From the the straight-ahead power pop of opener "Rising Tide" and "Why'd You Call?" to the mod pop of "Scared Streets" to the fine balladry of "Begin Again", The Strand is back and better than ever. (Note: If you order from Kool Kat, they have a 5-track bonus disc with covers, etc.)

Kool Kat | CD Baby | MySpace

Gentleman Jesse-Introducing Gentleman Jesse. It's not every day I discover new power pop through Pitchfork, but I give them full marks for their positive review of Atlanta's Gentleman Jesse and their debut, which might be the best album that Stiff Records never released. The cover is a dead giveaway, of course, aping Elvis C's This Year's Model, but the tracks live up to it. Reminiscent also of The Exploding Hearts and The Whigs, there's plenty to like here including the pop-punk of "Black Hole", the Merseybeat of "All I Need Tonight Is You" and the Nick Lowe stylings of "You Don't Have to If You Don't Want to" and "Wrong Time". An extremely pleasant surprise.

Amazon | MySpace | eMusic

Higgins-Zs. I featured this NYC band a while back when they had a teaser mp3 out from this disc, and now that the full-length is out, they're worth revisiting. In many respects they fit the classic power pop paradigm, but with little quirky twists here and there. Opener "There He Is" illustrates this dynamic, with its George Harrisonesque flavor and its ability to never quite go where you expect it. The playful "Always Something" channels Jellyfish in spots while "Wall of Dumb" is right up Sir Paul's alley and "Write It Down" recalls some of Alan Parsons Project's slower numbers.

Serious Business | MySpace | eMusic

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

CD of the Day, 10/1/08: Todd Herfindal-Collective

It's always a treat to get great music from an unexpected source, and after The Meadows put out their fine First Nervous Breakdown earlier this year, I figured that we'd hear from them again in a couple of years. But the wait only took about 8 months, as Meadows co-frontman Todd Herfindal has released his solo debut, and it's of a piece with the two Meadows disc, especially First Nervous Breakdown.

Collective is a bit of logical progression from the first two Meadows discs, as Breakdown was a bit more roots rock-oriented than the debut, and here Herfindal goes full bore into the Gin Blossoms-meet-Tom Petty vibe. This becomes apparent right off the bat with the ebullient "Air I'm Breathing" which shows off his melodic gifts in a heartland rocker that even features some tasteful horn backing. "Finally Movin' On" demonstrates the knack Herfindal had for the big chorus that he showed in The Meadows, and the laid-back "Waiting on the Sun" continues the Midwest-meets-California vibe. Elsewhere, standouts include the mildly Beatlesque "Forget It All Again", the rocking "Jaded" and the ballads "Won't Look Back" and "This Is a Love Song". Collective closes in grand fashion with "If I Hesitate", an anthemic number that starts off slow and builds to a big payoff. If you enjoyed either of The Meadows' two releases, this one's a no-brainer.

CD Baby | MySpace | eMusic