Friday, November 27, 2009

CD of the Day, 11/27/09: Plasticsoul-Peacock Swagger

We interrupt your Black Friday shopping to bring you an album you can't buy on Black Friday. That's because Plasticsoul's Peacock Swagger, the brilliant followup to 2005's Pictures from the Long Ago, won't be released until this coming Tuesday, December 1. But it's so good that I have to review it early, to give you that kind of pre-Christmas aniticpation you had as a kid.

Plasticsoul is Steven Wilson, a California artist who falls squarely into the Michael Penn/Jon Brion wing of power pop. His 2005 debut was such a treat that I went back and reviewed it even though I didn't start this blog until a year later. The followup was worth the wait. Whereas the debut didn't stray far from the Brion/Penn template, Wilson paints from a larger sonic palette here. The two-headed opener "You Sentimental Fucks/Life on Other Planets" answers the musical hypothetical "What would have Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey have sounded like if Lennon wrote it instead of McCartney?" (The fact that Wilson sounds quite a bit like Lennon helps answer that question as well.) Speaking of Lennon, "Cock Rock 101" is to, well, cock rock, as "Yer Blues" was to the blues, simultaneously sending it up and reveling in it.

We then come to as strong a trio of tracks as can be found a disc this year: "Champion Tragic Boy", which Michael Penn fans will love, featuring Brandon Schott on the chamberlin in the Patrick Warren role. Next up is "Fishwife" (which made its debut on the IPO 12 compilation), a jangly sitar-laden track that's instantly unforgettable, and rounding out the terrific trio, "Cancer", perhaps the definitive track on suffering with the Big C, complete with Revolver-styled backward guitars and sound effects in service of a great melody despite the subject matter.

Wilson lets us catch our collective breath with the gentle, acoustic-based "What Do You Know About Rock & Roll?" and the midtempo "Shame", which is borderline alt-country complete with pedal steel. This sets us up for the rocking "New Town, DIfferent Day", replete with "sha-la" backing vocals in the chorus, and the gorgeous "San Francisco", perhaps the best paean to the city since Tony Bennett's. Closing out the disc are the wonderfully psychedelic "My Three Friends" and "Rainy Season", a "Hey Jude"-styled number featuring a sing-along outro.

My only quibble: The disc doesn't include "Throwaway", the absolutely brilliant track that was on last year's IPO comp (#11). Not that Peacock Swagger suffers by its absence, but the now apparently ironically-titled track would have made a nice addition. And that quibble aside, I'll note that the race for the #1 disc of 2009 remains wide open in my book and things just got a bit more complicated.

CD Baby | MySpace

UDPATE (11/30): The official Plasticsoul site has the disc on sale a day early, with a special deal: the first 20 orders get a free copy of John Hoskinson's Pancho Fantastico, and you have the option of getting Pictures from the Long Ago for only $5 extra.

Listen to "Cancer" here, originally on another comp:

And a live video of "New Town, Different Day":

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Embed Tuesday.

A bunch of power poppers have discs out today, and I'm embedding the Lala widgets for each so you can give a listen. (For those outside the USA, I'm including a MySpace link and those in the EU can always check Spotify for these tracks).

Telepathic Butterflies-Wow & Flutter!. These French-Canadian Rainbow Quartz vets are back with their fourth disc. Their 2004 release Songs from a Second Wave is a must-have (esp. the great "Bonhomie", which I'm embedding as well), and last year's Breakfast in Suburbia was pretty good, so I have high hopes for this one. The touchstones here are The Kinks, The Hollies and the Fab Four. MySpace

The Singles. The Singles have been on a roll lately issuing (what else?) singles. The latest is the He Can Go, You Can Stay single, which features that track from their last full-length Better than Before, along with two new songs. This is the fourth "single" they've released this year, the previous three were A/B sides with 2 new tracks each. For the uninitiated, they're a Detroit band that specializes in British Invastion-styled power pop. MySpace

Cinderpop-Cinnamon Winter EP
. This Vancouver band put out the wonderful A Lesson in Science last year, and this EP includes its title track and "Boomerang" from that disc, plus three unreleased tracks that sound quite excellent. They have kind of a baroque style of indie pop - think Elliott Smith with a lot of piano. MySpace

Friday, November 20, 2009

CD of the Day, 11/20/09: Bobby Emmett-Learning Love

This is what power pop is all about. Detroit's Bobby Emmett cut his teeth in The Sights, a band that put out three quality Kinks-influenced albums earlier this decade, but now that he's gone solo he's unleashed his inner power popper and the result is a top 10 contender. Sounding very much like Brendan Benson (another noted Detroit power popper) fronting Big Star, Emmett knocks out one killer track after another.

"Queen of Hearts" opens the disc, and it'll kick your ass. With its crunchy opening guitars and a classic power pop melody following it, Emmett incorporates some "Back of a Car"-styled riffs throughout the track and your attention is grabbed. "Broken Hearted" recalls The Lolas, and "She Can't Be Mine" adds some baroque piano to the mix with a frenetic beat a la Bryan Scary. "Still Wanna Be With You" will fool your Benson-loving friends into thinking it's one of his lost tracks, and the spelling of "Moving Ahn" is an obvious homage to Big Star and incorporates a "She's So Heavy"-style outro.

The second half of the disc isn't quite the 100% slam dunk the first is, but there are some worthy tracks here as well. "November" is a trippy Oasis-styled ballad/anthem, "Even Though You're Mine Tonight" sounds Bensonesque, and "Never Waited So Long" with its reverb, chimes and slide guitar is a Wall-of-Sound treat. "Love is Real" closes things out, starting as a strong pop/rocker and ending with a jazzy lounge flourish.

A truly outstanding solo debut for Mr. Emmett, and if you want a CD copy you'll have to order directly from him, as the disc is only out in general digital distribution right now. Give it a listen right now below.

Link for CD purchase | MySpace | eMusic | iTunes

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Two for Thursday, 11/19/09

The Tripwires-House to House. There's something about hearing this Seattle band's fun-loving, good-time power pop that brings a smile to my face when I hear one of their tracks. Following up their 2007 debut Makes You Look Around, The Tripwires (consisting of members and former members of The Model Rockets, The Minus 5, and Screaming Trees among others) assert themselves as the 21st Century Rockpile. The opening salvo of "Drawing a Blank" and "(Something in a) Friday Night" will convince you of this comparison, and "Another Planet Now" and "Soundalike" find them at their midtempo melodic best. And I could easily see Nick Lowe (in his heyday) writing a song called "Ned Beatty's in Love". Meanwhile, "Let's Get You Started" could be covered by a band like OK Go without straining, and "Zig Zag" might be their quintessential track. Rock on!

Kool Kat | MySpace | iTunes

Justin Levinson-Predetermined Fate. In early 2006, Levinson was one of my early "finds" - his debut 1175 Boylston was a bright, fresh and tuneful blast of piano pop that was as good as anything Ben Folds has done recently. Having tackled that subgenre, he mixed in some folk/rock with the piano pop on his 2007 EP Bury Your Love, and with his new disc, Predetermined Fate, the metamorphosis is complete. Going strictly with a rootsy, countryish folk-pop sound, he's made a move not unlike Ben Kweller did earlier this year with his Changing Horses album. Highlights include the pedal steel-drenched "Bandaid on a Bullet Wound", about a marriage gone bad; "Losing You to Tennessee", which sounds like Ryan Adams in country mode; and "Hopelessness", which has a "The Weight"-style melody. Which leaves the question: where is Levinson predetermined to go next?

CD Baby | MySpace | iTunes

Monday, November 16, 2009

CD of the Day, 11/16/09: Parallax Project-I Hate Girls

Mike Giblin might not be a household name in the power pop community, but his bands certainly should. After being in the great Cherry Twister with Steve Ward and Ross Sackler, Giblin started Parallax Project in the early decade, putting together whoever he happened to be playing with at the time to release albums like Oblivious and Perpetual Limbo, discs power poppers everywhere should have in their collections. (Incidentally, the band is named after this Allegany University astronomy project, from Giblin's home state of Pennsylvania,) Now he's back with album #3 on the Kool Kat imprint, and he enlisted the legendary Don Dixon to produce and The Plimsouls' Eddie Munoz on guitar. The result is a pop gem that's catchy and soulful at the same time.

Opener "All the Same" sets the bar high, an uptempo treat that channels Squeeze and the Kinks, and built around a "Day Tripper"-style guitar riff. The tongue-in-cheek title track is in the same vein, as Munoz' guitar work on these tracks is a step above the usual power pop fare. Meanwhile, "Half" is a fun tribute of sorts to early Elvis Costello - Dixon provides Steve Nieve-like work on the organ a la "Radio Radio" here. Giblin's effective here when the beats slow down as well - "Watching the World Revolve Around Her" is one of the year's better ballads, and "The Day After Tomorrow" is an earnest yet melodic number. True to the spirit of the proceedings, the disc closes with a cover of the The Velvelettes' "Needle in a Haystack", a Motown chestnut that doesn't sound a bit out of place. And if you like that cover, let it be known that Kool Kat is offering up a bonus disc of covers if you order directly from them, featuring tracks like ELO's "Telephone Line", The Kinks' "Well Respected Man", and possibly my favorite Faces song "Cindy Incidentally".

Kool Kat (w/bonus disc) | CD Baby | MySpace | iTunes

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Spongetones alert!

Out today is English Afterthoughts, an album from Spongetones Jamie Hoover and Steve Stoeckel (officially billed as "The Spongetones present Jamie and Steve"). I gave it a once-over listen today, and it could easily pass for a proper Spongetones release. That means more Beatles-and-60s-British-pop-inspired tunes, jangly guitars, the whole thing. Check it out below, and it's available from your music e-tailer of choice:

iTunes | eMusic

Monday, November 09, 2009

John Brodeur freebie.

Once again, senility sets in - I thought I had reviewed John Brodeur's fine Get Through earlier this year on the site, but I didn't. So in addition to calling your attention to that disc, let it be known that Brodeur is offering up a freebie EP of four covers ("Head Over Heels", "Talk Dirty to Me", "What it Takes" and "Xanadu") in honor of Halloween (get it? trying on other people's songs). The Photoshopped (at least I hope it's Photoshopped) cover is a tad disturbing, though.

John Brodeur - Slutty Nurse EP

And here's Get Through for your listening pleasure:

Thursday, November 05, 2009

CD of the Day, 11/5/09: Supraluxe-Wake Leave Home Sleep

Without Supraluxe, there wouldn't be an Absolute Powerpop. OK, I probably would have found another disc to hype that inspired me to start the blog, but it was in January 2006 that I touted their debut disc to the Audities list, which got them noticed in the power pop community, and which made me think "there are a lot of other deserving artists out there like Supraluxe, and nobody else is really doing a power pop blog". The rest is history, and here we are, the better part of four years later. And so it's come full circle, as the cliche goes, with Supraluxe at long last releasing the followup to their debut.

Wake Leave Home Sleep finds Supraluxe with a more unified sound. Obviously in my view the debut was brilliant, as they veered from propulsive pop tracks like "Blue Sky", "Love Sweet Love", rockers like "Tokyo" and "Run Rabbit Run", and moody melodic numbers that came in somewhere between like "Summer Chalet" and "The Big Comedown". I guess the best way to analogize things is that if we were in the 70s, the first album would be their stab at AM Radio, and this album is their AOR move. It's a markedly different album than the debut, but one that stands worthy on its own. The title track kicks thing off, starting with a gentle, acoustic bent not unlike their hero, Elliott Smith, but steadily builds into a biting rocker as the song's protagonist seems through the humdrum of everyday life. Immediately you know they're on to something more ambitious.

Another touchstone for the band is Steely Dan, and although they don't mimic that band's jazz/rock fusion, they meld some of the Dan's time signatures and sardonic suffer-no-fools attitude into their sound, and the tough-rocking "On the Coast" incorporates some of that late 70s SoCal sound into it. Perhaps the best way to describe it is "free-form pop/rock". Many of the tracks such as "Data Control" and "Oh December" manage to shift within themselves from straight-up rock to a kind of jazzy pop to pure powerpop, not necessarily always in that order. Meanwhile, "Hey Lordy" and "Slow Ephedrine" have the more "traditional" Supraluxe sound of the first album. And "The Big Come On" works as sort of a sequel (or prequel) to the debut's "The Big Comedown".

All in all, it's an impressive step in the band's evolution. While there's nothing as instantly catchy as "Blue Sky" or "Love Sweet Love" here, it's a great headphone album that rewards repeated listens and is an impressive testament to the musicianship of Rich Pearson, Bob Burns and Jim Risser. So make your daily routine in the near future Wake Leave Home (Listen to Supraluxe) Sleep.

Not Lame | Kool Kat | MySpace

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Two for Tuesday, 11/3/09

Sarakula-City Heart. Direct from Down Under comes this Aussie piano-popper with a disc that's just one hook after another. Sarakula's been touring with AbPow favorite Bob Evans, and there's a double bill I'd love to see if I weren't halfway across the world. City Heart is his followup to last year's Souvenirs, which passed me by but won't know. "Turn it Up" begs you to do just that; if it were 1974 or 1984, this poptastic number would fit right on the charts alongside Elton John or Billy Joel. "Cold War Love", which opens the album, sounds like a lost track from McCartney's Band on the Run; "Matchstick Girl" is another hook-a-rama, and the moody "Driving With the Devil" recalls the sophisticated, bloozy piano pop of Randy & The Bloody Lovelies. Also don't overlook the Bacharachian "Skyline Blue". A definite treat.

CD Baby | MySpace | iTunes

D. Rogers-Sparks on the Tarmac. Just like celebrity deaths, Popboomerang releases seem to come in threes, and while we spotlighted Russell Crawford and the Deserters last week, the Aussie label also released this singer-songwriter disc as well recently. It's a bit of a departure for the label as Rogers is more of a folkie than a popper, but there's enough quality stuff here to please anyone on the lookout for a good tune. "Poison Pen" finds the sweet spot between Neil Finn and Elliott Smith, "The First to Know" conjures the sound of Salim Nourallah, and "Knocked Down the House" adds horns to what is perhaps the album's most upbeat track. It's not the stuff to jump off the CD at you, but if you take the time to give it a listen, you'll be wowed by its rainy-day beauty.

CD Baby | MySpace | iTunes