REVIEWED! 15.2.01

THE MARLOWES Nuclear Suitcase [Shiny Fly]

The Marlowes were responsible for one of the highlights of the recent seminal Replacments tribute album - their version of Alex Chilton captured Westerberg's pop zealot without sacrificing the Marlowes' own identity. So perhaps it is not unexpected that the all-new Nuclear Suitcase contains enough echoes of the Mats to satisfy those who have lamented Westerberg's recent work. And the first place to start - the melancholy Bob Stinson's 115th Dream - which provides a homage to the late guitarist , that the Mats themselves never managed to. Elsewhere, the rollicking Spell It Out, the dynamic Wrong Side of the Ceiling, the Stonesy R&B inflected Club VertigoGo (complete with horns section) et al provide ample reason to add Nuclear Suitcase to your collection of fine pop-rock albums with an attitude. (8)

THE KEN KASE GROUP Stereophonic Nervous Breakdown [Self-released]

Nervous breakdown? More like an acute case of split personality! Well, on the one hand, the Group sound like the intelligent pub rock of Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello and Squeeze. On the other, the sophisticated head pop of XTC, Jellyfish and the Wondermints. In the former category, songs like The Names of the Roses, Nothing Changes When You're Old and I Spy carry themselves with drive and edge. In the latter, tracks like An Achromat's Tale, Window, Your Calendar display magic chord changes and thoughtful arrangements. Did I mention there is also a horn-laden swing outfit lurking in songs like Theraphosid and the instrumental Lemon Merengue? Don't fret about the mental well being of Ken Kase and his merry band, simply enjoy! (8)

STEPHEN BUNOVSKY Hazy Sunshine [Pleides Records]

The more one listens to Bunovsky's poised stab at classic pop-rock, the more one is assured that Hazy Sunshine is the work of a potential master of the form. With succulent melodies and beefy guitar wizardry, songs like the cool title track, the sweet I Found the Reason and the groovy Feed the Sun make this a sure-fire acquisition for fans of first-rate guitar rock. Fans of Matthew Sweet will adore this! (8)

BITCHIN' WHEELS [frigidisk]

Loads of post-punk energy in this gritty pop showcase - meaning fans of early XTC, Elvis Costello, Jam, Madenss, the (English) Beat & Talking Heads will no doubt get off on Scott Phillips' impassioned take on a glorious pop era. Jeffrey (Solipsistics) McGregor's production keeps it close to the bone with clipped diverse rhythms providing the backdrop for solid melodic invention. (7.5)

CRASH INTO JUNE From Blind to Blue [Craven Hill]

Crash into June have been getting good press and deserved attention for their breezy shimmering guitar pop, with obvious nods to the Byrds, the Beatles, Big Star and Badfinger (they even have a song in tribute to Pete Ham). If that brings them perilously close to Teenage Fanclub territory (especially on Aurora Borealis), then so be it! This 1999 release is a celebration of all that is great about powerpop! (7)

THE LOFTY PILLARS When We Were Lost [Truckstop] 

Here's an album that thoroughly deserved to be in my Albums of 2000 list. Ah well. The Lofty Pillars sound like John Lennon fronting a version of  ELO that decided to emulate the Band rather than the Beatles. Does that make sense? Whatever, with melancholy tone, gorgeous chord changes and baroque instrumentation, When We Were Lost is essential listening for fans of new soft Americana pop. (8.5)

LONGWAVE End Songs [LunaSea]

If Longwave brings to mind um Radiohead, perhaps it has more to do with the emotional depth of their melodic pop agenda than er mimicry. Right, you may just about note traces of U2 and Echo and the Bunnymen but equally you may also sense the world-weariness of a Nick Drake or a Gram Parsons in Longwave's game plan. Soft, ethereal and evocative, End Songs is a fine balance between alternative and pure pop aesthetics. (8)

THE RINGLES Dish Full of Ringles [Jam Records]

It's hard not to admire the good taste and pop savvy of the Ringles. It's obvious that their assimilation of the Beatles-Byrds folk-rock axis is able to  produce truly enjoyable material. Unfortunately, it's also obvious that the vocal and overall sound quality does not match up to the band's ambition and vision. Which is fine if you can get past the somewhat facsimile aspect of the songs here. Hopefully next time out, we'd get a better sense of who the Ringles are, rather than who they like. (7)


BRAD BROOKS Sanctified Into Astroglide [Mouth Magic]

Sci-fi pop. Edgy, angular, oddball but always with melodic quotient intact. Psychedelic John Lennon, Traffic, Smile-era Brian Wilson, the Move, Syd Barrett, Robyn Hitchcock, XTC, Teardrop Explodes and Blur -- y'know pop with a distinctive flavour. Mildred Cross, Second Only To Nature, Barking Dogma and Juliette Lewis Day Off attest to Brook's way with quirky tunes, spacey effects, studiocraft and a healthy dose of fun. The last 3 tracks end on a rootsy note but, what can I tell ya - it works! (8)

TONY LOW Dandelion in the year of the Rooster [Self-released]

Low (ex-Cheepskates) presents a Beatlesque perspective of Neil Young's folk-country-rock hybrid, that is as heartfelt as it is structured. The austere production values should be behind you on second play allowing Low's obvious talents to rise above the admittedly overall murky sound. You certainly cannot quibble with the quality of such choice 70s-inflected nuggets like Captain Sails and This Country Needs A War. No way. (7.5)

FAKE BRAIN Department of Our Ways [Self-released]

Quirky, odd psychedelic freakbeat. Yes, that sums up Fake Brain. There's enough strangeness in the lyrics and the tangential musical arrangements to make fans of Syd Barrett, Rory Erickson and um the Butthole Surfers sit up and take notice. (7)

THE AGENTS 401 [Radical] 

Can I be frank? I could never appreciate the recent so-called Punk-Oi-Ska-Hardcore movement in the US of A. I don't know, I guess it seems phony to me. Well, there's nothing wrong with the Agents save for the fact that belong to aforementioned movement. But that's enough (6)

THE NIELDS If You Lived Here You'd Be Home Now [Zoe]

Quaint and exuberant, the Nields deliver a folky, pastoral sound that revolves around the distinctive voices of Nerissa and Katryna Nields. Fans of Sixpence None The Richer will thoroughly enjoy this competent album. (7)


Power pop by the numbers? Hmm...tough call. Smallstone make all the right moves but honestly lack that vital creative spark that suggests that they able to provide more than pale imitations of the original masters. (6.5)

SUNNY DAY REAL ESTATE The Rising Tide [Time Bomb]

A forerunner of "emo" or a continuation of the Kansas/King's X approach? Both theories are possible with Sunny Day Real Estate's blend of sensitive spiritualism and full metal assault. The softer moments (represented by Rain Song - shades of Led Zep, The Ocean) are invaluable insights into this band's character and individualism. (7.5) 

JOSH ROUSE Home [Rykodisc] 

Contrary to popular belief, Rouse's no New Americana artist - think modern alt. pop - with traces of contemporary jazz (Marvin Gaye), the Cure (Directions), space age bachelor pad (Parts and Accessories), Nick Drake (100m Backstroke) etc all evident in Rouse's tasty concoction. (7.5)

BARNYARD PLAYBOYS Dumbass On A Rampage [Rubric]

Down home sloppy country blues played with the technical proficiency of drunken monkeys is the Barnyard Playboys' idea of a rockin' good time. With Ozzy and Iggy along for the ride, at least it never gets boring - if you can keep up with the toilet humour and fake tits! (7)

ROBERT CRENSHAW Victory Songs [Gadfly]

With Jamie (Spongetones) Hoover at the boards, this fine album by the lesser known Crenshaw sib is a loving evocation of the pre-Beatles pop era i.e. the Everlys, Buddy Holly and Del Shannon. Highly recommended - for the serious pop enthusiast, Victory Songs is essential listening. (8)