CHEWY MARBLE Bowl of Surreal [Furry Sidekick Records]

Nice and easy does it! Chewy Marble (viz Brian Kassan, Stu Forman and Derrick Anderson) has its finger firmly on the pulse of the new pop approach. Misleadingly straightforward upon first listen, further explorations of this sophomore effort will reveal the presence of a serious pop intelligence at work. Proof? The staccato piano rhythms of Inside Our Head, the fluid bass lines of Bowl of Surreal, the economical clipped guitar of Tiny World, the sultry tone of Dressed in Blue, the bouncy rock commentary of Midtempo Trap ("Harmony stuck in their heads/Even Brian Wilson got out of bed"), the prog rock overtones of dreamy ballad The Scribble Variations, the Ben Folds vibe of You'll Be Around, the musichall inflections of Necessary Evil, the bossa nova tease of Reasons Why and the Jellyfish/Grays invoking In the Next Five Minutes. What does that suggest - only almost the entire scope of the finest that the new pop offers us in 2001. 8.5

MARK KOZELEK What's Next To the Moon [Badman]

Ever imagine using words like heartfelt, plaintive, emotive, soft, poignant, folky and even beautiful to describe AC/DC? Thought so. You have got to hand it to Mark (Red House Painters) Kozelek, for his genius and vision in being able to transform these hard rockin' songs about sex and um well, more sex into sensitive and deep vignettes on the human condition. Really. Having covered three AC/DC songs on his Rock 'N' Singer EP, Kozelek has taken this concept to its (il)logical conclusion. Drivin' twin overdriven guitar attack replaced by finger-plucked acoustic skill and hair-raisin' screeching vocals substituted with Kozelek's melancholy and languid larynx - more Bruce Cockburn than Bon Scott. The highlight for me is Love At First Feel where lines like "Every night at your front door/I'd smile when you let me in" take a different dimension. Gorgeous.  8.5

NIXON'S HEAD Take It! [Groove Disques]

Jim Slade and co follow up the intense angular garage pop method madness of their previous album - Gourmet - with yet another sumptuous serving (sorry!) of delicious pop delights. Songs like Yeah Yeah Yeah, Kids, A Date With Judy, Take It Back et al present Nixon's Head as the power pop answer to Guided by Voices' alt. rock equation. A heady dosage of post-punk new wave medicine ala Pere Ubu, Elvis Costello, XTC, Undertones, Graham Parker has been imbibed with maximum results. Meaty, beaty, big and definitely bouncy! The way pop should be! 8

STARLING Sustainer [Time Bomb]

My immediate term of reference is Maury LaFoy, frontman for the sublime Supers. LaFoy is credited here as "live bass" and thus was not involved in the studio recordings that make up Sustainer. Certainly Starling are an altogether different proposition from the Supers. Think more rock than pop, in fact country-tinged anthemic rock. Chances are you'll hear more Black Crowes and Radiohead references than your trad powerpop ones. Which works in the context, a good balance between earthy and ethereal, rustic and mystical. Recommended. 8

FARRAH Moustache [Ark21]

It takes a brave band of musicians in the UK nowadays to play straightforward powerpop without any hint of irony or pastiche. So kudos to Farrah and their sincere assimilation of seventies powerpop mores evoking Badfinger, the Raspberries and the Rubinoos (whose I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend is ably reconstructed here). Other moments to savor on Moustache - the touching ballad Only Happy When She's Sad, the gleaming West Coast vibe of Living For The Weekend, the reverential "glam" cheek of Seventies Superstar and the ethereal spaced-out feel of Lois Lane. 8

LINUS OF HOLLYWOOD Let Yourself Be Happy [Franklin Castle]

Linus isn't afraid to trumpet his positive take on life in general with feelgood music to match. On this excellent sophomore album, Linus continues his sublime interpretation of the soft/chamber/baroque pop values espoused by the likes of Brian Wilson (Building A Ship, A Whole New Country, Every Day I Fall In Love Again), Harry Nilsson (The Girl I'll Never Have), Todd Rundgren (Why Don't We...), ELO (Where Are You?), Queen (Goodbye to Romance) and ABBA (To Be A Girl). User friendly music in the good sense of the word. Sweet. 8