REVIEWED! 3RD AUGUST 2001
JEREMY Pop Rules!!!/SCOT SAX Scot Sax/ASTRID Play Dead/TENDER IDOLS Distressor/JACK AND THE BEANSTALK Cowboys in Sweden/SCARLET CRUSH Worth Waiting For/33.3 Plays Music/VARIOUS ARTISTS Amplifier Select tracks 1.0
25 albums in any career is a phenomenal feat especially when you consider that these are all indie releases! Jeremy Morris is the owner of this proud achievement, having displayed his talent and versatility in producing quality power pop and prog rock records in the last two decades.
But much more than that, Jeremy is able to traverse the great divide between satisfying the tastes of musical enthusiasts and sharing his Christian values at the same time.
In this respect, Jeremy’s brilliant evocation of the vibrant, joyful power pop of the Beatles, Beach Boys, the Byrds and Big Star is truly suitable for the principles of hope, joyfulness and abundant living espoused in his wonderful material.
Perhaps Pop Rules!!!, Jeremy’s latest album finds him at his most straightforward in terms of these issues. In the truly gorgeous “The Answer” and “Open Your Heart,” Jeremy presents the Christian message in a clear and gentle voice and the breezy folk-rocking “It’s Getting Better,” “Walking in Sunshine,” “Here We Go Now” & “Listen” express Jeremy’s optimism with the assurance of a man of faith.
However, Jeremy never walks with his head in the clouds – oblivious to the problems and difficulties of this world. Songs like “Where Were You” relates the tale of betrayal, “Frustrate Me” focuses on the kind of individual we all come across from time to time, the strongly Lennonesque “Farewell” has rather strong words for ‘so called friends’ – “They love to bite the hand that feeds/They love to watch the heart that bleeds” and “Time to Leave” raises similar sentiments.
Pop Rules!!! is twenty songs that will touch, provoke, challenge, enthrall and thrill the pop lover in all of us. Jeremy Rules!!!! (8.5)
Return to top
“Hello to your mother, your brother, significant other. I am the summertime.”
With these words, Scot Sax effectively invades your world with the mother of all hooks, enveloped within an irresistible funky groove that has to be heard to be believed. No wonder then that this song has already been featured on the American Pie soundtrack. A defining power pop moment.
That said, the sheer magnificence of “I Am The Summertime” threatens very much to overwhelm and overpower the remaining material on this fine album. And that would be a severe injustice to songs of sublime quality.
Like, the poignant “I Keep Running” – a gorgeous ballad with acoustic overtones and harmonic undertones to touch the hardest of hearts. Not to mention the midtempo trappings of “Please Disregard,” sophisticated and earnest in its delivery, the psychedelic glam authority of “Thinking ‘bout You” and the sweet folk-rock inflections of “Half As Much.”
In general, Sax approaches the vexed question of pop rock from a softer perspective than was evident on the two albums with his erstwhile band Wanderlust but this does not diminished the unquestioned power of the material here. (8)
Return to top
Based in Glasgow, Scotland, Astrid (viz. William Campbell, Charlie Clark, Gareth Russell & Neil Payne) maintains the grand guitar pop tradition of fellow countrymen Teenage Fanclub, Belle & Sebastian, BMX Bandits, The Pearlfishers & Eugenius.
Produced by Tony Doogan, Play Dead – the follow-up to the critically acclaimed debut Strange Weather Lately – is a fine album that highlights Astrid’s wondrous assimilations of the crucial power pop references i.e. The Beatles, Beach Boys, Byrds & Big Star.
Astrid keeps the fuzz low, the pace easy and the atmosphere light but when they slow things down and get poignant, the songs are tough to ignore. “Wrong for You” is a moody gem, “Alas” is simply beautiful and the title track is filled to the brim with melancholy sentiments and memorable hooks.
Elsewhere, the punky political correct “Fat Girl,” the soulful horns-laden “Crying Baby” and the hyper kinetic jive-y “Hard to be a Person” establish Astrid as a band deserving of the illustrious company of the aforementioned groups.
So who says Britpop is dead?! (8)
Return to top
If Atlanta quintet Tender
Idols conjure up a heady brew that tastes uncannily like the Britrock & pop
scene of the 1990s ala Suede, Blur, Gene, Swervedriver, Spiritualized, The
Verve, Oasis and Radiohead, it may be more an affinity to the direct influence
of the named bands’ inspirations than anything else.
Distressor is the
Idols’ third album and features an obvious nod to the seminal British rock era
of the 1970s – viz. David Bowie, Roxy Music, Mott the Hoople, Slade, Pink
Floyd, Wings and Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel.
The origins of this musical
direction may be attributed to frontman Ian Webber, an Englishman but to be
totally objective, the weight of the 1970s British music’s impact is not
merely geographical. After all, British pop & rock has had a major say in
the evolution of American music since the Beatles. So why not the Tender Idols
out of Atlanta, Georgia?
In many ways, the Idols’
repertoire reflects the Big Music principles of 1980s post-punk luminaries like
Echo & the Bunnymen, Teardrop Explodes and the early Waterboys in its
uncompromising commitment to make each song an event in itself.
The epic spacey
cod-psychedelic soundscapes of “Man Out of Season,” “One More Life”
& “Afraid to Move;” the straight ahead dynamism of “Freefall,”
“Turning the Wheel,” “Losing Controls” and the um tender heartfelt even
folky sentiments of “Washed Away,” “Fighting,” “Give Us Wings” and
both parts of “The Two of Us” indicate that the Idols are much more than the
sum of their influences.
So do not be alarmed by the sheer number of references cited, this is an asset not a weakness, a sign of the breadth of the Tender Idols’ musical vocabulary and that is indeed something to be treasured. (8)
Return to top
Aussie powerpop bands that tend to base their sound on the musical inspirations of Matthew Sweet, the Lemonheads and most notably Teenage Fanclub are a dime a dozen. However, the few outfits that are able to construct a distinct identity from these sonic foundations deserve to be recognised as such.
One listen to the raucous beauty of "Raspberry Jam" should be enough to convert non-believers that Jack and the Beanstalk have earned their spurs as bona fide pop cowboys. It should come as no surprise that a band whose debut single was recorded in tribute to the late great Gram Parsons should supply a vat full of twang in its powerpop mixture.
Singer-songwriter Joe Algeri operates as the "Jack" in this aggregation with Kevin Borruso, Stuart Loasby and Anthony Spinelli providing superlative support. Cowboys in Sweden is Algeri's third album (counting 1999's 'solo' effort Everything Under the Sun) and it is chock full of the dynamic, melodic, rustic and rockin' fun Algeri followers would expect from the man.
Apart from the ten new great tracks that make up Cowboys in Sweden proper, the three 'live' bonus tracks prove that Jack and the Beanstalk is a force to be reckoned with on stage as well. (8)
Return to top
ever wanted more, the best things are worth waiting for…”
All of three
years old, this self-assured, talented & highly relevant quintet viz. John
Glover, Dax Maddocks, Brett Scott, Jeff Smetana & Jeff Sterzer; have
recorded a competent debut album that is indeed ‘worth waiting for…’
with underground pop luminary Walter Clevenger, Scarlet Crush manages to imbue
its obvious classic pop & corporate rock influences with a dynamic
contemporary feel. Not only that, it is able to convey a subtle undercurrent of
spirituality that never detracts from the power of its repertoire.
In this sense, there are moments when Scarlet Crush recalls strongly Todd Rundgren’s unabashed appeals to a higher calling on songs like “The Only One” – ‘You are the only light in the world” & “Mother Theresa” – ‘Better a doorman in the house of God than the throne of Elizabeth.’
The rest of Worth Waiting For
falls nicely between atmospheric ballads (“I’ll Fall for You,” “The
Truth About You” & “Little Wings;”
vigorous rockers (“She’s the One,” “Close to You” & “The Only
One”) and punchy powerpop (“Something to Say,” “My Favorite Record
Shop” & “Julianne”).
tad too slick here and there but no denying that Scarlet Crush has what it takes
to satisfy powerpop cravings and more. (7.5)
Return to top
My own interpretation of alternative instro-rock of the modern era (post-rock, if you must) is that it is really an extension of the progressive jazz-rock fusion scene of the 1970s. Bands like the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever & Weather Report experimented with jazz, rock & classical styles by utilizing diverse time signatures and mantra-like figures in their repertoire, in much the same way as “post-rock” ensembles today.
Connecticut’s 33.3 is one such group. Featuring Brian Alfred (guitar), Dominique Davison (cello), Steven Wells (drums), Joseph Grimm (trumpet/trombone) and William Noland (double bass), this debut full-length expresses melodies in fundamental riff patterns. There is no solo showboating from any lead instrument – no masturbatory excesses common in most 1970s progressive jazz-rock fusion. The objective is the evocation of mood rather than a display of proficiency. Easy mid-tempo rhythms swing comfortably and are seldom jarring, confident and never jagged. In many ways, 33.3 comes across as a classical string quartet (albeit with a drummer).
Structured and controlled, tracks like “Power Failure At The U.N.,” “Joanne will,” “Playing Safe, Ducking Kisses, and Getting Position” and “An Evening in Park Slope” display economy of notes and arrangements with the distinctive sonic characteristics and colorings compensating adequately for the complete lack of lyrics.
As a series of short studies of familiar sounds expressed in familiar settings, Plays Music is a resounding success. (7.5)
Return to top
Premier pop magazine Amplifier has taken the plunge into the murky waters of record production – the other side of the fence, so to speak, with the debut launch of One True Mission (a record company) and this superb collection of some of the finest modern artists out there in the wasteland of the millennial pop-rock scene.
Whilst the actual styles of these bands may differ – for instance roots rock from Ass Ponys, sophisticated emo-pop from The Tories, The Churchills and ARSONWELLES; kaleidoscopic power pop from Splitsville (featuring a glorious ‘live’ “Manna”) and the Grip Weeds; dynamic melodic guitar pop attacks from Treble Charger, Tugboat Annie and Adam Daniel; irresistible sugary grunge flavors from The Drowners, Gob, Fuzzbubble and Charlie in the Box; new wave funkadelia from 12 Rods, the self-consciously offbeat folkcore of Hefner and alt. rock sensibilities from Stretch Princess – they are united by the talent and the commitment to pop music that does not compromise in terms of melody, power and intelligence.
A first class introduction to the sublime world of knowing pop-rock, Amplifier Select Tracks 1.0 would also be a worthwhile acquisition for the serious music aficionado. As Tom Semioli advises in the liner notes – “Just push play.” (8)
Return to top