(A) Essential (B) Recommended (C) For fans only (D) Avoid
PERNICE BROTHERS The World Won't End/STEVE WYNN Here Come the Miracles/MARIZANE Hypercube Sideshow/VELVET CRUSH Single Odessey/In the Presence of Greatness/DREAM SYNDICATE The Days of Wine and Roses/JEFF KELLY Indiscretion/FUGU Fugu 1/BELLE DA GAMA Garden Abstract/APPLESEED Blinding Me For Sight/THE MARIGOLDS Wild/SEMION Get A Grip/ERIC'S TRIP The Eric's Trip Show/KOMEDA Pop Pa Svenska + Plan 714 Till/BRAVE CAPTAIN The Fingertip Sessions Vol. II/DEPARTURE LOUNGE Jetlag Dreams/HENRY GROSS I'm Hearing Things
are very few things we can be certain about in life but this comfort I possess,
a Joe Pernice record is always going to be a fulfilling pop experience. And I do
not make that claim frivolously. My first encounter with Pernice arrived
courtesy of the debut Pernice Brothers album, Overcome
by Happiness which quite coincidentally found me floundering in a difficult
time in 1998. It's chamber pop melancholy struck a chord deep in my soul, the
title track's sombre humour mirrored my own situation uncannily - 'You don't
feel so overcome by happiness, you're broke…' I didn't know whether to laugh
or cry, honestly.
Thus began my love affair with this talented singer-songwriter who served an apprenticeship of sorts with the alt. country amalgam that was the Scud Mountain Boys, manifesting an appreciation of Jimmy Webb and Glen Campbell in the lo-fi-around-the-kitchen-table charm of Pine Box and Dance the Night Away, before the full blown Massachusetts gave notice of the magic to come.
Even before the release of this new album (on Pernice's own Ashmont Records no less), Pernice had issued two seminal records - the moody Chappaquiddick Skyline and the country folk inflected Big Tobacco. Pernice insisted that these fine albums were side projects and in no way to be confused with a proper Pernice Brothers record. Which is what we have now with The World Won't End and listening to it, one gets the feeling that Pernice certainly knows what he's talking about. Compared to the 'side-projects,' The World Won't End is classic pop in every sense and meaning of the term.
Co-produced with long-time collaborator Thom (Beachwood Sparks, The Chamber Strings) Monahan, The World Won't End is gorgeously textured pop wherein the jangly nuances of Teenage Fanclub are married to the lush orchestral arrangements of the Electric Light Orchestra to stunning effect. When these upbeat musical sensibilities contrasted with the frankly morose nature of Pernice's lyrics, they make for a potent albeit disorientating combination.
The starting point for an examination of his phenomenon is the bright yet wistful "She Heightened Everything" where Pernice remarks - 'Waiting for the mortal wound/This fascination with the moribund' to the accompaniment of sentimental strings. Likewise, the deceptively cheery "Let That Show" contains the lament, 'It feels like I am dying as I watch you go' as the chug-a-lug rhythm boogies.
"7.30," a chiming chunk of dynamism reveals 'our summer years are Freudian slipping by' and 'there's nothing there, just bitterness'. The fragile "Shaken Baby" conjures disturbing images likening a failed relationship to this appalling syndrome. "Our Time Has Passed" is a charming Bacharach-meets-Big Star number weighed down by regret and a 'bitter-sweet hello/goodbye'.
With "Flaming Wreck," Pernice sinks to the depths of despair, narrating his own demise in a aeroplane crash - 'I was alright/Never knew it would be the perfect last word I spoke/As the cabin filled with smoke…did you know I would die for something new?/Take good care, someone whom I never knew'.
You have to admire Pernice's uncompromising attitude in describing the world as he truly sees it, never sugar coating the pain and bitterness of everyday living. And he makes it so enjoyable to listen to! The World Won't End is not just an album of bleak and hopeless themes, rather I prefer to see it as cautiously optimistic. I daresay that Pernice and company have diligently mapped out a new frontier for 21st century powerpop. One that blends compelling and infectious music with hard down-to-earth realities. File it next to The Flaming Lips' The Soft Bulletin, Grandaddy's The Sophtware Slump, The Heavy Blinkers' Better Weather and Lambchop's Nixon for distinct milestones of the new pop. (A)
Almost two decades after the Dream Syndicate's classic Days of Wine and Roses, Steve Wynn has delivered his masterpiece in the form of this seminal double CD set. With feverish passion, inspired by Bob Dylan, Lou Reed and Neil Young, Wynn and his excellent band -- including Chris (ex-Green On Red) Cavacas, Howe (Giant Sand) Gelb and John (Calexico) Convertino - dish out high octane garage rockers, moody droning desert rock ballads and sublimely scintillating pop. Nineteen tracks of visceral, poignant, infectious and heartfelt rock music - it never gets better than this! (A)
A 4-track sampler that showcases Marizane’s uncanny assimilation of the glam art-rock aesthetic of Bowie, Queen & Jethro Tull (!), this wonderful disc will appeal instantly to anyone who fancies Jellyfish with a prog edge. “The Devil’s Address” may as well be an outtake from Hunky Dory – hell, it probably deserves to be on the album proper! “Sad Foolish Robot” extends Marizane’s reach to the Kinks’ music hall sensibilities whilst “Fra Maurd” will faux boogie itself into every 70s glam rock beast’s heart. For a self-released disc, the production work is first class – the sound is excellent! As you can probably guess, I quite like this – should be a good bet to keep an eye out for Marizane. Hopefully a full-length will forthcoming. (A)
A Single Odessey/In the Presence of Greatness
its (lame) protestations to the contrary, Velvet Crush is a true blue,
card-carrying, flag-waving powerpop band! Make no mistake about it - why, its
very name succinctly defines that distinct powerpop sound. If nothing else,
these two releases will finally put any doubts about this fact to rest.
A Single Odessey (in honor of the Zombies' Odessey and Oracle) collects all single and EP tracks thus far released by this classic outfit. Consumed at one sitting, it's clear that Velvet Crush has developed from its fledging sunshine jangly pop approach to a sound that is closer to country and heavy rock in its 11 years of existence. Whether these stylistic changes amount to musical growth is debatable.(B)
What is indisputable, however, is that In the Presence of Greatness simply lives up to its name. When originally released in 1991, the UK rock press proclaimed it a masterpiece and no wonder. Highly reminiscent of the Big Star obsessing British pop vernacular of the late 1980s (e.g. Teenage Fanclub, Primal Scream), In the Presence of Greatness is chock full of gleaming guitars (courtesy of erstwhile member Jerry Borchardt and producer Matthew Sweet) and touching tunes, not to mention marvellous songs like "Drive Me Down," "Ash and Earth," "Window to the World," "White Soul," "Blind Faith" and the incongruously poignant "Asshole." This reissue also includes three bonus tracks available on A Single Odessey. Powerpop essentials.(A)
As the seventies faded into distant memory, a nascent 'alternative' rock scene arose in the aftermath of punk in the early eighties. One of the clear leaders of this field was the Dream Syndicate (viz. Steve Wynn, Karl Precoda, Kendra Smith and Dennis Duck) whose debut album ignited the US indie rock arena with its incendiary take on the Velvet Underground, Neil Young and Bob Dylan. This Rhino re-issue contains all the seminal material (e.g. "Definitely Clean," "Then She Remembers," "When You Smile" and "Tell Me When It's Over") and adds the Down There EP, rehearsals recorded in Wynn's basement and even contributions from Wynn's pre-Syndicate outfit, 15 Minutes. Essential. (A)
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1997, Jeff Kelly, the leader of notable psychedelic folk combo The Green
Pajamas, has maintained a prolific musical output that borders almost on
disturbing obsession. With this solo excursion, Kelly would have been
responsible for the release of seven odd albums and EPs in the last four years.
As it is, Indiscretion follows on the heels of the In a Glass Darkly EP issued mere months earlier and like its predecessor contains Kelly's ruminations on classic literature, literary figures and artists. However, the bigger picture concerns Kelly's own experience with Catholic guilt and desire (or should that be the other way round?) and this theme is enhanced by the image of Mary on the cover.
The opening title track sets the tone as Kelly laments – “Cruel guilt, shame and regret, I guess the Catholic in me isn't all the way out yet” over an unrelenting beat and subtle fuzzed-up guitars. He follows this up with the sublime trippy “Somebody’s Daughter” – a justification for unfettered lust: “She might be someone’s daughter but she isn’t mine.” Whereas the haunting and fragile “His Soul to Take” narrates a confession to adultery and much worse, complete with an orchestral section nicked from Rachmaninov’s “Isle of the Dead.”
Kelly’s muse is a excellent example of low brow populist art meeting high concept – unparalleled and unique, Indiscretion is to be savoured heart, mind and soul. (A)
more 'new' pop from nouveau Gallic masters, isn't this an exciting time for
serious pop lovers? Air, Mellow and Tahiti 80 have raised the profile of French
pop artists with their iconoclastic approach to the libidinous possibilities of
multi-faceted pop music textures. Combining diverse elements of the vast range
of rock and pop sounds to create a curious hybrid, these pop celebrants have a
brand new entry into their membership - Fugu.
Fugu (a.k.a. gifted French multi-instrumentalist Mehdi Zannad and assorted friends) has, after five 7" singles and an EP in the last couple of years, finally released a full-length album that fulfils the pop prodigy's promise and potential. Fugu's obvious starting reference point is the chamber pop of Brian Wilson's sandbox aligned with Arthur Lee's angular Love-scapes in sublime material like the Smiley Smile like opening instrumental track, the soothing reverie that is “The Best of Us,” the chime-y guitar boost of “Sol Y Sombra” (guest starring Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier), the child-like Of Montreal evoking verse of “Variations Fitzwilliam,” the dynamic sunshiny “Vibravox,” the gorgeous mellifluence of “Monocorde,” the simple beauty of “Tsimbalon” & the classical piano assurance of “Angel Fair with Golden Hair.”
Melodic flair matched with epic ambition, like the High Llamas, Eric Matthews & the Heavy Blinkers, Fugu 1 is a worthy addition to the orch-pop canon. (B)
say that the fact that Scott (Loud Family/Game Theory) Miller and Anton Barbeau
contributed to Garden Abstract would
suggest an altogether quirky Barretesque agenda. Ignore that little distracting
factoid because it is a red herring. Whilst there are moments of psychedelic
art-rock chaos in "The Mozart Defect," "Near Sighted Hopeful
Lessons" & the title track, which suggest a nod at the direction of XTC, Mudhoney,
Julian Cope, Television and the Melvins; the net of Belle Da Gama's worth is
closer to the folk-rock ruminations of "If This Is Where Railways
End," "The Three Cornered World," "The Cult of Kids,"
"Unfortunate Wine" & "Steadfast & Clear" that highlight an affinity for Robyn
Hitchcock, Big Star, the Bats, Chris Knox, the Go-Betweens and the Mutton Birds.
Not immediately affecting, the value of this debut offering becomes apparent only after repeated plays. This may suggest a deeper thinking at work behind the superficial strengths of melody and arrangements - a maturing stab into the heart of the pop beast itself. Garden Abstract is very much a thinking man's pop album. The world could do with more. (B)
Appleseed got things right quickly and engaged the production services of Aussie
power pop master, Michael Carpenter. Which gives you a good idea about the
quality of this 5-track EP. Songs that blister with driving rock abandon,
in-your-face muscular guitars and mature tune smithing. Slightly harder than the
usual Teenage Fanclub-obsessed Aussie garage poppers, Appleseed is probably
closer to compatriots Even and You Am I in scope and range. The melodies are
insistent, the performances are solid and the attitude is unpretentious and
straightforward. Songs like “Slipstream” and “Casualty Me” indicate good
potential for future development. A band to watch. (B)
1965. In the wake of the incredible success of the Beatles, other British bands make the hop over the Atlantic to equal accomplishment. Bands like the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, Gerry & the Pacemakers, Cliff Richard & the Shadows, Herman's Hermits, the Dave Clark Five, the Hollies etc. The Marigolds from Perth evoke the British Invasion period nicely with their clean, uncomplicated, beat-centric tunes and stellar material: “Waiting in Line,” “Lying Again,” “Slaughter Street” and “Dreams;” have the garage-y feel of Paul Revere & the Raiders, the Leaves, the Byrds and the early Love whilst stuff like “Shame on You,” “Seasons” and “Feel of You” manifest a Beatlesque charm. Much of this sounds disturbingly familiar and highly derivative of the era in question (especially the jangly “Little Black Egg” and poignant “Today”) but that is probably the only reservation against this sterling collection. Fans of The Spongetones, The Records, The Flamin' Groovies, Let's Active, Don Dixon, Dwight Twilley, Steve Almaas will be absolutely delighted. (B)
Semion comes from the same
power pop lineage as such West Coast affected Brits like Teenage Fanclub, Cosmic
Rough Riders & BMX Bandits which roughly translated means Beatlesque
melodies, jangly guitars and an irresistible beat. These elements are obvious
right from the moment “Paul Loves Derek” kicks off.
Being the intelligent and witty folks they are, Semion then proceeds to confound our expectations a tad with the metal stomper “Theme from Semion,” the distorted “Sunny” & the Doors-evoking “Under the Sea” but quickly returns to form with the gorgeous “Dumb,” the folk-rocking “I Can Dream All Day” and the cheeky “Year of the Monkee.”
Recorded over 2 weekends at a vintage all-valve studio in East London, this 7 track EP is a shot in the arm for the confused British rock scene – hopefully, Semion receives the attention its potential deserves. (B)
The Eric's Trip Show
noise-pop quartet Eric's Trip split in 1996 after a prolific career that saw it
releasing several cassette-only efforts, EPs and proper albums - somewhere in
the region of 11 releases in 6 years. Well, obviously after 5 years apart,
absence has made hearts grow fonder and so a reunion tour has been announced for
This compilation of live tracks circa 1991 - 1996 has been released to coincide with this tour and functions as a 'best-of' introduction for newbies and a unique collection for the faithful. These hazy, lo-fi pop and sloppy, tuneful songs do not lose their impact live, if nothing else seems to gain in immediacy and power. Julie Doiret’s plaintive waif-ish vocals and Rick White’s slacker approach counterpoint the visceral attack of the material succinctly on “You’re Always Right,” “Girlfriend,” “Stove,” “Sloan Song,” “Burn” and “Belong.”
A 22-track wonder that captures a dynamic combo in its element, roll up indeed for The Eric’s Trip Show – you will be amazed. (B)
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Pop Pa Svenska + Plan 714 Till
This re-issue combines Komeda’s first two
releases and is completely in Swedish – I shit you not, the sleeve includes
all the lyrics! Ha ha ha!
Sorry. That said, the sheer jubilant pleasure that Komeda conveys in its no-holds barred, anything goes, vibrant pop technique will gratify most earnest pop enthusiasts, whatever language it may happen to be sung in!
Pop Pa Svenska was an accomplished debut with its great tunes and left field leanings – one can sense a deep admiration of McCartney, XTC and film scores working here. At once, playful and atmospheric, the music of Komeda is always thought-provoking and as challenging as all inspired pop should be.
The Plan 714 Till EP is slightly more experimental, utilizing interesting string passages on otherwise conventional pop song structures. Always surprisingly in arranging and instrumental choices, Komeda keep listeners on their toes constantly. No let up in the toe tapping department either – great art pop! (B)
Go With Yourself (Fingertip Saint Sessions, Vol. II)
a decade, Martin Carr played Brian Wilson to the Boo Radleys' Beach Boys. A
studio boffin in the best sense of the word, the repertoire of the Liverpudlian
quartet would run the gamut from nascent shoegazing (Giant Steps) to
jubilant Britpop (Wake Up!); from
avant garde rock (C'mon Kids) to
powerpop anarchy (Kingsize).
Relatively quiet in the two years since disbanding the Boo Radleys, Carr re-appeared as the Brave Captain with an EP entitled Fingertip Saint Sessions, Vol I. The subject of this review is the second volume in the 'series.'
Much has been written about Carr's weak vocal ability. Personally, I sense no great difficulty here. Carr's main strength is his music making and he scores effectively with classy tracks like the easy listening spacey bachelor pad “The Monk Jumps Over the Wall,” the moving “Tell Her You Want Her,” (with its intriguing vocal arrangements), the haunting Wilsonesque “Where is my Head?” the affecting straightforward pop of “Hermit versus the World,” the pumping horns-laden “Reuben” & the infectious dynamism of “Go With Yourself.”
No discerning pop lover will be able to resist the Brave Captain’s obvious charms – a fine achievement indeed. (B)
track instrumental album takes an incredibly long time to warm up to, if at all.
Making Jetlag Dreams a departure (sorry!) from the lush sentiments of the
acclaimed debut Out of Here, Departure Lounge have taken a bit of a leap
of faith here. The band themselves have described Jetlag Dreams as
"the slow motion soundtrack to a transatlantic travelogue,” and if that
doesn’t suggest to you an Eno-inspired ambient sound, nothing will.
Alas, pure pop fans will be left pretty much dissatisfied with this exercise in scoring melancholy yearning to music. Primarily keyboard dominated, the tunes are rudimentary and have been largely sacrificed for the sake of atmosphere. You will certainly pick up the restrained influence of Michael Nyman, Sakamoto & Keith Jarrett in sombre numbers like “Runway Doubts,” “Too Late to Die Young,” “Equestrian Skydiving” & “Beyond the Beltway.” That said, the clear peaks here are the guitar-led “Purple Fluffy Haze” and the epic “Charles De Gaulle to Bellevile” (all 8.50 minutes of it!) where the formula is ever so slightly screwed with. Not for all tastes but one for those quieter moments. (C)
When Gross applies his talents to easy-listening soft Californian pop '70s style, he can produce entertaining material. No surprise, as Gross came to prominence in the '70s as a recording artist with A&M Records and Lifesong Records and especially with his gold worldwide hit, "Shannon." Thus on songs like “I’m Not Myself,” “Above the Rain,” “Mama Who’s Gonna Rock” & “Fixing Your Broken Heart,” he clearly evidences a debt to the Beach Boys music of that era (think: Sunflower/Surf's Up) with the multi-layered vocals, harmony guitars, smooth melodies and slick professional production. That said, Gross' current residence in Nashville probably explains the potent Country & Western flavour of songs like “Since I’ve Been Loving You” & “Mona Lisa Smile.” Bit of a mixed bag, I'm Hearing Things will no doubt be an enjoyable and nostalgic trip for lovers of that '70s pop thang. (C)