Posts Tagged ‘Pop’

Pearl Charles

If you’ve been hanging around the halls of Raven for the past few months, then Pearl Charles’ name should feel familiar. Following a long run of excellent singles, Charles’ new album Magic Mirror is finally here and fueling dreams of dodging out 2021 in the arms of an alternate universe 1971 instead. The record springboards off of the zipwaxed pop of her previous album, with a country-rock rework of “Night Tides” eking out midway through last year that gave some inclinations of how her significantly her sound had shifted. The record begins in a post-disco comedown, still in thrall to the a neon halo of slicked pop that gives way to the country comedowns that permeate the bulk of the rest of the album. Packing its possessions in the car and leaving the ABBA LPs on the counter with a note for the next tenant to take care of them, Charles heads for the Canyon calm of Linda Ronstadt channeling Young and Anderson, The Burritos lamenting “Four Days of Rain” and a touch of Fleetwood Mac’s studio sheen.

The record’s hooks are hung in macrame, but there’s still a timelessness about the album. It’s one of those rare records in which the influences lay so bare on its sleeves — exposed and uncontested – and yet it allows itself to acquire the evergreen qualities of Charles’ heroes rather than wind up a blurred copy of the past. Some of the credit has to go to the assembled players around Charles — Michael Rault, Ryan Miller, Dustin Bookatz, and Nigel Wilson — who bring her vision and songwriting to life like a modern day Wrecking Crew. The sounds here are rendered in Kodachrome perfection that hangs in the room like a photograph that brings a wistful smile every time it gets passed.

Pearl and the band are able to weave across genre lines with a studied hand that belies the songwriter’s youth. Like Jenny Lewis before her, she’s a modern troubadour with soft spots for introspection matched by hooks that hang in the back of the mind when they’re not trapped in a bittersweet sigh in the chest. Along the way on Magic Mirror Pearl explores themes of slipping away from a partner, slipping away from oneself, and aging into the best version of oneself. It’s a coming of age record that’s going to feel as welcome during the turbulence of youth as it does in the hindsight of age. It’s hard to had down a declaration that one of the best records of 2021 has landed in the first couple of weeks, but all I’m saying is you all better remember this one come next December.

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Latitude

San Francisco never ceases to throw the pop gauntlet. Whether its jangle-pop, garage sneer, or something less brittle, the town’s weathering their seismic changes, at least in the music sector. The sophomore LP from Latitude works its way into the bloodstream more easily than some of their adjacent compatriots. With a release on Emotional Response, the LP wraps a waft of jangle around ‘80s synth-pop and ‘70s disco hangover. Amy Fowler’s vocals have drawn some larger than life comparisons — with her deep, imploring delivery falling between Stevie and Debbie, though for me it lands in even company with indie mainstay Meredith Metcalf (Music Go Music, Bodies of Water). The songs on Mystic Hotline explore some similar territory with MGM, mopping up the post-disco hangover that the band found so verdant and marrying it with a bit of a post-punk vibrancy that’s rubbery, but rife with the thick, neon glint of keys.

There’s a bucolic restlessness to the album, lounged, yet dreaming of a more conflicted life. The album’s perch between post-punk’s urgency and new wave’s radiant smear gives the album a light tension. The band clearly wants to push towards the rhythmic pulse and angular angst, but they’re not quite as lean and hungry as the genre requires and as such they bleed over into the smudged romanticism of the New Wave queens quite often. The urge to dance is always bubbling below the surface, if not overtly taking the reigns and the thrum snaps Latitude out of complacency. While the band would love to languish in the shadows it’s hard to resist the pull of a propulsive beat and the heat of bodies near one another in thrall to the pulse. The band’s at their best, though, when the slightly nerdy needs of ‘80s pop take over and the synths skew towards arpeggiation and the neon glow squiggles into a discordant shimmy. There’s a gloss here that’s hard to shake, but when the band lets their makeup fade, they’re found out for the endearing pop academics they are.




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The Chills – Soft Bomb

Now if ever there was a shining star in The Chills’ catalog, their sophomore LP Submarine Bells is just that. The record was the band’s major label debut and it’s one of those records I honestly wish I would have found earlier in my life, having come to it quite a few years after its 1990 release. The band’s early edges were softened and their songwriting was hammered into pop perfection. While it achieved the kind of critical praise that will forever let this one swim to the surface if R.E.M. fans and Kiwipop lovers dig deeper into the bench of major label offerings from this time period, its follow-up remains slightly more elusive. I’m sad to say that as much of a fan as I am of the early singles that populate Kaleidoscope World, on into Brave Words, and Submarine Bells it took these much needed reissues of later Chills works by Fire to really let Soft Bomb spend some time on the speakers.

By 1992 The Chills as they’d existed were really gone. The rest of the band left but Martin Philipps remained as did the support of the label he’d signed to. So, in the fashion of songwriters who are hitting outside of the league they’re assigned, he embarked on an ambitious album that stands alongside quite a few other sprawling gems of the era. While albums like Game Theory’s Lolita and Hüsker Dü’s Zen Arcade come to mind, this finds some similarities closer to home with the clever wordplay of Able Tasmans’ A Cuppa Tea And A Lie Down. Though perhaps more than any of those, Philipps sought quite actively to make this album into something greater than he’d reached for, employing Van Dyke Parks and ex dB’s Peter Holsapple to help him shape this album into a cycle of songs that fold in and out of one another with a velvet pop touch. Sometimes, though effort leaves its mark quite noticeably, also distancing it from those others.

That soft touch in Philipps’ songs may have ultimately been the album’s undoing, given that it arrived in 1992, a year known more for its embrace of abrasive indie riding the grunge wave than any tender-hearted lost souls. So would end a chapter for The Chills with Phillips writing one of his most ambitious albums, even if it occasionally got away from him a bit. There are plenty of pop moments, and its clear that while Parks only actively contributes to one track here, his inclusive approach to songwriting is felt as a guiding light. That can give Soft Bomb a bit of sea sickness switching moods from one track to the next, especially with the focused sweep of Submarine Bells still fresh in mind. Yet there are also so many true gems interspersed throughout the album that the ends justify his ambitions and in hindsight this is still prime Chills — melding the serious with the sublime. It’s nice to have both of these albums back on the shelves and hopefully now that time and distance have let the dust settle on the angst of 1992, a greater appreciation of Soft Bomb can blossom.



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Frank Ene on Bambou – Made In China

On his own undersung gem of an album, Frank Ene put together a collection of songs that are deeply scarred, yet radiant. It’s a sound, that like his bandmate and producing partner Wymond Miles, references ‘80s aesthetics without becoming beholden to or bogged down in them. The goth slash across the album lets off a burn like dry ice — intense and cold, leaving a lasting mark on the listener. I asked Frank to pick out a gem of his own and he’s let us in on an ‘80s pop LP that likely slipped by us all. Check out below for Frank’s take on the sole ’89 LP from Bambou.

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Robert Sotelo

Robert Sotelo’s third LP, and his first for skewed pop stable Upset The Rhythm, is both sublimely serene and incessantly itchy. His pop comes on like the warm confines of a sweater that reveals itself to irritate the skin. There’s a squirm to songs like “Mister,” or the title track “Infinite Sprawling” but it doesn’t seem to bother Sotelo. He’s lost in the confines of his mind, locked away from the tether of earthly irritation. The pontifications of Sotelo’s pop are, in fact, comforting. He’s lost like you are. He’s nagged and dogged by the same singularities that give you pause, but he’s confident in his croon and it makes it seem right. But what’s that clanking? It’s off behind the buttery guitars and jangled hooks and it seems to be getting closer. More often than not there’s a buzz, the odd xylophone rhythm, the croak of frogs that sets a track off the path and dipping into the bog on that’s built up around the preserve.

He can cloak a track in amber country hues (“Run”) but it’s still tripping over its own feet and it feels good to know that we’re not alone in our own self-conscious tumble through the cosmos. Rob’s pop falls under the same full-moon sway that past primers like Moon Martin were bound embrace. He’s the outsider, but truthfully, he is all of us. He is dipped in pop, but he’s not comfortable with how deep he’s swum in its waters. His head is spinning with doubt, protracted and distracted. Inside his songs we’re narcotized and enjoying the party, but internally we can’t figure out why that stomach pain is so present, where it came from and what it means. Sotelo’s a master of moods and on Infinite Sprawling he’s captured a corner of the lounge that doesn’t get swept that often. Its’s nice picking through the detritus with him for a while.



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The Taxidermists

The sophomore LP from Massachusetts duo The Taxidermists takes a different tack than I’d expect from Feeding Tube, but then again, the label is built on not fostering expectations. The Taxidermists trade in a noisy nook of indie that’s got a shelf full of Sonic Youth, Pavement, No Age, and Eric’s Trip – though from a contemporary standpoint they’re landing right in the kinked-tin travels of someone like Omni. The aural twists come quick and, while not frantic, they are certainly anxious. On the contrast the lyrics seem almost nonchalant. They remain unfussed by the din that grows behind them. The band threads noise through their sound, but they’re in search of as many hooks as the next pair. The dynamic gives the record a nature of being at odds with itself. The vocals give way to a need to be liked, while the guitars yell “fuck you for thinking this will be that easy.”

Thorniness aside, the record wraps itself in a sort of classic New England clatter – the kind that would have once been traced back to fountains of shaggy shake a la Fort Apache, where the curdle in their licks would be well appreciated. It’s a pop record for folks who don’t like pop records. They are punks with a heart that heeds noise, noise nerds with a secret diary full of indie pop lyrics. If anything, the true criticism of the record is that it winds up a bit short. They burn bright and tangle hard, but then the record just hits a wall and they skitter off leaving the listener wanting more. Suppose that’s a good thing, but the hurt is real all the same.






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Kelley Stoltz – “Turning Into You”

New burner on the line today from Kelley Stoltz. The San Francisco institution (20 years going with this release) continues his run of great solo LPs, while also serving as a go to engineer (Rays, The Mantles, Rat Columns) and sideman (Echo & The Bunnymen). His touring with the latter has definitely rubbed off a bit on his songwriting, but he’s spun the influence into some excellent New Wave-refracted pop tunes that crib the jangle and crunch of his early garage days and land his hooks with a softer blow. He’s back on Spanish outpost Banana & Louie, who also issued his 2018 record Natural Causes. Stoltz has a pretty heavy catalog to wade through, but this sounds like its shaping up to be one of his great ones. Check the first taste of My Regime below and look for it out next month.



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Young Guv – “Every Flower I See”

Just in time for summer, Young Guv’s Been Cook is arcing back into the power pop pantheon and ready to fizz things up. The band’s always shone in the short form and the first cut off of the 8-track Guv I skips back to the sunny vibes bouncing ‘round the grooves of Ripe 4 Luv. Last year’s 2 Sad 2 Funk flattened out the pop to something more cynical and slippery, but “Every Flower I See” is sweet and saccharine, full of strums and fuzz and about ready to blow at the seams with cheery vibes. There’s just a touch of bittersweet on the tail end to keep this from rotting the ol chompers, adding some nice balance, but its everything I’ve been waiting for in Young Guv since Ripe hit the turntable. The new record’s out 8/2 on Run For Cover. Check the video above for some instant pop melt.



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Drugdealer – “Fools”

To accept Drugdealer is to buy into the notion that reverence for influences can become so fervent that it scratches up against the edges of schtick. There’s a fine line between what Fred Armisen is doing with Blue Jean Committee and what Michael Collins and crew are doing with Drugdealer. It shouldn’t matter so much – 60’s adherents are a rampant among garage and alt-pop types. Riffling through the racks of Nilsson, Fleetwood Mac, Todd Rundgren and Carol King records should be met with the same acceptance for indulgence. This is specially true since here, with the aid of fellow smooth sailor Mac DeMarco producing, Collins nails the kind of studio rat sloughed confidence and slick earworm styles that dominated the AOR airwaves. Naturally these tropes only came to be seen as passe by a generation of ’90s kids railing against the music that dominated their parent’s car radio – hence the rub. “Fools” is almost uncanny in its appropriation and deadly in its accuracy in mining groove-baiting cocaine-cooled visions of Laurel Canyon folk heroes gone glossy. Love it or lump it (I fall in the former camp), you got to admit they’re pulling it off.



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Tullycraft

Seven albums in and well removed from the heyday of indie-pop that that they just barely caught in their own early years, Tullycraft are back with one of their best. The band was always just a tad late, but wiser and wryer than their classmates, having worn their “out-of-fashion” status proudly on their sleeves. The band made their mark with slogan-worthy ditties like “Pop Songs Your New Boyfriend is Too Stupid To Know About” and sentiments that rang, “Fuck Me, I’m Twee,” which they are. They definitely are. They’ve long been giving the young’uns a few role models to emulate, though, and as they litter zines and band badges across the bar for the taking, they’ve inspired more than a few of those introverts to pick up a powder blue strat and nerd out their own catalog.

Tullycraft are, in fact, textbook twee, but there’s a sense that they’ve been writing that book all along. They’re indie-pop historians and flameholders for the big, bright pastel worlds that are woven out of jangles, boy-girl harmonies, and overly dense lyrics. The hooks here decry parties soundtracked by radio staples, detail relationships built on what you like and not what you’re like, then map out the downfall of shared living spaces with proper doses of humor and ennui. Sean Tollefson and Jenny Mears keep things sweet, sometimes even saccharine, but if you’re looking for indie-pop that lets you escape without a little frosting and felt on your hands, you’d be wise to look elsewhere.

Tollefson spits out literate lyricism with the kind of tongue-twister plot cramming that made John Darnielle sit down and write some actual books to get it all in, but he manages to make each aural acrobatic as infectious as can be. The Railway Prince Hotel distills what’s best about the band and bottles it up for a new generation that could use a little optimism in a natty cardigan. In a lot of ways Tullycraft seems like the gateway drug to a long rabbit hole spent mining old BMX Bandits video clips and Tallulah Gosh b-sides that inevitably ends up with a strange late-night fascination with The Bus Stop label output that your friends write off as a phase. However, on grey days, overwhelming months, and sleepless nights its nice to know that Tullycraft are out there weaving agita into squirreled hooks and private moments of exuberance that wind up secret handshakes for the next generation.



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