Posts Tagged ‘power pop’

Mozes and the Firstborn

The idea behind Dadcore – embracing rock as a medium in an era when its seen as a stubborn, antiquated, passé artform – is amusing, though I’m not sure that rock has been completely erased from the vital lexicon just yet. There are still plenty of scraped-knee punks, jangle-jilted Aussie youths, and depression channeling post-punks to keep the blood strong these days, though what’s on display here is a more specific strata of the rock canon. The touchpoints that drive the Dutch band’s latest album are decidedly “classic” in nature, pulling from a trove of nostalgia-ready ‘90s and ‘00s indie that, according to the band, should appeal to your pops, granted that, “you” in this case, are around 9-14. Along with veteran indie producer Chris Coady at the helm, the band conceives a self-styled mixtape love note that acts as a Teflon coating against the critique that Dadcore is just a reworking of past tropes. That’s exactly what they’re aiming to do. Thank you quite nicely for noticing.

Granted, since I likely fall in the core demographic for the album, I cannot be unblemished or unbiased. I’m wholly unopposed to the raised specters of Teenage Fanclub, Dino Jr., Fountains of Wayne and Camper Van Beethoven that find their way splattered all over this record. The band weaves the nerd warble of power pop through the narrative like a talisman, and aside from the ghosts of psych-folk, few genres raise a flag around here like power pop. Mozes and the Firstborn are bouncing buoyant choruses off the ionosphere and pulling in transmissions from the core of the college radio era, when CMJ had a stake in the game (RIP) and the alternative banner waved wild and free. There’s a bit of a disrupted flow with the crutch of that mixtape format (each track is separated by a short burst of dialog or interlude that staples it ceremonially to the next) but for the most part their vision is clear. Coady and the boys have created a referentially yet scruffily catchy record that’s truly comfortable in the guise they’ve chosen. MATF are having fun, and that in itself is infectious.



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Autogramm

I’ve long been a sucker for power pop – especially the valley carved out between the tail of ’77 punk and the rising tide of New Wave that created a weirder, woolier variety than was fit to endure the end of the decade. Before pop punk co-opted the template jittery weirdos like Moon Martin could share stages with Tubeway Army, Nick Lowe and DEVO and it all seemed like they were picking up pots from the same pop kitchen. Autogramm have come to life to tap into that world wholesale (perhaps to a bit of a fault). The band, which is comprised of members of The Spitfires, Blood Meridian, Lightning Dust, Hard Drugs, Destroyer, Black Halos, and Black Mountain leaves behind the confines of their indie and psych roots to go method on the skinny tie set’s sandbox.

There are some genuinely great out-of-time moments on the record, that if they were snatched up from the dollar bin dust would easily find their way sandwiched between The Cars, Advertising, and Hubble Bubble on the early morning rock block. The trio has studied their source material and brought to life a familiar beast freshly sprung from plastic and casually rolling the sleeves of its sportcoat for a night out. The record might be just a tad too on the nose for its own good, though, feeling more like dress-up than a power pop progression. There are still bands updating the formula and making it sound fresh (see: Barreracudas, Flasher, Michael Rault) but that doesn’t seem to be what Autogramm have set out to accomplish. Still, few contemporary power poppers are really locking into that nerd-squirm that Autogramm seem to have made their bedrock. That aspect gives this record reason for more than a first listen. The long arm of The Cars reaches out over a legacy of music, but it rarely rears its head as often as it does here. Its tempting to lay back into its embrace.


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Wyatt Blair

Wyatt Blair sneaks out his second low-key release of 2018 with the decidedly sunny blast of power pop, Inspirational Strawberries. The album shrugs off pretty much all of the 80’s vibes that permeated his last couple of releases, making a pretty spectacular about face on the melancholy New Wave of March’s Smoke & Mirrors. The album reinvests in a more classic brand of power pop, chucking the neon out the window in favor of mod-pressed visions of jangle-pop that range from the ‘70s strut of Raspberries to the psychedelic swirl of The 3 O’Clock. While it doesn’t have the kitsch factor and AquaNet smirk that drove his high watermark Point of No Return, for power pop fans there’s plenty to hold onto here.

The hooks are about a mile wide and trussed up in the sunniest hues of the bubblegum brigade. There’s a definite feeling that Blair has been soaking his solace in the works of The Archies, Rick Springfield (circa Mission: Magic) and The Lemon Pipers with total sincerity. The ‘60s flame burns brightest on “(Stuck In A) Daydream” and “It’s Yesterday,” but there’s a general veneer of catchall Saturday Morning strummer inclusiveness adhered to the record, recalling whole hosts of Don Kirshner productions from the era. Blair’s always had a knack for pop, and he tends to serve the cult of listeners who don’t mind retreading a little old ground in search of those perfect pop swoons. So, while this might not be for every indie-pop tart out there, its manna to the sunshine searchers just looking for one more go ‘round through the best moments of 60s sparkle.

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Martha – “Heart Is Healing”

I dug Martha’s last album of emotionally raw power punk, but came to it late, making me feel like I’d been missing out until that moment. The band picks at the bones of pop punk but adds a heavier hit with touches of Ted Leo in their DNA and a jangle splattered twang that belies their UK roots. This time I’ve vowed to pay attention and it seems to have paid off. On their way to what I’d hope is an announcement for LP3, the band has offered up a new single and video for the strummy, knotty, and as might be expected, emotionally fraught “Heart Is Healing.” The video is a dizzy, homey shot of the band lounging, but it lets the song stand out as the focus here. The track lands among their stronger singles, hinged on a hook but letting some slippery slide work smoothe the edges on those jangles. Its a damn fun ride and hopefully a herald of new works to come.



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The Cowboys – “Some Things Never Change”

Photo: Caroline Marchildon

Every new LP from Bloomington, Indiana’s The Cowboys further cements them in my mind as true savants of garage bliss. Over the past few years the rough edges have fallen away but their sense of chaotic fun hasn’t ebbed one bit. Their fourth LP is on the way from Feel It records who’ve worked with the band in the past, bringing their Volume 4 to LP from its humble cassette origins. “Some Things Never Change” is a sunny day strummer that’s pinned to a tumble of organ and some of the band’s catchiest hook work to date. This one carves out some of the soul and heads to the heart of power pop and it sounds good on ‘em. Definitely bumping this record up to the top of the anticipated pile for 2019.



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Civic

Not long after their last crackling EP, Civic returns with a follow-up that hits even harder. Where their debut boiled down porto-punk into its grit and grease components, there’s a cleanliness and clarity to Those Who No. The three originals here are scooped out of the ‘80s alt-pummel that birthed Hüsker Dü and The Wipers, but also indebted to an earlier strain of hard workin’ but melodic rock from the ‘70s. Both issuing labels (Anti-Fade and Famous Class) are billing it as power pop, but that’s just a touch off. There’s far more sneer here than any power pop band worth their salt ever inflicted. The closest they get to that camp might be “Heat,” but even on that one there’s a touch of pub sweat and punk brashness that makes Civic hard to get a beat on.

Once they throw in an Eno cover, there’s some sense that they’re toying with the slight wrap of glam they’re invoking here, but they take a savvy approach in which they nether sound like glam revivalists or power pop acolytes. With two such short and admittedly disparate releases under their belts I’m putting the jury still out on what to expect from Civic. Are they equally undecided, trying on hats or just having a laugh at it all? I’d love to see a full album from these guys that pulls that glam swagger permanently into this ‘80s pummel they’re working. I want to see where they’d go with a full length’s scope and some cohesive planning. However this and its predecessor are well worth the time and pick up.



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Bad Moves

DCs Bad Moves are sitting square on the Venn diagram between power pop, punk and New Wave. While their songs pogo with abandon, they snag the candy-coated harmonies that stuck The Go-Gos and The Bangles to the airwaves like glue. They round out the mix by adding a 10-foot-tall tower of confidence that picks up the vibes of 20/20, Phil Seymour and The Beat. They never tip the needle too far in the direction of any of their poles, which makes for a record that’s floating in the pop ether, enjoying its own company more than any of its touchstones. As such, Tell No One careens through the speakers with a wide-eyed glee that’s infectious, barely contained and potently palpable.

That glee is central to Bad Moves’ appeal. Their songs, lyrically, are often not celebratory affairs. They center on overcoming anxieties, feeling out a sense of self, weathering family hardships, and dealing with hypocrisy. These songs are often the literal embodiment of butterflies in the stomach. Yet they alchemize the electric tinge in the nerves into a gush of glee to burst through the bubble of doubt. They galvanize an entire audience into overcoming their worry with them. The stakes seem high in Bad Moves’ world, but like the young adulthood they crystallize, the payoff seems just as high.

There’s no rush like being in your teens and twenties and feeling seen by a band. It seems like Bad Moves have the potential to hook a whole generation looking to collectively hurdle the constant lump in their throats. Its freeing to just peel a few layers of paint with pent-up amplifier power, an irrepressible bounce and lyrics about the politics of love. This year there may be no better band to drive the heartswell of hooks n harmonies that crack the shell of youth than Bad Moves.



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Velvet Crush – In The Presence of Greatness

There just aren’t that many classic power pop tales that begin with, “straight outta Rhode Island,” but the clam neck state offered up Velvet Crush in 1989 and they’d work their way into one of the decade’s oft overlooked gems. To be fair the band actually got it together in Southern Illinois college towns, where the band’s Paul Chastain was helping care out a sound running the Picture Book label. The band picked up roots and headed to Providence, but nabbed some help from friend and fellow power-pop impresario Matthew Sweet. Sweet would record In The Presence of Greatness as well as play guitar on the LP. The band share’s a considerable crossover with his love of The Raspberries and Big Star, showcasing a similar love for the jangled, classic version of the genre on their debut.

The album gained some traction in college rock circles but wound up making the most impression oversees, where the band would wind up distributed by Creation. Problem there was in 1989 Creation was moving from jangles to shoegaze and while the band might have fit in with a longview of the label, at the time they were passé for a lot of British fans. Be that as it may, the record is a solid sender of jangle-pop, power pop and college rock. Its incredibly indebted to the old guard of power pop that preceded it by a decade, but they’re pulling it off as good as most.

The band would go on to get further attention around their sophomore LP, Teenage Symphonies To God, produced by ‘90s studio savant Mitch Easter (R.E.M., The dB’s), but the band would wind up stretching a bit outside of their comfort zone. The debut is a great genre dig for those who love the crossover of power pop and Creation. While maybe not the most essential of either of those camps, it’s a great curio from the era that was left to linger for far too long.



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Dot Dash

I’d have to say, it’s not a half bad run for DC power pop this year. With the infectious album from Flasher already working its way onto the essentials list and a promising new LP on the way from Bad Moves, the city has no lack of upbeat vibes and summer strums. Flying further under the radar than either of those pop slashers is the new record from Dot Dash. While the band’s name nods towards the legacy of Wire, the bulk of their sixth album washes up closer to the shores of Sloan, Orange Juice and later period Superdrag. With production touches from Geoff Sanoff (Television, Lloyd Cole), it sparkles with a jangle-forward appeal that should sate those craving a particularly ‘90s seated vision of power pop.

The album anchors itself to a rosy whimsy, lush and bittersweet. It revels in a sunshine soul that’s just as often swooning as it is smashing through hooks with wild abandon. When the band snags themselves a hard charger they wrestle it for all its worth. “Green on Red,” “TV/Radio,” and “Sun + Moon = Disguise” all give anything vying for cloud-clearer status this year a run for its money. Power pop itself always seems such a blanket term, roping in the Beatles-baiting ‘70s nostalgists and ‘80s soft-punch punks, but the ‘90s digested all those previous incarnations and gave it a half-stack height adjustment and a coat of gloss. I’ve long had a soft spot for this period of players and its good to see a few bands holding up the reigns of those that slipped past the grit of grunge’s playground.

The band seems to have held some sort of permanent opener status, given their tenure, and the list of touring companions they cite. Hopefully the clean-lined clash of Proto Retro pulls them up int into the light this year. It’s a solid effort that deserves a closer listen and a spot on the docket of any power pop fan.




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Bad Moves – “Spirit FM”

It’s a banner year for DC power pop, that’s for damn sure. With the new album from Flasher already locked on the turntable good news comes down the line that Bad Moves have an LP on the way from the always consistent Don Giovanni Recs. The band, coming off their recent cartoon infamy, hits back hard with a first single that puts its thumb down on the current cultural unrest. Taking to task the hypocritical nature of conformist religions and ingrained beliefs that seem to serve as a means to an end for so many, the song slaps back against those that play lip service to systems while using them to hold others down. Seems especially prescient in an age trying to strip back years of progress and rights for all under the guise of populist politics.

The cut pairs well with a clever video that posits our protagonist as embracing color in a world that’s bent on white washing themselves. Seems that even those onto the virtue can’t help cheating when its convenient and the schism in values breaks the hero down in screams. Heavy subtext or no, the song is an absolute ripper that’s as fun as anything the band have done to date. Its always nice to pair some cultural commentary with the kind of hook you can get lost in, fist raised and pogoing to the pulse.



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