Posts Tagged ‘power pop’

Flasher

While they cherry pick from several eras (‘70s power pop, 80’s New Wave, 90’s indie pop) the way that Flasher assembles the pieces of their musical landscape feels swaddled in the arms of the early ‘00s. That time period in the band’s native DC was rife with bands like The Dismemberment Plan, Q and Not U, and Black Eyes who were knocking down genre walls like a pit-dizzy Kool Aid Man. Flasher, it appears, absorbed this era’s open source structure as the core of their being, creating a guitar record that’s blown through with sugar high hooks without clutching to the tatters of any genre too tightly. The album is punk in its beating heart, but dancing on the outside, much like guitarist Taylor Mulitz’ other band Priests, without the political posturing.

The record is an elastic shock of color erupting out of the speakers, bursting with a joy that’s sometimes lacking in modern guitar bands that have studied every nuance of a particular sound, only to inflict albums that read like carefully constructed dioramas – meticulous but missing that spark of life. Flasher’s sonic quilting approach by turns feels refreshing, with the band never loitering in any sonic nook long enough to grow mold. They’ll splash a track with keys shiny and bright, take a hazy stumble through shoegaze to block the sun, disjoint the rhythms until your feet can’t help but twitch and still the record feels as cohesive and complex as any of their contemporaries.

Its nice to step back to a time when indie pop found joy in riffling the whole toy box. Flasher have made a strong statement with Constant Image and the fact that it’s a debut only sweetens the pot. While they’ve had a few singles, the band has essentially come out of the box fully formed without second guessing their melting pot pop for one second. Gotta think if they start here, where they go can only solidify their enthusiastic blend.



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Shy Boys – “Take The Doggie”

Kansas City’s Shy Boys blend an affinity for bighearted pop of the ’60s variety with the knotted College Rock shot straight out of Athen’s ’88 for an instantly recognizable sound that’s always on the tip of your tongue and lapping at the backwaters of memory. Their short, but sweet, track “Take The Doggie” is a tale of dog-knapping with no ill intent and the video, well pretty much hits things on the nose with some crowd-sourced dog shots. Still, the song’s an earworm that can’t be beat and a standout on their upcoming Polyvinyl debut, Bell House.

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Tony Molina – “Nothing I Can Say”

Damn right its time for a new Tony Molina jam and the word that a full length is on the way from California’s favorite punk turned soft shell power popper is well received around here. Molina’s sticking with brevity as his bread and butter and that means that this one clocks in just a touch over one minute long, but what a minute it is. Firmly dialed into his Teenage Fanclub adoration, the song doesn’t waste a minute, proving that while most bands would spin out into a couple more choruses to hang that nougaty verse TM can do in only one. I guess if you disagree you can always just lock this on repeat and hunker down into a “Nothing I Can Say” loop. Sounds pretty tempting to me actually.



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Michael Rault

Landing on Daptone’s rock imprint, Wick, begs more than a few comparisons to power pop’s favorite sons, Big Star. For his sake, let’s hope finding love in the arms of soul proprietors ends better for Rault than it did for the long-term prospects of his predecessors. However, in the short term its working out just fine. Produced by Wayne Gordon, chief engineer at Daptone, the album is lush and luxuriant – curling its toes into carpets of strings, pillowing in pink clouds of reverb and generally hunkering down into a Vaseline-lensed soft-focus that’s far removed from the pop of 2018.

If the record is displaced in time, that seems largely by design, though. Rault is pulling decidedly from the “pop” half of his genre’s namesake, favoring the radio-friendly forms of Badfinger, The Raspberries, Emitt Rhodes and Chris Bell’s solo work. Rault has slipped on the ‘70s like a butterfly collar and it looks good on him. Of course, he’s spent time in the decade before, fiddling with T. Rex boogie and glam crunch on his previous album for Burger. However, while that territory has been raided plentifully over the last few years with an easy entry through garage rock’s back door, the AOR sincerity of the time period is harder to emulate without sounding cheesy, a feat that Rault pulls off with seeming ease. He’s cherry picking through solo McCartney, Harrison and the aforementioned Apple acolytes while skirting the pitfalls of Frampton and Speedwagon for an album that’s all pleasure, no guilt.

Lyrically the album is preoccupied with sleeping and dreaming, subject matter that lends itself well to Rault’s sparkling pop diorama. Songs like “Sitting Still” and “Dream Song” (naturally) feel like they’re pumped in on ripples of dry ice and pastel light. The listening field is tipped back and staring at clouds pass by while Rault’s pop vision is projected above. At a scant 35 minutes, the dream is over almost too soon. Best to leave them wanting more I suppose and It’s A New Day Tonight certainly begs for a sequel and soon. Rault’s found his niche in this corner of the ‘70s. I’d say he should get comfortable their but he seems right at home.



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Velveteen Rabbit – “Mind Numbing Entertainment”

Rising out of the ashes of longstanding NYC power pop band The Jeanies comes a new band of glam-popped punchers holding onto a lot of what made their former band sizzle. Velveteen Rabbit are, however, doing it with quite a bit more refinement than The Jeanies ever mustered. Glam pop revivalists often get a bad rap for mining a movement that many see as a passing fad – the soon sullied toy found in the cereal box of punk, power pop and proto-metal at the end of the ‘70s. However, when done right there are fewer genres that can crack a smile so wide. Sure, the affectations are preposterous, the fashion was downright criminal and there was bubblegum stuck all in the hair of everyone involved, but as far as frivolous genre experiments go I’ll take it any day.

Velveteen Rabbit dip their paws into the great crossover between glam’s fuzz-tumbled crunch and the fey end of power pop. The bands that were able to hit this stride found a bit of a golden hour sound that rocks like the punks but shies away from the pit to pine over girls at the bar. Think The Quick, Brett Smiley, Milk n’ Cookies or Phil Seymour and you’re on the right track here. The double shot of flippant fun leaves ya wanting more, which always marks a good single. This is prime ‘70s jukebox fodder following in the footsteps of plenty before them but absolutely a good time with each spin it takes around the platter.



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Unlikely Friends

Tacoma’s Unlikely Friends rope together members of BOAT and Math and Physics Club for a dose of power pop and shaggy indie that holds a candle for the ‘90s recipe: quirk times hooks equals solid gold. BOAT existed on the periphery of indie pop blogs for some time in the early aughts and this stands as a natural progression of their scruffy four-track pop aesthetic. Taking cues from latter day Apples in Stereo, mid-period New Pornographers and pretty much any point in Fountains of Wayne’s catalog while sprinkling in a dash of early Shins pacing on the slower cuts, the band’s sophomore tape inflates their humble pop pretense to towering proportions. It’s easy to lump the band into the box of slacker rock, hell the band even does it themselves at times, but there’s more drive here than that epithet would let on. There’s Pavement in their veins and a click track backing beat but when Unlikely Friends hit that hook sweet spot their pop feels like its bound for a bigger budget.

Leaning into the plurality of downer themes floated on buoyant hooks, the band never suffers from pushing their power pop formula into saccharine territory. Far from it, they wax poetic on stagnation, homesickness, love (naturally) and well, baseball, quite a bit of baseball actually. The album is a bold shot across the bow of 2018 and an antidote to an overabundance of garage-flecked power pop, giving the genre back its bittersweet core. This is likely to get lost between the cracks of 2018, it came out in January and I find it just now floating to the surface. That’s no reason to miss out though, there’s plenty to chew on here and like BOAT before them, there are too many gleaming moments hidden under the rough exterior to ignore.

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Dude York – “Moon”

Dude York were one of my greatest surprises of 2017. Once over the hurdle of the name the band reveals themselves to be consummate purveyors of ‘90s pop – hook magnets doused in amp fuzz and a sugar rush sheen. Though I’m a little sad to see some of the overt Britpop bleed out of their latest single, it’s latched onto ‘90s power pop in the best ways – towering, buzzing, and pointing fingers at their lyrical target like a loaded gun. “Moon” sees the band feeling more confident than ever, pushing this song close to anthemic (it could maybe stand even just a nudge further) and feeling all the better for it. Like Aussie poppers Bloods, they’re embracing the geyser that wells up like a caffeine rush in the brain and letting the top blow with glee. Hoping this means an album of amped up fun is on the way, but definitely reveling in every minute of “Moon” on its own merits.




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Sloan

Canada’s slighted sons Sloan have always had the rep of a band that never got its due, though that in itself is its own kind of due. Sure, they’ve never dominated the US airwaves (and stylistically that ship has likely sailed along with the turn of the century), but they’re constantly hanging on as the highest-ranking underdogs in the room. That said, I’m always thankful they’re keeping the power pop torch lit for generations to come, pining away with all of the double-stacked sincerity that befits jangle-pocked rockers holding up the train of Badfinger and The Raspberries while bumping elbows with Matthew Sweet and The Apples in Stereo. Like fellow pop-pushers Super Furry Animals, they always seemed to be doing the right thing at the wrong time, missing the zeitgeist but catching enough ardent fans for a sustained career.

After a slightly choppy experiment letting each of their four members pen a portion of their last album, the band returns to a cohesive sound, regaining a sense of brevity for an album that’s much more digestible. Not straying far from their wheelhouse, the record is doing a great job of “sounding like Sloan” while still crafting a few standout gems lacquered in the band’s hi-fi gloss and rose-colored swoon. Though they clearly seem to be running the well dry on lovesick subject matter, not to mention song titles (the set boasts their second use of a song with the title “If It Feels Good Do It”), they’re working up just what the door price promised.

If you came to hear Sloan triple-top harmonies over the crisp sunset hues of bittersweet pop then look no further, they haven’t lost a step. There’s always a double-edged sword with long running bands – change too much and they’ll hang ‘ya for betraying fans’ hopes, stay the course and be accused of stagnation. While the latter accusation might hold a bit of water, the band’s holding on so nicely to their corner of the musical landscape that it’s hard to complain. Twelve albums on most bands don’t whether so well. Sloan still won’t capture the zeitgeist, but 12 is still a pretty fun ride.




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King Tuff

Everything on The Other sounds like Kyle Thomas wanted to break off from the King Tuff moniker and leave it behind – to fold up his old sun medallion and let it rest in the drawer for a spell. It has, in fact happened before, with Sub Pop signing King Tuff only to have him immediately flip the coin and work out the kinks as Happy Birthday. Still, after roaring back into the cracked leather of Tuff’s driver’s seat for another 8 years ‘round the bend following that diversion, there’s an understandable desire at this point to slip away into the shade. As much as Thomas’ 10-foot cartoon chassis is a beloved institution of power pop, it’s got to be exhausting to carry that towering persona around. In that light, this feels to my ear more like a Kyle Thomas solo record that someone in A&R begged him to keep under the Tuff moniker for categorical ease. Not that it tarnishes the Tuff brand, if it’s a Tuff record it’s actually one of my favorites, but I almost wish they would have let him rip the decal off and don the new hat.

The record still has an engine of power pop, though it’s pushed way beyond garage’s bubblegum snap and slid back the hi-fi party mask that found its way into King Tuff’s lyrics over the years. This is a world-weary record that’s pushing Thomas’s pop into lush production, still fairly larger than life, but now trying to duck that personality out of sight and ponder the preposterousness of life on this hunk of chipped granite. Thomas, largely alone, wrangles country’s grand vistas, glam crunch, glittering keys and jittery funk into the shape of one of 2018’s most delightful surprises.

The record follows a grand tradition of bands breaking stride and finding their bittersweet soul wrapped in high concept. This is KT’s Parachute, his Odyssey & Oracle, his Arthur. Like those albums it’s both over the top and a masterpiece of pomp, pathos and pop. The record has huge ambitions, sure, but I’ll be damned if Thomas doesn’t hit his marks every time. Are there lyrics that will date this to an exact moment in time, absolutely (“Circuits In The Sand”), but how is that any different from “Shangri-La’s” exploration of ‘60s idyllic suburb life? Does the record throttle his stylistic core? Yeah and that’s the point. That’s what makes it work and maybe, as much as this feels like a different animal dressed in a familiar sweater, maybe that’s what actually makes the case for keeping King Tuff on the hood ornament.

In the same way that those ambitious albums by the ’60s set pushed listeners out of rote garage territory and acted as portals to new sounds, this affords the past and future King Tuff fan a doorway through the shiny pop sneer and into a treasure of styles. There are hooks that will soar this into the infinite and a hugeness that tends to make pop albums treasures for generations of diggers to come. Even if the world doesn’t turn and take notice, this feels like a record with a long tail of influence down the road. If this is the beginning of a new chapter, or a complete new book, The Other stands to become a definitive moment for King Tuff.


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NRP: The Hot Dogs – Say What You Mean

The bases on reissues are regularly covered here in the Re-released into the Wild column, though I’ve found that while the steady stream of reissues picks up a lot of the great bits from the past (some I’ve been waiting for and some I’ve discovered through labels I love) there still remain a lot of records that are consigned to the purgatory of out of print status. This is especially frustrating given that the pressing plants are all too often packed out with garbage reissues of dollar bin titles looking to cash in on a nostalgia trip. So, with Necessary Repress I’m going to look at a few records I think absolutely deserve to work their way back to the stacks. Now, I know that the complex web of licenses, rights, and royalties are often what holds up a new issue, so I’m not holding my breath, just making my case.

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