Posts Tagged ‘power pop’

ABC Gum

A power pop powerhouse emerges from Bloomington in the form of the debut from ABC Gum. Call it a supergroup if you must – the band contains members of Bloomington garage royalty from The Cowboys, The Dancing Cigarettes, Purple 7, and Sir Deja Doog – but the connections would crumble if they didn’t bring it all together with an effortless snap that’s catchy as hell and shaded in with a perfectly classic tint. At its heart, the record captures the best of classic power pop with a stripped down sound shaking soul and sweat out of its bones. While ABC Gum are tougher than The Quick or Milk n’ Cookies, they’re digging into the alluring naïveté of that rabble in the lyrical department. The band aims for the heartbroken swagger of Teenage Head, Speedies, or Hubble Bubble and hits it pretty hard on the head with just a touch more of blue-eyed soul seeping through the speakers as well. Maybe it’s the help from The Cowboys contingent, as the record does seem to have some of their same innate ability to feel like its dropped out of the sky and straight into the crate of classic platters that never leave the table when the house is buzzing. You’d be forgiven for double or triple checking the date stamp, that’s for sure.

The band laces the record with a perfect dose of tape hiss tailspin and then litters each song with a thick dose of riff riot propping up their candy floss tales. The stone truth is this will likely wind up just as much of a lost gem as the bands that they emulate, but maybe its all for the best anyway. The greatest power pop records seem like a secret, having long been a diggers dream for lonely souls looking for friends and lovers among the grooves. Should this become a sonic love letter that’s found at the bottom of the dollar bin bottle, then the finder is lucky indeed.


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The Pooh Sticks – Pooh Sticks 7″ Box Set

Even though I’ve run down my favorite reissues of the year that doesn’t mean there aren’t still some worthy contenders finding their way back out into the world. Sometimes the UK releases don’t get their due in the US and this 5×7” collection from The Pooh Sticks definitely falls into that category. Though its pricey, for the indie pop aligned this is a pretty nice pickup. The Pooh Sticks served as a sort of bubblegum vision of jangle-pop, and while their works were tightly wound, catchy as hell, and hard to ignore, the band probably wasn’t given their due in the pantheon poppers that cropped up around them. The whole affair was largely shepherded by their manager Steve Gregory who wrote the songs and mocked up their covers that featured Archies-styled cartoon visions of the band behind anonymous pseudonyms. Largely out of fashion at the time, this kind of setup seems at odds with the DIY aesthetics of jangle-pop and the carefully crafted images of Creation pop bands at the time. However, the whole thing ends as a nice mirror / sendup of the genre without coming off totally camp.

The songs stand up, even if they do take some liberties with lyrics, titles, and concept. The box set reissues a set of one-sided singles that were originally issued in 1988 on Fierce Recordings. The originals had etched b-sides, but here they’re each given a new flip that contains a previously unavailable song. The only exception is “Hard On Love,” which was on a super-hard to get flexi. While the set might be a bit of a shell-out for the uninitiated, the songs are worth checking into if you’re a power pop, jangle-pop, or indie-pop head. Pure sugar bliss in small format fineness. Its hard to snag in the US, but discogs should have you covered.




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The Whiffs -“Now I Know”

Dig Records brings forth another snapped off revver from Kansas City’s power pop pumpers The Whiffs. The new single is forged on the punk / power pop line and echoing the carefree careen and mile wide sneer of Gentleman Jesse, The Barraracudas, and early Bad Sports. There’s no mixed messages or complications here, it’s 100% ripped wide open and ready to blow. The band packs fifteen tons of sweat, howl, and shake into just over two minutes, but even that’s enough to leave the listener crumpled and crying for more. The band’s sophomore LP, Another Whiff, is out December 6th and the band’s headed out with The Get Up Kids starting on Wednesday.

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Mikal Cronin

Of all the songwriters to come out of the Segall orbit, Mikal Cronin’s always been the most prone to pop. Where others found solace in the crushing fuzz and rancor of rock, Cronin has been the voice of melody, and the guiding light of embellishment. Fittingly Cronin’s also been one of the most masterful producers in this orbit, fitting Ty’s psych-flecked garage with buzzing sax, mellowed keys and all manner of interesting ephemera. He’s followed the flow of this sentiment with his own songwriting career as well and the traits that prevailed over the years are the urges to explode rock in all directions, awash in pop’s arms and swirling through a sound that’s not lean, but never unbalanced. Cronin’s songs are packed with hooks and snagged on melancholy. It seems fitting that he’s the one from this enclave that’s found his way to Merge, ever a home to the bittersweet pop loner.

This album jus that, a lonely album. There are surely others in the room, but Mikal gives it the feel of a solo project built on his own pain and pulse. Seeker is probably one of Cronin’s most meticulous releases, and this serves as both a benefit and poison to its direction. While the songs swoon, awash in strings, velvet harmonies, and piano key tears, it’s missing a bit of the rawness and whimsy of his earlier catalog. In the past his songs felt ready to explode at any moment from emotions pent up and propelled by a power pop catapult that splashed them across the soundfield in ecstatic colors. Those colors seem muted on Seeker, perhaps dampened by time among the studio’s walls. The songs seem like they might find that spark more in the live setting. The core kernels of pop are there, but they’re sealed in packaging and ready for Cronin to get them out to play.

That feeling does return as the album wears on, “Lost A Year’s” second half goes for the win, but even there it could feel looser. “Caravan” lets that sax creep in but why not let it crack at the corners, get wile and free? That’s not to knock the songs themselves, there are some hooks in the bucket, but I just keep wanting Cronin to spill them all over the place and have fun. He’s never seemed worried about mussing his hair before, so maybe that’s why the quick-comb feels like a pretense for school pictures, a buttoned-up version of what could be. I’ve confidence that the stage will sort it out. This is a solid shot from Cronin, but it could have been a shout.




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Velveteen Rabbit

As the genre has been consumed and reconstituted over the years, it’s hard to find a take on glam-streaked power pop that doesn’t feel a bit worn through, a pale imitation of the original. However, when a band is able to rise through the veil and embody the spirit of swagger in just the right way it becomes a bit transcendental. Velveteen Rabbit are just such a band. Comprised of ex-members of The Jeanies, the band nails the fey n’ fragile, heartbroken yet hipswung vision of pop that Milk n’ Cookies, Hubble Bubble, Brett Smiley, Advertising, The Shivvers, The Records, and The Quick were all able to make into a beloved underground beacon for piners and frustrated teens throughout generations. The thing is, those songs weren’t just about pent up hormones. I mean, they were, but there was so much more seeping into the ether around the genre. If that were the only engine driving the wheels here, they’d have fallen off years ago. There’s a special spark that flickers into motion when the line between pop and punk is perfectly sliced.

Velveteen Rabbit are constantly walking that line like a tightrope and it’s impressive how many perfect nuggets they’ve packed into their debut for HoZac. They hit the ecstatic highs of the aforementioned collector’s bin burners then throw in some early shades of The Time, bringing Dez Dickerson’s “After Hi-School” to mind and infecting their sound with a silver-slung funk at times. But the band knows how to bring it down too, and that gives this record a fuller dimension. “Guitar” strokes at the wounded Chris Bell territory that gave power pop it’s heart, solitary and solemn, but just as aching as any of the rest. Similarly, “Better Than Ever” sidesteps power pop just a bit to sprinkle in some swooning R&B and white boy soul, but it pulls the strings tight between the Minneapolis slink and the Midwest jangle n’ crunch.

There’s always going to be the cloud of derivation hanging over something like this, and yeah it points to a dozen dots on the map and snags those vibes with a gleeful grab, but the way the band hangs it all together makes the their eponymous LP a true gem. For all the references they conjure, they never sound outright like they’re biting a song. They slip into the satin soul of the ’78-’82 sound and make it their own. Overabundance of riches in 2019 makes me worry this one’s gonna slip through the cracks, but I say sleep on this and you’ll be losing out.



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Young Guv – “Try Not To Hang On So Hard”

No slouch year for Ben Cook, it seems. Just weeks after the release of his last record for Run For Cover, Guv I, he announces the release of its fraternal twin Guv II. The first taste of G2 seems to have sprouted from the same well of ‘90s power pop that dominates its brother in arms album from earlier in the year. “Try Not To Hang On So Hard” is just as infected with strums and thick choruses as anything on G1, and despite an origin tale rooted in acid-tripping in his childhood home, there’s no psych ripples here, just thick hooks and sunshine choruses. I’m not gonna belabor someone for leaning on the Fanclub too heavy, especially when the end result finds itself perfectly lodged in my brain for days. The new LP is out on October 25th.



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Young Guv

I may have mentioned that I have a particular soft spot for Young Guv’s 2015 mini-album Ripe 4 Luv, not in the least because it’s Ben Cook’s most pure distillation of his power pop instincts. That statement’s gonna have to be amended, though, because the release of GUV I acts as a direct descendant of that album, dragging the line from the late ‘70s and early ‘80s right into the mid ‘90s for power pop that was thicker, sunnier, and a touch dreamier. There’s less punk edge in this newer vision, but just as much pop. Young Guv has often served as a mutable base for Cook’s musical lens and while last year’s excursion into slippery funk had its charms, it’s clear that his pop heart beats the strongest.

Pick a point in the record and pretty much any track could have ruled the CMJ charts from ’91-’95. Cook’s shuffling his collection, throwing Matthew Sweet LPs into Fanclub sleeves. He’s rolling Velvet Crush licks in sprinkles of Sloan, second-album Superdrag, and L.A. hook-lovers The Blondes. It’s hard not to time shift when the album’s running through it’s almost heartbreakingly short runtime, and there’s some sort of universal injustice that Cook will never play in front of the racks at Sam Goody. Yet, despite this ingrained nostalgia, the songs also feel timeless, like the best pop from any era. They’re full of joy, bittersweet swoons, and a palpable yearning. Cook has proven that when he’s got pop on his side, his records are indispensable treasures there to comfort your core.



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Mikal Cronin – “Show Me”

This fall just keeps looking up and the announcement of a new Mikal Cronin album only solidifies the point. Employing members of The Freedom Band, Cronin’s got a new full length for Merge that thickens his bittersweet pop credentials even further. There’s a Tom Petty hangover in the pit of the stomach on “Show Me” turning those walking jangles into hooks that haunt. As has become his forte, Cronin’s all about the details, fleshing the track out with strings, keys, and layers of vocals. It’s a beautiful bit of melancholy baked in the California sun. Check the video and put that new record on your ‘need’ pile.

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Ben Cook of Young Guv on Robbie M – “Let’s Groove”

When Ben Cook’s not holding down time in Fucked Up he’s genre mining as Young Guv. The solo project began around ’08 knocking through lo-fi garage and eventually winding through power pop and home recorded funk. I’ve always had a soft spot for Cook’s power pop prowess, the bulk of which came to a head on 2015’s Ripe For Love release for Slumberland. He’s returned to some of the same impulses this year with a new record for Run For Cover. Ben took a little time to riffle through his stacks for a record that’s been lost to to time and this one’s looks like it’s had a bit of impact on Cook’s funk sojourn on for Night School last year. Check his dive into Robbie M below.

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Velveteen Rabbit – “I’ll Be A Boy For You”

When NYC’s Velveteen Rabbit launched their last single, they hinted at a band well versed in the soft-hands, glam-greased power pop of The Quick, Milk n’ Cookies and Brett Smiley. They were knocking down some RSTB touch points and doing it just right. Digging into the routine power pop’s bag of tricks is easy, but emulating this specific silk crush remains decidedly less so. With the announcement of their debut proper the band is digging into yet another tough niche to nuzzle, leading with the crushed velvet pop of “I’ll Be A Boy For You,” one listen proves it’s an absolute crusher, the next three cement it as gold. The song takes the gloved touch of their power pop and backs it up with the crimped funk of The Time circa their ’81 debut. This is the heir apparent to “After Hi School.” Though he’s left this mortal mold all too soon the ghost of Jamie Starr (nee Rogers) lingers over “I’ll Be A Boy For You” like a silk scarf signature.

The guitars crunch and vamp but its that stab of synth that sends chills. Then with a coy bite of the lip and a hip twitch the band sends this song vibrating through the ethers to supercharge the hearts and minds of the youth troops thirsting for some rock vitality. This is just the first blush, there’s more to come.



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