Posts Tagged ‘power pop’

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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Tony Molina

I continue to be floored by how much punch Tony Molina can pack into about fifteen full minutes of material. His albums are exercises in self-restraint, picking out heartbreaking hooks and using them once or twice before the man walks away leaving audiences wanting much, much more. His songs never sound half-finished though – despite their length – they simply breeze into all of our lives, soften our hearts and flutter on back home to Tony’s power pop soul. Call them indie pop jingles or compact-size singles, but Molina remains a master craftsman of the sort of digestible pop that can be absorbed in full over the course of a state mandated fifteen-minute retail break.

As has been well noted, here and elsewhere, the second album, like the EP that preceded it has softened the crunch from Molina’s Ocasek-era Weezer / early Fanclub leanings. He’s dug out the twelve-string here and has clearly been listening to the most tender-hearted moments of the Byrds catalog. He’s sopping up the tears shed by teens finding solace in Elliott Smith’s oeuvre and he’s still not done with the likes of Norman Blake and the boys in Fanclub’s van. He’s just moved on to their own softer side. On Kill The Lights Molina combines all these influences into a power pop pit stop that’s bittersweet, but blissful, and absolutely one of the most touching albums of the year.

More than a punk in folk’s clothing, Molina has grafted the economical length of punk’s attention span to lush arrangements that are anything but frugal when it comes to production. These are mini-epics of pop squeezed into snow globes and they dazzle with their ornate details. Every time this album comes to an end I find myself turning it back on all over again. The songs on Kill The Lights are stunners one and all and I’m pretty sure this could just be set on a loop and keep a room at attention for well past an hour. Tony might dole out his gifts in small packages, but he’s an argument in favor of quality over quantity to say the least.



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Wimps

On their third album, Seattle’s Wimps knock the production into gear and embrace the best moments of squirm pop that slid from the tail of punk into the birth of New Wave. They trade in a brand of sax squall that hits like a belt sander to their chunky hooks. They rope in heat exhausted synth lines to the kind of twitchy punk that would make Devo and Magazine proud. There’s no small love for power pop in the band’s sound either, they wrap their heads around pop and punk (without necessarily combining the two) and work it out like Ric Ocasek was twiddling knobs in the nineties when this one was made. While dipping their toes into Slacker pop from a lyrical standpoint, the band never lose a moment to sweat on the tempos. They’re couch surfing and grousing about procrastination but damn well motivated when it comes to moving a crowd.

The band has a penchant for elevating the mundane – pontificating about their love of cheese pizzas, dragging ass around the house and penning odes to Monday like Garfield hopped up amphetamines waiting for his intro by Perter Ivers before they lay waste to the set of New Wave Theater. They’re tapping into tried and true feelings but making the banal brilliant, flooding the phones with a sparkling barrage of hooks twisted with enough tin foil freakout to make it more than nineties pogo retread digging into the stack of discount bin weirdness from the previous decade. This seems like it could easily slip between the cracks of 2018, but don’t sleep on Wimps. This one cuts with glee and makes any day just a bit more bearable with its lash of levity.




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Michael Rault on Billy Nicholls – Love Songs

There have been many great surprises this year, but the latest album from Michael Rault is quite possibly among the best. Rault refashioned his sound in the guise of ‘70s pop with a soft heart, echoing the Apple records stable if they’d been mixing it up down in Memphis with Big Star and The Hot Dogs. Its easily the best power pop album to find its way to your speakers in 2018. So, naturally it seemed fitting to have Michael dive deep for a pick in the Hidden Gems series. I’m constantly intrigued at what people pick for these because some true gems get unearthed. Rault stayed true to his pop influences going for the oft overlooked ’74 sophomore album from a true psych-pop purveyor Billy Nicholls. It’s a true lost classic that’s been out of print for far too long. Check out how it came into Michael’s life.

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Tony Molina – “Wrong Town”

Every new bit from Tony is better than the last. His upcoming sophomore LP for Slumberland is fully entrenched in his acoustic persona, wedging his songs between the heartbroken strains of Elliott Smith, Emmitt Rhodes and the gentlest bits of the Davies brothers. “Wrong Town” is practically begging for Wes Anderson to write the scene it belongs in, throwing the bittersweet gauntlet down in a one minute challenge. From the sounds of the first couple of tracks off of this Molina is well on his way to a newly minted classic. As usual each song gets its hooks into and then fades away like a memory gone too soon. Damned evil in that way, leaving the listener always wanting just a touch more.

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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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