Posts Tagged ‘power pop’

The Red Lights – S/T

It’s always nice to get a little more context on rock’s mythical figures. For some, The Gun Club looms large as a totem of punk that refused to fit the format and hew towards any set of agreed upon standards. Their 1980 debut is often seen as the match strike for Jeffrey Lee Pierce’s career, but the unearthing of these demos from The Red Lights give just a touch of context and background to his songwriting. Pierce was West Coast based at the time and writing for Slash Magazine — enamored with reggae and helming a Blondie fan club. With reggae’s looseness and power pop’s pulse he began writing songs and opening some gigs at The Whisky. The Arena, and The Rock Corporation. The five songs here are a far cry from the sweaty, possessed visions of The Gun Club, but Pierce’s persona still comes rippling through.

With an earnest approach that lets all the light of power pop into the picture and occasionally at white reggae bounce that would make even The Police blush, he sketches out the start of a career that would get much deeper and darker quite soon. The voice is undoubtedly the focus. It’s raw, but its Pierce finding his bearings and getting ready to rip a punk hole into blues for us all to enjoy. Lovely to have this archival EP out into the world. Probably one for the collector’s but any punk upstart would do well to see how a career gets going. Split pressing here between In The Red and Spacecase.



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Daniel Romano – “A Rat Without A Tail”

You certainly have to hand it to Daniel Romano, the dude’s got a work ethic. After holing up during the pandemic with a band that was already slated to be on tour for the next few months, the man’s pumped out an astonishing string of albums over the half a year, producing a digital-only catalog that would cast a shadow over most band’s works instantaneously. This marks his 9th release of 2020 and it’s a proper distillation of his sound — rooted in the ‘70s road-worn sound that could hop from Midwest roadhouse to L.A. main stage with ease. The songwriter’s dashed through country corners and let the buttons draw tight on a sound that’s practiced but not so polished that it feels manufactured. The Outfit, as he’s want to call his band, keeps the stew bubbling to a simmer and it all comes to a head on “A Rat Without A Tail.”

Romano’s songwriting is dashed across the stars, with a touch of power pop threading through, but ragged enough that it feels like the songwriter’s still got the marks of crashing on a couch in his recent past. It’s clear that this album might be the launch point for an artist that’s already built up a heavy live reputation and with the last year, a fervent Bandcamp following as well. This is just the very hint of Romano’s prowess and I implore you to dig in further with abandon.





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Home Blitz – “What We Wore”

Home Blitz has been bubbling sub-underground for years, perhaps sticking their necks out most notably on a pair of Mexican Summer releases in ’11/ ‘12 back when the label was throwing a few darts at the wall to see what stuck. The band has since stuck it out around the Richie / Gulcher axis and on their own, but they jump to Sophomore Lounge for an upcoming EP that starts out strong with the bright, infectious, though all too brief, “What We Wore.” The song is wrapped in an ‘80s power pop aura, but where it could have dug in and let the hook draw blood the band gets in and out like Tony Molina playing things loose on the East Coast. The band has never shied away from brevity, but this one knocks their tightness up a notch. Still, its a bright, buoyant slice of Home Blitz that’s hard to resist. All Through The Year is out August 7th from Sophomore Lounge, as I mentioned.





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Jacuzzi Boys – “The Pits”

I will alway be a sucker for the outsized garage pop that Jacuzzi Boys have been crafting for over a decade. The band’s sound only gets bigger with time and, while they’ve been a bit silent since 2016’s Ping Pong they hit back today with a new single backed by Third Man. The song’s off an upcoming 7”, and in the drought of Jaczzi gems I’ll take whatever they’ve got to give (though one can hope for an album, right?) The song springs off of the power pop with grit formula that they’d brought to a head on the last album and its hard not to bump this one right up the ranks of some of their best. The song blares from the speakers with a summertime glee. Fuzz, hooks, a little bass jab that knocks the gearshift down at just the right time – what more are you looking for on a Friday afternoon?

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Kelley Stoltz

This one slipped out so silently I almost did’t catch it. News came out via Kelley’s seldom-used personal Bandcamp and it’s a crushingly scant run. Last year’s My Regime had quite a few nuggets of garage-psych goodness stashed away between the grooves, but this one comes along and swings the Stoltz agenda in a new direction with superb results. Apparently inspired by power pop with a heavy pub tab, a $75 dollar Japanese guitar, and the Jedediah Smith (Jeanines, My Teenage Stride) side-hustle curiosity Mick Trouble — this is not quite the usual fare from the always mercurial Stoltz. He’s never been less than a harbinger of hooks, but usually there’s a debt to Ray Davies-draped ‘60s pop or in the case of the Willie Weird saga, something skewing hard into the R. Stevie Moore cut-out bin. This time he’s lacquered it all down tight, laying out a record that doesn’t dip into his usual wells.

Here the focus is on the elastic snap of power pop that’s just slightly sanded off from the pure punk formula. Think Advertising, The Quick, The Phones, or The Undertones goofing with undeniable effect on Hypnotised. I can see where the Mick Trouble tie-in crops up. Though this is under his own name, it does feel like Stoltz is pulling a persona here. There’s a power chord crimped slacker swagger. Yet, like The Apples in Stereo before him, he can slide on a power-pop pullover but his songwriting can’t help but inject the form with a certain quirkiness that perfects the formula while breaking a few of its boundaries in delightful ways. Stoltz has long been a legend among those sifting the spit-upon ranks of deep cut, skewed pop fodder, but he hasn’t sounded this wholly energized and invigorated for a few records. Front to back this one is possessed with the ‘70s third-set swagger — crumpled like a crudely drawn flyer and stinking of stickered bar bathrooms with no lock. It doesn’t miss a beat and I’m having a hard time keeping it off the speakers.




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Hypnolovewheel – “Parallel Universe”

Growing up through the ‘90s it seemed that those of us in more remote areas had to scrap a bit harder to find music outside of limited shelf space in the few stores that existed in the area and the FM dial. I’m still coming upon pockets of bands that seem like they should have had prominence that were just completely lost on the wider net of listeners. Long Island band Hypnolovewheel definitely falls in this category. The band suffers from the ‘90s phenomenon of “horrible cover art overshadows the music inside.”. There was plenty of this trend at the time, but maybe see their collection of covers for yourself. It’s too bad, though, because the band embraced a wide swath of sounds prevalent at the time and made them all work.

From their alt-jangled beginnings on Turn! Turn! Burn! that recall The Embarrassment, to the smudged shoegaze blare of Angel Food and their final stop at power pop swagger on Altered States, the band had an enviable aural trajectory but never seemed to grip too long. Even with a bit of push through ‘90s Marvel (Hypnolovewheel would feature in at least one Spiderman comic at the time) and with opening slots for plenty of large-scale NY headliners, they seemed pretty contained to the East Coast. There wasn’t a huge push behind them. Their first two albums appeared on Fabian Aural Products and they moved to Alias for the rest of their output, but would dissolve after Altered States in ’93. The band’s Dave Ramirez would play with King Missle for a bit while they were still active and following their demise he’d work with James McNew in Dump.

Aptly this collection from Cara Records really ties together their catalog, with selections across their spectrum of sound plus some exclusive demo cuts that haven’t appeared elsewhere. Its a good primer and tends to wrap up some of the band’s most interesting singles and cuts, but their whole catalog is worth perusing at length as they do have plenty of deep cuts that don’t appear here. This is a nice spotlight on a band that seemed to get lost in the cracks like so many swallowed by the ‘90s.



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2nd Grade

This one’s a huge undertaking. While the power pop universe of Peter Gill (Friendship, Free Cake For Every Creature) rarely lasts more than two minutes, he’s packed 24 songs onto this LP from Double Double Whammy. Gill’s approach pushes aside the dedication to the late ‘70s and early ‘80s that so many of the latter day saints of power pop have adopted, almost to a dogged fault. Instead it’s clear that Gill’s heart belongs to the ‘90s school as it bled into the early aughts and he’s not afraid to wear that badge proudly on his sleeve. Snagging both ends of the decade, there are the huge hooks and that touch of sunshine with a melancholy soul that marked the works of the Velvet Crush/Mathew Sweet/Choo Choo Trains axis. Yet its clear that Gill may have had a Ben Kweller or Radish CD in his Case Logic clutch as well. Moments that recall the sorely overlooked 2nd offering from Superdrag crop up as well as an aftertaste of Fountains of Wayne.

Gill’s ability to pluck from so many different nooks of the ‘90s and still make the album feel cohesive and natural speaks to his songwriting. Shifts from winsome and sweet, to a more gnarled feel come without the jostling they might cause in lesser hands. Inside jokes that would make the Apples in Stereo blush abound. Strums that are simple and saccharine litter his work, but they land every time. The album’s a treasure trove of hooks and a ‘choose your own adventure’ volume of heartbreak and joy if the shuffle feature is employed. There’s something about the sheer volume of tracks mixed with the bite-size approach that feels like there’s no wrong way to listen to Hit To Hit. With the temps climbing this month, it feels like letting a little sun shine in is a good idea and 2nd Grade have got ya covered for any moment.





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R. E. Seraphin

A sparkling power pop cut from R.E. Seraphin (Talkies, Apache, Buzzer) starts off his solo tape for Paisley Shirt and it’s stuffed full of a bittersweet optimism that feel as prescient as ever. Laced with strums and yearning leads, the song swells to a chorus full of hangdog hope. Seraphin knows his way around a hook, but the song, along with the majority of the album, thrives on a soft-focus pop approach that’s woozy and winsome. Seraphin’s approach is charged enough to keep this one stuck in your head all day, but melancholy enough to leave a sigh in your lungs by the third rotation through your brain. As he eases into the rest of the album, Seraphin balances vaseline-lensed pining with a power pop pounce that’s lined up with the kind of forgotten gems that littered the cut-out bins, but were necessary pickups to those with the right kind of ears. Churn a brew full of Phil Seymour b-sides, deep cuts from The Phones, Jags, and Pointed Sticks and this tape starts to come together.

Having spent time in a number of power pop upstarts from Apache’s similarly faded ‘70s slink and Lenz’ new wave quiver to the glam on the cheap workouts of Glitz, Seraphin has spent plenty of time in this pocket, but its nice to see him going all in with his name on the marquee. He’s not completely alone, though, bringing along the original Talkies rhythm section, but this is a new strain from what Talkies were laying down. A close (if not kissing) cousin of his other band, but still making its own imprint in more faded denim direction. I’ll still maintain that if you press your ear to the rail, the last ten years ring true with a wellspring of solid power pop and this one slides into the collection nicely.



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Mixtape: Young Hearts Unite

There have been a lot of genres that have given support through the lockdown juggling act over here – Sunshine Psych (done that one), jangle pop (ditto) but I locked into a specific branch of latter day power pop and it all started to coalesce into a new mixtape. The formative years of power pop are captured endlessly on comps, often with the same tracklists shuffled and reshuffled, but there’s less documentation on these past ten years to be sure. Now, while that period of time might not be known as a heyday of power pop, you’d be wrong in that assessment. There’s a lot of high-profile, excellent stuff that crosses boundaries and digs out earworms (see: Ex Hex, The Bad Moves, Martha) all great but not what I was looking for in this regard. For this mix I focused on a strain of power pop that was derived directly from those late ’70s, early ’80s types that populated the comps circulating my youth. There’s a certain loose, edge of punk, but more lovesick and soft strain here. I find that sunny days and power pop go hand in hand, so this just seems like fortuitous timing. Hope it brightens someone’s day and sends you riffling back through the stacks of the last decade.

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Redd Kross – Phaseshifter / Show World

It’s not entirely at odds that Third Man — a label that has existed to showcase the works of Jack White, bring home to the power pop of Brendan Benson, and explore the underground to the degree that Timmy’s Organism once found its way onto the racks — should eventually bring back the work of Redd Kross. While the name doesn’t filter into fashion as much as it should these days, the band was instrumental in smashing together punk, metal and power pop into a nexus of grunge that would linger long into the DNA of radio hits that would eclipse the band several times over. Redd Kross’ sense of humor was only rivaled by their knack for pop and over the course of a long and rocky tenure they created some true classic records. Growing out of the L.A. punk scene when they were still in high school, the band’s McDonald brothers would play with members of Circle Jerks, Bad Religion, and Black Flag before settling into their early lineup and smashing boundaries with their debut EP and the elastic approach of Neurotica. Sadly the latter was stalled in its reach when their label, Big Time, folded. The setback held the band’s name in contract to a grounded business and the band spent the next five years in limbo recording psych-pop under various names with members of Three O’ Clock, Pat Smear. Cherrie Currie, and Danny Bonnaduce (though not all at the same time).

The Third Man reissues focus on the time period just following this relative upset. The band would gain control of the name and reset themselves as they signed to Mercury. They stripped back a bit of the eclecticism that had made their early work fun and focused on the heavier side of their sound for Phaseshifter. While longtime fans might have missed the paisley pop experiments, what made them infectious remained in tact. Power pop stood at the crux of their sound and they’d embraced the hardcore heat long before others around them would do the same to find a foothold at radio. This album should have been a hitmaker, yet it found them relatively settled into the middle of the pack in popularity. The follow-up Show World takes the a similar approach, but gives a bit more of a glimpse into their magnetic pull towards plastic fun.

The album starts with a thickened and throttled cover of The Quick, embracing the light-delivery, heavy guitars approach to power pop that made it potent towards the end of the ‘70s. The band oscillates between the thick pop pedigree that fellow undersung act Sloan was soaking up around the same time in ’97 with a shiny new batch of hooks ready for radio. Still the band never quite stuck the way they should, but a few good years on Merge seemed a better fit and this latest round of respect for their mid-period work gives folks the hindsight to get back into what they missed. Definitely worth a spin or three to brighten up the turntable these days as the originals were released during the prime CD-only years and they never got a US release on vinyl. Pick ‘em up and work your way through the catalog of the champions of pop that shoulda been.




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