Posts Tagged ‘power pop’

Sad About The Times: An Exploration of North American 70s FM

Anthology is really digging in this year (not that last year was slouchin’) and they add another solid compilation to the collective wantlist. Compiled by Mikey Young, who’d previously worked on a comp of ’70s folk and psych tracks from his native Australia, the new compilation focuses on the barely there bands who breached the walls of FM in the ’70s. Young expresses the impulse behind the compilations as an extension of frustration with finding brilliant overlooked music and coming up short from sharing his finds with those in his immediate reach. I can relate, to be honest. And given Mikey’s already picked out a damn fine gem for RSTB’s Hidden Gems series, I’d trust his taste completely.

Mikey breaks it down, “”For nearly all my 41 year old life, my most constant joy has been to find new music to love. My next move is usually to force the people around me to listen and hope they feel the same joy. Teenage friends and crushes didn’t care at all about the knowledge I was imparting or the mixtapes I was laboring over, I’m pretty damn sure. City life was a little more receptive, though dj’ing what i heard as totally life changing, life affirming jams at bars to dudes requesting GnR didn’t always make it feel so. The occasional radio show gives me an outlet to continue sharing tunes but sometimes that feels like firing noise into a blackhole filled with all the other bazillion archival radio streams. Doing these comps with Keith (of Anthology) seem like the logical progression of what I’ve always loved doing. ”

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Martha

Jumping up another rung from their superb and well-received sophomore LP Blisters In The Pit of My Heart, UK power pop shakers Martha are proving to be the piners to keep a constant eye on. The band’s latest infects 2019 with the kind of hearsick stomach ache that accompanies lost loves, long nights, dour days, and the terrible creeping feeling that you’ll never survive the next couple of months unchanged. Despite covering some of the bands most heavy territory, they make go down pretty easy, swishing down sweet hooks garnished with singalong swoons and whoa-oh choruses that help mask the bitter poison swimming below the in the band’s lyrics. While the hooks are noting to slough at, the band’s bare and bracing subjects elevate them from slipping into the punk undertow.

They’ve always had their hearts on their sleeve, tugging gently at the emotional tags that can sometimes be a brush off for folks. Yet they knot their wordy wallows into decorative lanyards that can’t help but win over listeners with the shared trauma of youth. Every song in Martha’s canon feels like they’re barely getting out alive and its hard not to nod along -whether the listener’s in the throes of high-stakes youth or just moisturizing the scars from it as part of a daily routine. The band is the embodiment of bittersweet, begging the listener back for more with earworms that nod the head but rub the soul raw.

To build those earworms they’re pushing aside the prattle of punk’s latter-day indulgences, keeping in the parachute lite pop billow, but discarding the repetition and cheeky charms. They supplant these with a touch of jangle stripped right out of the English tradition and the wistful cool that comes in tow with their clouded demeanor and introspective bend. While Love Keeps Kicking is easily a record that could facilitate any windows-down car trip for the summer, its just as likely to find you pulled over by the roadside crying off old wounds. For every tear they spill, though, Martha’s there to wrap an arm around and wipe it away. The record is knife and stitches all in one and despite my best intentions, its hard not to listen, lash and repeat.



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Slush – “Middle Name”

Pretty much anything that comes out of Aussie enclave Hysterical Records is bound to be fun and the first single from new signees Slush is no slouch in that regard. The trio pelts out power pop that recalls ’90s soundtrack fodder from The Muffs and that dog., while dropping in alongside American counterparts Tacocat and Colleen Green in balancing the butterfly belly bliss of early relationships with candy coated hooks that lodge themselves in your brain like a lick-a-maid anchor. The track is a joyous somersault through carefree summertime swoons and its just begging for someone to set up a whirlwind montage of teen crush tension to its brilliant bounce.

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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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