Posts Tagged ‘power pop’

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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2nd Grade – “Velodrome / My Bike”

A twofer video that serves up nothing but smiles and swooning strains, Philadelphia power-pop group 2nd Grade give good reason to be excited for their upcoming LP Hit To Hit. The band is lead by Peter Gill (Friendship, Free Cake For Every Creature) and his songwriting grabs from the power pop tradition by nature, but the ‘90s bracket of the genre by design. Where a lot of others have reached for the Bell/Chilton axis, Early Goovies, or Raspberries, there’s more than a hint of Sweet and Kweller in the bones of 2nd Grade. Its simple, but undeniable pop music for those not looking to muddy the waters. Sometimes all we need is a few crisp chords, sun-streaked skies and a cool breeze of pop to get us through the day. Gill understands this and delivers an album that’s got 24 tracks of bite-sized delights. The record is out May 29th on Double Double Whammy.



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Ezrat – “Loud Sounds”

While they often bubbled under the surface, Brooklyn’s EZTV were a vital piece of the power-pop puzzle from the last few years. As the band’s mercurial sound began to change over the years they pulled in a soft lilt of country and folk that rounded their sound into something far more nuanced than genre tags can hope to evoke. Much like Canadian contemporary Michael Rault, they’d found a sound that was lush and luxuriant within the bounds of pop, and while it seems that EZTV as an entity have faded into the ether that informed them, their spirt lives on with Ezrat. Songwriter Ezra Tenenbaum has begun a new journey that’s gilded with many of the same charms as his previous band. Hung heavy with the dissolution of not only the band but many past relationships, the songs on Carousel were culled from a cache of 50 recordings Tenenbaum had saved up as home demos.

Ezra brought Kyle Forester (Woods, Crystal Stilts), John Andrews (Hand Habits, Cut Worms), and Michael Hesslein (Mail the Horse) along for the ride, fleshing out a bittersweet gem of an album at Figure 8 Studios in Brooklyn. On the first single, “Loud Sounds,” a knotted riff gives way to the sighs of strings (provided by Elena Moon Park & Kyla-Rose Smith) with Tenenbaum giving the track his usual rose-colored veneer – soft strums fading into the winds and melodies wrapping themselves around your own memories until they tug at the heartswell sweetness of melancholy days gone by. The record is out May 1st. Take a few spins ‘round with “Loud Sounds” below.



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Plates of Cake

The latest LP from Brooklyn’s Plates of Cake expands on their ability to sit comfortably between genres. The band cherry picks strengths from jangle-pop, power pop, and AOR tropes without fully investing in any of them. They employ a breezy bounce on the guitars — carefree to the point of Lounge on “The Man I Want To Be” — but most often it gives their songs an air that’s just short of aloof. They read casual and cock-eyed but still strangely approachable. Singer Jonathan Byerly has a croon that sits somewhere between the resonant wink of Jonathan Richman and Tom Verlaine, but when employed right he can give a track the requisite simmer. They skew the jangle over time and let a creep of acrid fuzz linger into their sounds corroding the clean lines with a subtle crumble.

As the band winds into the mid-section they really hit onto the power-pop lacquer. “Crusader Castle” and “Misery Behind Her” have a bigness to them that pulls from the classic swagger of the ‘70s (Petty, Costello, Lowe) but lets the line linger on into the early ‘10s summoning up comparisons with fellow BK influence alchemists Nude Beach. The band proves they’ve got a boil brewing for the live nights with the instrumental “Rendition” — the kind of cut you know is gonna work itself into a sweat-puddle set-ender unbuttons their sound in the process. They’ve been burning through the rungs of small platter dealers (Uninhabitable Mansions, All Hands Electric) before taking things into their own hands and while they might need to shout louder than some of their peers to get heard, they definitely have the right to be shouting.



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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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