Posts Tagged ‘power pop’

Sloan

Canada’s slighted sons Sloan have always had the rep of a band that never got its due, though that in itself is its own kind of due. Sure, they’ve never dominated the US airwaves (and stylistically that ship has likely sailed along with the turn of the century), but they’re constantly hanging on as the highest-ranking underdogs in the room. That said, I’m always thankful they’re keeping the power pop torch lit for generations to come, pining away with all of the double-stacked sincerity that befits jangle-pocked rockers holding up the train of Badfinger and The Raspberries while bumping elbows with Matthew Sweet and The Apples in Stereo. Like fellow pop-pushers Super Furry Animals, they always seemed to be doing the right thing at the wrong time, missing the zeitgeist but catching enough ardent fans for a sustained career.

After a slightly choppy experiment letting each of their four members pen a portion of their last album, the band returns to a cohesive sound, regaining a sense of brevity for an album that’s much more digestible. Not straying far from their wheelhouse, the record is doing a great job of “sounding like Sloan” while still crafting a few standout gems lacquered in the band’s hi-fi gloss and rose-colored swoon. Though they clearly seem to be running the well dry on lovesick subject matter, not to mention song titles (the set boasts their second use of a song with the title “If It Feels Good Do It”), they’re working up just what the door price promised.

If you came to hear Sloan triple-top harmonies over the crisp sunset hues of bittersweet pop then look no further, they haven’t lost a step. There’s always a double-edged sword with long running bands – change too much and they’ll hang ‘ya for betraying fans’ hopes, stay the course and be accused of stagnation. While the latter accusation might hold a bit of water, the band’s holding on so nicely to their corner of the musical landscape that it’s hard to complain. Twelve albums on most bands don’t whether so well. Sloan still won’t capture the zeitgeist, but 12 is still a pretty fun ride.




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King Tuff

Everything on The Other sounds like Kyle Thomas wanted to break off from the King Tuff moniker and leave it behind – to fold up his old sun medallion and let it rest in the drawer for a spell. It has, in fact happened before, with Sub Pop signing King Tuff only to have him immediately flip the coin and work out the kinks as Happy Birthday. Still, after roaring back into the cracked leather of Tuff’s driver’s seat for another 8 years ‘round the bend following that diversion, there’s an understandable desire at this point to slip away into the shade. As much as Thomas’ 10-foot cartoon chassis is a beloved institution of power pop, it’s got to be exhausting to carry that towering persona around. In that light, this feels to my ear more like a Kyle Thomas solo record that someone in A&R begged him to keep under the Tuff moniker for categorical ease. Not that it tarnishes the Tuff brand, if it’s a Tuff record it’s actually one of my favorites, but I almost wish they would have let him rip the decal off and don the new hat.

The record still has an engine of power pop, though it’s pushed way beyond garage’s bubblegum snap and slid back the hi-fi party mask that found its way into King Tuff’s lyrics over the years. This is a world-weary record that’s pushing Thomas’s pop into lush production, still fairly larger than life, but now trying to duck that personality out of sight and ponder the preposterousness of life on this hunk of chipped granite. Thomas, largely alone, wrangles country’s grand vistas, glam crunch, glittering keys and jittery funk into the shape of one of 2018’s most delightful surprises.

The record follows a grand tradition of bands breaking stride and finding their bittersweet soul wrapped in high concept. This is KT’s Parachute, his Odyssey & Oracle, his Arthur. Like those albums it’s both over the top and a masterpiece of pomp, pathos and pop. The record has huge ambitions, sure, but I’ll be damned if Thomas doesn’t hit his marks every time. Are there lyrics that will date this to an exact moment in time, absolutely (“Circuits In The Sand”), but how is that any different from “Shangri-La’s” exploration of ‘60s idyllic suburb life? Does the record throttle his stylistic core? Yeah and that’s the point. That’s what makes it work and maybe, as much as this feels like a different animal dressed in a familiar sweater, maybe that’s what actually makes the case for keeping King Tuff on the hood ornament.

In the same way that those ambitious albums by the ’60s set pushed listeners out of rote garage territory and acted as portals to new sounds, this affords the past and future King Tuff fan a doorway through the shiny pop sneer and into a treasure of styles. There are hooks that will soar this into the infinite and a hugeness that tends to make pop albums treasures for generations of diggers to come. Even if the world doesn’t turn and take notice, this feels like a record with a long tail of influence down the road. If this is the beginning of a new chapter, or a complete new book, The Other stands to become a definitive moment for King Tuff.


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NRP: The Hot Dogs – Say What You Mean

The bases on reissues are regularly covered here in the Re-released into the Wild column, though I’ve found that while the steady stream of reissues picks up a lot of the great bits from the past (some I’ve been waiting for and some I’ve discovered through labels I love) there still remain a lot of records that are consigned to the purgatory of out of print status. This is especially frustrating given that the pressing plants are all too often packed out with garbage reissues of dollar bin titles looking to cash in on a nostalgia trip. So, with Necessary Repress I’m going to look at a few records I think absolutely deserve to work their way back to the stacks. Now, I know that the complex web of licenses, rights, and royalties are often what holds up a new issue, so I’m not holding my breath, just making my case.

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Pointed Sticks – Perfect Youth

The world is steadily knocking the dust from some of power pop’s most coveted gems and a new reissue of Pointed Sticks’ essential debut is a welcome addition to 2018. The last time that Sudden Death (who took over the reigns from original label Quintessence Records) issued this was back in 2005, but it’s no less necessary more than a decade later. Among the best power pop albums with the worst covers, the album is best known for the title cut, a bubblegum jolt of punk that’s brimming with ecstatic snap and an earworm chorus. Though the single is no an outlier in this collection thanks in no small part to the work of newbie producer at the time, Bob Rock. The industry go-to, who’d go on to hammer out hits with Aerosmith, Metallica and Mötley Crüe found his start with this as the first album under his belt, likely as a result of his work on EPs the previous year for fellow Quintessence artists Subhumans and Young Canadians.

The album is a bright and brimming collection of power pop pushed through a tangle of jangle-pop that reveals an overt love for Elvis Costello while pushing the tempos and temperament into what would become the signifiers of pop punk many years later. Following the homegrown success of this album the band became notable for being signed to Stiff Records, though the label itself was falling apart financially at the time and wouldn’t officially release any recordings by them in its tenure. There are several comps that pick these up though. Recently, as is the case with bands that burn out too quick, they’ve found success in reunited form and recorded a couple of new albums, however, without a doubt this remains the pinnacle of their career. Those with an ear to power pop’s transition from the ’70s into the ’80s would do well to dig this up, and along with Teenage Head, they remains some of the best exporters of Canadian punk from the time period. Ignore that god awful cover and press on to the chewy pop offerings between the grooves.


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Mikah Wilson – “Sunshine Grooves”

Every once in a while and artist comes along that ticks all the boxes on some of my personal musical obsessions. For me, I have a deep love for bubblegum, sunshine psych, power pop and the bittersweet side of the ’60s that somehow leaves you sighing and smiling at the same time. Mikah Wilson has found a way to pack all of those things into one song that’s shimmering like a cloudless afternoon, but also leaves a pang of loneliness hanging in the air. The track echoes traces of collector bait songwriting team Gary Usher (Sagittarius) and Curt Boettcher (The Millennium, The Association) as filtered through the cartoon catchy workings of Rick Springfield during his tenure at Mission: Magic. Throw in a dash of Emmitt Rhodes’ buttery pop soul and I’m all but sold on this song. For fans of this type of glowing sunshine psych, Wilson has resurrected a sound with such precision that this already feels like it could slip right in between the stacks of old singles and fool the most ardent crate digger into thinking they’d stumbled onto a lost gem. I

Despite his label associations with Lollipop and Burger, Wilson works at a much more measured pace than many of his contemporaries, marking this as his third track in just about a year. It follows up on the sorely overlooked cassingle from last April that saw Wilson drop double power pop perfection with “Sweet Jules” b/w “Look At The Way”. Frankly I’m overjoyed for just this little bit added to the catalog, but the single track drop does leave one wanting much more. Though, if the quality of songs continue on this caliber, I’m willing to wait as long as it takes for an album from Wilson. They may be time-shifted works of sugary pop, but this, along with Wilson’s other two tracks are some of the strongest I’ve heard in a long time.




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The Love-Birds – “Hit My Head”

SF’s Love Birds have been taking a trajectory conducive to my own heart here at RSTB. Following up a stellar first EP for Empty Cellar the band hooks up with longtime favorite Glenn Donaldson to mix their upcoming LP for Trouble in Mind. The first single from the upcoming In The Lover’s Corner jumps off of the jangle-pop springboard, built around curlicues of song that dredge up The Go-Betweens and The Chills, but ultimately it finds its own embrace of power pop as well. The song has DNA from early adopters like The Flaming Groovies and a tougher strain that brings to mind Matthew Sweet during his Bob Quine years. So, if you were to lob a dart squarely at the chart of influences that hook me in, Love Birds are smacking the center every time. Throw in a mastering job from Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake and a cover shod in block cut pastels and I’m pretty much sold. Gonna want to watch out for this one in May.



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Bloods – “Feelings”

Been letting this one simmer for a few days but it threatens to blow hour by hour. Bloods have always delivered some great hooks swathed in a scrappy garage/indie vibe, but now they’re onto something more. They wormed their way into my heart back in 2012 and delivered a solid album two short years later, this week they rocket from outta nowhere after a pretty solid quiet period with their most overt pop nugget yet. Admittedly drawing on ’80s power pop / girl group gems like The Go Go’s, the track is glossy, almost tipping the scales too far, but not quite. It’s still got a belly full of fuzzed guitars and a sing-song chorus that’s probably best for shouting with the windows open and that’s about all you could ask for. In all truth this lands a bit closer to Transvision Vamp than The Go Go’s, and am alone in thinking that Bloods might tear up a cover of “Baby I Don’t Care?” Seems like they’ve got an album in the works and for a new U.S imprint no less (Share It Music). Consider me interested to see how they walk that edge, this feels promising, but I know that overproduction can go sour quick. Best not to overthink it though, for now this is a pretty solid bit of fun on repeat.




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King Tuff – “The Other”

It’s been four years since Kyle Thomas has released music as King Tuff and believe me, that gap has been felt. It’s great to have him back, though its unclear if “The Other” is a one off endeavor or the tip of a new album’s iceberg. From the heavily suggested note to follow up King Tuff socials, I’d wager the latter, but new music is welcome news either way. His last outing, Black Moon Spell, polished up his sound into 20 foot whirlwind of power pop and garage that still retained his gonzo sensibility. It was cleaner, but still undeniably Tuff. So, it’s with a bit of surprise that the latest track from Thomas strips all of the bombast away. He’s gone down alleyways of tenderness before (“Staircase of Diamonds”, “Evergreen”) but those songs have always retained the Mad Hatter twinkle that rested in Thomas’ eye.

On “The Other” he’s gone to the well of earnestness without a wobble of weird in sight. It’s a good look on him, and far be it from me to begrudge an artist a sea change when their old influences feel out of sorts. Thomas’s voice is hovering far above the mix, with just some plucks and a sunset swell of organ pushing him through. It feels like Tuff if he’d been binging the works of James Jackson Toth lately. Whether this song captures the tone of new works or if its just a muse that he needed for follow remains to be seen. While its a surprising tonal shift, this heart-on-sleeve approach fits Kyle well. I wouldn’t be opposed to some more tender Tuff if it came my way.





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First Base

For all the heavy records that roll through here, I am and will always be a sucker for a good ole fashioned power pop record. There’s something about hitting that sweet spot between bubblegum’s sundown and the heartflutter of punk before its more serious sneers took down its most fun peers. That’s the valley Toronto’s First Base occupy. The band’s second record shimmy shines their sound to a high gloss polish that’s as evident in its love for the Yellow Pills highlights of yesteryear as it is for modern contempos like Barreracudas, Gentleman Jesse, Mother’s Children or Wyatt Blair. There are shades of ennui in some of these gems, but they’re all quickly blown away by a core of chewy, hi-gloss, platform stompin’, skinny tie totin’ power pop.

It’s tempting for modern makers to tumble into the pitfalls of pop-punk, toughening the classic formula just a touch too much, tipping the fulcrum from wide-eyed earnestness and into cheeky childishness. On Not That Bad the Canadians steer wide of coming off pubescent and recapture the hip-swung brashness and heartfelt delivery of everyone who fell under the sway of Cheap Trick and Tommy Roe in equal measure. The album is a familiar splash of cool water on a hot day, refreshing as hell in a year that’s not exactly brimming with positive vibes and good time reasons to just dance it out. Maybe that’s why this one feels perfect just now. Sometimes I want something to salt the wounds so I don’t forget the pain, but just as often its nice to just scrub it all away and take a helium hit to the skull that’s frivolous fun for five or ten minutes (or you know maybe 30).





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Parsnip – “Health”

There’s been a bit of a decline in girl-group punk swagger since the heydays of lo-fi faded into the background, but Parsnip brings the sound rushing back in full color for their debut single on Anti-Fade. The track is swooning with ’60s vocal harmonies but rooted in the Paisley-punk of bands like The Pandoras, doubling down on twangin’ guitars and squirming organ. The song is caffeinated cool, careening around hooks with a sugar buzz that’s pretty damn hard to ignore. Why would you possibly want to, though? This is a top-down stoplight dance party from start to finish and I’m keeping it on repeat.




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