Thursday, December 18, 2014

When I Fall in Love



As the year has progressed, several great singles and EPs have been released for which I have written reviews or should have written reviews.  I’ve waited for many of these bands to go ahead and release new full length albums before offering my thoughts, but several have not yet materialized.  So, over the next week or two, I hope to share my enthusiasm for some great singles that have come along during 2014 that I’ve neglected to share.



The School
“When I Fall in Love” 7”

The 7777777 7” singles club on the mouthful Where It’s At Is Where You Are Records has provided several excellent records in just a few short years.  That small UK label was already making a name for itself in the indie circles, but now with these 7 annual singles being released each year as limited edition picture discs and a high quality variety of artists such This Wreckage favorites as Allo Darlin,’ Eux Autres, Standard Fare, and My Favorite, I think I have been remiss in not yet signing up.

Unfortunately, I am not a subscriber and was too slow to pick up The School’s entry into the 7777777 scene, but luckily, all of this great music is available via download.  If anyone actually reads these music reviews I write, they’ll know that I love me some 60s girl group styled pop!  And The School has been perfecting this sound for several years now.  Their second album, 2012’s Reading Too Much Into Things Like Everything, was my #36 pick for best records of the year.  Liz Hunt’s naïve and plaintive, yet sweet vocals and words evoke simple times from our younger days, when worries were about crushes and who’s seeing who. 

The formula has not changed one iota here, but this versatile and oddly huge band (eight piece last I checked) makes simple pop music that is so spot on perfect, it could be direct from an early 60s date night movie.  The A-side, “When I Fall in Love,” begins with acoustic guitar strums, Hunt’s voice and tambourine splashes, before jumping jauntily into handclaps and a super catchy song espouses her determination that today is the day that she will fall in love and it will be eternal.  Wouldn’t that be nice?  Well, here it is.  Excellent!

The B-side gives us a flowing melancholic song guided by organs, strings, and an excellent trumpet solo, as Liz begs to be with her guy through troubled times.  This band’s strength is their simplicity and versatility.  They seem to be able to pull off any kind of instrumentation flawlessly, without ever overwhelming the song itself.  Now, does this mean there’s a new album coming soon?



The School "When I Fall in Love"


 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Weekend



As the year has progressed, several great singles and EPs have been released for which I have written reviews or should have written reviews.  I’ve waited for many of these bands to go ahead and release new full length albums before offering my thoughts, but several have not yet materialized.  So, over the next week or two, I hope to share my enthusiasm for some great singles that have come along during 2014 that I’ve neglected to share.



Arts & Leisure
“Weekend” 7”

Every time a new record is released on Sacramento label Test Pattern Records, I get the sense that I need to at least visit that city, if not move there.  I see the wonderful John Conley (Holiday Flyer, California Oranges, Desario) designed record sleeves and hear the great music coming out of that city and see show lineups to die for listed on social media and I think to myself – “What’s happening down there?” 

“Weekend” is a perfect little 7” single to follow-up last year’s Arts & Leisure debut LP ChooseYour Adventure (my #27 pick for 2013).  Arts & Leisure rose quickly from the end of veteran band Baby Grand, whom I had just learned of a few years back and was just getting involved with their cool, breezy sound.  Now they’ve got a very basic old-fashioned straight-forward pop sound and it proves that if done right, it can sound fresh every time.

The A-side, “Weekend,” is as straight-forward musically as a band can get with its simple mid-tempo drum pattern and walking bass line, buzzing twin guitars and Gerri White’s breathy voice enhanced by Becky Cale’s harmonies.  There’s nothing that stands out to describe about the song except that it sounds great, is memorable, and reminds of sunshine.  Maybe the fact that the lyrics tend more towards something from The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Darklands than a California beach party is a cool unexpected twist.  I’m a sucker for the girl groups and rainy day bleakness, so this will win out every time!

Likewise, the B-side, “Over You,” cruises along with a similar vibe.  The vocals are more emphatic, as the killer chorus lets us know that they are “done crying over you.”  If one is to be dumped, there’s worse ways to be let go than by a catchy tune.

This is a nice introduction to the band, but don’t let their debut go by the wayside – go out and get that one too!





Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Fool of a Kind



As the year has progressed, several great singles and EPs have been released for which I have written reviews or should have written reviews.  I’ve waited for many of these bands to go ahead and release new full length albums before offering my thoughts, but several have not yet materialized.  So, over the next week or two, I hope to share my enthusiasm for some great singles that have come along during 2014 that I’ve neglected to share.



Marine Life
“Fool of a Kind” 7” EP

1998 was the last year that I subscribed to the weekly trade magazine CMJ (College Music Journal).  It was a ridiculous subscription for someone like me.  It’s for college radio stations, and was incredibly expensive, yet I would somehow scrape together enough money to renew for seven lean years.  Why was it such a draw for me?  Simply because the magazine gave me reviews of hundreds of new records each week, provided me with CD samplers of music from new music, kept me up to date with the latest and greatest imports and upcoming releases – enough to keep a fanatic attached to his addiction.  Every so often, a free CD would come along with an issue, aside from the regular sampler.  Most of these were pretty terrible, but two very important and memorable free CDs caught my attention.  The first one was a powerful shoegaze / dream pop EP from Los Angeles band The Autumns (Suicide at Strell Park, 1997), which led to a decade long search for their sporadic and often difficult to find albums.  Meanwhile, the other free CD was from a San Francisco pop band named Julie Plug with their 1998 debut album Starmaker.  Starmaker has been a regular visitor to my CD players pretty much ever since (has it really been 16 years?!).  It is a shiny, bright, and immaculately played pop rock album, highlighted by the absolutely adorable vocals from Des De Leon and all kinds of memorable songs that sit somewhere (I struggle with comparisons sometimes, but what other tools do I have that might invoke a relatable reference?) between The Sundays (especially vocals), the later poppier / less political (and popular) Cranberries, The Popguns (older band / recent discovery – see here) and the wonderful Dina D’Alessandro (see gushing review here) and her band The Beautiful Things.  Julie Plug had a second album in 2003, Whatever You Need, but for some reason it never connected with me the same way, and then they completely disappeared from my radar.

So, while I go and put the Starmaker CD next to my car keys in order to make sure I get it onto the stereo tomorrow morning, I have to tell you about how Des De Leon Nicolas and Julie Plug guitarist Terry Nicolas and pretty much the rest of the second LP Julie Plug lineup are back with a new band and four new songs that are easily the equal, if not better than anything they’ve shared before!  Leave it to the excellent Spanish label Elefant Records to find this obscure band and expose them to a larger audience and I’m so thankful to have their delightfully delectable music back in my life.

The A-side opens with the incredibly catchy “Fool of a Kind,” which is so bright and sunny and jaunty musically, yet filled with a melancholic overtone.  Des De Leon sings of her heartbreak from failing relationship and her foolishness for not wanting to let go, all awash in shimmering organ hums, piano, wonderfully textural guitars, a jaunty rhythm section, and chorus emphasizing horn section that really adds swing to this instant classic.  Next up is the upbeat “Big Sur,” which takes us on a lovely private visit to the beach with a soundtrack of perfect pop harmonies, gliding keyboards, and splashing drums to enjoy along the way.

On the flipside is the dreamy sounding “Boy from B-612,” which opens with a repeating chiming keyboard melody, which sends chills up the spine.  The mid tempo bass crawl and thumping drums set the mood for this song of longing and loneliness, as Des De Leon paints a picture of understanding and quiet support.  Lastly, the wonderful horn section returns on “For the Camera Shy” – an energetic breath of fresh air as she tries to pry a celebration out of a reluctant recipient of her affection.

This is another typically elegantly packaged 7” single (red vinyl) from Elefant and is part of their “New Adventures in Pop” series, where they expose good music like this (Just Handshakes anyone? My #7 pick for best album of 2013!).  I hope that Marine Life continue on with the label and get to releasing more music, because this is such a welcome return!



Marine Life "Fool of a Kind"


 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Jumprope



As the year has progressed, several great singles and EPs have been released for which I have written reviews or should have written reviews.  I’ve waited for many of these bands to go ahead and release new full length albums before offering my thoughts, but several have not yet materialized.  So, over the next week or two, I hope to share my enthusiasm for some great singles that have come along during 2014 that I’ve neglected to share.





Gingerlys
“Jumprope” 7” EP

Shelflife Records just keeps finding really fun pop music!  Gingerlys is a new New York band that takes the beautiful and dreamy songs of early Shelflife legends like Arrogants and Brittle Stars and infuses them with a dose of speed and adrenaline.  They’ve made a perfect single for the summer time.

“Jumprope” jumps right in with some frenetic strumming guitar, and a simple and warming keyboard line that evokes the Brittle Stars comparison, and then Maria Garnica’s breathy vocals (reminding of Arrogrants’ Jana Heller) come along tying the proceedings together magically.  It isn’t until the absolutely dreamy chorus – a repeated series of “ahs” and “uh-huhs” – that the song goes to the stratospheric.  It’s a compact and perfect song to hum on a beautiful stroll in the sunshine.  I’m not sure what’s going on inside the wall of noise that is the fast “Summer Cramps,” but it’s enticing.  The songs stumbles forward at a rapid pace and there’s so much going on with the layers of sounds (it almost sounds like a horn section buried deep underneath the guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, and vocals), but the clarity of the straight forward keyboard melody ties the song together to give it a memorable quality beyond the fun urgency of the performance.

The B-side opens with another quick burner in “Better Hearts.”  Garnica punctuates every short line of each verse with a “you don’t know me” line that will get stuck in your head, while guitarists Matt Richards and Colin O’Neill weave together surprisingly intricate intertwining melodies together.  This song is where drummer Brian Alvarez and bassist Kevin Doxsey really shine.  Alvarez’s stunning rapid fire drum rolls, punctuated tightly by Doxsey’s rolling bass grand throughout the song are amazing!  Again, there’s a lot going on in the mix, but its fun to focus on the many different sounds coming out of these five players.   The closing “Set You Off” comes on like an airy breeze, or a long relaxing exhale.  Garmica’s cooing vocals perfectly match with her keyboard atmospherics and the jangly guitars.

What an excellent introduction!  I sure hope that there’s more music to come - maybe for next summer?



 Gingerlys "Jumprope"


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Pop Fiction



The Popguns
Pop Fiction
“Lovejunky” 7” EP

Where have The Popguns been all of my life?!?!  This feels like the most absurd oversight in my personal music history.  I remember seeing their albums and singles in the bins at great record stores like the Ooze, 2nd Avenue, and the import section at Tower Records back in the early 90s.  I’m sure I read about them in all the music magazines I read or used to read.  Yet for some reason, I never knowingly heard them.  That is until this fall.  I guess that is one huge advantage of technology.  Back then, there was little chance of actually hearing lesser publicized music that was sealed inside a vinyl jacket, or plastic CD case on the shelves of the better shops, so one had to stumble upon things by chance, or by taking the risk of purchasing unheard (I’m sure there are other options, but in my world, there was a lot of debate over which record I’d never heard I desired more – based solely on word of mouth).  When the “Lovejunky” 7” appeared as a new release from the wonderful indie pop label Matinée Recordings a couple of months back, all I had to do was click a button on my computer screen to quash my curiosity.  Let’s just say that the candy red colored vinyl was ordered right away.

The bright effervescent pop sound of The Popguns reminds me of why I loved Echobelly so much.  “Lovejunky” is upbeat, exciting, jammed with chiming catchy guitars and Wendy Pickles’ yearning yet smiling vocals, which in my distorted mind feel like a perfect blend of Echobelly’s Sonya Madan and Swing Out Sister’s Corrine Drewery (keep in mind that I have not heard SOS’s continuing career since about 1987, but see my love of their single “Breakout” elsewhere).  Echobelly may have climbed up and over the Popguns back to get the small level of notoriety they achieved a few years deeper into the 90s.  Whatever the case, they are back and I am fully on board and asking for more, much like the protagonist of “Lovejunky.”  The two non-LP B-sides here are so damn good that this 7” is a necessity.  The absolutely rocking “Long Way to Fall” has a massive chorus that feels like it’s been part of my personal soundtrack of super hits for as long as I can remember.  This song should be marketed as a single by itself!  The final clincher is the acoustic “Home Late,” which has the magical jangling intricacy of The Sundays and a rainy day quality that always feels comforting.  



Likewise, the full length, Pop Fiction, the band’s first in 18 years (where do I find the back catalogue?!) has been on constant repeat for weeks now.  I never grow tired of it.  From the opening ringing guitars of “City Lights” by Simon Pickles and Greg Dixon – underscored by Pat Walkington’s bass line – I get shivers up my spine with anticipation.  Then comes Tony Bryant’s crashing mid-tempo drums and Wendy’s melancholic, mixed emotional vocal turn as she says farewell to a place, a life, a past (“never hear from me again”).  The internal tension of the performance is enhanced by the ever increasing intensity of the guitars as the song progresses.  From the get go, this album doesn’t feel like a band returning from a long time away, but a band hitting their stride during a particular fertile creative stretch.  They’ve even included a sequel to the still brand new to me “Waiting for the Winter” single from the 1990 first album, Eugenie, with “Still Waiting for the Winter.”  Where the original version is a propulsive kiss off to an uncaring lover, this new version is appropriately, a more reflective second part in the long ago wake of the break up.  Wendy’s lyrical imagery is tangible as she sets the scene of a gathering bringing a group of old companions together and reminiscing about the girl who has vowed to never come back (“she’s never coming back again / yeah, I heard that she’s o.k. / still a world away”). 

There is a lot of reflection going on throughout the album, but it all feels so fresh, because of the vibrant music and Wendy’s wonderful voice, along with tasteful backing vocals from Kate Mander.  “Leaning on the Backline” brings up memories of a long lost friendship and the curiosity of the unexplored inside yet another perfect song structure and the fun sing a long chorus and closing refrain: “and did you find that love was not divine and kisses not like wine?”  Likewise, “Something Going On” comes on with a striking and sharp repetitive guitar strum and more curiosity if there was or is some kind of unexplored connection between two long time acquaintances.  The closing “I’ll See You Later,” on the other hand, has the feel of personal triumph as Wendy sings about the ignored girl from the past, becoming the sought after woman and the point is ever emphasized by her soaring vocals in the powerful chorus.

Every damn song is a keeper.  The pure pop of the standing in the wings “If You Ever Change Your Mind,” and the gliding cool of “Alfa Romeo” are so addictive and brilliant ear candy.  The only slow down of shiny hooks comes with the back to back slower songs in the middle section of the album.  “Out of Sight” soars with tasteful feedback atmospherics atop a rumbling beat, as the lyrics explore the strength of a relationship.  Is it one of convenience?  While the acoustic “Not Your Night Tonight” is a very gentle turn down, as Wendy sings “cause there’s no ‘us’” to some unfortunate guy who had higher hopes.

This is already one of my favorite albums of the year and cannot recommend it with any more gusto.  Welcome back Popguns!  Glad you decided to return to introduce yourselves. 






Sunday, December 7, 2014

Each Time



As the year has progressed, several great singles and EPs have been released for which I have written reviews or should have written reviews.  I’ve waited for many of these bands to go ahead and release new full length albums before offering my thoughts, but several have not yet materialized.  So, over the next week or two, I hope to share my enthusiasm for some great singles that have come along during 2014 that I’ve neglected to share.


Secret Shine
“Each Time” 7”
(Dreams Never End)

When bands began reforming after several years away, there were always prominent cries of “sellout” and a strange disdain cast upon them for giving their music another go.  What about bands that never really drew a huge audience?  What would be the explanation for a band reforming and enduring another possible round of being ignored, other than a pure love of the art?  Of course, there have been so many bands that have reformed over the last fifteen years that it’s no longer even an issue, but what I find surprising, is that there have been a handful of bands that have not only recaptured their original spark, but surpassed it.  For me, Secret Shine is one of those bands.

Secret Shine existed during the early 90s on the vaunted Sarah Records label, and I was familiar with them via the many excellent label compilations that I devoured back then.  Secret Shine was about as “shoegaze” as that label ever got, and though they were intriguing to me, they never connected enough to get me to pursue their records.  Yet, ever since their reformation back in 2006, they’ve been steadily improving and a band that I look forward to hearing from and will make every effort to secure their latest offerings.  Their last album, The Beginningand the End, brought an urgency and passion that they had never showed before (and was my #5 pick for best album of the year!).

It’s been some time since that great album, but while they commence work on a new album, they have offered up a very nice single as a teaser.  Luckily, this record is right on par with the best of their most recent work.  The A-Side, “Each Time,” burns with desperation and that urgency that drove much of their last LP.  They get compared a lot to Slowdive (also recently reformed) with their airy atmospheric sound derived from buzzing feedback, but that band never let loose with this kind of drive before - like having the beat go double time during the exciting chorus.

Over on the flip side, is the dreamier “Anything About Me,” a song that drifts along with a beautiful quiet melancholy and a rumbling beat, which builds the tension towards what looks like trouble ahead.  The feeling of being marginalized and taken for granted in a relationship is explored in the sparest of words, but the simple repeated line “You don’t know / you don’t know / you don’t know / anything about me” gives us a strong clue as to what is happening.

If these two songs are a sign of what’s to come, the next Secret Shine album will be an incredible highlight of 2015.











 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Now Time


As the year has progressed, several great singles and EPs have been released for which I have written reviews or should have written reviews.  I’ve waited for many of these bands to go ahead and release new full length albums before offering my thoughts, but several have not yet materialized.  So, over the next week or two, I hope to share my enthusiasm for some great singles that have come along during 2014 that I’ve neglected to share.



Close Lobsters
Kunstwerk in Spacetime 7” EP
(Shelflife)

Somehow, I mostly missed Scottish band Close Lobsters back in the late 80s, but I didn’t completely miss them.  At some point, I picked up a couple of their EPs used, and I still have their excellent song “Lovely Little Swan” on a bizarre 1990 K-Tel Records “modern rock” compilation called The Edge of Rock that I bought simply for the cheap price and the novelty (I say “bizarre,” because I thought K-Tel had long vanished by that point.  My prior K-Tel collection fresh from TV ads was the wondrous Rock 80 from around my ninth birthday– collecting 1979 “new wave” hits from the likes of The Knack, The Pretenders, Gary Numan, Blondie, The Ramones, and Nick Lowe).  They were renowned from their offering from the legendary C86 NME compilation that launched so many great bands’ careers, but I apparently I always kind of overlooked them.  So, how did I end up with this brand new 7” single by a band that has been dormant for about 25 years?  Not sure how, but it doesn’t matter, because I love this record!!

 K-Tel "The Edge of Rock"


 K-Tel Rock 80 TV commercial

“Now Time” begins with some solid guitar interplay and then a building drum surge before launching into a perfect mid-tempo summer time driving song.  The song fills me with great anticipation and excitement.  Lead singer Andrew Burnett’s well worn voice urges us to get out and get some stuff done, while reminding us that “history is about to be made.”  It’s absolutely spine-tingling, especially during the bridge when the music begins to blur into a dramatic wash before a perfectly simple guitar solo.  Even at six plus minutes, this epic feels concise and begs for repeated listening.

The B-Side, “New York City in Space,” seems to be a story about their first visit/tour to the US, as they explore New York City in the heat of the summer (“the heat this time of year is ridiculous”).  As with “Now Time,” this song is addictively catchy.  For a band that hasn’t recorded for so long, they sound really tight and both of these songs are fully realized and exactly in line with the best of what I remember from the past – if not better. 

Speaking of their past, it seems that I may need to rectify my oversight and look a little deeper into their two late 80s albums, while I hope that they are considering more new music.  What a welcome return!

Note: This record is titled as an EP, but only has two songs.  There is a digital download card that comes with some remixes of these songs, which is a nice bonus, but not my cup of tea.  Stick with the original versions.