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.
“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"