The release sheets promise to get a little fatter as the new year progresses but 2011’s first new CD Tuesday was thinner than a Phil Spector alibi. One new release and a handful of reissues, none of them too terribly compelling, was all that was being served up last week, leaving me to my own devices as far as reviewage was concerned.
As it happened, though, this posting was delayed for a variety of reasons; it was intended to run last week as a buffer to get to the fairly plentiful releases this week, but it was bounced and I hate to just dump these worthwhile reviews of old material for this week’s crop of brand new releases. So, here’s the plan — check out these 2010 time machine reviews this week and get ready for the surprisingly voluminous January reviews as the weeks advance. My goal is to catch up by the slightly less hectic February schedule. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Now, join me, if you will, as I journey forward into the past.
During his leisure time between album/tour cycles with Rooney, guitarist Taylor Locke formed The Roughs with a handful of like-minded LA friends and began pursuing a side-projected outlet for his deep-seated love of ’60s/’70s British Pop as refracted through his contemporary Indie Rock prism. Although Locke and The Roughs (at least occasionally populated by The Price’s Chris Price, the Like’s Charlotte Froom and Everybody Else’s Mikey McCormack) have been moonlighting for a couple of years, 2010 turned out to be a banner year for the band, as they released two full-length albums; the band’s debut, Grain & Grape, came early in the year and their sophomore album, Marathon, arrived in the fall.
Both are perfectly modern evocations of The Beatles and their ’70s progeny Badfinger and The Knack, presented with flashes of Queen-like tasteful bombast and Elvis Costello-like grit and grin, ethereal Pop harmonies and blasts of bittersweet guitar goodness. It’s hard to listen to either album and not think of Andy Sturmer and Jellyfish (particularly Grain & Grape), but given the greatness contained in their two early ’90s releases and their subsequent break-up, it’s fantastic that Locke and The Roughs have taken up that particular banner with the appropriate zeal on both Grain & Grape and Marathon.
Although they’ve rarely been completely inactive since assembling in the late ’80s, there have been substantial gaps in The Posies’ historical record to make room for solo and side projects from the band’s primary sparkplugs, Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow. In the past dozen years, the Indie Pop quartet has managed just three albums: 1998’s Success; 2005’s Every Kind of Light (their debut for Rykodisc); and their latest, 2010’s Blood/Candy.
After over 20 years of playing together and a good number of years exploring other options — Auer has played with The Squirrels, Lucky Me (among others) and solo, Stringfellow has played with Lagwagon and R.E.M., formed The Disciplines and Saltine and gone the solo route, and both have played with Sky Cries Mary and the resuscitated Big Star — it’s only natural that the Posies’ output over that stretch reflects the changes that have been embraced by Auer and Stringfellow. Although Auer and Stringfellow are a lifetime away from the Hollies-in-Seattle sound of their 1989 debut Failure, the cumulatively experiential Blood/Candy finds them writing as a team once again, a scenario they moved away from on the diffuse band collaboration of Every Kind of Light. Blood/Candy is a tour de force, solid proof of the songwriting strength of Auer and Stringfellow, from the visceral heartpunch of “Plastic Paperbacks” to the Failure-tinged “The Glitter Prize” to the epic Pop of “So Caroline.”
Many bands couldn’t withstand the pressure of even one solo album or side project, but Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow have consistently shown, as they do again with Blood/Candy, that they can compartmentalize with almost supernatural concentration and that they can return to The Posies refreshed, restored and better than ever.
Monster Magnet experienced music industry irony at its worst in the early ’90s when the buzz surrounding their opening slot with Soundgarden earned the New Jersey quartet a major label contract with A&M, which spawned their 1993 classic Superjudge … which tanked because of the rise of Grunge.
Thankfully that brush with ignominy didn’t discourage Monster Magnet from continuing to do exactly as they had been doing on their own and would continue to do for the next decade and a half, which is make blistering Hard Rock so dense it sounds like it’s being channeled through a black hole.
Although MM has endured a number of personnel changes (they’re now a quintet), they’ve always been guided by frontman Dave Wyndorf’s abiding belief in rafter-dusting volume and fist-in-face song structure. That recipe is the bedrock foundation for Mastermind, Monster Magnet’s eighth studio full-length and debut for Napalm. The band’s signature bone-jarring intensity is woven into the fabric of Mastermind — the sludge-and-mosh-pit thunder of “Hallucination Bomb,” the deceptive Stooges Soul swing of “Dig That Hole,” the glorious tumult of “Gods and Punks,” the pummeling “100 Million Miles.” At the same time, MM brings a hushed dread and a quiet power to the epic “The Titan Who Cried Like a Baby” and the melodic “Time Machine.”
Clearly, Monster Magnet doesn’t give a shit about the year or the decade or prevailing trends. With Mastermind, they show that they’re content in creating the little sonic earthquakes that have defined their identity from the very start.
Just a week after Aficionado totally killed a small but weepingly appreciative crowd at Washington Platform during last fall’s MidPoint Music Festival festivities, the band unleashed their official No Sleep debut EP, When It Comes to Creation. In the studio, the Albany, NY, octet attacks every song from as many directions as their membership would suggest they possess, pushing the sonic boundaries of Prog, Post Rock, Punk and Power Pop if all of those genres were blasting simultaneously from a Marshall stack atop a giant carousel at a carnival for acid casualties.
Aficionado will certainly inspire appropriate comparisons to the likes of At the Drive In and Cursive, but the vastly talented band colors that foundation with the New Pornographers’ dark Pop leanings, Cheap Trick’s freewheeling melodicism, early Jethro Tull’s careening Folk Rock, The Hold Steady’s frenetic Indie Rock and early Alice Cooper’s flawless sense of Rock and drama. On the EP’s title track, frontman Nick Warchol howls “The difference here is that there is no difference here.” Rest assured that Warchol is not singing about the mad racket that Aficionado is bleeding out all around him, because that soundtrack is exquisitely and decidedly different.
Those of us who have attained a certain age — yes, I’m talking to you, Mr. Breen — remember an interesting time back in the ’70s when Dave Wakeling brought his British Reggae/Pop/New Wave band, which he had christened The Beat, across the Pond to conquer America. Once here, he ran squarely and quite unexpectedly into another Beat, this one an engaging Power Pop band from Southern California. Because the American version of The Beat had released their album first, they were able to claim the name here, forcing Wakeling’s group to use the name The English Beat in the U.S. (a little legal saber-rattling by Columbia, The Beat’s label, probably facilitated the matter). But The English Beat had established a live presence in Europe and so America’s Beat chose to link their frontman’s name to their own and so were subsequently known as Paul Collins’ Beat. Sadly, although Collins had an incredible résumé (playing in The Nerves and The Breakaways with Peter Case) and Power Pop was enjoying national attention via radio and MTV, Paul Collins and his Beat never quite reached the stratospheric heights they deserved.
Collins has been knocking around in some form or fashion ever since. His latest album, The King of Power Pop, is the 13th album in his 30-plus year career and, by coincidence or design, King features 13 tracks in just over 30 minutes. Good things come in small packages, as the saying goes, and Collins offers up greatness onKing, a 15-minutes per side SoCal evocation of his longstanding love of ’60s Brit Pop. It’s not hard to pick out Collins favorites, as The Beatles, The Who and The Kinks are inextricably woven into his creative fabric, often within a single track, like “Doin’ It For the Ladies,” which amazingly references all of the above and throws in a Buddy Holly lick or two for good measure.
The album is also a reflection of its birthplace; Collins recorded King at Jim Diamond’s Ghetto Recorders in Detroit and features contributions from Nikki Corvette and The Romantics’ Wally Palmar, who provides wailing harmonica on the scorching “Do You Wanna Love Me?,” the greatest song the Dave Clark 5 never recorded. Like Marshall Crenshaw, Paul Collins has a natural affinity for his influences and translates them with a fresh perspective and a contemporary respect rather than a retrograde reverence, as evidenced by his choogling cover of the Box Tops’ “The Letter,” a brilliant tribute to the late Alex Chilton.
The King of Power Pop was one of last year’s little releases that deserved a much wider audience outside of the cloistered Power Pop community, which rightly accorded Paul Collins’ latest work Top 10 status.
After nearly a decade of lucrative gigs as the primarily cover band Soul’d Out, guitarist/songwriter Jim Zuzow decided it was time to cast his fate with his original compositions, christened the band Denim Road (after one of his originals) and embarked on a new chapter in his long professional career. Denim Road’s eponymous 2009 debut was a showcase for the longstanding Cincinnati-area band, an engagingly smooth and razor sharp evocation of the Classic Rock giants that had once populated the band’s cover sets, from the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan to Santana and Hall & Oates.
On their sophomore album, Back to Mexico, Denim Road largely follows the blueprint of its debut, from producer Larry Goshorn’s expert ability to blend and highlight Denim Road’s substantial gifts to a smattering of talented guests in the wings to Zuzow’s spot-on translational modern-day Classic Rock compositions. Denim Road is powered by solid performances from journeymen with chops galore, from vocalist George Harp’s Huey Lewis-to-Steve Perry Soul/Pop range and Zuzow’s elastic guitar personality to keyboardist Gary Grawe’s Jazz cool/Rock hot accents and the perfect heartbeat provided by the malleable rhythm section of bassist Robbie Lewis, percussionist Craig Ballard and drummer Kevin Ross.
On Back to Mexico, Denim Road once again displays a mastery of Doobie Brothers Blues Rock power (“Running Blind”), Steely Dan’s late-night coffeehouse Jazz (“Cafe Blue”), Santana’s cool Pop explorations (“Long Way from Home”) and The Eagles’ Pop balladeering (“Without Love”), executed by a group of musicians that work together with the precision and artistry of a Swiss watch. Words like “slick” and “polished” are clearly appropriate adjectives for Denim Road, but only in the most positive light. The technically proficient band is gnat’s-ass tight and never use studio gloss to mask musical deficiencies, but use it to buff their sound to a rich, mellow glow.
For fans of Classic Rock that have tired of hearing the same old tunes, Denim Road offers a soundtrack that is sublimely familiar and refreshingly original.
Over the course of a couple of full-length releases and their 2008 trio of EPs, Dead Heart Bloom has crafted a fascinating and wildly diverse catalog from an equally wide ranging set of influences. On the band’s third album, Strange Waves, frontman Boris Skalsky and co-writer Paul Wood (who timeshare on guitar and keyboards) have attempted to coalesce their sometimes schizophonic sound into a more consistent linear direction while still celebrating their all-encompassing musical interests.
While it’s never been difficult to identify musical DNA markers like David Bowie and Roxy Music in DHB’s output, Skalsky and Wood (along with their vastly skilled rhythm section, bassist Nathan Goheen and drummer John Hadfield) pursue a slightly different tack on Strange Waves, cooking up a splendid Pop pudding that deftly blends innocent Beatlesque melodicism with worldly Radiohead atmospherics, magnificently exemplified on “Meet Me” and “Someday Will Not Come Again,” which shimmer and sigh with the parallel-universe possibility of a McCartney/Lennon/Yorke songwriting summit.
At the same time, DHB spices the recipe with Glam/Art Pop colors and textures that will be familiar to longtime fans, particularly on the Bowie balladry of “Some Will Rise” and the album’s closer, “Love Will Have Its Day,” as well as the Roxy Pop layers of the title track.
On Strange Waves, Dead Heart Bloom have found a way to access the spirit of their more esoteric explorations (Ambient Folk, Dream Pop, Art Rock) while building their exquisite house of Pop on a more solid foundation.