Tuesday, December 16, 2014


Stephen SPAZ Schnee's 


Any time that I hear someone say something negative about the state of the current music scene, I immediately assume that they just aren’t paying much attention. Yeah, the Top 40 is questionable and the bearded army of hipsters tend to support artists that are mediocre at best but if you look beyond the charts and deep within the recesses of the music machine, you’re bound to find some real gems. 2014 has been extremely strong in both new releases and reissues. The end of the year is coming up quick – with Christmas just around the corner – so I thought I’d share my thoughts on a few titles that you may have missed that are definitely worth your attention. So spend a little cash on yourself or perhaps add these to your Christmas list and Santa may bring them to you.

If they are available online to stream, give them a listen but by all means, BUY your music. Replacing your CD/record collection with online streaming is like trading your lover/significant other for a picture of The Golden Girls and a box of tissue!

Bad Penny Opera

Though they’ve been lumped in with Power Pop and Psychedelic Pop bands, The Cherry Bluestorms are definitely much more than those descriptions imply. Led by vocalist Deborah Gee and vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Glen Laughlin (The Dickies), The Cherry Bluestorms also add Folk, Sunshine Pop, Country, and jangly Pop into the mix. Their sound is warm and rich, filled with musical twists and turns that make this concept album both riveting and satisfying. Deborah and Glen’s voices blend wonderfully well throughout this aural adventure that seems to possess endless musical possibilities. It is safe to say that The Cherry Bluestorms play Pop, but their canvas is much too broad to file them under any specific subgenre so I’ll leave that to the listener. There are definitely plenty of high points here, but “Sunday Driving South” is one of my most listened to songs of the year (and I usually play it more than once per sitting). So, if you like female/male vocals, melodies that float and a band forging their own sound release by release, then The Cherry Bluestorms’s Bad Penny Opera just may tickle that fancy of yours!

Chinese Fountain

I had heard OF The Growlers in the past, but usually when I read about Garage Rock bands, I imagine beer, feedback, noise, and attitude (and I mean all of that affectionately) and the term ‘melodic’ doesn’t immediately come to mind.  Well, Chinese Fountain has been called their grown-up, polished album and while that may be frowned upon by Garage Rock aficionados, it works for a guy like me who loves groovy melodies and Pop sensibilities.  This is most certainly a Pop record with a slightly ramshackle feel to it.  Imagine a more accomplished Sarah Records band playing American Soul-influenced songs while chugging beer in a garage somewhere in Orange County during a heatwave. Then again, there is a gentle swing to some of the songs that makes them feel otherworldly.  Melodic but not necessarily bright and cheery, Chinese Fountain is an album that feels familiar and comfortable on the first listen but reveals even more charm on repeated listenings. It’s tough without being hard and lovable without being cuddly. 


Illustrated Bird

Like The Legal Matters’ self-titled debut, The Hangabouts’ Illustrated Bird album is a refreshingly charming and unassuming Pure Pop album filled with great melodies and a sense of wonder. Leaning more towards a Neil Finn-like affinity for pretty melodies, The Hangabouts don’t pretend to be anything but master Pop craftsmen. While influences are hard to pin down, Finn, Brian Wilson, Paul McCartney, Shoes and even ‘90s indie Pop favorites Holiday have traveled the same musical roads that The Hangabouts are currently driving on. Some may call them Power Pop, but that is only if you expand the definition of that term.  The band’s use of acoustic guitars, slower tempos and sweetly lilting melodies assures that they will be adored by fans of hook-laden music even if they don’t always play within Power Pop’s strict guidelines.  “Roman Forum,” “November,” “Love Nothing,” “She Hates You,” and “Cut Down” are certainly first-spin standouts, but by the second and third listen, you’ll find yourself falling for almost everything here.  There are some lovely moments on this album that will stay with you long after the album’s final track “Go To Sleep” has ended.

Chasing Shadows

I loved The Lost Patrol’s last album, Driven (read review here) and their tracks always seem to find their way onto mixtapes for my car. On Chasing Shadows, The Lost Patrol builds upon the template they created on that album and add a new dimension to their sound. The band’s haunting take on Pop music includes influences that range from  Girl Group sounds of the ‘60s to the Goth stylings of Siouxsie & The Banshees. They also journey through Alt-Rock’s darker alleys that are normally occupied by bands like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and The Raveonettes. There’s even a bit of Blondie and Cocteau Twins in the mix, which certainly adds an eclectic feel to their sound. The atmospheric production allows the songs to breathe, adding a layer of emotion that embraces the listener while seducing them with soft and lovely melodies. Imagine The Chameleons backing a Dusty Springfield or Sandi Shaw and your mind will conjur up something quite like The Lost Patrol. It is ethereal but it is warm and inviting and might actually be more immediate and appealing than Driven! Chasing Shadows is extremely strong from start to finish – a quality album that demands repeated listenings.

SPAZ reviews THE CRY!



For fans, the term Power Pop is easy to describe: guitar-fueled, hook-filled songs that are short, sharp and easy to sing along to.  But wait, doesn’t that describe the less abrasive Punk sounds of the late ‘70s, as well?  And that could easily describe the cool sounds of some of the classic mid ‘60s ‘British Invasion’ type bands, too!  Ironically enough, that description also fits Dangerous Game, the latest album from The Cry, a Portland, OR-based band that combines the best of Power Pop, melodic Punk and ‘60s Rock into one bubbling stew of energy that is so infectious, you won’t mind falling under its spell.  

The most important thing here are the songs.  Each and every one of them has at least two great hooks, be it in the verses, the choruses, the guitar riffs, the lead vocals, or the backing vocals. The problem with most bands these days is that they find ONE good hook and write a song around it.  But The Cry seem to have found an abundance of hooks and used them all! Songs like “Smirk,” “Hanging Me Up,” “Seventeen,” “Nowhere To Go,” “Down In The City,” “Shakin’” and “Dangerous Game” are confident, catchy and cool slices of punk-influenced Pop that could actually be unreleased tracks from the late 70s (which is probably a good decade before these young upstarts were even born!).  Thankfully, The Cry totally bypass that shitty commercial Punk Pop sound that bands like Blink 182, Fall Out Boy and The Offspring prepackaged and sold to the masses (for the record, those bands’ version of Punk was the audio equivalent of a frozen TV dinner partially defrosted and served with a slice of moldy bread and a hunk of dried fruitcake). Then you’ve got songs like “Discoteque,” that takes a standard rock riff similar to The Move/ ELO’s “Do Ya” and adds a funky guitar straight from a Jackson 5 record. Or “Sleeping Alone,” which manages to combine Glam and Motown with some sweet Power Pop deliciousness. For songs that last somewhere between two or three minutes, there certainly is a lot going on here. Amazing, really.

The Cry are certainly Power Pop, but their sound is more influenced by UK Punk than bands like Big Star, Raspberries, 20/20 and the like.  Some of the guitar licks might recall Buzzcocks and Stiff Little Fingers – however, the sound of the band is closer to The Boys (UK), The Flys and other like-minded bands who took Punk’s energy, added loads of good tunes, a little of the Stones’ swagger and a pinch of Johnny Thunders’ recklessness. There are even hints of more modern melodic Punk bands like The Exploding Hearts and Guitar Gangsters. The occasional snotty vocals might distract some listeners, but they work and are an important part of the band’s sound.

On the surface, this is an album filled with short blasts of melody, but dig deeper and you’ll hear that there is more to The Cry than meets the ear.  Don’t hesitate to plunk your hard earned cash on this one, folks.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

SPAZ reviews the Collector's Edition of LIMAHL's debut solo album!

(2CD Collector's Edition)

Limahl is best known as the vocalist for ‘80s Teen Pop stars Kajagoogoo. While many bands take years to fall apart in the wake of their success, Kajagoogoo wasted no time a controversial line-up change. The band was still on their ascension with a few hit singles and an album in the charts when they ejected Limahl, taking their fans by complete surprise. Thankfully, both camps managed to temporarily recover after the dust had cleared. Kajagoogoo’s bassist Nick Beggs took over lead vocals and they released the album Islands not too long after the singer’s departure. Meanwhile, Limahl aligned himself with producers De Harris (Fashion) and Tim Palmer and recorded this debut solo album Don’t Suppose, released in 1984.

What people don’t remember about Kajagoogoo is that they may have been marketed as Pop fluff, the musicians involved were far more accomplished than they were given credit for. Rumors speculated that Limahl was ousted because he wanted to take the band in a more commercial Pop direction and judging by this debut solo platter, that only seemed to be a half-truth.  Yes, the album is slick and polished, but it isn’t the blatant display of aural Cheese Whiz that people were expecting.  The album’s original tracks, all penned by Limahl, occupy a place somewhere between commercial Pop and thoughtful - though not pretentious - songcraft. However, Limahl had still not come into his own as a songwriter so the hooks take a few spins before they stick in your head -  a fact that was more than likely lost on his teenage fans who cared more about his (horrific) hairstyle than they did his music. In 1984, the charts were filled with lighweight Pop songs and those that listened to the radio didn’t have time to let the hooks for the singles “Only For Love” and “Too Much Trouble” sink in. No fault to Limahl, but it was a shame that his more mature material didn't connect as well as it should have. I'm sure there was a lesson learned in their somewhere.  

The album didn’t initially set the charts on fire, but then along came “Never Ending Story,” the theme song that Giorgio Moroder and Keith Forsey wrote for the movie of the same name.  The song WAS a massive hit single and the Don’t Suppose album was repressed with “Never Ending Story” replacing the less-than-stellar album track “The Greenhouse Effect.” For a short while, Limahl was back on top with a hit single and album, which must have been a private victory for the singer when Kajagoogoo’s post-Limahl releases didn’t fare as well. There was DEFINITELY a lesson learned there and Limahl and Moroder would end up working together again.

This deluxe two CD edition includes the full album (with “Never Ending Story”) as well as three bonus tracks including the track cut from the original issue. The second disc contains various remixes of the singles, a few non-album tracks and three impressive unreleased demos.

Don’t Suppose didn’t break any new ground, but it proved that Limahl was a fighter and he still had his eye on the prize. Certainly worth your time to pick this one up if you are a fan of Kajagoogoo, Limahl and early to mid ‘80s Pop/New Wave.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Poetry Uncaged: Maya Angelou’s “Caged Bird Songs” Takes Flight



One of the preeminent artists of our time, Maya Angelou’s poetry finds new life in “Caged Bird Songs,” a collection of some of her best known works set to Soul, R&B, Hip Hop and Funk backings. With lyrics read by Dr. Angelou herself and musical composition by Shawn Rivera, the combination comes together with stunning effect, taking the listener by surprise – even those already familiar with her work.

As Rivera puts it, “When you read the poems on the page, they can be interpreted rhythmically by the reader. But when Dr. Angelou reads them, there’s no doubt that she was coming from the place of rhythm. You can tell the rhythms were implied already. She already was the first lady of hip-hop.” (NPR, 2014)

This is the true joy of the album: the backings bring out her poetry’s natural cadence, rather than attempting to “one up” them or take center stage. Angelou and her poetry are clearly the stars here, the music assisting the listener to fully appreciate her artistry. That being said, the instrumental/synth backings are high quality and well-produced, if a bit sparse to listen to for their own sake. In essence, if you enjoy the works of Maya Angelou, you will certainly delight in this unique arrangement.
Particularly noteworthy tracks include The Thirteens, which puts contrasting portraits of life for black and white adolescents onto a simple but effective drum and bass backing. Then there is Africa – an ode to the bloody history of the continent that’s nearly epic in sound if not in scale, thanks to the traditional tribal drums and chanting which so perfectly match the content. Pickin ‘Em Up perhaps stands best on its own, coming off as a funky, snappy Hip Hop ditty. It’s fun and catchy, but there’s definitely a poignancy to the lyrics underneath the head-bopping beat.

By Nick Kominitsky

Thursday, December 11, 2014

SPAZ reviews CO-PILGRIM's 2014 album PLUMES!


Call me cynical, but I think a lot of the Americana/Alt-Country acts are simply hipsters who couldn’t make it as an Alt-Rock or Indie band so they grew beards and they kicked the second guitarist out and brought in a banjo player. With the ‘anti-hipster’ movement slowly gaining steam, these bands will eventually shave and bathe and pretend to be the Goo Goo Dolls or Radiohead again.  Thankfully, there are exceptions and, as you would probably guess by the fact that I’m reviewing their new album, Co-Pilgrim is one of them. 

Are Co-Pilgrim Americana, Alt-Country or hipsters? Well, kinda sorta yes and kinda sorta no.  I tend to think of Co-Pilgrim as a band on the outskirts of Americana town but still intertwined with its inhabitants.  Based out of the UK and led by singer/songwriter Mike Gale, Co-Pilgrim occupies a musical space that combines the harmony-laced Americana sounds of Band Of Horses with traditional Pop and atmospheric Folk.  The ghostly backing vocals and crying slide guitar adds a haunting atmosphere to many of the songs, bringing the emotion to the surface and allowing the melodies to wrap themselves around the listener like a comforting blanket.  Standout tracks include “Grew Into Something New,”, “I Know Love,” “Pushover,” and “Dancin’ Hoods” but practically anyone will be able to find something here that suits their fancy. Like a hug from an old flame that you still long for, Plume is an album that both hurts and heals. Simply lovely.



I’m a huge fan of ‘80s music. I graduated high school in 1982 so all of this great music was coming out while I was in the prime of my life (yeah, it’s true, kids – it’s all downhill after you hit 18!). I hold so much of that music sacred so anytime someone tries to do a cover or create music influenced by that era, I’m immediately suspect to it and approach with caution. Most of the time, I’m disappointed by what I hear. The bands are usually just slick modern pop act who add few synth blips to their predictable Alt-Rock formula and then proclaim themselves “‘80s influenced.”  On the other hand, you have bands like Kites With Lights who bridge the sounds of then and now successfully. This is synth pop that is heavily influenced by all the right bands (New Order, Pet Shop Boys, Human League) but doesn’t sound rooted in any time period.  Yes, the band seems as if they could have been born out of the Electronic Pop boom of early ‘80s London but I also hear traces of ‘90s acts like 808 State and Frazier Chorus as well. There are also a few moments here that recall Magnetic Fields’s early albums. Finally, some of this recalls the tender Electronic Pop of Active Child as well.  

I keep referring to Kites With Lights as a band, this is all actually the work of Atlanta-via-Pittsburgh musician Jonah Cordy. Jonah plays simple, lovely Synthpop with hushed vocals and arresting melodies that float around inside your brain for days. Like any good Pop record, seven of the 10 tracks clock in under three minutes, which means Jonah moves from idea to idea rather quickly, never overstaying his welcome. “On The Edges,” “Ghost Voices,” “Holding Hearts,” and “Race To The Other Side” are a few highpoints, but I’ve had different favorites each time I’ve played the album, and I’m sure those will change each time I play it in the future.  Alas, it’s over all too soon and I’m left wanting more.  That is what an album is supposed to do.  Thankfully, there’s the 2011 Cosmonauts mini album to keep  me and On The Edges company during those long melancholy nights.  (For the record, Cosmonauts is equally enjoyable and should be snapped up just as quickly as this new album.)  Now, excuse me while I troll the internet and try to track down anything else by Kites With Lights…

Congratulations to LIGHT IN THE ATTIC for TWO entries on Rolling Stone's 40 Best Country Albums List!

Light In The Attic (LITA)
 is a label that doesn't deal with eccentricity - they focus on authenticity. No matter the genre, LITA's catalog is filled with albums that are never sugar-coated slices of frivolous nonsense - their releases are titles that are filled honest and pure musical expressions. Yes, it is true that many of these albums may not have sold like pancakes when they were (barely) released the first time around, but LITA isn't IHOP and they don't care about things like that.  What seems to matter to the folks at LITA is that the artists believed in their musical visions.  Much of the label's reissues are long-deleted obscure, independent or privately-pressed albums from around the world. Every single one of them has a mood, sound and style all its own - no one will confuse Rodriguez with Lewis or Donnie & Joe Emerson - but they are all linked by the 'spirit' of their individuality. In a nutshell, if you enjoy one LITA release, you're bound to 'understand' where they are coming from and you'll instantly need to own everything! (And trust me, I'm still trying to play catch up!)

Which brings us to Rolling Stone's recently published 40 Best Country Albums of 2014 list. LITA not only have two releases on the list, they are the only two REISSUES that made the list! 

At #20 is their COUNTRY FUNK VOLUME II: 1967-1974 collection that includes lesser known funky tunes by Country greats such as Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers, Willie Nelson and...err... Bobby Darin!

At #12, NATIVE NORTH AMERICA ABORIGINAL FOLK, ROCK AND COUNTRY 1966-1985 VOL. ONE is a surprise because it's not your standard Country-related release, yet it totally makes sense given the wide range of titles that made this list.  Country isn't just men with Stetsons and purdy ladies warbling away in sequin gowns anymore!

Congratulations to all the folks at Light In The Attic for the recognition for all of their hard work.  We salute you!