Saturday, November 9, 2019

POPsided: SPAZ reviews the tops in Pop!

(Gangreen Records)

Chicago-based Indie Rock band Green is so underrated. They may often times be raw and loose, but their Pop smarts shine through. Like an inspired blend of Ray Davies and Prince banging out T.Rex songs in a garage on a hot summer’s day, Green is unique and unclassifiable. Anyone that thinks Green is Power Pop doesn’t understand Power Pop and they certainly don’t understand Green. However, the band’s melodic sense is undeniable. With releases that stretch back to the late ‘80s, Green may be ignored in their home country but they are Rock stars in Holland.  Yes, really.  And it all boils down to the talents of singer/songwriter Jeff Lescher.

Green may not be the most prolific and high profile band in the U.S., but every release truly matters. While it has been a few years since the band’s last studio release, Lescher has been busy crafting his first solo album. ALL IS GRACE may have taken awhile to get here, but the wait for new Lescher material has been worth it. At times, ALL IS GRACE is exactly what you expect – a stripped down Green – but for the most part, this album is surprisingly different in many ways. With very little outside help, Lescher handles most of the instruments on the album. From tender guitar strums to crunchy power chords, this is a raw and revealing listen. Add in some ivory tinkling (and pounding), some rough drumming, and Lescher’s vocal range that can go from calm and reassuring to manic – yet controlled - falsetto at the drop of a beat.

ALL IS GRACE is very much a DIY album. It is rough and ramshackle in spots, but never short of inspiring. Those looking for something clean and polished may be disappointed, thought. In some spots, it sounds like classic R. Stevie Moore trapped inside Neil Young’ Tonight’s The Night sessions. To say that these songs sound fragile, raw, and honest is an understatement. Often beautiful and haunting. Lescher’s songwriting is just as daring as it has always been. “You Make Life Sweet” is one of his finest songs. “She’s A Good Woman” sounds like it was pulled from the first Green album. “Can’t Do It Without You” is one of those great Lescher falsetto songs that he is known for. Not everything on the album is great – “#1 Record” sounds like a drunken Green rehearsal gone wrong – but it is an emotional experience that only Lescher can bring to the table. He even sneaks Nick Drake’s “Place To Be” onto the album, and it fits beautifully. There’s so much great material on ALL IS GRACE yet it isn’t always immediate - the melodies and textures reveal themselves over repeated listens.

Overall, ALL IS GRACE is a revealing and honest – and sometimes challenging - look into the heart, mind, and soul of a very gifted artist. It may not be a smooth and easy listen to some, but it offers so many rewards to those that open themselves up to the album’s undeniable charms. Green fans will understand…

 IT’S KARMA IT’S COOL/Hipsters And Aeroplanes 
(Kool Kat Musik)

Moving from genre to genre might be easy for singer/songwriter Jim Styring (The Pop Dogs/Ego Ritual/B-Leagures), but he always manages to bring a crispy Pop edge to whatever musical project he infiltrates. With his latest outfit, It’s Karma It’s Cool, he’s streamlined his Pop magic into something that is instantly lovable and ultimately timeless. While certainly ‘Pop’, It’s Karma It’s Cool’s sound stretches across a few different boundaries, never standing still long enough to be classified as one specific genre. Yeah, it’s Power Pop, but there are also huge dollops of Britpop, Twee, Jangle, Merseybeat, and other subgenres thrown in for good measure

Like Buddy Holly fronting The La’s or Peter Noone forming a new Tremblers line-up using Britpop veterans, HIPSTERS AND AEROPLANES is a sharp collection that is short on time – only six songs – but filled to the brim with delicious hooks. Pulling influences from over 50 years of British Pop, It’s Karma It’s Cool have fun mixing decades of music together. On the surface, the songs are immediate, but they also reveal a true understanding of the Pop art form.  Writing a good song might be kind of easy but writing a great song that will stand the test of time takes skill.  And there are six skillfully written songs to enjoy here on this release.

It is hard to write more about the album when the liner notes offer more depth and details. So, buy the CD and read the liner notes while you spin HIPSTERS AND AEROPLANES. Seriously.

(Full disclosure: I wrote the liner notes to this release)

SLUMBERJET/World Of Sound 
(Broken Lullaby Records)

Houston, we have a problem.

While portions of the Power Pop community continue to argue about the true definition of the genre, the world continues to spin on its axis. Arguing about music is about as productive as writing poetry about onions.  In the end, nobody will care. You can’t feed the homeless with Power Pop definitions. Presidents aren’t voted into office because of their insanely cool Power Pop collections. The world’s economic balance isn’t reliant upon a Power Pop poll. The most important thing about the genre is the music – duh! And I can assure you that the new Slumberjet album will comfortably sit well within reach of many of your definitions of Power Pop… yet it is really much more than that.

WORLD OF SOUND is jam packed full of gooey Pop greatness yet I am skeptical about calling it Power Pop. Singer/songwriter Barry O’Brien offers up some astonishingly catchy songs that are filled with influences ranging from the gentle melodies of Neil Finn to the Psychedelic sounds of The Beatles. There are also hints of The Merrymakers, Jellyfish, Dan Wilson (Semisonic/Trip Shakespeare), later period Squeeze, and Elliott Smith.  This is music that is warm, melodic, heartfelt, and even haunting. More importantly, it has plenty of heart and soul.

But is it Power Pop? (stop snickering at the back!) In all honesty, Power Pop is just one part of the make-up of this immediately lovable album. While their self-titled was impressive, this album adds maturity, skill, and more personality to the mix. WORLD OF SOUND is also a more confident album. If you thought the debut was good, just prepare for something far more special.

Again, is it Power Pop? Perhaps the question should be re-worded: ‘Is it powerful Pop?’ In that case, the answer would be a definite yes!

(Jem Records)

A man of many talents, singer/songwriter Johnathan Pushkar’s debut album STRAIGHTEN UP is a Pop feast. While the term has been used way too many times in this post, it can be said that this album is – unequivocally – Power Pop. Like all of your favorite records, STRAIGHTEN UP mixes Merseybeat, Jangle, and Power Pop with a hint of smarmy ‘90s Indie Pop. The album is jam-packed full of hooks, joyful rhythms, and just about everything you’d want in a Power Pop platter. With ringing Rickenbackers and a solid backbeat, Pushkar uses The Beatles as his musical foundation but there are also hints of The Byrds, Cherry Twister, and The Weeklings. Songs like “The Girl Next Door”, “We Could Be Together”, and “Boyfriend” are prime examples of the PP genre but Pushkar shows his tender side on “Hackensack” and “Don’t Leave Me”, revealing an artist that has more than one trick up his sleeve.

While a short review like this may seem like I’m selling Pushkar short, the complete opposite is the case. Power Pop lovers are going to embrace this release while the more skeptical listener will be won over by the album’s jubilant spirit. It is obvious that Johnathan Pushkar had a great time making STRAIGHTEN UP and once you slide this into your CD player, you’ll discover just how infectious his passion is!

Yours in Pop,

1 comment:

koolkat said...

Thanks for reviewing It's Karma It's Cool Steve! Much appreciated!