Posts tagged: power-pop

Los Campesinos! – The Black Bird, The Dark Slope

By , November 9, 2011 10:00 am

Welsh ADHD rockers Los Campesinos! haven’t slowed down their output in recent years, despite inner band strife and lead vocalist Gareth’s continuing shift from sunny pop lover to depressed (but still quite energetic) yelper. Last year’s Romance is Boring was well received, and the upcoming Hello Sadness takes their darker tones and expands on it. The band is still quite adept at bright pop melodies and frantic rhythm work, and Gareth’s high-pitched vocals can still tend towards the grating, but the songs feel more fleshed out, the lyrics more relatable than ever. “The Black Bird, The Dark Slope” is a good example, and it’s nice to see another female vocal part since Aleksandra left the band  in 2009. Hello Sadness drops November 14.
Los Campesinos! – “The Black Bird, The Dark Slope”

Wild Flag – Romance

By , October 13, 2011 12:00 pm

Wild Flag are that rarest of breeds – a supergroup that doesn’t suck. A supergroup composed entirely of female rockers is even more extraordinary, but when two of your members hail from now-defunct punk legends Sleater-Kinney, maybe Wild Flag’s surprising excellence isn’t all that surprising. Along with members from Helium and the Minders, Wild Flag play a brand of cheery power-pop with a snotty edge heavy in propulsive, punk influenced guitar lines. It’s more generally more accessible than any of the aforementioned projects, but the songwriting is just as strong as anything Sleater-Kinney put down. RIYL girl-group harmonies, power chords, anthems.

Wild Flag – “Romance”

The Perms – Said and Done

By , September 26, 2011 10:00 am

The picture above may have you thinking of some hipster experimental rock trio, but the Perms are actually power-pop worshippers of the highest order, in the vein of fellow Canadians Sloan (if we’re going by easy geographical comparisons). It’s nearly criminal that the band has been largely unheard of for this long – upcoming album Sofia Nights is the band’s fifth effort, and definitely has the goods to put them over the commercial top. The songs are sugary and filled with hooks, but there’s a crunch to the guitars and venom to the vocals that would frighten most twee-leaning bands. It’s this much-needed attitude that distinguishes the Perms and makes Sofia Nights sort of a rock classist’s dream. Get it when it drops tomorrow.

The Perms – “Said and Done”

Fountains of Wayne – Sky Full of Holes

By , August 2, 2011 10:00 am

Fountains of Wayne – Sky Full of Holes

Yep Roc 2011

Rating: 5/10

I am hopelessly addicted to nostalgia. In this I don’t think I’m that much different from the rest of the world. I dread growing older, I have a peculiar affinity for keeping useless junk that long ago grew thick with dust around in various drawers and desk corners, I refuse to throw away concert t-shirts from half a decade ago – in short, I don’t let go of the past easily. It’s a habit I’ve been trying to break, but few things make that harder than music. Listening to Elliott Smith reminds me of a hundred different things, from middle school to break ups, while the Stills remind me of the last summer before college and Cut Copy vividly recreates living in my fraternity house two years ago. Fountains of Wayne, meanwhile, conjures up my first year in high school, a time when I thought I was so fucking cool for listening to Welcome Interstate Managers before “Stacy’s Mom” hit the radio (I’m either the only person to do this or my memory of myself in high school is a lot more flattering than reality). Welcome Interstate Managers was one of the first legit power-pop records I’d ever listened to, and I could have done a lot worse. It’s FoW at their most wry, Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger at the peak of their tongue-in-cheek lyrical powers and with sixteen killer hooks to boot. I bring all this up because, in the context of their follow-ups, 2007’s Traffic and Weather and now Sky Full of Holes, I feel like nostalgia has betrayed me once again.

Was Welcome Interstate Managers a great record? Listening to it again I love every second of it, even the ill-advised country romp, yet I hesitate to label it as such without worrying about my nostalgic affection for it, an unreasonable adoration based more upon what doors it opened for me musically and because “Hackensack” made my first crush swoon. Sky Full of Holes, in style and in execution, is not that much different from Welcome Interstate Managers, yet 22-year-old me has trouble finding anything to enjoy in it.  I want to say that the hooks just aren’t as good as they used to be, but “The Summer Place” and “Someone’s Gonna Break Your Heart” are the stuff power-pop wet dreams are made of. I want to say that Schlesinger and Collingwood’s inane slice-of-life lyrics have begun to grate, but their rhymes have always been banal and their massive cast of characters predictably caricatured. This is a band that has always been resistant to change, but power-pop bands make their living with their melodies, and FoW have always had those in plentiful supply.

So is it Fountains of Wayne’s fault that Sky Full of Holes doesn’t have me humming its tunes under my breath for weeks on end, or is it my own romantic expectations that can never reasonably be fulfilled? I can appreciate what the band is doing here, favoring acoustic-based melodies over bombastic choruses and poor diversions into genre traps that made nearly half of Traffic and Weather nigh unlistenable. As Sky Full of Holes rolls along, however, and the hooks don’t punch quite as urgently as “The Summer Place” or as smoothly as “A Dip In The Ocean,” it just seems like another entry in the FoW School of Songwriting. Create motley cast of everyday characters, like a pair of failed businessmen (“Richie and Ruben”). Write a song about their personal problems, preferably with cultural references that are sure to date your album, like the unnecessary Will Ferrell name drop on “A Road Song.” Throw in an aces hook that almost makes all these mundane Everyman problems seem worthwhile and you have your next Fountains of Wayne single, albeit one that sounds pretty damn similar to the one before and after it.

I recognize that this is the exact formula that was used on Welcome Interstate Managers and Utopia Parkway before it, but I can’t reconcile those two power-pop prototypes with this humdrum drudgery. There’s something to be said for consistency, and for fifteen years Fountains of Wayne have been nothing short of the pinnacles of consistency. Yet there’s also something to be said for taking a fresh tack on things, refusing to grow stale and creating something that will cause someone to look back fondly years and years later and remember the good times and the bad times that that record soundtracked. Perhaps Sky Full of Holes will be that album to some impressionable youth whose idea of power pop revolves around Justin Bieber ballads, but for longtime fans it just sounds tired and dusty. Fountains of Wayne are still doing what they’ve always done, but I think I’ve finally grown up.

Fountains of Wayne – The Summer Place

By , July 6, 2011 12:00 pm

One-hit wonder is sort of a misnomer for New Jersey power-pop masters Fountains of Wayne - the band has literally released albums with potential hit singles scattered everywhere – but for the purposes of greater America “Stacy’s Mom” is all this band will be known for. That’s a bit sad, but it hasn’t stopped the band from their fifth album later this summer. Sky Full of Holes drops August 2 but has already found its way to the Internet. “The Summer Place” is the lead-off track and is about what you’d expect from FoW: killer melodies, flawless harmonies, and banal lyrics. If you’re into power pop, you should be into Fountains of Wayne.

Fountains of Wayne – “The Summer Place” (link removed per copyright demand)

Telekinesis – Car Crash

By , February 22, 2011 8:00 am

Telekinesis is the brainchild of Seattle-based musician Michael Lerner, who also happens to have recorded with Chris Walla and looks suspiciously like Ben Gibbard. Their second album 12 Desperate Straight Lines just came out last month and is full of shiny power-pop that belies Lerner’s rainy hometown. Seeing them on Thursday for $8 (!!!)…if you like your pop full of sugar and power chords, hit this up immediately.

Telekinesis – “Car Crash”

Superchunk – Crossed Wires

By , October 13, 2010 8:00 am

When you’ve been making high-velocity punk rock for more than twenty years, you’d be forgiven for slowing things down a bit, but Chapel Hill icons Superchunk say fuck that quite emphatically with their first album in nine years, Majesty Shredding. And it’s as if the band hasn’t lost a step, as frenetic sing-a-longs like “Crossed Wires” make evident. Check it out.

Superchunk – “Crossed Wires”

Of Montreal – False Priest

By , September 10, 2010 8:00 am

Of Montreal – False Priest

Polyvinyl 2010

Rating: 7/10

Kevin Barnes frustrates me. After his Elephant 6 also-rans Of Montreal released the archetypal power-pop album (Satanic Panic in the Attic) about seven years too late, Barnes hopped onto the electro bandwagon, had some relationship problems, and devolved further and further into his fictional alter ego, a middle-aged African-American former glam rocker named Georgie Fruit who had undergone multiple sex changes. That was a lot to type, and Of Montreal’s latter years output has been quite a lot to listen to. Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? was rightly applauded as the sort of quasi-operatic electro-pop epic Barnes’ talent has always hinted at, complete with twelve-minute existential crises and fanciful wordplay. But Skeletal Lamping was everything I hated about Hissing Fauna magnified, Barnes’ rampant imagination given a green light to roam by all the critical masturbation, resulting in an album that was in desperate need of an editor, or better yet, a hook of any kind. So now comes Of Montreal’s tenth album, a milestone for any band but even more so from a group that is barely recognizable from their twee Elephant 6 days.

Considering I’ve gotten less and less excited for an Of Montreal release since Sunlandic Twins, I came to False Priest with more or less an open mind and one question: will we be getting crazy transsexual Georgie Fruit with this release, the one who doesn’t know when to shut up, or the relatively more mild-mannered Kevin Barnes, who could write a pop song to stand up with the best of Mangum and Schneider? I was pleasantly surprised to find that False Priest definitely leans towards the band’s earlier days, most noticeable in their decision to return to live instruments and a more organic recording process. Opener “I Feel Ya Strutter” is almost a revelation in this regard, although it’s without doubt a stereotypically Of Montreal-ian song – the drums are crisp and bouncy and the bass bubbly with a hint of funk, all while Barnes’ less-vocodered-than-usual vocals propel a pretty straightforward power-pop delight. There’s no electro gimmick, no crazy shift in tone or style, no Barnes yelping like a castrated maniac. There’s still that faint tinge of weirdness that reminds you this isn’t the Apples in Stereo, like that spoken-word bit in the bridge and typically bizarre lyrics (“I’m in a flight simulator / and I am crashing the birth of any potential memory / hey, I’m still way erect for you”). Right from the get-go, it’s obvious this isn’t going to be another Skeletal Lamping; False Priest is composed of actual individual songs, not a thousand piece cut-and-paste experiment, and the album as a whole is better off for it.

It’s not as if Barnes is entirely abandoning his Fruit persona. Some of False Priest’s best tunes mix in a healthy amount of funky R&B, particularly the blue-eyed soul and fat bass on “Hydra Fancies” and the superb combo of “Sex Karma” and “A Girl Named Hello.” It makes Barnes’ past missteps even more tragic when you hear a song like the effortless booty-shaking of “Girl Named Hello,” where it becomes obvious that a Kevin Barnes with a specified direction and a studio environment that doesn’t encourage endless tinkering is far superior to a Kevin Barnes trying to be the Elephant 6 version of Kevin Shields. And then there’s songs like “Coquet Coquette,” which sounds like a noise-rock outtake from Sunlandic Twins (read: awesome) or the Janelle Monae collaboration on “Enemy Gene,” where Barnes and the R&B superstar combine for the smoothest, most satisfying melody on the album. These songs are good precisely because they don’t try to overstep their bounds or become something they’re not – they follow the melody Barnes sets out for them, and although it’s been a while since he’s been so straightforward, his first-rate songwriting chops rise to the surface quite clearly here.

But it wouldn’t be an Of Montreal record if Barnes didn’t decide to fuck around here or there, and False Priest is as inconsistent as most everything else in the band’s discography. Where Barnes falls, he falls hard: the primarily spoken-word verses of “Our Riotous Defects” are embarrassingly bad; “Godly Intersex” can’t decide whether it wants to be an oddball slow jam or psychedelic pop and instead fades away with nary a lasting hook; and the way Barnes ends the proceedings, with the average “Around The Way” and the completely unnecessary 7-minute wankery of “You Do Mutilate?” is practically criminal.  Don’t get me started on Barnes’ lyrics or predictably eccentric song titles – with lyrics like “you fetishize the archetype” and “when we experiment, I will put down your surrogate,” I’ve long given up trying to understand just what Barnes is getting at. Then again, isn’t that what Of Montreal have always been about? Subverting the Elephant 6 power-pop convention with his own quirkiness and defiantly unique peculiarities, Barnes has always been his own man, although once he finally made it out of the shadows of his contemporaries he got a little bit over his head with the genre/gender bending. With False Priest, Barnes finally seems to be settling into his own skin, cherry picking from his long history and patching it all back together into something that Of Montreal could ride into the new decade. Just no more concept albums, please.

Of Montreal – “Sex Karma”

List Price: $14.98 USD
New From: $6.60 In Stock
Used from: $5.15 In Stock
Release date September 14, 2010.

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