Suburban HiFi is a side project parented by Greg Addington of the acclaimed Detroit, Michigan band The Hangabouts. Clever and catchy songwriting, paneled with various pop rock stylings, define the album, forming a goldmine of shapes and sounds that produce an immediate impact.
Bright and lively melodies give way to a sense of sheer joy on the Raspberries-scented Vinyl On The Radio, which is also highlighted by a cool falsetto and striking breaks, and The Year In Pictures surges forth to an infectiously rocking grip, energized by sturdy and aggressive drumming. Donned in new-wavish accessories, entailing springy rhythms and a sharp and snarky edge, Made For TV dials in as the greatest song Elvis Costello never composed, whereas January Book, is a frail and dreamy ballad.
Utterly brilliant, The Space Between Us pins a nagging disco groove to a cracking arrangement cut of a hypnotic quality, where Beamed In pings and dings with spangly chords, pretty patterns and a nip of intergalactic sonic affects. Thieving cues from both XTC and Fountains of Wayne, Fight On Our Wedding Night hops and bops with luring hooks, and In Her Reverie signs on as a peerless piece of pop rock magic, molded of swirling colors, chiming tones and breathy and airy vocals, akin to those of Roger McGuinn.
Strapped tight with spiffy guitar riffs, neat keyboard designs, fluid percussion and harmonious vocals, Superimposition spools out one enticing song after another. There’s something for everybody here, resulting in a recording possessing across the board appeal. When he’s not busy popping and rocking with The Hangabouts, perhaps Greg will find time to cook up another Suburban HiFi album.
As you may have previously seen, Ken Sharp’s Miniatures scored my pick for Album Of The Year. In my ears, it’s a baroque pop masterpiece that is equally as beautiful on the eyes. No indie pop Lp collection should be without this!
Following Ken Sharp’s Miniatures, are the ten Lp’s that got the most spins at my house. Don’t be offended if your release isn’t included here, chances are that I either didn’t hear it or it nearly missed making this top ten. Also, administrative duties for Pop-A-Looza kept me busier than I would have preferred, which has meant listening to and reviewing, far fewer releases in 2021 than the previous year.
These, in no particular order, are;
Lindsay Munroe w/Raffi – Frogs and Birds
Kevin Robertson – Sundown’s End
The Legal Matters – Chapter Three
Tambourina – Tambourina
Kerry Spitzer – Swan Songs
Bill Sammon – Story Songs
Matthew Sweet – Cat’s Paw
The Braam Brothers – Landscapes
Sorrows – Love Too Late…The Real Album
Deadlights – Deadlights
Nick Frater’s Earworms and Bill Lloyd’s reissue of his classic Feeling The Elephant, fall into their own weird category. While they tie for Best Cover Art Of 2021, they were also both on my Christmas wishlist, yet didn’t show up underneath the tree, Christmas morning. So, I will now be purchasing them as Nick & Bill are two artists whose work I always enjoy!
Best Tribute Record Of 2021, is easily won by Higher Than A Mountain, The Songs Of Andy Gibb, released by the Curry Cuts label. Gibb’s catalog is deeper than you’d think, and this swell comp proves it.
Lastly, the Best Holiday Release Of 2021, goes to The Yule Logs, a fantastic band from Chico, California, that only plays Christmas and holiday-themed music. Their latest, Fezziwig, is a real hoot!
I hope you’ll further seek out of these releases, as they’re all well-worth owning. Stream (if you must) to preview them, but please actually purchase CD’s, vinyl and downloads, which pay the artists the most for their hard work.
As mentioned yesterday, my friends (and fellow pop addicts) Bruce Brodeen, John M. Borack,and I were each interviewed by writer S. W. Lauden for his just-published piece “Notes From The Modern Pop Underground.” For deeper background, here’s the complete text of my conversation with the esteemed Mr. Lauden. And I thank him once again for inviting me to participate.
S.W. LAUDEN: How do you personally define power pop? CC: I always go back to writer Gary Sperrazza!‘s words in Bomp! magazine in 1978: “Power pop means pop with POWER! Not some whimpering simp in a Beatles haircut.” Guitar, bass, drums, vocals, la-la-las, and CRUNCH, all leaning forward. Infectious pop music with aggressive intent.
How did you discover power pop? Who are three of your favorite all-time power pop artists? Why?
Before hearing the phrase, I already liked AM radio rockin’ pop designed for high volume, especially Badfinger and the Raspberries. Bomp! magazine preached a Gospel, connecting the early Who and Kinks to Raspberries and Ramones. I already loved all of these acts, so I was already a power pop fan.
My favorite power pop act is the Flashcubes, who embody the Bomp! power pop equation of Shaun Cassidy + the Sex Pistols = the early Who. Great songs, great excitement, hell of a live band. The rest of my top 2 rotates (unless I just say Beatles, Ramones, Flashcubes).
Looking around the global power pop community—who would you say are 2-3 of the best bands making modern power pop music these days?
Ignoring my strict view of what is or isn’t power pop, there are tons of great, great acts making fabulous new music within the broad parameters of rockin’ pop. The Flashcubes are still recording. The Grip Weeds are still at it. Pop Co-Op is terrific. Just about anything released by Big Stir Records, Kool Kat Musik, Futureman Records, Jem Records, Red On Red Records, and a bunch of other worthy labels is at least worth a listen, and some of it’s freakin’ transcendent.
What are one or two outlets (DJs, authors, platforms, record stores, magazines, labels, etc.) that you rely on to discover modern power pop music?
It’s all internet. A lot of stuff gets sent to us for airplay on This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl, and we pay attention to what friends, fans, and other DJs and pundits are saying.
If I use one or more of your quotes (no promises!), how would you like to be credited?
Example: S.W. Lauden, co-editor of the power pop essay collections Go All The Way and Go Further
Carl Cafarelli, writer, blogger, and co-host (with Dana Bonn) of This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl
Hey! If you buy from Amazon, consider making your purchases through links at Pop-A-Looza. A portion of your purchase there will go to support Boppin’ (Like The Hip Folks Do). Thinking Amazon? Think Pop-A-Looza.
This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio with Dana & Carl airs Sunday nights from 9 to Midnight Eastern, on the air in Syracuse at SPARK! WSPJ 103.3 and 93.7 FM, and on the web at http://sparksyracuse.org/ You can read about our history here.
The many fine This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio compilation albums are still available, each full of that rockin’ pop sound you crave. A portion of all sales benefit our perpetually cash-strapped community radio project:
Music fans residing in the Vancouver, British Columbia area during the mid to late nineties were no doubt aware of Underwater Sunshine. A hot live attraction, the band put money earned from gigs towards recording an album.
A major label expressed interest in signing Underwater Sunshine, but unfortunately things did not proceed as planned. The band dispersed, and the album cocooned in the can. Yet the story has a happy ending. Having not been in contact since dismantling nearly twenty-five years ago, the band members reconnected in 2020. The tapes of the album were retrieved, and now Suckertree is available. Containing all original material and recorded in a basement, the album serves as a totally self-sufficient affair.
Treading the fine line between power pop and stadium rock, Suckertree is coated front, center and back with buzzing guitars, solid drumming and stimulating hooks. Pure and tidy vocals, bolstered by muscular amplification, allow some of the songs on the album to sound like a heavier version of Shoes. Reflections of The Posies also can’t be missed, not to mention Oasis and Sloan.
While Suckertree may be a product of its time, these songs still hold up extremely well. From the opening cut – Verse 2 to the final number – Spin Around – the album bristles with energized instrumentation and hard-hitting melodies that go on and on. Gripping arrangements, sweeping rhythms and insistent breaks further characterize Underwater Sunshine’s vision.
Along with the already noted songs, Backward Glance, Shine, It’s You and Smoke & Mirrors lock in as other electrifying efforts emphasizing the band’s harmonious chemistry. Less rocking, but equally effective, there’s the crisp shimmer of Baby Blue and the absolutely unforgettable Rusted Crown, which burns with a moody intensity.
Had Suckertree been released when intended to be, Underwater Sunshine would have surely set the charts alight with their catchy brand of industrial-strength guitar pop.
When it comes to these tribute compilations, nobody does it better than the Curry Cuts label. Indeed, their previous releases, Songs, Bond Songs, and Here Comes The Reign Again, are high-ranking favorites here at Pop-A-Looza HQ.
Higher Than A Mountain is a revelation, in that it serves to jog our collective conscience into recalling what may have been forgotten….that Andy Gibb had a very impressive, albeit short, career. Pop 4 opens the comp with (Love Is) Thicker Than Water, Gibb’s first Gold single. The vocals on this one are simply to die for.
The Corner Laughers follow with Shadow Dancing, which nearly bests the original. Lisa Mychols takes on (Our Love) Don’t Throw It All Away, complete with chill 70’s electric piano and breathy vocals. With remaining tracks provided by the likes of Coke Bela, Greg Pop, The Armoires, Irene Pena and Ken Sharp, this release is the perfect combination of reverence and nostalgia.
In the interest of full disclosure, the three guys that make up The Legal Matters are all friends of mine. I’ve been a Chris Richards fan since 2009’s Sad Sounds Of Summer, recorded with his excellent band, The Subtractions. Chris records for Keith Klingensmith’sFutureman Records, as do I. The third Legal Matter, Andy Reed, produces and engineers all parties mentioned here. Talk about yer nepotism.
Chapter Three is as comfortable as a favorite sweater, bathed in production techniques that recall Apple Records’ later output. If things like tea towels on toms and mellotron keys strike at the pleasure centers of your brain, you’ll love every second of this 41-minute long player.
Andy Reed’s The World Is Mine creeps along in sneering John Lennon fashion, while Chris Richards’ sweet That’s All floats with ethereal harmonies. The advance single from the album, the buoyant Light Up The Sky, still sounds as good as the first time I heard it. On the same level as the best of bands like Fountains Of Wayne or The Red Button, it’s an almost other-worldly good piece of music. Few bands have a song this strong, or the immaculate harmonies that Richards, Klingensmith and Reed have in combination. Top shelf.
Jenn Cleary’s latest, All Together Now!, “…offers children and families messages of connection, community, and caring for each other and our environment.” Considering what most of us have experienced in the last year and a half, that’s exactly what we could use more of. Love Right Now was suggested by Cleary’s mother, for that very same reason.
Continuing on in the same spirit, the pretty All Kinds Of Families acknowledges that families need not be made up of blood relatives exclusively. Considering that Cleary’s family includes an adopted daughter, this song is especially touching.
All of these songs are filled to the brim with warmth, and the hope that we may someday get to a place filled with kindness and compassion for others, as well as our natural world. That’s a sentiment that shouldn’t be hard for anyone to get on board with. Very well done.
We’re not even halfway into the year, and already an abundance of phenomenal music has been released. Parked right at the top.of the pile is the third album from The Legal Matters, which is appropriately dubbed Chapter Three. Comprised of singers, songwriters and instrumentalists Andy Reed, Chris Richards and Keith Klingensmith, the Michigan-based band roped in “unofficial member” Donny Brown to play drums on this remarkable album.
Brimming brightly with layers of luscious harmonies and reels of rock solid melodies, Chapter Three spools out one serviceable pop tune after another. Echoes of artists such as The Beach Boys, The Eagles, The Smithereens and Matthew Sweet may be apparent, yet The Legal Matters possess the proper tools to refurbish these influences into their own recognizable style.
An exquisite ballad, The Painter, pins heart-wrenching lyrics to plush and expansive arrangements, resulting in a spellbinding survey of sadness and beauty. Vibrant vocals, teeming with power and polish, aided by a spot of swirling Hammond organ fills a la Procol Harum, also carpet the striking track.
Conceived of shifting tempos, Independence Well Spent juggles soft textures with a menacing crunch, and the jingling bounce of Please Make A Sound captures everything that constitutes a perfect pop song. Spiked with the whirring zoom of a synthesizer, Light Up The Sky illuminates the band’s incredible lung prowess and telepathic musicianship to towering heights.
Fashioned of a dance hall beat that would prompt Ray Davies to glow with paternal pride, The World Is Mine pedals in as a subsequent revelation, while the atmospheric patterns of Passing Chord yields a lovely choral pop vibe.
Stuffed to the stars with smooth and stately pop pleasures, Chapter Three is the kind of album that has no expiration date. These great songs are so timeless that they could have been recorded in any era. The Legal Matters boast both the talent and wisdom to craft and perform long-lasting music, and having said that, I can hardly wait to hear their next chapter of sonic creations.
We don’t just like music from the 80’s here at Pop-A-Looza HQ, we dig the new stuff, too! This nifty video and tune comes via Scotland’s Kevin Robertson, who is also a member of The Vapour Trails. we think Love’s Blue Yonder is top-shelf!
No matter how commercially successful or how wildly obscure, there seems to be a tribute album for just about every group or artist imaginable. Nesting somewhere between the two extremes is 20/20, a band that reaped regional attention and acclaim amid the thriving Los Angeles power pop scene of the late seventies and early eighties.
Throughout the years, numerous groups have cited the band as an inspirational presence. Therefore, Action Now: 20/20 Re-Envisioned holds forth as a long overdue love letter to the group. Aside from the great music marinated within the grooves, all proceeds from the disc will go to MusiCares, which is 20/20’s chosen charity.
From Plasticsoul’s take of the energetic bristle of “Nuclear Boy” to Pop Co-Op’s cover of “Yellow Pills,” which sounds like David Bowie performing the cult classic at a somewhat slower stride than the initial version, Action Now: 20/20 Re-Envisioned is crowded with tasty treats. Despite the grim theme, The Armoires slap a bright and jingly spin on “The Night I Heard A Scream,” and Popdudes deliver “She’s An Obsession” in a pure and punchy pop rock manner bubbling with radio-rich qualities.
The fist-pumping title track of the collection is brought to you by Librarians With Hickeys, while The Brothers Steve’s remake of “Beat City” projects an appropriately catchy beat. Irene Pena’s interpretation of “Tonight We Fly” swings and soars with melodic excitement, and Chris Church’s copy of “Remember The Lightning” crackles and crunches with solid brass guitar riffs and robust hooks.
The Toms pour a splash of new wave quikiness onto their reprise of “Out Of This Time,” where Ransom and The Subset’s reading of “Fast Car” races with driving rhythms and high-octane harmonies, and The Hangabouts season the utterly infectious “A Girl Like You” with a sweetly-scented fragrance.
Sterling selections from Coke Belda, The Slapjacks and Joe and Tracy Sullivan are additionally included on Action Now: 20/20 Re-Envisioned. After sinking your ears into these credible homages, you will not only be spurred into revisiting 20/20’s deftly-crafted catalog of righteously rocking pop tunes, but you will also want to give a listen to the original recordings of the musicians who contributed their time and talent to this mighty fine effort.
Based in Nashville, Tennessee, Gretchen’s Wheel is essentially a single-person operation steered by the heavenly vocals and poetic songwriting skills of Lindsay Murray. October 2 is the date her new studio album, Such Open Sky, will be available. Flowing with exceptional entries, the disc promises to floor established fans as well as first-time listeners.
Orbiting around an intriguing blend of atmospheric auras and jingling riffs, Can’t Shake The Feeling keys in as just one of the album’s many highlights, not to neglect You Should Know, which starts off on a delicate, strummy note before expanding into a rocking repertoire of amplified power. Formed of sweeping piano chords and dynamic vox exercises, Sleight Of Hand gushes with class and sophistication, while Interloper romps to a fairly funky beat anchored by tightly-toned drumming and a series of uniquely catchy melodies.
A lovely slice of sonic radiance, involving pretty patterns and sun-kissed harmonies, Land On Zero dispenses wise psychological advice to the subject at hand, and Infernal Machine dives in as a volcanic blast of hard-edged instrumentation threaded with penetrating breaks and battery-charged hook lines.
Containing a good balance of soft textures and weightier interludes, Such Open Sky demonstrates how flexible and fluid Gretchen Wheel’s energy and imagination is. By incorporating a contemporary pop essence with a freestyle indie approach, the record claims widespread appeal. Five albums on, Gretchen’s Wheel continues to create spellbinding songs geared to inspire or simply chill out to. Bounding forth with neat surprises, Such Open Sky shimmers with nuggets of pop rock gold.