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!
Action Now: 20/20 Re-Envisioned
(Futureman Records/Big Stir Records 2020)
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.
Such Open Sky (Futureman Records)
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.
Bees And Bees And Bees (Futureman Records)
Brandi Ediss is her own best therapist. As evidenced here on her excellent debut album, Bees And Bees And Bees, the Chicago born singer-songwriter not only courageously confesses her true feelings and intelligently analyzes such issues dealing with loneliness, isolation, insecurity and romance, but does so with acceptance and a keen sense of humor.
Pitching a pure and pretty voice that commands infinite listenings, Brandi croons her catchy compositions in an intimate and conversational-like tone. Aside from the standard pop rock set up of guitars and drums, sleigh bells, glockenspiels, pianos and handclaps appear on a good number of the songs.
Driven by a strummy ukele, Robot Heart promises to get the toes tapping and the fingers clicking, while Count To Three is marked by a jazzy shuffle and engaging chord changes. Triggered by a neo-country beat, Stupid Boyfriend rings and romps with head-bobbing hooks, where quieter tracks such as Chicago and The Sweetest Words are costumed in atmospheric attire.
Split fairly between perky songs and moody ballads, Bees And Bees And Bees relays a poetic quality that is evocative and inspiring. A great introduction to a clever and creative artist, Bees And Bees And Bees is guaranteed to receive heavy rotation on plenty of playlists.
The Vapour Trails
Golden Sunshine (Futureman Records)
The Vapour Trails hit the jackpot right from the start, as the Scottish band’s debut album, See You In The Next World, was an instant smash, both artistically and sales-wise. Needless to say, expectations run high for the follow-up effort, and I am happy to report Golden Sunshine soars above and beyond the call of duty.
Suitably christened, the album emits endless rays of warmth and vitality. Positive energy abounds, producing songs of a spiritual nature that transcend space and time. The band’s mastery of sonic innovation also supplies additional layers of spellbinding beauty to their superbly-scripted material.
The paired pursuits of folk rock and psychedelic experimentation are strongly emphasized throughout Golden Sunshine, particularly on the title cut, which begins on mellow footing, prior to expanding into a mountain of crunchy acid-dusted jamming that reflects a head-on collision between The Byrds and Buffalo Springfield.
Assembled of honey-coated vocals, angelic harmony and rich melodies, Dr. Barnes, Lonely Man and Different Girl, kick in as subsequent stunners, as well as the hauntingly gorgeous Seabird that sweeps and swoons with a Beach Boys flavor, and appropriately concludes to a choir of chirpy feathered friends. A rougher edge guides the meaty, beaty, bouncy Strange, which provides the bluesy toot of a harmonica, while an exotic belly-dancing vibe anchors The Conversation, that includes a burst of blaring trumpets.
Pulsing with vibrant contours and a groove that energizes the soul, Golden Sunshine revisits Southern California sixties sounds with a here and now mentality. Blending discipline with spontaneity, The Vapour Trails keep their songs consistently fresh and exciting. Chock full of magical moments, Golden Sunshine catches The Vapour Trails singing and playing the kind of music they love and believe in. Such enthusiasm is infectious, which is yet another aspect that makes the band and their new album so special.
Garden Of Earthly Delights – An XTC Celebration (Futureman)
Arriving on the scene in the late seventies, XTC proved to be a bit too quirky and clever for the general public. Yet the British band gained favor with the critics, developed a loyal fan base and have been cited as a prime influence by many musicians.
For those not acquainted with the genius of XTC, the band really can’t be categorized. Mainly inspired by the holy trinity of sixties pop, psychedelia and art rock, the band also regularly dipped dashes of punk and new wave into the bin for modernized measures. Courageously experimental, XTC still managed to flaunt a distinctive sound that allowed instant recognition. Novel songwriting and arranging skills, compounded by a natural and nervous energy, granted the band’s material with an equal balance of sophistication and primal instincts.
A double CD set, consisting of 32 tracks, Garden Of Earthly Delights features a smartly-selected cast of musicians from the indie community who are not only avid admirers of XTC, but render the band’s compositions with knowledge and respect. Not your average tribute album, Garden Of Earthly Delights avoids simply going through the motions as the artists telegraph their own personalities into the songs.
Considering the volume of songs, there is obviously a lot to digest here. But because each entry is so catchy and the sequencing is astutely-organized, Garden Of Earthly Delights reins in as an easy and enjoyable listen.
Attempting to pick the best of the bunch is impossible, but for starters, there’s Coke Belda and El Inquito Rogue’s take on the bippity boppity “Standing In For Joe,” and the comparably sunny spunk of “Everything’ll Be Alright” from The Corner Laughters. Chris Price lends a gentle acoustic touch to “The Ballad Of Peter Pumpkinhead” and Bebopolula’s “Vanishing Girl” retains the same Monkees-meets-Turtles flower power pop flourishes of the original recording, which XTC actually released under the pseudonym of Dukes of Stratospheare.
Gretchen Wheel’s emotive version of “The Last Balloon” is positively dazzling, while Randy Sky’s “Books Are Burning” carries a haunting feel, and Chris Church’s “Stupidily Happy” rings and rocks to a cool beat. Pete Donnelly turns in a terrific treatment of the robotic romp of “This Is Pop,” where The Kickstand Band’s “Life Begins At The Hop” wiggles with nifty squiggles.
Bottled tight with harmony and color, Garden Of Earthly Delights – An XTC Celebration stresses the inventive spirit of the band in full force. Wall-to-wall with credible covers, created with love and reverence, this collection effectively salutes XTC’s flair for mixing ambition with a fun factor. An exciting audio adventure is guaranteed!
By Beverly Paterson
Factory Settings (Futureman)
From the band’s website; “POP CO-OP is a group of four geographically dispersed musicians who focus on making the music they want to hear. They formed in 2016 as a result of Spongetones’ bassist Steve Stoeckel inviting friends on social media to collaborate in songwriting: Stoeckel threw out titles and music, asked for lyric snippets, assembled the snippets from contributors into full song lyrics, and recorded the song. Along the way, Stoeckel enlisted the guitar talents of Joel Tinnel, who introduced him to Bruce Gordon (aka Mr. Encrypto). Gordon already had several CD’s to his credit and subsequently introduced Stacy Carson to the group.
The group had so much fun creating a first song together that they decided to form a band and release an entire album. The effort was truly cooperative: each member wrote, recorded, engineered, produced, and mixed these 12 songs in every combination. “POP CO-OP” was the obvious band name.”
If this had been the only positive result of the creation of the internet, it would have been worth it. These four acquaintances mesh perfectly together, in a musical melange that is equal parts friendship, fun, craftsmanship, and reverence for the very best of what is often humbly referred to as pop music.
“No Man’s Land,” which heralds these eleven splendid tracks, begins with a stomping Dave Clark Five beat and the best melody this side of Andy Partridge. Switching gears, “Keen To Be Near You” is a soft, Jane Austin-inspired ballad with lovely touches of mandolin and a vocal by Stoeckel that will melt even the hardest of hearts.
I think my favorite of the set, however, is the rollicking “Won’t Be Me,” which sounds like Billy Gibbons being backed by Chuck Berry and Rockpile. I really can’t get enough of this one, in particular.
Also, when you’re finished devouring “Factory Settings,” you’ll want to pick up the quartet’s 2017 debut, “Four State Solution.” It’s a seriously inspired start to what will undoubtedly be an illustrious discography.
The staff here at Pop-A-Looza HQ just can’t stop watching Coke Belda’s video for his song, “Thank You, Paul,” from his latest record, Coke Belda 4.
The Vapour Trails
Lonely Man (Futureman)
It’s snowing and blowing here in Wisconsin, so nothing could be more welcome than a shiny dose of jangle pop from The Vapor Trails. “Lonely Man,” from The VT’s upcoming album, is equal parts Rembrandts and Herman’s Hermits, and features a chorus that is both somber and uplifting.
This three-song outing includes “See You In The Next World,” from The VT’s last release, remixed by the always-brilliant Nick Bertling. With a nifty bit of Ringo-influenced drumming and a sitar-laden bridge, it’s simply irresistible to my ears. A quality live cover of George Harrison’s “Something” rounds out the release with a smile and a sigh. Well done, gents.
The 1979 Sessions (Futureman)
When Tommy Marolda sequestered himself into his home studio one weekend in 1979, he probably didn’t realize that the Lp he was creating would come to be coveted by power pop vinyl collectors. As rare as that platter is, thankfully, our friends at Futureman Records have seen fit to reissue in on CD.
If bands like Shoes, The Knack and The Raspberries mean anything to you, this may just be your next favorite record. Boyish vocals top Beatlesque choruses, weaving through the Revolver-ish “Call The Surgeon (Part 2) to the Rutle-y “Guilty As A Killer Wave.” Marolda is a one-man band with rare aplomb, and these fourteen songs are an absolute joy to take in.
It would not be over-selling “The 1979 Sessions” to say that it is a pop masterpiece, because it most certainly is.
Update: I was incorrect in stating that these recordings and The Toms’ debut are one and the same. These are previously-unreleased recordings, that were tracked during the same whirlwind sessions as the debut. Thanks to Futureman’s Keith Klingensmith for setting the record straight, I’m even more impressed now!