BIG STIR Magazine: Is This POWER POP?

A great magazine publishes a power pop issue. And I’m in it! 

I’ve been remiss in getting the word out about this one, as working on This Is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio‘s 30th anniversary show and finishing my long-threatened book The Greatest Record Ever Made! (Volume 1) occupied a lot of my bandwidth this month. But man, I gotta tell you about Big Stir magazine’s latest issue, which is devoted to that musical question: 


This special edition of Big Stir magazine was lovingly compiled by writers/musicians/pop experts (and our pals!) John M. Borack and S.W. Lauden, and it collects a compelling batch of essays about power pop, courtesy of Borack, Lauden, Paul MyersDavid BashHanna VacekJeff WhalenNadja DeeChristina BulbenkoDavid LaingKate SullivanRex BroomeSteve Schnee, and your little old blogmaker, me. That’s good company to keep, and I’m delighted to be included as part of that janglebuzz roll call.

And it’s a wonderful read. As I was just telling Nadja Dee earlier this week, there’s enough here that I agree with and enough that I disagree with to keep it all interesting. What could be better than informed rockin’ pop fans respectfully trading opinions? Yeah, I’m really glad I’m involved with this. 

Because it’s important to hear music as well as talk about music, this issue comes bundled with an exclusive CD, Power Pop For Now People, serving up shots o’ sonic bliss from Addison LoveKevin RobertsonDanny WilkersonIn Deedthe PengwinsIce Cream HandsLannie Flowersthe Yes It Is!PlasticsoulBill LloydNick FraterPopdudesSorrowssparkle*jets u.k.the Brothers Stevethe Kariannesthe ReflectorsLibrarians With Hickeysthe GoAllTheWays, and Bruce Moody. Step right up: TUNES!! Pop tunes!

I”m told the magazine is nearing a sell-out–not the first time I’ve been accused of being a sell-out–so don’t delay, order TODAY: Looks like there may also still be some stock available on previous issues, and I have some of my ramblings in each ‘n’ every one of those, too. GO! Get more Carl! You’ll be puzzled why you did. 

Here’s Big Stir’s official hype for the magazine’s power pop issue:

“Officially out now, and for the first time featuring a bonus CD enclosed within its 36 glossy full-color pages, BIG STIR MAGAZINE #6 is the issue for which you’ve all been waiting, tackling the issue you’ve all been debating. The special “Is This Power Pop?” edition is guest-edited by JOHN M. BORACK (Goldmine Magazine, Shake Some Action 2.0 : An Updated guide to the 200 Greatest Power Pop Albums 1970-2017) and S.W. LAUDEN (co-editor of Go All The Way and Go Further, the recently published Literary Appreciations of Power Pop from Rare Bird Lit). These two leading commentators on the field have assembled an eminent array of writers, thinkers and actors on the global pop rock scene to settle this burning question by approaching it from several different angles—whether tackling the debate head-on, or examining some of the individual artists, scenes and historical eras to give additional context and perspective. The specially priced, print-only magazine and CD package can be purchased exclusively at and while supplies last.

“Lavishly illustrated as always by CHAMPNISS (the London-based graphic artist known for providing the distinctive sleeve art for SPYGENIUS among others), the latest issue of BIG STIR MAGAZINE is a focused departure from the previous five freewheeling installments. Between its covers are fourteen essays considering the very essence of that hotly debated genre – power pop – from a diverse variety of angles and experiences. Included is an exclusive 20-track CD featuring Borack’s picks of exemplary power pop tracks culled from the full catalogs of Big Stir Records and their partners SpyderPop Records, insuring a treat for the ears as well as the eyes and the mind.

“The list of contributing writers includes the editors as well as Paul Myers (Go All The Way, The Pulmyears Blog), Jeff Whalen (of the bands Tsar and The Brothers Steve), Hanna Vacek (of the Omaha Introvert YouTube series), David Bash (International Pop Overthrow), Carl Cafarelli (of This Is Rock ‘N’ Roll Radio and the Boppin’ Like the Hip Folks Do blog), Nadja Dee (of Hop On Power Pop), Rex Broome (Big Stir Records, The Armoires), David Laing (Grown Up Wrong! Records and Ugly Things Magazine), Steve Schnee (Discussions Magazine and his ongoing YouTube series) and Kate Sullivan (Knock Knock, L.A. Weekly,) with a heartfelt introduction from Christina Bulbenko of Big Stir Records and The Armoires.

“The included exclusive CD, Power Pop For Now People: John M. Borack’s Selections from the Big Stir and SpyderPop Records Vaults, is just what its title says and much more. Handpicked by the magazine’s co-editor, the track list features a who’s who of performers from the worldwide scene, demonstrating the hooks and harmonies that make the genre what it is as understood by one of its foremost scholars. There is the exclusive debut of a Japanese-language version of “This Is It” from Bruce Moody of power pop legends Private Numbers, and choice cuts from legends like Bill Lloyd, Sorrows, and The Pengwins (as well as separate solo outings from the Texas band’s Lannie Flowers and Danny Wilkerson). The stars of the moment shine as well, some of them covering the titans (Big Star, 20/20,) progenitors (The Hollies, The Creation) and outliers (Descendents, NRBQ) of the genre, and others offering all new tunes cut from the classic cloth. Scotland’s Kevin Robertson (The Vapour Trails), Sweden’s In Deed, Nick Frater of the UK and a plethora of American artists from coast to coast including Addison Love, Librarians With Hickeys, Sparkle*Jets UK, Plasticsoul and more make the disc a worthy appendix to the essays.

“Linking the editorial staff for this unique issue with its audio component, Borack himself appears on the drums with Popdudes and The Armoires (under their power pop guise The Yes It Is!) while Lauden, in his alter ego as Steve Coulter, pounds the skins for The Brothers Steve and The GoAllTheWays. Magazine contributors Bulbenko, Broome, and Whalen all make sonic appearances on the disc as well. Taken together with the bravura design work by Champniss and the wealth of musical perspectives on display between the covers, BIG STIR MAGAZINE #6 is not just the “next issue,” it’s more of a next step for the periodical of record for the global pop rock scene. And it’s a fascinating exploration of the eternal question, “What is power pop” that both satisfies the intellect and allows genre fans everywhere to know it, as the saying goes, when they hear it.”

So let’s hear it! And let’s READ it! Get your copy of Big Stir magazine’s epic power pop issue here.


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Big Stir Singles: The Ninth Wave

Various Artists

Big Stir Singles: The Ninth Wave (Big Stir Records 2021)

Manned by Rex Broome and Christina Bulbenko – of the ace band The ArmoiresBig Stir Records is easily the hardest working label in the biz. For the past few years, the Burbank, California based roster has been releasing a weekly singles series, then compiles the songs onto collections, with Big Stir Singles: The Ninth Wave counting as the latest chapter in their never-ending sonic sojourn.

It is highly fitting DJ Mike Lidskin of Woody Radio has written the liner notes, because these tunes are so remarkably good that the disc truly  sounds like the greatest radio station imaginable. So not only is Big Stir impressively productive, but the quality of their fare is consistently cut of a top-grade fabric. 

The Brothers Steve’s Beat Generation Poet Turned Assassin races steadily along to a chipper punk pop pose, where Pink Floyd meets Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars on Athanor’s cosmic-coated Approximately Eternity. From Nick Frater, there’s the rapturous rush of the Hollies styled Let’s Hear It For Love, as well as a striking cover of Gilbert O’Sullivan’s sad and somber Alone Again Naturally, which is transpired into a dazzling production, driven by glistening piano chords and punctured with a searing guitar solo.

Jim Basnight signs on with the Rolling Stones flavored snarl and drawl of Best Lover In The World and the ambitiously-crafted Prince Jones Davies Suite, a medley of Prince, David Bowie and Kinks missives. The Viewers fuse stadium rock flash with keen pop sensibilities on the gripping Beautiful, and the bracing chime of Dolph Chaney’s  My Old Fart celebrates the joy of maturing with your sweetheart in a charming narrative revolving around cats, books and  Sunday crossword puzzles.

Irene Pena’s inspired reprise of Fountain of Wayne’s The Summer Place rings with intent to a sharp new-wavish angle, and  The First Song Of Summer by Blake Jones parents a cool art rock feel, pronounced by inventive keyboard moves and loping tempo changes. Blessed with a gorgeously-soulful set of pipes, Rosie Abbott turns in a spine-tingling performance on Hold On,” and Chamberlain from The Persian Leaps shimmers to an infectious clip of jangly licks, a flighty chorus and insistent drum drills. 

David Brookings checks in with the  chugging All I Love Is Rock And Roll, and the frisky acoustic-framed Livin’ Through The Plaque, which offers a cheeky commentary on dealing with virus crisis rules and regulations. Last but by no means least is Mike Daly & The Planets, whose Falling Out Of Love Song recites the drama of an on and off relationship to an inviting array of musical moods. Rich and melodic vocals, accompanied by powered and polished instrumentation, a punishing break and a crown of psychedelic riffs complete the epic track. The band further shines brightly on Star, an energetic burst of soaring hooks and harmonies, splashed with a showing of neat harmonica trills.

And speaking of such, every song here is a star. Trying to pick favorites is indeed a challenge, since each number contains its own divine spark. So switch the dial to Big Stir Singles: The Ninth Wave, and get ready for some serious ear-pampering! 


The Armoires / Incognito

The Armoires

Incognito (Big Stir)

Oh, those sly rascals! Between October 2020 and April 2021, The Armoires released eight excellent singles under different pseudonyms. The reason the Burbank, California band staged such an exercise was to venture beyond their comfort zone and indulge in sonic promiscuity without apology.

All those songs have now been compiled onto a collection appropriately titled Incognito. While the core members of The Armoires are Big Stir founders Rex Broome on vocals and guitar and Christina Bulbenko on vocals and keyboards – along with bassist and vocalist Clifford Ulrich, violist Larysa Bulbenko and drummer John Borack – an assortment of loyal label mates also submit their talents to select cuts.  

Strands of paisley pop elegance tangles and wrangles with classical interludes on a swell cover of John Cale’s Paris 1919, where Bagfoot Run wheels in as a bluegrass-battered number, and the world-weary Homebound is a standard country ballad. Then there’s Awkward City Limits, which totters back and forth between tense moodiness, sweeping viola fills and thrashing rock rhythms.

Governed by grandiose and gloss, Ohma, Bring Your Light Into This Place mixes elements of church revival bliss with Broadway flash into a powerhouse production of dramatic dictation, mountain-sized melodies and goose-pimple inducing harmonies. A sashaying beat and clawing hooks brand the garage rocking  Walking Distance, and a rendition of Christie’s Yellow River remains relatively true to the original bubble-gummy swamp rock version. 

A dash of Brit pop, a touch of grunge and a splattering of wiggy psychedelic effects penetrate I Say We Take Off And Nuke The Site From Orbit, a copy of XTC’s Senses Working Overtime throbs and bobs with animated new wave perspectives, and Magento Moon keys in as an absolutely gorgeous slice of art pop. 

Modeled on the mercurial vision of The White Album and The Turtles Present The Battle Of The Bands, The Armoires move from one style to another with natural instinct. A fun and spontaneous feel fuels Incognito, letting you know a great time was had, cooking up these splendid songs. Slip on those headphones and enjoy!

Beverly Paterson

The Armoires/Zibaldone

The Armoires

Zibaldone (Big Stir)

In the world of The Armoires, it is perpetually 1967. California is the only place to be, and the golden sun never sets. It’s a beach party where everyone wears paisley, and Brian Wilson is in deep conversation with Mike Nesmith and Stephen Stills, about the between-the-grooves meaning of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

Lead Armoires Christina Bulbenko and Rex Broome, as well as their bandmates, bring these neo-psychedelic tunes into focus, with sensational vocal harmony arrangements and 12-string Rickenbackers, stacked eight miles high. “(How Did You Make) A Mistake Like Me?” and “Alesandra 619” are pure-pop perfection. Highly recommended.

By Dan Pavelich