Categories
Pop Sunday

Big Stir Singles / The Tenth Wave

Various Artists

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

https://bigstirrecords.bandcamp.com/album/big-stir-singles-the-tenth-wave


Chaos and confusion often produces great art – and the disastrous year of 2020 certainly motivated many musicians to flock to the studio and transmit their thoughts onto tape. That said, the main thrust of material on Big Stir Singles: The Tenth Wave, which involves singles released between October and December 2020, addresses and comments on the pandemic pandemonium. But this is no dreary affair, as the disc buzzes with energy, moments of humor and wit, and visions of a better day.

Connoisseurs of quirky British pop stationed in the seat of XTC and Robyn Hitchcock are sure to glean much pleasure from Whelligan’s Anyone Who Never Had A Heart and the psychedelic-tinted Rabid Hole. Then there’s NPFO Stratagem checking in with a cocktail lounge version of Jello Biafra’s Nazi Punks Fuck Off, along with an enthused take of Ringo Starr’s Back Off Boogaloo.

Popdudes also join the cover game via The Guess Who’s powerful Share The Land and the gorgeously silky soul of O-o-h Child that was a hit in 1969 for The Five Stairsteps

October Surprise signs on with the hypnotic sing-songy rhythms of (Just Can’t See) The Attraction and a sophisticated rendition of John Cale’s Paris 1919, where D.F.E’s I Say We Take Off And Nuke The Site From Orbit contains a mesmerizing mishmash of grunge rock, experimental pop and weird psychedelic effects. Both bands are actually pseudonyms for The Armoires, the revered Burbank, California based group featuring Big Stir label owners Rex Broome and Christina Bulbenko. The band birthed a string of fantastic singles under different names that have recently been issued as a complete album, cleverly titled Incognito as The Armoires

Navigated by a nasty sneer, the hard-edged bite of Funhouse by The Incurables blends punk elements with heavy metal guitar flash in a highly appealing manner, The Speed Of Sound’s choppy and economical Radio State spawns a solid Lou Reed influence, and mylittlebrother’s Song About Amsterdam clicks and clacks to a vaudeviile vibe before turning into something resembling a Hungarian waltz. 

The Ice Cream Hands deliver a real showstopper with Can You Feel My Love, which gushes and glows with divine harmonies, exuberant melodies and polished arrangements. Generated by chiming Byrds– inspired guitars and intoxicating hooks and breaks, Octagon from the dynamic duo of Anton Barbeau and Allyson Seconds plugs in as another utterly flawless piece of pop rock magic, as well as Nick Frater’s California Waits,  that streams forth to a swinging and spunky temper attired in dapper instrumentation and rich and radiant vocals.

For the past two years, our good friends from the Big Stir headquarters have been knocking out singles on a weekly basis, resulting in a series of universally acclaimed albums. Big Stir Singles: The Tenth Wave marks the final episode of this particular odyssey. But have no fear, because these creative folks are on a roll and will eternally unleash the kind of cool and crafty fare we have come to expect from them. 

Categories
Pop Sunday

Big Stir Singles / The Seventh Wave

Various Artists

Big Stir Singles: The Seventh Wave (Big Stir Records 2020)

https://bigstirrecords.bandcamp.com/album/big-stir-singles-the-seventh-wave


Stationed in Burbank, California, Big Stir Records is not only impressively prolific, but the quality of the label’s output remains consistently high. Along with releasing a never-ending stream of great discs by bands and solo artists, the banner regularly produces Big Stir Singles compilations, which contain both the A and B sides of digital singles recorded by acts from nearly every nook and cranny of the world.


The imprint’s most recent collection – Big Stir Singles: The Seventh Wave – offers an extra treat, as a number of these songs have never been aired until now. You’ll also notice that much of the material relates to the confusing and chaotic times we are presently experiencing. 


Stacked with storming riffs, a driving backbeat and a punchy chorus, Far Away from The Incurables cuts a dashing power pop pose, and The Ex-Quaranteens sign in with We’ll All Drink Alone Together, a mid-tempo crooner-type ballad rimmed with country-laden pedal steel guitar gestures. From Broken Arrows, there’s the anthemic folk rock of Worst Of The Rest, which is wrapped in a bundle of ringing and jingling six-string sensations. Anton Barbeau and Kenny’s Land Of Economy spins and soars to a dizzy display of daring melodies and surrealistic lyrics that resemble a curious coupling of 10CC and Robyn Hitchcock. 


A double shot of penetrating garage rock is provided by The Forty Nineteens in the form of Crocodile Tears and Late Night Radio, the latter which features legendary Standells guitarist Tony Valentino. The Vapour Trails make good with the atmospheric bluster of A Bit More Fire, where Strange moves to a grittier gait projecting in an early seventies underground rock vibe pockmarked with bluesy harmonica fills.

 
The Corner Laughers step up to the plate and hit a home run with the jaunty Calculating Boy, and Nick Frater unveils a spine-tingling showing of his amazing vocal prowess on Intro. The fast and frantic If Romance Is Dead Then I Want To Be Dead Too from Carol Pacer & The Honey Shakers teams hillbilly aspirations with reckless punk rock energy to exciting effects, while the band deposits a completely different demeanor on Love Does, a sweet and tender acoustic-based ballad.
Contributions from Rick Hromadka  include the big and bright harmony popfest of Searchlight that should send fans of The Beach Boys and Todd Rundgren into orbit, and Dreams Of A Hippy Summer, which floats and flutters with flowery psychedelic frequencies. Kai Danzberg and Dear Stella’s Let Him Go lets loose a lashing of trippy space-age soundscapes, and The Empty City Squares check in with History Rhymes, a hook-heavy slab of hypnotic pop-rock grandeur. 


Bumper to bumper with catchy tunes, Big Stir Singles: The Seventh Wave is the yardstick which all albums of its kind should be measured. Nothing but top picks here, my friends.

Categories
Pop Sunday

Spy Genius / Man On The Sea

Spygenius

Man On The Sea (Big Stir Records 2020)

https://www.bigstirrecords.com/store#!

Made up of singer, guitarist and main songwriter Peter Watts, bassist, vocalist Ruth Rogers, keyboardist, vocalist Matt Byrne and drummer, vocalist Alan Cannings, Spygenius has been a going concern since 2008. The British band’s fifth and most recent venture, Man On The Sea will be released July 10th and being a double album, provides twice the listening pleasure.

Steered by vocals best defined as the missing link between the quirky charm of Robyn Hitchcock and Ian Hunter on a Dylanesque bender, Spygenius ices their  material with industrious structures, unique hook lines and compelling curves in general. Putting a premium on  exploration, Man On The Sea illuminates with color and wonder.

From the vintage dance hall shuffle of Remember Me When I Was Good to the ominous din of Green Eyed Monster to the harmonious jangle of Watch Your Back – which is an admitted renovation  of John Lennon and Paul McCartney‘s You’re Going To Lose That Girl – the project stands as a striking survey of mercurial moods that seriously does offer something for everyone. 

The brooding psychedelic folk of Dolphinarium 1986 mirrors certain aspects of bands like Procol Harum and Traffic, while Ruth Rogers handles lead vocals on the melodious monogram of Spite and the infectiously jubilant Cafe Emery Hill could easily be mistaken as a paisley-laced bubblegum nugget from the swinging Carnaby Street era. Another True Day rolls in as a nifty guitar pop piece, where cuts such as In A Garden and New Street, rock with strength and balance.

By investigating and embodying various sounds and styles, Spygenius not only preserves multiple musical values on Man On The Sea, but the band adds their own individual touch to their thoughtfully-composed essays, which mix philosophical prose with nautical themes. Prepare for a fun and fascinating odyssey!

Categories
Quick Spins

It’s Karma It’s Cool / Woke Up In Hollywood

It’s Karma It’s Cool

Woke Up In Hollywood

https://itskarmaitscool.bandcamp.com/album/woke-up-in-hollywood

I’ve always liked unusual voices in pop, and It’s Karma It’s Cool’s James Styring has a really good one. As I mentioned in a previous review, to my ears, he falls squarely between Mitch Easter and Robyn Hitchcock. Styring’s vocals, combined with imaginative lyrics, make Woke Up In Hollywood a pleasurable listen.

Bubblegum Monsters creeps into your ears with a hooky bassline, before ending in a sublime chorus. The Girl Who Gave You Everything is nifty Merseyside pop, with a snappy middle 8. When’s the last time you actually heard a middle 8, let alone a really nice one? Here it is, kids!

This band will most likely get lumped into the power pop genre, but they’re so much more than that. New Age Eve is propelled by ska guitar and brass, while Wooden Buddha relies on softer vocals and thoughtfully-delicate guitar. If variety is the spice of life, this is one band that is guaranteed to enhance the flavor and quality of your music collection.

When you go to the band’s Bandcamp page to buy Woke Up In Hollywood, make sure you check out their 2019 release, Hipsters and Aeroplanes. It’s a humdinger.

By Dan Pavelich

Categories
Got Any Singles? Quick Spins

Got Any Singles? The Vapors / The Chicks / It’s Karma It’s Cool

The Vapors

Together

http://www.thevapors.co.uk

This sorry old world could use a few good, up-tempo pop songs to make us feel better, and, boy, does this new one from The Vapors fill the bill. The band is sounding fit as ever on this fine bit of power pop; a little fuzzy around the edges, poppin’ drum beat and boyish vocals. From the stellar new album of the same name.

The Chicks

Gaslighter

http://www.dixiechicks.com

With background vocals stacked high enough to make Mutt Lange blush, The Dixie Chicks, now shortened to The Chicks, unleash one of the finest singles of their career. Natalie Maines is in fine voice and is pulling exactly zero punches. Set fists on “pump.”

It’s Karma It’s Cool

Our Love Is An Amplifier

https://itskarmaitscool.bandcamp.com/album/woke-up-in-hollywood

Another one getting a lot of spins here at Pop-A-Looza HQ is the lead-off track from It’s Karma It’s Cool’s latest long-player, Woke Up In Hollywood. We love pop songs that are a bit left-of-center, and Our Love Is An Amplifier sits somewhere between Mitch Easter and Robyn Hitchcock. Nifty.

By Staff

Categories
Pop Sunday

Anton Barbeau / Kenny Vs. Thrust

Anton Barbeau Presente

Kenny Vs. Thrust (Big Stir Records 2020) 

https://bigstirrecords.com/anton-barbeau

For the past couple of decades, Anton Barbeau has been churning out one prized project after another. Originally based in Sacramento, California – and currently residing in Berlin, Germany – the prolific singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has recently returned to the fore with Kenny Vs. Thrust, an album featuring tunes with his American band Kenny – along with material from his European group Thrust

Occupying a realm reeling with psychedelic perspectives, Anton creates wiggy and wondrous dialogues that collect comparisions to the likes of early Pink Floyd, The Idle Race, XTC, Plasticland and Robyn Hitchcock. Delivering his musings in an affected British accent, Anton certainly has a knack for bringing his surrealistic insights to life and luring listeners into the scenarios.

Equipped with spacey patterns and unconventional melodies, “Beautiful Bacon Dream” and “Haunted In Fenland” are all but a couple of choice cuts heard on Kenny Vs. Thrust, as well as the aptly titled “Jingle Jangle,” which snaps, crackles and sparkles with Byrds-buttered guitars in a garage band styled manner. 

Steeled with skittish rhythms and a cracked edge, “Clean Clothes In A Dirty Bag” nails hooky new wave expressions to a lysergic-lubricated vision, and “Land Of Economy” is underlined by thumping percussion and nagging time shifts. A choppy reggae beat, trailed by a touch of tie-dyed electronica, is applied to “Tidy Up Yourself” and “Back To Balmain” bristles and buzzes with trippy synthesizer swirls. 

Playful yet progressive, Kenny Vs. Thrust efficiently combines acid-damaged whimsy with freewheeling performances designed to keep audiences stimulated and alert. Those claiming appreciation for eccentric – and eclectic – sounds and stories are sure to dig this album.