Spygenius / Jobbernowl

Spygenius

Jobbernowl (Big Stir)

https://bigstirrecords.bandcamp.com/album/jobbernowl

A momentous occasion occurs June 24th, as this is the date the new Spygenius album is released. Skating in as the Canterbury, England band’s seventh full-length endeavor, “Jobbernowl” is jammed to the pores with tunes of the “hit repeat button” quality.

But then again, we wouldn’t expect anything less from lead singer and guitarist Peter Watts, bassist and vocalist Ruth Rogers, keyboardist and vocalist Matt Byrne and drummer and vocalist Alan Cummings, who certainly hold court as one of the most interesting and exciting musical configurations of today.

Enigmatic verse, compounded by ripe melodies, compelling instrumentation and perfectly-pressed harmonies represent “Jobbernowl,” beginning with the spinning thrust of “I Dig Your New Robes, Pierre!,” which is topped by a manic chorus of “Dig it! Dig it! Dig it!,” and then there’s the throbbing stomp of  “Sky-Pie, Century 21” that slips a pinch of zoomy surf-rock shadings into the fold via the iconic “Batman” theme. 

Submerged in jangling guitars and juicy hooks, “Mandy Rice-Davies Applies” cycles in as another particularly stand out cut on the album. Also seated in the platinum-plus category is “Screwy,” a bippity-boppity XTC-influenced number  charting the experiences of a couple who are nine years apart in age. 

An invitation to spool back to the flower power era, “The Marvellous, Mendacious Time Machine” is an uptempo slice of psychedelic pop magic, where “Son Of The Morning, Go Man Go!” rocks to a racing beat, based in the neighborhood of The Buzzcocks and The Undertones.   

Classy piano flourishes, whirling with beauty and grace, highlight “All That Is Solid Melts Into Ash,” which frequently reflects the moodier aspects of The Beach Boys, while the squeaky ukulele-driven “Foucault Swings Like A Pendelum Do” would make Tiny Tim glow with pride. 

As is the case with previous Spygenius albums, “Jobbernowl” contains a grab bag of notions, but such variation somehow manages to flow to a synchronized rhythm. So raise a toast to these three lads and a lady, and relish every minute of “Jabbernowl” and its avant-garde magnetism. 

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Pop Sunday

Anton Barbeau / Power Pop!!!

Anton Barbeau

Power Pop!!! (Big Stir)

https://bigstirrecords.bandcamp.com/album/power-pop

According to the definition printed on the back sleeve of Anton Barbeau’s latest album, power pop is “a guitar-based form of self-limiting pop music created primarily by/for unrequited men who wish The Beatles had never invited Dylan up to their hotel room.” And while Anton has certainly fathered a fair share of tunes grounded in the genre, he has always avoided restricting himself to a solitary style. So, therefore, calling the album “Power Pop!!!” Is merely a stroke of the singer, songwriter and multi-faceted instrumentalist’s sardonic wit. 

After thirty-plus years of making music and recording an equal amount of discs to match, Anton – who originally comes from Sacramento, California but currently lives in Berlin, Germany – still has plenty of petrol to spare. In fact, “Power Pop!!!” is possibly the musical mad scientist’s best album to date, as the collection seamlessly reinforces his remarkable shapeshifting techniques for composing and playing strangely addictive songs.

The first cut on the album, “Entrez-Vous Dans Les Maisons” punches in at just a little over a minute in length and is a piano instrumental featuring an ominous church type timbre. Then there’s “The Sound” that namechecks The Byrds, The Beatles and XTC, and climaxes to a squall of fizzy psychedelic loopings. Fired by a super speedy clip, “Hillbilly Village” blows in as a demented country-salted ditty, and “Free” is a tight and bright trance-inducing hip hop/electro-pop number. 

On the vigorous title track of the album, Anton proclaims, “Put down your guns, you culture cops, there ain’t no crime like power pop” and “the kids get high on power pop,” where “Running On The Edge Of The Knife” is an action-packed rocker, smirking with mischief and menace. A tribute to one of Anton’s main inspirations, “Julian Cope” dials in as wiggy pop piece, and the swift and bubbly jitters of “Never Crying Wolf Boy” five-fingers a couple of kicks and tricks from The Cars.

The ghost of Buddy Holly and a lady who doesn’t realize she is a cartoon character are referenced on “The Drugs,” which offers some sweet and gentle piano work and baroque pop orchestration before turning a corner, and letting loose a barking rap admirably emulative of Bob Dylan. On a far more traditional plane, “Whisper In The Wind” and “Rain, Rain” are lovely synth pop sentiments, glowing with hypnotic hooks, feathery harmonies and catchy and insistent rhythms. 

Anton’s British-inflected vocals and phrasing – reflecting a melding of John Lennon, David Bowie and of course Julian Cope – are perfectly tailored for the peculiar poetry and inventive sonic operations he so enthusiastically binges on. Cloaked in novel arrangements, off-center melodies and wonky ruffles, “Power Pop!!!” presents a wealth of interesting and exhilarating moves celebrating various art rock fashions, rather than the tongue-in-cheek moniker of the album. Good for Anton, forever following his muse and unraveling riches in the process. 

Categories
Pop Sunday

Suburban HiFi / Superimposition

Suburban Hi-Fi

Superimposition (Futureman)

https://suburbanhifi.bandcamp.com/

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. 

Categories
Pop Sunday

The Toms / Tomplicated

The Toms

Tomplicated (Songgram/Futureman)

https://futuremanrecords.bandcamp.com/album/tomplicated

Not only has all-around musician Tommy Marolda worked with folks such as Cher, Rod Stewart, The Bee Gees and Richie Sambora, but in film and television as well. To power pop fans, however, he is best known as The Toms, which is a vehicle for his own musings.

Tommy staged his debut as The Toms in 1979 with an album simply coined The Toms, that is now regarded as a true blue classic and has been reissued on two separate occasions. Super catchy pop songs – coupled with the fact the project was entirely conceived by Tommy – proved to be seriously impressive and encouraged other musicians to follow suit. Getting signed by a label and relying on professional producers and state-of-the-art studios was not necessary to cut records. Therefore, The Toms stands as an early entry in the do-it-yourself sweepstakes. 

Forty-plus years on, The Toms are still a going concern, and the latest album, Tomplicated, lives up to the star-studded reputation gleaned from previous releases. Lead vocals, multiple instrumentation and songwriting is handled by Tommy, while Catherine Marolda is on strings and Jason Woodney is credited as additional keyboardist.

Recorded in Las Vegas, Nevada, where Tommy resides, Tomplicated marries conventional pop procedures to experimental twitches, forming an ear-gripping soundscape that calls to mind mid-period Beatles knocking knees with XTC and The Cars.  

Comprised of bounding rhythms, punchy guitars, driving percussion and a taunting tenor, Pinball Replay rocks with melodic force, and the instantly infectious You Shot Me Out Of Your Canon keys in as a chipper piece of paisley-laced dance hall whimsy. 

Framed of a moody finish, Marathon features a showing of breathy harmonies and a pretty piano break, and the throbbing title track references the Rolling Stones as portions of the band’s song Complicated, are freely pick-pocketed, capped with a blast of noisy backward guitars. 

A compelling collision of strummy chords and big drums govern One Man Girl Parade, which is subsequently enhanced by a sprightly chorus of “la la la’s,” the nerve-rattling chime of Mini Bomb Girl conveys a psychedelic-flavored new wave vibe, and the closing number on the album, It Doesn’t Matter At All, beams with pure pop bliss. 

Constructed of clever arrangements, unexpected dips and curves, and hooks of every shape, color and size, Tomplicated supplies no shortage of excitement. It’s a given listeners will find much to love about these plucky progressive pop tunes. 

Categories
Pop Sunday

Mike Browning / Class Act

Mike Browning

Class Act

https://mikebrowning.bandcamp.com/album/class-act

At an age when most people are preparing to retire, Mike Browning launched a new career – as a recording star! The North Carolina based singer, songwriter and multi-varied instrumentalist’s debut effort – a six track EP aptly called Never Too Late –  was released in 2020, ensued  by a single, Another Bite At The Apple. Both of these endeavors received rave receptions, which duly celebrated Mike’s indelible talent for composing, arranging and playing hook happy pop rock to the hilt. 

However, Mike’s current collection – Class Act – was not intended to be an album. The project was initially conceived back in 2018, when Mike was enrolled in a recording and production program taught by Jamie Hoover of the famed Spongetones. Students were assigned to pick tunes of their choice to record, and the numbers on Class Act are those Mike selected. 

Exclusively covers, the material basically sticks to the same structure and tempo of the original recordings. But Mike’s bubbly harmony-laden vocals, attended by his earnest passion for the music, stamps a fresh feel onto the songs. 

Considering The Beach Boys are one of Mike’s key inspirations, it is only appropriate that Class Act opens the session with the sunshine-soaked doo-wop of Do It Again. In fact, the album focuses heavily on the sounds of the sixties. 

The Beatles are saluted on Norwegian Wood, while Picture Book by The Kinks, and the Spencer Davis Group’s keyboard-driven Gimme Some Lovin’ are also revisited in fine form. 

As well, the garage rocking (I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone – which was popularized by The Monkees and Paul Revere and the Raiders – and Just Like Romeo And Juliet from The Reflections, appear on the album. 

Then there’s a couple of Bob Dylan essays, which are delivered in the manner mainly recognized by the versions by The Byrds. Among these songs are the countrified You Ain’t Going Nowhere and the ringing folk rock of My Back Pages.  Further folk rock pieces include the quirky nursery rhyme prose of The Little Black Egg (The Nightcrawlers) and the bright and beautiful I’ll Never Find Another You, that The Seekers scored a hit with in  1965. 

XTC fans will rejoice when hearing Mike’s spot on treatment of the paisley-appareled Dear Madame Barnum, along with Tommy Tutone’s 867-5309/Jenny, which bounces to a cool new wave vibe.

It is a good thing Mike decided to make these cuts available. Lively and sparkling with enthusiasm, the album certainly deserves an A-plus. Class Act will tide us over until Mike’s next album of his own great songs rears its head. 

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Got Any Singles? Quick Spins

Got Any Singles? Mike Skill, Pop 4 and Kevin Robertson

Mike Skill 

So Soul Alone

mikeskill.com/records

Over the years, The Romantics have superbly combined elements of jangle, power pop and garage rock into their own thing. A lot of their sound has to do with the stellar guitar work (and bass work after Rich Cole left the band) of Mike Skill, an indie guitar hero, if ever there was one.

Skill’s new single, available on Spotify, is a gruff piece of slinky pop that sounds remarkably like 1966-67. Not quite as polished as The Beatles, but certainly tighter and punchier than groups like Them or The Troggs, So Soul Alone brings to mind cool girls in mod fashion, dancing in all-night basement clubs. More, please.

***

Pop 4

(Love Is) Thicker Than Water

https://currycuts.bandcamp.com/album/higher-than-a-mountain-the-songs-of-andy-gibb

Really, there are a lot of great reasons to buy Curry Cuts’ tribute to Andy Gibb, but Pop 4’s take on (Love Is) Thicker Than Water is an absolutely stellar reason. While this whole band has got the vocal goods, Andrea Perry, one of our favorites, steals the show. Can anything sound as good as her voice double-tracked? I doubt it.

After you check out this tune, I highly recommend taking a trip through the back catalog of both Pop 4 and Andrea Perry. You will not be disappointed.

***

Kevin Robertson

Into The Black

https://kevinrobertson.bandcamp.com/album/sundowns-end

Nobody does jangle pop better than The Vapor Trails’ Kevin Robertson. Here, on his debut solo Lp, he manages to channel the charm of The Hollies and The Searchers, with the clever pop crispness of XTC. If you can listen to Into The Black without becoming a massive fan, then something is wrong with you.

Cheers also to Robertson’s co-conspirator, drummer and producer Nick Bertling, who always seems to know the perfect amount of living room to leave on the record.

***

By Dan Pavelich

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

The Armoires / Incognito

The Armoires

Incognito (Big Stir)

https://bigstirrecords.bandcamp.com/album/incognito-2

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

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. 

Categories
Pop Sunday

Big Stir Singles : The Sixth Wave

Various Artists

Big Stir Singles: The Sixth Wave” (Big Stir Records 2020)

https://bigstirrecords.com/big-stir-records-compilations#!

Launched in 2018, Big Stir Records  has deservedly gleaned the reputation as one of the finest labels on the planet. Not only is the Burbank, California-based imprint committed to releasing the highest quality of music possible, but such standards apply to their presentation, as eye-pleasing graphics are a staple of their wares.

Comprised of 23 tracks, Big Stir Singles: The Sixth Wave is the latest installment of the banner’s various artists series. As if these hooky songs aren’t enough to score piles of points, the collection proposes a doubly worthy purpose, with 25% of the profits going to the Sweet Relief’s Musician Assistance Fund.

The humorously-christened Librarians With Hickeys introduce the set with the star-spangled ripples of Until There Was You, followed by The Popdudes’ Ridin’ In My Car that posts as the perfect summer song, bolstered by an upbeat tenor that ably crosses a crisp country folk rock pitch with a sunny Beach Boys‘ vibe. The Popdudes further check in with a version of Daytime Nighttime Suffering that is as honestly as terrific – if not better – than the original recording  by Paul McCartney and Wings.

From Jim Basnight, there’s the gritty Rolling Stones swagger of Big Bang and a cracking cover of This Is Where I Belong that would certainly make The Kinks beam with pride. Blooming with emotion and a sleek orchestral feel, the haunting tremors of Home by Joe Normal & The Anytown’rs  dials in as another pick to click on the collection, where Paula Carino’s Door illuminates with a measured moodiness destined to send shivers down the spine.

The Well Wishers step in with the bracing garage pop bite of We Grow Up, Trip Wire’s Katie Says favors a jangling country pop rock pose, assisted by cool breaks and a tugging melody, and Dolph Chaney’s infectious Automatic Caution Door imparts a tasty art rock ambience. The Corner Laughers contribute a pair of super catchy efforts to the program, including the compelling Queen Of The Meadow and The Accepted Time, which chimes to the tune of a smart melody and a gripping arrangement. 

Brimming with volume and might, No, from The Walker Brigade is destined to rattle windows far and wide, while a couple of XTC songs are rendered in splendid fashion by Glowbox with Earn Enough For Us and Tom Curless and the 46%’s I’m The Man Who Murdered Love. Last but by no means least, Spygenius turns in an impressive Ian Hunter/Mott the Hoople impersonation on Heaven Is Blue, which does indeed incorporate shades of heavenly blues into the  glammy mix.

Every song on Big Stir Singles: The Sixth Wave is utterly fantastic; reinforcing the label’s dedication to the best and the brightest indie pop rock musicians of today.