Archive

Posts Tagged ‘pop rock’

The Victoria Lucas – Self-titled

December 31, 2012 Leave a comment

No No No Records, 2006victoriaLucas

When presented with the opportunity to buy a brand new, unwrapped record for less than a dollar, there are a few things that may pass through your mind.  For instance, you may get some kind of inner seizure when the phrases “new album” and “one dollar” collide.  Wha-a-a-a-t?!  If you somehow can ignore your impulsive buying habits, you may also catch that the album is swathed in colorful art that features houses and people in berets.  Forget that the phrase “The Victoria Lucas Hit the Ground Running Fast” is manically scratched across the album cover, or that the band comes from a foreboding record label; this is an album that demands one to take a chance on it.  Okay, maybe I’m the one.  The only one.  Fine.

Based out of Brooklyn, this quintet has a fine, digestible pop rock sound.  Early songs like “Tucson” and “Back to Junk” remind me a lot of some mid-to-late nineties indie rock.  I hear a lot of Breeders in “Back to Junk” with the quivering main guitar lick, while “Tucson” just sounds like a collection of low key, jangling guitar types of bands from those days.  The guitar riff from “Allegheny/Monogahela”, as well as the combination of Juan Stacey’s and Kathy Horne’s unflashy vocals, give an air of earlier Pavement.  Note that these three songs, aside from a bit of strings, are pretty much straightforward pop rock.  I like that these tunes don’t try to get too quirky for the sake of being different, which topples most rock efforts with the ‘trying too hard’ label.

The record rolls along very nicely before it runs into its first skippable tune of “Wheels of Commerce”, which qualifies as such mainly because it is overly long and strays away from that easygoing guitar sound by incorporating noisy horns and a prolonged ending.  I know that eventually a band feels the need to mix things up a little, but man, it was going so well up to this point.   Thankfully the following tune, “Finely Street Hooker Song” , has the upbeat pep of the Modern Lovers’ “Roadrunner”, which probably has something to do with the inclusion of a bouncing organ sound.  The ending guitar bit tears it up excellently.  “Narcissus”, the last track, eases out the record like Pavement might during one of their ‘fast’ songs during “Wowee Zowee” (which is to say, not fast at all but with enough energy to move it along well).  I’m glad the Victoria Lucas decided not to get too mushy in the end, which usually makes for a dull impression after an otherwise exuberant effort.

Despite not being able to find anything about these guys on the Internet aside from a minimal bit at Allmusic, the Victoria Lucas still have a MySpace page to hear some of their music.  Also, check out their charming video about their busted van and Pep Boys.

The Victoria Lucas have proved that at a mere dollar one can hear a very good pop album from an obscure band.  I knew it could happen!  Sure, it takes a lot of gambles, but I found that nearly every track on this record is worthy of a spin at least once.  It’s too bad that despite the glut of pop rock acts already out there that no one has heard (or heard of) the Victoria Lucas.  It might be partially due in fact that these guys were finished after one record, but if they bothered to make a follow up I think that with their abilities they would have made a blip in a few people’s minds.  Maybe they found that there was a better career in album cover art …

Advertisements

The Self Righteous Brothers – In Loving Memory Of…

July 5, 2012 Leave a comment

Black & Greene Records, 2006

The album cover looks like a couple of ghosts from Pac-Man got together and said, yo, forget this ‘getting eaten’ gig!  Let’s start a band!  The band name of Blinky and the Roadmasters was already taken, and Pac-Man Sucks probably reminded them too much of their old job.  So, due to their love of the Righteous Brothers’ song “Unchained Melody” from their favorite movie “Ghost”, they created a spinoff band moniker in tribute.  For a dollar I wanted to find out what the ghosts’ musical abilities amounted to after years of chasing and getting chased.  However, it is possible that the group is actually comprised of three Boston musicians.  But c’mon, that seems less likely.

Turns out these are a bunch of Boston guys mixing up between pop, rock, and some experimental tendencies.  The opener of “Floyd” is a sometimes abrasive, sometimes dated rock affair that introduces the listener to what the Self Righteous Brothers can sound like, even if it is not that interesting.  Despite their choice of introduction, it doesn’t take long for the group to slip into their primary sound of pop rock.  On “Alan Watts” the Self Righteous Brothers wanted to sway kindly when they sang about the late British philosopher, who was all about the Zen.  This carefree sound continues into the forlorn “Graduated Cylinder” as well as the catchy “When I Want To”, which is actually half moody instrumental and half nineties indie rock.

I was beginning to like the Self Righteous Brothers, mainly because the pop songs as well as the pensive instrumentals of “Didjeridon’t” and “48 to 6”, really kept the variety interesting.  Sometimes the group would venture a little too far from what they’re good at (like unfortunately funky “Electric Boogaloo”) but they are generally quite palatable after that “Floyd” number early on.  They do manage to slip a few zingers in periodically, as is evident near the end of the album on “Sidecar Jesus”.  As the record appears to finish on an upbeat pop note, the Self Righteous Brothers couldn’t resist finishing the cheery “Sidecar Jesus” with a confusing noise guitar segue as well as a sped up, louder version of the chorus.  (sigh)  Perhaps they didn’t want to end on a predictable note, though listeners may not appreciate the non-Zen interruption.

Listen to a few tunes by the Self Righteous Brothers (one of which is a Beatles cover) at their Myspace page.  Er, read about wedding arrangements in, uh, Japanese at their website?

Despite a few hiccups, this is a decent pop rock record that has a few good songs on it.  Most of the weirdness is contained on the album cover as the Self Righteous Brothers prefer to be easier listening than those bizarre ghost masks may infer.   With the limited amount of information on the internet about these guys (and not the Australians by the same moniker) it appears that this was the group’s one and only album.  Perhaps their confusion about what they really wanted to sound like did them in, or perhaps it was just time to move onto more focused projects.  Like running away from that juiced up, yellow ghostivore!  Gahhh!!

Gigolo Aunts – Minor Chords and Major Themes

June 29, 2012 Leave a comment

E Pluribus Unum Recordings, 1999

When you like a band once, you keep checking to see if you still like them.  I truly enjoyed “Flippin’ Out” so their follow up record was a must spin for me.  Even if I hadn’t heard of these guys before, the retro album cover with the purple trim is certainly grabbing.  However, showing pictures of contented dudes in a studio screams light music, so anyone else who was willing to dish out the dimes and nickels to hear what Gigolo Aunts were about probably left the hard stuff on the shelf and poured some lemonade as they popped this disc in the player.

The early part of this Boston pop group’s third record can easily turn off some of the more grounded listeners.  The overwhelming positivity of “C’mon C’mon” will give many people a toothache with its sugar impact.  The lyrics of “C’mon c’mon/can’t you feel something going on?” get repeated effusively and, aside from a few bits here and there, they are the only lyrics for the song.  What kind of a tune is that?  Then there’s “Everyone Can Fly” whose title made me gag just by reading it.  Who titles a song that sounds like it was lifted from Sesame Street?  It’s a much softer song in sharp contrast to “C’mon C’mon”, so I am not sure what the point was in getting everybody in a sky high mood only to douse them with light guitars and melancholy vocals.  So yes, the album starts off a bit awkwardly.

The tunes get back to more vibrant pop with “Half a Chance” and “Super Ultra Wicked Mega Love”, though the latter has a few power guitar riffs that heavily remind one of the early to mid-nineties, never mind the late nineties.  As the album quietly slides into “You’d Better Get Yourself Together”, Dave Gibb’s high vocals become very noticeable.  Five tunes in he’s gone from singing with exuberance, singing with balanced aggression, and finally to an absolute feeling of soothing gentleness.  It’s on “Together” that really makes Gigolo Aunts stand out as not just another power pop band.  Gibbs’ vocals help, but the sharply contrasting composition styles give an impression that Gigolo Aunts aren’t going to be predictable for thirteen tracks.

The best track, “The Big Lie”, could have been a big radio hit if it got out of Boston.  Well, and if boy bands and teenage pop princesses didn’t rule the airwaves at that time.  The tune has an urgency during its chorus, which turns out to be Gibbs’ profession that he’s not the right guy for whoever it is.  This is also a song that got stuck in my head for a few days, probably because it actually built up the adrenaline during that aforementioned chorus.  The band doesn’t let up for too long before “Rest Assured” bursts out a few tracks later.  It’s almost as if the band knew their listeners might be nodding off at this point to include two really strong power pop tracks so close together.  The reason is quickly apparent, however, when the last few songs resemble a steep decline into the nice soft pillow that is “Residue”.

Listen to a few tracks by Gigolo Aunts on their MySpace page if you need a power pop shot in the arm.

My body got the shakes from listening to this record, mainly because its energy level got jerked around so much.  I went from snapping the fingers, looking forlornly at a sad puppy picture, swiveling rabidly in my swivel chair, and then passing out.  These songs are everywhere, which can be very frustrating if one wants dwell on a particular side of Gigolo Aunts music.  I personally liked the group when they were energized, but I felt that they sunk too much into the lightweight stuff so that any sort of momentum was quickly eradicated.

Gigolo Aunts did manage to put out one more record in 2002, but the pop band called it quits after a decade of power popping.  It is too bad that their sound is no longer with us, but perhaps they went the way of the Gin Blossoms when they realized everyone (sadly) was listening to nu metal or throaty pop songs.  To think that if they had only stuck around for eight more years they could have caught on the Train bandwagon and sugared us over with crappy songs.  Except they wouldn’t be crappy, for despite my misgivings with the numerous soft tunes I still think that Gigolo Aunts are a great band.  Definitely check them out on 1994’s “Flippin’ Out” or even this album.

The Rondelles – Shined Nickels and Loose Change

May 28, 2012 Leave a comment

K Records, 2001

So one day I saw all this money on the ground of a music store and got excited.  I started snatching at the nickels and dimes and got frustrated when they didn’t materialize between my fingers.  Twenty minutes later I smacked my head and realized that, duuuh, the coins are on the album cover of some band!  I mean, p’shaw!  So given that the change nearly adds up to a dollar it was destiny to turn my frustration into jubilation.  Well, at least I hoped so.

It turns out that this young (and I mean high school young) quartet from New Mexico put out a few records before releasing this collection of rarities and non-album tracks.  I suppose fans of the band at the time were thrilled that this was created, for if much of the group’s material exists on hard to find (or lukewarm to purchase) 7 inch records and compilations, then it’s nice to have everything in one place.  Still, is it worth picking up if one hasn’t heard of ’em at all?

What I really dig about the Rondelles is their raw and youthful energy.  There isn’t much in regard to production or cleverness on this release, and I imagine it’s the same across all of their records.  The band really just sounds like a group who likes to get together and bash away.  “Safety In Numbers” and its slightly more than two minute length is a fantastic representation of what the band tends to deliver.  There’s Juliet Swango’s (who sorta looks like a young Winona Ryder, by the way) rather deep vocals amidst Oakley Manson’s rapid drumming that keeps up a punk air, though during the breaks the band shouts out as if they were cheerleaders.  The Rondelles keep up the energy with a combination of chugging guitar and a particularly active mini organ on “Shimmybecker”, which makes one wonder about the place of a mini organ in rock ‘n roll.  I suppose the same could be asked of the Boss’ saxophone or Jethro Tull’s flute, so apparently anything goes as long as the volume is loud at some point, eh?

An artist that I don’t hear covered too often is Madonna … I mean how are you supposed to cover “Justify My Love” anyway?  The Rondelles, however, felt the need to have a go with Madonna’s “Like A Prayer” in a sped up way, which actually sounds pretty good if you want to hear the song without the drama.  By the way, do you remember when “Like A Prayer” was a controversial song due to the video?  As far as I know, no member of the Rondelles made out with the Jesus statue on a pew when recording this song, so clearly they’re just trying to stick to the music here.  Another cover, “Cafeteria Rock” by the Shimmy Beckers, is a thrill with its refrain of simply “Food fight!”.  Unlike “Like a Prayer”, this cover seems a little more relative to their high school lives and sounds such given the spirited way it is sung.  Then there’s “Angels We’ve Heard On High” that finally adds a pop rock element to a Christmas classic.  I was tired of hearing those choirs anyway.

To get a few listens in, the Rondelles are still spinning for free on MySpace and have a spot at Last.fm as well.

As my first Rondelles record, this is an excellent introduction to the band.  B-sides records don’t usually work that way but I feel that every song on “Shined Nickels and Loose Change” represent a consistent pop rock punch without dabbling too deeply in production.  The covers aren’t trying to be anything fancy, the music always ends up with tons of power chords and drum presence, and Swango keeps it low key throughout with that voice of hers.  For only a dollar this turned out to be well spent money on fourteen tracks.  Unfortunately this did turn out to be the Rondelles’ last release before they, I dunno, went off to college or something.  It’s a pity, though I imagine when the group looks back at their high school yearbook they might look at those times differently than some of us hip Math Team members.

I actually did go out and get a hold of their first album after hearing this one and, well, I wasn’t all that impressed.  I found that the songs on that record weren’t catchy enough or nearly as interesting.  Perhaps this B-sides collection gets the band at their most creative period, where they only had to concentrate on one or two songs at a time given the medium the songs were pressed on.  When asked to get ten or so tracks on tape, maybe the group felt a little stretched.  Or maybe I just had to spin the record a few more times, I dunno.  I suppose one album that works is fine for me.  As for the rest of you, based on my experience, see if you can pick this record up one way or another.  It’s a great one for the rock ‘n roll enthusiasts.

The Jessica Fletchers – Less Sophistication

February 29, 2012 Leave a comment

Rainbow Quartz, 2005

Yes, the Jessica Fletchers.  Right again, based on the character from “Murder, She Wrote”.  These guys are even from Norway, so how the heck did they decide as a band that they’re going to name themselves after an 1980s detective played by Angela Lansbury?  Apparently “The Old Lady Detectives” wasn’t swinging enough for them.  Maybe this is a shout out to some sort of rerun that was popular in Norway when they were growing up, where “Murder, She Wrote” brought them joy when Jessica Fletcher busted some of her own friends as murderers.  Those were uncomfortable episodes (and yes, my parents watched the show and I enjoyed picking out the gardeners or church ladies who dabbled in murder).  I only wish some other shows might have been popular in Norway, like “The Golden Girls” or “Different Strokes”.  How killer would it be to see a show with the Jessica Fletchers, the Estelle Gettys, and the Watchu Talkin Bout Willises?  I would BE there.

If one could liquify a Snickers bar, add even more sugar, and top with whipped cream it’d be the Jessica Fletchers.  If that concoction sounds delicious to you, well, sip away in your plastic cup and extra long straw.  However, if the description made you gag then you’re going to hate this.  The Jessica Fletchers pour on all of the tricks associated with a hardworking pop band.  They’ve got the five relative handsome guys with five foppish hairstyles.  There’s even a guy with a mustache for good measure … though the guy with the glasses sort of looks like a psycho killer.  Anyway, one does not need to listen to the record for very long to determine whether they’re going to love it or hate it.

The first track sounds like the second track that sounds like the third track, which is to say that it’s all poppy cheerfulness without a moment of weight.  “It Happens Tonight” has Thomas Innsto singing his best high-voiced John Lennon impression while the backing vocals by three (!) other members of the band remind me of some kind of seventies cartoon theme song.  The guitar is light, the keyboard is charming, and there is absolutely no lull in happiness.  “Magic Bar” follows suit with an overdose of falsetto “la la la la la”s during the chorus.  They don’t even get tired of that la la stuff during “How Unlucky (Can You Possibly Get)” which also features a flute!  A flute!!  These guys can rack up the inoffensive pop points like no other band I’ve heard.

On “Get Connected” I did notice that the descending keyboard notes, as well as the vocal breaths, that introduce the song sound like a nod to the Zombies’ “Time of the Season”.  That’s not so bad, I like that song.  However, the chorus comes across as one of those Elton John numbers from the seventies … which I guess is the good time period of Elton John, which then scores these guys another one of those inoffensive pop points.  Really, if you haven’t poked your eyes out by now just imagining how poppily pure this band must sound like, I present to you the song “I Need Love”.  You don’t even have to know what that tune sounds like to know that five guys gave the okay to put a song called “I Need Love” on an album.  Laying the chick-digging strategies on a little thick, eh guys?

You too can be overwhelmed with upbeat, finger-snapping music by having a listen to some Jessica Fletchers songs at MySpace or Last.fm!

Well, I don’t know how one sorts it out over time, but despite the Jessica Fletchers’ best efforts to bask me in direct sunlight with their music, it’s not really my thing.  Yet I do believe that if someone did like this kind of carefree, high sugar content music then it would be a great listen.  There really isn’t a downer on the entire album, and none of the songs veer very far from the same intent the band began with on the opener of “It Happens Tonight”.  So if this sounds like your kind of fun, the good news is that the band put out a couple of more albums after this one.  Unfortunately, their main website doesn’t work anymore, which usually means one thing:  the Jessica Fletchers may have solved their last case of boohoo blues.

Jessica Fletcher eying her next suspect.

Stereophonics – Performance and Cocktails

November 2, 2011 Leave a comment

V2 Records, 1999

I was excited to get this record at a serious discount because I had enjoyed a few strong tracks from the Stereophonics’ 2005 record “Language. Sex. Violence. Other?”.  You know me, I like the rock ‘n roll.  Therefore, with these British lads I figured if they sounded great in 2005, they must’ve sounded either tougher or more freewheeling back in the late nineties.  Plus, that expression on the lady’s face on the cover is quite amusing.  It looks like she’s undead and this guy is about to get a serious face-sucking surprise pretty soon.  The Bon Jovi lookalike in the background has no idea what is about to go down as he laughs at his own joke of “Hey buddy, we’re both wearing jean jackets!”.  In conclusion, so far this album looks like it contains rock, humor, and zombie chicks, so its possession was necessary!

The Stereophonics originate from Britain during that Brit rock era with Oasis, Blur, Pulp and the like.  Thankfully the group doesn’t bother with anything too cheeky as “Roll Up and Shine” blares out with more rock ‘n roll than any of those aforementioned groups.  Kelly Jones’ raspy vocals and the strong presence of guitar and bass make the song a fine introduction for the album.  “The Bartender and the Thief” turns the volume knob even louder to complete a powerful 1-2 rock shot that quickly sets the listener up for what is coming for the rest of the album.  Rock ‘n roll all the way, right?

Nope.  The songs come to a sudden halt with the pensive, soft strummer of “Hurry Up and Wait”.  Now, I understand the switch over to something a little slower because too much of the same thing can sound monotonous, but the song reveals quite a bit about the group.  For one, they aren’t content with one level of music.  As “Hurry Up and Wait” reveals, the Stereophonics also want you to think about love and waiting for the right person it seems.  That’s nice, thanks.

“Pick a Part That’s New” picks up a little bit as a pop ditty, whereas “Just Looking” dabbles with hot and cold flashes of quiet guitar strumming and blasts of repetitive chorus.  Hey, where is this consistent rock ‘n roll that the first two tracks promised?  “Half the Lies You Tell Ain’t True” tries to revive the comatose, but the group just can’t seem to decide on where they want to stick in terms of momentum.  None of the later songs on the disc remedy this confused indecision.

I understand that some people like the variety of tempos, lulls, and emotional moments, but I don’t think the Stereophonics do that well either.  Most of the hooks during the livelier songs aren’t luring enough while the music choices on the slower ones sometimes make the songs feel a little too long.  Jones’ vocals, initially interesting, are limited in their range and creativity, which makes the softer tracks sound a bit thin.  When “She Takes Her Clothes Off” and “Plastic California” meander in, get going, and conclude as usual, it becomes apparent that the Stereophonics fit the rock ‘n roll mold as merely a group that sounds loud at times but doesn’t put a whole lot of effort into being unique.  You’ve heard them before about four to five years earlier, in fact.

The band has plenty to see and do on their website, but as always MySpace and Last.fm have a few tunes you can listen to.

I’m calling this a Bust because I expected more out of the Stereophonics.  I thought the songs would be consistently more edgy or original, but they sound like a slightly more modern version (at the time) of many nineties rock bands.  Perhaps that’s why I just get this feeling that the record, despite its volume and perceived energy level, is ultimately quite dull.  I don’t think I’d ever put this album on over something a lot more interesting with its rock like Dinosaur Jr, Built to Spill, or even the Strokes.  Maybe the group’s record from 2005 was the band’s new sound that interested me, but this album from the early days lacks character and long term draw.  The group is still chugging along so don’t let a disappointed reviewer’s opinion of a decade-old album sway you from checking them out.  Just don’t start with this album.

The Blake Babies – Innocence and Experience

October 3, 2011 Leave a comment

Mammoth Records, 1993

First off, I have to admit I have a small thing for Juliana Hatfield.  It probably started when I declared the Lemonheads’ “It’s a Shame About Ray” as one of my favorite albums.  I follow what Evan Dando does as well, but Hatfield’s light vocals on that release as well as her early Blake Babies stuff has always interested me.  Then there’s those curious eyes of hers.  She always looks a little angry or disappointed in most of her pictures, but that’s probably because one never finds her smiling much (take a look for yourself on Google images).  Finally, the fact that she’s from Boston and used to work at Newbury Comics completes the reasons as to why I’m always keeping an eye out for all things Hatfield.  I did know that this record by the Blake Babies was likely an old light pop affair off of the defunct Mammoth Records, so I figured it was going to be a safe bet for a solid listen at a discount.

The Blakes Babies are a trio that, when heard, instantly bring back those memories of the  early days in the nineties where the easygoing pop music was neither in your face nor particularly memorable.  Since this record is actually a collection of b-sides, demos, and live tracks most of the songs actually take place in the late eighties given when the band started.  For most of the record, songs revolve around the general approach of the “Rain” demo song.  There’s the jangly, light guitar that carries the comforting pop rock feeling throughout the song while Hatfield’s vulnerable vocals sing about an unfortunate relationship story.  Though songs like “Lament” (with Evan Dando on bass) and “Star” pick up the pace a little bit, every song is consistent in its sound and construction for the most part.  If you like your Blake Babies you’ll enjoy most of the songs on here.  However, if you’re new to the band you might get a little bored if you are used to more variety.

Even though most of the songs seem to blend in together for me, I will say that “Out There” stands out.  Perhaps it is because Hatfield’s vocals not only rise above the usual quiet level but they also sound double-tracked.  It also helps that the band picks up their level of volume during the chorus so as to wake you up after the slew of couch sinkers.  Another tune that may not be for everyone, but will win over those who like the original anyway, is the group’s upbeat cover of the Grass Roots’ “Temptation Eyes”.  Nice choice!  I also think that any band that does a Neil Young cover, like the Blake Babies do with a live version of “Over and Over”, is only trying to win me over.

Lots of listening choices for the Blake Babies.  You could head on over to their MySpace or Last.fm pages, or instead veer directly towards Juliana Hatfield’s website.

I feel that although this disc didn’t really put it together in terms of making a strong impression, one has to keep in mind that it is a b-sides and rarities collection.  This one is for the fans who already like the Blake Babies.  I wouldn’t start here if one was thinking of delving into the group’s music, but it’s still a decent record to start from if one wants to experience their sound.  “Sunburn” or “Earwig” are probably better examples of albums of what the group can do.

The Blake Babies took a lengthy hiatus after the release of this collection and only released one more record (“God Bless the Blake Babies”) in 2001 before ending things officially.  Juliana Hatfield, of course, has been releasing and self-releasing her own albums for quite awhile now.  I imagine she probably sounds a lot different now than she did nearly twenty years ago, but the pleasant vocals are probably still there.  If what you read about and hear from the Blake Babies interests you, then go pick up something new from Hatfield when you get a chance.  And uh, if you see anything by the Blake Babies or Hatfield for a few dollars or less at a local music store, ah … well, you know who to send a note to.  😀