Tag Archives: Byrds

Under The Radar – The Third Men

With so many albums out there, we rely on the “sounds like” marketing approach, whether we’re reviewers trying to describe a band’s sound or the band itself trying to attract attention. Tell me you sound like Shannon Hoon singing Styx songs to a marimba beat and I’m moving along faster than a booster rocket. Drop names like Cheap Trick, Big Star and Todd Rundgren and I’m going to stop by and give your disc a listen.

Granted, I know that doesn’t mean you’re necessarily going to have the songwriting chops that Todd has, the mercurial vocals of Robin Zander or the soulful essence of Alex Chilton and company. I get that. But I’m figuring that if these are the sounds that influence you, some of that is going to bleed through into your music. And what you do with that osmosis is what counts.

It was just such a list of influences that led me to The Third Men, a Nebraska band that plays “hook laden songs at high volume” and were raised on raised on “equal parts 70s FM radio and 80s underground psychedelia“. Most bands with multiple vocalists and songwriters is going to have a diverse sound, especially when those members are veterans of other bands. I’m not familiar with Sons Of…, which featured Mike Tulis and Matt Rutledge, but I was a big fan of Patrick White‘s former groups The Dangtrippers and The Bent Scepters. Dana Rouch and Mike Loftus complete the versatile quintet.

The songs on Boost range from crunchy powerpop to garage bubblegum, flooded with ringing guitars and a snappy backbeat with a flood of keyboard sounds that color the songs vividly. But there’s energy here – lots of Elvis Costello-ish Farfisa moments, many dBs and Lets Active sounding songs with clever arrangements. “The Hangover” mixes Big Star chord progressions with drum fills from The Book Of Ringo; “G.A.S.” is reminiscent of the early Beach Boys/Jan and Dean singles. I also heard some Byrds and Jayhawks moments sprinkled in, and even a KISS/REO Speedwagon moment that caught me off guard.

Drawbacks? Occasionally nasal or reedy vocals; none of the singers is particularly strong but the harmonies are solid. Another is the thin production; given the material I imagine this would be a whole different record if it was punched up a bit more. But within the bouncy music are occasionally dark and humorous lyrics, and while there aren’t any instant classics on Boost, most the songs are head-bobbingly appealing.

For me, a pleasant surprise and a band I’ll keep my eye (and ear) on. If any of those musical references above tickle your fancy, give this one a proper spin or two and let it grow on you.

Listen to clips from Boost at CDBaby

The Third Men website

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Under The Radar: Icecream Hands

Although the band name is also a slang term for the aftermath of a self-pleasuring act, here the creamy goodness of Icecream Hands only refers to sweet music. As the title Memory Lane Traffic Jam implies, there’s a wealth of classic powerpop influences wedged together here. The band is okay with that as long as it’s a “B”Beatles, Beach Boys, Byrds, Big Star, etc.

I discovered the band around the time of this, their second album, four years after their debut. I was glad to see that these Aussie popsters recently fired up the bus again, releasing a new album in 2007 after a layoff of a few years. From their page:

After laying low for a few years, raising families and pursuing solo projects, the Icecream Hands have recently found a new home in the form of Melbourne label Dust Devil Music and have just released their fifth studio album – The Good China. With songs galore and a new spring in their step, their legion of fans worldwide can expect nothing more than an album full of glittering, guitar soaked, harmony laden rock’n roll jewels; fit to be worn by Australia’s regal kings of power pop.

Sounds good to me; that’s twice now that these guys slippedUnder The Radar. Here was my initial quick take on them from TransAction Magazine…

Formerly The Mad Turks, these Aussie popsters call to mind all the usual suspects like Shoes and Badfinger, but on their slower tunes like “Embarassment Head” and “Early Morning Frost” they are also reminiscent of more commercial pop fare like Semisonic and The Gin Blossoms. I much prefer them when they showcase their harmonies on rocking songs like “Here We Go Round Now” and “Supermarket Scene” where their Posies-like energy can really catch fire.

Those who have Bomp’s Pop On Top collection will recognize “Bye”, an excellent JellyfishQueen moment that is actually track thirteen but was inadvertently left off the liner notes (ironically it’s the best song on that disc by a mile). Three “real” bonus tracks round out a solid effort.

Icecream Hands website

Icecream Hands on MySpace

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Under The Radar: Rex Daisy

Another one from the pile that I haven’t played in years.

Rex Daisy was one of those bands who fell between the cracks for most people. Here’s the original review as it ran in Consumable Online almost thirteen years ago.

Here’s a band that’s been through the grist mill – signed, ignored and dropped before the record ever came out on the major label. Whether their carefree attitude stems from natural forces or the skid marks on their backs, Rex Daisy is daring you to like them.

Boasting a tasteless green and yellow package and a blue plastic interior (was there a sale on ink?), the package for the Guys And Dolls CD is saved by a clever cartoon cover. The rest of the booklet features, among other things, a goofy group photo, a collage of faces floating in a bed of flowers and a photo of a wedding – with two of the three band members in drag. But I’m a reviewer, I can get past this.

The initial slap of “Stooge”, the opener, is punchy enough with an infectious chorus, but my antennae are up – is this another Refreshments record where there’s one formula alterna-pop tune and the rest is bar band filler? Maybe so –  “Brand New Friend” (after the Eels, the second best toy piano intro I’ve heard in a while) and the older “Stuck On You” follow, and I’m not in wow mode yet.

Then it comes on like a tidal wave. “OK, Casey” is  everything a pop tune should be, great harmonies, good hooks, sing-along chorus. Bingo. Then the Gin Blossoms-ish “Changin’ Yer Mind” kicks the tempo up a notch. Merseybeat and Cheap Trick cross-pollinate with the rollicking “Bottom O’ The World” before the Byrds-like “The Last Pufferbird” (no pun), another strong track. Another favorite is the bluesy ballad “Distance” with its lonesome guitar and desperate vocal.

Ten songs would have been fine, but tacked on the end is their serious take of the “Welcome Back Kotter” theme (from the previously issued Pravda samplers) and a second version of the song 2:15, sung in Spanish for all you romantics out there. No extra charge.

I’m glad I got past the initial roadblocks and gave the disk a chance – the middle four songs are outstanding, and two or three others have grown on me as well. So forget the warning signs and dive in. For three guys trying to look goofy and out of place, there’s a good pop heart beating underneath. Besides, the Presidents of the United States of America have that Three Stooges schtick down pat.

Rex Daisynot dead, just resting” on MySpace.

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New Album! The Pantones


Infectious and accessible, the Pantones juggle several influences with sleight of sound.

An impressive blend of great ingredients, The Pantones at various times tap the DNA of The Jayhawks, Ben Folds, The Byrds, R.E.M., Wilco, The Beach Boys and—perhaps most impressively—guitar licks that Ron Wood tossed out like confetti in the ‘70s.

Video: “Circus Freaks

Read my review of Inside the Sun’s Wild Flame at PopMatters.

Hear some clips at Amazon.

Visit The Pantones website.

Warm up to The Pantones.

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Blast From The Past – Beachwood Sparks

beachwood_sparks

The great thing about revisiting albums years later – especially ones that not everyone is talking about – is that you hear them differently and pick up new wavelengths. It’s almost ten years since Beachwood Sparks released their eponymous album, and while I still enjoy it I’m able to discover other subtleties in the music beyond the major touchstones I identified the first time around. From legacy bands like the Grateful Dead to more recent purveyors Apples In Stereo, it’s all about texture.

Here’s what I wrote for Cosmik Debris back in 2000…

Gram Parsons described his style as “Cosmic American Music”, and I suppose that if he were around to hear Beachwood Sparks, he’d let the quartet on his bus without a second thought.

A quick look at the graphics and titles would have you trot out Buffalo Springfield or The Flying Burrito Brothers as a touchstone, but the production and arrangements owe as much to inventive popmeisters like Brian Wilson and Mitch Easter. In fact, I imagine that if Easter or master knob-twiddler Brad Jones were sent back in time to produce Parsons, this would be the result. Except “Something I Don’t Recognize”, where he would need the Nesmith-led Monkees. Or “Old Sea Miner”, where only XTC would do.

Aw hell, Parsons would have gotten around, he was that kind of guy. And the fact that Beachwood Sparks pulls all of this off without painting themselves into a corner is a hell of a compliment.

The overall sound is psychedelic, dreamy introspection, with interludes like “Singing Butterfly” leading into more uptempo Byrds/Poco moments like “Sister Rose”. Of course, just when you’re safely in that mood, they toss in an aggressive fuzzbox guitar solo over a go-go beat just to throw you for a loop. “See On Three” recalls Wilco’s experimentation, but the dizzying signature changes are probably even outside of Tweedy’s methods.

“This Is What It Feels Like” is another time-travel song, sounding like a pop track that somehow leaked into the future from 1967 California. “The Reminder” eerily and beautifully recalls the innocence of Neil Young’s first records with its delicate guitar and lilting vocals. Individually, these are wonderfully realized moments; as an album, it’s a mental watercolor painting that will dance with your imagination.

I had mixed feelings about their follow-up album, but I love the debut as much today as I did ten years ago. So if you haven’t savored this one yet, please do. And keep your eyes open – supposedly they will release a new album soon (it’s been an eight year drought!)

Beachwood Sparks on Amazon.

Beachwood Sparks on MySpace

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Under The Radar: Taildragger

I am not skeptical - this rocks!

I am not skeptical - this rocks!

I’ll admit that you can grab my attention with a witty band name or album title, and Taildragger hit both bulls-eyes with Skeptictank. Even better news? The band flat out smokes.

Taildragger the band (not to be confused with Taildragger the Chicago bluesman or Spokane’s fabulous Too Slim and the Taildraggers ) is a blues rock trio led by guitarist/drummer/vocalist Jon McGee. McGee is also a member of The Mighty Jeremiahs as is Taildragger bassist Mark Hendricks. On this album Rob Hulsman splits drum chores with McGee, and I believe Jon’s sister Sherri even whacks skins with them on occasion. Greg Martin smokes the axe on several tracks as well.

Skeptictank is a tour-de-force of swampy blues, stinging rock and even some countrified soul (think  the fringes of the Flying Burrito Brothers and Byrds, especially on “Mary Virginia” and “Believe”). But the bands that popped into my head most frequently were southern rockers Gov’t Mule and Lynyrd Skynyrd, Texas blues rockers like Stevie Ray Vaughn and ZZ Top and even Jo Jo Gunne and Irish legends Thin Lizzy. The latter comparison is likely due to the fluid bass playing (the band has the chops and the stones to cover John Entwistle’s “My Wife”!). I’d be remiss by not complimenting keyboard player Kevin McKendree, whose organ really adds a ton to the sound.

If you like classic 70’s boogie, greasy slide shuffles or high-charged power trio rock, you’ll find a lot to love here. I could drop a million more names from vets like The Rolling Stones to contemporaries like The Muggs, but it’s really this simple – classic American rock and roll played by grade-A musicians. I don’t know how I missed out on Taildragger for four years, but it’s discoveries like this that make me keep digging. I suggest you dive into this Kentucky magic  right away.

Taildragger’s MySpace page.

Hear clips from Skeptictank at CD BABY.

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