Tag Archives: Jellyfish

Blast From The Past: Jason Falkner

Another blind shelf grab found me enjoying the music of one of the under-known pop masters, Jason Falkner. I’ve got his solo work, his Beatles lullabies, the Jellyfish canon…can’t get enough of the guy’s talent. But damned if one out of twenty people I know even recognizes his name. Here’s a look back from the turn of the century and TransAction Magazine

TransAction Magazine

Can You Still Feel?

The knock on ex-Gray, ex-Jellyfish Falkner is that (besides apparently not being able to stay in a band) for all his melodic chops he is incapable of writing a song that’s simple enough to be easily memorable – in other words, the Big Hit Single. So what is he supposed to do, dumb down?

Besides playing and singing and writing and arranging everything, he also took the time to craft a boatload of great music that will nudge you at first listen, yet worm its way deeper with repeated listenings. “Eloquence“, which he had been performing live for a while, is reminiscent of John Lennon and could be radio fodder with a more spry arrangement.  Ditto “Holiday“, where Falkner gets the chance to show off his vocal acrobatics. “Author Unknown” (ironically the title of his previous record) has a great repetitive chorus and the double-time tempo at the end is a great touch.

If a band like Radiohead can conquer the planet with their adventurous, textured sounds and pensive wordplay, why not Falkner?

Listen to clips and buy at Amazon

Video: Author Unknown

Jason Falkner website

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Under The Radar: Sugarbuzz

Most band names don’t communicate the sound of the band. Sugarbuzz does.

Sugarbuzz was a late 90s collaboration between Brian Leach and Brian Reed (they even had a third Brian – Brian Krumm – add some lead guitar parts). Leach has a solo album called The Sunrise Nearly Killed Me, which is among many powerpop fans’ favorites, but frankly after fifteen plus years I’m getting the Leach/Sugarbuzz timeline confused. But I like all his stuff – in his normal vocal range he has a sweet pop voice but slides into a sandy rasp in the upper register. Still don’t know much about Reed.

Submerged is a really solid effort that is heavy on the powerpop but winds in other elements for a nice mix. Occasionally they will recall other bands but Leach’s vocal adds a quality to the mix that gives them a unique sound. Not a lot of power in the powerpop…more of a perfect album for a Sunday morning drive.

“Overthrown” is one of my favorites, strongly recalling T.Rex, while the guitar and chord structure of “Lost Sensation” and “A World Away” recalls Jellyfish (especially the staccato strings and guitar solo). and I hate to use the word “beats” when talking about music, but “Born Again” sounds like the percussion was played by a guy on a street corner with an inverted plastic paint bucket. “The House That Never Sleeps” uses some subtle wah-wah and background string-bending to produce an infectious spacy sound; “Long Hot Summer” takes that ambling psychedelic approach to a point where you almost feel the exhaustion he’s singing about. I really like “On Some Other Day” where Leach (or Krumm?) goes all Joe Walsh for a couple of minutes.

I always lump Leach in with Matthew Sweet and artists from Champaign, Illinois (Velvet Crush, Adam Schmitt) probably because all this came out in the late 90s, although he and Reed really don’t sound that much like them. But if you are a fan of the aforementioned bands, I think you’ll like Sugarbuzz a lot. And like many pop albums that never made a big splash, an enterprising fan could get this for a song.

A few clips on MySpace

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New Album! Oranjuly

Oranjuly is the name for the one-man whirlwind named Brian King, whose obvious love of The Beach Boys, Jellyfish and other harmony-intensive pop bands bleeds through his music. Not certain if the choice of name combines his favorite fruit with his favorite month, but the band name isn’t important – the music under the banner is. And that’s what I’m touting tonight.

You want me to drop more names? Various songs recall Todd Rundgren, Badfinger, Weezer, Van Duren, Big Star and fill-in-your-pop-hero here. And of course, those Beach Boys. Listen to the keyboards and bass line of the opening track and tell me you don’t think of both “Good Vibrations” and “Wouldn’t It be Nice”, even though his track “Her Camera” sounds like neither. And when those a capella harmony vocals come in on the bridge? Holy crap.

My two favorite songs are the delicate “At Any Time” (think Bleu or Mike Viola) and the bouncy “I Could Break Your Heart” – especially that irresistable chorus couplet. But it’s deeper than earworm hooks; even with the pop-single lengths of three minutes plus, King flashes some instrumental chops, too. “Mrs. G” wraps up the coda with rollicking piano and tasty guitar leads, but even a stripped down song like “South Carolina” floats its hook over acoustic guitar and piano…and bass/drum support right out of the McCartney/Starr playbook.

I remember when a solo album meant just that – a talented performer was playing all the instruments and singing all the parts. King is very impressive here, filling the voids with strings and keyboards and horns and absolutely nailing the vocals. Very, very strong album – I’ll certainly remember this at year-end time. 

Check out the Oranjuly website.

Buy the album from Not Lame.

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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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Mixtape: Vinyl Devotion

I put this mixtape together many many years ago for a tape tree on the Audities mailing list. I look at mixtapes as something to be taken in one sitting, ideally something slapped in for a car trip where the flow of the music is the center of attention, like I’ve got one shot to program an hour on the radio to win you over. So I started going through my vinyl alphabetically; just vinyl albums – no singles, CDs, or cassettes.

Remember mixtapes? Remember vinyl?

As the people I was trading with have pretty deep roots, I avoided the obvious (ie Beatles, Big Star, Cheap Trick, etc) and went for other songs that stir my stewpot. By the time I got through the “D”s, I easily had twice as much as I needed, and that wasn’t even taking into account the 3-400 albums that were in the “to be filed” pile.

But I came up with a beauty filled with great bands and great songs. I’ve included the original track-by-track annotations that I used for Vinyl Devotion’s liner notes, and since this was in the mid 90s, some of the references will be out of date. But the music is timeless – not a tune that doesn’t stand up today.  Mixtapes were a labor of love; even the needle dropping at the start of side A was intentional.

Side A

01 THE BOYS – “First Time Out”
Since you need something to get you out of the driveway, why not something young, loud and snotty? This was quintessential New Wave pop punk. Billy Joe of Green Day probably has a Boys lunchbox. (LINK TO A LIVE VERSION)

02 THE ATLANTICS – “One Last Night”
If INXS were cool and they grew up on 50’s and 60’s American radio, they’d sound like this. But they weren’t, andthey didn’t, and they don’t. Singer’s a bit of a crooner, but it’s a cool song nevertheless.

03 DANCING HOODS – “She May Call You Up Tonight”
Yep, the Left Banke song. I think this version is better. I loved this band but Relativity sank like a stone and these guys with them. The singer, Bob Bortnick, is now in A&R and Mark Linkous is in Sparklehorse. Too bad.

04 THE dBs – “Working For Somebody Else”
So why does everyone hate THE SOUND OF MUSIC? I think the Holsapple era is great. This is almost Chilton-ish rock – the harmonica solo, ringing phone, and the great way Peter pronounces the word “car-REEEP”.

05 THE BEAT FARMERS – “Ridin”
God Bless the late Country Dick Montana,who was Keith Richards in chaps. The BEAT FARMERS were the best bar band ever and always kicked your ass from wall to wall. This Joey Harris tune is a nice taste. R.I.P. fellas! (LINK TO A LIVE VERSION)

06 THE ACCELERATORS – “Two Girls In Love”
Another great band no one knows, what is it about that water in North Carolina? This band rules, but they only put out a record every five years; tho I heard they just re-formed. I love the drum sound on this song.

07 BEAT RODEO – “Just Friends”
Slowing it down, this Don Dixon/Mitch Easter production is anything but twee. Despite the cow name it’s just pure pop after all. Saw these guys live and they were absolutely wonderful. I miss songs like this.

08 DON DIXON – “Your Sister Told Me”
I’m convinced that if Motown were in North Carolina, Dixon would be Holland, Dozier and Holland. One of the many on my “how can this guy/band not be friggin’ HUGE?” list. And my hat tip to The Woods, his roots. (LINK TO A STUDIO VERSION)

09 BILLY BREMNER – “When These Shoes Were New”
The true M.V.P. of Rockpile. From the lp BASH which only his parents and I bought. Will Birch co-wrote and produced most of the songs, and it’s wall-to-wall great. I want to play piano like the guy on this track.

10 ANY TROUBLE – “The Trouble With Love”
Clive Gregson just didn’t fit in that New Wave movement, but his band put out five killer records with great songs like this. You may know his records and gigs with Christine Collister and their gigs with Richard Thompson

11 THE A’s – “Heart Of America”
From Philly, natch – is this one of the ten best rock and roll songs ever made? Mott The Hoople meets Elvis Costello and drop the gloves. Killer guitars, horn section, and the one of the most unusual solos in rock history.

12 THE CRETONES – “Real Love”
When Linda Ronstadt “went punk” that year she butchered “Alison” and two of this band’s songs; “Mad Love” is the other. This is pretty mainstream, but fun when you realize there isn’t a female voice on the record.

13 THE DUROCS – “Saving It All Up For Larry”
Try this: Brian Wilson goes sandbox, but instead of Stamos and Johnston the Beach Boys sign up Flo, Eddie, Zappa and Todd. Actually it’s Nagle and Matthews, right around the time they produced John Hiatt. Great, great record! (LINK TO VIDEO VERSION)

Side B

01 JOHN CALE – “Guts”
From the album that even Cale-haters like. Uses the words “parrot shit” and “hyperbole” in the same verse. Top that, Lou Reed! This record is known for a suicide-inducing drone version of “Heartbreak Hotel”

02 THE CRUZADOS – “Motorcycle Girl”
Tito and the boys cooking up East L.A. spunk in the days before they hooked up for gigs as Bob Dylan’s band. Bassist Tony Marsico is now with Matthew Sweet.

03 HERMAN BROOD – “Sleepin’ Bird”
My favorite Dutch ex-junkie porn star rock god, and the best rock and roll band in the world. He’s a famous painter now. Had an American hit with “Saturday Night” in 1978 but put out several searing records in Holland. Yowza! (LINK TO A LIVE VERSION)

04 THE DRONGOS – “Overnight Bag”
Life before Crowded House in New Zealand. What a great guitar player! I wouldn’t try to make love to this song; it’s better suited for popping popcorn! Went to see them one night only to find out they broke up that afternoon.

05 THE DIRTY ANGELS – “Call My Name”
Remember in 1979/80 when everybody got signed and dressed in pastels on album covers? Well, DA had nude mannequins with missing appendages. Ah, so what. But I know the name David Hull from elsewhere.

06 THE DICTATORS – “Heartache”
Scott “Top Ten” Kempner and Andy Shernoff both could write big hooks, but the underwater production buried them. Too bad. When you got past Ross The Boss’ guitar god act, these guys had some great songs!

07 CITY BOY – “I’ve Been Spun”
Jellyfish, eat your heart out. These guys could really rock, too, but were known for the unbelievable vocal harmonies. The guitar player, Mike Slamer, makes me grab the air guitar frequently over six records.

08 BLUEBELLS – “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool”
No, not the Dean Martin song. You may remember “Cath” or “Syracuse University”, but I always liked this the best. One of those “why isn’t this on CD” records, but frankly most people can’t even find the vinyl!

09 THE DAVE CLARK FIVE – “Because”
Because after 33 years it’s still great. Because Gary Frenay and Artie Lenin played it at my wedding and people were breaking out in tears. Because it’s my tape. Because.

10 ARTFUL DODGER – “She’s Just My Baby”
Even Artful Dodger fans gave up by this record. While earlier records were like a poppier Rod Stewart; I hear a perfect blend of Dwight Twilley and The Records. Why was this band not a major, major hit? (LINK TO THE PROMO VIDEO)

11 MARSHALL CRENSHAW – “Rave On”
Live cut done at the drop of a hat in a Chicago station. Unbelievable how great he and the guitar sound just by themselves! So far he’s played Lennon in Beatlemania, Holly on film, and made one of the best debut records ever.

12 GARY CHARLSON BAND – “Hey Deanie” & “Go Back”
Another live in the studio gig from an incredible pop guy, these are two of my faves. Bought this based on Bruce Brodeen‘s adjectives (it’s an OLD record). So where is he now? And who the hell was this incredible drummer? (LINK TO A GARY CHARLSON MEDLEY)

13 SHAUN CASSIDY – “So Sad About Us”
Yeah, go ahead and snicker. The backup band is Todd and Utopia, and the whole album could have been called Faithful – Part Two! Messed up Shaun so badly he didn’t resurface for years, and then showed up with “American Gothic”!

 

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Under The Radar: The Oohs

Dig in.

Hanging out on Internet groups can be incredibly frustrating, for trolls abound everywhere; we’ve all encountered the uneducated idiot who lashes out at everyone and everything to get attention (when they really shouldn’t be skipping those remedial English classes). But the pearl in the oyster is accidentally discovering a band or a film or an artist that you overlooked or may never have found otherwise. Sometimes it’s because they are recommeneded to you. Sometimes they’re one of the fellow listmembers.

I came across The Oohs in such a way, as the listgroup in question was focused upon melodic pop music, from bubblegum to powerpop and beyond. Hooks and harmony required for admission, in other words. And when this band decided to name their first record Ear Candy…well, that’s a gauntlet, isn’t it?

Suffice it to say I was more than pleasantly surprised by the pop foursome, and The Oohs have gone on to release a couple more since then – Saturday Morning Daydream and Llamalamp – in addition to appearances on several tribute and compilation albums.  But I happened to pull this one out tonight, so I thought I’d share my words from the review I wrote many moons ago for Amplifier Magazine:

All four Oohs can handle lead vocals, but when they sing in unison (as they do most often), words like “Jellyfish” and “Queen” and “ELO” immediately jump to mind. But I hear roots much deeper than that in their songwriting. Remember when you looked back on singles from the 1960s and discovered how adroitly they balanced lust and innocence. Check out how the vocals explode along with the subject matter in “Baby’s Going Out Tonight.” Listen to the musical roots all the way back to the Bee Gees‘ “Spicks And Specks,” but the majestic arrangement and signature shifts prove that The Oohs are not going to settle for the easy (retro) way out.

Listen to the vocals s-l-i-d-e together in perfect harmony, the bells chiming in the background, the way the drums seem to carry the song, but then it’s the keyboard…no, wait, it’s the guitar line…as the song fades, you want more and you want it now. And, seconds later, you get what you need as it sweeps back in. “Summer Sun” even borrows the essence of The Four Seasons‘ street-corner savvy to accentuate the pitch-perfect vocals (the acoustic version proves that this is not done with mirrors, by the way). “Head Above Water,” dodging the logical chord progressions for something more inventive, firmly exposes the Rundgren influence the band enjoys, right down to that synth solo (where have you gone, Roger Powell?).

Calling this collection “Sing Along With The Oohs” would not be far from the mark, as you will find yourself doing just that. One more thing about all this name-dropping – the fact that the same band names will jump into your mind is testament to the small number of bands who have been able to pull these arrangements off live. Savor the experience.

The Oohs website.

The Oohs on MySpace

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Blast From The Past – Marvelous 3

Ready for a Marvelous Threesome

Ready for a Marvelous Threesome

Everybody knows Butch Walker now – he’s the go-to producer for a legion of hitmakers from Pink and Avril Lavigne to Pete Yorn and The Donnas. But ten years ago, he was cutting his teeth as the leader and frontman of The Marvelous 3, a band that combined the irresistibe elements of The Who and The Jam with a Beatle-esque hook and a clever sense of humor.

Their first record (Hey! Album) was a smash on Planet Bristol. Here’s my review from 1999, first published in Consumable Online. My prediction for the album’s big success fell short, but the guy behind it wound up vindicating me:

consume-icon

Now we’re talking! If you ever need to define the epitome of power pop to someone, all you’re going to need is a copy of Hey! Album and a loud stereo. The three piece Atlanta band is well schooled in the college of Cheap Trick, Rubinoos, The Sweet, and The Cars, as well as lesser known purveyors like The Beat Angels and Shazam. In other words, great harmonies, sharp drumming, a solid bottom, big guitar and hook after hook after hook. Get those mopey shoe-gazers off the stage, because power pop rules again!

“Freak Of The Week” seems to have grabbed the initial headlines with its Cars-like riff, but “You’re So Yesterday” is equally strong, handclaps and doo-doo-doo background vocals that should make listeners run to turn up the volume. “Write It On Your Hand” is a major player, pulsating beat leading to a call-and-response chorus worthy of The Knack, or The Jags, or Jellyfish … damn, there I go again. But it doesn’t matter if it’s the psychedelic “Lemonade”, the bouncy “Mrs. Jackson” or any other track – each of the twelve songs is bursting with energy and personality. Guitarist/songwriter Butch Walker, bassist Jayce Fincher and “Slug” the drummer pack a wallop and nail three part harmonies throughout the record.

Every power pop record comes complete with the big slow-dance anthem, and that’s “Let Me Go” – an arena ballad with sweeping falsetto vocals. I can see the Bic lighters and the swaying crowd already. My favorite is the irresistible “Vampires In Love”, which mixes clever but goofy lyrics with an absolute killer hook that you’ll be singing in your sleep.

Last year pop bands like Fastball and Semisonic got an opening and exploded onto the charts. It stands to reason that some programmer won’t need the Homer Simpson head-slap to realize that there’s an audience for energetic, exciting music. If this record isn’t a bonafide smash, bleeding out of radios four tracks deep, something is very, very wrong.

Fan website

Marvelous 3 wiki

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