Tag Archives: Semisonic

Mixtape! This is Your Brain On Pop…

Way back in the day – June 1997 to be exact – I slapped this puppy on a C-90 and shared it with my tape swap group. Damned if it still doesn’t sound good now. A nice mix of old and new (new then, anyway), famous and obscure, sweet and bitter. Someday when I have both bandwidth and time I’ll load these on a special tab, but just YouTube or MySpace or Google your way around for now.

This Is Your Brain.

This Is Your Brain On POP!

Any Questions?

The Nerves – “When You Find Out” How can you go wrong when you have not one, not two, but THREE great songwriters in the band? Well, that’s probably two too many…
Ginger – “Feel Like Falling Down” Always a Molson’s Ale in the fridge, always a Canadian pop band on my tapes. Can’t recommend the whole CD but this song is sweet.
Joan Jett – “Indian Giver” Yes, your eyes are working fine. Little Ms. Riot Grrrl does a nice job on this 1910 Fruitgum Company classic.
The Shazam – “Blew It” From Copper Records, the label that brought us the Badfinger tribute, comes this Cheap Trick/Who/Badfinger sounding band produced by Brad Jones, whose influence is strong here (that’s a GOOD thing).
The Clouds – “Aquamarine” An Australian band who I only heard of because they opened up for TPOH – spotty record but this track is killer.
The Guess Who – “Don’t You Want Me” Burton Cummings is a guilty pleasure of mine. This is the second version of this song, from “Road Food”. They could really rock live.
John Hiatt – “Doll Hospital” The greatest living American songwriter. His older stuff is classic; if all you know is “Bring The Family” you are missing a TON of great stuff.
The Chills – “The Male Monster From The Id” Martin Phillips and company – this one’s for all the girls. Another spotty record with some great songs.
Candy Butchers – “Til You Die” More Mikey! No knock on Adam Schlesinger of FOW, but Mike Viola deserves some props for his vocals in the movie THAT THING YOU DO. Buy this EP before its gone.
Blue Cartoon – “Parachute” Lee, who’s one of my SON OF TAPE TREE swap partners, is far too modest to tell you that he writes great pop songs. So I will – this stands up with the best of 1997.
Michael Shelley – “Going To L.A.” East Coast Beach Boys with great lyrics and a borrowed T-Rex riff. Mike’s HALF EMPTY is one of the best records of 1997.
Sylvain Sylvain – “Teenage News” Ex-N.Y.Doll had a much poppier side than the band ever did. Two great records and gone – I wish he were still making music.
Sutherland Brothers & Quiver – “Dream Kid” Great, great pop rock band, probably known best for “Sailing”. This version of the band featured future Attractiion Bruce Thomas on bass.
Stella Luna – “Nervous Man” A plug for Bruce Brodeen’s NOT LAME label and sampler. Jamie Hoover produced this new band’s track; can’t wait to hear the whole record!
Sparks – “Here Comes Bob” Besides being a vastly underrated band, Sparks had a great sense of humor. In this song, Bob has a strange way of making friends…
 
Redd Kross – “Pretty Please Me” I wanted to put “Mess Around” on this tape, but “Pretty Please Me” started off with more of a bang! Cannot believe this band isn’t all over the radio!
Semisonic – “Brand New Baby” One of the best of 1996, from the ashes of Trip Shakespeare. Semisonic’s debut CD was wall to wall great songs and was criminally ignored.
Richard X. Heyman – “Everything The Same” Permanent Press Records will release CORNERSTONE, Richard’s first new record in five years. He plays all the instruments on this song and is a pop god.
The Del Lords – “Stay With Me” In a better world, Scott Kempner and Andy Shernoff would be revered songwriters. This Dictators classic re-interpreted by Scott’s next great band, whose catalogue deserves better. Rhino? Ryko? Hello??
The Pursuit Of Happiness – “Pressing Lips” Speaking of great songwriters….Moe Berg writes ’em, the great band kicks them into gear, and those killer harmony vocals seal the deal
The Faces – “You’re So Rude” We lost Ronnie Lane this month. Although overshadowed first by Steve Marriot and later by Rod Stewart, “Plonk” was the backbone of the Faces, Small and otherwise.
Firesign Theatre – “Porgie Tirebiter” I’ve been slipping in a few non-musical interludes on this tape, but since this is a theme song, I might as well ‘fess up. If you haven’t heard “Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers”, you haven’t lived.
Rick Derringer – “Something Warm” From “Hang On Sloopy” forward, Rick always had a knack for pop, even if he didn’t have the voice to match. Still, GUITARS AND WOMEN was a first rate album. He’s back to the blues now, though.
Godley & Creme – “Big Bang” Dedicated to the Jellyfish Listgroup – what should we call this, 5CC? For a laugh, play the Blues Brothers’ version of “Hey Bartender” at the same time.
Cheap Trick – “Oh Candy” From the first of two self-titled albums, a nice, bouncy cheerful pop song about suicide. You won’t be comin’ around no more….
Pat Godwin – “Amish My Ass” For every guy who ever got turned down with a bullshit excuse, Pat sticks it right back up her ass in one minute and twelve seconds.
Eric Carmen – “Hey Deanie” Maybe he lost his way off the path, maybe he is label-less because he is a problem guy. But forget the BS – it’s amazing how many different times Eric captured the innocence of summer love in a song.
Kyle Vincent – “Wake Me Up (When The World’s Worth Waking Up For” Am I the only person who thinks Kyle and Eric Carmen sound alike? This perfect single should be blasting out of every car radio right now! Why isn’t it??
Sparks – “Batteries Not Included” Part two of the Sparks humor brigade. Followed up on the record by a song called “Whippings And Apologies” which I’ll probably toss on another tape someday…
Mick Ronson – “Sweet Dreamer” (edit) Speaking of losses, I miss Ronno. He made Bowie and Hunter better, brought out a great side of Morrissey, and had an appreciation for classic American music like Patsy Cline. 

Any questions?

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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: Dion Watts

As always when circling back to some old and obscure favorites, I find that I’ve missed some subsequent projects. Absolute Fiction, Carnival of Souls, The Scam…how did I miss three bands?

In a way, that’s good news for me – more to enjoy! In a way, bad news for you – the title I referred to below doesn’t even exist anymore. But several of the songs are available for free download at his site. I think if you enjoy artists like Semisonic (and solo efforts from Dan Wilson), The Zombies, John Wesley Harding, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Keane, or any of the more melodic pop artists, you’ll find something to like here. Many songs are very light and airy; some of the band material is a bit more uptempo.

You can read more about Dion Watts here and listen at the links at bottom, but it sounds like the very things that I was attracted to about his music remain intact. Here’s what I wrote a decade ago as part of my MP3 Files column for Cosmik Debris

Dion’s record is the first one I received that is printed on the MP3.COM “label”, the concept itself gets mixed reviews from me. The Digital Automatic Music (DAM) CDs are predominantly low-priced and contain two sets of tracks – one for your CD player and a set of digital files for your computer – along with artwork, video, lyrics and other goodies (the contents differs from artist to artist; this CD seems to only have a song list and a photo).

So you’re in good shape if you’re at the computer (unless you don’t have Winamp or some other program set as your default CD player, in which case your computer wrestles with itself for a while). The actual CD booklet, however, has a cover shot and very plain track listing on the back plate; everything else is generic information about MP3.com or a blank page. Bummer for those non-computer listens.

But what counts is inside, and Something Always Happens is loaded with great pop tunes. I first heard “I Wanna Be With You”, which is an irresistible sing-along pop track with jangly guitars and a great chorus. Watts’ vocal style is old school AM radio stuff, sometimes light and airy (“The Bluest Eyes”, a prom song if there ever was one), sometimes more pronounced like a John Wesley Harding on tracks like “God’s Cruel Joke On Me” (which almost sounds like a JWH title, doesn’t it?). “She Used To Love Me” is another solid hook backed by a great vocal, while the layered vocals on “Ashlee” and Overnight” are a nice touch. Watts plays and sings just about everything here, and pop fans should have a field day.

Dion Watts on MySpace

Listen and download tracks here.

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Semi-Semisonic

The law firm of Wilson-Munson-Wilson is back!

Doesn’t seem like that long ago that Semisonic was a staple of our radio diet. “Closing Time” – both song and video – seemed to spool in an incessant loop for about a two year period. Fortunately the band had both chops and songs. Like the Gin Blossoms, they seemed like they’d pump out pleasing melodic pop rock for a long time, and then – like the Gin Blossoms – they were yesterday’s hot band.

Before there was Semisonic there was Trip Shakespeare, where the Wilson-Munson-Wilson axis was firmly in place. Now those three are involved in related projects as artists and producers (damn, Minneapolis is a fertile ground!). And Jacob Slichter? Well, he only wrote one of the best books I’ve ever read about being a musician and getting tossed into the star-making machinery. I heartily recommend you go read So You Wanna be A Rock And Roll Star as soon as possible – it’s literate, funny and poignant.

But on to these two records; a semiSemisonic, if you will.

One of the things I liked about Semisonic was that even when they weren’t really rocking (“FYT”, “Brand New Baby”, “Across The Great Divide”, “If I Run”, etc.) they had a punch to their songs. Sure, much of it was powered by piano and acoustic guitar; maybe it was the way Dan Wilson’s vocals soared above it all that hooked me. The slower paced songs (“Secret Smile”) seemed more fragile by comparison. I could listen to something like “Falling” all day long.

Well, if you like great vocals, those of John Munson and Matt Wilson as The Twilight Hours are stellar. Stereo Night kicks off with the ambitious “Dreams”, weaving hook and melody between foreground and background like a delicious hypnotic dance. But after ten tracks I was in serious need of something more uptempo, although the closing track “Never Mine To Lose” is a solid exit.

“My Return”  and “Queen of Tomorrow” are probably the standouts as far as the more energetic tracks go, while “Forgot Me Now” reminds me of Semisonic’s finest slower moments. (It actually reminds me more of a song called “Fall” by The Tender Idols, but that’s really stretching a reference!). And “Winter Blue” is a pretty stunning exercise in twee-pop, with some nice arrangements that will remind you of another guy named Wilson.

It’s pretty, well-crafted and consistent. For me, it’s just lacking that intangible oomph to force its way to the top of the pile. Give a listen and decide for yourself.

The Twilight Hours on MySpace

***

I’m rabid for tribute albums, and by a similar nature, always game when established musicians do cover songs because they want to. That’s a long way from the days when you had to cover the du jour pop tunes in your corner bar to put food on your table, so if you’re going there now, I’ll go there with you.

Thanks to Chan Poling’s piano and Steve Roehm’s natty vibes, the album does swing. I won’t say that their version of “Androgynous” will make me forget Paul Westerberg or Joan Jett, but it’s clever and catchy and retains all of the original playfulness. And there are some loopy jazz moments within “Watching The Detectives” that remind you that Steve Nieve would totally do that if Elvis only let him.

But the bottom line for me  is too many albums, not enough time. The New Standards are great musicians, offer some class arrangements, and John Munson (with Poling) are solid vocalists. There will be moments when this album will be a joy to encounter. But there’s no way I’ll ever play it as loud or as often as The Hot Rats, who were just as inventive but (1) selected better songs and (2) rocked the snot out of them.  (Caveat: I didn’t realize they had a prior album out, and some of those songs look killer, so I’m headed there to check them out myself).

But this album is well worth a listen as your mileage may vary.

The New Standards website and MySpace

***

And let’s not forget Dan Wilson, who has been pretty busy himself.

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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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Nankering (Again) with the Rolling Stones

 

"Toilet seat down, eh lads? Uhh...wot? No seat at all?"

"Toilet seat down, eh lads? Uhh...wot? No seat at all?"

I’ll admit it. I read a lot of rock books, most of which suck. There are exceptions, of course;  Jacob Slichter of Semisonic wrote a beauty, one of the most well-written books about a band being chewed up by the machinery, and Ian McLagan’s is a fascinating peek into the world of two of my favorite bands and a scene I wish I could have been a part of. Even Johnny Rotten has penned a fascinating tome. But there are far too many that just suck out loud. Putrid. Filthy. Worthless. Disgusting.

Which brings me to the topic of James Phelge and his brilliant book about the early years of The Rolling Stones.

I wrote about this book eight years ago when I first read it. Tonight, by a strange coincidence, I happened to get an email from Old Nanker himself. Kismet? Serendipity? Deadline? Pick your reason, but I think you need to hear about this book, after which I hope you run right out and buy it.

jones-nankering

James Phelge roomed – in absolute squalor – with Mick Jagger, Brian Jones and Keith Richards for over a year starting in 1963. He’s also the “Phelge” from “Nanker- Phelge“, the pseudonym you’ll find credited with writing several of the early Stones songs. When you consider that “nankering” meant making a disgusting face by upturning your nostrils and pulling your eyelids down while making inhuman noises, it makes sense that it is aligned with Phelge, whom Keith calls “absolutely the most disgusting human being you ever met.” Not much of a sales pitch, is it?

But Nankering is one of the most honest, well-written glimpses behind the rock curtain I’ve ever read, and it’s not just because the author was truly an insider to the subject. Phelge is a great storyteller, but wisely never tries to make himself the center of attention, even when the anecdote focuses upon around him. Unlike most hack rock books, Phelge never tries to psychoanalyze others’ unspoken thoughts, recount transcripts of events he was not privy to, or repaint the past using future events. Instead, his unselfish style places you into the scene as a fly on the wall – as disgusting as the floor in this flat – and allows you to savor the moment as an unbiased observer.

You learn that Bill Wyman was never an early favorite, sense when Mick started to make his moves against Brian, and pity Ian Stewart’s ouster from the band, all calculated moves made by young men who wanted success at any cost. Phelge never really takes sides, preferring to let the events speak for themselves; they speak volumes. So do his vivid descriptions of their surroundings, from the dilapidated chip shops and tiny diners to the scum-filled sinks and hallways of their abysmal flat. It’s difficult to put the book down once you start reading it.

Although the book covers only a short period of time, it’s a critical juncture in the band’s history, tracing their leanest years. The Beatles transform from contemporaries to idols and then back to contemporaries as the Stones find their earliest success. The stories about practical jokes played on the other housemates are hilarious, but Phelge also manages to communicate the quiet desperation of the band who skirted with implosion so many times. After sifting through so many horrible tomes written by chauffeurs, drug dealers and security guards trying to stretch their fifteen minutes of association into a tell-all novel, what a refreshing change it is to see a writer not try to make himself the star of the book.

Phelge’s foreword says it all: “If your name is John Grisham or Robert Ludlum, this is what writing is all about, not that tacky crap about lawyers and spies that you two turn out. So eat shit.”

I’d love to hang out with James Phelge. I just wouldn’t want him as my roommate.

 

(The article above was originally published in Cosmik Debris)

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