Tag Archives: The MP3 Files

Under The Radar: Wes Hollywood

Cities like Athens, Austin and Seattle might have gotten all the notoriety as musical hotbeds but the Illinois/Indiana area was always a great source of powerpop bands. The Wes Hollywood Show was no exception, wrangling guitar oriented pop with a sense of humor and mining that infectious, kinetic beat like Elvis Costello, The Kinks, The Beat and their neighbors from Rockford, Cheap Trick. They wound up issuing four albums under that name; Girls was the one that first caught my attention.

These days if you want to track pop savant Wes, you can find him making great music with his current effort, The Tenniscourts. Of course, that band is a subject for another day.

Here’s a review I wrote about their album The Girls Are Never Ending for Cosmik Debris back in September 2001.

Set the wayback machine back to 1977, Sherman, for The Wes Hollywood Show is waiting there for you. Remember when rock and roll was fun? Before shogazing? Before angst? Skinny tie pop rules again with these guys on their second CD, The Girls Are Never Ending. It’s wall to wall bouncy, power pop harmony, jangly guitar glory.

The opening track, “She’s Gonna Let You Go,” calls to mind the Romantics and early Elvis Costello, while the following track sounds more like The Knack and…uh…early Elvis Costello. That’s no insult – Wes isn’t trying to ape the man, but he does sound a little like him, although crossed with a good dose of John Lennon. In other words, the boy can sing!

The rest of the band are no slouches either. Mark Talent (lead guitar), Patrick Thornbury (bass) and Jason Styx (drums…wait…a drummer named Styx?) are energetic, especially on killer tracks like the Ramones-ish (well, okay, and Costello-ish) “H Bomb.” No doubt you’ll be playing this record over and over again, dancing to “Goodtime Girl,” “Little Miracle” and “Weston-Super-Mare.” And even though you’ll go grab This Year’s Model afterwards, you’d be just as likely to pull “Turning Japanese” and “What I Like About You” out of the rack.

And there’s something wrong with that?

Give it a listen at Amazon right now.

That Year's Model

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Under The Radar: Pop Mafia

Another blast from the trolling tangents of The MP3 Files for Cosmik Debris. Wish I could tell you that these guys are alive and well and making records, but I haven’t found anything since 2003. And yes, I’ve tried Pop Mafia and Popmafia.

The review in Billboard was pretty effervescent: “Remember when rock music was no-frills fun? Somewhere between the new-wave era and the hair-metal movement, rock was simple, unabashedly pop, but aggressive enough to keep punkers happy. Maybe we’re just showing our age, but they sure don’t make music like that anymore.”

I was on board as well. Any time a press release lays down the gauntlet by promising ” the influence of early Elvis Costello and the Replacements” my ears perk up, and so does the high bar. Down at the Astoria is certainly not a stone cold classic like This Years Model or Pleased To Meet Me, but a good fun band and a record well worth your listening time.

Here is my review from 2001…

Let me get this straight…three of the five guys are named O’Donnell, O’Brien and O’Connor, and the band is called Popmafia?

Ahh, never mind, doesn’t matter, because their CD Down At The Astoria flat out kicks ass. They’ve got a skintight hard rock sound down pat, and the production sends it out crisp, clear and loud. Steve O’Donnell’s vocals are strong throughout, ballsy without lapsing into screaming, and bassist Paul Conway and drummer Steve Selezniov are locked into a groove that won’t quit. If Blink 182 covered “She Comes” or “Just Go Away,” we’d all be dancing to the killer hooks. Good songs about sex, love and rock and roll; from the temperate “Believe In Me” to the fiery “Automatic” and the clever “Taintshaker.”

Too many wannabe bands try to combine modern rock with a surf-punk edge and fall flat on their faces; Popmafia never forgets that melody and good musicianship doesn’t mean overkill. Guitarists Matt O’Brien and Steve O’Connor leave no doubt that they’re monsters, but they do it by driving the rhythm and then diving in for clean crisp solos. “Prizefighter” is a good example; as the band slides into double-time, O’Connor rips notes like a boxer nailing his opponent with a flurry of jabs. Hell, make that uppercuts, it’s too good for jabs. I’d love to see these guys open for The Dictators because an audience like that would get it in spades.

Listen to clips and grab a copy via CD Baby.

A later EP Delusions of Grand Avenue also available there.

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Under The Radar: UHF

A Winner!

Before it became easy to plop entire digital albums on your website, long before Facebook and MySpace were staples of every band’s toolbox, there were a few MP3 sites floating around that were less than organized. Few sites beyond CD Baby provided a local band the platform they needed to get their music heard.

As a lifelong tune troller, I thought it would be a good idea to write a column spotlighting five bands I came across on late night tangents. So with a thumbs up from the Editor at the late great Cosmik Debris magazine, The MP3 Files was born. One of the first groups I highlighted was a Portland Oregon band called UHF. Here’s my review of their second album Lottery from 2001…

Wow! Not only a band who obviously find their roots in classic British bands like The Pretty Things, Kinks and The Who, but a concept album to boot! That was a tough enough chore to attempt when they were in fashion, but to slip out a record like this in the days of preening teenybopper wedge dancers and pretentious wank rockers takes big balls.

The Everyman storyline in Lotterygrowing up in innocence and struggling as “money changes everything” – is right out of Ray Davies’ scrapbook. But UHF put in a lot of hard work to create something original in the spirit of the above-mentioned artists. (And if they just wanted to mimic the past, they could have – I’ve heard their cover of a Pretty Things track and it’s massive!)

And let’s not punish the quality of the individual songs by insinuating that they only work within the concept. Although Jeremy and Jordan Leff’s vocals on “Best Friends” sound eerily like Daltrey and Townshend melting together at the microphone during Tommy, it’s a great song regardless. Ditto the majestic “Whatever The Weather,” whose lyrics could fit in anywhere from Village Green Preservation Society to Soap Opera.

What impressed me most was the diverse instrumentation and song structure throughout the record; slap on the headphones and savor the sonic touches that embellish almost every track. With Jeff Nelson (guitars and bass) and drummer Matt Johnson, the Leff brothers have nailed a very ambitious target. I can’t wait to hear what they try next.

***

Well, it looks like I have some catching up to do.

Not only did I miss two later releases, but as fate would have it they have a brand new one coming out called Here Come The Ghosts. The clips sound great! Excerpt from their press release below:

It’s been four years since Portland, Oregon’s psychpop quartet UHF has released an album, but they’ve more than made up for it with Here Come The Ghosts, a genre-bending journey of 21 tracks on both double vinyl and double CD. From driving psychpop mood pieces to intimate and melancholy character sketches, it’s an album full of devious lyrical turns, subtle sonic shifts, and solid psychpop songcraft. Ghosts has UHF stretching themselves like never before.

Straying from the psychedelic soundscapes of their previous (and critically acclaimed) releases, Ghosts is more stark, more relaxed, more live (much of the album was recorded live in the studio) than any of UHF’s previous studio records. Thematically, the album is about relationships: past, present, living, dead… and undead. The journey is at times disturbing, uplifting, humorous, desperate, romantic, angry, confused, and reckless but always infused with an emotional honesty and musicality that evokes bands like Secret Machines, The The and Stone Roses, while venturing side trips into territory reminiscent of early 70’s AM radio.

UHF website  and MySpace site – now go check ’em out!

(Damn, I miss Cosmik Debris.  D.J., if you’re out there, send up a flare!)

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