Tag Archives: Velvet Crush

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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Power Pop Tributes V

Power Pop Criminals have done it again.

Every so often, my friend Angelo and the crew at PPC put in some yeoman work to gather together a collection of artists covering other artists and wrap it up for us with a nice bow. On this, their fifth collection of Tribute or Not Tributes, they’ve assembled forty-nine tracks of cover tunes that range from nice surprises to holy shit moments, and there’s no doubt that this will spin multiple times in your player.

Want some familiar names? Ronnie Spector, Butch Walker, The Rubinoos, Cheap Trick, The Goo Goo Dolls, Joan Jett and The Wildhearts are just some of the bands taking a whack at their peers and influences.

Great bands that never got the cred they deserve? Check out The Beat Angels, Pugwash, Velvet Crush, The Merrymakers, Material Issue and Gigolo Aunts.

Names only your powerpop friends know? Discover and enjoy Marty Rudnick, Jaimie Vernon, Chris Richards, Cloud Eleven and The Slingsby Hornets.

These and many others take on tracks from the classic B’s (Beatles, Beach Boys, Badfinger) as well as Tommy James, David Bowie, The Troggs, Joe Jackson, Marshall Crenshaw, Blondie, The Who…ahhh, just click on the damn link and get started, willya? There’s even a bonus 50th track on the site for those of you with Monk-like neuroses.

Like the man says, it’s just raw rock’n’roll with la la las

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NEW ALBUM! Tommy Keene

 

Same as it ever was, same as it ever was...

Same as it ever was, same as it ever was...

Although far from a household name, Tommy Keene has been around for a long time and has a strong following in power-pop circles. He’s never had a hit record per se, but those who are knowledgeable about the indie and melodic rock scene are very familiar with the singer-singwriter’s catalogue; he’s been a critical favorite for almost thirty years. Not exceedingly prolific, there have been a couple of breaks in his career, but just as interestingly, a couple of kick-starts. (I really thought the Alias retrospective The Real Underground would have launched him into the stratosphere…maybe with a Warner Brothers or Columbia budget it might have).

He’s been on the cusp of stardom for so long he probably has an office there. Geffen Records tried to promote him as a pop hero in the post-New Wave era. He’s had credible players like Peter Buck, Jay Bennett and Robin Wilson helping out on albums where his strong originals are often accompanied by great cover songs like Lou Reed’s “Kill Your Sons” or “Tattoo” from The Who Sell Out. He’s partnered with Bob Pollard and hit the road as a lead guitarist (where he rocks considerably harder than on his own material) with Paul Westerberg and Velvet Crush. But despite often great critical acclaim, he’s managed to stay on the cult side of the popularity fence while far less talented artists landed on the front pages.

Tommy Keene live performing “Run Now

There are a lot of artists who haven’t hit a high note in their catalogue to touch “Places That Are Gone“, “Run Now” or “Back To Zero“, and while I don’t think he’s recaptured that majesty in a while himself, there’s a great body of work out there well worth exploring. I think at this stage of the game he’s just in it to please himself, which allows him to wallow in the areas he enjoys without concern for the headlines. It gives him a chance to dabble in artistic relationships he enjoys, do his own thing or pinch-hit with others, and every four years or so drop another project out there for the fans (while that group may not be massive, they are loyal). Sounds like a nice life to me.

You can read my review of In The Late Bright in Blurt Magazine.

Tour info, clips and tons more at Tommy Keene’s website.

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2008 Countdown: 15, 14, 13, 12, 11

 The countdown of the Best Albums of 2008 continues…

Yellow Man Group

Yellow Man Group

 

 15. The Tripwires:  Makes You Look Around

I was a big fan of the Model Rockets so I took a flyer on this one, since John Ramberg usually delivers. Glad to tell you his track record remains intact. Hooking up with a few Seattle luminaries including Ramberg’s Minus 5 buddies Scott McCaughey and Kurt Bloch, this is a huge-sounding yet warm record, whether it’s rocking and/or rolling. Or pickin’and grinnin’, for that matter – “Sold Yer Guitar Blues” shows me that these guys are cool enough to think that it’s never too late to pay props to The Lovin’ Spoonful.

There’s a variety of styles (all with tremendous guitar playing), but to my ears there are two main musical statements in the Tripwire sound. “Big Electric Light” and “I Don’t Care Who You Are” absolutely bleed that Big Star cum Posies vibe, and songs like “Monument” expose an obvious debt to pub rock, Rockpile specifically (the guitar on the intro is textbook Dave Edmunds…who probably copped it from Scotty Moore…ahh, never mind). Hope they make another one, and hope they hit the East Coast; if their cover of “Tulane” is any indication, they sound like they could really rip it up live.

 

14. The Respectables:  Sibley Gardens

Who would have thought that a band could blend the pop appeal of The Small Faces and the bombast of 90s hair metal into something completely irresistible? I really liked their first record, but Sibley Gardens sounds arena-size! The first four songs are a primer on how to get someone’s attention from the first note and hold it like a vice grip; had they ended there as an EP I would have crawled to their house like a jonesing junkie begging for more. Thankfully they included seven more songs for me to enjoy.

Guitarist Joey Gaydos is stellar…he’s got the power chords down to a science, of course, but his leads are tasteful and he never overplays. Drummer Donn Deniston isn’t flashy either, but he snaps that snare like a Swiss watch, and when you’re playing air guitar you need to depend on a guy like that. Nick Piunti has one of those great powerpop voices; a classic range but just the right touch of raspy to give it an edge. It’s why Ian Lloyd used to knock me out, and beyond the killer hooks all over this album, it’s the biggest reason I’m having a hard time getting this disc out of the player.

 

13. Three Hour Tour:  B Side Oblivion

Ten years ago Three Hour Tour issued 1969, a collection of singles recorded for Parasol, and then they were gone. Now out of nowhere, this gem popped up to serve ten new tracks from this collection of (now) powerpop legends? Darren Cooper, where the hell have you been? The roots of the band go way back to the Champaign Illinois days, where they evolved into powerpop icons…Adam Schmitt as producer and solo artist, Paul Chastain and Ric Menck with Velvet Crush, Brad Steakley (a/k/a Brad Elvis). Cooper formed Copper Records (was it really just a typo, Darren?) and had he done nothing else but release Cotton Mather’s Kon Tiki, he’d still be a pop hero.

And speaking of Kon Tiki, that’s the first thing I thought of when hearing “Easter Basket Grass”, one of those instantly hummable songs you find yourself singing long before you even care what the words are about. This is really Cooper’s show, and his love of Badfinger and The Byrds is pretty evident when you add up the chiming guitar chords, soaring vocals and irresistible hooks. “Lonely Place” is reminiscent of Myracle Brah (if they had George Harrison playing slide guitar) and “What Made You Change” is a marriage of John Lennon and Cheap Trick. Cooper’s vocals might sound eerily like Matthew Sweet, but this is a far, far better record than Sunshine Lies. Please don’t make me wait another ten years, guys.

 

12. Taylor Hollingsworth: Bad Little Kitty

This is raw as steak tartare, and really puts the lo in lo-fi…but damned if there are many records from 2008 that rock harder than this one. Taylor Hollinsgworth has picked up the baton from Something/Anything era Todd Rundgren, figuring the best thing to do when radio is dead is burn it down and start over. (Or maybe it’s Keef and Exile On Main Street. Whatever…) For Hollingsworth, that means sounding like Tommy Womack stealing guitar licks in “Damn Boy, What’s Wrong With You” (“Bang A Gong”, anyone?), Dylan fronting The Stooges (“Assassinate The President”), Ryan Adams and Paul Westerberg shaking off a hangover (“In The Dark”), The Dandy Warhols with a hit record (“Imaginary People”) or even The Cramps covering “Something Else” (“TNT & Dynamite”). It’s like stumbling into a roadhouse and finding the strangest jukebox you’ve ever seen (and most of my quarters would go for “!0 Good Reasons”).

Unfortunately he included two obnoxious snippets that had to be intended for stoners on headphones; the 30 second intro and 44 seconds of “I’m Dead” that unfortunately leads into the manic reprise of “Assassinate” segueing into “TNT and Dynamite”. Hell, even that is four minutes of Crazy Horse on acid, with Neil Young playing the shit out of the one guitar string he has left through an amp he kicked the shit out of just moments before. And two minutes later, after a Blue Cheer infected ramble he’s taking the piss out of Hank Williams with “You Don’t Know What You Do To Me”. Whether you think he’s a slyly paying tribute to some of the building blocks of American music or just a snotty but versatile show-off (my bet is the former), Bad Little Kitty is fascinating.

 

11. The Meadows:  First Nervous Breakdown

Cross pollinate the grandeur of Oasis arrangements and the beautiful delicacy of The Jayhawks, and your Petrie dish will likely have the DNA that generated the brilliance of First Nervous Breakdown. The Meadows are principally a two man band; Todd Herfindal and Kevin Houlihan handle the songwriting, production, vocals and most of the guitar/bass duties. The result is a collection of infectious songs that will appeal to fans of The Byrds, Gin Blossoms, Big Star as well as the aforementioned cornerstone bands…hell, even early Eagles fans will lap this up.

As impressed as I am with the vocals and the great musicianship on this album (there are several guests adding flavor), it’s the songwriting that slays me; there are ten songs on this album and every one could be a single. How does a band – or in this case, two guys – hit the mother lode like this without the whole world catching on? I don’t know either…but if you’re reading this, that’s one less person to notify.

 

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Check back daily this week for more of the countdown. We’re down to the Top Ten…

(The full list will be updated each day on the MUSIC tab.)

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