Having just released her excellent new album Venice, Los Angeles’ Lyn Saga is looking at a golden 2013. Through sheer force of her musical confidence, Saga reclaims the term ˜power pop’ from the would-be dismissive music critics of the world. It’s feel good music; galloping songs with a crunch that somehow soothes. Saga, a classically trained guitarist, filters the catchiest hooks of the alternative pop era through personal lyrics into a unique but not unfamiliar experience. We’re thrilled to name her our Pro Artist of the Week. Listen to the title track from Venice below (and note the Weezer nod at the very end):
The Byrds, the Zombies, Fountains of Wayne, OK GO ¦ mop-topped power pop has a long history here in the U.S. and overseas. Its combination of hooks, guitars, swagger, and rhythm has proven to be an indelible attractor. So if you’re into power pop, it’s likely you’ll be into The Yearbooks. The Chicago-based band is made up of singer Sars Flannery, guitarists Eric Hehr and Bill Friel, bassist Drew Potenza, and drummer Adam James. Together, they crank out hooky rockers with karate chop guitar riffs and propulsive rhythms. Start your introduction with She Did It With Her Eyes. It’s angular, edgy, and jagged with airy vocals”part Strokes and part Death Cab For Cutie. Season of Love, with its staccato guitars, throbbing bass, and strutting drums, is the sound of being cool. Listen and learn.
Power-pop rock band Motion City Sountrack are releasing one last vinyl seven-inch to finish their Making Moves series with Drexel University. The release contains two new songs entitled “Severance” and “Major Leagues.” You can hear the latter at RollingStone.com. The songs were recorded at a studio in Drexel University with the help of some student engineers. The record will be released on November 6th under the college’s label Mad Dragon Records.
When the rolls of power-pop royalty are read, before one can go back to early-˜70s ur-power-pop bands like Big Star and Badfinger, you have to hail the genre’s late-˜70s/early-˜80s heyday. Among the handful of acts whose names are invariably invoked in that context”Cheap Trick, Dwight Twilley, The Knack, The Rubinoos, etc.”Shoes are always near the top of the list. The Zion, IL band is considered by the cognoscenti to be one of the quintessential bands to combine melodic pop hooks with urgent rock & roll momentum. Their discography boasts stone-cold classic albums like Black Vinyl Shoes (1977), Present Tense (1979), and Tongue Twister (1980), and most of the rest rate just a step behind them. But Shoes released only one new album in the ˜90s, 1994’s Propeller, and haven’t really been heard from since, until now.
Ignition, the first record to feature new Shoes material in 18 years, will be unleashed on August 14. It features all three original Shoes: Gary Klebe and brothers Jeff and John Murphy, all of whom have always made equal singing/songwriting contributions to the band’s albums. In fact, a key aspect of the group’s sound is the way the members’ individual styles blend together to create a true collective identity. Jeff Murphy says it comes from the fact that Klebe and the Murphys all learned their instruments between ˜73 and ˜74 specifically to start Shoes. That’s part of why we communicate so well with each other, Jeff explains, adding the striking admission, We still don’t know anything about music. We can’t read music, we don’t know what proper chord structure is, or scales, or any of that. But we learned together, so we’re all in the same skill level. We speak the same language.”
Even months after Amy Ray released her latest solo project Lung of Love, it is difficult to listen to it and not hear nuances that weren’t apparent earlier.
Like some of the best movies that need repeated viewings before you begin to grasp the full intent of the filmmakers, Lung of Love is filled with such subtle variegation that repeated listening is a joy. Perhaps some of that variation can be credited to Ray, half of the internationally renowned GRAMMY Award-winning folk duo the Indigo Girls, taking inspiration for the array of artists she enjoys.
I love all the different kinds of music, said Ray. I listen [to] Josh Ritter and Patti Smith and a lot of funky stuff. I always go back to that for inspiration. There is so much good stuff, it’s hard to name it all.
The same, of course, can be said for Ray’s music both in her Indigo Girls’ partnership with Emily Saliers and as a solo artist. On this album, Ray stepped out of her comfort zone”she and Saliers write alone for the Indigo Girls”and co-wrote four songs on this album with producer Greg Griffith.
It only took Francis Ford Coppola two years to follow The Godfather with Godfather II. Even less time separated Charles Dickens’ last serialized installment of David Copperfield and his first for Bleak House. Sometimes artists are able to pick up where they left off pretty quickly, even if their previous project was one of the key works of their career. Other times, however, one has to wait a while for the follow-up to come around. The original lineup of The dB’s definitely fall into the latter camp. It’s taken thirty years for frontmen Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple”along with bassist Gene Holder and drummer Will Rigby”to finally concoct a successor to Repercussion, their second record together, but now that Falling Off The Sky is set to arrive at last, the faithful are breathing heavy sighs of relief.
All four dB’s were North Carolina boys who grew up playing together in various bands throughout the ’70s before deciding to search for the brass ring in New York in 1978. Heavily influenced by Big Star”Stamey had briefly worked with that band’s mastermind, Alex Chilton, and Holsapple had recorded with Big Star sideman Richard Rosebrough”The dB’s already had a distinct power-pop orientation when they arrived on New York’s nascent new wave scene. So were The dB’s a new wave band? “I guess so, yeah,” allows Holsapple in retrospect, “for lack of a better word. I mean, we’d been making records [in other incarnations] before there was a new wave, back when new wave was a French cinema term, so I guess we sort of fell into that. We certainly weren’t new romantics. For years we sort of rejected the power-pop moniker, just because it seems very limiting, but realistically I guess you would have to say that’s exactly what we were. At this point you can call it anything, I mainly just want people to enjoy it and hear it for what it is.”
In our latest edition of Vs., we’re putting the spotlight on our recent “Kickoff to KahBang” winners Late Cambrian and nerd rockers Weezer. Late Cambrian hails from Brooklyn, New York, and like Weezer, have a distinctive power pop sound, featuring crunchy, distorted guitars and upbeat tempos. It doesn’t hurt that their lead singer’s voice sounds a lot like that of Weezer vocalist Rivers Cuomo. Late Cambrian’s songs feature big, melodic guitar solos that make listeners want to play air guitar. Just like Weezer’s first album in the early ’90s, Late Cambrian’s debut The Last Concert is the kind of album that makes 13-year-olds want to grab their dad’s old, dusty guitar out of the attic and start strumming along.
While Weezer’s music seems to get simpler both musically and lyrically on later albums, the same cannot be said for Late Cambrian. Recent Weezer singles seem to deal with their insistance on being independent and not fitting in with the crowd (despite the fact that the members of the band are now in their 40s and don’t have to prove to anyone that they’re “different”), Late Cambrian sings about a broader range of themes.
According to the band itself, its lyrics “broach existential dread, relationship truths and the cult of celebrity, all topics met with optimism in the face of nihilism.” Their track “Those Middle Years” deals with the struggles of adjusting to the real world. “Shut In/Trilobytes” on the other hand, is a song that addresses a hypothetical end of the world. The song preaches that we should not focus on the minute details of everyday life, but make the most of our time on earth because we never know when the world could end.
“Shut In/Trilobytes” also illustrates Late Cambrian’s ability to break free of the conventions of power pop. While the song begins as an upbeat, pop punk affair, it soon transforms into something completely different. Toward the end, a tom-tom drum pattern kicks in that sounds like a tribal drum beat. Over this, you can hear heavily distorted electric guitar feedback with phasing and delay effects. How many other bands do you know that can switch from power pop to psychedelic rock in a matter of minutes? Probably not many.
Late Cambrian’s debut album, The Last Concert, is available now on iTunes. And don’t forget to catch them tonight at 8:00 at the Kickoff to KahBang concert in Bangor, Maine!
For a guy like Joe Jackson, who’s got a trail of great songs that go all the way back to the late ’70s, it must be tough to strike a balance in his shows between trotting out the tunes his fans adore and demand, and keeping things fresh for himself. Nevertheless, he’s an artist who loves the experience of laying down his tunes in front of an audience. In fact, he’s popped out a number of live records over the years, starting in the ’80s with Live 1980/86, and running up to his latest release, the generically titled Live Music. “I’ve done a few live records, because I’ve always loved playing live,” Jackson told us, “and I’ve always felt like that’s the best part of what I do.”
Jackson’s restless muse and his passion for performance have led him to reinvent his catalog onstage from the beginning. As early as the aforementioned ’80s live album, he was recasting his classic tunes in radically rearranged formats, delivering the new wave/power-pop hit “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” as an a cappella doo wop tune, and finding ways to re-imagine songs originally recorded by a guitar/bass/drums lineup for a band with two keyboardists and no guitarist. He manages a similar feat on Live Music, where he pumps out cuts from all across his career in piano-trio mode. “In some cases they never had guitar in the first place,” Jackson says. “People often forget that Night and Day had no guitars on it.” In fact, Live Music boasts a number of tunes from that 1982 album, Jackson’s biggest ever, including “Steppin’ Out,” “Slow Song,” “Another World,” “Cancer” and “Chinatown.”
Backing Jackson up on Live Music are the bassist and drummer from the original Joe Jackson Band, Graham Maby and Dave Houghton, with whom he seems to have found a brand new groove. “We’ve been doing this together for a few years now and it’s been great,” Jackson says. “For one thing, we’re old friends, and that’s always nice.” But beyond the bonhomie, Jackson enjoys interacting with Maby and Houghton in a trio format. “I feel like the trio is stripping it down to the absolute bare minimum and then seeing what you can do with it. It’s pretty amazing what you can do if you use your imagination. It can sound big, it can sound really varied.”
Besides redefining his old songs with the current live lineup, Jackson mixes things up by including a few carefully chosen cover tunes on Live Music. Probably the only artist whose songs have been covered by both Anthrax (“Got the Time”) and Tori Amos (“Real Men”), Jackson picks his own outside material with an ear for adventure. David Bowie‘s “Scary Monsters,” The Beatles‘ “Girl” and Ian Dury‘s “Inbetweenies” all get Jacksonized. “We actually do a lot of covers,” says Jackson. “I think it has to be something that I can get comfortable with vocally, and that I feel I can sing in my own way. But it also needs to be something where I can see a different way of doing it, because I don’t see the point in trying to imitate the original. I’m trying to make them as different as possible.”
In that spirit, Jackson has also got another project in the works, a tribute to the compositions of Duke Ellington. He’s been performing his own version of Ellington’s “Mood Indigo” for some time, but this recording will find him interpreting a whole host of Ellington tunes in typically eclectic fashion, aided by everybody from guitar hero Steve Vai to The Roots. “It’s starting to come together finally, after years of thinking about it and planning it. I’ve done so much touring over the last few years that I really haven’t had much time to work on anything else. I just spent a week in Amsterdam working with a [Brazilian] band called Zuco 103”they’re so good. We collaborated on two tracks. I’m gonna be in New York again picking it up with Amir from The Roots. We’ll have a good chunk of it done by June. I don’t know if it’ll be out this year, it may not be until next year.”
In the meantime, Live Music will serve to remind listeners that the man who spent the last three decades recording everything from big-band swing to orchestral suites never tires of offering up new sides of his musical personality. “We’ve done so much touring the last few years,” Jackson says, “we’ve done so many great shows”it needed to be captured. I’m really happy that it’s documented.” Of course, that’s no guarantee that by the next time Jackson toddles into your town, some of these tunes won’t have been drastically reinvented once more.
Oh, Internet. You just have no shortage of sass. Like the comment “I think All Time Low has this covered,” left by one snarky OurStage user on Stranger In Arms‘ song “It’s Been A Mess Since New Years.” Hey, we like All Time Low! If Stranger in Arms wanted to jack their sound, we wouldn’t be too upset. But the thing is, while this New York five-piece’s rowdy pop-punk is occasionally reminiscent of artists like ATL or Cartel, they set themselves apart with tight hooks and smart lyricism. So here’s a little breakdown of what you can expect from “It’s Been A Mess Since New Years.” You can decide for yourselves if it’s already been covered.
From the outset, it’s made clear that this song is one of betrayal. Hey, what lies you telling now/And as they spill from your mouth/Do you feel it all the same? The band further sets the scene with the lines, Tonight is cold, and I’m a ghost/This lack of love inside won’t go/Oh, no. Uh oh. Sounds like frontman Jarett Mittroni is about to tell us a sad story, and that becomes clearer in the song’s second stanza. “Time waits, impatient lovers stray/Lacking all the strength to break down barriers alike.” Ahh, so there it is. This is a song of straying lovers. But it sounds to us like “It’s Been A Mess Since New Years” isn’t about being betrayed by a girl. Instead, Mittroni sings “Now I compromise my morals for my goals.” Hold on there”is this a confession? It sure starts to sound like it, as he wraps up each chorus with a desperate, “It takes a lot to leave/and in my heart it does this evil/Honesty, forgive me.” We’re not sure, but despite the earlier accusations of lies it sounds like our narrator could be the cheater in this scenario.
The ambiguity of the song is almost a plus, because regardless of who cheated on whom, the important thing is that the themes of betrayal and forgiveness are delivered by Mittroni’s soaring, pitch-perfect voice and sandwiched between meaty guitars relentless cymbal crashes. You can check it out below, because it’s good for a listen even if you aren’t too thrilled with its characters’ questionable morals.
This week’s focus on Get Lyrical is a female-fronted, Christian-oriented band that writes anthemic power pop ballads with a positive message. No, we’re not talking about Paramore. We’re talking about the Wichita-based Lost Colors. But don’t dismiss them as a clone just yet, because on tracks like Blame the rockers prove that they have plenty to offer besides obvious comparisons to Hayley Williams and Co.
The song opens with the line, “You lie there motionless and empty as the sky crashes down/The stars continue to fall down like heavy rain, bringing your dreams to the ground.” Not the most uplifting imagery to come from a Christian rock group. And the song doesn’t get any cheerier in the second verse, as frontwoman Ellie Gorman sings about past regrets and the “shadows of your mind.” But the Lost Colors have a plan”by presenting this bleak perspective in the track’s early lines, they make the advice they dispense in the chorus seem all the more valuable: “When life drags you down, don’t you give up on yourself/Stop the blame.”
The band says the track speaks of taking responsibility of one’s actions rather than blaming others for their mistakes. And with the powerful guitars that back up the song’s forceful chorus, you can’t help but listen to that suggestion. Luckily, that doesn’t mean the group isn’t sympathetic, admitting “I know that it’s easy to blame everyone for our own lack of motivation/I know that it’s easy to blame everyone than fixing our own situations.” Uplifting rock that shares a message without being preachy? We can get into that! Check out “Blame” below.
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