This month in new music from the pop underground
Hello, Friends! This is the first of hopefully several columns where I review all kinds of pop albums, not just of the “power” variety, but also garage-pop, indie-pop, psych-pop…well, you get the idea. Anyway, sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride! Cheers!
Straighten Up (Jem)
★★★★ (4/5 stars)
One look at the cover of this album will be all it takes to whet the appetite of many a pop fan, and one listen will validate the artwork’s implied claim. Johnathan (yes, that’s how it’s spelled) Pushkar is a young man from Nashville who has obviously gone to school on the Beatles in particular, and power pop in general, and has delivered an album full of gems! His voice is very pleasant, not unlike that of another gent originally from Tennessee, David Brookings, and every song is bursting with jangle and melody! Most of the tunes are penned by Pushkar, but there’s also a nifty cover of Fountains of Wayne’s “Hackensack”, on which he does a splendid Chris Collingwood impression. The only carp here would be the relative lack of harmonies, but that notwithstanding, this is a fine beginning to what looks like a pretty fruitful career (album to be released on Sept. 27).
VIDEO: Johnathan Pushkar “The Girl Next Door”
Pictures of Pretty Things (Magic Stone)
★★★★ 1/2 (4.5/5 stars)
A fine mixed bag of styles, this. Farrington is the brainchild of James Patrick Phelan, who wrote all the songs and sings on most of them. What we get is some mighty fine indie rock (“Daybreaker”, et al…), power pop (“The Magic Record, et al…) and ballads (“Stones”, et al…) on their debut, Pictures of Pretty Things. The addition of female vocals and Phelan’s high registers on several of the tracks gives a lot of the record a New Pornographers feel. Other standout tracks include “When I Was You”, “Stupid Plastic War”, and “Music Is The Drug (That Gets Me High)”, to name a few. The band includes the former drummer of The Andersons, Marcos de la Cruz, and there are guest vocals by luminaries including Keith Slettedahl of The 88 and up and comer Kai Danzberg, as well as bass playing by the ultra-ubiquitous Fernando Perdomo. Definitely a possible Top Tenner of the year for yours truly!
Zibaldone (Big Stir)
★★★★ (4/5 stars)
Big Stir has become a force to be reckoned with on the pop scene, having signed several bands in the past few years, and doing monthly shows in Burbank, CA and all over the UK! Label heads Rex Broome and Christina Bulbenko like to joke that their band, The Armoires, were the 15th act they signed to their own label, but they are certainly worthy, as evidenced by their latest album, Zibaldone (pronounced Zib-Ahl-Doan-Ay). The band has been known on the scene for their steroid fueled folk sounds, and they’ve definitely taken it up a notch here. The opening track, “Appalachukrainia” definitely conveys a feeling of that mountain region, and illustrates the family atmosphere surrounding the label by name checking a few of their signees, the chorus and bridges of “McCadden” have a soft pop feel not heard in any of their other tunes, and I have to love “Sattelite Business” because they always dedicate it to my Aerospace Engineer wife, Rina! Overall, the album has a palpable folk-psych feel, which is very refreshing in these modern daze! Another thing to love is the cover art, which includes caricatures of just about every musician who has ever played a Big Stir show, and the list of “thank yous” is about a mile long; yet another reason to support Big Stir!
AUDIO: “Allesandra 619” by The Armoires
Jordan Jones (Spaghetti Town/Beluga)
★★★★ (4/5 stars)
Some cool power pop/bubble gum is in store for anyone who listens to the debut album by Jordan Jones, a Los Angelino who somehow has remained anonymous…until hopefully now. This is an excellent album which fans of people like Kurt Baker or Brad Marino will especially love, with its uptempo, fun tunes, and Jones’ vocals will remind you a bit of Jeff Whalen of Tsar; in other words, sweet but tough, not unlike The Ohio Express! No frills here, but lots of hooks and even more rock! An album not to be missed!
AUDIO: Jordan Jones “Rumors Girls”
THE LAISSEZ FAIRS
Marigold (Rum Bar)
★★★1/2 (3.5/5 stars)
A gander at the credits will raise an eyebrow or two, as the main man of the Laissez Fairs is John Fallon, one and the same of ‘80s psychedelic darlings, The Steppes! On their third album, Marigold, you’ll hear a lot of the touchstones of The Steppes, e.g. Fallon’s sing/talky vocals, robust melodies, and lots and lots of jangle! Cool tunes include “Phantom Stranger”, “Follow The Money” (written and sung by 12-string player, Joe Lawless), “Mr. Wryly”, and track 16 (count ‘em!), “We’ll Get There Someday”. A bit more consistency would have gotten the album a higher rating, but the good stuff is well worth the price of admission. Check it out, if you dare!