Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Best Albums of 2008

It is never easy to simplify and boil down all the greats from one 12 month period into one finite list of the very best for a particular year. However, this is what we've attempted to do. Here is a list of my favorite albums of 2008, in no particular order. I've also included favorites from my husband (Mr Qwerty). Most of the time our taste in music is quite similar but there are some genres that he prefers more than me and vice-versa. It's an eclectic list and also includes our favorite compilations, acts outside our remit and other goodies. Hope that there is an artist or band on this list that encourages you to look further and seek out their music. In 2009 I will be looking forward to discovering many more, new powerpop bands and the next International Pop Overthrow Festival in Liverpool.

Powerpop Albums of the Year
1 Adrian Bourgeois - Adrian Bourgeois
2 Sloan - Parallel Play
3 Third of Never - Moodring
4 Gurus - Now
5 Roger Joseph Manning - Catnip Dynamite
6 Junipers - Cut Your Key
7 Liam Finn - I'll be Lightning
8 Julie Ocean - Long Gone and Nearly There
9 Galaxies - Here We Go
10 The Quarter After - Changes Near
11Explorers Club - Freedom Wind
12 Class Three Overbite - Horses For Courses
13 Feeling - Join With Us
14 Ike - Where To Begin
15 Presidents of the USA - These Are The Good Times People
16 The Major Labels - Aquavia
17 Raconteurs - Consoler of the Lonely
18 Scott Murray - Vinyl Generation
19 Greg Pope - Popmonster
20 Lund Bros - Songbook IV

Honorable Mentions Which Might Be Outside Of Our Remit
1. Counting Crows - Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings
2. Mark Kozelek - The Finally LP
3 Winterpills - Central Chambers
4 Black Francis - Svn Fngrs
5 Dexateens - Lost and Found
6 Brent Cash - How Will I Know If I'm Awake
7 Boo Hewerdine - Toy Box No. 1 (e.p.)
8 Jeff Hanson - Madam Owl
9 Black Crowes - Warpaint
10 Killers - Day & Age
11 Duffy - Rockferry
12 Kings of Leon - Only By the Night
13 Lindsey Buckingham - Gift of Screws
14 Dwight Twilley - Singles
15 Envelopes - Here Comes The Wind
16 All American Rejects - When The World Comes Down
17 Greg Laswell - How The Day Sounds

Legendary Comebacks of the Year
Famously, the likes of Glen Campbell and Neil Diamond and other legendary old timers have put out substantial albums this year to equal (in some cases) their finest work. Less trumpeting and flags were erected for Beau Brummels' mainman Sal Valentino's contribution this year. His album, Every Now and Then quietly appeared to no particular fanfare. Understated, unassuming - Sal even revisits past glories, but it makes me happy that guys like Sal are still marking worthy statements which are vying for attention in the crowded marketplace.

Reissue of the Year
I bought it on vinyl in 1977 and when it first came out on CD in the 80's/early 90's but I'm still happy to lay out a third time for Dennis Wilson's sublime Pacific Ocean Blue, this time including his unfinished follow up Bambu. Often overlooked, even by Beach Boys fans, Dennis in any other band would be the major songwriter and central talent. This release proves beyond any doubt that we lost one of our finest musical contributors back in 1983

Goo Goo Dolls - Greatest Hits Volume 2
VA - International Pop Overthrow Volume 11
Gripweeds - Infinite Soul (Best of The Gripweeds)
Linus of Hollywood - Attractive Singles

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Holiday Recommended Books For The Music Lover

At this time of year many of us look for the perfect book for the
serious music lovers on our Christmas list. That person may indeed
be us as it is so tempting to purchase this type of gift for oneself.

This Is Your Brain On Music - Daniel J. Levitin - Plume, 2006
Extremely well researched book that delves into the mysteries of how
our brains and other receptors are affected by music

Music Lust - Nic Harcourt - Sasquatch Books, 2005
Written by KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic. Book is broken down into
various themed chapters that describe bands and/or musicians that
fall into that particular category. For example the chapter for Good
Enough to Eat lists bands that have names describing food. The
individual who loves music combined with an obsessive love of lists
needs this book!

Lost In The Grooves - Kim Cooper and David Smay - Routledge, 2005
This is one of those books you can get lost in. Described on the
cover as a capricious guide to the music you missed this is the type
of book that fanatical music collectors love. Here's where my husband
found that the James Gang and Martin Mull were worthy of re-evaluation
and discovered Fool's Face for the first time. If this kind of thing
sets your heart racing, then this is the book for you.

Listen To This - Alan Reder and John Baxter, Hyperion, 1999
Musicians from different genres recommend their favorite artists and
recordings which gives this book an original outlook. For fans of
Peter Buck of REM you will gain insight into the bands and influences
that impacted his music. Highly recommend the book because of the
unusual music that is mentioned but also for the depth of the research

The Green Book of Songs by Subject, 4th Edition - Jeff
Green,Professional Desk References, 1995
This is the book that all disc jockeys would have loved to have gotten
their hands on in the days of early 70's free form radio. The book is
divided into all types of categories and songs that fit into those
categories are listed. The categories range from Africa - world. I
myself used to make up playlists of the 3 perfect songs that would go
together thematically if I were a DJ. At the time I purchased the
book I hesitated due to the price but in retrospect I am glad I made
the acquisition as I haven't seen it since.

The Encyclopedia of Record Producers - Eric Olsen, Paul Verna & Carlo Wolff, Billboard Books, 1999
As essential as directors of movies are the legendary producers of
records. Here are the visionaries behind the stars,the ones twiddling
the knobs, sliding the sliders and dishing out the direction and
advice. Pretty thorough and gives discographies which feature their
misses as well as their hits. As a companion to this volume, can we
also recommend the BBC book The Record Producers which accompanied
their radio series of the same name, where fuller accounts and
interviews are conducted with a number of classic producers. Not all
are obvious with some surprise entries.

Shake Some Action - The Ultimate Power-Pop Guide - John Borack,
Not Lame, 2007
Essential for any fan of the genre, this book lists the top 200 power
pop albums and discusses each record. But this book is a variable
feast for the fan and additionally contains another 14 riveting
chapters that none of us can afford to be without. Seasoned powerpop
hack veteran Borack has pretty much rounded up every important
commentator, musician and mover/shaker on the jangly genre that is
worthy of a sniff and nailed a comment, a top ten or other important
fact for us ever grateful servants of this thing we love. Unfortunately this
book is now out of print but was originally available from the Not Lame

Old Rare New: The Independent Record Shop, Barry Seven, Black Dog
Publishing, 2008
Although a rare experience now - this book recreates the feeling and
experience of finding that unusual record shop in a new town that has
you salivating beyond control. It panders to those of us of a certain
age, but lets face it, unless you remember the record shop of
yesterday then this book will probably not appeal in the first place.
Well researched and contains a couple of stores that are our
favourites too.

All books listed above with the exception of Shake Some Action are all
available at Amazon. There are even reasonably priced used copies of
many of them. Hope this list has been an inspiration for this holiday season.

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Bopp Till You Drop

Andy Bopp, lead singer, guitarist, and main songwriter with the band
Myracle Brah shocked fans last month with a radical departure from the
norm. First make a solo album, and then make it an all acoustic affair
with eight stripped down versions of previously released songs, then
add four new songs to the package to keep the fans happy.

Andy highlights material mostly from his early career with songs from
Life From Planet Eartsnop, Bleeder, Plate Spinner and both Love Nut
albums (Andy's Pre Myracle Brah outfit). If you don't know Love Nut
- their two albums on Merkin are also worth checking out.

Entitled This Guitar Kills Singer Songwriters the solo album was
released on October 21 on the Rainbow Quartz label.

It was interesting to hear the acoustic versions of songs I'm already
very familiar with and to hear the new material. In general I think
if you have never heard Myracle Brah's music you need to go back to
their extensive catalog to truly appreciate this solo album by
listening to the original Myracle Brah versions first. Personally, I
prefer the crunchier sound of the electric guitar vs. the acoustic.

For those of you not familiar with Myracle Brah, their music is
defined by extremely short, under 3 minute powerpop gems that have an
immediacy and passion that grabs you. Perhaps one of the reasons
there is a rawness to their sound is due to the fact that Andy Bopp
does all of his recording in the garage of his home; when the mood
strikes him he can just meander down to his studio and capture his

I was fortunate to see Myracle Brah in the fall of 2004 when they
performed at Arlene's Grocery in NYC for that particular year's
International Pop Overthrow Fest; their performance far surpassed my

Back to 'This Guitar Kills...' - The album begins with a favorite of
mine in its original format Whisper Softly- This version is
stark, but it's catchy, haunting melody pervades. Other favorites on
the album include "Broken" , Good Day To The Night and "Hearts on Fire".
I believe Lennon and McCartney would have been quite chuffed to
have come up with these melodies.

All in all an album for committed fans rather than a new audience, but
as a sketch before the full canvas of another Brah album, this will do
just dandy.

Some interviews with Andy Bopp are found here:

Love Nut
  • Bastards of Melody - (Merkin) 1996
  • Baltimucho (Merkin) 1998
Myracle Brah
  • Life on Planet Eartsnop (Not Lame) 1998
  • Plate Spinner (Not Lame) 1999
  • Myracle Brah (Not Lame) 2000
  • Bleeder (Not Lame) 2001
  • Super Automatic (Rainbow Quartz Records) 2002 - 14 song compilation
  • Treblemaker (Rainbow Quartz Records) 2003
  • Can You Hear the Myracle Brah (Rainbow Quartz International) 2007

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

The Vinyl Resurgence

While back in the U.S. for my Mom's funeral I was able to return to a favorite record/CD shop in New Jersey. In the past my husband and I have spent many long hours combing through the used CDs and albums there. How many of you have fond memories of hunting through the browser for that rare album? I'm sure many readers have favorite record shops from their youth?

When I was a teenager I used to look through the import and the alphabetized sections hoping to come across an unusual album. My husband also had the experience of being able to visit over 30 record shops in his adopted home town, tramping miles to hunt through the sale bins for imported and cut-out albums. It was not unusual on some occasions to come home with 30+ albums tucked under his arms.

Since the introduction of the CD in the 80's and more recently the explosion of the MP3 (and similar) there is now a generation of young people who didn't experience firsthand the discovery of new bands as a result of perusing through vinyl. There are many who opine that the sound of vinyl is warmer than the digital option. Also with album covers being much larger you end up with a much bigger visual treat, a greater package and some genuine works of fine pop culture and yes, art!

When I was back in the U.S. I saw an ad for turntables being sold in 2 separate record/CD shops. This is the first time that I had seen a renewed interest in turntables despite the fact that the one shop has always sold new and used albums. The second shop where I saw turntables being sold was in the university town of Ithaca. While there (at 'Volume') I had a conversation with one of the co-owners of the shop in regard to the sale of vinyl. He said there was definitely a strong interest in the black plastic way of listening to music and that the college students wanted the artwork, the lyric sheet, the inner sleeve and moreover: 'the real thing' when it comes to purchasing music.

Vox Pop on Twitter
On Twitter recently I asked a few people if and why they purchase vinyl. Reasons ranged from "I like the warmer sound of it. Nostalgia, maybe?", "There's also the cover art and the cool gatefolds. Artists were able to do some great things with the larger canvas." Other responses included "there's something about the depth and warmth of sound on vinyl that I really like." and "I'm purchasing vinyl because I like the feel, the big cover art and the sound and it will be more durable and valuable than a CD."

Commercial Rise
Amazon's recently launched vinyl store now has over 250,000 titles in stock. In the next few months Oasis, Kings of Leon and Bob Dylan will be releasing new vinyl titles. U2 and Van Morrison will also be re-releasing their back catalog on vinyl. On September 2, 2008, Capitol Records released the first in a series of vinyl reissues of albums from some of their biggest artists, featuring classic releases from the Beach Boys "Pet Sounds" and Steve Miller "Greatest Hits 1974-78" alongside more recent blockbusters from Coldplay "Parachutes" and Radiohead "OK Computer". Subsequently, Capitol followed up these 13 launch titles with the September 30 release of Jimi Hendrix' 1970 album "Band of Gypsies" and John Lennon's popular "Imagine", and on October 28, the iconic label will release albums from The Band, Megadeth, Roxy Music, and Paul McCartney & Wings.

L.A. indie label HackTone Records, will issue its first vinyl release, "Ready for the Flood," from former Jayhawks Mark Olson and Gary Louris this fall. The Pretenders new release called "Break Up the Concrete" came out recently on October 7. The vinyl version of the album, to be released on September 23, features two 10" discs with a gatefold, die-cut to shape and debossed with concrete texture with a full Album CD in Mini Jacket.

In addition to old material appearing on vinyl, 180 gram releases of new material are being marketed too. Ben Folds new album "Way To Normal Package" will contain: a CD, 180 gram vinyl, 24 page booklet, bonus DVD and Bonus CD with live 9 live songs.

Despite the fact that the 12 inch vinyl record was in decline for the past 20 years, worldwide sales of LP records doubled in 2007 after an all-time low in 2006. Turntable sales in the U.S. have increased more than 80% from 2006-2007 and are expected to rise again this year according to the Consumer Electronics Association.

One of the great things about the new vinyl movement, it's an independent phenomena - so far the big corporates have not climbed on the bandwagon and stomped all over it with their ugly size 13's - to much extent so far!

The Hunt
For those of you who are just now discovering vinyl you may wonder where the best place is to find those obscure vinyl treasures. I highly recommend the following places:

Used record shops
Record shows
Garage sales
Flea markets/car boots
Thrift stores
Ads in local newspapers
Ads in magazines such as Goldmine or Record Collector -UK
Internet forums
Library sales
College radio stations

For new and older vinyl:
Amazon , Rhino , and Sundazed are recommended.
This author has compiled a fabulous list of worldwide vinyl retailers.

If you need a creative solution for your new acquisitions once you start collecting vinyl here are directions for making a record holder

Recently I read Vinyl Junkies by Brett Milano. Not only does he delve into the reasons for obsessive hunts for vinyl but he also did extensive research into the habits of serious music collectors such as Peter Buck of REM and Roger Manning of the band Jellyfish. I highly recommend the book.

Further Reading
Vinyl Gets Its Groove Back

Cut Outs in the UK - Many shops were seasonal and set up just to sell American imports which came into the country as ballast from freight ships. The albums were supposed to be junked after they reached the UK's shores, but of course many of them were not, and were sold to unscrupulous wholesalers who would then sell them on to retail outlets for very little. Lucky for us collectors here, they were - a good proportion of my collection of American material is made up of these cut-outs - containing rarities and fabulous albums that soldin tiny amounts which have since allowed me to discover great
artists which would have otherwise be lost. MrQ

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

High On Stress: A Mini Interview

On Saturday we reviewed High On Stress's new album "Cop Light Parade". Today (slightly later than advertised) we have an interview where I was fortunate enough to be able to direct some questions to the four members of High on Stress.

They all come from the Twin Cities, Minnesota and initially got together five years ago. Their first CD "Moonlight Girls" was released to great acclaim in July 2005 and their second "Cop Light Parade" officially released this month, we reviewed a couple of days ago (see below).

If you could have recorded your CD in any other decade when would it be and why? If there is a collective view that is similar discuss that decade. If it varies greatly from member to member please put forth separate opinions.

– I would say the early 70's would have been a pretty sweet time to record music. There were a lot of great records put out back then "Sticky Fingers" and "Plastic Ono Band" for example.

Jim - I would be particular to the New Wave sound because it wouldn't matter what kind of crazy ass thing you'd do. It would be creative. I would also love to make a Cure record. That stuff just has a vibe that gets to the sad bastard in you.

Mark – '70s. I think a lot of our music is rooted in the rock bands and singer/songwriters of that era. The more recent influences we have drawn from the 70's primarily, so that seems to be the most compelling time in music for us directly and indirectly.

Chad - I would say the '90s. I really love the drum sounds on the records during that time period.

Nick - I think I just found out why it took us three years for our follow-up. It took us that long just to agree on how our record should sound!

What was the first album purchased by each member of the band?

– Prince Purple Rain
Jim - Miley Cyrus Breakout
Mark – Beatles Red" Album
Chad - Nirvana Nevermind

How do you find the music scene in the Twin Cities?

The music scene in the Twin Cities is fantastic. There are a lot of different kinds of music that are accepted across the board. You should check out the Glad Version, the Red Flags, the Snaps, Tuesdays Robot and the Small Cities. There really is some great music coming from here.

Many thanks for the recommendations guys, we shall have a look and good luck with the success of the new album.

Interview: Debra47

The majority of the time this blog will only focus on powerpop music, but sometimes there will be a slight deviation. This is one of those times. Bands like High On Stress whose music loosely falls into the alt country genre will be more fully explored on my husbands blog: Hot Licks, Cold Steel and Cosmic Skies due to be launched in the next few weeks.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

High On Stress: That Difficult Second - Or A Brave New Voice?

Something about High on Stress's new album 'Cop Light Parade' makes me think of Wilco's 'Yankee Hotel Foxtrot'. Maybe it's the similar corporate building detail cover shot, maybe it's the sometime throwaway delivery present on some songs, maybe it's the feeling that like Wilco's album, nothing really hits you square between eyes on first listening. Maybe too, there's some kind of irony at work that I've completely missed? Anyway you look at it, there ain't no doubt that this album is what we used to call 'a grower'.

That's no bad thing - you won't be over this baby in one play. Its tantalizing intrigue will keep you coming back for more - ensuring repeat playability. Vocalist Neil Leet leads the band into slight Anglophilia with his playful swagger and Jaggeresque dulcet tones, particularly on the third track "White Sugar". Then again I even detect a little Graham Parker in this laidback blusey country honk, reminiscent of Parker's similarly titled "White Honey". However maybe that's because Parker's dominantly ex-'Brinsley Schwarz' back up band evoke the same kind of understated instrumental interplay Nick Lowe's old crew gave their taste challenged audience (raised on Prog and Space Rock) back then.

The title track gives way to the wryly named "Abby Rose". However the first track to force this writer to wake up and take notice is #5 - "Table 8 in Queens" which begins with a familiar Neil Young type lope, but soon shifts to a short shuffle-like chorus. Great lyrics about divorce, in an understandable moment of near despair, Leet utters the classic immortal line: "Rock 'n' Roll can kiss my ass, it never saved anyone" Now, that's down, Neil - I hope you're over the hump that inspired that piece of ironic perfection?

"We Could Have Been Nobody" has a lovely harmony in the chorus which stays with you long after the album is over. Much of "Cop Light Parade" recalls one of Rock's other great hard-to-categorize-misfits 'Green On Red' and track #7 "Rhode Island" is no exception. For me it suggests the legacy of those LA troubadours most strongly than anything else here.

"My White Pages" (another cool rock pun) most recalls fellow Minnesotans 'The Replacements'. This is one of the best tracks on the album and grows with each play.

"Trample With Care" (yes, another groovy rock pun!) has a nice call and response chorus that further seems to occupy that Jayhawks/Wilco, sometimes WhiskeyTown vibe that pervades the whole album.

"Partner in Crime" most closely resembles that 'Gram Parsons/Stones' "Wild Horses" influence and is one of the definite stand outs of the entire album.

The final song, a postscript almost anonymously overlooked as "Track 12" or "Awakened By The Night" as it really should be called, draws a picture of a disappearing America swallowed up by endless out of town shopping malls and disaffected youth. For me, this is one of the best songs on this sophomore effort and should be elevated to greater prominence - however it is an excellent closer, so maybe not!

"Cop Light Parade" certainly veers towards the indie side of Alt-Country Rock. Sometimes I yearned for the cry of a pedal steel or the hint of a blue yodel but this isn't where these guys are coming from. The music is stripped down, bare and honest. Nobody could accuse them of ELO/Queen/U2 over indulgence - there's a truth, a blue collar, workman-like delivery that requires repeated plays to settle in the conscious.

Gone are the hooks, bigger instrumentation and instant appeal of songs like "Cash Machine" and "Harris County" from the first album. Yet this isn't a typical second album career flat-spot, just a brave alternative voice. Maybe a little fairy dust here and there will not go a miss next time, but for now "Cop Light Parade" will do just fine.
Mr Qwerty

Sample High On Stress here with title track from the new album "Cop Light Parade" and a choice track from their first album 'Moonlight Girls' called "Eyeliner Blues"

More can be found on their MySpace site
Short samples of each track from their first album can be found on their old official website here

Our last 2 part post seemed an unpopular move, but we imagine this was because there was a week between Part 1 and 2. Not so this time. We have an interview with High On Stress, it's already to go, but we'll publish in a couple of days to avoid blogpost overload!

Friday, 5 September 2008

I Didn't Mean To Leave You This Way

Apologies to all readers of the Power Pop Review who've noticed our absence this last couple of weeks. First, an already hectic schedule and then the shock of the sad news of losing my Mother a week ago has conspired to give me and my husband no time to devote to the blog. Currently we are in the process of arranging a flight to the USA to attend the delayed funeral.

Our next piece has been in preparation for well over a week and despite continuous delay will be posted tonight. Whilst we're in the States we'll be taking a much needed break, but through the miracle of wireless a quarter way around the world we'll still try to maintain a presence here.

Thanks for all the support and messages of condolence - it means a lot.

Debbie & MrQ

Thursday, 21 August 2008

If I Was a DJ And You Were a Gentleman

After a departure from my review of LA's IPO Festival, I'm back to looking at the bands I would have liked to have seen if I had gone. I had initially intended to do an extensive overview of all the artists that really impressed me. However, as a result of checking out so many bands, I have decided to take a different approach this time. I imagined if I was a DJ/Producer showcasing the festival on a little college station that these are the tracks I'd single out for my radio show.

All of these bands are from California with the exception of the Armchair Oracles who are from Norway.

We Go On - Galaxies Everything that a great powerpop song should be; it grabs you from the very moment it starts and doesn't let you go until the end. In fact the entire CD Here We Go is highly recommended as like a brimming jewelry box, every song reveals another surprise gem.

You'd Rather Be - Service Group Has that soft gentle appeal that reminds those of us with long memories of classic 'Shoes'. Only the 70's nondescript wah-wah middle eight tells you it's not those Murphy boys from Illinois.

But You - The Holliston Stops Straight away it makes you think:Jellyfish. The song has all those gargantuan 'Fish hallmarks, but close your eyes a little more and what's that? The unmistakable grandiose suggestion of a Jeff Lynne production visiting Queen.

Never Enough - Armchair Oracles This Norwegian band is unsigned at the moment but should get snapped up by a record label very soon if there's any justice in the world! There's a definite whiff of Beatlesque pop, but with George dominating the proceedings. I also hear the Los Angeles band Love. Overwhelmingly though, they recall the classic powerpop originals, Ardent recording artists, Cargoe. This is high praise indeed!

Tiny Slivers - The New Fidelity At first you think primitive Brit Invasion, but really this very much recalls early British New Wave, complete with Clash white reggae references. The vocal call and response breakdown is really nice, then builds to a satisfying end - a rounded contribution.

Imaginary Girls - Teenage Frames Unashamedly retro: think New York Dolls guitar, the early Greg Shaw Bomp era and the late 70's Boston movement. The band exhibits such energy and fun in their music.

Law of Attraction - The Automatic Music Explosion This brilliant gem demonstrates class and polish and not surprising when you realize it was produced by Mike Chapman. The lead singer gives off that classic tough girl rock stance like Suzi Quatro, Westworld (remember Sonic Boom Boy?) or Joan Jett. This is grade A Rock 'N' Roll.

Golden State - Brandon Schott An evocative pedal steel introduces an acoustic guitar which in turn places you somewhere in LA, then suddenly baroque cellos? While it seems we're in the vaguely familiar company of maybe Jackson Browne or the Eagles, there's a hint of Ian Matthews, something less Californian and something that isn't ordinary. The run out is pure 20/20 Beach Boys. A masterful mix of styles and influences.

This is an expensive sound. A beautiful rendered piece of country tinged pop. Why isn't it on the radio instead of that other nonsense?

To hear more from these bands here are their Myspace links:

The GalaxiesThe Service Group
Holliston StopsArmchair Oracles
The New FidelityThe Teenage Frames
The Automatic Music ExplosionBrandon Schott

Friday, 15 August 2008

Part Twos for the Gurus

We left the Gurus a week ago having just released their first album. We rejoin the story with a look at their discography. At first it would appear that the band have quite a confusing discography, three record labels: Universal, Bip Bip Records (Barcelona) and Rainbow Quartz (USA). But after many hours research, we chipped away at the fat, dumping all the spurious Gurus, record labels, and seemingly over active thyroids in the mid 2000's (thankyou AMG) to reveal a steady drip of maturing releases over the last decade.

The 1998 debut was followed two years later with looser 'Maqueta'. This has more than a whiff of rarity about it. It's Gurus' second all Spanish speaking album and appears to have received next to no promotion by the record company (Bip Bip) or the band themselves. It's well worth tracking down if you can find it, as it does pay dividends, However, it seems that a change of heart must have been discovered sometime before the recording of the next album, as the band open up to the language of Rock N Roll: English and fired 'All the Children Sing' on the world in 2002 which is somewhat of a breath of fresh air.

This reinvention of band was finalized when sometime in 2003, they were signed by Powerpop supremos Rainbow Quartz and in 2004 put out a repackaged version of the album and retitled it 'The Gurus' signifying a rebirth.

The Gurus in English makes the Beatles/Anglo Psyche comparisions even stronger. The language shift is a good move as can be seen from opening track Good Morning through the captivating second 'Fly So High' to the closing 'Gerdundula'. This last track all the more interesting for being a reworking of Status Quo's song from their career changing (and best ever) 1971 album 'Dog of Two Head'. Despite the title, I've always thought this to be a most English song with its traditional 'jig' leanings. The Gurus turn it on its head and create some kind of weird, swimming, psyche mash-up making it almost unrecognisable from the original.

Their second release on Rainbow Quartz in 2006 'The Swing of Things' consolidates the promise shown on the self-named album. There seems to be a better feel for both the language and the idiom.

Track 2 'Tears On The Wardrobe' features hooks, harmonies and a melody I can't imagine appearing at any time before this 2006 album. I've only just got hold of 'The Swing of Things' so it's not that familiar, but I'm looking forward to living with it over the next few months. Give opener great 'Flats & Jobs' an airing with this video here.

Which brings us up to date. For me, the new album 'Now' is the culmination of the band's growth since their move to Rainbow Quartz. On 'Now' the anglophilia, the Beatles brush and pulstating psychedelia come together in a sound which gives the guys more identity. They stop sounding like all their influences, and end up sounding like the Gurus. Stand-outs include: Second Scene, I Don't Know How Crazy I Am, Why Why, In The Queue and Jokes. Another 'Dog of Two Head' Status Quo cover (oh alright The Doors, then) completes the album (except for the post finale 'Slowdance'). Like with Gerdundula, the Gurus very much make the cover their own.

This song and few of the other originals make the band much more garagey and loose and making them really exciting to watch live as they (and we) totally lose ourselves in the music. It's quite an experience which we both heartily recommend.

Album Discography (Researched by Debra47 & MrQwerty)
1998 En La Oscuridad
2000 Maqueta
2002 All the Children Sing By
2004 The Gurus [Big Sea] [Silver Rain]
2006 The Swing of Things [Flats & Jobs] [Tears on The Wardrobe]
2008 Now [Yer Space Rocket] [Second Scene]

The Gurus' label Rainbow Quartz has generously provided two tracks each from their last three albums for you to download and enjoy. These pretty representative tracks should give you a good idea whether you're gonna be diggin' these guys or not. We are pretty confident, having come this far - you will!

Saturday, 9 August 2008

¿Hablas Español?

I had previously mentioned three bands that impressed me when I was at the International Pop Overthrow Festival in Liverpool earlier this year. I had intended to continue with my review of current bands at Los Angeles IPO Festival tonight but upon listening to the Gurus most recent CD this evening, I recalled what an engaging performance they had put on back in May and had to make them the subject of my next post.

The Gurus, from Barcelona, have a large following in their native Spain and this was in evidence when they performed that night. Their latest album ''Now" has recently been released and is their third on the USA label Rainbow Quartz.

Although I didn't realise it when I began this piece, they have actually been around for ten years. In 1998 they released their debut 'En La Oscuridad' on Bip Bip where all the songs were sung in their native Spanish. The CD captures the freshness and vitality of the first Beatles records and might remind one of the Spongetones who have also tried to capture the essence of the Beatles in their music.

"Seras parte de mi" could have been recorded back in 64 but then again there were no Spanish groups back then that so accurately encapsulated that Merseybeat sound! Despite the fact that they are singing in Spanish one hears the obligatory "yeah yeah yeah" in their song "Escaparme" which captures the Beatles sound before the Rubber Soul /Revolver era. "Palabras Para Ella" makes me think that they were trying to capture an early love song that could have been sung by McCartney perhaps Michelle? Or they heard the track sung by Gilbert O'Sullivan "Clair". I love the intro of "Cuando tu no estas" which is very catchy. The song features hand clapping which was so common in early Beatles songs and one so rarely hears that in many songs anymore. "Hotel Codorniz" sports a trumpet a la Penny Lane and has the feel of Beatles music that would have been released between 65 and 66. "Deja Que Te Arrastre Junto a Mi" could have been written by Ray Davies and is quite brilliant! One of the standout tracks for sure on this CD is "Dias De Lluvia" which has a melody that reminds me of "And I Love Her". The melody in "La Calle" brings to mind the Raspberries who attempted to capture the freshness and vitality of the Beatles but at the time weren't fully appreciated. After familiarizing myself with the Gurus earliest music I wish they had played a few songs from this early period when I saw them in May. This first CD of theirs is truly a gem but it may be difficult to find but it's worth the hunt.

[Due to the amount of research undertaken to rectify some inconsistencies with the bands' discography, this longer than usual post will be split into two parts. Here endth part one.]

Monday, 4 August 2008

IPO - An early lead from the Bright Young Things

Since July 25 the International Pop Overthrow Festival has been happening in various clubs in the Los Angeles area. For those of you close enough to attend it's not too late as it will continue until August 9.

I'm not fortunate enough to be attending this one in person so I've been checking out as many bands as I can online to get an idea of what I missed. There are close to 100 bands playing in less than 2 weeks so it has taken quite a bit of time to plow through and decide which ones really impress. If any readers out there were lucky enough to have attended any of the shows I would appreciate feedback in the comments section.

The first band that caught my attention, 'Nushu' are reminiscent of the Go Gos, Veruca Salt and an early, looser, Bangles. One song called 'Spill' has the manic energy of the Ramones crossed with the Go Gos. Another, 'Pop Sound' is almost a Radio Jingle for the genre we love. If I was DJ somewhere on the airwaves, I'd certainly use it. This band made IPO festival organizer David Bash's top 100 albums of 2007 and was actually number 11 on that list! The band has released one CD called 'Nevermind Lullaby' and you can hear 4 of the bands tracks on their MySpace site.

Damn Automatics are a harder edged power pop band that bring to mind the Foo Fighters. There's also an element of that studio buffed Green Day sound, but that's not a terrible association. However, for power pop lovers that prefer a punkier sound these guys could be for you. Their absolute runaway best tune is 'Kill Your Radio' which intros with a dose of Brit Glam Rock, a gaze in the direction of 'Red Kross' and also says to me, a little 'Rooney. Love the sentiment and refrain: "Yeah, we almost made it, yeah, but we're overated" - a philosophy that manages to cater for 99% of bands that ever trod the rock n roll boards. Second favorite, 'The Other Kind', has a frenetic beat and the song clocks in under 2:30 minutes - magic!

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Define Powerpop in 140 Characters or Less

In two separate instances yesterday I was asked about powerpop on one of the microblogs that I use. One individual asked me to define powerpop in 140 characters. Due to the late hour and the difficulty of describing the term in so few characters, I might not have given the best description.

I was then asked today by a different person if I thought the Wikipedia entry on power pop was a fair summary. I don't - it's inadequate. How can you describe powerpop with such a lack of passion and emotion? It is the type of music that makes you want to roll down the windows when you are in your car and makes one feel like a teenager again.

Powerpop could be defined by a song that is somewhere between 2:30 and 3 minutes, with a remarkable hook or two, sublime harmonies and a great opening riff. Good openers might include: "A Million Miles Away" by the Plimsouls; "Another Girl, Another Planet" from the Only Ones and who can forget "There She Goes" by the La's.

So many bands have tried to capture the pristine catchiness of the early Beatles. Groups that attempt to do this try to find that perfect catchy hook that the listener will not be able to shake from their head.

In the course of this blog I will sometimes delve back into the past to review a classic, overlooked powerpop gem. I will also endeavor to track down new powerpop bands that aren't getting enough exposure. This is a serious mission!

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Many Avenues To Cross

You wait for ages and then two come along at once! In the last few months I've heard two bands, both called the Avenues, both different, both great.

The first outfit called the Avenues - I can't remember where I first heard of them, but I knew I had to see them, which we did at the Liverpool 2008 IPO show that Debbie mentioned in yesterday's blog entry.

This band was one of the most outstanding groups of the whole festival and quite exceptional. Both their superb music (harmony/lead vocals and songwriting was impeccable) and a dexterous knack of connecting and entertaining the audience - which by some sleight of hand made the act seem effortless. All this was a tremendous joy to behold and we were suitably blown... - away, that is! The ability to evoke the sound of classic harmony bands of the past like the Association, The Turtles, Brooklyn Bridge, Orpheus, Harmony Grass, and the Beach Boys whilst injecting something contemporary and quintessentially English was uncanny.

They have an EP at the moment which you can download from 7Digital. This includes one free taster track 'Should've been Sarah' (georgeous harmonies with a nice jazz chord thrown in here and there for exotic effect). Additionally, you can hear more at their MySpace website. There's promise of an album, which frankly, we can't wait to hear.

The second I heard via the LastFM social music site - where you can download 2 EP's and 1 album track for free - yes, true and rather amazing they are too!

They've been around for a big fat 7 years, but I could find virtually nothing about them on the 'net. Why such anonymity I can't fathom? It's an absolute travesty of course, but there you are - the music industry in naughties is a place of devastating unfairness.

What do they sound like? There's an alt country/rootsy vibe - one the singers reminds me of Michael Stipe from REM. Some of it's very accessible like 'Empty Bottles' and evokes the Jayhawks, possibly. Other songs are more edgy and put me in mind of Wilco/Uncle Tupelo side of the Alt Country movement.

Anyway get them for free while you can and be a devil, buy their album.

Downloads: - The Avenues (Nashville)
These Years Come To Rest EP
When It Was Me EP
Avenues, Streets & Boulevards (Album)

This has been the first of an occasional contribution or two by Debbie's husband, also known sometimes as Mr Qwerty

Friday, 25 July 2008

Perfect Pop Every Time

Tonight July 25, 2008, the International Pop Overthrow Fest will kick-off in Los Angeles and will run till August 9. There will be close to 150 bands performing this year in LA . This music festival has now been running for 10 years and is held annually in about ten different locations. For power pop music enthusiasts this event is manna from heaven! Not only does one get to see cutting edge bands in this particular genre, but the venues are intimate and inviting too.

I was fortunate to go to the one in New York City in 2004 and have been to the one in Liverpool twice now. Highlights that year were the Grip Weeds and Myracle Brah. The one in Liverpool is particularly good because the bands perform in 3 different clubs in close proximity to each other. The remodeled Cavern is one of the clubs that is used so it is quite exciting to see these bands in such a hallowed place.

Three bands in particular stood out this last time in Liverpool. The Mellowmen from Sweden - built around the amazing voice and songwriting of Andreas Nyberg. The band recall a number of beacons from the 60's and 70's without sounding like any of them. The set was energetic and mesmerizing at the same time. The Avenues from Leeds, England were a great bonus! The lead singer was a natural performer and their harmonies reminded me of the Association, Turtles and the Beach Boys. Last but not least Swedish band Marmalade Souls were brilliant. Their music was represented by close knit harmonies and extremely catchy songs. They even did a fabulous cover of Please Please Me which was so appropriate in Liverpool.

I will be eagerly anticipating next years IPO Fest in Liverpool. This week I will be researching some of the bands that will be performing at IPO in Los Angeles and I'll write about the ones whose music impresses me the most.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Women Love Music Too!

My husband has told me that in his experience women's interest in contemporary music barely stays with them beyond their 20's before they start sounding like nostalgia machines. I have to admit in my own experience also it has been rare for me to find female friends who shared my ongoing passion.

I have wanted to do a music blog as far back as when I first heard of blogs. Despite the fact that there are so many music blogs online I still feel I have something valuable to contribute to the discourse. If it weren't for my enthusiasm for music I probably wouldn't be living in England as my husband is as serious if not more about music than me. I'm hoping that those individuals who decide to read my blog will discover a renewed interest in music.