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!