Thursday, August 28, 2008

Powerpop Fest Pick/Review #4: Cute Lepers (Briefs spinoff)!

The Cute Lepers

Can't Stand Modern Music
Blackheart Records Group

A Briefs spinoff? Oh, man! I can't tell you how many times I bobbed my head around singing "She's got a knife to my head, alright!" in my cube at work. Seattle's The Briefs have to be one of the funnest bands out there, so a project with Steve E. Nix already has the bar set pretty high. Goods delivered! "Can't Stand Modern Music" is full of catchy beats, handclaps, and some of the coolest new wavy/punk riffs that remind one of how punk/new wave rock used to be fun and just silly in a tongue in cheek sort of way. "Terminal Boredom" is a perfect opener with tribal beats and high pitched chords punctuated by Steve E. Nix's "An hour goes by and....(um, you have to hear it to figure it out)! "Cool City" is a dead on homage to The Circle Jerks with a more narrative vocal, catchy chorus, and melodic riffing. The stuff is punk rock, but catchier and definitely not to be taken too seriously. One kind of can't help it with a lead singer who goes into vocal spasms much like the never taken seriously until he became a composer Danny Elfman from Oingo Boingo. Other tracks 'feel' more of a straight on, early '80s, So. Cal. punk like "out of Order," but the handclaps, Oh-Ohs, and female harmonies are a little too inclusive just to be punk rock.

The Cute Lepers are right. Modern music sucks. The best music out there involves taking the basics from the past and bringing them into the future without cleaning them up. The cleanup is modern. Like Steve E. sings in "Terminal Boredom"-"Aint nothing on the radio, no hope, But that stupid band called chemical...Oh what a mope." The album ends on a semi serious note with an optimistic call to arms on "Opening Up," but the harmonies still rock.

Why does this band have seven members? One can only guess that they wanted to include as many people in the fun as possible. "So Screwed Up," like many of the tracks on Can't Stand Modern Music, is more loud punk rock with harmonies. Somehow those two things don't fit together well. I guess like other reviewers, the focus on good songs and catchy tunes with a guitar base can only be called powerpop, but I think a more apt description is punk rock in its joy and irreverance without regards to conventions, including the sometimes uptight idealism of those who want punk to be considered as serious. Yeah, punk rock was about rebellion, but it had plenty of silliness and fun at the same time. Call it what you want: Powerpop, Pop Punk, whatever. To many, The Cute Lepers are just great punk rock. Although his current whereabouts are unknown, Mojo Nixon is smiling right now.

Tour Dates:

Sep 1 2008 8:00P RENO’S GRILL w’ AVENUE ROSE, 17+ DALLAS, Texas
Sep 5 2008 8:00P KING’S MUSIC w’ THE POWERCHORDS, AVENUE ROSE, ALL AGES San Diego, California
Sep 7 2008 8:00P SIS BAR w’ AVENUE ROSE, 18+ WILMINGTON, California

Powerpop Fest Pick/Review #3: Prima Donna!

Prima Donna

After Hours
Acetate Records

L.A. Rock is back! Hollywood's Prima Donna bring on some of the sweetest glam punk done up in all the glitter of LA, but with an attitude that's rooted in more groundbreaking (and less cheesy, I must add) bands like NY Dolls and The Heartbreakers. Glam rock had its moments in history, but the '80s LA version of bad metal plus loads of fun and overindulgence stretched it to its final end. Nevertheless, everyone involved in that era look back on it fondly, albeit in a haze. Like their local predecessors, Prima Donna give rock a good kick in the leopard print spandex pants, but the music is loud and full of swaggering attitude found in better rock 'n' roll dring its heyday instead of "The Metal Years."

The opening "Soul Stripper" packs a whallop good ol' Stonesy blues with the fun and tongue and cheek of NY Dolls. Aside from the sax that sounds cool just because they have the guts to use it, there's an absolutely trashy guitar solo that's both really good but nasty enough to annoy someone who holds the guitar solo as sacred. "Demoted" has an almost early Cheap Trick nod with its beats, still louder and nastier, and a handclap that will get the most jaded hipster clapping along. By the way, Prima Donna's live shows are legendary. "I Don't Want You To Love Me" - takes on a more serious tone with "I don't want you to love me, I don't want you to care, I just want you to like it when I lick you there." Pretty deep, ain't it? The song changes tone midway through and ends with the raunchiest "Ow" out there. In perfect homage to NY Dolls, "Stray Doll" makes trash into art and is more than enough to upset and scare your parents. Finally, music to scare your parents! They'll end up beside themselves when their teenage boy puts on some makeup, borrows his sisters spandex pants, poofs his hair, and lip syncs to "Why have a home, when I would rather be a stray doll!" Or worse if their daughter goes out with one! Welcome back to the jungle, baby!

It's great to hear attitude, sweat, booze, and other unnamed substances cocktailed into something fun again. Prima Donna has great hair and great rock 'n' roll to back it up. "Lady Strange" is the sleaziest thing one's heard since "Suffragette City" and just as catchy.

If anything, Prima Donna and their 'full' length (28 minutes) After Hours brings dirty sex back into rock 'n' roll. Most of us won't go that route anymore since times have changed, but many of us remember that it's more fun when it's dirty. Prima Donna is something that we've been missing for too long. After Hours has is pure fun without the guilt or consequences. The attitude is glam, the feeling is sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll, the music is raw, or maybe it's those adjectives mixed up. If anything, it's proof that the old farts need to get out of the way. It's time to let up (or down) your hair, get a girl, and and have some fun! We all could use more of that these days.

After Hours is due for release next week. One can preorder from their website, profile, or Prima Donna is doing a free show for the Wild Weekend Power Pop Festival! They're known for being a great live act, so how could one miss them? Other dates listed below:

Aug 28 2008 10:00P The Mix San Antonio, Texas
Aug 29 2008 3:00P Beerland =FREE SHOW= Wild Weekend Power Pop Festival Austin, Texas
Aug 31 2008 8:00P Last Concert Cafe (All Ages) Houston, Texas
Sep 1 2008 8:00P Reno's Grill (17+) Dallas, Texas
Sep 2 2008 8:00P The Brighthouse (ALL AGES) Lubbock, Texas
Sep 4 2008 10:00P Yucca Tap Room (21+) Tempe, Arizona
Sep 7 2008 8:00P Fire Escape Bar & Grill (all ages) Citrus Heights, California
Sep 9 2008 8:00P The Stork Club Oakland, California
Sep 10 2008 8:00P East End Portland, Oregon
Sep 11 2008 9:00P The Central Tavern Seattle, Washington
Sep 12 2008 8:00P Jefferson County Library (All Ages) Port Hadlock, Washington
Sep 13 2008 8:00P The Boiler Room (all ages) Port Townsend, Washington
Sep 15 2008 8:00P The Stork Club Oakland, California
Sep 18 2008 9:30P CD RELEASE & HOMECOMING SHOW ALL AGES W/ THE JONESES @ Knitting Factory Hollywood, California
Sep 28 2008 9:00P Alex's Bar Long Beach, California

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Powerpop Festival Pick/Review #2: The Black and Whites

The Black and Whites

The Black and Whites
Douchemaster Records

The brainchild of southern garage rock everyman Talbot Adams (the Darkest Hours, Preacher's Kids, Royal Pendletons, and more), The Black and Whites hail from the Oxford, MS. With the exceptions of Elvis, not too much else is known or said about the state best known by the faux motto: "Come feel better about your own state." Joking aside, The Black and Whites take the well known Ramones formula and make it pretty damn good. The songs are simple, the themes are even simpler. One thing only: girls! Not much info there, but these guys are great in a way that you just know it and it's too simple to explain. Talbot's voice is incredibly smooth, but on top of some great low fi guitar chords like "I Need a Good Girl" and it's classic, although it might be the first time I heard the word "nurture" in a song. Something that's quintessential to the simple, loud, fast, fun song formula is vocal harmonies. Without it, songs and bands themselves become less dimensional and boring, like many commercially motivated 'punk' bands that don't deserve mentioning. The Black and Whites acknowledge this and keep with the punk ethos that everyone joins in on memorable tracks like "Carlsbad." Besides, it's better to hear a real band instead of a bunch of people restricted to doing one thing only. What's even better is that they aren't particularly good, but a lot more fun. Another trait important to the house that Ramones built school is timing. If it's done right, it's like an infection. If one knows the right points to say "Yeah!" and "Alright!," the tunes catch on with a live crowd and the those involved have a better connection to the act. On record, that sense of timing is just cool.

Despite the music sounding loose and fun, the fact that countless bands out there take the same blueprint and usually don't come up with anything good shows that The Black and Whites know what they're doing. "Taca 69" impresses with Patrick Mckeage's super tight drumming and Johny Valiant's guitar playing that's fast, loud, and short, but oooh, the vocal harmonies really make the song. There's even a nod to Fear on "(Oh) My Head" that throws you for a loop with it's hardcore beat. Pretty cool. "Don't Wanna Go" is another departure with vintage R & B that's slower but surprisingly just as memorable. As if it can't get any better, "Just Don't Care" is a great Southern blues-boogie rock 'n' roll drinking song that would have any crowd swingin' their bottles in the air, singin' along. As a debut,The Black and Whites have made a great one that combines the fast, loud and fun early punk approach, but comes across as a great debut since they sound like they know what they're doing. The occasional forays into other musical territories are equally exciting, but also hints at The Black and Whites being a band with a lot more to say. Let's hope that's the case.

The Black and Whites are playing The Wild Weekend Powerpop Festival at The Mohawk in Austin, Texas on August 29th. More dates are likely to follow.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Paul Collins Beat: Ribbon of Gold & Upcoming Wild Weekend Powerpop Festival Pick!

Paul Collins Beat

Ribbon of Gold
RockIndiana (overseas) and Get Hip Recordings (USA)

A classic trademark of good powerpop is that it's often instantly likeable. The beat's good, the melodies are catchy, you can sing along to it the first time, and it sounds like what great rock 'n roll should sound like. In many ways, its simplicity makes the album a seminal album that influences many for years to come. The new release from Paul Collins Beat, Ribbon Of Gold delivers as promised. If one knew about frontman Paul Collins, that would be no surprise. He was in early '70s legends The Nerves with future Plimsouls Peter Case, penned "Hanging on the Telephone," which was a hit for Blondie, and also was in '80s new wave legends The Beat (not to be confused with ska revivalists The English Beat). In fact, Paul Collins is credited by many as one of the inventors of "skinny tie pop," the Kinks/early Who derived simple guitar and beat based pop that reached its height of popularity with The Knack that still garners both affection and popularity among (good) music lovers. Afterall, when was the last time you heard anyone say they didn't like Blondie or The Knack? They're just cool to everyone.

Ribbons of Gold is a superb followup to last year's Flying High. As if the history isn't enough to give instant powerpop/jingle jangle rock cred, it was produced in super musically cool Sweden by Chips Kiesby, also known for his work with The Nomads and The Hellacopters. The opening "Hey DJ" is a happy slow beat nostalgia trip when rock radio was something good and DJ's brought you great music and seemed more like music fans than the outdated relics they are now. Not many of us can relate to it, but the song is refreshing and jangles along in a way that's just cool. For those of you who want their music to rawk and care less about the finer points, it's got that too. "I Still Want You" is unmistakenly 80s new wave/powerpop that reminds one of early Police but far better in volume and dimension. The song also highlights Paul's vocal intensity and heart. We've all felt that way before and Paul summed it up in feeling just as we felt it. Another upbeat standout is "She Doesn't Want To Hang Around With You" with it's less than two minutes of pogo beat that definitely brings me back to my high school days of crushes for girls with bob haircuts and neon earrings. It nearly borders on a 'punk' song if it wasn't so happy sounding.

"Big Pop Song" is a slower psychedelic/jingle jangle guitar song. Musically, it's very reminiscent of early Church but the vocals bring a greater strength to the song compared to the more understated, detached style of Steve Kilbey. Instant appeal doesn't mean popularity. Although the songs on Ribbon Of Gold are instantly likeable and catchy, they have a basic purist sense that feels and sounds like great rock 'n' roll. One can't put their finger on it, but if one takes The Jam and only a few others out of the powerpop equation, it seems like more of an American new wave phenomenon. Therefore, this type of Kinks derived skinny tie pop shares some qualities as "American" music or "Americana." Songs like "Falling In Love With Her" take a strong Byrds folk rock flavor, but more than the Rickenbacker sound, the music itself somehow feels like "American Music." Although that term applies more often to country music, which is not a genre that holds merit for many of us in the modern sense, the songwriting tradition is related by people such as Johny Cash, Roy Orbison, and many others. Although this is NOT a comparison to them, it's important to note that there is a tradition shared. It has a feel of being almost earthy in it's simplicity and a story to it. In many ways, Paul Collins' style both in tempo and songwriting transcend the skinny tie feel into a broader sense of American rock music that is suprising. One especially hears it on the title track "Ribbon of Gold" with it's storytelling and beat that almost communicates a sense of traveling, which is what the song is about. It's very hard to describe it, but it has some kind of kinship to "Into The Great Wide Open." What's even better is that it shows that Paul Collins is a great American rock songster that deserves a lot more credit and attention than he currently knows.

Paul Collins Beat is currently touring the US. Upcoming tour dates are:

Aug 27 2008 10:00P The Earl Atlanta, Georgia
Aug 29 2008 8:00P Mohawk Austin, Texas
Aug 31 2008 10:00P Continental Club Houston, Texas

For the Austin date, he's headlining the Wild Weekend Powerpop Festival with Nikki Corvette, The Ugly Beats, The Boss Martians, and many other great acts:

Here's some footage from earlier this year at Cheapo Discs in Austin:

Friday, August 15, 2008

Wide Awake In The Spirit World: The Best of Outrageous Cherry

It's great to be back. Life takes away from art. Unfortunately, art the expression of it in rock 'n' roll, goes on without you. I've got a lot of great bands to tell you about and a lot of catching up to do, which they really deserve. It's been a month since the last review and there's much more on the way. Here's a new one, and definitely worth the wait.

Outrageous Cherry

Wide Awake In The Spirit World: The Best Of Outrageous Cherry
Wicked Cool Records

Detroit's Outrageous Cherry has an impressive pedigree to start with. Frontman Matthew Smith played with Jack White of The White Stripes in The Go currently plays in Detroit's famous country/space rock foray The Volebeats with Detroit guitar legend John Nash (Electric Six) and occasional contributions from The Dirtbombs bassist Troy Gregory, The Volebeats, and has also collaborated with local staples His Name Is Alive, and former drummer Deb Agolli from The Gore Gore Girls. Matthew Smith is also a producer, so his pedigree spins out all over Detroit. Therefore, one could only expect a Detroit Staple to sound like Detroit. Surprisingly, Wide Awake In The Spirit World which is a compilation of their previous releases from Bar None, Third Gear, and Rainbow Quartz. Maybe as no surprise and comparable to numerous known bands from Rock City, Outrageous Cherry is a broader celebration of great rock 'n' roll, although heavily psychedelic.

In great local spirit, Outrageous Cherry is lo-fi psychedelic, meaning there's no studio effects but trippy songs that mostly run under three minutes. One hears a basic song full of muddy chords, acidic lead guitars and combined male/female vocals of The Mamas and the Papas on the opening "What Have You Invented Today," but instead of the semi-optimism of '60s pop for a sharper tongued accusation "Tell me how history works, when it's written by small minded jerks, their eyes on the prize of the lines where we communicate only with lies." One hears this song and know's it's a 60's psychedelic/pop inspired vibe, but the feedback combined with the vocal harmonies is something new because it feels like a DIY approach outside of record labels, which cleaned up the sound of so many great '60s acts to make them appeal to a wider audience. Another piece of feedback/psych perfection is "Why Don't You Stay For A Little While" with an underlied guitar feedback rhythm combined with the style of the late Syd Barrett. It's kind of heavy, but three chord simplicity. Since psychedelia was such a brief musical trend, there aren't many comparisons to draw from. Then again, nobody's come close to a reminiscence of The Beatles staple "Tomorrow Never Knows" like "Girl You Have The Magic Inside of You."

As if the muddy feedback and guitar effects without the overwhelming studio manipulation isn't retro enough, "Pretty Girls Go Insane" introduces a horn section that's ambitious like Love Forever Changes, but again with sharp tongued lyrics and guitar that might be considered as definitively Detroit. The "swirly" psychedelia is traded up for a trippier, Velvets minimalism on downers with "Young and Miserable" that serves as a modern song that would not have been considerable in the psychedelic days. "You're young and miserable, but I like it that way."

Outrageous Cherry is psychedelic. Easier to type, but harder to pin down. '60s psych pop vocals, psychedelic guitars, trippy echoed vocals, but collapsed into mostly short, basic garage rock songs. Maybe if VU played Brian Wilson's songs. "Our Love Will Change The World in to a strange place that we don't recognize when we look into each others' eyes." This makes one think of what bands like The Byrds and perhaps so many other well known '60s LA Rock acts might have played behind the backs of their record labels. In other words, the artists are dictating their music and their attitude without the intervention of the suits and ties above them.

Outrageous Cherry's Wide Awake In The Spirit World: The Best of Outrageous Cherry is psychedelic, but garage rock in the delivery and even more acerbic in it's sarcasm and bite. The music might sound happy at times, but the songs themselves have no optimism, which is pretty cool. It's a better tribute to so many great influences cited above when one considers that people like Arthur Lee or Jim (Rodger) McGuinn were practically forced into using their talents to make music that would sell records instead of putting more confrontational words and chaos into their music like they might have wanted to do at times. The result is that Outrageous Cherry has no compromises. It's great music. Even "New Creature" with it's la la la harmonies and handclaps is somehow rebellious and new. Wide Awake In The Spirit World: The Best of Outrageous Cherry is over 50 minutes of pessimistic psychedelic perfection. A more apt comparison is The Paisley Underground Movement in the '80s, when bands like The Plimsouls, The Bangles, Salvation Army, and Australian counterparts The Stems picked up Rickenbackers and made music against the grain by combining the punk rock attitude with garage rock psychedelia, only Outrageous Cherry takes this a step further with LA Folk Rock harmonies. For many, it's going to sound derivative, but a real listen reveals the depth and originality that's truly characteristic of a real rock band. Matthew Smith and his bandmates' Detroit pedigrees have already spoken for that. Naturally, there's a lot more to it.

For being so sharply critical, Wide Awake In The Spirit World: The Best Of Outrageous Cherry is also a lot of fun. Even more, the influences are obvious but the lo-fi, muddy production communicates a stronger sense of confusion, which has a greater feel of confrontation. As so many of us know, the spirit of confrontation by going against the norm or acceptable formula by taking the basics and twisting it is the cornerstone of what we call great rock 'n' roll.

"We have little regard for anything" mixed with The Beach Boys. Incredible.