Luke Potter and Don Lee

Luke Potter

Luke Potter “So Sugar”

Many noticed Luke Potter’s talent early on with his debut EP last year, so he seems poised to break out into the mainstream this year with So Sugar. Influenced by artists like Jason Mraz, Fountains of Wayne, and The Goo Goo Dolls, he has a melodic streak to his music that’s designed to appeal to both mainstream pop fans and power pop fans. The fact that Bleu was chosen as producer here is a perfect choice, you can hear the digital fingerprints over the entire LP.

The title track’s buzzing guitar riff leads the strong melody, as the chorus floats along a bed of synths, this gives Luke his rock cred but the rest of the album is strictly pop oriented. “There it Goes Again” is another catchy gem with a “Da-da-da” backing vocal that burrows into your brain. The ballad “Crazy Enough” is full of sweeping orchestration, richly arranged and “Sadie” has a very simple, but effective melody. Potter’s strong crisp vocal is what sets his music apart from the latest “boy band” flavor of the month. The lyrics are also very positive throughout, “Its OK To Dream” is solid advice to any aspiring creative person and “Possibility” mines similar hopeful vibes. Overall there is a good mix of tempos, but no single track really stands out among the group after the opener. Luke will also be touring with Johnny Wright’s Pop Nation where he’ll be able to build some momentum and new fans. Highly recommended.

power pop

CD Baby | Kool Kat Musik | Amazon

Don Lee

Don Lee “Who’s Talkin’ Out There?”

The easy going New Jersey musician Don Lee produced his fourth album, (and the silly looking cover aside) the music is a pleasant pop rock gem. Influences here include Squeeze, Brendan Benson and Brian Wilson. “Brand New Star” starts us off, with a simple guitar riff and chorus and wah-wah synth. The production is clean and uncluttered, “Pause in Motion” uses a simple acoustic guitar and bongos to get the emotional melody across. The party atmosphere of “When Will It Ever Go Your Way” contrasts with the downbeat lyrics about “falling behind” and “everyone has let you down.” The title track is a like a Joe Jackson rant, about the effects of rumors and innuendo  and it has a catchy guitar melody that keep it fresh.

My favorite song here is the standout “Part of Nothing,” similar to Glenn Tilbrook it sticks in your head with a great piano/bass combo in the chorus. It’s music like this that really deserves to be heard and spread around. Other great tunes here include “All In Your Touch” and “One More Day of Denial.” Don doesn’t take things too seriously, and its this attitude that helps keep the music light and enjoyable. Consistent with his last LP, it’s also highly recommended. Listen on Don’s website.

power pop

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Reissue: Trip Shakespeare

Trip Shakespeare

When people think of the “Minneapolis sound,” most think of Prince or at least Bob Mould during his Hüsker Dü days. But in the mid 80’s a highly creative band named Trip Shakespeare combined alternative rock with a power pop twist. Elaine Harris and Matt Wilson founded the band with John Munson and produced the debut record Applehead Man in 1986. Matt’s brother Dan Wilson soon joined the band later and eventually Wilson and Munson went on to form the mainstream power pop band Semisonic. I never got the chance to appreciate Trip as a band back then, so I did some digging and was lucky to find that Omnivore Recordings has reissued the bands debut and follow up Are You Shakespearienced?

Trip Shakespeare

With a new listen Trip Shakespear’s music has held up much better than I remembered. On the the debut Applehead Man, best described as both melodic and esoteric, starts good and gets better with repeated listens. Harris’ unique rhythmic skill and Wilson’s poetic lyrics set Trip apart from other 80’s bands. Highlights include the title track, “Washington Bridge,” “ Necklace,” and the angular tribute to the Fab Four “Beatle,” without sounding a bit Beatlesque. Are You Shakespearienced? is more polished and with the addition of Dan Wilson, contributes to the harmonies and sophisticated arrangements shown on “The Lake” and “Two Wheeler, Four Wheeler.” The band would soon earn a contract with A&M Records after these 2 albums, so its cool that you can re-discover them with the added bonus tracks and demos.

Applehead Man | Are You Shakespearienced?

 

Sunday Sun “We Let Go”

Sunday Sun

Sunday Sun has been a past favorite of ours with an amazing 3 EPs in 2012. Finally the band has a full LP and it does not disappoint. Right out of the gate, “I Call You Honey” is a dance inducing song that bursts with big brass, guitars and pounding drumbeat, rhythmically like Katrina and The Waves “Walkin’ On Sunshine” but breaks with those 3-part harmonies before the chorus. My favorite track, “Come On Down” follows – a bouncing melody that lifts your spirit from the opening chorus. As the band sings “This is a wake-up call from someone who loves you…,”  its exactly what makes Sunday Sun such a pop powerhouse.

“Sunday Morning” is another memorable song with myriad of styles, that prevent predictability. Each song just works, from the complex rhythm patterns of “Simple Song” to the angelic harmonies on “Frank Jr.” This this the type of modern music that shows where the genre is going. Without a single  wasted note the band showcases its considerable skills in songwriting and emotional delivery without sticking to a single “style,” for example you’ll get a distorted guitar solo break on the smooth harmony drenched ballad “Sun.” In fact the constant here is the Beach Boys like perfection of the vocal performances. A “must-get” album that makes my top album list for 2014.

power pop

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Holiday Music: Kool Kat and Grumpy Cat

Kool Kat Kristmas

Various Artists “A Kool Kat Kristmas Vol. 2”

Ray at Kool Kat Musik did so well with last year’s Christmas compilation that we now have “Vol.2.” The 13 tracks include some exclusive ones. The Pencils actually re-formed to contribute their track plus other power pop bands like The Honeymoon Stallions, The Split Squad, The Bottle Kids (featuring Captain Storm), The Connection, Shake Some Action, and others are included. Some of the proceeds will be donated to The Susan Giblin Foundation for Animal Wellness and Welfare which was formed to honor the memory and continue the work of  the late Susan Giblin (wife of Parallax Project/Split Squad bassist Mike Giblin). So you get great music and contribute to help cats in need.

The opener “Christmas is Coming Again” is a new classic, and we hope The Pencils stays together for more music. Other standouts include the soulful ballad “You Always Come Back Home” by The Genuine Fakes, “Beatles Vinyl” a fantastic jangling single by The Tor Gudes and “Glad Its Christmas” by fan favorite Stephen Lawrenson. Another favorite of mine is Wyatt Funderburk’s “Cold” with its slow deliberate falsetto, which captures the mood perfectly. Highly Recommended.

power pop

Listen at Soundcloud | Buy at Kool Kat Musik

Grumpy Cat Christmas

Various Artists “Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever OST”

Since we are talking about cats… I won’t talk about the movie, other than this internet star’s debut is vilified by critics, therefore its sure to be a smash hit amongst kids and Cat people. There are 14 full tracks and 3 bonus tracks on this CD, a combination of original and classic tunes (most not part of the movie). We then get the best stuff early on, KT Tunstall doing a “Sleigh Ride,” Brian Setzer’s “Jingle Bells” and the ever commercial Pomplamoose’s “Up On The Housetop.”

Most of the originals are done by House of Breaking Glass, done in a style very similar to Tom Waits. “A Very Grumpy Christmas” is the highlight here, a light rant about the holiday. There is a lot of filler in between, but other highlights include the jazzy Johnny Reid doing “White Christmas” and the cool “All I Want for Christmas (is My Two Front Teeth)” by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. Also worth noting is the bonus tracks featuring other internet cat memes Keyboard Cat and Nyan Cat. Worth adding to your Xmas Music collection, even if you are kind of grumpy.

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Lunchbox and Wild Party

Lunchbox

Lunchbox “Lunchbox Loves You”

Oakland, California duo Tim Brown and Donna McKean are Lunchbox. The band is very much in the style of Apples in Stereo with its twee vocals and compact bubblegum melodies. Starting with “Everybody Knows” it sets up the sound with multi-layered harmonies and instrumentation, next “Tom, What’s Wrong” is like a teenage poem with its rhyming lyrics and minor chord shifts.

There is a punk spirit underneath each pop confection, “Will You Be True” with its fuzz guitar and distorted vocals shimmers along. The simple love songs also recall The Beach Boys with its innocent attitude and composition, a good example being “It Feels Good To Lose.” Each song is wonderfully realized without a hint of filler. Like hearing lost AM pop classics through an indie-rock lens, it really impressed me with its consistency and quality. Highly recommended.

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Wild Party

Wild Party “Phantom Pop”

I was told by a long time reader to check out this band. This band is what “the music industry” calls “power pop.” In the mold of Maroon 5 and (dot)Fun, it is full of dance synth lines, upbeat drumming and the guitar parts are buried real deep. No doubt some younger folk will love this, as it leans more on the “pop” side of things. Songs here would fit effortlessly on any Top 40 radio station playlist alongside bands like One Direction. What makes it stand apart from the pop pablum are the bands finely crafted melodies.

Wild Party is a San Antonio, Texas band formed by lead singer Lincoln Kreifels and guitarist Lucas Hughes. “When I Get Older” is a great, catchy and irresistible single, that will have you humming the chorus long after its over. “Outright” is another fast paced, high beats-per-minute track. The entire album does make for a great aerobic workout, and no slow songs break up the pace. My favorites are “Violet” and “Chasin’ Honey” where the guitar actually takes the lead with a great message about following your muse. Some songs risk sounding too homogenous, but if you want radio ready (for 2014) this LP is highly recommended.

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