First In Space and The Persian Leaps

First In Space

First In Space “A Different Animal”

I’ve covered First In Space since their debut, and Youngstown, Ohio alums Johnny Stanec and Dolus McCormick are back in fine form here. The band’s sound is similar to The Goo Goo Dolls, or a lighter version of Foo Fighters with better vocal harmonies.

“Living In The Dark” builds with a steady growing guitar rhythm and anthemic chorus. Followed by “The Bitter End,” a nostalgic look back at an old relationship with a sing-along melody. It’s all great music on the album’s first half, but it tones down slightly with the percussive “There is No Way Out.” It gets back on track with the power riffs on “The Edge,” and although it doesn’t reach the album’s earlier high points, there are no clunkers here. The ending track “Enough” is a surprisingly compelling midtempo song with a nice finish. Definitely, this band deserves to be heard.

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The Persian Leaps

The Persian Leaps “Bicycle Face” EP

Saint Paul, Minnesota band The Persian Leaps 5th ep boasts not only the loud riffs, but a lot more hooks than their previous work. “Picture My Reaction” is a driving song that is on par with The Well Wishers or Trip Wire.

Another gem is the jangle fuzz chords on “Even Less” and “About The Lions,” with its catchy chorus where they sing “You never worry/About the lions.” The last track “Pushpins” is an interesting lyric, about someone pinned like an insect. Overall, Highly Recommended.

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Album Previews: Brendan Benson and Pugwash

The Raconteurs’ Brendan Benson has teased his forthcoming album (set for 2018 release) with a new single, “Half A Boy (And Half A Man)”

Pugwash is back with a new album “Silverlake” due for release in November.

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OLD MEDIA NEWS: Rolling Stone is being sold by the ever-shrinking media empire of  Jann Wenner. Like virtually all of print media, Rolling Stone magazine has struggled to stay alive with more and more eyeballs focused on the web. As a music critic, Rolling Stone was considered the zenith of cultural influence and an invaluable affirmation of your credibility. It was so important for an artist to “make the cover of Rolling Stone,” that it counted as having attained rock stardom (as Dr. Hook & the Medicine Show sang below).

But as the years wore on its influenced diminished. It started focusing more on politics, less on music and the reviews were relegated to fewer pages. It did outlast many competitors, but its days as a trusted brand in music criticism are numbered.

 

Freebie Friday: Travis Bretzer, Hector & The Leaves, Ricky Demetro

Edmonton indie pop songsmith Travis Bretzer is a jack of all trades musician, singer-songwriter who plays all of the instruments. The album’s first single “Are You Ever Gonna Change?” is a jangling power pop gem and the romantic “Peace, Love and Harmony” shows off his sunshine pop tendencies. “Up in Morning” is like a lost Mike Nesmith tune! One of the best FREE albums you’ll hear this year.  Time for me to investigate his back catalog. Also available in CD form on CDBaby.

Hector and The Leaves return with a bedroom pop treat. Tom Hector delivers the opener “Watching The World” in a hushed whisper. It stays quiet with acoustic guitar and his songwriting has improved tremendously from previous releases, “Call You Up” is a catchy gem that fans of Elliot Smith will eat up. Several songs sound like demos, but they are compelling. Music for those late nights with a mug of mint tea.

Way back at Power Popaholic Fest 3, Ricky Demetro was the lead singer in The Rhino House Band. Sadly, the band broke up and Ricky has the moved to Japan. Fortunately, he still likes to make music — this is more of a personal album, with no commercial aspirations as he does some experimental pop here. Oh yeah, and it’s a FREE download.

Charles Jenkins and The Death of Pop

Charles Jenkins

Charles Jenkins and the Zhivagos “The Last Polaroid”

Charles Jenkins is a veteran Melbourne songwriter/musician, who most people remember from his years as lead singer of the late ’90s power pop band Icecream Hands. Jenkins is a master of the slow building melody, and after years experimenting with different genres its good to hear him back in pure pop form.

The opener/title track evokes his past with banging keyboards and acoustic strums, as Jenkins warm vocal envelops the chorus and the big guitar riffs kick in. “Cartwheels” is another charmer, with a thick beat and catchy melody with horn accents. The descending chords of “Everyone Loves Me,” highlight a memorable rant by a conceited Vegas celebrity. Another gem is the catchy mid-tempo autobiographical “Walking On Air” about a “stay at home Troubadour.”

While not every song sticks with you, a majority do. The poignant “No Electronic Devices” waxes poetically about a time before we all spent our days staring at our phones. My favorite line here “And yeah I show my age/All through the day/ The rewinding of the cassette/ The 90-minute TDK.” Highly Recommended.

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The Death of Pop

The Death of Pop “Fed Up”

The name is a bit misleading, but the band establishes it’s own musical rules over pop as opposed to killing it. Quirky and masters at crafting dreamlike melodies it reminded me a little of the band Pretty & Nice. The angular guitar chords and undulating synths keys kept me listening.

“Pain Is Needless” is a synth-happy stretch of new wave pop with soft harmonies and jangle guitars comparable to XTC meeting OMD. The band’s skill in shifting sonic textures is commendable, but not always interesting like the dull “Breathing.” Luckily this is rare, as a strong melody is central to many songs like “Don’t Bother Me.” A big standout is “Busy With The Boys,” the song bends in and out of tune with an echoing vocal and warbling guitar hook that invites chaos. “Giving Up” and “If You Cared Less (We’d Be Dead)” has more of a psyche-pop flavor, very much in the mode of Olivia Tremor Control. The album’s second half isn’t as compelling but still interesting. Explore and you’ll find (power) pop isn’t quite dead yet (“I feel happy!”)

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The Bye Bye Blackbirds and Sven-Erik Olsen

The Bye Bye Blackbirds

The Bye Bye Blackbirds “Take Out The Poison”

Bradley Skaught, leader of The Bye Bye Blackbirds takes his traditional power pop band in a new direction with this album, and what you get is a combination of great melodic rock with other genre explorations. The band has several guests including KC Bowman, Brad Brooks and Khoi Huynh (Corner Laughers). “Earl Grey Kisses” is a bass-line led pop confection with a catchy chorus full of “do-do-dos.” The prominent horns added to “Let Your Hair Fall Down” make it a solid hit as well. It then takes a country pop detour with “Duet” as Bradley is joined by Lindsay Paige Garfield. The other pairings with female leads work well too, although the tunes feel like they belong on a different album.

The album’s diversity in rock stylings will appeal to fans of Robert Harrison (Cotton Mather) and Crowded House.  The best songs here are flowing with power pop energy, like “Wasted” with guitarist Brad Brooks, the brilliant “Alfred Starr Hamilton” and the Rockpile-like “Poison Love.” Overall, a welcome return for this highly recommended band.

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Sven-Erik Olsen

Sven-Erik Olsen “Sketchbook Traces”

Classically trained Sven-Erik Olsen’s debut album features acoustic-based pop that evokes a baroque style, as the opening track, “Pop Bottle Green Eyes” sounds like a lost single from The Left Banke or The Rain Parade. The title track is another harmonically inventive highlight, with influences that range from Brian Wilson to Game Theory.

The tempo slows as the album moves forward, “Lost and Losin’ It Fast” and “Distant Summer” have a sad, daydream-like quality. Fans of the latest Any Version of Me will also appreciate Sven-Erik Olsen for his echoing vocals and dense production style. The last two songs “Sunny Dream” and “Childhood Blur” are not as old school, but more of a textured ’80s style similar to Bauhaus or Joy Division with its heavy reverb jangle. Definitely, music that deserves to be heard.

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