Baby Scream and Bubble Gum Orchestra

Baby Scream

Baby Scream “Fan, Fan, Fan”

Argentina’s power pop sensation Baby Scream is back. Juan Pablo Mazzola got together with his good friend Nick Schinder and recorded about 200 songs in a massive recording session, and they had enough material for great 2 LPs. This one and The Worst of Baby Scream, which collects demos, covers and other stray tracks. Fan, Fan, Fan songs fit together along a similar theme and each song dovetails into the next.

Juan Pablo’s Lennonesque vocals combined with his crunchy pop guitars and pissed off lyrics make a great combination here. “Everybody Sucks” is a solid angry rant followed by the slow burning “Back To Douche” and the rocking “Loner” are a perfect 3 punch combo of angst and regret. These songs all clock in under 3 minutes each (except “The Girl Next Next Door”). He paints a lonely picture on the dense “A Human Being On Mars” and the catchy riffs are all over the aptly named “Captain Hook” with a satisfying solo between the chorus. Even though it slows down a little midway through it still delivers greatness on the ballads “Haters Will Hate” and “Just For A While.” Juan Pablo has a biting sense of humor on “The Kitty Song” where he speaks in the voice of the biggest a-hole cat ever. The smart curation of these songs from the recording session make this my favorite Baby Scream album to date. It’s so good, it gets my first nomination for best album of 2015! Don’t miss this one.

Only on Bandcamp

power pop

Bubble Gum Orchestra

Bubble Gum Orchestra “Beyond Time”

Once again ELO super-fan Michael Laine Hildebrandt returns to give us a “sequel” to the ELO 1981 classic Time. Hildebrandt starts with familiar electronic synths leading to the main riff of “23rd Century Woman,” one of the highlights. But my favorite is “Trans Form Her” chock full of tech wordplay along a similar theme of loving a robot girl, which leads to the obvious “I’m in Love with a Robot.” “Earth Below Me” is a captivating electronic prog rock gem that soothes and inspires.

Michael is also getting much better at using the style for compositions, instead of merely imitating it. He still isn’t above some hero worship, as “ELO Forever” lists about 28 song titles in the lyrics. Still, this is a fun, enjoyable album with some very nice production work throughout the synth-guitar melodies. If you enjoy your rock with a space opera twist this will float your boat.

power pop

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Emerging Artists: The Low Dose, Zaina, Janet Devlin, and AJR

Already a new group of releases have hit my desk, but before I get to it I wanted to post some new artists that may get some traction this year. Some have music available, and some just have a single. It’s a diverse group of styles, but you may like it!

New Jersey’s The Low Doses are lead by guitarist/singer/vocalist Ryan Masterson and bassist Joi La Cour are working on their debut album. This is the first single from it.

The girl with the purple hair is Zaina. While most of her work is soul or hip hop, this nicely written ballad caught my attention. Her voice is just mesmerizing. Hear more on Soundcloud.

Northern Irish singer-songwriter Janet Devlin grew up outside the village of Gortin in County Tyrone, the only girl and youngest of four in her family. Inspired by bands such as Foo Fighters and Red Hot Chili Peppers, Janet learned to play the guitar and write her own songs at a young age. Check out Running With Scissors

Indie pop trio AJR had an EP drop this past September, and a full length is due in early March. They reminded me a little of Sunday Sun with their youthful energy. This is the new single “Infinity.” Infinity – EP

The Satisfactors and Russell & The Wolf Choir

Late Cambrian

The Satisfactors “The Satisfactors”

A good old fashioned super group consisting of the best rock and roll veterans from New Jersey: Gar Francis (Mark Lindsday, The Doughboys), Kurt Reil (The Grip Weeds), Bruce Ferguson (The Easy Outs) and Kenny Aaronson (Billy Idol, Bob Dylan, Edgar Winter and Brian Setzer). These guys know hooks and riffs better than anyone and they do not disappoint here.

These pros rock the doors off starting with “She Got Charm,” and the fast-paced energy doesn’t let up for a second. “I Love Girls” is another guitar rocker that struts around without a whiff of subtlety, reminding me of Motley Crew or Kiss. Each song follows that path and its plenty of fun, “You’re So Crazy” is designed for couch jumping air-guitar performances! Plenty of highlights, not a weak track anywhere – even “Johnny Commando” uses The Ramones “hey-ho” chorus! The entire LP can be summed up with the lyrics of “Gimme My Rock and Roll,” as Bruce punctuates it – “Nuff Said!” The Satisfactors provide the perfect soundtrack for highway drive or a festive party. If I caught this LP earlier it would’ve easily hit my top ten list, fans of younger artists like Kurt Baker or The Connection shouldn’t miss it either.

power pop

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Russell and The Wolf Choir

Russell and The Wolf Choir “The Ivy Leaf Agreement” EP

Russell and the Wolf Choir is a band that combines country and indie pop. The songs are mostly about change after a loss, “I think I Need An Editor” boasts a unique percussive approach. “Closure” uses the steel pedal guitar for that country effect on this mellow song about the end of a relationship.

The highlight here comes on the storybook lyrics of “The Evening Wore On Part 1” about accepting the friendship of a former crush. The thumping beat of “This Fall I Think That You’re Riding For” is another great example of songwriting. What’s missing are some hooks to encourage repeat listens, but there is enough here to demand your attention. Fans of Death Cab for Cutie or Wilco may want to pick this one up.

power pop


Jonathan Rundman and The Person & The People

Jonathan Rundman

Jonathan Rundman “Look Up”

Minneapolis-based folk singer-songwriter Jonathan Rundman ends a decade-long break to deliver the pop-oriented Look Up. The band that includes drummer Steve Goold (Sara Bareilles), guitarist Tyler Burkum (Leagues), guitarist Jasper Nephew (Owl City), and bassist Ian Allison (Jeremy Messersmith). Guest stars include power pop legend Parthenon Huxley (ELO, Eels) and neuroscientist/musician Daniel Levitin.

After the mid-tempo opener “Prioritize Us”, the standout song “Northbound Traffic” celebrates the need to unplug, and follow your wanderlust. This is where the power of the band propels Rundman’s melody forward with solid guitar riffs, denser production and brilliant harmonies. A bit more sparse is “The Science Of Rockets” but its a fast tempo gem with a buzzing solo between the main verses. The old rustic ballads and Finnish melancholia are still part of Rundman’s oeuvre, “The Ballad of Nikolaus Rungius,” “Second Shelf Down” and “Home Unknown” are sweet and comfy compositions. “Helicopters Of Love” has a neat hook in the chorus, and “Flying On A Plane” is another big standout about the marvels of technology and how it all contrasts with the past. Definitely worth checking out.

power pop


The Person and The People

The Person and The People “What A Drag”

From the other end of Minnesota’s musical spectrum is The Person & The People. This was a real under-the-radar gem that I missed on my 2014 year end list. Short spiky melodies blast through, like the Superdrag-like “I Get Weird” and “Unwind.” The smooth harmonies and dynamic melody on “Vitamin C” is just what the doctor ordered, it’s just brilliant. Most tunes clock in nicely at the three minute mark.

Another gem “Give Me More” is like Weezer doing Nirvana with fuzz and buzz leading the way. Not a single second of filler here, each tune has the right attitude, like the cynical “What You Do” or the disappointment in “The Wrong Way.” I hear a little of Bob Mould influence on “Year Long Drought.” This LP only encouraged me visit the band’s back catalog for more. Only on Bandcamp, and highly recommended.

power pop

Reissues: Jellyfish “Bellybutton” and “Spilt Milk”

Jellyfish Bellybutton

Jellyfish “Bellybutton” 2-CD Remastered Edition

When it comes to power pop, the band Jellyfish have been the most influential band for the genre in the past 20 years, and is a yardstick by which most other bands from the modern rock era can be judged. Jellyfish captured the melodious qualities of The Beatles in a modern indie rock style, all wrapped up with tight melodies and arrangements.

This new 2-CD set captures the 1990 debut, with a set of live performances and demos adding up to 25 additional tracks. Previously these demos only appeared on the long out-of-print box set. On top of the remastered sound quality, you get expanded artwork and liner notes. More details at Omnivore.
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Jellyfish Spilt Milk

Jellyfish “Split Milk” 2-CD Remastered Edition

Once established, the bands driving forces Andy Sturmer and Roger Manning, Jr. increased the intensity on “Spilt Milk” and delivered an updated “Sgt. Pepper” for the new generation. The dream concept incorporated many music styles from the classical strings on “Hush” to the guitar rock on “Joining a Fan Club” to the polka style of “Bye Bye Bye.” This is another one of those desert island discs, and its a shame the band imploded after this masterpiece.

Like the debut CD, the new remaster includes 26 additional bonus tracks that are mainly demos and live performances including the last ever recording from them, Harry Nilsson’s “Think About Your Troubles.” Also included is expanded artwork and notes, including a track by track commentary, and essays from Ken Sharp. More details at Omnivore.
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Considering the the long out of print box set “Fan Club” is worth well over $150 in new condition, these new albums are the definitive Jellyfish collection (at a bargain price.)
Also if you have friends that want to know what power pop is supposed to sound like this is the best gift you can give them.