Going Underground Dec. '04
Kevin Mathews
12/28/2004 6:23:57 PM

“Well I'm tired of hanging around, I want somebody new”
--The Cure circa 1979

Another year of music has flown by and while it does seem that the sheer number of releases is so overwhelming, it’s intriguing to report that as musical cycles go, we’re just about revisiting the very early 80s right now, with the Cure being a really prominent reference amongst our nascent indie rock artists. Guess it’s a generation thing, huh?

What’s It All About? (Avebury)

Andrew Sandoval has earned his reputation as a luminary in the chamber pop scene and this new disc maintains this elevated standing. With the help of Ric (Velvet Crush) Menck and Probyn (Wondermints) Gregory, Andrew manages to parlay his Beatles-Beach Boys-Byrds sensibility into a heady brew of 60s influence pop magic. THIS is what it’s all about, pop fans.

Dogs Die In Hot Cars
Please Describe Yourself(V2)

The period 1977 to 1985 was special for me, a time when I first became seriously besotted with pop-rock music--which makes new bands like Dogs Die In Hot Cars a little tough to listen to. With its obvious “borrowing” from the likes of XTC and The Cure, it’s hard not to label the Dogs as derivative and unoriginal. Songs like “Lounger,” “Celebrity Sanctum” and “Apples & Oranges” cement that reputation somewhat undeservedly. Bottom line: give me interesting music that mirrors my heroes than boy bands and Britney any time.

Barry Holdship
Ruff Trax (Bad Axe)

Ostensibly, Barry Holdship appears to be drawing inspiration from the pioneering days of rock ‘n’ roll where country melded with blues in the form of Elvis Presley. That’s one way of looking at the music on Ruff Trax. My perspective? Again, it’s the early 80s when new wave re-packaged the pre-Beatles era and the likes of Marshall Crenshaw, Elvis Costello, Rockpile etc gained deserved prominence. So if that’s all your cup of tea, then this sincere evocation is for you.

Frank Lee Sprague
Merseybeat (Self released)

According to the sleeve notes, “Merseybeat is Frank Lee Sprague’s inspired rending of the well-loved and still vital 60s British Invasion sound.” Can’t really argue too much with that. I mean, going in you kinda know what to expect and you won’t be disappointed. Songs like “My Luck Is Bound To Change,” “So Far From My Heart” and “Nineteen” create a suitably nostalgic vibe effortlessly. Cool.

Saucepan Bach
Whose Say So (Self released)

If squeezed, I might venture to suggest that Saucepan Bach plays a space country rock that is reminiscent of Neil Young, Flaming Lips and Summerteeth-era Wilco. But ignore the labels and just enjoy the great music--from the John Cale (circa Vintage Violence)--channeling “Meaning” to the grinding “How Long Say” and to the sinister “Fall To Grace” – Whose Say So is an underground gem.

The Cleavers
Television Mind (All Right)

Shining pop-rock – the ‘70s kind. That’s what the Cleavers deliver, and in spades. Not only that, but the pristine production and sophisticated arrangements (including brash horns) contribute to distinguish Television Mind as an intelligent album that demands more from its listener than your standard three-chord new school punk. Echoes of Todd Rundgren, 10cc, Wings, Queen and Styx abound on this classy effort.

Brian Jay Cline
Ready 2 Raveup (Jam)

If nothing else, Brian Jay Cline’s authentic rock ‘n’ roll musings are fairly consistent and solid. There is a strong sense of country twang in the overall mix and isn’t that what embryonic rock ‘n’ roll was all about? Especially if you have song titles like “Cheatin’ Hearts,” “Dog” and “There Goes the Neighborhood.” For those of you who love your rock ‘n’ roll honest and without any frills, Ready 2 Raveup fits the bill.

The Day Traders
The Day Traders (Self released)

Mitchell Linker and Jeff Norberg were two-thirds of the trio that was the Dent. Much of this eponymous debut does not stray far from the agenda pursued by the Dent. Which means melodic songs with high emotional content – light on the overdrive and heavy on the harmonies. If comparisons were needed, then Neil Finn or Stephen Duffy with a twee bent would probably suffice.

Mocean 8
Mocean 8 (Self released)

Dark funk? This quartet employs a polyrhythmic game plan to what are basic rock song structures. Examples: “Shannon Song” features frenetic bongo work, the opening “Listen Up” highlights a fluid bass line and “Be Here Now” is distinguished by glassy guitar chords. That said, there is much left to be desired in the melody department. Perhaps that will come with time.

One Star Hotel
Good Morning, West Gordon (Stereo Field)

This alt-country combo never really gets going until “Starlight” (track no. 3) where the astute use of a saw and harp recalls Mercury Rev’s Deserter’s Songs. Growing from strength to strength, the rest of Good Morning, West Gordon touches the heart in the way that only the best country-folk can, as tracks like “Two and Four,” “This Fall” and the title track shimmer and stir.

Jim Baron
Chameleon (Self released)

Clocking in at slightly less than half an hour, Jim Baron’s collection of tracks is an understated declaration of intent and talent. The songs tend to be a tad unrealized but there’s no denying that Baron has an indie rock songwriting head on his shoulders. Preferring the garage rock of the Stones, Replacements and um, Ryan Adams, Baron’s Chameleon has enough to get indie rock fans to start at the basement.

The Tricks
Lick Your Lips (Self released)
You've got to hand it to Aussie guitar bands. No matter what modern rock genres (grunge, emo) swirl around their collective heads, they manage to keep faith with good old-fashioned pop-rock. And so we have the Tricks. Early power pop is the name of the game and they play with gusto! Fans of Badfinger and Raspberries will positively thrill to Lick Your Lips.

Crippled Pilgrims
Down Here: Collected Recordings (1983-1985) (Reaction)

History lesson time: In the early 80s alt.rock scene, the Pilgrims were an obscure DC band that released two albums and disappeared from the map, so to speak. Twenty years later, these unknown legends finally make it onto CD and it's a wonderful discovery. Right off the bat, it's clear that the Pilgrims were heavily into the British post-punk outfits like Echo and the Bunnymen, the Cure and the Teardrop Explodes and produced fascinating psychedelic-folk rock that ran in the face of the hardcore punk that dominated their local music arena. Essential listening - thanks to Reaction for putting the record straight and giving the Crippled Pilgrims the credit due.

Fine music, provided you know where to look. Let me continue to light the way.
Happy hols!!!

Kevin Mathews is to pop music what Julia Child is to French cooking. Visit his website at www.powerofpop.com


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