Going Underground: August '05
Kevin Mathews
7/31/2005 9:40:54 PM

If things were easy as fishing you could be a musician/If you could make sounds loud or mellow/Get a second hand guitar/Chances are you'll go far
--Randy Bachman, 1973

Ever wonder what keeps the pop underground going? Well, I’d wager it’s partly down to the blood, sweat and tears (not to mention belief) of bands and artists that continue to create good music despite the almost complete lack of appreciation. Holding down day jobs, playing to near empty venues and virtually unable to move significant number of albums, it’s amazing the passion and verve these great bands and artists are able to pour into their music. Ultimately, the pop underground depends on you, the consumer, to keep the music you love alive. For my part, I do not apologize doing all that I can to promote the music that have touched me in some way. So if that means getting the word out on my reviews, so be it, even if there are those who feel offended by ‘self-promotion.’ Which is what Going Underground is all about – a showcase of what the pop underground has to offer – so if there are bands and artists you feel that is deserving of space in this column, let me know and see if I can do something about it.

The Brokedown
The Dutchman’s Gold (Self-released)

What happens when you mix up power pop with country-folk-blues? Melodic richness, naked emotion and the power of crunching guitars knotted up in a dynamic package. In that respect, The Dutchman’s Gold is a treasure – equal parts rustic poignancy (“Dignity”) and belting vibrancy (“Word on the Street”) – a winning blend.

Steel Train
Twilight Tales From the Prairies of the Sun (Drive-Thru)

Just when I thought I had Steel Train pegged – the first three songs are poignant, pastoral country pieces with the melancholy “Dig” (especially with wailing pedal steel guitar) the highlight – when “The Lee Baby Simms Show: Episode 1” swaggers in like Santana on speed. This sets the tone for the rest of Twilight Tales – wistful numbers (“Grace,” “Blue”) intertwined with jazz-funky rave-outs (“Gypsy Waves,” “Tickle Your Toes”). Gorgeously schizophrenic!

Some Suburban Road (Popboomerang)

On this 4-track EP, Gigantic does its best to showcase its diverse talents. From the melodic indie rocking title track to the slightly atonal neo-garage ditty that is “End Transmission", Gigantic flirts from stylish to visceral within the confines of guitar rock. A promising sampler.

The Cruel Cuts
Self titled(Bottco)

I like this! Quirky in a good way, similar to Andy Partridge’s demo series, Fuzzy Warbles. Better, even. Tracks like “The Robot” and “Stop Believing” especially, reveal Devon Bott’s debt to XTC and its forbears, The Kinks. If you enjoy tongue-in-cheek lyrics sung to straightforward and well-constructed rock songs, then get in touch with Devon and get a copy of The Cruel Cats.

Glyn Bailey
Toys From Balsa (Self-released)

If nothing else, Glyn is a singer-songwriter in the best tradition of John Lennon, Syd Barrett, Robyn Hitchcock and Martin Newell. Quintessentially eccentric. Thus, on this interesting self-release, we have songs about plastic bags, divorce, humanity, John & Yoko etc. Musically eclectic, covering a wide range of styles and genres, Toys From Balsa will give you warm respite from the ‘next big thing’.

Billie Burke Estate
Give It All Away (Self-released)

Andy Liotta is Billy Burke Estate – don’t ask! Simply put, fans of Randy Newman, Billy Joel, Ben Folds, Elvis Costello, XTC will dig this. Yes, folks, piano-rock with an edge. Strong material too – ballads like “End of the Beginning,” “What Would It Take,” “Far And Away” and “Love Song” clinch the deal for me. Though I’m sure the track that will get attention is the one that goes, “I’m gay, and I don’t mean happy.”

Brian Lindsay
The Crossing (Self-released)

Y’know, there’s nothing quite like an artist who is able to hit the sweet spot between rock ‘n’ roll and country-folk. Well, we’ve had Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Gram Parsons (oh yeah!) – add Brian Lindsay to the list. The naked honesty of Americana soars on the wings of wild, liberating rock with songs like “It’s All About You,” “East Side of the River” and “The Night Is Long.”

Lemonade Electrica (Me and I)

Ah! Been a while since I hooked up with chill out music (apart from the faux acid jazz TVC I concocted earlier this year for a local radio station) and Aratone is a comfortable way back into the genre. With intelligent grooves like “Polyvinyl,” “Midnight Dub Rock” and “Ghost Town at 5” Lemonade Eletrica is not without its joys. Though, a bit of a challenge (for me anyway) to take on an entire album of so much electronica at once, the rights doses do me fine.

Straw Dogs
Tell the Rising Sun (Crafty)

Uncomplicated and to the point, the Straw Dogs parlay a genuine affection for country rock that is reminiscent of Neil Young albums that lean towards the twang rather than the ragged. Singer-songwriter Dave Von Beck surrounds himself with crack musicians that do justice to his moving songs about lost souls, regret, hard times and tough love.

Gods ‘n’ Gurus
Smashing (Self-released)

David Winn’s distinctively affected larynx points Gods ‘n’ Gurus towards a prog metal direction which as Smashing wears on makes more and more sense in the scheme of things. Despite their declared nods to punk and indie rock influences, you’ll more likely pick up references to Metallica, Megadeth, Scorpions as well as the Goth bands of the 80s. A unique blend nonetheless and fans of Smashing Pumpkins and My Chemical Romance will relate.

Pitty Sing
Self-titled (Or Music)

Opening with the gorgeously classical “Prelude,” Pitty Sing proceeds to put incongruence aside and dives head first into its own take on the 80s ‘new wave’ revival that is sweep the modern rock world now. Which puts Pitty Sing squarely in the same category as efforts from the Bravery and the Killers. Not a bad thing if songs like the wonderful “We’re On Drugs” and the hypnotic “Telephone” is the pleasing result.

Page (Self-released)

Let me just come right out and say this – hardcore punk bores me. The lack of melodies and an over-reliance on staccato riffs tends to blur the division into songs until it becomes a blank whole. The things about punk goddess wannabe Leiana is that her music comes across a little too pre-fabricated, almost like a hardcore Avril. *shudder*

Stephen Lawrenson
Every Summer (Paisley Pop)

The 12-string Rickenbacker on the cover gives the game away. Stephen Lawrenson is unambiguous about what he wants to achieve here – paying tribute to his folk-rock and jangle pop heroes. Naturally, the Byrds loom large but no doubt 60s music nuts will also enjoy allusions to the Hollies, the Searchers, Roy Orbison, Big Star and the Beatles. Gear!

Fran Smith Jr. and the Ten Cent Millionaires
Man Meets Machine (Self released)

Add Fran Smith Jr to the list of artists who seem to be able to beat Sir Macca at his own game in the new millennium. Listen to “Leonardo” and tell me that isn’t one of the best songs Paul McCartney did not write. The rest of this satisfying effort is a blast and will no doubt excite discerning fans of clever pop-rock – the kind that never goes out of style.

Ben Birchall
Year of the Monkey (Shock)

This seven-track EP (counting the ‘hidden’ track – isn’t that so passé now?) is a brilliant sampler of a talented singer-songwriter who reveals his influences to be Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, Ray Davies and Billy Bragg and writes and records music that does no disservice to the stated associations. Thus, there is a confessional aspect to songs like “Three Minute Revolution” and “It’s Not You, It’s Me” and the range of the sonic approaches is wide enough to interest most students of serious rock and pop music.

The Naked Cosmos [DVD] (Bright Red Rocket)

One of my favorite comic book creators is Gilbert Hernandez, who together with his brother Jaimie, was responsible for the critically acclaimed Love and Rockets. Now Beto (as he is affectionately known) has ventured into the murky waters of TV with four episodes of The Naked Cosmos – think of it as a kiddy show from bizarro world. Extremely low budget (with Beto and missus Carol Kovinick, the only thespians) and hideously charming, The Naked Cosmos is not just for fans of Beto’s work but also for any fan of offbeat TV – the show host Quintas is a hoot! Strange but wonderful.

Loads here to check out – give them a chance when you can – support the pop underground! Later!

Visit Kevin Mathews for tea at www.powerofpop.com


Copyright ©2021 Night Times, LLC. All rights reserved.