Yelling as hard as they can/The doubters all were stunned/Heard louder than a gun/The sound they made was love
--Wayne Coyne, circa 1999
The Flaming Lips are the exception. Signed with the corporate behemoth that is Time Warners, they have been blessed with the financial backing to create rock music that challenges the very notion of “rock music". For the underground, the funds (and the hype) may be limited but I daresay that the chances of discovering gold amongst the dirt and grime of the uninitiated part-timers and sideliners may even be greater than what passes nowadays for the modern rock scene. Read on…
Safe in Sound(bluhammock)
It seldom gets better than this – well produced sound, melodies that feed the soul and an unapologetic allegiance to the music masters that have gone before – what more could any pop underground fan want? Jim Boggia is the kind of artist that gets all the pop critics hot and bothered reaching for the thesaurus to describe words like “complex,” “whimsical,” “sophisticated” and “warm” and dropping easy comparisons to Sir Paul McCartney, Andy Partridge, Jellyfish, Todd Rundgren and Brian Wilson. Tracks like “Where’s the Party,” “Shine” and “Once” will take your breath away.
Bad Parade (Self released)
The chorus on opening track “Leave It Alone” is so breathtaking that it has to be heard to be believed. Otten does a fabulous job in blending traditional guitar pop-rock with a tinge of ambient-inflected electronica. Bad Parade is simply great pop music that transcends any genre you may care to mention. After all, songs like “Boo and Shane,” “Everything Burns Out” and “Drown Me” are so good that nothing else needs be said. Save maybe to say that Todd Rundgren fans will find Bad Parade an indispensable album.
Old School (Self released)
There’s something to say about a passion that sweats belief and creativity despite the lack of commercial success. Ray Mason (& Jim Weeks) has it in spades. There’s a restless spark that truly illuminates this eclectic offering. The jazzy “Crazy,” the hymn-like “Ghost,” the countrified “The Lure” and the pub-rocking “Never Run Out,” not to mention the West Coast evoking “Old School” put many more acclaimed singer-songwriters firmly in the shade.
Tangos & Tantrums (Cheap Lullaby)
Hearkening back to a different time and age, Lewis downloads her smoky voice into a collection of torch songs that incorporate the music of a pop era long gone. So, there’s a smatter of bluegrass in “By Heart,” smidgeon of folk-jazz in the humorous “The Movies” and show tune ballad in “Promises of Paris.” One feature remains inviolable throughout, the clarity and range of Lewis’s wondrous larynx. For the discerning pop listener.
Elliot Street (Self released)
There are not many rock musicians who can assimilate the sounds of the late 60s, a time when pop music was slowly evolving into rock. One of the best known is probably Tom Petty. Kerans’ Elliot Street has the same Byrds-meets-the-Stones vibe as songs like “Don’t You Even Try,” “Heartbreak Road” and the title track testify.
Distance to Empty (PopPop)
Sincere pop making is always a virtue to treasure. Ashfield has in previous albums (both solo and with the Bobbleheads) displayed an appealing affinity for the breezy Britpop of the early 80s and thus the likes of Orange Juice, Style Council, Pale Fountains and Aztec Camera are referenced in songs like “Lenz” and “Come Along.” Gorgeous.
Yowza (Self released)
Last time out, Zallen (aka Michael Allen Jones) channeled Bowie and T. Rex so well that even Tony Visconti had a good word to say! Latest release Yowza still carries that 70s rock feel but with a very strong Beatlesque atmosphere. Sure, you may hear the influences of ELO, 10cc and yes, Bowie in stellar material such as “Cynical Man,” “Kritic” and “In Heaven” but given the Zallen hi-octane treatment. Yowza indeed!
The Little Things (Self released)
This well-produced album is doggedly Adult Oriented Rock with very little trace of redemption. The songs are middling and nothing really to get excited about – it’s nicely done, don’t get me wrong, but lacks the creative spark to rise above the average. DiNatale is a competent enough singer but the tunes are unremarkable. Middle of the road.
Fantastic Freak Show Carnival (Stereohead)
John Basset is King Bathmat essentially. Basset is a London native whose psychedelic leanings will lend himself to followers of like-minded psych-rock trippers like Robyn Hitchcock, Julian Cope and Bevis Froud. Which means freaky effects, quirky subject matters and unforgettable melodies/harmonies. Eccentric Brit-rock at it’s finest.
Aloneaphobe (Self released)
Slick, melancholy and painfully aware of his pop history, Steven Mark has imbued Aloneaphobe with the right inspirations i.e. John Lennon (“Lazy Sunday Afternoon”), Bob Dylan (“Window in the Dark”), REM (“Yesterday’s Smile”) and Pink Floyd (“Narcissus”). Being a concept album of sorts (loosely based on the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind), Aloneaphobe may be consumed as a collection of top songs or as an artistic whole. Either way, Steven Mark has delivered a winner.
Probably Human (Self released)
Despite the obvious allusions to Elvis Costello, Randy Newman, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen and the Band, all I hear is Weinstein’s remarkable vocal similarity with Peter Gabriel, though his music is certainly closer to the aforementioned references. Brilliant chord changes, inventive lyrical conceits and a spiky disposition is likely to endear him to the idiosyncratic singer-songwriter crowd. For the mature rock ‘n’ roll fan whose major erogenous zone is the brain.
The Girl I Used To Be (Self released)
With our girl Lexi in her underwear reclining suggestively in bed on the back cover, it begs the question really the kind of audience she is hoping to attract. As Chrissie Hynde famously said – "Don't think that sticking your boobs out and trying to look fuckable will help. Remember you're in a rock and roll band. It's not ‘fuck me,’ it's ‘fuck you!’ – pity, because the songs themselves show more potential than Lexi Street’s cynical attempts at soft porn. Next!
The Other Side Of Kindness (Self released)
Aw yeah! Overdriven dirty fuzzed up guitars cranked up to the max playing sweet country-blues-rock whilst a wailing pedal steel sends tingles down spines. This is such a cool approximation of the rustic rock of Steve Earle & Neil Young that I have to give it top marks! The excitement on The Other Side Of Kindness is so palpable, you could cut it with a switchblade. Not only that but Herring manages to hit raw nerves with poignant numbers as well – a complete work of twang art. I love it!
What a great list of premium pop-rock releases! Who needs the mainstream when we’ve got such a strange and wonderful pop underground? More next month! Adios!