Going Underground June '06
Kevin Mathews
6/12/2006 8:20:34 AM

Going Underground June 2006

“Now that your picture’s in the paper being rhythmically admired and you can have any one that you ever desired/All you gotta tell me now is why, why, why, why.”
--Elvis Costello, circa 1977.

Why indeed?
Everyone’s jostling for pole position and doing all they humanly (or otherwise) can to be at the very toppermost of the poppermost, so to speak. The danger is when an artistic venture becomes a purely business one and bands begin to imitate what they perceive to be artistically successful and all they become is an indirect franchisee. Sure, there’s no escaping influences and inspirations but that’s just it; reference doesn't copy. And that’s where the latest mainstream rock revival leaves me a little cold with its cynical approximations of post-punk. So it is to the pop underground that I look for solace and so far it has not let me down. More examples…

Wes McDonald
1:50 in the Furnace (Skybucket)

McDonald’s press release drops key names like Tom Petty, the Posies and the dBs. The featured reviews even throw in Keith Richards, Nikki Sudden and then Boz Scaggs. Hmm. Which I suppose indicates that McDonald has succeeded in mixing and matching his influences. Well done, I would say. What I really like about McDonald’s method is his uncanny ability to keep you guessing. Right from the get go, McDonald begins the trip with the jazz-inflected angular “I Would Never,” to be followed by the straightforward roots rocking “Shot Stereo.” “Chinese Rug” breaks more typecasting with its almost slacker rock posturing before it runs off into the blistering Southern rocker “All Revved Up.” You get the idea, I trust, and pretty much sums up what you gonna get from 1:50 in the Furnace. And it ends on the ideal note as the Mick Jagger-channeling folk blues ditty that is “Roswell” finds McDonald in questioning philosophical mood. All good.

Ross Rice
Dwight (Memphis)

There’s no questioning the powerpop pedigree of Ross Rice. Having formed Human Radio, a major label (Columbia) powerpop band back when powerpop still had the attention of major label A&R men i.e. the early 90s (think also Jellyfish, the Grays, Wanderlust, Doug Powell etc). Commercial indifference led to the demise of Human Radio and since then Rice has been releasing accomplished solo work as well as being an in-demand studio collaborator for the likes of Susannah Hoffs, Steve Earle and Adrian Belew, amongst others. If nothing else, Dwight, Rice’s latest release recalls the late 80s, which I suppose is slightly ahead of the curve in modern rock. I gather such concerns do not bother Rice. Considering Rice’s background, you are bound to hear similarities to peers like Jason Falkner, Brendon Benson and Jon Brion, although Rice is probably a little heavier in approach but retains all the verve, melodic endeavour and harmonic subtleties. The opening “Hard Times for the Revolution” is apt for the times we live in.

The Perishers
Teepee (Head)

What I love about the pop underground is that the next band that could thrill you or I could be fronted by you or I! Geddit? One look at the Perishers and you realize that they are basically ordinary blokes from a small town (Basingstoke – home town of Liz Hurley, as well, I am given to understand) in England - despite mysteriously going only by the monikers Diff, Paul, Spencer and Torq – and seem to have nothing going for them. That is, until you start listening to Teepee, the band’s sophomore release. With the moving understatement of gleaming acoustic and electric guitars, muted drums and hushed vocals, the Perishers embark on a country-folk pop diet that will have fans of Teenage Fanclub, Big Star, the Go-Betweens and the Jayhawks eating out of their hands.

Adam Power
What Were Sundays For? (Big Radio)

This debut release (on Big Radio, the new label set up by Aussie powerpop wonder, Michael Carpenter) from Adam Power sure does cover a lot of bases. Starting rather poignantly with the piano instrumental “Amor,” Power then launches in the title track – a wistful diatribe against the church with lyrics that Power chooses to highlight in the inner sleeve: “My soul is choking on religious shows/I can’t let go I can’t let go/Well who prayed the hardest gave their money to the charity?/I wonder more/What were Sunday’s for?/I ask once more/”Oh Sir please help the poor.” Perhaps motivated by personal grief and experience, Power’s feelings come out loud and clear. The rest of What Were Sundays For? shares this sense of betrayal, injustice and most of all, melancholy. Thus, songs like “Sad and Lonely,” “Heartbreaker” and “Two-faced” are headlong descents into misery and depression even whilst the music gives little indication of the emotional underpinnings. And the music is simply first-rate melodic pop-rock evoking the early 70s – solo McCartney, Big Star, Kinks et al. Brilliantly produced by Carpenter, What Were Sundays For?is a slice of earthy Aussie pop-rock audacity that the pop underground fraternity should not miss out on.

The Vandalays
Happy Ever After (Slip)

The production is much fuller, the sound is a little more textured and that makes all the difference in the Vandalays’ latest studio offering, a five track EP--which is probably the way to go nowadays, considering the short attention span of music fans in 2006. By and large, these five tracks showcase the basic and solid pop-rock that the Vandalays specialize in. Though I understand that the Chicago-based quartet of Chris Garasoli (Vocals/Keyboards), Dave Franco (Drums/Vocals), Tim Gleason (Bass/Vocals), Ken Valskis (Guitar/Vocals) have been selling themselves as a power-pop band, I beg to differ. My personal take is that it is classic 70s rock. More the Band than the Byrds, more Springsteen than Chilton. Lyrically, a concept piece on familial bliss, it is a nice short (15:49) pleasing pop-rock excursion that never overstays its welcome.

Think your band can make a difference” Get in touch with me at info@powerofpop.com. More to come…


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