Fountains of Wayne Perform “All Kinds of Time”

fow-welcome_interstate_managersListen to this song by New York-based power pop melody-meisters Fountains of Wayne.  It’s “All Kinds of Time” from their 2003 album, Welcome Interstate Managers.

Some of the best moments in the world pass us by, and maybe we recognise them for what they were in hindsight.  Maybe we don’t even notice them.  But, sometimes we catch a glimpse of an important moment when we’re right in it.  This is what this song is about.  It’s about recognizing that everything, as the moment you’re in ticks down, is about to change for the better.  It’s about living the last moments of uncertainty, and watching it fall away as the certainty of a bright future bursts through.

How can you not love that?

One of the strengths of this band, as driven by songwriting team Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger, is that they are able to write every day characters and every day occurrences in their material and make it all seem celebratory, easily identified with, or at very least entertaining even if those characters are not those whom you’d identify with directly.

The songs as a result are extremely well-observed slices of life, while also being highly melodic and ‘hooky’ in nature.  And this is a very American setting – the college football game, the roaring crowd, the family at home in front of the widescreen TV watching as one of their own wins a key to the happiness he’s pursued.

Fountains of Wayne have been around since the mid-90s, with a history ten years older when Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger met at college. When their song "Stacy's Mom" got airplay, and became popular, they were nominated for best new band at the 2003 grammies. After fifteen years, they were still new, it seemed. Their newest album Traffic and Weather is out now. And what a poptastic record it is!
Fountains of Wayne have been around since the mid-90s, with a history ten years older when Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger met at college. When their song “Stacy’s Mom” got airplay (with a video featuring model Rachel Hunter as the title character), and became popular, they were nominated for “best new band” at the 2003 Grammies. After eight years of recording, they were still new, it seems.  Their newest album Traffic and Weather is out now.

The cynical among us may say that that this is pure schmalz on a Speilbergian scale. Yet, I think that there aren’t enough songs like this in the world. There aren’t enough stories where the good guy wins, particularly not in pop music, which often deals in shadowy landscapes of heartbreak and disappointment.  We need those types of  songs too, of course.  But, I’m glad that there are bands who are writing about life’s triumphs, and doing it intelligently and with humanity, too.

For more about Fountains of Wayne, I’d urge you to check out the official Fountains of Wayne website.

Enjoy!

Kingsbury Manx Play “Porchlight”

Kingsbury Manx Let You DownHere’s a clip of ambient guitar band Kingsbury Manx with a live version of their 2000 cut “Porchlight”, my favourite track from their album Let You Down.

As far as how guitar rock has evolved in this decade, I think one stream of that evolution rests in the idea of mood and restraint.  In this, Kingsbury Manx who hail from North Carolina, are major proponents even if they go largely unsung in the wider world.  When I first heard Doves, a band from England who may be a bit higher profile, I thought of these guys immediately.  I think both bands are exploring similar sonic territory, with a traditional guitar, bass, drums used as a means of creating an atmosphere, not unlike an approach with sequencers and laptop technology allows electronica acts.

I picked up Let You Down in Camden in London, based upon the strength of a review.  And I was both surprised by its simplicity, and haunted by the way it used traditional rock instruments to set a scene.  And the vocals on the album served no different a purpose.

At that time, Radiohead had released Kid A, and everyone was musing about the death of indie guitar rock, with several “post-rock’ albums in the wings to represent the new dawn for the guitar on rock albums.  Where I don’t think this record held the keys to the future in that respect, I do think it repositions what a guitar-bass-drums set up can mean – instruments to create a mood, not necessarily to bolster traditional pop songs in a rock idiom.

For more recent music from these guys, check out this video by Kingsbury Manx which really brings out their “Simon & Garfunkel Meets Pink Floyd” sound.

Enjoy!

XTC perform ‘When You’re Near Me I Have Difficulty’

XTC Drums and WiresListen to this song by a spikily new wave XTC. It’s “When You’re Near Me I Have Difficulty’ as taken from their shimmering pop album, 1979’s Drums and Wires. There are an awful lot of bands today, at this very minute, who are trying to capture the sounds XTC were making thirty years ago (!). I think this proves something of their worth alone.

This is a nerd song, written  about nerds for nerds.  Of course this endears it to my heart, for reasons which I think you can guess.  But the music behind it is far from shy and awkward, with all of that call and response between singer/guitarist Andy Partridge’s yelping vocal, and guitarist Dave Gregory’s ferocious lead work.  And I love that they’ve thrown a bit of the edginess of post-punk together with a kind of hyperactive ska, the rhythm being off-the-beat, and very tense sounding while also being fun.

I think too that the lines about being ‘an iceman living in an iceman town’ in the middle-eight section of the song is interesting too.  It’s like even though the narrator feels awkward around his object of affection, she is doing him a favour, bringing him out of a state of numbness.  This adds a whole dimension for me to the song.  It ceases to be just about an awkward guy who’s shy around a woman.  It becomes a song of liberation too.

The Drums and Wires album was a big hit for this band, mostly due to how much play bassist Colin Moulding‘s song “Making Plans For Nigel’ got on North American radio. Even though they would gain similar recognition for another song of theirs, 1982’s “Senses Working Overtime”, their popularity would be curtailed by Andy Partridge’s extreme episode of stage fright while touring the English Settlement album, resulting in a permanent decision not to tour.  As such, they would be relegated to the status of a cult band, both in their native UK as well as in North America.

For more information about XTC, check out Ape Records Andy Partrige’s label.

Enjoy!

The Hellacopters Perform “I’m in the Band”

Here’s a clip of Swedish classic rock proponents The Hellacopters with their song “I’m in the Band”, as taken from their album.

This band may have heard a few Rolling Stones and Iggy Pop albums in their time.  Luckily, they took of best of those away with them and have delivered it to us in this little tune about rock ‘n’roll fantasy.

Rock music is a many-faceted beast.  On the one hand a lot of rock music is very “grown up”.  It’s about sex.  It’s about worldliness.  Sometimes, it’s about a rather bleak outlook that it is more important to burn out than fade away.  But, equally I think rock music is about the joy of living, and that childhood rush that one gets when imagining what it must be like to play a very loud guitar, set of drums, or to yell into a microphone for a screaming throng of fans, setting aside the real responsibilities that life demands for a time.  It appeals to the innocent in us, as well as the experienced.  It registers with that part of us which sees the moment, and grasps it.

This tune by The Hellacopters is a pure ode to the power of rock ‘n’ roll, the power to transport someone away from the blandness, or grimness of their world, and deliver them to another place.  The sentiments found here have been a part of rock ‘n’ roll since the term was coined, aimed initially at a young audience, but eventually, and ultimately appealing to everyone.

Chuck Berry’s world of cars, makin’ out, and no school hasn’t really changed very much as a fantasy.   And even the most stoic among us thinks about a world with no responsibilities and instant payoffs, from time to time.

It’s not hard for anyone to understand.

For more information about The Hellacopters, check out The Hellacopters MySpace page.

Enjoy!

Sloan Perform “Ill-Placed Trust”

sloan_never_hear_the_end_of_itListen to this song by transplanted Halifax indie-rock champions Sloan.  It’s their brilliantly realized and clunkily-titled stormer “I’ll-Placed Trust” as taken from their superbly ambitious and accessible album Never Hear the End of It.

Of the great batch of songs on this veritable smorgasbord of classic rock-pop that is the Never Hear the End of It album, this one’s my favourite, awash as it is in glam-pop wah-wah pedals and fuzz guitar.  It’s a tricky game when you reference a texture like a wah-wah pedal it seems to me, or when you harken back to a time when rock music was in one of its defining eras – in this case the 1970s.  It’s easy to sound as if that’s what you’re trying to do, which often takes away from the material.

But, Sloan are pros, without really sounding slick at the same time.  As such, this tune more than comes off.  It’s a rocker, a barrage of twisty guitar and throbbing bass.  And the drum sound they’re getting on this sounds like the whole band is ganging up on the drum kit.  Fantastic!

True: I consider Sloan to be a national treasure, one that is celebrated by too few Canadians, not even to mention how few Americans, Brits, and pretty much anywhere else who have showed an interest in rock- pop music over the last forty years.  It’s simple, really.  They write their own stuff among the four of them, and put out solid records one after another.  Also, in their early days as a group they decided not to play what the record company wanted them to play, and started their own label – Murderrecords.  The label still distributes their stuff here, although Yep Roc have signed them and distribute them everywhere else.

For more Sloan, check out sloanmusic.com.

Enjoy!

Cosmic Rough Riders Perform ‘Glastonbury Revisted’

cosmic-rough-riders-enjoy-the-melodic-sunshineListen to this song by melodically inclined Brian-Wilsonites  Cosmic Rough Riders.  It’s “Glastonbury Revisited”, as taken from their 2000 album Enjoy the Melodic Sunshine.

The Glastonbury Festival, which began in 1970 near the town of Glastonbury (according to legend, the burial place of King Arthur under Glastonbury Tor, people) on a farm owned by one Michael Eavis, has many associations.  One is a lot of mud.  The other is music, and lots of it.  Still another is rampant drug use, let’s face it. Depending on your priorities, and on the weather during British summertime, one’s own associations may vary.   But, for the most part, one thing which can be counted upon is the feeling of closeness with friends, through the highs of seeing your favourite band together, and the lows of being soaked to submission by English rain.

This tune by Scotland’s Cosmic Rough Riders is something of an ode to the meteorological crapshoot which is the annual 3-day Glastonbury Festival.  There are levels of irony at work, of course.  Where have all the angels gone, now that all the acid’s done, indeed.  But, I think this song is mostly about that feeling of togetherness, and the ideal held that if life can be like this during the festival, why not all the time?

I went to two Festivals.  The first in 1999, and the second being the following year.  The weather gods were kind to us both years, and I got to see some incredible musical acts, some of which I knew, and some I’d only heard about, later to come to love.  But, I definitely felt the spirit of the thing, the back to basics hanging with your friends, going from beer tent, to field, to campsite, to food stall, to concert ground, as the sun lovingly circled in the sky.  And on coming back home, often the hardest part due to the throngs leaving at the same time, while unwashed, unshaven, and sleep deprived, I felt that if there’s a heaven, it must be very much like an outdoor festival – but maybe with plentiful indoor plumbing too.

For more Cosmic Rough Riders, be sure and check out this interview with CRR’s founder Daniel Wylie.

Enjoy!

Guided By Voices Play ‘Glad Girls’

Listen to this song by über-prolific power-pop-art-rock maven Robert Pollard and his outfit Guided By Voices.  It’s ‘Glad Girls’ as taken from the 2001 GBV album Isolation Drills.

Isolation Drills GBV

Guided By Voices  is the outward expression of Pollard’s wandering artistic spirit, and often times a lot of what he came up with when that band was a growing concern came off as slightly underdone.  But, this one is a fantastic power-pop tune that knocks it out of the park.  It’s got everything – a singable hook, some great crunchy guitar, and a sort of dreamy middle-eight section that echoes a 60s sunshine pop sound that makes this song a real breath of fresh air.

And I think a large part of the charm with this band as a whole is that even if a lot of their songs seem a bit “throw it up against the wall to see if it sticks” in terms of approach, a lot of what they’ve done is a testament to creativity over budget.  At times in the past, they were really only ever achieving demo quality on a lot of tunes.  But the strength of the writing and the commitment to finding a sound tends to make that pretty irrelevant, and was even looked upon by many fans as the whole point of the band’s existence.  But, by this record they were a polished pop band, clearly interested in getting that classic rock-pop vibe in order to appeal to a wider gene pool of listeners.

There are a lot of songs I consider to be smash hits in another dimension, in the sense that they should have been hits in this dimension and just weren’t.  “Glad Girls”  is a big one like that.  There’s just something totally uplifting about it.  And polished pop song or no, it makes me want to jump around and break things, which is the true rock  ‘n’ roll litmus test for me.

For more adventures of Robert Pollard, take a wander over to robertpollard.net.

Enjoy!

Let’s Active Perform “Every Word Means No”

Here’s a clip of 80s alternative jangle-pop trio Let’s Active with their should-have-been hit record  “Every Word Means No” as taken from their 1983 EP Afoot.  The band was a going concern for leader Mitch Easter, who also had a hand in producing some early EPs and albums with fellow southern jangle poppers, a little band you may have heard of called REM.

Let's Active AfootI may have said it before, but I don’t think it can be said enough, so here it is again.  The ’80s get a bad rap when it comes to pop singles, and perhaps music in general.  A lot of the best music of the era could be found regionally.  And Let’s Active certainly proves it.  It’s really a shame that they didn’t hit bigger, given the calibre of the songwriting.

But, their music stands as a bit of a throwback in many ways to the early psychedelic era, and even to bands who followed the same trail as Britain’s the Soft Boys, who largely ignored the trends and played Syd Barrett-meets-the-Beatles inspired sounds instead.  In the burgeoning landscape of digitally driven, and homogeniac pop music of the time, Let’s Active picked the wrong decade to try to get play on commercial radio.

Yet, much like their peers in REM, college radio was good to them and helped to drive the sales of their EP and their first album Cypress. And that’s where the group focused energy, although over the years, members fell away leaving Easter to steer the ship on his own.  After touring college campuses after a final (to date) album in 1988, Easter switched his attention to production, leaving the band in stasis.

Where not many of the psych-revivalists and jangle pop bands came out of the 80s intact, some great music was made, which rather disproves the rule that the 80s was a bit of a let down for guitar pop.   It seems that the Rickenbacker guitar was just as important a totem of the time as the DX7 synthesizer.  This is a testament of the times, that  the 80s was perhaps the first decade since the 50s where half the fun of finding great music was the search beyond the obvious.

For more information and music, check out the Let’s Active All Music entry.

Enjoy!

[August 28th, 2014 – Let’s Active recently re-united and performed together for the first time in 24 years, although sadly without original bassist Faye Hunter who died in 2013. You can read about it here.]

The Kooks Perform ‘Shine On’

Here’s a clip of Brighton England’s The Kooks with their most recent single “Shine On” as taken from the album Konk, so named due to the fact that they recorded it at the studio of the same name, owned as it is by one Ray Davies of the Kinks.

Kooky!  The Kooks are so named after a 1971 David Bowie tune Kooks as featured on the album Hunky Dory. The band clearly draw from Bowie, the Kinks, and the Beatles. And of course, the band opened for the Rolling Stones on the recent Bigger Bang tour.
Kooky! The Kooks are so named after a 1971 David Bowie tune "Kooks" as featured on the album Hunky Dory. The band clearly draw from Bowie, the Kinks, and the Beatles. And of course, the band opened for the Rolling Stones on the recent "Bigger Bang" tour.

Every once in a while, it’s nice to be reminded that a guitar group can still be interesting, and remain to be a pop group too.  In the past little while, there’s been a lot of pressure on groups like this to be ironic, or po-faced,  or ‘important’.  None of this has to be true, and where I’m not saying that this band and this tune is knocked-off or fluffy, what it remains to be is just enjoyable.  And nothing wrong with that.  That’s what pop music is supposed to be, after all.

Further to all of this, there is a fine line between wearing your influences on your sleeve, and being a pastiche band.  With these guys, I get the impression that an effort to copy a sound isn’t a priority, even if a lot of 60s influence as a for-instance seems to filter through anyway.  I really think that they want to put across songs.  With this approach, they win.  And on this tune, a 60s-flavoured pop tune that just shimmers with enthusiasm, we get this approach framed pretty nicely.

There was a time when bands made records to be played on the radio, without a huge marketing engine behind them.  Rather, they wielded a talent for creating songs that were undeniable.   There are all kinds of obstacles that block many bands from sticking to this approach these days.   The fact that this record has gone to number one in Britain at least is a shining hope that great songs on the radio isn’t just me dreaming about the possibility.

For more information and tunes, check out the official Kooks website.

Enjoy!

The Seahorses Play “Love is the Law”

Here’s a clip of Ex-Stone Roses axeman and all-around Brit-pop guitar hero John Squire with his band The Seahorses, playing their sole 1997 hit “Love is the Law” as taken from their album Do It Yourself.

In Britain the Stone Roses cast a long shadow, having been nearly universally loved by both indie fans and dance music fans.  The band, co-led by Squire and singer Ian Brown, had been successful in bringing the two seemingly disparate worlds together along with other bands of the early 90s era like Happy Mondays, Primal Scream, and Inspiral Carpets.  But, the Roses had the distinct advantage over and above their peers; they put out a signature album that was lauded as a masterpiece of the scene, that being their self-titled debut in 1989.

A British guitar hero, after the age of guitar heroes had passed.
John Squire: A British guitar hero, after the age of guitar heroes had passed.

The debut record seemed like the resurrection of the rock scene.  The genius of it was that it took many of its cues from the Manchester dance club scene too, as typified by what was going on at the Hacienda where bands like New Order were the leaders of the scene.  The debut ensured that the Roses would be recognized as one of the great British bands of the era, with many fans eager to hear what they would come up with next.

However, the follow-up album took five years to make, and when it hit, it came off as something of a disappointment even though it is a solid effort.  Brown and Squire were at odds creatively and personally. And with a record killed by its own hype, plus inter-band tensions, the group understandably disbanded officially in 1996.

For me, by the time I’d heard this record, I’d yet to hear anything from the Roses.  I was living in England at the time, and knew the Roses only by reputation.  This helped my view of “Love is the Law”, which is a bit more ‘rock’ than anything off of The Stone Roses.  Squire’s chops as a guitarist were undeniable, pulling from the styles of 60s and 70s influences, yet sounding thoroughly modern and fresh at the same time.  Much like the eagerness fans experienced in waiting for the Roses to follow up their debut, there was a great deal of expectation surrounding this new band and their new album too.

But, I just thought it was a great slab of British rock music – anthemic, melodic, and with sterling guitar playing too without being flashy.  Unfortunately, it went nowhere in terms of establishing a new career and band for Squire.  After the innovations of the Stone Roses, this new band were largely looked upon as being ordinary, which wasn’t what Squire had been known for by any stretch.   After a tour, and studio disagreements, the group split in 1999, not having put out a follow-up.

Squire is clearly a gifted player, with an ability of taking his influences and doing something really new and musically energizing.  His career and ability are not unlike another arguably underachieving Mancunian guitar hero – Johnny Marr.  Yet, even Marr found his way on to the records of others, and eventually found a new band too in Modest Mouse.  Let’s hope Squire’s solo career, with two albums put out, will frame his playing as it should.

For more information about John Squire, check out http://www.john-squire.com/

Enjoy!