Hunters And Collectors Play “Throw Your Arms Around Me”

Hunters and Collectors Human FrailtyListen to this track by Australian post-new wave ambassadors Hunters And Collectors. It’s “Throw Your Arms Around Me”, a hit single off of their high-profile 1986 record Human Frailty, and released earlier as a stand-alone two years earlier

This song is considered to be a national treasure, being highly regarded as one of the best singles recorded by any band in Australia. It has scored top ten placements in poles for decades after it was re-recorded on the album and put out again as a single. Maybe a part of its appeal is that it’s a love song, although one that adds some lyrical angles that isn’t typical in love songs. Another aspect is that it’s nothing short of an anthem, designed to be sung for and with a live crowd. Listening to it, you can hear the space set apart in the arrangement for the heaving throngs singing along while swaying out in front of stages.

It also hints at something that is certainly resonant to human experience; our ephemeral existence and our call to seize the day. Read more

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Travis Plays “Driftwood”

Travis DriftwoodListen to this track by Scottish post-Britpop favourites Travis. It’s “Driftwood”, a top twenty UK single as taken from their 1999 album The Man Who, their second. The song was released in May of that year, the second single from the album following the Oasis-like “Writing To Reach You”.

Travis represented something of a third wave of British guitar pop in the 1990s, coming in after the Britpop era had concluded, and long after The Stone Roses and their contemporaries revitalized the guitar for pop music in Britain at the beginning of the decade and out of the ashes of the late 1980s. At the time Travis were looked upon as being somewhat lightweight when compared to the zeitgeist precision of Blur, the kitchen sink drama of Pulp, or the ironic glam of Suede. But, to me those are not apples to apples comparisons in any case.

What this song provided was something of a relief from the artifice of Britpop (as good as that artifice was, to be clear). It navigated different waters, and more frightening ones in some respects, just because it contrasted so starkly against the distance and irony for which Britpop is known. No, Travis went the other way; they were earnest. That’s a tough row to hoe, especially when it comes to the British music press.

Really, I think that’s what was at the center of the critical backlash against a lot of late ’90s British guitar pop, with the understanding that some bands pulled it off to a greater degree than some others. So, what’s so earnest about this song, and what is it really about anyway? Read more

The Raspberries Play “Go All The Way”

The RaspberriesListen to this track by British Invasion enthusiasts and power pop founding fathers from Cleveland Ohio, The Raspberries. It’s “Go All The Way”, their top five hit single also featured on their 1972 debut record Raspberries.

The Raspberries were a pretty singular group, even if you can tell they’re wearing their influences on their sleeve. By 1972, those very bands who had furthered the cause of guitar-based pop music you hear in this song had gone on to other projects. Art rock, rock operas, confessional singer-songwriter albums were common artistic avenues by the early ’70s while the four bobbing heads and catchy choruses model of the ’60s was left behind. Rock music as a form had expanded beyond that. Some would say it had grown up.

So, how did the Raspberries get their top five hit, given that the musical traditions they’re drawing from had been largely left in the past? Read more

Spearmint Play “Isn’t It Great To Be Alive?”

spearmint-a-week-awayListen to this track by British jangle popsters by way of Northern Soul influences meeting the London bedsit, Spearmint. It’s “Isn’t It Great To Be Alive?”, a sardonic sentiment as stuck inside a tale of hopeless longing, and taken from the band’s 1999 debut A Week Away.

The subject of unrequited love, and often the cruelties that simple missed cues can cause, have been fodder for the pop writer for generations.  In more recent times, even more so, when the idea of the swaggering rock n roll singer had given way to a more sensitive side, when the hero did not always get the girl. In fact, more drama surrounds those songs when the girl is so close, yet so far away, a trusted friend who doesn’t know that she is the object of passionate love at all.

That’s what we’ve got in this song, with a man who is otherwise unseen by the one he loves as anything other than someone she hangs out with. But, what makes this tale of unrequited love different? Read more

Sweet Thing Performs “Dance Mother”

Here’s a clip of punchy Toronto guitar pop jackanapes Sweet Thing.  It’s the ‘explicit’ version of their debut single “Dance Mother”, a herald to their soon-to-be-released full length record available this summer, recorded in LA with Rob Schapf (who has worked with Beck and Elliott Smith).

Sweet Thing combine the bite of indie guitar with the grooves of the dance floor.  The influences the band cite range from ELO, to Al Green, to Basement Jaxx, to The Cars.   Even Hall & Oates get a look in!

In short, this is classic pop, with an eclectic range of textures that have fed pop radio for decades.  And this debut single is clearly made by a group of guys who want you to, in the words of Viv Savage from Spinal Tap, have a good time ALL of the time.

I spoke with the band about this song, about recording in the States, and about the magical ‘F’ word …

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The Delete Bin: To me, your music is pop music meant to be danced to, which is kind of appropriate since the word ‘dance’ appears in this first single, ‘Dance Mother’.  Setting aside the various meanings of that word in the song, why do you think it’s so much harder for a guitar band to put across dance music?

Sweet Thing: We just try to write catchy pop songs and if people wanna dance along that’s their filthy business!

The Delete Bin: The song ‘Dance Mother’ features some pretty colourful language in the chorus, which is the hookiest part of the song.  Do you think that you’re freer to write more direct lyrics due to less dependence on traditional radio support, a channel which has traditionally blocked the use of solid, Anglo-Saxon F-words?

Sweet Thing: C’mon, countless artists have used swear words in their songs and had no problem getting on the radio. How can we forget Britney Spears’ seminal hit “What’s That Fucking Smell?” or Simple Plan’s tween anthem “Fuck you, Dad (Shithead)”.

The Delete Bin: Ah, yes.  Classics, both.  On the subject of touring, Canada is a tough country to tour for a band starting out, since our cities are so far apart.  How did you guys approach this problem?

Sweet Thing: This is actually the first time we’ve toured across the country so it’s still new and exciting at this point. But I’m sure it won’t be long before we drive by a Tim Horton’s and break into cold sweats.

The Delete Bin: You’ve taken a very DIY approach to marketing yourselves on various social media channels, including some self-made video promos.  What role will this continue to play, given that you’re now signed on a major label (EMI Canada)?

Sweet Thing:  Yeah, you can expect a lot more little videos that’s for sure. Our bass player Morgan is actually a three time Gemini Award winner for writing and editing in TV and a few of us are trained actors so basically we take all that experience and make the dumbest shit possible. So far being on a major label hasn’t limited us creatively in any way.

The Delete Bin: You’ve worked with Rob Schapf in LA on the upcoming album. How did the experience  of recording with him, and in the States in general, measure up to what you expected going in?

Sweet Thing: Rob was great! We obviously had high expectations going in because of all the cool records he’s made but he was everything and more than we were hoping for. Recording in L.A. was nice because we were there for two months away from the distractions of home, so it was all business! And that business was watching a lot of episodes of Rosanne and laying down some sweet tracks!

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The band have just completed tour dates on the Left Coast, through the Prairies, working their way back to their native Ontario. The full-length album comes out this summer.  Check them out, and prepare to dance, muthafucka!

Visit the Sweet Thing MySpace page for more updates about the new record.

Enjoy!

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists Perform ‘St. John the Divine’

ted_leo_and_the_pharmacists_-_the_tyranny_of_distance_coverListen to this track by guitar art pop boffin Ted Leo with his rotating line-up from Washington D.C,  Ted Leo and the Pharmacists.  It’s their echoey and feral “St. John the Divine” as taken from their 2001 record The Tyranny of Distance, a tune streaked with post-punk, power pop, and noise pop.

The Pharmacists are a vehicle for Ted Leo’s interest in punk rock, guitar pop, reggae, dub, and experimental textures.  What stands out for me on this track is the barrage of imagery, all about contrast of dark and light, and about detail as spoken in a voice that practically doesn’t take a breath.  This song spills out, culminating in a squall of noisy guitar that matches the intensity of the lyrics in equal measure.

The song may or may not evoke the image of St. John on the island of Patmos, where he was exiled for his religious convictions.  It was here that John purportedly saw the Revelation, as recorded in the appropriately titled Book of Revelation.  Certainly this song has something of an end of the world quality about it. But, it also aligns itself with the idea of John The Revelator, a key figure evoked in early gospel and blues, and in folk music in general.

This is an interesting idea, that indie music or modern experimental pop can be just another way of expressing the same primal iconography that is found in the American folk songbook.  Instead of a dusty, sepia-toned texture of a world long gone, the suffering saint is repositioned here in the clothes of the modern day, ultimately showing that human spiritual turbulence is largely the same, even if the milieu has shifted.

For more information about Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, check out TedLeo.Com

Enjoy!

The Flashing Lights Play “Where Do The Days Go?”

Listen to this song by the criminally underexposed Toronto-based, Halifax-bred power-popists The Flashing Lights.  It’s their 1999 song “Where Do the Days Go?” as taken from their debut album Where the Change Is. For some years, I plagued everyone I knew with my evangelical fervour inspired by the greatness of this song.  Things haven’t changed.

I’d heard of this band only by reputation.  I’d been living in Britain at the end of the 90s, and wanted to get in touch with what was happening musically speaking in my own country.  I can’t remember the exact path that led me to this band, or their excellent debut. But, I ordered this disc on the strength of some reviews I’d read.  And boy were they right, especially about this song.

When trying to describe this song, I always thought it sounded kind of like a summer barbecue as hosted by the Who, with Brian Wilson as a guest of honour.  I love that Beach Boys organ, the hard Townshend-esque guitar, and the fun loving spirit of power pop that drives this wonderful creation along.  It is simply one of my favourite songs, and maybe because 1999 felt like a bittersweet end of an era for me, there is a certain melancholic association I have with it too.

Sadly, after the band’s excellent follow-up album Sweet Release, they seem to have disappeared.  Any news on their whereabouts would be welcome!

In the meantime, I got some dreams on the dashboard; gonna let them loose when we hit town!

For more information about The Flashing Lights, read this interview with lead singer and songwriter Matt Murphy.

Enjoy!

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!

The Cars Perform ‘Just What I Needed’

Here’s a clip of American new wave hitmakers The Cars with their 1978 power-pop smash “Just What I Needed” as taken from their debut LP aptly titled The Cars.

The reason I like power pop and skinny tie new wave so much may have to do with the fact that draws from some of my favourite  musical styles.  This specifically means mid-60s Beatles, a bit of the Kinks, a bit of the Who,  a dash of the Zombies, plus some early garage rock too.

But apart from that I think a very big reason is that it is, give or take, music written and performed by nerds, for nerds.  Most power pop tunes and late 70s early 80s new wave are about not getting the girl, or getting the girl and then getting wrecked by said girl because you’re too dumb to know she’s no good for you.

How can I resist that?

It helps when the nerds in question have enough self-awareness to write these stories convincingly, and have the additional skills of being able to pack them with hooks and memorable performances.  The Cars can certainly be held up as great examples of this, writing great pop songs and putting them across in a new wave idiom better than many. They pulled in a number of styles and textures including British invasion harmonies, Bowie-esque  synthesizers, and 50s rockabilly guitar, among others.  And they certainly hit all of the major stops as far as nerds-in-love songs go.

“Just What I Needed” is reminds me of the guy that shouldn’t be with the person he’s with, but keeps trying to tell himself that he should be.  It gives off wave upon wave of teenage awkwardness (“When you’re standing oh so near/I kind of lose my mind…”), vulnerability and pathos (“I don’t mind you comin’ here wastin’ all my time…”),  and inner turmoil (“I needed someone to bleed…”), with that last thing being kind of a shot of disturbing, too.

And of course there’s that razor sharp synth line, the big drum sound, Benjamin Orr’s accessible yet  slightly disturbed vocal, and Elliott Easton‘s phenomenal guitar work.  The band would go on from here to make even more big radio singles in “My Best Friend’s Girl”, “Shake It Up”, “Good Times Roll”, “You Might Think”, “Magic”, and “Drive” before breaking up by the end of the 1980s.  But, this is my favourite song of theirs – a perfect anthem for teenaged love, which is defined by not really knowing what one is doing, feeling everything, and feeling the pressure not to show any of  it.

For more information about the Cars, I’d suggest a pit stop (see what I did there?) at this unofficial the Cars MySpace page.

Enjoy!

Shack Perform Their Song “Natalie’s Party”

h-m-s-_fable_coverListen to this song by outwardly Liverpudlian jangle-pop collective Shack.  It’s “Natalie’s Party” as taken from their 1999 release HMS Fable.  This band was the outcropping of another cult-band The Pale Fountains, of whom mainstream North American audience also remain tragically uninformed.

I must begrudgingly give Oasis some credit.  They made classic rock-pop songwriting and presentation marketable again after many years of this approach lying stagnant.  As much as the techno-rock of the late 80s, early 90s coming out of England produced some interesting material, it seemed to me that the art of a four-piece band putting out compact pop songs without additional stylistic flourishes was on its way to becoming a lost art.   But, Oasis reminded us of the anthemic nature of guitar rock without all of the accessories.  Yet, they weren’t the only ones working in this vein.

Shack is spearheaded, much like the aforementioned Oasis, by two brothers; Michael and John Head.  Shack was a phoenix rising from the ashes of another band, the Pale Fountains who had run aground due to label pressures, debt, and drug abuse. By 1985, they’d crashed on the rocks.  .  They began as Shack in the late 80s, but it was their 90s output which finally had them in line with the zeitgeist of Brit-pop.  Yet, there again they were outshone, despite a sterling output of material which pulls together elements of the Beatles, the Byrds, and West Coast psychedelic rock band Love, with whom they appeared during Love frontman Arthur Lee’s return to the stage.

But for me, this track is my favourite; just a shimmering burst of joy, with jangly guitars, la-la-la backing vocals,  and luscious strings.   I may visit some favourite musical locales from time to time.  Well, OK.  Fairly often.   If I’m honest, this is the sound that most feels like home to me – four guys, some jangly guitar, a drummer and bass player, and songs to sing along with.  This is aural comfort food.

Oasis must be thanked again, in that Shack are currently signed to Noel Gallagher’s Sour Mash label.   And for more information about Shack, check out Shacktheband.com.

Enjoy!