Odds Play “Love Is the Subject”

Listen to this track by Vancouver-based hitmakers and power-pop champeens Odds, aka The Odds. It’s “Love Is the Subject”, an early single that would be the first of many here in Canada, and showing off their way with hooks, and with irony-tinged pop song narratives, too.

Odd NeopolitanThe song would feature on their first record in 1991, Neopolitan, which the band produced themselves after spending many years jobbing as a cover band around town, particularly at the Roxy on Granville Street in Vancouver where they served as a ’60s and ’70s cover band under the name “Dawn Patrol”.  Seeing as they’d become one of the prime bands in Canadian power-pop, this must have been like going to university where delivering tight performances  for live audiences is concerned.

But another thing on their side was a capacity to take all of those pop instincts and performance chops and pour it into superlative songs of their own. With multiple songwriters in the band, they had plenty to draw from. This initial hit would lead to others, too.

Maybe this is because they so expertly played into the key characteristic of power-pop songwriting – vulnerability wrapped up in a tough package. Read more

The Romantics Play “What I Like About You”

Listen to this track by Detroit-based British Invasion fans and power-pop poppers The Romantics. It’s their massively covered by wedding reception bands 1980 hit “What I Like About You”, a single taken from their self-titled debut. This tune represents one of the several tributaries that reacted to the classic rockification of pop music, when the “roll” mysteriously disappeared from “rock ‘n’ roll” sometime in the late ’60s and into the ’70s.

It’s no accident that this song is so popular during events at which people gather to dance – like the aforementioned wedding receptions. This tune rolls as well as rocks. It is meant to be danced to.

In this way, this was never about being retro. It’s a reminder that rock ‘n’ roll and dance music need  not be two separate things.  But, even with this in mind, The Romantics tapped into another aspect of guitar pop music that had arguably been forgotten by the ’70s mainstream, particularly on the radio. It had to do with an attitude of the musicians themselves, even before they picked up instruments.

Read more

The Dudes Play “American Girl”

Listen to this track by unabashed Calgarian rock ‘n’ roll band with an appropriately straight-forward name, The Dudes. It’s “American Girl”  their most recent single, as taken from their 6-track album Barbers, Thieves, and Bartenders.

Just recently, I’d been lamenting the fact that no one I can think of seems to be writing rock songs anymore, and that there’s always some kind of tag before the rock part – “indie”, “art”,  “blues”, or (gasp!) “prog”. It’s not that those tags are bad (well, the “prog” may divide the room, of course …). But, sometimes, you just want a big, meaty, man-sized rock song, with thunderous drums, crunchy-guitar, throat-shredding vocals, and no frills.

And then I heard this song, a kind of amalgam of  rock elements I love; a bit of the power-pop sensibility of The Cars (check out that “Just What I Needed” style opening here), along with the rootsiness of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, who also had a song about an American girl, of course. And let’s not forget the Chuck Berryisms of naming states and cities in America to create the impression of a hard-working band working their way across a nation. But, those acts I mentioned actually are American, where this one is from Canada.

What difference should that make? Read more

Catlow Plays “House Arrest”

Listen to this track by former Dirtmitts vocalist Natasha Thirsk’s solo project Catlow. It’s “House Arrest”, a track from her most recent record Pinkly Things, the long-awaited follow-up to her debut Kiss The World, and recorded right here in Vancouver.

The song is a jangly, spangly, pinkly, pop song that hearkens back to the days of classic pop radio, with Thirsk’s ebullient vocals not a million miles away from Debbie Harry, and with several sumptuous references to that same anthemic sound that mixes rock instruments with synths.

When her former outfit The Dirtmitts disolved after their second record, mostly due to various members’ family commitments and subsequent moves, Thirsk needed to start again. The result of that initial impulse was 2006’s Kiss The World under the name Catlow; a new name for a new beginning, and with a new set of musical landscapes drawing from influences as disparate as New Order to BRMC.

It was a time to blaze a new trail for herself, now well established. Among other things that happened around the time of her debut, her solo work gained some new ears when her song “I Am Loved” was featured in an episode of Being Human, a show based (even if its not set) in Vancouver, much like Thirsk herself.

Like her past work on the debut, “House Arrest” and the new record off of which it comes is a highly accessible, yet sonically varied, making for some compelling 21st century power pop . The song was recorded in Vancouver’s The Factory, co-produced with Marcel Rambo and Hayz Fischer. In addition to collaborations on the production side, Thirsk sought out collaborators on the songs as well, working with Dave Hodge, Jamie Di Salvio of Bran Van 3000, and Mike Miguel Sanchez, to name a few.

“House Arrest” is the first single to the record, which you can buy on iTunes along with the rest of the album.

To connect with Natasha and her fans, be sure and “like” the official Catlow Facebook page.


[UPDATE: July 11, 2012]

Catlow is playing live here in Vancouver. Here are the dates, good people:

July 12: Vancouver, BC @ Electric Owl
July 14: Savary Island, BC @ Riggers Pub
July 28: North Vancouver, BC @ Cates Park (MusArt Festival, 5pm)

Jellyfish Play “The King Is Half Undressed”

Jellyfish BellybuttonHere’s a clip of neo-psych power-popsters Jellyfish. It’s their single “The King Is Half-Undressed”, as featured on their classic 1990 record Bellybutton.

This is an album that pulls together an irresistible concoction of The Beatles, Sell Out-era Who, the Beach Boys, and with a certain sonic affiliation thereby with XTC, Badfinger, and Cheap Trick. This song scored #19 on the Billboard modern rock chart, and would be one of five singles off of the record.

The band wore their power pop and psych colours proudly on this song, and on the album in general. But, there are multiple strains of rock music to be found here, and on the rest of Bellybutton. There’s certainly an anthemic quality to this tune, which makes it large scale in a way that most power pop isn’t.

The record was a critical success, during the very brief window between the ’80s college rock era, and game-changing ’90s grunge. This video was honoured with a Best Art Direction at the MTV video awards. Once again, this happened during a time when it was possible that a band like Jellyfish could be so honoured.

They had the tunes, and the sound that allowed them to be a singular presence in the charts. But, Jellyfish was another example of a band who, despite their clear talents, were doomed to be short-lived. So, what happened? Read more

The Pursuit of Happiness Play “Hard To Laugh”

lovejunkListen to this track from Toronto-based power pop via hard rock idols The Pursuit of Happiness. It’s “Hard To Laugh”, the lead-off track and third Canadian radio single (after “I’m An Adult Now” and “She’s So Young”) from their 1988 debut album Love Junk. This is a tune that is both shit-kicking and self-deprecating all in one go. That’s the magical ingredient to classic power pop, good people!

Here’s a story about a guy who’s out of his depth where his woman is concerned, with a suspicion that she may well be playing him for a fool that may or may not be a product of his own insecurity. It’s a variation of a quintessential power pop song theme – wanting the girl you can’t have. This time, the girl has been won, but it’s keeping her that proves to be the goal that remains out of reach.

The song, and the band was conceived and led into glory by one Moe Berg, a songwriter with a love for short stories, Cheap Trick, and Alice Cooper. Berg had as firm understanding that tough-sounding music against vulnerable, anti-macho lyrics creates a compelling concoction that is all about contrast, irony, and a unique brand of wit that doesn’t stray into jokey silliness. When it comes to pop smarts, of course, it helps that the guy in the producer’s chair knows a thing or two about them – Todd Rundgren. Read more

Big Star Plays “Thirteen”

Listen to this track by power-pop pioneers and superlative pop song architects Big Star. It’s “Thirteen”, as taken from their 1972 LP #1 Record. It’s possible that someone has written a song that more perfectly gets inside the head of a teenager, specifically a teenaged boy. But, I can’t think of anyone else right now.

Sad, wistful, innocent; this song is all of those things. It describes a point of view that is in transition, in place for a millisecond, and soon to be replaced by perhaps a more practical, ‘realistic’, grown-up worldview, never to be revisited again. Perhaps that’s the sadness at the heart of this song.

And what a song it is.

“Thirteen” is a shining jewel in its simplicity, timelessness, and poignancy.  But, as with so many truly great pop songs, the band and its writers Alex Chilton and Chris Bell wouldn’t get this song, or any other song, to the top of the charts. Rather, they’d be banished into cult status for many years, an would not see the results of their influence while still a band, or even by the time they broke up in late 1974. Yet, the reach of this band would go far beyond simple chart placements, and record sales figures. It would even go beyond the life of the group itself.
Read more

Emitt Rhodes Sings “You Must Have”

emitt_rhodes_1970_coverListen to this track by former The Merry-Go-Round multi-instrumentalist, and once-hailed ‘one man Beatles’ singer-songwriter Emitt Rhodes.  It’s the optimistic and contemplative “You Must Have”, the closing track to one of rock’s unlawfully buried treasures, the self-titled Emitt Rhodes, from 1970.

Emitt Rhodes’ debut was a record that was hailed as ‘best album of the decade’ by many fans and critics when it hit Billboard’s top forty that year, reaching a very respectable #29. Sadly for Rhodes, the decade had only just begun and played out in a rather underwhelming way for him as a solo artist after this initial success.

The song itself is typical of the whole record; full of melodic sunshine with a hint of melancholic cloud, and rife with plenty of optimism and magic left over from the late 1960s.  Rhodes had established himself in that earlier period with the Beatlesque band The Merry Go-Round,  an L.A based band that one could have sworn was from Merseyside.  When the band folded in 1969, and when recordings for an album called The American Dream were shelved by label A&M, Rhodes took to the garage to record on his own.  The resulting album, including this gem of a track, was astounding.

Read more

The dBs Perform ‘Feel Alright’

the-sound-of-music-the-dbsListen to this track by power-pop freedom fighters the dBs (stands for decibels, kids).  It’s ‘Feel Alright’, a latter day gem , from the band’s 1987’s The Sound of Music album. This was the band working at less than full steam without founding member and key songwriter Chris Stamey. Yet, the joy in this song cuts through the trouble this band was in at the time.

Losing a member for most bands is like losing a limb.  And losing a songwriter is like losing an organ.  By 1987, The dBs had lost both when Chris Stamey left the band by 1984.  Also around this time, the band’s record label went out of business, which killed what little momentum they had of promoting their  Like This record, their first as a trio.

So, with co-songwriter Peter Holsapple now defacto leader, the dBs had their work cut out for them.  The success they’d had by the early 80s with their best known record, Stands For Decibels in 1981, was still not enough to get them to mainstream radio.

In some ways, the band plays it safe with this song, and in a wider degree on the album on which it appears.  And yet, to me that power pop sound has a certain universal appeal that would have been a path worth pursuing. Even without Stamey’s influence, this song shines with pop optimism and rock attack.

Yet, power pop’s a tough row to hoe, there being so many examples of great bands taking their cues from early ones like The Raspberries, Badfinger, and Big Star (Stamey actually played bass with Alex Chilton in 1977), who in many ways shared those older bands’ fates.  This of course means that they were championed by the critics (like Robert Christgau in the dBs case), and largely ignored by the record-buying public.  This record was their last ditch attempt, which ended with the band fragmented, and two albums of unreleased material (Ride The Wild Tom Tom in 1993, and Paris Avenue in 1994) being the last under the dBs name.

The members each had solo pursuits, mostly as session men with sporadic solo and duo outings (Stamey and Holsapple’s Mavericks record in 1991, for instance), with Stamey being the most high profile as a record producer (Whiskeytown, Le Tigre). But, in 2005 at the time of Hurricane Katrina, the band reunited, releasing a version of ‘What Becomes of the Brokenhearted’ as a fundraiser for the New Orleans Musicians Relief Fund.

Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple released a record hERE and nOW in 2009.

For more information about the dBs, check out thedbsonline.net

And also, check out holsapplestamey.com for Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple news and releases, too.


The Dickens Play ‘Downtown Is Awesome’

Listen to this song, a post-punk tinged slice of shit-kicking power pop.  It’s the irresistibly effervescent ‘Downtown Is Awesome’, a love letter to a city by Torontonians The Dickens, as taken from their 2007 self-titled LP The Dickens. The band is comprised of John MacDonald on drums, Duncan Blair on guitar, Simon Lewis on bass, recent addition and multi-instrumentalist Patrick Gregory, and singer-songwriter-guitarist Paul Emery.

Even in the light of recent G20 Summit rioting in Toronto, for many who live there there is no reason to think that, despite all of the turbulence, downtown Toronto has lost any of its awesomeness.  And what better anthem to that idea than this song written and performed by a bunch of guys who live and work there, and who in fact love the city and all of the good things it offers.

I spoke to the Dickens’ songwriter Paul Emery about the song, the band, the album, and about Toronto too, a place that many Canadians (whether they’ve been there or not) love to hate.

The Delete Bin:You’ve been involved in a number of bands, as well as in a solo career. You’ve described the Dickens as your favourite band to play in. What makes it your favourite?

Paul Emery: The Dickens is my favourite band to play in I suppose because it’s the one I’m in now. This is my fifth band, and each one has had an overlapping member. There’s been a continuity.  The Dickens have recently recruited Patrick Gregory on guitar, banjo and whatever else we can convince him to play. He was in Bill Puddle, my last band.

DB: So because of the overlapping members, The Dickens is kind of a culmination of all of the bands you’ve been in.

PE:  Absolutely. My best friends from Wallaceburg let me in to all of this when I couldn’t play anything. I sang the shit out of “Happy” by the Rolling Stones at a (pauses) you could call it a party. We had a cover band, then three of us came to Toronto and started the Dandelions. We wanted it so bad, but were so lost. We had something, but we were running away from it. Or I was. All of that and everything in between is a huge influence on now and the Dickens.

DB:When the band started, it began as Paul Emery & the Dickens. Why the change in name?

PE: We changed the name because we became a band. Before, it was joe songwriter and the funny name. Now we’re serious. Now, we’re one.

DB: What was the trigger that led you to see that you were a more serious band than when you first got together?

PE:  We ‘re not serious in a business way, but we grew a sound and we realized that we would stay together. Now it’s been eight or nine years.

DB: Since the band emerged from some fairly informal circumstances, and that looseness seems to come through in the music. Is there pressure to preserve that?

PE: We’ve been trying hard to lose the looseness. Like my wife says, I love the Velvet Underground but I don’t ever need to hear them again. I feel that way about ‘loose’.

DB: You personally emerged from the Queen Street club circuit in Toronto, which has seen a number of fertile scenes for decades. What is it about the area that seems to encourage exceptional talent?

PE: There is a great live music scene in Toronto, and there has been forever, way before you and I were born. There have been lots of crap bands, and some of the best. Queen Street has had its share.

DB: What have been some of your favourites, known and unknown?

PE:  I really like this kid Neil Young. He’s cool! The Boneheads, one of my favourite country rock bands ever. Teenage Head, The Lawn, Peaches, Feist. I love “Mimi on the Beach” by Jane Siberry,  and “Echo Beach” by Martha and the Muffins, and “CN Tower” by Michael Jordana.  And the Poles.  Now there are so many good bands that I can’t keep track. Check out Tomboyfriend.

DB: “Downtown Is Awesome” sounds like the perfect soundtrack to going out on a Friday night in any city in the world. But, it could be interpreted as a love letter to Toronto, your home base.

PE: I love Toronto. It’s full of exceptional dreamers. I love ‘downtowns’. When I was a kid in Wallaceburg they called it ‘uptown’. Toronto’s downtown is particularly awesome.  My whole life I wanted to be heard. What more as a songwriter could I yell out than “downtown is awesome”?  I’m glad you like the song. Most everyone who hears that one likes it – I’m a genius (laughs). It’s not the best version on our record, though.

DB: You mean that there are live performances of the song which have surpassed the version on the record.  Do you have a strategy in mind when you record in terms of presenting the band as they are on stage?

PE:  Most of our best stuff is done in rehearsal. We’re working in practical terms on capturing more of that spontaneity and imagination. We’re definitely not into a “live off the floor is the best” way of thinking. It could be that.  But it also could be sound experiments with all kinds of things. Our reharsals are sometimes practices for shows, but mostly they are their own thing.

DB: What’s next for the Dickens?

PE:  We’ve got more, and better, songs than ever.  So given that, we’re hoping to really solidify the band with our new lineup and make our way to an English pub tour!  But we’re not touring musicians. It’d be a holiday. We are a real band . We’re just not in the music business.

DB: I’ve been in clubs/pubs in London and Toronto.  I can see the crossover in terms of atmosphere.  What inspired the idea for you?

PE: I like the way that the English love pop music. And I’d like to drink pints with them, and my friends, playing music, traveling. Sounds lovely!

DB: In addition to being a musician, you’re a bar owner – The Communist’s Daughter (where I’ve had a pint!). Is this a clubhouse for the band, too?

PE: We used to hang out at the Commy, but now we don’t so much mostly because we rehearse in a different part of town. Location, location, location.  It’s way cooler bar than I’ll ever be.


For more information about The Dickens, check out the Dickens MySpace Page.

And if you’re ever in Toronto, stop by the Communist’s Daughter for a pint and a chat!