The Foreign Films Play “Empire Of The Night”

The Foreign Films The Record Collector Side threeListen to this track by Hamilton based and cinematically monikered pop-psych collective led by one Bill Majoros, The Foreign Films. It’s “Empire Of Night”, a key track as taken from the third side of the upcoming full length album, The Record Collector, due in early 2016.

Majoros’ interest in a wide spectrum of pop music is well documented with his work under The Foreign Films banner. This was initially apparent with 2007’s double album Distant Star. It continued to develop in the ensuing years, with various singles and EPs that revealed a love of all kinds of pop music that certainly included British psych and sixties guitar music. But, it also included girl group pop and classic soul music too. The key to Majoros’ success has always been about translating a passion and enthusiasm for these strains of music into something integrated and new.

Working with a number of musicians, including singer-songwriter Kori Pop who is featured in lead vocal spots through out, Majoros describes himself as being akin to a musical mad scientist, with the creation of the new record being less about simply getting the songs down on tape, and more like that of musical alchemic process, mixing elements together as contributed by everyone he works with and awaiting the x-factor for each song for them to become what they need to be. Read more

The Zombies Play “Care Of Cell 44”

Odessey and Oracle The ZombiesListen to this track by British Invasion rear guard turned retroactively celebrated pop-rock-psych quintet from St. Albans, England, The Zombies. It’s “Care of Cell 44” as taken from the band’s second and final record by the original line-up, Oddesey & Oracle. That album is now confirmed as one of the best releases of the decade by a number of well-established sources. And this single was the first salvo from it in the UK.

The song deals in subject matter which is familiar to the pop song milieu. It’s a song about prison. But, in this case it’s about a loved one looking forward to welcoming the prisoner back home once a sentence has been served. Instead of being a doleful tune about being in the pokey ala “Folsom Prison Blues”, it’s a song of celebration, with a joyful melody to bear it up. The band were convinced of its commercial appeal.

But, they were wrong!

Among other things happening at the time, the failure of this track as a single was a nail in the coffin (pardon the pun) for the Zombies. They broke up as the original line-up of the band by the end of the year this record was recorded, 1967. But, that wouldn’t be the end of the tale. Read more

Hushdrops Play “Tomorrow”

Hushdrops Tomorrow LP coverListen to this track by Chicagoan power-psych trio and returning pop contenders Hushdrops. It’s “Tomorrow”,  the lead track from their most recent double-album, and long awaited follow-up to 2003’s Volume 1Tomorrow.

This new record is a double, and expands on the band’s well-observed synthesis of ’60s psych, orchestral pop, British Invasion-inspired power pop, and jagged MBV drone-distortion melodicism across a generous 21 tracks. Tomorrow was a long time coming (as it were!), with each member of the band involved in various side projects over the years, touching on other acts including Veruca Salt, Plush, and The Waco Brothers. As mentioned, a wide spectrum of rock music tradition is touched upon here.

This opening and eponymous track reflects an interest in riff-driven rock music from multi-instrumentalist and singer  John San Juan, singer and drummer Joe Camarillo, and bassist Jim Shapiro, and delivering what a listener might expect to hear when catching the band live on the floor. But, since that spectrum is pretty wide, it’s really only a part of the whole story.

I had the chance to talk with John San Juan and Joe Camarillo from Hushdrops via email about their return to the studio, about the creation of a follow-up record with a pretty wide span of time having passed, and about re-engaging and re-inventing what Hushdrops means in 2014. Here’s what they said.

*** Read more

Current Swell Play “Keys To The Kingdom”

Listen to this track by Victoria BC beach-urchins and roots, blues, and psych indie-rock stylists Current Swell. It’s “Keys To The Kingdom”, the second track from their newest record Ulysses, released last week.  This is their fifth record, laid down in very short order in Vancouver at Greenhouse studios with producer Nathan Sabatino at the boards.

Current Swell UlyssesThis song represents an airy, more psychedelic end of the spectrum on this new disc, and in a career of four previous releases as well. The slide guitar driven neo-blues jam sound they’ve established is still very well represented on several tracks here, including the first single “Rollin'”.

But here, the muscular blues-rock vibe is tempered a bit with hazier textures and dreamier atmospheres. This song represents an expansion of their sound, even as the rest of the record shores up their strengths as a band who can wail in a live context.

And speaking of an on-the-floor live sound, that’s another thing about this track, and the record as a whole … Read more

Strawberry Alarm Clock Perform “Incense and Peppermints”

incense_and_peppermints_albumListen to this track, a classic slice of psychedelic pop from the oddly named (but not for the time) pop group Strawberry Alarm Clock.  It’s their smash 1967 hit “Incense and Peppermints” and taken from the appropriately-named Incense and Peppermints album.

This song is not just a pop hit – it’s a sort of aural shorthand for an entire era, used in countless movie soundtracks to serve like a billboard that says ‘this film is set in the 1960s’.   And even looking closer, you get a pretty good cross-section of the styles and textures of the time – Farfisa organ, fuzz guitar, and interlocking harmonies that draw from the Beach Boys and the Association.  And in terms of style, this is psychedelia is intermingled with sunshine pop in such a way that makes it hard to resist.

Yet, the single originally began as being set to be a B-side, the lyrics written outside of the band by a publisher.  It was even sung by someone outside of the band – 16 year old Gary Munford.  After all, it wasn’t meant to be a flagship song for the band or anything – it was just a B-side!

Who knew that it would capture the imagination of a generation, and beyond?  You can even hear it in the music of decades well afterward; Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” uses the same chord progression as this tune, albeit at a different tempo.  The ‘Alarm Clock had a hit on its hands (no pun intended)!

After the initial success of the single, and after some line-up changes,  an album was hastily put together by the end of the year.  The band toured with Jimi Hendrix, the Who, Buffalo Springfield, and other top flight acts of the day, fashioning a sound that melds sunshine pop with trickier psychedelia akin to The Creation, although slowly jettisoning any efforts to appeal to the charts.

This was a move forward for the band, but like many acts that break out early with a smash hit, they were also weighted down by that hit.  By the early 70s, they were no more.  But, they had made their mark with this, one of the most infectious hits in pop music history.


Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians play ‘So You Think You’re in Love’

robyn_hitchcockListen to this song by wingnut genius singer-songwriter and psych-pop revivalist Robyn Hitchcock with his late 80s-early 90s band The Egyptians: “So You Think You’re in Love” from his 1991 album Perspex Island.

This song and the record off of which it comes was Hitchcock’s shot at ‘breaking America’, something of a cliche perhaps among English pop musicians.  At the end of the 80s, Hitchcock found a friend in REM, who were also interested in the jangly-60s Byrdsian approach to pop songwriting. But, where REM had established an audience in the mainstream by then, Hitchcock was still trolling the waters of cult and college radio hipness.  Yet, the two bands toured together at the height of REM’s success, exposing the Egyptians to a crowd who might never have otherwise heard them.

In some ways, Hitchcock never really stood a chance at being the biggest band in the world.  Although this song is totally accessible and in a classic Beatles-Byrds pop vein, Hitchcock’s lyrical interests are still way off of the beaten track and into the trees.  This is what I love about him, of course.  Well, that and he still knows enough to write good tunes as well.  But, a mainstream audience would never be ready for a guy who likes to write about food and insects, in addition to being able to write cool love songs like this one.

For more information about Robyn Hitchcock, check out his site.


The Dukes of Stratosphear Play “Brainiac’s Daughter”

220px-dukes_of_stratosphear_psonicpsunspotHere’s a clip of  XTC-driven pen name band The Dukes of Stratosphear with their Beatles-Meet-Brian-Wilson inspired tune “Brainiac’s daughter” as taken from 1987’s Psonic Psunspot.  The song brings together two passions of writer Andy Partridge – psychedelic-era music, and comic books.

Where many think of psychedelic music as lofty in approach and at times inaccessible as pop music, this track reminds the listener that a good deal of psychedelia has an endearing child-like quality to it as well.  This makes it something of a perfect fit for XTC, who began to embrace the sensibilities of children and childhood from this point onward in their own songs.  This tune is clearly a nod to Paul McCartney’s ‘White Album’-era output, in turn with some of McCartney’s Brian Wilson-oriented sunshiny musical worldview woven right in.

Why the guys in XTC decided to disguise themselves as a lost 60s-psych-pop group Dukes of Stratosphear is anyone’s guess, since they were clearly in debt to many of the influences to whom the Dukes were paying homage anyway.  But even if they weren’t ready to release the material under the XTC name, the guys threw themselves well into their roles, even taking on pseudonyms.  Lead singer and guitarist Andy Partridge was Sir John Johns.  Bassist and singer Colin Moulding was simply ‘the Red Curtain’.  And lead guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Dave Gregory played the part of Lord Cornelius Plum. And on the drum kit, Dave’s brother Ian Gregory as E.I.E.I Owens.

The band put out an EP, 25 O’Clock in 1985, while concurrently working on their masterpiece as XTC, the celebrated Skylarking.  That album came with a credit to the Dukes in the liner notes for the use of the Dukes’ guitars.  They must have been pleased with their own cleverness on the EP, later putting out a full-length Psonic Psunspot on vinyl in 1987.  The compilation album Chips from the Chocolate Fireball came out later that year, which pulled in both releases onto one disc.

It seems that XTC is on indefinite hiatus at the moment.  Yet, I wonder if we’ll hear from the Dukes any time soon.  The outfit, anonymity and all, might be just the thing it takes to remind everyone concerned what inspired them in the first place, and that music is not something to split hairs over.

Read more about what inspired the Dukes of Stratosphear project, and which sounds inspired the songs on XTC fan site