Sunday, December 27, 2009

Midas Touch

Macaulay and Macleod – who are they? I didn't really know until I decided to buy a 2CD compilation called Buttercups & Rainbows: The Songs of Macauley & Macleod. I listened to the music and was thrilled. That was also when I learned that Tony Macaulay and John Macleod were, in fact, a British equivalent to the American bubblegum music industry – a winning songwriting team who scored many hit singles in the UK between 1965 and 1973.

The purpose of these songs was of course to get them to the charts and make as much money as possible but Macaulay, Macleod, the artists and musicians inrefutably created something truly wonderful in the process. The result was timelessness captured in dozens of beautiful pop songs – these two CDs contain fifty of them. It really seems that Macaulay and Macleod turned their ideas into gold in more than just one way. Their songs were golden even when the singles failed to chart.

This set is packed with awesome pop warmth. It is soulful, it is happy, it is sparkling… Just listen to the incredibly catchy melodies, excellent background vocals and superb string and horn arrangements and you’ll soon feel like celebrating. One of the most famous songs here is of course Build Me up Buttercup by the Foundations. You will probably also recognize Smile a Little Smile for Me, the great song by the Flying Machine. Besides these bands there are also numerous others and to me they were mostly new. Marmalade was familiar but I really had never heard of such bands as the Paper Dolls, Pickettywitch or Jefferson. Well, now I know and I couldn’t be happier!

I love the evil 60s/70s bubblegum music empire, no matter if it is UK or US. And it doesn’t bother me at all that those people are, in fact, taking my money.

Listen to some stuff from this compilation (YouTube):
The Foundations: Build Me up Buttercup
Pickettywitch: Same Old Feeling
The Paper Dolls: Something Here In My Heart
Marmalade: Baby Make It Soon
The Flying Machine: Marie Take a Chance
Jefferson: Baby Take Me in Your Arms
The Committee: Sleep Tight Honey

Tina Tott: Take Away the Emptiness Too

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Free Stuff from Locksley

A couple of days ago I noticed Locksley is giving out free music in EP form. This three-song EP is part of a MySpace campagne called “Wendy’s Fresh Faces”. Well, Locksley are definitely fresh (and beatlesque!) and I did enjoy their debut album Don’t Make Me Wait. The sophomore album Be In Love (cover on the left) has already been released in Japan and a US release will follow on January 26th. I will surely check this one out too.

This free EP contains two songs from the first album and one song from the new album (Darling, It’s True). A quick look at the band’s MySpace revealed that there definitely isn’t shortage of video material or streamable music there. Something to do for the holidays, perhaps...

Grab the EP (click the “free music download here!” banner on the right)
Locksley on MySpace

Opening Heaven’s Doors Again

I really want to mention this release. It has been too many years since there was a new album by Wondermints but that it about to change - sort of. A new CD has already been released both in the UK and US. This release is called Kaleidoscopin’ - Exploring Prisms Of the Past. It is a collection of rarities: demos, covers, songs from various compilations, etc. The CD comes with cool photo material and liner notes written by the band. I’m looking forward to get the CD. Didn’t find it in my mailbox yet but I’m hoping to get it for Christmas…

Wondermints and their wondrous psychedelic pop have influenced me very much. Their jangly, dreamy, melodic music has made a huge impression on me and guided me to the right direction in my search for the loveliest pop music. I found out about Wondermints in 2004 when I was listening to Brian Wilson’s SMiLE. Soon Wondermints became a very dear thing for me. I think they held the position of my #1 favorite band for some time… I listened to all their albums, including the cover album The Wonderful World of the Wondermints – loved that one too and slowly started discovering the original versions of those songs (many of which were new to me). The first album (Wondermints, 1995) is of course my favorite, pure greatness from beginning to end.

These Wondermints guys should really get back together. I bet they have some new material in their drawers already… It’s been years after all. I have heard they have had some problems with logistics – which is of course no reason to quit! Playing with Brian Wilson’s band must be extremely rewarding, but dear Wondermintitos, why not record a new album sometime? I know, there have been lots of interesting side projects and stuff but pop fans all over the world would be absolutely thrilled if you decided to record a new Wondermints album.

What if I ask nicely? Please…

Wondermints at MySpace

Light in Darkness

Some time ago I reported about a debut EP (Studies in Timing and Coincidence, 2008) by a band called Pinstripe 45's. Now this group has finished their debut album – it is called Through the Darkened Window. The result is a peaceful, melancholic singer-songwriter release with lovely, organic sound policy of acoustic guitars, piano and strings.

In contrast to the EP, on this debut full-length bandleader Marshall Hanbury Jr. expresses himself a bit more freely, letting his voice to be heard more directly. Expressed suitably in the theme of the album, this time Hanbury places himself behind a window that is darker and clearer at the same time. Now the influences behind this music are also revealed somewhat differently – more clearly, in fact. Bob Dylan is of course still strongly present. Another name that comes to mind is James Blunt. Hanbury definitely bears some vocal similarity to the British singer.

Bob Dylan’s folky influence also seems to lead Pinstripe 45’s to present some slightly country-tingled expression on the album. Hanbury’s interest towards country-ish rendering can be sensed in his vocals in some places. Due to this country/folk aspect an artist such as Langhorne Slim might also be a relevant comparison. Fans of the Byrds’ early material will most likely enjoy the jangliness of Because She Waits and Even When You Cry.

The voice of Hanbury and his songs is sincere, melancholic and carries both desperation and beauty. If I were to describe Hanbury’s vocal style with one word that word would certainly be bittersweet. No matter how you would like to describe him, one thing is for sure: many songs on this album contain a hook that will make them quite easy to remember.

The music of Pinstripe 45’s will probably paint different pictures to the minds of different listeners. I think this music could suit as a soundtrack for any tranquil, wistful moment. The hopefulness that lies in the melancholy can however make listeners see a bright landscape in their minds rather than a darkening one. Now, with the debut album released, it is to time for the band to keep discovering new approaches to its expression. Through the Darkened Window describes a dark period in life. The next thing I would like to see is obviously what kind of an effect a nice flash of sunlight would have in the world of Pinstripe 45’s.

Pinstripe 45’s on MySpace
Through the Darkened Window page

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Twist and Roll with the Boorays

Here is another cool band that I found while researching The Sun Sawed in 1/2. The Boorays were another talented early 90s pop-rock band from St. Louis. Comprising of Mark Stephens, Andy Thomson, Mike Hellebusch and Bob Kaemmerlen this band achieved something that might be described as a cult status and attention in indie rock circles all around the world. It didn’t even take long to discover a Finnish article about their 7’’ single Girl Repellent/You Move Me Like a Slug in the press gallery on Brickhouse Acoustics site. Now, here I am, writing about them to my own Finnish indie rock “magazine” - not in Finnish, though…

Three albums were recorded by this quartet: a self-titled The Boorays (1990), Pumpkin Pie Crustacean (1991) and Hollow in the Middle (1994). In the 21st century the Boorays have returned to play a reunion gig every now and then, most recently in November 2009.

The Boorays’ music is enjoyably danceable and straightforward and it clearly indicates influence from 70s punk. The music keeps reminding me of Buzzcocks and the Cure’s early material. It is very easy to develop affection towards the Boorays’ stripped down yet rich, crunchy sound and wonderful low-tone riffs. The songs are of course melodic and catchy. The overall mood of this music could be described as energetic and sweetly melancholic, an interesting mix of happy riffs and wistful melodies. All in all, the Boorays have an ear for fast-tempo rocking pop songs. They also love to twist. You will notice it soon when you put on their first CD. Well, twist is probably the grooviest beat there is… The twist can be seen as one of the surf rock elements of the Boorays’ music.

All three Boorays albums were remixed and remastered by Mike Hellebusch and released in 2005. They are available for purchase in a CD-R-type-of form. Two of the CDs contain 1-2 bonus tracks. I already grabbed the whole bunch and haven’t regretted it for a second. For music samples go to MySpace. Also check out the following video for Band of Gold.

The Boorays on MySpace
The Boorays Brickhouse Acoustics site

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Dodgy in a Flying Van

Continuing in the theme of cool, more or less summery music videos, here is a video from UK band Dodgy. I wanted to share this video because I just saw it for the first time a little while ago and enjoyed it very much. There are not so many music videos that contain a flying van... Also, a piece of summery feel can never be a bad thing in December, the darkest time of the year.

So, here we have another tune filled with catchiness and sweet harmonies. Interestingly this video is a TV rip from a Finnish music show called Bänd-X that was shown for a couple of years in the early 2000s. There have been quite many different music shows on Finnish TV in the past 15 years but they have pretty much all disappeared. I used to follow those shows but now I don’t even have a television in my apartment anymore… Internet is all I need to find new music.

Enjoy Dodgy’s summery pop video! In case you're interested (and don't know it), klassikko means classic.

Dodgy website
Dodgy on MySpace

Monday, December 14, 2009

Webstirs Video “Wesley Station”

Check out this video from Chicago band The Webstirs. It was released quite recently – in September if I’m correct. It is their debut video and a really nice tune. Flowers, listening to vinyl LPs, power poppin’ hooks… It’s a combination of summer and the feeling of a great band playing live in your living room. Trumpets are of course very hip, too. Someone said that everything sounds better with horns. Can’t argue with that!

I really should listen to this band more – I intend to do just that. The material on MySpace sounds very good. I don’t know much about the Webstirs, except that there are some fabulous guys in the band, and that they have fabulous friends... Well, I’m already starting to get into the music as I’m listening to them now. Geez, I really dig the sound of Big Break. And What Do You Believe. Awesome!

The Webstirs website
The Webstirs on MySpace
The Webstirs Facebook fan page

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Fear Me, December

The expression above would make a cool Facebook status update, wouldn’t it… It is taken from Mew’s song Apocalypso. So, what about Mew? To be honest, this band doesn’t have much to do with power pop. Still, they are one of my oldest favourites, older than almost any power pop band I’ve ever listened to. Mew’s music is melodic and wonderful, and because I am a melody freak, something should definitely be said about them. Plus, they have a cool Christmas song for us popsters... More about the song later.

Mew comes from Denmark, although the band members have been residing in the United Kingdom for quite some time, I think. The band was founded in 1995. Musically, they are usually described as an alternative rock band, playing music that is a mix of dreamy pop melodies, shoegazing and progressive rock. Lately they have even begun adding some experimental qualities which means there may be more challenge in the listening.

The band released their first two albums A Triumph for a Man and Half the World Is Watching Me in 1997 and 2000. Both were re-released in 2006-2007 due to the band's increased popularity and common interest towards the earlier albums. Frengers (2003, meaning “not quite friends, not quite strangers”) was their first international release and a huge success not only in Scandinavia but also helped the band to launch a career elsewhere. The album contains new songs and some rerecorded versions of old songs from the first two albums. The follow-up, Mew and the Glass Handed Kites was released in 2005. It was a considerably more challenging album but included some of the band’s best loved songs.

Here are Mew’s three latest albums:

Strange covers, right... I bet that is what they intended.

Mew’s latest album was released earlier this year and it has a quite long name. It is No More Stories/Are Told Today/I'm Sorry/They Washed Away//No More Stories/The World Is Grey/I'm Tired/Let's Wash Away. Not a world record breaking name but pretty long anyway… I bought the album but have only listened to it twice so far. It is definitely not enough. Well, I’ve been quite busy listening to 50 songs from a certain sun-related band every day… I am an addict, I’ll admit it anytime. I love it… But finding time for other bands can get a bit difficult at times.

However, there was a time when I was seriously addicted to Mew’s album Frengers. The year was 2003 and it all started when I heard and saw a video for the song 156. It was dreamy, yet rocking and extremely catchy in its own strange way. The vocalist also sounded quite intriguing… I got the album and found several songs that I have still found myself listening repeatedly six years later. I think I could listen to 156 dozens of times in a row and still not get bored of it… That is special, I would say. It is no wonder, however, that Mew’s melancholic, dreamy music has mesmerized loads of people here in the north. There is no denying that Mew has captured some unique melodies in their songs.

Try Frengers, for example. In addition to 156 there are songs like Am I Wry? No, Snow Brigade, not to mention the utterly beautiful Comforting Sounds – the title says it all... Also pay attention to Behind the Drapes, another favorite of mine, or perhaps check out the ear-melting duet ballad Symmetry. This stuff is just awesome... A lot of the magic comes from lead vocalist Jonas Bjerre. Bjerre, who according to some people, looks like a 16-year-old, sounds very distinctive. He has a broad vocal scale but on the other hand his voice has been described as fragile or even weak. I am personally not so sure about the weakness – his voice certainly sounds sufficiently strong to me – and having such a unique sound can’t really be a weakness.

After Frengers Mew have changed their sound. On ...And the Glass Handed Kites the guitars have a lot more cold, metallic sound but the songs are just as wonderful. Check out The Zookeeper’s Boy, for instance, or White Lips Kissed - those songs are just so pretty. I also adore Apocalypso and the surreal short film/music video for it.

Mew are known for their strong visual side. Band members focus a lot on the visual values and if you ask me that can never be a bad thing (as long as the music comes first, of course). There is a plenty of visual art expertise among the band, so the band’s singles and gigs are illustrated with very fine graphics and even short films. Mew’s music videos are a joy to watch. The band has made some of the most memorable videos I have ever seen. Some of the videos are a bit disturbing (which is of course not a bad thing in itself) but most of them are just plain beautiful.

Then, finally the Christmas song… It can be heard on Frengers and it is called She Came Home for Christmas. There are two different versions of the video but in both of them there is a ballerina princess waltzing with a bear in a magical forest. Then, a witch appears… Sounds like a fairy tale? Well, yeah! A fairy tale-like Christmas is the coolest thing I could hope for!

Official website

Videos (YouTube)
She Came Home For Christmas
(version 1 – with the band) (version 2 – without the band)
Comforting Sounds
Behind the Drapes (not an official music video but too cool a song to skip here...)
Am I Wry? No
The Zookeeper’s Boy
Why Are You Looking Grave?
Repeaterbeater (new video)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

White Christmas?

Ahh.. Christmas is closing fast, so it’s time for pre-Christmas parties (“Little Christmas”, as we Finns say). The obvious music choice for pre-Christmas parties is of course Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift for You. Dubbed “the best Christmas album in the world” by numerous people the album is a perfect soundtrack for anyone who enjoys traditional Christmas feel and Christmas carols, as well as Phil Spector’s classic wall of sound.

No matter how you happen to be feeling, this album will make anyone feel Christmassy right from the start. The carols are of course performed by Phil Spector’s fabulous artists such as The Ronettes, The Crystals, and Darlene Love. This album is pure magic… Put it on and bang, it’s Christmas!

When it comes to the post heading, in southern Finland white Christmas has not manifested quite yet... Strangely, there was more snow in November than there has been in December. Looking out of the window I however just noticed that there was a thin layer of snow on the ground. Well, there’s plenty of time for it to melt… We’ll see how it looks tomorrow.

I wish everyone an optimistic pre-Christmas season! Here is another gorgeous Christmas carol. It belongs to my every Christmas.

Happy Xmas (YouTube)