Saturday, December 31, 2011

Leaving the Folk Music Behind

What a cool coincidence to notice that my latest post before the very long break was about a Mamas and Papas song. That band has, in fact, become quite a big favourite since then. I had known about the band for years and I enjoyed some of their songs such as Monday, Monday and I Saw Her Again. The harmonies and vocal arrangements always struck a chord with me but it took a while to finally begin to see all of the beauty behind this group of two men and two women.

The Mamas and the Papas were not a very long-lived band but recorded lots of excellent late 60s baroque/kind-of folk pop music. Huge harmonies, baroque elements and sunny California spirit also justify a link to sunshine pop. In my opinion, the Mamas & the Papas stand out best due to their brisk, cheery male-female vocal harmonies, arranged by John Phillips.

Despite the harmonious, well-balanced, often even playful sounds, lyrics and rhythms, there was quite a bit of drama in the band. The members ended up disliking each other and breaking up on more than one occasion. They however became an iconic American band of the late 1960s having released five albums and several successful singles in 1966–1971. The Mamas and the Papas also performed at the prestigious Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.

As usual, I ended up enjoying this band a great deal after the usual getting-to-know period. There is indeed a lot to love: beatlesque stuff such as Straight Shooter, the huge sunshine pop harmonies of Monday, Monday, the band's most famous hit California Dreamin', a non-successful yet awesome debut single Go Where You Wanna Go, Dancing Bear with its great baroque sensibilities, as well as other quieter songs Got A Feelin' and Strange Young Girls. The Mamas & the Papas also show their talent with several versions of good old classics such as Do You Wanna Dance, Spanish Harlem and Dancing in the Street.

I also discovered a song called Twelve Thirty (Young Girls Are Going to the Canyon) and knew immediately there was something quite special about the song. Listen to it on the headphones and you'll hear the pure genius of a vocal harmony. There are different interpretations of the lyrics and I don't know which ones are true but the song is anyway amazing in its baroque melancholy.

A lot of the Mamas & Papas magic comes from Cass Elliot's superb vocal abilities which also play an important role in the band's overall sound. I don't pay attention to female singers all that often but here is one that I really appreciate. There is no denying the power of her impeccable sound and sense of style and dynamics. Check out songs such as Dream A Little Dream Of Me, Words Of Love, and The In Crowd.

The Mamas & the Papas are probably usually remembered by California Dreamin' but there is a lot of other great stuff as well. Their charming music is definitely worth checking out.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Going Back in Time – Centuries for a Change

Sorry once again, folks, for my long-lasting absence from this blog. It's been a busy fall but now the holidays are here once again. While trying to get as much rest as I can I also hope to write down some of my most cherished memories of late 2011.

First of all, meet my new favorite live act. They are probably the biggest group of people I have ever seen playing music together. They are the Tampere Philharmonic Orchestra, my home town's very own orchestra. Like probably almost any other orchestra, this one performs mostly old classics from the 18th and 19th century but also “new” music of the 20th century and even brand new pieces every now and then.

The transition from popular music to art music surely feels difficult for a lot of people. Classical music differs from popular music in many ways but I don't think there is much reason to be afraid of going to a classical music concert. The first concert may not be the most pleasant experience you can think of but it will get better every time. Classical music doesn't rely on catchy rhythms, explicit melodies or moving lyrics. Instead, there are complex harmonic structures, wildly twisting melodies and dynamics that require sitting on the right seats to be fully appreciated.

However, I am not saying that classical music is difficult. Enjoying any new type of music requires practice. The brain needs to accustom to new ways in which sounds, rhythms, and dynamics are combined. Any person able to sense the basic elements of music will develop a deeper understanding of classical music while listening to different symphonies, concertos, and other pieces.

The first time I heard classical music live was while still in elementary school, which certainly was too early to understand anything about it. Like any other music, classical music is also best served when you are ready for it. Still, now is as good a time as ever to test if you might be ready for classical music.

My interest in classical music began when my dad wanted to take my heavy metal loving brother to listen to some proper acoustic music last summer. I went along and was immediately incredibly moved by the overwhelming harmonious beauty of the violins, cellos and other instruments. A few months later I went to another concert with some people from the university. Then, I realized I wanted to go every week, so I went as often as I could. I heard Barber, Prokofjev, Brahms, Schubert, Finland's pride Bergman and a fabulous concert with music from Weill, Britten and Bartók on my birthday. The last concert of the year was a beautiful baroque Christmas concert with music from Händel, Telemann, Corelli, and Bach.

After all, classical music is actually not so different from baroque pop – the pop part is just kind of replaced with something else. Usually that results in more complex structures, harmonics and melodies that make it more challenging to hear the music as a whole. In the end, perhaps the challenge results in even more rewarding listening experiences.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Eerie, Yet Terrific

Now let me share with you a childhood memory of mine. Even though it isn't winter yet, this song is just perfect for this moment – despite the fact that the darkening evenings and cold weather rather tend to make me choose my sunniest sunshine pop hits...

A couple of months ago it occurred to me once again that my favorites, the Beach Boys have also made a version of California Dreamin' which was originally performed by the Mamas & the Papas in 1965. When this Beach Boys version first came out in 1986 I hardly had been born but I remember hearing this sometime later, when I was still only a child. It was the early or mid-90s and for some reason this music video was aired on Finnish TV, possibly even a few times, actually. The video seemed to make a huge impact on me because it looked really familiar when I watched it again many, many years later.

I still find this video impressive. It is definitely gothic and eerie, which is always unusual of the Beach Boys. Seeing the guys here is really nice even though it leaves me feeling kind of melancholic. Roger McGuinn makes an appearance with his 12-string Rickenbacker (wow...) and there are also alto sax solos (arguably the coolest instrument there is) by John Phillips. I also enjoy the 80s-styled production, not to mention incredible vocals from Al and Carl! I could listen to this for hours.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Folk Rock Gates Opened

It is starting to look like I have been enticed into a small folk rock craze, mostly thanks to the Association. Listening to the Association was at some point like a learning session aiming at a deeper understanding of the band. Now, every second with the Association is like being in heaven... While getting acquainted with the band, I also learned to appreciate folk rock style, melodies and aesthetics more than ever. Now, when I put on anything that has those folky melodies my mind screams: aah yeah, folk rock, this is the good stuff!

Well, this isn't really the first time I have been interested in folk rock. However, we may have to say something about the term folk rock at first. There are countless different manifestations of folk rock. There is folk rock, folk pop, folk metal, neo-folk and who knows how many other variants of music that is based on folk. There are also local variants of folk and folk rock all around the world. For me, the starting point is the Association, so that defines my current interest. I am mostly talking about music that was inspired and developed from American folk music. Still, I don't wish to limit myself. Instead, I hope to keep an open mind. If I discover a great Arabic folk music band, I will definitely check it out...

Anyway, probably the most famous folk rock band I have listened to before is the Byrds. Both the Byrds and the Association have recorded Bob Dylan songs. If I haven't misunderstood all of this, those jangly and harmonic Dylan covers played a big role in the American folk rock success. Dylan himself also went electric which made him more and more popular.

We could now perhaps define folk rock as being folk decorated with elements that make it more appealing for large audiences. A traditional folk song is bare and has little decoration. There isn't much auditory spectacle. A folk troubadour singing alone and playing a guitar can obviously be wonderful, but a band like the Association with its rich full band arrangements and enormous vocals gives the music a whole different treatment.

This question has a lot in common with the dilemma of how much a song needs decorations, different instruments and production. Some people want more, some people want less... And it depends on the song, time, genre, etc. In my opinion, the composition (with its tunes and chords) is the core of any traditional (pop) song. Still, a rich sound with an excellent, carefully conducted arrangement can make a song rise to a whole new level. So, even though the bare song, the idea, is the most important thing and an achievement in its own right, it also helps a great deal to make it sound as appealing as possible.

My next goal is to find out and compare how different bands transform their folk songs into more ambitious arrangements – or decide to stick to more simple arrangements. I have a list of interesting performers. On that list there are the Mamas & the Papas, the Beau Brummels, the (New) Seekers, Donovan, and P. F. Sloan. Finally checking out Bob Dylan would probably be pretty useful, too.

I have to say I don't really know much about folk rock. I only know a few artists and I know who the most influential UK and US folk artists were. So, I could say that the search is now on. The real gems are often hidden I would be more than happy to get recommendations. What are your favorite folk rock bands?

New 60s Favorites, Part Three

A beautiful thing about 60s pop/rock groups is that whenever you decide to take a look at one of them, the band comes across as charming and really good pretty much every time... This time it was an Australian band called the Easybeats.

For music-lovers this band is probably very familiar. The Easybeats have even been referred to as the Australian Beatles. On the other hand, asking any (especially younger) person on the street about the band just might result in ”never heard of” type of answers. For instance, there are probably only one or two Easybeats songs that have been performed by Finnish artists. At first there weren't almost any Easybeats songs I remember hearing on the radio or anywhere else.

I am telling you this just because it plays an important role in my previous knowledge of the Easybeats. Now, just like the Association and the Creation, this band has shown me several sides and styles which really makes the music stand out. The Easybeats especially seem to enjoy the straightforward, groovy rock'n roll songs (Good Times, She's so Fine, Made My Bed (Gonna Lie In It), Wedding Ring, and For My Woman), even throwing in some Motown soul (I Can't Stand It).

There are also some songs that almost sound like they were recorded by the Beatles for some early album (Pretty Girl, It's so Easy). A song like Falling off the Edge of the World is an interesting example of a song that at first sounds a lot like the Beatles – but it still sounds more like the Easybeats after all! Some of my other favorites are the melancholic psychedelic melodies of Land of Make Believe, Remember Sam, and Come in You'll Get Pneumonia. Heaven & Hell, the single that was banned in the US, is also a wonderful slightly psychedelic pop song. It certainly would have been a great follow-up to Friday on My Mind.

River Deep, Mountain High is probably one of the most famous songs in the band's repertoire. It is so good that I don't feel like I need to hear the Ike & Tina Turner version at all... Stevie Wright's lead vocals are superb: he definitely has all it takes to perform soulful songs that also tend to have raw rock'n roll energy. Hello, How Are You is also such a great ballad that I want to mention it. And don't forget The Music Goes Round My Head, a cool baroque piece!

The band was founded in 1964. Children of British and Dutch emigrants, the Easybeats became very successful in their home country and soon were touring Europe and the US with the Rolling Stones. Friday on My Mind was a million-selling hit and a few smaller hits followed. Originally, lead singer Stevie Wright and rhythm guitarist George Young formed the songwriting team, but Wright was later replaced by lead guitarist Harry Vanda as a songwriter. Problems with management, radio airplay and record company support as well as the songwriting team becoming increasingly independent resulted in the band breaking up 1969. The songwriting team continued working on other projects, and there was an Easybeats reunion in 1985.

The Easybeats were a band that had their own unique voice and energy. They definitely weren't just another Merseybeat-styled band or generic 60s rock group. Instead, they sound like a band that took many great things from contemporary music and combined the influences to make a basis for their own music – a method that works even today!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Joensuu Gospel

Although shoegaze is probably not really mainstream kind of music – definitely not in a small country like Finland – Joensuu 1685 has gained quite a lot success. Due to this success even I decided to check out what it was all about. But as usual, other things got in the way and I never really got round to concentrating on the self-titled debut album, released by Bone Voyage (a record company led by 22 Pistepirkko guys) in 2008.

Joensuu 1685 was considered to be one of the most important indie bands in the release year of the debut album. The band was also one of the most popular live acts at Lost in Music festival the same year. I remember attending the gig and enjoying it quite a lot despite the very strange power shortage at the end... The band consists of Markus and Mikko Joensuu who are brothers, and non-related Risto Joensuu who just happens to have the same last name.

For a three man band Joensuu 1685 makes a whole lot of noise – that noise is very pleasant to any open-minded rock lover's ears, though. I have finally been listening to the Joensuu 1685 album properly and I enjoy everything about it. There is a lot of charm in its dynamics, heavy but nice rocking psychedelia and interesting sounds. All in all, I would call it a masterpiece of both modern sound and recording technology. Lead singer-guitarist-Farfisa player Mikko Joensuu is an openly spiritual person which shows in songs like (You Shine) Brighter Than Light and Electric Ocean Sailor. The spiritual aspect definitely gives an interesting vibe to this music.

Crystal Light is one of the most fascinating things here: a seven-minute song of noise, monotonic driving kraut beat and a thick vocal effect. Compared to this song Kill/Shot/Love, Sick City, and Baby, Baby, Baby are somewhat easier to the ear, practically quite catchy pop (or rather rock) songs. Nothingness also has that monotonic kraut vibe but the song is a lot more slow and calm. At first it sounds a bit threatening but soon transforms into one of the most blissful melodies I have heard in some time. The transitions between songs on this album have been rendered very carefully. Amazing, perfected sounds and fascinating songs make this, in my opinion, an A+ album.

Joensuu 1685 has been on hiatus during the past couple of years. The Joensuus have been working on a different project called Siinai and debut album Olympic Games came out in July 2011. Siinai describes its own music as new age, which may not sound all that appealing to some people... In fact, you can just as well describe the music as instrumental kraut rock with massive soundscapes. I was very impressed by Siinai's performance at Monsters of Pop festival a few weeks ago. Mikko Joensuu also played a solo gig (which I sadly didn't see) at the same festival. I hear there was some really good solo material performed. Maybe a solo album is on the way?

For now I will stick to Joensuu 1685 and check out Siinai's album later when I am once again in need of something different and refreshing.

Friday, September 30, 2011

New 60s Favorites, Part Two

Red with purple flashes. That is how guitarist Eddie Phillips has described the Creation's music. The Creation are my latest 60s favorite number two. This band came from the UK and was founded in 1966. The Creation were a short-lived band but achieved quite a lot during their short period of existing as a band. These achievements were not chart-topping hits but instead many excellent mod, garage and psychedelic rock songs that are still living pieces of some of the most energetic British music of the era.

Originally I decided to check out this band due to its alleged influence on power pop music. I had these two compilations, Complete Collection, Vol. 1: Making Time and Vol. 2: Biff Bang Pow, in my possession for some time before the time was right to discover the wonders they contained. These CDs include all music by the band made in the 60s with some different mixes and versions.

I was fascinated by Nightmares from the very beginning. That song is a good example of the certain kind of dark mood that is sometimes present in the Creation's music. I don't know exactly what made it a bit difficult to hear the beauty of this music... Listening to it more was surely the thing that made it open up to me. There is after all a lot to process: a lot of harmonic sound, lots of great songs, lots of different influences.

I have been listening to the first CD more and come to appreciate the stuff very, very much. Everything is solid, well-written and has a pleasant, somewhat heavy garage sound. The combination of melodic British beat music tradition is mixed with rhythm and blues and often psychedelic elements resulting in really impressive, soulful, catchy and memorable music. The mysterious psychedelic feel is also quite enjoyable and there are excellent vocal harmonies.. Check out Making Time, Tom Tom, How Does It Feel to Feel, If I Stay Too Long, All That I Am, the successful single Painter Man, or any other song for the matter! This really is pure kick-ass rocking 60s magic.

The closest counterparts to the Creation are obviously the Who, and perhaps the Kinks. Listening to the Creation can actually momentarily make you feel like you're listening to the Who. The sound can be very similar to the early Who. I think I'll need to dig deeper into this mod music, as well as freakbeat.. and garage.

Friday, September 23, 2011

New 60s Favorites, Part One

I wish I could write more often... For some reason I can't seem to find time to do it. The important part, however, is that I have three new 60s favorites! I often like to think about the 60s as the best time of music: a decade with charm that hasn't been topped by any other decade and probably never will be. The 60s is therefore kind of a project to me: I hope to familiarize myself with as much good 60s stuff as I can during my lifetime. Even though the huge fragmentation of music hadn't progressed all that much in the 60s, by the end of the decade there were already many different types of pop(ular) music and rock.

The Association, one of the three new favourites of mine, is a band that represens sunshine pop, baroque pop, folk rock, and soft rock. Even though surf music is not on the list the Association is a perfect path to take after the Beach Boys. The vocal arrangements are huge!

The band debuted with And Then... Along Comes the Association in 1966, produced by Curt Boettcher. Windy was the band's first number one hit, selling a million copies. Other million-selling hits followed (Cherish, Never My Love) but the biggest commercial success ended after a couple of years. The Association was the lead-off performer at Monterey Pop Festival and remained a popular live act during the rest of the decade. The group never disbanded for long even though there weren't many new albums or singles produced after the first half of the 1970s. The Association is still around, and the group toured the United States with several original members in the summer of 2011.

One of the Association's secrets of success has definitely been the vocal arrangements that turn soft pop songs into something a lot bigger... There are also recognizable lead vocalists. When it come to the biggest differences between the Association and the Beach Boys, the Association sounds somewhat more adult all the way. Even though the Association applies hooks like any other pop band (such as the Beach Boys) there is a somewhat clear difference in style. Doo wop and r&b influence is not very obvious but instead there are elements of folk rock tradition. However, the Association is certainly not too different from other psych-baroque sunshine pop bands, such as Curt Boettcher's projects. Musically speaking the Association is still probably a bit more down-to-earth than its more psychedelic sunshine pop counterparts. I bet no one would blame the Association for being too psychedelic.

So, the Association likes to focus on the songwriting and effective vocals and not paying too much attention to the fanciest, weirdest new psychedelic sounds and innovations. The Association's music is rewarding to especially those who appreciate traditional soft rock songwriting and the nuances of elegant multipart vocal harmonies.

As far as I know, the Association are quite unknown in Finland. Many people of the younger generation would surely recognize Windy due to a Finnish group Ultra Bra plagiarizing the melody for their song Jäätelöauto back in 1999.

It actually took really long for me to find the essence of this band. It was probably because the Association is not really famous for the cathciest possible songs – you are not going to hear anything like I Get Around here... Instead the music of the Association is about getting into the band's own style and the music as a whole. The band becomes familiar and recognizable and soon you will enjoy everything from the catchier songs (Forty Times, Enter the Young, Time for Livin', Six Man Band, Yes I Will) to the mellowest of mellow ballads (Under Branches, Birthday Morning, Barefoot Gentleman, Along the Way). How could I resist the cheerful sunshine pop of Come on in, the incredible wall of vocals in Just about the Same or the stunningly emotional folk ballads Look at Me, Look at You and What Were the Words?

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Pop'n Roll Energy from the Past

Now here is a real gem! I have been listening to this CD many, many times during the past few days and don't mind at all hearing it several times in a row. Skipping tracks is not necessary at any point! Sorrows were a New York band, formed in 1977. Half of the band (Arthur Alexander and Jett Harris) had been members of the Poppees before. With Joey Cola and Ricky street added the band rocked both live and on vinyl.

Guitarist/vocalist Arthur Alexander described his band's sound as “ABBA meets the Sex Pistols”. This description sounds quite good even though you could also describe Sorrows having a typical late '70s/early '80s power pop sound. Beatles influence is obviously strong and some of the more hard rocking material reminds of the Undertones or Cheap Trick, while the music also sounds like Paul Collins Beat and other power pop bands of the era. Also the Flamin' Groovies and even Sparks come to mind occasionally.

This is the first time any music by Sorrows has been released on CD. Bad Times Good Times is a worthy addition to any collection of good pop-rock music. Even though some of the material was, in fact, rescued from a demolition dumpster, the sound of this release is perfect. Even the demo/live stuff sounds good. The songwriting is of great quality, every song is catchy, and a real kick-ass pop'n roll spirit is present. Get it now, while it still is easy!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Gardening Tips

As I already wrote about the Secret Powers and the Electric Family Choir album I don't think I need to talk more about it. Listen to it, I guarantee it is some of the best 21st century power pop you can find.. If not some of the best 21st century music. I think I will have to skip Lies and Fairy Tales (2010) for now and maybe get back to it later. Today it is time to talk about What Every Rose-Grower Should Know, a 2011 release, the very latest album by Secret Powers. When it comes to this band I think their most strangely-named albums might also be their best.

I like to think about the first album as stylewise the most coherent Secret Powers album and the Electric Family Choir as the most versatile album. What Every Rose-Grower Should Know lies somewhere between these two albums: the soundscape is quite coherent all the way but there are clearly also songs performed in different styles.

Generation Ship has already been declared as “the closest to ELO you can get” or something like that. The song definitely reminds of ELO, though not so much that you wouldn't be able to hear a strong Secret Powers signature in the song. Maybe needless to say, I enjoy this song so much that I used to listen to it many times in a row... There are however other great songs on this album as well. Tarantula comes next, changing the mood to beatlesque – I love it! Then follows Secret Powers' Styx moment (yeah!): What Every Rose Grower Should Know. If anything that riff reminds me of those cool fuga-inspired things that Styx/Dennis DeYoung have occasionally used. The drums in this title track are awesome, as well as the psychedelic background vocals in the chorus.

Candy is real candy. Just give me bouncy bubblegum rock with gentle vocals – and resistance is futile. The same is pretty much true of Crocodile, but instead of bubblegum there is real ear-melting harmony heaven, a definite romantic song for romantics. They got me, I confess...

I'll Be Home sounds like an ultimate Ringo Starr homage. The topic of the song is very serious but the performance always brings a smile to my face. It Should Have Been Me, a joined Secret Powers songwriting effort (a really catchy one, too), has a slightly harder edge. Still, despite its rocking feel the sound is not very hard-rocking. I love the psychedelic organ.

Objectively you might say that the songs in the end of the album are not the strongest material Secret Powers has to offer. However, I enjoy those songs a great deal. Well, yeah, My Idea is not the best Secret Powers song ever but I don't dislike it. It is OK. Besides, the guitar solo is cool!

There you have it, another awesome Secret Powers album. Now that I think about it, is just seems to get more and more difficult to decide which album I like best. I used to listen this album dozens of times while riding my bike all around in the sunshine. There is more to this album that just music... Wonderful memories and charm, too.

Explorers of Greatness

Now, something I was planning to write months ago but everything else got in the way. Secret Powers caught my attention with their second album ..and the Electric Family Choir (2009) already in the spring. Soon the band earned a place in my heart and all I could listen to was that strangely named album... I had to get more stuff from the band so I ordered everything the band had released. After a recording career of four years there are already four albums available which is admirable in its own right. Not only are Secret Powers prolific, they also create high quality pop suitable for anyone who enjoys traditional '60s-influenced pop music.

Secret Powers mix elements from the Beatles and ELO with genuine songwriting talent, really good lyrics and gorgeous sounds and arrangements. Explorers of Solar Eclipse (2008) is the first album by Secret Powers and it is indeed a great debut album. The cover is snowy and arctic and it somewhat describes the mood of the album: fresh, bright sounds with a melancholic, yet hopeful feeling. I often find myself comparing Secret Powers to Wondermints. In a way the Wondermints debut album comes to mind, even though Secret Powers music is not equally dreamy. Still, there are similar cleverly constructed Beatles references – it also has to be pointed out that the band's own voice is also very strong.

Compared to the later albums this one is more Shmedly-oriented. Band leader Ryan “Shmed(ly)” Maynes is responsible for all composing work with the exception of Kitty on the Brain (written by Troy Warling). He also sings lead most of the time and does a good job with his gravelly yet melodic voice. Smedly's piano is also one of the dominant elements on the album, making the music even have some similarity to Keane's piano pop at times (just listen to Jenny). There are of course guitars, too, and actually the piano/keys make a very balanced combination with guitars.

We Are Alone is a perfect opener with lots of bouncy groove, ELO-like piano and sounds layered with style. Awfully Nice and Place I Can Breathe are all strong, catchy songs that explore the ever so interesting world of semi-happy, semi-melancholic music. Counting Stars (hear that drive!) represents Smedly's interesting way of occasionally writing songs that, in my opinion, don't seem to have very conventional choruses. Therefore the chorus of Counting Stars sounds to me more like a bridge. Anyway, this bridge-like chorus is really cool and makes the song all the more interesting – not to mention the long instrumental solo with cool background vocals in the end!

Rose repserents the typical Secret Powers ballad. Magical it is, indeed.. Similar, possibly even more lovely and gentle ballads can be heard on the later albums. There is strong material even at the very end of the album. Funniest Girl in the World is a melancholic schlager with accordion and jazzy piano. The final song Walking with That Doll has the magical, soft Secret Powers harmonies that I bet anyone would enjoy.

Generally speaking, Explorers of the Polar Eclipse is a strong album with great songwriting and impeccable pop/rock sounds. I enjoy sensing the mood changes as the album progresses as well the overall coherence and continuity that the album has from beginning to the end. Musically, the album feels like a continuing story. It is always a joy to hear this album. Sometimes I have found myself thinking if this is actually my favorite Secret Powers album. The Electric Family Choir is a tough competitor, I have to say...

Secret Powers on MySpace Secret Powers website

Thursday, July 21, 2011

20 Big Ones

To reflect the years I have had with the Beach Boys I decided to present my 20 dearest Beach Boys tracks. Here they are: my favorite Beach Boys songs, original or cover, from the oldest to the newest (approximately).

1. Surfer Girl 
Lovely, lovely... Here is Brian's surf melancholy at its finest. The Beach Boys harmonies resonate right through my (and anyone else's) heart. This is a magical song inspired by When You Wish Upon a Star. The harmonies are simply stunning. Especially with headphones it is an experience like no other. Vocals have always been my favorite instrument and this may be the most attractive, most powerful way to perform them. You can actually feel the harmonies resonating all the way through your body.

2. Catch a Wave 
This song is both extremely cheerful as well as exhilarating. I bet quite a few people decided to try surfing after hearing songs like this.. I have never surfed but it surely is impressive to hear such enthusiasm towards surfing from people who didn't surf either, with the exception of Dennis who did surf. Amazing harmonies, amazing interplay between Mike and Brian, as well as a great arrangement make this a favorite.

3. The Surfer Moon 
Brian's music developed at an incredible speed. In this surf ballad one can already hear his potential. Only a couple of years later would this young man compose, arrange and produce Pet Sounds. Based on The Surfer Moon it doesn't seem impossible at all. There is melancholy, a great string arrangement, and a very memorable composition. Brian's vocals are also gorgeous (be prepared to hear this many times later!).

4. I Do
A song that was given to another band (the Castells) but a Beach Boys vocal version is featured on the Surfer Girl/Shut Down Vol. 2 CD as a bonus track. I wonder why it was given away because it is a wonderful song. As usual, Mike's vocals are solid, Brian performs beautiful falsetto and the rest of the harmony vocals are like strawberry ice cream on a hot summer day. And, yeah, all the handclaps and bells are just great.

5. Don't Worry Baby
I remember hearing this already as a child a long, long time ago. I also remember finding the surf guitars very strange-sounding, almost disturbing. Now I love the guitars, the slow tempo, Brian's extremely pretty vocals and the perfect harmonizing. Even though it is in a way a car song it is one of the most beautiful and comforting songs Brian wrote during this period. “Don't worry baby, everything will turn out all right.” Those are the exact right words, period.

6. Why Do Fools Fall in Love 
Brian is definitely creating his own wall of sound here. There are some really interesting percussions and rhythms in this cover version of the Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers song. What really makes is stand out is Brian's lead vocal: perfection.

7. I Get Around 
A number one hit for the band is indeed a lot of coolness, very much based on an extremely fun, inventive and hook-filled vocal arrangement. The instrumentation is also interesting which surely contributed to the success. No one would probably deny that this was an instant classic – or be able to get it out of their head...

8. Wendy 
A bittersweet Beach Boys song? I think this one fits the description, yet somehow it sounds quite upbeat at the same time... In my opinion, we have exceptionally juicy harmonies here. This song appeals to me probably because of the so very curiously attractive girl-leaves-boy theme – and because it sounds amazing.

9. Please Let Me Wonder
I'm so Young
Kiss Me Baby
She Knows Me too Well
In the Back of My Mind
Yes, this is five individual songs but I wish to include them as a single unit here. I sometimes like call them “miniature Pet Sounds”. Except that they are even more warm, loving, and emotional songs than practically anything on Pet Sounds. Therefore they actually have fewer dimensions. While Pet Sounds is a more comprehensive healing and comforting experience, these five songs are basically the most mouth-watering love ballads Brian ever created (and did a cover version of). There are so many great things to mention that I will just point to Brian's awesome lead vocals, Dennis doing great job in Back of My Mind, and of course the incredible Beach Boys harmonies that will melt your heart.

10. You're So Good to Me 
This song is really catchy and different from everything else Brian did during that time period. I don't think Brian has shown this side of himself all that much – the side that isn't mostly about being wistful and melancholic. Brian actually sounds quite mischievous and playful here. I always love to hear him singing in lower pitch than usual. Also, the lalalalala chorus is pure genius.

11. The Little Girl I Once Knew 
No wonder this one didn't do well on the radio. Still, everything about it is gorgeous. The sophisticated instrumentation, jazzy feel, Carl's vocals, and hooks all around among other things make this a perfect song. I think this is just as good as California Girls.

12. You Still Believe in Me 
Then, something from Pet Sounds... It is impossible to fully explain why Pet Sounds is so good. And it is good in so many ways, not just artistically. Brian was able to arrange music in a way that reminds more of symphonies than your usual rock'n'roll music. Brian chose the exact right instruments and worked until everything in the harmony, sound and rhythm sections sounded perfectly balanced. Then, he arranged complicated four-part harmonies to the music.

The full capacity of this song can be noticed for example when you listen to this song while feeling really sad. Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys make it better in just two and a half minutes. It really works! This song is the ultimate display of everything tender, loving and beautiful. The lyrics say that even though you have failed someone still believes in you. Everyone fails sometimes which is why this song is so important. I would believe anytime that it is actually Brian Wilson who believes in you – he sounds so convincing in what he is saying. There are sounds prettier than anything I have ever heard, the bicycle bell reminds of childhood, then Brian and the Beach Boys chant “I wanna cry.” Too beautiful for a human being like me to comprehend. This song was sent from another world.

13. I'm Waiting for the Day 
One of the most dynamic and attractive arrangements of the entire Pet Sounds. There are mighty drum sounds, beautiful oboe, happy organ, violins... I love the way the mood changes from tender to wildly energetic and back. I have come to notice that the most interesting moods in music are not the extremes but something in between. In this song the “you” character is literally in between sad and happy, just recently broken up with someone but already about to find someone new. Brian's vocals are among the best he has ever performed. The background vocals are also brilliant – which is hardly surprising considering this is Pet Sounds...

14. God Only Knows 
This one is self-explanatory. I can't think of a more beautiful, more magical, more comforting, more spiritually blessed pop song.

15. I Know There's an Answer 
This song was originally called “Hang on to Your Ego”. I love this already because of the tambourine alone... All in all, it is a very vigorous song. And, yes, the drums are also amazing. And I guess I have to mention once again how much I enjoy hearing Brian sing non-falsetto.

16. Darlin' 
Here is a song that I enjoy for a couple of reasons. Darlin' is a very upbeat, danceable, energetic soul pop song with amazing vocals from Carl and excellent horns. I also used to enjoy banging the lovely chords of this song on the keyboard. I wish I had a keyboard of my own...

17. Time to Get Alone 
Oh my! Such warmth from Carl and rest of the boys. There are harmonies everywhere, as usual, covering this song like a warm blanket. There are awesome strings, the melodies are lovely... Brian's vocals in the chorus are one of the best things... ever.

18. Deirdre 
An incredible song sung by Bruce Johnston. His voice has such tenderness and it suits perfectly to this semi-melancholic song. To me this song sounds so... cozy and comfy. Brian's voice in the chorus harmonies again makes this an A+ song – even though the Beach Boys vocal mix here is more democratic than ever.

19. 'Til I Die 
When I first heard this I think it sounded scary, with the title and all... I was used to hearing mostly happy songs from the Beach Boys and then came this. When you think about it, there aren't probably any other Beach Boys songs that are so full of tranquility and desperation at the same time. Something about this song still sounds cold. But I love it nevertheless: a perfect, different melancholy track from Brian – and awesome lyrics.

20. Getcha Back 
I have no idea why I like this so much... Except for that everything about is simply is so catchy. The saxophone has a big role in this song, and so do the big drums. The vocals are obviously cool. I just love hearing the same Beac Boys concept arranged differently in 1980s style!

These were the songs I chose today. They are surely going to be different some other day. Actually, I would rather say that I love the Beach Boys so much that I even enjoy some really crazy stuff... How can I be critical towards my favorite band? I guess there is no need...

On the Beach with the Beach Boys!

After another quite a long break (been out of communications range again...) I am very, very happy to return with a huge mania regarding an old favorite of mine, my favorite band of all times – a favorite that has been with me longer than that one psychedelic power pop band I talk about all the time... Well, I admit being quite illogical in this matter. The truth is that I actually have two #1 favorite bands.

The Beach Boys have been with me since the autumn of 2004. First, I fell in love with the early sound of stuff like I Get Around and Fun, Fun, Fun. Then, I heard Pet Sounds. Since that I haven't been able to say which I enjoy more: the early cheerful rock'n'roll energy or the later orchestrated gorgeousness. These are two worlds quite different from each other, but the four-part harmonies are excellent everywhere. I guess I am just not the kind of person who undermines good-sounding and entertaining stuff just because there is also something more sophisticated available.

I saw the Beach Boys live for the first time in Helsinki in 2006. It was a concert performed by Mike Love, Bruce Johnston and a group of very skilled musicians. Then, I had a similar experience just little over a week ago. Well, it wasn't all that similar, actually. The 2006 concert was arranged at a huge indoor arena in November and this more recent concert on a beach in southwestern Finland by a lake in July. The concert was originally supposed to happen in Yyteri by the sea but was moved to another more outlying place called Eura.

I don't know why this concert wasn't booked to Helsinki. A lot more people would have come... I was a bit worried about the attendance before the concert. But once the band stepped on the stage I couldn't worry anymore. There were lots of people there, dancing like crazy in front of the stage all through the gig.

I soon joined these lovely people and danced through the endless cavalcade of old Beach Boys hits – songs many of which were almost 50 years old but when are we really going to stop needing happy, carefree rock'n'roll songs - and loving especially these ones? The Beach Boys music is still as current as ever because it was written to make people smile and forget about all the bad things at least for a while. Everyone needs to have some fun every now and then... So, why not have fun with one of the most talented rock'n'roll vocal groups that has ever existed?

In the 1960s, and that day, the Beach Boys sung songs about surfing, cool cars (even love songs to cars!), and pretty girls. However, I don't think the songs need to be interpreted literally. Simply said, the Beach Boys music is like a celebration of doing what you enjoy. Enjoying life and all that it can offer! Catching a wave can easily be seen as a symbol of feeling good and mighty in any situation, and succeeding in something you wish to succeed in – to cut a long story short: fulfilling your dreams.

Little things like saying to somebody in music that if I did it then you can do it too, what ever your “do it” might be (Brian Wilson commentary for Friends remastered)

So, the concert was a blast. Mike and Bruce had again very good musicians with them and the four-part harmonies sounded as fresh as ever. I was very impressed by the vocal performances: those guys really seemed to be able to transform into Brian, Carl or Al Jardine! It was a good thing that they had included a few non-hit songs in the set as well (!). I enjoyed everything from Surf City to Getcha Back. Bruce gave a nice performance of God Only Knows. The psychedelic songs (Good Vibrations, Heroes and Villains) sounded really good and also stood out. What a curious feeling to think for yourself (even though you already have listened to it countless times): is this music really from the same band that performed those primitive car songs?! It also became clear that the Beach Boys have recorded many, many great cover versions of popular songs and given them a good Beach Boys treatment. After the concert I got Mike Love's autograph. I bet I don't have an autograph by anyone more famous!

Now, let me tell you about a dream of mine... As you already guessed, I would like to see all living original members of the Beach Boys performing together. In fact, just seeing Brian Wilson would be such a pilgrimage to me. I'd better monitor Brian's tour schedules and if he ever comes to Northern Europe again...

More Beach Boys blabber to come. I'm feeling BB manic.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Early Days of SS1/2

While waiting for the new Sun Sawed in 1/2 album to come out it is time to talk about the band's first release available to public. Apparently there was a “self-titled cassette” in the very early 1990s but it hasn't been made available on iTunes or elsewhere. The Happiness and Other Short Stories (1992) is a release of seven songs, making it an EP or mini-CD rather than a full album. Even though I wouldn't necessarily recommend making this the first Sun Sawed in 1/2 release you ever listen to, it is a must-hear for anyone who enjoys this band and especially for those who love the band's early neo psychedelic sound as much as the later more straighforward rocking power pop sound.

The overall sound here is very similar to the following release Hot Feet for Monkey God, which is quite different from the direction the band would take on the 1995 album Mind Flip. In the early years the band was very much into making the psychedelic influences show. There are lovely organ sounds everywhere as well, clean or wah wah guitar sounds, cool saxophone, as well as very energetic drum work. It is obvious that a lot of work went into planning the arrangements, and the result is excellent. Tim Rose's songwriting pen was sharp when making this album and his work of high quality and adventurous – just like today. As always, extra points go to lead vocalist Doug who sounds just as amazing as everything he has since contributed to music.

Everything is very well balanced which makes The Happiness and Short Stories a lovely thing to listen to. It doesn't rock as much as the later stuff but that is why it makes a nicely different companion for Mind Flip and Fizzy Lift: more serene, subtle and mysterious music with more focus on details, soundscapes, and psychedelic feel.

The interesting part of Happiness is that there are some very unique moments that you are not going to hear anywhere else in the SS1/2's discography. For instance, there is a very charming song called Down, sung by Ken Rose – and it is the only song written by him to appear on a SS1/2 album. Very interesting, I say! It is a very nice song, too. After that, you get the only Sun Sawed in 1/2 tango I have ever heard: Sonrise Serenade. The song has some very interesting turns towards the end, check it out! Bed of Roses is a really catchy one, and the final song She's Known to Levitate is obviously my personal favorite here. I also enjoy Hippity Hop, an image from childhood, the melancholic title track The Happiness, as well as Incredible Journey. I would say that this release begins really well and gets gorgeous towards the end.

All in all, many of the things that made Hot Feet for Monkey God a fabulous album already appeared on this previous release. I love The Happiness and Short Stories all the way. I think it is cohesive despite most of the songs being quite different from each other.

So... I have covered the entire Sun Sawed in 1/2 back catalog. The next SS1/2 review/analysis will be about the whole new album Elephants into Swans... Really! I can't wait to hear it.

Here is some pre-Happiness footage:

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

New Video from Secret Powers

Secret Powers are my latest huge new favorite I am definitely going to discuss the band in detail later. While I'm trying to find some spare time to do it, here is a new video for a lovely, lovely song from the 2011 release from Secret Powers, What Every Rose Grower Should Know: Generation Ship. I have listened to this song dozens of time and I still love to hear it.. obviously!

Non Stop Wombling Womble Mania?

Oh boy... I am still so very much fond of the Wombles, Mike Batt's spin off novelty/bubblegum music project for the British children's TV show the Wombles.. I listen to the Wombles every day.. Seriously, every day! And what a perfect timing it is: the Wombles albums have just been released on CD for the first time.

I ordered all of them and hope to get them when I get back from Norway (yeah, that's where I've been for the past two weeks...). It seems that my favorites (Wellington Goes to Waterloo, Womble of the Universe, Down at the Barber Shop (Singing in Harmony), To Wimbledon with Love etc.) will probably get company pretty soon.

A big wombling thank you, Mike Batt!

Monday, June 6, 2011

An Exciting Comeback

I feel like I don't get anything done with this blog. The only thing to do now is to try to make it make it better - despite all the other (more important?) things. A new post, say, every two days is not such a chore. Gee, why do I think it is? And I always have lots to say..

I was quite excited to hear that The Cars have returned, and it is not The New Cars, it really is all the original living members of the Cars: Ric Ocasek, Elliot Easton, Greg Hawkes, and David Robinson. I should get the new album right away. Now that I think about it, why haven't I already?

Here is a new single and video from the album Move Like This.. I feel quite thrilled... As if nothing has really changed about the Cars since the 70s/80s and that is the way it should be. Wonderful, wonderful.. I really didn't expect this and I hope to get the album soon!

The Cars website

Monday, May 16, 2011

Golden Bubble-ABBA

Now, let's forget about ice hockey for a while and concentrate on excellent music...

I don't remember exactly when but I did purchase every single studio album by ABBA some time ago... I got them for one euro each. Now I am starting to think that I may have made one of my best puchases ever when you compare the price to the quality. ABBA was, and after all still is, one of the most popular pop groups in the whole world. And, unlike today, in the 70s commercial success still often was a sign of high musical quality.

Slowly but surely I have begun the journey of listening carefully to every album by ABBA. The first album was a good place to start. And what did I find... Oh my, I found some of the loveliest bubblegummy 70s pop music with impeccable songwriting, lovely singing, and fabulous instrumentation. The album is, of course, called Ring Ring (1973).

Even though I heard every famous ABBA song already as a child, hearing the song Ring Ring now seems to to point towards a certain British classic Love Grows – which is obviously a very good thing. I also have to praise the idea of using male vocals in addition to Agnetha Fältskog and Frida Lyngstad's voices. In my opinion, the combination of female and male voices here makes a considerably more interesting and warm harmony than just using the voices of two women – even though they both sing like birds.

Some of the songs here simply have a very bubblegummy vibe, reminding of the Partridge Family, or perhaps Bay City Rollers. These kinds of songs include People Need Love, Love Isn't Easy (But It Sure Is Hard Enough), Me and Bobby and Bobby's Brother. He Is Your Brother also fits in this category. The slow songs are also fabulous. Disillusion sounds like it was written by, say, George Harrison.

I can't possibly express how excited I am about the greatness of this music! There is bubblegum, the Beatles, and a ton of overall irreplaceable, magical 70s pop feel. The only thing stopping me from going insane is the lack of bubblegummy male vocals.. But as I said, all the vocals on Ring Ring are excellent.

Hooray ABBA, hooray Sweden, hooray real songwriters, hooray lovely 70s pop music! I feel like I should give the whole thing a parade... And notice that there are still thousands, if not millions of people who love ABBA and the undying, timeless 70s pop.

Discover This!

Now... Stuff I wrote actually a few weeks ago but still very topical!

I have been a huge fan of ELO's Discovery (1979) ever since I had listened to it enough to get into it... Which isn't all that many months ago. To me music is really quite a lot about memory: having some kind of familiarity with the music always seems to make it easy to fall in love it. In the process my brain might even create a memory of listening to the music in some specific place or situation. For me, that often nowadays becomes a memory of listening to the music while riding a bike to school and/or grocery store. Cool, right... Well, you can mostly turn the memories into something else, if you start listening to the music somewhere else.

Shine a Little Love opens the album and reveals a perfect disco song. I enjoy disco and don't mind at all that it is present even in Jeff Lynne's music. While the first track gets you into a good mood the next two songs go straight to the point. First comes Confusion: a song that is just as incredibly catchy as it is comforting. Need Her Love is the next song, a very traditional love ballad with such a loving mood, added with a hint of ELO melancholy.

Last Train To London returns to the disco theme. Don't Bring Me Down in the end of the album is another classic dancing song. I love everything on this album.. How could I not? The music is so catchy, happy, classy, 70s baroque disco/ballad/pop song gold! Jeff Lynne wrote this music from his heart and made it sound interesting, yet pleasant for anyone to listen to. How come I can only think of about three people that I know who care even a bit about this stuff, or this kind of stuff...

Well, if I knew more people who cared about this kind of stuff, I probably wouldn't be here, writing.

Too Busy to Blog... Or Not

Folks, readers, popsters... Sorry, once again, that I haven't been active in this blog lately. First, there was a time when I was quite busy with fulfilling my duties. That is what you get when you agree to work hard (more than) eight hours a day and get paid considerably less than what most people think is enough to survive. There was also a time when I wasn't able to use the Internet due to being out of communications range. After all that you just start forgetting that you were supposed to publish something on the internet.

Fortunately, music is always there to help. Listening to anything by, say, Electric Light Orchestra already makes life a lot easier. Jeff Lynne, just like any great musician/songwriter, disguises the hardships of life and, rather than just feeling sorry for oneself, weaves the hardships into beautiful, comforting songs. Gee, I should try to do something like that too!

Besides, team Finland just won gold at the ice hockey world championships. Sufficed to say, a childhood dream come true to see it happen after so many years.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Tasty stuff

I'm telling you, if I don't write about this band now, I may not do it for quite some time... The same goes for almost any band these days and the reason is simply my laziness.

It all began when I was watching TV... Or rather my brother was channel surfing and came across a video by a really good-sounding female rock band. In the end of the song I found out that it was Barbe-Q-Barbies, a band from Finland. I had to check these Barbies out, so I went to see them live. They rocked real nice and I enjoyed most of the songs immediately. The evening resulted in me going home with the band's debut album All Over You in my bag.

Listening to the album revealed that I had just discovered probably the closest possible Finnish 21st century female equivalent to 70s KISS. Cool 70s hard rock riffs drive this melodic, rocking, catchy music. This release is truly like a fresh blast from the past even though it came out in 2010. In fact, there is one real 70s song here, a cover of Wig-Wam Bam, which is really good. I also enjoy Twisted Little Sister, the more melancholic Dedication for a Friend, and of course Spell. The title track is also great. I wouldn't say there are really any weak links on the album.

So, this album is really all about straightforward rock & roll energy. There is definitely a lot of girl power here but even though the girls have a kick-ass attitude they are not angry. Their music is honest rock and the point is to play good songs. Barbe-Q-Barbies are actually quite experienced already because they have been around since 2002. Therefore the musicianship is on a high level as well as vocalist Niki Rock's skills. By the way, she often sounds just like Avril Lavigne! If only Avril made music this punchy these days...

Energetic, melodic rock with great sounds still makes my day. Like any superb female rock band, Barbe-Q-Barbies are also an inspiration for a wannabe musician like me. If I had friends who can play an instrument I would start a band like this right away!

Barbe-Q-Barbies MySpace Barbe-Q-Barbies Website
Also check out the music video for Spell

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


As usual, I forgot that my blog had gotten older, once again... Hooray for the three-year-old! I can't think of how much joy this blog has brought me and that it is all because of the great music there is.

Instead of blabbing more about this silly blog of mine I encourage you to check out another site that is currently celebrating its 10-year anniversary. One Chord to Another is a brilliant site (nowadays a blog) that has introduced me to dozens of great bands from Finland and elsewhere. The focus is on folk/country, americana, power pop, indie pop, and other cool things.

If you are looking for stuff mentioned above or maybe wish to acquaint yourself with the best alt. pop from Finland, check it out now!

One Chord to AnotherOne Chord to Another on Facebook

In the Heart of Pop

For some reason it is not very easy to discover new excellent bands. I don't work too hard trying to find them but I think I have discovered a new one. Originally I saw the name Secret Powers in email newsletters from Not Lame. I had even ordered myself an album by the band but never really had time to get into it... I got several other cool CDs at the same time.

A few days ago I decided to check out an album by Secret Powers: Secret Powers and the Electric Family Choir (2009). The album cover seems to refer to a sunshine pop band of the 60s but the music is something a bit different. The overall feel surely is all about spectacular 60s pop hooks in the spirit of the Beatles. There is also a lot of influence from ELO: big harmonies, beatlesque melodies. The result sounds quite a bit like Wondermints which is always a good thing. Extra points go of course to great songwriting and arrangements and musical variety – a country song in the middle of the album is just cool. To cut a long story short, and even though my acquaintance with this band surely has been short, I am most definitely willing to announce Secret Powers as classic pop perfection!

So, even at first this album sounded really interesting. I was probably too stressed out to be able to hear the absolute beauty but now I am starting to hear it. One of the best things is that Secret Powers has released several albums during a relatively short time period. I am going to get them all.

I can't help loving the dramatic feel of Lazy Men, soft pop of By the Sea, Treat Your Mother Nice (Beach Boys, anyone?) and Misery (ELO alert!!), country of Ghost Town, Wondermints psych-pop of You Know It's Time... Everything here is really good. Gee, I am just really excited about this stuff! It is melancholic (but so is ELO, too), creative, carefully arranged and has soul.

Many popsters have already checked this band out but if you haven't, go ahead... There are some really excellent songs at MySpace. On the website there are some videos, including one for Orange Trees which is a song from the Electric Choir album. The video has some quite violent imagery but I guess that is the point of it.

All in all, lovely music... I'm in love.

Secret Powers WebsiteSecret Powers at MySpace