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