10 Best Pop Music of 2014 by Mike Baron

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One: THE PINECONES: Ooh! (Reel Cod)

An instant classic and a masterpiece. Paul Linklater’s Toronto-based trio makes incandescent, luminous psychedelic rock that draws on the Yardbirds, the Hollies, the Beatles, the whole power pop panoply, sounding instantly familiar yet refreshingly new. Ooh! detonates like a thermonuclear bomb at the corner of Sunset and Vine and doesn’t let up, beginning with the Yardbirds/Hollies mash-up of “Gloomy Monday” in which Linklater’s guitar demands attention with fleet riffing usually associated with Al DiMeola or Les Paul. “It’s Always On My Mind” ambles in like the Lovin’ Spoonful with an operatic, almost vocally expressive guitar solo.

Linklater’s guitar sounds like Segovia on the exuberant “She’s So Confident.” “Come On Back” is pure psychedelia from San Fran’s Summer of Love, with strains of George Harrison, the Pillbugs, and John Cipollina. “That’s the Way” harks back to the great harmony groups of the fifties and sixties like the Everlys and Righteous Brothers due to the close harmonies of Linklater and bassist Brent Randall, which occur on most songs. “In ‘n’ Out” is Brian Wilson elegance: pure, simple and surprising. Every song is a winner.

Two: SPIRIT KID: Is Happening

Spirit Kid is Emeen Zarookian and Jeremy Mendicino, two superb poppers working a rich vein of hook-heavy pop also mined by David Myhr and Greg Pope. Emeen sings exactly how he looks, a rockin’ hobbit whose munchkin-like vocals perfectly match the material. “Everything Is Old” kicks things off with Kinks-like swagger and stadium-ready guitar. Guitar work throughout features superb dynamics incorporating almost subliminal classic riffs. Guitars drop out for one bar as and Emeen sings over percussion, a fresh bracer before the guitars come thundering back. Some of the songs run into one another like a circus train rolling by. “Is This Heaven’s” bass resembles like a sounding whale while “Tood Good For Winning” effortlessly summons XTC’s English Settlement.

“Miss Communication Breakdown” is in a Greg Pope vein with an abrupt phase shift into acoustic jangle for several bars. “Dot the I” explodes over a live wire guitar and infections hand-clap beat while “Heart Attack” rivals “Come On Eileen” for the sheer number of hooks.

Three: SECRET POWERS: 6

Ho hum. Another brilliant power pop masterpiece from this Montana-based quintet, overflowing with Beatlesque flourishes and killer hooks. Frontman Ryan Mayne’s six songs employ his characteristic descending themes beginning with “Bitter Sun,” a Jellyfish-type with cascading harmonies and an art-rock ELO-ish bridge, followed by the delirious “Palarium” with Beach Boys chorus behind a McCartney-esque melody. John Brownell’s “Spare Parts” has a Squeeze vibe. Mayne’s “Reservoir” slips under your skin with a rockabilly beat — dig that piano — and a massive hook. By the time you get to Mayne’s “Paula Brown” all resistance has fled. This is fist-pumping complex power pop that belongs on the shelf with the afore-mentioned bands, the Zombies, The Knickerbockers and their ilk. Brownell’s “The Way the Story Goes” rivals Spooner’s “The Way the Stories Go” in exactly the same way with a Queen-like guitar interlude. “Ready To Get Old And Die” is a future anthem, something Queen might sing and a fitting salute.

Four: WYATT FUNDERBURK: Novel and Profane (Jolly Ronnie)

Based in Nashville, Funderburk has contributed to records by The Wellingtons, The Connection and Linus of Hollywood while his own musical vector falls in the power pop tradition of David Myhr, the Davenports and Campbell Stokes Sunshine Recorder with whom he shares an affinity for effortless pop hooks. “Summer” has a Ben Folds/Fountains of Wayne vibe while “You Know What To Do,” a goodbye boyfriend song, has an elegant bridge and the type of one/two harmonies popularized by the dB’s. “Feeling Good Tonight” sounds the most Nashville with a loping vocal and cowboy yodel.

“Never Seen the Sun” bounces along with that one/two harmony while “North on 65″ is as rich as Duncan Maitland’s music. Finally, “If I Ever Wanted Easier” is a Raspberry-worthy rave-up. This is how you end an album, and yet another reason we want albums and not single song downloads.

Funderburk now collaborating with Explorers Club’s Jason Brewer.

Five: HUSHDROPS: Tomorrow

This power-pop trio has the kind of quirky melodic sense found in The Posies, The Quarter After, and the Hang-Ups but always sound like themselves, due in part to the kind of A/B harmonies championed by the dB’s. Well that’s a lot of reference but it’s all good, starting with the Kon-Tiki-ish title track. These guys have a huge sound and it’s sometimes difficult to believe it’s only a trio. “This Town’s” guitar winds out like Jorma Kaukonen or Clapton with fuzztone so thick you could wear as a robe. “Up Against It” is slippery and delirious. “Take A Little Pain” sounds like something Burt Bacharach might have written, while “Find Her” is a subline Duncan Maitland-ish stunner. “Take Your Places” pings, zips, whines and shoots off sparks. “You Never Put Me Out” is a cousin to anything off Pet Sounds with a guitar solo that slots into place like the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle.

Six: ADRIAN BOURGEOIS: Pop/Art

Bourgeois’ melodic genius is on extravagant display on this two disc set with virtually no filler, beginning with the piano-driven ballad “New December” which starts somber before soaring into poignance on strings of angels. As a songwriter, Bourgeois has a Todd Rundgren sensibility and an ear for bridges and hooks. His songs, such as the symphonic “Time Can’t Fly A Plane” seem bigger than their four minutes with more switchbacks than a mountain road. “Everybody Knows It Was Me” is a Ben Folds style rocker that starts sweetly but finds grit in the bridge and Bourgeois’ sweet tenor is spot on. His distinctive harmonica, part country, part blues dominates many of these songs including “Pictures of Incense,” another Todd Rundgren charmer that stiffens up in the bridge. There’s more than a twinge of Dylan in a lot of these including “Jonah” and “My Sweet Enemy,” which features banjo and harmonica. “Have It Your Way” is an urgent stomper with Ricky adding the high harmonies.

“Shot In the Dark” is a masterful blend of major and minor chords. “The Lost And the Free” is as bouncy and infectious as the 5th Dimension and follows an internal logic that leads to catharsis. “Better” is another melodic gem with the ineluctable progressions of Duncan Maitland. “Parachutes” and “Still Life” bring that symphonic Jellyfish sound, while the romantic “Celebrate” could have come off a Jeff Buckley record. “Rainy Day Parade” ends this cornucopia in folk ballad mode, again invoking Dylan.

Seven: RANSOM AND THE SUBSET: No Time To Lose (Tune Stack)

A late summer breath of fresh air, this trio led by singer/songwriter RanDair Porter channels classic power pop in the Fountains of Wayne, Churchills, Goldbergs mode. RanDair sings in an endearing, slightly lugubrious joker’s tenor beginning with the Jellyfish-like “Anna..’ “When Will I See You” is typical of their sound, enticing, bouncy, killer hook, highly reminiscent of Fountains. “Leaviong With You” is pulsing rock with an irresistible A/B harmony on the bridge while “Million Out Of Me” is an ode to get-rich-quick schemes with a touch of Badfinger and Vegas With Randolph.

“No Time To Lose” is a heartbreaking McCartney-esque ballad about a woman desperate for love. “She needs a husband, she needs a man, someone to love her, he’ll understand.” “Questions” is a cry of existential angst perfectly suited to RanDair’s sardonic voice. “Baby Cry” is an unberably sad song about a dog. Ransom delivers terrific dynamics, hooks, harmonies, and deep emotion.

Eight: THE LEGAL MATTERS (Blunk Street)

Detroit power pop trio consisting of Andy Reed, Chris Richards and Keith Klingensmith have produced a chiming, multi-part harmony celebration of the Everly Brothers, C,S&N, Hollies, Byrds and Beach Boys blended into a sing-along series of seriously sweet songs beginning with the “Rite of Spring,” whose close-coupled A/B harmonies recall the dB’s. The acapella passage puts the emphasis on the honeyed voices. You can almost hear the Hollies singing “Stubborn” or the Everly Brothers singing “Have You Changed Your Mind.”

“Mary Anne” is something Brian Wilson might have written ca. Pet Sounds while “So Long Sunny Days” is a languid surf and sun drenched slice of canyon rock with liquid guitar. There’s a hint of Jeff Buckley in the gorgeous “Outer Space,” but it’s all gorgeous.

Nine: MICHAEL DERMOT: Pilot

Strong debut of emotionally and musically complex hortatory rock in the manner of Andy Reed, Captain Wilberforce, by the end of the record you will be able to identify this band blindfolded. This trio delivers a dense sound with fuzztone on mostly mid-tempo burners that stick in the brain, beginning with the Billy Joel/Michael Penn-like “Another World.” “In My Mind” begins as a doo-wop powerhouse with Dermot’s left hand heavy on the keyboards, but it seems to be working toward a chord change that never appears.

“Destiny Park” features excellent dynamics that guide you through a series of gentle rhythmic rapids and a haunting bridge. “KONTS”, the “King of Nothing to Say,” is an anthemic condemnation like “Nowhere Man” or “Dedicated Follower of Fashion” with a carving knife guitar solo. “Haunted” is epic and “Unforgiving Night” is a bittersweet emotionally devastating song with gorgeous chords.

Ten: THE HANGABOUTS: Illustrated Bird

Suddenly from out of the blue with mere days left in the year comes this polished gem of tuneful rock in the tradition of the Red Button, The Galaxies and The Everly Brothers. John Lowry and Gregory Addington have that kind of harmonic magic. “Roman Forum” starts things off in an Eagles/Hollies vein. “Cut Down” has a swooningly gorgeous bridge, as do most of these songs. The boys’ keyboard work is impeccable from chiming organs to background burbles. Touch of McCartney in “November” while “I’ll Get Over It” has some of that Nillson magic. “Dr. Dragon” would be a good theme song for a Roger Moore 007 movie, but not for Connery or Craig. “I Wonder Why” combines elements of the Red Button, the Offbeat and the Beach Boys.

 

 

 

“Jackolope Jones”

CHAPTER FORTY-ONE “Jackalope Jones”

 

Friday couldn’t arrive soon enough. Josh wanted to take Fig to dinner but she wasn’t biting. “Just pick me up at nine.”

The last light was fading in the west as Josh pulled up at the foot of the steps leading to Fig’s bungalow. He kicked out, climbed the steps and knocked. A piebald cat leaped onto her porch and twined around Josh’s ankles. The door opened.

“Come on in,” Fig said. “I’ll be ready in a minute.”

The cat came in with him. The room featured hilariously mismatched furniture — a Queen Ann sofa, a beanbag chair, a round oak dining table, an odd collection of kitchen chairs. Southwest style rugs on the hardwood floor and a mutt of unknown provenance on the rugs thumping his tail against the hardwood floor.

“That’s Mr. Schermerhorn,” Fig said from a back room. “He’s very friendly.” She pointed to the cat. “That’s Squishburton.”

Josh stooped to pet. “I’ve been thinking of getting a dog.”

“Really? Well I hope you’ll adopt one from the pound instead of paying hundreds of dollars for a purebred.”

“That’s the plan.,”

Fig danced into the living room wearing jeans, a black T-shirt and a denim jacket, a simple strand of pearls around her neck. “Let’s go!”

Fig got on the pillion and wrapped her arms around Josh’s waist. The Club was hopping when they arrived. Located next to a cemetery, the Club was built in a 170 year old barn that had been renovated and added onto until it consisted of a series of mis-matched segments. The parking lot was jammed and most of the curbside parking was gone but there was always room for cycles. Josh found a spot with six other chops right in front. He looked at the license plates. He always looked at the license plates. Two of the bikes were from Iowa.

“That’s Jackalope’s bike,” Josh said pointing to a Fat Bob with apes.

“Who’s Jackalope?” Fig said.

Josh grinned. “Wait ’til you meet him.”

Josh paid their five buck cover charge, got stamped and went into the big room in back with a stage and a wrap-around balcony containing booths. Three, big, loud, beefy Bedouins had commandeered a table in the corner. As Josh and Fig entered a big, rangy man with a mullet wearing a flash-covered leather vest stood and waved.

“YO CHAINSAW! OVER HERE!”

Fig looked at Josh. “Chainsaw?”

“It’s a long story.” He led her by the hand up to the table where the boys had pushed back and added two chairs.

A big guy with a mullet stood. “Man, I can’t believe that bullshit went down at your place!”

“Wild shit, man!” said a man shaped like a haystack. “Why didn’t you waste those Insane Assholes yourself?”

“I’m not allowed to have guns, boys. This is Fig. Fig, this mullet-headed fool is Tim, the fat one’s Bad Bob, and the dude with the perfect hole smack in the center of his forehead is Jackalope Jones.”

Jackalope stood, took Fig’s hand, and bent to kiss it like a continental fop.

“I’ve heard of you!” Fig said.

Jackalope looked up. He was a wiry dude in his mid-forties wearing a denim vest with flash, a white Sturgis-T, starting to bald. He had another, smaller hole directly above the big one, at his hairline.

“They tell you why they call me Jackalope?”

“No,” Fig said bemused. Josh held the chair for her and sat beside her.

Tim, Bad Bob and Jackalope all started to talk at once. Josh slammed his palm on the table and they stopped, startled.

Josh pointed to Jackalope. “Let Jackalope tell it.”

“I used to be plain Jack Jones,” Jackalope said.

“You always liked jackalopes,” Tim said.

“That’s true,” Jackalope said. “But that’s not how I got my name. Couple years ago we were riding up near Menomonie, who was it, Tim? You, Bad Bob, Josh, the Big Kahuna, and Orpheus.”

“Anybody remember that skank Orpheus brought along?” Bad Bob said.

“Shut the fuck up, Bob!” Jackalope said. “I’m trying to tell a story here! Anyhow it’s like ten p..m. in July, we’re riding along this snakey-ass country road and I’m in the lead. I come around a corner and there’s a fucking eight-point buck standing in the middle of the road. I hit it! I hit it in such a way that its horn went in here,” he pointed to the hole in the middle of his forehead, “and came out here.”

He pointed to the smaller hole at the hairline.

“So all these fucks pile off their bikes, grab hold of the buck and slash it to death with their buck knives, right? Then Josh takes a saw out of his saddlebags and he saws the fucking antler off the deer, leaving it in my head until they can get me to a hospital. And Bad Bob says…”

“You look like a fuckin’ jackalope!” Bad Bob, Tim and Josh all said.

Fig laughed.

“The EMTs and county cops were stunned by the amount of blood,” Tim said.

“And I survived none the worse for wear,” Jackalope finished grandly.

 

Blog–Rock and Roll Movies

ROCK AND ROLL MOVIES

There are many good rock and roll movies. I’m not talking documentaries like Hail, Hail Rock and Roll!, The Last Waltz, or Stop Making Sense, I’m referring to rock and roll fictions. Bill Haley’s Rock Around the Clock is the grandaddy of them all but rock movies didn’t really take off until the eighties.
American Hot Wax appeared in 1978. It’s the story of the first great rock and roll show hosted by Alan Freed, played by Tim McIntyre. Inexplicably, this masterpiece has never been issued on DVD. It’s the only movie in which Jay Leno doesn’t play himself, unlike triumphant appearances by Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins.
Absolute Beginners is another overlooked masterpiece, this one about the birth of rock and roll in fifties England. Released in ’86, directed by Julien Temple, Absolute begins with the mother of all tracking shots putting A Touch of Evil to shame. It follows teen phographer Colin as he tracks the nascent movement and feature performances by Ray Davies, David Bowie, Sade, and the music of Charles Mingus.
Mark Wahlberg’s Rock Star is another excellent movie recounting the story of how the lead singer of a tribute band devoted to Steel Dragon actually becomes Steel Dragon’s lead singer. It is loosely inspired by the real-life story of Tim “Ripper” Owens, singer in a Judas Priest tribute band who was chosen to replace singer Rob Halford when he left the band. You will never forget the scene where Wahlberg debuts with Steel Dragon.
Tom Hanks’ That Thing You Do perfectly captures the innocence and exuberance of the birth of rock and roll in America in 1964 as it follows the fortunes the hilariously misnamed “The Oneders,” whom, it turns out, are one-hit wonders. Stars Hanks look-alike Tom Everett Scott.
Still Crazy is my favorite. It follows the adventures of the heavy metal band Strange Fruit who fell apart at a rock festival in 1970, only to find them reforming twenty years later. Everyone is brilliant, particularly Billy Nighy as the pretentious lead singer and Billy Connelly as their stage crew/manager. We follow their hapless tour through Europe but a funny thing happens on the road. They keep getting better. And rock movies don’t get much better than this.
Some compare Still Crazy to Spinal Tap, but there’s a huge dif. Still Crazy takes its characters seriously. Spinal Tap remains the king of mockumentaries.