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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.