Tag Archives: Power Pop

Album of the Day: Snowball ii, “Flashes of Quincy”

First things first: “Snowball” is a strange name for a band that writes music this warm (their moniker is, of course, a Simpsons reference). Throughout their third album, Flashes of Quincy, the Los Angeles outfit—primarily the vehicle of Jackson Wargo—serves up one sparkling power-pop gem after another, all of them powered by immaculate, high-stacked vocal harmonies and sterling silver guitars. Think of it as a long-delayed sequel to Teenage Fanclub’s Bandwagonesque: big, ringing songs that mask wry, observational lyrics.

Album opener “Anais & Me” is the ideal exhibit A: in each verse, Wargo speculates about the life of an invisible protagonist, filling each line with tiny, specific details (“I’ll bet you’re blowing off your curfew/puffing smokes in mists of perfume/ I’ll bet your daddy’s a fascist/ and that you piss him off in Spanish”) before gliding into the song’s gleaming-gold chorus. In “Sear ‘Em!” Wargo’s heartsick tenor floats over crashing drums and slashing guitars, a push-pull dynamic that defines much of Quincy. The guitars stay serrated and cutting, but Wargo gingerly stacks vocal harmonies 10-stories high on top of them, like a man engaged in some perilous game of musical Jenga. The chords that drive “Resident of the United States” claw and punch, but Wargo’s voice struts up the center, spit-shined and unscathed. Mostly, Quincy feels like a field guide to writing perfect pop songs—which is, in itself, an accomplishment. Other artists who attempt such straightforward hitmaking end up with music that’s either cloying or boring. Snowball ii prove that there’s still life in familiar formats—you just have to be driven enough to look for it.

J. Edward Keyes

Tommy Stinson’s Life of Hustle

Tommy Stinson

“It’s mayhem over here,” Tommy Stinson exclaims breathlessly from his home in Hudson, NY. “I’ve got hand-stuffed boxes of my new Bash & Pop record with cool extra bits for contest winners ready to go out. I’ve got gear going out to the van, and I need to load my guitar. If you could see what the fuck is going on in my house right now…”

In his 50th year, the Replacements bassist—and frontman for cult power pop outfit Bash & Pop—still has the manic energy of a young puppy. He swears like a kid delighted at hearing the words fly from his mouth, and the new Bash & Pop album Anything Could Happen, the insanely belated follow-up to 1993’s Friday Night is Killing Me, pulses with the optimism of youth. Since joining the Replacements at the age of 12 in 1979 at the urging of his brother Bob, who tragically succumbed to the tolls of hard living in 1995, Stinson has been all about the hustle. In between solo records, as if hell-bent on masochism, Stinson shouldered the bass for the notoriously volatile Guns ’N Roses from 1998-2014. Not only did he win over hardcore G’N’R fans, he survived the Wrath of Latter-Day Axl.

On January 12, the new and improved Bash & Pop touring band, featuring lead guitarist Steve “The Sleeve” Selvidge (The Hold Steady), Joe “The Kid” Sirois (Mighty Mighty Bosstones) on drums and Justin “Carl” Perkins on bass guitar, hit the road. With an opening date in his native Minnesota at the legendary 7th St. Entry, things have come full circle for the freshly engaged Stinson.

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Album of the Day: Permit, “Vol. 1”

Barreling from start to finish in less time than it takes to brew a pot of coffee, Vol. 1 from Indiana duo Permit crams a truckload of hooks into songs the size of a Smart car. Not one of them crosses the two-minute mark, and that’s to the record’s great benefit: rocketing from verse to chorus and back again, Permit have figured out the trick to writing pop songs is to double-down on the melody; everything else is just window dressing.

A side project of Drew Auscherman of Hoops, Permit trades that band’s laid-back, meditative indie-rock for power and velocity. “Track #1” (apparently, they don’t have time for song titles either) revs up hiccupping anxiety pop to light speed, guitars jittering away frantically vocals morose and mournful. “I’m having trouble moving on,” goes the chorus, just a few seconds before the band does just that. “Track #2” shrinks the swagger of Thin Lizzy-style radio rock to thimble size, the blistering riffs sounding so synthetic they could soundtrack Spy Hunter. Even though the songs are compact, they still find space to spread out: “Track #4” is laced up with a boot-stomping country-fried guitar riff, and the whispery, subdued vocal melody on “Track #6” contrasts beautifully with the blown-out, in-the-red instrumentation. Vol. 1’s 11th hour release date makes it the perfect salve for an often wearying year: turn off your brain, turn up the volume; repeat as necessary.

J. Edward Keyes

The New Face of Power Pop

power-pop-600

By the early ’70s, the Beatles had become something of a whipping boy amongst more experimental rock bands. Groups like The Stooges and The Velvet Underground favored raw riffs over layered harmonies and, in direct contrast to the sumptuousness of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, kept production minimal and gritty.

But despite this growing insurgency, there were still a number acts who fondly remembered the Beatles’ mop-top era. Badfinger, The Raspberries, and Cheap Trick all worked Who-style riffage through their early-Fab-Four template, and while they all netted some radio play for their songwriting prowess, they too were nonetheless often tossed off as “throwbacks” both by critics as well as stadium rock-oriented FM programmers. But by the end of the decade, those three bands—along with Big Star’s slow-burn influence—had sketched out the template for power pop, creating a light at the end of punk’s increasingly dark tunnel for bands who didn’t join hardcore’s macho march into the Reagan years.

The Knack were arguably the best known of the bunch, distilling the ’70s neo-Help! twists into tight, two-minute tunes with just the right amount of lyrical naughtiness. They had the sole huge hit of the first wave of power pop with “My Sharona,” in 1979. Toss in the Flamin’ Groovies, The Romantics, and then a hefty pile of awesome also-rans (the Shoes, Dwight Twilley, Paul Collins Beat, Holly & the Italians), and sure as hell shoulda-beens (Real Kids, The Nerves, Niki & the Corvettes, Milk ‘n’ Cookies, Shivvers), and the industry had itself a certifiable trend from about 1978-81.

That moment came bubbling back in the mid ’90s, in the midst of grunge’s big, moaning moment. As an antidote, loads of garage bands started turning to power pop reissues, like Rhino’s excellent DIY series, as well as the more accessible late ‘80s bands that sprang from the original trend. It was easy to find used copies of ‘80s major label power pop acts like the Go-Gos, the Plimsouls, the Bangles, and the Smithereens, and soon, The Posies, Teenage Fanclub, Lemonheads, Matthew Sweet, and Weezer were bringing a jangly sound to predominantly heavy alternative rock radio playlists.

Today, power pop’s influence continues to be felt in a host of new bands. Despite varying production budgets, all these artists stick to power pop’s basic themes: the timeless desire to get over that missed kiss, that jerk math teacher, or the waning weeks of summer. All of them specialize in under-three minute tunes, with three ringing chords and gum-chewing beats.

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