35 Reviews in 7 Days, Part 5

by John M. Borack

CLIFF HILLIS – Many Happy Returns

Cliff Hillis keeps releasing EPs. Cliff’s EPs are always very, very good. I keep hoping for a full-length record from Cliff, but Cliff keeps releasing these damned EPs. His latest damned EP begins with three Hillis-written tunes, all of which are great. “Superfluous” mines a softer pop sound while still retaining the non-stop melodicism for which Hillis has become lauded. The damned EP concludes with three co-writes with Dan Bern, Bill DeMain and Robbie Rist, respectively, all of which are also great. The lauded Hillis melodicism rears its lovely head again on “Never in a Million Years” (the Hillis/Rist-written one), which is an easygoing pop gem, like pretty much everything here. Hey, Cliff – release a damned album, would ya? Grade: A





POP CO-OP – Four State Solution

In which four guys (including Spongetones bassist Steve Stoeckel) living in four different states write and record twelve tunes without ever being in the same room at the same time. That’s newfangled technology for ya, and that’s Pop Co-Op. All four members write and sing, and there are more than a few highlights: the Stonesy rocker “Feint of Heart,” the sweet “Forgotten Secrets” and “A Trick of the Light,” and the spiffy “Malaprop Girl” are all choice cuts, with Stoeckel’s Who-like “It Ain’t Easy Being a Boy” easily the best thing here. The only head-shaking moment is the ‘80s pastiche “When Wave Was New,” which seeks to be a clever, “Life is a Rock (But the Radio Rolled Me)”-type ditty, but instead ends up as a bit of a cringeworthy new wave memoir that seems out of place. Regardless, Four State Solution is certainly a positive first step. (And don’t miss the band’s latest and greatest track, “You Don’t Love Me Anymore,” available on the fabulous This is Rock ‘n’ Roll Radio, Volume 4 compilation.) Grade: B




Brooding melancholic sounds (“My Heavy Soul”), fierce rockers (“All Died Pretty,” “Come Down From Your Raincloud”), Tom Petty-ish jangle (“In Her Raincoat”), gentle, bossa nova-inflected pop (“The Girl of Many Tribes”), punky swagger (“Monkey on a Stick”), psych-dipped Byrds (“Babylon”), and an awesome Creation cover (“Biff Bang Pow”): Southern California’s Plasticsoul brings all this to the table on Therapy, mining influences such as the Who, early Pink Floyd and other ‘60s icons to fashion a record that’s steeped in tradition while still sounding totally fresh and entertaining as hell. Steven Wilson has been heading up Plasticsoul for awhile now and this is not only their finest record to date, but one of the best releases I’ve heard thus far in 2017. Grade: A





BIG STAR – The Best of Big Star

This one compiles tunes from each of the band’s three superb LPs, and includes some variations of the familiar (three single versions, two single edits, and a single mix) and other songs you (better) know and (should) love. Although it isn’t stated anywhere, it seems as if some of those other tunes have alternate mixes than the versions I’m familiar with – for example, the horns sound more upfront on “Feel” and the mix on the bridge of “Thank You Friends” sounds different – but that doesn’t change the fact that this is some of the finest pop music ever recorded. Nice packaging as well. Grade: A+






GAME THEORY – Two Steps From the Middle Ages

Omnivore Recordings concludes their Game Theory reissue series with 1988’s wonderful Two Steps From the Middle Ages, quite possibly the late Scott Miller and company’s most accessible record. Songs such as “Throwing the Election,” the sweetly swaying “Leilani,” “Rolling With the Moody Girls” and the gently mocking “In a Delorean” are dripping with hooks, and Mitch Easter’s swell production gives the tunes a slightly psychedelic edge. Eleven previously unreleased bonus tracks encompass demos, concert recordings, and a few live radio sessions, with one being a great version of Let’s Active’s “Bad Machinery.” Lots of cool photos and lovingly written liner notes in the booklet (including a tribute to drummer Gil Ray, who passed away last year), and the disc appropriately closes with a live version of “Sleeping Through Heaven.” Rest in peace, Scott and Gil. Grade: A


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