By John Borack
Lovers of melodic pop, power pop, soft pop, mod pop and/or psych pop (whew!) have been digging David Bash’s International Pop Overthrow music festival — and the various-artists CD compilation that bears the same name — for the past 11 years. The latest installment, International Pop Overthrow, Volume 11 (Not Lame Recordings) is a triple-CD, 66-track extravaganza that contains some sublimely sweet slices of melodic yumminess just waiting to be discovered.
“Go!” by the Finnish band Daisy snags the coveted leadoff spot on Disc 1, and it’s a well-deserved honor. The track is a pure delight, blanketing some modern electronic sheen over a melody that sounds like classic Cars with some Beatle-style vocalizing. Another Disc 1 winner — and perhaps the best thing on IPO 11 — is The Backroom’s “Lost Without You,” which mines the sweet, summery sounds of the ’60s (think prime New Colony Six) without sounding dated or tired. The Private Jets and Jellyfish’s Roger Joseph Manning, Jr. also score big on the first disc.
Disc 2 is highlighted by Wiretree’s pretty “Big Coat,” The Dirty Royals’ Plimsouls-like “Josephine,” Preoccupied Pipers’ endearingly quirky “Little Jimmy the Giant” and Phamous Phaces’ acoustic charmer “Back to Liverpool.” The final disc finds the flawless mid-tempo guitar pop of The Tomorrows, The Afternoons and the Generous Days taking center stage.
While there are certainly some less than stellar moments to be found (Steve Caraway’s cornball “Gone, Gone, Gone” is retro in the most frightening sense of the word, and Philip Vandermost’s overwrought “Since Mountains Have Risen” falls all over itself trying to be earnest), all in all IPO 11 is a collection — like the 10 that came before it — that belongs in any self-respecting pop fan’s library.
Kyle Vincent’s Where You Are (Songtree Records) is another in a long string of high-quality, exquisitely sung and impeccably performed releases by the crown prince of soft pop. Far removed from his glammy mid-’80s days in Candy and even from his 1997 power-poppin’ solo debut, this is the sound of an artist maturing in all the right ways. Warm, inviting melodies mingle with nostalgic, hopeful lyrics (the leadoff cut, “It’s Gonna Be a Great Day,” being a prime example) to create a calm and serene sonic palette that’s easy to like. If this was the ’70s, you’d no doubt be hearing these songs all over your AM radio.
The Spring Collection
The Spring Collection’s new one, titled In Between (Blindspot Records), is another low-key, below the radar treat, with leader Joe Mendoza (brother of Bart Mendoza from longtime mod-pop stalwarts The Shambles) offering up 13 swell examples of his hyper-melodic style, all sung in a winning, everyman voice with plenty of Rickenbacker jangle. Covers of the Everly Brothers, UK mod gurus Squire and The Jetset, and The Byrds (an unplugged take of “Mr. Spaceman”) fit in nicely.
The Yum Yums
“It’s time to kick ass and chew bubblegum,” intones a voice at the beginning of the Yum Yums’ delicious long-player Whatever Rhymes With Baby (Pop Detective Records).
The Norwegian quintet has been following this credo since 1993, churning out album after album of high-energy, bubblegum-flavored punk pop. “I Wanna Be the One” kicks the new one off, and it’s a warp-speed popfest hooked by an irresistible chorus of “I wanna wanna wanna wanna wanna wanna be the one” — genius! A batch of guitar riffs the Ramones would have killed for, unforgettable melodies and energy to burn makes for an unbeatable combination. Cue up “Sugar Rush,” “I Lied,” “Let’s Rock and Roll” — hell, anything here, actually — for an authentic dose of in-your-face pop goodness. Essential.
Cliff Hillis should be a major star. There, I said it … and his latest release, The Long Now (Tallboy Records), proves it. It’s a stylish, thoughtful, consistently excellent collection of catchy pop tunes that never fails to engage. A few tunes written with the Rembrandts’ Danny Wilde (“She Sees” and “Northern Lights”) are top-shelf, but there’s really nothing here less than very good, as Hillis is a supremely talented craftsman whose way with a hook is undeniable throughout. Not flashy, not life-changing — just great.
Chris Richards And The Subtractions
One of the joys of this pop writing gig is running across discs that come flying out of left field and lodge themselves in the ‘ol CD player for quite a while. One such recent goodie is Sad Sounds of the Summer by Chris Richards and the Subtractions (Gangplank Records). The Michigan-based Richards has been on the fringes of the pop scene for quite a while, with bands such as The Pantookas, Hippodrome and the Phenomenal Cats, but he comes a cropper on this record, with track after track (there’s 10 of ‘em) of propulsive power pop with sticky melodies. Richards’ voice recalls a smoother version of the Undertones’ Feargal Sharkey, and is bolstered by honey-sweet backing vox. Picks to click: “Consolation,” “Take it From Me” and “I Do Declare” (with drummer Larry Grodsky doing his best Keith Moon).
The Summer Suns
“The Summer Suns music was inspired by the joyous melodic beauty of 1960s pop, beautiful girls, and love.” So says the liner notes to the band’s Greatest compilation (House of Wax Records), which includes 22 of the Aussie combo’s finest moments.
Led by Kim Williams’ slightly dusky vocals and for a time featuring Australian power-pop titan Dom Mariani (The Stems, Someloves, DM3), the Summer Suns’ material is sweet, jangly, chiming and often quite speedy (in tempo and in length; 15 of the tunes here run 3:00 or less). “Girl in a Mexican Restaurant” is a bona-fide classic (1:43 of Byrdsy splendor played at a breakneck pace), while “Waiting For My Love” is a blissful slower one. Obscure, but fine stuff.
Out a while now, Splitsville’s Let’s Go! The Best of Splitsville (Popboomerang/Zip) is worthy of mention. It’s a fine compilation, hand-picked by the band, that collects most of the East Coast combo’s best cuts, from their initial days as a somewhat jokey punk-pop act (remember “Come Back to the Five and Dime, Larry Storch, Larry Storch?”), through their mid-’60s mimicry phase, up to their most recent release, 2003’s diverse triumph Incorporated.
Greatness abounds: the jaunty, piano-based “Ponce de Leon”; the perky Fountains Of Wayne-like “Big Red Sun”; the snotty blast of “The Kids Who Kill for Sugar”; the lost power-pop classic “Why It Can’t Be”; the amazing ’60s pastiche “Forever”; the winking Left Banke cop “Tuesday Through Saturday”; and the pounding “Headache,” with its amazing bridge. The 25 tracks leave you hoping for more from Splitsville.
An entertaining all-covers record by The Shambles. 20 Explosive Hits (Black Cherry Group) is a ball from start to finish, cobbling together 22 tracks dating from 1992-2007 that were released as singles or recorded for various comps and tributes.
It’s certainly a varied record, with nifty versions of tunes by everyone from The Birds (Ron Wood’s first group), The Zombies, Oasis and the Monkees to Connie Francis (a storming, yet sweet, version of “Warm This Winter”), Sam Phillips, Neil Diamond and the Cardigans. Any band that can pull off a version of the Mary Tyler Moore Show theme (dolled up here as a warm, jangly treat) as well as Ringo Starr’s “Snookeroo” and even “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” — in a medley with “Rhythm of the Rain,” for corn’s sake — is worthy of attention. Genius move: taking the Raspberries’ countrified “Might as Well” and turning it into a nice little power-pop number.