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Power Pop Plus: New Release Roundup

The latest discs from the Legal Matters, John Dunbar and more

The Legal Matters - Chapter Three (Futureman)

As the title would suggest, this is the third full-length offering from Michigan popsters the Legal Matters, whose membership rolls include Keith Klingensmith, Chris Richards, and Andy Reed. All three sing—their pristine signature harmonies pervade nearly all of the dozen tunes—and Richards and Reed each composed six songs. It's their strongest release to date, with a slap of sunshine right out of the gate with "Light Up the Sky," a Pet Sounds-worthy ballad in "Passing Chord," and what might be their best-ever track, "The Painter," which sounds like some sort of otherworldly cross between a primo Wings ballad and a Plastic Ono Band number. Other numbers showcase a lyrical depth that is most welcomed, little daubs of synthesizer here and there, and, of course, some of the silkiest harmonies in the indie-pop biz. Don't miss the plaintively lovely "You Sure Can't Blame Her" and the Zombies-like psych-pop moves on a few of the tunes. Great care was obviously taken with every aspect of Chapter Three and it certainly shows—this is a top-shelf winner. Grade: A


sparkle*jets u.k. - Bamboo Lounge (Liberation Hall)

Wow, has it really been 20 years since sjuk's sophomore album hit the shelves? (Hard to believe, but yes, it's true.) To celebrate the anniversary of the Orange County, CA-based combo's superfine record, it's been reissued on CD (and digitally) with six bonus tracks, two of which are previously unreleased. Fronted by singers/songwriters Michael Simmons and Susan West, Bamboo Lounge is a delight, with Simmons' classic/indie rock sensibilities sharing room with West's quirkier delights. West takes the lead on "Consult Your Physician," "Real Nice Time" and "They Shoot Square Dancers, Don't They?" all of which are an absolute hoot—West's left-field lyrical view and expressive vocals and the band's on-point instrumental attack (secret weapon: Jamie Knight's powerful bass) combine to create something special and unique. Simmons is out front on the riff heavy, monster-rockin' "She May Be Nice," the sweet apology-in-song "Sorry," and impeccably sung, straightforward guitar-pop ditties such as "Beautiful Girl" and "It's Gotta Happen." The bonus tracks include songs originally  on tribute collections (Shoes, Gene Pitney and Teenage Fanclub), as well as early versions of "She May Be Nice" and "Consult Your Physician." It's docked a notch for Liberation Hall's somewhat shoddy quality control on the packaging and mastering, but that's a minor quibble, really: this is a wonderful album that still sounds fresh 20 years on, and the bonus tracks make it even better. Grade: A-


The Forty Nineteens - New Roaring Twenties (Big Stir)

It's quite simple, really: fans of good-time, spirited garage rock need this record, because the Forty Nineteens do it up better than just about anyone. Whether it's the hooky wham-bam of "Tell Me" (dig those crazy drums, man), the surf-rock-meets-Elvis P. swing of "We're Going to Las Vegas" ("Bop bop shoo wop," indeed), the pure '60s-inflected pop of "Time Marches On" (which recalls the magic that is Freddy "Boom Boom" Cannon's "Palisades Park"), or the straight-up power pop of "It's the Worst Thing I Could Do," the Forty Nineteens have the moves—and more importantly, they bring the tunes. Grade: B+

john dunbar

John Dunbar - Oh Wellness (Kool Kat)

Recorded all by his lonesome during That Damned Lockdown, John Dunbar's Oh Wellness continues in the vein of previous Dunbar efforts with his bands The John Sally Ride and A Confederacy of Dunces. That is to say, there are piles of winsome vocals, melodies that sneak up on the listener then won't let go, and lyrics that are always pointed, witty, and clever. (One of many faves: "That husband of yours/I can't believe you put up with his crap/He's mastered the art of slamming all doors/and he still wears a backwards baseball cap.") Everything is worthy of repeated spins, particularly the synthesized guitar-laden (shades of early Shoes) "A Sentimental Heart and a Skeptical Mind," the Monkees-like "She Doesn't Now," the snippy, hilarious "Born to Bore" ("Humdrum right to the core"), and the slightly folky "The Girl Who's Heard it All Before." Oh Wellness is not hi-fi by any means, but it doesn't have to be; this time out, it's all about the songs, and Dunbar's tasty, slice of life miniatures are (typically) wonderful. Grade: A-


Jon Flynn - Citrus (Kool Kat)

Jon Flynn, one-half of the indie-pop duo Diamond Hands, goes the solo route on Citrus, with excellent results. Straying a bit afield from his '60s-ish garage-pop work with Diamond Hands, Citrus at times recalls a lower-fi T. Rex (on the slow-burning groover "Prayin' Man"); elsewhere, Flynn doles out some gauzy, Britpoppy treats and a few breathy dreamscapes, all the while never losing sight of the ever-important hook. Along with "Prayin' Man," instant grabbers include "I Won't Try," "Doin' What You Do," the swoon-worthy "Wonderful," and "Empty," where the bright, poppy synth lines and sweet melody make it sound like the perfect sonic accompaniment to a love scene in a 1980s John Hughes teen flick. Grade: A-

bill lloyd

Bill Lloyd - A Selection of Power Pop 1985-2020 (Whole in One)

A self-released and hand-selected collection of Lloyd's finest power pop moments, it begins with a bang with the three finest songs from 1987's sadly out of print Feeling the Elephant album atop the lineup—the absolutely sublime "This Very Second," "Nothing Comes Close" and "Lisa Anne"—and continues in a similar vein throughout. Guitars ring and drums pound as a bowl of sonic cherries are picked from Lloyd's solid back catalog: "The Man Who Knew Too Much" (a co-write with Marshall Crenshaw), "Indubitably" (a live version), "Kissed Your Sister," "Alright"...the (could have been) hits just keep on coming. An essential collection for the Bill Lloyd novice; a nice summation of his power pop persona for everyone else. Grade: A


Chris Church - Game Dirt (Big Stir)

The follow up to last year's Backwards Compatible, Chris Church's new one is a different kettle of fish. Rather than continue exploring what he coined the "heavy melody" of his last record, Game Dirt for the most part employs a less overtly "rawk," more spacious sound, but keeps the melody intact. The obvious comparison is '80s/'90s college alternative radio (the songs all have one word titles, which seems like a very '90s thing), but Church tosses a few curveballs: a country-ish bop called "Smile" and an almost ridiculously catchy ditty, "Learn" (which recalls Buddy Holly's "I'm Gonna Love You Too"—a good thing), sit comfortably among other more introspective ruminations that sometimes bring to mind mid-period R.E.M. "Hang" and "Know" hang onto some of the last album's guitar thrust, and "Down" would have fit in nicely on Matthew Sweet's recent Catspaw record. Grade: B+

star collector

Star Collector - Game Day (Clockwise)

Hailing from Vancouver, BC, Star Collector's fifth album is a decent mixture of modern power pop and hard rock swagger. Thoughtful lyrics and a not-too-glossy production sheen help many of the ten tunes come alive, and songs such as "Cayenne & Caramel" and "Rip it Off" would sound just dandy blasting from a car driving at a dangerous speed. (The latter tune references song titles by The Who, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Pink Floyd, The Features, KISS, and Julian Cope in the lyrics.) Grade: B-

john stevens

John Stevens - Living Room (Self-released)

Guitarist John Stevens has been a fixture on the Fort Worth, TX music scene for a quarter of a century, and would perhaps be best known to readers of this column as the lead guitarist for the Lannie Flowers Band. Stevens steps into the spotlight on his solo debut, an eminently likeable, confident nine-song effort that finds him displaying his ample guitar chops and an easygoing, soulful vocal style. Four of the tunes are instrumentals, with Stevens' finger-picking acoustic guitar skills taking center stage; all are quite lovely, and the closing cut, the six-minute "Duncan," finds Stevens adding some cool, spacy-sounding electric six-string to the mix as his guitar motifs shimmer and shift. A beautiful cover of Steve Earle's "Fort Worth Blues" is intoxicating in its gentle simplicity, a few forays into the blues work nicely, and the angry, accusatory "American Dream" is a searing indictment of the American class system. It may have taken John Stevens 25 years to get to it, but Living Room is a comfortable, stellar debut. Grade: A-


Various Artists - Souvenirs: Little Gems of Pop, Volume 3 (Sound Asleep)

Expertly curated by Swedish pop connoisseur Jerker Emanuelson, the third installment of the Souvenirs series is the first to be released on vinyl. This one is 14 tracks of rare, vintage, pure power poppin' goodness, with tunes dating from 1979-2000. Although there are a few artists represented that pop nuts will be familiar with (The Toms, Green, Paul Chastain, The Tickets), most of the LP features little known acts such as Menlo Park, Todd Shuster, the Back Pages, and the Promises. It's all really good stuff, but special attention must be paid to Paul Chastain's "Halo" (it's magically delicious), Todd Shuster's "I Agree" (1:58 of pop bliss, with the "I Saw Her Standing There" ending as a bonus), "Valerie" by the Promises (successfully channeling Buddy Holly), the Tickets' "Dream About Me" (with those charming Glenn Tilbrook-like vocals), and the Shake Shakes' glorious "You Can Run," a now-impossible-to-track-down 45 with pounding drums and a lead vocal ripped from the Eric Carmen playbook. Liners by noted power pop journalist Jordan Oakes. Grade: A