By John M. Borack
The big, fat Whitman’s Sampler of melodic pop music known as the International Pop Overthrow compilation returns for its 22nd installment and once again there is much to delight in for both the dabbler and the connoisseur alike. With 69 tracks spread across three CDs it’s a daunting task to properly digest the whole shebang, but as multiple listens bear out, it’s certainly worth the effort.
This year’s IPO collection plays up the “international” angle, with contributions from acts hailing from the Netherlands, England, Finland, Japan, Belgium, Spain, Sweden, the United States, Canada and even Bucharest, Romania. The one thing all the artists have in common is an affinity for melody, which is consistently on display throughout. A cursory glance at the track listing shows that there are tunes here culled from some of 2019’s finest albums (Nick Frater, the Brothers Steve, The Bishop’s Daredevil Stunt Club, Scott Gagner, and Slumberjet); from indie pop music stalwarts who always deliver the goods (Van Duren, Danny Wilkerson, Three Hour Tour, Lannie Flowers, Peter Holsapple, and The Anderson Council); and up and coming acts who’ve recently released excellent records (Jimmy Haber, Bird Streets, and The Sharona). So there’s 13 tracks worth of goodness right there before the exploration of the not so well known/previously unheard artists even begins.
Disc one includes the aforementioned Bishop’s Daredevil Stunt Club, Nick Frater, Bird Streets and Slumberjet cuts alongside a handful of other cool tunes: the garage rock grooviness of the Velvet Starlings; the Cowsills-like harmonies of the regrettably-named Pecker; the lite psych musings of Pikal; the power-packed “Team No Sleep” from Ex Norwegian; and Joanne Hodges’ sweetly affecting “Amanda,” produced by the Posies’ Ken Stringfellow.
Disc two kicks off with the ‘60s-influenced jangly pop of The Top Boost (featuring Jellyfish’s Roger Manning Jr.), followed in quick succession by the Brothers Steve’s poptastic “She,” and the Sharona, Three Hour Tour and Jimmy Haber tracks—all very good. Elsewhere, Spain’s The Vinylos offer up a lovely string-laden ballad (“Turns to Black”); Trotsky Icepick impresses with a propulsive indie-rockin’ nugget (“Clutch”); Wolf Circus’ “I Will Answer” is hypnotically enjoyable, despite the band sporting a name that seems better suited to a B-grade metal act; Sue Hedges contributes a soulful, torchy ballad (“I Know Now”); pop’s Mr. Nice Guy Jeremy Morris showcases one of his best-ever songs, “Joy Comes in the Morning”; Jerry Juden’s “It Tore Me Up” comes off like a fine Nelson Bragg outtake; and “Mandela” by Dirty Echoes is an inventive little ditty with a nice bridge and a chorus to die for. Lannie Flowers’ wonderful, previously unreleased “Straight to the Blues” is here as well.
Disc three is jammed to the rafters with several new-to-me tunes rubbing elbows with fab cuts from Van Duren (“Chemical Fire”), Danny Wilkerson (“Too Much of a Good Thing”) and Scott Gagner (“Bella”). Ulysses’ ”Calendar Street” is somewhat reminiscent of a quirkier, ‘80s-influenced Jellyfish and even more bombastic (but in a good way); Zombies of the Stratosphere’s “London Social Degree” is a tasty psychedelic bauble with all sorts of odd noises flying about; Kimberly Rew and Lee Cave-Berry’s “Flat Cat” is a cool, rockabilly-juiced number; and Butch Young’s “Beautiful Dreamer” is a creamy-sounding, mini-Spectorian jewel. There is also a run of six tracks on mid-disc—from relative unknowns The Expected, Alan Pire Experience, The Spylocks, Brenyama, Joe Benoit, and the Details—that is just about as good as anything here: all melodically stimulating, nicely sung and enthusiastically performed (especially the Joe Benoit cut, which may well be my fave on disc three).
A few sequencing winks are included for the eagle-eyed (and eared) consumer: the previously mentioned “Flat Cat” is followed by a Morley Bartnof tune titled “Dog George”; and disc three closes with a song from a UK combo called The Last Hurrah. Overall, this is one of the better International Pop Overthrow compilations in recent memory and definitely one of the more consistent. Go get it!