By the dawn of the ‘90s, the U.S. music scene felt like something out of Blade Runner. With the lockstep forces of rap and grunge assuming total control of hip tastebuds (and record sales)—and clattering indie-rock helicopters crisscrossing the landscape looking for stragglers—the few remaining pockets of power-pop resistance seemed a mere footnote to the obituary of a genre in hiding. Then, without warning, came the distant rumble of a pair of retaliatory shots: the Posies’ harmony-laced 1990 album Dear 23 and Matthew Sweet’s heart-wrenchingly majestic Girlfriend a year later. Was the pendulum about to change directions?
A Lincoln, Neb., native, Sweet (pictured) cut his musical teeth in the bubbling hotbed of Athens, Ga., in the early ‘80s, first as guitarist for Oh-OK, a jangly outfit co-helmed by singers Linda Hopper and Lynda Stipe (Michael’s sister), then with his own similar combo Buzz Of Delight. The precocious Sweet signed a solo deal with Columbia in 1985, provoking resentment from local scenesters who pointed to the grassroots path R.E.M. had followed to stardom. “I was young and didn’t know what I was doing,” Sweet told me in 1993, “and I was hated for it.”
Still trying to find his sea legs after two uneven major-label albums—1986’s Inside and 1989’s Earth—Sweet knew immediately Girlfriend was the one. “I always felt I’d been getting away with murder,” he admits, laughing like a nervous school kid. “I never thought my records would make it with a major label. But I had a sense that something special was happening with Girlfriend. I had this real breaking-free, fuck-you kind of attitude. I didn’t care if the label didn’t like it. I was doing it for me.”
Continue reading “Power Pop: The ’90s, Attack Of The Clones”
Phantom Planet singer/guitarist Alex Greenwald is a young man but far from an angry one. Even when defending the quintet—which includes guitarist Jacques Brautbar, bassist Sam Farrar, guitarist Darren Robinson and drummer Jason Schwartzman—against the mistaken perception that they’re just Hollywood actor kids undeserving of major-label status, the 22-year-old does so calmly.
“I haven’t had anyone come up to me and tell me I’m some sort of asshole who’s had it easy,” says Greenwald, who appeared in the 2001 cult film Donnie Darko; Schwartzman, of course, starred in Wes Anderson’s beloved Rushmore three years earlier. “If someone thinks that we’ve had it easy, let them keep thinking it. It’s not true. We’ve spent eight, almost nine, years making this band a band. Whether we’re good or not, we’ve been doing it for a long time.”
Written with what Greenwald calls “intentional optimism” during a time of atypically inclement West Coast weather, Phantom Planet’s second record, The Guest (Epic), is loaded with cheery pop songs. The best of the solid lot—the soaring “California” and the aptly titled “Anthem”—are unapologetically hopeful, and silly as it seems, even lyrically downcast tunes like “Lonely Day” positively beam.
Continue reading “Power Pop Class Of 2002: Phantom Planet”
When you kick off an album with a flurry of Tommy-era Pete Townshend windmill guitar chords, it’s like opening a jar of strawberry jam at a picnic table. You’re bound to attract wasps. Arlo’s rocking new pop longplayer, Stab The Unstoppable Hero (Sub Pop), would’ve kept the record-shop staff in the film High Fidelity busy arguing over influences that run the gamut from Creedence Clearwater to the Knack, from Nilsson to Nirvana. The Los Angeles group—guitarists Nate Greely and Sean Spillane, bassist Ryan Maynes and drummer Tom Sanford (all four sing)—are fully aware they’re an attractive nuisance for record-collecting geeks. They, too, are record-collecting geeks.
“It’s a disease,” says Greely, admitting he’s “stuck on classic rock. I spend as much money on records as a junkie would on heroin.” The only way to feed his addiction, he says, was to spend thumb-numbing hours sifting through dusty cartons of vinyl at garage sales and record stores. Greely was convinced his stash of 500 albums was hot stuff until he ran into a die-hard collector recently. “We played with this older guy in Buffalo,” he says, “this pack rat whose house was cluttered with accordions and strange instruments—thousands of records and CDs everywhere. And I’m like, ‘Oh no, this is where I’m headed.’”
Continue reading “Power Pop Class Of 2002: Arlo”
“Isn’t it every kid’s dream anymore?”
That’s how Bigger Lovers singer/bassist Scott Jefferson justifies four grown men chasing the perfect pop song like 30-year-old rookies. Huddled around a cluster of pints at a local bar, the Philadelphia quartet is fielding questions and running the perfunctory band drill of discussing locations for a new practice space. It may be a brilliant career on a smaller scale, but the Bigger Lovers—Jefferson, singer/guitarist Bret Tobias, guitarist Ed Hogarty and drummer Patrick Berkery—don’t really question their assignment.
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Most bands rightfully despise comparisons to other ones. But when it came time to make their third album, Walking In A Straight Line (Yep Roc), Chapel Hill’s Mayflies USA found a specific make and model to emulate: the Stones’ Exile On Main Street.
“They made it with a mobile unit and had a siege mentality about it,” says bassist/vocalist Adam Price.
“We’re sort of aiming high by saying that,” says guitarist/vocalist Matt McMichaels with a laugh. “But it sounds like they would have made the record even if no one had put it out. And it sounds like they were on top of each other at the time they recorded it. You can actually hear the proximity of people to each other.”
During the recording of Walking In A Straight Line in Chicago earlier this year, the Mayflies were able to learn something about proximity and personal space; Price, McMichaels, guitarist/vocalist Matt Long and drummer David Liesegang all lived in a single room.
Continue reading “Power Pop Class Of 2002: Mayflies USA”