Sunday, October 22, 2006


As you will no doubt discover, Dan Jones certainly says all the rights things and makes all the right noises. His influences are pretty much all the right ones and that's why he makes indie rock music that is relevant and vibrant. Dan cracked that my questions opened the gates - heh - that's what it's all about, boys and girls...
If pressed, how would you describe the music of Dan Jones?

Melodic, cathartic rock/pop songs inspired by all kinds of postpunk rock and its antecedents. Songs that are smart, narrative, conversational, weird, confessional, non-confessional, full of hooks. Hell, I don't know. Awesome driving music, people tell me. Steve Wynn said Dan Jones and the Squids live sounded like solo Pete Townshend and '69 VU. That sounds pretty good to me, too. That was a hot lineup, lucky times.

Who would you say have had the biggest influences on your music & why?

Friends who encouraged me (esp Tom Jessen and Ed Cole, both singer-songwriters). Earth-school circumstances that roughed me up, gave me something to sing about. Also, music has always been one of my best friends, whether it was the Jackson Browne record I bought for my sister as a "birthday present" in 1977 or the first hardcore records in the 80's. Seeing SST bands on the tour circuit, up close, in the 80's, seeing bands load their own stuff out of the van, on the street. The spiritual and intellectual side of The Who, yoked to masterly song craft, dog-fight musicality, and powerful arrangements, still inspires; D. Boon still sets the standard for cutting out the crap. and fighting personal and cultural fascism. 80's Lou Reed has always seemed totally underrated to me--the stuff with Robert Quine and Fernando Saunders, to me, sets the standard for aging gracefully and creatively after getting your heavy destructo freak on. A song like "legendary hearts" is americana to me, not some faux-rural crap about straw hats and hanging out drunk on the porch. Meat Puppets are my favorite band of all time. In the best sense of it, they did not care. Every record came from a different angle. And I lived and breathed Husker Du for a long time. The Silo's Cuba is a favorite, the first "less is more" rock record to come my way. For fiction writing 101 in song, I like Tom T. Hall and Freedy Johnston. For brutal force focused through amps I never quit listening to The Stooges and Black Flag. Neil Young continues to open different channels according to how he's feeling and that's really inspiring. Robert Pollard's flow is pretty inspiring. If you really show up and just let stuff start to happen, there's no such thing as creative block.

What inspired you to pick up a guitar and write songs?

Originally I just wanted to be like the people on the records I liked, who played in the bands I was seeing, and do what they were doing. It was also something tactile to do with my hands while I fretted about how to become a writer or a poet. Also self-medication and later, poverty. Tacking my boombox recordings at the end of mix tapes was also a start. "Oh, and check THIS out, too." I like how guitars smell. I liked seeing the pictures colored by the music, working with my hands, the shapes of chords and how they fit together, the fiddling with word choices. The need to express yourself is rooted in all sorts of things but passing the time with enjoyment is one of the most important motivations. Impressing people and getting a reaction is great too but won't necessarily keep ya goin.

What is the biggest obstacle to being creative?

Cynicism, perfectionism, and yoking self worth to someone else's standards. Fatigue. Burnout. Credit card debt. Worry. Addiction--whatever it might be. Thinking it's magic and not showing up. Hoping someone will do things on the "business" side that you can actually do yourself.

Can we expect a new album soon from Dan Jones and what will sound like?

The first proper Dan Jones and The Squids album (my fourth overall) is due in 2007. It's the first album I've made where tracking happened in a productive caffeinated three day blast, with a seasoned, consolidated lineup: me, Mike Last on drums, Dave Snider on bass, Patrick Hayden on guitar. The three albums I had in mind going in were Sonic Youth's Evol, Who's Next, and Lou Reed's The Blue Mask. This sounds grandiose but hey, those were just the things I was thinking about at the time. Two-guitar rock jangle, saturated drone, with some martial psychedelic aspects. Unlike past albums there aren't a handful of depressive ballads that set up the punky sucker punches. This record clips along fast. What's new about it is a few songs that are through-written without alot of A/B/A/B/Bridge format. Kind of artier, heavier, and faster than anything I've done before. There's a couple straight up pop songs on there and ballad too. I'm psyched. We're working at a studio called Big Timbre in Eugene, with an engineer named Jason Robbins. I finished the vocals this week.
Where you goin' - is where you wanna be!

Saturday, October 21, 2006


ATLANTICS Self-titled (Something Hot) It makes complete sense that in a rock scene obsessed with the new wave of the post-punk era that bands like Atlantics should be given a second chance to be heard and appreciated. Especially as this eponymous collection features songs previously unreleased for more than 20 years! It matters not because, rock fans of every age should be able to dig these vibrant, energetic, refreshing songs. Highly recommended. Go get it!

GRAN BEL FISHER Full Moon Cigarette (Hollywood) This 24 year old singer-songwriter has loads going for him – looks, major record deal, songs on Grey’s Anatomy and a unique voice. With a sound that straddles classic rock (Led Zepellin, Bruce Springsteen) and modern geek rock (Coldplay, Radiohead), Fisher has a good chance of appealing to different poles of the rock spectrum. Worth the investigation.

ALEC GROSS & THE DISTRICTS Win? Or Lose? (Solebury Mountain) Heartfelt and rustic, Alec Gross delivers Americana heartland rock that hearkens back to decades of roots rockers. Certainly, Gross leans more to the pop-rock side of the equation than the country & western and thus should be recommended to fans of Uncle Tupelo, the Jayhawks and very early Wilco.

LEE SCRATCH PERRY Panic in Babylon (Narnack) What will you be doing at age 70? How about releasing potent music and touring? Well, that’s exactly what the legendary Lee Scratch Perry is up to in his 70th year on planet earth. His deeply influential reggae and dub is still as vital as when it first appeared in the late 60s. Panic to Babylon continues to enhance the reputation of the grand old man.

THE EASY ALL-STARS Radiodread (Easy Star) I guess you could call this a novelty record, seeing as it translates every single track of Radiohead’s classic OK Computer into reggae and dub! Well, actually, this is a sequel to a previous reggae interpretation of Dark Side of the Moon, which was a stronger collection overall. Still, I will recommend Radiodread for the magnificent version of Karma Police, which really trounces the original – no mean feat!

(THE SOUNDS OF) KALEIDOSCOPE Self-titled (Hackshop) Imagine if Pavement had surfaced during the Paisley Underground era and you might get some idea of what (The Sounds of) Kaleidoscope is about. The songs are a strange mix of atonal lo-fi slacker rock and psychedelia with a little shoegaze thrown in. Personally, I would prefer stronger melodies but the tracks are atmospheric and hypnotic enough to maintain interest.

ANNY Naked (Uncommon) This is pop certainly but with an adult orientation. The sound is polished and slick and would sit comfortably on modern pop playlists but somehow, Naked never gets the pulse racing. A little too controlled for my taste but definitely, Anny has a good voice, if only she wasn’t quite so restrained…

Thursday, October 19, 2006


I have been a fan of Doug Powell since Bruce Brodeen sent me a comp copy of Curiouser. Like any lover of good music, Powell's 'retirement' from music making came as a shock but until Powell changes his mind, we have the new Four Seasons compilation to tide us over. Powell shared with us a little bit of where he's at, in 2006.

How did the idea for Four Seasons come about?

Over the course of my career I ended up with a number of songs that were left off records that I still liked and didn't want to see orphaned. At the time I decided to stop making records I thought I'd clean house and make sure they got a hearing.

Were you self-conscious about releasing the New Cars demos when it probably does not truly represent the music of Doug Powell?

Yes, I was self-conscious, but not because I thought it didn't represent me. In a way, it does represent me. I grew up loving the Cars and in my early songwriting attempts even tried to write like Ric Ocasek. So that stuff is part of my grammar. Lyrically, it was constricting because my normal style would not be appropriate for a band that had already established such a distinct style. And at the time the band wasn't the New Cars as we know it now, it was to be the Cars picking up where they left off. So I was striving for a significant continuity while trying to make it fresh. The reason I was self-conscious is because I did not want the release of the songs to seem like there was bad blood after I didn't get the gig. I simply liked the songs and thought they should see the light of day.

How come it took so long for the songs from Venus DeMilo's Arms to be released outside of Japan?

Well, the cost of printing a cd is the same no matter how many songs are on it, but nobody wants to pay full price for a cd with four songs. And no label wants to sell a cd for less than full price. This cd was the perfect way to finally get them out at a reasonable price.

Can fans expect any more unreleased (or even new) recordings in the near future? Or is Four Seasons really the final word on your recording career?

There are not many other unreleased recordings, so no. As far as new recordings, some days I can see it happening and on others I couldn't care less if I ever played again.

Your first book has just been published - tell us a bit about what this book is about and if we can expect more books from you?

The book is on Christian Apologetics (apologetics means "defense") and is called the Holman Quicksource Guide to Christian Apologetics. It's a cumulative case argument to show that Christianity is a reasonable thing to believe and is based on real history that can be investigated. Each chapter presents a different argument for a different facet of Christianity and they are organized so it moves from the most broad questions (Does God exist?) to specifically demonstrating for Jesus as who he claimed to be - God incarnate who came to bring salvation.
I am working on another book that deals with how Christians should engage the culture, particularly pop culture. is the place to be if you wanna read the review.

Grand Mal's new album - Love is the Best Con in Town - is a bit of a shift in direction for Bill Whitten, featuring as it does greater emphasis on the piano. Whitten is a bit of a wordsmith as this 'short' interview will attest. You will agree that the man is brilliant...

What is it about the early 70s Beach Boys (specifically Holland/Carl and the Passions) and Todd Rundgren (Runt, Ballad of Todd R) that inspired the sonic approach on Love is the Best Con in Town?

Oh I don’t know. I think my initial reason for ‘getting into’ those albums was my desire to find some music that didn’t sound drug influenced and might even be ‘positive’. Then I got into the ‘sound’ of those records: muddy and warm…homely in fact. I began making recordings using an upright piano and it sounded good to my ears; like it made up for the sonic shortcomings of my primitive gear.. So it seemed to me that the sound of say the lo-fi “the ballad of Todd” was a worthwhile goal to shoot for…I’m not saying I achieved my goal but…
And the above mentioned records are all flawed albums; that makes them endearing on the one hand and reasonable as inspiration.
And oh yeah I didn’t really become a full-fledged Beach Boys geek until late in life…in 2001 I saw Brian Wilson and the Wondermints at Radio City Music hall…they were backed by the Harlem Boys Choir and the Radio City Symphony (among many others) and it was pretty mind blowing /eye opening…I was at a personal crossroads so it was a welcome epiphany…in regards to music as a positive, joyful sort of thing…
On the other hand referencing the b.boys and todd r. might just have been a necessity of Bio writing: “why is the new album special” or something…it was probably a mistake to mention them…now the album will be pigeonholed…when it comes to writing bio’s and self-promotion in general I have many shortcomings…

What were the main challenges in recording Love is the Best Con in Town?

Finishing the words to a song is always a challenge…singing on pitch is always a challenge…getting rich meyer (of Hopewell) to come over to my house to sing his soaring, amazing back-up vocals was often a challenge (but mostly it wasn’t)... it was mainly a fun and agreeable experience…all my friends were very generous with their time and talent…I was really lucky to get them all to play on the album…and I love to sit on my couch and listen to music coming out of my 2 speakers…even if it’s my own music (while it is in the process of being made that is)..
I’m working on some new shit now whenever I have the chance…making music is fun…getting people to actually listen to it is slightly more difficult…

How has the music scene changed for you in the last 16 years? For better or worse?

There are more bands of course and more venues for a person’s music to be heard…digital etc… Perhaps a way to take a snapshot of the music scene in terms of now and then is to look at the supply and demand for drummers…back in the ‘90’s I think it was fairly uncommon for a New York City drummer to be in more than say two bands simultaneously…now you often find drummers in like 6 or 7 bands…sometimes more!
Also nowadays young people (‘the kids’) seem to enjoy music more than they used to…they are less blasé than they were in the ‘90’s it seems to me…they like to rawk way more than they used to…
And then again it seems similar; sonic youth is still around and still influential…I guess in general older rockers are allowed to hang around longer and continue making music...yo la tengo, luna, guided by voices etc….perhaps people no longer grow up and move on…also in the 90’s there was nirvana as the trend-setter who opened the floodgates for a bunch of like minded or copycat bands…in this century it was the Strokes/the White Stripes…
And yet today indie rock seems to be much more a pursuit of the affluent…I have met many young men and women who never worked a day in their life…and instead have spent their adolescence studying rock and perfecting their wardrobes and hairstyles…canny young people who upon graduation from Oberlin etc take up rock as a career and do well and make passable music…They are, however, usually are following in the footsteps of working class visionaries like jack white or kurt cobain etc…but anyways...that’s just an aside... maybe it’s the result of the neo-liberal policies that have been hollowing out American society since the Reagan Revolution…and it is probably magnified in the rarified sectors of the ‘indie’ world...if I want to listen to working class rock I can just tune in to the nu-metal scene (no thanks) or listen to hip-hop..

In your blog ( you make pointed observations of the world around you. (I loved your assessment of the 'new' NY Dolls eg.) Is your blog writing as vital a creative expression as music making?

No, my blog is a joke …pretty worthless I think…I had been periodically writing for a Swedish publication so one of my friends suggested I should put some or all of the stuff I wrote for them on a blog ..
For some reason I listened to him…I must have got hit on the head that day or something…I didn’t end up putting the shit I wrote for the Swedish magazine…most of the stuff I just wrote at work when I was bored…like all bloggers…I should take it down but for some reason I haven’t…but actually if you want to read something I co-wrote that is pretty decent check out the interview with Brian Godding (of the lost ‘70’s band B.B. Blunder) on

What does the future hold for Grand Mal? Which song on Love is the Best Con in Town will you base the next album on?

I think the direction of the next Grand Mal album can be found on a song we recorded recently (we being Mike Fadem-drums, Kevin Thaxton-bass, Mike Robertson-guitar, Dave Sherman-piano) for a Swedish record label called …It’s for a tribute comp for Gene Clark of all people…we covered a song called ‘winter in’ which was an outtake from his record ‘White Light’ …our cover sounds nothing like his song…it’s the best recording I’ve engineered/produced etc…it will be out on import any day now..

Check out for the review.

Sunday, October 08, 2006


RICHARD BUTLER Self-titled (KOCH) Butler is one of my rock heroes, for his sterling work with Psychedelic Furs and Love Spit Love. He possesses such a spellbinding set of pipes that never fails to hypnotize. Now 50, Butler has released his first solo album and it is simply gorgeous. Butler’s eponymous solo debut highlights the softer side of Butler’s music, chock full of dreamy ballads and exploits beautifully the range of Butler’s gifted larynx. The breezy “Good Days, Bad Days” and mesmerizing “California” open this marvelous album and Butler (and collaborator Jon Carin) sustain this ‘feel-good’ vibe all the way to the fragile hopeful “Maybe Someday.” A truly magnificent comeback/debut.

JEREMY Only Love Remains (Jam) No one does jangle pop better than Jeremy and that’s no putdown. Year after year, Jeremy manages to keep the Byrds-influenced sound fresh and alive. Best part of all, his lyrics are always fuelled by faith, hope and love, in contrast to all the doom, gloom and negativity that passes for so-called alternative rock. If you wanna be uplifted and inspired, you need a dose of Jeremy.

THE SKETCHES Self-titled (Self-released) The much-maligned power ballad receives mouth-to-mouth resuscitation from the Sketches with the wonderful “Fly Baby, Right Now” as this promising outfit shows Oasis how a homage to the Beatles should be done. The rest of this collection of high-quality demos (the band’s words, not mine) mines more modern territory (Dashboard Confessional emo) with strong classic rock bias. Recommended.

THE CRASH MODERNS Self-titled (Self-released) Ah, powerpop bliss! This New Jersey band displays enough melodic crunch potential on this 5-track EP to suggest that it would be worthwhile keeping an eye on their progress. Sure, the songs are not exactly ground-breaking but there’s enough promise here (“This Time” & “All About You” especially) to make the pop underground sit up and take notice.

HAMFATTER Girls in Graz (Pink Hedgehog) Hailing from Cambridge – yes, same as Syd Barrett & Robyn Hitchcock – Hamfatter (viz. Eoin O’Mahoney, Emile Martin, James Ingham & Mark Ellis), indulge their rock ‘n’ fantasy with idiosyncratic whimsy. Thus, melodies are always prized but never over eccentricity. Eclectic to a fault, O’Mahoney’s classical training skewers Hamfatter’s pop sensibility brilliantly. Fans of Martin Newell will adore this.

YELLOW6 Melt Inside (MakeMineMusic) It’s soft, whispered, atmospheric drones created by guitars and synthesizers and completed by Ally Todd’s vocals. Jon Attwood provides the former and the duo combine effectively to create mood pieces that would fit perfectly on your next indie film project. Tunes are at a premium here but presumably that is precisely what Yellow6 are eschewing. Attwood is adept at coaxing glorious sounds out of his guitar. Chilling.

SARA WENDT Here’s Us (City Canyons) Good mix of genres and styles on this six-track EP although mainly dominated by Celtic-flavored rock ballads that you might expect from Enya or Kate Bush. Wendt has a solid larynx, no doubt, and a competent grasp of what she’s trying to achieve. Lush orchestration and high production values make Here’s Us worth checking out.

TOM PETTY Highway Companion (American) Petty is a rock institution with 30 years of consistent music making built from the foundations of Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, the Byrds, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Highway Companion is Petty’s third solo album proper (eleven with the Heartbreakers of course) and reunites Petty with producer Jeff (ELO) Lynne. To be honest, that fact alone sold me. Cos whilst the songs on Highway Companion are mostly average, it all sounds great – like slipping into warm, familiar, comfy bedroom slippers. Snug.

Saturday, October 07, 2006


I adore Andy Partridge. From the moment I first heard “Senses Working Overtime” way back in 1982 over the BBC World Service I knew he was special.
XTC is, of course, one of the finest bands in the history of pop but it has always bugged me that in the twenty years since my introduction to the band, there have only been eight proper albums (nine, if you include Psonic Psunspot).
So, it is a little ironic that Partridge has released all eight (nine, if you include Hinges) of his Fuzzy Warbles demo archive series in a mere four years! Of course, we are talking apples and oranges here (or oranges and lemons) and you cannot really compare releasing proper albums and collections of pre-existing demos. Can you?
In any case, Partridge has released the final volumes of the series viz. Volumes 7 and 8 and has also made available a special collector’s album (see above) that houses all 8 volumes in a cool package. As a bonus the album also comes with Hinges, 9 extra tracks from Partridge’s demo archive.
I must honestly say that the music found on Fuzzy Warbles was probably never originally intended for public consumption and some might argue should never have been made available to the general public. XTC fans may differ in their judgments over the relative value of Fuzzy Warbles as musical documents but one thing is clear to me – considering the hard time Partridge has had in his musical ‘career’ with dodgy managers, dodgy record contract and the fact that sickness probably cost him (and the band) greatly, in tour revenues (and consequential record sales) since 1982 (!), I would not begrudge the man the opportunity to get a return from his genius when he is finally in financial control of his musical destiny.
So yes, to every XTC fan out there, I would highly recommend you get yourself down to the APE shop now ( and pick up the whole shebang and make Partsy a very happy man!
Here’s eighteen reasons why –
Hinges - “Reign of Blows”: Markedly different from the recorded track found on The Big Express which was mangled somewhat in the mixing process. Less metallic, the strength of the song shines through. “Jump”: Demo of the Mummer B-side has a stronger Beatlesque focus than the final product. Counter-pointed by the subtle Caribbean rhythmic underpinnings. It does feature a soothing melody line though.
Volume 8 – “The Bland Leading the Bland”: Meant for Warp Star but never quite making the grade, “Bland” begins with a wistful synth line and culminates in a gorgeous chorus. Would have made for a wonderful XTC track. “I Gave My Suitcase Away”: A breezy number written for Jane Birkin (rejected for being too jolly – Birkin’s loss!). The perfect soundtrack to a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Volume 7 – “Sonic Boom”: Great power pop song that would have fitted snugly either on Nonsuch or Warp Star. Nice way of description the power chord – “Sonic boom goes the killer chord from my guitar.” Yeah yeah yeah! “Open A Can of Human Beans”: Not strictly a Warble, so Partridge informs, think of it as a Dukes of Startosphear outtake. Resplendent with ‘sitar’ guitar courtesy of the great Dave Gregory, “Human Beans” is a treasure.
Volume 6 – “I Can’t Tell What Truth Anymore”: Partsy does yet another genuine Macca impression with a tuneful number that would have lighted up Nonsuch. “The Tiny Circus of Life”: Yet another Nonsuch escapee is a jaunty piece with some Bacharach chords and the circus motif (think: “Dear Madam Barnum”).
Volume 5 – “Young Cleopatra”: Intended for Mummer, this catchy little ditty, may have been shelved due to the ‘paedo’ slant of the lyrics. Though, Partsy assures us that “I too saw myself as 14-years-old in the song.” “My Land is Burning”: Epic in scope and orchestral in execution, mystifying why Partsy did not record it for Apple Venus.
Volume 4 – “Bumpercars”: this punchy number continues Partridge’s analogy of life as a circus. “That’s Really Super Supergirl”: this lusty demo turns out to be the superior version (what was Todd thinking with the keyboard overkill) especially with the harmonica fills.
Volume 3 - “My Train Is Coming”: Righteously retro and rejected previously from both the Buster and That Thing You Do films restored to its proper place of prominence. “Autumn Comes Around”: A lovely pastoral moment written for Skylarking, never fully developed in the studio – a shame.
Volume 2 - “It’s Snowing Angels” (circa 1990): Lovely and enigmatic. “Ship Trapped In the Ice” A powerful and vivid track written to reflect XTC’s Virgin dilemma.
Volume 1 – “Dame Fortune”: A delightful ode, inextricably left off Apple Venus. “Summer Hot As This”: A chirpy 1984 demo with erstwhile XTC member Dave Gregory on guitar, a bonus!
And still there’s more… nine albums of intense enjoyment… hopefully our XTC fix will not be delayed for that much longer…

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


I like Andy Chase. Not only is he one-third of Ivy and a producer of cool bands, he is a singer-songwriter in his own write - Brookville - and has released his sophomore album, the 80s Brit rock-inspired Life in the Shade (review at Andy was also kind enough to agree to be the latest guest on the PoPINIONS show...

What are the differences between recording Ivy and Brookville?

Ivy is a true democracy. Any idea I have gets "reviewed" by Dominique and Adam, so nothing slips by unnoticed. We are constantly challenging each other and forcing the bar to be raised higher and higher. It's definitely a recipe for pulling out the best we have to offer...but it can also be frustrating because for me it's not always about the result, but rather the process. In Brookville it's really just me, for better or worse. Any idea goes straight from my brain to becoming a recorded track in a song. It's incredibly satisfying. You end up with what exactly what you had envisioned for the song. Creatively I think it's a more pure process and the result is something that might be closer to the way I'm first hearing things in my head.

If you had to, how would you define the music of Brookville?

Slightly Chill, moody pop that's great to have sex to??

What would you say were the biggest inspirations behind the songwriting on Life in the Shade?

I really wanted to make an album that stood on it's own as far as songwriting - like Coldplay or Deathcab For Cutie; that had all the moodiness of more left-of-center bands like Alpha; and that still took it's inspiration for production bells & whistles from older groups like The The.

Who do you think listen to Brookville and come to the shows?

Seems like a pretty wide variety as far as I can tell. 18 to 35-ers pretty much covers it, though I've spotted my parents there a few times....

What do you hope to achieve with Life ine the Shade and what are your plans next?

I just want to be recognized as someone more than just the guitar player standing behind Dominique in Ivy. I'd like to look back on my life and see that I had a voice and a few things to say about the world and myself that won't make me cringe years later. I hope Life In The Shade is the first step in that direction. I'm going on tour with Tahiti 80 this November 2006...then looking to tour again in early 2007.

Sunday, October 01, 2006


THE RACONTEURS Broken Boy Soldiers (V2) Yet another addition to the long list of supergroups, the Raconteurs consist of Jack (White Stripes) White, Brendan Benson & the rhythm section of the Greenhornes viz. Jack Lawrence & Patrick Keeler. Considering the pedigree of its members, no surprise that Broken Boy Soldiers is a solid debut with powerful rockers lined with psychedelic garage and classic rock influences that will leave hard rock fans with a smile on their faces.

SHINETH 11 of 10 (Self-released) This Swedish duo (Sebastian Roos & Anders Berlin) parlays a strong melodic pop sensibility into a hard rock foundation. Which makes for a strictly hit or miss approach. However, if you can imagine a hybrid of Dream Theater and Jellyfish and not balk at the prospect, then Shineth is for you.

SPARKS Hello Young Lovers (In The Red) The legendary Mael brothers are back with another idiosyncratic orchestral/operatic pop album. There’s a cold, calculating sheen on most of the material but mitigated by a tongue-in-cheek levity and impressive musical prowess that makes Hello Young Lovers essential listening for all Sparks fans, old and new.

FRESH MOWED LAWN Self-titled (Not Lame) Tim Rose was/is the main songwriter in the critically acclaimed pop underground band The Sun Sawed In ½ and Fresh Mowed Lawn is Rose’s first solo project. True to form, this lovely debut contains a slew of well-crafted, melodic gems with greater emphasis on soft pop elements than the Sun was known for. Still intact is Rose’s penchant for quirky and whimsical arrangements. An accomplished outing!

THE ARGUMENT EP (Self-released) I discovered the Argument recently and their simply wonderful sophomore album, Recess Serenade. To these ears, the Argument had the chops to be a modern-day equivalent of Jellyfish (along with the Format) with the emotional energy of emo punk married to the melodic vigor of powerpop. Unfortunately, the Argument is no more and this competent EP is its swan song. Five great examples of modern powerpop is reason enough to check it out.

RAY MASON A Man and His Silvertone (Captivating Music) Ray Mason has been performing and recording on the fringes of the pop underground for some time now and by and large I have always found his music simple, honest and interesting. On this, Mason’s 10th album, he goes “plugged,” stripped down to songs, voices and an electric guitar. Surprisingly, Mason holds your attention for most of the album with straightforward rock songs with heartfelt sentiments shorn of artifice and studio gimmickry. It’s all Ray… fans of Billy Bragg & Neil Young will appreciate this.

FINAL FANTASY He Poos Clouds (Tomlab) Owen Pallett has delivered a sophomore effort that is so unique and special, that it has to be listened to, in order to be fully appreciated. Favoring a chamber pop sound that is faithfully constructed with classical baroque instruments, it is unlikely that you will encounter any other rock album this interesting. Reminiscent of the Divine Comedy and Scott Walker, this are not your typical pop songs with strings tacked on but modern rock interpreted as classical music. Not for all rock tastes but an achievement to be heralded nonetheless.

MITRA All Gods Kill (Idol) Not my cup of tea for sure but Mitra delivers unrelenting hard rock-thrash metal which is heavy on the riffs and light on the tunes. Predictably, the subject matters they cover tend to be about death, violence and blasphemy. Perhaps my thoughts about Mitra are best summed up by one of the song titles here – “Things Are About To Get Ugly.” Indeed.