six songsHailing from Nashville, Justin Kline is a singer-songwriter whose work fits neatly into the power pop niche. The world has seen many similar musicians; however, Kline is a gifted multi-instrumentalist, providing this self-released EP with its vocals, guitars, bass and keyboards. As for his overall musical style, he takes the bounciness of mid-60s Brian Wilson (though hopefully without the cupboard full of skeletons), the brilliance of Brendan Benson and the all-round professionalism of pop revivalists Jellyfish, proving fully understands the best ingredients required to make a great power pop record.

While each of the EP’s songs has something of note, that spark of greatness is at its most obvious during ‘How I Became The Wind’ – a track resplendent in sunshine grooves, stabbing keys, sleigh bells and a knowing smile. The drum pattern which drives the piece evokes the marching vibe from Jellyfish’s ‘Ghost at Number One’ – always welcome – while his distinctive vocal strives for pop perfection. The lead voice is counterbalanced by rather effective whoahs on the chorus section and harmony vocals are well placed during the verses. Aside from a spacious, organ driven break midway, ‘How I Became The Wind’ is a tight, near perfect, slice of power pop. ‘Heart Attack’ works its magic via a semi-acoustic shuffle before a stomping chorus takes hold. Kline’s high vocal pitch gives this sixties-inspired number a striking, if occasionally sinister edge. Although the approach is a standard jangle-pop one, the punch of the chorus gives the arrangement an extra sharp quality. The closing section has a slightly claustrophobic quality, leading to Kline’s vocal cracking under the delivery of the last line. ‘All I Need’ features one of Kline’s best vocals. Here, his higher registers are saved for a multi-vocalled chorus; musically, it’s another fabulous number – one which wouldn’t be out of place on Mark Bacino’s ‘Pop Job’ long-player (which, you all really should check out if you haven’t already). While the verses have a light airiness, it’s the sharpness of the chorus, followed by a multi-layered vocal and Brian Wilson-esque theramin sound which provide the track’s most memorable elements.

‘Singing In The Air’ opts for a rumpty-tumpty rhythm which hints at country-pop, especially with the subtle use of steel guitar and twangy guitar lead midway. You’d be hard pushed to mistake it for a country tune beyond that though, as Kline’s vocal retains the pop shine it delivers on the rest of the EP. ‘Kaleidoscope’ offers something a little more complex with its fuzzed up vocals, guitars and harder edges. The punch on the chorus once again recalls Jellyfish, Jason Falkner and Brendan Benson, while a trippy instrumental break utilises understated oohs and ahs against a gentle mellotron-esque sound, making it another hugely enjoyable listen.

The closing number, ‘Sunshine’ sounds, at first, like it’s going to be a slightly lower-key acoustic song; the acoustic elements here are more pronounced, that’s true, but once everything finds its groove, it becomes a solid piece of bubblegum pop. For the first couple of spins it was as good as most of the EP’s material, then after a few more listens the cracks began to appear: the overly optimistic lyrics are a little cloying, but the musical arrangement helps carry it off…almost. That optimism (which might be a religious thing, I’m undecided) gives the EP a positive ending, but its over-enthusiasm, for me, makes it the most skippable track.

Although a little flawed in places, ‘Six Songs’ is highly recommended for power pop connoisseurs; a release which ought to place Justin Kline alongside Mike Viola and Mark Bacino as one of the great champions of timeless pop.

Get mp3s here.

August 2010

IGGY POP – Préliminaires


In 2009, Iggy’s musical direction took a U-Turn. After a couple of really great hard rock releases (2003’s ‘Skull Ring’ and 2007’s ‘The Weirdness’ – recorded with The Stooges, marking their first studio album in 34 years), comes ‘Préliminaires’, a largely soft, introspective record. Interestingly, this career shift mirrors Iggy’s change in direction at the end of the previous decade, when he followed the hard rock ‘American Caesar’ and ‘Naughty Little Doggie’ with the reflective crooning of ‘Avenue B’ – an album which gathered mixed reactions.

‘Préliminaires’ is heavily influenced by European easy listening material. Its softer nature means that it’s a record which has various things in common with ‘Avenue B’. He’s called upon the crooning style he employed for some of that album; and for those who can remain open-minded, pretty much everything about ‘Préliminaires’ works – even though on paper, the idea of Iggy returning to crooning (and sometimes in French) doesn’t sound like the best career move.

The album is bookended by two renditions of ‘Les Feuilles Mortes’, a song associated with Yves Montand and Edith Piaf, so that should give you a fair idea of how most of ‘Préliminaires’ sounds (or more importantly, feels, as it’s an album about atmosphere and tone rather than attention grabbing songs). A gentle drum loop lies beneath Ig’s deep vocal, accompanied by gentle organ work by Jon Cowherd. ‘I Want To go The Beach’ (an album high point) again features Iggy’s deepest Leonard Cohen-esque croon. This track has a really tasteful musical arrangement, with beautifully played bass work, courtesy of Hal Cragin (co-writer of most of the album’s original compositions). The New Orleans jazz styled ‘King of the Dogs’ (a track based around music written by Lil Hardin Armstrong, second wife of Louis Armstrong) provides the album with its first upbeat moment. The brass work here, played by Tim Ouimette, gives this number a really classic feel.

A duet with Françoise Hardy, ‘Je Sais que tu Sais’, has a slightly stompy quality, like an odd French cousin to ‘Nightclubbing’ (from Iggy’s 1977 album ‘The Idiot’). It’s not aggressive by any means, but retains an edginess compared to a lot of the album. If it’s edginess you want, ‘Préliminaires’, offers a couple more upbeat moments: ‘She’s a Business’ offers a similar stompy style to ‘Je Sais que tu Sais’ but fares badly due to a treated vocal. ‘Nice To Be Dead’ is the album’s only ‘traditionally Iggy’ sounding song. I’m sure on any other Iggy Pop album it’d sound great, but once you become accustomed to the softer qualities of ‘Préliminaires’, it just feels wrong somehow.

‘Machine For Loving’ highlights how great Iggy’s voice still sounds during spoken word moments. Here, he’s accompanied by effective reverbed, twangy guitar and bass, while drums are used sparingly. It sounds like a narrative from a movie scene in a desert and fits the mood of the album excellently. There are a couple of other excursions away from the album’s warm, lush sounding safety net. ‘He’s Dead, She’s Alive’ is a simple acoustic blues number finding Iggy in an unmistakable, slighty rough around the edges vocal form. The bad language here jars a little, but doesn’t really stop the flow; the electronica based ‘Party Time’ is less welcome – it really screws up the otherwise very natural approach of most of the album.

It’s similarities to ‘Avenue B’ means ‘Préliminaires’ isn’t an album everyone in Iggy’s listening audience will like. If you’re a new fan, then your money is probably best spent on a few other Iggy classics. Likewise, if you claim to be a fan, but only own ‘The Idiot’ and ‘Lust For Life’, then maybe this isn’t for you either. In fact, I’m not sure who Iggy has made this album for…if indeed it was made for anyone other than Iggy, just because he wanted to make it. It feels like an important album in the man’s large catalogue of releases and keeps ‘Avenue B’ in decent company.

February 2010

THE COMPUTERS – You Can’t Hide From The Computers EP


This four-piece outfit from Exeter are going to beat you into submission. No kidding –  from the minute you hit the play button, The Computers are going to grab you by the knackers and not let go. Even on the couple of occasions where they manage to slow things down, there’s an intensity which borders on threatening.

From the opening kick of ‘Teenage Tourettes Camp’, The Computers pound their three chords into your skull with unrelenting attitude. On their fast numbers, they sound like New Bomb Turks jamming with Supersuckers (with extra metal guitars thrown in) and then fronted by The Suicide Machines’ Jason Navarro at his most screamy. ‘Love The Music, Hate The Kids’ shows no sign of letting up and by the tracks end, you’ll either be reaching for the stop button, or convinced The Computers have been sent like aggro-filled messiahs to bring no-nonsense thrashy rock ‘n’ roll/punk to those audiences in need of a shake up. ‘S.O.S’ slows things down to a 4/4 mid-paced stomp. While the musical approach might provide a much needed change in pace, the track itself is weak as it offers little lyrically and feels a little repetitive by the end. ‘Please Drink Responsibly’ marks a return to the three-chord sweatiness of the opening numbers. I assume the group backing vocals represent some kind of chorus, but as with most of the songs here, vocalist Alex’s delivery is so intense, it’s pretty hard to make out any important messages.

I know what you’re thinking. It’s probably something along the lines of “if only someone had the foresight to create something which sounds like a high speed romp through a Motörhead classic with added Rocket From The Crypt-ness, coupled with the vocal melody from ‘Lipstick Vogue’ by Elvis Costello”. Well, you’re in luck! ‘Hell Yeah’, does exactly that – and in doing so creates the EP’s absolutely essential moment. At just over two minutes, it doesn’t mess about.

‘City Ghosts’ – which ends this 20 minute statement of intent – feels somewhat out of place. It’s got a slow, grinding approach, somewhat like ‘Dirt’ by The Stooges, but where some people have the charm to pull off this kind of material, it doesn’t work here. While Alex’s screechy vocal style seems to work fine with the material played at breakneck speed, it becomes difficult listening without that speed to back it up. Still, it’s the only negative point from an otherwise potentially great EP. Please don’t think I’m getting at Alex…his vocal style can be difficult, but it’s well suited to most of the band’s material. Its unrestrained approach shares a lot in common Jason Navarro (check out The Suicide Machines’ swansong ‘War Profiteering Is Killing Us All’) or Frank Carter from Gallows…and sometimes that’s a good thing.

‘You Can’t Hide From The Computers’ is fun, (mostly) fast and uncompromising. If this doesn’t make you want to jump up and down and hit things, then there’s something wrong with you.

March 2010

WILD SIDE – Speed Devil

wild side

Back in the early 90s, a second divison Mötley Crüe obsessed outfit named Wildside released their only album ‘Under The Influence’. Aside from the rather crass ‘Hang On Lucy’, the album featured material that was largely forgettable. Somehow, despite that, CD pressings of the album became sought after by fans of late 80s/early 90s glam and sleaze rock. Many years later, their guitarist Brent Woods would become sideman to Mötley’s Vince Neil in one of his solo bands, but like so many others, Wildside ended up being no more than a footnote to that scene.

When this album first appeared in the forthcoming releases schedule at Escape Music early in 2010, part of me hoped that Brent Woods had resurrected the name and was coming back to have another go. However, this particular Wild Side (note the two word band name as opposed to the singular one of the early 90s) aren’t the US glam band who never made it; this Wild Side hail from Norway – and on the basis of this debut album aren’t likely to make it either.

After an intro, ‘Live Forever’ thunders with a riff that musically fits snugly somewhere between forgotten 90s band Heaven’s Edge, Mötley Crüe’s ‘Shout at the Devil’ album (though lacking even the small amount of finesse the Crüe had back then) and German stalwarts Scorpions at their heaviest, circa their ‘Blackout’ album. Tackled at full bore, the speed is largely a tool to show off Tom Grena and Jon Aarseth’s prowess in the guitar solo department. Joachim Berntsen’s vocals also have a very European feel about them; his strong accent and higher pitch more than reminiscent of Scorpions man Klaus Meine (or if you’re lucky, Klaus doing a half-arsed impersonation of Vince Neil, as evidenced on the album’s second proper track, ‘Mine Tonight’). Generally speaking, most of Wild Side’s key traits can be found in this rather unsubtle opener and if you don’t like it, it’s unlikely that much of the album is going to win you over.

That afore-mentioned second track, ‘Mine Tonight’ has a slower tempo which works in its favour as well as a solid bass intro. However, once Joachim starts wailing his way through a bunch of questionable lyrics, any promise gets sucked out of the song’s solid foundations. Likewise, the mid-paced riffer ‘Play With Me’ loses any credibility by including lyrics like “I wanna rock you baby, come and play with me / We can have a good time / I just wanna feel your love / Hear you scream all night”. I wish they were including these with a tongue placed firmly in-cheek, but I fear that it’s all being delivered decades late and with no sense of irony.

Halfway into the album and taking a tempo similar to the opening number, Wild Side hammer their way through ‘Wild One’ with gusto, but by this point, unless you want to stick around to smirk at lyrics like “she’s a wild one / Wild one from the street”, the show’s over. By track 5 (barring the sappy ballad ‘Love For You’ near the album’s end) you’ve heard both of Wild Side’s typical default styles. On a positive note, Wild Side show that they are more than musically competent, but it takes more than that to make an album worthy of long-term enjoyment; the fact that Wild Side are almost incapable of stepping outside their rigid forms of either fast paced rock with big solos or mid-paced riffage really works against them. With only the two styles predominantly on show, the ballad feels like a token gesture, since all rock albums have one.

‘Speed Devil’ is completely unoriginal album. That alone wouldn’t necessarily make it bad of course, but once you combine that with the poor song writing and slightly painful vocal delivery, it doesn’t bode well all at all. It’s beyond salvation (a few guitar dramatics here and there don’t come anywhere close to making this album hold it’s own) and as such, it is unlikely that anyone but the most undemanding of 80s metal fans will find anything to get excited about here.

August 2010


get it

The Lashes’ debut EP, ‘The Stupid Stupid’, was issued on the almost legendary Lookout! Records label, once home to many top-notch punk bands. By The time of their full length release ‘Get It’, two years later, the band had been snapped up by Sony, obviously spotting potential in the Seattle sextet’s fusion of power pop, hard rock and emo.

Opening this album, the intro keyboard wash of ‘New Best Friend’ reinforces the power pop elements of The Lashes’ sound. Nearly all of the band’s traits are here in this opening track: punchy guitars, solid rhythms and keyboard filler (and do I hear handclaps?); and from that perspective ‘Get It’ is an album with very few surprises. ‘A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody’ takes The Lashes’ love of classic new wave-ish rock/pop further, without compromising any of the guitar punch…and in just over three minutes – and via a big debt to Weezer – they have you reeled in. If you’re a sucker for guitar driven melodies coupled with decent hook, then you’ll probably love this.

The spiky ‘Safe To Say’ carries elements which call to mind the 00’s garage revival of bands like The Strokes, but more tuneful. While one of the weaker numbers from ‘Get It’, it showcases the bands slightly more aggressive side and also highlights how it doesn’t always work when they try something outside their comfort zone. This is counterbalanced some way by ‘Dear Hollywood’, a rumpty-tumpty piece of rock/pop with a greater focus on the piano than most of The Lashes’ other material. Again, this only strengthens any claim that power pop is at the heart of The Lashes’ craft, as opposed to anything punkier…

‘Daddy’s Little Girl’ has the makings of a classic. Via its great hooks and decent tune, I’m reminded a great deal of the criminally ignored mid-90s glam-pop band Beat Angels, thanks to slight Cheap Trick-isms and handclaps. In terms of stuck-in-your-head-goodness, ‘The World Needs More Love Letters’ is an equal match with its pop-driven chorus and Greg Hawkes inspired keyboards. ‘Dear Hollywood’, the album’s lightest offering, is piano-driven pop with hints of Ben Folds and Jason Falkner at their most bouncy. Also worthy of a mention is ‘Sometimes The Sun’, which is poppier than a lot of the material here, slightly jaunty, but not too obviously quirky. It’s another track which shows The Lashes playing to their strengths. Musically, it hangs off a simple guitar twang which doesn’t really carry a tune in itself; the melodies are crafted via a particularly overstretched vocal approach, which eventually arrives at a simple but pleasing hook.

Given The Lashes’ influences and knack for a decent chorus, on the surface ‘Get It’ should be an enjoyable ride, due to its disposable qualities. Sadly, there’s a weak link throughout – and that weak link is Ben Clark’s vocal. It sounds like a strong voice, but he’s chosen to sing with an irritating emo like affectation. It’s trashy enough to suit most of the songs on offer; however, when pushed to the levels a lot of these songs require, it can become an annoyance. …And for me, that’s enough to stop ‘Get It’ ever obtaining that cult classic status it could’ve been capable of achieving.

January 2010/July 2010