Dave Scarbrough, Lisa Mychols, Mick Trouble, Paul Ryan, R.E. Seraphin, Super 8, The Happy Somethings
As the teletype drones in the background a stentorian voice announces more breaking news, none of it good. But relax, this breaking news post is just good stuff, headlines full of groovy, jangly, modish, melodic guitar fun. Hold your questions till the end.
Paul Ryan’s reconnaissance of late 1960s and early 1970s aural soundscapes continues with his latest Super 8 release Universal Journey. This time the pitch is cast somewhere between the psych pop of 1967 and the mellow sunshine pop of 1971, aided by vocal help from power pop songstress Lisa Mychols. “Universe” kicks things off in a laid back psychedelic style, letting you know that, baby, everything is just gonna be groovy. “Galatic 9” puts a bit of spring into that step, Mychols vibing a mix of breathy 1960s dolly bird singing with some lighter-than-clouds background vocals. But then the mood shifts on “California Road Trip” with a bright piano and crisp vocal that is oh so Carpenters (minus the wall-of-strings). “All Because of You” and “Ghost in my Heart” also have this vibe. From there the album offers up a variety of styles: a decided blues feel to “Cracks in the Pavement,” driving, pumping piano on “On the Radio,” a boogie psych lurch animating “The Door Beneath the Eyes,” and Sgt. Pepper-esque psychedelia defining “Feel.” “Rocky Roads” is a bit more timeless, just a could-be-anytime great poprock single. And then there’s the obvious summer anthem “Where’s the Sunshine,” a track that really captures the obvious musical chemistry between Paul and Lisa. Altogether Universal Journey is fun in the sun and then some.
On his new Swingshift EP San Francisco’s R.E. Seraphin leans into a bigger, bolder guitar sound. Opener “Playing House” lands with a sense of presence, the prominent early guitar chords saying ‘hey there, check this out!’ By the chorus I’m convinced I’m hearing some great lost Might Lemon Drops out-take (and that’s a good thing), the keyboards and guitar meld so effortlessly. Then “Big Break” pulls back, the guitar attack is lighter giving way to a more boppy pop feel. “Stuck in Reno” takes us in a more spacey jangle direction, at least until the lead guitar pyrotechnics kick in. Seraphin’s press kit mentions The Replacements and Cheap Trick influencing the record but if there’s a band haunting these proceedings it’s the Church circa the “Under the Milky Way” period. I hear it on “The Virtue of Being Wrong” and definitely all over “Miss Grief.” Seraphin rounds things out with two delightfully delivered covers, The Wipers’ “I’ll be Around” and Television Personalities’ “This Time There’s No Happy Ending.” My only complaint is that everything’s over in just 18 minutes.
To the uninitiated the whole Mick Trouble thing can come off like some sort of elaborate inside joke. Alleged to be a long lost early 1980s mod banger, Mick is supposed to have been only recently rediscovered. Turns out though that the whole enterprise, British accent and all, is the invention of New York-based Teenage Strides and Jeanines member Jed Smith. But man does Smith commit to it! On his second outing in this guise, It’s Mick Trouble’s Second LP has a sound that is so 1960s pop effervescent meets the austere mod revival of late 1970s acts like The Jam and Merton Parks. The record kicks off in jangle guitar overdrive on “A Well Known Drag” with a vocal menace matching Paul Weller, except when it slips into a softer, more seductive Weller croon. Smith knows his England-isms and they litter his lyrical landscape on tracks like “Jim’ll Fix It,” “Living in a Kingdom” and “Hastings to Normandy.” But the strength of the record is in the song-writing and killer period-perfect performances. “Do Nothing ‘Till You Hear From You Me” is so 1960s pop whimsy, “The Bleeding Downs” is strummy sing-a-long good, and “Julia” applies Searchers guitar to that early 1980s austere rewrite of the sixties beat group sound. In a different retro vein, “Me and the Riddle Tree” ambles along with a very 1980s guitar vibe while “No Deal” is my vote for should-be hit single, it’s such a perfect bit of guitar pop. With Mick Trouble, you might come for the novelty but you’ll stay for the show.
All the bloggers are saying very nice things about Dave Scarbrough and his ‘debut’ album Happy Every After. And so they should – the record is freakin’ fantastic. But as recent interviews highlight, Dave’s been at the music thing for a long time and that might explain the polish, the confidence, and the high quality of what he’s produced. Opening cut “Catherine” captures it all: the slashy guitar chords, the glorious keyboard runs, and the hook that won’t let up. Sure all the usual comparisons are there – Costello, Squeeze mainly – but there’s something more at work here too. “Wachet Auf” has a different poppy rock feel, reminding me of Seattle’s Ruler. Ballad “The Coming Good” is another departure, this time into Boo Hewerdine territory. Then “Wanna Believe” has a menacing Americana rock feel, switching up the tempo and the vocals. Ok, “As Far As I Know” and “Hilary” take us back into Costello territory but I hear a bit of Edward O’Connell’s take on the master as well. My point (and I do have one) is that Scarbrough may have strong influences but he’s carving out his own path too. I mean, check out the distinctive guitar stamp on “Runaround” or song structure of “Oblivious.” Either one would make pretty good singles IMHO. “Sorry” is another winner too. All I can say is, thank you Sioux Falls, South Dakota for sharing this major talent with the rest of us.
Can I say I think I’m in love with The Happy Somethings? This band of seemingly socialist songsters give their music away for free and self-describe themselves as an ‘independently unpolished band who like to be happy … making music for pleasure.’ But don’t be fooled. This is some pretty top notch stuff, sometimes sounding like a lofi Chumbawumba, at other times a fuzzy jangle band. Their new EP is Ego Test and it gives you a pretty good sense of what they’re about. “New Life” is definitely happy and positive, with a Elephant 6 sensibility. “Ego Testicle” drapes its critique of our money-centric world with another sunny melody and some sharp guitar work. I love the timbre of the guitar tone opening “Takes a Long Time,” a dreamy, droney paean to being yourself amid a world of deception. “I Hope” wraps things with oceans lapping and metaphysics unresolved but hey, that’s life. And then they’re done. But don’t worry, there’s more on their Bandcamp back pages. And did I mention it’s free? But you can still contribute to helping their make band-ends meet, if you like.
Well, as they used to say on the radio broadcasts, you’re all caught up, with these headlines anyway. Make sure to do your own follow up on these stories and click on the band links to get all the details.
Top photo courtesy Black Zack.