Some artists just belt it out. Others treat a song like sculpture, carefully teasing out the song’s essential elements with a perfectionist’s sense of sonic finesse. Today’s post features the latter, some very carefully crafted poprock to delight and entertain you.
Ken Sharp is an uber talented guy. Author of 18 non-fiction books, liner-notes writer to the stars, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and the guy’s got a great sense of style. I mean, his albums and singles always look amazing, wonderfully illustrated and featuring great sixties and seventies fonts and images. His just released record, Miniatures, breaks even more new ground, delivering 32 songs in just 41 minutes. They are miniatures in the sense of being short in length but also in terms of their execution. Each track is a carefully crafted sonic landscape, evoking different musical eras, songwriting styles, and moods. Album opener “Me and My Big Fat Mouth” sets the tone, establishing a Bacharachian precision in terms of song arranging while the tune exudes a Dionne Warwick or Neil Sedaka melodic sensibility. There are so many highlights here, I can’t possibly go into them all (though for an excellent deep dive into the album’s songs and inspirations, check out Keith Womack’s amazing coverage in Salon) so I’ll just riff on a few of my faves. On the whole, the record vibes an early 1970s pop sound, that intimate, glossy, compressed effect I associate with Partridge Family records, the Carpenters, folk pop artists of era like Cat Stevens, and the theme from the TV show Love, American Style. Having said that tracks like “Susannah Silently Shining” remind me a bit of Apples in Stereo while “Stack O’ Records” has a Big Star in acoustic mode feel. From there the album has so many jaunty, ambling-away-the-summer-days pop numbers, like “This Kiss,” “Every Day is Holly Day,” and “My Lullaby.” Sharp does occasionally let loose, upping the tempo on numbers like “Down the Drain” and the Costello-ish “Something’s Happening.” Baroque is a term often thrown around for this project and it sticks to songs like “Dollhouse,” “We’re Moving On,” album closer “Miniatures,” and the delightfully inventive and mannered “Black Coffee Cigarettes and Bach’s Minuet.” You can basically jump in anywhere on Miniatures and feel the delight, the whimsy, and a load of positive vibes. It’s all so nicely captured on what is probably my favourite tune from the record, the Cat Steven-ish sing-along “Count On Me.” Sharp definitely delivers a much-needed seasonal mood improver with this tuneful trove.
It all started with deceit. A group releases a series of singles under different band names, pretending to be separate acts with different styles. But when the ruse is revealed April 1st (naturally) it quickly becomes apparent that what began as a lark has turned into a serious musical accomplishment. Incognito reveals The Armoires as a much more ambitious, dynamic outfit than we ever imagined. The record’s focus splits three ways, between covers, country and an updated new wave sound (with some overlap). You’re exposed to the ambition behind the LP right away with the opening cut, the band’s inspired cover of John Cale’s “Paris 1919.” Their interpretation effectively delivers on a poprock promise only implied in Cale’s original. Other hooky contributions defy a singular style, vibing a nouveau Kirsty MacColl feel on “I Just Can’t See the Attraction” or a bit of the New Pornographers on “I Say We take Off and Nuke the Site from Orbit” or a Teenage Fanclub sensibility with the 2020 cover “The Night I Heard a Scream.” The country-ish contributions are equally affecting, from the old timey feel of “Bagfoot Country” to the more bluesy country of “Homebound” to the shot-glass soaked duet that is “Shame and Bourbon.” My own vote for should-be hit single is the breezy, rollicking “Great Distances” with its light touch of jangle and homey harmonies. And these are just the highlights for me – I could on. To sum, despite its variety in song and styles Incognito is definitely the work of one band, one that is discovering there really are few limits to what it can be and do.
Richard Turgeon has done it again. Defying the sequels curse, his second album of covers is a summer car-driving mix-tape champion. 10 Covers Volume 2 applies his Turgeon-izer (a distinctive dissonant hooky stamp) to classic songs from the 1960s, indie faves from the eighties and nineties, as well as songs that are barely a few years old. You’ve got to admire the cheek of trying to cover such classics as The Monkees’ “I’m a Believer” or The Mamas and Papas’ “California Dream’” but Turgeon pulls it off. The trick to effectively covering well known material is to offer up the familiar hooks but colour in some new melodic shading in unexpected ways or in different parts of the tune. Turgeon’s “I’m a Believer” is a little less manic than the original, a bit more indie-casual with some entertaining lead guitar embellishments. His “California Dreamin’” sounds a bit more believably desperate and stark. The cover of the Bryds’ “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better” dials down the jangle, offering a more straight up rocking feel. Turning more recent material, I love the version of Potty Mouth’s “22” here. Turgeon turns an already great fun stomper into a power pop classic, with spot on vocals and great guitar lines. But his greatest reinvention on this album is a reworking of Hole’s “Malibu.” The guitar approach better anchors the melodic hooks of song while Turgeon’s vocals add an emotional depth that was missing from the original. Another song Turgeon improves on is Bobby Fuller’s “A New Shade of Blue” where, again, his singing adds something new. You really believe he’s got the blues! And there’s more – I haven’t even mentioned the nice Tom Petty, Oasis, and Cure covers. Suffice it to say, no drive to the beach is really gonna be complete without blasting this through the speakers this summer.