Mike Baron's YEAR IN MUSIC!!!, Part Two
#6:GREAT LAKES MYTH SOCIETY-COMPASS ROSE BOUQUET Power pop from the Upper Midwest has its own sound and traditions, an inchoate longing for a simpler time evident in the music of Spooner, the Hawks, and the Great Lakes Myth Society. This album is a marvelous conjuration of country rock. You can sense Crosby, Stills and Nash hovering over the production, but Great Lakes (they should drop the Myth Society) have their own cold north country vibe thanks to dueling mandolins from James and Timothy Monger. They layer electric over acoustic to create a powerful dynamic. Listen to the way “Summer Bonfire” builds in intensity to suddenly dissolve in a swoon of violins. “Stump Speech” and “Midwest Main Street” leave an ache in your heart reminiscent of the Hang-Ups, in the best possible way.
#7:THE RED BUTTON-SHE'S ABOUT TO CROSS MY MIND In the tradition of early Beatles, Chad and Jeremy, Turtles, Gerry and the Pacemakers and the Zombies, Mike Ruekberg and Seth Swirsky create polished four minute gems that evoke a golden past. Each song is Brill Building solid with thrilling intros, urgent themes and overwhelming hooks. Swirsky and Ruekberg have an Everly Brothers vibe going. “Floating By” sounds like a Burt Bacharach/Brian Wilson collaboration. This record is like crack. Listen to any song and you’ll know what I mean.
#8: OLIVER FUTURE-PAX FUTURA is weird and powerful, with a bassline like the island of Manhattan. Very solid. Another brother act, Noah and Josh Lit, PAX FUTURA casts a dark spell reminiscent of the Ministry crossed with the Cure with an echo of U2. But by the time the Lit Bros. have perfected their fresh harmony on tracks eight and nine all comparisons have been forgotten. “Happiness Machine” and “The Reclamation” are as powerful a combo as you’re likely to hear. Pax Futura is not perfect, but an overabundance of originality and unexpected flashes of beauty, which is what the best art should reveal.
#9: APPLES IN STEREO-NEW MAGNETIC WONDER Robert Schneider finally puts it all together forging a bass-heavy sound—unavoidable food cliché—like English toffee, crunchy and sweet. And Schneider’s found a way to make his friendly bullfrog voice work for him, trailing off into dry melisma on “Skyway” and “Energy.” This record grabs you by the epithalamus and drags you straight through to the end without let-up. Schneider always had an instinct for the hook, but his sound bounced all over the place. It’s solidified here into a fuzz-heavy pleasure-tickling drone that makes you tingle from head to toe.
#10: ROGER JOESEPH MANNING JR.-THE LAND OF PURE IMAGINATION The former Jellyfish sheds his baby fat and steps out of the shadows with a wild display that lives up to its name. Most pop music suffers from a simple failure of imagination: they can’t conceive three chords. Manning can, and a lot more. The most remarkable thing about this record is Manning’s musical audacity—he thinks in big, flamboyant musical gestures. If there’s a fault, it’s that Manning has so much imagination he sometimes crams a song with too many ideas. The title track explodes with a hook like a ramjet. Manning achieves heavenly choirs with multiple overlays, most notably on the superb “Sandman.” Some listeners have griped about the lightweight lyrics to “Dragonfly,” but the song is not about the lyrics. In Manning’s hands, the music itself is always compelling.
#11: ED JAMES-IN THE 21st CENTURY Ed James is another one-man band with a killer instinct for the hook, and a unique set of chord structures. James’ previous ROCKET SHIP is perfect power pop, in the way of the Toms. Ed offers more of the same with unusually poignant chords. His infectious good spirits are evident in the first three seconds of the first song, a hand-clapping killer that dances down the boulevard accompanied by horns and jangling guitars. Ed writes no duff. Every song is deserving of your utmost attention. But the chords he uses on “And Then She Smiles” will stop you dead in your tracks.