Popdose Exclusive Song Premiere: The Persian Leaps, “Time Slips!”

Popdose is very pleased to bring you this exclusive new track off the debut full-length album from St. Paul, Minnesota’s The Persian Leaps.
“The Persian Leaps” began as a phrase singer/guitarist Drew Forsberg doodled in a notebook margin during a college Greek archaeology course. He wrote music independently under that name for years, until finally assembling a full band in 2012 to perform and record driving, chiming music influenced by The Smiths, Guided by Voices, and Teenage Fanclub.
The Persian Leaps have adhered to a disciplined schedule of concise releases: each fall bringing an E.P. of five songs, totaling fifteen minutes or less. In 2013, The Persian Leaps released their debut E.P., Praise Elephants, which NME Magazine described as a “celestial guitar jangle”. The band completed a follow-up E.P., Drive Drive Delay, in 2014, praised by XS Noize for its “instantly catchy melodic harmonies layered on top of droning guitar.” 2015, saw High & Vibrate, by The Big Takeover for its “big-time hooks, upbeat attitude, classic power-trio punch.” 2016’s Your City, Underwater earned a spot on The Big Takeover’s Top 30 E.P.’s of 2016. September, 2017, Bicycle Face was delivered, yet again, to fan and critic praise. Named for a 19th-century medical condition, concocted to scare women away from biking, Bicycle Face was described as a “perfect power pop cocktail” by 50thirdand3rd.
This year brings the band’s first full-length release, Pop That Goes Crunch, an 18-song “best of”/anthology. With 17 remixed/remastered tracks, and one new single, it marks the end of an era, while celebrating and revisiting some of The Persian Leaps’ best work.
About the new track, “Time Slips!”, Drew Forsberg reflects:  “”Time Slips” is a song I wrote about my grandparents, who lived hundreds of miles and a few states away from me. I spent summers with them as a younger kid, and they were incredibly important to me. But after I became a busy (and self-involved) adult, I rarely saw them before their deaths. I still feel guilt and regret over how I drifted out of their lives.”
Take a listen and think about the meaning of the lyrics.  We think you’ll really like this one a lot.

Pop That Goes Crunch will be released on Friday, October 12, 2018.


Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episode Eighty

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross:  Episode Eighty

You might think that somewhere along the lines, Jon and Rob would run out of steam – or at least be able to ease up on the intensity of Radio City…  but no.  The world is spinning faster and more out of control and these two put themselves out there to bring you interesting, honest talk every week.  This time, the boys discuss the heartbreak of the Village Voice shutting down operations after 63 years; the John McCain and Aretha Franklin funerals; the New York gubernatorial debate; Labor Day without Jerry Lewis, the recent Showtime documentary about Lynyrd Skynyrd; of course, “In Our Heads” and even more than that!
It shouldn’t surprise you, but if you sit back and listen to Radio City… #80, you’ll definitely find a lot to think about – and perhaps even agree with.  And if you don’t, that’s equally great – we’d love to hear your opinions!

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross:  Episode Eighty

The podcast will be on the site as well as for subscription via iTunes and other podcast aggregators. Subscribe and let people know about Radio City, as well as Popdose’s other great podcasts David Medsker’s Dizzy Heights and In:Sound with Michael Parr and Zack Stiegler.

Album Review: Robert Poss, “Frozen Flowers Curse the Day”

Frozen Flowers Curse The Day is the latest release from pioneering avant-guitarist Robert Poss, a founding member of the legendary wall-of-guitars group, Band Of Susans. The album was performed, recorded and mixed by Poss at Trace Elements Records Studios in New York City with guest drummers, including Dahm Majuri Cipolla (Torres, Lydia Lunch, Japan’s Mono) helping out on two tracks.

This eclectic collection of recent work continues Mr. Poss’s obsession with the electric guitar, drones, textures and sonic architecture. Like his previous solo release, Settings – Music For Dance, Film, Fashion and Industry, some of the material was created for the modern dance companies with which Poss has worked for nearly a decade. The album ranges from ambient and experimental instrumental works to Band Of Susans-esque rockers with vocals.

Mr. Poss founded the critically acclaimed Band Of Susans in 1986, described by Rolling Stone as “adamantly arty, brainy, visceral and bracing.” B.O.S. went on to release two E.P.s and five full length albums, produced by Mr. Poss before disbanding in 1995. Before forming the band, he worked with Rhys Chatham and after the group’s split, collaborations with Nicolas Collins, Wire’s Bruce Gilbert, Ben Neill, David Dramm and Phill Niblock followed.

The album’s title cut is a mix of soundscapes and tape loops; atmospheric and soothing; “The Sixth Sense Betrayed” is riff-rock; it has a dramatic build which works in the context of instrumentals (which is not an easy thing to execute) – this track comes to life with vocals added, as it has a very poppy element to it and the harmonies are very subtle; easily, this is an early standout.  “Time Frames Marking Time” is a very cinematic piece – lengthy and framed by keyboards, as guitar notes and fragments dip in and out – it has the feel of a scene in a European thriller; “I’ve Got A Secret List” has a trebly guitar opening, a cascade of rolling drum patterns and sparse vocals and “Sketch 72” is pure rock with a clean, 2 guitar track in a very Stones-y manner, especially with the slide guitar punctuations.

Because Mr. Poss is so adept at melody and texture, this album is very strong – and when works are not driven by songs with vocals on every track, it’s quite an achievement.  There’s a lot to take from and absorb and makes this a very fine offering from Robert Poss.


Frozen Flowers Curse The Day is currently available


Exit Lines: “Straight White Men”

Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men is the first play by an Asian-American woman to be produced on Broadway. The good news is, better ones are likely to follow in its wake, perhaps even by Lee. She’s had a commendable career Off Broadway, where Straight White Men originated, in a Public Theater production four years ago. That was of course before the Trump era, and this play, an examination of privilege, hasn’t kept up with fast-changing times. Even with rewriting, there’s an Obama skittishness about it.

Before the show begins the tiny Hayes theater is engulfed in pounding hip hop music. Apparently the din (from music that its characters have assimilated as their own) is meant to discomfit stuffy Broadway viewers, but already the play had backfired on the Friday I attended; everyone seemed to be pumped up, ready to put itself (a largely white audience, if not all straight or all men) under the knife. Two trans performers, identified as Person in Charge I (Kate Bornstein) and Person in Charge 2 (Ty Defoe) appear, to crack wise and set the stage for the examination. The curtain comes up on Todd Rosenthal’s set, which puts a literal frame around a benignly unkempt, mannish living room in the Midwest, bereft of a woman’s touch. “Let the procedure begin,” all this throat-clearing seems to announce.

But the dissection doesn’t cut terribly deep. Drew (Armie Hammer, in his Broadway debut) and Jake (Josh Charles) return to their family home to bring Christmas cheer to their recently widowed dad, Ed (Stephen Payne). That never works in drama, and sure enough Yuletide blessings begin to curdle. The main bone of contention is their older brother Matt (Paul Schneider), who showed such promise early on, but now seems to languish, taking care of Ed and working odd jobs. His younger brothers are affronted by his lack of ambition, and push comes literally to shove as they suggest therapy and other possible cures. The middle-age-ish boys, whose staunchly liberal mother raised them on a guilt-inducing board game called “Privilege,” turn on each other, to Ed’s befuddlement.

That non-existent board game is one of the odd touches that Lee dabs onto an otherwise familiar canvas. The Persons in Charge reorient the furniture at the one-act play’s midpoint but are otherwise never seen again; is this a comment on their being “outside the narrative” of straight white men, but somehow influencing it? It’s hard to see how–Jake, who’s divorcing, refers to his black wife and their children, and Matt worked with the poor in Ghana, but class, not race, is the predominant issue. (Well, there is an impromptu “Ku Klux Klan” rendition of “Oklahoma!”, a musical mom wrote off as racist.) Abetted by the pacy direction of Anna D. Shapiro, Lee is good at generating a certain amount of tension as the characters tiptoe around their troubles, but less good at making sense of the emotional detonations when they arrive, or “saying something” about the loose threads she’s intentionally added.

An advantage of seeing a show later in its run is that the cast can coalesce into an crackling ensemble, and Hammer and Charles have the combative brother dynamic down to a T, crashing into each other at regular intervals. (Following his moves in Call Me By Your Name Hammer gets down here as well, suggesting an offbeat dance musical in his future.) Payne, a professional understudy who got the role when the originally cast Tom Skerritt dropped out, plumbs the melancholy of a peace-keeping patriarch. But all eyes tend to fall on Schneider, whose Matt keeps pushing away the knife his family subjects him to. What Straight White Men does have is outstanding straight white men.


Soul Serenade: Aretha Franklin, “I Say a Little Prayer”

I’m back. I was happy to have a couple of weeks to recharge my batteries in terms of writing this column but enough is enough. I had many ideas that I wanted to write about while I was on my short sabbatical but then Aretha Franklin passed on and I knew that there could only be one subject for my first column back … the Queen of Soul.

I’ve written about Aretha before in this column, three times in regard to her own records and many more times in passing while writing about another artist. There’s virtually nothing that I can add to the extensive coverage that we’ve all been following since Aretha died. We’ve heard all about her childhood from her birth in Memphis to her family’s move to Buffalo when she was two to her permanent relocation to Detroit. We know that Aretha was the daughter of the prominent minister C.L. Franklin, that he separated from his wife when Aretha was six-years-old, and that her mother died four years later.

It wasn’t long after her mother’s death that Aretha began to sing in her father’s New Bethel Baptist Church. The first hymn she sang, at age 12, was “Jesus, Be a Fence Around Me.” Her reputation as a gospel singer continued to grow until Aretha reached the age of 16. At that point, she began to contemplate a move to secular music with encouragement from Sam Cooke who had followed the same path.

There were several offers from record labels and eventually Aretha signed with Columbia Records and released her first secular album in 1961. She made some fine albums for Columbia but the truth is that the label failed to take advantage of her strengths and when her contract expired in 1966, Aretha moved on to Atlantic Records. One day at FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals in January 1967 was all it took to cement her place in history. The song that was recorded in Muscle Shoals, “”I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” was Aretha’s first Top 10 hit and was followed up by her take on Otis Redding’s “Respect” which took her to the top of the charts and became her signature song. “Respect” was followed by “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” and “Chain of Fools.” Not a bad run, right? And it was far from over.

Aretha Franklin

There were more hits, many more hits over the years. While Aretha had her greatest string of hits in the 1960s, she was still creating hits into the 1980s and beyond. Her classics for Atlantic and Arista are too numerous to mention and besides, you know them all. So I’ll focus on one hit in particular, Aretha’s take on the Burt Bacharach and Hal David song “I Say a Little Prayer.”

The song was originally written by Bacharach and David for Dionne Warwick with whom they had so many hits. Her version was another in that run, reaching #4 on the Billboard Hot 100 at the end of 1967. Despite the success, Bacharach himself was never happy with the finished record, feeling that it was too rushed.

The following year, Aretha and her background vocalists, the Sweet Inspirations, were rehearsing songs for the upcoming Aretha Now album and they began singing “I Say a Little Prayer” just for fun. It wasn’t long before they realized that their version, markedly different from Warwick’s, had potential. In July 1968, “I Say a Little Prayer” was released as the B-side of “The House That Jack Built” but before long it was getting airplay on its own. By October 1968 the B-side was a Top 10 hit on the pop and R&B charts. It was Aretha’s ninth consecutive Top 10 hit for Atlantic and it would be her last for the label.

Aretha Franklin’s music was important to generation after generation. Even more important was her commitment to civil rights and women’s rights. “Respect” and “Natural Woman” became anthems for those causes and she provided her time and money for the struggle from behind the scenes and on stage at various benefits over the years.

It’s hard to imagine a world without Aretha Franklin. She was one of those rare artists who remained our hearts and in our ears for decades. Even after all of this time, no one changes the channel when “Respect” comes on the radio. We’re more likely to start singing along at the top of our lungs with huge smiles on our faces. The Queen is gone but in truth, she will never really be gone at all. Long live the Queen.

Album Review: The Imperial Sound, “The New AM”

The Imperial Sound’s blithe synthesis of 21st-century irony and bright, unselfconscious AM-radio pop is both brave and unique. This, their debut album, The New (hence, the title), showcases songwriter Frederick Mosher’s hook-driven heritage – with influences from Todd Rundgren and Carole King to The Replacements and Elvis Costello.  They deliver infectious, shimmering songs that celebrate the craft and style of the best pop music.

Kenn Goodman (keyboards) and Mosher (guitars and vocals) have been partners in a variety of musical ventures; from the Chicago-based Pravda Records store/label to the legendary trash-rock trio The New Duncan Imperials, for many years. In this latest incarnation, as the founders of The Imperial Sound, it puts them at the center of a group of seasoned musicians with years of experience and a drive for self-reinvention.

The twelve songs on this debut forge an immediately identifiable sound and style: songs bristling with pop hooks, taut arrangements driven by an all-star horn section, and heavenly harmonies courtesy of a who’s-who in Chicago pop. Guests on the album include Peter Himmelman, Poi Dog Pondering’s Dag Juhlin, singing legends Kelly Hogan (who I adore) and Nora O’Conner (Neko Case, Mavis Staples, The Flat Five), and Kathy Ruestow (Diplomats of Solid Sound).

Opening with “Yesterday”, the track kicks off with a ballsy brass intro; it’s an instantly catchy song about time and memory. You could make the argument that it sounds a little like Carole King but with more drive and those brilliantly deployed horn (especially the very Tom Scott-like sax solo) – and listen for the very soulful organ undercurrent. “Daylight” is taut and atmospheric on the verses, then explodes into full, lush pop with orchestration and horns on the chorus; “The Quarry” has a melancholy about it, even though it’s uptempo – a very mid-’70’s style Hi Records/Willie Mitchell-inspired moment and “Back On Your Table” is an old-fashioned stomper with chorale-type vocals, handclaps and a sense of drive, much akin to Dexy’s classic “Let’s Make This Precious”.  “Get Along!” is a very Attractions-esque piece, with pumping Farfisa and throttling guitars (think Get Happy!-era (see?)) – lively and, again, catchy; “Six To A Room” made me think about the oft-forgotten mid-’80’s  band The Truth with its keyboard and horn interplay and strident rhythm – rollicking and with an “everybody sing” vibe.

All in all, an impressive debut.  Going forward, I do hope they head into a more rock/poppy direction and use less of the horns, so the songs don’t all wind up sounding too similar.  There’s a lot of potential here and this is a great jumping off point.


The New AM is currently available


Book Review: “Miss Subways”

It’s easy to write off David Duchovny one of a number of celebrities who fancies him or herself as a novelist. However, the guy is no stranger to the world of fiction. His college education is steeped in English Literature and poetry, he received a terminal M.A. in the same field while working on a Ph.D. — but ditched completing the degree while working on his doctoral dissertation. Does that make him more qualified than his acting contemporaries to write long-form fiction? Not really. Indeed, it’s possible that having a deep knowledge of English Lit may somewhat hamper his ability to tell a good story. While that’s not entirely the case with his third novel, Miss Subways, Duchovny does take extended detours in his story with long expositions and pontifications on philosophical and religious questions — which does muddy the waters of a good yarn.

The story veers into the realm of science fiction with its lead character, Emer Gunnels, facing a choice:  save the one she loves from a horrible death by sacrificing her relationship and never seeing her soul mate again, or watch him die.  It’s kind of a Hobson’s Choice (i.e., taking what is available or nothing at all) as both will leave Emer alone and pining for love. Where does this strange choice come from? Well — and this is where the novel takes a strange turn — Emer is confronted in her apartment by a Celtic fairy (not a leprechaun) named Sid who shows her on his phone video of Emer’s boyfriend, Con, and the grisly fate that awaits him. The video shows what could be if Emer lets him die, and also shows what could be if she makes the choice to leave him and never cross paths again. She chooses a loveless existence where she and her boyfriend — known as Con, but whose real name is Cuchulain Constance — live apart in an alternate reality. The bulk of the novel is exploring the nature of love (as it transcends space-time), mythological creatures who live in our world, and a heaping helping of pop culture references that are very funny at times.  

Duchovny is a competent writer who really shines when his sardonic, pop-culture laced quips take front and center. I’m not sure if people outside late Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers will find the references Duchovny weaves into the dialog funny, but they certainly made me chuckle at times. Alas, those moments were few and far between in the novel, and that’s a shame because Miss Subways had the potential to be a crazy and funny wild ride of a story. Instead, Duchovny’s detours into high-minded quotes and long disquisitions into the meaning of love and religion sacrificed a potentially compelling plot that made the novel more than a bit plodding.  

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross: Episode Seventy-Nine

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross:  Episode Seventy Nine

With no shortage of time or events unfolding, Jon and Rob hit the ground running and very hard – so much so, you could consider this instalment of Radio City… as a mini-marathon.  From the embarrassment and ego-blown MTV Video Awards to the Manafort verdict to The Eagles now having the biggest selling album in history to Rob spending a few hours with Cyndi Dawson from The Cynz and, of course, “In Our Heads”,  this show has everything you could want and even more.

There is a lot to listen in to; a lot to digest.  Some of it you’ll like, be entertained by and be amused – some of it you may bristle at, become annoyed or just plain angered.  We’re neither right, nor wrong – we just deliver as objectively as possible and let you decide for yourselves.  As it should be.

Radio City With Jon Grayson & Rob Ross:  Episode Seventy Nine

The podcast will be on the site as well as for subscription via iTunes and other podcast aggregators. Subscribe and let people know about Radio City, as well as Popdose’s other great podcasts David Medsker’s Dizzy Heights and In:Sound with Michael Parr and Zack Stiegler.