Album Review: Plasticsoul, “Therapy”

Lately, I’ve been struggling with the genre subclassification “power pop.” I never used to have this problem. In fact, for the longest time, I’ve been a defender of the terminology. I mean, how detrimental could it be?

In the grand scheme of things, not at all, but when you start inquiring what the term evokes to other critics and some listeners, the responses are worrisome: happy, horny, and frivolous. Most artists won’t mind the first term, and are sanguine to the second term. It is what it is. But that third term…frivolous? Work on a batch of songs for a year (at least) and then reckon with the frivoloty of your efforts. You’ll change your mind.

So in my mind, it might be time to step away from the term and reclassify this music what it is and has always been — rock. Attitude? Guitars? Maybe an agenda? Yes, yes, and we’ll see.

This brings us to Plasticsoul and their new album Therapy. It’s been some time since we’ve heard from the group (see 2005’s Pictures from the Long Ago and 2009’s Peacock Swagger), but time has not diminished the snarl behind the smile. Plasticsoul still has the wherewithal to kick you in the butt.

The group is led by Steven Wilson, and I suppose I have to provide a qualification at this point. This is not the Steven Wilson that led the band Porcupine Tree and co-created Blackfield, and yet both Wilsons synthesize the sounds of the ’60s and ’70s in modern ways. For Plasticsoul, the combination of the singer/songwriter ethos with the heavier sides of Big Star and The Byrds find Wilson in similar company with Michael Penn and Matthew Sweet, just to name two other artists who have needed to assert their seriousness against their own ornate melodicism.

And Plasticsoul is serious, even when they’re being playful as on the track “The Girl of Many Tribes” which mixes up sitar and tabla with mariachi horns and a samba beat. Similar exotic touches set the gorgeous “Babylon” alight. The beautiful but harrowing “My Heavy Soul” opens the record like a confessional, with Wilson wearily reckoning “It’s been three weeks since the relapse and all I’ve got is my heavy soul” to an acoustic guitar, restrained cello, and a low choir of vocal harmonies. “All Died Pretty” sneers to big, jangly guitars, handclaps, and lyrical malevolence. 

None of this should dissuade anyone who is thinking “arty-farty” because, at the core, this remains a rock record to reassert my original statement. “In Her Raincoat” is flat-out gorgeous with a pitch-perfect guitar solo at the bridge. If you’ve been starving for something reminicent of The Knack during the Zoom era, this song will set you up just right. “Monkey On A Stick” is a punk song, whether anyone dares to classify it as such or not and is a kerosene-torching showcase for Wilson,  bassist Marc Bernal, guitarist Daniel Conrad, and especially drummer Steve Markowicz who summarily beats the hell out of his kit.

Plasticsoul has survived on the fringes for a while, so you can be forgiven for not having heard of them until now. But do yourself a favor and don’t deprive yourself of Therapy, which will surely end up as one of the best rock records of 2017.

Plasticsoul’s Therapy is available at Bandcamp.com.

 

 

POPDOSE EXCLUSIVE SINGLE PREMIERE: TASTES LIKE CHICKEN, “Bottle In My Hand”

With America’s dependency on alcohol and opioids at an alarming all-time high, few artists have dared to address this complicated issue. South Carolina’s Tastes Like Chicken have bravely attempted to fill that void with the release of their poignant and soulful new single “Bottle in My Hand.”  Popdose is pleased to bring to you this exclusive premiere.

It’s the first single taken from their forthcoming full length album, Heartaches and Hangovers (set to be released on June 30th). The talented five-piece band, led by co-founders Lance and Brad Shirley, create a spirited mid-tempo jam with a poignant theme and surprisingly melancholic undertones. The band have honed their talents and earned a sizable fanbase by performing over 200 shows and festivals a year throughout the south and their home base of Florence, South Carolina.

Check out “Bottle In My Hand” below:

Twelve Million Streams Later, Jase Harley Invites Listeners ‘Between the Lines’

In the new frontier of the music industry, streaming is not only a way for artists to get discovered but also a conduit connecting them to fans. R&B songsmith Jase Harley has racked up a staggering 12 million streams on is his 2016 album Free Pxrn: the Memoir of an American Heathen after breaking on Pandora. His style, while influenced by hip-hop, soul, jazz, even film composers like Hans Zimmer, is similar to the Weeknd’s genre-blending sound and Drake’s pop transcendence.

The inspiration for his songs, Harley says, comes from real life. “I don’t rap about anything that doesn’t happen to me,” he says. In fact, his latest single, “Between the Lines,” is “about the relationship between me and one of my exes.”

In his new video for “Between the Lines,” Harley and dancer Olivia L. Burgess display the delicate back and forth of a couple on the brink of destruction. Calling back to Flashdance, it shows off Burgess’ fleet feet amid Harley’s delicate beats and emotional melodies.

Check out Jase Harley’s video for “Between the Lines” below!

5 Songs That Inspired the World-Music ‘Journey’ of Shahed Mohseni Zonoozi

With the goal of taking listeners on a world tour of sorts, Intercontinental Concerts and founder Shahed Mohseni Zonoozi combine musical styles from around the globe to craft something with international flair that’s still accessible regardless of taste. Iranian-born Zonoozi’s latest release, The Journey, features songs in both Russian and Tajik Farsi, displaying inspiration nothing short of divine.

“In general, whenever I listen to a new song, I try to check the details and learn something from it,” he says. “There are always some points in the subject, the words, and their order in lyrics, type of instruments, melodies, arrangement, mix, and sound…. Even I sometimes learn [how] music never should sound like some tracks!” 

Because of the varied influences behind The Journey, we asked Zonoozi to create a mini-playlist of five songs that inspire him.

1. “Memories of You,” Sirvan Khosravi

Iranian pop artist

Well, based on my iTunes plays counter, I listened to this song over 716 times so far since it released in 2014! This is absolutely my most favorite song. Fantastic arrangement and performance together with a story that’s being narrated with very simple words but in an interesting order offered me a new point of view of presenting emotions through music.

Analyzing the vocal production, background sounds and the mix led me to some new ideas in production as well.

2. “Quantumising Myself,” Okan Ersan and Istanbul Superband

(Ersan is a Turkish Cypriot jazz fusion musician)

When I heard this music for the first time, I was in shock for a while, and by listening more and more and paying more attention to details — from melodies and arrangement to mixing and mastering — this track caused me to see music at completely another creative level. Various rhythms and melodies and the ethnic phrases and flavor are the most impressive to me.

3. “Luna,” Alessandro Safina

I heard this song in 2008 when I was so young and studying music. I took music composition and classic vocal courses, and Safina’s singing style [influences]…. I rehearsed for several years to be able to cover this song. The experience of singing in this genre as well as trying some other genres caused me to finally find my own right sound and style!

4. “Give It All You Got,” Chuck Mangione

The recording and mixing of this track are the most outstanding points to me. However, it’s an old record, [but] the clarity of sounds is awesome and even became a reference for me when I mix.

5. “All I See is You,” Dave Koz

I have a cool story of how this music affected my album’s journey!

I was in Istanbul and looking to buy good headphones for mixing. I went to a shop and asked for headphones. I was provided some models and a player to hear how they sounded. “All I See is You” by Dave Koz was playing and sounded really good. I was [entranced] by the music and completely forgot to compare the headphones. While the salesman was changing the tracks to explain his headphones’ sounds for various genres, I grabbed the player to turn back to that track and take a picture of the artwork to [find out] the artist and song name.

I bought the headphones and immediately left to find and buy the track through my computer at my hotel and listen more times. Two years later, I recorded and mixed the whole The Journey album with the same headphones!

Dizzy Heights #20: There’s No Rehearsal

This show normally runs on a Thursday, but vacation beckons, so I’m posting it early. I apologize for the inconvenience.

With the exceptions of the bookends, this show is a love letter to Milwaukee’s Summerfest, because you will be hard pressed to find a better music festival bang for your buck than this, and my lovely wife and I are going for the first time in well over a decade. Which day will we be attending? All will be revealed when you press Play, but I will tell you that it’s basically my music collection in the flesh.

I also make shameless references to the following Popdose articles:

Drink a Toast to Innocence: A Tribute to Lite Rock

The Popdose Interview with Terri Nunn

Nike – Human Chain ad

And tangentially, this Super 700 song

Thank you, as always, for listening.

ALBUM REVIEW: MIDNIGHT NORTH, “Under The Lights”

San Raphael’s Midnight North have just unwrapped their new album (their third), Under The Lights, and it may be wishful thinking that this will be the one to really put them on the map.  The band’s warm, rich, sometimes soulful, sometimes funky-jammy sound is soothing to the ear and it does make you stop and think when listening to the words (which to me is important).  The combination of melody, drive and harmonies makes this an album that makes you feel good.

Opening with the country-tinged, rockin’ steady title track, the balance of acoustic guitar, Nashville-styled riffs and fills and thrashing on the chorus, it’s the perfect way to get this collection started.  Segueing into the more groove-infused “Playing A Poor Hand Well” is a spot-on showcase for Elliott Peck’s vocals plus the sweet Hammond B3 sound and horn punches gives this a Memphis feel, which is near and dear to my heart.  And the strident “Everyday”, again, punctuated by beefy horns and a great single-note piano foundation rounds out a trifecta that tells me the band know how to open an album – start with three different styles and you will have the listener paying close attention.  “Romin’” has that get-down, jam feel, but is another solid groover with an equally solid chorus and the use of different vocalists makes it an even stronger piece; the twangy, slower pace of “Back To California” is another standout; “One Night Stand” is thumper – a country stomper and a good time vibe and “Echoes” may be my favorite – the most radio-friendly, pop number that has a certain R.E.M. touch to it (I immediately thought of “Driver 8” and “Texarkana”, frankly).  That minor comparison aside, it’s a damned good song, with riffs, drama and great vocals.

Eleven songs to listen to, think about, and then listen to again – and it’s easy to bounce around to really enjoy this very fine collection of songs.  A tip of the hat to Midnight North – an album well done, filled with a steady diet of devourable sounds and a little something for everyone.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Under The Lights is currently available

http://midnightnorth.com/

What’s THAT Supposed to Mean?: Silversun Pickups, “Panic Switch”

Are you pistol-whipped? Do you release the glitch? Can you fall asleep with a panic switch? What’s THAT supposed to mean?

Quite by accident, this series has had much more to say about the expressiveness of music than the brilliance of lyrics. I’m OK with that. I majored in music, not poetry.

And this one comes from a strange place. Singer/guitarist Brian Aubert says (see the Songfacts link he and bassist Nikki Monninger were typing dirty words into a thesaurus with a computer voice, yadda yadda yadda, here’s a song about nervous breakdown.

At Genius, the contributors think the first verse depict a man trying to sleep but thinking of a failed relationship. The alarm clock and white noise machine aren’t helping.

SongMeanings has one interesting suggestion — it’s about an anxiety attack about the music industry, not a failed relationship.

Songfacts has one funny addition — Mitt Romney started using this song in his campaign, much to the band’s amusement. Rolling Stone confirms.

All interesting, and I still have no idea why someone having a nervous breakdown over a relationship of any kind would need a panic switch. Whom would the panic switch summon? Who would present a clear and present danger? Are they worried that a record company executive might come through the window, and the panic switch triggers an alarm in their agent’s office?

My best guess is that whatever situation is plaguing the protagonist here has created a fit of paranoia. Which makes it especially hilarious that Romney used it in his campaign.

The lyrics are fine. Deconstructing them too much surely misses the point. But what pushes this song into brilliance are the instrumental flourishes that convey a sense of uneasiness and anxiety more efficiently than any words could.

Monninger’s bass line is the key. Through the verses, she repeats a one-measure riff with a rhythm that is both steady and unsettled. Three notes are off the beat — if you use “1-e-and-a” to count 16th notes, they’re on the “a” of 1, the “and” of 2, the “e” of 3. Then she climbs back up to the top of the octave on “4-and-1.” The effect is like someone thrashing around between coherent and incoherent thought. The “4-and-1” is unrelenting, like a throbbing headache. (But it sounds so good!)

In the chorus, the bass line settles down to steady eighth notes, as if the protagonist has managed to catch his breath and assess the situation. But it’s not resolved. Aubert restates the opening guitar riff as Monninger goes back to the churning pattern of the verses.

The bridge adds a twist. The bass line, again, is steady eighth notes. But this is where Aubert repeats the phrase “I’m waiting and fading and floating away.” It’s as if the protagonist has managed to take stock and simplify the situation, and … it’s not good.

After restating the chorus, with a bit of backup vocals in the mix, Monninger and Aubert play the main riff together while drummer Christopher Guanlao — who plays a complex but subdued part through most of the song — thrashes wildly.

The song is a perfect showcase for a band that sometimes sounds like Smashing Pumpkins — high-pitched male voice, similar guitar sound — but has a unique style that lends itself to subtlety. Keyboardist Joe Lester plays synths that seem to have more buttons and knobs than keys, usually taking a complementary role while Aubert, Monninger and Guanlao serve as a quirky power trio, sometimes inverting the bass and guitar roles like Entwistle and Townshend in The Who. Guanlao has one of the strangest drum kits in music — nearly everything is to his left except a floor tom and a crash cymbal raised so high that he can barely reach it.

The video is a fairly typical sequence of quick cuts, but it also gives us a few glimpses of the band in action. Check out Guanlao’s left-hand alternation between the hi-hat and the ride.

So we still have a few questions. Who’s having the breakdown — the protagonist or the other party? Why is it “you” through most of the chorus but “she” in the last line? Have the sales of panic switches gone up as a result of this song, or have they dropped because references to the song now occupy most of the first page of search results for “panic switch”?

But Panic Switch is a compelling, relatable listen. And its clever instrumentation puts it several rungs ahead of most alt-rock angstfests.

Why Patent Pending Decided to Merge Two Monster EDM Tracks Into One Catchy Pop Song

A few years ago, the first mashups took the internet by storm. Soon, merging two songs to create one bangin’ track (or video, as was commonly the case) was a straight-up craze. Where bands had always gained notoriety for their covers, mashups made them their own breed of bonafide superstar.

For Patent Pending, one particular mashup was a way to shed light on the original versions of the songs. Their creation blends two recent megahits: Avicii’s “Wake Me Up” and Tiesto’s “Wasted,” both EDM staples at this point. PP frontman Joe Ragosta says, “It’s very common and very easy for people to overlook EDM music. We wanted to make these two songs rock so people who would much prefer rock to EDM could hear these tremendous melodies and catchy singalong parts it in a more familiar way.”

The band, whose signature sound also fits nicely in the whiny, Blink-182-ish pop-punk renaissance of the moment, doesn’t shy away from a challenge when it comes to either mashups or covers. In fact, on their new album, Other People’s Greatest Hits, they bravely tackle everything from Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca” to Ed Sheeran’s “Shape of You.”

Get a taste of Patent Pending’s catchy, flashy flair in their colorful video for “Wasted”/”Wake Me Up” in its Popdose premiere below!