First off, watch the video below then “Like” the band as quickly as possible:
Done that? Good … bring on the 90s nostalgia!
Afew repeats and I’m wanting to dig out my copy of the Blue Album along with my other favorites from the era, including some Marcy Playground, Harvey Danger and … nah, I’ll just go to Bandcamp and rock out to the rest of Unmacho, which includes the blisteringly good two-minute track “Van Man,” which deserves a video as ridiculously cool as the one they’ve made for the title track. That and the album’s opener, “Bonehead,” which showcases there’s more under the hood than just aping Rivers Cuomo. A quick stream suggests there’s not a dud in the bunch, which is more than a good reason to like them on Facebook and then buy a copy to blast with your windows down all summer.
I was gonna be a racing driver
Going hundreds of miles an hour
In a fast car around a track
You were gonna love me
‘Til the stars fell from the sky
And I was gonna love you, girl, right back
Los Angeles’ Troup has been getting a lot of radio love in the region for their debut album Last Chance For Romance, which has an alt-pop mix of Wilco and Tonic. The standout of the album is easily “Runaway,” a rich sweet nugget of 90s pop nostalgia which manages to be catchy and upbeat despite being about the woman Alex Troup let get away. Though most of the 90s rock bands I grew up on will likely be relegated to a discount bin, Troup goes after a loftier goal — bringing the alternative rock of that era into the realm of classic rock. In the end it’s all about how good the song is, and “Runaway” is a repeater — once you have the hook in your head you’ll be singing it everywhere you go. This is proof a song doesn’t need to be complicated to be a keeper.
Spin made my evening with a free download of the set which launched the era of 90s alternative nostalgia: The Pixies, live at Coachella in ’04. The EP features “U-Mass,” “Monkey Gone to Heaven,” “Hey!” and “Caribou.” If you’re really into the band, dive off the deep end and buy the entire set. If anyone’s wondering where my mind’s going to be at when I’m at work tomorrow … you’ll have to head to Spin to check it out, I was unable to embed it properly here. But trust me: it’s worth it!
A decade and a half after making early waves in
New York’s mid-90s alt-rock scene, the Pontoons return
with a new single and what may be the longest-gestating
debut album of the era. Was it worth the wait?
Short answer: Definitely.
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4/2/2012 Update: The video at the bottom of this page is the brand-new official video for “Antidote,” directed by Tim Ticehurst, rather than merely the audio for the song.
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In Billboard’s November 1994 issue, Larry Flick wrote that a certain indie-pop band from New York City had “one of the best debuts of the year” with their first single “Juncos and Robins.”
The Pontoons, by that point, had built their reputation through three years of steady touring around New York City. So to the industry reps who continuously trolled such clubs trying to find the next Nirvana or Smashing Pumpkins, there was every indication the band was set to carve out a niche in the burgeoning alt-rock scene.
“At the time we were playing out in NYC and the Northeast more [often] than we found ourselves in the studio,” says drummer Christian Harper. “This was mostly due to our efforts to build a local following, but also because we were young and didn’t have the finances to bankroll an entire album.”
Choosing instead to focus on improving their live shows, while building strong word of mouth via college radio for “Juncos and Robins” and “Landslide,” they eventually fell through the cracks. Without ever recording a full-length album, the Pontoons broke up in 1996.
“In retrospect we probably should have focused more on recording,” Harper says. “But we were drawn by the thrill of playing gigs and loved having that direct interaction [with fans].”
With timing being everything – their brief “heyday” preceded the mp3 revolution by half a decade – the Pontoons seemed destined to remain a footnote in the overcrowded historical landscape which is the 90s alternative movement, their blend of REM-inspired jangle-pop to remain virtually out of print. And that’s how it might have remained, were it not for a chance reunion a few years ago.
“We’d rallied around the idea of working together and producing the full-length album we never made,” Harper says. “Tom and I were able to reconnect with our original recording engineer Sal Mormando, and when we shared our plan he was excited about the idea of working with us again. Everybody loves a comeback story, right? Regardless, we’re having a great time and have realized how much we missed making music together.”
Mormando has produced albums for Patti Smith, Billy Squire and Dayna Kurtz among many others, and is currently mixing the upcoming Pontoons full-length, keeping their original sound at the forefront. The latest single, “Antidote” (which you can view a video for below) showcases the duo’s jangle-pop guitar arpeggios, tight rhythms and Tom Hunt’s distinct vocals for three minutes which barely whet the appetite before the obligatory repeat listens. It is a sound as eerily reminiscent of REM as it is more obscure early-90s alt fare like Trip Shakespeare, an early forebear of what became Semisonic.
But that’s what fans who heard the band 15 years ago came to expect, and the new single blends seamlessly with the music of their past while suggesting at the same time that the future looks incredibly bright.
Timing may indeed be everything. With this much talent coming together to produce the album which almost never was, the stars seem to be ready to align in the Pontoons’ favor. With any luck “Antidote” will prove to be exactly that, a refreshing counterbalance to the decidedly lacking state of pop music thus far in 2012. Their current plan is to self-release the album later this summer along with another single, and if the music remains as strong as our appetizer, expect to hear the praise spread rapidly.
It’s hard to tell where the sudden industry nostalgia came from for late-’90s alternarock. The industry that killed the style due to an insistance upon propping up dozens of varying radio formats rather than promoting quality acts to a wide audience seems to suddenly be reviving every band in the genre capable of still putting together an album. Third Eye Blind had a lousy album rocket to #3 on the charts this year. Alice In Chains returned with an album (sans Lane Staley) 14 years after their last. Even Everclear has come out with a new record this year. One has to wonder if there’s a Marcy Playground or Harvey Danger reunion being plotted by number-crunching execs.
A Vertical Horizon reunion was at least foreshadowed a bit when Matt Scannell and Richard Marx teamed up for a relatively uninspired album of duets called Duo, wherein each artist took on the work of the other; the touring for that album frequently featured a new Scannell song called “Save Me From Myself,” which gets the best arrangement on the band’s newest album Burning The Days. “Save Me From Myself” is the best song Vertical Horizon has released since their only platinum effort, Everything You Want. It’s a dark, haunting rock melody coupled with cryptically haunting lyrics that perfectly fit Scannell’s cliched mode of rock. Which is to say this is a song which is definitely worthy of online purchase.
But the rest of the album is as dull as everything else coming out this year in the “let’s time-travel to 1998” brand of label marketing. No, this isn’t as cringe-inducingly bad an album as Third Eye Blind’s Ursa Major, which will go down as one of my five most disappointing albums of the year. But for an album which wears the line “I’m done with the middle ground” on its sleeve (that’s right, on a song called “The Middle Ground,” which features Scannell singing eerily like contemporary Christian singer Bebo Norman) the material here flirts dangerously with becoming the poster material for the middle ground.
There’s not an ounce of variety to be found on this album, so for the band’s sake I’m at least respectful of the fact that they did hone in on the one good single to promote the album. But if you hear “Save Me From Myself” and go out and buy the album on its strength, you’re going to be ultimately disappointed. The rest of the album comprises eleven stale retreads of what they thought worked on their sophomore album Go. “I know you’re awake because you shake when you cry,” Scannell sings on “The Middle Ground,” sounding like he’s decided like he’d be happy writing material for Hinder. “You’re either alive or a lie,” he croons and I feel like gouging something into my ears to stop the hook from reverberating. Done with the middle ground indeed.
It’s hard to blame the band, however, for wanting another chance at the spotlight. However it’s hard to imagine this material penetrating any form of radio these days. As difficult as it was to whore a single to program directors in the late 90s it’s infinitely more difficult these days, as Clear Channel owns half the airwaves. Which makes me feel a little bad trashing an album that, if the band’s lucky, only 10,000 people will end up hearing. That said, if you want your late’ 90s nostalia, you’re better off returning to your record collection than by wasting your time or money on this middling effort. Buy a copy of “Save Me From Yourself” and add it to your alt-rock rotation; the rest is just embarassing.
Meanwhile, if you hear Marcy Playground’s prepping a reunion tour and launching a new album, run quickly in the other direction. You know it’s coming …
Reprinted with permission from Stereo Subversion.