First Listen: Matt Sanderlin & the Ageless Dreams – “The Order”

Full disclosure: Matt Sanderlin has posted reviews at “Hear! Hear!” This new song, however, was too good to ignore. Off his upcoming The Homemade EP, “The Order” merges the songwriter’s deep-seeded love of Fountains of Wayne’s melodic structures with a folk arrangement deeply focused on its varied layers. Opening with bare guitar, the song builds to include lightly picked banjo along with mandolin and harmonized vocals, all tied together to make something akin to Bon Iver if he’d come up playing the seventies Bakersfield scene.

What do you think? Is this song ready for a mainstream push? Follow the band on Facebook for regular updates.



Boxed Wine

For 110 seconds it’s possible to listen to “Waste Your Time” and imagine you’re hearing the second-coming of They Might Be Giants’ John Flansburgh, as this band does the exact opposite of wasting our time. This is a tasty pop nugget which gets in your head and then blows the doors off the place, insisting you hit repeat and let the earworms take up permanent residence. The remainder of the band’s Boxed Wine EP does a solid job proving the band is capable of being retro-pop chameleons, but they’re hard-pressed to top the first track. “Molly” does show signs of capable Fountains Of Wayne-esque songwriting chops, and the five songs here stick to the “show, don’t tell” model, never overstaying their welcome. Boxed Wine, hailing from New Jersey (“It’s not as bad a place as you think …”) seem well on their way to creating a template for power-pop creation which is likely to make them household names if they play their cards right. Hear them here first!


The Trillions

The trouble with Trillions is that you can't keep them out of your head.


You haven’t heard the Trillions. But if you’re a fan of Weezer, you’ll enjoy hearing the Trillions.

These are nuggets of blissful 90s alt-pop held in a time capsule and released cryogenic-fresh for your audio enjoyment. This Richmond, Virginia “shred-pop foursome”  has a new album, The Tritones, coming out next week, and their brand new single “The Experts” is available to stream or download above. Still, I’m partial to the addictive-yet-simple concept of “You Got To Be Kidding Me!”, which is punctuated by frequent echoes of Fountains of Wayne-esque “oh yeahs” and distinctive vocals which, coupled with the effectively simple guitar hooks, will hold your brain for ransom. You can view their video for below and decide for yourself, but you’ve been warned!

Bottom Line: The Trillions are working their way up the hard way, as complete indies, but their dedication to helping foster a stronger local music scene is laudable, and the music itself is top-notch. Give the Trillions a shot and you’re likely to become one of their soon-to-be-legions of loyal fans.

ALBUM REVIEW: The Perms – “Sofia Nights”

The Perms Sofia Nights
Year of the Album – #073
The Perms – “Sofia Nights” (2011, Hugtight Records)

Like an alliance between Weezer and Fountains of Wayne, Winnipeg Manitoba’s own Perms arrive here in 2011 to bring good old fashioned power pop back to the masses! “Make It Through” sounds like a long lost Blue Album gem, getting the album off to a particularly solid start, and the hooks just keep coming as Shane and Chad Smith front the band with reckless abandon. “You I’m Thinking Of” could be a candidate for pop single of the year if it had any chance of getting radio play, but lack of exposure won’t stop you from singing along with the chorus by midway through the first time you hear it. The album doesn’t overstay its welcome, taking a half hour to get in, rob your brain and get out again before anyone realizes the band blew the safe. These guys are masters of the elemental pop song, melding the best of what made alt-pop in the nineties great with the DIY aesthetic which is central to making it in 2011. These songs are as good or better than anything mainstream you’ll hear the rest of the year, and Sofia Nights is one of those albums you’ll be glad to brag about to friends. It’s a real winner, and deserves to have more folks in the pop blogosphere talking about it.

ALBUM REVIEW – Matthew Sweet – “Modern Art”

Matthew Sweet Modern Art

Year of the Album — #061
Matthew Sweet – “Modern Art” (2011, Missing Piece)

I enjoy my Matthew Sweet music in much the same way I was enamored with the songwriting of Semisonic’s Dan Wilson. Both men recorded power pop music in the nineties and were unafraid to push the envelope sonically, regardless of what that might have meant for their eventual long-term success. Sweet, in particular, has built his career by uncompromisingly chasing his own unique muse, making music his own way. For that, I’m certain there are many who would follow his music to the ends of the earth.

His eleventh studio album, Modern Art, continues in that same vein. The album, due out September 27th, lives up to its name through the number of twists and turns the music takes en route to its eventual destination. This is not music that will be easily digestable for those unschooled in what Matthew Sweet’s music has become post-Girlfriend, but for those who take the plunge, this is pop music of the most original, invigorating kind. From the opening strains of “Oh, Oldendaze,” which channels Gary Jules as much as it does the music of the Byrds, it’s clear Matthew Sweet is back doing what he does best.

But he’s not afraid to jerk the wheel, so to speak. “She Walks The Night” opens with thirty seconds of experimental electronic sounds, drum patter and synths running wild, only to morph into a sunny pop melody which fits in as well with the sixties-era pop it emulates as it does with the many purveyors of similar music this decade, Fountains of Wayne and that ilk. Midway through the track he again removes the pop sheen and lets the confusion of the early moments return, only to then allow us another return to the gloss of the hook. It’s a confusing experiment, and it is sure to disorient casual listeners who may not stick around to play along. But the song works just the same, and it proves Sweet knows what he’s doing as he tinkers with the workings of pop’s winning formula.

As a whole, Modern Art is a winning example of modern pop experimentation done by a master of the craft. These are songs for songwriters to pore over in the hopes that someday they might emulate Sweet in the same way he breaks down sixties power-pop and rebuilds it to be his own. This is definitely a slow-burning keeper. What more can you ask for as a music fan?

ALBUM REVIEW: Fountains of Wayne — Sky Full of Holes

Fountains of Wayne Sky Full of Holes

Album Review
Fountains of Wayne – “Sky Full of Holes” (2011, Yep Roc Records)

Reviewer:  Matthew Sanderlin

Everyone who owned a radio between 2000 and the current day has likely heard “Stacy’s Mom.” And while that snarky, little masterpiece of a pop tune is still brilliant and timeless in its own right, Fountains of Wayne is much more than even a hit like “Stacy’s Mom” allows.

Sky Full of Holes, the troupe’s fifth official studio album, is a gorgeous collection of strikingly memorable power-pop songs. And while the Fountains have always featured brilliant compositions and melody coupled with infinite wit, Sky Full of Holes is (somehow) easily their greatest project to date, one of 2011′s best releases.

Fountain leaders Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger are the modern-day Lennon/McCartney, and that’s no exaggeration. Their uncanny ability to craft satiating singles and high-caliber pop tunes has gone nearly unmatched throughout the past decade– And though I rarely agree with the publication,Rolling Stone‘s decision to name Fountains of Wayne “‘the voice’ of Generation X upon the collapse of Nirvana” is more than fitting.

Sky Full of Holes exemplifies this “voice” even more aptly than even culturally relevant hits such as “Valley of Malls” and “Someone to Love” did previously. Two off-beat entrepreneurs attempt to overcome the waning economy in “Richie and Ruben,” the hardworking American gets an admirable nod in “Workingman’s Hands,” the overly-produced synth-pop of the the 2010′s era is astutely parodied in “Someone’s Gonna Break Your Heart,” and the album’s poignant finale (“Cemetery Guns”) is a military-themed requiem for the ages. In a nutshell, Sky is 2011′s own personal soundtrack.

Not only is the lyrical material relevant, but the musical material is supreme in all respects. Production is crisp, but far from overdone (sample “Acela” for the greatest balance of raw and smooth). Arrangements are full, colourful, and appropriate (see “A Dip in the Ocean,” “Radio Bar,” and “Someone’s Gonna Break Your Heart” for the prime of the prime examples). And the melodies and harmonies seem effortless, yet completely flawless. “Cold Comfort Flowers,” “Firelight Waltz,” and “Action Hero” are the most noteworthy exemplifications, though all thirteen tunes are rich in the melodic department.

Basically, Sky Full of Holes is a must-own. Power-pop at its best, and one of the best of the year. Don’t miss it.