Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Balloon Guy - The West Coast Shakes (1996, Warner Bros.)

Balloon Guy honed their chops as students at the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis, releasing a number of singles through the independent Generator Records. After sparking a major label race to sign the band, Balloon Guy signed with Warner Bros. who released their debut full length, The West Coast Shakes in 1996. The band recorded the album with fellow Minneapolis native and frontman of the amazing (and then Interscope-signed) band Polara.

Balloon Guy played a fuzzy, quirky brand of indie rock that received comparisons to Pavement. Unfortunately the promising band dissolved not long after the release of their debut. The Minneapolis periodical CityPages.com revealed the details surrounding the band's split: "Olson bailed on Balloon Guy after a sobering gig opening for the Goo Goo Dolls in Iowa City. "In the paper was a picture of us and it didn't even mention how we sounded," Olson chuckles. "It talked about how we kind of dressed like Weezer." He retreated to his parents' basement in Faribault, grew a mammoth beard à la Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, and obsessively fiddled with weird beats off equipment he'd scored on the Warners' dime." Following the band's breakup, Olson shifted his focus to his one-time solo project, Smattering, transforming the project into a full band. Balloon Guy drummer Erik Mathison would later go on to plays drums with Moon Maan, led by former Afghan Whigs guitarist Rick McCollum.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

Coward - s/t (Elektra, 1997)

"It is hard to think that lyrics make much of a difference in music as sugary as Coward's guitar pop, but the group ironically prove the value (and dangers) of pop lyrics. Comparing Coward's imagery on the straight for the heart ballad "Wish" to that of, say, the Cars or Weezer is an illuminating affair. The hook starts off "I wish I could spend the day at home reading." That might be more poetic than Say It Ain't So" or "You're All I've Got Tonight" (or it might not), but that isn't the issue. This failed line and many others like it are too opaque for a band and a record as unabashedly committed to the sugary surface of pop/rock. Vocalist Sheppard, guitarist Joey Sykes, drummer Billy Alemaghides, and bassist Pete Savad each deserve high marks for their tight performances and strong musical material, but a certain incongruity twists the group's songs in one too many directions." (allmusic.com)

Coward supported the release of their Jerry Finn-produced debut in 1997 with a three month tour with Third Eye Blind and an appearance on the MTV show "Oddville".  This would be Coward's only release, however, as they disbanded soon after. Guitarist Joey Sykes went on to perform as part of the backing band for Meredith Brooks, while singer Sheppard became a pop writer/producer for acts like LFO and Mandy Moore and currently does A&R for Universal Records. Sykes later formed a new band, New English with former Capitol records artist Tommy Henriksen. 

Monday, November 10, 2008

Verbena - Into the Pink (Capitol, 1999)

"Wearing their animosity on their sleeve, Birmingham, AL-based Verbena bear more than a slight resemblance to Nirvana with their gritty, aggressive rock and singer/guitarist Scott Bondy's soul-bearing vocals. Bondy began playing with Les Nuby (drums) and Daniel Johnston (bassist) when the three were in high school in the early '90s. Ann Marie Griffin (singer/guitarist) joined the trio, called Shallow, and shared songwriting duties with Bondy. Nuby left the group and was replaced by original Remy Zero drummer Louis Schefano. The band renamed itself Verbena and released the EP, Pilot Park, on Merge. Nuby rejoined the band a year later. Verbena's debut full-length, Souls for Sale, attracted attention from Capitol and Foo Fighter Dave Grohl, who agreed to produce the band's major-label debut, Into the Pink. In 1999, Johnston left the band, making Verbena a trio once again. It would be another four years until Verbena would rise again. In 2003, Nuby, Bondy, and Daviston resumed schedule with Capitol for their third album, 2003's La Musica Negra, which continued the band's move towards straight-ahead rock."

"Verbena's 1999 album Into the Pink completes the group's transition from a Memphis soul/indie-pop hybrid into a straight-ahead rock outfit. Indeed, with Scott Bondy's sardonic drawl and buzzsaw guitars and Les Nuby's insistent drums at the forefront, Verbena resembles a souped-up, glossed-over version of the 1990s' most revered rock band, Nirvana. Adding to the sense of deja vu is Dave Grohl's production work, which dips into the polish Butch Vig applied to Nevermind. Though bassist/vocalist Anne Marie Griffin's vocals sweeten "Prick the Sun" and "Baby Got Shot," and ballads like "Lovely Isn't Love" and "Big Skies, Black Rainbows" add some sonic diversity to the album, most of Into the Pink sounds like forgotten mid-'90s grunge. Despite their lofty aspirations and patronage, Verbena just aren't as interesting as that other power trio whose name ends with '-na.'" (allmusic.com) 

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Fretblanket - Home Truths from Abroad (Polygram, 1998)

"Inspired by bands like Ride, the Wedding Present, and Swervedriver, Fretblanket hails from the small midland U.K. town of Stourbridge. The four members -- Matt Carey (drums), Will Copley (vocals/guitar), Clive Powell (guitar/vocals), and Dave Allsopp (bass) -- met as schoolboys around 1987. After signing to the American-based Polygram Records in 1993, Fretblanket debuted with Junkfuel one year later. Home Truths From Abroad followed in 1997. Although their sophomore effort had more polish, both albums fall into a predictable style of post-grunge: raw but melodic. Comparisons immediately call bands like Bush to mind. MTV's short-lived 12 Angry Viewers awarded high ratings to "Into the Ocean," the first single from Home Truths. But the video fell out of heavy rotation and Fretblanket, further troubled by label issues, quietly slipped back to Stourbridge." (allmusic.com)

"Apparently, the home truth from abroad that Stourbridge, England's Fretblanket exemplifies is that you too could start a band, get signed to a well- meaning but clueless major label and disappear forever into the modern rock radio netherworld. Bush and Blur got big by playing the same loud Americanized rock as Fretblanket did on their 1994 debut Junkfuel, so why didn't they become as successful? It may be that the only thing they have going for them is their reasonably telegenic frontman, Will Coyle, whose gravelly, urgent rasp beats Gavin Rossdale's angsty- pants keening any day. Fretblanket's sound is like Oasis minus the arrogant posing and Beatles references plus a little more energy-- which is to say, the same kind of bland stripped- down alt-rock that's all the rage in the '90s." (Pitchforkmedia.com)

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Friday, November 7, 2008

Green Apple Quick Step - New Disaster (Columbia, 1998)

Green Apple Quick Step was born in Seattle and released a few upbeat post-grunge albums in the mid 1990s. After debuting with Wonderful Virus on Reprise-backed Medicine Records in 1994, Pearl Jam's Stone Gossard helped produce 1995's Reloaded. Gossard gave the band free use of his home studio, and later let frontman Ty Willman take lead vocal duties on the first single of Gossard's first solo album, Bayleaf. Willman and bassist/backup vocalist Mari Ann Braeden also worked Pearl Jam's Mike McCready in $10,000 Gold Chain. The band appeared on the soundtracks of Basketball Diaries and Cable Guy and recorded New Disaster with Columbia in 1998 before disbanding. Willman went onto sing with Devilhead and form his own solo project, Calm Down Juanita. (allmusic.com)

Though Green Apple Quick Step did record a third full length, New Disaster, for Columbia records - the label never put it out.  A single that was to appear on the album, "Kid", was featured on the soundtrack to I Know What You Did Last Summer - the music video for which did receive some airplay on MTV at the time (clip included below). A former member of the band has put some of the tracks on a MySpace page for the unreleased record. 

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Huffamoose - We've Been Had Again (Interscope, 1997)

"Known for quirky, abstract, and eccentric songs, Philadelphia alternative rockers Huffamoose have enjoyed a small but enthusiastic cult following since the early '90s. The uncompromising band was formed in 1992 when singer Craig Elkins joined forces with guitarist Kevin Hanson, bassist Jim Stager, and drummer Erik Johnson (who was replaced by Chuck Treece in the late '90s). The rockers, all of whom had been music majors at Philly's Temple University, recorded their self-titled debut album for the 7 label in 1993. By 1997, Huffamoose was signed to Interscope; unfortunately, they weren't there for very long. Although 1997's We've Been Had Again (Huffamoose's second album) received its share of favorable coverage, Interscope ended up dropping the band. After that experience, the Philadelphians were feeling fed up with the music business, and for awhile it looked like Huffamoose might break up for good. But they decided to keep plugging away, and in 1999, Huffamoose signed with Shanachie. I Wanna Be Your Pants, the band's third album, came out in 2000. " (allmusic.com)

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Metal Molly - Surgery For Zebra (Jive, 1996)

"This high-energy, Belgium-based three-piece warp Velvet Crush, Teenage Fanclub and Da Da caliber hooks 'n' harmonies into a fuzzy, frenzied, amazingly catchy Nirvana-esque roar on their worldwide debut effort. From the opening barrage of steaming crunch riffs, weird breaks and melodic vocals that drive "Flipper," through the "Dazed And Confused," multi-harmonied lethargy of "Zebra" - Metal Molly consistently enthrall you with the power, depth and stunning brightness of their pop vision. Songs such as "Orange," "PVC," "Small Supernova," "Autumn Colours," "Round" and "Superskunk" incorporate deft hints of classic radio influences inspired by the likes of the Beatles, Badfinger, XTC, 10CC and the Troggs; while drummer Gino Geudens, guitarist/vocalist Allan Muller and bassist/vocalist Paskal Deweze layer enough distortion, noise and edgy alterna-sheen onto their childhood memories to make Surgery For Zebra a stand-out in any radio format. " (Al Muzer, Consumable Online)

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Thursday, November 6, 2008

Wanderlust - Prize (RCA, 1995)

"A Prize debut indeed, the twin-Rickenbacker gospel of Philly youngsters Wanderlust is enough to bring any power-pop aficionado to his knees. From the tony, brittle chords of "Wanna Feel New" onward, chiming cascades reverb in the shadow of The Searchers and the Beau Brummels with sufficient bite and edge to catapult the tradition to the '90s. While the opener sets the spiritual stage in reverent, Church of Bubblegum tone -- "I wanna feel new (so new)/with a clear blue mind/And the soft sunshine/New (so new)/Like a radio plays a brand new song" -- "I Walked" carves out the commandments. No hope of erasing this one from the cerebral cortex; its epic, multi-layered vocal harmonies sound equally timeless blasting over a tinny car radio as on a state-of-the-art stereo system (the true test of any "real" pop). It even pulls off the old "full-stop, lone-thunderous-bass-drum-beat, then guitars-come-crashing-back-in" trick to heart-stopping effect. "Troubled Man," with its handclappy chorus of "it's going to be a let down Saturday night," sounds like The Bay City Rollers with the Byrds (circa "Eight Miles High") as their backing band while "Coffee in the Kitchen" strives for exalted Undertones territory. The title track steamrolls in stellar fashion over a distinctive, unconventional time signature.

Like most new bands thrust early into the major-label spotlight (Prize was originally scheduled to be a four-track indie EP before RCA came knocking and extended the sessions to a full-length album), Wanderlust hasn't quite stocked enough fuel to cross the finish line in top gear. Mind you, it's hard to imagine anyone maintaining the momentum of this disc's first half, making it easier to forgive subsequent energy gaps. Even then, you'll find the delightfully wry "Stage Name." All in all, Prize accomplishes first time up what more experienced bands have tried in several at-bats without quite nailing it down." (allmusic.com) *You can now download Wanderlust's followup to this record over at the Power Pop Criminals Blog.

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