by Alan Sculley
I’ve been going back through the many releases from mid-October forward that I hadn’t had a chance to give a spin and finding ones that deserve to be heard. So in the spirit of better late than never, here are some albums that would be worth some of your music listening time.
I find most albums that are largely solo acoustic lacking. It’s not that the songs don’t have merit, but I usually feel like the songs would benefit from additional instrumentation. Spring Break is a largely acoustic solo album, but it’s the rare one where a case can be made that this was the right way to treat the songs. On his new album, Kimbrough writes vocal melodies that demand notice, and supports them with guitar parts (and occasional harmonica) that are imaginative, but don’t upstage his singing or his lyrics, which are perceptive and incisive. That’s not to say that I can’t hear a rhythm section or additional instrumentation working for many of the songs, but “My Right Wing Friend” (one of several tunes that touches on our pandemic times), “Philadelphia Mississippi” and “My Sin is Pride,” to name a few examples, feel like they were meant to be minimal with little to get in the way of the song and the story. Kimbrough’s songwriting and playing talents have been evident for two-plus decades across nine solo albums and with several bands, including Will & the Bushmen and later on Daddy. I still prefer Kimbrough’s full-band work, but creating songs strong enough to hold up in this most stripped back of settings is an impressive achievement.
Dead Famous People
The history of Dead Famous People dates back to the 1980s when frontperson Dons Savage (back then, she was Donna Savage) formed the group in New Zealand. Despite getting signed to influential label Flying Nun and gaining some notable supporters (including John Peel), Dead Famous People never caught on and Savage ended up dropping out of the music scene for two-plus decades. Savage, though, started writing music again a little while back and the result is the first proper Dead Famous People album, Harry. This is a near-flawless ’60s-rooted album in the classic pop tradition of the Brill Building songwriters. Several of the songs (“Looking at Girls,” “Goddess of Chill,” “Turn on the Light” and “Safe and Sound”) rock along at a pleasant pace and possess immediately appealing, well-developed vocal melodies and plenty of instrumental ear worms along the way. The buoyant charm of those songs are balanced by a pair of nice ballads, including the piano-laden title song and “Dead Bird’s Eye.” Considering the consistently excellent quality of Harry, it makes one wonder how many memorable albums Savage might have made before now had success come calling back in the ’80s. Clearly, Savage never lost the touch for crafting timeless pop music.
I Don’t Know How But They Found Me
This duo (former Panic! At the Disco member Dallon Weekes and Ryan Seaman) has one talent that makes it stand out from a lot of synth-pop acts: writing some pretty undeniable vocal melodies. When the songs on the debut album, Razzmatazz, have the hooky vocals — as on “From the Gallows,” “Clusterhug,” “New Invention” and “Lights Go Down” — the songs click. When the vocal melodies come up short (“Leave Me Alone” and “Sugar Pills”), there isn’t much else to carry the song because I Don’t Know How But They Found Me isn’t too snazzy when it comes to writing instrumental accompaniment. The beats alone can’t salvage such songs. Fortunately, there are only a couple of duds on Razzmatazz, and the rest of the album is a confectionary treat.
Other Broken Dreams
The beginnings of Bubble date back to the mid-1990s, when the group started out as a folky acoustic trio fronted by Dave Foster. By 2000, the group had evolved into a pop-rock group, releasing an album, Bash Bish, that was produced by Fred Smith of Television. The group hasn’t been prolific. A sophomore album, “Seconds,” followed in 2009 and now, with a new four-person lineup in place, comes Other Broken Dreams. A few vestiges of Bubble’s acoustic days shine through on the song “There Is Hope,” although the largely acoustic song is quite poppy. The rest of the material is plugged in and has a notable Beatles influence without sounding at all like an imitation. For instance, “Bye Bye” is a slow, dreamy and psychedelic/Middle-Eastern-infused tune that could fit on any of the Beatles’ post-Sgt. Pepper’s albums. Foster and his bandmates also build a good bit of jangle into several songs, including “Don’t It Make You Wanna Cry,” “You Don’t Have To Say It” and “Don’t Do Me Wrong,” which come with strong vocal melodies and sharp chord changes – things the Beatles did exceptionally well. But Bubble also shows a slightly more rocking sound on occasion, as on “Be Careful” and the driving and catchy “Make It Through.” The songs here are multi-faceted and show more creativity and originality than most pop/rock music, all of which makes one wish we’d get albums more often from Bubble.
Bee Bee Sea
Bee Bee Sea sounds like it may have consumed a lot of coffee before recording the songs on Day Ripper. But let’s thank whatever fueled these guys because the caffeinated energy, combined with the band’s ability to write guitar riffs that are jagged, sometimes herky jerky, yet catchy as it gets, makes for a fairly thrilling and distinctive sound. While most of the songs have similar hyper-speed beats, there is enough variety in the song arrangements as well as the guitar tones – they’re strummy and pleasantly tinny on “Destroy,” plucky and a bit clipped on “Horst Klub” and heavier on “Drags Me Down” – to give the album some contrast and flow.