We’d like to extend a big welcome to the newest member of our Second Disc family, author Ted Frank. Ted, a self-described “power pop-a-holic,” kicks off his contributions to The Second Disc with a review of the latest collection from the fine folks at The International Pop Overthrow Festival. The Festival’s seventeenth volume (yes, seventeenth – congratulations, IPO!) of pure pop for now people is just the latest in a smashing line of releases designed to introduce you to the best bands you’ve never heard of – and won’t soon forget. Produced by David Bash and designed by Steve Stanley of the Now Sounds label, IPO Volume 17 is available for order through Pop Geek Heaven or from the Amazon Marketplace – and take it from us, it makes the perfect stocking stuffer! But we’re getting ahead of ourselves; take it away, Ted!
What is pop?
As anyone reading this knows, pop music takes many forms. Perhaps you have a hankering for the sweet pop sound as found on Jeff Tweedy and Wilco’s recent invasion of “essential tracks” What’s Your 20? or the 20-years-in-the-making rarities box set Alpha Mike Foxtrot. Or perhaps you’re craving the sixties style of The Monkees, the timeless cool of Frank Sinatra, or the earthy jazz of Joni Mitchell. Well, here comes the latest entry in a compilation series nearing the 20 year mark itself. The International Pop Overthrow Volume 17 just might fulfill all of your pop needs, however diverse.
Back in the grunge-filled days of the late 1990s, Not Lame Recordings, onetime home of power pop icons like Dwight Twilley, Jellyfish and The Posies, released a single-disc CD compilation that would soon become an annual tradition. A number of the bands featured on that first compilation would appear at the annual International Pop Overthrow Festival which began in Los Angeles in 1998 and continues to tour numerous U.S. and foreign cities alike. (IPO hit 15 cities in 2014 alone, from Los Angeles to Liverpool!) David Bash, the founder and CEO of IPO, originally named the festival and compilation album in honor of Material Issue’s critically acclaimed 1991 album of said title. In 2011, Not Lame founder Bruce Brodeen transitioned his independent label into a power pop-oriented website, Pop Geek Heaven, but he continues to distribute the annual IPO compilation via this medium.
This year’s compilation has all those pop elements which Material Issue packed into its 1991 album (produced by power pop pioneer Jeff Murphy of the band Shoes – who, along with his Shoes bandmates, played an excellent set at this past May’s Power Pop Festival at Brooklyn’s Bell House). Material Issue’s International Pop Overthrow, a Billboard 200 entry at No. 86, just flat-out reminded the masses what made music popular in the first place. Those uninitiated with IPO, power pop, and/or Material Issue need look no further than the band’s lyrics for proof of this music’s timelessness:
And all these other boys they’re just makin’ noise
They don’t know rock and roll, they just need someone
To have their picture taken with and I’ve been thinkin’ ’bout you
Tell me what do I do, come on where do I go?
I don’t need a girlfriend, I need an accomplice/It’s an International Pop Overthrow!
Although timelessness tends to be a rather subjective term, some things are certainly undeniable: With such a straightforward, earnest message, and through such sheer enthusiasm, this kind of music has ability to reach nearly anyone. One of the songs on IPO 17, “Skip A Beat (Everything’s Alright)” by Dot 22, only reinforces the notion that this is a kind of music whose main intention is to make the heart “skip a beat.” Twenty-three years since Material Issue’s release and numerous IPO Festivals and compilation albums later, The International Pop Overthrow’s music consistently tugs at the heartstrings of its listeners through what Bash refers to as IPO’s “two-fold” purpose: “…to give every worthy band who’d like to play their music in a festival atmosphere the chance to do so, and … to bring pop music the attention it so richly deserves.”
Don’t miss a thing – keep reading after the jump!
IPO 17 is certainly a voluminous collection. It’s difficult to say whether one will find the next Wilco, Big Star, or a Yo La Tengo (all of whom released excellent reissues and previously unreleased material this year) here, since IPO 17 presents a mere snapshot (a single track) of each artist’s canon. However, there are certainly real nuggets to be found. This 3-CD set is not a retrospective; it is not a reissue by any means (sorry, Second Disc faithful)! It is, however, an album that makes the bold statement that pop music, although varied in range, is for the most part a combination of accessible melodies and lyrics so earnest they make you want to say “yeah!” in sheer agreement with the beauty on hand.
The sequencing of this year’s IPO compilation makes for a visceral experience which transcends mere listening – it’s a roller coaster ride, as Greg Ieronimo vividly illustrates in his track “Roller Coaster Ride.” Kicking off the compilation, The Bobbleheads urge listeners to “Turn The Radio On” to find that “PERfect Song” (even though YouTube continues to kill the radio star these days). IPO 17 is not a journey through pop music nostalgia by any means, though; it’s a statement on our times in (on average) four-minute-or-less pop gems. Bands like Fun. and artists like Taylor Swift may someday be the definitive faces of the early 21st century pop music scene, but there will be a place for the satirical commentary of a self-deprecating message such as The Tearaways’ “We Don’t Talk, We Text” that best captures what this century was truly like.
With 66 bands represented on these three discs, there’s something for everyone here. If you’re a fan of We Come from the Same Place, the new Allo’ Darlin release that has gained some traction in recent weeks, you might enjoy Monalisa Twins’ ukulele-driven track “I Don’t Know Birds That Well” on Disc One. Also, be sure to check out the Ace Frehley-influenced “Hit You with a Flower” by The Jeremy Band, or the inspired “No One Has To Know” by not-2014’s-breakout- artist Sam Smith, but Chris Smith – who more impressively has the ability to “invent history.” For those who wonder what a collaboration between Dennis Wilson, Elvis Costello, and Nick Lowe might have sounded like, then check out Disc Two’s “Flesh and Bone” by The Sharp Things. For the pop-curious Francophile, this disc also features Tommy Lorente’s “Mirabelle,” a melody so wonderful it crosses any language barrier.
Disc Three features a nice capstone to this collection of incredible range when it hits a stride beginning with The Shamus Twins’ “What is it You Want from Me.” So begins a propulsion of road songs, from this song reminiscent of The Triffids’ “Wide Open Road” to the surf rock of “Crazy Girl” by Beyond Veronica. The latter recalls a Veronica Falls/Dum Dum Girls hybrid. You’ll hear Richard DuBois’ Paul Westerberg inflections on “Where Does the Time Go” to the Soundgarden shadings of “Begging You Please” by Visemenn. Sue Hedges’ R&B beats on “Liars ‘n Lovers” are so playful (and clever) they inadvertently move the listener into an acceptance of the harsh reality that liars and lovers “interchange” to the point that they “just bring you pain.” The dark croon of We Patriots’ “Get It Over With” must have taken a page-or-two out of the Nick Cave songbook. It all culminates brilliantly in a reimagined Flaming Lips sound on Split Sofa’s “10,000 Light Years from the Sun.” (A tip of the hat, too, to The Rolling Stones and “2000 Light Years from Home.”)
Although Gene Simmons of Kiss recently said that “rock is finally dead,” it’s clear that there is a resurgence happening in pop. Of course, this may lead to another debate all together: the blurred line between pop (a George Martin-influenced Beatles who would push the boundaries of orchestration) and rock (the Rolling Stones’ penchant for the blues)… but, IPO, in essence, argues: Is this a debate even worth having? After all, what IPO 17 and a number of the titles classified as this year’s noteworthy pop reissues have in common are slice-of-life lyrics and incredible bursts of energy regardless of categorization. 2014 is ending with reissues from Modest Mouse as well as from The Pixies, who along with Tweedy, not only released a reissue of a classic album (Doolittle) but earlier this year released an album of new material. Like a fine wine, some things like pop music tend to be aging rather well. Alex Chilton of Big Star fame even once quipped that some of Big Star’s notoriety was years in the making. If ever there was a vehicle to help a modern day Big Star, one of those “little bands that could,” mature into something special, IPO is that vehicle.
IPO 17’s 66 songs will remind listeners just how varied a genre pop music really is, or rather, can be, when listened to in such a context. IPO 17 showcases bands that intentionally and superbly have built upon their varied influences. Bash and company’s sequencing will yield in the listener a palpable enthusiasm to search out more from these artists or re-examine a favorite of the past. While listening to the kaleidoscopic expansiveness here, there are certainly times that the definition of “pop music” comes into question – couldn’t the term nearly cover anything? This may not be the kind of compilation that best defines what pop music IS exactly. Rather, it celebrates the energy of the form and in doing so, it takes the listener on one hell of a ride. The journey through these three discs will encourage you to avoid pigeonholing pop and to inquisitively see where else it can go. Responding to IPO 17 is like being lost in the best kind of dream…which is a pretty good place to be…just ask The War on Drugs circa 2014. – Ted Frank
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: A power pop-a-holic HS teacher who tends to burn the midnight oil to jazz, Ted Frank has dabbled in Chicago and Los Angeles radio. He is grateful to personalities like Steve Dahl and Stevie Van Zandt and stores like Other Music (NYC) who keep it all in perspective. A grateful graduate of Northwestern University (BS) and New York University (MA) and a former writer for University Reporter Chicago, Ted currently resides in Brooklyn with his wife and son.
Various Artists, International Pop Overthrow Volume 17: The Compact Disc (Pop Geek Heaven PGH-36, 2014) (Amazon Marketplace)
- The Bobbleheads-Turn The Radio On (The PERfect Song)
- Greg Ieronimo-Roller Coaster Ride
- The Tearaways-We Don’t Talk We Text
- Kylie Hughes- Calipopicana
- The Maureens-Brother
- Secret Friend-Starting Today
- Spinning Jennies-I Before E
- The Marvelous Beauhunks-Top Of The World
- The Jeremy Band-Hit You With A Flower
- Blake Jones & The Trike Shop-The Girl In The Camera Obscura
- Roto’s Magic Act-Happier Than Ever
- The Fast Camels-Cobbler Clarence
- MonaLisa Twins-I Don’t Know Birds That Well
- The Static Dial-Desert Song
- Chris Smith-No One Has To Know
- Bob’s Yer Uncle-Breathless
- TRIP WIRE-Stay
- Collectors-Find A Way (Yen Remix)
- Stootsie-I Saw That Storm Coming
- Bradley Wait-Again
- The Brigands (Boston)-She’s Mine
- Northern Sugar-Ride
- Sitcom Neighbor-Anything
- Alex Jules-The Key
- Private Jets-Human Cannonball
- Bubble Gum Orchestra-Evil, Evil Girl
- Monogroove-What More Can I Do
- John McMullan-You Are Dreaming
- The Sharp Things-Flesh And Bone
- The Mayflowers-Flying Birds
- Sonny Lee & The Layovers-Set ‘Em Up
- Russ Tolman Band-Los Angeles
- Chris Degnore and The Black Drops-Speed Of Light
- Popdudes featuring Michael Carpenter-Catherine
- The Trash*Pop Icons-Coming Up
- Tommy Lorente-Mirabelle
- Dana Countryman-Jealous Heart
- Dan Markell-Carried Away
- The Reflections-Haunted House
- The Tripping Souls-Place That I Love
- Grover-8 O’Clock Horses
- Gooey-That I Were
- Slim Loris-Head on the Floor
- Sonya Titus-Come Into The Light
- Peter Fedofsky-Here Comes The Sun
- B-Side-The Sun Brings Out The Girls
- Phil Ajjarapu-Sing Along Until You Feel Better
- American Suitcase-Think Of It
- phonograph-She Knows it
- Lisa Mychols 3-Ready For Action
- Dave Birk-Speed Queen Mystery Date
- Match Factory-Have You Ever
- Dot 22-Skip A Beat (Everything’s Alright)
- The Newds-Go Getter
- The Shamus Twins-What Is It You Want From Me
- The Tor Guides-Dynamo
- Beyond Veronica-Crazy Girl
- The Aaron Williams Band-Ash
- Richard DuBois-Where Does The Time Go?
- The Starfire Band-Cruel Baby
- Ashbury Keys-Hey Girl
- viseMenn-Begging You Please
- Sue Hedges-Liars ‘n Lovers
- We Patriots-Get It Over With
- Split Sofa 10,000 Light Years From The Sun