Today, our very own Ted Frank takes a look at the annual CD series shining a spotlight on the best voices in pop you might not know!
Although 2016 may be remembered for a number of losses in the artistic community, it has also been a reinvigorating one for the music industry. With the likes of David Bowie and Leonard Cohen tragically releasing some of their finest work in their final hours, to other legends such as William Bell, Nick Cave, Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Iggy Pop, The Rolling Stones, The Pretenders, and Paul Simon (only to name A FEW) offering some of their strongest material in years, 2016 has indeed been a remarkable year in music for a variety of reasons. While these legends (and future legends such as Radiohead, A Tribe Called Quest, Wilco and Beyoncé) were releasing some of the past year's most favorably reviewed new albums, comes producer-curator David Bash's nineteenth installment of The International Pop Overthrow. In and of itself, this series (a tie-in to the International Pop Overthrow Festival, held every year in various cities around the globe) is nearing a legendary status all its own, as it annually reminds the listener just how diversified the musical landscape is in each of its respective years.
IPO Volume 19 comes once again in a 3-CD format (strikingly designed by Now Sounds' Steve Stanley) as it delivers on its yearly promise to find pop bands of all varieties that, in turn, push the boundaries of pop music and enhance our pop sensibilities. Sure, this year's collection includes acts that have the traditional guitar-band pop sound, but, as usual when it comes to the series' knack for diversified sounds, there are acts that span the R&B, Glam Rock, Alt-Country, Funk, and Folk gamut. Not to mention, this year's collection even includes a new anthem entitled, appropriately, "Bash."
Highlights from Disc One - Perennial IPO favorites The Tearaways penned what could be the official IPO anthem for years to come with their new Devo-esque song, "Bash." John McMullan adds "a thrill" as the listener is compelled "to move along" to his unfolding, folk rock, singer-songwriter soundscape, "Almost Gone." "Love Letter" by Richie Parsons, "My Love Still Grows" by Gordon Weiss, and "Hummingbird Today" by The Satisfied Minds are beautiful and infectious pop tunes that, as discussed in last year's IPO Volume 18 review, only confirm that if there are defining elements of pop music they would be hooks and melodies. Simple enough, right? In terms of further diversifying the pop music landscape, Laura Biagini's "Busy Body" saunters with the confident air of the Girl Group days while The Lunar Laugh's "Nighthawks & Mona Lisa" superbly conjures an alt-country mood. Most impressively though, Disc One concludes with its finest offering, the Ashbury Keys' anthemic rocker "Do You Know Who You Are." By the end of Disc One, it's reasonable to believe that IPO is not about clarifying what pop music is necessarily, but rather it is a celebration of pop music's prismatic nature.
Highlights from Disc Two - Starting with Joel Sarakula's "Northern Soul," a song that confidently takes its cue from a Spoon blueprint circa Girls Can Tell, Disc Two delves even deeper into pop's range. From Zach Jones' AM rocker "Everything's Fine" to The Black Lemons' blue-eyed, plastic soul gem "You're Never Gonna Have Enough Money," Disc Two tries on "different faces" (to quote the latter song). Within the span of two songs, "Black Hearted Poster Boy" by The Afternoons tips its hat in flat-out rock fashion to the Marc Bolan days of Glam Rock as "All in This Together" by The Hard Way tenderly uplifts. This variety only affirms Bash's penchant for sequencing an album. Listening to The Junior League's "Please (I Need You To)" certainly has the aptitude to put one in the Whiskeytown-meets-The Beach Boys-meets The Jam stratosphere. "Waterfall Away," a male-female duet by Hummingbird Syndicate, contains a jangle-rock melody with harmonies as cascading and beautiful as its title. On the flip side, The Arcadeans' "Shadows in The Dark" is aggressive, blown out, and radio-ready for any hard rock station. "Winter Song" by Trip Wire carries the right amount of jangle to make any winter day cozy and "My Girl (She Brings Me)" by Blake Jones & The Trike Shop is pure transcendence in its take on a folk-soul, Americana ballad.
In terms of darker shadings, Armchair Oracles' brand of jangle-pop masterfully delves into Radiohead territory in the utilization of minor keys to create a palpable sense of yearning. Deborah Henriksson hauntingly assumes the siren's role in her new age ballad "Calling," as she's compelled to journey through "misty waters" and then plea that others "follow" her to where she falters. Last, but not least, comes the passionate, bluesy, and melancholic standout track of IPO Volume 19, "Obvious" by Mylittlebrother. "Obvious" is a slow-burning waltz that deals directly with dashed dreams and the weight of life's missed opportunities as evidenced by the evocative imagery of its lyrics: "When the stars start to dance/but you're too busy looking at plans." Although this song tells a difficult story of the societal pressures placed on dejected individuals, its lush melody brings out the song's sincere likability.
Highlights from Disc Three - Disc Three not only features the coolest band name on Volume 19 with Salvadore Dali Llama and their deft post-punk incantation of a resurrection song, "Crossing Over" to the most clever and satirical lyrics of Volume 19 in Dave Birks' "Linda's A Maybe." Celestial's "Medicate Me" is musically sublime and as emotionally direct as any song on Beyoncé's most recently lauded album, Lemonade. This is R&B singing at its best and most raw! Then comes a perfect homage to The Grunge days of the 1990s with 2 Days & Counting's "When I'm Gone." As Disc Three brings Volume 19 to its superb conclusion, Ships Have Sailed's "Summertime" supplies the needed promise of the sunshine days still to come while the Swedish Polarbears' "Winter" radiates the right amount of warmth to get its listener through these imminent days of winter!
All in all, IPO Volume 19 is a MUST BUY! Volume 19 certainly reflects a variety of musical genres, but makes the case that pop music IS fluid since, regardless of genre, melody and hooks are what ultimately make music popular; it's these elements that make music catchy and, therefore, POPular! IPO may be today's strongest repository of hooks, melodies, and most importantly, burgeoning artists. In the anthemic words of The Tearaways...until we "Bash again!"
International Pop Overthrow: Volume 19 is available now at Amazon U.S.! Watch this space next week for Ted's look back at his favorites from 2016, and a few titles he's eagerly awaiting as 2017 unfolds!