It seems Power Pop might actually be undergoing a sort of resurgence. WhatwhatWHAAAT? How can this be? I mean, for something to have a resurgence, it must have been popular in the past at some point, right?
OK, so maybe a different word is necessary. However you describe it, those old Beatle-esque jangle-pop sounds are coming back into music again, and I like it! Well, most of it. I like it when the bands who are doing it make at least some effort, however minor, to make the sound their own. One band who I believe does this fairly well is The Young Veins, the new project from former Panic! At the Disco members Ryan Ross and Jon Walker. I can kinda see why these guys became former members of that band–considering what kind of record The Young Veins’ debut album “Take A Vacation!” turned out to be, it seems there was some disagreement in the Panic! camp about which direction to take the band. And even fans of Panic! could have guessed something was up when their second album (“Pretty. Odd.”) turned out to be such a huge departure from the first (and eventually tanked). Whatever the reason for their leaving, it was a good move.
“Take A Vacation!” is not a completely original affair, by any means; but if you’ve read my stuff enough, you know that doesn’t usually bother me. There are only a certain amount of notes out there, and only a certain amount of verbal combinations and such. And when you are pulling stuff from great classic music like The Zombies, The Hollies, The Beach Boys, The Searchers, and a whole bunch of other bands everyone likes anyway, it will probably make for a pretty good time. If “Capetown” isn’t the single, it damn well should be. Instantly hook-filled and infectious, it captures all the glory of these artists from the past, but thanks to their youthful exuberance and knack for clever songwriting, it becomes a Young Veins song. The subject matter isn’t necessarily compelling–most songs talk about love, found or lost, with the occasional party tune thrown in. But overall, “Take A Vacation!” is the sound of a bunch of music fans celebrating the sounds they love. How could I NOT hang with that?
Another band rocking this style right now is The Like, who I like very much. In many ways. OK, I’ll be honest, the brilliant album cover is what got my attention. I mean, look at it. These girls are ssssssssssmokin’. Not only that, but a couple of them are more or less rock royalty. Singer Elizabeth “Z” Berg is the daughter of Tony Berg from Geffen Records, and drummer Tennessee Thomas is the daughter of Elvis Costello’s longtime drummer Pete Thomas (who is one of the best drummers of all time, mind you). The more I find out about The Like, the more it seems they have the perfect package. In fact, it might be too perfect.
Their second full-length album, “Release Me”, apparently represents a stylistic change for the band. The thing is, I can’t find any of their old songs to listen to online, so I can’t really compare the two albums–a marketing strategy, perhaps? I’m imagining they were a run of the mill indie rock girl band a la Vivian Girls, or something. Now, they have pretty much picked up where The Pipettes so unfortunately left off after their first album (the new Pipettes material is simply atrocious electro-pop–pretty damn disappointing). That’s cool and all, but I ended up having the same problems with The Like that I did initially with The Pipettes. These Like chicks obviously have talent, and they know how to write a song (although, Mark Ronson produced the record, and I can only assume he wrote some stuff as well), but too often it comes out sounding cookie-cutter to me. The title track puts me in stitches the most, because while it has a killer trajectory and build-up like any great pop song should have, it just feels too much like I’ve heard the song before. They lift the staccato stops of Velvet Underground’s “There She Goes Again” and pair it with a pretty basic sixties girl-group style chorus; and honestly, the goddamn farfisa organ can only make one fucking sound, and it gets pretty damn old pretty fast. Despite my setbacks about this track, though, I still can’t help but like it, and I feel similarly about almost every song on the record. In the end, it makes for an odd experience–a listen that that alternates from satisfying to frustrating seemingly every few seconds.
One last thought–let’s compare and contrast these two album covers. Look at them. Similar, right? They both evoke that retro feel, each bearing kitschy group photos and song titles on the front cover. While browsing for new music, I saw these two covers and thought “You know, I think I’ll probably like these albums.” And I did. I think it’s funny (and kind of sad) that it has come to that–it’s almost as if, in this day and age where anyone can get any music they want for free, people have to REALLY know what they are getting in order to dish out money for it. So, it’s like the album cover has to completely spell out what kind of experience you are in for. I guess that’s what an album cover should do anyway, but my point is it seems people are less and less keen to take chances with music these days. Now that’s frustrating! With that said, I’m glad these albums didn’t just totally suck. In both cases, they live up to what their covers promise. And the songwriting is good, which is the most important thing, after all.
The Young Veins “Take a Vacation!” ***1/2
The Like “Release Me” ***
Tags: Downtown Records, Elizabeth "Z" Berg, Geffen Records, girl groups, Mark Ronson, One Haven Music, Panic! at the Disco, Pete Thoms, power pop, Tennesee THomas, The Beach Boys, The Beatles, The Hollies, The Like, The Pipettes, The Searchers, The Velvet Underground, The Young Veins, The Zombies, Tony Berg, Vivian Girls