1. HELIUM ANGEL-"Early Clue To The New Direction"
I'd heard a bit about Helium Angel from some pals in CA and I think back in the 90's one of their members(I believe his name was Blake Ricks?) and I had some correspondance when we were both members of this online forum/slugfest called "The Modslist". Anyway if my memory serves me well I recall Blake popped in a DJ night I was doing in NYC one night when he was in town from California and handed me this CD. I have never been a fan of "contemporary" music, but this one really grabbed me. Helium Angel played power pop in a way that wasn't too '79 mod and wasn't too Brit poppy but somehow bridged both. Best of the bunch "The Crowd Appears", the best record Oasis never made, the Vapors-like "When The Plane Touched Down" and "Soma Book Of The Dead", the "Daily Nighty" of the late 90's.
2. NOEL COWARD'S GHOST-"Peyote Marching Songs Volume One"
The downside of doing a fanzine back in the 80's/90's (that was a printed magazine that you'd compile on your kitchen table with an Exacto knife, a glue stick, bunch of shrunk down xeroxed article done on a typewriter and Letraset rub on lettering) was that everybody and their brother would send you their 45 or Lp or CD in the hopes that you'd review it. My fanzine was a 60's modzine, so 9 out of 10 times I'd get something like Stuart Brodian (Google him if you're not from NJ) or some other ick that wasn't the least bit related to my mag. In the 90's I got this CD, for some reason I played it (I'd usually take a look at the sleeve then either bin it after keeping the jewel case or try pawning it off on a record store). It reminded me of XTC meets The Cleaners From Venus (Google them too if you know what's good for you), very D.I.Y. but quirky with some good pop hooks. Fave track: "The Lovely Maiden Voygle" which sounds like a lost Andy Partridge demo from The Dukes of Stratosphear era. Sadly I can't remember any of the other ones, but I liked them all!
3. THE DENTISTS-"Some People Are On The Pitch.."
Back in the 80's I was Medway mad, any band from Medway (Chatham, Kent, U.K.) I dug from The Milkshakes to The Prisoners to The Daggermen. The Dentists were from Medway and a friend heard about them when they contacted him through his zine. On a whim I bought their debut LP in early 1986 (produced by Alan Crockford from The Prisoners, who with his band mate Graham Day had produced their brilliant debut 45/E.P. "Strawberries Are Growing In My Garden(And It's Winter Time") in 1985). It blew me away instantly. It was all discordant jangling and slightly out of tune guitars, bash it up production and magical harmonies. The whole LP gave me this feel of an utterly depressing, bleak place (see The Allisons below) and four guys in bad haircuts with vintage guitars and threads (not the least bit "mod" or "60's") kicking up a racket seemed the only way out. Briefly reissued on CD then out of print five minutes later, all of the album's tracks were compiled on a U.S. Dentists compilation CD called "Dressed". Picks of the bunch: the West Coast harmonies meets The Mighty Caesars crunch of "I'm Not the Devil", the absolutely cracking/punchy "Tony Bastable V John Noakes", the morbidly depressing yet rocking "Flowers Around Me" and the somber "Kinder Still" (with a clarinet solo by Graham Day!). When I met Graham in '88 I inquired about The Dentists enthusiastically and he dismissively replied "What them? They're a bunch of poofs".
4. THE CAVEDOGS-"Joyrides For Shut In's"
One of the best CD/LP's to ever come along on Enigma Records (alongside The Smithereen's "Especially For You") was this one by this short lived Boston trio. All of my friend's back in the world were raving about them while I was off in the army called up for Oil War I (more on that below) in 1990. I duly acquired the CD and was blown away. Some of the tracks have the urgency of The Jam before Weller began using layers of guitar overdubs while others show some nice complex pop niceties. Sadly, so I recall hearing, one of the members did not want to quit his day job as the story went and the band imploded after a well received gig at Maxwell's in Hoboken in 1991. Faves: The Jam-ish teen angst of "Tayter Country" , The La's meets Smithereens hard edged pop of "What In the World" and the cynical "Proud Land" expressing sentiments of being ashamed at the evil super power that is the U.S.(20 years later the lyrics still work).
5. THE ALLISONS-"Untitled"
As mentioned above, I was in the the U.S. Army during Oil War I in 1990 when my reserve untit was mobilized and I was flung into a godforsaken place called Baytown, Texas. Baytown was and probably still is the *sshole of the Gulf Coast culturally speaking. Basically an oil town that skirts Houston, very blue collar, very hard, very economically depressed and most likely to appear on an episode of "Cops". From this wasteland in 1989 came an untitled CD by four locals (two of whom originated from New Plymouth, New Zealand!) who were obsessed with Rickenbackers, 60's pop and most of all The Smithereens. This knocked me for a loop when I met their lead singer Karl Teten in a record store that he worked at in the San Jacinto Mall (remember when malls actually had stores that sold music?). Having spent a small part of my junior and senior years of high school cutting class to go to Smithereen's guitarist Jim Babjak's record store in New Brunswick, NJ it blew me away that these guys in Texas were so musically enamoured of someone I knew in passing. What knocked me for a loop even more was that these guys put together a band knee deep in redneck/ Lee Greenwood loving Texas playing this sort of music. I purchased their CD that same day and have had it ever since. Best bits: the driving jangly/harmony pop of "Wild Wild Rain" (like a cross between Billy Bragg and The Byrds), the melancholy R.E.M.-eqsue "A Second Coming" and the Stems-like "Sixth Dimension Flower".
6. THE AUTUMN LEAVES-"Treats And Treasures"
Minneapolis, Minnesota's Autumn Leaves have released several CD's, this was their debut and my favorite of the bunch and in fact my favorite of this bunch of ten. The band had released two singles before numerous line up changes (reflected in this albums multitude of players) which led to some delay in this disc's release. Masterfully produced it displays an array of influences all from the pen of lead singer/guitarist David Beckey at the helm with a host of side men/women. Best of the bunch are the previously released 45 tracks included on the CD: the psychedelic/freakbeat of "Magic Red Rain Coat" and it's countrified flip "The Ballad of Plum Tucker" and the "new" tracks the eerie "Phantom Girl Blues" (complete with Syd era Pink Floyd guitar solo), "When I Close My Eyes" (a perfect pastiche of Chapterhouse and 60's pop) and the power chord power-pop tour de force "Every Night" (resplendent with Al Kooper-esque organ licks and lsyers of cool stuff going on).
7. THE LOLLIES-"Taste"
The Lollies were a British trio (two gals, one guy) and this was their sole CD offering. There's no messing around on this disc, everything is punchy, peppy and at times in-your-face and no space wasted with droning, long drawn out songs or guitar hero pyrotechnics(all but one of the tracks are under 3 minutes). At the same time some tracks are not without a sense of campy humor in the best Bonzo-esque sense with clever lyrics and double entendres. It's D.I.Y. without the "sounds-like-sh*t" tag that comes with most D.I.Y indie pop. Picks of the litter, the late 70's styled new wavey power pop of "Call The Girls" (with some bleak lyrics, hands down my fave track on the CD from the get go), the saccharine pop sweetness of "Imajinary Boyfriend" and the early XTC-esque (complete w/ hand claps) cleverly titled "Jonestown Mascara".
8. THE JETSET-"There Goes The Neighborhood"
What do you get when the drummer from Secret Affair and a few mates start a label to showcase 60's style pop music in mid 80's Great Britain? I dunno. But you DID get The Jetset. Four British guys who wanted so VERY desperately to be the Pre-Fab Four: Mickey, Peter, Mike and Davey. They wore matching white stripey trou and dark colored shirts with Beatle boots and even drove around in a Jetset mobile (really just a white Cortina). After a few 7" releases they released this, their debut long player in 1985. Though it hasn't held up for me much thanks to the dreadful 80's production and use of very "modern equipment" it's the hooks and the 60's pop sensibilities about it all that still keep the songs snappy. Lead by guitarist Paul Bevoir (the Brian Wilson of 80's Britain!) the best tracks are catchy "Lover's Playground", the Monkees aping (sorry) "What Can I Say" and my fave of them all, the jangly but lyrically bleak "kitchen sink" pop of "(And That's The) Good News" that wouldn't have been at all out of place on the Manfred's "Up The Junction" LP. All of the album's cuts have been scooped up by Cherry Red for a two CD Jetset collection titled "Swings And Roundabouts:The Very Best Of The Jetset".
9. BIFF BANG POW-"Pass The Paintbrush Honey"
Long before Creation records became household names with the likes of Jesus and The Boring Chain , Primal Scream and , yes Oasis, they were a total underground D.I.Y organization run on a shoestring by Alan Magee and some mates. Obviously British 60's pop art/mod legends The Creation played a large part in both the label name and that of Magee's own band, Biff Bang Pow. This was their debut release in 1985. I bought it without ever hearing it believing that anybody who dared call themselves Biff Bang Pow and had an LP sleeve with a cat crawling over vintage gear must be good. I was not disappointed. Though the band went on to make plenty of other good long players this one is my favorite. You will have to excuse me for making the "kitchen sink" reference again but like a great deal of mid 80's British music, this LP seems to ooze the despair and nihilism that was the mid-80's Britain. Kicking off with the grief stricken jangling/ backwards guitar brilliance of "There Must Be A Better Life" (my fave track on the album) it's full of magic, from the weirdly psychedelic mash-up "A Day Out With Jeremy Chester" to the punchy raga/12 string kitsch of "Colin Dobbins" there isn't a song on this LP that fails to entertain me. Has it been reissued on CD? I haven't a *ucking clue.
10. THE SHAZAM-"Godspeed The Shazam"
1999's "Godspeed The Shazam" had everyone drawing comparisons between them and Cheap Trick, maybe my head is too far up my own crevice to know better but I think this CD owes more to late era /pre-E.L.O. Move stuff and okay there are some VERY Cheap Trick like hooks (on "Super Tuesday" for instance) but I hear a bit of Badfinger, Big Star and Who/Kinks on bits (like on my fave of the bunch "Calling Sydney" which is Ray Davies meets Alex Chilton). Other thumbs up on the disc go to the glammy boyo rabble-rumble of "City Smasher" and cheeky power pop "Are U Receiving". Kudos to my always-contemporary music concious friend Amy Vonk for turning me onto them in 2000.