Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Steve Conte, Andy Partridge, and Record Store Day

By Henry Lipput

Steve Conte’s new album The Concrete Jangle (Wicked Cool Records) is being released this Saturday on Record Store Day! So find a store here and get there early!

New York-based rocker Conte has worked with The New York Dolls and Michael Monroe and for The Concrete Jangle he has joined forces with Andy Partridge of XTC and, most recently, last year’s The 3 Clubmen EP. Conte and Partridge co-wrote the five songs on side one of the album and Conte went it alone for the five songs on side two. “I knew they’d have to stand up next to the Partridge co-writes,” said Conte in the album’s press materials about the songs on the flip side, “so I pulled some of the more psychedelic, adventurous, soulful songs from the Beatles/XTC/Motown side of my musical brain.”

The Concrete Jangle kicks off with the lead track and the first single from the album “Fourth of July.” The song is a burst of pop goodness and although it has trademark Partridge lyrical flourishes Conte brings the vocal and guitar licks for which he is known to make the song his own.

“Hey Hey Hey (Aren’t You The One”) starts off with a guitar riff reminiscent of Wasp Star’s “Playground” and continues with more riffs, a clean, melodic guitar solo, and some neat farfisa organ fills. And then there’s Partridge in love-struck mode: “Aren’t you the one/The one set to stun/Zap my heart just for fun/Are you the one.” Partridge was given co-producer credit for the co-writes and this is most apparent on “One Last Bell” a song whose arrangement recalls XTC songs like “The Last Balloon” and “Harvest Festival.”

Side two is all Conte all the time. Highlights (and there are many) include “All Tied Up.” It’s a cool tune about the many faces of love and features a terrific vocal from Conte as well as some of the best guitar work on the album (and there are handclaps!). “Girl With No Name” is a power pop treat with a tune and arrangement that could have been a mid-Sixties AM radio hit (and might just be one now on the interwebs radio).

Conte also said in the press materials that he told Partridge that for one of the songs “we should put on our Dukes of Stratosphere hats.” I don’t think any of the co-writes on side one of The Concrete Jangle fit that description but one of the songs on side two, “Decomposing A Song For You” is just that. It may be my favorite song on the album. Conte has rummaged through the Beatles side of his brain to fit together a “Penny Lane”-like piano, "Walrus" strings, and treated vocal and used the ingredients to bake a Dukes-like treat. And there’s even a bit of sitar at the very end!

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Peter Hall continues to bewitch

By Henry Lipput

It’s been four years since Peter Hall’s initial solo outing, the There’s Something Wrong With Everyone EP, where we first became aware of his extraordinary gift for melody. Hall doesn’t rock, he swoons; and we swoon with him.

His ability to write and record songs that touch both the head and the heart has continued through EPs and albums. Hall’s latest, his What Are You Waiting For? EP (Bandcamp), continues this more than ever as Hall has become a singer-songwriter to reckon with especially if you, like me, appreciate the kind of melodic pop that reverberated throughout the 1960s.

The new four-song EP contains the brilliant “I’m In Love With You” which first saw the light of day on February’s Daisyland Acoustics EP which also included striped-down versions of three songs from previous releases (all of which deserve your attention and all of which can be found on Hall’s Bandcamp page).

Hall’s lyrics are all about love: looking for love, finding love, and losing love. “Two Twenty Two” from 2021’s glorious Light The Stars is a song about found love and all but name checks The Beatles' first single. “Waiting For Nothing” from last year’s wonderful About Last Night is, on the other hand, a look at love slowly coming to an end. His music as well as his choir boy voice, as expected, match his words and can be both joyous and heartbreaking.

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Tall Poppy Syndrome sets their eyes on tomorrow

By Henry Lipput

On “This Time Tomorrow” (Tres Melo Musique), Tall Poppy Syndrome’s take on Kinks’ wistful, acoustic look at the future, the band plugs in their amps and turns up the volume.

As a long-time fan of The Kinks (my second favorite band after The Four-Headed Monster) – well, since 1979 but I then searched New York City record stores to find past releases and bought future albums and EPs as they came out -- this cover of “This Time Tomorrow” is a welcome addition to other cover versions of Kinks songs that get it just right. Don’t take my word for it – original Kinks drummer Mick Avory has told Tall Poppy Syndrome he likes it!

Tall Poppy Syndrome is the classic Bee Gees Vince Meloney on electric guitars; the multi-dimensional Jonathan Lea on electric guitars, mellotron, and tambourine; the legendary Clem Burke on drums; and, from the Strangers in a Strange Land band Paul Kopf on vocals and Alec Palao on bass and electric piano.

Thursday, March 21, 2024

The Jack Rubies are back for another shot

By Henry Lipput

Clocks Are Out Of Time, the terrific brand-new album from The Jack Rubies (Big Stir Records), their first in over 30 years, doesn’t turn back in the clocks in a daylight savings time sort of way as much as it continues the streak the band had in the late 80s and early 90s. Or to put it another way: 2024 is sounding a lot like 1988.

And although a lot of the music on Clocks Are Out Of Time can remind you of bands and musicians like The The, Lloyd Cole, and Nick Cave it’s important to remember that The Jack Rubies, along with others at that time, were soaking up influences not unlike the bands in the 60s; it was in the musical water supply and available for the taking. And it doesn’t hurt that the band on Clocks Are Out Of Time is composed of the original line-up of Ian Wright (lead vocals and guitar), SD Ineson (backing vocals and guitar), Steve Brockway (bass), Lawrence Giltane (percussion), and Peter Maxted (drums and also the album’s producer).

For me, there are two very different musical styles on Clocks Are Out Of Time. There’s the “slightly bruised and battered positivity,” as singer and songwriter Ian Wright put it, of the songs. On the “slightly bruised” corner is the noirish “Hark” with its line “Does anyone know the way back?” “Poltergeist” is a rollicking scare fest and “Read My Mind” is a love song doubling as a warning. Wright’s vocal does nothing to reassure the listener/target he only has good intentions.

It should come as no surprise my favorite set of songs are the ones falling under the “battered positivity” flag. Even though The Jack Rubies were a year of two late to be included in NME’s fabled original C86 collection, the songs “Angeline Soul” and “Heaven Shook Me” would have not only fit perfectly on that cassette but would have made a killer double A-side single. You can listen for yourself here:

“Heaven” is the best of the best. It has a big, brassy arrangement and tight playing by the band. It’s a glorious track and if there’s any justice in this world it should be the next single from Clocks Are Out Of Time but also a major hit.

Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Suzy Goodwin’s not taking it anymore

By Henry Lipput

If there wasn’t such a thing as Australian Motown already there certainly is now.

Suzy Goodwin’s full-throated, heart-felt vocal on her dazzling debut solo single, “Ain’t No Next Time," hits you right between the ears. Accompanied by pounding piano and drums, along with classic organ fills and a horn section that works hard to keep up with her vocal, Goodwin puts her foot down and tells a roaming lover that if he leaves there won’t be a next time.

Goodwin has been a long-time staple of Australia’s inner west music scene and a pivotal member of the indie rock/alt-country band Fallon Cush (which Bandcamp notes is “enigmatic”) providing wonderful backing vocals and harmonies; Steve Smith of the band wrote and produced “Ain’t No Next Time.” Goodwin also leads (no surprises here) the popular Motown covers band Suzy & The Snakepit.

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Dusty Wright dusts off his favorite songs

By Henry Lipput

On Dusted Off, Dusty Wright’s fine new covers album, he has recorded some of his favorite songs as well as the ones he enjoys playing live.

Wright has chosen songs from the 1950’s to the 1970’s and in doing so he has reimagined them and made them his own. The two best examples of this are his covers of “Walk On The Wild Side” and “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone.”

On “Walk On The Wild Side” Wright turns Lou Reed’s glorified take of New York City’s Lower East Side of the early 1970s into a sad, melancholic look at the sex and drugs that permeated that time.

With “(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone” Wright’s version of The Monkees song (written by Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart who wrote many of the band’s other hits) a response to a lover’s taking advantage becomes a mid-60s psychedelic journey. Wright has mentioned that his version is influenced by the Paul Revere and The Raiders cover but what we hear on Dusted Off is a whole different animal.

“That’s All Right” is neither a recreation of Elvis Presley’s Sun Sessions version or Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup’s original but instead the sound looks away from a rave up but to Bill Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” Stephen Still’s coming-of-age song “4+20,” like the CSNY Déjà Vu track, has acoustic guitar but Wright adds textured electric guitars that conjure up a hazy, long-ago vibe.

“The Mighty Quinn” and “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” show Wright’s obvious debt to the songwriting of Bob Dylan. Wright loves these songs and you can hear it in his voice. For the digital bonus track “You Ain’t Going Nowhere” Wright recorded a slowed down yet faithful version of the original with a Dylanesque harmonica topping it off. And by slowing down the song he doesn’t try to match the avalanche of words from Dylan’s vocal but makes them understood.

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Videos from Tamar Berk and The Shop Window

By Henry Lipput

Tamar Berk, "Permanent Vacation"

"Permanent Vacation" is the fourth single from Tamar Berk's third album tiny injuries (Bandcamp(there’s a PP4NP review for that). The video, directed by Brandon Mosquero, was inspired by Berk’s first vacation since the pandemic along with her fears of traveling, flying, and crowds. Despite these anxieties she hoped the trip would change her and make her a different person. Mission accomplished.

The video, however, reflects the earlier concerns of both the pandemic and travelling as Berk is dressed completely in an astronaut suit even when doing mundane tasks like grocery shopping. (As a side note, fans of Matt Smith-era Doctor Who may recall a similar look during the The Impossible Astronaut episode.)

The Shop Window, "I Run"

“I Run” is the third single from The Shop Window’s forthcoming two-record (16 track) Daysdream to be released in May (you can pre-order here).

Earlier albums and singles highlighted the jangle and shoegaze elements of the band’s sound which are to be even more evident as they are to be split between the two discs of Daysdream. In addition, the 16 songs will showcase co-writers and co-lead vocalists Carl Mann and Syd Oxlee as they expand The Shop Window’s sound (now with a second guitarist!).

It’s clear from the DaysDream Bandcamp page that “I Run” will be leading off the collection and is what my friends from across the pond would call a banger of a tune. Along with the previous two singles (including "It's A High" and yes there's a review for that too)  “I Run” gives a glimpse into what an amazing group of songs will be found on DaysDream.

The video for “I Run” was directed by Darren Stokes, the alternative title for which could be “A Dog’s Life” because although the lyrics can conjure up a lover returning home from a long recording session or a tour like in “A Hard Day’s Night” it might also be from the viewpoint of a lost or wandering dog finding its way home.

Friday, February 16, 2024

A Few of My Favorite Things 2023 Edition – Part Two: The EPs, singles, a live release, compilations, and a reissue.

By Henry Lipput

Here is the rest of the music I've been enjoying (and listening to more than once) over the past year. I hope there's something here that you can get into as well. Next time we'll see start to see what 2024 is going to bring us.


Peter Hall, About Last Night

The initial email for About Last Night from the Subjangle label described the new Peter Hall release as a mini-album and/or an extended EP. For the purposes of this blog post I’m going with the latter although it would have been in the top five of my album list from Part One. About Last Night (Bandcamp) is another brilliant collection of songs from Hall whose Light The Stars album was at the top of the list in my 2021 year-end roundup. Each EP or album Hall presents to us is a musical step forward and we continue to be struck by how the vocals, lyrics, and soaring arrangements come together .

The 3 Clubmen, The 3 Clubmen

The musical powerhouse trio that is The 3 Clubmen is made up of Andy Partridge, Jen Olive, and Stu Rowe. Their self-titled EP (Burning Shed) is the kind of musically inventive and downright fun collection of songs that you just don’t hear much anymore. The trio made their first appearance when the first single from the EP, “Aviatrix,” was announced back in the Spring of 2023 (a few weeks later a glorious pop-art style video was released). In my review of the song I called it “mind-bending” and this also applies to the paint-splattering way all of these songs have been put together; there’s nothing in these songs that’s expected. 

Caleb Nichols, So This Is Crimble

It’s hard to deny Caleb Nichols his Beatle fan credentials. In addition to the very Beatles-influenced Ramon, he also released the single DoubleMantasy with covers of McCartney’s “Waterfalls” and Lennon’s “Watching The Wheels.” The centerpiece of the EP (Kill Rock Stars) is “Crimble Medley” in which Nichols creates a wonderful mashup of a song from a Beatles Christmas fanclub disc as well as holiday offerings from three solo Beatles along with Ringo's "Photograph" which fits very nicely in the mix (what's Christmas without photographs?). The EP also includes his two most recent Christmas songs, “(I Fell In Love On) Christmas Day” from Ramon (my favorite new Christmas song) and “Christmas, California” from his recent Let’s Look Back album.


The Bablers, “Thinking of You"

“Thinking Of You” (Big Stir Records), the latest single from The Bablers, is just the latest knock-out track following “Holding Me Tight Tonight,” “You Are the One for Me” (my personal favorite), and “Mr. King” which was released as the commutation (as a certain Mr. Lennon might have said) of Prince Charles was taking place. With these songs we’ve been treated to four singles from Like The First Time, an album only available in Japan and Finland (their home country) and things look good for a world-wide release of the whole thing in 2024. 

Fallon Cush, “Grain of Salt”

“Grain of Salt” (Bandcamp and all streaming services) is the first new music from Fallon Cush since 2019’s Stranger Things Have Happened album and the second single from the five-track Tricks EP which is being released in March 2024. “Grain of Salt” is mostly a solo effort with Fallon Cush’s main man Steve Smith with an assist from producer Josh Schuberth. At the beginning of 2020 Smith suffered a breakdown that left him with crippling anxiety. He stopped working and barely picked up a guitar. I wasn’t aware of any of this when I reviewed the song; it didn’t sound anything like an ask for help from its author, but it certainly sounds like that now.

Confusion Boats, “I Want To Hold Your Hand”

Brian Dear of Confusion Boats has been coming up with Beatles and Beatles-related covers for a long time and the fourth one to be released “I Want To Hold Your Hand” (Bandcamp) is the best. With the slowed down and soulful vocal of Andrew Lubman, Dear and fellow Boater Fernando Perdomo lay down the original arrangement for Abbey Road’s “Oh! Darling” on top. It’s just such a brilliant move that I’m sure no one saw it coming (I certainly didn't and have been playing it for people since it came out) and the result is amazing.


The Sylvia Platters, Summer Dreamin'

The Sylvia Platters from Vancouver, British Columbia, is a four-piece consisting of Alex Kerc-Murchison, Stephen Carl O’Shea, Nick Ubels, and Tim Ubels. In December 2022 the band entered Malibu Sound Studio in Burnaby BC and performed a five-song set. Recorded and mixed by Kyle Schick, the collection was released in the summer of 2023 as Summer Dreamin' (Bandcamp). The title song is new to the band’s catalog but the other four tunes are from the albums, singles, and EPs The Sylvia Platters have released over the past ten years. Their sound is undoubtedly influenced by Teenage Fanclub and “Norman 4” (a bonus track originally on 2022’s Youth Without Virtue EP and dedicated to Norman Blake) is a standout on Summer Dreamin’.


Dot Dash, 16 Again

The wonderful Dot Dash collection, 16 Again (Country Mile Records [sold out]/Last Night From Glasgow: vinyl/ Bandcamp: digital), is the first time these songs have been on vinyl and it’s a great way to hear them. It’s also a terrific way to introduce new fans to the band and a way to remind current fans why they liked Dot Dash so much in the first place. The title 16 Again refers to the fact that these songs (all but one) have been previously available on all ten of their albums released by Wally Salem’s The Beautiful Music label between 2011 and 2022. You can think of these songs, hand-picked by the band, as "a greatest hits album by a band with no hits" as the Bandcamp page says. But there's a difference between songs not being hits and songs loved by fans that should have been hits ("Unfair Weather" immediately comes to mind). 

Various Artists, Let The Band Times Roll (a tribute to The Replacements)

Philly’s Creep Records, with their Replacements tribute album Let The Bad Times Roll (digital available on Bandcamp and the vinyl from Creep Records) have put together a tremendous collection of 13 songs that span the ‘Mats recording career played by a group of bands and singers that I’ve never heard of playing songs I’ve been listening to for 30 or so years. Her Heads On Fire’s “Alex Chilton” and Celebration Summer’s “Left of the Dial” have arrangements close to the original but they just reinforce how great these songs are. The real gems are the ones that feature a different take on these beloved songs. Crazy Tom Martin’s “Sadly Beautiful” is electronically infused and Sammy Kay has an acoustic take and a Tom Waits vocal on “Favorite Things.” 


Pernice Brothers, Overcome By Happiness

I know I sound like a broken CD at times (because for a decade or so it was very difficult to buy a vinyl copy of an album in the US) but like 2001's Meaningless by Jon Brion (the vinyl release was in 2022) the Pernice Brothers great 1998 album Overcome By Happiness (New West Records) has finally been made available on a wonderful sounding remastered vinyl. Thanks to an arrangement with New West you can not only get yourself a single vinyl version of the 25th anniversary edition of Overcome but there's also a gorgeous deluxe edition with a second disc of pre-Overcome singles (the single version of "Monkey Suit" featuring both Joe and Bob Pernice is nearly worth the price of the whole thing), album demos, and a hardback book with comments by Joe and as well as lyrics. Another bonus of the coming together of New West and Pernice is the upcoming new solo album Who Will You Believe from Joe Pernice (now available for preorder here).

Thursday, January 18, 2024

A Few of My Favorite Things, 2023 Edition -- Part One, The Albums

By Henry Lipput

Another year, another year-end list. Twelve albums are featured in my round-up of favorites from 2023. Once again there are the bands and artists I've enjoyed for a while as well as new faces and voices and two collaborations. I've reviewed many of these albums last year so I've edited them for this post and wrote new text for the entries I either didn't get to in 2023 or missed until recently.  Part Two of the Pure Pop blog will include my favorite EPs, singles, a live one, compilations, and a reissue.

For each album I've included a link to where you can buy the music (as well as a song from each album) and, as aways, I encourage you to support indie music by purchasing a download, a CD, or a record. 

The Boo Radleys – Eight (BooSTR Records

In 2022, following a gap of 24 years, The Boo Radleys released Keep On With Falling, an album I liked a lot. Their new album, Eight, is not only a giant step in the band’s regeneration, it continues their brilliant sonic journey. It’s also where the new album fits in Boo Radleys discography and makes it clear there’s a throughline in the history of a band that before last year had not released an album since 1998 and where the band is now. Favorite song: “Seeker”

Maia Sharp – Reckless Thoughts (

On Reckless Thoughts Maia Sharp builds on the relationships she’s made with the many musicians and songwriters she’s known over the years since her debut in 1995. Sharp’s production on Reckless Thoughts is a low-key affair highlighting each song’s melody with subtle arrangements that wash over you like a warm bath and then come back to revisit you. The literate lyrics for each song are polished to a gem-like finish. Favorite song: “Fallen Angel”

Bill Pritchard – Pritchard Sings Poems by Patrick Woodcock (Tapete Records) 

You may think after having written both words and music for wonderful songs on 2016’s Mother Town Hall and 2019’s Midland Lullabies that Bill Pritchard would have little incentive to collaborate with the Canadian poet Patrick Woodcock. But it turns out this is a genius move. Pritchard has lost none of his ability to create brilliant melodies and his vocals and simple arrangements make you stop what you’re doing and listen to Woodcock’s words. Favorite song: “The Lowering"

The Cleaners From Venus – K7 (Bandcamp

Since the 1970s, Martin Newell, has released music under many monikers including The Stray Trolleys, The Brotherhood of Lizards, The Cleaners From Venus, and his own name in the 90s when he gave us the wonderful The Greatest Living Englishman and The Off-White Album. For the last few years Newell has released an album’s worth of material each year as the one-man band that is The Cleaners From Venus. His latest, K7, is once again filled with tunes that jangle (he’s known as the Jangling Man) and lyrics that recall the working-class vignettes of Ray Davies. There’s also the gorgeous “Postcard to Heaven” about the loss of a friend and “The Beautiful Stoned” where he cranks up the jangle. Favorite song: “Postcard to Heaven”

The Lost Days – In The Store (Speakeasy Studios SF

I’ve been a fan of Tony Molina’s work since his great Kill The Lights album in 2018. A master of short, extremely melodic songs recorded in a very lo-fi DIY way, all of his labels (In The Store is the fourth since Kill The Lights) release his full-size records (about 15 minutes of playing time) that are to be played at 45 RPM for “maximum sound quality.” On In The Store Molina is joined by Sarah Rose Janko of Dawn Riding who provides a wonderful take on his lyrics. The duo is joined by Nick Bassett on drums and keyboards (he also supplied the basement in which the album was recorded) and Jasper Leach on piano and Hammond organ. Favorite song: “For Today”

Lydia Loveless – Nothing’s Gonna Stand In My Way Again (digital: Bloodshot Records/CD and vinyl:

Loveless has an awesome voice that makes it clear it’s not going to take crap from anyone; she’s also very good on the album’s more emotional turns. Along with her crackerjack band the results are not unlike Carlene Carter on her 1980 Musical Shapes album where she matched her twangly vocals with the lads from Rockpile (just check out “I’m So Cool”). On Nothing’s Gonna Stand In My Way Again, Loveless has songs that alternate between hitting the big time (“Sex and Money”) and leaving behind a bad relationship (“Toothache”). Favorite song: “Toothache”

Robert Forster – The Candle and the Flame (Tapete Records

Robert Forster had three years’ worth of songs he had written for a new album before his wife and musical partner Karin Baumler was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. While Baumler underwent chemotherapy, Forster set out to quickly record songs at a local studio in Brisbane. The sessions turned into an extended family affair with their son Louis taking part along with Adele Pickvance, a long-time friend and bass player on the last three Go-Betweens albums (and the Adele of Adele and the Chandeliers). The result is a literate and heartfelt album. Favorite song: “Tender Years

Steve Stoeckel – The Power Of And (Big Stir Records

What do you get when you put a musical mix of styles in a blender and hit the puree button? If you’re lucky (and it turns out we definitely are this time) you’ll end up with The Power Of And the debut solo album from Steve Stoeckel. The Power Of And alternates between the Rockpile rockabilly of “Laura Lynn” to the wonderful acoustic treats of “Heather Gray,” “Birds” (a lovely melody as good as anything on a McCartney album), and “Strange Cameo” with its “I’ll Follow The Sun” vibe. Favorite song: “Birds”

Gramercy Arms – Deleted Scenes (Magic Door Record Label) 

The music and lyrics of Deleted Scenes recall the 1970s, a time when young people -- artists, writers, actors, filmmakers – flocked to New York City. Gramercy Arms fits into the zeitgeist of the time as it’s a collective led by Dave Derby who was also a member of another collective of sorts: The Negatives, a band led by Lloyd Cole resulting in 2001’s The Negatives.  Cole, it turns out, is also part of Gramercy Arms and co-wrote and plays on “Yesterday’s Girl,” the first single from the album. Having worked with Cole for more than 20 years, Derby has, especially on this song, picked up some of the former’s vocal mannerisms. Favorite song: “Fucked Up and Beautiful”

Tamar Berk – little injuries (Bandcamp

On tiny injuries Berk hits the ground rocking and then opens up to include heart-felt and heartbreaking ballads and, with the addition of horns, she’s building on her musical palette. Berk plays the quiet, acoustic card when she needs to and she and her band know how to bring the loud guitars. Berk has a songwriter’s gift for collecting the important parts of overheard conversations between lovers and friends especially the ones that signal the end of relationships. Favorite song: “sunday driving”

SUPER 8 – HOOPLA (The Beautiful Music

HOOPLA is a cornucopia of musical delights. Written and performed by the super-talented one-man band Paul Ryan, also known as Trip, he’s been releasing high-quality tuneage since 2018 (including the amazing hat trick of three albums of all new material that year). The new album not only continues his streak of presenting technicolor melodies (the title of his first 2018 album) but the time he’s spent since then, tinkering in his shed, has given his songs more textures, sounds, and arrangements. Favorite song: “Out of my Head”

The New Fools – seashells (Bandcamp)

On seashells, The New Fools adds trumpet and saxophone to the mix and the result is a rousing blast of sound. It’s their first “full-length” album (being more than the eight songs of previous ones) and their best yet. The band shares duties on creating lyrics and tunes for seashells. For example, bassist Dave Seabright was asked to write a theme song for the band which could be used to open shows. The resulting instrumental “Mr. Grimsdale” opens the album with a burst of sound. It’s both an overture and a statement of intent.  Favorite song: “Nice One Pete”

Friday, December 22, 2023

Caleb Nichols: a new album and a fab Christmas mashup

By Henry Lipput

Let’s Look Back

Let’s Look Back (Kill Rock Stars), the new album from poet, singer, and songwriter Caleb Nichols, continues the backwards looking journey he began with last year’s Ramon (one of my favorite albums of 2022).

Ramon is a queer love story (he used #queerthebeatles on the tweeter to promote the album) about a young gay boy growing up in a small town in the 1990s and finding the music of The Beatles as an escape. There’s also a rocky love story about Mean Mr. Mustard and Captain Custard although the names may have been changed to protect the innocent. The album also contained “(I Fell In Love On) Christmas Day” my new favorite Christmas song.

Following Ramon, Nichols released Chan Says & Other Songs which consisted of both an EP and a book of poems. He described the songs and story being at “the intersection of land/sea, sexuality/gender, and fairy tale/reality” as they tell the story of a young boy born to parents who wanted a girl.

So Let’s Look Back is more like Let’s Look Back Some More. In stark contrast to the warmth of “(I Fell In Love On) Christmas Day,” the new album starts off with “Christmas, California” and it’s clear the trip back home is not one that's looked forward to. The opening guitar riff recalls the music from a Sergio Leone western (or an overture to a shoot-out at the holiday dinner table).

“Demon Twink” and “Absolute Boy” are the album's pop highlights. The latter is a jangle-pop treasure with a sad message at its core: "The time you clipped my wings." “Albatross” rocks out and offers advice to those who have been hurt in love and not ready to move on yet: “Everything you lost/Wear it like an albatross.”

“The Wires,” the penultimate song on Let’s Look Back, is my favorite and the best song on the album. The song starts slow with a strummed electric guitar and an entreaty to a potential lover: “Hold me tonight/Show me.” The song slowly builds, an acoustic guitar dominates the bridge, and it ends with a majestic orchestral conclusion.

So This Is Crimble

It’s hard to deny Nichols’ Beatles credentials. In addition to the very Beatles-influenced Ramon, he also released the single Double Mantasy with covers of McCartney’s “Waterfalls” and Lennon’s “Watching The Wheels”(and he's made them his own).

The main attraction and centerpiece of the So This Is Crimble  EP (Kill Rock Stars) is “Crimble Medley” in which Nichols creates a wonderful mashup of a song from a Beatles Christmas fanclub disc as well as holiday offerings from three solo Beatles along with Ringo's "Photograph" which fits very nicely in the mix (what's Christmas without photographs?). The EP also includes his two most recent Christmas songs, “(I Fell In Love On) Christmas Day” from Ramon and “Christmas, California” from Let’s Look Back.

Here’s the video for “Crimble Medley:”