Smarter and Saltier
Roger Joseph Manning Jr., Catnip
Dynamite, Oglio Records [2/3/09]
By the name, I assumed that Roger Manning was the same
gent who recorded for SST and Shimmy Disc in the 1980s. Au
contraire! And I suppose that's partly why this arranger/session
musician/Jellyfish co-founder uses his middle name plus "Jr."
Manning's glam power-pop exists a solar system away from
that other fellow's antifolk tunes. Instead, he recalls ELO, Cheap
Trick, and Sweet—three of my favorite bands. Better yet, he
evokes the era of teenyboppers and shiny shirts without falling
into the tribute-artist trap. Manning comes close, but I'd rath-
er listen to a man who takes inspiration from Jeff Lynne and Rob-
in Zander than James Blunt and Michael Bublé (sorry, guys).
Plus, the US bonus tracks include Thomas Dolby's "Europa and
the Pirate Twins" and Elton John's "Love Lies Bleeding."
Mr. Russia, Teething, Lens Records [2/17/09]
This Chicago quartet pounds out screamo sans guitar. Sample lyrics from "XOXO": "Wanna get you down on your knees, baby baby, say please" and "Baby baby, let me under your skirt, baby
baby, I swear it won't hurt." Then in "Pretty Girls," Ivan Russia yells, "Pretty girls don't make mistakes!" Repeatedly. (Inset photos indicate on-stage megaphone use.) Granted, these charming lyrics might represent role playing, as in Husker Du's "Diana," wherein a predator speaks from his point of view, but it's hard to tell, though Russia has described the former as "a catcall," i.e. "the boy keeps trying to get the girl." I'll buy it—but I don't have to like it.
Marykate O'Neil, Underground,
Nettwerk/71 Recordings [2/3/09]
I just don't think the underground is ever
over, I just think sometimes it is harder to find.
-- Marykate O'Neil
Combined with her forthright,
girlish vocals, Boston-to-New
York transplant MaryKate
O'Neil's piano-based melo-
dies make for a smarter,
saltier version of "Have
a Nice Day"-era pop.
On her fourth full-length,
O'Neil sounds like a folkier, slightly more nasal Carole King or
Nellie McKay (and I don't mean "nasal" as a putdown; O'Neil uses
more of a "head voice" than a classically-trained diaphragm voice).
If her faster-moving, mandolin-decorated cover of "Different for
Girls" can't quite compete with Joe Jackson's sublime original, it's
still refreshing to hear a woman take on his very male frustration,
i.e. "What the hell is wrong with you tonight/I can't seem to say
or do the right thing" (I fell in love with that song back in high
school). Jill Sobule ("I Kissed a Girl") provides "vocals, gui-
tars, casio, organ, drums, knee slaps, dancing, and producing."
Or, the Whale, Light Poles and Pines, Or, the Whale, LLC
Ever since we parted ways, my notes are flat.
-- Or, the Whale, "Death of Me"
On Light Poles and Pines, this San Francisco collective ramb-
les their way through 13 tracks of tuneful indie-pop with country
trimmings. The wood-grain CD cover, with its stylized painting of
a farm, pretty well sums up the sounds within. Or, the Whale's
music isn't simple (or simplistic), but rather bright, clean, and
woozy all at the same time. My tolerance for country-oriented
anything is low at best, so I can't say I love this record, but it's a
pleasant enough way to pass the time. Extra credit for the well
honed harmonies, the omnichord, and the always-welcome saw.
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart,
self-titled, Slumberland [2/3/08]
Jangle, jangle, jangle all the way home. On their buoyant deb-
ut, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart live up their extrava-
gant billing with a pure-hearted approach to noise pop. Previous
comparisons to House of Love and (early) My Bloody Valentine
make perfect sense, and yet this boy/girl quartet doesn't sound
much like the Vivian Girls, who've been compared to many of the
same shoegaze/C86 acts, but have a more pronounced girl group
sound (though closing track "Gentle Sons" does boast that immor-
tal "Be My Baby"/"Just Like Honey" beat). If you remember the
Mighty Lemon Drops with fondness, you're sure to feel the
same way about this fabulously jangly foursome.
Click here for an mP3 of "Everything with
You" And here for "Young Adult Friction"
Endnote: For more information about Roger Joseph Man-
ning, Jr., please click here; for Marykate O'Neil, here; for Mr.
Russia, here or here; for Or, the Whale, here; and for the
Pains of Being Pure at Heart, here or here. Cheap Trick
image from MOG; O'Neil (by Sarah Bastin) from her website.