Archive for the ‘pop’ Category

Hundred-word Reviews for September, Part 5 of 8

Friday, September 4th, 2015

Lightening the mood a bit today with some power-pop leaning releases, leavened with some heavier, more adventurous sounds.


The Prime Ministers – Youngstown Milk Run
Don’t allow yourself to be put off by the song titles that make use of tired Prince-isms (“Can U B My Dreams,” “I Wait 4 Your Guitar”). The songs are better than all that. Betraying a strong influence of mainstream 80s rock (Huey Lewis, but don’t hold that against ‘em either), the eleven songs on this disc are catchy, rocking stuff. Sure, the occasional hip-hop vocal break is jarring, leaving a vaguely Smash Mouth flavor behind, but let’s not hold that against the band either. If you liked 80s FM radio, you won’t find this music past its sell-by date.



Gretchen’s Wheel – Fragile State
Gretchen’s Wheel is Lindsay Murray, a singer songwriter from smalltown Tennessee. On Fragile State, she handles songwriting, vocals and the lion’s share of instrumentation. The remaining instruments and production engineering duties are the domain of Ken Stringfellow (The Posies). Murray’s sturdy, inviting songs tread the space between singer/songwriter and midtempo power pop. The songs occasionally remind one of Warner Brothers era Badfinger. There’s a subtle country (the good kind!) influence imbued into the arrangement; this album rewards the listener who spends time with it. Sources say that another album is on its way soon; that’s welcome news in these quarters.



Ligro – Dictionary 3
Liner notes author Dr. Brad Stone makes the point that jazz isn’t always mellow and relaxing. It certainly isn’t on this five-track album on the MoonJune label from this guitar/bass/drums trio. The textures are warm and inviting, but there’s an adventurous spirit at work that keeps things interesting. With a high melodic quotient, and lots of engaging interplay between the instrumentalists, Dictionary 3 is an enjoyable listen start to finish. And because of its relatively accessible character, it might be a good entry point (for your non progjazz-inclined friends) into the world of MoonJune artists. Tasty piano on track one.

Blurred Vision – Organized Insanity

Chiming melodies and massed (chorused/overdubbed) vocals give the songs on Organized Insanity a feel not wholly unlike some of Crowded House‘s work. It’s a safe bet that these songs are “about stuff,” as the first track (“No More War”) features clips from a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The trio ostensibly plays guitar/bass/drums, but lots of electric piano, south-of-the-border horns and banjos (all but the first are uncredited) add nicely to the texture. One’s predilection toward message-y music (see also: U2) will surely indicate how one will react to this music. Often anthemic, often swinging for the fences.



Godsticks – Emergence
In the music biz, everything has to have a label; I believe the label for this music is “active rock.” You might also call it “aggressive progressive.” Musically akin to some of Porcupine Tree‘s more metallic moments (circa Fear of a Blank Planet), on Emergence Godsticks gets the chunka-chunka vibe down tight, with a vocalist who reminds this listener of Eddie Vedder. Punishingly precise riffage underpins the songs; only one track features keyboards; otherwise it’s power trio and vocals pretty much all the way. “Much Sinister” sounds like its title suggests. The Pineapple Thief‘s Bruce Soord guest-vocals on two tracks.

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Hundred-word Reviews for September, Part 4 of 8

Thursday, September 3rd, 2015

More quickie reviews today. Some familiar names, some not-so-well-known ones. All worth a spin.



John Wetton – New York Minute
This disc – recorded live at New York City’s Iridium in fall 2013 – has an odd, busman’s holiday quality about it. Though Wetton is pictured with a guitar, on the record he’s just singing. He’s backed by The Les Paul Trio, an outfit named not for who’s in it, but instead for the man who founded it. Save for a couple of tracks, this set finds Wetton covering other people’s songs. Steely Dan, Marvin Gaye, The Beach Boys, Traffic, Dylan by way of Hendrix, and The Beatles all get the treatment. It’s good, but it does feel a bit…pointless.



Holly Golightly and The Brokeoffs – Coulda Shoulda Woulda
This is Golightly’s other 2015 album; her solo-billed Slowtown Now! is wonderfully eclectic and recommended. Here with her band (and Lawyer Dave) she’s less stylistically varied but an equally rewarding listen. Golightly’s a kindred spirit with such names as Wanda Jackson, The Cramps, and JD McPherson. Imagine if rock ‘n’ roll hadn’t splintered and “evolved” into myriad forms, and Coulda Shoulda Woulda might give clues to how it would sound today: full of c&w’s lyricism, and rock’s energy. The delightfully “live” mix suits the songs perfectly, and Golightly’s humor is never far from the surface (check “Apartment 34” for evidence).



Mick Abrahams – Revived!
Quick question: who was the guitarist in Jethro Tull? Answer: Martin Barre. Right? Well…yes. But the original axeman in Ian Anderson‘s folk-prog group was none other than Mick Abrahams. In those days Tull was a bluesier outfit; it was disagreement over the group’s musical direction that led to Abrahams’ exit. Revived! is a 17-track set (plus bonus DVD) that features Abrahams and a passel of musical pals (including Barre, Bill Wyman, Bernie Marsden and others. It’s a varied set that recalls Wyman’s solo work more than anything else, most notably on a cover of Lieber/Stoller‘s Coasters classic “What About Us?”



Anton Fig – Figments
Anton Fig is an in-demand drummer best known as a longtime member of Paul Shaffer‘s band on David Letterman‘s TV program. In 2002 he recorded and released a solo album (newly reissued in 2015), Figments, featuring a selection of guests from his (no doubt) ample Rolodex. Fig plays other instruments besides drums, but the passel of guests gives the disc most of its character. Very much of its time, Figments sounds a bit like a Mike + the Mechanics disc. Players include Blondie Chaplin, Sebastian Bach, Ace Frehley, Chris Spedding, Shaffer (naturally!), Randy Brecker, Chip Taylor, and many, many more.


Caddy – The Better End
Dreamy, gauzy, vaguely shoegazey pop a la Teenage Fanclub crossed with The Church is the order of the day on The Better End. Less densely textured than either of those groups, the music is nonetheless well-crafted and immediately likable. For all intents and purposes, Caddy is Tomas Dahl, with the occasional guest vocalist. Dahl is Norwegian, but you’d be hard-pressed to find any trace of a Nordic accent in his vocals. The melancholy ambience of the songs is redolent of Starling Electric, full of shimmering guitars and ringing chords that hang in the air. Available only from Kool Kat Musik. [ORDER HERE]

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Hundred-word Reviews for September (sic), Part 1 of 8

Monday, August 31st, 2015

Time to clear the backlog of discs – worthy ones all – cluttering my office. Beginning today, and occasionally interrupted by other content, here’s a solid two weeks of hundred-word reviews.


Terell Stafford – BrotherLee Love

Lee Morgan was a hard bop trumpeter who recorded between the mid 1950s and 1971, mostly for the Blue Note label. His most renowned sideman session was John Coltrane‘s Blue Trane (1957), and he was a longtime member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. On this album, Philadelphia-based trumpeter Stafford pays homage to Morgan. Stafford and a tight four-piece run through nine cuts associated with – and nearly all composed by – the late Morgan. Tasty stuff indeed, rendered in adventurous hard bop style. Plenty of solo breaks make this a worthwhile listen even for those who don’t know Morgan’s work.


Alison Faith Levy – The Start of Things

Former Sippy Cups member Levy records for Mystery Lawn Music, a label renowned for its intelligent power pop and art-pop artist stable. Levy makes music for kids, but her appeal extends far beyond the tot-rocking set. The lyrics are squarely aimed at youngsters, but not in a saccharine-sweet manner; Levy never “sings down” to her audience. And adults will find plenty to like in the music and arrangements. Levy’s music truly does bridge the gap between music for children and for grown-ups; in that way she’s heir to the music of The Banana Splits, nearly always a very good thing.


The Lucky Losers – A Winning Hand

To my ears, most modern blues is stale and uninspired. I can’t think of another genre that cranks out so much dull material. So when an exception comes along, it’s all that ore remarkable. Cathy Lemons and Phil Berkowitz sing together in harmony, and trade vocal lines on this album’s dozen tunes, backed by a solid but not showy) band and horn section. They capture the fun and excitement of a bluesy band in a dimly lit bar. And at its core, that’s what modern blues is about. That Berkowitz is a skilled blues harpist only adds to the enjoyment.



Otis Taylor – Hey Joe Opus: Red Meat
Sixty-seven year old bluesman Otis Taylor has a long and storied career. This idiosyncratic outing finds the multi-instrumentalist and singer constructing a sort of song cycle built around the chestnut “Hey Joe.” His readings don’t recall Hendrix or The Leaves; no, they have more of an Americana feel. Some of the guitar work recalls The Allman Brothers (thanks to guest Warren Haynes), and the musical dialogue between guitar and fiddle) has shades of Jefferson Airplane with Papa John Creach. Extensive use of cornet (Taylor Scott) adds an interesting character to the songs. On the whole, exceedingly eclectic, understated, and worthwhile.


Phil Lee – Some Gotta Lose…

Lee’s previous album, The Fall & Further Decline of the Mighty King of Love, knocked me out with its windswept singer-songwriter vibe. He reminds me a bit of James McMurtry crossed with Leon Russell, and his music is equally informed by blues, Americana, old-school country and plain old rock’n'roll. Some Gotta Lose… is another showcase for Lee’s well-worn voice. This is as real as it gets, straightforward poetry and stories set to music. One of these days, he and I really will meet up for that cup of coffee; until that day, I’ll enjoy his music on this shiny disc.

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Album Mini-review: Chappo — Future Former Self

Tuesday, August 18th, 2015


File next to: Edwin Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Tame Impala

If you’re the kind of person who loved Flaming Lips‘ output circa Clouds Taste Metallic through Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, but feel they subsequently went off the rails and/or ran out of ideas, you’d do well to check out Chappo. With a sound at times reminiscent of Tame Impala, Chappo wraps pop melodies in arrangements that touch on synth-rock, psych, garage and Apples in Stereo styled chirpy pop. Seemingly disparate left-field elements like trip-hop percussion and wide-eyed psych-folk vocals unexpectedly combine seamlessly with ambitious arrangements that suggest an indie-rock rethink of Jellyfish. Funky/soulful guitars a la Beck are out front one moment, and the next thing you know, the melody’s floating on a pillowy synthesizer bed. Future Former Self is all over the musical map, but somehow it all works in a cohesive manner. If you want an album with a definable “sound,” look elsewhere. For adventure, look here.

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Album Mini-Review: Todd Rundgren/Emil Nikolaisen/Hans-Peter Lindstrøm – Runddans

Friday, August 14th, 2015


File next to: Todd Rundgren’s Utopia, Tangerine Dream

This would be noteworthy if only for the fact that Todd Rundgren rarely collaborates with other artists (Utopia, Ringo’s All-Starrs and that one Residents album excepted). And Rundgren rarely visits musical territory he’s explored previously. But on Runddans, he does both. Those who prefer his pop-centric side (Something/Anything being the exemplar) might find Runddans a bit meandering. But listeners who enjoyed Initiation, Healing, and/or the quirky A Cappella will simply delight in this. Runddans is mostly instrumental, but when Rundgren does sing – wordless vocalizing on “Solus” and proper singing on the “Put Your Arms Around Me” suite – it’s deeply soulful and redolent of 1975′s “Born to Synthesize.” One can draw a straight line from A Wizard/A True Star to the delightful yet dizzying cut-and-paste psychedelic arrangements found here. And Todd’s guitar work on this lush, warm disc will conjure memories of pyramid-themed stagecraft and ankh-shaped instruments. A triumph.

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Album Mini-review: Rose Windows — Rose Windows

Friday, August 14th, 2015


File next to: Black Mountain, Black Angels

Talk about promise only partially fulfilled. When Rose Windows released Sun Dogs, their 2013, major-label debut, they displayed great potential. With a strong tribal-psych groove reminiscent of Black Mountain, the young Pacific Northwest group seemed posed for great things. So the news in Spring 2015 that they were disbanding was met with great disappointment. But all is not lost; they leave behind this new self-titled disc, a parting-shot album that delivers on what Sun Dogs only suggested. Melodic yet full of heavy/light contrast that suggests (but rarely sounds like) progressive rock, Rose Windows sidesteps the “sophomore slump” curse. Hypnotic rhythms and stomping guitars are juxtaposed against folky (yes!) flute/synth lines. And they top it all off with the expressive, yelping vocals of Rabia Shaheen Qazi. Now if they had only stuck around for a third album, who knows what fascinating musical journeys they might have revealed.

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Six Years of Musoscribe: The British Invasion

Monday, August 3rd, 2015

In February 1964, The Beatles landed in America. And everything changed. In the wake of the Beatles’ Stateside success – from the launchpad of The Ed Sullivan Show – the floodgates opened, and a bunch of other British groups rushed onto the American pop landscape.

Over the course of my music journo career, I’ve had the honor and pleasure of speaking with a handful of artists who were (in one way or another) connected to what we call the British Invasion (in the UK they more aptly term it the beat era). In celebration of the Musoscribe blog’s six year anniversary of providing new content every business day, here’s a roundup of feature-interviews with some of those stars.

The Zombies
Though their commercial success in the USA came too late – the band had for all intents and purposes broken up by the time “Time of the Season” was released – The Zombies are now rightly considered at the forefront of British pop music of the 1960s. Another thing that makes them so remarkable is the fact that there’s a current-day lineup of the group that includes co-leaders Colin Blunstone (vocals) and Rod Argent (keyboards) alongside longtime Argent member Jim Rodford. The music they make today holds up well when compared with their 1960s output, and onstage they put on a peerless performance. I spoke with Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone in advance of their April 2014 show in Asheville, and was fortunate enough to meet them backstage (and to have them autograph the jacket of my Odessey and Oracle LP).

The Moody Blues
When most people think of The Moody Blues, their mind goes to Days of Future Passed. (Or, if they’re younger, they recall the group’s 1980s output and their ubiquity on MTV.) But the original lineup of the group enjoyed some success (in the UK, at least) with their British r&b styled music, most notably the hit “Go Now.” On the occasion of a deluxe reissue of the group’s earliest material, I enjoyed a conversation with flautist/vocalist Ray Thomas. A couple of years earlier, I interviewed (retired) keyboardist Mike Pinder about his time in the group and his solo albums. And even farther back, I interviewed drummer Graeme Edge about the 21st century Moody Blues. (Look for an interview/feature on keyboardist Patrick Moraz coming soon to Musoscribe).

Bill Wyman
Though he left the group in 1993, for three decades Wyman was the bassist in The Rolling Stones (significant;y, the group has never officially replaced him). These days his interests – musical and otherwise – no longer center around the Stones, but he’s passionate about what he does. And as I learned in the course of my 2011 interview with Bill Wyman, he’s more than happy to talk about his old group, and does so with characteristically droll wit.

The Small Faces
The music of the Small Faces didn’t make the successful Atlantic crossing, but they’re fondly remembered today. A number of high quality reissues and compilations have helped their reputation by illustrating just how good their music was (and how much of it they created). In early 2014 I interviewed drummer Kenney Jones and keyboardist Ian McLagan about their time in the group. Sadly, McLagan passed away just a few months later.

The Remains
Yes, it’s true that The Remains weren’t a British group,. But led by Barry Tashian, the Boston-based group did in fact tour with The Beatles on their 1965 USA concert series. Immortalized in Lenny Kaye‘s garage rock Nuggets compilation, the group left behind a slim but impressive catalog of music. I spoke at great length with The Remains’ Barry Tashian in 2010.

1964: The Tribute
Ever since the 1970s era Beatlemania show, Beatles tribute bands have been an in-demand presence on the concert circuit. In 2012 I interviewed Mark Benson of the group 1964: The Tribute.

Stay tuned for more rock’n'roll reminiscences. And as always, thanks for reading.

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Hundred-word Reviews for July 2015, Part 2

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

Five releases from five acts from five different countries (Poland, The United States, Germany, Belgium and Sweden) are the focus of today’s brief reviews.

Lunatic Soul – Walking on a Flashlight Beam

Bassist/vocalist Mariusz Duda seems to be taking a cue from the astoundingly busy Steven Wilson; he’s involved in several musical projects all at once, and each is both unique and very worthwhile. His primary band, Riverside, has been slightly less active of late (new album coming later this year), but as Lunatic Soul, Duda has released four albums. Walking on a Flashlight Beam continues the project’s avoidance of electric guitars, and Duda sings and plays everything except drums. The music is ambient-leaning melodic progressive rock; it’s deeply textured and contemplative music that holds up well to active listening. DVD included.

Hildegard – Hildegard
I’ve occasionally wondered why hardly anybody has come up with music that spans the divide between accessible, electronic-leaning vocal pop and more adventurous progressive-minded rock; it seems as if that could – if it’s done right – be a winning combination. To my delight, I’ve found that such a thing does exist. And it comes from an unlikely place: New Orleans. Hildegard is guitarist Cliff Hines and vocalist Sasha Masakowski, and on their self-titled debut, the seamlessly blend a dizzyingly wide variety of musical styles. The subtle, quieter moments are a slow burn; the many rocking parts do indeed rock.

Camouflage – Greyscale

It’s my firm belief that the musical styles of the 1980s aren’t all used up; while the MTV era gave us untold amounts of by-the-numbers synth-pop and -rock (and then moved on to other things), there’s a lot that can be done with the musical tools and aesthetics of that period. The cool synthesizers of that period represented the gradual displacement of analog by digital machines. On Greyscale (their eighth studio release), Camouflage continues their winning approach of sturdy, moody music. The German group’s sound suggests a less bloodless Human League, or a less melancholy Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark.

Brainticket – Past Present & Future

Originally a (sort of) krautrock band of the early 1970s, Brainticket released two of the odder entries in the genre, 1971′s Cottonwoodhill (reissued in 2013) and 1972′s Psychonaut. The prime mover of the group was keyboardist Joel Vandroogenbroeck. Now it’s more than forty years later, and while everyone else involved with the 70s lineup is long gone, Belgium-born Vandroogenbroeck has enlisted members of non-German krautrockers Hedersleben to craft a new album. Past Present & Future features hypnotic works a la Ummagumma-era Pink Floyd; it’s dreamier and less insistent than the early stuff, and thus more accessible. Quite enjoyable and recommended.

Last Days of April – Sea of Clouds

It’s a peculiarly American perspective to think of ourselves as the center of the pop-culture universe. But the truth – of course! – is that there’s some great pop coming from places that don’t have English as their primary language. As I’ve just now discovered, Sweden’s Last Days of April is one of these acts. They’ve been around for two decades, and their sound is one that should please American ears. Singing in non-accented English and featuring simply lovely use of pedal steel guitar, they trade in an engaging, hooky, country-flavored timeless pop. A serious contender for best of 2015.

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Hundred-word Reviews for July 2015, Part 1

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015

Power pop is a term that can be taken to mean a lot of different things. For me it almost always means fun and appealing music. Here are five examples, each reviewed in brief.

The Shoe Birds – Southern Gothic

During my recent conversation with him, Drivin’ n’ Cryin‘s Kevn Kinney threw out a phrase I hadn’t heard before: kudzu rock. The phrase was new to me, but I knew exactly what he meant: a kind of jangly southern rock that draws from classic rock but is informed with a c&w sensibility. R.E.M. and Tom Petty are kudzu rock; Charlie Daniels and Danny Joe Brown are most assuredly not. But The Shoe Birds are: their music features heartfelt lyrics coupled with memorable, hooky song craft. At its best, Southern Gothic conjures the ghosts of Big Star without copying their style.

Kurt Baker Combo – Muy Mola Live!

As part of The New Trocaderos, guitarist/vocalist Baker showcases his skill at crafting fast, catchy and memorable rockers. But here, fronting his own four-piece, Baker ups the wattage considerably. The songs are even better, and – thanks to the live setting for this recording – the energy is much more palpable. The visceral feel of punk is combined with the cheery perspective of power pop and the swagger of full-on rock’n'roll. They start and stop on a dime, and play to the small audience like rockstars. Their reading of The Remains‘ “Don’t Look Back” is stellar and incendiary. Vigorously recommended.

The Hangabouts – Illustrated Bird

Swimming in the less powerful – but supremely melodic – end of the power pop pool, The Hangabouts (John Lowry and Gregory Addington) craft melodic, acoustic flavored pop of the highest order. Their songs are reminscent of some of Pilot‘s best work, and fans of Matthew Sweet, Michael Penn and Jeff Lynne will quite possibly fall head-over-heels in love with the thirteen songs on Illustrated Bird. This music is proof (if it were needed) that one needn’t rock out all of the time. The production and arrangement (by the duo) are both up to the standard of the songs, too.

Aerial – Why Don’t They Teach Heartbreak at School?


The album graphics and packaging suggest a sort of teenage, angst-filled punk pop, and in some ways, that’s what the music delivers. But this American band has a more nuanced and textured musical approach than, say, Green Day. With guitars that pummel along like Bob Mould‘s old band Sugar, Aerial definitely have one foot in the punk/hardcore camp. But the poppy songs lean very much in a melodic direction; listening to their wonderfully hooky songs, one might guess that the group’s favorite Ramones album is End of the Century. Bonus points awarded for the ace backing vocals throughout the album.

The Super Fuzz – Super Famous

Taking a page from the way-out-front, exuberant playbook of Cheap Trick (“Speedball” even musically quotes Rockford’s finest), The Super Fuzz play a sort of glam-inflected, power-chording rock that puts strong emphasis on melody, groove, vocal harmony and roaring-guitar-centered performance and arrangement. One might detect hints of Fastball and Redd Kross in the grooves of Super Famous. Song titles like “Surprised Your Boyfriend’s Still Around” make it clear that this isn’t deep philosophy. What it is, is fun, fist-pumping rock that will have most listeners singing along. But please keep a hand on the steering wheel. Find this and buy it.

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Album Review: The Volt Per Octaves — Joining the Circuits

Wednesday, July 15th, 2015

There’s a line of thinking that insists electronic-based music is cold, bloodless, and bereft of emotion. And in its most high-profile variant (EDM, or electronic dance music), the style places infinitely more emphasis on beat than melody. But while there’s plenty of aural evidence to support those assertions, that perspective simply doesn’t account for the music created by Asheville NC-based trio The Volt Per Octaves. As displayed on Joining the Circuits, their new (and fifth) album, the group’s music is emotionally evocative, lush and textured, melodic, and – for lack of a better word – organic.

The Volt Per Octaves are a family group: Nick Montoya plays an assortment of synthesizers (more on those in a moment) as well as a talkbox unit, Theremin, and electric piano. He also handles drum programming; there are no “real drums” on Joining the Circuits. Nick’s spouse Anna Rhoney Montoya plays more synthesizers and electric piano. And the couple’s daughter Eva Montoya plays yet-more-synths and melodica. Though their music is largely instrumental, all three handle vocals. Most songwriting is credited to Nick and Anna, with occasional compositional collaborations with daughter Eva; famed Parliament/Funkaledelic keyboardist Bernie Worrell (a longtime friend and mentor of the VPOs); and multi-instrumentalist Jason Daniello (of the very different synthesizer outfit Orgatroid), who also lends lap steel guitar to “Trim Pot.”

If such a thing were needed, Joining the Circuits could serve as a demonstration disc for a wide assortment of products manufactured (hand-built, in fact) by Moog Music, the Asheville-headquartered company that employs all three Montoyas. The gear list – happily printed on the back of the album sleeve – features new and vintage Moog instruments including Minimoog Model D (circa 1972), various Little Phatty synths (a current-day Moog innovation), the Memorymoog Plus (dating from the early 1980s), and various Moog-built Theremins. The trio also makes use of several Korg instruments, as well as the distinctive Wurlitzer Electric Piano (“student model” 206), featured on several cuts.

But none of that would matter to anyone beyond synth geeks and gear fetishists were it not for the music itself. With a sound that recalls the warmer, more humanistic end of Kraftwerk, the Volt Per Octaves apply their analogue technology to catchy, midtempo melodies. Unlike the dark and distant aesthetic favored by many of the 80s-vintage synth acts (Depeche Mode, New Order) or the sometimes hyperkinetic, dance-oriented synth outfits of that era (The Human League), The VPOs favor a warmer, friendlier approach that doesn’t reply upon any kind of faux-mopey poseur stance. It’s not difficult to imagine the trio’s songs recast as acoustic melodies; they would certainly sound different, but the sturdy underlying song structures would retain their appeal.

But The Volt Per Octaves’ chosen medium is the analog synthesizer – many of which are monophonic (capable of playing a single note at a time) – and so while the realization of their songs remains complex enough to interest musicians and other musically demanding types, the music’s firm rooting in melody means that the songs on Joining the Circuits are accessible to all listeners. There’s a playful feel to many of the disc’s seven tracks, one that may remind listeners of another trio, Trio (the German group that gave the world 1982′s “Da Da Da”). In fact, Trio described their music as Neue Deutsche Fröhlichkeit (New German Cheerfulness), which gets to the heart of The Volt Per Octaves’ musical personality: electronic but not foreboding; technology-based but never emotionless.

On the album’s opener “Trim Pot,” Anna Montoya’s faraway, kittenish vocals are reminiscent of Beach House‘s Victoria Legrand, with a touch of Cocteau Twins mixed in for greater expressiveness. Guest player Steve Maass‘ bass trumpet adds a delightfully unexpected non-electronic character to the instrumental “Altadena.” Whirring and whistling synth lines buzz by while a simple percussion program and a bass-bombtastic foundation hold things together. The groove-centered, dance-oriented “Mimi Cupcake” continues the instrumental approach with a melodic line that will lodge itself in the listener’s memory. Another instrumental, “Squidgity” takes things in a moodier direction; subtle touches of broken chords on the Wurlitzer heighten the pleasingly eerie, hypnotic vibe of the track.

The minor-key dynamics of “Divide Down” suggest film soundtrack music; here, The Volt Per Octaves are at their most Tangerine Dream-sounding. The track makes the disc’s most effective use of percussion simply by dropping the synth drums out of the mix at strategic parts of the tune. Nick Montoya’s talk box work on the cut calls to mind some of the best moments on The Alan Parsons Project‘s 1977 I Robot album.

“Equidistant” again features Maass’ trumpet, albeit in a slightly less prominent role. The track’s relatively simple, spare melody could have rendered it as Joining the Circuits‘ least fully-realized tune, but the varied and interesting synth textures throughout the track more than rescue it. The primary musical focus of “Ehbah” is a dance-flavored synthdrum beat, but creamy synth lines float in and around the percussion; the contrast between the motorik-styled beat and the lush synthesizers is very effective. The track fades out to the sound of electronic “wind.”

Joining the Circuits wraps up with the title track, and features Worrell on synthesizer and Wurlitzer. It’s the busiest track on the album, and it’s also among the disc’s best. Multiple melodic line crisscross one another, atop a relatively intricate synthdrum track and a propulsive (yet still decidedly midtempo) bass line. Joining the Circuits finds The Volt Per Octaves moving forward musically while remaining faithful to the sonic approach upon which their musical aesthetic is based.

Note: a release party/show for Joining the Circuits will be held on Friday, July 17 at Asheville’s Grey Eagle. The Volt Per Octaves welcome their friend, mentor and guest, “Uncle” Bernie Worrell, onstage for the performance.

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