Baroque Pop

All posts tagged Baroque Pop

By Rick Polo (Editor-in-Chief)

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Artist: Third Class

Album: Virginia’s Playlist

Release Date: 1/1/17

Rating: 9.5/10

For nearly two decades, Northeast Ohio’s Third Class have dazzled audiences from across the region and beyond with a fierce passion. With an intimate and immediate delivery, Lee Echard Boyle and Co. consistently hit the mark with songs that boast as much dry wit as they do emotion. On their latest offering, Virginia’s Playlist, the Indie Rock mainstays craft a heartfelt, touching and often cynical story that takes the listeners across time and space, with all of the whirlwind emotions in between.

With Virginia’s Playlist, Third Class have taken their unique brand of quirky Indie Rock and Folk Pop and have sprinkled in subtle hints of Americana, Garage Pop and Baroque Pop for a 20-track massive opus. Not only is this perhaps their most ambitious record to date, but it serves as a refreshing reminder that the band is still searching, still hungry and still eager to push the limits of their songwriting one step further than the next.

Kicking off with the tongue-in-cheek “College Radio,” Third Class come out swinging in a charm all of their own. “We’re college radio but no one plays us, We never played a show where people paid us right, And in our pinky toe we’ve got more talent than you could ever know, Your bass rig towers high,” is a part cynical, part facetious, slightly-ambiguous look at either the local scene, or perhaps a parallel to the greater music scene in general.

A swarm of lush acoustic guitars and strings dominate “Radio to Cassette,” before the piano-driven “The World Sounds Like Poetry,” and the folky “Being and a Ball,” draw from personal reflection. From there, “Kiss You Until You Bleed,” “Lonely for You” and “Crying in the Dark” drive home the sincere melodramatic love songs that are trademark of Third Class. Somewhere between the brooding of Neil Young and the bluesy swagger of Springsteen, the songwriting carves its own niche of pure lyrical poetry.

The Neil Young-esque “Hardwood Sky” and the Baroque Pop of “Lonesome Dove” change the pace slightly, leading off the climatic second half of Virginia’s Playlist. “Colors of You” and “Better Mood Today” take a page right from White Album-era Beatles songwriting with a quirky baroque piano taking the lead on the former and a more subtle approach on the latter.

As the record draws to a close, tracks “Me and Wally” and “Witch Hunt” paint the melancholy picture of a summer sun setting of the reckless abandon of youth. Closing track “Sweet Potato” is a soaring glimmer of hope lead by a beautiful and frantic piano that fades off into the sunset.

Virginia’s Playlist is not a record you should put on at a party, and perhaps that is its most endearing quality! It is a record that demands your full attention. Best experienced by a few full uninterrupted listens. Third Class have crafted a record of continuity, a record that once heard in its entirety, it sticks with you. It is also evident on this record that the band have not hit their plateau in songwriting. Standout tracks include “Radio to Cassette,” “The World Sounds Like Poetry,” “Hardwood Sky,” “Grow Up in Portland,” and “Witch Hunt.” However, Virginia’s Playlist will leave the best impression if listened to from start to finish.

Virginia’s Playlist is available directly from the band at thirdclass.net.

By Rick Polo and Jennifer Elizabeth Rose (Editor-in-Chief and Social/Cultural Writer and Music/Arts Historian)

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Artist: The Zou

Album: Love Kills Part Two

Release Date: 8/22/15

Rating: 9.7/10

Two long years have passed since The Zou released Kills Part One. The album was a real emotional rollercoaster of well-crafted pop love songs, dragged through barbed wire of sonic experimentation; a notable trademark of the band. The album literally left fans hanging on the edge of their seats, waiting for the follow-up. Now, with the release of Kills Part Two, fans can finally breathe as the Northeast Ohio Indie Rock staples have unleashed the masterpiece that was years in the making.

After a slew of lineup changes and delays, Zou mastermind Khaled Tabbara has teamed up with a plethora of noteworthy musicians to craft what could easily be his finest effort to date. Featuring the talents of Bernadette Lim, Katianne Timko, Billy LaGuardia and Tabbara’s brother Rached to name a few, the eclectic sound each musician brings to the table only adds more color to canvas. Producer Pete Drivere lends his signature polished-yet-somehow-gritty-rock-and-roll sound, for a record that transcends nearly every era of rock, yet still sounds vitally fresh.

Kicking off Kills Part Two is the simply-titled “Love.” A Baroque Pop tune with vocal harmonies reminiscent of Rubber Soul-era Beatles or Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys. The opening track is airy and tense, perfecting leading into “Drop A Dime,” a Ben Gibbard-esque sounding number, that could fall somewhere between his work with either Death Cab For Cutie or The Postal Service.

“I Was A Tyrant” follows with a more Americana-meets-Baroque Pop vibe, and painful lyrics hinting at a one-sided relationship. From there, the hard-rocking “Ooglie Booglie” takes flight, giving a post-punk angst, both sonically and lyrically, not unlike that of The Pixies or perhaps some of Black Francis’ solo endeavors. The track features a standout riff that takes the record off into a whole other direction before taking another left turn with the following tracks.

The Katianne Timko-produced “Holy Moses” can best be described as “holy drums!” The electronic drums pound underneath a well-crafted pop song. The modern, but certainly not gimmicky, production feels more like The Zou taking a sonic step forward rather than a trendy cash grab.

Finally, Kills Part Two concludes with the Doo-Wop vocal harmonies of “Mon Dieu” (an early acoustic version performed on The Raw Alternative can be viewed here) and the climatic rocker, “Gun Moll.” With a collage of sound that evokes Animal Collective, “Gun Moll” featuring soaring guitars and some of the album’s most intense lyrics, leaving the listener again, at the edge of their seat craving more.

All in all, Kills Part Two features, some of, if not the finest music The Zou has produced to date! Standout tracks include “Ooglie Booglie,” “Holy Moses,” “I Was A Tyrant” and “Gun Moll.” With various nods to his influences, Tabbara takes his band to new heights, while still retaining enough of the classic sound fans have come to know and love. Lyrically, the album examines all the various angles of love and the multiple feelings it can provoke, much in the way of Paul McCartney, My Morning Jacket’s Jim James or even Martin Gore. Sonically, Love Kills Part Two is widely spread, much in the way of Pet Sounds, Sgt. Pepper’s or even Dark Side of the Moon. It’s indicative of a band reaching a creative high, but certainly not peaking just yet.

The Zou will be giving a performing at Suzie’s Dogs and Drafts in downtown Youngstown on Saturday, Aug. 22 as band of the official release of Kills Part Two.

Jefferson Airplane circa 1967. Photo courtesy of www.jeffersonairplane.com.

Jefferson Airplane circa 1967. Photo courtesy of www.jeffersonairplane.com.

By Jennifer Elizabeth Rose (Social/Cultural Writer and Music/Arts Historian)

From the trailblazers of experimentation arose a movement inspired by those sonic strides as well as art, fashion and mind-expansion known as Psychedelic. The sound was comprised of music (most often rock) which imbued the aforementioned with new found recording technology, effects pedals for the predominant instruments, guitar and bass with Eastern scale structures, was first noticed by most of the Western world in the mid 60’s through the Beatles in England and in the Byrds in the U.S.

From there, pop, folk and the blues, which were then primarily simple melodic tunes, became more experimental. Whole new projects/bands devoted to this sort of direction arose, especially in California. Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and led by the infamous Jim Morrison, the Doors.

Jorma Kaukonen, guitarist of Jefferson Airplane and Ray Manzerek, keyboardist of the Doors were true masters of their instruments and led their respective bands to play and sing against some scale and chord structures that most pop fans have never heard; and it worked. The music was intriguing but still catchy. Again, as any movement seems to rely on, Jazz was employed and drawn from as was blues for the simple yet gritty melodies many of the frontmen came up with. It is not to say, that vocalists, such as Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane did not have their head wrapped around what was going on instrumentally. In fact, Slick was one of the first songwriters to grab everyone’s attention with her famous unlipsyched performance of “White Rabbit” on The Smothers Brothers show in ’67 and a host of catchy yet thought provoking songs on their most famous record, Surrealistic Pillow.

While anything by Airplane, the Grateful Dead or the Doors from the 60’s would be a great example of some of the best/best known in this sub-genre, it is important to acknowledge just how DEEP it got by the 1970’s. Instrumentally, tonally, lyrically and melodically. Things on the whole were getting heavy. More to the point, Psychedelic music (especially blues based) has had the most effect on what became Heavy Metal.

Many know the legend of Hendrix’s playing being described as, “Heavy metal falling from the sky…” and his death in the 70’s may have caused some artists/bands inspired by him to quit or follow down the same path as him. But in the 70’s, even though America had hits such as “Inna-Gadda-Da-Vida,” England was booming with the heavy side of Psychedelic with Cream and the hard hitting, Blues-rooted Led Zeppelin and eventually Black Sabbath, who was known first as a Psych-Blues band called Earth.

American Psych Rock (for the most) part maintained their takes on the movement and led more than ever into Space Rock (perhaps due to propaganda of the times) as the Jefferson Airplane-turned-to-Jefferson Starship teased. However, little known bands that were following suit in other countries made enormous strides of their own and led to the Progressive Rock that would become famous as a huge European movement.

Did Psych Rock crash like a Led Zeppelin? It is through Pysch Rock and the ever revolving door of Brit Pop Revivals that led to the Madchester movement in the North of England in the 80’s and 90’s. Even more hair splitting took place with sub-genres which resulted from the poppy melodic dance elements New Order and the Happy Mondays employed (Beatles, Byrds) to the Psych inspired guitars of the Stone Roses, and the Smiths’ Johnny Marr’s playing coupled with the group’s intelligent and outspoken front man, Morrissey (Airplane, Doors) and ultimately back to the heavy darkness of Joy Division (Sabbath).

Those elements’ thought provoking depths inspired Punk and Glam in the 70’s such as Loud Reed’s solo career and part of the New York Dolls’ early sound. Goth and Sludge acts in the 80’s and 90’s felt the influence too, most notably withe acts like Sleep, Kyuss and Tool. Kyuss’ psychedelic riffs on Blues for the Red Sun in 1992 and Tool’s psychedelic-prog masterpiece, Aenima in 1997. Shoegaze acts like The Jesus and Mary Chain and Brit Rock groups Oasis and Blur also hinted at the influence of 60’s Psychedelic rock. Finally, by the 00’s, sludge acts like Melvins and Isis, along with the rise of EDM and the rave scene, all flash a heavy influence of Psychedelic music with spacey reverb and hypnotic sounds.

And this shouldn’t have as much to do with it as all that but people in every decade since have taken drugs.

The Doors, live extended version of “Light my Fire” in ’68

Cream, live and very heavy in ’68

Little known early heavy 70’s psych trio, The Flow

New Order, very out there deep cut from 1983’s “Power, Corruption and Lies”

The Stone Roses, their far out Madchester single, 89’s ‘I Wanna be Adored”

Lastly, I leave you with a dramatization of making of Joy Divisions’ “She’s Lost Control,” as depicted in the film 24 Hour Party People, which spans the history of the Madchester movement.

Experimental artist and Pink Floyd founder, Syd Barrett.

Experimental artist and Pink Floyd founder, Syd Barrett.

By Jennifer Elizabeth Rose (Social/Cultural Writer and Music/Arts Historian)

For decades Experimental Rock has developed, undeveloped and done 360 degree turns. We can say that Experimental Music started with Classical and Jazz but in Rock the first pioneers lied seemingly quiet and dormant under their more traditional rock and roll peers since the early 60’s until listeners were ready for the next “thing.”

Luckily, the social and cultural climate was becoming more interested in outside or even foreign idea(ls), modes of thinking, fashion and art. This would of course inevitably happen in music as well. The most popular music of course was rock and roll. And one of the grandfathers, Frank Zappa, composer, producer, album art designer and director, while known for his dozens of records with The Mothers of Invention and solo actually had a rough start getting into music… Business wise. Though in his youth he studied advanced composers while still partaking in his generation’s R&B and Roll and Roll he was at first (like most innovators) overlooked as the standout artist he would grow to become.

He began writing contemporary classical in his youth and attempted to front projects before his first well known one, Captain Beefheart. He recorded some tracks with the name The Soots but they were turned down due to having no selling point. In the early 60’s, (at the height of Beatlemania) he began recording and experimenting with multiple overdubs, tape manipulation and less likely instrumentation. As a film composer he paid the bills and managed to take over what became his own studio, Studio Z. In addition, he started as guitarist with The Mothers, which managed to get paying gigs.

While Zappa made ends meet he still did it creatively though he was producing and writing songs for other groups throughout the early and mid 60’s. Actually, though none of them achieved much commercial success, he managed to get his music heard on a late night syndicated show, hosted by Steve Allen wherein he did what well he pleased with experimentation and sonic architectures.

The Velvet Underground was also experimenting, though eventually more known as a Psychedelic band (subgenre) their use of instrumentation was outside of the framework though they did still compose “hooky” melody lines.

These two artists were pinnacle in the many that were to follow experimentation, even the Beach Boys (a pop group) were on board, as composer Brian Wilson always admired advanced composition and the famous Pet Sounds resulted.

Onto England, Syd Barrett and his project, The Pink Floyd formed and their first record The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, was recorded in 1967 (the same year of the aforementioned musical developments were made alongside in the US.) The Infamous Summer of Love was the name of this music explosion in American but also in England. Pink Floyd was on board this movement whether Syd knew it or not, as were the Beatles. In fact, the first Pink Floyd record was recorded at Abbey Road Studios, by former Beatles engineer Norman Smith.The Beatles were recording, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which also put experimental rock into the limelight in their own psychedelic pop/rock way. In August, Pink Floyd’s “Arnold Layne” reached honorable status on the English charts in part due to their other single, “See Emily Play.” The full length, Piper at the Gates of Dawn was unexpectedly successful in England, hitting the top of the album charts and subsequently their third single the very baroque pop, “Apples and Oranges,” perhaps because it was about a common theme, love.

During their British tour with Jimi Hendrix in November 1967, around the time of his third hit single, several guitarists began to replace Barrett though he was a the brainchild of the band because of his legendary erratic behavior, which was due to a chemical imbalance made worse by LSD use. Speculation suggests that though he achieved commercial success it aggravated him and his schizophrenia. He was soon to be seemingly forgotten. Nonetheless, he remains an innovator in sonic exploration and (often bizarre) rhythmic experimentation and overall, a master architect of guitar.

In later years, he reemerged as a “bedroom” songwriter of odd little ditties that were melodic but still arrhythmic. Lyrics might have not been as relatable as many songwriters are known for but they allowed for more abstract understanding such as achieved by daydreaming or meditation. One feels like fly on the wall of a man trying to distinguish between lucid dreams or his waking on a Sunday morning as he tries to make as mundane  a decision about whether to have coffee or tea.

Hendrix, on tour with Barrett and early Pink Floyd rose to his success in 1967 as well but in terms of what he wanted this music to be called he once was very defensive. He was quoted as saying:

“We don’t want to be classed in any category… If it must have a tag, I’d like it to be called, ‘Free Feeling’. It’s a mixture of rock, freak-out, rave and blues.”

Though not known as a pop artist, he appeared on British television shows, Ready Steady Go! and the Top of the Pops, though his single, “Hey Joe,” made a small splash in 1966.

In Spring 1967, The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s singles, “Purple Haze” and “The Wind Cries Mary” and the album Are You Experienced? joined the queue with the Beatles and Pink Floyd. And through Zappa, Barrett and Hendrix experimental rock had a large impact and subsequently Psychedelic and Space Rock which was born in the sixties and of course even more sub and sub-genres flourished throughout the seventies until today.

Throughout the seventies, Pink Floyd kept going with the Psychedelic elements into Space Rock and finally to Concept(ual) Rock. Alongside the ever changing climate of the seventies Zappa continued his career and in Europe, Kraftwerk introduced us to electronic instrumentation which was then considered extremely progressive with their first LP, “Autobahn.” Though many electronic elements were used it was still classified as rock and led to yet another subgenre, Krautrock.

Sonic Youth began experimenting back in America and of course became the example for many new bands and defied subgenres into the 00’s. In both rock and electronic, composer, Brian Eno and Thom Yorke of the very successful Radiohead, began to become household names to many musicians to the present day when it comes to experimental and sonic architecture, much like Zappa. Modern Baroque Pop artists such as the Animal Collective and Arcade Fire also have owe much to these innovators who influenced even the previously mentioned former “bubble gum” writers like Lennon/McCartney, Brian Wilson who continue to impact every songwriter in ANY genre.

Many artists and subgenres developed merely from musicians wanting to think outside the perimeters of rock and roll song structure and instrumentation. Very obvious references to Jazz, notably Acid or Progressive Jazz have been made especially early one all but at the core Experimental Rock is about using other elements and bringing them back to rock whilst being inventive yet not “being weird for the sake of being weird…” as Hendrix once remarked.

Picks of the Week leading to this article:

  • “Room Full of Mirrors,” Jimi Hendrix
  • “Joe’s Garage,” Frank Zappa
  • “Interstellar Overdrive,” Syd Barrett/Pink Floyd
  • “Octopus,” Syd Barrett

Frank Zappa

Syd Barrett (live with Pink Floyd)

Syd Barrett (Solo)

Sonic Youth

Brian Eno