By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio
The Sun Sawed in 1/2 | “Beaches in Bali” (2021)
One of five songs to appear on Beaches in Bali, the first of three EPs being released this year by the vaunted St. Louis popsters the Sun Sawed in 1/2 (alongside “Dear Always,” “Dried Cherry Blossoms,” “Good King of the Summer,” and “Soft Away”), “Beaches in Bali” is a welcome breath of fresh melodic pop air.
Opening with a slow, soul-tinged mix of T. Rex- and B.B. King-isms, this deliberate pop-rocking love song chugs along with a glittery, Paul Buckmaster-ish string arrangement atop a George Harrison kind of Beatley production. Dave Farver’s elastic lead vocal and Joe Zeitlin’s cello work are among the delights your ears will thank you for. Oh, and Tim Rose, who wrote the song, also produced this rather catchy earworm with its catchy melody in tow.
The Beaches in Bali EP is pegged for an April release, with the other two EPs coming later this year. New music from the Sun Sawed in 1/2 is more than welcome (their last album, Elephants Into Swans, came out in 2013), as you can probably determine from the preceding paragraphs.
Right now, “Beaches in Bali” is only available on YouTube as a preview of the treasures that are to come. And, without further ado, here is the first treasure:
Philip B. Price | Oceans Hiding in Oceans (Signature Sounds, 2021)
Inside looking out, enmeshed in a billowing haze of a pandemic broadside, Winterpills’ chief, Philip B. Price, found himself inspired, although probably not for the usual reasons. Moved to feel and report on the emotions passing all around him, he set out to put pen to paper, so to speak, and help explain life as he and we now know it. He also decided to play all of the instruments and sing all of the vocal parts on this extraordinary album.
Oceans Hiding in Oceans, Price’s affecting follow-up to 2019’s Bone Almanac, plays like an informed chronicle of dreams and emotions that have defined our pandemic year, in the form of catchy pop songs. Adopting a seasoned poet’s stance, the singer-songwriter-as-troubadour burrows deep into the current scheme of our lives, eyes and ears wide open, wanting to understand. The album, 11 songs strong, functions as a sort-of nesting doll, as each musical layer is brought to bear.
“Intention is everything / It is the root and the branch,” Price sings knowingly in the penultimate song, “Intention is Everything.” Structured in a fashion similar to John Lennon’s explanative “God,” Price sings a register of observations, a catalog of sorts, one notation after another, trying to figure it out. “Tiny stars are all falling,” Price sings. One by one by one, each star falls and tells another part of the tale.
Price’s melodies, exquisite and charming, are resounding pop leitmotifs communicated in the face of his dreamlike lyrical exposition, delivered atop spare instrumentation that lets the words do the talking. With a poet’s eye and a songwriter’s ear, he presents his pandemic year observations in a lyrical, sometimes cinematically-nightmarish light.
It all starts out so peacefully with a love song, of all things (“This is the Last Thing”); the first, next and last things to know are “I love you.” But, as in many of our living, breathing experiences during this pandemic year, there is room for a certain amount of shade: “Bright bright my loving light / I’ll be your sand and your satellite / Flooding light at midnight / Right through your line of sight.” Or, in the alternative, that shade may just be the narrator protecting his loved ones.
From that hopeful opening, we are treated to a faux tug of war–us against the forces of nature that have changed how we live our lives, with rays of sunshine peeking through. In the upbeat, poppy “Little Bell,” a song seemingly sung to a child, the narrator is hopeful and protective: “Little Bell we’ll carry you / Through the darkness and the blue / We will always sing your name / We will always lift your flame.” And in “Me and the Stars,” orchestrated in such a way as to remind me of Sting’s “Mad About You” from his album, The Soul Cages, the narrator sings of finding a safe place in which to hide and be safe: (“Is there any way that we can be alone / Me and the stars?”). Where the light is magnetic and true?
A summer hailstorm suggests an almost normal chain of events, creatively skewed, beating down on the land in the catchy pop song, “First Hail”: “With the hailstones comes the crossbones and the long lines at the payphones.” It’s a memory, one would think, borne of one’s consciousness reflecting on days past during a here-and-now time of some uncertainty. Conversely, in “Scarred for Life,” a beat-driven piano and percussion structure propels a lyric that shows the narrator trying to make lemonade out of lemons: “So you live with it / Carry it with you / You don’t leave it behind / And sometimes it lifts you / Your skin will harden / Sometimes it itches.” Which suggests, I think, that you should never forget, which makes you stronger.
The first verse of “Little Bell,” the most wholly hopeful song here, lays out the chances for light shining through. “Little Bell you ring all day / And at night you’re tucked away / And you dream of ringing still / And you know you always will.”
All of these words and melodies prove that insightful pop music, like the songs on this album, will always show you the way.
Lee Feldman | “Into the Air” (2021)
A longtime Pure Pop Radio favorite going back to the early days of my weekly show on WEBR radio (he was an early in-studio guest who played live on his portable keyboard), Lee Feldman has come up with quite the paradoxical song for this pandemic year.
Running along at a brisk pace, “Into the Air” tells a murky, unsettling story of a school bus journey that may or may not end in tragedy (“A thousand summers / Have come and gone / Henry’s waiting / For the bus to come / Lights are shining / In his eyes / Brakes are whining / On the road”). Or maybe Henry is just a guy getting on the bus at a stop where he’s been waiting?
“Don’t go into the air,” the narrator sings, meaning…what? If there were to be an accident, would the resulting tumult pass headlong into the night…or even the daylight?
This is how I think “Into the Air” draws its breath. However you look at the story being told, you’ll likely agree that this very Picnic at Hanging Rock-esque song projects a commanding presence as its very catchiness seeps into your brain.
Lee’s quick piano lines, curt and heartfelt, amount to an extended riff that moves the action along; it is, in fact, a riff that feels its own fate, or at least the fate of the narrator. Also bringing this story to life are Bill Dobrow on drums and percussion, and Byron Isaacs on bass and backing vocals.
It’s another keeper from Lee Feldman.
Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio is the premier website covering the melodic pop scene with in-depth reviews of new and reissued recordings, interviews and a wide variety of features.