Reviews: 3.15.19: Screen Test Shines Brightly, and Wes Hollywood Applies Some Lipstick

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Screen Test | Through the Past, Brightly
(Northside, 2018)

From the ashes of the Flashcubes came Screen Test; under that moniker, Gary Frenay, Arty Levin and Tommy Allen, honoring their influences, brought lightning and thunder to meaty original songs and covers.

This compilation brings together seven newly recorded tracks and six that date back to the 1980s. Interestingly, they all sound like they were recorded around the same time, such is their vitality and sense of purpose. Of the new recordings, all written in the 1980-1985 time frame, the power ballads are tops of the pops: “Tomorrow is Another Day” is a Todd Rundgren-like number; “Standing On a Cloud” and “Don’t Lose Your Heart” shine with pretty melodies. And the reverent cover of Emitt Rhodes’ “Fresh as a Daisy” is a welcome listen.

Of the previously-recorded songs, “Make Something Happen” is an upbeat pop-rocker with great harmonies; “Hurt So Bad” is a muscular cover of the 1977 Greg Kihn song, with its timeless catchy chorus; and “Richard Brautigan” is a power ballad tribute to the late writer, who almost released a spoken-word album on the Apple Records offshoot, Zapple, in 1969.

Flashcubes, and Screen Test fans, you know what to do.

Where to Get It: Kool Kat Musik, Amazon, CD Baby, iTunes

Wes Hollywood | Lipstick (2018)

Available as a digital release on Wes’s Bandcamp page, this lively four-tracker is a solid collection from the Chicago rocker that came out before the new Kool Kat Musik CD release, Dynamite, reviewed earlier this week.

Two songs pay homage to the early Elvis Costello sound (the pumping title track and the midtempo ballad “Too Late”). “All the Lovers” and “Peace Before We Die” are uptempo rockers (the latter opens with a seductive, eight-bar intro mixing a rare acoustic guitar strum, bass and drums).

Where to Get It: Bandcamp

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Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio is the premiere website covering the melodic pop scene with in-depth reviews of new and reissued recordings, and a wide variety of features. We’ve been around since the first weekly Pure Pop Radio shows, which began broadcasting in 1995, and the 24-hour Pure Pop Radio station, which ended last August.

Welcome to your number one home for coverage of the greatest melodic pop music in the universe from the ’60s to today.

Reviews: 3.13.19: Wes Hollywood’s Dynamite, and Yorick van Norden’s Melody-Rich The Jester Sings

By Alan Haber – Pure Pop Radio

Wes Hollywood | Dynamite (Kool Kat, 2019)

From Chicago to your town, Wes Hollywood’s Kool Kat CD debut hits the ground running with a fun, zippy mix of tunes saluting the sounds of early Elvis Costello, Dave Edmunds, and sixties British Invasion bands. Two guitars, bass and drums rule here.

From track to track, all relatively short, you never know where you’re going to land even as guitars are the primary ingredient. “Dirty Manhattan” is loud, speedy, and in-your-face; “Nothing to See Here” is an uptempo number with a melodic bass line; “Evelyn” is pure, early Elvis C., with a surprising blink-and-you’ll-miss-it quiet bridge–just Wes and guitar–towards the end.

Wes Hollywood

Hollywood ups the ante with songs like “Fall Up a Ladder,” a mid-paced ballad that manages to reference the Kinks and Squeeze and slip in a waltz tempo that increases in intensity with a minute to go. “Dandelion” sounds for all the world like a mix of early Elvis Costello and British Invasion moxie. But it’s the straight-ahead pure pop of the closer (with a Stiff Records cold ending), “No One Loves You,” that neatly pleases this reviewer’s heart the most. It’s a catchy two-and-a-half minute earworm, for sure.

Wes Hollywood’s Dynamite, brought to life by Wes (guitar and vocals), guitarist Pete Javier, bassist Spencer Matern, and drummer and vocalist Tom Shover, is pure dynamite.

Where to Get It: Kool Kat Musik

Yorick van Norden | The Jester (Excelsior, 2018)

Yorick van Norden’s miraculous album is a strong gathering of melody-rich songs crafted with care by a songwriter who possesses a keen sense of melodic structure.

Hailing from the Netherlands, van Norden is clearly influenced by some of the top melodic stylists of the rock and pop eras. This sophomore release (his debut, Happy Hunting Ground, came out in 2015) makes a strong statement, and is proof positive that melody continues to be king.

The Jester’s opener, the psych-drenched “The Forest of the Mind,” echoes the sensibilities exhibited in similar-sounding work by XTC and the Big Dish. The jaunty, jangly “Another Day in London Town” and “More than Words” sound as if they could have been plucked from the fertile song wells of any number of 1960s British Invasion stars. Yet, they are uniquely van Norden.

Van Norden’s ballads are as inviting as his more upbeat numbers. “Suite No. 1,” a gorgeous, orchestrated flight of fancy, is a pure pop masterwork, a very affecting, enlightened construct. “Winter,” with its Four Freshmen-like harmonies and Beach Boys and Association sensibilities, is a waking dream of a tune, an instant classic. And “Light Up Love,” which sounds like a close cousin of Paul McCartney’s “Put It There,” marries lovely harmonies with a strong melody and a plucking bass-as-percussion bottom.

The shining light that closes van Norden’s sophomore journey, “Suite No. 2,” is a seven-and-a-half minute coming together of song sections clearly influenced by classic, melodically-centered artists such as Harry Nilsson, Emitt Rhodes, and the aforementioned McCartney. It is a stunning offering that closes with a softened instrumental explosion of themes and feeling, one that paints the soundfield with traditional pop and rock instrumentation, orchestration and heart.

With melody as its heart, Van Norden’s The Jester is a shining example of the best that melodic pop has to offer.

Where to Get It: Amazon, iTunes

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Alan Haber’s Pure Pop Radio is the premiere website covering the melodic pop scene with in-depth reviews of new and reissued recordings, and a wide variety of features. We’ve been around since the first weekly Pure Pop Radio shows, which began broadcasting in 1995, and the 24-hour Pure Pop Radio station, which ended last August.

Welcome to your number one home for coverage of the greatest melodic pop music in the universe from the ’60s to today.