New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Tag: badfinger

Lush, Gorgeous Psychedelic Pop and Vintage Folk-Rock from the New Mendicants

The New Mendicants – the Pernice Brothers’ Joe Pernice, Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake and the Sadies’ Mike Belistky – blend classic psychedelic and powerpop sounds from the 60s and 70s while adding their own wickedly tuneful edge. This supergroup of sorts absolutely nails a whole bunch of styles from the UK from around 1965 to 1975. Their new album Into the Lime is streaming at Spotify…and it’s also available on vinyl!

The trio open it very auspiciously with A Very Sorry Christmas, its growling, Badfinger guitars, a little bit of of a shuffling Ringo feel from Belitsky and some Big Star blending in as well. “I’ve hurt so many people on the way, on a very sorry Christmas Eve, I wonder if the ghosts will ever let me be,” Blake laments. The second track, By the Time It Gets Dark is an optimistically catchy, gorgeous folk- rock ballad spiced with glockenspiel (although the litany of cliches that serves as the first verse needs to go). The bouncy Cruel Annette blends the mod pulse of late 60s The Who with jaunty, slightly vaudevillian early 60s Beatles. After that, the delicate, McCartneyesque acoustic waltz Follow You Down is quite likely the prettiest song ever written about a suicide pact.

The genuine classic here is High on the Skyline, an enigmatically alienated folk-rock anthem that’s equal parts Strawbs Britfolk and lushly clangy, twanging Byrds. “I’ll show you how deadly close faraway can be,” Blake intones in his stately  delivery. If You Only Knew Her is similar musically, but more Beatlesque, sort of like a more fleshed-out take on Here, There and Everywhere. The trio follow that with the most modern-sounding track here, Lifelike Hair, a third-generation garage-psych rock tune with a hypnotic Brian Jonestown Massacre vibe.

It’s not clear at all what the title track is about, other than a lament for a vanished girlfriend: “The killing joke, the killing moon, the killing of me softly with this song,” Blake croons over a lushly orchestrated, sunnily attractive chamber folk melody. Sarasota blends elements of Motown and chamber pop into an absolutely surreal Florida scenario that might or might not be a murder mystery. The album winds up on a high note with the blistering neo-mod rock hit Shouting Match, a dead ringer for Connecticut pub rock legends the Reducers. The whole thing is one of the most tuneful collections to come over the transom here this year and a strong contender for one of 2014’s best albums.

John Amadon’s Seven Stars Shines Eerily

The cover art of Portland, Oregon songwriter John Amadon’s album Seven Stars (streaming in its entirety at his Bandcamp site) reaches back for an early 70s psychedelic pop look – which makes a perfect match with the music, if not exactly the plotline. This is a quietly beautiful but disconcerting concept record about unrequited love – and you mustn’t let that scare you off. Far from being maudlin or wimpy, it’s creepy. Amadon’s elegant three-minute purist pop craftsmanship is a match for his casual, unaffected vocals and terse, sometimes chilling, sometimes nebulous lyrics. As heartbreak albums go, it’s in the same ballpark as the Jayhawks’ Sound of Lies…most of the time. Amadon really has a handle on classic pop songwriting: the Beatles and Big Star, through the prism of Elliott Smith, with echoes of the Jayhawks at their late 90s powerpop peak as well as Badfinger. The songs here are typically slow-to-midtempo, with tasteful, melodic electric guitar rising over a lush bed of acoustic rhythm guitar and sometimes keyboards, the bass and drums in the back of the mix where they belong.

The lyrics trace the arc of an affair that either went horribly wrong or never happened – which is never exactly clear. The story is told from the perspective of someone who went in with good intentions, then got them twisted. “I won’t be the keeper of a wayfarer’s house that’s never home,” Amadon asserts on the opening track, Empty Fiction. The way he reprises the simple, catchy vocal line on an acoustic guitar at the end of the song is a typical, unselfconsciously beautiful touch here. By the second track, Amadon is already foreshadowing a desperation that doesn’t bode well:

There’s an accelerator, there’s a chain
And there’s a part I play myself
But there’s a segregator, and there’s a flame
And there’s a price I know too well

Warmly melodic piano hands the song over to a terse lead guitar break in a thoughtful Neil Finn kind of way. Let’s Walk Without Talking – a free download - sets Amadon’s anxiety-fueled hope to a pretty organ melody straight out of the Jayhawks playbook, 1997, the backing vocals adding a tinge of glamrock. He follows with All Patched Up, a crunchier, Badfingeresque number, and then Ahead at the Turn, which moves from a pensive, jazzy intro and shifts artfully into a brighter powerpop vein. The clouds roll in with Bitter Prayers, a tense piano ballad: but, Amadon insists, “I’m not a cloud waiting to drown you darlin, I’m not gonna surround you darlin, I’m not gonna intrude.”


After a moment of tentative peace with an instrumental amusingly titled Xanax – with what could be a djeridoo and a melodica, but maybe just a synth – Amadon goes back to plying his object of desire in Tired Man Spinning, another powerpop number with a gentle insistence. By now, the protagonist is talking about “unlimited possibility and “infinite continuity” even though he’s “not used to being in somebody’s corner, I’m used to being somebody’s road.” This is where the woman who either didn’t want to get involved, or wouldn’t go any further – we’ll never know the answer, nor her side of the story – probably pulled the plug. The next song, a gorgeously sad piano-and-guitar ballad titled Lost Land, leaves no doubt:

Living in a lost land
But I know where you are
All the flowers you plant
They only glow in the dark

And by now she’s being cast as a possible “last pleasure in the hour of doom” – her pursuer makes it clear that he’s planning on dying with her.

Musically, the rest of the album is quite beautiful, but not lyrically convincing – stalkers don’t typically go away so easily. Palace of Ruin – which cleverly references the Buzzcocks’ Ever Fallen in Love – paints a picture in a “squalid room, looking at a broken old man, buried in a puddle of blood” – it’s not clear who, or for that matter how many people are either killing or being killed here, and it’s genuinely chilling. The title track hides the bitterness beneath warm Memphis soul guitar, but then it escapes with a roar in Torn by Livid Ocean (which seems to be a Stephen Crane quote), the album’s loudest song, ending with a long, lingering guitar solo screaming away – but in the distance, buried in the mix. The album ends on an ambiguous note with Knocking Down Doors, a slow, swaying, somewhat hypnotic anthem that could be a kiss-off note, or a self-critique. Once again, Amadon draws the listener in and keeps the suspense at a peak. If this is autobiography, it’s worrisome (and makes a good companion piece to Jay Bennett’s classic Whatever Happened, I Apologize); if it’s fiction, it’s one hell of a quiet ride. Count this among the most intriguing rock records of the past several months.


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