New York Music Daily

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Tag: raspberries band

Josh Berwanger’s Strange Stains Updates a Classic Powerpop Sound

Powerpop genius Josh Berwanger, formerly of 90s band the Anniversary, brings his breathlessly catchy songs to the Mercury on Oct 19 at 8 PM. This guy is a brilliant tunesmith: comparisons to Alex Chilton, Cheap Trick, the Raspberries and ELO are not an exaggeration. His new album Strange Stains traces a predictably doomed romance from its origins to the realization that it’s just not going to work out, along the way referencing several decades worth of catchy, anthemic three-minute songwriting.

The album opens with Bullets of Change, an incongruously successful blend of ELO pop with a C&W bridge – it’s so catchy that it actually works. Enemies mines a 60s noir Orbison doo-wop pop groove, the girl in question “overmedicated with all the pills I gave to you.” In the gorgeously jangly, Raspberries-ish Baby Loses Her Mind, the problem is that “Jenny’s up on the roof again, she’s not taking her medicine…she yells down, I was young, I’m getting old and it’s no fun.”

Time Traveller warps another Orbison-style pop tune into the 80s; it reminds of Milwaukee cult favorites the Shivvers with a guy instead of a girl in front of the band. Gypsy Girl & the Tombs of Atuan works its way to an angry, ominous vibe with a period-perfect late 70s twin guitar solo, bass rising against it tensely as it hits a high point.

Berwanger follows Mary, a la-la pop homage to ganja, with the dark, minor-key 60s folk-pop anthem I Can Feel the Moon. The 12-string guitar solo hits in the sweetest place possible, and then hands off to a terse blues solo, bass soaring underneath the sweep of the string synth. All Night Long sounds like Cheap Trick taking a stab at retro 50s rock, followed by the crushingly sarcastic, bouncy, horn-fueled Spirit World. The Spector-esque kiss-off number Sweet Little Girl is where everything unravels; the album ends with Everybody Knows, which is not the Leonard Cohen classic but another angry powerpop gem: “Everybody knows that your mind’s made out of clay, and you don’t have much to say,” Berwanger snarls quietly. What a cool new update on an old sound this is.

A Clinic in Tunesmithing with Daniel Stampfel

Thursday night Daniel Stampfel played the album release show for his new ep at Fontana’s. The singer/guitarist looks the same as he did when he was packing the old Luna Lounge ten years ago, fronting the Inevitable Breakups, a fantastic powerpop outfit that should have been the band representing New York around the world instead of the Strokes or Interpol. Stampfel’s crowd hasn’t changed any more than he has: fellow musicians out to watch a talented colleague work his magic live, and wide-eyed twentysomething women (Stampel always pulls the chicks no matter where he goes). The band was tremendous, as usual: good tunesmiths never have a hard time finding musicians to play those tunes. The lead guitarist switched expertly from searing, sun-drenched slide lines, to rapidfire, pointillistic bluesy runs, to plenty of nimble Johnny Marr-style jangle and clang, while the drummer walked the line expertly between swing and anthemic and the bassist picked out a steady, often suspenseful new wave pulse (and took the most interesting solo of the night on the next-to-last song). Stampfel’s nonchalantly soaring vocals sometimes took a back seat to the roar of the band, but that didn’t matter: people were there for the hooks.

As usual, there were plenty of those. Stampfel works a catchy area between the Jayhawks at their most cosmopolitan, the Raspberries at their most melodic and Big Star at their most focused, with a more propulsive, rhythmic drive than any of those bands. While those are all old groups, what Stampfel is doing is putting his own stamp on an oldschool style,┬átuneful verses working their way up to irresistibly catchy resolutions when the choruses hit. He opened playing acoustic guitar on a jangly midtempo number that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Gary Louris songbook, following with a bouncy, 80s-influenced song that was the poppiest one of the night. The band picked up the pace with a biting riff-rock number, then a more laid-back soul-flavored tune with a gorgeous little hailstorm of tremolo-picking by the lead player. Hurricane Bells’ Steve Schiltz (who produced the record) then came up to add an extra layer of his characteristically thoughtful, spacious guitar on a lush, anthemic tune that reminded of the Church back when that band was writing the occasional pop song. They closed with an unexpectedly minor-key new wave tune (the one with that great bass solo) and then an exuberant one that might have been an Inevitable Breakups song.

That was the music. Lyrics don’t really figure into what Stampfel does: some of the songs could have been titled Oh Baby I Love Your Way or Just the Two of Us (they weren’t, but you get the picture). In order to take his stuff to the next level, i.e. Carl Newman/Steve Kilbey/Elvis Costello territory, he needs a lyricist: tunes as good as this guy’s deserve some substance. One can only imagine the greatness that would result from a collaboration with, say, a Paula Carino or Ward White.