- The PlimsoulsThe Plimsouls. Very strong début album from L.A.’s Plimsouls, heavy on the pop/garage-rock sound. From the great opener, “Lost Time” to the super closing trio of “I Want You Back,” “Mini Skirt Minnie,” and “Everyday Things,” this is the rare album that starts strong and gets stronger as it goes on. Only “Now” and “I Want What You Got” fall somewhat short of the high standards set by the rest of the album and, since the 11 songs on the album barely crack the 30-minute mark, those two songs slide by effortlessly. The sound is a little dated now, but the songwriting is strong and the performances solid.
- Calling The WorldRooney. The self-titled début by Rooney was an instantly likable collection of power pop gems that suffered only from a tendency to have jokey lyrics that undermined the music. Calling The World, has better lyrics, but the music falls apart. All the elements are still there: catchy choruses, strong harmonies, good musicianship. But for some reason the strong parts are not enough to save the songs. When it all clicks into place, like on the title track, “I Should Have Been After You,” and “Don’t Come Around Again,” it reminds you of the best of the début album. But all too often the songs sink into an undifferentiated morass. There’s almost nothing on the album that truly stands out, grabs the listener by the throat, and commands attention. All of the Beatle-isms and nods to 60s pop are in place, but so are some more unfortunate influences. While “I Should Have Been After You” sounds like prime ELO, there’s simply no forgiving the awful Bon Jovi-style keyboards and generic 1985-era production of “Are You Afraid?” The Beatles are a great influence for any band…Cutting Crew and Mr. Mister not so much. The album closer “Help Me Find My Way” tries for an aching sincerity but sinks under a string arrangement that borders on easy listening. Rooney’s début is a fun, catchy album. The followup has a couple of moments that rise to that level, but overall is bland and faceless.
- Beginner’s MuckMuck And The Mires. Sure, this is completely derivative garage rock. There isn’t an original note anywhere on this album. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t a lot of fun. With 13 songs clocking in at less than 24 minutes, Beginner’s Muck doesn’t give you any time to analyze the significance of the songs, but it gives you just enough time to enjoy the feel of the album. This is party music with a heavy debt to 1960s garage rock, and some of it sounds like a great lost album from the Dave Clark Five…or maybe The Rutles. The real touchstone here, though, is The Wonders, the mythical one-hit wonder band from That Thing You Do! If you saw the movie with its insanely catchy theme song and wondered what the rest of the album might have sounded like, look no further. Thoroughly enjoyable.
- 8-Way SantaTad. The truly ironic thing about the “grunge” explosion of the early 1990s was that none of the successful bands that emerged from the scene really had all that much to do with grunge music. Nirvana’s first album Bleach was their grunge record but they hit big with a great big, shiny rock album. The truly grungy bands toiled in obscurity, and one of those bands is Tad, named after lead singer Tad Doyle. 8-Way Santa is truly a grunge album, and a really good one. Thick Sabbath-like riffs played at half speed and growled lyrics, this is rock music that really sounds like it’s coming out of some primordial forest. Yes, the 39-second “Hedge Hog” is a waste of space, and “Candi” isn’t much better, but the rest of the album more than compensates. “Jack Pepsi” tells a wicked story of rednecks drinking and driving, and while much of the rest is cryptic to say the least, the songwriting is consistently good. On “Flame Tavern” and “3-D Witch Hunt” Tad manages to sound amazingly like Dinosaur Jr. circa Green Mind. There is a surprising amount of catchy melody in the murk, making 8-Way Santa a prime example of a type of music everyone’s heard of, but few people have actually heard.