Zach Hexum, The Story So Far
Zack Hexum’s sound harks back to the ’70s and ’80s (think Paul McCartney, Tears for Fears, and Squeeze) – a keyboard-heavy soft rock with power-pop highlights. Nothing at all like his brother Nick’s band, 311.
But while the sound and sensibility aren’t new, the songs on The Story So Far are outstanding, and as I’ve said a gazillion times before, good songs are what it’s all about. The lyrics are both fluid and sharp, often putting a unique slant on common feelings, as in “Simple City”: “I saw a yin yang girl today she was black and white / She was a pile on a chair pale and dark / She wore a shirt that left her breast for all of us to see / I wanna color her and then maybe we’ll be / In Simple City soon / Just staring at the moon / Will you be there? / Can I take you there?” And the melodies are fresh and catchy and quirky all at once.
“All I Want,” “One Spin,” “Sun Still Shines,” and “Met a Girl Like You Once” are are among my favorites, but the songwriting shines throughout. Hexum’s voice is a flexible though not amazingly strong instrument; he makes the most of it, singing his intelligent lyrics archly enough to be interesting and emotively enough to be lyrical.
Very highly recommended.
The Animators, How We Fight
The Animators’ sophomore effort is almost like two albums on one CD. The first five songs make up a set of gorgeous power pop. Several of these songs borrow, and sometimes exaggerate, the grunge technique of quiet verses and loud choruses. “It’s Good To Be Here” establishes the pattern, with meaty guitar refrains and the plaintive, sensitive-guy delivery that lead singer Devon Copley is very good at but not restricted to. The section ends with “How Do I Get Over You,” a power ballad that feels to me like the heart of the album and deserves to be a classic.
The rest of the CD is more varied and experimental, starting with the acidic “The Senator Goes To Hell” with its Dixieland tuba and angular honky-tonk piano. The song – about, I’m guessing, Strom Thurmond – pulls no punches: “no matter how deep they bury him, he’s gonna smell / the senator goes to hell.” The circus-y arrangement of “Good Day” would make Brian Wilson proud, while R&B flavored, anti-consumerist call to action “Buy Buy” with its irresistible chorus suggests something Pete Townshend might have written after accidentally wandering into a Wal-Mart.
“Take It So Hard” is a well-written but rather standard relationship song, but the title track gets more creative. Sung in gentle Simon and Garfunkel harmonies the lyrics get deep into the strange subtleties of love and the hardening thereof: “what’s the harm in hiding something / this is how we fight / and how we come together… I don’t mind the tears this time / we’re strong enough that we don’t feel it / we’re smart enough that we don’t mean it / as long as we don’t read between the lines.” “Ordinary Moment” is, lyrically, a straightforward ballad, but musically a fascinating piece of chamber pop. And the last track shows that the Animators can artfully mix a metaphor: “We only know a golden age / On the morning after.”
This is one of those CDs that takes a couple of listens to fully appreciate. Fortunately it also has enough catchiness to draw in the casual pop-music seeker. Check it out.
Josh Sason, four song demo at Myspace.com
Josh Sason is a promising young singer-songwriter from my “home town” of Long Island, New York. As evidenced by these four songs, he’s got a good sense of melody and musical drama. His dense, almost orchestral, arrangements show plenty of skill on guitars and keyboards and in the studio (he does everything), and his heated, passionate tenor is just the thing to melt girls’ hearts; his list of inspirations starts with Coldplay, but his phrasing is closer to that of Oasis’s Liam Gallagher. The songwriting needs a little more focus: only the ballad “Your Name” has a strong enough hook to really stick in the ear. But that will come with practice and maturity. Meanwhile this is a kid to watch.
OUT AND ABOUT: It’s been a quiet couple of weeks for me, nightlife-wise, but I’ve been checking out a lot of bands at Myspace. Although it’s not about a band, I just had to share this nugget from Indie Roundup’s Mixed Metaphor Police, who spotted this title on a naked girl’s MySpace blog post: “Christmas is starting to rear it’s [sic] ugly head around the corner again.”
You can’t make this stuff up, folks.