analog radio - THIS IS GRAND

Issue #61                                                                                                                   Apr. '04

Pop. Pop music. Some of the most distinguishing/integral parts being the harmonies (be they 2, 3, or 4 part), the hooks (be they guitars, bass, keyboards, drums or even harmonious vocals), and lyrics that dig into your head, so that at any given moment during your day you find them rambling through your brain to the point where you can even hear each instrument that accompanies the words right into the trading of leads… back and forth it rings true to the point where it invites happiness into the soul…

That to me is pop.

I listened to, and listened to THIS IS GRAND by analog radio, and damn, THIS IS POP. analog radio knows how to create structural pop by tearing at the fabric of today’s rock musical culture and its boundaries, to expose the true fabric (the roots of which changed the history of music), much of which is lacking in today’s Pop(ular) music. analog radio gets down into the same Bubblegum sound of early Brill Building brilliance that The Ramones celebrated by dressing it in punk fashions, but models it to us in a more garage rock fabric.

It takes balls to cite The Monkees (a fine band when you realize the talent that wrote the majority of their repertoire) as an influence, along with The Beach Boys, Marshall Crenshaw, Sloan, and Fountains Of Wayne, and be right about it – and to those I’ll add Gerry and The Pacemakers, The Cars, The Beatles, Tom Petty (1st two LPs), all those Brill Building writers that virtuously created AM radio long before FM wandered in and took over (and destroyed – to an extent), and too many to mention of the 60’s psychedelic/garage bands that you’ll find on the Nuggets box set(s).

analog radio comes to us from Chicago, IL (where the Bon Mots [our January Feature] also ring out a sweet edgy pop of their own). They’re Mike Madzinski (drums, percussion), Dann Morr (bass, vocals), Brian Royer (keyboards, guitar, vocals), and Jamie Vazquez (guitar, vocals). Mixing and sharing writing responsibilities, they are the pureness in what put Pop on the map in the mid 60s beautiful people era.

The spirograph cover reveals that era here from both perspectives; that of the times and the witty banter short story 3 minute mini-movie usually centering on the love escapades of a man and woman (but also something as bizarre as reading an instructional manual to whatever an item may or may not be) ruled the airwaves. After a jaunty, chewy entrance that harkens us back to the heyday of The Monkees with a dancing prancing piano and Oooh’s and Ahhhhs of the backing harmony set alongside various components of the musical composition, we’re intrigued through the promise of something that can take us away, and guess what? “Read The Manual” jumps us with an acapella “Whoo, La, La, La, Whoo La La La, Whooooooooooooooooo…” Hold the organ (and it’s a classic, jam down on the dashboard keys as the “straight from air guitar central” guitar hooks lead those bass fingers into working away while the drummer in the back seat augments everything with an energy that’s as anthemic as if you are indeed A Go-Go-ing…), and find yourself singing along with such twisted everyday fare as “Before you try to make it work / You’re gonna have to read the manual / That’s what the label said / Contents under pressure / We can’t be held responsible / If you should wind up dead.” Thus begins one of the most straight forward criticisms of corporate responsibility in the sales industry and does it in a hip-swaying, let’s have a party style. THIS IS POP.

The jangle, and dirty garage roots of “Don’t Be Dumb” serve as a reminder of the first early rebirth of Pop - when it was reborn in the 60s as the under ground garage culture, before once again aspiring to mainstream, just to die and be reborn again in each subsequent form over the generations (and I do believe this cycle is being resurrected, and it seems a lot of it is emanating out of the Chicago area). “A Love Letter with Problems” tilts to the darker side of The Lovin’ Spoonful. The vocals and keyboards lend themselves to the song in an impeccable structure of writing brilliance – Mod mock English (stated as a high compliment) vocals nod at Alt. Country and Beatles ballads to tear at our heart as the narrator lays out his woe with a final despite plea so commonly found in young love. “Let’s get together and be lonely / The bad times won’t be so tough / I’ll never feel like the only / And you’ll always feel like enough.” Cue quick-shot-to-the-heart crying guitar lead set above a harrowing organ and we’ve just been swallowed whole by analog radio with a lushness that satisfies deeply. THIS IS GRAND.

That’s exactly when analog radio produces one of the greatest turns on a CD format since the annoying silence of 14 minutes before the hidden track (or gibberish) at the end of the CD. It is here, just 4 songs in, that analog radio decides to set the hook so deep that there is no doubt this CD belongs in the “Classic” category – “In-between” snaps the late night, under the sheets AM radio back to let us scan the dial to a point, that by time we tune in on a station, we know we want to be there. “Sometimes Girlfriend” tells the tragic tale of two people who do not have anything (not even each other) except the sex they’re having – A guy exploiting an all to eager girl in a poppy jangley shadow of the 60s British Invasion, and damn – Where’s Ed Sullivan??? A video for this song should be shot in grainy black and white. THIS IS POP.

I’d Answer the Phone (If You Called)” has to be one of the finest pop ballads ever written. A pitch perfect, triple harmony gives the perspective of a guy whose girl dumps him for another, with the solemn church (pump?) organ setting a ‘too-many-beers-and-cigarettes lamenting to a sympathetic ear’ vocal of how he finally stood up to her – “So yes, I was lying / When I said / ‘I’ll see you around’ / But I, really meant it when I said / ‘I Never want to see you again’ / I never want to see you again / No’.” By this time the whole musical sorrow is crashing down upon us, our heart is heavy, we identify with his anguish as the music drags us down to where we’ve all been before... As the organ steps in front and carries us to a point where his love outweighs the pain inflicted upon him by her (but which is revealed to us in a lower audibility so as to say it, but not really want anybody to hear you admit it, but which needs to be uttered aloud so as to convince oneself of it as well) “So yes, I was lying / When I said / that ‘I never loved you’ / But I really mean it / When I say / ‘I’d answer the phone / if you called / I’d answer the phone / if you called / Yeah’.” You’ll hyperventilate and get the chills listening to this because it’s so depressingly joyful. THIS IS GRAND.

Where do you go after that? (And after hitting the repeat button so many times you just don’t know what could be left?) “Yeah I Know” lightens the mood with a dipped in The Cars flavored Paul Revere and The Raiders/Gerry and The Pacemakers/The Beach Boys fun in the sun romp providing Ooo’s that glide quickly into the harder, dark and bouncy “Step Outside Your Door.” This is the album’s lone “group effort,” a collaboration that exemplifies the individual talents and how they interconnect on every level of songwriting (from melody to lyrics) and is a solid accomplishment across the board that analog radio carries through the final 3 songs. With the same hook after glorious hook, dirty edge wall of sound, bombastic (to the point of pleasure), blissful, revitalization of early pop –
be it ballad or rocker – that soaks into the brain mainly through the power of their harmonious backing vocals and the ability to accurately place them where the impact leaves an impression to potent to ignore, analog radio invites happiness into the soul…

And that to me is pop.



THIS IS analog radio.

analog radio - THIS IS GRAND
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