World Of Sound

Slumberjet

Broken Lullaby Records, 2019

http://www.facebook.com/slumberjet

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 03/11/2022

“Power Pop is a cross between the crunching hard rock of the Who and the sweet melodicism of the Beatles and Beach Boys, with the ringing guitars of the Byrds thrown in for good measure,” according to the authorities at All Music Guide. To which Wikipedia adds: “The genre typically incorporates melodic hooks, vocal harmonies, an energetic performance, and cheerful sounding music underpinned by a sense of yearning, longing, or despair.”

Arguments persist about what bands and songs are or aren’t power pop, but there are certain givens: power pop originated with the upbeat early singles of the Beatles, the Who and the Byrds; early ’70s bands like Big Star, Badfinger and the Raspberries furthered the cause notably; and later-’70s proponents like Cheap Trick, the Romantics and Dwight Twilley helped push power pop to the forefront as part of the New Wave movement. More recently, bands like Teenage Fanclub, Fastball, and the late, great Fountains Of Wayne have taken up the banner of power pop, matching driving guitars and vibrant harmonies to thoughtful lyrics.

All of which forms a necessary backdrop to discussing Slumberjet, a band that more or less personifies modern power pop: crunchy guitars, strong hooks, rich harmonies, steady backbeats, and that lingering sense of yearning underneath it all. Slumberjet is a vehicle for the songs of singer-songwriter-guitarist Barry O’Brien, of whose 2004 solo EP my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Spark I said “my guess is if you gave this a spin for Sir Paul, he'd nod and grin and bob his head to the beat.” Slumberjet finds O’Brien joined by Duncan Maitland (keys/guitar/vocals/production), Johnny Boyle (drums) and Keith Farrell (bass).

Like Spark before it, Slumberjet adds New Wave drive to its power pop base in places, giving a number of these songs a distinctly Elvis Costello energy and bite. It’s a combination that adds depth and weight to the sugar-sweet melodic side of the genre, as contemporaries like Fastball and Fountains Of Wayne have shown.

Speaking of Fountains, opener “World Of Sound” hints at some of that group’s dreamier numbers, acoustic guitar and low-key, spacey synths floating along in a late-Beatles haze, crafting a sort of 1:30 overture to this album. “Round X 2” ups the ante with a steady-on, gently psychedelic number that feels like a lost Fastball tune. Batting third, O’Brien and company show they know exactly what they’re up to with “(Theme From) Our Street,” which, however intentionally, feels like a wink and a nod to the theme for That ’70s Show, which was a Cheap Trick cover of a Big Star song. It’s so very on the nose and smartly constructed that all you can do is grin and air-guitar along.

Slumberjet mixes it up to good effect down the rest of the 11-song tracklist. “Float” offers a gentle, chiming, airy meditation before they go full Costello with “Across The Divide” and “Salad Days,” the former decorated with attitude and vintage synths, the latter overflowing with hooks and punctuated with a big, sunny, wordless bridge section that feels like a celebration. “The Big Snow” dials things down again, a sing-songy acoustic number that adds horns and bells at the bridge to good effect.

The New Wave flavoring returns to the forefront in the latter third. “Somewhere Nowhere” pushes the tempo with sharp guitars and synths, a propulsive number that spools out hook after hook. “Calling / Salad Days (Reprise)” eases things up momentarily for a lyrical acoustic number capped with a lilting electric hook. And then “Why Do You” arrives feeling like straight-up Elvis Costello homage, a classic EC-styled pointed vocal melody over punchy guitars and a wheezing synth organ tone out of “Radio Radio.” More distinctly Slumberjet closer “Chasing Satellites” favors New Wave mostly in its pushing, pushing backbeat.

Clocking in at a tight and punchy 32 minutes, World Of Sound delivers beautifully on Slumberjet’s power pop promise, featuring hooks, melody and drive galore. It’s clear that Barry O’Brien is both a diligent student and a master craftsman of the genre, constructing stick-in-your-head tunes full of clever, observant, determined characters with something to say. Here’s hoping there’s more to come.

Rating: B+

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