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(Baby Jackal Records 1 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 5/12/2010)
Creative, melodic rock in the tradition of the Beatles has become as timeless as jazz, blues or for that matter classical music in crossing generations -- with new crops of performers constantly appearing and taking up the style. As someone who grew up listening to the Beatles, I am constantly fascinated by the steady supply of new music from bands who draw from the same influences, even though the may have listed artists much later than the Fab Four as source of inspiration. The most notable of these groups are not just emulating the sound, but also showing the musical resourcefulness and lyrical cleverness that marked the best of the 1960s Brit pop scene. Today, Fountains of Wayne and The Red Button who are among the best the genre has produced.
This week we have another example of a excellent band who perhaps subconsciously draw on the Beatles tradition, and whose members were not even born until some fifteen years after the Beatles broke up. The group is Harper Blynn, whose new full debut CD is called Loneliest Generation.
Harper Blynn is a quartet who used be a folky duo called Pete and J, specifically Pete Harper and J. (for Jason) Blynn. Harper is from Chicago and his biography said he played on a championship state basketball team. Blynn was from Philadelphia and was a choir boy in his youth. Other members are drummer Sarab Singh, who met Blynn in middle school, where they started playing music together, and a bassist named Whynot Jansveld. Harper and Blynn met in college and started performing as that folk duo Pete and J. Harper, Blynn and Singh moved to New York in 2006, though Singh soon returned to Philadelphia, and after touring as Pete and J, they eventually met Whynot. Singh rejoined, and the band began to gather momentum last year.
For their independent debut release, they enlisted a notable producer David Kahne, who worked as an executive at Columbia and Warner Brothers Records, and had produced or engineered recordings by Paul McCartney, the Bangles, Regina Spektor, Fishbone, Jorma Kaukonen and many others. Malcolm Burn, who worked with Emmylou Harris and Chris Whitley produced a couple of tracks as well.
So the CD has a polished sound, despite a fast recording schedule of 10 days. Polished but not too slick. Like the Sixties Brit poppers, Harper Blynn have strong vocal harmonies -- all four of the members sing, and seem to hit great harmonies without having to resort to the artificial pitch correction which is so pervasive in commercial pop these days. If real musicianship is retro, there are some other retro touches like a synthesizer that sounds like a 1960s analog model, and some guitar sounds that also evoke the golden age of such music. And the group is not afraid to throw in interesting chord changes, clever bridge sections to add spice to the songs, and downright literate lyrics.
A good example is the opening track, 25 Years. Lyrically it's a kind of consideration the passage of time. Harper and Blynn, by they way, are both about 25 years old. <<>>
Another song that could have been written anytime in the past 40-plus or so years, is This Is It. There's an interesting mix of influences in there, from bits of country-rock to 1970s alternative rock. <<>>
One of the highlights is a song called Steal Your Love, which is an example of the band's great writing, showing various hints of the Fab Four, the Hollies and Badfinger. <<>>
There are a couple of tracks that have more of the folky sound of the Pete and J duo. The Doubt is a more contemplative song with bittersweet lyrics. <<>>
The title song Loneliest Generation is Harper Blynn in full retro-pop bloom, complete with appropriate lyrical references. It's another first-rate track. <<>>
All Pretenders has some of the most album's best lyrics, also rather conflicted in mood, with a musical setting that ebbs and flows appropriately. <<>>
One of the two tracks produced by Malcolm Burn is another acoustic song All the Noise. Which shows that Harper and Blynn can be pretty contemplative when they want to. <<>>
One of the CDs brightest lights is called Centrifugal Motion. It sums up what this band is so good at doing -- great writing with twists and turns, memorable riffs, and appealing vocal harmonies. <<>>
Loneliest Generation, the debut CD by the New York-based quartet Harper Blynn is an impressive album by a band, who consciously or not, channel the best of 1960s British pop, in effect making music the old fashioned way, with real musicianship, clever writing, spot-on vocals and a general sense of good fun. Harper and Blynn are about the same age as the Beatles were when they did Rubber Soul some 45 years ago, and interestingly they don't cite the Lads from Liverpool specifically as influences, saying that after a looking to more contemporary groups like Fleet Foxes for influence, they said that they did some digging into Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and even Stevie Wonder. So in a way, here's a bunch of musicians in their mid 20s who end up in much the same place musically as artists who might have even preceded their parents' generation. I guess it shows that there really is a kind of timeless quality to this sort of music, with successive generations almost independently arriving at the same place.
Our grade for audio quality is an A-minus. David Kahne and Malcolm Burn's production is first-rate. The mix has most things in the right place, but sometimes the recording has a dynamically flat quality, lacking the punchiness on the drums and vocals that could give the CD more life. But some tracks are better in this respect than others.
It's nice to see such a notable debut recording by a kind of fully-formed sophisticated melodic pop band like this. Pete Harper and Jason Blynn have been together for about 5 or 6 years now. They have obviously been honing their songwriting skills in that period. It comes together nicely in Loneliest Generation which should perhaps ironically appear to several generations of music fans.
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