I have to say that I was lucky to be born when I was, at the tail end of ’69. This would mean that I had the benefit of not only a generation that still had the music of the ’50s, the birth of rock & roll, but the sixties revolutions of content and style, the ’70s when pop music was arguably in control of popular culture, and on into the 1980s when things started to change (perhaps for the worst, but I’ll get into that momentarily). In other words, there was a whole world of music opening up to my young ears, and this music was based on certain founding principles — give the listener a voice they want to hear, a melody that gets stuck in their head, and a reason to want to listen again.
That third part is the trickiest in the modern pop landscape because so much of the new stuff doesn’t call you back to it. Instead, it is repeatedly and consistently hammered back at you. For a solid summer not too long ago, I found that if I liked a song on the radio, and it has become less and less frequent that it happens, I wouldn’t need to buy the thing. It would be played at least three times in a seven hour block, sometimes even more. I bring this up to make a point. The hook, or the melody that holds and keeps you has played a diminishing role in music because there is no need to expect it. The machinery that puts the major label music out will make sure you know all about their latest, and you’ll either learn to love their output or you’ll go a little nuts over the repetition. But little of the acquiescence, at least on my part, is that instant grab I used to get almost immediately.
I have to believe it is the same for Lisa Mychols who, for the past decade, has been an indie pop champion of the classic pop form. On her latest Above, Beyond & In Between, Mychols plays with the different aspects of the time periods I grew up around, with a slight nod to psychedelia (coming through the mid-section of “Dreamers Awake”), the 70s-ish ballad (“Stay Till Tomorrow”), a few rockers with “Another Side of Time” and the closing “Better Than Nothing,” and 60s girl-group sounds with “Taken” and “Make Believe.”
These are not exercises in nostalgia or the kind of vintage-jacking that appears every so often in fashion and tastes, looking the part but having no intrinsic connection to source material. Mychols sounds like someone who probably had the same upbringing as me, and has that deep love of these sounds which comes through fully on the album. While it is packed in a retro way, it sounds like someone “now” who still gets what was so attractive about “then” instead of just copying its veneer. But what does that mean precisely? It means that the singing is meant to convey emotion but never panders to the vocal gymnastics and tics that audiences of 2005-and-onward have mistaken for advanced technique. Mychols sings with her “band,” in this case being multi-instrumentalist Tom Richards, as a member and not as the competition. As one might interpret from the margins of “Foolin’ The World,” Mychols wants to be a part of the rock & roll versus stomping over top of it with a barrage of a million notes…the right notes are always the better choice.
So too, there is respect for the form in that we have those classic structures where the instrumental breaks have room to exist and breathe. When’s the last time the singer of a modern tune ceded the floor to the instruments? It has probably be a while.
Of all the tracks on Above Beyond & In Between, I find myself going back to “Ferris Wheel” most often. It is one of the slower songs on the disc, but it is the one that most reminds me of being a kid and experiencing pop music for the first time, with transistor radios that you had cheesy mono ear-buds for, and you could plug them in and listen to the radio before you went to sleep for the night. I won’t say the CD is for everyone, and our youngest readers probably will view my memories of music as youth-bashing, with all the standard “my stuff was better than your stuff will ever be” grousing you could expect. But it is gratifying to hear someone who seems to be in line with your own growth track, your memories, and respects it enough to play it for real and not as a costume change. Above Beyond & In Between is, therefore, the best pop album from 1969 to debut 40 years later.
To purchase the album from CD Baby, go to: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/lisamychols