Mike Nicholson's been kicking around the scene for years, and while many know him better as a producer or the guiding force behind Sparklefest, his band, Stratocruiser, has slowly been rounding into a championship pop outfit. They released their self-titled debut in the beginning of 2003, and he continues to work primarily out of his home studio, though he did record a couple of tracks with Jerry Kee (Duck-Kee Studios). The aesthetic is the same this time, but Nicholson's recruited a new lead singer, Clay Howard, and hooked up with Zip Records in San Francisco, to release their second full-length, Suburban Contemporary.
"The new album is very much the same in that it's still very poppy, and it's all about the hooks and the harmonies," Nicholson says from his Raleigh home studio. "There's a different singer. I've sung in punk bands, but when pitch or melody is important, I'm not the guy."
Like much that has to do with the band, it's come together around Nicholson's loose recording aesthetic and willingness to work with new and different people.
"I gave Clay a backing track from the last album and what he came up with was astounding," says Nicholson. "I was kind of expecting someone to come and stand at the mic, and he turned out to be a good buddy and a great musician."
Among the people appearing on the new album are John Heames (Motorcaster), Peele Wimberly (Connels), Hans Rottenberry (The Shazam), Lynn Blakey (Tres Chicas, Glory Fountain) and his good friend, musician/actor Robbie Rist (Brady Bunch's Cousin Oliver), who also helped record and mix the album, in addition to the members of Stratocruiser's touring band.
The album will also be released overseas, thanks to Zip's many European and Australian connections. Nicholson also has been using his connections with the bands he's booked for Sparklefest to secure joint gigs around the country.
"I've released too many records that have died on the vine," Nicholson says of his extensive touring plans. "I knew when I started [Sparklefest], I'd eventually call in all those favors."
Fake Swedish began a little over two years ago, based around the high school friendship of singer/guitarist Joe Romero and guitarist Eric Haugan, who grew up together in New Jersey. They recorded an EP last year with producer Nick Peterson (Polyphonic Audio), and went back to him for their new full-length, Get Correct. Recorded in just two days, it's got a live sound, though the approach is more considered than their loose live feel.
"When we went in we weren't too prepared, but when we hit our stride, we work incredibly efficiently," Romero says.
The psych-garage quartet also features drummer Dave Perry (Chrome Plated Apostles, Jett Rink) and bassist Ashley Hays. Among the ten tracks they recorded is Jacques Brel's "Jackie," whose baroque pop sound is recreated in a "minimalist pop style," with a double-tracked twelve string and a xylophone. Perfect for a band that's "cute in a stupid-ass way."
Get Correct will be out sometime around the new year, possibly on Clifton Mann's DemonBeach Records. Stratocruiser plays Sparklefest Saturday, Oct. 9 in advance of the album's Oct. 19 release. Fake Swedish plays Local 506 Friday, Oct. 15 with Dynamite Brothers and Bloodthirsty Lovers. Sonic Reducer Hotel Motel --You Must Be Hard of Reading EP (lll out of 5) This 20-plus minute EP is not for the faint of heart or unadventurous. Hotel Motel's aesthetic is a conjunction of points on the underground rock road map, a tricky, twisting route that begins around the art-punk of Pere Ubu and The Fall, picks up stray hitchhiking Sonic Youth with a penchant for spates of contrapuntal guitar, winds briefly through mountainous edifices of math rock, and stops for a burger at the greasy emo/post-punk dive. While not without melody, the trio's musical vehicle generally wobbles and shakes more violently than a shockless U-Haul trailer doing 100 mph down a steep mountain grade. For those so inclined, there's a thrilling intensity to the music's jerky time signatures and sudden bursts of melody, not to mention the free jazz skronk that pops in from time to time like Kramer perusing Jerry's frig. Though frequently brought to the precipice of complete implosion, Matt Kalb (Audubon Park), Anne Gomez (Cantwell, Gomez, and Jordan) and Bob Wall (Razzle) always manage to rein things back in just short of the vertiginous drop. The brief 70-second "Lay Down til the Urge Passes" and "Don Knott's Holiday" may be the EP's best synthesis of catchiness and head-spinning chaos, though the cover of Steely Dan's "The Boston Rag" is also quite good. ( www.hot-mot.com)