The power pop genre may only sporadically receive much mainstream attention, but there's always a steady stream of new bands crossing crunchy power chords with sweet melodies. Perhaps it's because listeners (and players) who enjoy the sound tend to seriously love it. That semi-subterranean network of power pop fans passing along their favorites to others is how bands who were mostly unknown in their own time -- Big Star is a good example -- end up becoming famous and influential years after dissolving. Of course, these days nearly everything is aboveground due to the Internet, which makes finding new musical favorites easier, if potentially overwhelming.
It's even easier when the power pop band is right in your hometown, playing shows and releasing new music. Last year Madison trio New People unveiled one of the best power pop discs from a local band I've heard in recent times, their debut The Easy Thing.
New People came together in 2006 when a pair of local players independently arrived at the decision to get into a new project, for opposing reasons. Matt Ackerman had been playing bass for the Sundogs, Doll and Blamm-o! (in which he currently plays guitar), and was ready to try out being a frontman with some of his own songs. Meanwhile, former Madison Lint leader and guitarist Mark Linsenmayer had taken a break from music and was initially interested in finding a gig in more of a sideman capacity.
"I contacted [Matt] in 2006 because I saw an ad he posted that his other band, Blamm-o, needed a new bass player," Linsenmayer says. "Though that gig was already filled, and wouldn't have been appropriate for me anyway, Matt told me he had messed around with a side project to play his own songs, and I volunteered to try bass on it. Before we even met up for that purpose, he made it clear that he'd want to do my tunes as well."
In New People, Ackerman plays guitar and Linsenmayer bass, switching it up from the pair's most recent previous projects. Both sing, providing the trademark power pop harmonies that are a big part of the band's sound. After adding drummer Julian Salgado Laredo, New People began playing out in clubs and recorded much of The Easy Thing's backing tracks live at home. As of last fall, Nate Pinney, himself a songwriter and singer, has taken over the drum chair.
The album's crisp sound resulted from a fairly basic set-up, with three mikes on the drums and guitar and bass running direct (through a Firepod digital mixer) into Cubase recording software, Linsenmayer says. To finish the album, a pair of tracks were recorded at Paradyme Studios, where mixing and cleanup of the home-recorded tracks also took place during the winter of 2008-09. "After working on the mixes ourselves for more than six months, we took them to Paradyme where [Jake Johnson] polished them up really nicely ... I don't know that his reworkings of our recordings sound significantly worse than the two (the first two on the album) that we did entirely in his studio."
The Easy Thing also features much more elaborate cover art than many local releases. Colorfully illustrating the album's songs are multiple cartoon-like panels by Ken Gerber, who runs a cartoon-by-request blog. Linsenmayer says the band decided to use the panel format early on due to the wealth of material Gerber offered. "My thought was that he might just let me use some old art of his, but he went all out and did many, many drawings for us ... And then he did the song-specific drawings, and on top of that did the variations of them to create the CD sticker. Really above and beyond, over a few months."
New People handles the sonic end of the package equally colorfully, with their take on power pop coming from the harder side and shaded with a '90s grunge edge. The band's songwriters complement each other well, with Linsenmayer's melodic and carefully structured compositions alternating with Ackerman's more direct rockers. Ackerman's guitar work really shines on the precise picking called for in Linsenmayer's "Love is the Problem," a song the band entered in the 2009 Isthmus Band to Band Combat. And "Kite," by Ackerman, is one of the hardest rockers on the disc but also features one of the prettiest vocal parts, in the harmonies on the chorus.
An MP3 of "Kite" is available in the related files section at right. More music by New People is available on Linsenmayer's website, which also includes an entertaining history of his past exploits in bands over the past couple decades, including stints in the Ann Arbor and Austin scenes. New People will play a show.
MadTracks highlights and provides MP3s of songs performed by local musicians. All tracks here are provided with permission of the artist. If you are a musician based in the Madison metro area and are interested in sharing your work as a MadTrack, please send a message.