Music Review: Cait Brennan, Third

Published on April 20th, 2017 in: Current Faves, Feminism, Music, Music Reviews, Reviews |

By Melissa Bratcher

Cait Brennan’s follow up to her critically acclaimed debut, Debutante, is a stunner. Where Debutante felt like the incredibly talented bastard daughter of Harry Nilsson and ELO, who fell asleep while listening to AM radio in the 1970s and made an album about it, Third lives and breathes where it was born: Ardent Studios in Memphis. Third is muscular and fierce, but it can break your heart with a word.

Best Of 2016: Cait Brennan

Published on January 6th, 2017 in: Best Of Lists, Music, Reissues, Retrovirus |


In really hard times, music is the only thing that gives me any kind of real comfort. I don’t know why I bring this up now, since 2016 was an unending laugh riot…

Anyway, here’s some music that mattered to me in 2016. There’s no real ranking here, and I’m sure I’m forgetting or neglecting a million things I discovered and adored. But for here, for now, a rundown of some things I loved this year.

New Releases

Fairy Bones, 8 Ball and Pink Plastic Cups: In 2015 Fairy Bones had one of my top albums of the year with Dramabot, produced by the always-dapper Bob Hoag. We didn’t get a new album in 2016 but these two singles are top-notch (and landed on a variety of savvy year-end best-of lists). Chelsey Louise is among the very best rock vocalists out there, and this tight-knit band is totally irresistible, so don’t bother resisting, just get this. New album coming in 2017; don’t miss it.

The Armoires, Incidental Lightshow: Yeah, I loved this record so much that I put it out on my own label Black Market Glamour. There’s a sonic dynamic/vocal interplay here somewhere between John Doe and Exene & Gram and Emmylou, with swirling sounds and moving stories that will cast an immediate spell. Deeply emotional, with deft lyrical sleight of hand, this is a record that rewards intimate, repeated listenings. Expect to fall in love. New record coming in the new year!

Carol Pacey and the Honey Shakers, Eyes On The Prize: the eminent music writer Mitchell Hillman once described Carol Pacey’s sound as a pioneering Americana thrash-pop and it’s an apt description; it’s Americana only in the sense that the Violent Femmes’ “Kiss Off” is Americana. On this, their second full-length outing, Carol and the Honey Shakers explore darker, moodier space, then kick out the jams at a speed and intensity few bands can touch. The push-pull between Carol’s amazing voice and the searing, soaring guitar work of Andy Borunda is something to behold.

Loveland Duren, Next: Memphis legends, national treasures—there aren’t enough superlatives you can throw at Vicki Loveland and Van Duren to really do ‘em justice. We’re talking about voices and songwriting of the very highest order here. Their first album together, 2013’s Bloody Cupid, was stunning, soulful, lush; Next pares it down to a raw, urgent sound, putting both the songs and Van and Vicki’s singular, beautiful, deeply affecting voices right up front. From its heartbreaking tribute to Johns Fry and Hampton to its gorgeous, intricate guitar work, this one is a must-have.

The Monkees, Good Times: Aptly named, this thing; who knew that after 50 years, the Monkees would not only still be a band, not only still making records, but that the record would be a lot of fun and great music besides? But how could you go wrong, really, with songwriting contributions from Paul Weller, Ben Gibbard, Adam Schlesinger (who also produced), Noel Gallagher, Andy Partridge and Rivers Cuomo, as well as longtime Monkees cohorts like Neil Diamond, Boyce & Hart, Goffin & King and the mighty Harry Nilsson—as well as cheery beyond-the-veil vocal contributions from the departed-but-not-gone Davy Jones and Nilsson himself. It’s a fresh and fun record and one of their very best.

Emitt Rhodes, Rainbow Ends: Despite the incessant prattling of its tiresome, sleazy, two-faced apologists, the major-label music industry always seems to take a special joy in destroying true artists. Said industry did a real number on Rhodes back in the 1970s, robbing him of both his life’s work and the will to create. It took 40-something years, a Herculean effort from producer Chris Price, and an all-star squad of musician-fans including Price, Taylor Locke, Jon Brion, Fernando Perdomo, Jason Falkner, Roger Manning, and Aimee Mann to bring Rhodes out of self-imposed exile. He’s not the fresh-faced kid anymore—both his voice and his songs reflect the journey his life has taken—but it’s all the more moving as a result: this is the real thing, real art and real heart and soul, something no corporate goons can synthesize—or silence.

The Legal Matters, Conrad: If you don’t know Detroit popsters the Legal Matters, set yourself straight with this outstanding collection of classic power pop sounds—tight songs, gorgeous harmonies, crunchy guitars, and a sense of joy you’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere else.

Fernando Perdomo, Voyeurs: I’ve met this guy once or twice, and I can tell you that he is an outstanding instrumentalist and a songwriter of great depth and versatility; there’s no genre, no style that is out of his range, and on Voyeurs he took to Facebook live and created/recorded the songs in front of an audience (something I myself have done, now and again). The result is tuneful, inventive, surprising, beautiful, heartbreaking. With gorgeous, poetic songs like “Feels,” “The One You Run To,” “Stay With The Friends,” and “Holding Back I Love Yous,” you’ll probably find yourself wishing he’d written one of these about you.

Sam Means, Ten Songs: Sam was half of the wonderful pop band The Format (Nate Ruess, now in fun., was the other), and while Nate has gotten most of the post-Format attention, Sam’s tuneful and thoughtful songs here are a reminder of his extraordinary gifts as a performer and songwriter. It’s a dynamite record and one you should own.

Ken Sharp, New Mourning: Ken’s talents as a music journalist are legendary; many, many more people need to hear his equally amazing songs, which are hauntingly beautiful, intricate, sometimes delicate, but with a power and punch all their own. With gorgeous vocals and flawless musicianship, guests like the Knack’s Prescott Niles and the great Rick Springfield, and production/instrumentation by Fernando Perdomo (this year’s hardest working man in show business by far), this introspective and hook-laden set of gems is not to be missed.


Beat Angels, Holy Mother Of Christ! It’s The Best Of The Beat Angels: You almost certainly have never heard of the Beat Angels, and that is your loss; a blast of undeniable sonic hooks, sex-on-wheels swagger and merciless, literary lyrics, the Beat Angels were one of the greatest bands of the 1990s and ‘00s; picking up roughly where the late, lamented band Gentlemen Afterdark left off, the Beat Angels built on and vastly expanded that band’s singular sound—and maintained their 100% consistent dubious luck, as well. Onus Records has compiled a selection of their best material from three studio albums (one, sadly, never released). Mostly produced by Gilby Clark, it’s a wonderful overview, but a full reissue and reassessment is urgently needed. In the meanwhile, start here.

Gentlemen Afterdark, Gentlemen Afterdark EP and Open The Door EP (iTunes): Glam, New Romantic, Postpunk, New Wave, and beyond: the Gentlemen did it all and did it better than anybody else. After years of being out of print, some of their best songs—and some never before commercially released—are now available via iTunes. A physical release and proper retrospective would be ideal, but for now? At least you can finally hear these absolute ear-candy songs.

Omnivore Recordings is pretty much the undisputed label of the year, having released the Emmit Rhodes album, the Legal Matters, and an absolutely staggering series of reissues, including Game Theory, The Muffs, the Bangles, NRBQ and the undisputed champeen, Big Star’s Complete Third, among dozens of other absolutely essential releases all year. I could write an essay on each of these, but then I would die of exhaustion and people would be sad. Go to your record emporium, look at the records, if you see the Omnivore label on anything, purchase it at once. Your ears will thank you.

We reviewed Cait Brennan’s Debutante on January 22, 2016. You can also read her writing on Popshifter.

Melissa Bratcher: Things That Made Me Happy In 2016

Published on December 29th, 2016 in: Best Of Lists, Feminism, Music, Podcasts, Soundtracks and Scores, TV |

By Melissa Bratcher


As ever, my Best Of list is a list of… things. Stuff that made me happy. When looking back at 2016, it’s hard not to feel a crushing ennui for all of those we lost and a general clusterfuckiness, but there were some gorgeous, delightful bright spots. Mine are, in no order whatsoever:

Music Review: Cait Brennan, Debutante

Published on January 22nd, 2016 in: Current Faves, Feminism, Music, Music Reviews, Reviews |

By Melissa Bratcher


When Sloan’s Jay Ferguson was writing “Waiting For Slow Songs,” he may have been writing about Cait Brennan, but didn’t even know it. “‘Cause you write the saddest songs / turn around and make it a singalong / the heart scratch melody / means there’s more than this for you and me.” Cait knows a heart scratch melody and knows how to swaddle a sad song in the prettiest, most glorious melodies and harmonies, and make it furiously catchy. I’ve had Cait Brennan’s Debutante on my iPod for quite a while now and every time one of the tracks pops up, I immediately need to rewind and hear it again. Simply put, Debutante is the kind of record that artists dream of recording. It’s been a long time coming.


Music Review: Game Theory, Blaze Of Glory (Reissue)

Published on September 5th, 2014 in: Music, Music Reviews, Reissues, Retrovirus, Reviews |

By Cait Brennan


Scott Miller wrote and sang some of the most innovative, intelligent, moving indie pop of the past three decades. For years, though, the Game Theory catalog has been impossible to hear, keeping the work of this essential artist out of reach of all but the most devoted fans. Miller’s tragic passing in April 2013 galvanized efforts to change that, and America’s finest reissue label rode to the rescue. At long last, 1982’s Blaze Of Glory is back, with a bevy of bonus goodies, and it’s a harbinger of even bigger things to come.


Music Review: LP, Forever For Now

Published on June 6th, 2014 in: Current Faves, Feminism, Music, Music Reviews, Reviews |

By Cait Brennan


New York-born, L.A.-based singer/songwriter LP is a true American survivor. With roots in the music business going back to the ’90s, LP recorded two promising albums in the early 2000s, collaborating with Cracker’s David Lowery and hit maker Linda Perry in the process. But the impossible to pigeonhole artist and her considerable charm and swagger never really fit in with the machine. Deals with labels like Island Def Jam didn’t pan out, and LP reinvented herself as a songwriter, co-writing smash hits for Rihanna (“Cheers [Drink To That]”) and Christina Aguilera (“Beautiful People”), among others.


Interview: Asking Graham Parker Questions

Published on April 11th, 2014 in: Interviews, Music |

By Cait Brennan


Read Jeffery X Martin’s review of Don’t Ask Me Questions.

The new documentary Don’t Ask Me Questions follows the storied career—and much-heralded return—of Graham Parker and his band the Rumour. Popshifter‘s Cait Brennan asked Graham some questions about his career and the documentary in an email interview.


Music Review: Sid Selvidge, The Cold Of The Morning

Published on March 14th, 2014 in: Music, Music Reviews, Retrovirus, Reviews |

By Cait Brennan


The great Memphis folk blues legend Sid Selvidge, who we lost last year, left us so much treasure that it almost seems criminal to try to lay the “great lost masterpiece” idea on him. While he surely didn’t get all the recognition he deserved in his lifetime, most everything he brought us was its own masterpiece. But The Cold Of The Morning, his long-unavailable 1976 album, just might be his finest.


Music Review: The Three O’Clock, The Hidden World Revealed

Published on July 2nd, 2013 in: Current Faves, Music, Music Reviews, New Music Tuesday, Retrovirus, Reviews |

By Cait Brennan


“You like pop, right?”

The grizzled, ancient record clerk—god, he had to be at least 28!—leaned over the counter.

“What, like Phil Collins?” I asked. Oh, it’s 1984 in Phoenix, by the way.

“God, no, that’s like—bubblegum or something,” he coughed, like he ate a big black bug. “Here,” he flips through the in-store play copies and pulls out a record with some weird pasty kids making kissy faces under a dilapidated pagoda. This crazy sugar-crash stomp comes storming out of the store speakers, swirling keys and guitars ringing in my head like the bells of Notre-Dame. And then the singer, with a voice like none other: “sitting complacent, are you there where I see you, with a cantaloupe girlfriend . . .” What?!

“They’re the Three O’Clock, man,” says he. “A little twee for my taste, but I kinda figured you’d dig it.”

The clerk got my $4.98 and I got Baroque Hoedown, the first EP by the Three O’Clock. It’s at least 20 years later before I even begin to suspect what a cantaloupe girlfriend might be, but I dive headlong into this “paisley underground” thing, rifling through record bins until I have all their stuff, which at that time included their album released as The Salvation Army, and their full-length LP, Sixteen Tambourines. They would go on to release great albums on IRS and Prince’s Paisley Park records, but for me, their stuff on the brilliant Lisa Fancher’s Frontier Records is still the greatest.


Music Review: Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me Soundtrack

Published on June 27th, 2013 in: Current Faves, Documentaries, Music, Music Reviews, Retrovirus, Reviews, Soundtracks and Scores |

By Cait Brennan


There’s a part of you that gets wistful sometimes when you see some secret treasure you love finally get its day in the sun. You think back to the day, seven worlds ago, when a friend of a friend handed you a cassette tape of some band you never heard of called Big Star, on an obviously fake record label called PVC Records. The friend gives you a knowing look and you don’t know; you don’t know you have a universe in your hand, that this grubby little tape is going to change your life, it’s going to detonate some ecstatic explosion inside you, and you will never be that person ever again. And a thousand miles later you chance across another copy in the cutout bin of some strip-mall record shop and you buy it for 49 cents and you put it in the hands of someone you love who’s never heard it, and you look at their uncomprehending expression and think “that was me, once upon a time.” And if you’ve chosen wisely and the quantum entanglement is aligned just so, the chain reaction goes on.