Pop used to be a dirty word that carried a severe negative connotation and became a label embraced by those who didn’t know any better. Now that the heyday has long passed, bands aren’t afraid to use the term any more. Almost surprisingly, there’s a bevy of pop-related genres nowadays, from pop-punk to indie-pop to pop-rock. There’s not as much of a stigma attached to the creation of poppy music any more.
When N.Y.C. rock quintet Head Automatica named their new album Popaganda and frontman Daryl Palumbo described the music as the “most melodic thing he’s ever had a part in,” music fans couldn’t help but be a little taken aback. After all, Palumbo spent 13 years fronting Long Island hardcore flagbearers Glassjaw — an outfit that’s hardly known for its pop sensibilities.
“Contemporary American pop is so tasteless and phony,” says the 27-year-old frontman. “That’s why no one in America wants to say they’re in a pop band. So many kids who start pop-punk bands insist they’re not pop. To them I say, ‘You don’t even know what pop is. You’ve grown up with fucking Blink-182 forced down your throat.’ Whereas, I want to be in a pop band.”
The type of music Palumbo and guitarist Craig Bonich, bassist Jarvis Morgan Holden, keyboardist Jessie Nelson, and drummer Larry Gorman create has itself evolved between albums. 2004’s brilliant Decadence was a dance-rock album with heavy emphasis on electronic elements to the songs. Tracks like the single “Beating Heart Baby” and “Please Please Please” were undeniably catchy and demonstrated Palumbo’s versatility as a writer and singer.
With Popaganda, however, the band’s focus shifted to the more rock end of the spectrum, leaving out a lot of the electronics and stepping up the melody. Singalongs like the hard-driving single “Graduation Day” demonstrate the shift. There’s enough “pop” on the album to make up for any lack in the music scene today, thanks in large part to the efforts of studio producer Howard Benson (My Chemical Romance, All-American Rejects).
“Howard prides himself on vocals and song arrangements, and for this record, the vocals had to hit and the arrangements had to be perfect,” Palumbo said in a recent press announcement. “Every part had to be a perfectly sculpted hook. We didn’t want any six-minute-long songs or jazz odysseys. We wanted to be focused and Howard knew how to do that.
“How close we are as people really adds to how tight we are as a band,” Palumbo adds. “There’s a really good dynamic from player to player. Jarvis has the capacity to memorize large amounts of material at once; Jessie grew up trained and is just a really musical cat; Larry grew up listening to the Beatles and knows the backbeat pop feel as well as anyone can know it; and Craig has always managed to take up the space of two guitars by himself. The best part of this lineup is that we’re able to adapt to whatever style we need from song to song. We’re able to find the pocket within different genres.”
This Friday evening, Head Automatica headlines the “Welcome Week Concert” at the Cistern, presented by CofC’s Cougar Activities Board and Student Life. Coheadlining the show are Los Angeles-based labelmates Rock Kills Kid — led by singer Jeff Tucker and a newly instated lineup: guitarist Sean Stopni, keyboardist Reed Calhoun, bassist Shawn Dailey, and drummer Ian Hendrickson.
Also on the bill are N.Y.C. six-piece Men Women & Children (featuring another former Glassjaw cat, guitarist Todd Weinstock). Their latest is a self-titled full-length on Reprise. Opening act Young Love are electro rockers with their LP, Too Young to Fight It (Island).
Rock Kills Kid are another modern act unafraid to incorporate a prevalent pop element in its some times dancey-rock sound and a band that is also quite familiar with addiction. The usual suspects include alcohol, drugs, women, gambling, songwriting… songwriting? Well, perhaps that one is not as common. For Jeff Tucker, frontman of the alt-rock quintet, it was a very real habit.
Rock Kills Kid was born in the late ’90s in the Southern California punk scene and naturally, the first incarnation of frontman Tucker’s outfit conformed to that standard. The resulting product earned them a deal with punk label Fearless Records in 2000 and the release of the band’s self-titled E.P. in 2001. For almost three years, a broke Tucker lived in a rehearsal studio in L.A. — a period during which he penned Rock Kills Kid’s major label debut, Are You Nervous? (Reprise), produced by Mark Trombino (Jimmy Eat World, The Starting Line).
Though the moniker Rock Kills Kid may not yet sound familiar, there’s a high probability that you’ve heard the dance rock single “Paralyzed” as it has torn up alternative-rock radio (and in town on 96 Wave) for the past couple of months.
The “Welcome Week” concert is free and open to the general public.