Share JUST ENJOY IT - The Insomniacs (Screaming Apple/Blood Red)
Think of powerpop this way and you can't go wrong: It's not that the genre is out of step with the rest of music - the reality is that much of what gets sold to the masses as radio pap and dross is driving down the wrong side of the street. Let's hope it crashes. The best powerpop bands have found a parallel universe, booked out all the rooms at the inn and now subsist on an extended holiday lease. New Jersey trio The Insomniacs occupy one of the superior grade rooms.

Never heard of 'em? Well, in March 2011 there was a dream bill at Maxwell's, that tiny bastion of great music in the stone's-throw-from-Manhattan borough of New York City of Hoboken. DM3 topped it, The Chevelles were one of the openers and The Insomniacs played the main support slot. (I remember, not because I was there, but because the band helpfully slipped me a copy of the poster. Hey, thanks guys!) So that's the sort of company The Insomniacs keep.

You should have heard of this band. The firm has been in business since 1989 and revolves around brothers David Wojciechowski (bass) and Robert Wojciechowski (guitar.) This is studio album number five and the quality has never flagged. You could call it mod-pop, jangly-rock or anything in-between. The Insomniacs wouldn't lose any sleep (ouch.)

It's British invasion-derived pop, so deeply rooted in the '60s that you couldn't convince it JFK has shuffled off this mortal coil. Put in a coin. Push a button and pick a song. There's something here to please just about anyone, from crunchy glam pop ("Amelia") to bouncy beat pop ("Yeah Yeah Yeah", "Mind Eraser") and punch garage rock ("She Brings".) It's purposeful and never dull and certainly not too shiny. "Hang In the Air" is the light relief, a Kinks-styled ballad with the slightest bubblegum-psych undertones. This is the rustic charmer of a tune that turns a garage into a bachelor pad.

There's the odd flat spot (to these fried ears, the band is cajoling the beat in "Party Mouth" rather than getting behind it and driving) but there's really nothing here to spoil the friendship. Songs like "Amelia" should seal it. No Wonder Little Steven took to her.

It came in the mail in the form of a thick, black slice of vinyl - on German label Screaming Apple, which usually has impeccable taste in bands. Cramming 14 songs onto the 12" format is sonically optimistic but it still sounds warm and loud. There's o a CD option on Blood Red for the digitally-disposed. - The Barman


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SWITCHED ON! - The Insomniacs (Estrus)
Back on the cusp of the 80's, The Insomniacs would have fit snugly right alongside Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, The Records, Squeeze, The Romantics, and Paul Collins' Beat, standing tall, singing into the light, and flying the power pop banner high and proud. Of course that was an era when owning the first three Cheap Trick albums, rare Raspberries singles, and old Todd Rundgren LP's was a badge of honor rather than an albatross. God, how I hate living in the past...

Unfortunately, the music biz over the past quarter century hasn't been particularly kind to the genre, either shoving it off into a dark corner or offering up an endless parade of pale imitators, pretenders more concerned with a jet-set, tax-exile, show-business lifestyle than actually writing a great song. For all I know, this New Jersey trio may hold all of that dear as well, but they sure as hell can string verses, choruses, and hooks together - like a spider spinning a web - something they've been doing for various indie labels (but mostly Estrus) since 1991.

Damn shame - OK, a crime! - you have to dig so deep to find music like this, straightforward, driving anthems overflowing with jagged shards of flickering, chiming guitar, punchy drums and, like all great pop with a pedigree, lyrics primarily focusing on what's inside a girl.

Call me a "romantic" (or "idiot" - I've come to realize they're interchangeable), but with "Switched On!," The Insomniacs have captured lightning in a jar, summoning forth wave after wave of beautiful noise. The janglefest which is "Alice White" is sharp and spunky, reaching for the sky and making you want to dance until the cops close down the rent party. The title track is awash in choppy, exuberant guitar chords and tickles the frontal lobe with its genuine charm and gusto.

What's especially refreshing about this album is that David, Robert, and Michael (no last names - just David, Robert, and Michael) aren't afraid to throw anything at the wall to see what sticks. From the snaky sitar in "Leave" to the sacadilic fuzz pedal abuse on "Maryanne Lightly," these guys will try anything once and through either pure, dumb luck or an innate gift for knowing what works and what doesn't (I'm inclined to lean toward the latter), it all comes together like an drawn straight flush.

Although a few tracks ("It's Gone" and "Tomorrow") veer a wee bit too close to Beatles territory for these Fab Four-hating ears, it's nearly impossible to find fault with these three avatars of sunnyside-up, handclap-beating, well-ordered sounds. Answers the question "Whatever happened to fun?"
- Clark Paull




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