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Prior to signing with Chicago's pop-oriented label Minty Fresh (home to the sticky-sweet Cardigans and Veruca Salt), Clapp released a handful of singles, EPs, and albums on various indie labels. Minty Fresh expressed interest in Clapp quite a while ago, but it was a year before he got around to calling them back. A shifty careerist he is definitely not. He's a graphic designer by day and also helps his wife, a daycare manager, teach Sunday school for a Lutheran church near their home in Redwood City, California.

These days the Clapp family is spending less time spreading the Good Word and more on the road pimping their record, which is unabashed, unapologetic pop. If you loathe pop in all its manifestations, you will certainly dislike Square. Most of the album has a frantically jangling prehippie Sixties sound, relentlessly head-bobbing and streaked with ascending harmonic choruses. It's just varied enough in tempo and treatment to obviate the tedium that threatens.

"Get It Right" sounds like a Gene Vincent-penned soundtrack for a James Bond movie. "Slow Train," with its manic drumming, sounds like Bob Mould's short-lived band Sugar. Two instrumentals written by Winther, "Spaghetti-O Western" and "Tex," recall the kind of overorchestrated country songs that proliferated during the late Fifties.

Lyrically, Clapp's sweet side (yes, he has one) occasionally borders on the insipid. He's at his best when he's riled up and taking chances, compressing and distorting his words. From "She Is Like a Rose": "Nine days wonder/Love's the sky she's under/ Gardeners ponder/Cannot see the author/ Everybody knows/She is like a rose."

The best song on the record, "Love Coming Down," is a pop hymn that doesn't stand a chance in hell of being played on the radio. Its lyrical evocation of God's light and love is too religious for secular listeners, but its hip-swiveling chorus is too sexy for the Christians. Let's just you and me listen to it, then. It can be our dirty little secret. God knows Clapp and his Orange Peels have plenty of their own.

-- Curt Hopkins

Letters to Cleo
GO!
(Revolution)

The picture on the back of Letters to Cleo's third CD shows in the foreground vocalist Kay Hanley, all pouting lips and upraised eyes, like a precocious child whose hand is caught in a cookie jar. The picture is wonderfully appropriate: Hanley's breathy vocals convey youthful exuberance at every turn, coating the band's punchy pop tunes with silky sweetness.

The eleven songs on GO! are simply constructed: The guitars of Michael Eisenstein (who also plays keyboards) and Greg McKenna, backed by the rhythm section of Scott Riebling on bass and Tom Polce on drums, create driving, kinetic, three- or four-chord foundations from which Hanley's vocals take flight. "I Got Time" kicks things off with bouncy insistence, surging toward a tasty drum roll in the bridge. The cheery energy of "Veda Very Shining" conjures up the spirit of the Go-Go's, while the swaying "Co-Pilot" recalls the best efforts of the Turtles or the Hollies. Hanley's crystalline delivery and pert enunciation accentuate the latter song's upbeat, joyous chorus. When she implores, "Be my co-pilot/Come be in my dream/You look so beautiful," she becomes every teenage girl who ever gazed longingly at a picture of her first love.

The CD's best song is its quietest and saddest. "Alouette & Me," centered on an acoustic guitar and lounge-style keyboards, finds Hanley rationalizing and reconciling a broken heart, proclaiming resilience but betraying a palpable sense of anger and loss.

Hanley drives GO!'s surging, relentless pop with a power derived not from fury or angst but from tenderness. Though she may sing with the defiance and vengefulness of a jilted lover, what comes through in her voice is a deep and lasting vulnerability.

-- Larry Getlen

Beat Angels
Red Badge of Discourage
(Epiphany)

Approximately fifteen years ago -- who can recall the exact moment and what dif does it make anyway? -- there occurred a remarkable little blip in time when New Wave and punk segued into hair-band heaven, a transformation captured most distinctively on Hanoi Rocks' whirligigging 1984 record Back to Mystery City: all hepped-up melodies, buzzing guitar hooks, punchy beats, bratty-boy vocals, and unregenerate lyrics that celebrated trashy chicks and the rockingness of the music itself while dishing those dweebs who just didn't get it.

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Larry Getlen
Rafer Guzman
Curt Hopkins
Neal Weiss
Michael Yockel

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