Album Review – There Is No Light Without The Dark (2021) (Big Stir Records)
During 2019 and the early part of 2020 I felt myself becoming a tad jaded with the power-pop scene. It just felt either so very middle-aged, Teenage Fanclub wannabee-esque or the very middled aged trying to do Teenage Fanclub. There was still some glorious stuff, but it just sounded so uniform.
One power-pop label, who always manage to find that act with a little bit of a difference is Burbank, California’s, Big Stir Records label, whose name you will have found not so liberally sprinkled all over the current ‘best of’ 2020 lists that the better Power-pop blog have proffered of late.
The Stan Laurels, the recording name used for the solo project of multi-instrumentalist John Lathrop is just one of those acts that always has the temerity to be a tad different within power-pop circles and consequently has already released a There Is No Light Without Dark album that will undoubtedly grace the best of lists of 2021, if it gets past the middle-aged blog masters memory test (as a card carrying middled-aged man of many years, I have set a reminder in both my Outlook and my phone…or at least I got one of my kids too) !!!
It’s all very ‘grizzled’. My Nan regularly offered such a word which was ‘Norfolk’ (for those who do not know, Norfolk is county within the right hand armpit of England, renowned for a folk that talk incredibly funny talk with an instantly recognizable regional dialect/accent) for someone who had managed to get through more than a usual amount of life’s travails and still see the other side relatively unscathed and without complaint. It is meant as a term of admiration in those parts. It’s a sign of strength.
This release and indeed all of Lathrop’s work, has that ‘grizzled’ feel especially in tracks such as On Paper, Mo Collins and This Is Your Life. These are all muscular power-pop that slide completely off the end of Fanclub sweet and into the muscular ‘real man’ territory that the modern world so publicly prevents us from celebrating on social media, whilst privately ensuring that all their leaders still have such characteristics (even the women!) in the voting booth. It’s a sound that is the final point of power-pop and one that stays just the right side of the garage rock start-line.
That’s not to say that ‘muscular grizzled’ cannot be incredibly pretty though. It just needs to be a subtle enough infusion, in order not to sully the sound with unnecessary musical perfume and fluffy.
This balance is perfectly realized in Tomorrow, Of Love, Wine and Song and Red-Handed Puppet as beautifully melodic, jangled riffs cavort with all the omnipotent gruff. It is also present in the laconic tempo changes of November and Mateo’s Song, which are the most ‘release atypical’, with their 70s style pop rock perfection, swapping the silly piano prominence for guitars.
Big Stir Records have started 2021 with a first album that bangs so hard it will be hard to eclipse. I for one will definitely enjoy watching/listening to them try though!