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The Flashing Lights / The John Doe Thing / The Minders | Where The Change Is / Freedom Is... / Down In Fall (All Spinart Records)
The latest releases from New York's Spinart Records, currently home to The Apples In Stereo, all follow to varying degrees a pop template. Toronto based band, The Flashing Lights, sound a lot like Canada's best power pop exponents, Sloan. When you learn that lead singer Matt Murphy was once front man of The Super Friendz who recorded for Sloan's Murder Records label this should not come as a major surprise. Clearly sharing similar influences as Sloan, their lively fusion of pop and rock styles could see them emulating their increasing success. They're not quite the finished article yet, lacking the diversity and hooks of Sloan's material, but The Flashing Lights certainly display enough promise to make their next step, one worth waiting for. The John Doe Thing meanwhile, may trigger certain memories amongst older readers. John Doe, from whom, surprise, surprise, the band take their name, was a member of esteemed Los Angeles punks, X, who recorded several excellent albums in the late 70s and early 80s. He was also a member, along with X vocalist Exene Cervenka, of the part-time alt-country pioneers The Knitters, so lauded that even though they only ever recorded one LP, they received the accolade of a tribute album in 1999, Poor Little Critter On the Road, which featured the likes of Whiskeytown, The Handsome Family and Robbie Fulks. Freedom Is..., the band's third album, is more roots-rock than pop but whilst accessible and quite entertaining, suffers from its overtly slick production courtesy of Dave Way, who has in contrast worked with the likes of Macy Gray and Christine Aguilera! Don't be too put off by that though as John Doe's not completely forgotten his past and on the likes of Ever After, with powerful vocal backing from the aforementioned Exene Cervenka, X's best moments are quickly recalled. I concur with Doe's observation that there are Too Many Goddamn Bands, but conversely I can't get enough of 'em and whilst Freedom Is...actually isn't an essential album, it is good to see John Doe back, and displaying, at least in part some of the fervour of his earlier years. And finally to The Minders, whose Down In Fall EP comprises just five tracks - seven if you're computer compatible. Now based in Portland, having recently relocated after several years in Denver, the band have undergone a major personnel upheaval during the transition, but are still very much focussed around the talents of British expatriate, Martin Leaper. Unquestionably indebted to some of the quintessentially British bands of the 60s such as The Kinks and early Who, the changes within the band have certainly not quashed their creative flair. Enhancing their sound here, using flute, piano and harpsichord, with the exception of the rather pretentious and dull Time Machines, Down In Fall offers an intriguing sketch of the potentially more revealing album which should follow later this year.

Geraint Jones
CWAS #7 - Spring 2001