Agony Aunts Deliver Great Power Pop on “Big Cinnamon”

14 Aug

What or who are the Agony Aunts?
From their promotional photo, the four-member band looks suspiciously like The Corner Laughers, a fun, highly creative indie pop group from the San Francisco Peninsula. And indeed, this suspicion is confirmed in the credits of the Aunts’ most recent release, Big Cinnamon. There’s singer-songwriter, Karla Kane, as Heirloom Kate; lead guitarist KC Bowman as Kaiser Buttonwillow; bass player Khoi Huynh as Gil Sans-Herron; and drummer Charlie Crabtree as Johnny the Space Commander.
Where did they get these names? I’m sure that’s a story unto itself!
But lest you think that Big Cinnamon is simply another release from The Corner Laughers, that’s not the case at all. The clever lyrics are still there. So are the creative arrangements, polished productions and always great harmonies. But the Agony Aunts have their own sound. This 12-song set consists largely of guitar-driven power pop — with some “jingle-jangle, bubblegrunge and twee prog” thrown in, according to the Aunts’ Facebook page.
The reason for the band members’ alternative personas is that Agony Aunts seem to be from another time entirely, such as the 1960s or 1970s. Time-traveling musicians! How perfect is that for the Time Traveler program on KZSU?!
The Agony Aunts are helped on Big Cinnamon by Allen Clapp and friends from the Mystery Lawn record label. In addition, standout artists with Northern California ties also collaborate, such as Oakland’s Bradley Skaught of the Bye Bye Blackbirds and talented multi-instrumentalist Anton Barbeau, who splits his time between Sacramento and Berlin.
Big Cinnamon opens with “Twenty-Four Mergansers,” melodic power pop with lead vocals by Kane — excuse me, Heirloom Kate — set to a march-like rhythm. The guitar solo in the lead break is reminiscent of some of the best power pop songs from the 1970s. “Back to Back Bill” is another track with sweet lead vocals by Kane — creating bright happy pop with an old-time barrelhouse piano and hand-clapping throughout.
But while The Corner Laughers tend to feature Kane’s extraordinary voice on almost all of their songs, there are a lot more male lead vocals on Big Cinnamon.
“Uranium My Love” is a power pop standard with dueling guitars and great male harmonies on the lead vocals that could have traveled from the 1970s. Just try to find another love song about Uranium that rhymes “isotope” with “microscope.”
“You’re So Vague” has glistening synths, strings and piano, and the lyrics are even funnier if you know that the title is a takeoff on Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” from 1972. “Laughing at the World” is a nice little chamber pop number with male lead vocals and once again, a really well-done guitar solo in the lead break. There’s also a slick reference to “poppy seeds,” which happens to be the title of The Corner Laughers’ most recent album.
Big Cinnamon ends its “Magical Mystery Tour” with a really fun, Beatles-tinged throwback number. The tune has a Ringo-like, folk-rock sound from the mid-1960s and references by name to John, Paul, George, and Ringo — as well as well as Brian Eno. Great stuff!
If you like smart pop with bursts of virtuoso guitar work that will really grow on you over time, you need to check out Agony Aunts’ Big Cinnamon.
Photo of band by Andrew Widdowson, APW Photography.
Agony Aunts Big Cinnamon

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