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Singer Allyson Seconds Revitalizes Power-Pop On 'Little World'


This is FRESH AIR. Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review of "Little World," the second album by the California-based singer Allyson Seconds. Ken says its pop songs recall an earlier era of California rock music.


ALLYSON SECONDS: (Singing) I want to know why the sun don't shine and why the snow fall in summertime. Rational thought...

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: In Allyson Seconds' singing, even when she says the sun isn't shining, you nevertheless feel the warmth of the California sun. Her earnest phrasing bespeaks the sort of bright optimism that has characterized West Coast pop at least as far back as the early Beach Boys. The music she makes with her collaborator Anton Barbeau frequently whips up a psychedelic swirl that summons up images of trippy afternoons spent lying in the grass of a park or wiggling toes in the sand by the sea.


SECONDS: (Singing) The apples are falling all over the ground. The angels are coming to wheel me around. It's wonderful when they appear. It's warm inside when they are near. And everything becomes too clear, like mercury in every tear...

TUCKER: Allison Seconds' music connects to a certain tradition, specifically 1970s pop rock or power pop as heard in San Francisco and Los Angeles-based groups, including The Knack, Tommy Tutone, The Plimsouls, Walter Egan and 20/20. This music was characterized by sharp little guitar hooks and catchy choruses. The songs on Seconds' album "Little World" were written and produced by Anton Barbeau, who has a talent for power pop replication. It comes to its full fruition on the title song. Seconds and Barbeau know how good it is. They use "Little World" to lead off the album.


SECONDS: (Singing) I'll break down my garden gate for you, little world. Open up my wide-eyed gaze to you, little world. I'm going to run to the river, run with dirty legs. I'm going to ride to the ocean on a turtle egg.

TUCKER: Barbeau has a tendency to drift off into whimsy and treacle in the lyrics. Sipping tea through bendy straws, loving life with all its flaws goes a couplet in the song "Octagon." It's Seconds' voice that grounds the music, keeps it from floating away at various key moments. And I should probably say Seconds' voices plural. She sings with herself on this album. The vocals are layers of her own harmonies. She sounds like a one-woman version of The Bangles on "Octagon."


SECONDS: (Singing) Sipping tea through bendy straws, loving life with all its flaws, being happy just for the sake of it. Kiss a pretty marigold, don't get caught or you'll be told not to hang around the nurse regarding gates again. I don't know you, oh, no. I don't hate you, oh, no, octagon.

TUCKER: I tried to find out a bit more about Seconds beyond the fact that this is her second collaboration with Barbeau, the first being the 2009 album "Bag Of Kittens." Seconds is based in Sacramento. Her husband is Kevin Seconds from the hardcore punk band 7 Seconds, music as far from Allyson's as can be imagined. The internet also kept taking me to classes she teaches in powerlifting and weight training, heavy stuff that finds an airy contrast in Seconds' feather-light music.


SECONDS: (Singing) Dust beneath my wings, the pilot on autopilot sings the intercom on, the passengers too stoned to notice. Love is everywhere, he sings to the navigator's air (ph), he sings to the cumulous laid out for miles before him. But love, it's the reason we are here, whisper love in every ear. Open up your cosmic jar. I tried to tell you...

TUCKER: A couple of nicely appropriate cameo appearances on "Little World," Nick Saloman of the British artsy pop band Bevis Frond plays guitar on "Sun Don't Shine." And Kimberley Rew, who was part of a fine American pop rock band Katrina and the Waves - remember "I'm Walking On Sunshine?" - plays a guitar solo on "Eye Kinda." But ultimately, it's Seconds and Barbeau who have revitalized power pop on "Little World" by creating an alternate universe of the sunniest sounds.

BIANCULLI: Ken Tucker is critic-at-large for Yahoo TV. He reviewed the album "Little World" by Allyson Seconds. Coming up, David Edelstein reviews "La La Land," the new movie musical by the director of "Whiplash." This is FRESH AIR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.

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