Perfect Crimes

Ransom And The Subset

Tunestack Records / Futureman Records, 2023

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


More than just about any other genre of popular music I can think of, power pop embraces and sticks closely to a distinctive sonic and emotional palette. You know it when you hear it: tight three-minute songs featuring muscular guitar riffs, pumping backbeats, thoughtful vocal arrangements, and at least a hint of deeper concerns than you’d expect to find in your average pop song. Filling out the list are optional add-ons like handclaps, brief, punchy guitar and synth solos, and wordless vocal hooks.

Power-pop savants Ransom And The Subset manifest most the above elements before you’re halfway through this album’s kickoff track “Perfect Crime.” These are artisans of the genre who understand their craft on an instinctual level and revel in executing it well. They even drop a familiar vocal hook—“bop-bah,” most memorably used for ironic effect in Death Cab For Cutie’s “The Sound Of Settling”—before emptying their compositional toolbox with hesitations, breakdowns, Hammond organ for melodic color, and a tight guitar solo. It’s like the syllabus for Power Pop 101 converted into a song.

Ransom is a musical collective bringing the musical creations of songwriter RanDair S. Porter to life, as first heard on 2014’s No Time To Lose. The group’s sophomore outing again features Porter on lead vocals, guitar, keys, and production, this time joined by Lance Fried on guitars, keys, background vocals and production, and Michael Musberger on drums. Guitarist Brian King carries over from the group’s debut on three tracks here, as does original drummer Ducky Carlisle on one. This core crew is then aided and abetted by a laundry list of guests including the likes of Graham Maby (Joe Jackson), Robert Sledge (Ben Folds Five), Jim Babjak (The Smithereens), Jay Graydon (Steely Dan) and Ron Flynt (20/20). my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The thing about power pop is, there’s no escaping the influences that inevitably crop up in your songs, so you might as well embrace them. The rhythmic push and pull at the center of second track “Sara Kandi” immediately reminds of Barenaked Ladies, an impression only furthered by the chunky guitar and shiny synths. “Left Her At The Shinkansen” adds a hint of country thanks to BJ Cole’s pedal steel and something in the cadence of the lyric, a genre-bending trick that Fountains Of Wayne pulled off nicely more than once.

Another core element of power pop is featured in “Meet You Again”: an active dialogue between lead and background vocals, in this case featuring guest background vocalists Brady Seals (cousin of Jim) and Lua Crofts (daughter of Dash), a.k.a. Seals & Crofts 2. Things drop off a bit for a moment in the middle of the album as “Bring Him Home” and “One Last Thing (Leaving)” don’t make a big impression, though the latter’s lyrical kicker does land.

Then “Don’t Remember What Was Her Name” comes roaring back in, leading with an assertive riff from guest guitarist Eric Ambel (Steve Earle, the Del-Lords) while manifesting a strong Fountains Of Wayne influence in the complex vocal arrangement and build-it-up-and-break-it-down architecture of the song. “Should Have Said Nothing At All” keeps the energy high as Porter sings “You’ve got something to do—doot-do-do-do”; he’s working the lyric while also giving a smiling nod to the conventions of the genre. The combination of beefy guitars and drums and a tasty-sweet vocal arrangement laid down here smacks of Adam Schlesinger, and that, for any fan of power pop, is a compliment indeed.

“Time In A Tunnel” adopts a slightly darker tone until the chorus brightens it up, a contrast that reminds of similar yin-yang creations from Fastball. Closer “Fast Car” is the one cover here, featuring co-composer Ron Flynt of late ’70s cult power pop faves 20/20 guesting on vocals. Unsurprisingly given its origins, the combination of supple melodies and driving rhythms gives the song a new wave edge that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Dave Edmunds album.

The thing about adopting a sound as distinctive and well-known as power pop is you can’t half-ass it; either you go all in or it’s probably going to sound like a pale imitation of something better. Ransom And The Subset are all in and it shows in the results here: another album overflowing with punchy riffs, clever vocal hooks, and an undying passion for the unique joys of power pop.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2023 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Tunestack Records / Futureman Records, and is used for informational purposes only.