“Since 1999, Wes Hollywood has been honing his sound on the streets of Chicago, perfecting a mix of new wave and power pop that combines one part of the Kinks and two parts Cheap Trick. “Fantasy Arcade” is the culmination of lessons learned through the years, resulting in one of the most solid albums of his career.
In general, the music of Wes Hollywood is bouncy and upbeat, with melodies that feel inspired by Lennon and McCartney or Todd Rundgren. Highlights include “It’s Good To See You”, “Alfie”, “New Society”, and “City Streets”. While remarkably consistent, it could be argued that a few more dynamics would help prevent each song from sounding too similar to the last. Some additional harmonies would certainly take some of these songs to the next level.
“Fantasy Arcade” is a healthy dose of bright and cheery pop rock to start your summer off on the right foot – there is more than enough here to satisfy even the most discriminating power pop fan! And for your audiophiles, the record is available in both stereo and mono versions.”
Now This Rocks
“I’m a sucker for power pop and Chicago’s Wes Hollywood delivers it in spades on his latest album, Fantasy Arcade. Think Cheap Trick, Ray Davies, Shoes, Sloan, etc. Wes, who also has recorded as tenniscourts in recent years, is so old school that he’s offering his new release in both stereo and mono versions. Either way you choose to listen, this album is strong from start to finish.”
All the Young Punks
“In 2012, it’s an open question how many listeners are looking for new music that draws upon the best of powerpop and what in 1979 we called new wave. Well, there’s one right here, and this listener is digging the new album Fantasy Arcade from Chicago-based Wes Hollywood.
“It’s Good to See You” pleasantly recalls Crashes-era Records; the bouncy, hook-filled arrangement sounds purpose-built for use in TV commercials, and that’s meant in the best possible way. Imagine Sgt. Pepper era-style songwriting with the instrumentation pared back down to the traditional guitars-bass-drums lineup with insistent piano accompaniment.
Wes Hollywood has a sound that’s clearly influenced by The Beatles circa ‘65 but not slavishly imitative. There’s a healthy late 70s/early 80s new wave vibe to many of the songs on Fantasy Arcade. Hollywood’s vocals are always out front, and the band’s overall sound is tight without being slick, uncluttered without sounding like a demo.
On “Alfie” Wes Hollywood and band strike a skinny-tie pose reminiscent of The Real Kids. With appealing and accessible hooks built upon straightforward melodies, Hollywood stakes out musical territory similar to that of Cheap Trick, but without the arena-rock mentality and approach. Subtle splashes of keyboard add texture without lessening the guitar-based impact of the songs.
Throughout Fantasy Arcade, Wes Hollywood navigates just the right balance between jangle and crunch, between assertive lead vocals and tight, upbeat harmonies, between simple guitar-based songs and subtly textured arrangements. It’s always about the song, and through out the album that focus remains laser-sharp.
On the title track, Hollywood and band lean in a glam direction, loosening the pace a bit and adorning it with splashy drums; you can easily imagine the guitarist pose for playing this one: feet spread apart, guitar slung extra-low while the power chords are hammered out.
Fantasy Arcade is eleven catchy songs that manage both to blow by quickly and still stick in the listener’s memory, begging for another spin. Actually, there are twenty-two songs, if you consider that the LP version of the album is packaged in a lovely gatefold that contains both mono and stereo records. There’s something for the moderns – a download card – and a special bonus for those who fondly remember the albums of the 1970s: a band poster with facsimile signatures! What could be cooler”
“Every time I find myself thinking about how stale popular music has become, I’m hit squarely in the jaw with definitive proof of the contrary. Earlier in the year, I was wowed by The Jellybricks’ “Suckers.” A few weeks later, Bill Lloyd’s “Boy King Of Tokyo” arrived, and now we’ve got the icing on the cake, Wes Hollywood’s masterpiece, “Fantasy Arcade.”
To give you a reference point, let me ask you to imagine that it’s 1977 and you’re a record label executive for A&M Records in New York City. A cassette lands on your desk with the words “Wes Hollywood/Fantasy Arcade” scrawled in black Sharpie on the label. The name intrigues you, so you pop it into your Pioneer tape deck. Dumbstruck by the fantastic sounds you’re hearing, you slump down in your chrome and leather office chair, hoping that someone else hasn’t already signed him.
Hollywood and his band have everything going for them; Really-don’t-care image that’s all the rage among the new English bands, vocals as passionate as Elvis Costello & Joe Strummer, and a band that’s so gifted and tight, that it could easily cover any Thin Lizzy song flawlessly. They’ve sent you a full album, that to your ears, has at least four guaranteed radio hits; “It’s Good To See You”,”The Bell”,”Lazy Yesterdays” and “Fantasy Arcade.” That isn’t to say that the other seven songs you hear are garbage, you’re certain that they will all eventually become sure-fire F.M. radio staples.
Realizing that audiophiles will eat this act up with a spoon, you make sure that the vinyl version of the record is available in both stereo and mono formats. Letting the listener choose which format they prefer is key in presenting Wes Hollywood and his band to the discriminating headphone set. Shortly after its release, “Fantasy Arcade” is topping every chart and critics’ best-of-’77 lists. They are famous, you are famous, and for a few minutes, everything about popular music is exactly as it should be.
Now, let me ask you to return to the present day. You see that your local paper’s music critic is really hyped on this guy, Wes Hollywood. When you read the review of his new album, it takes you back to all of the music and artists that really had an impact on you, changing your life forever. You read about its availability on vinyl and you remember that you’ve still got that old turntable in the basement, in a box marked “college stuff.” It’s finally time to open that box up again.”
Quick Spins/Kenosha (Wi) News
“Before you even listen to Wes Hollywood’s “Fantasy Arcade” you know you have something special in your hands. It’s a double LP, but a single album pressed both as a stereo and mono mix which alone makes it really unique. Add to that phenomenal cover and interior double gate-fold art AND a 18″ x 24″ poster and you’ve got a collectible release that stands out far from the crowd. Got a turntable? This album is a must-have, period, before you even listen to it.
When you do play the album, it becomes clear that the packaging and the music merge into a complex artistic/musical statement that’s one of the best, most unique combinations in modern music. With well over ten years of active music-making and about 20 projects under his belt, Wes Hollywood has taken the hard lessons learned on stage and in the studio and has come out with – perhaps – his signature effort. It’s retro. It’s fresh. It defies quantification by mixing up pop and new wave with British invasion and 70′s-80′s FM megawatt rock into an 11-song juggernaut.
Wes performs vocals, guitar and synthesizers with Pete Javier on guitar and vocals, Spencer Matern on bass and vocals plus Tom Shover on drums and vocals and together they have a tight, focused group unity. Though stripped down to essentials there is a fullness and rich sound to the band – it’s a unique combination of elements. Wes takes credit as the producer with Neil Strauch engineering and Brian Leach as XP and mastering by Bob Weston and the overall audio personality is just plain excellent. Both Maureen Vana and Randy Moe really deserve recognition for their photography work on the project. The art design on this album is fantastic, and that’s even more noticeable in this 72dpi download world. This is an album that takes you back to the time when people actually looked at album art while they listened to the music, and when bands put in the work to make that art something of equal integrity as the recording itself. Both the cover art, which is simply classic, and the double-spread inside shot reinvigorate the idea of the rock and roll band image.
Available as a double LP, but not (at this moment) a CD makes this release even more intriguing. The LP does come with an MP3 download code and it is available as a download from Amazon, etc. but you are really doing yourself a dis-service if you go for the download and not the LP. But, either way Wes Hollywood delivers some of the most memorable pop-rock today. The writing, performance, recording and art come together like a rare celestial alignment. We at RUST were so intrigued we asked Wes to tell us a little more about “Fantasy Arcade” and here’s what he had to say:
RUST: When did you decide to make this a double LP in both stereo and mono? Was it always conceived that way or did the idea emerge as were you in production?
WH: I’d been flirting with the idea of releasing a mono LP for quite some time. The impetus for the double album was to put the mono and stereo versions into the hands of the listener rather than assuming they’d buy both records separately.
RUST: How do you feel this album compares to your previous projects? Do you see this as a unique stand-alone moment or part of your overall artistic progression?
WH: ’Fantasy Arcade’ is my best work yet. I think it’s important to go into it with the frame of mind that you are going to top the last record you’ve made. there’s no reason to make the same record over and over again, you also don’t want to regress, so, yes it’s about artistic progression. I can listen to records I did 10 years ago and still enjoy the songs but from a songwriting standpoint I’m not in the same place I was 10 years ago or even a year ago, the longer you have your eyes and ears open the more influenced you are by your experiences.
RUST: The artwork is amazing. How important was it for you to make the packaging so distinctive?
WH: I think a great album cover speaks volumes. I’ve always been fascinated with album art by artists like Barney Bubbles, Storm Thorgerson, Aubrey Powell and Peter Saville. The concept behind the packaging was to create a design that felt classic but at the same time contemporary. I liked the idea of an image that didn’t have a specific time period attached to it but still evoked the feeling of a 60′s garage or 70′s punk record.
RUST: Is there another band or artist out there that is really impressing you right now?
WH: I’ve been holed up in the studio for the past year. It’s high time I expose myself to some new music, wouldn’t you say? Do you have any recommendations?
RUST: Zoinks, Scooby, that’s turning the tables! Makar out of New York is amazing us right now with Funeral Genius and Radiophonic’s Rocket Scientist album continues to intrigue, and – of course – the RUST 2011 album of the year, Remy LBO’s Exceptionalism.
Wes Hollywood’s “Fantasy Arcade” is an album destined for a permanent spot on best-of lists. Musically it’s a fantastic achievement of writing and execution. Graphically it sets a renewed standard for excellence in concept. It’s a rare treasure, Essential.
“Rock veteran Wes Hollywood has always had roots in late 70′s and 80′s power pop style. Mr. Hollywood has been a staple in independent music for more than a decade, first with The Wes Hollywood Show and later with solo efforts. His latest album Fantasy Arcade is an unapologetic triumph of hook infused melodic rock. The bouncy beat of “It’s Good to See You” is a great opener with its shiny, happy guitar riffs. You’ll hear touches of The Kinks, Elvis Costello, Cheap Trick and The Records in the stunner “Alfie” with a series fantastic chord changes.
The very Davies-like break-up song “Baby We’re Through” is another winner, and the chiming riffs of “City Streets” explain the lost hangouts of childhood, paved over by new developments as Wes croons “goodbye to the corner shop, the record stores and vacant lot.” Its one of my favorite songs here. Each track is meticulously crafted, like the mid-tempo ballad, “Coming Along,” a personal account of his thoughts and the title track has shades of Oasis in its echoing rhythm and blistering chords. No filler and easily one of the best power pop albums this year. It comfortably gets a top ten nomination for my 2012 list.”
“Chicago’s Wes Hollywood is back again with another kick ass power-poppin’-retro-rockin’ musical majestic of a release with ‘Fantasy Arcade’. Wes has a knack of consistently writing really great songs with hooks and harmonies galore which will have you singing along and bouncing around the room. On ‘Fantasy Arcade’ Wes has developed a sound that is has glimpses of The Kinks, The Records, Elvis Costello, and Big Star, however the new Wes Hollywood sound shines through with a more rockin’ and catchy sound than albums past. Wes Hollywood has proven to me over and over again that he can take it to the next level…. and ‘Fantasy Arcade’ captures this band at it’s best.”
“‘Fantasy Arcade’ marks the welcome return of Wes Hollywood, a Chicago singer-guitarist who first surfaced with The Wes Hollywood Show. The band’s 2003 effort, Moonraker, which I reviewed for the Illinois Entertainer, was filled with classic power pop tunes like “Instant Appeal” and “Place In The Sun.” Hollywood also played the club circuit and recorded a few CDs with the band tenniscourts.
Now working with guitarist-backing vocalist Pete Javier, bassist-backing vocalist Spencer Matern, and drummer-backing vocalist Tom Shover, Hollywood offers the 11-song Fantasy Arcade. It’s available in digital form on bandcamp but purists might prefer the limited edition double gatefold vinyl LP, containing both stereo and mono mixes. Hollywood once again draws upon some obvious influences, but he’s created a sound that’s distinctively his own.
The affable “It’s Good To See You” is similar in name and spirit to Cheap Trick’s great “So Good To See You,” and gets the album off to a fun start. On “Baby We’re Through,” Hollywood mixes a new wave approach with a touch of The Kinks as he ponders numerous reasons for leaving a relationship. “The Bell” is another break-up song, while Hollywood delves into social commentary with the defiant “New Society,” and crafts a wistful nostalgia on the title track and “City Streets.” “Lazy Yesterdays,” which calls for everyone to get off their butts and go out and accomplish something, is set to such an energetic arrangement, it’s easy to take Hollywood’s advice.”
Broken Hearted Toy