John's debut CD release! Features 20 pop rock gems, including the great "Hens Gone Wrong", the power rock of "Ejecti Nova Speed", the beautiful soaring closer "So Very" and much more!
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Hidden Treasures 10 Great Albums Of The Year
Shough has recorded most of the Guided by Voices-related material over the past five years, and it's influenced his solo work. These 20 tracks explore the same classic pop/rock terrain as GBV (Shough's vocals, in particular, resemble Tobin Sprout's), though they veer off into more spacey, atmospheric directions, proving Shough is not only his own man, but also a first rate songwriter. - Eric Miller
Best Music of the Year Top Ten
John Shough is the heart of Dayton rock. From the Breeders to Guided By Voices to The Mulchmen, producer/engineer Shough has been involved with all of them in one capacity or another. Now he adds the title of solo artist to his hyphenate, and Ultra Vega, his debut album, is a gem. Crammed with 20 songs, all three minutes or less, Shough is a model student of GbV's oddball pop, giving songs titles like "Hens Gone Wrong". Other influences range from The Pixies ("Ejecti Nova Speed") to Todd Rundgren ("Sleeping Dogs"), with everything coming together on the fantastic closer "So Very", a sublime piece of pop that could easily pass for a lost George Harrison song. Shough wasn't blessed with the strongest voice in the world, but he can harmonize with the best of them. He has an uncanny knack for melody, and that, combined with his left-field arrangements, make "Ultra Vega" a very enjoyable album that reveals more layers with each playing. For a guy who's spent his entire career up to this point on the other side of the mixing board, Shough makes a hell of a splash on his debut, which shows smarts, versatility, immeasurable skill and untold promise. And word has it he already has three more albums worth of material in the can. Stay tuned. - David Medsker
THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH
By all accounts John Shough is a local hero in Dayton having worked as a producer/Engineer at the Cro-Magnon studios and produced albums by a huge number of local bands including Guided By Voices and The Breeders. Meanwhile, for a number of years he has quietly worked after hours and put together a colossal number of his own songs. Mainly working solo and playing
all the instruments himself but occasionally teaming up with musical buddies, the result is that twenty of those songs have been brought together to create "Ultra Vega".
I guess the brilliance of all of this is how Shough takes the sum of his influences and lets them play out across the songs. There are plenty of sixties psychedelic sounds mixed into the groove and late Beatles loom large sonically and melody wise. Bands like Big Star and Cheap Trick come to mind as the album progresses but John Shough is still his own man so there's
enough originality to make this a fresh experience. There's no way that this is one of those "heard it all before" albums but instead, it's a feast of indie attitude songs.
Hard to pick favorites but I'm going to try. "Hens Gone Wrong" is a lyrically and musical quirky acoustic driven track which reminded me a little of something that They Might Be Giants might do whilst "Gone Fishing" shines with a retro-pop sensibility. "So Very" glides along with an unforgettable melody and classic descending chord pattern which has driven a hundred classic pop rock songs.
It's like he sucked into his soul a thousand incredible classic rock and pop songs and by osmosis they have become a part of his creative being. Echoes of Lennon and the ghost of late British music that so influenced nineties Britpop float around in the background as Shough lets loose with his lo-fi pop and rock. It's not an album that will knock you over with its pulsating energy or shiny production but instead slowly and deliberately these eclectic songs slip into your consciousness and win the argument. Apparantly there are plenty more songs where these come from and other releases planned in the future and I can't wait. - Mike Rimmer
John Shough is a producer and engineer at Cro-Magnon Studios, where he's recorded Guided By Voices, the Breeders, Tobin Sprout and a horde of other local bands. He's pitched in with instrumental help on many a Guided By Voices release (usually under the pseudonym "Johnny Strange") and his musical style, which embraces '70s power pop and British psychedelic influences, might as well be on loan from GBV honcho Robert Pollard. But the familiarity of "Ultra Vega's" sound doesn't mar its impact -- Shough has all the pop smarts and good ideas
necessary to make his songs stick.
"Purged" opens the album with a rush of heavy guitars and Shough intoning the line, "Heaven throws a rope and it's six strings long," in a New Wave monotone. The dispassionate vocals contrast nicely with the evangelical fervor of the lyrics, and the contrast itself says a lot
about Shough -- he's a regular guy with a day job whose enthusiasm for and love of music makes up for his lack of rock star swagger. He's closer in attitude to Sprout, the unassuming songwriter responsible for some of the prettiest moments on old-school GBV records, than he is to bombastic extrovert Pollard. Songs like the breezy, tuneful "Out To Sea" and "Icy" don't demand attention at first listen, but their gossamer quality belies their sturdy craftsmanship and sneakily memorable hooks.
Shough culled "Ultra Vega" from a pool of over a hundred songs -- the products of an especially prolific phase -- recorded after-hours at Cro-Magnon. Some of the album sounds tossed-off (like the McCartney-by-numbers of "Fool On A Rope" and the plodding "Holding Pen"), but the balance of the twenty tracks evince real thought and effort. The inspired "Gone Fishing" has a soaring chorus worthy of the Go-Betweens. Album closer "So Very" manages the trick of being rocking and wistful at the same time. "Hens Gone Wrong" sounds an awful lot like Bee Thousand-era GBV, but it's incredibly catchy nonetheless. The synthesized orchestral touches and far-off acoustic guitars of "How Square Am I" make the song a lovely late-album highlight.
It's easy to influence spot while listening to "Ultra Vega", but it's just as easy to shut down all critical faculties and enjoy the album as the well-wrought labor of pop music love that it is. - Scott Jacobson
Whether you recognize the name or not, listening to John Shough's 20-song debut release, it doesn't take long to figure out the connection to Dayton, Ohio lo-fi legends Guided By Voices. A long-time producer/engineer for GBV and countless other Dayton area bands, Shough's Cro-Magnon studios has made a sweeping impact on American music through the numerous GBV records alone. Quickly into his debut effort, it becomes obvious that he has the same kind of skill for writing and recording his own music as he does one of the genre's all-time favorites. Sure, it's a similar '60s lo-fi pop vibe that has earned the aforementioned group plenty of free beer over the years and the influence is easily recognizable, but that shouldn't take away from the fact that his songs are just darn catchy.
"Out to Sea", one of the collection's longer players at just under three minutes is a magnificent blend of reverbed vocals layered over a happy-go-lucky rock beat carried by an equally friendly keyboard. "Ejecti Nova Speed," follows closely behind, a full throttle head shaking rocker that still maintains that happy tripped out vibe so prevalent throughout the album.
Not without its quirks, the album possesses a light-hearted quality that just continues to grow with each listen. Shough the songwriter is quirky and fun, his vocal style ranging from the high-pitched falsetto to the darker mellowed out whisper. The songs meanwhile escape redundancy and manage to fit perfectly into a diverse package that despite showing off a variety of unmistakable influences, never cross the line into the land of horribly mediocre and derrivative. On the contrary, songs like "Truly in Pieces" end too short at just over two minutes, yet just as you start to complain about the song being so short, another tune like "Take Me Back Home" comes in with an equally as exquisite charm. And what's even better is how he saves the best for last.
From the magnificently dreamy "How Square Am I," where Shough so elegantly restrains an aggressive outburst to the end, he promptly goes into the lofty "So Very." A marvelous tune that could stand alone as Exhibit A in a trial to determine Shough's quality as both a multi-instrumentalist, song-writer and engineer, it is the type of song that demands the listener to hit play and start all over again. - Matthew Ralph
Shough, a recording engineer at Dayton's Cro-Magnon Studios, has worked with some of the best bands to come out of the Dayton area (Guided By Voices, The Breeders, The Oxymorons), and that influence is somewhat evident on this, his debut release. Or maybe it's just that he has a similar record collection. Regardless, "Ultra Vega" (also the name of his band) is a marvel of melodic mastery.
Like GBV's Robert Pollard, Shough has an uncanny ability to take from the classics (Beatles, Cheap Trick, Big Star) and make them his own. Each song on "Ultra Vega" has its own identity, and none of them are duds, which says a lot given that there's 20 tracks on the disc. But even as each track is unique, with varying instrumentation teamed with an acoustic base, there is a charming cohesiveness to Shough's work that will keep the listener coming back. On "Ultra Vega", melody is the star, and it rarely shines this bright. Ohio Pop fans listen up: This is a must-have. CityBeat grade: A - Mike Breen
I've got to hand it to Dayton, Ohio's tiny Big Beef Records. They keep sending me stuff, and even though the label's roster is comprised of bands in different genres, it's always good. This outing features John Shough, who is to Dayton's scene what, say, Rob McGregor is to Gainesville, Florida's. Meaning that he's too little known outside his town, plays most of the instruments on his releases, and has served as producer or engineer on a lot of the records other, more well-known local artists put out (in Shough's case, including the Breeders and Guided By Voices).
Shough's stuff is indie pop, but not overproduced despite his production background. With pianos, electric pianos, accordions, acoustic guitars, slide guitar, and Hammond B-3s, this isn't gonna rock anyone's socks off, but man, is it good. You can hear little bits of acts like Robyn Hitchcock, XTC, the dB's, and Matthew Sweet in this, if that helps give you a reference. While Shough hasn't the strongest voice in the world, the material and arrangements here are simply wonderful. Buy buy buy! - Brian Kruger
Shough's music is squarely in the vein of modern power pop rock bands with sixties mod influences, complete with exceptional melodies and vocal harmonies that pack an energetic punch. The CD is stacked high with 20 strong tracks that should leave you repeatedly satisfied. - Bryan Baker
Mr. Shough should be familiar to fans of Dayton bands, many of whom have recorded with him at his Cro-Magnon Studios. Shough has also played on quite a few Guided By Voices records, in fact, and his music is partially influenced by that. His excellent McCartney-esque melodies and shimmering guitar work propel most of these songs into the pop stratosphere.
It goes without saying that all of these songs (and there are tons of them) are exquisitely produced, with Shough playing nearly every instrument but drums. You can feel his accrued experience wrapping around our brain as you listen to catchy titles like "Laser Days" and "Ejecti Nova Speed." Although the arrangements here are mostly guitar/bass/drums, the layering and mixing implies a pop orchestra, especially with the keyboard & piano flourishes (bringing to mind The Flaming Lips) and various space effects (is that a theremin?). An excellent batch of songs from one of the most under-appreciated Daytonians. - John Wenzel
The first of hopefully many solo projects from Guided By Voices engineer/producer Shough. The similarity to the GBV axis surprised me, but I can certainly handle more music in that vein. Interestingly the music here is much closer to Sprout than Pollard. DIY indie rock rooted in the 60's somewhere between American folk rock and British psychadelia. John writes consistently good tunes and the production is understated but effective. - Mel C.
John Shough is somewhat of legend in Dayton, Ohio. His reputation as being one of the most recognized producers is common knowledge in the music business. Well, it is in Dayton anyway. Big Beef Records takes its time in selecting the right artists to represent their label. Since the label doesn't release a lot of music during the course of a year, it has to be just right. This release continues to uphold that belief. "Ultra Vega" is a collection of twenty pop-rock-alternative nuggets that will remind you of some the great groups of the sixties. I could hear similarities with John Lennon's voice on many occasions during the run of this extra long disc. Shough is a talent to be reckoned with.
This is power pop that packs punch. With a touch of cynicism and the oddities of life mixed in for good measure, this CD is a great package of music just waiting to be opened. This guy is more than ready to take on the world. - Keith Hanneleck
Read More About John Shough and "Ultra Vega"
Read The Exclusive John Shough Interview/Article In Dayton's "Impact Weekly"