2017’s Exposure and Response heralded the arrival of Portland’s Mo Troper. All the punker, outsider ferocity of his previous recordings found themselves melded into shiny perfect poprock here, albeit still coated with a heavy of dose of hipster alienation, particularly on the vocals. As we await a follow up, Mo decided to throw this at us: “Never Dream of Dying,” a pretty stellar, spot-on rogue James Bond theme. Things start out so Bond circa 1970s with full on orchestrated tension before dissolving into a deceptive ballad (you can just see the silhouetted girls with guns float by). But wait, he’s not done, Troper’s got a Macca-worthy Bond bridge and an orchestral big finish! “Never Dream of Dying” is a delightful bit of fun from a guy who has the pop culture chops down.
Check out all of Mo Troper’s fine recordings at his bandcamp page here.
I’m not really an album guy. Particularly now in our ‘download-any-song-you-want-era’. I grew up on compilation albums and AM radio. It was all singles, singles singles: a new sound every three minutes. A whole album is just a vinyl horizon for my needle dropping. But I have to say this year I got hooked on more than a few long players. What grabbed me? I could say it was the songwriting, a coherent sonic palette, the performative ingenuity, etc. But hey, who am I kidding? It was mostly the hooks. Fair warning: there is considerable overlap of artists here with my should-be hit singles list (duh) but not entirely. Bottom line: you won’t go wrong putting your cash down on these LPs in toto.
So, here are Poprock Record’s 20 must-have LPs for 2018:
Best ‘best of’ compilation: KC BowmanImportant with a Capital I; Best covers album: Tommy and RocketsI Wanna Be Covered; Special merit award: Super 8T-T-Technicolour Melodies, Turn Around Or …, HI LO
Edging out Daisy House’s fantastic Bon Voyage by a hair, my number one album for 2018 is Aaron Lee Tasjan’s Karma for Cheap. The more I listened to this record, the more I loved the songs and the performances. There is something extraordinary in just how Tasjan combines his elements. He’s got rumbly guitar, he’s got jangly guitar. His vocals run the gamut from Tom Petty-solid to Roy Orbison-aching tenderness. There’s not a weak cut here, but pay special attention to subtle hooky vocal interplay on “Heart Slows Down,” or the driving guitar hook behind “End of the Day,” or the touching “Dream Dreamer.” You won’t steer wrong with his back catalogue either, particularly 2016’s Silver Tears! There is so much I could say about all 20 albums but frankly the music speaks for itself. Click the links to go directly to the band’s bandcamp, Facebook or webpages.
One final word: I had to single out Super 8’s stupendous triple album accomplishment this year for special attention. After a two-decade career in rock and roll that can only be described as cinematic in its litany of seeming breakthroughs, bad luck, record company shenanigans and some bandmate’s bad faith, these albums are a vindication of his resolve to stick with music. Each record is finely crafted portrait of late 1960s summertime sunshine poprock. Your time machine back to 1968 is ready for boarding! Just hit play.
Let’s make 2019 another great year for poprock – buy these albums, get out to some concerts, and tell your friends about these great finds.
2018 was a freakin’ fantastic year for poprock! How do I know? Every year-end I put together a playlist of tunes released that year. In 2016 it consisted of 58 songs clocking in at just over 3 hours. By 2017 that list expanded to 98 songs running over 5 hours. This year the list exploded to 175 songs going on for over 9 hours! My list of should-be hit singles had to expand to a top 50 just to accommodate all this talent. Hit the links below to find each artist as featured in my original blog post this past year or to go to their bandcamp or Facebook page if I didn’t write them up.
So, without further ado, here is Poprock Record’s should-be hit singles for 2018:
For the second year running Daisy House tops my list of should-be hit singles. I have simply run out of superlatives to describe the musical genius of this band. Great songwriting, a killer 1960s vibe, flawless production and performance – it just doesn’t get any better than this. Do yourself a favour and head over to Bandcamp to download their whole catalogue. Oberon Rose came a close second with what must be one of the coolest singles rolled out this year. Ruler ruled my playlist for a good part of 2018, with “Unhindered Place” just one of the great songs on his album. I love the way William Duke’s guitar sounds like a jangle waterfall on his hooky masterpiece “Carole and Silver Screen.” And Aaron Lee Tasjan is a real find – so many possible selections – but more on that with my upcoming ‘20 must-have LPs for 2018’ post. I could go on … (but click on the links to get the full story).
I hope you enjoy these fifty songs enough to click on over to some of the artists’ web real estate and help them along career-wise. 2019 promises to be another hungry year for many of these mostly struggling artists – so do your part: buy their music and go see them live when they come to your town.
What awaits us in 2019? Well, if 2018 is anything to go by it’s gonna be a year full jangly guitars, blissed out harmony vocals, rocking rhythm sections, and hooks, hooks, hooks. Fads change but these essential elements combined together will always have an audience – thank goodness! On to the business at hand: I love timely themes so today is all about new year’s – in song, of course.
Matt Pryor gets us into the right frame of mind with “Totally New Year” from his 2008 album Confidence Man. Basic message? Take up the new in the new year and move on from the ‘bones the closet may hold.’ That’s not far off Ryann Allen’s sentiment on “New Year’s Day” where everybody deserves the chance at renewal that ‘new’ promises. ‘Don’t let another year slip away …’ indeed. Taking up the tempo a bit Summer Magic offer us a shimmering “New Year’s Day Surprise” via their unique brand of mellow psychedelic pop. Shifting into full on wistful, Rob Clarke and the Wooltones channel the Beach Boys from their fab holiday EP Bring Me the WooltonesThis Year! with “New Year New Day.” Stepping on the queercore pedal to wrap this up, a great tune from the super Pansy Division comeback album, Quite Contrary, “Kiss Me at Midnight (New Year’s Eve).”
Matt Pryor – A Totally New YearSummer Magic – New Year’s Day Surprise
Pugwash’s Thomas Walsh was quoting his mother when he said ‘it’s nice to be nice’ and that seems like the right spirit to round out this year’s blog posts. A little more niceness won’t hurt anybody. Today’s acts are so very nice. Just the kind you could take home to mother.
The Smittens exude everything that people who are not from Burlington Vermont think that town would be about. Quirky free spirits just saying ‘hey, let’s live and let live!’ City Rock Dove is their latest album and it’s a longplaying bit of wonderful, with nearly every track capturing some wistful sentiment or upbeat heartache. I love “Three States,” “Love is a Word,” and, well, just about everything else. Let’s settle on “Season One” as emblematic of their Magnetic Fields meets Simon and Garfunkel brand of eccentric intimacy. Ben Talmi is an indie artist with a long resume of providing musical arrangements and backdrops for others but with Distractionism it really feels like his own artistic vision has come together. His hooky acoustic vibe and soft intimate vocal style reminds of Jeremy Fisher and Paul Simon at times, particularly on tracks like “Life is but a Dream” and “All for You.” But if I have to focus your attention on his unique brilliance, check out the fabulous roll out to “Chances.” You’ll be hooked.
Billy and Dolly have a great 1960s vibe going, with jangly guitars, rumbly organ and melody to spare. But what grabs you are the killer vocal harmonies! On Five Suns the duo rock out the hooks on tracks like “Setting Sun” but you can pretty much sum up the genius here with the gorgeous “Everything is Off.” Textbook should-be hit single. By contrast The Sidekicks somehow manage to make a pretty bleak situation sound totally OK on “Don’t Feel Like Dancing.” Again, some pretty hooky vocals draw the listener in. The singer may not be dancing but we are! “Weed Tent” is another melodic highlight.
Tacoma, Washington’s The Rallies delivered a break out should-be hit album in 2017: Serve, one that meshed jangle with up-front acoustic guitars and a host of touching sentiment. This year they just teased us with a single from their forthcoming album, due in 2019. But what a single! I’ve been holding off featuring the tune because I really think it’s a song apropos for today. “All of Us” speaks to the better world that resides in us all. We have what it takes, if we have faith in ourselves and each other. Despite our world of war, deprivation, poverty and Trump, the human spirit is moved by hope and joy and solidarity. And they are the only things that change things for the better. As the band say, “It’s in you, it’s in me, what is real and ought to be. If we look inside all of us.”
Check out The Rallies online and sign up for early sightings of their new album!
Christmas music gets a bad wrap (pun intended). Some people seem to think that you can take any old song and throw a seasonal reference in and – voila! – holiday classic. Hardly. Every year an ocean of new Christmas songs hit the holiday beach but few have any staying power. There is something inexplicably magical about the combination of tune, sentiment, and bells that maketh music genuinely seasonal. Kinda like if tinsel and marzipan had a soundtrack. Fortunately, there are a few tunesmiths who still understand how to work the formula, with some of the finest featured here on our now annual holiday music post!
Nine. I don’t why or how I settled on that number but my three previous holiday music posts have all featured nine artists. Weird. Well, I’m not one to needlessly buck tradition so here’s nine more … starting with the amazing Lannie Flowers. Flowers is a longtime veteran of the power pop/indie music scene, charming audiences with his consistently Beatlesque melodic hooks. He returns this year with a remixed version of his 2013 holiday release, “Christmas Without You,” a song that nicely combines jangle with just a hint of country. Next up is a very modern take on seasonal themes, namely, that surely Joseph would have had some doubts about just what was going on with Mary and their miracle baby. Only the New Pornographers could pull off such content and they do on “Joseph, Who Understood,” a new holiday, sing-along classic. Proving their recent comeback Good Times! album was no fluke, the Monkees return this year with a whole album of festive music, with a similar crew of indie pop royalty providing the tunes and musical direction. There’s plenty of good stuff here but “The House of Broken Gingerbread” stands out for me as a superior poprock tune, written by celebrated author Michael Chabon and FOW’s Adam Schlesinger. I’m kinda cheating a bit with this next contribution from Gregory Pepper who just released his holiday-themed four song EP Tsundere. I’m treating his effort like a double-A sided effort, but one with four songs. Pepper’s work sounds deceptively simple but melodically and lyrically he’s a master of so many genre styles and a brilliantly funny and smart lyricist. Spend some time with these tunes. Anybody who can song-check both Macca (“Secret Satan”) and the mopey one (“Home Alone”) knows what he’s doing!Lannie Flowers – Christmas Without YouThe New Pornographers – Joseph, Who UnderstoodThe Monkees – The House of Broken Gingerbread
Digging a bit deeper into our Christmas music bag, Pugwash prove they are the deserving inheritors of XTC’s brand of hooky, intelligent indie poprock with “Tinsel and Marzipan,” capped with a darling Irish-accented child at the end! Crossing the water to Liverpool Rob Clarke and the Wooltones Mersey up the Christmas music scene with a whole album of festiveness on Bring Me the Wooltones This Year! It’s a very Beatles-ish collection of serious and not so serious contributions, with new songs and old faves. The double-A single for me would be “Another Wooltones Xmas Record/Santa Claus.” It can’t be a Christmas tune-age roundup without a tender ballad of seasonal longing so now we head a bit north to Glasgow to hear from The Pooches and their simple song of needing to be with someone as the yuletide comes, “Christmas, With You.” Both stark and moving. Super poprock stars Fun. haven’t put out much in terms of albums but they did put out a holiday single shortly after their first album. “Believe in Me” bears all the hallmarks of that band’s winning formula: intriguing change ups in the song structure, toy piano solos, and plenty of hooks of course.Pugwash – Tinsel and MarzipanThe Pooches – Christmas (With You)Fun. – Believe in Me
Wrapping up this year’s holiday blog post (literally this time), something more traditional. Well, sort of. Quiet Company love the holidays and we’ve featured their stellar coverage of the traditional canon before. Now they’re back with a timely release that captures the distemper of the times with Baby It’s Cold War Outside. With song titles like “Merry Christmas, The President is Terrible” and “Alone on Christmas (You’re Going to Die)” the sense of seasonal dread really comes through. But the traditional themes of hope are there too with “Little Drummer Boy” and particularly on their original reworking of “Carol of the Bells/Setting the Trap.”
In 1970 Decca put out The World of the Zombies, a compilation that leaned heavily on material from the band’s 1965 English debut, Begin Here, right down to re-using the original cover. My parents bought it and for a time the Zombies were to me as important a part of the 1960s rock and roll cannon as the Beatles, the Beach Boys, and the Rolling Stones. And yet they were different, exuding a stylish, jazz-infused cool all their own, no doubt due to Colin Blunstone’s breathy vocals and Rod Argent’s distinctive keyboards. In my youth I could never understand why they didn’t seem the make the lists of the great bands from the 1960s. Nor have they spawned the revival of interest we’ve seen accorded to other historic bands since then, i.e. in terms of biographies, documentaries or tribute albums. Only Seattle’s indie Popllama label mustered up their roster of bands to celebrate The World of the Zombies in 1994, featuring the Posies, the Young Fresh Fellows and the Fastbacks, among others.
Well, that seems to be changing. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced this fall that the band would be inducted in 2019 and regardless of what you think of that questionable institution, I welcome the attention to a band that has for too long been overlooked. To aid in that process this blog post will celebrate the great songs of the Zombies, as covered by more recent poprock artists. Funny thing though, as I set out to find said covers – from the obvious hits like “She’s Not There,” “Tell Her No,” and “Time of the Season,” to less obvious gems like “I Love You,” “Indication,” “The Way I Feel Inside,” “You Make Me Feel Good,” “Kind of Girl,” etc. – I discovered that the band’s material has not been covered that much. I was a bit shocked actually. So many truly great compositions overlooked while people put out yet another Beatles or Dylan cover. Hopefully this recent attention will right that wrong.
Now on to the covers. Let’s face it, like the Beatles it’s pretty hard to improve on what the Zombies put down on vinyl. But our stable of talent make a valiant effort! Quiet Company are a perfect choice to cover this band – they have the sonic sophistication and creativity in spades, clearly evident in their inspired and inventive cover of “She’s Not There.” Tennis hold closer to the original version of “Tell Her No” but give up something endearing in their understated delivery. The Posies take up “Leave Me Be” and they have the Zombies vibe down, with an appropriate dollop of 1990s discord. By contrast, Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs amp up the melodic sweetness of Odyssey and Oracle’s “Care of Cell 44.” Indie darlings Yo La Tengo craft a lovely low key version of “You Make Me Feel Good.” And, of course, the Zombies themselves were inspired cover artist. The very first version of Gershwin’s “Summertime” I ever heard was by the Zombies and it has remained the defining performance for me.
Tennis – Tell Her NoThe Posies – Leave Me BeMatthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs – Care of Cell 44Yo La Tengo – You Make Me Feel Good
Click on the artist names above to find these super covers and support these artists. It’s also a great time to get caught up on your Zombies catalogue. Check out the Zombies website and Facebook page over 2019 to keep up with what should be an international year of the Zombies!
Time it was that the choice of an album’s single was both a serious artistic and financial decision. Putting out a single meant committing considerable resources to pressing them up and distributing them to radio stations, reviewers, and nightclubs. Today every cut on an album could theoretically be the single, depending on listener downloads and streams. But artists and record companies do still sometimes make a fuss about ‘the single’ as a way of drawing attention to a soon-to-be-released album. Or just as a way of maintaining interest in the product after its initial drop. For me, the single should be an album’s most potent hook vehicle, the song that will have listeners searching out the record for more. And it’s a way for me to highlight some great songs on the blog that just don’t fit anywhere else!
This single file kicks off with a bit of Dropkick-esque jangle from The Boys with the Perpetual Nervousness and their great single, “Nervous Man.” These guys clearly really know their Scottish strummy poprock. Then we step up the tempo with the driving poprock of “I Should Know” from the David James Situation, a band that sound like a slightly more new-waved Tom Petty to me. From there Chris Richards and the Subtractions lay on the pop sophistication with the hooky, Crowded House-ish “Just Another Season.” Then there’s the shiny uber-AM sheen of Timmy Sean’s “In California,” a brilliant slice of late 1970s-infused, poppy rock and roll. Finally we close out this half of our program with the cool Austin indie sound of Wiretree, showcasing their new single “Rainy Corner,” a song that rests firmly on a strong acoustic-guitar swing with just a touch of Sgt. Pepper mischief thrown in the middle and near the end.
David James Situation – I Should Know
In the second half of the show, it’s melody, melody and more melody. On “She’s Got It Bad” Gentle Hen have a great new single, one that vibes a subtle western swing before delivering a song that effortlessly melds influences like Fountains of Wayne and Teenage Fanclub. By contrast, number one on the fun meter is Simon Love’s recent “The Ballad of Simon Love.” The song lurches along with a spot-on Velvet Underground groove while Love displays killer pastiche chops worthy of Beck. It’s a beautifully crafted piece of work with so many cool nuances and musical add-ons. Simon-effing-Love indeed! Musical-influence polymath Ken Sharp is back with a fab new album Beauty in the Backseat. “24 Hours a Day” is the winning single for me, a chirpy, swinging combination of hooks and clever musical twists and turns. Now if you want something that will beg you to hit replay, check out Michael Simmons’ “No More Girls.” This ear worm channels a subtle XTC influence, reimagining the band as a Top of Pops hit machine. Hook bliss! Let’s finish on a rock and roll recovery story. The band PoP almost took off years ago but like so many acts just couldn’t seal the success deal. Now they’re back with a new EP and new material that covers a wide range of influences. I think “The Weight of Something” captures a lot of what they doing: ringing guitars, moody vocals, and some great droney hooks.
A new week, a brand new batch of just released tunes from some seriously melodic dudes: Sofa City Sweetheart and Wyatt Blair. When I heard what these guys had on offer, they went right to the front of the blogging queue. Why not start the week off right?
I was digging Juan Antonio Lopez’s Elliot Smith-style vocals and the clever hooks in his new single “Stop the Thinking” when the Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass trumpet kicked in and then I was totally sold. His band is Sofa City Sweetheart and the song is a pre-release from his soon-to-be released new album – with this as a teaser, I can hardly wait! Check out the fun video that plays with the HA&TB imagery to good effect.
Musical chameleon Wyatt Blair has owned the sounds of so many different musical styles on his previous releases, though they’ve mostly focused on the 1980s. This time Blair steps back a few decades to nail the late 1960s California pop sound on his new record, Inspirational Strawberries. Things kick off with “It’s Yesterday,” a song filled with those classic fun 1960s sounds like harpsichord, bicycle bells and a killer organ, and then layered with some ace Cowsills vocals in the chorus. Next up is the obvious should-be hit single, “Gotta Get Away,” an adrenaline rush of Mamas and the Papas meets the Bryrds power sixties hooks. And Blair just keeps hitting the 1960s melodic marks after that, with some spot on, rocked up Hollies vocals on “Who’s to Blame,” a distinct Abbey Road vibe on “A New Tomorrow,” and some great rumbly lead guitar with Beach Boys vocal stylings on “Tenderly.”
Tis the season to think of others and bandcamp makes it easy to give away great music like this to your friends. But, frankly, you’re gonna want to click on Sofa City Sweetheart and Wyatt Blair for yourself too.