Poprock Record’s 25 must-have LPs for 2019

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Screen Shot 2020-01-13 at 11.39.35 AMPoor Myrtle. She’s only got Muzak® to keep her company through the long shift at work. If only she had access to this great new list of must-have LPs from 2019, helpfully assembled by Poprock Record, she might actually close that Henderson account and get off early. The lesson? You can take an oldies fixation too far. You don’t have to live in the past to love that retro sound. This year’s best-of round up of LPs from 2019 is definitive proof that everything old can be new again!

Just a word of caution – there’s no science to the list and rankings below. Here are just 25 albums and 10 EPs that caught my ear this past year and kept me coming back for more. There was something about each, their combination of elements (songwriting, instrumentation, performance), that I thought really worked as a coherent whole. And that’s saying something in our world of social media distractions and a renewed music biz focus primarily on singles.

So let’s begin with Poprock Record’s 25 must-have LPs for 2019:

  1. Bombadil Beautiful Country
  2. Matthew Milia Alone at St. Hugo
  3. The Brothers Steve #1
  4. The Maureens Something in the Air
  5. Richard Turgeon Go Deep
  6. The Golden Seals Something Isn’t Happening
  7. Pernice Brothers Spread the Feeling
  8. *repeat repeat Glazed
  9. Martha Love Keeps Kicking
  10. Scandinavia Premium Economy
  11. The Vapour Trails See You in the Next World
  12. The Cactus Blossoms Easy Way
  13. Johnny Stanec Things Were Better, When
  14. The John Sally Ride Nothing Doing
  15. The Boys With Perpetual Nervousness Dead Calm
  16. Telekinesis Effluxion
  17. David Brookings and the Average Lookings Scorpio Monologue
  18. Mondello Hello, All You Happy People
  19. Nick Eng Long Shot
  20. Sofa City Sweetheart Super (b) Exitos
  21. Dan Israel Social Media Anxiety Disorder
  22. Berwanger Watching a Garden Die
  23. Lolas Bulletproof
  24. kiwi jr Football Money
  25. Trip Wire Once and Always

Screen Shot 2020-01-15 at 2.26.05 PMI really like the variety covered in this list. There’s everything from jangle (4, 11, 15, 25) and country (12) and Dylanesque stylings (21), to keyboard contemporary (8) and acerbic social commentary (10, 23) and straight-up Beatlesque poprock (17, 19). And there’s a lot of sweetness, like Mondello’s impressive 20 year labour of love (18). My number one album, Bombadil’s Beautiful Country, embodies this commitment to diversity. It’s got an overall indie-folk vibe but the songwriting and playing are so sophisticated that somehow the label fails to capture all of what’s going on. Believe me, it’s a 37 minute journey through a myriad of lyrical and musical delights. Close behind at #2 Matthew Milia’s Alone at St. Hugo represents an amazing synthesis of melodic rock influences, from the Beatles (obviously) to the more mellow Fountains of Wayne moments. It’s an tone setter – put it on and drift away! At #3 was #1. Confused? #1 was the name of the debut album from the power pop veterans behind The Brothers Steve and it did not disappoint. The record is like a veritable hit machine. I can only imagine that this was what it was like to get your hands on a new Beatles record in the 1960s: immediately engaging, inventive yet relatable, and with nary a bum track. And I could go on about every entry on this list … but instead just click on the links to go my original posts about the bands and you can judge them for yourself.

Next up, Poprock Record’s 10 must-have EPs from 2019:

  1. David Molter Foolish Heart
  2. Omicrom J Trauma You Should Have Thought About That
  3. David Woodard Everything in Between
  4. Brett Perfect Patterns
  5. Project: Ghost Outfit Project: Ghost Outfit
  6. Super 8 Head Sounds
  7. scienceisfiction Don’t Everyone Thank Me at Once
  8. Ducks Unlimited Get Bleak
  9. Jean Caffeine Love. What is It?
  10. Lost Ships All of the Pieces

The revival of the EP is very much in the spirit of the times as performers try to woo listeners to fork over for music in an era of YouTube shuffles and streaming. Personally, I’m usually left feeling that most are just bloated maxi-singles or Readers Digest condensed albums. But these ten show just how punchy an EP can be! Content-wise, I’ll just say this about my number 1 choice: wow. Dave Molter got his musical start in the 1960s (as evident on the record!) but waited until his 70s to put out Foolish Heart. What you get are five gems polished to poprock perfection: hooks, harmonies, the whole deal.

One last thing: a special mention for Aaron Lee Tasjan’s Karma for Cheap: Reincarnated. The original record was my number 1 album for 2018 and this reinvention beautifully reimagines all those great tunes in often stark and stripped down ways. If you liked the original, you’re gonna love the remake.

Should be a hit single: The Orange Peels “All the World Could Pass Me By”

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Screen Shot 2020-01-13 at 3.56.53 PMClicking on this late 1990s track from northern California’s The Orange Peels you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re hearing a great New Pornographers single or maybe a late 1970s new wave reunion of the Mamas and Papas, if they’d become a rock band (and somehow brought a key member back from the dead). The guitar on this track is so striking, fresh and in-your-face resonant without being jarring, while the vocals are candy smooth but never syrup. Clocking at just a minute and 49 seconds it’s all over way too soon but that’s OK, it’s just the opening track of a pretty cool album of similarly fab songs. And now would be the time to add The Orange Peels 1997 debut album, Square3, to your collection as it has just been remastered and plumped up with 27 bonus tracks. Come back 1997! All is forgiven.

 

Visit The Orange Peels online to find out more about their past and more recent releases and re-releases.

Poprock Record’s should-be hit singles of 2019

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Screen Shot 2020-01-09 at 11.14.44 AM2019 had plenty of jangle, hooks, harmonies and melody to spare. From an initial list of over 200 songs I’ve managed to whittle my should-be hit single list to just 50 chart toppers for this year. Man, it was hard. Because I only post music I like this whole exercise is a bit like choosing your favourite child. Well, IMHO, the 50 songs featured here all have a strong earwormy quality to them. But let me know if you agree or disagree! Hit the links below to find each artist as featured in my original blog post this past year.

So, without further ado (drum roll please!), here is Poprock Record’s should-be hit singles for 2019:

  1. The Golden Seals “Something Isn’t Happening”
  2. Juliana Hatfield “Sugar”
  3. The Well Wishers “Feeling Fine”
  4. Bombadil “The Man Who Loves You”
  5. Matthew Milia “Abruptly Old and Caffeinated”
  6. The Brothers Steve “She”
  7. The Maple State “Germany”
  8. Aaron Lee Tasjan “Songbird”
  9. Johnny Stanec “Secret World”
  10. The Maureens “Can’t Stop”
  11. Telekinesis “Like Nothing”
  12. Omicrom J Trauma “Leave You Alone”
  13. Matthew Logan Vasquez “Ghostwriters”
  14. Hollerado “Straight to Hell”
  15. *repeat repeat “Pressure”
  16. Space Dingus “Parchment Squire, Paper Knight”
  17. Taylor Knox “City at Night”
  18. Fruit Bats “Ocean”
  19. Berwanger “Bad Vibrations”
  20. The Cerny Brothers “American Whore”
  21. Pernice Brothers “Skinny Jeanne”
  22. Wyatt Blair “I’ll Keep Searching for You”
  23. Mike Adams at his Honest Weight “Do You One Better”
  24. U.S. Highball “Summer Boy”
  25. The Rallies “All Over Town”
  26. Richard Turgeon “Loneliness”
  27. Perspective, A Lovely Hand to Hold “One Wrong Turn”
  28. Deadbeat Beat “Baphomet”
  29. Bryan Estepa “Another Kind of Madness”
  30. Ezra Furman “In America”
  31. Nick Lowe “Blue on Blue”
  32. Lucille Furs “Paint Euphrosyne Blue”
  33. Brett “Wisdom Tooth”
  34. Martha “Heart is Healing”
  35. The Dave Anderson Project “Welcome”
  36. Drew Neely and the Heroes “Chasing Danielle”
  37. Dave Molter “Tell Me That You Love Me”
  38. The Boolevards “Take Me to the Top”
  39. Army Navy “Seismic”
  40. Trolley “I’ll Never Tell”
  41. Ducks Unlimited “Anhedonia”
  42. The Needs “I Regret It”
  43. The Cudas “The Kids Want Hits”
  44. Propeller “There Goes a Day”
  45. Dead Rituals “Run”
  46. David Woodard “Nine Hundred Ninety Nine”
  47. Ryan Hamilton and the Harlequin Ghosts “Feels Like Falling in Love”
  48. Big Nothing “Waste My Time”
  49. The Mommyheads “Wake Up a Scientist”
  50. The Smarthearts “The Man from the Company”

As you can see, the list is a bit all over the map. There’s hints of country and folk and a lot of rock and roll. Because I’m working a broad poprock vein (as opposed to a more narrow power pop) my list crosses lines that other melodic rock blogs might not. That means the pop folky Bombadil and Fruitbats can sidle up to the more edgy melodic punk of Ezra Furman or country rock of The Cerny Brothers. But most of the entries fall neatly into my definition of ‘poprock’ – as in, melodic rock and roll characterized by plenty of hooks and harmony vocals. It’s all there in my number one song from The Golden Seals “Something Isn’t Happening” with its swinging acoustic guitar base, various hooky lead guitar lines, and catchy vocal melody. Or you can hear it in the addictive guitar drone driving Juliana Hatfield’s great single, “Sugar.” Same goes for The Well Wishers’ fantastic poprock reinvention of Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 sound on “Feeling Fine.” And I could just go on dropping superlatives on every entry on this list. Instead, click on the links and check out my original posts about all these artist.

All these artists have instruments to keep in tune and studio time to pay for, not to mention all the time they take away from paying work to write the songs and practice performing them – all in aid of getting this exciting music out there for us to enjoy. Help them thrive by getting out to see them live and buying their music.

Brought to you by the letter D: The Demos and The Decibels

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Screen Shot 2020-01-07 at 12.45.09 PMToday’s duo of bands are like opposite ends of the Beatles influence circa 1966, with Rochester NY’s The Demos handling the sweet vocal harmonies and melody-driven tune-age while Sacramento California’s The Decibels grind out a bit more of the rockin’ jangle side of the equation. Both bands benefit from strong songwriting and some pretty inspired and unpredictable performances.

Screen Shot 2020-01-07 at 12.47.19 PMThe Demos debuted with a low key EP, 2008’s Your Girl Has Fun Without You. The band’s essential elements are all there in the opening track, “I Gotta Know” with its spare guitar work and layered vocals. Overall, the EP reminds me of more recent fab work from The Rallies. 2011’s full album Lovely fleshed out the band sound a bit, sounding slightly reminiscent of Farrah on tracks like “Nervous.” And check out the full on ELO vocal palate cushioning “Don’t Wake Me Up Again” – breathtaking!  2016’s Paramount Clouds EP takes things in more Rooney-ish direction, particularly with the keyboard focus on “I Don’t Mind.” Personally, I think the 2018 If You Only Knew EP may just be The Demos strongest outing, representing another slight departure style-wise changing up the keyboard and vocal delivery. Should-be hit singles “Make It Better” and “If You Only Knew” vibe a host great bands like Guster or Sunday Sun without losing any of their own originality. The spooky background vocals on “Make It Better” alone are worth the price of admission! The EP also features a nice reinterpretation of the previously released “Nervous.” Oh for the days when a ferry could taxi me over Lake Ontario to see this band.

I Gotta KnowMake It Better

Screen Shot 2020-01-07 at 12.48.39 PMThe story of The Decibels is like a script right out of indie rock and roll Hollywood. Promising band release a handful of great records to critical acclaim but poor sales. They break up. Then they’re brought back together for a one-off show and fan demand pushes them to reunite but, alas, poor health stalls the comeback. But somehow, years later, the band returns with new material and new lease on rock and roll life! The Decibels roared back into action in 2019 with not one but two new records, both critically acclaimed. Big Hits (plus twelve more!) was a rehearsal session of the band’s live act (focusing on cover tunes), originally taped to help them prepare to record new original material. But the record company liked the sound so much they insisted on releasing it. It was so the right decision. Compared to their other 2019 long-player, the feel of Big Hits (plus twelve more!) is a bit edgier, with a punky live vibe. It’s amazing to hear how they bring new life to songs like “Pictures of Matchstick Men” by picking up tempo (frankly, I found the original Status Quo version a bit plodding). The album is full of highlights like the glorious “Sometime in the Morning,” the melodically rocking “Ship Went Down” and “There’s a Place,” the vocally clever “Try and Stop Me” and the very 1979 stripped-down new wave sound of “Cover Girl.”

Screen Shot 2020-01-07 at 12.49.30 PMOf course, none of this is meant to suggest that their other 2019 release, Scene, Not Herd, is anything less than stupendous. The album is brimming with radio-ready should-be hits like “Hey Emily,” “I Need to Tell Her” and “Misery.” The renewed band sometime come off like a more indie version of The Wonders, the fictional group from the film That Thing You Do. At other times you could be forgiven for thinking The Plimsouls had got back together on tracks like “The Only Reason Left” and “Thinking About You.” And here’s a bonus if you just discovered The Decibels – there’s a pretty special back catalogue awaiting your attention! For instance, the band’s 1997 debut Create Action is a janglicious mix of 1960s-meets-1990s swinging tunes. Check out “Change,” “Something Good to Go By” and “Can’t Play Tag Alone,” the latter sounding like a compressed greatest hit of the 1966 mod rock and roll sound.

I don’t know what Sesame Street was on about but as the letter D has no money it clearly cannot be the real sponsor of today’s post. That, dear reader, is left to you, via your dutiful patronage of these fine artists. Visit The Demos and The Decibels to help sponsor ever more quality poprock programming.

2020 vision: Jeff Rosenstock, Gerry Cinnamon, and The Lolas

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Screen Shot 2019-12-31 at 4.52.13 PMMy vision for 2020 would be for a bit more truth, beauty and justice to come to light. It’s getting harder and harder for working class people to make ends meet, all the while a circus of obscene over-consumption by the 1% of the 1% is shoved down our throats culturally. So why don’t ‘the people’ revolt? Well, there are lots of reasons …

Some of the reasons are cultural. Despite the supposedly liberating, equalizing effects of social media, representations of ‘the people’ in commercial media remain highly distorted in class terms. On TV and in movies it would appear that everyone’s rich and there’s nothing that can’t be solved with just a bit of celebrity charity (‘thanks Ellen!’). But as New Yorker Jeff Rosenstock bluntly puts it, “TV stars don’t care about who you are.” Rosenstock’s work ranges from straight up punkish rock to more dreamy melodic numbers with a dollop of shoegaze. “TV Stars” is from his 2018 album Post- and makes the point that ‘nice’ isn’t really equal to caring.

Of course, part of the reason people mistake nice celebrities for friends is that media seldom mirrors the great unwashed or their experiences in any recognizable form. The first step toward self-respect is recognizing who you are (and who you are not). And every now and then a tiny bit of authenticity breaks through. Like Scotland’s Gerry Cinnamon. He is a rare example of an unabashedly working class artist who has eschewed major labels and conventional music promotion. Movies and TV never tire of pushing the trope that any decent idea, if it’s worthy, can take off via social media, eluding the gate keepers and corporate media machines, but the reality is that a kitty appearing to dance and sing “Bohemian Rhapsody” is much more likely to succeed. But in Cinnamon’s case, the myth actually became real. He is an unsigned artist who plays sold out shows throughout the UK. I can’t help but feel that part of his appeal is that his songs give voice to the experience of an alienated working class youth in believable ways. The songs on Cinnamon’s 2017 Erratic Cinematic have the same gut impact of early Dylan, Jake Bugg, Springsteen when he’s got his harmonica out, and Ike Reilly. No one does heart-wrenching loneliness quite like Cinnamon on tracks like “What Have You Done” or check out the Morricone-esque quality of the title track, complete with haunting whistling. Cinnamon did release a single in 2019, a teaser from his coming 2020 album, entitled “The Bonny” – with pretty magical harmonica accompaniment.

Artists like Cinnamon make working class experience visible and that is crucially important because making such lives visible allows other people to realize that their problems are not merely personal (i.e. their own fault) but happening to all kinds of people all over the place. Of course, the next step politically would be to act on that knowledge. Here I want to harken back to the just reviewed new album Bulletproof from The Lolas and a few particular songs that really name the work to be done. Like “Storm of Silence,” where songwriter Tim Boykin sings “workers have so much to win” by breaking the ‘storm of silence’ because “there’s a million people standing strong and another million coming on.” Or the Steve Miller Band-ish “Stand Up and Fight,” where he asks “who is it going to be if not you or me?” because “you can call the local news and I bet they won’t care, but if you dare this might be the start of something big.” Boyko ends the album with the classic leftwing liberation anthem, “L’Internationale,” with its still relevant theme of international working class solidarity.

Seeing who your real friends are is partly cultural work but it is also affected by dramatic and ever increasing economic inequality that defines western countries. Make no mistake, a lot of money is spent by powerful people to keep the gauze over our eyes. Making the depravity and cruelty of that inequality more visible is also crucial to seeing a more progressive vision triumph in this new year. And it just happens to be good for music too!

Singles to end the year by

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Screen Shot 2019-12-31 at 2.18.37 PM2019 has been a generous year for poprock. So many great songs! And yet here are a few more that I somehow didn’t manage to squeeze in before now.

There is some debate about when Jeff Whalen’s amazing solo album 10 More Super Rock Hits was released. Some say 2018, others 2019. Whatever. I have to showcase something from this very special album. Hard to choose just one song but I’ve settled on “Don’t Give Up” with its super sweet Partridge Family poprock hookiness. Whalen is a master of styles and here he nails the 1970s AM melody-to-the front pop sound. Fans of this year’s Brothers Steve album will also love this one! Portsmouth UK’s Lost Ships offer up some serious jangle with “Drug Store” from their recent EP All of the Pieces. A lot of reviewers link the sound to early Teenage Fanclub but I hear a bit of early The Lilac Time sweetness too. Cudas hail from Cape Town, South Africa and so far have released the double-sided single “TV is Cool Again”/“Kids Want Hits” – but what a release! I love the guitars and the slightly ominous melody lines in the former while the latter nails a Ramones-as-hit-makers sound with its inventive use of synth and Cheap Trick sounding enunciation of ‘tonight’ in the chorus. All this bodes very well for some future album release!

Jeff Whalen – Don’t Give Up

I love the Paste magazine tag line on their review of the Toronto janglers Ducks Unlimited EP Get Bleak: “The Toronto quartet writes lilting, throwback jangle-pop for the isolated and the underemployed.” While many commentators highlight the anomie embedded in the songs, I hear a pretty sweet and distinctive jangle coming out of “Anhedonia” that makes my heart swell! “Gleaming Spires” is also pretty fresh and sprightly IMHO. When I think of Milwaukee I think of socialist mayors and Happy Days and beer. Now I can add Trolley to that list. “I’ll Never Tell” has that Revolver-era Beatles vibe if The Byrds had recorded it. It’s the teaser single from the band’s fifth long-player, The Carnival Of Grey and White, to be released in 2020. At long last, a new record emerged from Army Navy late this year, also suggesting a future album release. “Seismic” is lovely low key number, laid over top of a basic acoustic guitar and delicately adorned with a bit of synth and a whispery vocal style. I can’t wait for more.

I could have sworn The SmartHearts were from the UK. Something about their brash punky yet melodic style of rock and roll. But they hail from Philadelphia. Vocally they remind me of Titus Andronicus, with perhaps a bit of the Clash on back up. And then there’s “Man from the Company,” which exudes a bit of mid-1960s pop sensibility, particularly on guitar, while melding it with a more punk vocal delivery. The Safes returned in 2019 with a song that put together a lot of interesting pieces together in unusual ways. “Baggage Claim” mixes keyboards and acoustic instruments and voices into a winning, distinctive combo. Tacoma’s Vanilla released a few new singles this year. I was particularly taken with the XTC-ish “Treefort.” Seriously, this could easily be mistaken for a Colin Moulding outtake. Winning stuff, obviously.

With 2020 within sight, let’s honour these 2019 winning singles with a visit from the money store. Just click on their highlighted names above.

Lightspeed Toronto streetcar photo courtesy Larry Gordon.

The listening room II: The Needs, The Bishop’s Daredevil Stunt Club, The Lolas, and Answering Machine

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Screen Shot 2019-12-27 at 5.06.13 PMSo many albums to listen to! Welcome to the listening room session II where we carry on distracting you from any holiday malaise that might be afoot with melody, hooks, harmonies and some jangle guitar.

Screen Shot 2019-12-28 at 4.44.30 PMOslo, Norway’s The Needs is just another example of Nordic superiority. They manage to combine driving guitars with sweet melodies that make you want to jump and sing at the same time. The album is entitled You Need the Needs and truer words were never spoken. The record kicks off with “Summerbore,” a song that blasts out of the gate with the band’s signature driving guitar, coated with a slick vocal that holds back just a bit, creating tension between the vocal and instrumental elements. Next up is the obvious single, “I Regret It,” with its early Rooney-esque demeanor. And so on. There are a cartful of great tunes here: the hooky “I’m Doing Fine,” the more mid-tempo “First to Go,” and the fabulous “Stay at Home Friend” with its crashing guitars and endearing melody. Guitar lovers rejoice! Your needs are answered with this latest Norwegian export.

Screen Shot 2019-12-28 at 4.45.55 PMI agree with Richard Rossi over at Power Pop News that there is something very Cheap Trick meets Sloan on this latest release from Chicago’s The Bishop’s Daredevil Stunt Club. You can really hear it at the one minute mark of the opening track of “Burndown at Sundown” – wow! Loaded with great change ups throughout the song, this is a hooky masterpiece. And we’re just getting started. Then comes the clear single “Christine You’re Mean,” a straight up rocky poprock number, with the crunchy guitar riding just beneath the melody-drenched vocals. End Over End is another album that is a full listen release, no needle dropping required. Of course, if forced to choose, I do find myself particularly partial to “Get Up Get Up,” “The Henry Norman Hotel,” and “Remind Me of Summer.” And clocking in at 48 minutes, that’s a lot of power pop-tastic quality product.

Screen Shot 2019-12-28 at 4.48.03 PMBulletproof is album number two for Birmingham, Alabama’s The Lolas for 2019 and there is no evident dilution in the quality of offering the second time around. And that’s pretty impressive because The Lolas is only one of the many musical projects that Tim Boykin is regularly writing for and performing in. Opening cut “Deestroy” sets the tone for the fun to come, sounding like a power pop Ramones with lyrics about wanting to ‘destroy capitalism’ and ‘take away your desolate vision.’ Finally, a ‘peace on earth’ vision I can get behind! Then Boykin goes all Rubber Soul Beatles on us with the delightful “Fall Away” while “Oceans on the Moon” sounds like a great lost Hollies cut to me. But the real news with this record is how political it is compared with earlier releases. Titles like “Stand Up and Fight,” “Stop the War,” and “Gunshot Holes” advertise their sentiments pretty clearly. But others, like “Storm of Silence,” carry a message of worker solidarity and hope that requires more active listening. Going political is a risk for any performer and can go agitprop in a bad way pretty quickly in the wrong hands. But this effort is entirely in good hands with Boykin, who strikes the right balance between message and art. And I love the final cut, a Merseybeat rendition of “L’Internationale” that totally works!

Screen Shot 2019-12-28 at 4.49.15 PMIn our one last EP file, here’s a release from 2018 that somehow missed my radar last year from Brooklyn’s Answering MachineColor TV. Vocalist Samantha Campanile often comes off sounding like a edgier Neko Case meets Jenny Lewis on the epic tunes showcased here like title track “Color TV,” “Tri-State Kids,” and “Save the Date.” Though vocalist J.D. Fetcho also sounds great on backup or lead on tracks like “East of Eden.” The band did release a single in 2019 and “Bad Luck” bodes well for the group’s upcoming debut release due sometime in 2020, almost sounding an indie, slightly punk version of mid-period Fleetwood Mac.

The albums released throughout 2019 prove once again that great melodic rock and roll music is still with us, even if it’s not as mainstream as it once was. But it is out there! Click on The Needs, The Bishop’s Daredevil Stunt Club, The Lolas, and Answering Machine to help keep the flame burning.

The listening room I: kiwi jr, Star Trip, Mike Adams at his Honest Weight, and Dave Molter

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Screen Shot 2019-12-27 at 5.06.53 PMNeed some distraction to get through the holiday season’s seemingly endless family overtime period? Come with me to the listening room where we can tuck in to a raft of albums, all worthy of diverting your attention from squabbling children and leftovers. Divided into two sessions for your listening pleasure.

Screen Shot 2019-12-27 at 5.09.26 PMI miss a lot a stuff as the year goes by and one major oversight was overlooking relocated PEI-now-Toronto poprockers kiwi jr and their fab debut LP Football Money. The Canadian critics are falling all over themselves to heap praise on the band and deservedly so. Songs like “Gimme More” manage to namecheck a load of Canuck references and still sound cool! Listeners constantly reference Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus but I hear a lot of Cool for Cats-era Squeeze on tracks like “Leslie” and “Football Money” or maybe a bit of The Strypes on “Murder in the Cathedral” and “Comeback Baby.” Personally, I’m loving the nice jangly guitar, Jonathan Richman wide-eyed vocals, and oh-so-clever lyrics that are all over this record, but particularly pronounced on the obvious single, “Salary Man” and the delightful “Nothing Changes.” Football Money is not a pick-and-choose amongst the songs release, it’s definitely a full download.

Screen Shot 2019-12-27 at 5.10.38 PMValencia, Spain’s Star Trip are obviously big Big Star fans. The influence is all over their 2019 long player, Salto al vacio. And yet they are so much more. First, their songwriting is strong and original. Coated with a shimmering guitar resonance and blissful harmony vocals the songs sound like a sun dappled summer day. I have no idea what they are singing about (it’s all in Spanish) but the sonic palate strongly suggest a post-1960s dose of truth, beauty and love. The whole record says ‘play me!’ but if I were single out anything, listeners are going to love the jangle and hooks propelling the opening title track, or the country pop elements undergirding “Hasta el atardecer,” or the Matthew Sweet quality of “Dias sin saber.” Overall, Salto al vacio is a must add for jangle addicts.

Screen Shot 2019-12-27 at 5.11.39 PMAdd the new Mike Adams at his Honest Weight record to the pile with the likes of Matthew Milia, Telekinesis’ Michael Benjamin Lerner and even Marshall Crenshaw. Their defining element? Albums full of ebullient melodic gems, showcasing a deep knowledge of the poprock canon and an ability to twist such influences into original new material. Adam’s new LP There is No Feeling Better is a case in point. Each song is a perfectly crafted melodic miniature. From the off-kilter Beatles influences framing the opening track “Pressing Mesh” to the epic keyboard/acoustic guitar contrasts animating the closer “So Faded” this is a record of oh so pleasant surprises. “Do You One Better” is the obvious single, with its measured build up and strong melodic payout in the chorus. “Free and Reduced” has some great interplay between the rumbly guitar and 1980s keyboard while “Wonderful to Love” stokes a 1980s languid poprock groove. And check out “Datsun Dashes” with its reinvention of early 1960s American pop and Beatles influences or “I Need You” which sounds like a beat group version of the Eagles. Another ‘all-player’ for any road trip lasting longer than 39 minutes.

Screen Shot 2019-12-27 at 5.12.43 PMLet me slip in an EP amongst all this LP celebration.  I featured a song recently by Pittsburg native Dave Molter but then got a copy of his 2019 EP Foolish Heart. Wow! What an action packed collection of ear worms. While citing the 1960s and Beatles as his main influences, Molter offers up a collection that exudes the best of 1980s poprock a la Greg Kihn, Huey Lewis and the News and ELO. I already lauded the Jeff Lynne-ish “Mid-Century Man” in my previous Molter post, now let me add praise for the EP’s title track “Foolish Heart” which could easily find its way onto any John Waite solo album, the psychedelic “See the Sunshine,” and the smile-generating Beatlesque “Tell Me That You Love Me.” Seriously, for Beatles fans, try not breaking into a grin when this song comes on! My only complaint about Foolish Heart is that it is an EP. Poprock Record wants more Molter!

Click on kiwi jr, Star Trip, Mike Adams at his Honest Weight, and Dave Molter and get your copies of these great albums with all the leftover holiday cash I’m sure is just lying around.

Spotlight single: Gregory Pepper and his Problems “I’ve Got a Bottle”

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Screen Shot 2019-12-22 at 10.40.30 PMFeel free to cancel Christmas, my present came early with Gregory Pepper’s new single “I’ve Got a Bottle.” Pepper is Canada’s should-be favourite curio pop songwriter. Master of styles, piquant tunesmith, a clever with words guy, Pepper never fails to deliver the goods. But I have to say, it’s been a while – too long. Pepper took a year to write a song a week during 2017-18 while weathering the loss of his father, arrival of a baby daughter, and driving the occasional snow plow. But now the word has come down that a new album of Pepper tunes – I Know Why You Cry –  will drop in the new year. I can’t wait! Seriously, waiting is not my strong point. But in the interim you have this delightful dollop of Pepper pop craftmanship. Enjoy, and get ready for a fab Pepper-stravaganza coming to this station sometime this February.

All things Pepper can be found at Camp Pepper, the Gregory Pepper bandcamp page and his Facebook locale.

Singles going Santa

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Screen Shot 2019-12-17 at 4.38.06 PMIt’s been blasting in your ears for last two months I know: festive music! Typically the same 20 songs or so. But I refuse to Grinch out on holiday music simply because we’ve become tired of the classics and not-so-classic that dominate the airwaves and the shops. So as my [insert appropriate holiday commitment here] present to you, dear reader, I’ve scoured the poprock-o-sphere for some fresh holiday tune-age. And I’m happy to report there’s still a whole lot of great stuff to choose from!

Screen Shot 2019-12-17 at 4.44.50 PMLet’s start with a brand new blast of melodic punky goodness from Jagger Holly. “Mistletoe” appears on the band’s just released seasonal LP It’s Christmas Somewhere. Overall, the record is defined by a Ramones-esque approach to crunchy speed rock and roll where the band takes on classics like “Santa Baby” while also offering up a host of original tunes. I chose “Mistletoe” because it slows the generally frenetic tempo a bit and showcases the band’s impressive stylistic range, tapping a more indie 1980s melodic rock vibe. With their album #1 The Brothers Steve already gave us a pretty spectacular present this year. But was that enough? No. So in time for the holidays they’ve cooked up a double-sided holiday single entitled Christmas Magic (even though neither song has that title!). Personally, I love “Listen Up! It’s Christmastime” with its oh so subtle ear wormy chorus and warm cocoon of background vocals enveloping the whole track. It’s got the sound of a classic poprock holiday tune to me! The Austria-cum-Liverpool MonaLisa Twins initially made their name as a YouTube cover tune sensation, though recently they’ve released albums of original material too. And they’re actually twins. Their records have an amazing vibe! Rootsy with Merseybeat accents and those spine-tingling blood harmonies. Their plainly-named seasonal record is Christmas, and it contains all the usual tunes with a key exception: “Walking in the Air.” The song is known to Brits from appearing in the Howard Blake-scored animated film of Raymond Briggs’ children’s book The Snowman. Child soprano Aled Jones’ version is a bit choiry for my tastes. The MonaLisa Twins transform the song into a rootsy, indie classic! I would have loved to hear the Everly Brothers cover this.

The Brothers Steve – Listen Up! It’s Christmas TimeMonaLisa Twins – Walking in the Air

Screen Shot 2019-12-17 at 4.46.32 PMDespite the un-Christmas-y climate, Los Angeles native Todd Herfindal gets right into the spirit, ramping up the jangle on a trio of jingle tunes with a maxi-single entitled Christmas Star. The title track sparkles guitar-wise with heartfelt vocals in the verses giving way to some shimmering harmonies in the chorus. Hard to choose between this one and the Fountains of Wayne swing of “Santa’s Got Something for You” as my fave.  So why choose? Consider it a ‘double A-sided single’ with something extra. Chicago’s Sunshine Boys step on the stereotypical Christmas bells pretty hard as this song opens but what follows is an amazing tune, an instant sing-a-long. “I Love Christmastime” is a bit poignant, a smile-inducer for sure, with candy cane jangle lead guitar lines and a cool subtle organ layering in the background. Another instant classic, IMHO. Norwegians American Suitcase offer up tune that sounds like a country-era Byrds holiday moment with “Christmas Blues #2”: a catchy lead guitar line lures you in to a sweet tune, cloaked in holiday harmonies and hooks. A pleasing addition to any holiday mix.

American Suitcase – Christmas Blues #2

Screen Shot 2019-12-17 at 4.47.28 PMNow for something a bit different, Sofa City Sweetheart’s “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” from their holiday EP Christmas on the Sofa. While I’m not one for traditional carols as my go-to holiday songs typically, what works here is how the stark simplicity of the piano and vocals resonate in a truly beautiful and touching performance. The EP is full of other highlights as well, like the engaging instrumental “Boogie Woogie Midnight.” LA’s Army Navy also got into the holiday music game with “Stay In,” a lushly acoustic-driven poprock treat, with clever lyrics and a nice vocal counterpoint to lead singer Justin Kennedy with The Like’s Charlotte Froom. The tempo is very cozy-by-the fire hipster, in a good way. My last recommendation is a bit of a cheat – I usually limit myself to nine suggestions but the ninth this time is actually an album! But Kool Kat Kristmas Vol. 3 is worth bending the rules for. This is a solid collection in terms of songwriting and performance quality, consistency, and listenability (from a poprock perspective, of course). Highlights include Evert Almond’s Beach Boys-inflected “Have a Very Very Very Merry Christmas,” Nick Frater’s perennial parental threat “Christmas is Cancelled,” Richard Turgeon’s Pansy Division-esque “Skippin’ Christmas,” The Stan Laurels’ dreamy “Noche Buena,” and the big guitar sounds of Ed Ryan’s “Noel (You Gotta Sing).” You can put this one on and just hit play – it’s that good.

It is my belief that melody makes the world a little less dark, so I do hope my little blog has given you the gift of some happy moments this year. And to all the featured artists, I hope it has filled your bank account with some financial love. With that in mind, hey readers, click on the artist links and let the spirit of giving begin! Merry happy everyone, wherever you are and whatever you believe.