Name that song Maryanne!

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mary anne with radioNames come and go. Some, like Gertrude, Hilda, and Agnes, are probably never coming back. But others carry on through generations, like Maryanne. It’s a name that conjures up the quintessential girl next door. She seemed to be at every dance in the 1950s, ended up shipwrecked with Gilligan in the 1960s, and was the focus of a host of singer-songwriter’s attentions in the 1970s. Leonard Cohen tried to say “So Long Marianne” but it didn’t work. More Mary Anne songs kept coming. Today’s post focuses on songs named for Maryanne, Mary Anne or Mary-Anne (though, curiously, not Marianne).

What sparked this theme was my just discovering The Spongetones’ amazing single “My Girl Maryanne” from their 1984 album, Torn Apart. How did I miss these guys back in the 1980s? They had it all going on: a thoroughly Beatlesque esthetic, catchy poprock tunes, with jangly guitars and killer harmonies. The chorus from this song channels a vocal harmony straight out of 1966, as if the Mamas and Papas got the Beatles to swap out the Wrecking Crew for a session.

Of course, any mention of Mary Anne immediately got me thinking of a deep cut from Marshall Crenshaw’s stellar self-titled debut album from 1982. Distinctive guitar and background vocals always made this one a favourite for me, while the chord changes struck me as similar to Nick Lowe’s “My Heart Hurts” from the same year (similar but still sufficiently different).

But two songs hardly a theme blog post make. I needed more material. There was that Cohen cut, or The Who’s “Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand, or even The Four Season’s “C’mon Marianne” but they didn’t work with the blog or seemed too obvious (though I was sorely tempted to go with the Who!). Then I stumbled across a rare vocal turn from the normally instrumentally focused Shadows on their own “Mary Anne” song.  Not bad for guys who usually let Cliff Richard do all the singing.

Rounding out this tribute to various Mary Anne’s is a more modern track from Boston’s alt-country outfit, Girls Guns and Glory. “Maryanne” comes from the band’s 2014 release, Sweet Nothings. The whole record is a worthwhile kick-up-your-heels, Dwight Yoakam-ish country-plus-rock and roll mash up. But check out the melodic twist in the chorus – pure poprock! Don’t overlook their 2016 album, Love and Protest, particularly the killer single “Rock and Roll.”

With the internet, releasing a single or album is now an event that never really ends. The chance that some old thing from years ago could take off unexpectedly is so much more possible now than previously. So drop in on The Spongetones, Marshall Crenshaw, The Shadows, and Girls Guns and Glory and let the hit-making begin!

Catching up with Duran Duran, New Order and Billy Joel

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Car radioTime passes and it’s amazing the musical acts you realize you haven’t thought about in a long time. Could even be bands you once loved but now regularly pass over in the record collection. Then something brings them back to mind and you discover they have carried on, despite your indifference. Of course, sometimes such rediscoveries can be painful. But in the case of these three once mega-successful acts, the missing years have some seen them produce great stuff worthy of a bit of musical reconnaissance.

Duran_duran_paper_gods_album_artworkIf ever there was a band that seemed likely to gain the ‘fad artist’ label, it was Duran Duran. Flashy outfits, winning hairstyles, and plenty of jump-cut videos were oh-so-early 1980s. When they abandoned their hook-driven material for more bass-heavy R&B on 1986’s Notorious the exit sign over their career seemed to be flashing brightly. But despite the odds they persevered, turning out ten more albums over the years, all with at least a few pretty solid, hook-driven tunes, songs like “I Don’t Want Your Love,” “Ordinary World,” and “Come Undone.” The new millennium has seen the release of strong albums like Astronaut (2004) and All You Need is Now (2010). But their most recent Paper Cuts (2015) is arguably their best since 1983’s Seven and the Ragged Tiger. Largely written and and produced by recent wunderkind Mr. Hudson, the record still has the remarkably familiar stamp of Duran Duran while breaking new ground musically. Standout tracks include title cut “Paper Cuts” and “Sunset Garage.” If you haven’t checked out the band in a while, it’s time to return to the fold.

Paper GodsSunset Garage

New OrderI still remember finding my first used copy of New Order’s “Blue Monday.” I wasn’t really into techno or dance but there was just something so cool about the hypnotic driving bass and keyboard riffs. I dutifully purchased Low Life and Brotherhood when they came out. But I do remember being a bit disappointed with Technique, which seemed a bit too aptly named for comfort. New Musical Express complained that the band should just break up rather than repeat themselves (but then MNE was pretty infamous for hating bands as soon as more than a handful of people started liking them). So, in the nineties me and New Order drifted apart. Imagine my pleasant surprise to catch up on their post-Technique catalogue only to discover some of their best recordings! 1993’s Republic was OK, but 2001’s Get Ready is amazing, upping the traditional indie rock sound without losing the club vibe. And the songs are pretty strong: “Crystal,” “60 Miles an Hour,” and “Run Wild.” Four years later the band did it again with the stellar Waiting for the Siren’s Call, featuring killer tracks like “Krafty” and “Turn.” Songs left off the latter album were released as Lost Sirens in 2013 and they weren’t just leftovers: check out strong tracks like “I’ll Stay with You” and “I’ve Got a Feeling.” 2015’s Music Complete (minus longtime bass player Peter Hook) couldn’t help but disappoint by comparison, though “Superheated” is pretty cool.

CrystalTurnI’ll Stay With YouSuperheated

Billy_Joel_-_River_of_DreamsThe first record I ever bought was Billy Joel’s 52nd Street. It was 1978 and one of the only non-country albums stocked in the dry goods store in Cassiar, the asbestos mining town in northern BC where we lived briefly when I was 13. On reflection, I don’t like it nearly as much as The Stranger (with its drop dead hit single, “Only the Good Die Young”), or Glass Houses, which really was Joel’s songwriting peak (from a poprock perspective). Sometimes you have to make do. But after The Nylon Curtain and An Innocent Man I kinda lost interest in what Joel was doing. I mean, I really couldn’t figure out how the dirge-like “We Didn’t Start the Fire” could make it from the out-take pile let alone top the charts. Different strokes. And then Joel just stopped making albums altogether after 1993, surely a bizarre development in our music-as-commodity world. I would have said ‘who cares’ until I ran across two beautiful late Joel songs recently, one each from his last two albums. “And So It Goes” from 1989’s Storm Front has a slightly Randy Newman-esque feel to the arrangement, when it’s not just exquisite Joel balladry. But minus the flash – this performance is remarkably restrained and vulnerable. “Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)” is the best thing on 1993’s River of Dreams, a beautiful love song for his daughter.

And So It GoesLullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)

Catching up with former superstars is so much easier in the internet age. Check out Duran Duran, New Order and Billy Joel in all the usual places.

Record shopping 2.0: Blogroll ‘best of’ selections 2017

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AB SoundI get by with a little help from my friends. Because I can’t possibly keep up with all the great new music coming out every day, other blogs are a reliable source of new material. And I’m proud to say that I think my blogroll is a finely curated list of sites that really deliver on content. In fact, they’re so good I can’t visit them too much or I’ll just want to write about all the things they’ve already posted! But sometimes cruising through the blogs reminds me of hitting the record shops when I was younger. Vancouver in the early 1980s had a plethora of new and used record stores: Kelly’s, A&A Records, Track Records, Neptune Records, and, of course, the main new records shop, A&B Sound. A&B focused mostly on selling stereo components (I bought my first tape deck there on layaway!) but used albums as a loss leader to get people into the store. Their signature ‘featured bargain’ bins (where they stacked records flat on top of each other) crowded the front of the store and usually sold for $4:99 when the going price for an album was typically anywhere from $6:99 to $10:99. I would buy records I had no clue about, just because they looked cool and were cheap. Such bargains included New Order’s Power Corruption and Lies, Men at Work’s Business as Usual, and OMD’s Dazzle Ships. Well, the record stores, like the book stores of my youth, are largely gone. But the excitement of finding new music lingers on, now re-platformed to the blogosphere!

I don’t know about you but I love year end ‘best of’ lists. It appeals to the completist in me, the big picture guy who wants to somehow grasp the whole of what is going on. It also feels like a delightful cheat, like I’m getting to use someone else’s homework. My blogroll’s ‘best of’ lists introduced me to a host of music I had overlooked in the past year. Below I focus on just one artist from each that I’m glad I didn’t miss.

jesseterry_stargazer_cover_5Absolute Powerpop may not generate the volume of blog posts he once did, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t paying attention. His best of lists for 2017 were colossal: a top 100 singles, top 20 EPs, top 10 Americana and top 100 albums list. I snagged eight new artists that really caught my ear. But I want to draw your attention to Jesse Terry‘s Stargazer. The whole album is strong but if I had to pull a single, “Dangerous Times” sounds like a collaboration between Crowded House and Peter Case, combining the former’s unique melodic palette with the latter’s gritty yet melodic folk rock meets Americana. I would also pair this a-side with the delightfully airy, Macca-esque “Only a Pawn” as a strong b-side.

OnsiePowerpopaholic is the godfather of power pop blogs. Given the range and depth of his coverage and sheer volume of posts, if a band or song is somewhere on the power pop spectrum it will eventually appear here. I snagged five new bands from his Top 30 list this year but have chosen to showcase Onesie, a tongue-in-cheek outfit from Brooklyn that specializes in quirky melodic rock and roll, evident in spades on “Husbands in Finance”: great rhythm guitar swing, fun sing-along vocals, and hooks, hooks, hooks.

GospelbeachI only picked one new artist from I Don’t Hear a Single’s many ‘best of’ lists but that’s because I’ve been nicking great stuff from him all year! Berwanger, Mothboxer, Daisy House and many, many more. IDHAS is an early finder – bands show up here that inevitably show up everywhere else, but a few months later. And he has a particularly good handle on the British and European scene. Having said that, my find from IDHAS is GospelbeacH, a group of LA music scene veterans whose latest project distills the magic of a host of California poprock and country-rock influences. My choice for double a-sided single would combine the breezy yet muscular poprock feel of “Hanging On” with the more laidback country/Byrds ‘tude of “(I Wanna See U) All the Time.”

Hanging On(I Wanna See U) All the Time

HarringtonsPowerpopulist seems like a machine that scours the internet for freely offered up tunes from great indie bands you’ve yet to hear of. I am constantly blown away by his industry – so many bands! So many tunes! His tastes typically run a bit harder than mine but he does love his jangle. His ‘best of’ list ran to 109 songs, from which I scored five acts that are real keepers. The Harringtons are great example. These Sheffield teens crunch their guitars like the Who and the Jam but offer up sweeter harmonies. The combo really works on ‘”Scootch” from their debut EP Change Is Gonna Come.

Scootch

The rest of my blog finds are not from ‘best of’ lists or from blogs necessarily. Well, one is – Goldmine columnist John Borack had a great list of singles and albums – nicked the rather kooky Mo Troper from him. The album is Exposure and Resistance and it has an uneven, even raw quality at times. But when the poprock clicks, it’s heaven. My choice for a double a-sided single include the exquisite “Free Bin” and “Clear Frames,” the latter reminding me of a hetero version of Pansy Division.  Pop Fair alerted me to the fact that the incredibly talented Richard X. Heyman had a new record out last year, from which “Gleam” really is a stand out track. Power Pop Square put me on to Jeremy Messersmith, whom I featured recently, but here is a different cut – the very catchy “Love Sweet Love.”  Two of my favourite blogs appeared to hit the pause button sometime in 2017 but that didn’t stop them from putting out some great stuff before that happened. Everyone’s favourite foul mouthed blogger at The Best Indie Songs offered up a slew of choice cuts but I’m highlighting Autonomics “Southern Funeral,” with its insanely catchy thumping beat and sing-along chorus. Meanwhile Mufoandthings caught my ear with the acoustic jangling 1960s sound of Wilbur on “Perfect Stranger” and the more rocking, Yardbirdsesque “She’s Gone.”

Richard X. Heyman – GleamJeremy Messersmith – Love Sweet Love

Click on the names of the bands above to get closer to forking over some cash for these great singles and albums. In the record store I’d have a bundle of records under my arm and then have to decide which ones to keep and which ones to put back. It’s so much easier to be indecisive now.

Spotlight single: Francis Macdonald “Love is a Game Two Can Play”

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WDWhat I love about this single is its simplicity. It starts with a classic rock and roll motif, heard a gazillion times, nicely light on delivery with what sounds like an acoustic guitar. But then it slowly builds out with a half dozen subtle embellishments here and there. Like the beachy background vocals or Chuck Berry lead line breakout at the 1:53 mark. The main vocal itself is nicely subdued, delivered like a secret shared in bed. The song was featured in the 2007 movie Wedding Daze and Macdonald’s 2011 release The Art of Hanging Out and represents a departure from this artist’s now main body of work. Macdonald is largely known as the sometime drummer for Teenage Fanclub but more recently has produced an impressive body of quasi-classical and instrumental work, some of it for soundtracks. Check out his beautiful 2015 release Music for String Quartet, Piano and Celeste, which reminds me a lot of some of the best Wyndham Hill releases many years back. But I do wish he would turn his formidable talents back to such simple poprock fare as this great tune.

Keep up with what Francis Macdonald is doing at his website or Facebook and download this great song from Bandcamp.

Jeremy Messersmith’s totally awesome future is now

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JMWe need to start 2018 off on the right foot. Why not chase the blues away with ukulele-fueled songs of love, solidarity, and kittens? Yes, kittens. And snowflakes. And a bit of magic. It may look and sound like a hokey project at first glance but Jeremy Messersmith’s amazing 2017 release, 11 Obscenely Optimistic Songs for Ukulele: A Micro Folk Record for the Twenty First Century, delivers the goods. 10 songs performed in just under 16 minutes with an intense but laid back delivery that oozes authenticity. Some are sweetly charming (like “Everybody Gets a Kitten”) while others are just touchingly sweet (like “Everything is Magical” or “I’m a Snowflake Baby”). In anyone else’s hands these songs would quickly turn to mush but Messersmith manages to wring out every last drop of authentic feeling. It helps that the songwriting is so strong, careening from simple three chord wonders (“Everything is Magical”) to more saucy and complicated pre-WWII era jazz structures (“Love Sweet Love”). There isn’t a bum track on this all too brief album, which fittingly ends with the beautiful, delightful, and inspiring “We Can Make Our Dreams Come True.” Buy it. Play it. Again. I feel better already!

Jeremy Messersmith can be found at his website and Facebook. You can preview the whole album via a series of videos for each song, available at Jeremy’s YouTube page. Warning: repeated listenings to this record will make you want to play them yourself! Luckily, Jeremy offers a free songbook of the record so you can accompany yourself for the low, low price of just your email address.

Breaking news: Monomyth, The Foreign Films, The Red Button, and Pseudonym

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cassetteForgive your intrepid musical reporter if some of the headlines aren’t exactly ‘breaking’ time-wise. Our foreign bureau is understaffed. And we have to make our own coffee. But I’m pretty confident that some of these artists will be breaking news to someone …

HPFHalifax combo Monomyth sound like a nice 1960s beat group whose record has been messed with by some discordant indie interlopers. The effect is delightfully jarring, often surprising, and essentially disarming. Things start out sounding familiar but end up somewhere different. “Falling in Love” sounds like a hit single put into low gear, not quite taking off conventionally but really doing its own thing. Or “High on Sunshine” has a chorus worthy of all those great 1960s country-rock classics, set in a mess of fun melodic distractions. Some tracks are cast in more familiar registers, like the band’s eerie reincarnation of The Replacement’s on “Re: lease Life (Places to Go)” or the catchy, jangly “Drinking in Bed in E.” I love the vocal harmonies on “Cool Blue Hello” with its occasional conjuring of a Bernard Sumner/New Order vocal at times. Other tracks seem to contain a tension between straight up guitar pop and a discordant indie sound, particularly “Go Somewhere” and “Palpitations.” “New Year’s Review” has a great punked up 1970s pop feel. This is one of those fun, ‘out there’ records: hooks aplenty but not quite delivered how you might expect them.

the-foreign-films-e1515176018440Hamilton’s The Foreign Films have a major triple album project – The Record Collector –  they have been getting out over the course of a number of years. The records appear under a number of names, in a manner that is bit confusing. No matter. The material is fantastic. Check out the crisp pop rock elegance of “Broken Dreamers” or the swinging hookiness of “Land of the 1000 Goodbyes.” Reaching back in their catalogue I love the Bowie-esque “Lucky Streak” with its killer lead line or chugging rhythm guitar-centric “Yesterday’s Girl,” both from 2011’s Fire from Spark. Or note the snaky lead guitar hook that stiches together the melodic “Another World Behind the Sun” from 2007, chock full of Magical Mystery Tour motifs.

the-red-button-now-its-all-this-cover-minTechnically The Red Button’s recent Now It’s All This is a compilation/re-release, combining the duo’s two previous albums but adding an EP’s worth of new material. These guys have their Beatles’ chops down but they’re also talented and original songwriters, so the obvious John/Paul influences are worked up into exciting new material. If you missed the original releases, this is a fantastic collection. If you’ve got them already, there’s still some great new tunes here, like the collection’s title track “Now It’s All This.” Personally, from the whole collection I love the Costello-ish “Hopes Up,” “I Could Get Used to You,” and the wonderful “She About to Cross My Mind Again.”

Now It’s All ThisHopes Up

PseudonymSan Francisco’s Pseudonym have a dreamy pop sound, a pleasant melodic drone that seeps into your brain with indelible effect. They remind me a bit of a more lofi version of The Mighty Lemon Drops, accent on a more acoustic vibe. Exhibit A: album opener “I’m Fine,” a slow burn, ear worm song if ever there was one. Things pick up tempo-wise with a more insistent, surging feel to the hooky “All the Little Things.” Other highlights include the very catchy “Victimless Crime” and the more spare, acoustic numbers like “Don’t Leave Me This Way” and “We Had a Deal.” Altogether Pack of Lies is a solid collection.

Money has not gone out of style in 2018. Monomyth, The Foreign Films, The Red Button and Pseudonym would all love take your denominated paper featuring politicians or royalty. Though I’m sure they’d settle for e-dollars too.

Should be a hit single: Sitcom Neighbor “Tourist Attraction”

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sitcomneighbor3I don’t think I’ve been this excited about a band since I overheard The Shins in some small town bookstore in 2005. This specific song is so hooky perfect it hurts. From the elegant arrangement of the instrumentation to the low key sweetness of the vocals, everything just comes together to create a hook that won’t quit. Just try to hit pause after hearing the line “I don’t know how local you are …” The magnetic pull of this tune is subtle but strong. It was pretty much hit play, hit repeat for me for a couple of days.

“Tourist Attraction” is the opening track on the band’s 2017 release, Shag, a record that made a whole lot of year end ‘best of’ lists on the power pop blogosphere, usually near the top. Descriptors like ‘Beatlesque’ were fairly common. Somehow I missed its June release, as well as a pretty stellar 2012 album (Charm) and nice 2007 self-titled debut. My bad. Yet despite all the accolades accompanying these three long players the band’s impact on the internet seems pretty slight, with precious little coverage or, frankly, that much band presence. So this is me, shouting from the rooftops, “Sitcom Neighbor’s “Tourist Attraction” is solid gold ear candy!” And you can take that to the bank. Get it. Now.

Tourist Attraction

Sitcom Neighbor do have one piece of internet real estate. Hit like on their Facebook page here. And purchase Shag wherever quality recordings are sold.

Poprock Record’s should-be hit singles of 2017

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recordWhat were the biggest hits that weren’t in 2017? Who were the biggest should-be stars? In our alternate universe here at Poprock Record, these guys were all over the charts, the chat shows, the scandal sheets, as well as memed all over Facebook, Snapchatted by the kids, and Instragrammed into oblivion. Jesus, they were so popular you are well and truly sick of them by now. But sadly for our poprock heroes, the universe is not just ours to define. In the world beyond our little blog, they could all use another plug.

First, a few ground rules. The choices are drawn from the pool of songs I featured or found in 2017 and were released in that year. This is not a ‘best of’ list. This blog does not have the kind of coverage that would allow for such ‘omniscient view’ judgments. I cover things as they crawl past my attention, which means as often as not I’m featuring tunes I missed from 1994 as terribly exciting and ‘new’ to me. Nor is inclusion here a knock on the acts I’ve covered but not included. If I put them up on the site, I like’em. But there is something about this collection of tunes that lingers, sticks in my mind, and has the staying power I associate with classic 1970s AM radio hit singles. And we’re offering a ‘two-four’ of hits because, well, we are Canadian. The hyperlinks on the artist name take you to the original post and the featured songs.

So here we go – our annual list of Poprock Record’s Should-Be Hit Singles of 2017:

  1. Daisy House “Languages” / “Leaving the Star Girl”
  2. The Rallies “Don’t Give Up”
  3. Aimee Mann “Patient Zero”
  4. Fastball “Just Another Dream”
  5. Los Straightjackets “Rollers Show”
  6. Terry Malts “It’s Not Me”
  7. Wiretree “J.F. Sebastian”
  8. The Front Bottoms “Peace Sign”
  9. The Molochs “No More Cryin’”
  10. The Primitives “I’ll Trust the Wind”
  11. Tommy and the Rockets “Hey Daisy”
  12. Soccer Mommy “Out Worn”
  13. Robyn Gibson “He Doesn’t Love You Like I Do”
  14. Greg Kihn Band “The Life I Got”
  15. Max Bouratoglou “Drum”
  16. Richard Turgeon “Bad Seed”
  17. Freedom Fry “Strange Attraction”
  18. Daniel Romano “When I Learned Your Name”
  19. David Myles “I Wouldn’t Dance”
  20. Chris Lund “Tell Me”
  21. The Strypes “Grin and Bear It”
  22. Together Pangea “Money On It” / “Better Find Out”
  23. Propeller “Summer Arrives”
  24. The Mylars “Forever Done”

DH CRDaisy House dominated my playlist this year, both their current record and their back catalogue. They channel the 1960s but never let it wholly define them. They have two amazing singers and one fabulously talented songwriter. They deserve all the accolades the internet can hand out. If this were 1970 they’d probably be headlining The Flip Wilson Show tonight. The Rallies were an accidental discovery that turned into an obsession. Their whole album is great but “Don’t Give Up” makes my heart twinge every time. Aimee Mann and Fastball ably demonstrated this year that veterans can still turn out fantastic, career-defining albums. And I got to see both of them live! Los Straightjackets did Nick Lowe proud, producing a phenomenal tribute to his body of work. “Rollers Show” was my go-to summertime happy tune.

Greg_Kihn_Rekihndled_coverI won’t review every selection from the two-four, but I will say that I think the mix of poprock I feature on the blog is evident here. There’s fast and slow, country and rock, guitars and keyboards, etc. And then there’s always the hooks. Case in point: check out the 42 second mark on Greg Kihn’s “The Life I Got.” If you don’t feel the excitement he creates with some classic poprock guitar arpeggiation and the subtle vocal hook you’re kinda missing what we’re doing here. Here’s hoping 2018 is as hit single worthy as this past year has been!

songs_bond_songsI am going to sneak in an honourable mention for what I consider the compilation of year: Songs. Bond Songs: The Music of 007. This Curry Cuts collection has so many gems, working with material that is frankly hard to redefine. Standout tracks for me include Lannie Flower’s amazing reworking of “The James Bond Theme,” Freedy Johnston’s beautifully spare rendition of “For Your Eyes Only,” Jay Gonzalez’s nicely understated take on “A View to Kill,” and Big Box Store’s wonderfully retooled version of “Die Another Day.”

As always, let me make a plea to support the artists so we can continue to enjoy all this great music. In a way, we are living through a melodic guitar-based music renaissance, in part due to the breakdown of the old commercial music industrial complex. But what is replacing that old system is not clear, particularly the ‘making a living from music’ side of things. Visit the artist sites, go to the shows, buy the records – and repeat.

A pair of aces from Daniel Romano

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RomanoCanadian Daniel Romano serves up a winning musical hand with the surprising release of not one but two new albums to kick off this new year. The records showcase two strong sides of his eclectic songwriting personality: country-folk and poprock.

NervelssNerveless starts out strong with it’s title track, the spare and roomy arrangement recalling a classic 1970s sound. From there it’s pretty hard to choose highlights – there are just so many great songs here! “Anyone’s Arms” hits all the poprock marks with its great pumping piano and hooky acoustic guitar – very 1970s power pop. “Good Will” and the “Devil’s Handshake” exhibit Romano’s great talent to embed no end of catchy elements to sweeten the basic song hooks. “I’ve Never Tried to Understand” has a lovely grand and sweeping pop song structure. “Bored Enough to Love” starts out like it’s almost going to launch into “I Got You Babe” before turning into a creative pastiche of different styles.

HTBy contrast, Human Touch is a more muted folk and country effort, the title perhaps a nod to some other guy’s paired album release from the early 1990s. The album kicks off with the very subtle built up on “Bring Me to the War.” “An Earthly Stretch of Colour” is a nice folky number with strong acoustic lead lines and slow burning hooks. “Don’t Fool Me” has that aching country ballad sound. But my favourite track is undoubtedly the understated title track, which sounds to me like a great lost 1970s country rock classic.

You might just be asking, what’s in the water up there in Canada? Supremely talented poprock songwriters/performers seem to be in abundance – guys who really know how to deploy a hook like Gregory Pepper, Jeremy Fisher and Daniel Romano –  they represent some of the very best the country has to offer. Get over to bandcamp or Romano’s website to check out these new releases in full.

Welcome back to the 1980s: Bleachers, Dreamcar, Paramore and The Strypes

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stranger-things-80s-moviesThe wild popularity of the Netflix series Stranger Things told me something was up. This wasn’t some cleaned up riff on the 1980s like That Seventies Show was for the previous decade, but all the ugliness of the period in living colour. Big hair, badly fitting clothes, and that legacy of 1970s botched renos cast against a backdrop of deeply sonorous yet strangely ominous keyboards. Imagine Krafwerk playing in the  background of Three’s Company. Then when Walk The Moon’s spot on reproduction of a 1980s pop dance single “Shut Up and Dance With Me” hit the top of the charts I knew it was ‘welcome back 1980s, all is forgiven …’

bleachers-strange-desireBleachers really nailed the 1980s sound on their 2014 debut, Strange Desire. It was like Jack Antonoff went through all the great records from that decade and isolated the keyboard and drum sounds from various hits to act as the palate for his own songs. I couldn’t stop listening to “Rollercoaster” with its Springsteen-esque wistful opening that gives way to an insurgent and relentless poprock mini-masterpiece. I could just laud the whole album – it’s that good – but check out the John Waite “Missing You” meets Hall and Oates loping rhythm of “Wake Me” or the frosty ‘I’m so cool being this indifferent’ English vibe of “Like a River Runs.” 2017’s Gone Now complicates things with a host of guest producers but the 1980s resonance is still there, particularly when he’s channeling Prince on songs like “Hate That You Know Me” and “Let’s Get Married.” Personally, I really like the pastiche quirkiness of “I’m Ready to Move On/Mickey Mantle Reprise,” which sounds like a Fun b-side.

Wake MeI’m Ready to Move On/Mickey Mantle Reprise

For others the 1980s influence is more muted, sometimes temporary (maybe just one song), or operates at the level of gut feeling. Dreamcar have been dubbed a new wave supergroup, which is not something anyone would have predicted from former members of No Doubt and AFI. “Born to Lie” has all the right 1980s bombast, with stentorian hooks hit home via a tapestry of overlapping vocal parts. Imagine some of the new romantic bands mingled with Asia, from their first album.  Paramore’s excursion into the 1980s is more one off and atmospheric. It’s there in the keyboards, it’s there in the vocals, but really “Grudges” fits the label in the prelude to the chorus and chorus.

Born To LieGrudges

StrypesA more serious engagement with the 1980s comes from Ireland’s The Strypes. The buzz around this group’s early material had Roger Daltrey, Paul Weller, and Jeff Beck lining up as fans. And why wouldn’t they? The band was doing British blues like the pros, but with an inspired spring in their step. Hey, that’s fine for people who like that sort of thing. But I love the Who, the Rolling Stones and the Jam when they leave the blues behind and develop their own distinctive, more melodic songwriting styles. So I was thrilled with the transformation of the band on their most recent release, 2017’s Spitting Image. Now the blues sinks into the background in favour of more 1980s poprock stylings of Rockpile and the Jam. Things rocket out of the gate with “Behind Closed Doors” and never look back. Just check out the masterful poppy roll out of “Grin and Bear It” or Jam-like intensity of “A Different Kind of Tension.” And then “Black Shades over Red Eyes” has the easy swing of Elvis Costello’s first album, with a bit of Springsteen thrown in. The album still shows its blues roots here and there, with a particularly bluesy sense of melody on “Oh Cruel World.” An acoustic EP of the record is also great, particularly the stripped down version of “Grin and Bear It.”

A Different Kind of TensionOh Cruel WorldGrin and Bear It (acoustic)

Like decades before it, the 1980s will be broadly mimicked for a while but that will tire. It’s long-lasting contributions will show up more subtlely. Let’s give Bleachers, Dreamcar, Paramore and The Strypes a hand (and some cash) for getting it all started with such talent.