It must be The Rallies!

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Tacoma’s favourite sons are a back with a teaser single from a whole new album that will be coming in the new year. For me, it can’t come soon enough. The Rallies burst on the indie music scene with their strong debut album Serve in 2017 and followed that up with the terrific Upside Down two years later. Their main strength was in combining memorable tunes with some straightforward, just slightly Americana-meets-jangle playing. A quick listen to their new song suggests album number three is going to be just as good. “Must Be Love” establishes itself quickly with the band’s signature rhythm guitar hooks and uplifting harmony vocals, adorned with jangling lead guitar runs in all the right places. The tune sounds deceptively simple but the genius is the band’s careful arrangement of all the elements. You can hear a bit of Wilco here, some late solo John Lennon, and a host of those 1980s jangle bands.

What makes The Rallies so special? Sure, other bands have got jangle. And there’s plenty of new tunes coming out all the time. But The Rallies play with a unique kind of heart. There’s some distinctive alchemy that goes on in their songs that set them apart.

Get on over the bandcamp to collect this new single and get the early word on the next album.

Even more 50 foot women: Kate Clover, Linda XO, and Madeline Rosene

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Why focus a post on women? After all, it’s not like we focus one on men and their accomplishments. Or don’t we? In a way nearly all posts about rock and roll are about men because men dominate the music industry. Despite comprising more than 50% of the human race research on gender and popular music finds that women total only 20% of popular music performers, 12% of songwriters and just 3% of producers. And they mostly go it alone, largely performing as solo artists. Just 7% of popular music features women in bands. Now the typical response from the gallery at this point might be something like ‘well, maybe listeners just don’t prefer the music women are putting out.’ But as we’ll show in today’s post, that’s bogus. Women rock and in the very best melodic ways.

Forget the crimson, it’s all Clover on my music player right now. Kate Clover is a rock and roll force to be reckoned with. The internet is chock full of glowing notices for her debut album Bleed Your Heart Out and deservedly so. The album opens with a bass guitar rumble that kickstarts a dance party that just won’t quit. “Crimewave” conjures up the heat of the club and a dance floor pulsing with bodies. And things just keep getting more and more intense from there. Reviews lean on ‘punk’ to describe what is going on here but I hear more of the rock and roll reaction to the punk scene, how it added a dynamic and exciting edge to bands like Blondie and the Pretenders. The Chrissie Hynde feel is definitely there on “Gnarcissist” and “Heaven Down Here.” I hear a bit of Liverpool’s Zuzu on “Channel Zero” and “Pleasure Forever,” the latter also featuring some mesmerizing, kinetic electric guitar work. I love the catchy harsh jangle defining “Love You to Death” while the vocal reminds me of a punky revival of The Motels’ Martha Davis. The Davis vibe comes back again for me on “Daisy Cutter.” And who wouldn’t love a jump rocker with a dash of Sergio Leone like “Follow My Heart”? This album is a relentless rocking affair in the best way. Once you hit play there’s no way to turn it off until its done.

When I got wind of Linda XO’s “California Girl” I didn’t connect the dots to her work with poprock masters The Orion Experience, despite reviewing a number of their records. But the more I dug into her catalogue the more obvious the links were. First up, “California Girl” is the totally poptastic new single from her upcoming 2023 album Donuts and Flowers. You need only listen to the first few lines to hear the Mike Viola hooks on this Candy Butchers cover. Hard to do but Linda XO brings out even more of the tune’s earwormy melody than the original, sounding not unlike a number of Viola-produced projects e.g. Kelly Jones’ SheBang album. From there I went back in time, checking out her 2021 Linda XO EP and 2020’s Stupid Love. I wasn’t disappointed. The tracks on Linda XO EP have a sophistico-pop elan, vibing a bit of The Sundays and Ivy. Stupid Love resurrects the world of mid-1960s UK dollybirds and American westcoast pop songters but filtered through a more modern pop sensibility, kinda like what Sharleen Spiteri did on her 2008 LP Melody. “I Think I Love You” is a case in point with its saucy soul groove and early 1960s pop elan. Other tracks like “Fun” and “Stupid Love” sound more 1980s-edgy alt-pop. But the variety doesn’t stop there. You’ve got “Jing a ling” with its Ike Reilly talking-song bounce or “Leona” showcasing a rhythmic rock and roll lurch reminiscent of Marshall Crenshaw’s “Someday Someway.” Personally I dig “Moving On” as just a straight-up good-time radio single. And that’s barely half the record. Like anything from The Orion Experience this record is just so much irrepressible fun. Seems the solo apple doesn’t fall far.

On “Out of My Mouth” Madeline Rosene starts out like Sinead O’Connor but somewhere segues into Tracy Thorn. So the vocals are pretty up front here, but not in that vocal pyrotechnics style so prevalent today. Instead Rosene’s style is alluring, drawing you into a tapestry of sounds, alternatively comforting and challenging. As an LP, that’s Everyday Existential Crisis brought into focus, an album of many moods. “Out of My Mouth” starts out light, like an early morning walk in the park. Then “Words” turns meditative and ethereal, a lovely number whose low-key melody gets into your head. “Burn” shifts the mood into a contemporary great American songbook style. And so on. Rosene just keeps shifting the emotional focus song by song but somehow establishes a coherent ambience to the whole undertaking. Check out how “Hearts on Fire” lets the pumping piano chords drive the song, interspersed with more reflective moments. Shifting down, title track “Everyday Existential Crisis” has a carefully crafted acoustic Jill Sobule intimacy, though it could fit on any early Everything but the Girl album. “Lobotomy” has the sound of a single to me, particularly when it picks up tempo a third of the way through. Or maybe the hit single is the 1990s dark pop aura all over the Liz Phair-ish “Sugar” that wraps up the album? I can’t decide. What I do know is that Everyday Existential Crisis is a now record, capturing the emotional texture of our musical times. It’s intense, sometimes seemingly ambivalent, but curious and reassuring all at the same time.

Towering over us, these 50 foot women have got the rock and roll stuff of your dreams. Just click the links to make them real.

Photo: Fragment of “La formation de la personnalite,” collage by Jacques Rozier.

Shaming the shameless: Squeeze “Food for Thought”

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Squeeze are famous for being cheery blokes. Friendly, affable, seemingly always up for laugh. Definitely guys to head down to the pub with. When I finally got to see them live in Manchester in 1988 the show was everything I’d hoped for and more. The band and the fans interacted like long lost pals. I even got to meet them after the show and they chatted with me like a neighbour in the street. What more could I ask for? Well, as a political scientist by trade, I’m always impressed when popular culture icons use their fame to draw attention to politics. And that’s what Squeeze does with their brand new single and EP of the same name Food for Thought.

Now, this is not the first time the band have gone political. In 2016 the band amended the lyrics to their song “Cradle to Grave” to defend public housing and embarrass the Conservative Prime Minister when he rubbished the welfare state on a BBC chat show they were both appearing on. And the band’s early work was notable for its ‘kitchen sink drama’ themes that focused on the plight on the working class, most notably on tracks like “Up the Junction” from Cool for Cats (which took its name from Neil Dunn’s 1963 novel) or “Separate Beds” from Argybargy. But as band member Glenn Tilbrook relates, “I had my head up my arse for a good deal of time as far as politics was concerned. I was blissfully unaware of the impact of stuff on people, I was in my own little bubble of success.” Now the band returns to social commentary, giving voice to the growing sense of anger with the state of economic inequality in present day Britain. In interviews accompanying the new EP Tilbrook is pretty clear where he stands.  “[Politicians] just look the other way. I’m fed up with it. I think a lot of people are. Most of us have more empathy than that. But we’re driven by a hard-right ideological government that can’t see that, which makes me very fearful.” The EP will raise funds for food banks but the lyrics to “Food for Thought” suggest that Squeeze’s political critique goes far beyond charity.

As an EP Food for Thought is basically a glorified single, showcasing a new song and then offering new recordings of older songs and a few live recordings. The dour “The Very First Dance” from 1982’s Sweets From a Stranger gets an uptempo reinvention while “Electric Trains” from 2008’s Ridiculous is given a breezy redo. Live tracks include “Slap and Tickle” from Cool For Cats, “In Qintessence” from East Side Story, and “The Day I Get Home” from 1991’s Play. And these are great. But what about the new song? People, it’s up to the band’s very highest standards. Musically “Food for Thought” harkens back to the band’s late 1980s poprock sound on records like 1987’s Babylon and On, perhaps a bit less new wavey than their early records, less rootsy than post 1990s material. The track is deceptively peppy but lyrically moving in naming the struggles so many are going through and relentless in its critique of those responsible.

These four lines really capture this dual focus:

Pay less taxes ditch red tape
Cosy contracts for their mates
Cutting help right to the bone
Empty stomachs freezing homes

In speaking to the motivation behind the song Tilbrook eloquently captures what is and isn’t going on: “The social security system was set up to save people who didn’t have work, and now people are earning wages and it’s still not enough. More and more people are being pushed into a position they have no control over. With more austerity on the way and interest rate rises, it’s going to get worse.”

I’ve loved Squeeze for more than three decades, ever since I heard “Another Nail in My Heart” on Vancouver’s CKLG back in 1980. But I’ve never been more proud of them, turning their talents on this new song to rally listeners to attend to the great political crises of our time. Do your part, get your copy of Food for Thought now and go see the band if you’re lucky enough to live where they’re taking the tour.

Mainlining rock and roll: The Kryng, The Veras, and Chris Lund

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Today’s selections lean into rock side of our poprock brief. These are bands that know the joy of a good rocking out session. Definitely worth mainlining or, as the dictionary says, to ‘enjoy without restriction.’

I’ve been itching to write about The Kryng’s new LP Twelve Hymns to Syng Along ever since I snagged a copy a few months back. Fans will return to hear more of the 1960s-inspired, garage rock Beatlesque tuneage that filled out previous records. New listeners may hip to the Merseybeat but also appreciate the quality of the songs. “Our Love” kicks thing off on the right jangle footing. “Get” steps on that pedal, twinning harmony vocals and propulsive guitar work. Then the album alternates between dance stompers like “Deep Inside” and more period set pieces like “Roll-Anda” with its distinctive Monty Norman 007 aura. Or compare how “She’s a Dream” paints a psychedelic pop delight while “Don’t You Know” is a driving garage rocker that falls somewhere between The Yardbirds and the Smithereens. For Beatlemaniacs, “She Knows My Name” and “It Disappears” vibe a Beatles ’65 ambience. And then there’s “Although You’re Gone” which sounds both old and new, conjuring Rubber Soul, Bryds, and Monkees influences but also reminds me of Mississippi power pop outfit Lolas. Another hard to place number is “I Know ‘Cause I See” which sounds so now but also like a poppy version of Cream. Warm up the turntable, you will definitely satisfy your many party moods with Twelve Hymns to Syng Along.

Another highly anticipated release for me has been The VerasV is for Vera. The band teased us with a few early singles last year but then taunted us for months about the coming album. Now it’s here and what stands out for me is the tightness. This is a band that has played countless shows together over the years and it shows. “Sevens and Nines” jumps to it, opening the album with big organ and a swinging chunky guitar rhythm that defines this album. The influences here are strongly 1970s – Queen, Bowie, even Supertramp – but the output often slips into the 1980s. Listening to “If You Ain’t Got Love” I hear a touch of Madness filtered through 10cc. “She’s Into Magic” is another one that sounds so Farfisa organ fantastic. Another organ-centric number is “Winner Not a Sinner” with its ABBA vibe. Fun is definitely on the agenda of this album whether it’s the early 1970s sunshine pop feel on “Are You Having Fun Yet?” or the more Harrisonian psychedelic groove of “Ordinary Fun.” Then things shift pop punky on “Bad Dream” and glammy with “Spaceman.” “I Should Know Better” and “My Country Girl” have the big AM pop radio sound I associate with 10cc cut with a bit of Queen. The should-be hit single here is “Paper Cup Telephones” with its perfect meld of slick vocals, organ and guitars, animated by an on-point 1970s pop song swing.

With Indian Summer Chris Lund has produced a most perfect car+summer+girls rock and roll record. Is that Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander guest vocalizing on opening track “Everything is Fine”? No, that’s just Lund nailing the Cheap Trick formula. The song has got the vocal, the edgy guitar, and the band’s signature hint of menace in the melody. Or one can hear a bit of Brendon Benson here. But hey, it’s all Lund really – the genius is in how he puts it all together. This early excitement is maintained on title track “Indian Summer” as the sonic palate expands to a broader set of 1970s melodic rockers, perhaps a bit of April Wine. “Mary Jane” has a very Beatles feel, but like if they’d carried on into the 1970s while “Guarantee” has a “Don’t Let Me Down” pacing with an Odds-like melodic punch. In many ways the guitar playing is the star of this record, anchoring the various stylistic jaunts. “Down the Line,” “Killing Kindness,” and “Time Runnin’” show what Lund can do with a guitar, casting alluring lead lines against a solid wall of rhythm guitar. Then “Please Me” offers up a stark, mostly acoustic guitar number accompanied by very emotive Lennon-esque vocals, with some nice instrumental change ups throughout. The should-be power pop hit single here is “Military Girl.” This one’s got a killer set of hooks with just right level of jarring edge to offset the sweetness. While the weather may turn Chris Lund’s Indian Summer will always be in season.

Sometimes you’ve just got to go direct to the rock and source material. Today’s acts combine hooks with a rocking edge that can be oh so satisfying.

Photo credit: Herve Gloaguen “Hippies” from Le Livre de la Sante by Joseph Handler (Monte Carlo: Andre Sauret, 1968), volume 13: Adolescence, Hygienes, Viellissement.

Return engagement: Edward O’Connell and Steve Robinson & Ed Woltil

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A return engagement with a favourite artist is something special precisely because you’ve got a sense of what is coming but not exactly what may arrive – it’s just that tension creates a unmatched sense of anticipation. Today’s post features two such favourites indeed, artists inspired by some of the legends of my poprock pantheon.

It seems Washington D.C. music veteran Edward O’Connell has doubled the wait time between albums, from four years between albums one and two to eight years getting out album three. But wow has it been worth the wait. Feel Some Love is a great big bevy of post pub rock goodness. Anyone familiar with O’Connell’s past work knows that his basic musical portrait is a triptych of Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello and Tom Petty influences. They’re all here, though perhaps with a splash more Costello colour on these 15 featured cuts. “Golden Light” opens things with a poppy Tom Petty meets Elvis Costello demeanor. There’s a really great piano and organ tension driving this song along, topped with some distinctive lead guitar work. Then title track “Feel Some Love” slips in a bit of pop soul, particularly in the chorus. Overall there’s less of the Tom Petty rocking feel to this outing, though Petty influences are definitely there on “Florida Man,” “Things Have Really Changed,” and “Sad and Lonely,” the latter a cover of 1980s DC indie band The Neighbors. The vibe is more latter day Nick Lowe in his poprock elder statesman guise: more mellow, countryish at times, with the same devlish wordplay. “Buddy Crocker” is obviously very Lowe but also check out “Who’s Watching Your Baby” with its spot-on Paul Carrack organ sweep and understated yet alluring vocal. Reminds me of all those obscure sixties numbers Nick has been crafting into mini pop gems. For a dose of solid mid-period Costello there’s “I Got a Million of Em,” “All My Sins,” and “As No One Once Said,” the latter with some sweet Harrisonian lead guitar. “You Wish” is something a bit different emoting a poppy feel reminiscent of the late 1970s post-folkies Ian Matthews and Gerry Rafferty. For should-be hit single, I’d vote for “A Thousand Pardons” just for the solid guitar hooks. Welcome back Ed, I’m definitely feeling some love for this LP.

On Shadow Play Steve Robinson and Ed Woltil reunite to further their exploration of the various hues of folk rock, both light and dark, poppy and austere. Some of the songs are unabashedly AM folk pop, like opening cut “Chasing Angels” which reminds me of 1980s pop folk artists like Al Stewart. Or there’s “Lifeboat” or “The Way You Love Him” with their very mainstream pop folk sound circa 1979.  Both “Life on a Trampoline” and “On Your Side” reach a bit further back to the previous decade, mixing Beatles with Pink Floyd influences on the former or Cat Stevens late 1969 folk-inflected pop on the latter. Things do get more indie on “Kickstart” which vibes an XTC folk feel a la Mummer, with a bit of Peter Gabriel in the vocal. Then the album goes darker. Cuts like “Ultramarine” sound a bit more dire, like a poppy Richard Thompson, while “Vulgar Tongue” has an Appalachian folk flavour melded with psychedelic elements. I love the austere and stark folk canvas of “One Day Never” and “On My Way to My Appointment with Death,” very similar to recent efforts from Tacoma Washington’s Vanilla. “Shadow Wall” is yet another different flavour of folk, this time in tune with more serious folkies like Bruce Cockburn, though with a dab of Beatles melodically. Album wrap up song “Make Amends” lends a White Album folk atmosphere to its very timely sentiment. All in all another folk-tastic release from guys who just won’t limited by a genre label.

I’m loving this return engagement with O’Connell, Robinson and Woltil but perhaps you’re seeing the show for the first time? Click on the links above to get caught up with these superior showmen.

Spotlight single: The Primitives “Don’t Know Where to Start”

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Your November pick-me-up is a fabulous new single from The Primitives. It’s been 4 plus years since the band’s last EP New Thrills and, frankly, we could use some. “Don’t Know Where to Start” kicks off like an early 1960s sock hop hit, all drums and snaky organ work. But 17 seconds in that distinctive jangly Paul Court guitar slides in to liven up the proceedings. From there it’s all ‘get those shoes onto the dance floor’ hustle. Tracy Tracy is in fine form vocally and the organ runs are like a special guest star on this track. The single’s b-side “Till I’m Alive” features a vocal turn from Paul Court and it’s pretty understatedly groovy, balancing Court’s lowkey gravelly vocals with a beat that just won’t quit. The bass guitar lines really pop throughout the song, giving it a solid bass and drum heft. These tracks are paired with a live version of “Panic” and a fuzzy acoustic rendition of “Don’t Know Where to Start” on an extended single version of the release, due out in January digitally. Can a new Primitives long-player be far off? Positive vibes people, let’s keep sending those positive vibes (and $).

While we wait, let’s explore some lesser-known Primitives cuts. These are songs I haven’t found included on any official album releases or compilations LPs. “Always Coming Back” was the b-side to “Lose the Reason” but didn’t make the cut for Spin-O-Rama album that came out a bit later. Upon release the band described the song as akin to Bobbi Gentry or Nancy Sinatra joining the Velvet Underground and covering the Beatles. Personally, I think the lead guitar has a very CCR tone. Then there’s the airy, somewhat acoustic “Never Kill a Secret” that appeared on the Coventry-area sampler The Alternative Sounds. Sort of an English take on early 1970s California sunshine pop. Finally, I love the vibe all over the band’s cover of The Aislers Set’s “Been Hiding” for the Girlsville benefit compilation Be Gay, Do Crime! The band give the song a classic Primitives treatment.

Don’t know where to start? Start here (and then work your way back through that fantastic Primitives catalogue here).

Fright night set list

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Given the everyday horror of the past few years – war, pandemic, the political right – it’s getting hard for a humble, candy-fueled monster holiday to compete. Luckily we still have the music. This post celebrates fright night with a set list of seasonally appropriate tunes covering a good range of monster diversity.

Justin Roberts gets called a kids songster but I think his tunes are for everyone who’s not quite finished growing up. He’s fun and whimsical and not afraid to be silly. And his songs will get stuck in your head like that gum on the underside of your chair at assembly. His “Trick or Treat” captures all the action of the nighttime candy run from a kid’s point of view and thus is an appropriate opening to our proceedings. The Freddie Steady 5 also strike just the right seasonal mood with their spirited cover of P.F. Sloan’s “Halloween Mary.” They take the tune out its original folk rock register to deliver a more pub rock easy-going party feel. Let the party begin!

Justin Roberts – Trick or Treat
The Freddie Steady 5 – Halloween Mary

Alright kids, we know you’re mostly here for the candy but deep down you’re also up for a bit of fright. Time to bring in the monsters. Don’t worry, we’ll ease you in with the pleasant Byrdsian psychedelic  vibes of Pseudonym on “Before the Monsters Came.” Then the elusive and mysterious Clovis Roblaine sounds like he’s cooped up in his castle on a hill at the start of his “Monster Love.” But as he gets going we’re transported to what sounds like a 1970s riff on all those old cartoony drive-in movie monster encounters. Like Rocky Horror but without all the cross-dressing. Then there’s Timmy Sean’s “She’s a Monster” from his poprock musical A Tale From the Other Side where the creature sounds very 50 foot women-ish put through a serious ELO soundtrack filter. So far the monsters are pretty low on terror but come with popcorn.

Clovis Roblaine – Monster Love

One band reliably up for a holiday musical tribute is Vista Blue. “Boy Beast” is the flip side to their Halloween single release “Victor Crowley” and I liked this b-side just a bit more for its imagery and pulsing energy. The band also appear on Radiant Radish’s timely, pumpkin-approved collection Time of the Season. The whole album is great, it’s free, and it also includes a band called The John Carpenter’s The Things doing a mad rush of a song called “Here’s The Thing.” It’s poppy and punky with some great early 1980s synth background runs holding everything together. Aimee Mann’s “Frankenstein” is obviously on point for our theme. Do I really need much of an excuse to include anything by Mann? No. But listen to the sophisticated lyrics here amid a layering in of so many interesting musical adornments. Talent bleeds out of this gal like an open wound. Indie darlings Kiwi Jr. serve up some “Wicked Witches” because it can’t be All Hallow’s Eve without some serious sorcery.

Aimee Mann – Frankenstein

Now if we really want to move into more scary territory we’ve got to get to the zombie and vampire portion of our programming. Modern horror definitely leans on these two players to up the terror quotient. Sal Baglio uses his band The Amplifier Heads to bring The Band back from the dead with his spot-on Band-like reincarnation of their sound on “Zombie Moon.” Warning, things get a bit hairy near the end (as they should). During a zombie apocalypse it’s all too easy to forget your partner’s many co-dependent observations about your shortcomings. Luckily we have B.A. Johnston to keep us focused with “You Will Miss Me When the Zombies Come.” Not that you’ll remember. Ok, on to vampires with The Orion Experience’s disco poprock vamp of a tune “Vampire.” The ‘ooh ooh’s so remind of those creepy Tommy Lee Jones photo shoot scenes from The Eyes of Laura Mars. Tired of those impersonal representations of vampires? Italy’s Bee Bee Sea give them some personality on the rollicking “Vampire George.” I love the Together Pangea vibe on this performance, combining swing with hooks and just a touch of punky swagger.

Our last stop on the fright night scare tour is ghost city, just so the mood will linger. Copenhagen’s Surf School Dropouts are such a curious outfit. Are beaches in Denmark much like California? Because they’ve got the California beach sound down. And just how hard is surf school anyway? Whatever. “Attack of the Ghost Hot Rods!” takes us back into the fun zone of this holiday with goofy lyrics, sound effects, and killer guitar licks. By contrast, Look Park’s “I’m Going to Haunt This Place” is more mellow, a bit maudlin. Haunting really.

Well kids I hope the candy was worth it. Because soon the frights won’t end when the monsters take off the mask. They’ll just be starting.

Playing the Odds

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A long time ago in the 1990s a flash of Canadian cultural pride briefly burned bright. The Toronto-based Kids in the Hall were wowing the comedy field with their boundary-crashing, cross-dressing humour while out on the country’s west coast a new band was turning heads and turntables. The Odds or just Odds brought together two stars of the local Vancouver scene, Stephen Drake and Craig Northey. For a while it seemed that everyone in town had a friend of a friend in a band with them. Together they self-produced the cheeky Neopolitan (deliberately misspelled) in 1991, followed by the more major label-ish Bedbugs in 1993. Both made a splash primarily in Canada. The breakthrough moment was 1995’s Good Weird Feeling, an album that launched the band from the indie scene to the almost mainstream with killer cuts like “Truth Untold,” “Radios of Heaven,” and the seductive “I Would Be Your Man.” I was sold. When 1996’s Nest came out I was convinced they were on the verge of major stardom with “Someone Who’s Cool” as the obvious should-be hit single. Man was I wrong. And then that moment of Canadian cultural coolness passed. The Kids in the Hall movie Brain Candy bombed at the box office (even an Odds soundtrack song couldn’t save it) while Odds themselves broke up in 1999. What could have been wasn’t. It seemed like the new century would have to get along without them.

Fast forward to the new millennium and the band minus Stephen Drake (and plus newcomer Murray Atkinson) decide to reunite as the New Odds and then, later, just back to Odds. Since then they’ve released 2 albums, 3 EPs and a stand-alone single. 2008’s Cheerleader came on strong, reviving the band’s signature guitar-heavy melodic rock and roll sound. Tracks like “Getting My Attention,” “Out of Mind” and “Good Times Rolled Away” harken back to their earlier work, particularly from the Good Weird Feeling period. By contrast “Cloud Full of Rocks” and “Write It In Lightning” really remind me of Sloan. Things shift into Kim Mitchell or Tom Cochrane good-time rocking territory on the Corner Gas theme “My Happy Place.” For singles I’d take “I Feel Like This All the Time” with its laid back hooky jangle, though “River is Cried” is another seductive slow burn.

Write It In Lightning
I Feel Like This All the Time

Five years later the band was ready with another new album but marketing concerns saw it carved up into three separate EPs released over a two-year period circa 2013-14. The original LP only finally got an official release this Fall. No matter, Universal Remote is a timeless rock and roll package, equally at home whether it be 1999, 2013 or right now. If Cheerleader’s sound was lean and focused then Universal Remote fattens things up, multiplying and overlapping guitar parts all over the place. Opening track “He Thinks He Owns You” builds its sonic palate bit by bit, conjuring up a distinct atmosphere. “Anything You Want” is just a gorgeous slice of guitar poprock, a radio ready single if ever there was one. “High” even hits some country notes a la Jayhawks and Blue Rodeo. And then there’s the obvious hit, “Party Party Party,” a song that busts out the chord-slashing rock fun like an indie rock BTO. By contrast “Ghost Bike” leans into a hypnotic keyboard arrangement, adding another dimension to the album.

It’s great when a favourite band makes a comeback but there’s always a moment or two of trepidation about whether the new material will measure up. With Odds, you can relax. Cheerleader and Universal Remote compare more than favourably with the band’s original catalogue. These records are like cherished friends who’ve returned to the neighbourhood just to hang out.

Around the dial: The Boys With The Perpetual Nervousness, Push Puppets, Uni Boys, and The Mommyheads

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What if we could revive that great era of radio circa 1978 to 1981 when the likes of Squeeze, XTC, Rockpile, Split Enz and a host of other new wave bands made it into regular rotation? Commercial radio was rarely so open to offbeat trends. Those days might be gone but we can try to revive that kind of energy with a turn around our virtual radio dial.

I loved albums one and two from The Boys With The Perpetual Nervousness. Indeed, “I Don’t Mind” from last year’s Songs from Another Life topped my should-be hit singles for 2021. So I’m obviously primed to like anything new. Happily I can confirm that their new album The Third Wave of … is another jangle tour-de-force, one that extends beyond what they’ve done before. Oh sure there’s the usual Bryds-meets-Teenage Fanclub sparkle to the guitars and shiver in the vocal harmonies. Added to this is material with a harder, new wave guitar edge, as if the Cars rhythm section had dropped in on a few recording sessions. Listen for it on tracks like “Look Back,” “In the Right” and “Out of Time” where it melds with TBWTPN’s distinctive song-writing style. I think the most interesting move in this direction is “Old Pictures of Ourselves” which combines creative guitar and keyboard parts in a striking synthesis. Yet by and large this record is full of familiar TBWTPN grin-inducing, feel-good tunes: songs like “As the Day Begins” and “Turning Red” that tweak the jangle and vocal harmonies to go straight for the heart. Some efforts strike a more sombre jangly note, like “The Stars Go Round” and “Open the Box.” My fave track this outing is probably “Isolation,” an exquisite country pop duet with Mary Lou Lord. And don’t miss the lovely, spare acoustic version of the song (on the digital version of the album only) where Lord’s vocal is primary.

Sometimes you start playing a record and you just know it’s going to be terrific. That was my reaction to “There’s No One Like Lynette,” the opening cut on Push Puppets new LP Allegory Grey. The song delivered an electric jolt of New Pornographers-influenced tune-age. When track two “Sometimes the Buds Never Flower” took off in a very different (but pleasing) Finn brothers direction that was it, I was hooked. And things just got better from there. Songwriter Erich Specht cites an array of power pop influences but the Crowded House imprint is strong on this album. Sometimes they slip in subtly, like the deft Neil Finn melodic turn in the chorus of “Obvious” or the Tim Finn vocal sound on “Perfect Picture.” Elsewhere they’re in your face, like “Lightening in a Dress” where things kick off like something right out of Neil Finn melodic central casting. It’s not just the songs, the band has got the Crowded House feel down. It’s the organ on “Center of the Storm” or the sad melodic guitar lines defining “October Surprise.” And yet the band make these influences their own, a testament to the superior song-writing and performance here. Case in point: obvious should-be hit single “The Bane of My Existence.” All the elements come together on this breezy hook-filled delight. As power pop interview site Sweet Sweet Music said recently, this fantastic record is one to treasure.

On Do It All Next Week the Uni Boys tap the source code of 1970s new wave power pop, bands like the Plimsouls, the Records and Bram Tchaikovsky. Throughout the record they nail the guitar sound, the stark rhythm guitar style, accented by streamlined melodic lead guitar lines. The formula is set from the start with the surging “You Worry About Me” which almost comes off like an American version of The Jam. “Downtown” is more Plimsouls with its filled out sound. “On Your Loving Mind” starts off Cars-like with a dose of poppy Ramones coming in later. There’s even a touch of Stones on the otherwise Ramones kinda of tune that is “One More Night.” “Up To You” moves in a more melodically pop direction with some fab trebly guitar elevating the impact of the song. Another guitar special number is “You Are in My Heart” with its up-front guitar pyrotechnics and ominous background aura. But the stand out track here for me is “Caroline Kills.” It’s got a Jonathan Sings! elan but like he’d joined The Replacements. Do It All Next Week demonstrates that musical obsession doesn’t have to lead to recycled nostalgia. Sometimes something old is just new again.

A lot of bands got chewed up in the major label meltdown of the 1990s when it seemed like, overnight, the standard commercial career path for modern artists just ended. Thankfully a few bounced back, like The Mommyheads. After a disastrous dalliance with Geffen in the 1990s they relaunched their career in the new millennium with a series of brilliant albums, forcing reviewers to stock up on superlatives. And the brand new Genius Killer LP is more of the good same. Reviewers often compare the band to XTC and there’s some of that lurking here, perhaps in a pop soul guise on “She’s a Fighter.” But get ready for some surprises. Like the decidedly ELO flavour popping up all over “Impulse Items.” Or the Odds vibe on “Bittersweet.” Another band often invoked with the group on particular selections is Queen, this time most evident on title-track “Genius Killer.” But digging a bit deeper I’d make comparisons of what is going here with more experimental outfits like Tally Hall, Overlord and Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, particularly on cuts like “Distill Your Love Into That Dying Light” and “Privilege.” There’s even a bit of 1970s pop prog going on tracks like “First Five Seconds.” Should-be hit single “Idealist” is an understated bit of poprock genius, both in songwriting and execution. But I’m also partial to the subtle and alluring, almost Hall and Oates-like charms of “One and the Same.” My recommendation? Get smart with today’s premiere smart person’s band, The Mommyheads. And pick up a copy of Genius Killer today.

Yesterday lives on in the here and now, renewed and reanimated on your radio dial. Visit these artists to get the full record revival experience.

Photo courtesy Tom Magliery.

Make mine a single!

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‘Disk jockey, make mine a single!’ or words to that effect might be heard somewhere sometime on request night. But what kind of song makes the cut? Today’s post offers you 21 selections to choose from. So get ready – it’s playlist stocking time!

The delicious tension driving “Square One” from New Jersey’s Sad Girls involves casting melancholic vocals against a backdrop of bright churning rhythm guitar work. A captivating melodic alchemy is the result. The song is featured on the band’s recent EP Wild Creatures, just one of many winning contributions. I mean, it’s no accident this mini-album contains a cover of the Split Enz hit single “I Got You.” Haunting, atmospheric, sometimes mournful – that’s Sad Girls’ basic MO. Jangle is alive and well in Paisley, Scotland, thanks to The Muldoons. Their 2020 debut album Made for Each Other has that sprightly yet dispirited feel of so many late 1980s Manchester bands (and that’s a good thing). But check out the rippling jangle propelling “Lovely Things,” aided by a great horn section (I have it on good authority they’re real). What a standout track! Melbourne’s Cool Sounds take a different approach. “Sleepers” is so loping-rhythm cool, ornamented with fab electric piano motifs, crystalline clear guitar riffs, and breathy vocals. The overall effect is hypnotic, lulling, but still hooky. Halifax Nova Scotia tunesmith David Myles is a little bit soft rock crooner, a little bit jazz sophisticate. His new album It’s Only a Little Loneliness has shades of gospel, country, and urban-tinged pop. Kinda like what Leonard Cohen was doing with this last few records. Just listen to how he arranges the various hooky adornments on “Mystery,” the eerie lead guitar lines hovering in the background, the stately female back-up singers, the ear wormy keyboard lick shadowing the ‘mystery’ lyric. Classy, cloaked in a bit mystery, yet totally 1980s AM radio friendly. The follow up to Bird Streets much-lauded 2018 self-titled debut album is just about out. Lagoon promises more of the same winning, jangle-infused Americana-styled poprock. Here’s a taste of what is to come with “Go Free.” The guitar work and mesh of harmony vocals suggests those other Bryds with a hint of easygoing Tom Petty.

Bird Streets – Go Free

Beatle cover bands are no rare thing. Some are great but many require a few pints to hit their Mersey stride. Then there are the masters, acts like Apple Jam and The Analogues who receive praise from the likes of former Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick and Beatles archivist Mark Lewisohn. But that happens when those players set aside the Fabs canon to do their own thing? The Analogues, now dubbed The Analogues Sideshow, demonstrate it doesn’t have to be phony Beatlemania. “Don’t Fade Away” is clearly sixties influenced but in a timeless post-1980s poprock way. Are relationships like labour saving devices? That’s the angle Newcastle Australia duo The Tryouts are laying on us with “Washer.” The spare sounding verses meet dialed up chorus reminds me of Mo Kenney or Darwin Deez. Can’t wait for more from these two. Really, anything. Yotam Ben Horin’s new longplayer Young Forever has so many highlights for but some reason “Leopard” leapt out at me. Maybe it was the splash of shimmery guitar, perhaps it was lines like ‘I wanna be your Johnny Marr.’ But something really works on this particular tune, I found myself returning to it again and again. New Orleans band Lawn have got an art rock feel going on with their recent album Bigger Sprout. The songs are just a bit discordant and unpredictable and definitely memorable. But their opening cut is so should-be hit single. “Down” has an addictive guitar hook anchoring everything, rolling out like a Blue Oyster Cult mega-riff. But then it’s the pulsing rhythm guitar that takes everything forward in the chorus. You gotta hand it to Geoff Palmer. Doing a complete cover of Dee Dee Ramone’s near-universally hated solo record Standing the Spotlight takes guts and some pretty serious inspiration. But Palmer delivers. Check out how he takes a melodic promise that is just hinted at in Dee Dee’s original version of “Baby Doll” and breaks it wide open, elevating the track from a noble failure to a retro classic.

The Analogues Sideshow – Don’t Fade Away
The Tryouts – Washer

On his new solo record The Misfits Old 97s frontman Rhett Miller is not just spinning his indie rock Americana wheels. The whole enterprise has a 1970s polished crossover country-meets-pop feel. Reviewers have suggested there’s a 1970s Fleetwood Mac twist on “Go Through You” but I hear a pub rock meets Andy Kim kind of pop smoothness. Brooklyn’s Piano Movers have a low profile on the ole interweb – I could find only 3 songs. But what a trio they are. Lofi, indie, with a Jonathan Richman kind of earnest yet still laid back intensity. “Your Girlfriend’s Lover” is an acoustic guitar-strummy proto-feminist delight, with some basic but alluring lead guitar interludes. The vocals have a meditative sonic delivery, so soothing. Another Fruits and Flowers record label band is Oakland’s Odd Hope. I’ll admit, it was Jesss Scott’s striking, colourful album artwork that caught my attention here. As with its cover, the album reflects a colourful range of musical styles like a kaleidoscope. But my stand out fave is the mildly discordant, garage-y “Your Ending.” In style it stands somewhere between The Clash and Petty’s Heartbreaks and could be pulled in either direction. Former Disney animator, Pussywillows member, and arch Francophile, April March does everything with style. Her new album is Cinerama and like the lost projection process its named after it is all retro. And yet it sounds so now too. I’m singling out “Born” as your taste-tester song. Everything starts very pleasant, acoustic guitar and some double-tracked vocals but check out that sweet trebly guitar intervention that arrives 39 seconds in. Now it’s a dreamy confection of mid-1960s British pop single themes. The trick that the very Beatlesque Cupid’s Carnival manage to pull off repeatedly is throwing in just enough familiar Merseybeat-meets-early pop psychedelic elements to make your head turn but then deliver a great original song. Their latest stand-alone single offering is “You Know” and all the necessary moving parts are there: Lennon-esque vocal, Sgt. Pepper-era background vocals, and slow-burn hooky melody.

April March – Born
Cupid’s Carnival – You Know

It’s hard to put a label on just what It’s Karma It’s Cool is doing stylistically. There seems to be bits of early 1980s prog pop, a dash of new wave, and a whole lot of straight up poppy rock and roll. On their recent stand-alone single “A Gentle Reminder” I hear a synthesis that reminds me of early Split Enz with perhaps a Hoodoo Gurus vibe on the vocals. The organ is the star here, stitching together an impressive array of hooks and musical asides. Last spring Minneapolis Minnesota native Anthony Newes put out a quiet record of songs with long titles. His Dark of the Sea EP will bathe you in melodic sweetness, the songs rolling over you with effortless effect. With a vocal landing somewhere between Rufus Wainwright and Elliott Smith, “Take It From You Now You Take It From Me” steals into your consciousness like a cool wind on a warm day. For de-stressing there something very Enya here but with guitars. Chicago’s The Walkdown want you to hold for the hooks on their recent single “Jane Doe.” The verses have that deadpan, almost talky punk feel. But when they break out the chorus they step on the melody pedal and things take off from there. The rest of their catalogue is pretty solid too. Rich and Marvin are Rich McCulley and Marvin Etzioni and “Apricot” is their first joint effort. Like the fruit, the song is refreshingly sweet, delivered in a light country folk style. We’ve heard bands like the BoDeans and Los Lobos give us these kinds of acoustic forays as album deep cuts. Interested to see where this duo take things next. On their recent EP Unsolicited Advice for Your DIY Disaster Sydney Australia punky poprockers The Buoys give the boys both barrels. The songs coat a whole load of post-teenage angst in slightly harsh melodic goodness. The whole record is a mosh pit dance party but “Lie To Me Again” slows the pace, temporarily, before going hook nuclear in the chorus. The song may end but you’ll be humming it all day.

Song number 21 is special departure from a brand new band that specializes in a rock and roll aural assault. Dust Star open their debut album Open Up That Heart with a full on rocking tidal wave on “Nothing in my Head.” You can practically see the sweaty crowd levitating on the dance floor to this one. But I want to draw your attention to the more restrained title track with its Weezer meets Sugar Ray melodic roll out. There’s even an early Beatles or Cheap Trick vibe going in the late instrumental break. So much to like here.

Albums are great but sometimes you just need a stack of singles to turn a good night great. Click on the links to hear even more from these should-be up and comers.