When Neko Case sang about Tacoma in “Thrice All American” you’d never think the town would serve up a something quite like The Rallies. The band’s debut effort, the cheesily titled Serve, is a soundtrack to a sunny day. The wash of acoustic guitars, jangly lead lines, great vocal harmonies and strong songwriting will put a smile on your face and keep it there. The Rallies claim such stalwart poprockers as Tom Petty and Crowded House as influences and you can hear them on these recordings but the final result is something original. Comparing them to more contemporary artists, there is more than a little kinship with Philadelphia’s acoustic poprock outfit Good Old War to my ears.
Now here is where I usually pick out one or two songs as the album highlights but Serve is a solid ten tracks of poprock goodness, there really isn’t a weak track here. Just buy the whole thing. Single? “Still Gonna Want You” has the hooky development of a radio hit. The opening acoustic guitar and vocal harmonies of “Don’t Give Up” made my hair stand on end – very moving. “So Right” has a super Petty vibe going. Check out the nice trebly guitar on “These are the Words” with its hooky melody. “On My Mind” also sounds like a single to me with its strong guitar lines and vocal harmonies.
Get your serving of The Rallies on Bandcamp and visit their Facebook page to find out when they’re coming to your town.
To call someone a journeyman is no slight. It means they are skilled and have done their time in the trenches. A journeyman delivers in a solid and dependable way, even if they don’t get all the glory. Fame and success is – above and beyond a certain level of talent – fickle, arbitrary, and often fleeting. Our three journeyman poprockers have kept soldiering on in their careers, dependably putting out great songs, with less than their fair share of fanfare.
I have to begin with Dan Israel, our poster boy journeyman. Slogging it out in clubs with various bands stretching back to the 1980s, Israel went solo in 2000 and has since released ten albums, all mining a solid melodic rock and roll sound, while holding down a regular day job. Watch the video documentary below about Israel and his day job as a statute revisor for the Minnesota Legislature to get a sense of his double life. It adds a welcome dose of reality to how doing music as a job really works, or doesn’t, as the case the may be. While movies showcase bands being discovered and suddenly spending all their time doing music, the reality is that most aspiring artists have the pay the bills doing something other than the music they love.
Musically, Israel’s work falls into that broad Americana of poprock, a bit of folk, a bit of Bruce Springsteen, a bit of Creedence or Tom Petty. Check out the great organ and background vocals on “Stranger Things” which appeared on his comprehensive and cleverly titled Danthology. I love the simple acoustic but hooky arrangement of “Last Words” from his debut solo album, the self-deprecatively entitled Dan Who. Interestingly, one of his strongest efforts for me was the recent 2015 album Dan, with its killer swinging single, “Be With Me” and “You Don’t Love Me Anymore.”
I’m not sure if Joel Boyea is a journeyman, but I think he is. For a guy with record out, this artist leaves a very light imprint on the ole internet. Still, a bit of digging turned up a few facts. His 2012 album Please Don’t Eat the Daisies gathered together 19 of his demos recorded over a twenty-year period, and that alone would indicate a guy plugging away at his craft. Self-described on his Bandcamp page as “a guy who will probably never quit his day job” he did manage to “bust out of his home studio in the summer of 2015” to professionally record a killer record, Here Again, and Lost. The transformation from bedroom demos to a full band recording (supported by sometime members of the Verve Pipe, Andy Reed and Donny Brown) is nothing less than astonishing. Highlights for me include the obvious single, the insistent “Upbeat,” “Breaking Up” with its lovely vocal arrangement, and the poprock gem “You and Your Love.” A shout out for the touching gay-positive ballad, “Outwitted.” He also does a nice cover of Nick Lowe’s “Time Wounds All Heels” in the video below.
Frank Marzano is a force to be reckoned with. Mild mannered math teacher by day, relentless live performer and self promoting recording artist all the rest of the time. Marzano has spent more than three decades trying to break into the music business, playing in bands, and making recordings. His work is an eclectic mix of 1960s influences, particularly 1950s and 1960s poprock and the Beatles. “Hit the Bricks” from his 2012 album The Boy Who Always Got Picked Last showcases his strengths, a catchy tune cast in that innocent 1970s pop remaking of early 1960s songcraft, with great bass and lead guitar. “Huge Rock Star” from the same album could be Marzano’s life story. Indeed, the protagonist is probably also the singer and songwriter, urging himself to keep plugging away despite the lack of much success. Marzano’s production and arrangement of the songs is crisp and refreshingly straightforward while his vocals have an original sound which I find both earnest and often endearing. 2015’s American Proust continued in the same vein, with “Love’s the Only Way Home” a particularly strong track due to its very catchy chorus. He also has a great cover of Lennon and McCartney’s “Bad to Me” on a poprock tribute album.
Hit the BricksHuge Rock StarLove’s the Only Way Home
Better late than never must be the maxim of journeymen everywhere when it comes to getting the fan love. Send some now to Dan Israel, Joel Boyea, and Frank Marzano in the usual sort of internet locations.
Before the I started this blog I already had a huge stack of material I’d been gathering for over a year or so – great stuff that deserves a wide audience, songs you might have missed. So today we go back to the vaults to ensure that rock and roll never forgets.
Andy Reed is a member of that immensely talented group, the Verve Pipe. Not only have they put out a load of great albums, including some for children (which is much harder to do well than most people think), the band has spawned of host of great solo projects. Reed’s band An American Underdog has one album, 2011’s Always On the Run, which is chock full of poprock gems like the carefree, hooky “I’ll Miss You Girl” and crunchy “Nothing I Can Do.” Also, check out Reed’s killer solo version of Elvis Costello’s “Crimes of Paris.” He takes just a bit of the edge off the Costello version and ups the pop quotient – lovely!
Like so many talented musicians of his generation, Adam Merrin has made his career by mostly placing his music in TV shows rather than releasing albums under his own name. But the two that have emerged, 2007’s Have One and 2009’s Have Another One, are delightful low key pop excursions. “Our Love is True” opens with a catchy guitar hook before leaning more on keyboards to drive the song while “Fallen for You” builds to a super chorus. “This is How You Are” has a great total sonic ambience, mellow but unrelenting.This is How You AreOur Love is True
Canadian Dave Rave keeps churning out great poprock. From a pretty stunning beginning playing on Teenage Head’s boppy single “Let’s Shake” back in 1980, Rave has branched out with a host of different solo projects over the years. Pick any period and you’ll find some great material. “All of the Love You Can Handle” is from his 2010 album Live with What You Know and what I like here is the strong vocal, just ever so slightly reminiscent of the Moody Blues in their more poprock period. This one will get in your head one night and fail to check out the next morning.
Reviewers often mention Summer Fiction and the Beach Boys in the same breath. Sure I guess its there in the same way that every artist with a wash of breathy background vocals and hints of 1960s melody is another bastard child of Brian Wilson. But I hear something much more original in Summer Fiction’s dialectical synthesis of 1960s influences. For instance, there is mordantly sad quality to the vocal style that contrasts the peppy upbeat harpsichord of “Chandeliers” that is pleasantly jarring. You know this guy is the broody poet type but, like Morrissey before him, he just has to juice the depressing lyrics with far out jangly guitars and hooks. I also love the quiet intensity of “Throw Your Arms Around Me” and the easy swing of “By the Sea” from the 2010 debut album. 2015’s Himalaya ups the jangle factor on tracks like “On and On” and the clearly Smithsian-influenced “Perfume Paper.”
What is it with Sweden these days? For a long time it seemed ABBA was it in terms of musical exports – now a flood of great acts are hitting the beach like a new invading force. The Genuine Fakes have a cute cover of Frozen’s “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” as well as a number of holiday tunes but these songs obscure their more serious material. “I Want to be a Stranger” is a good example, at times low key, at others killing it with strong hooks, great poprock vocals, and a groovy organ and guitars.I Wanna be a Stranger
The Honeydogs have all the markings of a classic rock and roll outfit – think Tom Petty and Heartbreakers or even the Replacements. Adam Levy writes everyman songs that are relate-able. There are too many choices from the catalogue I could make but I really like “Too Close to the Sun” from 2006’s Amygdala: the solid acoustic guitar backing, cool organ, tight vocals. This is poprock magic, a really perfect single. “Losing Transmissions” from 2001’s Here’s Luck is pretty special too in a more rock and roll vein. Check out their recent release Love and Cannibalism for more of same.
Over to the wet coast for Seattle’s Ransom and the Subset. This band’s 2014 album No Time to Lose deserves to be a big hit, the whole thing is solid and eminently enjoyable. Their love of Fountains of Wayne comes through but in a subtle way, for instance on tracks like “Questions” and “When Will I See You.” But the standout track is the amazing “Anna,” a single so perfectly sculpted into shape it screams AM radio hit.
I have Powerpopulist to thank for today’s content. Sometimes you’ve got to hear about it from far away to appreciate the hometown crews!
The Drywall Heels immediately caught my attention with their hilarious ode to suburbia, “Richmond Hill.” Their just released, self-titled EP is all pretty solid with a nice 1960s meets 1980s indie sound on tracks like “You Should Know,” “Questionable,” and “Claudia.” A few months ago the band released the single, “Christine,” which has a slightly more poppy 1960s feel.
Another great suggestion is The Seams, described by most media as an indie supergroup as it draws its members from a variety of other Toronto bands for this project. Again, the 1960s+1980s sound is there, with a more psychedelic reverb on the vocals and some sparkly guitars. The first song on their album Meet the Seams (with its cool cassette insert artwork) is a catchy number with the same name as the band while track two, “Seeds,” has a great poprock swing. Other highlights include “Remembrance Day” and “ADHD.”
I’m looking forward to seeing these bands live! Information about The Drywall Heels and The Seams can be found on their respective Facebook pages.
It is great to see acts come out of the woodwork stronger than ever. The Feelies never raced up the charts when they originally hit the scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s but, like the Velvet Underground, they seemed to inspire just about every one of their fans to start their own band. Their original, laid back distinctive guitar sound still seems fresh today. Their soon to be released album, In Between, however, is a bit of departure, with stronger, heavier guitar sound on the pre-release single “Gone, Gone, Gone.”Gone, Gone, Gone
Toronto’s Hidden Cameras continue to release curious reinventions of all manner of traditional poprock. Home on Native Land features a great hooky alt country sounding single in “Don’t Make Promises,” a song that wouldn’t sound out of place on any number of Dwight Yoakam releases. The most recent album also features a remake of “He is the Boss of Me,” a song from HC’s earliest release, 2001’s Ecce Homo. I remember buying an early release of the CD at one of their shows that contained felt marker writing on the disk and a colour photocopied sleeve. The original version of the song is great but stark in its DIY economism. The new version is rich and frankly, voluptuous, by comparison, which really showcases what a great song it is.
Aimee Mann is back with a new album, Mental Illness, one she claims will explore the acoustic pop sound of the 1960s, with back up from Jonathan Coulton no less. I say claim because at present we have just the one pre-release single to go by, the exquisite “Goose Snow Cone.” But if her track record recommends her, it’s going to be great. In another entry we featured her anti-Trump single “Can’t You Tell” as well as few tunes from her collaboration with Ted Leo in The Both. And her last solo album, Charmer, was solid, with nary a track that wasn’t worth paying 99 cents for. Mann has a distinctive songwriting and performance style, and her lyrics are smart though sometimes confounding (which is good – it gets you thinking). Check out the clever wordplay in her 2014 stand alone single, “I’m Cured,” with its low key acoustic guitar accompaniment that features some nice accordion and piano slipping in as it goes along.Goose Snow Cone
On the something new front, The Molochs are an outstanding 1960s re-invention from Los Angeles. Their just released new album, America’s Velvet Glory, is so cool you’re going to have to handle it with gloves. The transformation from their 2013 indie debut, Forgotten Blues, is pretty impressive. The latter is a enjoyable DIY affair but the latest release exudes a kind of uber confidence that says you won’t touch that dial. The influences are many but I hear Lou Reed in the Velvets in the vocal style while the sometimes spare accompaniment reminds me of a number of early 1980s indie bands. In a world of single song downloads, this is an album worth buying. If I have to single out a few songs, I’d note “That’s the Trouble with You,” “The One I Love,” and “No More Crying.”
In the 1960s the Canadian imprint of Decca, London Records, released a series of The World of … albums: The World of the Zombies, The World of the Rolling Stones, The World of Cat Stevens, etc. Now Poprock Record would like to present The World of Thomas D’Arcy. Why? Because this guy is all over the musical map, in a very good way. From his teenage punky poprock band, the Carnations, to a one album appearance with All Systems Go!, to his one-man, keyboard-based band Small Sins, to a slew a solo material and a recent collaboration with Hawksley Workman in their Tommy Hawkins project, D’Arcy is master of all he turns his talents to. For a host of acts behind the scenes, his studio production credits alone should make him a star. But constant throughout his varied career are the songs: quirky, catchy, usually with a subtle hook that sneaks up and refuses to release its hold.
I saw the Carnations live at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto in the late 1990s, opening for some band I don’t remember. They were a blast of hooky teen exuberance. I bought their debut CD, Superluminal, at the show, which was a good thing as none of their recordings appear to be available digitally. The seven songs owe a debt to the alienated charm of bands like Weezer but the result is still pretty original, with “Bald Avenger” and “Let Me Be Your Ferris Bueller” as stand out tracks. D’Arcy has posted three Carnations videos on his YouTube page which give you some sense of how the band developed over time, with songs like “Scream and Yell” and “I’ve Got Spies” showcasing a more muscular sound on later records.Let Me Be Your Ferris Bueller
Sometime after 2006 I saw D’Arcy’s new vehicle, Small Sins, play a show at a tiny club in Victoria, B.C. and didn’t even make the connection to his work with the Carnations, the sound was so different. Guitars took a backseat to a distinctive synth/keyboard sound, contrasted with taut vocals, particularly on songs like “Why Don’t You Believe Me?”
By 2012 he was just releasing work under his own name, like his spot on supergroup re-recording of the Monks goofy new wave Bad Habits album. Then 2013’s What We Want featured the great keyboard-heavy single, “I Wake Up Everyday” while 2015’s Fooled You Twice had a broader sound, with the single “All Over Your Face” vibing some serious ELO influence.
Then in 2016 he turned in another new direction, working with Hawksley Workman to produce a more earthy, rough-edged EP entitled Amy, credited to Tommy Hawkins. Filed under “Tommy Hawkins” is also where you’ll find a host of rare Thomas D’Arcy material on Soundcloud.
You can be welcomed to The World of Thomas D’Arcy at his new website and Facebook page.
A bit of the beach is just what we need in January and LA’s Blonde Company have that magic, blissed out, buzzed on sound down pat. “Slow Days Fast Company” from their 2012 EP Slow Daze kicks off with a trippy lead guitar line that lopes throughout the song, conjuring up great weather and top down cruising by the water. The band have a series of EPs of great material, including tracks like “Silver Jesus,” “High Times,” “Blazed,” and their latest single, “Sha La La.” But there is something about the feel of this single, with its hint of Sugar Ray’s confident tempo, that says this should have been a monster radio hit. Keep up with Blonde Company’s latest grooves here.
We start big on this installment of Around the dial with Kevin Devine’s fantastic new album Instigator. Devine has a lot of material under his belt – eight albums not including this one – but his latest is by far his strongest, most accomplished piece of work. Others might be more partial to different periods in his career but for me it all comes together here: politics, unrelenting hooks, and more tender insights. The cover alone, of some 10 year old’s Christmas party wrestling match, is a major highlight. From the moment the chugging guitar opens up “No Why” the album never misses a beat. “Magic Magnet” is power pop heaven. “Daydrunk” is a sweet guitar drenched ode. “No One Says You Have To” is a lovely acoustic ballad. The title track “Instigator” says hit single to me, one part Fountains of Wayne, another part Weezer. But I save the most love for the touching, introspective “I Was Alive Back Then.” Imagine if Paul Simon sounded genuinely alienated and had gone through some serious angry periods – it might sound a bit like this. An outstanding performance of a song that leaves the singer bare.
The hippie vibe lives on as a kind of lifestyle esthetic and Brett Dennen could be its poster child. The influences here are all over the map: a bit of Van Morrison, just about any 1970s confessional singer songwriter, a dash of reggae at times. However on his fifth album, 2013’s Smoke and Mirrors, Dennen upped the pop quotient with tracks like the catchy “Out of My Head” and infinitely pleasant “Sweet Persuasion.” His most recent album Por Favor strips things back a bit without losing the hooky focus, particularly on tracks like “Bonfire.”Sweet PersuasionBonfire
The Springsteen is definitely there in Brian Fallon’s solo album Painkillers but the influence is more atmospheric than direct. I love the guitar sounds on this record. The title track opens with a great rumbly electric that gives way to lush acoustic strumming while later “Among Other Foolish Things” features a distinctive opening guitar riff that repeats throughout the song. “Nobody Wins” typifies the easygoing rock and roll sound of the album, laid back but with subtle hooks. If this record is anything to go by, Fallon is really just getting started.Among Other Foolish ThingsNobody Wins
And now for something completely different. Rich Ajlouny and the Tractor Beams are a bit off the beaten poprock path, but only just. There is something definitely Beatlesque in Ajlouny’s slightly discordant vocals, reminiscent of “Nowhere Man.” You can really hear it on “Around the Town” from Ajlouny’s 2013 solo release but it is there in spades on the more recent Love is the Stronger Force, particularly “Tough Guys Don’t Dance.” There is also something very art rock about this band’s material and performance, as if some elements have been deliberately left out of focus. Other highlights include “Give Her a Kiss” with its super harmonica break and “When Plans Go South.” I also like the wonderfully quirky “Going Back to Work” with its stark admission that the protagonist is ‘going back to work after being such a jerk.’
When artists go solo or come around sporting a new band the results can split three ways. They might come back sounding pretty much like they did when they left, which sometimes turns out well (I guess she really was the band …) or leads to disaster (hm, he really should have stuck it out with the other guys …). But sometimes they return with a markedly different sound, a result that some find disappointing but I often find refreshing and exciting. This post features three different artists defying expectations on their second time around.
Jim Adkins is the lead singer for Jimmy Eat World and you couldn’t get a more different take on him that this solo EP. The title track, “I Will Go,” kicks things off with sprightly clean acoustic guitar rhythm and a lovely swinging melody, later adding horns and electric guitar to what is a solid single. He applies a similar fresh treatment to Beck’s “Don’t Act Like Your Heart Isn’t Hard.” Things get a bit edgier with his interesting take on an Everly Brothers’ b-side, “Give Me a Sweetheart,” featuring a double tracked harmony vocal and a guitar with an ominous rumble. But the EP’s highlight has to be his bleached-out, on-tender-hooks version of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” Adkins deliberately avoids hitting all the familiar notes of Lauper’s mega-hit arrangement, revealing a remarkably flexible tune underneath all Cyndi’s fun flash. I Will Go is a winner: every track on this six song release is value for money.I Will GoGive Me a SweetheartGirls Just Want to Have Fun
Drummers get a bad rap. Other than keeping time, expectations of what they will contribute are often low. They are seldom the singer or songwriter for their respective group. But here Donny Brown defies expectations. As drummer for the grungy nineties Verve Pipe, Brown gradually expanded his influence on the band from just playing his instrument early on to contributing nearly half the songs to their 2001 album Underneath. But nothing could prepare us for Brown’s solo outings where he writes, sings, plays guitar and drums, and goes in a completely different direction than his other gig. Brown has a great soft rock vocal style and the tunes on his first EP, Hess Street, run the gamut from lush spot-on 1970s pop (“Bitter Rival”) to amazing tin pan alley recreations (“Call Me”). A real stand out is the opening track, the McCartney-esque “Lucky Number” with its intriguing melodic twists and Band on the Run lead guitar. His follow up EP, the self-titled Donny Brown, continues in the 1970s vein with tracks like “Life of a Stranger” and “Reach Out” but increases the hook factor on other contributions, echoing just a bit of ELO at times. The marvelous “Now You Can Break My Heart” is a poprock masterpiece that will get in your head and stay there.
Is this the second or third time around for Aimee Mann? Ok, we’re bending the rules here to include The Both, her collaboration with Ted Leo. I can’t help but think that this record sounds like the one she could have recorded with hubby Michael Penn before he banished himself to scoring movies, if their few collaborative singles are anything to go by. But, no matter, this debut is a killer. Of our trio of offerings, it also represents the least departure from the artists’ original formula. Overall, it may sound a bit tougher than Mann’s solo material at times, but the songs are indelibly Mann-esque, with all her clever turns of phrase both lyrically and musically. While there are no weak tracks here I certainly hit replay on “Milwaukee,” “Volunteers of America,” and “Hummingbird.” If you’re a Mann fan, this is a must have. It will also have you checking out Leo’s back catalogue with Ted Leo and the Pharmacists (hint: start with “Bottled in Cork”).MilwaukeeVolunteers of AmericaHummingbird
Talk about missed opportunities – I managed to miss most of these acts when they blew through town. If only I’d paid more attention to the Jim Adkins, Donny Brown and The Both websites. Don’t let that happen to you.
A lot of words have been written about Elvis Costello (the artist himself added a few hundred thousand in his recent autobiography Unfaithful Music) but little has been said about just how melodic his music can be. His early years, roughly the period from his 1977 debut My Aim is True to 1980’s Taking Liberties, are crammed with hooky numbers. “Blame it on Cain” is my favourite from the debut, with its leisurely swing and Steely Dan guitar lines, but frankly it’s a pretty close contest with just about every other track from the album. My Aim is True is a miracle of synthesis, taking inspiration from an impossible range of sources: Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen, mainstream seventies rock, the emerging punk scene, and arguably Costello’s father, Ross MacManus, a well known singer in the UK. The record also represents an interesting artistic negotiation between Costello as an emerging singer/songwriter and his amazing pick up band, the American pub rock group Clover.Blame it on Cain
Things changed dramatically with album number two, now backed by Costello’s defiant new band, the Attractions. This Year’s Model charges out of the gate, its stripped-down, in your face rock and roll delivered with a crisp ferocity unmatched by any of Costello’s other recordings. This is the critics’ favourite album for a reason. I like it less than the debut but still love it, particularly the catchy lead guitar line on “You Belong to Me.” Elvis dials back some of the attack on his third album, Armed Forces, letting the listener in on some impressive aural landscapes that illustrate his talent for arranging his music. This is captured nicely on the single, “Accidents Will Happen.”You Belong to Me
Get Happy!! and Taking Liberties were both released in 1980, the latter a compilation of B-sides (released as Ten Bloody Marys & Ten How’s Your Fathers in the UK). With each record topping out at 20 songs, together they represented a cornucopia of poprock. What is striking here is the restraint, the subtle hooks of “B Movie,” “New Amsterdam” and “Secondary Modern” on Get Happy!! or “Radio Sweetheart” and “Hoover Factory” on Taking Liberties. One almost gets a sense that the songs were chiseled into shape, worked over until every detail reflected the light just so. Of course, there were also more raucous examples like “Possession” or “Crawling to the U.S.A.”
While critics often highlight the venom and sneer of Elvis’ early recordings, these songs demonstrate his capacity for sweetness, melody, and hooks. His penchant for poprock shifts considerably in his middle and later periods, but more on that to come. And he had a sense of humour. Check out this hilarious send up of K-tel commercials from the 1970s to pitch Get Happy!!
Looking for Elvis? Forget that supermarket in West Vancouver, you can find him here.