Should be a hit single: TUNS “Mixed Messages”

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Named for the Technical University of Nova Scotia, east coast supergroup TUNS have released a flawless poprock single with “Mixed Messages.”  The band is clearly more than the sum of its parts, managing to produce a sound distinct from those from whence they came e.g. Sloan, Super Friends/Flashing Lights, and the Inbreds.  A new wave guitar sound carries the opener, then some harmony vocals come in, only to kick things into higher gear with a chimey guitar and greater urgency to the vocals, then things fall away to just bass/drums and some great solo guitar work, before repeating the whole cycle again (while still clocking in at an efficient 3 minutes and 24 seconds).  The track appears on the band’s just released self-titled debut record, TUNS, an album aptly described by The Record.com as “all killer, no filler.”  If one poprock album should make your lather-rinse-repeat playlist come autumn, this is it.

Mixed Messages

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TUNS are touring across Canada this fall and playing a host of out-of-the-way places.  Check out the dates and their killer new record on their website and keep up with their news on Facebook.

To the beach!

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beachSummer is slipping away before our very eyes. Time to reach for the beach one more time with tunes that celebrate the sand, sunscreen, and a summer love that probably won’t last much past Labour Day.

Hailing from landlocked Fayetteville, Arkansas, the Airplanes nevertheless have the summer beach vibe going on their “A Summer Daydream, Part I,” a fun mediation on summer obsession with lots of cool, odd sounding instrumental highlights.

On “A Summer Thing,” Cayucas channel an indie Beach Boys sound with a spot on early-1960s piano hook and delightfully spacey vocals that weave in and out of a musical accompaniment that varies its attack to good effect.

Ever since Mungo Jerry’s “In the Summertime” it’s a no brainer to associate summer songs with small-stringed instruments and a bit of swing but The Mowgli’s take the inspiration to new levels on their catchy single, “Summertime.” Summertime

Finally, no one captures the melancholy of summer love quite like Family of the Year on their piano-based, harmony-drenched “Summer Girl.”

When not at the beach, The Airplanes, Cayucas, The Mowgli’s and Family of the Year are drumming up business on this internet thing.  Visit them online, see their shows, buy their music.

La Difference avec 5440

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54-4016361When I first heard “Baby Ran” from their 1986 album 5440 (aka the green album) I was hooked.  There was something so simple and catchy about the chorus, I couldn’t get it out of my head.  Over the years, I kept buying their albums and CDs but reviewing them now I’m surprised how much of their material has always been folky and acoustic as well as jangly alt rock.  The contrast is brought together on their latest release, La Difference, subtitled A History Unplugged.  Some might complain that an ‘unplugged’ album is the last refuge of the musical scoundrel, where artists go when they have run out of ideas.  But this effort really is a creative reinvention of the band’s singles catalogue.  The most stark example is probably “Baby Ran,” which shifts from rock to country in this iteration without losing any of its hooky charm.  Both new and old version appear below for easy comparison. The whole record is strong but for me the highlights include “One Day in your Life,” “I Go Blind,” and “Casual Viewin’.”

5440 are on tour across Canada this summer.  Check out the dates and their catalogue on their website.

Spotlight single: Teenage Fanclub “I’m in Love”

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999255Sometime between 2011 and 2015 I realized I loved Teenage Fanclub.  There was something dreamy about their melodies, their Byrdsian retro charm, the general feel-good aura that radiated from their music. Songs from Northern Britain, Manmade, Howdy! – with so many amazing albums no wonder Kurt Cobain called them his favourite band.   But just as I grasped their poprock brilliance, the albums dried up, with 2010’s Shadows the seeming end of the line.  Then last fall the band’s Facebook page announced they were working on new material and lo and behold the new record is almost here, literally entitled Here, and due out at the beginning of September.  In the meantime, check out their fabulous new single, “I’m in Love.”  The song is so in the Teenage Fanclub groove, it’s like they never left.

To support the new album, Teenage Fanclub are embarking on their first real tour in years, with a stop in Toronto, among other North American cities!  Check out the details on their website.

Red Cabin Fever

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Red CabinThe music biz is an increasingly DIY affair, with everyone doing the McCartney I thing, i.e. writing, playing and producing everything or nearly everything on their records.  Of course, today’s technology allows artists without a Beatlesque past to make some pretty sweet recordings.  Case in point: Red Cabin, the tidy and picturesque project of Long Island, New York’s Jonathan Foster.  Red Cabin ranges from the amplified home recording sound of his first album, Right This Way, and EP Wander in 2014, to the more complex and professional-sounding Camp Fire and White Morning, both released simultaneously in 2016.  In the middle are some key transition singles, namely “The Pull” and “Patterns.”  Linking all the changes is a keen attention to unusual vocal arrangements, amid fairly rapid shifts in musical attack – singular acoustic guitars suddenly flooded by electric instruments, or a full on band drops out to reveal just a guitar or keyboard part.

The root of my Red Cabin fever was the single “Patterns” with its eerie vocal delivery, hypnotic acoustic guitar rolls, and judicious use of electric keyboard, along with a killer chorus – a really perfect alt-pop single.  A close second was “The Pull,” a swinging ditty released in the same period that featured a stylish red barn against a deep blue sky as its cover art.  Going back in the catalogue, Right This Way’s title track and “First Things” caught my attention, as did “Another Time” from the Wander EP.

 

a0424465757_10But they did not prepare me the double blast of Red Cabin albums early in 2016.  Both Camp Fire and White Morning are stellar efforts.  Camp Fire runs a gamut of styles, with electronic keyboards, acoustic and electric guitars, and tightly arranged vocals.  “The Darkest Relief” reminds me a bit of Todd Rungdren, “I Want To” has a great soaring chorus melody line, “Secret Stories” exudes a lovely wistful quality with its acoustic guitar and arranged vocals, while “I Can’t Wait” has a more conventional poprock feel.

a1850364491_10White Morning has the ambiance of a concept album, right down to the cover art.  “Stuck” sounds a bit Weezer at times (in a good way), with a Beatles melody wash over the vocals, “All the Years” is a bit more indie poprock with great keyboards, guitar, and stronger, edgier vocals than Red Cabin typical, and “Juliet” has a nice swing with vocals that remind me of Tally Hall.  Also, don’t miss Foster’s previous band, Snowday, whose 2013 single “Prickerbush” is a catchy number, again vibing on Weezer just a little.

Today’s musical DIY also extends to management, promotion and a one-man record label.  So visit Red Cabin on Bandcamp where more of your hard-earned entertainment dollars will get into the hands of your favourite artists – or visit his Facebook page.

Around the dial: Twins, The Top Boost, Chris Staples, and Goodman

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TWINS-bandTwins were a first for me.  Their publicist sent me a blurb and link to their latest release in advance of its drop date, asking me to have a listen.  I’m glad I did.  Hailing from the bustling burb of Waterloo Iowa, Twins have a great pockrock feel, channeling a super new wave vibe on their first album, 2014’s Tomboys on Parade, particularly on “Tomboy.”  By 2016 their Kiss of Life EP had a sweet melodic 1960s pop single in “This Time.” But their new album Square America takes all these various influences and kicks it up a notch on such great songs as “Breakin’ Up” and “Take That Gurl.”

The Top Boost Turn AroundPower Pop Square turned me on to Vancouver’s The Top Boost and not long after Powerpopaholic wrote about them in glowing terms.  The hype is genuine – this band has got something special going on, combining classic mid-1960s guitars with spacey 1980s vocals.  “What if She Loves You” is a classic sounding single, with chiming guitars and great vocals.

chris-staples-ws-710A casual and inattentive listen might have you thinking that Chris Staples is just another LoFi drifter, with a few more hooks to offer.  But there is some serious genius going on in his multiple releases over the past decade.  Staples spent a number of years rocking out with bands like TwoThirtyEight and Grand Canyon before embarking on his present, more mellow solo career.  What I love about Staples’ work is the casual poetry of his arrangements.  His songs are deceptively simple in conception and execution.

ChrisStaples-GoldenAge“Relatively Permanent” from his most recent Golden Age combines a distinctive electric guitar line, acoustic guitar, haunting background vocals, and Staples own dry folky vocal delivery.  “Cindy, Diana, Janet and Wanda” from the 2015 EP Cheap Shades demonstrates Staples’ talent for imaginative lyrics that gel with his music in a way that appears completely free of artifice.  The guitar lick opening is so casually addictive, the distant harmonica so evocative, that when the lyrics come in they are surprisingly and similarly melodic.  The lyrics really are brilliant for their ordinary complexity: “How could I forget Diana, she moved here from Gary, Indiana” or “She left me for a married professor, extra credit for letting him undress her.”  “Dark Side of the Moon” from 2014’s American Soft has a lovely swinging acoustic guitar base and a sweet love sentiment.  “Cincinnatti” from his 2011 EP Faces sees Staples shifting from a great swinging electric guitar line to lyrics that match the swing.  And there is much more discover this Pensacola, Florida native on sites like Bandcamp.

375458091-1Michael Goodman, who goes by just Goodman on his recordings, is one of those amazingly talented young men.  Bandcamp features some pretty impressive and catchy demos from the 13-year-old version of Goodman, talent that only blossomed in later years.  Things really start to come together on Goodman’s 2012’s release, What We Want, with the infectious single “Night Person” and the great title track.  2014’s Isn’t it Sad has many highlights but “Blue Eyed Girl” stands out for its killer chorus.  Since then there has been a succession of quality singles like 2015’s “Telegram Girl” and 2016’s “Shallow.”  Goodman has all the poprock chops, a solid foundation in 1950s and 1960s song structures, but funneled through late twentieth century sensibility.

Twins, The Top Boost, Chris Staples and Goodman exist in this digital world of MP3s but also have a real corporeal existence – and that requires dollars on the barrelhead, or whatever passes for currency in your neck of the world.  Pay them a visit, pay them some cash …

Legends of poprock: Bryan Adams

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bryan-adams-1-facebook-cover-timeline-banner-for-fbWhen people think “Bryan Adams” it’s easy to visualize the rock swagger or call to mind the many, many power ballads that have dominated wedding receptions from the mid-1980s on.  But Adams is also a master of the polished poprock gem.  The list of infectious hook-laden tunes is so long we couldn’t possibly recount them all here.  His most recent album, 2015’s Get Up, is more proof he’s still got the knack for pumping out catchy songs.  Producer Jeff Lynne does an amazing job of tweaking and sweetening the pop tinge with his signature suite of production techniques.  There’s more than a little ELO flavour to tracks like “That’s Rock and Roll,” “Do What You Gotta Do,” and “Don’t Even Try,” the latter featuring a great Beatlesque guitar sound circa Beatles for Sale.  Adams also gets back to his 1980s poprock roots on tracks “You Belong to Me,” “Go Down Rockin’” and “Yesterday Was Just a Dream.”  But the standout track is “Brand New Day” with its driving, propulsive rhythm guitar thet recaptures some of the excitement of his early to mid-1980s poprock glory days.

Listening to Get Up offered me a chance to revisit the Adams canon.  Truth be told, Bryan and I had a falling out in the late 1980s.  His follow up albums to Reckless moved away from the poprock hooks, either focusing on balladeering or working out some ‘rawk’ issues (see ‘swagger’).  In a way it was understandable.  By 1987 Adams had put out three killer albums in row but routinely would get trashed by the rock press who complained his work was clichéd and lacked authenticity.  The final straw was when critics skewered him over his “Summer of ‘69” single because Adams was only 10 years old that year and could hardly have been the protagonist.  What, did they think that Bowie really was an astronaut?  Did they think Springsteen was the serial killer, state trooper and the guy avoiding the state trooper in those songs from Nebraska?  In frustration, Adams crafted and refined his ‘rocker’ image on albums like Waking up the Neighbours and 18 till I Die.  These albums were enormously popular but they didn’t really connect with me.

Lonely Nights

bryan_adams-lonely_nights_sI had discovered Adams on a bus going downtown in Vancouver sometime in 1981. I was listening to CFOX on some strange FM-only portable radio when “Lonely Nights” came on: I was floored.  I loved the shimmery lead guitar, what would become Adam’s signature crunchy rhythm guitar, and the tune.  I immediately went downtown and picked up You Want It, You Got It.  Side One of the album still blows me away: “Lonely Nights,” “One Good Reason,” “Don’t Look Now,” “Coming Home,” and “Fits Ya Good” – I could (and did) play it over and over.  It remains my favourite Adam’s album (and my 16-year-old self did find Adam’s cover shot pretty cute).  Cuts Like a Knife also had so many great tunes, though I would single out “This Time” as a pretty perfect poprock single.  Reckless would be Adams’ masterpiece with nary a false move.  Its key single, “Run to You,” is as good as poprock gets, a remarkable bit of songwriting, production, and arrangement.  The atmospheric keyboard backdrop and ringing guitar lines alone are worth the price of the album.

I lost track of what Adams was doing around the early 1990s.  Going back now, I am impressed with how much good poprock his post-1997 catalogue includes.  1998’s On a Day Like Today is particularly strong, with “How Do You Feel Tonight,” “On a Day Like Today,” and “Cloud Number 9.”  But the monster single is undeniably the hooky “When You’re Gone.”

2004’s Room Service is another strong effort, with “Another East Side Story” clearly saying ‘I’m the single here’.  Since then a host of other singles deserve mention: “The Best of Me,” “One World, One Flame,” “She Knows Me,” and “You’ve Been a Friend to Me.”  Looking back over Adams’ canon, Ok, he’s definitely the ballad guy who likes to ‘rawk’ out, but his great talent, his authentic voice (for me), is his way with a tune.  All the greats could craft a song that would get into your head and stay there – Adams has more than a few of those.

Bryan Adams hardly needs me to tell you how to find him on the internet but here is his official website and Facebook page.

Indie trail mix

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As I contemplated starting this blog, one of my key worries was whether I would run out of music to write about.  Well, that concern has proven to be unfounded.  There is so much great new music out there that I have a huge backlog of artists to write about!  My real challenge with this blog is posting enough and covering enough material when I do blog.  One guy who does not have these problems is the amazing Powerpopulist, a blogger who posts often and with quality content.  Today I’m focusing on some great tracks I picked up at his site and others in what I am calling an ‘indie trail mix’.

2cbb19_56d083e90a334c04b049b167310b6b39.jpg_srz_955_955_85_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srzVirginia native and L.A. transplant David Brookings cut his teeth on the classics of the poprock.  His sound melds the Beatles with the 1970s Beatles-influenced bands like ELO and Badfinger.  His previous six albums channel these influences in a catchy DIY sort of way, with great album covers evoking the spirit of the 1960s, and some standout tracks like “Obsessed,” “Dead Battery,” and “If I Don’t Make it Back.” But his latest longplayer, David Brookings and the Average Lookings, represents a career peak, with his finest songs and most impressive performances.  “Hearts” is a solid single, featuring an impressive layering of sonic effects in terms of instruments and vocals.  I thought it was far and away the obvious track to feature from the album, but the more I listened to “Time to Go” I wasn’t so sure.  So they both appear here.  Honourable mention to the very catchy “Place We Can Go.”

a3708977059_2The arrangements on this Gordy Garris Group album are so subtle, meant to complement and enrich what could essentially be a record of acoustic singer/songwriter tunes.  For instance, “Nightfall” starts with a nice acoustic guitar finger roll, which is quickly augmented by a low impact organ undercurrent, and eventually joined by the full band and some nice ‘oohs’ background vocals.  Pop That Goes Crunch thought that “Energy” was the stand out single, but I’d have to disagree, tagging “Liar Liar” and “Running Through the Streets” as more single-worthy.  I mean, you’ve got to have some kind of talent to quote ‘lair lair pants on fire’ in a song and make it cool. Sometimes Gordy reminds me of Freedy Johnston, other times Ben Vaughn.  Other highlights on this record include “Skin Deep,” “Wake Up,” and “You Got Me.”

a1972111786_5This unabashed love single to the Ramones by Propeller works at so many levels.  It manages to be so Ramones without being just a derivative knock off of that band while also being a solid tune on its own merits.  “Turn on the Radio” is featured on Propeller’s latest album, Fall Off the World, which features a cover that is a spot-on reincarnation of the many K-Tel compilation albums (that certainly did not feature the Ramones!) from the 1970s.  Other strong tracks include “Wish I Had her Picture,” “She’s So Alive,” and “Can’t Feel These Things.”

10631212_452598868282169_9176736472867064115_oMontreal’s Maybelleen have got a unique sound, a blend of 1960s musical motifs (great signature vintage guitars, harmony vocals) with various 1980s synth keyboards, a mix that defies easy categorization.  “Bring to Light” is from their debut EP, Gold in Your Hands, a collection of very professional sounding demos.  Their first official EP Stereotypes has refined the vocal sound with songs that continue to riff on and develop their hybrid 1960s/1980s sound with the catchy title track,“Models on TV,” and particularly on “To Know Me Better Now.” Their most recent EP In My World has brought the guitars up front and tweaked the vocals to create a more conventional (but still great) poprock sound, as is showcased in “When I’m Right.”

t296114051_s400Sometimes a band says, “ya, we’re from Australia” with every line they sing.  Perth’s Verge Collection ooze Australia, from their charmingly accented singing to the various Australianisms littered throughout their songs.  “Our Place” is a swinging bit of fun that makes you want to hit replay as soon as it ends, with some languid sounding lead guitar and a subtle bed of organ anchoring the song.  The single’s B-side “Feel Bad Songs” is also great.

a0518024823_5Austin, Texas has so much great music going on, including The Blurries, who kick off their 2011 record Paper Cuts with a track that bolts out of the gate and doesn’t stop.  “Little Marie” is driven by a combination of acoustic and electric guitar, with the acoustic anchoring the song and the electric providing its propulsive tension.  You can watch the band perform a version of the song for the podcast Dual Tape Deck to see the effect come together.  A strong start to a very good album.

David Brookings, Gordy Garris, Propeller, Maybelleen, Verge Collection and The Blurries – they’re all out there on the internet waiting on their new best fan to come calling …

Catch a Rogue Wave …

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rogue-wave… and you’re sitting, well, not on top of the world, but somewhere – interesting.  Since 2004 California’s Rogue Wave have been releasing albums that tweak and redirect that state’s peculiar dream-state, inviting a melancholy re-assessment of life and the act of living it.  Their 2005 single “Publish My Love” stood out from the pack of bands peddling acoustic-guitar based, pleasant-sounding pop songs for its starkly original sound: all the classic poprock motifs were there but somehow Rogue Wave put it together in a distinctive way.

Throughout their career the band has riffed on a number of key elements, rebalancing the mix through different albums and songs.  “Nourishment Nation” from 2004’s Out of the Shadow leans on acoustic guitars up front, with other keyboards popping in here and there to push the song in different directions.  “Salesmen at the Day of the Parade” from 2005’s Descended Like Vultures is a straightforward, somber, acoustic guitar ballad.  “Lake Michigan” from 2007’s Asleep at Heaven’s Gate is a sonically brilliant pop tune, resting on a bed of highly original percussion.

“Solitary Gun” from 2010’s Permalight could slip easily on to your favourite Shins’ album with all the requisite acoustic guitar swing and pop hooks.  “College” from 2013’s Nightingale Floors is classic Rogue Wave: chiming guitars, churning percussion, and a hummable tune.

 

c48d7537Their new release is the whimsically-titled Delusions of Grand Fur and it reproduces all that the band excels at: highly textured production, a solid bed of acoustic guitars, creative instrumentation, and catchy tunes made more interesting by inventive vocal and percussion arrangements.  Highlights include “In the Morning,” “Look at Me,” and the stunning, stand-out single, “California Bride” with its shimmering guitars and dreamy vocals.

 

Rogue Wave are currently on tour and no doubt would prefer to play packed houses everywhere.  Find out more on their Facebook and band webpages.

Breaking news: TUNS, Sam Weber, Family Values, and Pete Yorn

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Sometimes you hear things you are know are ‘top of the charts’ freaking fantastic.  Some songs are more of a slow burn.  Others just conjure up something familiar and fun. Today’s collection runs this gamut of urgency, subtlety, and familiarity.

TUNS-MindOverMatterTUNS are a do-not-delay, go straight-to-download recommendation.  From its opening chugging riff, “Mind Over Matter” grips you in an expectation of the power pop glory to come with some surprising departures from the genre, like the delicious drawn-out ‘ooh’ vocals and the measured but still raunchy solo guitar motif that appears briefly after the first chorus.  This tiny nugget of poprock gold will have to do for the time being as a full album from this Canadian supergroup (which includes members of Sloan, Super Friendz, and Inbreds) won’t drop until the end of the summer.  If their June show at the Garrison in Toronto was anything to go by, the album will be stunner.Mind Over Matter

Sam Weber’s new album, Valentina Nevada, is finally out and it rivals his debut in its range and melodic charms.  “Good Love” draws on the piano side of Weber’s songwriting talents, a rollicking tune with a bit of slow swing.  Weber manages to combine a country-rock vibe with a solid poprock chorus, with some nice guitar and vocal flourishes.

 

005153554_500Norway’s Family Values have some serious 1986 time-warp issues going on with their recently released single, “Paris Syndrome.” A bit of Athens, Georgia poprock, perhaps a splash of Kelowna’s Grapes of Wrath: I mean, what’s not to love?  There’s not much else to find from this band, with this single featured on their four song EP Time Stands Still and a previous EP from 2015 (jokingly titled Greatest Hits) that has a charmingly less-polished, 1980s-Aztec-Camera sort-of sound.

img_52042Just in time for Father’s Day, the enormously talented Pete Yorn released this homage to fathering, perhaps his own, maybe anyone’s.  This free-flowing poprock tune has shades of Teenage Fanclub or Sloan, in Yorn’s typically subtle style: tuneful, without hitting you over the head with it.  This song does not appear on Yorn’s just released (and amazing) Arranging Time album.My Father

In the old days, we had to write fan letters on actual paper using actual pens. Now you can easily visit TUNS, Sam Weber, Family Values and Pete Yorn on the internet to find out what they’re doing and where to get their music.

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