Every now and again a band comes along that writes great tunes and performs them in an ever so pleasing poprock way but also has something important to say. Really important, in fact. That is The Spook School. The Glaswegian foursome’s early recordings were favourably compared to the Buzzcocks with their general demeanor of punky urgency but quickly established that they were their own musically distinctive entity. The Spook School are all about gender identity and the many ways it shapes and is shaped by what people do. Their music and lyrics capture the confusion, heartbreak, loneliness and danger that accompanies anyone who is gender non-comforming. I challenge anyone to listen to the band’s recorded output and remain indifferent to the aching, tender, and angry insights they have to offer. And they are kick ass songwriters, with a quirky, delightful approach to re-inventing 1970s and 1980s rock and roll.
The debut album, 2013’s Dress Up, has all the band’s key themes on display: chugging rhythm guitars, searching lyrics, and hearts on sleeves, particularly on tracks like “Are You Who You Think You Are?” “I Don’t Know” and “History” with its great rock lead line. 2015’s Try to Be Hopeful takes this formula forward with “Burn Masculinity” and “Try to be Hopeful” but also offers up more single-ish material like “Speak When You’re Spoken To” and the wonderfully celebratory “I Want to Kiss You.” Continental Drift is a compilation from 2016 with two great contributions from The Spook School, the deliriously frantic “Sometimes I Hide From Everybody” and the hooky “Gone Home.”
But nothing could prepare fans for 2018’s Could It Be Different?, an album that roils with explosive intensity and a powerful sense of confidence. The Spook School kick out the gender jams on this release. The tone is set with the opening track, “Still Alive,” as the singer lets loose with “Fuck you, I’m still alive,” surely the most clear statement any oppressed group can make. From there the album is a tour de force, a major statement about being different and how hard that is. The killer tracks are just about everything: “Best of Intentions,” “Bad Year,” “Alright (Sometimes),” “I Hope She Loves You,” and “While You Were Sleeping” with its great lead guitar opener. This record is a top ten for the year, no doubt.
Do you know someone struggling with gender and gender identity? Because The Spook School is the kind of cultural support they need. Something that can give voice to their struggles and pain and, even, joy sometimes – with music and words. And everybody else wouldn’t suffer from hearing The Spook School either. Check our their tunes and latest adventures online.
At a glance Hamburg’s The Catherines appear to be the bastard child of The Smiths and The Magnetic Fields with their jangly guitars, parade of gorgeous 1960s diva single covers, and outrageously long and involved song titles. But that is just scraping the surface – there really is so much more. Yes, track titles like “Is Your Bigmouth Girlfriend Really So Charming” obviously vibe Morrissey but this band takes things further. Much further. Into the hilarious and absurd. I love how over the top things get with “If You Come Back You’ll Know What’s in the Fridge” and “Yes You’re Beautiful to Look at but So Ugly Inside.” Still, things live or die on the quality of the tunes and they are excellent. Janglepophub put me on to this band and he wasn’t wrong.
Let’s start with “Everytime You Say It’s Ok, I Know It Is Ok,” the latest single, a song that adds some stylish 1960s California pop sounds to the band’s distinctive jangle. Here is proof that band’s potential range exceeds the late 1980s Britpop scene. Of course, when they’re time-traveling back to the 1980s, it’s pretty special. “Good Golly Goo” has a delightful musical roll out and vocals that sound a bit more polished than the group’s usual melodic drone. Another Smithian homage must be “If You Knew What’s Behind Her Smile You Wouldn’t Want to Make Her Happy” with a ringing guitar right off that Manchester band’s debut album. Then “Let’s Kiss Goodnight in the Morning” combines a low key vocal delivery, jangle, and wordplay reminiscent of Stephen Merchant while “I Just Want to Lie Here and Listen to Our Heartbeat” combines a bit more crunch at the start and some lovely background vocals. I even hear some very Kinks influences on tracks like “May I Say I Love You Or Will You Faint?” So, I’m basically saying, you may come for the bombastic titles and cool covers but you’ll stay for the songs and performances.
You can buy The Catherines as load of singles here or get their album (which brings together some of the singles) here and keep up with their adventures here.
Summer is nearly upon us so it’s time to start thinking about that party playlist. You don’t want to be caught tuneless with the BBQ on and the craft beer flowing. The party element is important because the origins of rock and roll can be found in the joy and fun and abandon of people + good rocking + Saturday night. It’s the adrenaline that runs through Chuck Berry’s “Rock and Roll Music,” Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Great Balls of Fire,” and Elvis’ “Hound Dog.” So today’s selection of pop rock bands channel that original rock and roll party vibe in varied and exciting ways.
Santa Barbara’s The Tearaways sent me their latest CD (thanks boys!), but they needn’t have. I’d already bought most of their back catalogue, so I would have gotten around to getting the new one. These guys have been in the rock and roll game for the long haul, forming in 1982 but relentlessly gigging ever since. Their early to mid-career recorded output is hard to find, but since 2014 they’ve released five killer albums of 1960s-inflected pop rock and roll. These guys know their Merseybeat hooks and layer that with exquisite California beach harmonies. Sometimes it’s pure 1960s redux. Other times, very 1979 new wave or 1980s indie. But throughout the songwriting is strong, at times fun, even a bit goofy, or just filled with straight up party hooks. You can literally hear the party starting on the Irish-inflected 2013 single “We’re All Going to Drink Tonight.” Or put either of 2014’s Earle Mankey albums and hit shuffle for instant party mode with should-be classics like “Girls Who Love Cars” and “James Bond” or “Friends and Enemies” and “John Wayne.” 2017’s DW Hofner, Martin Gibson, Ludwig Rickenbacker, Earle Hammond & Vox Fender, ESQ adds a bit of Britpop/Oasis to the mix with “Find Yourself Another Fool” along with great rock and roll name dropping on “Bash” and “That’s Rock.” But my fave here would “Hello Isla Vista” with its dynamic vocal harmony drenched chorus. The new record is no slouch either. Anthems and Lullabies sees the band branching out, featuring some distinctive new solo vocal performances on the swinging “I Could Love You Forever” or the Orbisonesque “Remember to Forget.” And then there’s the hilarious, hooky “What a Jerk” and my choice for should-be hit single, the flawless “Sometimes Saying Nothing Says it All.” Live footage of the band confirms they pull off these tunes with an extra measure of rock and heart.
We’re All Going to Drink TonightGirls Who Love CarsJohn WayneWhat a JerkSometimes Saying Nothing Says It All
Our next group is the band that was playing in the background of your ‘night out at the bar’ when you suddenly realized they’re freakin’ fabulous (and it’s not just the beer talking). Minneapolis’ J. Eastman and the Drunk Uncles play like they’ve been playing together forever. They’re tight and easy at the same time. Their first album, No Capo Required, has a rough but solid indie sound, particularly on tracks like “Not the Liquor” and “Lack of Medication.” And then there’s earwormy jangle gem, “Josephine.” I’ve hit replay on this baby countless times – a real should-be hit! The band is back this year with Pleasing Some of the People None of the Time, an album that maintains all their indie charm with just a bit more polish. Comparisons to The Replacements and REM are not out of order, though I also hear a bit of a Springsteen, particularly some of his more recent poprock-oriented material (e.g. “Hurry Up Sundown” from 2014’s American Beauty EP). Highlights for me include “On Your Dime” and “Holding On.” But my hands down fave is “No Political Agenda.” I love its explosive ‘out of the box’ opening and driving guitar hooks. Gimme a twofer and a spot close to the stage this Friday night’s live performance!
Better shine up your dancing shoes for our next band, LA’s The Condors. They meld a classic rock and roll sound with that new wave sheen circa 1979 – think The Romantics meets Tom Petty, with a dash of The Cars and Elvis Costello thrown in for good measure. 2001’s Kinks’ inspired Tales of Drunkenness of Cruelty has a wonderful punky poprock sound on tracks like “Listen to Me Now.” By 2007’s Wait For It the sound had tightened up considerably. ‘Somewhere over the rainbow … there’s a party going on’ kicks off “Waiting Half the Night” and the start of a non-stop party album. Songs range from the droll “Don’t Want a Girl Who’s Been With Jack” to the blasting, driving “Carnival of Fools” to the rollicking “Wake Up.” However, my fave is probably the more sophisticated melody on “Something Better Coming Soon.” 2012’s 3 Item Combo changed up the sound a bit, adding considerable variety, sounding a bit Eels at times, Cars at others. Album highlights for me include “My Slice of Life,” “Seraphina Why” and full-on rock out on “Full Blown Love Attack.” In 2015 the band released just one single but what a tune! “Back to Jackson” echoes Nancy and Lee’s 1967 hit but takes it further. 2017’s EP Joi De Vivre shows the boys have still got it on tracks like “Tell It to the Judge” and the smoking instrumental “High Chaparral.” A night with this band would be dance heaven.
Listen To Me NowWaiting Half the NightCarnival of FoolsWake UpFull Blown Love AttackBack to JacksonHigh Chaparral
Looking to party like it’s 1965? Then The Connection is your band! I imagine a party night with this group is kinda like one of those dance scenes from A Hard Day’s Night. These guys have rock and roll chops influenced by a classic 1960s poprock groove, British pub rock, and American new wave. Think mid-1960s Stones, Rockpile, with a bit of NRBQ and Ramones. And the hooks! Songwriters Marino and Palmer leaven their party rock with healthy dose of melody at every turn. I can’t go through every album with this band – there’s just too many great songs. I love the early 1960s sweetness of “Little Lies” from 2011’s New England’s Newest Hitmakers or the rockin’ swing of “Gonna Leave You” from 2012’s Connection Collection, v.1. Then again 2013’s Let It Rock is all full of cool tracks like “She’s a Keeper” and “The Way Love Should Be.” 2015’s Labor of Love mines the more 1970s poprock sound of Nick Lowe and the Kinks, for instance on “Pathetic Kind of Man.” Ok, I did cover most of the albums. And don’t miss out on the band’s latest, Wish You Success – it may be their best yet. “The Girl is Trouble” is poprock perfection. But my current fave is “Mechanical Heart” with it’s sneaky earworm effect. Get your skinny tie on for this party band.
A strong cast of breaking acts in today’s featured post channel the classics of the mid-to-late 1960s rock and roll and 1990s power pop. All fall into the ‘highly recommended’ category of blogging endorsements!
Right off the mark, Oberon Rose generates an excitement that is distinctively 1960s rock and roll on their new record Tell Me All About It. The kick off to “No Stranger” has that magic combo of electric guitars and background vocal ‘oohs’ that draws you in and never lets up. Described as ‘psychedelic’ by a host of writers, the band falls on the more melodic side that tradition, i.e. more early rather than later Pink Floyd or even the Beatles circa Sgt. Peppers. Another strong track from the band’s latest LP is the title track, “Tell Me All About It,” with its sometimes hooky, sometimes languid and spacey feel. Don’t miss the band’s debut Wunjo from 2012 either as it contains its share of 1960s-infused real winners, like “One Man Show of Sorrow” and “Dance of the Bee.” This band’s work made me hit repeat more than once!
Australian jangle rockers Even are back with a fabulous new album, Satin Returns. Twenty-two years and seven albums later, the band has not lost its touch, as is evident on the brilliant should-be hit single “Out of the Woods,” a textbook example of how to combine jangle with killer hooks. This baby is a soundtrack to sunshine and good times, all the way. Overall, the album is a testament to the band’s mastery of late 1960s rock styles, without just being a museum piece. The end result has a timeless quality. “Little Piece” showcases this nicely with its exuberant riffing. Is this 1970s rock homage? Or 1990s indie? It doesn’t really matter because the songwriting lets it stand on its own. This is a band whose recordings also say ‘great live band.’
A year or so ago we lamented the lack of new material from Essex Green while lauding the harmonic genius of their single “Don’t Know Why (You Stay).” Well, the band is back with a new record and North American tour and the news is all good. The new album is Hardly Electronic and not available until the end of June but from the two songs presently available it’s going to be a killer. “Sloane Arranger” is a wonderful poppy-rock number, with great organ and background vocals, featuring a main vocal reminiscent of Mark Everett’s work with Eels and solo as E. “The 710” has a mellifluous quality, an easy going track that has an embedded ear worm that sneaks up on you. And there’s twelve more tracks to come! To say I can’t wait would just be hyperbole, I can. But I don’t want to!
The Ruler debut album is finally out and can I just say it? Ruler rules! Winning Star Champion is a hook-filled masterpiece. From beginning to end, Ruler’s Matt Batey delivers some pretty sweet melody-drenched rock and roll a la Matthew Sweet or Kevin Devine. Whether he’s employing a wall of guitars on “Petrified” or just finger-picking his acoustic on “We’ve Got it Made” Ruler bends melody to his will with a delicate and poignant sweetness. Title track “Winning Star Champion” announces that the singing protagonist claims his title for ‘fucking up’ like a ‘high school rebel running out of luck.’ So goes the theme of the whole album: the insecurities of advancing adulthood, in evidence on tracks like “Cars and Houses,” “The Cure” or the melancholy “Always Running.” And then there’s that winning, should-be hit single “Unhindered Pace,” a perfectly arranged sonic poprock treat. Mark my words – Winning Star Champion is destined to top everyone’s ‘best of 2018’ lists!
There is so much great music out there, waiting to be noticed. I can hardly keep up writing about just a fraction of it! Our turn around the dial this time showcases a quartet of hardworking journeymen songwriters and performers who have done their time in the trenches and could use a little more glory.
We’re written about the sublime joy that is Dan Israel before. He writes a kind of cross-over, folk-inflected poprock that is increasingly rare in our hipster-hyphenated, genre lockdown. Here I’m thinking Cat Stevens at his most melodic or even a more upbeat Jim Croce. It’s all there on Israel’s new album You’re Free. This is a relaxing at the cabin or driving somewhere record, that deftly mixes more slow-moving introspection with uptempo rock and roll. The album kicks off kicks off with what sounds like a very Cat Stevens-like vocal and song structure on “Gets You Through It,” channels some early 1970s Paul Simon on the breezy “Make This Life Mine,” and vibes Tom Petty on the more rockin’ “Someday You’ll Say.” But the album highlight is the obvious single, “You’re Free.” This baby has a driving beat and melodic hook reminiscent of both John Lennon and Bob Dylan, when they deigned to cast out some hooks. You’re Free is another winner for Dan Israel, very much worth the cover price.
It’s hard to get a fix on Lane Steinberg. Whatever the genre, the guy is obviously supremely talented, with an enormous back catalogue of work spanning decades, performed by range of musical combos. The diversity is in evidence on his latest release, Lane Steinberg and his Magic Pony. The cover alone has gotten attention – its looks like a somewhat bizarre record store find, perhaps dug out of a bin alongside Spock’s Music from Outer Space. The record itself is a curious blend of melodic satire, gentle political commentary, and straight up poprock, with a few Noel Coward-ish piano tunes thrown in for good measure. Steinberg is clearly having fun, mocking everything from the technology (“You’re Not Connected to the Internet”) to fake social concern (“I’m Tony Hayward and I’d Like My Life Back”) to the sureties of both the political left and right (“Crazy as a Shithouse Rat”). But he is also deadly serious about his poprock craft. “Another Early Autumn” hits all the Beach Boys marks. “Everyone Thinks I’m Happy Now” channels the Beatles c. 1966, with help from that “Strawberry Fields Forever” organ. On a more contemporary note, both “Franklin and First” and “Who Does Your Mind Control?” have the confident melodic sheen of the best work by the Eels. But the standout track for me here is the mildly strident yet seductive “After Taxes,” a song that allows Steinberg’s varied influences to really gel into a distinctive sound of their own. I think Lee Dorsey would agree – it’s time to ride your (magic) pony!
You’re a celebrated national sports writer and best selling author but in your spare time you decide to put out your first album of 1960s-inspired poprock songs? That’s David Sheinin on his new album, First Thing Tomorrow, and it’s a winner. This is a breezy fun collection of pop ditties that draw from all the great artists from the 1960s through the 1980s. Just listening to the record you’d swear Sheinin is some twenties-something wunderkind, full of young idealism and enthusiasm. “Oh Amelia” captures this nicely with its rippling guitar lines, or “City You Left Behind” with it’s swinging hooks. Not that Sheinin just mellows out – there is a great new wave rock and roll feel to “Talking to Myself” that reminds me of Elvis Costello or Michael Penn. And then there’s the early 1960s throwback sound of “What’s the Matter.” The whole record is sonic treat, a soundtrack for convertible driving at sunset!
I wonder if KC Bowman sleeps. The guy has put out an enormous amount of material over the years, a lot of it available for free on his bandcamp site under his various band monikers: Lawsuit, Rhythm Akimbo, Agony Aunts, Preoccupied Pipers, Vinny’s Vipers, etc. I’ve heard the occasional single over the years on this or that compilation but haven’t really kept up with his career. Well now you and I can both catch up with his exquisite career-spanning compilation album Important with a Capital I. There are so many highlights on this record I can single out only a few choice cuts, like the opening should-be hit single “Blithering Heights” or the equally single-licious “Super Bad Report.” Bowman has unerring knack for squeezing a hook into just about any song form, utilizing a range killer guitar licks and sweet sounding compressed vocals. Check out his genius homage to Schoolhouse Rocks’ “I’m Just a Bill” on “Mine Called Somebody Else” – this is some pretty subtle referencing! And so on. This record will have you searching through the depths of Bowman’s back catalogue for what you’ve been missing all these years.
There was a time when hearing a great song on the radio would send me running to record store so I could buy it and hit replay again and again. Now it’s so much easier. You can click on the links for Dan Israel, Lane Steinberg, David Sheinin, and KC Bowman and save the bus fare!
Let the summer begin! From the glorious keyboard roll out that kicks off this song, you know you are in a time-warp sunshine groove, with girls in satin shorts on roller skates and hair feathered to within an inch of its life. Channeling equal parts Todd Rundgren’s Utopia and Philly soul, with a dollop of Hall and Oates at their most melodious, “Summer of ‘76” is poprock perfection. Click on the lyric video below and I guarantee your summer playlist will have a new add, it’s a single of epic earworm proportions. The song is taken from the self-titled debut album of Astral Drive, a project that is largely the work of Phil Thornalley, a producer, performer, and songwriter with a staggering musical resume. He’s worked with some pretty talented people and it’s clearly rubbed off, if this single is anything to go by. I really can’t wait to hear the whole album. Really.
You can pre-order Astral Drive directly from the record company, Lojinx, a label with a pretty special roster of talent, as well as keep up with the band on their Facebook page.
People write me about their music and most are spot on in terms of getting what we’re doing at Poprock Record. As long as what you got is melody-heavy, we can find some room for it here!
Case in point – Blake Jones and the Trike Shop. As you can hear from their recent Make album, these guys are wonderfully weird. Bit of Talking Heads and Devo in their quirky inventiveness. Then again, some They Might be Giants is there too in terms of humour, wonderfully captured on “My Soft Rock Girlfriend.” I’m not into art for art rock’s sake so thankfully the band takes a lot hooks with them as they walk on the wild side, evident on “At Every Train Stop” and “Take a Look at the Stars.” But my personal fave on the record is the boppy “Alchemy C’mere.”
Soft Rock GirlfriendAlchemy C’mere
John Lathrop is The Stan Laurels, a one man, cinematic distillation of Beatles influences c. 1966-67, with a Jeff Lynne-esque sense of ambition. His back catalogue contains an album, EP and a movie soundtrack, the latter featuring both incidental music cuts and actual songs. Early tracks from 2009’s Death of the Sun like “Lovebirds” and “If I Walked with the Dead” have a great psychedelic pop vibe. But with 2013’s Bill and Theodore soundtrack there’s new depth to the recordings, particularly with the very-present banjo on “Blue Song” or the lovely acoustic guitar on “A Million Miles High.” Then Lathrop takes satirical aim at early 1960s stalker pop with the alternatively hilarious/horrifying “DAMN, I Shot My Baby (Again).” “Jack the Car Back” is one of the particularly engaging instrumental/incidental music numbers. The Stan Laurels’ new album Maybe, another soundtrack (this time for the film Maybe Shower), is perhaps the best yet. Lead off single “Maybe” is a slow groove, hooky number with Harrisonian undertones here and there – a great poprock single! I also like “Life, Lemons and an Alien.”
Variously described as psych Scouse-pop and Scousedelia, the connection to the Liverpool music scene appears to be strong with Annexe the Moon. Though to my ears, these guys have a got a softer, more dreamy pop sound than I typically identify with rough and tumble Scousers like The La’s, Cast, and The Real People. It’s always good to challenge my assumptions about such things! Early releases like “Ever Meaning Less” and “Bring You Down” almost sound Moody Blues-ish to me, particularly on the vocals. The sound gets more complex on the bouncy “1000 Miles from Hollywood” and the most recent single, “Full Stop.” The latter is really a tour de force of sonic layering, echoing some of the best 1980s keyboard-based poprock bands.
Excuse me, I’m having a D.A. Stern moment here. Sometimes when you’re clicking through hundreds of new tunes by all manner of artists something just jumps out as strikingly original and different, just a bit off the poprock beaten track. That would be the new album from D.A. Stern, Aloha Hola. Oh, all the usual influences appear –the Beatles, Beach Boys, 1970s mannered radio pop, 1990s indie, etc. But you get a sense from the execution here that Stern’s endearingly oddball personality makes all those influences different, without necessarily becoming eccentric. The album opens with some nice trippy pop numbers – “Am I Ever On Your Mind?” and “Bluegenes” – with ever so shoegazey vocals. But then Stern shakes things up with tracks like “In Pain” and “When I Said That You Were Right” that draw on different song forms and add more weight to the vocals. For instance, “When I Said There You Were Right” has a great Rubber Soul-era Beatles acoustic shuffle, artfully laying a load of bitter lyrics over a bed of musical pleasantness. “Spirit of New York” changes things up again with sunshiny pop quality that says single to me. There are other moments where Stern really does channel a lovely Teenage Fanclub vibe, like on “Miami” and “Isn’t It Obvious?” the latter from a maxi-single released a month after (and not included on) the album.
Ok, my Stern moment is drawing to a close (for now) but don’t let me stop you. Stern’s material rewards a close and enduring inspection, most easily accomplished after purchase from Bandcamp of course.
We do occasionally rock here at Poprock Record. But we seldom rawk. The long hair, the spandex, it’s just not our thing. But there are a few border cases, bands on the edge of rawk yet anchored by strong melodies. Today’s crew all have their amps cranked up to eleven but the hooks are still there.
Vancouver’s Head exude a strong 1980s vibe, in a good way! The lead off single from their new album Dear Father is “Road to Ruin,” a catchy slice of 1980s FM radio pop rawk that sounds just a bit Pat Benatar at times. But my heatseeker single would be the great, synth-driven “Love Lies.” There’s a real ear worm in the chorus. Cardiff’s Junior have the California punk pop sound down on “Veronica,” a track that works with crunchy guitars but you know would also sound great unplugged. If there was any concern that last year’s resurrection of Thrift Store Halo was just come-back luck, check out their latest killer double-A side single, “Concrete Sky/Every Time with You.” The latter particularly combines a jangly 1960s feel with more jagged guitars and vocals. Again, I could totally see this song done up as a retro Merseybeat number but, hey, it really works in its present form too. Wild Animals are from Madrid and their brand new album is The Hoax. For me, the single should be “Science Fiction,” a track that blasts out of the gate on a wall of guitars while the vocal melody line seems to just float on top. Last up, Kitchener Ontario’s Sam Coffey and the Iron Lungs. These guys mix so many rawk styles with some really sweet melodies – and it works! I can hear a bit of Springsteen with a whole lot of Thin Lizzy on “Tough,”a rockin’ rollicking tune with screaming guitars, brash vocals, and a load of hooks in the chorus.
Now that it looks like spring has finally sprung it’s time to fill the playlist with some swinging, vocal swirling, feel good music. Cape Cartel deserve a strong ‘add’ to your rotation with their delightfully sunny “More.” Just hit play below and tell me, honestly, isn’t everything just a little bit brighter? With guitar lead lines dripping like a sonic waterfall, and intricately layered vocals that rival the best of the Moody Blues, this little gem is the stand out track on the band’s recently released debut album. Oh, there are other highlights on Close Talker. The record effortlessly ranges across multiple styles: a bit of jazz and folk, a dose of blistering rock, even some Jack Jones Hawaiian vibes, and throughout there are wonderful vocal arrangements. For instance, I’m also keen on “No One to Bear,” “The Great Indoors,” and “Feeling Cursed.” But get started with “More” – it’s the solid single.
Now go directly to Cape Cartel’s bandcamp page and download this album. They’re offering it up as a ‘pay what you want’ but it’s worth full price.