Soothing Head Sounds from Super 8

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Screen Shot 2020-03-27 at 9.44.05 AMHead Sounds is another super-Cali-fantastic release from Paul Ryan aka Super 8! Imagine Ray Davies joining the Beach Boys sometime in 1968 for a one-off album outing and you kinda get the picture. Ryan aces that late 1960s California poprock sound on tracks like “Dragonfly,” with its sometimes dreamy, sometimes swinging groove and timely sentiments about ‘what if you could only live for a day’? And things just get more groovy from there. Five of Head Sounds numbers already appeared on an EP of the same name but the expansion really fills out the original sunny, sand-flecked ambiance. Dig the happy township jive animating “BoNes,” or the addictive rhythmic hook undergirding “BeBopALuLa,” as well as inspired covers of both the Beatles (“Across the Universe”) and Beach Boys (“In My Room”). There a Roddy Frame/Aztec Camera quality to “Love Like Ours,” a skipping-on-a-sunny-day feel to “Millionaire,” and a laid-back let it be vibe to “Keep the Home Fires Burning.” If sunshine had a soundtrack, it might sound like Head Sounds. Drop the needle anywhere on this disc and groove your cares away.

Super 8 has delivered the tonic we need at this particular historical moment, an album to help us ‘stay calm and carry on’. Get your smile on with a copy of Head Sounds right now.

Around the dial: Mo Troper, Danny McDonald, Pure Moods and Strange Passage

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Screen Shot 2020-03-25 at 6.29.07 PMNo pandemic is gonna stop us twisting that radio dial to find out just what is out there music wise! Today’s featured acts take ‘moody’ and ‘strange’ in all sorts of melodic and unexpected directions.

Screen Shot 2020-03-25 at 6.30.14 PMAll my favourite poprock artists are growing up. Here with another 30-something pre-midlife crisis album is Mo Troper and his wrenching pain and discomfort adds up to 34 minutes of sweet sweet listening pleasure for us on his latest, Natural Beauty. Similar to Gregory Pepper (whose recent I Know Why You Cry is another winning sonic rendering of 30-something issues), Troper is toting up his 20s shortcomings with a bevy of frank, focused, but still melodious tunes. And like Pepper, Troper’s latest may be his most mature, fully realized work to date. “I Eat” kicks things off and sets the tone for the album, with its serious theme and carefully manicured production. Natural Beauty is just full of wonderfully layered sounds, strikingly varied keyboard flourishes, and an often naked honesty on the vocals front. Then again, “Your Boy” is the other side of this record, a textbook poprock masterpiece, anchored by a brilliant La’s-like jangle guitar hook at the start which just keeps mutating across piano, electric guitar and a slew of melodic vocals. This song is the soundtrack to a 1960s montage sequence where the boy meets a girl and joins a band and then a host of happy stuff happens. More serious themes emerge on “Potential,” “Lucky Devils” and “Better Than Nothing” but still they remain perky, poppy numbers. Possible influences abound here, with perhaps a bit indie 10cc or McCartney-meets-Morrissey on “In Love With Everyone” or a McCartney/Shins combo on “Your New Friend,” while “Everything” really reminds me of Apples in Stereo’s “Seems So” period. Personal fave: the new wave-ish “Almost Full Control” with its hypnotic bass work. For me, Natural Beauty is heading straight to the ‘best of 2020’ list, a must-have-the-whole-album release.

Screen Shot 2020-03-25 at 6.31.17 PMMelbourne’s Danny McDonald is a veteran of the Aussie indie music scene, playing on over 70 different projects since the early oughts. But one listen to his latest EP Modern Architecture and you’re going to be wondering where has he been? How has a guy this talented kept such a low international profile? Right out the gate, McDonald grabs the listener full force on the supercharged power pop should-be hit single, “Cordyline,” with its Big Star hooks and Brydsian background vocals. Then things rumble-guitar along nicely on the touching, rootsy duet with Anna Burley, “The Suburb I Grew Up In.” The 58 seconds of “Judge Me for my Art, Not Where I Live” sounds a lot like a punked up treatment of a great lost Plimsouls track. “Commuters Lament” vibes just a little Jayhawks while “Keeping the Dogs at Bay” is in the same vein as Richard Turgeon’s stolid stripped-down rocked-up pop. My only complaint about Modern Architecture is that is all ends too soon!

Screen Shot 2020-03-25 at 6.32.06 PMAnother winning act from Melbourne is Adam Madric’s latest project, Pure Moods. On their debut album, Upward Spirals, there’s a fleeting Teenage Fanclub vibe at times, but on the whole this record is marked by a distinct sound – the rhythm guitar. More than is typical, it’s up front in the mix, anchoring the sonic portrait of the band. I love what sounds like an envelope of sound, the jangle drone, that opens the record on “Tide” and remains on “Backwards World.” Things shift gears with the title track which grooves along with a very 1970s soft rock rhythm guitar – that is until the Kraftwerk keyboards kick in and the whole thing slides in a different direction. There’s a tempo uptick on “Sideways Glance” and the jaunty “Sparkle” and both tunes shine melodically. Pure Moods’ Upward Spirals makes for intriguing, ultimately enjoyable listening with catchy songs that ride the tension between their lively musical performance and Madric’s somewhat low key, alienated vocals.

Screen Shot 2020-03-25 at 6.33.05 PMTaking a spin through Strange Passage’s Shouldn’t Be Too Long makes you realize just how good all those Morrissey solo albums could have been if they’d just sounded like this. And these guys are not even from some dreary northern British former industrial town but they’ve nailed the jangle alienation of the Mopster and his guitar pals. Seriously though, the songs here bubble with Smithian fun, like the energetic “Cloying Melody” with its rush of guitars and R.E.M.-meets-The The vocals. From the opening cut, “Idle Time,” it’s clear this is a really strong outing song-wise. Frankly, I can’t find a single track I wouldn’t hit replay on. Ok, maybe “Shouldn’t Be Too Long” seems special for cranking the sparkle on the guitars or “Ode” for being so Paul Simon doing Morrissey. Despite the comparisons, Strange Passage are not some wannabe something else band. They work this sound into something quite their own and it’s a pleasure to hear.

Now more than ever bands need our support to keep body and soul together! From the comfort of your self-distancing music room, check out Mo Troper, Danny McDonald, Pure Moods and Strange Passage on the internet to get their latest product.

It sounded like the end of the world

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Screen Shot 2020-03-19 at 11.56.04 AMSo far, the end of world sounds more like “The Sounds of Silence” than the rumble and destruction of a Simpsons-esque apocalyptic crowd waving torches. But if this is the end of the world, what should our soundtrack sound like? Not the obvious choices, obviously (yes R.E.M., I mean you). At the very least the end of times should  give struggling indie artists the spotlight for once.

That’s why we’re kicking things off with cheeky Portland band Streetcar Conductors. They’ve got a great new song called “Brand New Lease on Life” (which also seems timely in its own way) but our featured tune and the inspiration for this post, “It Sounded Like the End the World,” is actually from their amusingly-titled debut album, The Very Best of the Streetcar Conductors. Kicking off your career with a ‘greatest hits’ – that’s serious moxy. On the theme of worlds ending, Lannie Flowers wastes no time getting to the “Edge of the World,” a terrific song that clocks in at just a minute and two seconds. Good thing too as I guess we really don’t have time to waste. Liverpool’s Rob Clarke and the Wooltones lighten the mood with their jaunty, jangly “End of the End,” from their 2014 LP The World of the Wooltones. Who says bad news has to sound bad? By contrast, a song sure to be voted more cinematically ‘end of the world’ is The Call’s “Apocalypse,” from the band’s least successful early album, 1984’s Scene Beyond Dreams. I always thought The Call were British but they are certainly vibing their Santa Cruz roots on this track. Annabelle Lord-Patey is Elliott Smith reborn on her gentle apocalyptic ode, “Doomsday,” a cut from her wonderful debut album Polaris. Fingerpicking your way to oblivion never sounded so good. Hip fuzz rockers Best Coast prepare for “The End” in style on this song from their exquisite 2010 release Crazy for You. This swinging track will definitely put a skip in your step. And for something a bit different, Jill Sobule imagines the end of times as an orgy of not paying bills and making beds on “A Good Life” from her 2009 record California Years. Now, that sounds about right to me.

Lannie Flowers – Edge of the WorldThe Call – ApocalypseBest Coast – The EndJill Sobule – A Good Life

It may have sounded like the end of the world over this past week but we’ve been mistaken before. On the off chance we’re still all here in the days ahead, let’s help our fave artists keep heart and hearth fortified with some cash transfers via Bandcamp or your favourite internet music retailer.

Music to live through a pandemic by

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Screen Shot 2020-03-12 at 6.02.59 PMShamelessly exploit an emerging health crisis for some weak blog tie-in? Not our style friends. Think of this as a public service, designed to distract you from the impending end of the world as we know it. As someone once said, if we’re going to have to go, we might as well go out singing!

Not that we should get too excited. Phoebe Bridgers captures a bit of the aura of impending doom that’s all about on her low key but catchy “Motion Sickness.” By contrast, The Popravinas “Almost Sick” almost sounds celebratory in a country ‘my truck died’ sort of way. KC Bowman’s crew of musical friends also have a timely tune in their Preoccupied Pipers guise with the sprightly “Sick Time.” On the other hand, Swedish/German duo It’s a Musical get right to the point with the quirky “The Music Makes Me Sick” (disclaimer: no music on this site will actually make you sick). Another KC Bowman vehicle is the cleverly named Stik Pinz and they sound positively blissed out to get some “Medical Time.” Well, who wouldn’t, under our present circumstances? Can I get a doctor? That might be what Chris Von Sneidern is saying on “Doctor.” Then again, the album is called Big White Lies so who knows. It’s a lovely song and that’s all my prescription guarantees. The Lolas get a little more specific with “Doctor Apache” and they’ve pretty’d up their usual rocking sound with some lovely jangly guitar argpeggiations. Juliana Hatfield has turned out so many great, underappreciated LPs. Like Pussycat, with its topical “I Wanna Be Your Disease.” Working the Americana side of the poprock street, The River and the Road layer in the banjo to earworm up their thematic contribution, “Strange Disease” and it works! Just the musical cure we’re looking for. And for the wrap, how about some Bill Lloyd from his fab 2018 album, Working the Long Game in the form of “What Time Won’t Heal.” Hopefully, if our preparations were effective, you’ve been toe-tapping your way to distraction and forgot all about … what was that news headline?

Chris Von Sneidern – DoctorLolas – Doctor ApacheThe River and the Road – Strange DiseaseBill Lloyd – What Time Won’t Heal

Time to pull together people. Even as we practice some social distancing to survive in the days and weeks ahead, we can always let the music bring us together. Click the links above and bring some money-joy to our performers as they tart up their quarantine quarters, er, I mean, wherever they call home!

Melody central: Batteries Not Included, Young Guv, Travel Lanes, and The Overtures

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Screen Shot 2019-11-28 at 10.09.06 AMMelody central stands at the junction of pop and rock, with hooky guitar lines and heavenly background vocals to spare. It’s one stop shopping for your melody-coated rock and roll needs. Today’s melody-ers hit the beat with just the right balance between old time inspiration and a contemporary indie elan.

Screen Shot 2020-03-10 at 4.35.08 PMBandcamp has this ‘if you liked’ feature that runs across the bottom of the page of any artist you might be checking out. I find so many great acts there! Like Chicago’s Batteries Not Included. Just looking at their website live show pics, these guys seem like the ultimate party band to me. Rockin’ together since 1980, sporadically releasing an LP and EP, BNI boast opening for a wide range of classic sixties bands (e.g. Spencer Davis, Lovin’ Spoonful) and more recent indie poprock outfits (e.g. The Smithereens) over the years. Still, while remaining active, they’ve never really broken out big. A quick spin through their latest long player, Hey Hey Hey, is proof their stick-to-it-ness is not misplaced. What fun, happy tunes! “Winning Ticket” shimmers with early Romantics hookyness. “Count on Me” is so early 1960s Buddy Holly meets Bobby Fuller. And then there’s tracks like “Fall for You,” “Bit by Bit,” and “I Knew” which vibe the fresh, crisp melodic rock and roll sound of the Paul Collins’ Beat. This is a no-risk purchase if you’re looking for a hooky no-nonsense poprock record.

Screen Shot 2020-03-10 at 4.36.11 PMToronto-cum-Brooklyn’s Young Guv has a double album that practically lunges out of the speakers with its raucus, jangly opening cut, “Patterns Prevail,” vibing Teenage Fanclub on speed. Perhaps that’s not surprising as Young Guv’s main man is Ben Cook, sometime leader of punk bands Fucked Up and No Warning. Well, he has taken a turn down the melody mile on this latest release as things start out hooky and just don’t let up from there. “Roll with Me” sounds very uptempo Elliott Smith. Then “Every Flower You Meet” gets a solid Matthew Sweet groove on. “Luv Always” steps on the jangle pedal hard. And so on. Personally, I love the hooky lead guitar line anchoring “Exceptionally Ordinary” – very Primitives – and the Jayhawks aura lingering over “She’s a Fantasy.” The second half of the album turns down the amps and goes a bit pop-soul but remains divine. Guv I & II is available bundled together or sold separately. Is there anything Young Guv’s Ben Cook can’t do?

Screen Shot 2020-03-10 at 4.37.35 PMI can hear all sorts of classic influences on Travel Lanes’ new record ON: Tom Petty, the Replacements, a bit of Elvis Costello and, of course, the Beatles. Indeed, you can hear all those elements permeate the kick off track, “True and Tried.” Then things turn in a slightly different direction with the country, pub rock feel of “Answer My Prayers” and the dynamite pedal steel on “It’s Time.” It’s funny, while Frank Brown writes and sings the songs, there is a strong ‘band’ sound to this record. Songs like “Routine,” “Big Heart,” and “Lover’s Lane” are played with the ease and comfort of a Rockpile-esque sense of boozy togetherness. This is group that really knows how to play and they play together so well. ON is an album listener’s treasure: you’re gonna listen to it again and again.

Screen Shot 2020-03-10 at 4.42.19 PMThe Overtures bill themselves as the ‘UK’s finest 60’s tribute act’ and the fact they’ve been hired by the likes Paul  McCartney and Elton John kinda backs up their bona fides. But with their new album Once in a World they cast aside the ‘merely a cover band’ label to offer up a raft of original tunes – and the result is brilliant, and not just in the jangle sense of that term (though, yes, it is that too). Frankly, with this band’s back story and image, I was worried that taking a crack at more original material might just produce something that was too derivative. And, hey, the British invasion and Beatles influences are all over this record, for sure. But this album is a winner, chock full of simply great tunes performed by a band with killer chops. Exhibit A: album opener “Till Your Luck Runs Out” has guitar sounds that are very Searchers but in their comeback 1980 new wave guise. Then the obvious should-be hit single arrives with “Once in a World” and it’s a timeless slice of poprock. Seriously, it could 1980s Squeeze (if they’d picked up an electric 12 string!) or it could be any number of great melodic rock tracks released just this last year. Other songs harken back to the 1960s and 1970s: “The Hollow Bells” sounds very Hollies-Bryds-Turtles, “She Belongs to Yesterday” has a lovely, hooky British invasion lead guitar line, “Red Dolls House” could be a great lost Elvis Costello tune, “Find Out What You Mean to Me” is a Cavern-era Beatles workout – I could go on. Really, there are so many highlights on this album, you’re going to want the whole thing. My personal fave is “She Shines a Light” with its seductive lilting hooks. You can pick up a physical copy of the album from the good people at Kool Kat Music!

Till Your Luck Runs OutShe Shines a Light

A trip to melody central saves you the bother of searching all these hooks on your own time. That’s why you should pay it forward and hit the links to get closer to the merch available from Batteries Not Included, Young Guv, Travel Lanes, and The Overtures now

I get mail: Super Ratones, the Suitesixteen, Stars on Fire and more!

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Screen Shot 2020-03-04 at 2.16.49 PMToday’s mailbag is brought to you by the letter S. I swear this happened totally by accident! Somehow everyone waiting in the queue had an S name.

Screen Shot 2020-03-04 at 2.20.12 PMStarting in the global south, Argentina’s Super Ratones (translation: Super Mice) are veterans of that country’s rock and roll scene, forming in 1985 and releasing eight albums over their decades-long career, even surviving the loss of founding member and lead singer José Luis Properzi to cancer in 2015. Yet their 2019 release, Carreras de Aviones (translation: Airplane Racing) sees the band back in top form with strong collection poppy rock and roll numbers. Title track “Carreras de Aviones” has all the key elements: a rollicking rhythm salted with strong melodic hooks. That vocal harmonies would be strongly in evidence is not that surprising for a band initially compared to the Beach Boys on their first few recordings and you hear it here on tracks like “Me Gusta La Lluvia” and “Si No Tuvieras Miedo.” On the whole, the album is a great addition to their catalogue. And, by the way, you wouldn’t go wrong dipping into any of the previous seven releases either.

In the ‘now for something completely different’ part of our programming, we’ll push the boundaries of our self-declared genre limits a bit with two acts that are more indie raucous than muy melodic. Calgary’s Scratch Buffalo mostly combine a raw ‘rawk’ sensibility with a talky in-your-face vocal style that’s typically not my scene. Having said that, I do really like album closer “Life Somewhere’s Else” with its earthy combo of mellow acoustic guitar backing, tasteful lead guitar and understated vocal. So too Limehouse, Ontario’s The Soviet Influence is working an alienated indie rock seam with nary a jangly guitar in sight. Still, “Rust” has a lulling earwormy quality that gets to you on repeated listenings, also carried by a nice acoustic guitar, a remote but lovely lead guitar line, and affectingly intimate vocals.

Screen Shot 2020-03-04 at 2.21.02 PMOk, back to our regular programming …  A former member of pop punk pioneers Bum (Rob Nesbitt) has dropped his snarl but retained the band’s signature hooks on his new project The Suitesixteen and I love it. Don’t get me wrong, Bum was great, but it’s no secret I tend to prefer The Beatles over The Stones. Hints of punk are still there on tracks like “Bob Greene” but now you can really hear how the melody shines through, particularly vocally. Across the album as whole, comparisons to Green Day or Bowling for Soup would not be out of order. But then there’s the more nakedly Big Star-ish “A Very Well Known Secret” and “That Sweet Ache.” Personally, my fave track is the swinging closer “Why I Love You and I Did.” The album is entitled Mine Would be the Sun and it is worth more than a casual listen.

Nobody has press quite like Seoul, South Korea-based stars on fire. Described as ‘rough, mischievous, and utterly charming,’ a ‘drunk Lloyd Cole seizing control of Felt,’ and a ‘well-crafted, lo-fi blend of shoegazer psych-rock and jangly indie-pop’ the band’s two 2019 EPs definitely throw a lot of influences into the hopper. To my ears, there a bit of The Smiths, particularly on those hooky electric guitar openers on tracks like “stuck somewhere” and “I Need Nobody (that’s you).” At other times they sound like The Catherines with hungover Leonard Cohen on vocals. Wherever your dip into these EPs there’s a winning combination of distinctive guitar work and even more distinctive vocals. Finally, rounding out today’s mailbag is a should be hit single from Sheffield’s The Suncharms. The band’s original era stretched from 1989-93 but they reunited in 2018 and new recordings have since emerged, like “Jet Plane” featured on the fadeawayradiate records compilation F.A.R. Out. Very The Church, with that charming mixture of pop hooks amid a general psychedelic vibe.

I love getting mail! I’m always curious to hear what people have sent along and I’m impressed that most pay close attention to the general style of music I’m peddling. Let’s reward such diligence with impromptu internet visits to Super Ratones, Scratch Buffalo, The Soviet Influence, The Suitesixteen, stars on fire, and The Suncharms right now.

Dave Kuchler really lasts!

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Screen Shot 2020-02-27 at 11.46.28 AMOnce upon a time jangle guitar player/singer/songwriter Dave Kuchler joined an already established New Jersey band to help deliver one of the most criminally overlooked poprock masterpieces of the early 1990s, the Soul Engines’ Closer Still. It’s Kuchler singing lead on that janglicious, hook-infested “It’s Just Another Day.” And then … nothing. A follow up got underway but sputtered out amid record company chaos and line up changes. Well, I’m excited to report that Dave Kuchler is back with a new solo album, It’s Pronounced …, and it’s definitely been worth the wait. Kuchler’s put together a collection of tracks that exudes a distinctive New Jersey rock and roll synthesis (think heavy doses of Hammond B3 and saxophone) with a particular accent on melody. Just check out the medley of influences on the album’s stellar opening cut “If I Saw You” with its Springteen-esque roll out that trades melody lines between electric guitar and sax, with hints of Byrdsian jangle hovering in the background. It’s an auspicious start that doesn’t let up over the album’s twelve tunes.

It’s Pronounced … brings together old and new, with six tracks representing recovered older material (some from the early 1990s, others from aborted Soul Engines sessions circa 2002), while others are newly recorded songs, supported by longtime Joe Jackson bass player Graham Maby and regular Kuchler collaborator/producer/instrumentalist Pinky Giglio. Beyond elements of what some might call a ‘Jersey shore’ heartland rock, the record covers a broad range of styles, from the neo-Mersey vibe of “Better Things to Do” to the Elvis-style rockabilly vocals on “Pull My String” to the Jackson 5-influenced “Go!” Who would have thought the world needed another cover of “When You Walk in the Room” but Kuchler aces it, adding muscle to the tune amid killer organ flourishes and spot on sibilant guitar work. But the highlights of this record for me are the double-barreled should-be hit singles, “Really Lasts” and “Slave to Katy.” The former cooks with an unrelenting Motown meets Stax-Volt pop soul dance groove, ornamented with an ear-wormy bells/keyboard effect that Bruno Mars used to good effect on “Marry You.” Originally recorded with the Soul Engines for the follow up to Closer Still, the cut sounds just as fresh and contemporary as ever. Meanwhile “Slave to Katy” illustrates how Giglio’s Hammond B3 organ work is the not-so-hidden star of this album (as well the sonic glue linking old and new material).

Kuchler’s It’s Pronounced … has the sound of a timeless classic, a paean to poprock songcraft and performance. It deserves a wide hearing. Find out more about on Kuchler’s Facebook page and get over to bandcamp to get your copy.

Should be a hit single: Del Shannon “Walk Away”

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Screen Shot 2020-02-20 at 5.06.01 PMIt all started with Tom Petty and some ironing last weekend. As I got reacquainted with Hard Promises it eventually drew me away from the shirts to exploring on the internet how Petty put the album together and, as one thing led to another, I was soon listening to Petty’s efforts in the producer’s chair of Del Shannon’s 1981 comeback album, Drop Down and Get Me. The record turned out a minor hit with his cover of “Sea of Love” as well as inspired renditions of the Rolling Stones (“Out of Time”) and the Everly Brothers (“Maybe Tomorrow”). But perhaps more surprising was that the bulk of the album consisted of winning Shannon originals like the title track, “Life Without You” and “Cheap Love” (later covered by Juice Newton). Hard to believe that talent like this had been missing from the Top 40 since 1965 but depression and alcoholism had helped stall Shannon’s career more than once. Despite assembling a dream team to work on a new album as the 1980s drew to close, he succumbed to depression and suicide in February 1990. The album-in-progress did finally emerge in late 1991 and Rock On! showcased Shannon’s extra-ordinary talents to good effect in terms of singing, songwriting and performance. The should-be hit single was the album opener, “Walk Away,” with its strong Travelling Wilburys vibe and signature Shannon soaring falsetto. It’s a chill-inducing gem of a single!

Walk Away

You can’t go far wrong with any Del Shannon release, album or single. Visit delshannon.com for more background or news about new releases.

Gregory Pepper knows why you cry

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Screen Shot 2020-02-14 at 11.09.05 AMA toy piano kicks off “Good Call,” the opening track of I Know Why You Cry. The song also features a pretty wicked violin solo. It’s all part of the unpredictable whimsy we’ve come to expect from Guelph, Ontario’s favourite son, Gregory Pepper. But the song also touches on aging, life struggles, and questions of identity, themes that appear throughout the record. I Know Why You Cry is actually a curated selection from Pepper’s mammoth “Song of the Week” exercise from 2017-18, a “long, cheeky, confessional mixtape” says Pepper that produced 52 tracks of sometimes undisciplined, often manic melody. Amid the chaos of delivering a new song each week Pepper also grappled with classic transitional life events like losing a parent, having a baby, and rebuilding a kitchen. Now, almost two years later, Pepper offers up a precisely crafted distillation of the experience. And the results are good. Very good indeed.

Screen Shot 2020-02-14 at 11.09.37 AMThe album’s ‘dark’ side opens rather sprightly with “Good Call,” despite a melody and march-like feel that belies its serious themes. “Bottle of Ink” is basic biography. Pepper is also an accomplished graphic artist that uses his bottle of ink to capture things that are ‘funny and sad when life is a drag.’ Then its full on into darkness, with songs exploring worry (“Worrier Spirit”), loss (“Maybe I’ll See You”), identity (“Unsolved Mystery”) and coping (“Bogus Journey”). But darkness Pepper-style is not really a downer at all. The tuba and Monty Norman Bond coda on “Worrier Spirit” cuts the dread down the size pretty effectively. Things do occasionally get somber, as on “Bogus Journey” when Pepper channels Yann Tierson in his Amélie and Goodbye, Lenin! phase. But never for too long. Case in point: the lovely situational sketch drawn out in “Sublime Sun Tattoo” where a shop song query segues into surreal speculation about Enya’s lonely castle and stalkers so obsessed they stab themselves. It takes a certain kind of wonderfully twisted creativity to deliver this stuff.

Flipped over, the album approaches ‘daybreak’ covering themes like pretension, self-examination, parenting, and mortality. Sound like pretty heavy stuff? Yes, but that’s not the Pepper way. He calls out bullshit on “Art Collector” amid squiggle horns, birdsong, car horn shots, and a cloud of uplifting background vocals. Concerns about parenting and the world our kids will inherit are given voice in a trio of songs, a mini-musical of sorts, that vibe Macca’s macabre Maxwell side, with perhaps a bit of 10cc on “Diaper Hill.” On “Bigger Than Jesus” Pepper cuts through his sardonic armor to offer a song that is just lovely in style and sentiment.  But it’s back on “Father’s Day” where ‘he doesn’t want much’ … ‘just to hear the voice of God or whatever’s on the iPod.’ “Coda” reviews the album’s songs in a wonderful sort of ‘end-ature’ medley.

I Know Why You Cry is Gregory Pepper’s most fully realized and mature work, beautifully crafted, alternatively hilarious and touching, evidence of an artist in full control of his muse. And that is saying something given his impressive back catalogue. This record is heading straight for the ‘best of’ lists. My advice? Get on over to bandcamp and help make this guy a star.

Breaking news: Mattiel, Loose Buttons, and Darwin Deez

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Screen Shot 2020-01-28 at 3.15.12 PMThere may be bad news on the doorstep but our musical headlines are nothing but blue skies ahead! Today’s news breakers include a brand new long-player, a recent album release, as well as an overlooked gem from years past.

Atlanta’s Mattiel has a rough rock and roll sound with just a touch of indie country, particularly on the vocals. It’s hard to put your finger on what this sound is like, exactly, with shades of Neko Case, Patsy Cline, Liverpool’s Zuzu, and even Ike Reilly on “Food for Thought.” Mattiel’s most recent record is 2019’s Satis Factory and it definitely exceeds that standard and more. Love the recurring riff that carries “Populonia” forward while “Blisters” has an endearing early 1960s pop country vibe. Other highlights for me include the sprightly “Keep the Change” and “Millionaire” with a backing like a Velvet Underground deep cut. There’s a bit of beat poet, performance artist, and rock and roll badass all rolled into one with Mattiel. This record is an event you’re gonna want to say you were in on the ground floor for.

Something Better is the brand new debut album from New York’s Loose Buttons and it rocks in that NYC sort of way (think of bands like Public Access TV). The guitar attack all over this record is dynamite, lifting the material to even greater heights. Some come on strong, like “Something Better” and “Home Movies (Let Down Lately)” while others mellow the pace. I love how languidly the hook rolls out on curiously addictive “Strangers in a Nightclub.” The guitars-up-front style here is contrasted with strongly melodic vocal parts, delivered with a slight dissonance but always bending back toward hooks, particularly in the chorus (an approach that really reminds me of Asylums sound on “Joy in a Small Wage”). And then there’s the obvious single, “I Don’t Really Know,” with its engaging guitar line that lures you into the song and then keeps you there with its shimmering poprock chorus. Just eight tracks but all good – a definite full LP purchase.

I loved Darwin Deez’s 2015 release Double Down, littered as it was with killer tunes like “Last Cigarette” and “Kill Your Attitude.” I even got to see him in fantastically small club that fall for a super live show. So how did I miss his 2018 release 10 Songs That Happened When You Left Me With My Stupid Heart? Clearly my super fan designation is going to lapse. The good news is that 10 Songs is another challenging yet worthwhile poprock platter from one of most interesting dudes working the scene. Deez makes his listeners work for the hook that always lurks somewhere in his tunes. Take “Anna-Maria” with its cold grey dissonant verse opening the song only to subtly break out the million dollar hook in the chorus. Or the contrast is even more stark on the old worldy, partly acapella “The World’s Best Kisser.”  And then there’s the sweet, jazzy “Daddy Always” that wraps things up. In terms of clever words and smooth performance, this guy is the Steely Dan of poppy rock and roll.

Go head, make Mattiel, Loose Buttons, and Darwin Deez’s day by sharing the good news about these recent releases and visiting their internet music shops.