Catching up with Hidden Pictures, Liquid Mike and Frank Bango


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Often I stumble across a new artist with a significant back catalogue of material and it’s hard to know where to start. Obviously the new stuff is their latest headline and priority. But the historian in me can’t help but want to play a little catch up with their musical pasts.

Profiling Hidden Pictures would be a challenge. We go from the acoustic folk/country of the 2008 debut Hidden Pictures (s/t) to a distinct vein of acoustic pop whimsey on so many albums, EPs and one-off singles that follow. And yet the band’s light touch can give way to more ambitious aural outbursts on tunes like “Where Does the Story Go?” “Sister Wife” and the rocking “Girls Like.” Comparisons to FOW abound. You can definitely hear the vocal kinship with Chris Collingwood on “Match Play” from the debut. But 2010 stand-alone single “Whitney Houston” is something different again, very *repeat repeat in its use of synth and razor sharp vocal harmonies. Three more albums followed in quick succession, 2011’s Synchronized Sleeping, 2012’s Rainbow Records, and 2014’s Ottomans, and they too pack a host of surprises. I’d single out at least one from each (in order) as particularly stellar: “It’s My Fantasy (It’s Not Your Fantasy),” “Say Hello to Darkuary” and “Firm Way to Say Goodbye.” But this undersells the proceedings. Each album is its own little cornucopia of inventive poprock songwriting. A great place to get caught up is with the band’s amazing 30 song compilation, The Hidden Pictures Anthology. So many superior cuts here, from the Squeeze-like “Ottomans” to the more hard-hitting FOW-vibing “Stealing the Tapes” to the Magnetic Fields-reminiscent “Endless Summer.” Oops, the latter two don’t actually appear on that collection. Thus you will have to supplement your Anthology with a few one-off song purchases, even if you not a completist. Personally, I wouldn’t pass over 20022 b-side “Only Memories.” It’s a real gem.

On their recently released album S/T or self-titled Marquette Michigan’s Liquid Mike let loose the power pop gods. Previous releases hinted at this development but never with this kind of sustained focus. And that’s saying something because 2021’s Stuntman and 2022’s A Beer Can and a Bouquet are hella-good records. “BLC” open things with grinding guitars and an uber smooth vocal melody riding over everything. The lead guitar carries a bit more of the melodic heft on “God Bless the World” and “Built 4 Nothing Good.” Listening to the album, it’s hard not to name-check the obvious comparators to what’s going on here, people like Matthew Sweet, early Fountains of Wayne, Weezer, etc. I love that nearly everything here clocks in at 2 minutes or less. “American Record” is the obvious single. Stepping back an album, you can’t miss “I’ll Get Back to You” and “God’s Best Substitute” from A Beer Can and a Bouquet. To get a sense of the band’s more punky roots, give the debut LP Stuntman a spin. It’s somewhat more rough-hewn but often pretty melodic smooth too. Check out “The Branch,” “T+T,” and “Big Fish” to get the full effect. “Thrifty Car Rental” doesn’t appear on any album but it should be added to your collection as well.

Frank Bango arrived in the 1990s very much in the thick of a poppy clever songsters generation. The quirky melodic turns and idiosyncratic lyrics of his 1994 debut I Set Myself on Fire Today fit right in with contributions from the likes of Mark Everett in his ‘E’ guise, Peter Case going solo, or Martin Luther Lennon. “Today I Quit the Band Mom” sounds like A Man Called E deep cut while “Get Yourself Buried” and “Lucky Suit” are solid singles material. Four years later Fugitive Girls fattened up the sound and showcased the increasing strength of Bango’s song-writing partnership with lyricist Richy Vesecky. “Candy Bar Killer” has got that languid Marshall Crenshaw pop splendour while “Ape” vibes M.L. Lennon to me. One listen to “Olivia 101” and the constant Costello comparisons from reviewers start to make sense. Don’t miss “Instamatic” btw, it’s got a real Rubber Soul invocation. Bango’s next two albums are excursions into whimsy and more somber reflections, often with a folky edge but never without a few really stand-out tracks like “Are You Now or Have You Ever Been” or “The Ugly Version” from 2002’s The Unstudied Sea and “I Saw the Size of the World” from 2008’s The Sweet Songs of Decay. And then Bango dropped a masterpiece, 2013’s Touchy/Feely. The record sounds taut, honed and melodically calibrated to please. There are just so many great tunes here: “Defenseless,” “Too Lazy To Love You, ” “What Kind of Saturday,” “Astronaut I’m Not,” and so on. The record manages to meld an updated Brill Building sound with a charm-schooled Costello lyrical intensity.  From there it’s been a long wait for Bango’s brand new The Truth Fox, just out last month. The acoustic guitar moves up front on this release in a “Norwegian Wood” register while the song-writing reminds me of Mike Viola’s distinctive style. This is a record of tender – sometimes brutal – introspection. “I Don’t Know Anyone Here” and “I Never Thought of You That Way” are stark and vulnerable and moving. But the hooks are here too on tracks like “Two Rubies.” Late period Bango shows no sign of letting up on the sonic and lyrical brilliance.

It used to be that records were disposable, here today forgotten tomorrow. But now they string together like a resume that fans can take in all at once or bit by bit, whenever they come across them. Getting all caught up was never so easy.

Image courtesy James Vaughhn Flikr page.

Hey Buddie


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Back in 2020 I ran across Philadelphia band Buddie’s debut long-player Diving. Loved it! Put it on to the to-be-reviewed pile … Then 2022 nearly expired and a new Buddie release came out, an EP entitled Transplant. Hm, I still hadn’t reviewed the first album yet. Oh well, I’ll put them together in one big Buddie blowout, I thought. Now Buddie’s second album Agitator is here and no more excuses people, it’s time for a Buddie-polooza!

The essential element of Buddie is songwriter, singer, guitar player Daniel Forrest. He doesn’t do everything, collaborating with a host of people to create and play the songs, but he’s the constant in the band’s story, stretching back to their promising early single “Vivacious Crush” to a location shift from Philly to Vancouver, B.C. as home base. The early EP 2019’s Change of Scenery and LP 2020’s Diving lean into a nineties dissonant rock style, though I agree with I Don’t Hear a Single that there are Rush notes tucked in all over. For instance, “Selva” from Change of Scenery has got that Rush bustle of noise and energy. And yet like Weezer the drone is often leavened with a lightness, particularly the vocals on tracks like “In Aquamarine” from Diving. Personally I find “Seeker” that album’s stand out track with its rippling guitar lines and Shins-like vocal delivery. Things lighten up considerably on 2022’s EP Transplant. There’s still grungy rhythm guitar but it’s not the anchor here. “Take What’s Left” almost sounds like a totally different band. Yet what I think we’re hearing here is a band really coming into its own.

All this brings us to the Buddie’s new album Agitator. It’s a juggernaut of all the elements that marked out those earlier recordings as promising. There’s plenty of dissonant guitar and subtle melody, delivered with more confidence and command of the style the band is going for. Influence-wise, I hear a lot of Rogue Wave on this album, on tracks like “Class Warfare” and “We’ll Never Break,” as well as Weezer on “Game of Global Consequences” and “Worried.” Should-be hit single for me is “Way Up” with an intoxicating guitar riff that pulls you in like a gravity well, keeping you in its orbit. Other album highlights include “Move On” with its fist pumping declarative energy while “Ugly in the End” is the obverse, a dark truth-telling drone. The poppy delight of “Labyrinth” does offer a late album respite, though lyrically it’s a hard hitting as anything else on the album. Agitator should get you stirred up, its eleven tracks are perfect 90s dissonant melodic rock reinvented for the new millennium.

Looking for a new friend? Someone a bit moody, political, but with flashes of melodic bliss and fun? I’ve got a Buddie … and you can find them here.

Recycled rock stars: Those Pretty Wrongs, The Tearaways, Anyway Gang, and The No Ones


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Once upon a time yesterday’s chart heroes might have been relegated to playing the motel bar circuit. But the millennial explosion of niche music spaces has changed all that, effectively reviving more than few stalled careers. Along with your used plastics and carboard you can now expect to recycle all your favourite rock stars too. Today’s post makes the case, featuring a load of stars from yesteryear who’ve still got a bit more sparkle and shine to share.

When you’re the drummer from a band with more indie press headlines than chart hits the future can look dire when things hit the skids. And skid-hitting pretty much sums up what happened to legendary 1970s indie darlings Big Star. So that makes Jody Stephens’ recent project with Luther Russell look pretty ‘triumphing-over-adversity’ phenomenal. The new band is Those Pretty Wrongs and Stephens is not merely drumming but singing and co-writing all the tunes. Their new LP Holiday Camp is just out and it’s their third long-player to come out since Stephens and Russell hooked up after the making of the 2012 documentary Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me. I think it’s their best yet. The sound is, not surprisingly, pretty Big Star-ish. Or perhaps it should be a surprise, given that Stephens did not sing on Big Star recordings. And yet opening cut “New September Song” has the vocal vulnerability that was emblematic of his old band. Of course, one can also hear a lot of the Byrds or even REM here and there, on tracks like “Always the  Rainbow” for the former and “This Painted Sky” for the latter. “Brother, My Brother” has got some classic Big Star acoustic lead guitar runs. The guitars really sparkle all over this album, whether in folky mode on “The Way” or working up a delightful lead guitar rumble for “Paper Cup.” “Ride Along” is another highlight, the light acoustic guitar treatment perfectly offsetting the tender vocal. The Big Star lineage might bring you here but the quality of Holiday Camp will have you setting up your tent for a spell.

On album number six Santa Barbara’s The Tearaways rinse/repeat their timeless rock and roll formula with good effect. The new record is And For Our Next Trick and it brings together a number of cool pre-release singles they’ve put out recently, like the rock and roll drummer’s homage “Charlie, Keith, and Ringo.” The song seems pretty apropos given the band’s drummer is the legendary Clem Burke of Blondie, Romantics and The Empty Hearts fame. The other ten tunes are also relentlessly good. The sixties nods are there but the overall sound is that dynamite eighties fusion of old and new rock and roll honed by Petty’s Heartbreakers, the Romantics and many others. “Not Good Enough For Me” captures this synthesis perfectly, mixing Norman Petty Texas rock elements with straight-up 1980s FM rock radio. Pumping piano and sweet harmony vocals define “Come On Jaan” while “No Love Lost” is carried by a buoyant lead guitar solo. “Let Me Be The Last,” “Goodnight Nurse” and “Emotional Distance” really lean in to the 1960s, very Beatles Revolver/Rubber Soul era. Then “Saturday Everyday” and “Easier Done Than Said” punch a more 1980s weight. But the should-be hit single for me is “Married and Single” with its earwormy guitar work and candy-coated vocals. And For Our Next Trick is another winning collection from a band that never gets old.

The notion of a ‘supergroup’ and Canada don’t naturally fit together. Maybe if Gordon Lightfoot, Randy Bachman and Anne Murray had gotten together at some point. But when you bring members of Hollerado, Sloan, Sam Roberts Band and Tokyo Police Club together to record you’ve definitely got something pretty super going on. The band is Anyway Gang and they’ve got two albums – the most recent being 2022’s Still Anyways – and the results are consistently stellar. Of course, it’s hard not to hear the constituent bands in the songs. “Reckless Reckless” sounds pretty Hollerado. “What’s Left of My Love” has got a solid Sloan vibe. And there is no mistaking the Sam Roberts stamp on “Out of Nowhere.” But at other points things just groove along melding the different influences together. “Alternative View” feels very Zolas to me while “Real Thing” bops along with great rock hooks. “Don’t Give Up On Your Dreams” harkens back to a breezy 1980s Men At Work style of poprock. There’s even some folk pop (“Love is Here”) and alt country (“Call on Me”). Personal fave: “Remember To Forget” – this one’s got a light AM bounce to it that insists ‘play me again.’

It’s hard to go wrong with a band consisting of members of REM, The Young Fresh Fellows and I Was King. In fact, things go very right as The No Ones move into the concept album zone on their second outing, My Evil Best Friend. Largely conceived and directed by Scott McCaughey and featuring guest appearances from members of the Bangles, Death Cab for Cutie, Camper Van Beethoven and Teenage Fanclub, the record is a loving homage to all the great LPs and artists that inspired the band members. Opening cut “KLIV” name drops its way through a load of great sixties musical icons and sets the scene for this imagined musical time capsule. Some tributes are direct, like “Phil Ochs is Dead” and “Song for George,” while others are more muted, like the Tom Petty-ish “Throwdown in Whispertown.” If you had to boil it all down, the whole package is clearly most inspired by The Byrds, with REM and Teenage Fanclub vibes here and there. You can hear it pretty clearly on “304 Molina Way” – this is some quality retro jangle. There are few surprises, like The Smiths-ian echoes on “Band With No Head.” Then by the time you get to “The After Party” the jaunty 1960s poppy-ness of it all will send you right back to the start. It really is a joy to hear people who know what they’re doing hit all the marks. If The No Ones are your kind of people, then My Evil Best Friend will be yours too.

Doing our part for a zero waste society, you can pick up these recycled rock stars at your favourite e-music emporium (though appropriately re-purposed physical product is cool too).

Photo courtesy of Swizzle Studios.

Melody miscellany


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In the absence of any big idea today we offer up melody miscellany, a grab bag, a mixture of somewhat random hooky tunes, collected over time but never put to blog purpose. Until now.

Before Dave Merritt got his Golden Seals thing going he put out an EP with a band called Adam West. “Ernie’s Stiped Shirt” is a lofi gem in a You Won’t register. The Paul and John are working a more slick poprock vein, a bit of Elvis Costello and whole lot of Porter Block.  “When I Lost My Way” is just one of ten winning tracks from their 2014 album Inner Sunset. Sometimes a remake really brings out the sweetness of a song. I feel that way about Motion City Soundtrack’s more acoustic rendition of “Fell In Love Without You” from their tenth anniversary edition of Even If It Kills Me. Slowing things down, winnowing out most of the accompaniment reveals a simple, stark bit of beauty. Melbourne’s The Smallgoods offer up a neat hooky treat on “Capricorn” that ambles with an Elephant 6/Apples in Stereo ambience. Sometime Guided By Voices collaborator Tobin Sprout is no slouch in the solo album releasing category. 2010’s The Bluebirds of Happiness Tried to Land on My Shoulder has a moody vibe reminiscent of Hayden. I like particularly the droney, hypnotic “You Make My World Go Down.”

Tobin Sprout – You Make My World Go Down

Something from out of left field, that’s today selection. Tunes you may have missed but now, thankfully, can follow up on.

Photo courtesy James Vaughn Flikr collection.

Extended play-time: Joe Dilillo, The Friends of Cesar Romero, and Papa Schmapa


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The extended play format or ‘EP’ nearly expired with the twentieth century, only to be revived of late amid the chaos of a declining commercial music scene. It would now appear many artists see EPs as a cost-effective way to put out a clutch of songs without all the hoopla of a conventional long-player. Personally I’m loving these concentrated splashes of artistic flavour. They can be fun or experimental or just a great couple of songs. Today’s EPs make that point each in their own way, with a unique stylistic stamp.

Studio veteran Joe Dilillo comes out from behind the console to deliver a stunning debut EP on Superhero Star. The five songs here are superbly crafted gems from the Aimee Mann, Jon Brion, and Fountains of Wayne school of pop-singles perfection. “Loser Girl” opens the EP so low-key, slowly building an atmosphere of exquisite musical tension between guitar and vocals. By the time the Aimee Mann keyboards kick in it’s way too late, you’re completely seduced. Backing band The Lickerish Quartet provide astonishing accompaniment on this tune, so subdued and yet strongly present. Title track “Superhero Star” shifts focus, evoking a more Mike Viola-working-with-Adam Schlesinger style. And then things get tender. The guest vocals from A Girl Called Eddy on “Boulevard” are striking, so achingly on display. A Mark Oliver Everett feel here for sure. Both “Mend You Heart” and “I’m Sorry” remind me of Adam Daniel with their combination of melodic sophistication and spare rock and roll simplicity. Superhero Star is so easy to listen to again and again. Hey, I’ve been doing it for weeks! This year’s ‘must have’ EPs list just got a front runner.

America’s hardest-working punky power-pop band The Friends of Cesar Romero return with installment #35 in their Doomed Babe series, Gameboy America. Combining lyrical themes of lost love and gaming disappointment over a relentless rock and roll beat, this latest EP gets it all done in a brisk 7 minutes. But what a ride! Title track “Gameboy America” is seemingly unstoppable, driven by a poppy rock attack that hammers a new waved-up Velvet Underground vibe. “Somebody’s Somebody” is equally intense, defined by a lively lead guitar line and FCR’s trademark compressed vocals. And then there’s “Punching Ian Sharp.” Though just 54 seconds long it’s a pretty neat slice of a wall-of-chords hooky goodness. No need for a reminder here, we’re permanently tuned to The Friends of Cesar Romero station.

Rochester NY’s fabulous retro music scene has space for a bit of late 1970s/early 1980s smooth pop songcraft from Papa Schmapa. The new EP What You Gonna Do aces a melodic AM radio sound I associate with the 1980s Moody Blues on the comeback trail, the Alan Parsons Project in hit mode, or mid-to-late period Wings. EP opener “If I Knew” is so McCartney, with Abbey Road-era psychedelic guitars and a melody straight from Macca’s late 1970s playbook. “I’ve Been There Before” and “Take Me As I Am” remind me of prior work by the band, very much in the Alan Parsons finely-crafted pop style. “You” reflects more 1980s Moody Blues sonic shifts with hints of The Outfield at times. Despite offering just four songs What You Gonna Do is impressive, a slick AM radio-worthy product with a still-beating melodic heart.

If I Knew
I’ve Been There Before

Why not make space in your calendar for extended play-time? Today’s EPs show you how. Just hit play and you get a glimpse of a load of talent without having to commit to a whole LP.

Spotlight single – The Primitives “I Won’t Care” / “Everybody Needs Somebody to Hate”


Oh happy day, a new single from The Primitives is here! Coventry’s most reliable sixties-infused jangle band has a double A-sided single out and both tracks are super pleasing. “I Won’t Care” sounds like any current hooky poprock band, Tracy Tracy’s light and breezy vocals here are riding a propulsive guitar backing. There’s an Ivy-like sophisticated polish to the overall sound. Flipside “Everybody Needs Somebody to Hate” has guitar-player extraordinaire Paul Court on vocals working his way through a song defined by an updated Buddy Holly-esque Bo Diddley beat. Right now the songs are only available direct from the band’s Big Cartel record label but I imagine they’ll be coming to other e-retailers soon. Of course the big question is, are the band just teasing us before a new album comes our way? It’s been six long years since 2017’s New Thrills and we could use some even newer ones from a band that clearly has a few more to offer.

Fill out your Primitives recent back catalogue from their Bandcamp site and get the latest goods from Big Cartel direct.

Springing for singles II


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We are springing into action as winter finally ebbs away, returning with our second seasonal installment of singles. Here are another 21 songs, playlist-tested and ready for maximum musical enjoyment as you and yours contemplate heading outside.

New Jersey’s The Anderson Council have got a heaping helping of sixties-inspired tune-age ready with new LP The Devil, The Tower, The Star, The Moon, due out shortly. While we for wait we can enjoy the teaser single “Alone With You,” a guitar-centric slice of the band’s distinctive brand of power pop. Birmingham’s Lolas never fail to please. Every release is sibilant guitars aplenty and buzzy, harmony-drenched vocals working the melody hard. “Trick Myself” is hooky pleasantness itself, with some nice 1970s chorused lead guitars in the instrumental break. Recently ads for Lexington Kentucky have been interrupting my TV shows. If they’d featured Lexingtonian Scott Whiddon I might have paused the mute function. Taking a gander at his bandcamp pages you’ll find some nice acoustic guitar pop and indie-ish poprock. But his most recent single “I Can’t Remember the Things I Love” is decidedly more quirky, employing a swirl of 1980s computer noises and some harder edged guitar backing. I like where this is going. When “Trout Fishing in America” opens Speckled Bird’s new EP the Bryds vibes are pretty serious. And yet there’s a fresh feel to the proceedings, particularly on the vocals. The longer it goes on, the more it sounds like its own very original thing. When McFly got going they could have easily morphed into a guitar-slinging One Direction. And yet there was always something more to this band of rosy-cheeked boys. They could write songs, they could harmonize with a Beatlesque ease. Now two decades on from their commercial heyday they are still producing AM-worthy tunes in the best sense. Like “Corner of My Mind,” a track from 2020’s The Lost Songs, an album of demos from aborted recording sessions. Hard to believe a band could sit on songs this good.

McFly – Corner of My Mind

On “A Sailor’s Song” Brian Troester marries an early 1980s AM pop sophistication with a laid back country vocal. The result should be gold, as in, gold record. The lead guitar hook and the song’s alluring steadfast pacing sounds so John Waite. Meanwhile the song’s lyrical narrative begs for 1984 MTV video treatment. Trim, Ireland – population 9000 – hardly seems like it would be a hotbed of rock and roll. But local lads Spearside are going to change your mind. They’ve got a handful of singles and an EP of psych-rock that make a mark. The opening title cut on their EP Remember, No Regrets charges into your consciousness with big guitars and a load of sneaky pop hooks while stand-alone single “Not Up to Much” steps on the melody pedal with jangly guitars and sweet harmony vocals. I am sure this is just the start of a beautiful thing with this band. Getting into the swing of our theme Ohioans Librarians with Hickeys just “Can’t Wait ‘Till Summer.” The jangly guitars and ethereal vocals make this track something special. There’s an air of late 1960s Moody Blues in the song’s melancholic demeanor. What happens when you put half the members of the Flashcubes and Screen Test into a studio with one of the Pernice Brothers? Freakin’ 45rpm magic, that’s what. Gary Frenay, Tommy Allen, Randy Klawon and Bob Pernice are The Half Cubes for this session, recording a remake of The Pernice Brothers’ 2003 song “The Weakest Shade of Blue.” And the results are a tantalizingly fresh reinvention of a pretty solid tune. Frankly, it sounds like a Screen Test recording to me, which I consider a thing of poprock beauty. Brooklyn’s Worriers have recorded what should really be my theme song, “Power Pop Mixtape.” Happily name-checking Nick Lowe, the Undertones and song titles from the Jam and Style Council, the song is defined by stark, striking guitar chords cast against a cool vocal delivery.

Brian Troester – A Sailor’s Song

Norway’s The Armchair Oracles are working up to something, as “Time to Realise” is their fifth stand-alone single since 2019’s Caught by Light album. As with previous releases, the mood is a sophisticated, very much polished pop performance in line with Alan Parsons Project or 1980s Moodies. And yet there’s just a hint of Rogue Wave in there somewhere. On “Norman 4” Vancouver’s The Sylvia Platters sound like they’re working the streets of Glasgow somewhere near where Teenage Fanclub hang out. Perhaps that’s not surprising – this sometime bonus track to the band’s 2022 EP Youth Without Virtue is dedicated to Norman Blake after all. It departs from the overall sound there, with an extra helping of jangle. J. Matthews is Mr. Mellow, swanning into the room on orchestral keyboards and light airy acoustic guitar strumming. Then “Wanderlust” hits the chorus and the hook just grabs you like a stranger’s unexpected smile. What a perfect little pop song. Another slow burn delight is “Lose” from Lachlan Denton’s new album Furnishings. The whole record settles lightly on the stereo, the instrumentation sparse and low key. But “Lose” stands out as the obvious radio single with its bare bones lead guitar licks and subtle melodic hooks. Valencia, Spain’s Lisasinson return with “Cuchillos,” a driving bit of rocky pop. The vocals are sweet but the guitar hits you somewhere below the gut, pushing your dancing machinery into gear. Just try to remain still.

The On and Ons are Australia’s most reliable sixties-inspired party band. Their records have a freewheeling Hoodoo Gurus energy delivered in a dead-on swinging-1960s register. Close your eyes and it’s 1966 on “Let Ya Hair Down,” just add go-go gals and dancing teens. It’s one of 12 winning cuts on the band’s new album of the same name. San Francisco’s Richard Turgeon is the hardest working guy on the indie rock/power pop scene. His ouvre is one part classic rock, two parts 1990s dissonant indie, and one part whatever he’s been grooving on lately. This time he serves up another super-charged power pop single with “All Alone,” a four on the floor rocker worthy of Matthew Sweet. On Kicking Bird’s debut LP Original Motion Picture Soundtrack you hear a band that is having fun, not taking themselves too seriously. There’s a Titus Andronicus shambolic feel to things sometimes (“Hickory River”), but a more measured sixties girl group pacing at others (“Just To Be Here With You”). Personally, I’m taken with the topical, jaunty “Talking to Girls (On the Internet).” New York City’s Tchotchke have fashioned an album full of attractive musically decorative objects we call songs, like “Ronnie.” The track has a great guitar sound, both on rhythm and the hooky lead lines. This band is 1960s sunshine pop reborn, with slightly louder guitars and a bit more urban street attitude. Who is Danny Patrick? I don’t know. He’s a guy on bandcamp giving his music away. There you can find 16 singles, some repeated on an album entitled sometimes I, all for free. Still, I know what I like, and Patrick’s spot on early 1980s new wavey sound works for me. Just click on “Blue Jean Champagne Girl” and you’re back in 1981 when you could hear this kind of stuff on AM radio. Those were the days. You can relive them here.

Kicking Bird – Talking to Girls on the Internet

Last year I went nuts for Dazys addictive single “Rollercoaster Ride.” Now I’m grooving on “Always in Between” from his more recent (extremely short) album Otherbody. Slashing guitar chords, hooky lead guitar work, and neat little melodic turns around every corner – it’s the whole package.

You’re stocked and ready to face spring with four score and some odd songs that will make your heart sing. Click on the hyperlinks to visit these music makers and find out they’re more than just a pretty single.

Top image courtesy Mark Amsterdam Flikr collection: ‘Citroen car dealer brochure 1963’

Springing for singles I


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Sunshine and blooming buds can no longer be contained. Time to spring a new load poppy rock and roll singles on you. Whether you’re clearing the garden or chasing new love right now, you’ll need some tunes. Here’s your first instalment of 21 seasonally-approved spring singles.

Let’s get started with what one wag called the ‘savage pop’ of North Carolina’s Paint Fumes on “Starting Over.” It’s got a rough and ready veneer hiding more than a glimmer of pop goodness. These are rock and roll hooks par excellence. And there’s more of the good same all over the band’s just released fourth album Real Romancer. From the delightful surprise file, a new single from Vancouver’s Odds. The band broke out big in the 1990s, then went on hiatus for a while, returning post-2007 with a series of unjustly over-looked new releases. The latest single “Crash the Time Machine” sounds like vintage Odds, all striking lead guitar lines and deadpan Northey vocals. Time to let your Odds flag fly, the band website promises a whole new album soon. It’s funny how labels stick. Scranton’s The Menzingers are regularly described as a punk band but you’d be hard pressed to single out the punk element of their new single “Bad Actors.” Ok, maybe it’s there in the vocal delivery but, on the whole, this new single is just solid poprock, the melody guiding the rocking backdrop into solid potential audience sing-along territory. How does one capture what Eytan Mirsky is? Is he just a magisterial vocalist? Seriously, I could listen to this guy sing the New York Times crossword. Lately he’s proven to be a crack song-writing collaborator too, taking lyrics from friends and acquaintances and cooking up up dynamite material like “Lost in the Jet Stream.” In some ways it’s signature Mirksy – those organ trills! But the guitar work is pretty special too. Vienna’s Good Wilson offer us some very jazzy guitar vibes on “Undecided Changes.” Think Steely Dan in space mode. Or a bit like The School Book Depository and The Golden Seals.

My blogging friend Eclectic Music Lover introduced me to Copenhagen’s Thomas Charlie Pederson, specifically “Yesterdays and Silly Ways” from his latest LP Employees Must Wash Hands. He describes the sound as chamber pop (read EML’s detailed breakdown of the album here) and that nails it, the song is very like The Zombies on tracks like “Care of Cell 44” from Odyssey and Oracle. Philadelphia’s Canadian Invasion are hiding in plain sight, releasing music with seeming impunity. Perhaps they hope to seduce the American empire from within with song? Their latest Your Favorite Lies EP might just do that with killer tracks like “Catch a Falling Knife.” Who marries an addictive violin solo and echoes of FOW’s song-writing? Geniuses, that’s who. Speaking of genius marriages, everybody’s fave Beatlemaniac TexMex combo The Krayolas have a bit of old and new out on their new EP King of Pop. There’s a great cover of The Monkees (“Pleasant Valley Sunday”), some totally new material, and a remix of “Catherine,” originally featured on 2008’s La Conquistadora. The latter is pretty stunning, a perfect distillation of all that this great band can do and has done over its decades-long history. Just catching “In Flames” from Roller Disco Combo on my phone shuffle I had to stop short, thinking it was a new single from Farrah. No joy on the Farrah reunion but plenty of smiles for RDC’s new EP The Sun After the Rain. Cleveland music legend Randy Klawon has cooked up a magic bit of 45rpm popcraft on “Marlo Maybe,” with help from former Raspberries drummer Jim Bonfanti. The style reminds me of tracks like Paul Davis’ early 1980s hit “65 Love Affair” in that it reinvents nostalgic pop motifs for a new era.

Thomas Charlie Pederson – Yesterdays and Silly Ways

Every since J.D. McPherson relaunched the neo-1950s sound for a new millennium a host of acts have been trying to tread the same boards. But few nail the atmosphere quite like The McCharmlys. “Love Me Too” breaks out of the speaker like the soundtrack to a classic 1950s movie montage sequence. The fine balance between rapier-quick lead guitar lines and the band’s commanding lead vocalist gives this tune its particular charge of excitement. This is doo wop on steroids, with a dab of Debbie Harry and Amy Macdonald thrown in. We’ve featured Floridian guitar virtuoso Kurt Lanham and his inventive covers of classic pop hits a few times (“I Want To Hold Your Hand,” “Jenny 867-5309”) but he also writes and sings on his own original material. Like “Pallas” from last year’s LP Lanham. The song has got a languid bit of swing in the playing, buffeting the melodic vocal lines and varied guitar tones. Mellow but definitely ear-wormy. Back to Denmark for a moment, it was such a hard choice to decide on a cut from Mansfield’s repertoire. Both “Tell It Like It Is” and “Please, Shine a Light” from their 2020 debut album Star Crossed Lovers are a special blend of Merseybeat and Oasis influences but “Chasing After You” from their new EP Come Rain or Shine brings a decidedly Jake Bugg swagger into the mix. How about a dose of both? Today’s artists like to spread themselves over multiple projects, undoubtedly to satisfy their creativity and increase the chances that something will land with the public. See Benji Tranter’s resume for exhibit A. He’s a member of psych-folk group The All Night Chemist and power pop trio Ski Lift while also a collaborator with Show Boy. His recent solo effort Songs to Make You Happy is a definite departure from his group work, going for a more full-on folk effect. I really get a sense of Elliott Smith déjà vu from “Speed Camera.” Husband and wife duo Skoopski add to their continuing inventory of inventive stand-alone singles with “Double.” The song shifts from a stark, stripped-down, almost off-Broadway feel to a more full blown indie workout. I love the lead guitar tone that threads its way through the tune.

The McCharmlys – Love Me Too
Kurt Lanham – Pallas

Live fast, die young might sound romantic to aspiring artists but the reality is just loss, for a whole lot of people. What might have been won’t be. Zev was an up-and-coming indie artist still finding his own unique sound when he died in a car accident earlier this year at just 16. But just listen to his promise. On “Parachute” he owns a Velvet Underground groove like he’s camped out at Lexington Avenue and 125th Street. It’s got a touch of psychedelia in the chorus and some prophetic lyrics:

‘that young boy with no parachute looks a lot like me’
‘that young boy’s gonna die’
‘someone save him’

Still, my fave from his handful of songs is “4th of July.” What a neat slice of cool guitar pop. It’s hard not hear a Ben Kweller influence here. Vicenza, Italy’s Hearts Apart shift between spare verses and a combustable poprock sound in the choruses of “You’re All Around.” They’re clearly building up to something, an album perchance? There is something going on in Rochester, New York these days. The range of bands putting out amazing sixties inspired new material is incredible. The Low Spirits have got the garage angle covered. It’s like the Leaves or the Troggs time-travelled and got into a modern studio to cut a few tunes. “Outta Sight” is so the 1966 garage rock brief. What a party band these guys must be. Speaking of partying, the Teenage Tom Petties are back with a great double-sided single. A-side is “Posters” and I like it. But I like the B-side more, “My First Beer.” It’s strummy and, as the band say “95 seconds of pure first-beer-buzz, all climaxing in a messy-as-hell solo before passing out in the garden.” Really, couldn’t have summed it better. Heading now to the American Pacific northwest we pull a few tracks from Patty and Oh’s debut album Out of Everything. The record’s first single “Useless Love” is pretty cool. Like Jonathan Richman if he’d focused on getting a hit single. But I’m skipping over that for “Heard Some Kind of Light.” I love the computer-ish keyboard work. It’s got a sprightly pop feel, yet with some eclectic David Byrne notes. B-side? I’d choose “New Flavor of Gum.” It’s great guitar pop elevated with endearing keyboard tones and layered background vocals.

I was going to call a wrap on this instalment of spring singles sampling with K. Campbell’s recent song “Smoke.” And it is a great track. But then I stumbled across Campbell’s even more recent release “Neil and Joni” and I had to shift gears. Two iconic Canadian songsters celebrated in one song? What’s not to love? And the additional accent vocals here from Mandy Kim Clinton really add something consequential.

Spring singles are a thing and this is just phase one. Return here for more seasonally-attuned songs soon.

Top image courtesy Mark Amsterdam Flikr collection: ‘Citroen car dealer brochure 1963’

Breaking news: The Decibels, Dropkick, Ransom and the Subset, and Cliff Hillis


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This iteration of breaking news marks the exciting return of a host of artists who seldom miss a beat. Definitely worthy of film at 11.

So where were we? Oh right, Sacramento’s reliable hook-meisters The Decibels were in the middle of recording a follow up to 2019’s smash LP Scene, Not Herd when a world-stopping pandemic hit, effectively pausing the tape machine. All was not lost however. Band member Brent Seaver did shift into solo gear, putting out a fabulous record entitled BS Stands For … But now the band have completed their interrupted sessions and the result – When Red Lights Flash – is everything you’ve been waiting for. Great songs, fab guitar tones, killer playing. Stylistically, it draws from both 1960s and 1980s poppy rock traditions. “Why Bother With Us” breaks things open with a skipping-in-the-sunshine bit of jangly guitar that seems to cross The Monkees with REM. “Enough” definitely revs the 1980s poprock engine a la the Paul Collins Beat. “There’s Just Something About You” has the happy-go-lucky early 1960s American pop sound, but with a bit more muscle. “Walk Away” vibes a crisp 1979 new wave sound while “In Remembrance” has a melodic arc that is reminiscent of an early 1960s song-writing style, but updated. And so goes the rest of the album, merrily shifting decades without ever seeming to jolt the listener. I love the almost early Go Go’s punky ferocity on “He Thinks He’s Right (But He’s Wrong),” particularly the sizzling lead guitar break, the Romantics-worthy chord changes and handclaps defining “We Don’t Need to Be Afraid,” and the Marshall Crenshaw-like “World Goes Around.”  Should-be hit single? I vote for “Looking Back.” I could totally hear The Smithereens covering this. If you’re looking for an album that hits the rock and roll melody pedal and never lets up, pick up a copy of When Red Lights Flash – it’s absolute listening pleasure.

Andrew Taylor must be one of those guys always scribbling down new song ideas on napkins or humming into his phone. Still, between recent releases as a solo artist, with Andrew Taylor and the Harmonizers, and The Boys With The Perpetual Nervousness, it’s hard to believe there could there be anything left for a new Dropkick record. But there is. Welcome Dropkick album #14, The Wireless Revolution. “Don’t Give Yourself Away” kicks things off like a coy suitor, somewhat tentative at first before easing into a comfortable familiarity. Then there’s “Telephone,” in many ways an exemplar of the band’s signature sound – so Teenage Fanclub but with Dropkick’s own original stamp. “Unwind” gives us gentle pop driven by ever so pleasant jangly guitars. Bringing out the band’s more country hues Alan Shields takes over both song-writing and lead singing duties on “The Other Side” in a very Jayhawks vein. I love the lead guitar runs and light keyboard touches that swathe “It Could Finally Happen.” I hear echoes of Neil Finn and his work with Crowded House throughout this song. Another guitar-charged pop beauty of a should-be single is “Ahead of My Time,” almost a Teenage Fanclub meets the Beatles mash. “Wouldn’t Know Why” also really delivers in the supremely pleasant pop tune department. Churning, chimey guitars – check. Lighter than air harmony vocals – check. Hitting replay again – check. Don’t let the title fool you, The Wireless Revolution delivers another jangle tour de force in the grand Dropkick tradition.

A month back we called Ransom and the Subset’s new single “Perfect Crime” ‘textured pop goodness’ and that judgement still stands. In fact, it can be extended to the whole of the band’s fabulous new album Perfect Crimes. These guys really know how put together a slick pop sound without sacrificing originality or nuance. Second single “Sara Kandi” showcases these strengths. It’s got a 1982 Alan Parsons Project clever sheen to it. Still, putting a name to the overall sound that defines this album is challenging. “Left Her at the Shinkansen” floats in an almost yacht rock vibe, punctuated by subtle lead guitar and pedal steel work plus a killer hook in the chorus. Stay with me here but I actually hear a lot of Rupert Holmes’ soft rock magnum opus Partners in Crime on this tune. Or perhaps the sound is more akin to the smooth poprock of Hall and Oates in their Private Eyes/H2O prime. I really do feel the pull of H&O on tracks like “Meet You Again” and “One Last Thing (Leaving).” Or check out the manicured pop precision on “Time in a Tunnel,” each element and instrument is so carefully conducted into the mix. Not that the band fails to turn up the rock from time to time. “Don’t Remember What Was Her Name,” “Should Have Said Nothing At All,” and “Fast Car” all ace that early 1980s poprock style. With Perfect Crimes Ransom and the Subset prove that perfectly polished pop songs are a thing of beauty.

On Be The Now Cliff Hillis marshals his considerable song-writing and performance talents to create a veritable poprock confectionary, something for all 1970s-inflected melodic tastes. There’s straight-up seventies AM radio soft rock (“Wanna Feel Good”) with a folkie chaser or some ELO-infused popcraft (“Motel Parking Lot”) introduced by a dose of Bacharach/Costello strings. At other points Hillis appears to be channeling Adam Schlesinger in both movie/TV (“Take Me As I Am”) and band modes (“Good Morning and Good Night”). I could really imagine Mike Viola belting out the latter tune. He even throws in some classic 1970s goof country on “Spring Forward” as well as a touching and fun tribute to folkie protest singer Dan Bern (with Bern echoing the sentiments to Hillis in a duet). But let’s get serious here – where is the hit single? Hillis rarely denies us some piece of dynamic should-be chart magic on his releases. The mellow FOW-ish “Just Drive” could be it. The sentiment is so summer car-driving playing-on your-radio. Then again “Goodbye Spider” sounds more like the jump-out-of-the-speakers uptempo hit. It’s got that killer sing-along chorus – just try not to join in. I’ve listened to Be The Now a number of times and I still don’t know what the ‘now’ is – but I want to be it.

The news cycle moves fast but I’d recommend taking it slow in reviewing these stories. You’ll want to tune into all the hooky details.

Top photo courtesy Heather David Flikr collection ‘1957 Wall-Tex scrubbable wallpaper ad.’

Yesterday is today: The Bings, Popsicko, and The Knack


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Seems closets and filing cabinets are spilling out great lost albums every other week, if you can believe the stream of releases that have come out recently. Steve Rosenbaum and Bruce Moody’s great collections of their respective lost recordings from the 1980s come to mind. Now you can add today’s featured performers to those acts that could have been but never were. But hey, they’re here now.

LA’s The Bings were working the west-coast American music scene pretty hard back in the early 1980s but apparently couldn’t get the time of day from Capitol Records. Listening to their unreleased 1981 album Power Pop Planet all I can think is: epic A&R fail. The whole thing is highly listenable poppy fun, sometimes revving a Beach Boys-on-amphetamines atmosphere or breaking out into a classic new wave guitars-everywhere style. “Please Please Please” opens the record with a solid Paul Collins feel. “Oh No” follows in a similar vein, updating a sixties beat group sound by roughing things up a bit. “Go Bye Bye” is another retro reworking, almost bubblegum in its intensity with a Jan and Dean vocal demeanor. “Billboard on the Highway” is also a retro-ish tune, giving off early 1960s tragic-rock vibes. But The Bings are not limited to updating the sonic past on this album. Departures abound, like the mellow “There She Goes” and solid rocking “She’s Got the Power.” And the band really ace that early 1980s new wave sound on a number of cuts. Just check out the killer Cars-like guitar-attack undergirding “Don’t Stop Dancing” or the hook-laden “Hold On.” My vote for sleeper hit goes to “Close Your Eyes” with its innovative lead guitar work. Though I’m pretty seduced by the subtle jangle touches animating “Snowbound in our Town,” a style that would define later acts like Fire Town.  Power Pop Planet sounds pleasantly old and totally timeless, depending on where you drop the needle. Here’s a find I’m really glad got found.

The Popsicko story is right out of rock and roll central casting. A hardscrabble band of party hearty-iers manage to get a record out and start climbing the indie charts, only to fracture amid drug problems and the untimely death of the group’s leading light. I won’t dwell on the details – others have written up the equivalent of a screenplay treatment – but the surprise coda to the story is a quality re-release of band’s 1995 album Off to a Bad Start. As I hit play the record practically lunges from the turntable with opening cut “Nastassja.” It’s a full-on rock and roll aural assault, going right for the party jugular. Comparisons to Cheap Trick really make sense here and on a host of other tracks on the LP like “Distrust” and “I Don’t Need You.” The vocal/guitar swagger also reminds of more recent work from The Lund Brothers. But the record does shift gears a few times, vibing The Replacements on cuts like “Some Mother’s Son” and single-worthy “Back It Up.” Elsewhere the needle points to a muscular REM feel on “Hard To Tell” or even a bit of The Plimsouls with “Dragging Me Down.” Popsicko are clearly a band of the 1990s, whether in a dirty pop rawk style (“Same Old Me”) or something more smoothly commercial (“Starless”). The record even includes an eerie yet prescient acknowledgement of the band’s soon-to-be fate on the Big Star-ish “No Better Time” when they sing the lyric ‘If we knew the end was near there would be no better time.’ This one still sounds like a hit to me.

Is it ‘bait and switch’ to offer up early-to-mid 1970s demos from Doug Fieger and Burton Averre as The Knack? You won’t need much of a listen to give up such concerns, the duo are so clearly the real thing in embryo. It’s like Prescott and Gary just stepped out for a ciggie. Rock & Roll Is Good for You: The Fieger/Averre Demos is a collection of pretty polished tunes – 16 in all, some with just guitar and vocals while others sound like a small combo. The distinctive Knack sound is definitely all over these tracks and not just the ones that would end up on Get the Knack. Of course, the early version of “Good Girls Don’t” and “That’s What the Little Girls Do” are pretty riveting, with an intensity and charm all their own. But the other 14 cuts here reveal a performative polish and song-writing strength that undermine the usual ‘one hit wonder’ insults that dog the band’s reputation. Stylistically the duo riff on a number of 1970s styles, a bit of funk, boogie rock, even some folkie affectations appear here and there. But what we also hear is how the Beatles touches on those early Knack records were no marketing fluke, such influences were baked in. Both “Corporation Shuffle (Daddy Turns the Volume Down)” and “Little Lies” abound with Beatlesque guitar riffs and melodic turns of phrases. Meanwhile shades of the distinctive bassy guitar work that would define “My Sharona” can be heard on “Have a Heart.” For Knack fans this record is no mere money grab – it clearly adds to the band’s stature and is highly listenable to boot. And for band super-fans, even more pre-Knack product is on the way with the imminent release of two albums from Fieger’s early band Sky.

In today’s instant and connected world, everything old is new again. You can make yesterday today by checking out worthy new releases of decades-old stuff.