Around the Dial: Starbelly, Bill Lloyd and Van Go

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Screen Shot 2018-11-14 at 11.09.51 PM.pngIt’s melody central today on Around the Dial. The station appears to be just stuck on hooks. But that’s OK.

Screen Shot 2018-11-14 at 11.10.44 PMJust getting around to raving about last spring’s hottest poprock release, Starbelly’s Four. I’ve raved about Starbelly member Cliff Hillis’ catalogue before but I have to say, there is nothing like putting a whole bunch of really talented guys together to get even more amazing results. As an album, Four is a strong hook-filled jaunt clearly influenced by the Beatles, solo McCartney, Squeeze and all those others great melodic groups, with a few surprises. I’m digging the low key melodic swing of “Lay Low” and the staccato groove of “Yes, I Love Her Again” with it’s great lead lines and background vocals. “Emily Says” sounds very mid-period Squeeze to me. “Jesus Freak” starts very pop psychedelic Beatles but then throws in a Billy Joel melodic twist in the verses while “Antidote” I swear is a great lost Aimee Mann deep cut.

Yes I’ll Love Her AgainJesus FreakAntidote

Screen Shot 2018-11-14 at 11.12.11 PMSeems everybody is loving Bill Lloyd’s new record Working the Long Game and I am no exception. I’ve really liked the few songs I stumbled on from his past work and only just figured out he was one half of the amazing country pop duo Foster and Lloyd! But this new album is something else, solid all the way through. “Satellite” is the killer hit single material, at least on my poprock radio station. It’s got the chorus that hooks you in and keeps you waiting for it to come around again. “What Time Won’t Heal” has a very cool late 1960s folk pop vibe. The album also clearly channels some Elvis Costello-isms on “Til the Day that I Break Down” and “Interrupted” while “Miracle Mile” and “Shinning” had me feeling very Marshall Crenshaw. And then “Yesterday” is just brilliant rocked up pop in a Matthew Sweet sort of way. All this name-dropping is just my way of saying, this guy’s got the poprock goods.

SatelliteTil The Day That I Break DownMiracle Mile

Screen Shot 2018-11-14 at 11.13.22 PMLast up a band I discovered commuting between Toronto and Peterborough, Ontario in 2005, Van Go. “Dear You” (from that year’s Pop Your Heart Out LP) just grabbed me like a good ear worm should. But after that I lost track of the band. That is, until their record company alerted me to the release of their latest full length release, Everybody Loves You When You’re Gone. I’m happy to report they’ve still got it! Things kicked off well with “I Wish I Could Be Grateful,” the obvious single with a great melodic hook in the chorus. It’s also great news that the band’s distinctive and addictive vocal attack is still in evidence here, particularly on tracks like “Miles Away” and “Tell Us How You Really Feel.” Title track “Everybody Loves You When You’re Gone” is also a winner melodically, while still delivered with some rocking muscle.

Starbelly, Bill Lloyd and Van Go are all deserving of your aural and financial attention. You know the drill.

Say hello to Hi Lo from Super 8

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Screen Shot 2018-11-07 at 10.31.38 PMThey say the third time around is the charm but, frankly, if you didn’t light up hearing Super 8’s first two records this year, you may be immune to his retro-1960s brand of hooky, summer-infused tune-age. Yes, you heard right, three albums in one year! Bringing back productivity standards not seen since the mid-period Fabs, one play of Hi Lo confirms it isn’t coming at the expense of quality. This installment is another delight! The vibes here vary, sometimes sounding very Arthur-era Kinks or late 1960s country Rolling Stones or even early 1970s Van Morrison. Check out the great laid back late 1960s sunshine pop of the opening track “Mr. Sunshine” or the cool beach groove of “Good Times.” The whole record is very mellow party listenable but with a few very cool surprises, like the brilliant Beck-like deconstruction of Neil Diamond’s “Cherry Cherry” and the spot-on Smiths’ riffing of “If Ignorance if Bliss.”

With all this product, Super 8 must have bills. Get over to bandcamp and buy the whole catalogue. After all, how far off is record number four …

Having fun with They Might Be Giants

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Screen Shot 2018-11-03 at 11.56.31 PMI just saw They Might Be Giants last night here in Toronto and I’m in love again. How can a basically two-man band be so talented? So smart. Seemingly endlessly inspired. Incredibly musically proficient. Funny, political, and wonderful to just listen to ad libbing comedy between songs. It was a show that seemed both spontaneous and perfectly executed, performed by extraordinary guys playing at being easygoing and unpretentious. It took me back to my joy in discovering them with their third album, 1990’s Flood. I just couldn’t believe how interesting and intelligent their songs were. And the hooks were glorious!

Screen Shot 2018-11-03 at 11.57.46 PMThis year Brooklyn’s joy released their 20thalbum of original material with I Like Fun. And it is just freakin’ fabulous. The guys keep churning it out year after year but the quality does not take a hit. “Let’s Get This Over With” kicks things into gear with a jaunty uptempo melody and driving piano, “While I Left My Body” has a great droney hook, “All the Time” is just straight up pop goodness, and things just carry on in a very TMBG set of veins after that. I love the deft jazzy piano base undergirding “Mrs. Bluebeard” or the Beach Boysy sound of “This Microphone” or the more straightforward poprock vibe of “Last Wave.” But special attention must go to “The Bright Side,” the obvious single to me, with its super hooks. The band got the album out early this year but hardly let up on their amazing productivity, mounting a world tour and releasing even more brand new material on their special Dial-a-Song Direct website. Check out the video for their latest melodic zinger: “The Communists Have the Music.”

Go directly to They Might Be Giants’ website to find out about their fanclub, the Dial-a-song promotion, or when their amazing live show will be near your town!

Spotlight single: The Late Show “Hello Linda”

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LTSI love these rock and roll stories from the trenches. The Late Show forms in 1972, gets serious as a band from 1975 to 1979, puts out its first album, Portable Pop, in 1980, eventually getting critical love from Goldmine magazine and some power pop ‘best of’ lists. But they don’t storm up the charts. Then comes the unreleased second and third albums, the lure of various major label deals that don’t materialize, and then, nothing. The backstory on their bandcamp page reads like a movie script for just about every supremely talented band that didn’t make it. But there is a happy ending of sorts, at least for the fans. In 2018 the band has miraculously reappeared toting an album, frankly IMHO, even better than their debut: Sha Sha La. The record is brimming with should-be hits that showcase the band’s super 1960s-meets-1980s indie chops. So many highlights: “To Let It Go,” “Sha Sha La (Wake Me When You’re Done),” “Tears” (with that great rumbly lead guitar), and “Always,” to name just a few. But the song that sounds like a single to me is the exquisite “Hello Linda.” Love the build, the distinctive chiming guitar at the 24 second mark, and the slashing rhythm guitar work. Check it out and click through the rest of the album too. It’s long player joy all the way through.

Better late than never is our theme song here at Poprock Record. Why not make The Late Show the stars they always deserved to be right now? It’s all in your hands and the good people at their bandcamp site.

8 Extra Arms to hold you

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Extra ArmsWhen the Extra Arms promo people sent me a heads up bout their new album, Headacher, I thought, ya, I like that Ryan Allen dude. But when they sent me a follow up not long after I thought whoa, pushy much? But they were right to push me. Headacher is a fabulous record from beginning to end. Joining the ranks other great muscular pop rock albums released this year from the likes of Ruler, Tiny Little Houses and Odd Robot, the band behind the music is both more and less than its previous incarnation. Formerly Ryan Allen and his Extra Arms, obviously the front man’s name has been lopped off. But more than previously, Extra Arms is more than just Allen’s backing band, with each of the four members now contributing more creatively. The result is kinda like a more rowdy version of Fountains of Wayne, or perhaps Squeeze after a few too many rounds ‘down the pub’. Here the guitars may be a bit more cranked but that unerring melodic sensibility permeates everything.

EXIt’s all there with the opening title track, “Headacher”: surging crunchy guitars, great hooks, and killer FOW vocal technique. This winning formula infuses most of the rest of the material, with particular force on stand out tracks like “Done to Death,” “Why I Run,” “Old Heads” and “You Make the Life You Want.” There is some variety here with less crunchy, more mellow tracks like “Under Surveillance” and “Honey Brown.” And then the album’s closing number, “The Last One,” offers a real departure, a winsome acoustic number.

If you’re looking for pumped up hooks, get a hold of Extra Arms Headacher at their bandcamp site. I don’t want to be pushy or anything, but it’s just that good.

Ready to fly with Freedy Johnston

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FreedyI was running down my usual jogging route when Freedy Johnston’s “Anyone” came on the playlist from his 2001 release, Right Between the Promises. I was struck by the enduring freshness of a formula Johnston has consistently utilized since his breakthrough albums, 1992’s Can You Fly and 1994’s Perfect World, particularly on what probably amounts to his most famous quartet of songs: “Tearing Down This Place,” “The Lucky One,” “Bad Reputation,” and “This Perfect World.” Combining Nick Lowe pop hooks with the lyrical ennui of Leonard Cohen, he’s everybody’s favourite melodic sad sack. Yet like so many gifted troubadours (Randy Newman, Elvis Costello, John Hiatt, etc.) his initial brush with stardom appeared to stall with the new millennium. But you can’t blame that on the music. Albums of new material in 2001, 2010 and 2015 were as good as anything he’d ever released – maybe better!

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FJ4Right Between the Promises makes the case with such killer, single-oriented cuts as “Broken Mirror” and “Anyone,” or the more American songbook feel of “Radio for Heartache” and “Save Yourself, City Girl.” It was a long nine years for a follow up but 2010’s Rain on the City was worth it, chock full of strong material like the toe-tapping “It’s Gonna Come Back to You” or the more western rock and roll feel of “Living Too Close to Rio Grande.” There’s some truly classic Freedy songwriting here on tracks like “Don’t Fall in Love with a Pretty Girl,” “Venus is her Name,” and “The Other Side of Love.” Five years later he was back with another fabulous album, Neon Repairman. Opening cut “Baby, Baby Come Home” is on par with any of Johnston’s great songs for it’s aching lyric content and subtle hooks while the rest of album showcases his unique observational talents on tracks like “TV in My Arms,” “By the Broke Streetlight,” and “Sentimental Heart.”

Broken MirrorIt’s Gonna Come Back to YouLiving Too Close to the Rio GrandeBaby, Baby Come Home

I, for one, would appreciate more regular installments of Freedy Johnston. Maybe it’s a money thing? Duh. Let’s get the tapes rolling on a new record by buying up all the old ones. Look here to get started.

The listening room: Mike Pace and the Child Actors and Aaron Lee Tasjan

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listening roomI’m a notorious needle-dropper. I skip through albums like some people click through the ‘recently added’ section on Netflix. But every now and then an album grabs me and I find myself listening all the way through, taking more from each song with every listen, or sometimes just transfixed by the order of the tunes themselves. When I run across material like that it’s time to repair to the listening room and give the albums in question some serious attention. Today’s listening room selections are new releases from Mike Pace and Child Actors and Aaron Lee Tasjan.

Mike PaceForget what you’ve heard from this performer – get ready for something new. With sound like a distilled retro 1980s poprock playlist, the energy on Mike Pace and the Child Actors’ new release Smooth Sailing is seemingly irrepressible, akin to Bleachers’ great debut Strange Desire in its ability to take sonic elements from decades past and make them into something new. This is well illustrated on the opening track, “Everyone Out of the Car” which squeezes just about every ounce of 1983-era indie into one propulsive number, or “Senior Statesman” which injects a little melodic 1980s Springsteen into the mix. This album has highlights galore. “Blaster” kicks off with hit single written all over it and never lets up. “Disconnected Heart” captures the tender acoustic Big Star sound while “Troubleshooting” swings like Joni Mitchell at full volume. Back catalogue honourable mention – don’t miss out on Mike Pace’s previous band, Oxford Collapse, particularly the infectious “In Your Volcano.” Actually, you can’t far wrong with anything stamped ‘Mike Pace’ somewhere.

ALTAaron Lee Tasjan makes it look so easy. His songs lope along, seemingly straightforward, and then – bang – some ever so simple change up reels you in. Karma for Cheap has a classic easygoing rock and roll combo sound, a bit of Beatles’ Abbey Road guitar here, some classic early 1980s poprock background vocals there. But it all comes down the songwriting. As I listened to the record I kept saying, ‘damn, this is best song!’ Until the next one came along. “If Not Now When” kicks things off with a great stretched guitar sound and pumping piano, “The Truth is So Hard to Believe” sounds like a great lost outtake from The White Album, while “The Rest is Yet to Come” has a super poppy blues feel. But nothing really prepares you for the subtle brilliance of “Heart Slows Down,” the obvious single. Oh, it starts ordinarily enough. But at the 35 second mark something starts happening that leads right to the killer chorus and before you know it you’ve hit replay five times. Those great back up vocals! So simple, so seductive. Then “End of the Day” (which could easily be mistaken for a Tom Petty single) does it again with an innocuous start that hits the fast lane in the chorus as the background vocals and driving lead guitar line combine into radio-friendly, hit single bliss. But Tasjan’s not done with us yet. On “Strange Shadows” he is the spot on reincarnation of Roy Orbison while “Set You Free” lets loose some fine jangle guitar and solid stadium-size poprock hooks. There are other songs I haven’t mentioned but I don’t want to seem obsessed.

Mike Pace and the Child Actors and Aaron Lee Tasjan have produced two must-have albums for your collection. And you can have them. Cick on over to Bandcamp now.

A little bit of fun: Sure Sure and Zuzu

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FunThere are songs that immediately bring a smile to your face, put a skip in your step, and have you hitting the replay button again and again. They channel a happy place that takes you out of wherever you are or makes the place you are just a bit more multi-chromatic. Los Angeles’ Sure Sure has this down pat with their goose-bump inducing single “Giants.” It starts sparse with some hooky acoustic guitar strumming and builds with what sound like toy piano keyboards, crystalline harmony vocals, and a great shuffling rhythm. It’s a wind blowing in your hair, strolling down the beach boardwalk, you’re starring in the video moment! And then there’s the fresh and cheeky breeziness of Liverpool’s Zuzu. From her breakout single “Get Off” the gal who lathers her singing with a healthy dollop of Scouse accent has exuded total fun. An EP of solid tunes – Made on Earth by Humans– emerged last summer, including two versions of the exquisite “Beauty Queen.” The song features a mother’s advice to her daughter to just ‘stay inside and you’ll be fine’ because ‘you’ve no chance, you can’t sing and you can’t dance.’ Zuzu sings ‘no way,’ not surprisingly and let’s loose a killer catchy chorus at the song’s 40 second mark. Personally, I prefer the acoustic version where the shift between verse and chorus is more dramatic and hooky.

Zuzu – Beauty Queen (acoustic)

Sure Sure and Zuzu – I didn’t connect on the repetition thing going on here till just now – need adoring fans, like you. Go go or gogo over to their internet real estate now and register some support.

Having a rave up with Dave!

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daveDave Rave is a Canadian musical institution. There at the beginning of the country’s own punk awakening in the late 1970s, leading man in Hamilton’s new wave Shakers, and key to the second round of success for Teenage Head in the mid-1980s. But unlike many other CanCon veterans of that era, he’s refuses to rest on his laurels just churning out nostalgia. Indeed, the past seven years have seen the release of five solid poprock albums and an EP, as well as other more jazzy and/or folkie single and albums.

DR LWWYKAll the essential elements are in evidence on the remarkable, chock full of should-be hits, 2011 release Live With What You Know. It’s got the tempo changes of a great McCartney album, switching from the melodic rocking of “Anne-Marie” and “Rain Song” to the more mellow acoustic-inflected “You’re Going to London” and “Rows and Rows.” Great songs are in abundance here but I have to single out exquisite low key hooks embedded in “One of Kind” and “All of the Love You Can Handle.”

DR ANRFrom there it’s a poprock odyssey over the next few albums, as Rave continues demonstrate his impressive songwriting chops with some killer bands. 2014’s Ashtray Makeup takes the formula in a more straight-up rocking direction but still leaning strong on melody, as is clear from opening track “St Paul” and the Lou Reed-ish “Here She Comes.” 2015’s Sweet American Music is another winner, particularly the melodically discordant “Pullman, Washington” and the Nick Lowe-ish “You Take What’s Yours.” 2016’s Radio Rave channels a very Canadian Merseybeat vibe on the wonderful “Love” or mid-1960s Americana of “Slow.” I love shimmering guitar lines on “Satellite Treason” and the little bit country, little bit rock and roll sound of “Not Right Now” from the 2017 EP Indicator. Not letting up, Rave returned just months ago with All Night Raves.  Here I would single out the jangly “Don’t Be Scared” and the early Joe Jackson sound of “Life of a Superstar.”

What impresses me about Dave Rave is his ability keep producing dynamic new records full of hooky original material. Clearly, he’s not done creatively. He’s got more to give. Let’s make that giving mutual with a trip to Dave’s bandcamp page. And get your wallet out.

Breaking news: Odd Robot, The Beths, Brad Peterson and Dot Dash

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paperboyGiven our staffing levels here at Poprock Record, not all breaking news is really breaking in the sense of being absolutely brand new and ‘just released.’ But hopefully it’s breaking to someone! This edition of BN taps a bit of that punky spirit that former punkers retain when they decide to go a bit more poprock and showcases what happens to DIY performers when they radically up their game. You might want to turn these tunes up!

Odd RobotFullerton California’s Odd Robot are back with another 14 songs that channel a punky energy into some pretty tight rock and roll arrangements on their new Amnesiatic. “Sell Your Soul” sets the standard, charging out the gate, guitars full on with some effective new wave hooks and a strong vocal melody. Title track “Amnesiatic” keeps up the pace, sounding a bit Nick Lowe circa 1978, definitely single-worthy material. Things change up with “Green and Yellow Wires,” a song and performance that really reminds me of Ann Arbor, Michigan band Tally Hall and their very sophisticated sound. Overall, you won’t go far wrong with any track on this album, the band is consistent – there are no phone-in moments here. But if I have to single stuff out I find myself particularly partial to “Nothing to do with Anything, But” and the pre-release song, “West Coast Girls,” the latter a killer single musically as well as a showcase for the band’s distinctive, superior vocal sound.

The BethsNew Zealand is calling with The Beths, a trio whose debut is a concentrated blast of punk-infused indie poprock. “Great No One” opens The Future Hates Me and it combines a driving rhythm section with some crisp lead guitar lines and the band’s signature vocal delivery. This is it, what you came for, and the combination of elements is recombined effectively everywhere else on the album. Title track “The Future Hates Me” adds a slightly discordant element to the equation, “You Wouldn’t Like Me” is a bit more poppy with a lovely swing, “Happy Unhappy” also leans heavily on hooky melody and buoyant vocals, while “Whatever” (previously avaible on the 2016 EP Warm Blood) has all the makings of a hit single: great build, solid hooks, and something that sticks in your head long after it’s over.

BPFrom somewhere in a wooded area near Lake Michigan, north of Chicago, Brad Peterson has a garden shed studio where he takes DIY to a whole new level. His earlier records mined a broad range of indie poprock pretty effectively but with 2017’s The Ellipsis Album Peterson began incorporating more contemporary pop sounds and motifs to great effect. Now comes his new The Unknown Album, a collection that appears to take those influences and add some experimental touches to the songwriting and performances. But there’s still a few conventional hit singles in the mix, like the flawless “Whispering,” which sounds like a vocal mix of Sting and Steve Miller in terms of timbre and down to earth delivery. Another straight up poprock gem is “Secret Messages” with its Beatlesque double-tracked vocals and subtle yet hypnotic hook.

Dot DashDC-based band Dot Dash comprises veterans of a host of almost and actually famous bands whose music rocked regardless of the subsequent monetary reward (or lack thereof). The surplus of talent certainly shows on their new record, Proto Retro. Shifting between an indie punk vibe (“Sun + Moon = Disguise”) and pure 1984 jangle band (“Gray Blue Green”), the many influences also gel together perfectly on tracks like the opener “Unfair Weather.” The song vibes like a sunnier Beach Boys-meets-Weezer project might sound. Like other recently reviewed material, this is another total album experience given the quality of songs: just drop the needle anywhere and you’ll come up with the goods. I love the twists and turns on “Parachute Powerline,” the blast of hooks from “Fast Parade,” and check out those 1980s shimmering guitars on “World’s Last Payphone.” Then prepare yourself for a less restrained indie rock out with “Green on Red.” Proto Retro is a great album, deeply influenced by the old but very in the now too.

These new albums from Odd Robot, The Beths, Brad Peterson and Dot Dash are all available from the usual outlets, awaiting monetary attention. Remember, one sale after another is the only way to eventually top the charts!