Rock and roll (almost) never forgets


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recordsBefore the I started this blog I already had a huge stack of material I’d been gathering for over a year or so – great stuff that deserves a wide audience, songs you might have missed.  So today we go back to the vaults to ensure that rock and roll never forgets.

Andy Reed is a member of that immensely talented group, the Verve Pipe.  Not only have they put out a load of great albums, including some for children (which is much harder to do well than most people think), the band has spawned of host of great solo projects.  Reed’s band An American Underdog has one album, 2011’s Always On the Run, which is chock full of poprock gems like the carefree, hooky “I’ll Miss You Girl” and crunchy “Nothing I Can Do.”  Also, check out Reed’s killer solo version of Elvis Costello’s “Crimes of Paris.”  He takes just a bit of the edge off the Costello version and ups the pop quotient – lovely!

Like so many talented musicians of his generation, Adam Merrin has made his career by mostly placing his music in TV shows rather than releasing albums under his own name.  But the two that have emerged, 2007’s Have One and 2009’s Have Another One, are delightful low key pop excursions.  “Our Love is True” opens with a catchy guitar hook before leaning more on keyboards to drive the song while “Fallen for You” builds to a super chorus.  “This is How You Are” has a great total sonic ambience, mellow but unrelenting. This is How You AreOur Love is True

Canadian Dave Rave keeps churning out great poprock.  From a pretty stunning beginning playing on Teenage Head’s boppy single “Let’s Shake” back in 1980, Rave has branched out with a host of different solo projects over the years.  Pick any period and you’ll find some great material.  “All of the Love You Can Handle” is from his 2010 album Live with What You Know and what I like here is the strong vocal, just ever so slightly reminiscent of the Moody Blues in their more poprock period.  This one will get in your head one night and fail to check out the next morning.

Reviewers often mention Summer Fiction and the Beach Boys in the same breath.  Sure I guess its there in the same way that every artist with a wash of breathy background vocals and hints of 1960s melody is another bastard child of Brian Wilson.  But I hear something much more original in Summer Fiction’s dialectical synthesis of 1960s influences.  For instance, there is mordantly sad quality to the vocal style that contrasts the peppy upbeat harpsichord of “Chandeliers” that is pleasantly jarring.  You know this guy is the broody poet type but, like Morrissey before him, he just has to juice the depressing lyrics with far out jangly guitars and hooks.  I also love the quiet intensity of “Throw Your Arms Around Me” and the easy swing of “By the Sea” from the 2010 debut album.  2015’s Himalaya ups the jangle factor on tracks like “On and On” and the clearly Smithsian-influenced “Perfume Paper.”

What is it with Sweden these days?  For a long time it seemed ABBA was it in terms of musical exports – now a flood of great acts are hitting the beach like a new invading force.  The Genuine Fakes have a cute cover of Frozen’s “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” as well as a number of holiday tunes but these songs obscure their more serious material.  “I Want to be a Stranger” is a good example, at times low key, at others killing it with strong hooks, great poprock vocals, and a groovy organ and guitars.I Wanna be a Stranger

The Honeydogs have all the markings of a classic rock and roll outfit – think Tom Petty and Heartbreakers or even the Replacements.  Adam Levy writes everyman songs that are relate-able.  There are too many choices from the catalogue I could make but I really like “Too Close to the Sun” from 2006’s Amygdala: the solid acoustic guitar backing, cool organ, tight vocals.  This is poprock magic, a really perfect single.  “Losing Transmissions” from 2001’s Here’s Luck is pretty special too in a more rock and roll vein.  Check out their recent release Love and Cannibalism for more of same.

Over to the wet coast for Seattle’s Ransom and the Subset.  This band’s 2014 album No Time to Lose deserves to be a big hit, the whole thing is solid and eminently enjoyable.  Their love of Fountains of Wayne comes through but in a subtle way, for instance on tracks like “Questions” and “When Will I See You.” But the standout track is the amazing “Anna,” a single so perfectly sculpted into shape it screams AM radio hit.

Not forgetting means not being a stranger.  So make sure to visit Andy Reed, Adam Merrin, Dave Rave, Summer Fiction, The Genuine Fakes, The Honeydogs, and Ransom and the Subset online.

Toronto Calling: The Drywall Heels and The Seams


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toronto-2I have Powerpopulist to thank for today’s content.  Sometimes you’ve got to hear about it from far away to appreciate the hometown crews!

The Drywall Heels immediately caught my attention with their hilarious ode to suburbia, “Richmond Hill.”  Their just released, self-titled EP is all pretty solid with a nice 1960s meets 1980s indie sound on tracks like “You Should Know,” “Questionable,” and “Claudia.” A few months ago the band released the single, “Christine,” which has a slightly more poppy 1960s feel.

Another great suggestion is The Seams, described by most media as an indie supergroup as it draws its members from a variety of other Toronto bands for this project.  Again, the 1960s+1980s sound is there, with a more psychedelic reverb on the vocals and some sparkly guitars.  The first song on their album Meet the Seams (with its cool cassette insert artwork) is a catchy number with the same name as the band while track two, “Seeds,” has a great poprock swing.  Other highlights include “Remembrance Day” and “ADHD.”

I’m looking forward to seeing these bands live!  Information about The Drywall Heels and The Seams can be found on their respective Facebook pages.

Breaking news: The Feelies, Hidden Cameras, Aimee Mann, and the Molochs


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Old is new on this edition of breaking news.

feeliesIt is great to see acts come out of the woodwork stronger than ever.  The Feelies never raced up the charts when they originally hit the scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s but, like the Velvet Underground, they seemed to inspire just about every one of their fans to start their own band.  Their original, laid back distinctive guitar sound still seems fresh today.  Their soon to be released album, In Between, however, is a bit of departure, with stronger, heavier guitar sound on the pre-release single “Gone, Gone, Gone.”Gone, Gone, Gone 

honl-artToronto’s Hidden Cameras continue to release curious reinventions of all manner of traditional poprock.  Home on Native Land features a great hooky alt country sounding single in “Don’t Make Promises,” a song that wouldn’t sound out of place on any number of Dwight Yoakam releases.  The most recent album also features a remake of “He is the Boss of Me,” a song from HC’s earliest release, 2001’s Ecce Homo.  I remember buying an early release of the CD at one of their shows that contained felt marker writing on the disk and a colour photocopied sleeve.  The original version of the song is great but stark in its DIY economism.  The new version is rich and frankly, voluptuous, by comparison, which really showcases what a great song it is.

miAimee Mann is back with a new album, Mental Illness, one she claims will explore the acoustic pop sound of the 1960s, with back up from Jonathan Coulton no less.   I say claim because at present we have just the one pre-release single to go by, the exquisite “Goose Snow Cone.”  But if her track record recommends her, it’s going to be great.  In another entry we featured her anti-Trump single “Can’t You Tell” as well as few tunes from her collaboration with Ted Leo in The Both.  And her last solo album, Charmer, was solid, with nary a track that wasn’t worth paying 99 cents for.  Mann has a distinctive songwriting and performance style, and her lyrics are smart though sometimes confounding (which is good – it gets you thinking).  Check out the clever wordplay in her 2014 stand alone single, “I’m Cured,” with its low key acoustic guitar accompaniment that features some nice accordion and piano slipping in as it goes along.Goose Snow Cone

molochOn the something new front, The Molochs are an outstanding 1960s re-invention from Los Angeles.  Their just released new album, America’s Velvet Glory, is so cool you’re going to have to handle it with gloves.  The transformation from their 2013 indie debut, Forgotten Blues, is pretty impressive.  The latter is a enjoyable DIY affair but the latest release exudes a kind of uber confidence that says you won’t touch that dial.  The influences are many but I hear Lou Reed in the Velvets in the vocal style while the sometimes spare accompaniment reminds me of a number of early 1980s indie bands.  In a world of single song downloads, this is an album worth buying.  If I have to single out a few songs, I’d note “That’s the Trouble with You,” “The One I Love,” and “No More Crying.”

Guitar strings won’t buy themselves.  Check out The Feelies, Hidden Cameras, Aimee Mann and The Molochs online to get their recordings and touring news.

The world of Thomas D’Arcy


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darcyIn the 1960s the Canadian imprint of Decca, London Records, released a series of The World of … albums: The World of the Zombies, The World of the Rolling Stones, The World of Cat Stevens, etc.  Now Poprock Record would like to present The World of Thomas D’Arcy.  Why?  Because this guy is all over the musical map, in a very good way.  From his teenage punky poprock band, the Carnations, to a one album appearance with All Systems Go!, to his one-man, keyboard-based band Small Sins, to a slew a solo material and a recent collaboration with Hawksley Workman in their Tommy Hawkins project, D’Arcy is master of all he turns his talents to.  For a host of acts behind the scenes, his studio production credits alone should make him a star.  But constant throughout his varied career are the songs: quirky, catchy, usually with a subtle hook that sneaks up and refuses to release its hold.

carnationsI saw the Carnations live at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto in the late 1990s, opening for some band I don’t remember.  They were a blast of hooky teen exuberance.  I bought their debut CD, Superluminal, at the show, which was a good thing as none of their recordings appear to be available digitally.  The seven songs owe a debt to the alienated charm of bands like Weezer but the result is still pretty original, with “Bald Avenger” and “Let Me Be Your Ferris Bueller” as stand out tracks.  D’Arcy has posted three Carnations videos on his YouTube page which give you some sense of how the band developed over time, with songs like “Scream and Yell” and “I’ve Got Spies” showcasing a more muscular sound on later records.Let Me Be Your Ferris Bueller

Sometime after 2006 I saw D’Arcy’s new vehicle, Small Sins, play a show at a tiny club in Victoria, B.C. and didn’t even make the connection to his work with the Carnations, the sound was so different.  Guitars took a backseat to a distinctive synth/keyboard sound, contrasted with taut vocals, particularly on songs like “Why Don’t You Believe Me?”

By 2012 he was just releasing work under his own name, like his spot on supergroup re-recording of the Monks goofy new wave Bad Habits album.  Then 2013’s What We Want featured the great keyboard-heavy single, “I Wake Up Everyday” while 2015’s Fooled You Twice had a broader sound, with the single “All Over Your Face” vibing some serious ELO influence.

Then in 2016 he turned in another new direction, working with Hawksley Workman to produce a more earthy, rough-edged EP entitled Amy, credited to Tommy Hawkins.  Filed under “Tommy Hawkins” is also where you’ll find a host of rare Thomas D’Arcy material on Soundcloud.

You can be welcomed to The World of Thomas D’Arcy at his new website and Facebook page.

Should be a hit single: Blonde Summer “Slow Days Fast Company”


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t63343669-i542671071_s400A bit of the beach is just what we need in January and LA’s Blonde Company have that magic, blissed out, buzzed on sound down pat.  “Slow Days Fast Company” from their 2012 EP Slow Daze kicks off with a trippy lead guitar line that lopes throughout the song, conjuring up great weather and top down cruising by the water.  The band have a series of EPs of great material, including tracks like “Silver Jesus,” “High Times,” “Blazed,” and their latest single, “Sha La La.”  But there is something about the feel of this single, with its hint of Sugar Ray’s confident tempo, that says this should have been a monster radio hit.  Keep up with Blonde Company’s latest grooves here.

Around the dial: Kevin Devine, Brett Dennen, Brian Fallon, and Rich Ajlouny and the Tractor Beams


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instigatorWe start big on this installment of Around the dial with Kevin Devine’s fantastic new album Instigator.  Devine has a lot of material under his belt – eight albums not including this one – but his latest is by far his strongest, most accomplished piece of work.  Others might be more partial to different periods in his career but for me it all comes together here: politics, unrelenting hooks, and more tender insights.  The cover alone, of some 10 year old’s Christmas party wrestling match, is a major highlight.  From the moment the chugging guitar opens up “No Why” the album never misses a beat.  “Magic Magnet” is power pop heaven.  “Daydrunk” is a sweet guitar drenched ode.  “No One Says You Have To” is a lovely acoustic ballad.  The title track “Instigator” says hit single to me, one part Fountains of Wayne, another part Weezer.  But I save the most love for the touching, introspective “I Was Alive Back Then.”  Imagine if Paul Simon sounded genuinely alienated and had gone through some serious angry periods – it might sound a bit like this.  An outstanding performance of a song that leaves the singer bare.

brett_dennen_coverThe hippie vibe lives on as a kind of lifestyle esthetic and Brett Dennen could be its poster child.  The influences here are all over the map: a bit of Van Morrison, just about any 1970s confessional singer songwriter, a dash of reggae at times.  However on his fifth album, 2013’s Smoke and Mirrors, Dennen upped the pop quotient with tracks like the catchy “Out of My Head” and infinitely pleasant “Sweet Persuasion.”  His most recent album Por Favor strips things back a bit without losing the hooky focus, particularly on tracks like “Bonfire.”Sweet PersuasionBonfire

brian-fallon-painkillers-album-new-2016The Springsteen is definitely there in Brian Fallon’s solo album Painkillers but the influence is more atmospheric than direct.  I love the guitar sounds on this record.  The title track opens with a great rumbly electric that gives way to lush acoustic strumming while later “Among Other Foolish Things” features a distinctive opening guitar riff that repeats throughout the song.  “Nobody Wins” typifies the easygoing rock and roll sound of the album, laid back but with subtle hooks.  If this record is anything to go by, Fallon is really just getting started.Among Other Foolish ThingsNobody Wins

richAnd now for something completely different.  Rich Ajlouny and the Tractor Beams are a bit off the beaten poprock path, but only just.  There is something definitely Beatlesque in Ajlouny’s slightly discordant vocals, reminiscent of “Nowhere Man.”  You can really hear it on “Around the Town” from Ajlouny’s 2013 solo release but it is there in spades on the more recent Love is the Stronger Force, particularly “Tough Guys Don’t Dance.”  There is also something very art rock about this band’s material and performance, as if some elements have been deliberately left out of focus.  Other highlights include “Give Her a Kiss” with its super harmonica break and “When Plans Go South.”  I also like the wonderfully quirky “Going Back to Work” with its stark admission that the protagonist is ‘going back to work after being such a jerk.’

Find out more about Kevin Devine, Brett Dennen, Brian Fallon, and Rich Ajlouny and the Tractor Beams at their respective internet locations.

Second time around: Jim Adkins, Donny Brown and The Both


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trafficWhen artists go solo or come around sporting a new band the results can split three ways.  They might come back sounding pretty much like they did when they left, which sometimes turns out well (I guess she really was the band …) or leads to disaster (hm, he really should have stuck it out with the other guys …).  But sometimes they return with a markedly different sound, a result that some find disappointing but I often find refreshing and exciting.  This post features three different artists defying expectations on their second time around.

adkinsJim Adkins is the lead singer for Jimmy Eat World and you couldn’t get a more different take on him that this solo EP.  The title track, “I Will Go,” kicks things off with sprightly clean acoustic guitar rhythm and a lovely swinging melody, later adding horns and electric guitar to what is a solid single.  He applies a similar fresh treatment to Beck’s “Don’t Act Like Your Heart Isn’t Hard.” Things get a bit edgier with his interesting take on an Everly Brothers’ b-side, “Give Me a Sweetheart,” featuring a double tracked harmony vocal and a guitar with an ominous rumble.  But the EP’s highlight has to be his bleached-out, on-tender-hooks version of “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”  Adkins deliberately avoids hitting all the familiar notes of Lauper’s mega-hit arrangement, revealing a remarkably flexible tune underneath all Cyndi’s fun flash.  I Will Go is a winner: every track on this six song release is value for money.I Will GoGive Me a SweetheartGirls Just Want to Have Fun

hess-stDrummers get a bad rap.  Other than keeping time, expectations of what they will contribute are often low.  They are seldom the singer or songwriter for their respective group.  But here Donny Brown defies expectations.  As drummer for the grungy nineties Verve Pipe, Brown gradually expanded his influence on the band from just playing his instrument early on to contributing nearly half the songs to their 2001 album Underneath.  But nothing could prepare us for Brown’s solo outings where he writes, sings, plays guitar and drums, and goes in a completely different direction than his other gig.  brownBrown has a great soft rock vocal style and the tunes on his first EP, Hess Street, run the gamut from lush spot-on 1970s pop (“Bitter Rival”) to amazing tin pan alley recreations (“Call Me”).  A real stand out is the opening track, the McCartney-esque “Lucky Number” with its intriguing melodic twists and Band on the Run lead guitar.  His follow up EP, the self-titled Donny Brown, continues in the 1970s vein with tracks like “Life of a Stranger” and “Reach Out” but increases the hook factor on other contributions, echoing just a bit of ELO at times.  The marvelous “Now You Can Break My Heart” is a poprock masterpiece that will get in your head and stay there.

the_both_album_front_coverIs this the second or third time around for Aimee Mann?  Ok, we’re bending the rules here to include The Both, her collaboration with Ted Leo.  I can’t help but think that this record sounds like the one she could have recorded with hubby Michael Penn before he banished himself to scoring movies, if their few collaborative singles are anything to go by.  But, no matter, this debut is a killer.  Of our trio of offerings, it also represents the least departure from the artists’ original formula.  Overall, it may sound a bit tougher than Mann’s solo material at times, but the songs are indelibly Mann-esque, with all her clever turns of phrase both lyrically and musically.  While there are no weak tracks here I certainly hit replay on “Milwaukee,” “Volunteers of America,” and “Hummingbird.”  If you’re a Mann fan, this is a must have.  It will also have you checking out Leo’s back catalogue with Ted Leo and the Pharmacists (hint: start with “Bottled in Cork”).MilwaukeeVolunteers of AmericaHummingbird

Talk about missed opportunities – I managed to miss most of these acts when they blew through town.  If only I’d paid more attention to the Jim Adkins, Donny Brown and The Both websites.  Don’t let that happen to you.

Legends of poprock: Elvis Costello – the early years


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dyk39fzjckdlk1epaakpA lot of words have been written about Elvis Costello (the artist himself added a few hundred thousand in his recent autobiography Unfaithful Music) but little has been said about just how melodic his music can be.  His early years, roughly the period from his 1977 debut My Aim is True to 1980’s Taking Liberties, are crammed with hooky numbers.  “Blame it on Cain” is my favourite from the debut, with its leisurely swing and Steely Dan guitar lines, but frankly it’s a pretty close contest with just about every other track from the album.  My Aim is True is a miracle of synthesis, taking inspiration from an impossible range of sources: Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen, mainstream seventies rock, the emerging punk scene, and arguably Costello’s father, Ross MacManus, a well known singer in the UK.  The record also represents an interesting artistic negotiation between Costello as an emerging singer/songwriter and his amazing pick up band, the American pub rock group Clover.Blame it on Cain

this-years-modelsThings changed dramatically with album number two, now backed by Costello’s defiant new band, the Attractions.  This Year’s Model charges out of the gate, its stripped-down, in your face rock and roll delivered with a crisp ferocity unmatched by any of Costello’s other recordings.  This is the critics’ favourite album for a reason.  I like it less than the debut but still love it, particularly the catchy lead guitar line on “You Belong to Me.”  Elvis dials back some of the attack on his third album, Armed Forces, letting the listener in on some impressive aural landscapes that illustrate his talent for arranging his music.  This is captured nicely on the single, “Accidents Will Happen.”You Belong to Me

r-1579497-1288764112Get Happy!! and Taking Liberties were both released in 1980, the latter a compilation of B-sides (released as Ten Bloody Marys & Ten How’s Your Fathers in the UK).  With each record topping out at 20 songs, together they represented a cornucopia of poprock.  What is striking here is the restraint, the subtle hooks of “B Movie,” “New Amsterdam” and “Secondary Modern” on Get Happy!! or “Radio Sweetheart” and “Hoover Factory” on Taking Liberties. One almost gets a sense that the songs were chiseled into shape, worked over until every detail reflected the light just so.  Of course, there were also more raucous examples like “Possession” or “Crawling to the U.S.A.”

While critics often highlight the venom and sneer of Elvis’ early recordings, these songs demonstrate his capacity for sweetness, melody, and hooks.  His penchant for poprock shifts considerably in his middle and later periods, but more on that to come.  And he had a sense of humour.  Check out this hilarious send up of K-tel commercials from the 1970s to pitch Get Happy!!

Looking for Elvis?  Forget that supermarket in West Vancouver, you can find him here.

Spotlight single: Timmy Sean “Western Rodeo”



timmy-sean-song-of-the-weekIt seemed like an interesting gimmick – 52 songs over 52 weeks.  That was Timmy Sean’s promise for 2015.  For just $20 (US), he would produce a song a week for a whole year.  I signed up on the strength of this song alone.  Sean is musically multi-dexterous, with material that pays homage to a broad array of poprockers ranging from Fountains of Wayne to Hall and Oates.  But “Western Rodeo” is a departure in more ways than one.  First, it’s country!  None of the other 51 tracks really go there.  Second, the song’s arrangement and performance are flawless.  I like a lot of the 52 songs Sean served up but for me this single is a cut above.  It has a lovely melancholy acoustic guitar foundation that builds slowly and solidly, adding pedal steel, lead guitar, and great backing vocals, delivering a sonic impact I usually associate with early Eagles or late Byrds material.  Sean is a major talent just waiting to break.

Keep up with Timmy Sean’s latest musical antics by checking his Facebook and website.

Twelve missing ‘hit singles’ from 2016


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hit-singleIt’s end-of-the-year ‘best of’ list time and we here at Poprock Record wish to join the almost evangelical rush to judgment that accompanies such proceedings, though with a twist.   I mean, who am I to say whose records are the best?  If I put them up on the blog then you already know I think they are pretty great and worthy of Beatlesque adulation.  Still, I do feel like shining an extra light on a few songs that just screamed ‘hit single’ to my 1970s AM radio-trained ears.  So instead of a ‘top ten’ list I’ve assembled a list of twelve ‘missing’ hit singles, songs that would easily top the charts in my alternate poprock universe.

Pulling together my twelve apostles of poprock was not an easy task.  From the full list of songs featured on the blog in 2016 I singled out the ones actually released in this past calendar year – 59 songs in all!  Then reducing that number down to just twelve was painful as there were compelling arguments for keeping any and all of the other 47 as well.  But, in the end, cuts were made until just twelve remained.  They appear in no particular order and the hotlinks take you to the original posts as they appeared on the blog.  These are a dynamite twelve pack, sure proof that melodic rock and roll is far from dead, if somewhat remote from the more conventional charts.

Public Access TV, “On Location”

Red Cabin, “I Can’t Wait”

Twins, “Breaking Up”

TUNS, “Mind Over Matter”

David Brookings and the Average Lookings, “Time to Go”

Chris Staples, “Hepburn in the Summertime”

Steve Ison, “Boy”

Bosco Rogers, “Beach! Beach! Beach!”

Wesley Fuller, “Melvista”

The Rifles, “Wall Around Your Heart”

The Kickstand Band, “Summer Dream”

Purses, “Wheels on the Run”

Check out these bands in more detail on their various webpages.  You find all the links on the original posts.