It’s Mersey time! With The Retreads, The Pleasers, The Kryng and The Boolevards

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Screen Shot 2019-12-10 at 7.17.28 PMThe 1963-4 Beatles’ sound has become its own distinctive musical oeuvre, influencing bands around the world and across time. In the Merseybeat era, one could hear it from English bands like Gerry and Pacemakers and Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas or Americans like the Bobby Fuller Four, and many others. The late 1970s saw the sound revived by mocksters like The Rutles or in note-perfect tributes from Utopia on their Deface the Music. Then a host of new wave bands dug out their skinny ties and rediscovered the sound as the 1970s gave way to the eighties. Now it’s just a thing music-literate bands might do to show off their stylistic chops! Today’s post attends to that melodic Mersey sound, both old and new.

First up, a time trip back to 1981 for what appears to be the only single released by Rushden UK’s The Retreads – but what a single! “Would You Listen Girl” has the With the Beatles sound down pat, particularly on those killer background vocals that really nail the feel of those early Beatles’ records. The songwriting is pretty strong too, sounding so Mersey without being simply derivative. Another historic Mersey revival group was London’s The Pleasers. Emerging amidst the UK’s punk outbreak in the late 1970s the band’s polished Beatlesque sound didn’t quite fit in. That’s tragic. Check out the oh so pleasing fab quality of “Breaking My Heart” or the jangle-longing undergirding “Who Are You.” The band did eventually see the release of an album’s worth of their great 1970s songs in the 1990s with Thamesbeat.

The Retreads – Would You Listen GirlThe Pleasers – Breaking My HeartThe Pleasers – Who Are You

The Netherlands’ The Kryng are much more than Mersey, with a sound that ranges across a garage/psych 1960s sound to a 1980s indie vibe. But sometimes, they really get their Beatles on. It’s there in all sorts of places on their just released new album, So Many Girls 2 – on tracks like “Still I Know” and “Take You by the Hand.” They do push the limits of the sound (in a good way). “Be Your Guy” sounds like Ray Davies sat in on a Beatles writing session while “She’s Black” perhaps has the band pushing into Beatles for Sale territory. Another band that takes up the Beatles’ influences but doesn’t stop there is The Boolevards. The twenty tracks comprising their new compilation album Real Pop Remix have a distinctive stylistic stamp, combining the Beatles’ Mersey sound with early Beach Boys and late 1970s Mersey revival sound of bands like The Searchers. You want jangle? Check out the infectious riffs on “Again and Again,” “It’s Great” and “She Shines.” Or click on my personal faves, the should-be hit single “Take Me to the Top” or the raucus, jaunty “Find a Star Make a Wish.” But really, dip in anywhere on this fab collection and find something to love.

Click on the links for The Retreads, The Pleasers, The Kryng and The Boolevards and contribute to keeping the Beatlemania from ever being cured.

I get mail: Dead Rituals, Baby Scream, Science is Fiction, Eggs on Mars, Super 8 and Jean Caffeine

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Screen Shot 2019-12-05 at 12.18.45 PMCan’t believe the mailbag is full again! But here we are. It’s nice to hear from people and even nicer that people pay attention to what I’m doing and send suggestions that really work with the blog’s over-arching theme. So here’s another batch of self-promoting rock and roll melody pushers that deserve three minutes or so of your time!

World traveling Brooklynite Andrea Caccese’s Dead Rituals invariably get described by reviewers as ‘dreamy’ and ‘atmospheric’ and I see it, particularly as we get started on his new project’s self-titled debut EP and its opening track “Run.” But suddenly at the 14 second mark the song gets just a bit more urgent, driven by a haunting guitar arpeggiation, something that only intensifies in the chorus in a most wonderous, happy way. “Closer” is pretty sweet too, reminding me of a bit of 1980s OMD. Valencia, Spain’s Baby Scream seems like a seriously misnamed act. There’s no screaming. There’s no ‘baby oh baby’ teenybop lyrics. Instead, on songs like “Fake It Till You Make It,” the band sound like John Lennon turned loose with 1980s synth, with very fab results. The song can be found on an EP entitled Things U Can Say to a Stranger and it has other highlights as well, like “Somebody Kill Me Now,” which sounds like a great lost Lennon out-take. Turning to Calgary band Science is Fiction, the comparisons are more to an early Elvis Costello and the influence is definitely there, particularly on tracks like “Shiver.” But their debut EP Don’t Everyone Thank Me at Once also vibes a solid glam Lou Reed élan on “Kissing You” and “Awkward Girl.” Influences aside, the material here is pretty solid and, ultimately, original.

Next stop? Kansas City, where Eggs on Mars fashion a lovely psych poprock tune with “People Pleasing” from their latest album, It Will Be Like It Was. I love the rollicking quality to this song as it barrels along, with a sneaky hook in the verses that keeps reeling you in. Hardworking Scot Super 8 turned out a nice EP this year, Head Sounds, with art work, title, and sounds that riff on the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. Check out the lovely melodic fun of “Millionaire.” It’s like a bit of the summer good times encapsulated in 3 minutes and change. Or there’s a hint of toe-tapping township jiving in the addictive “BonNES.” Then there’s still four other tracks that will lift you out of the winter doldrums. Last mail drop came from a literal living legend, Jean Caffeine! With a rock and roll story stretching back to the 1970s, Caffeine has done it all from punk to country to performance art to your basic stripped down indie rock and roll. Now she’s back with a killer EP Love. What Is It? and it is a very special synthesis of so many aspects of her career while perhaps also being her poppiest release yet. It’s all there in the title track, with its enchanting vocal stylings and subtle melodic hooks. Then out of left field Caffeine hits us with edgy Patti Smith-meets-The Who version of the “The Kids Are Alright” that totally works. “I Always Cry on Thursday” reminds me of Mary Lou Lord songwriting style-wise, while the delivery exudes the weary-life-lived sound of an Amy Rigby or Robin Lane or, frankly, Jean Caffeine. This is an EP release not to be missed!

People writing their own press briefings really could use some record sales – that much is obvious. Click on the links for Dead Rituals, Baby Scream, Science is Fiction, Eggs on Mars, Super 8 and Jean Caffeine to reward such efforts.

Friday I’m in love with singles: Howlong Wolf, Joe Normal and the Anytown’rs, Jordan Jones, Propeller and Mo Troper

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Screen Shot 2019-11-28 at 10.44.44 AMWho needs black Friday and interminably long line-ups when you can just hit ‘buy track’ from the comfort of your own electronic device? Doing some e-music shopping today instead would be my advice. And, luckily for you, Day 5 of our solid-week-of-singles event ends today with a strong set of poprock suggestions to go musically shopping for. Swiss producer David Langhard is the force behind Howlong Wolf and our featured song “You Made It (Into This Song)” from their latest album Norwegians Can’t Refuse. I love the muscular slickness of the production here. Back when AM radio used to both reflect and influence popular tastes, this is just the sort of polished poprock that ruled (and rightly so). New Jersey’s Joe Normal and the Anytown’rs are slick too, but in a different way. Their killer single “Don’t Hurt Me” exudes classic rock and roll radio, with a nice melodic undercurrent. In that brief time when the FM dial was the new rock trendsetter in the 1980s, this baby is just the sort of thing that blasted out of cars all over town. Jordan Jones’ album is titled Self-Titled and it’s being written up across the powerpop blogosphere but what is interesting to me is how everybody seems to choose different tunes to focus on. Personally, I’m loving “Waiting” with its 1960s-meets-1980s hooky sound and distinctive guitar ring. We here at Poprock Record loved Propeller’s 2017 LP Don’t Ever Let This Let You Down. Now they’re back with a neat EP entitled Three Steps to Better Listening and it’s not false advertising. “There Goes a Day” has a big shimmery guitar sound and layered vocals reminiscent of The Mighty Lemon Drops or Matthew Sweet or The Primitives. Is this a prelude to a new album? Yes please! Another highly anticipated release for this blog is anything by Portland’s wonderful music eccentric Mo Troper. We gushed over his stunning 2017 LP Exposure and Response and gasped when the Bond franchise didn’t snap up his should-be Bond theme “Never Dream of Dying.” Now he’s back with a pre-release single from his forthcoming 2020 album Natural Beauty and it’s another winner. “Jas from Australia” is a sneaky piece of pop goodness, slightly jarring but ultimately ear-wormy in its effects upon repeated listenings.

What if Howlong Wolf, Joe Normal, Jordan Jones, Propeller and Mo Troper were like Scrooge McDuck, diving in the e-dividends of their black Friday receipts? What an image. Click the links – make it so!

Thursday’s child singles: Sugar World, Aloner, Hanky Panky, Lucille Furs and Zac

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Screen Shot 2019-11-28 at 10.09.33 AMThursday’s child doesn’t have far to go for some hooky tunes this week. Day 4 of our solid-week-of-singles event runs the gamut from jangle to rawk guitars to neo-glam swing to fully-loaded keyboard pop. Sugar World is the new project of two former members of Florida’s Naps, now relocated to San Diego, California. Their lone release is the single, “Sad in Heaven,” which reminds me of the janglicious work of German indie darlings, The Catherines. Bouncy, light, and memorable – just what a single should be! Aloner likes to set his amp to 11. Regularly. Don’t let the adorable kitties on the covers fool you, this is a guy who likes to rawk. But beneath the wall of guitars veneer are some solid melodies, like “Middle Man” from his latest long-player In Between. Even the rock solo is hooky! (I confess, there are few acoustic interludes on the record now and then, like the lovely “Not Cool”). Hanky Panky bring a bit of continental French cool to our post with a song from their latest release, Life is Not a Fairy Tale. “Milk” opens with chords and guitars that sound punk before being overtaken by some uber cool organ swirls that take the song in a more indie poprock direction. The vocalist’s discernable French accent also adds allure to an already winning tune! Chicago’s Lucille Furs 2019 album another land channels a lot of influences to my ears: the neo-glam sound of acts like Vaccines or Bosco Rogers, the vocal stylings of Mika (if he were a new wave artist), to name just a few. It’s an album of fun songs but “Paint Euphrosyne Blue” really stands out for me. It’s an irresistible tune with a driving beat and solid retro guitar and keyboard hooks. And not many lyricists can work ‘cisgender boys’ into a song and not sound pedantic! Last up for Thursday, we head off to Italy to hear Zac’s new single, “I Got Something in my Mind.” The track opens with an ominous keyboard that suddenly shifts into a sound that is so late 1970s poprock a la Supertramp, if that band recorded new wave tunes. The album is also called Zac and there’s more of the poptastic same all over it.

Sugar World, Aloner, Hanky Panky, Lucille Furs and Zac might be making music for the good of their health. But some cash probably wouldn’t go amiss either.

Wednesday week singles: KiDD, Tim Minchin, Todd Herfindal and The Enlows

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Screen Shot 2019-11-27 at 10.27.55 AMFew acts pay tribute to Wednesday. Elvis Costello, the Undertones, and that band from L.A. were on to something with “Wednesday Week.” Of course, the idiomatic expression actually refers to a week from Wednesday but we’re not waiting. Day 3 of our solid-week-of-singles event can’t be put off. Stuart Kidd is one hard working musical dude, involved with countless bands and musical projects in his native Scotland. But he still finds time to pump out solo albums under the moniker KiDD. Chance Weekend is his latest long player and I’m particularly partial to “Little One.” The song has a breezy charm, coating a timeless pop tune with just a bit of 1990s indie grind. Just another reason that Scotland really seems like a poprock Mecca to me these days. Australia’s Tim Minchin gets more done before breakfast than most people do in lifetime: actor, hit musical writer (e.g. Matilda), film producer/director, comedian, political commentator, and so on. He also puts out some sparkling one-off singles. “15 Minutes” seems almost operatic in its ambition and scope but works because underneath it all is catchy tune. And where are those robots, by the way? On this track and many others, Minchin is worth paying attention to. Todd Herfindal is another musical over-achiever (lucky for us!) with songs appearing all over the TV and movie-sphere. “Bound for the Sun” is a solid piece of poprock songwriting, delivered with a recognizably 1980s FM radio sheen. Herfindal’s back catalogue is definitely worth exploring (but more on that in another post!). Closing out Wednesday’s quartet are The Enlows, a three piece hailing from Sacramento, California. Their recent album, Taking Aim, is a rollicking collection of punk-tinged good-time tunes. But I just can’t stop hitting repeat on the addictive “Without Your Love.” From the head-turning opening guitar lead line hook to the head-bopping chorus, it’s a song that dares you not to dance. I’d pay just to see the band do this one tune! But I’d stay for the rest too.

Visit KiDD, Tim Minchin, Todd Herfindal and The Enlows online and contribute to their ‘we really want to keep making music’ fund.

Tuesday afternoon singles: Drew Neely and the Heroes, Cabin Essence, The Dave Anderson Project, No Win and Herzog

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Screen Shot 2019-11-26 at 4.02.09 PMIt’s a moody Tuesday afternoon and day two of our solid-week-of-singles event. We need a little Drew Neely and the Heroes to set the right ambience at the outset. Their new single “Chasing Danielle” is a rollicking heartland tune that rides the edge between pop and rock, straight out of Frankfort, Illinois. Then it’s right up I-94 north along Lake Michigan to get to Milwaukee’s favourite band named for an obscure Beach Boys song, Cabin Essence. The beach influence seems to have faded with their new single, the lovely, lilting “No More.” Now the sound is more trebly guitar leads and understated harmony vocals. And still great. The Dave Anderson Project hails from Huntsville Alabama, essentially a side project for Anderson who seems very busy with a host of other music commitments. “Welcome” is a fabulous slab of synth-poprock, with just hints of ELO, Adam Daniel and Farrah around the edges. It was touted as the band’s teaser advance single but so far nothing else has emerged. Insert Poprock Record sad face here. Earlier this year this site gave up the love for No Win’s winning new collection, Downey. Apparently that wasn’t enough – the band is back with a super new single, “Blood on your Tooth.” I love the crunch guitar on this track and slowburn hookiness of the chorus. Another band hitting the poprock-harder bottom is Cleveland’s Herzog, at least to start. “Amps II Eleven” talks a good game about rocking out but the song actually features a sweet vocal and some lovely lead guitar lines, amid a wash of 1960s pop psychedelia. From their fab new album, Me Vs. You.

Nothing like splashing out on a Tuesday for some new music. Click on Drew Neely and the Heroes, Cabin Essence, The Dave Anderson Project, No Win and Herzog for access to the pay button.

Monday morning singles: The Tor Guides, Vista Blue, Elephant Stone, and Dan Luke and the Raid

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Screen Shot 2019-11-25 at 8.35.33 AMA Marshall Crenshaw turn of phrase gets our solid-week-of-singles catch-up underway. The backlog of songs was never going to get posted without some serious melodic triage so every day this week (barring week-ends) we’re busting out the tunes in 45rpm increments. First stop: Östersund, Sweden with a track from The Tor Guides new album, Backwards in Reverse. A great deal of this record is tuneful mellow town, which is why “Always Somewhere Else” stands out for me. It’s a bit more peppy with wonderful Rickenbacker guitar accents all over the place. Next stop: Nashville, where punk and pop collide in the indie supergroup Vista Blue. There’s more than a little Beach Boy harmony on the blissful opening to “Big Stars” before the song settles into some guitars-to-the-front poprock. But don’t stop there. The band’s new EP Hit the Floor! has two other beachy hook-loaded tunes. Up north Montreal’s Elephant Stone turn up the psychedelia on “Hollow World,” a single from their upcoming 2020 album Hollow. Dreamy without entering the sleep zone, the song has the band channeling a seemingly effortless 1967 Beatles vibe. Last stop: Bowling Green, Kentucky with Dan Luke and the Raid on “Disco is as Disco Does.” The song is a bit of departure from the rest of their recent LP Out of the Blue, taking their fuzzed out poprock sound and adding some spooky keyboards before breaking out into a great neo-1950s chorus. But the whole record is pretty solid.

Get your Monday started right. Click on the links and make an investment in The Tor Guides, Vista Blue, Elephant Stone, and Dan Luke and the Raid right now.

Jangle Thursday: The Neilson Family, The Vapour Trails, The Umbrella Puzzles, Dave Molter and Butcher the Bar

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Screen Shot 2019-11-21 at 3.52.55 PMThursday always seems to be good time to let the guitars ring. Today’s mixture has both albums and singles of note, with varying degrees of sibilance on display.

The Neilson Family hail from the indie musical Mecca of Portland. Their new album is Double Life and it’s full of jangle and positive references to public sector workers. “Civil Service Anthem” is just what it sounds like – a great tune and sentiments! But check out “Same Sign Pt. 2” as it’s also pretty special.

It’s been a big year for The Vapour Trails, an EP, an album of new material, and now a collection of home recordings and demos entitled The Inner Truth. It’s not just cast offs here. “Behind You” is driven by a killer Beatles “Day Tripper” lead line, “Miggs” has great organ and guitar fills, and the cover of “Michelle” is airy and delightful. 17 tracks here, both quality original material and inspired covers (the Byrds covers are maximum jangle!).

The guitar on The Umbrella Puzzles’ “Dusty Pages” practically leaps out of the speakers and then goes on for 30 seconds – I thought it was going to be an instrumental – before Ryan Marquez’ low key vocals kick in, creating a sweet counterpoint to the jangle. The self-titled EP has more of the good same.

Our next track I nicked from Wayne Lundqvist Ford latest amazing annual power pop compilation, Screwballs and Curveballs. From the 133 tracks in the collection, I had to showcase Dave Molter’s “Midcentury Man.” The song’s got an opening jangle that cuts through everything (in a good way!) while the lyrics shed light on the great hopes of music-loving 1960s boomers, with some sweeping ‘ah’s and engaging instrumental interludes.

Wrapping up this session of JT, the more lofi jangle of Manchester’s Butcher the Bar. “Go” comes from a record largely recorded between 2013 to 2015, though only released this year as III. There’s a bit of Dropkick and Teenage Fanclub here. “Lying,” “Haunts” and “Toulouse” are pretty winning tracks too!

Perhaps The Neilson Family, The Vapour Trails, The Umbrella Puzzles, Dave Molter and Butcher the Bar have a special fuzz pedal on layaway somewhere. That’s when every song sale really counts.

Bright, bright streetcar lights courtesy Larry Gordon.

And now for something surprisingly musical: Class

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Screen Shot 2019-11-19 at 5.49.42 PMIt’s something that’s all around us. Everyone is caught up and defined by it. Yet it is almost never publicly acknowledged, let alone commented on. Let’s change that. We live in a world defined by class, organized economically and experienced socially. A properly functioning culture would reflect on that. So today’s post is all about melodic ruminations on class.

Songs about the poor? Sure, we got lots of them. But a few rungs up the social ladder is group we used to call the working class, the largest class by far in modern societies, and yet they rarely appear in the hit parade. A lot of it has to do with class bias – opinion leaders tend to look down on working people. This influences how people talk about themselves. For instance, compare Drew Neely and the Heroes “White Trash Girl” to The Ravines “Working Class Girl.” Both songs have great hooks but the former is embarrassed about a girl’s ‘white trash’ roots while the latter is searching for just the qualities that make his girl ‘working class.’ Needless to say, we could use a lot more positive songs about working class lives.

It is much more common to hear talk about the middle class. Apparently everyone from the Starbucks barista to a neurosurgeon belongs to this group, lodged between the rich and poor. Perhaps because it’s obviously such an ideological construct, we don’t hear a lot of people singing about them. When we do, they tend offer critical takes on the emptiness of middle class life. This is captured effectively in the manic poppiness of Indoor Pets’ “Middle Class.” Occasionally, artists focus on class privilege, like the withering critique of the double standard applied to white collar crime offered up on Fastball’s new single “White Collar.” When it comes to the middle class, it would appear the less said, the better. If people really started talking about it, it might become clear how inaccurate the term ‘middle class’ is as a description of most people and their situation vis-a-vis the broader class dynamics of western societies.Indoor Pets – Middle ClassFastball – White Collar

Which brings us to the rich. They too tend to fly under the radar. I mean, popular culture portrays everybody as sort of rich – big houses, fancy cars, kids going to Harvard or Yale. But the wealth differences between the upper middle classes and the uber rich are routinely obscured. For most people, it’s hard to fathom just how the rich the rich truly are and the influence they wield. I don’t think my song choices are going to help that much (even though they’re great!). Danish band Superheroes have an eccentric sound that never fails to be catchy and distinctive. On “Rich and Famous” an earwormy keyboard drives the song into your head like a melodic screwdriver while the lyrics recount the kind of class privilege that allows the wealthy to pine for love in extreme comfort. And then there’s Everclear’s more recent grungy yet hooky take on Hall and Oates’ classic statement of wealthy relationship indifference, “Rich Girl.”Everclear – Rich Girl

When it comes to class, it’s mostly class dismissed. But the few examples here show that you can have people humming about class distinctions, if you try. Click on the hyperlinks to show your classy side to today’s artists.

Smart guy poprock: B.A. Johnston, Eytan Mirsky, Blair Packham, and Jim’s Big Ego

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Screen Shot 2019-11-12 at 1.57.54 PMSometimes smart guys skip grad school and make records instead. It seldom leads to tenure, of any kind, but can you put a price on piece of mind? Well, if they’d become academics you probably could – but that misses the point. Which is that I selfishly appreciate that these bright tuneful dudes forwent cushy jobs to provide me with all this great music. Thanks guys! Seriously though, when you combine smart, multi-layered lyrics with catchy hooks, you’ve got something pretty special. Our quartet of smart guy poprockers do that and more!

Screen Shot 2019-11-12 at 2.01.06 PMWarning: there’s some serious Canadian content in this post. Though not too serious, if Hamilton’s B.A. Johnston is anything to go by. With album titles like Stairway to Hamilton, Shit Sucks, and The Skid is Hot Tonight you can pretty much see where this is going. Punville. Even Johnston’s name is a joke – derived from a teen nickname where Christian Johnston became ‘Bored Again’ Christian, or B.A. for short. Johnston’s work is so Canadian working class but his protagonists are not Springteen-esque heroes, they’re just ordinary folks. And despite the humour, Johnston shows a twisted kind of respect for this subjects. Stylistically, the music exudes Canadian icon Stompin’ Tom on acid, with some Jonathan Richman earnest sincerity, and a bit of Ben Vaughn goof. Here I’m just going to focus on his poppier numbers. Like “I Miss that 90’s Hash” or “I Need Donair Sauce” – both tunes have subtle hooks and a bit more polish that Johnston’s usual fare. “Orangeville” channels a lumpen Johnny Cash while “Straight Outta Cobden” is B.A.-typical low-key, with hooky backup vocals in the chorus. “I Love It When You Dress Up” has a sweet ambling country tempo and a refreshing lack of humour. “Fort McMurray” captures the narrowed class horizons for most working people. “Couch Potato” is like B.A.’s philosophy crammed into 90 seconds. With 13 albums since 2000, there’s a lot more B.A. to discover and he’s worth the slide by.

Screen Shot 2019-11-12 at 2.02.17 PMHapless is the word to describe Eytan Mirsky’s public musical persona. But awkward and desperate would run a close second and third. Yet far from being a downer, Mirsky constantly lightens the mood with a dry wit and dark cynicism worthy of Nick Lowe or Elvis Costello. Over the course of seven albums his rock and roll has been consistently tuneful, full of sly hooks and loads of clever verbal innuendo. The basic raw material is all there in the 1996 debut album title, Songs About Girls (and Other Painful Subjects), particularly on cuts like “Smart Enough” and “Beautiful Inside.” Or check out the Joe Jackson-esque swing of “What Do I Do?” and “Either Way” from 1999’s Get Ready for Eytan! Then there’s his 2001 masterpiece, the hilarious Was It Something I Said?, an album of wall to wall killer cuts. I’ll just draw your attention to “Can I Get Any Lower?” and the very hooky “Sluts.” But hey, drop the needle anywhere on this record and you come up with something great. I could keep going like this through every album. Instead I just want to highlight Mirsky’s great use of pop culture references and humour on tracks like “Watching Dawson’s Creek” (from 2016’s Funny Money), “Share If You Agree” and “Lingerie Pillow Fight” (both from the fantastic new 2019 LP If Not Now … Later.” Honourable mention: don’t miss the Paul Collins-esque “She’s Looking Better” from 2004’s Everyone’s Having Fun Tonight! Mirsky also does a lot of Facebook posts covering just about every song every written. And believe me, when your song gets the Mirsky treatment it’s been sung.

Screen Shot 2019-11-12 at 2.03.12 PMI got to check out Blair Packham when he opened for the Northern Pikes recently in Toronto. Who’s Blair Packham? I didn’t know. But after loving his clever, hilarious and hooky blue-eyed soul performance I went looking. Turns out he had a some Canadian hit singles (like “Last of the Red Hot Fools”) with his 1980s band, The Jitters. Since their breakup in 1991, he’s released only three solo albums. But what great LPs they are! Packham offers up hooky poprock numbers with intelligent wordplay and heartfelt ballads, delivered by a pop-soul voice that falls somewhere into the sweet spot between Huey Lewis and Paul Carrack. Cases in point “Weird to You” and the title track from 2000’s Everything That’s Good. If the band sound familiar on Packham’s 2004 release, Could’ve Been King, they should – it’s Canada woefully underappreciated poprock geniuses The Odds. They provide some topnotch playing for Packham’s killer tunes like “Come Undone,” Somebody Else” and the touching “Little Fish.” I love the lyrics on “Could’ve Been King” – ‘didn’t like the hours, the wretched excess, the abuse of power …’ But Packham really hits it out of the park with “One Hit Wonder,” which is simultaneously one of the most honest renderings of the liabilities of being a one-hit-wonder while still incredibly respectful to the artist that has it. And the song has an infectious handclapping, singalong chorus! The record ends with “Last,” a song that’s all about, well, being last. Thirteen years later Packham returned with 2017’s Unpopular Pop and it was worth the wait for the hooky, single-ish “You (Yeah, You)” and the Costello-vibing “Other Side.”

Screen Shot 2019-11-12 at 2.05.16 PMWhat a wonderfully twisted world is the land of Jim’s Big Ego! It’s a place where anything can be the subject of intelligent satire, from mixed tapes to loving zombies to math prof rock stars to impoverished gun owners. But unlike some sardonic songsters, Jim’s got a clear political position very much on the progressive side of things. It’s there clear and without irony on the wonderful “International” from 2008’s Free*. And that’s just another thing to like about JBE. Amidst all the fun and cleverness, there’s a point to the poking. I came to the band via their quasi-hit single, “The Ballad of Barry Allen,” a slick piece of melodic goodness from their 2003 release They’re Everywhere. I expected to find more but instead I found a guy (Jim Infantino) with a great range in songwriting and performance, sometimes bringing to mind a more poprock Robbie Fulks, or Kevin Devine vocally on occasion, or Peter Case in stretching from new wave to country to folky material. You can dig in anywhere and find something to enjoy, like “Concrete” from 1999’s Noplace Like Nowhere. Or you can check out his last LP, 2012’s Stay, a smart, funny commentary on cults, religion, zombie love, and money in politics (my faves here? The hooky “Chills” and “Earworm”). The catalogue must-listen is “Award Show” (on Free*) a spot on dismantling of the internalized self-hatred and self-indulgence of the genre. Sadly, there’s been no new JBE product for over a half decade. Let this entry act as a placard-waving demand for more JBE. JBE! JBE! Now, cue the water cannon …

You don’t have be smart to make great music but it’s certainly a value-added feature, for people who like that sort of thing. If that’s you (or someone you know), visit B.A. Johnston, Eytan Mirsky, Blair Packham, and Jim’s Big Ego and let the appreciation flow (out of your wallet). After all, they could have been scientists.