Around the dial – Orville Peck, Scandinavia, and Summer Colds

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Screen Shot 2019-06-18 at 12.30.43 PMBold new visions are all that make the cut on today’s dial twisting installment.  Each of our featured acts puts a unique spin on the poprock genre.

Screen Shot 2019-06-18 at 12.32.05 PMOrville Peck comes on like the bastard love child of Elvis Presley and Morrisey. His voice has the spine chilling warmth of the King on tracks like “Nothing Fades Like the Light.” But his phrasing on cuts like “Winds of Change” and “Dead of Night” are so the Mopester. It would be easy to shrug off Peck’s killer debut album, Pony, as just another bit of kitsch or retro country a la early K.D. Lang or K.C. Musgraves (prior to her most recent release). Obviously songs like “Roses Are Falling” and “Take You Back (The Iron Hoof Cattle Call)” encourage such a response. But Pony is so much more. Despite the obvious fun Peck is having there is deep sincerity to the performances too. Peck isn’t just kidding. When he hits the ‘alright’ part of the vocal in “Turn To Hate” something happens that’s hard to explain. You hear the mastery, the control, the hurt. The song could easily have had a pumping Pet Shop Boys synth backdrop but Peck has crafted a distinctive bit of musical synthesis, drawing from retro rock and roll, country and a gay club esthetic. This guy is something big waiting to explode.

Screen Shot 2019-06-18 at 12.33.32 PMLondon’s Scandinavia wrap an acerbic critique of empty consumerism and widespread inequality in a delicious melodic coating throughout their latest long player, Premium Economy. At first I thought the title was a jokey, ridiculous play on how the corporate world increasingly sells status inequality to different gradations of the striving middle class. Actually, it’s a real thing, offered up by SAS airlines! Satire is getting harder and harder but Scandinavia still give it a go. Empty-headed contrarians take a beating on “I Don’t Believe in Anything,” corporate interests disguised as a ‘love of science’ are exposed on “Choose Science,” and American imperialism is rightly condemned on “Pax Americana.” But hey, at the end of day the record stands or falls on the quality of the tunes. And here I can attest that they are pretty amazing. “Melody Glade” is a stroll through a lush grove of jangle. “Ghetto Blaster” exudes a blast of sunshine, particularly with its harmony-drenched chorus. And “I Own An Island” manages to skewer the depths of wealthy over-consumption while wooing us with killer hooks in the chorus. And don’t miss the back catalogue for more of the high quality same.

Screen Shot 2019-06-18 at 12.34.34 PMIt’s a fairly predictable hipster transition to see former punkers mellowing into the roots music scene in old age. But Nic McNamara has gone the other way. After two respectable neo-folkie albums with his band Black Bears Fire he’s back with a more muscular, punky rock and roll sound with new band Summer Colds on their debut album, Here Comes Nothing. The result is a fascinating synthesis of country harmonies with a poppy American punk sound. This is particularly apparent on opening tracks “Low” and “Found,” both featuring vocals that remind of such alt-folk luminaries as You Won’t and Good Old War. When we get to the single “Whiteout” the comparisons to Weezer start to make sense with its grind of buzzing guitars and smooth hooky vocals. Special mention: check out the great western country harmony lurking under the rock veneer on “Killing Flies.”

Today’s bands all amount to more than their most immediate appearances and bear repeated listening to really appreciate them. There’s no better way to make that happen than to invest in their musical products. Click on Orville Peck, Scandinavia, and Summer Colds to get that started.

Cow photo: Larry Gordon.

Artist spotlight: Omicrom J Trauma

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Screen Shot 2019-06-11 at 10.21.40 AMDallas must be some kind of music town – so many cool bands! And here’s another one: Omicrom J Trauma. With media comparisons to Cheap Trick, Sloan, and The Posies, they definitely sound worth investigating. So far they’ve released just one EP, You Should Have Thought About That, but it’s a killer. “Good Conversations” opens things up with some solid guitar crunch but the swing of the tune is wonderfully eccentric, vibing a bit of 1970s jazz pop a la Steely Dan at times. Then “Leave You Alone” establishes the band’s poprock bona fides, accent on rock, with a snappy lead line and more crunchy rhythm guitar – this is the obvious hit single. “Luna” buzzes on with a summertime feel good dance groove. And so on. This is a band about to take off and it promises to be a wildly entertaining ride. Can’t wait to see them live!

Click on the link above to give Dallas’ newest hitmakers some money love at Bandcamp or any of the usual music dispensing locales.

Husbands and Wives: *repeat repeat, Freedom Fry, and The Weepies

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Screen Shot 2019-06-05 at 1.53.21 PMFans of Everly Brothers-style singing talk about blood harmony or, put more scientifically, the impact of genetics on musical compatibility. But husband and wife duos also often connect musically with a chemistry that is characteristically different than more platonic pairings. Today’s blog post promotes the benefits of musical matrimony with three stellar case studies.

Screen Shot 2019-06-05 at 1.54.26 PMNashville’s *repeat repeat was a recent accidental iTunes front page discovery. With a Weezer-esque sense of style and design, I just had to click on the stylish organge-drenched album cover to hear what was inside – and what a treat I found! On Glazed, *repeat repeat come on like a more dance-able, clubby Fountains of Wayne, with a guitar-oriented poprock anchored by the band’s distinctive use of synthesizer. The vocals on this album also function like a finely tuned instrument, adding an extra depth to the subtle melodies. “Hi, I’m Waiting” eases you in with its slow roll out and earwormy synth shots before punching things up in the chorus. “Pressure” has a club dance groove drive given a rock and roll combo treatment and some hooky vocal ‘oh’s’ for good measure. “Fortunate One” is the hit single for me: understated but builds its melodic architecture piece by piece until you can’t resist hitting replay. “I’ll be the One You’re Going Old With” has a sweet sentiment and clips along with a chirpy feel good sound. “City of Stars” vibes “Stacey’s Mom” but geared down to a more dreamy tempo. “TTB” has flashes of early Paul Simon vocally but punks up as it goes along. And so on. This is a great album buy. Don’t miss their catalogue highlights either: both “Everybody’s Falling in Love” and “Girlfriend” from 2017’s Floral Canyon are both winners! Fortunate One

Screen Shot 2019-06-05 at 1.55.26 PMWe’ve featured a lot of songs from American-Franco duo Freedom Fry. There is something so distinctive about their blend of almost whispered harmony and folksy charm. But it’s the tunes that ultimately carry them through, whether their own original material or a load of inspired covers. 2018’s Classic really was. So many great songs on an expertly executed album. Since them the duo have peppered us with series of expanded singles that take up new textures and unpredictable cover material. Like “Renegade – only Freedom Fry could strip out all the bombast of the Styx original, leaving the song’s uneasy essence remaining. “Black Mountain” gives the duo a chance to show off their formidable vocal layering techniques. “Hey Moon” has a lovely, lilting lullaby-like texture. “Yeah You” picks up the tempo and charges up the hooks. Then “The Sun is Going to Shine on You” shows how the band can work up a tougher yet still melodic sound. Freedom Fry brim with creativity and surprises!

Screen Shot 2019-06-05 at 1.56.14 PMThe Weepies ooze gentle sweetness with their carefully crafted harmonies and delicate arrangements. There is always something wistful about their performances: often quiet and filled with longing. “All That I Want” from their 2004 debut Happiness really captures the basic formula, which is further solidified with tracks like “Gotta Have You” 2005’s Say I Am You. From the same record check out the Simon and Garfunkel-worthy, shiver-inducing harmony on “World Spins Madly On” or the winsome “Nobody Knows Me All.” Then 2008’s Hideaway was a masterpiece, upping the poprock polish without relinquishing the folksy intimacy. The whole album is songwriting gold, from the engaging title track, to the entrancing “Little Bird,” to the single-worthy “Antarctica,” and so on. 2010’s Be My Thrill changed things up a bit, shifting things uptempo on tracks like “Hope Tomorrow” while 2015’s Sirens even introduced inspired covers like Tom Petty’s “Learning to Fly.” Health problems and parenting appear to have slowed The Weepies early productivity but their website reports a new tour for Autumn 2019. Perhaps a new record won’t be far behind.

Marriage brings a special kind of intimacy to musical collaborations, as our three cases illustrate. But it also needs money. Lots of money: for kids, houses, medical bills (in you’re in the States), and more. Visit *repeat repeat, Freedom Fry, and The Weepies and do your part to keep these couples in the black.

Famous people, a song before you go!

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Screen Shot 2019-05-30 at 10.19.27 AMPeople do the love the famous. Me, I’m not really into famous people per se but I’m fascinated by the phenomena. The famous are clearly just distorted-mirror projections of ourselves, our unfulfilled hopes and dreams, our alter-selves, if only we had the time, genes, and personal trainers. Or they’re just a bit of innocent fun, a chance to live vicarious lives at no real cost. And musicians write songs about them. Whether it’s classical music giants (Falco “Rock Me Amadeus”) or silver screen icons (Kim Carnes “Bette Davis Eyes”), the famous get further immortalized in song. Personally, I like finding the more obscure odes to the famous from great unheard-of poprock bands, like the crew featured in this post below!

Today’s musical tributes focus on movie actors, some much revered, others not so much. But don’t go looking for detailed character studies. In most cases the famous name is just riffing on a mood, exuding a kind of musical cool if you will. Parents Fighting give “Keanu Reeves” just the right discordant River’s Edge emo vibe. Miss Polski’s “Humphrey Bogart” sounds delightful but I have no idea what they have to say about the movie icon, if anything – the song is sung entirely in Polish. Some actors get more attention than others. Both Middle 8 and Queen Sarah Saturday pay homage to “Robert De Niro,” the former offering up a bit of Blue Rodeo-ish roots-poprock while QSS leans more on a nineties brand of gungy power pop. Spinning the 2014 self-titled debut from LA’s Bad Things, they sound like a band that arrived just a bit too soon as later groups like the Vaccines hit paydirt with a similar vibe. It’s all there on “John Wayne.”

Miss Polski – Humphrey BogartMiddle 8 – Robert De NiroQueen Sarah Saturday – Robert De NiroBad Things – John Wayne

Taking things down a few notches, Joel Tyler offers up an airy, acoustic, vocally harmonious tribute to Hollywood everyman “Tom Hanks.” Check out his “Black Box” from the same 2017 EP Arms Are Meant For Holding – definitely worth an honourable mention (even if nobody famous appears in the title). And then our artists start shamelessly conjuring up the 1980s. You can hear it in the undisguised jauntiness of Dunbar’s “Cary Grant” or The Ruse’s “Burt Reynolds.” But it’s also there in the atmospheric jangle on “Sean Connery” from James Dean Driving Experience. Norwegian band Bönkers nail a particular John Waite 1980s sound on “Jessica Lange.” And then there’s the ever inventive Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin who offer up a shimmery, clubby pop and rocky confection dedicated to “Harrison Ford.” It’s a great closer.

Dunbar – Cary GrantThe Ruse – Burt ReynoldsJames Dean Driving Experience – Sean ConneryBönkers – Jessica Lange

Click on the links above to groove more permanently on these odes to fame or just check out the bands’ broader catalogue.

Spotlight single: Hollerado “One Last Time”

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Screen Shot 2019-05-23 at 12.41.51 PMIt looks like it’s last call for Ottawa-based band Hollerado. Earlier this month the Canadian band announced they were releasing one last album and going on one last tour before calling it quits. Such a Canadian exit. No storming off stage mid-show, no fisticuffs in the dressing room, no purported creative differences. Just a polite ‘it’s been fun but, you know, time for a change’ explanation. The full album comes out in June but the pre-release singles suggest the band is going out on a high note. The aptly-named “One Last Time” is a hooky, sing-along invitation to fans to come out and dance, yes, ‘one last time.’ Also pre-released is the lovely, more acoustic “Straight to Hell.” Am I disappointed? Hell yes. Not with these songs – which are great – but with the end of band that, in my view, has yet to reach their creative peak. 2017’s Born Yesterday was a killer album that honed all the group’s strengths in terms of melody and performance, captured perfectly in the addictive ear wormy title track. Now their new album Retaliation Vacation promises to be even better!

Check out Hollerado on their website and Facebook pages!

Jangle Thursday: The Bobbleheads, Armchair Oracles, The Top Boost, and more!

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Screen Shot 2019-05-16 at 3.17.31 PMThat ringing in your ears? Yup. Jangle Thursday is back! Though this round does include a few bands not entirely dedicated to the genre, but that’s OK. We’ll focus on the jangle but rest assured their other efforts are also the highest quality poprock.

Screen Shot 2019-05-16 at 3.18.25 PMOnly four of the twelve tracks from The Bobbleheads new long-player Myths and Fables might be considered jangle but, man, everything here is still worth your attention. The hooks in these songs are ‘outasight’. Opening track “Like Oxygen” cranks up the jangle at the start but dims the sparkle a bit as the song’s swinging melody kicks in. Other jangle highlights include minor-chord heavy “Holding On,” the band’s tribute to Canadian songstress “Anne Murray,” and “Feel This Way” and “Afternoon,” both with great trebly lead lines. But check out other killer cuts here like “Listen You Know,” “Do You” and “Become One.” Between the jangle and the amazing 1980s indie feel, Myths and Fables is like a great lost early-to-mid period R.E.M. record.

Screen Shot 2019-05-16 at 3.19.09 PMNorway’s Armchair Oracles have been compared to all the big ‘B’ bands i.e. Big Star, Badfinger and the Beatles. I can hear all that but there also seems to be hint of 1980s Moody Blues and the Alan Parson Project, particularly on some of the vocals. On the whole, Caught By Light has a nice buzzy undercurrent that allows the jangle to stand out on tracks like “Porcelain Heart,” “All My Time” and “Don’t Let It Break You.” But I also really like the slower tempo acoustic vibe on “Several Stories” and “Downsized Life.” You can really hear the late-period-Beatles Harrison guitar influence on the album closer “The Last of All Suns.” Beatlemaniacs be warned – this album is full of triggers!

Screen Shot 2019-05-16 at 3.20.07 PMA quick review of The Top Boost’s 2016 release Turn Around reminds us these boys know their way around treble-heavy guitars with uber jangle-heavy tracks like “What If She Loves You.” The new EP Dreaming shows they have lost none of their jangle chops. Title track “Dreaming” has ringing guitars all over the verses that work in tension with a wall of ‘ah’-ing background vocals in the chorus. “I’ll Be There” is another great contribution that melds 1960s and 1970s pop influences, with a simple but seductive guitar lead line that would make a Beatles For Sale-era George Harrison proud. Damn, these guys know their late 1960s sunshine poprock!

Ok, time for a lightning round of songs that exhibit some quality jangle to finish things off. Like Young Scum’s “Wasted Time” from their self-titled 2018 release. The Morrissey/Smiths comparisons are unavoidable. The vocals are very Morrissey minus a bit of the mope (if that is possible) but the guitars sound pretty Johnny Marr, a man who did much to resurrect jangle in British rock and roll in the mid-1980s. Detroit’s The High Strung have a great new poprock record with Quiet Riots, though little of it works the jangle seam – except “Summer of Night,” a track located somewhere on the jangle spectrum between Dylan and the Byrds in terms of an acoustic and electric mix. Last up on the jangle playlist is a track from the new Tripwire album, Once and Always, entitled “Act Fast.” Again, R.E.M. comparisons are hard to avoid, particularly on this jangle-heavy, vocal harmony-drenched hookster. But as with the other recommendations, you may come to this record for the jangle, but you’ll stay for the superior songcraft and performance.

The Bobbleheads, Armchair Oracles, The Top Boost, Young Scum, The High Strung and Tripwire need to know who loves jangle. Click on the links to show you care.

Spotlight single: Jenny Lewis “Rabbit Hole”

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Screen Shot 2019-05-15 at 7.15.16 PMWhen I saw Rilo Kiley with my buddy Rob Elliott at the Horseshoe Tavern in Toronto back in 2004 we were blown away by an act we’d barely heard of. Then, like so many bands, they eventually broke up. Now we know that sometimes separated parts don’t add up to the whole. But Rilo Kiley lead singer and rhythm guitarist Jenny Lewis has produced some real gems on her solo releases. Here I’m thinking tracks like “One of the Guys” from her first post-RK album in 2014, The Voyager. Now she’s back with On the Line and it’s a winner, embracing a pop sensibility that channels a fun 1970s swing. Check out the swagger on “Wasted Youth” with it’s interesting change ups in the chorus. Who thought ‘do do do do do’ could be trotted out again and sound original? But my absolute fave on this outing is the infectious “Rabbit Hole.” Something about its stark simplicity allows Lewis to embroider the edges with a load of hooky charms that makes this ear-worm central. And she manages to name check the Beatles and Rolling Stones without making it sound awkward or trite. Get ready to hit replay again and again!

Rabbit Hole

Jenny Lewis has a super cool website and regular updates on Facebook. Go on.

Breaking news: No Win, Supercrush, and David Brookings and the Average Lookings

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Screen Shot 2019-05-11 at 11.15.31 PMIt is too early to start working up a best albums list for 2019? Because the crew on this edition of the breaking news team are going for broke on the ‘all killer, no filler’ kind of long players. These are album downloads – no point wasting your time buying them song by song.

Screen Shot 2019-05-11 at 11.18.17 PMI was minding my own business on iTunes searching out movie star names as song titles when I ran across No Win’s “Shelly Duvall.” And that led me to their new album, Downy, 36 minutes of muscular poprock with a decidedly Weezer vibe. I thought I’d stumbled across a real unknown find but almost immediately glowing No Win reviews started showing up across my blogroll. Well, they deserve it. “After Your Legs” opens things up, setting the tone with a melodic but hard-hitting edge, as does “Vision.” “2 Real” sounds a bit like Fountains of Wayne meets Weezer to me while “Being Teen” and “Waiting for a Call” change up the pace, establishing a slower, more acoustic atmosphere. But “Shelly Duvall” is the obvious single to these ears, with its slightly dissonant hooks and smooth vocals. It’s a track that screams perfect movie montage music.

Screen Shot 2019-05-11 at 11.19.17 PMSupercrush might be described as a ‘change of life’ band. The members foreswore their hardcore roots in other groups to go full on power pop with this project and their first complete album release, Never Let You Drift Away. The record brings together a group of singles that have been on a slow drip release stretching back years, but the collection has proven to be worth the wait. There is nary a weak track here. And for an LP that came together in bits and pieces, the whole thing has a consistent sound and style, with “Melt Into You (Drift Away)” and “I Don’t Want to be Sad Anymore” ready to be added immediately to any Top 40 hit singles rotation. On the other hand “I Can’t Lie” and “Walking Backwards” have a great 1960s jangle aura. This is a crank-me-up at the beach good time.

Screen Shot 2019-05-11 at 11.20.23 PMDavid Brookings has the look of a classic 1970s poprock star with his David Cassidy-like impish grin and wavy mop of hair. Now he’s got the album to go with it. Scorpio Monologue is a timeless slice of 1960s-70s infused should be hits. Brookings writes songs that echo a time when radio was dominated by standout guitar hooks and sweet harmony vocals. It’s all there on the opening track, “And It Feels Like,” with its driving, chiming guitar lines and mid-period Blue Oyster Cult feel for melody and menace. Things lighten up a bit with the winsome, summery  jangle of “I Grow Up Fast” and turn on the late Beatles-era McCartney influences on “Rainbow Baby.” Brookings shows his mastery of styles whether dialing up the rock factor on “Big Gun” or adding a tasteful bit of yacht to “Be Gone (Whoever You Are).” “Silicon Valley” has a slight Billy Joel meets country flavor to me and nicely (but gently) skewers tech’s home town. And check out the great surf rock rumble guitar opener to “That Girl’s Not Right,” a song that shifts to a distinctive melody in the chorus, combining sunshine elements with a hint of malice. And then “Sleep to Dream” closes the album on surprisingly uneasy note, bittersweet ennui being a bit of a departure for Brookings songwriting-wise. Scorpio Monologue is an impressive development of the David Brookings and the Average Lookings sound. It should be on every poprock fan’s 2019 summer playlist!

2019 is already shaping up to be another great year for melodic rock and roll. Let’s increase the odds that other bands might follow suit by showing No Win, Supercrush, and David Brookings and the Average Lookings a bit of the money love! Click on the bandcamp links and start spending now.

Photo: Larry Gordon “Veil on Bloor Viaduct” April 2019

Twanging TV: Los Straightjackets “Game of Thrones Theme”

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Screen Shot 2019-05-08 at 4.49.44 PMThe world is in the midst of a full blown cultural tsunami that is Game of Thrones. The hit HBO fantasy series has escaped the bounds of normal viewership to become a must-see show for anybody that hopes to relate to their fellow human beings. The talk shows can’t stop talking about GOT, Facebook bulges with GOT memes, and YouTube is rife with GOT send ups. As the battles of Westeros draw to their final chilly end, it’s a challenge to remain aloof or immune from the phenomena or potential plot spoilers. But I think this musical contribution to the mega-event that is GOT hits the right spot. Los Straightjackets, everybody’s favourite Mexican-wrestler-dressed instrumentals band, has joined the fray lathering their own inimitable guitar stylings over the normally strings-heavy Game of Thrones theme. It’s magic! Los Straightjackets have been busy backing up Nick Lowe over the past year (following the release of the band’s tribute album of Lowe tunes) but somehow managed to record a new EP entitled Channel Surfing, featuring this new song and three others. Twangy guitar – it was just what Westeros was missing!

The latest adventures of Los Straightjackets come more quickly than any GOT season. Check them out on Facebook and their webpage.

Attending Chris Church

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Screen Shot 2019-04-28 at 6.24.01 PMI pick up new music all the time but I don’t always get to writing about it in a very timely manner. Case in point: Chris Church. I ran across a few tracks of his posted to a power pop Facebook group and thought ‘fantastic’! Downloaded a few songs and then … nothing.  Well now I’m attending to Chris Church and you should too. Fans of Matthew Sweet, Tommy Keene but also Neil Finn are going to love what Chris is doing. A great place to start would be 2004’s Let the Echo Decide, a real poprock treat. Right out of the gate “You Better Move Now Baby” kicks off with a real Split Enz bassline before building a nice melodic project, element by element, from creative guitar lines to the interesting vocal interplay. For something a bit different, there’s the rollicking “Scrutiny on the Bounty” or the obvious single “Julie, I Probably Shouldn’t” with its delightfully unexpected slide and ringing guitars. Church’s other big release is 2017’s Limitations of the Source Tape – also chock full of memorable tracks like the Marshall Crenshaw-ish “Bell the Cat” or the melodically discordant “Perfecto.”

You Better Move On Now BabyBell the Cat

You can also explore his harder-to-find releases (e.g. early recordings or releases lost in the shuffle of record label failures) on Bandcamp. Personally I love “Right Awhile” from 2001’s Your Own Chosen Speed or the great lost hit single from 2009’s The Heartbreaks You Embrace, “Forever Only Lasts a Little While.” And there’s a host of one-off releases like the hooky “Charleston Girl” and the wonderful “Lost is Lost” with its addictive guitar lines. You can also find some great Big Star and Todd Rundgren covers there!

Lost is Lost

Discovering Chris Church will be a revelation. Really. Check out his stuff on Bandcamp, iTunes and his Facebook page.