Monday morning poprock: Sofa City Sweetheart and Wyatt Blair

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Screen Shot 2018-12-10 at 10.49.11 AMA new week, a brand new batch of just released tunes from some seriously melodic dudes: Sofa City Sweetheart and Wyatt Blair. When I heard what these guys had on offer, they went right to the front of the blogging queue. Why not start the week off right?

I was digging Juan Antonio Lopez’s Elliot Smith-style vocals and the clever hooks in his new single “Stop the Thinking” when the Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass trumpet kicked in and then I was totally sold. His band is Sofa City Sweetheart and the song is a pre-release from his soon-to-be released new album – with this as a teaser, I can hardly wait! Check out the fun video that plays with the HA&TB imagery to good effect.

Screen Shot 2018-12-10 at 10.52.16 AMMusical chameleon Wyatt Blair has owned the sounds of so many different musical styles on his previous releases, though they’ve mostly focused on the 1980s. This time Blair steps back a few decades to nail the late 1960s California pop sound on his new record, Inspirational Strawberries. Things kick off with “It’s Yesterday,” a song filled with those classic fun 1960s sounds like harpsichord, bicycle bells and a killer organ, and then layered with some ace Cowsills vocals in the chorus. Next up is the obvious should-be hit single, “Gotta Get Away,” an adrenaline rush of Mamas and the Papas meets the Bryrds power sixties hooks. And Blair just keeps hitting the 1960s melodic marks after that, with some spot on, rocked up Hollies vocals on “Who’s to Blame,” a distinct Abbey Road vibe on “A New Tomorrow,” and some great rumbly lead guitar with Beach Boys vocal stylings on “Tenderly.”

Tis the season to think of others and bandcamp makes it easy to give away great music like this to your friends. But, frankly, you’re gonna want to click on Sofa City Sweetheart and Wyatt Blair for yourself too.

Breaking news: Vegas with Randolph, Bee Bee Sea, Greg Pope, Hemmit, and Car City

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Screen Shot 2018-12-05 at 6.35.26 PMGreat music is breaking out all over this year and it’s a race to get them all in the blog before 2018 expires. Today’s crew has textured popcraft, a bit of blasty rock and roll, and even some dance grooves.

Screen Shot 2018-12-05 at 6.37.27 PMJust one listen to Legs & Luggage and there’s little doubt that Vegas with Randolph’s songwriters are conversant with the major melodic rock and roll motifs of the past few decades. They’re effortlessly combined on this album’s 13 winning tracks with a charm reminiscent of a more rough-hewn Fountains of Wayne. Opening track “You Could Say Yes” charges out of the gate with hooks that say radio-friendly hit single. Another single-ish release would be “The Girl Holding Out for Me” with its pure bliss hooky chorus. The album also sees the band vibing a range of influences, from the Plimsouls’ elan of “Jacob” to the chirpy Ben Kweller jaunt of “I Could be the One” to the Steve Miller touches on “The Weekend’s Coming.” And then there’s the wonderful FOW-meets-Partridge Family peppiness of “Women in Airports” and the veritable blueprint of perfect poprock song, “The Comeback Kid.” Forget buying singles, this one’s an album purchase.

Screen Shot 2018-12-05 at 6.38.38 PMItaly is producing an amazing bunch of melodic rockers of late (we featured stellar releases from The Sick Rose, for example) and Bee Bee Sea is no exception. Past releases have been described as ‘garage psych rock’ but I hear a more mod sound on their new album Deluxe, like a wilder, more Stonesy version of The Strypes. Ok, the opening track is pretty 1960s garage rock, fittingly titled “The Garage One.” But with “Lou Weird” and “Mary” things move into a more melody-drenched rock and roll swing. Then “All the Boys All the Girls” channels a wonderful late 1960s eerie sound kinda like the Zombies on speed. And so on – there’s no end to the highlights here. Deluxe is just a phenomenally cool rock and roll party album, daring you to put away your dancing shoes. Check out the swinging Together Pangea punky vibe of “Vampire George” or the 1980s British shimmering guitar sound of “And On” or the spot-on 1979 new wave rock and roll guitar groove of “Je Suis Content.” What I wouldn’t give to see this band live!

Screen Shot 2018-12-05 at 6.39.55 PMA new record from Greg Pope is poprock money in the bank, he just doesn’t disappoint. I mean, one of his previous releases was aptly-named Popmonster, to which reviewers heartedly agreed – that gives you some idea what a prolific and reliable creative force he is. Now he’s back with A Few Seconds of Fame, which unfortunately could also double as a commentary on his undeservedly cool reception from top 40 radio. I don’t get it – to my ears, they’re all hits! Check the opening track “Forget About You” with its great driving tempo and solid yet subtlely hooky chorus, or the tightly delivered “Retread” – this is what radio-friendly singles used to sound like. But hey, I could just as easily recommend the wonderful 1970s ELO pop sound of “Hopes and Dreams and Fears” or the great late Beatles pop vibe on “Planet Earth” or the textured, layered sound of “Dreams About You,” particularly on the vocals. I guess nobody’s gonna make me a top 40 radio program director anytime soon but if they did …

Screen Shot 2018-12-05 at 6.41.01 PMPortland’s Hemmit have run the gamut of stadium-sounding rawk (ironically delivered, of course) to ‘punkish powerpop’ (in their words) to the electronic pop of their current release. The new EP, One Ultra, definitely channels some great 1980s synth pop influences, obvious on tracks like “Ultraviolet” and “Power” but subtlely lodged in others like “My Room” too. But consistent across their catalogue is the songwriting quality, evident on the obvious singles: the relentlessly driving “Friends” and the more melodic hooks of “Waves.” This is a band worth spending some time digging through various releases for a load of poprock gems.

Screen Shot 2018-12-05 at 6.42.02 PMThe Appleton Post-Crescent described Car City as a “Fox Valley supergroup,” a reference to the fact that while all the musicians were long-standing members of the local live music scene they had really only recently come together to work on this project. Their experience clearly mattered because Car City, the album, sounds like the work of a cohesive band. The resulting sound is like Weezer on anti-depressants, a slightly dissonant, melody rich concoction that delivers on Jason Lemke’s great songs. It’s all there on the opening tracks, “Connecting the Dots” and “Like a Wave” with their earworm-worthy yet subtle melodic turns and twists. Then things get really interesting when “Hopeless” breaks out the Aimee Mann syth to good effect with some inspired full stops and background vocals, while “(Don’t) Give Up on Love” kicks off all Beach Boys vocal harmonizing before dusting off Steve Nieve’s organ. And the songs I haven’t mentioned? Also great. Frankly, I love all the tunes on this record. Car City deserves to be in your collection.

You can connect with all the artists on this post – Vegas with Randolph, Bee Bee Sea, Greg Pope, Hemmit, and Car City – on bandcamp, which is actually one of the best ways to support your soon-to-be favourite artists, as expertly explained here by Richard Turgeon, a great indie artist in his own right. And he should know.

Jangle Thursday: Pre Nup, The Incredible Vickers Brothers, The Hanging Stars, The Maureens, Dumb Things, and Arthur Alexander

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Screen Shot 2018-11-29 at 4.28.35 PMTime to get your jangle on – it’s jangle Thursday! Why Thursday? I don’t know. Maybe people just need a bit of sparkle to carry them through to the weekend. This installment takes a broad view of what jangles, not limiting the pool to just the Rickenbacker electric 12 string crew (not that there’s anything wrong with them …).

Calgary duo Pre Nup get things rolling with some pretty nice jangle guitar on “The Grudge” from their recent LP Oh Well. Vibing a neo-1990s pop-grunge sound, the lead and rhythm guitars propel this song along at a wonderfully relentless pace. The Incredible Vickers Brothers take us in a more folk rock direction with “Mirrors” from their latest Torch Songs for Swingers, a sophomore record ten years in the making. Strummy with nice sparkly fingerpicking, the song segues effortlessly into some great hooky poprock. Now let’s take things into a more mellow mode with London’s The Hanging Stars, a band seemingly just off the Tardis from 1969 country-rock land. On Songs for Somewhere Else, the band display their mastery of a late 1960s laid back sound al la The Band or the Byrds. So many possible songs to choose from but “Pick Up the Pieces” captures the pleasant but still hooky sentiment of those times.

Next we set off for the Netherlands to hear what The Maureens have been working on for their much anticipated follow up to 2015’s fantastic Bang the Drum. Singles have been emerging this past year (reviewed here) and they do not disappoint. The latest is “4AM,” a swingingly delightful pop confection, full of jangly guitars and hooky vocals. The new album is Something in the Air, due to drop in February 2019, and it can’t come fast enough! Speaking of travel, Dumb Things hail from Brisbane, Australia and their self-titled debut album has a wonderful live quality to all its melodic poprock tunes. Case in point, opening track “Driving Home” with it’s driving rhythm guitar and dogged hooky lead line. Party dance number, totally. Wrapping things up – Arthur Alexander. No, not that Arthur Alexander (of “Soldier of Love” and “Anna” fame), but this one, formerly of power pop legends the Sorrows and the Poppees, and One Bar Left is, surprisingly, his first solo effort. Given his recorded resume, it’s not a shocker that the album is great, mining a melodic rock and roll seam perfected by his afore-mentioned bands as well as a bit on the boogie side of bands like Rockpile. So many super tracks but check out the early Beatles/British invasion jangle “I’ll Get Your Love Someday.” Perfection!

You could stream these tracks from Pre Nup, The Incredible Vickers Brothers, The Hanging Stars, The Maureens, Dumb Things, and Arthur Alexander but what if you lose the internet? Are you prepared to risk running low on hooks? Jangle peace of mind comes cheap at just 99 cents a tune.

Compilation cornucopia: Ice Cream Man, Reverse Play and International Pop Overthrow

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Screen Shot 2018-11-27 at 6.27.33 PMOne way to get caught up on the amazing onslaught of music coming out is to let someone else do the sorting. Compilation records emerged almost simultaneously with advent of the long playing ‘LP’ in the 1950s, offering music consumers a load of hits or exposure to new artists at bargain prices. Of course, groove-cramming 20 artists on a single album did come at a cost – these were not ‘high fidelity’ releases! But I certainly recall hearing a lot of acts via such releases that I might not have discovered. Today digital compilation albums don’t suffer poor sound quality and once again serve to introduce audiences to broad genres of music – and power pop and poprock are no exceptions. While every track may not be winner on your garden variety compilation album, our three examples come pretty close!

Screen Shot 2018-11-27 at 6.32.07 PMWayne Lundquist Ford is the ‘Ice Cream Man,’ a UK expat living in Sweden and producing a regular radio show that combines sixties retro classics with new material that runs the full gamut of power pop and then some. Ford’s particular blend combines garage rock with some surf rumble and straight up power pop. Songs We Learned in Sundae School is a monster collection of 163 tunes, all available for free download from the Futureman bandcamp site. Of the 150 different artists that appear here, we’ve also featured 26 of them on Poprock Record. Great minds, fools not differing – whatever the reason, I won’t repeat all the overlap. Suffice to say, Ford’s got great taste! I’ll just highlight a few cuts that really appeal to me that I didn’t already know.

Screen Shot 2018-11-27 at 6.33.21 PMReverse Play: C86 Rediscovered sees a variety of bands reinterpret the New Music Express cassette of indie pop tunes from 1986 that featured Primal Scream, The Primitives and The Pastels, among others. Some tracks have a decidedly shoegaze gloss to them while others sound like more polished or alternate takes of the originals. On the whole, it’s a pretty solid tribute/homage to the original record. But, if I have to choose, the standout tracks for me would be “Emma’s House,” from the incomparable The Catherines, the janglicious “Kill, Kill, Kill” by The Death of Pop, and Ed Ling’s beautiful acoustic rendition of “Velocity Girl.”

Screen Shot 2018-11-21 at 9.19.05 PMDavid Bash is a power pop institution, hosting live showcases of new talent in countless cities on two continents – every year! His insatiable appetite for hooks and keen ear for up and coming talent is apparent on his most recent multi-CD compilation, International Pop Overthrow 21. This collection features power pop defined in the most broad and inclusive terms (as it should be). Of the 69 featured songs, we’ve also highlighted 8 on Poprock Record, so clearly I’ve missed a lot of good stuff! As there’s too much here to review in detail, I’ll just whet your appetite with a few standout tracks, IMHO.

Caper Clowns – Pretty and UnderwearThe Legal Matters – The Cool KidsLannie Flowers – Kiss a MemoryThe Genuine Fakes (featuring Jon Auer) – I Won’t Be Home Tonight

In these dark times, the world needs melody, ringing guitars, and songs about love. The compilers here have done all the heavy lifting for you, all you have to do is reach out and click ‘download.’ Click on these links to start getting your copies: Ice Cream Man, Reverse Play and International Pop Overthrow.

I think I hear a single: Summer Magic and Modern Space

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The research and development side of this operation is skint. There’s just too much music to explore and not enough time to check all the possible sources of great new music. So sometimes I cheat. When I really want some quality I head over to Don Valentine’s I Don’t Hear a Single to catch up on what he’s found. Don’s plugged into some secret power pop society that funnels him only the finest jangle-inflected, melody-drenched rock and roll. Seriously, aside from the occasional foray into his prog-influenced youth, Don seldom lets me down. Like these two exhibits: Summer Magic and Modern Space – great albums full of should be hit singles.

Summer Magic’s Sharks and Other Dangers combines a late 1970s new wave sensibility with a contemporary power pop sound that could easily be filed next to recent releases like Ruler’s Winning Star Champion or Caddy’s Ten Times Four. It’s all captured on the opening track and obvious single, “Hey.” But the whole record is worth getting to know. Check out the killer B52’s guitar rumble undergirding “Tracing a Bird on Construction Paper,” or the very Beatles Revolver vibe of “Charles de Gaulle,” or the late 1960s sunshine pop sound of “Attraction Corridors,” or the new wave-meets-Beach Boys aura of “A Certain Little Chord.” Another candidate for single would be the hook-riddled “By Your Side,” which somehow manages to make the distinctive sax bleat of the 1980s sound cool again.

Hey!Tracing a Bird on Construction PaperBy Your Side

Meanwhile right in my own Canadian backyard can be found the stupendous Modern Space who manage to blend melodic guitar rock and roll with an addictive dance groove. Reviewers have drawn comparisons with The Vaccines and I would agree but add Vancouver’s Zolas as well as Portugal the Man, particularly on the toe-tapping single “Flip For It” and the relentlessly hooky “Do or Dare.” And then there is the melodic standout, “Ship is Sinking,” a hip-swaying, arm-waving, crowd sing-along, for sure. And for a more traditional rock and roll approach click on “Come and Get It.” Be forewarned, Flip For It is a Saturday night dance party album.Do Or DareShip is Sinking

Don and I would love to see these two act explode into super stardom. Why not help us out? Visit Summer Magic and Modern Space online right now and do your part.

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.