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

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

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

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

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

A little bit of fun: Sure Sure and Zuzu

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

Zuzu – Beauty Queen (acoustic)

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

Having a rave up with Dave!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Should be a hit single: The Skullers “Can We Do That Again”

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SkullersNew Jersey’s The Skullers have a great new single, a cover of a 1977 Richard Hell b-side called “I’m Your Man.” Their take marries a 1970s new wave sensibility with a more recent and fresh sound not unlike the UK’s Vaccines. But the new single is not why we’re focusing on the Skullers here. I have to draw your attention back to their killer 2017 single, “Can We Do That Again.” Described by some writers as neo-rockabilly and bop, I think the sound is pretty timeless. From the hooky lead line opener to the swing in the chorus, the vocals and guitar gel in a way that could put this song in any number eras, including this one.

Check out The Skullers on any number of internet real estate platforms, including band site, Facebook, and Bandcamp.

Beatlemania! Without the Beatles

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Bealtes 2This blog is really one long testimonial to the Beatles’ influence on all sorts of popular music, past and definitely present. Indeed, my shorthand for describing what I do here to any random person is to say the blog features new music that builds on the legacy of the Fab Four. Today we attend to that influence more directly with bands that wear their Beatles love on their sleeves. Sometimes it’s the sound, other times it’s the subject matter, or it can just be an inspired cover.

On sound, Rob Clarke and the Wooltones nail the distinctive elements of the Merseyside scene circa 1963. “Brown Paper Bag” is strongly reminiscent of the Liverpool’s Big Three, a band briefly thought to be able to rival the Beatles (until 1964 came along), particularly their version of “Some Other Guy.” Cupid’s Carnival also mine the early Beatles sound on two different versions of their most recent single “She Don’t Care” (from their new EP Clapham Junction), one a straight up rock and roll treatment, the other featuring a more flamenco-style rhythm. But unlike a host of more derivative Beatles copy-cat acts, this homage works because the songwriting and performance are so strong. Addison Love also has the 1960s sound down but his contribution is more notable for its lyrical content. With a focus similar to Ken Sharp’s “She Hates the Beatles” (featured recently on this blog here), Love’s “Like the Beatles” suggests he just can’t sustain a relationship with someone who doesn’t relate to John, Paul, George and Ringo. Poor kid. Lucky for him, the Beatles’ popularity shows no sign of diminishing!  Rounding out our Beatles love is a cover of “Paperback Writer” from the B52s. There is no shortage of Beatle’s covers but this one caught my ear because while it remains fairly true to the original there is a fresh sense of fun about it, as one would expect from this group. Recorded in 2004 for use in a car commercial when the band didn’t even have a record contract, the song remains officially unreleased and unavailable for purchase.

Cupid’s Carnival – She Don’t CareCupid’s Carnival – She Don’t Care (Flamenco Version)Addison Love – Like the Beatles

Besides these tracks, there’s plenty to love about Rob Clarke and the Wooltones, Cupid’s Carnival, Addison Love and the B52s. Click the links and find out more.

Everbody’s talking ‘bout: Danny Wilkerson, Bird Streets, Nick Piunti, Rob Bonfiglio, and Caddy

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RJAll the power pop blogs are talking at me. I don’t hear every word they’re saying but it’s hard not to catch the drift. They’re pretty bonkers over this crew of performers and for good reason. They pop rock!  Today I play catch up on some pretty superior tune-age. What’s fun in the ever-so-slightly competitive world of blogging is seeing who puts up what and when. Early adopters are cool! But even when we post the same things – and why not? It’s all about supporting the music – it’s fun to notice how we don’t necessarily highlight the same songs. Here I’ve tried to shine a light on some different cuts from these new albums.

Like Danny Wilkerson. His self-titled solo debut is chock full of should-be hits but my ear got caught on “How She Lost My Heart” with its subtle Beatle and Badfinger-isms. And it’s just a great catchy tune!How She Lost My Heart

Another project burning up the power pop blogosphere is Bird Streets, which brings together John Brodeur and Jason Falkner in a truly winning combination. Bloggers and radio programmers have hit upon “Betting on the Sun” as the break out hit single and it’s hard not to agree. But here again I’m drawn to the more unusual “Thanks for Calling” with its bevy of unexpected hooks tucked in here and there.

In the ‘he keeps getting better and better’ category, Nick Piunti’s new album Temporary High is a treat, kinda like Mike Viola meets Tom Petty. This guy puts pop and rock together like a pro! Again, I’m hard pressed to single out just one song. The opening title track blasts out of the gate with ‘hit’ written all over it, the guitar and organ on “You Invented Hell” are exquisite, while “If This Was Right” strikes the more mellow melodic sweet spots. But I’ve settled on “No Return” which I think would not sound out of place on a Marshall Crenshaw or Mike Viola album. I’ve always been a sucker for the more sibilant, chimey, melody-drenched material.

A record I was really looking forward to was Rob Bonfiglio’s Trouble Again and it does not disappoint. Bonfiglio is a master of the compressed late 1970s poprock sound, evident in the hit single-ish “Passenger Seat.” But don’t overlook “Tears” which channels a bit of ELO and 10CC. Really, the whole record is eminently listenable.Tears

Rounding things out on this post is a selection from Caddy’s Ten Times Four. The ear is naturally drawn to the crashy, bouncy crunch of opening track “Miracle Turn” with its ear worm worthy hooks. Yet I found myself seduced by the more midtempo, Teenage Fanclub-ish elegance of “Reverie.”Reverie

Summer’s officially over but you can go where the sun’s still shining, courtesy these tunes. Give these new albums from Danny Wilkerson, Bird Streets, Nick Piunti, Rob Bonfiglio, and Caddy a spin and tell me you’re not sailing on a summer breeze.

Catch of the day: Henry Chadwick’s Marlin Fisher

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ChadwickStumbled across this just-released-today album from Santa Cruz’ Henry Chadwick on Apple’s new rock album feed and it is freakin’ fantastic!  Marlin Fisher is the new full length follow up to Chadwick’s 2016 EP Guest at Home, which was also pretty special. Why is Henry Chadwick my new instant fave artist? Because the tunes on this album fall into this blog’s sweet spot: melodic, swinging, loaded with hooks, with just the right dash of rock and roll indie edge.

Opening track “Cupid” sets the stage for everything that is to come on this album with its carefully balanced sonic variety, rich without being mannered. I love the shift in this tune between its slightly discordant verses and harmonically rich hooky chorus. Next up, “Bag of Chips” is more languid and wistful in a breezy, autumnal ‘thinking about the world and my place in it’ sort of way, with great imagery of wolves and sheep and Seinfeld. Then “Change” rocks things up with echoes of Ben Kweller, particularly on the vocals, but also musically. Definitely hit single material. I could go on. That’s because Marlin Fisher is a total album experience – there’s no filler here. Other highlights for me include “Peace and Quiet” with its lovely dream-like quality and Sam Roberts vibe, “Wrong Way” with its catchy chorus and vocals like a new wave John Lennon, the 1965 Merseyside-sounding “Darkness,” and my personal fave, “I Can Stick Around,” featuring a circa 1966 Beatlesque hooky lead line opener and muted Byrdsian vocals.

Marlin Fisher is available now and would make a great surprise, no-real-reason-for-it-but-here-it-is present for some dear poprock friend. Or acquaintance. Check out Henry Chadwick’s website and Facebook pages to make it happen.

Jangle Thursday: Tony Molina, William Duke and Roller Disco Combo

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janghle 2Is it a turn down day? No, it’s jangle Thursday. A day ripe with the ringing chime of trebly, echo-y guitars that somehow say sunshine and good times. I say confidently that today’s trio of tunes will elevate your mood and contribute to overall feelings of good fellowship. Let the jangle rip!

“Nothing I Can Say” is a lovely mid-tempo number from Tony Molina’s fab new LP, Kill the Lights. Equal parts Bryds and Teenage Fanclub, my only complaint is that everything’s over all too soon, clocking in at a very brief one minute, eleven seconds. But what a wonderful 71 seconds! Another great jangle number on the album is “Give He Takes You.” Former Bye Bye Blackbirds member William Duke has another solo album out and it’s a wonderful, sixties-infused journey, tapping multiple poprock styles. But Quatro breaks out the jangle on two tunes specifically, the spectacular A-list single “Caroline and the Silver Screen” and the more subdued “Cue up the Memories.” The latter channels a bit of low key Monkees, while the former has some great Tom Petty-ish and Beatles guitar sounds. Roller Disco Combo’s jangle is a bit more contemporary, sounding very Scottish, circa the 1990s on 2017’s Things Under Control. “This Is It” would fit nicely on any Teenage Fanclub or Dropkick album, while “Love Me Do” dials things down to quiet mode, a bit more acoustic, with hefty splashes of jangly electric guitar.

You know what makes bands smile? Fans. And money. Preferably both. So check out Tony Molina, William Duke, and Roller Disco Combo online and do your fan thing.

Back to school with Aerial

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ArielSummer’s nearly over and ‘back to school’ signs beckon but one thing that won’t be in this fall’s lesson plan: heartbreak. Yep, that’s right. Life’s hardest lessons won’t be on the midterm. Now, in the event you skipped class, it was all covered on Aerial’s amazing 2014 release, Why Don’t They Teach Heartbreak in School? If you love dynamic poppy rock and roll then you’re going to love this homework assignment because the whole record is a winner. The album kicks off with some killer rock and roll drums and rhythm guitar on the raucus but poppy “Cartoon Eyes, Cartoon Heart,” a track elevated by its breathtaking harmony vocals, which are really the album’s signature sound. Then the band adds a bit of new wave guitar and the school bell from the Ramones’ “Rock and Roll High School” to the magic that is the clear break-out single, the title track “Why Don’t They Teach Heartbreak School.” I think I sprained my finger hitting repeat on this baby. Then take your pick from all the other great songs here. Other critics have drawn comparisons to XTC with “Japanese Dancer,” I hear a friendly version of the Ramones on “A Great Teenager” while “More Than Alcohol” and “Go With You” are just superb, swinging poprock songs. As an album, Why Don’t They Teach Heartbreak in School? is a cut above: timeless, fresh and exciting.

So you missed its release first time around. So did I. Just head over to bandcamp and get your copy now.