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.

All American should-be popstar: Billy Sullivan

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Screen Shot 2019-11-06 at 12.59.07 PMNever underestimate the sidemen. Billy Sullivan has played with a host of great acts over the years. From local legends in Detroit, to various bands with other up-and-comers from the 1970s on, to the touring outfits of Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Herman’s Hermits, the Raspberries, and many, many others. Amidst all this activity, Sullivan has managed to squeeze out a few solo albums and a variety of singles, both original material and inspired covers. And they are freakin’ fabulous! Just open your ears to “I Go Crazy” with its mad ear-wormy ringing guitar and melodic hooks at every turn. This is power pop heaven. Or how about the spot-on Byrdsian jangle and harmonies coating “Everywhere I Go”? Magic! Both tracks appear on Sullivan’s woefully and undeservedly ignored 2001 album All American Popster. Yet Sullivan appears undiscouraged, continuing to release an occasional single or tribute album every few years. Personally I love his 2013 single “There’s a Fire” with its wall of guitars and seductive harmony vocals. Or more recently he’s got a killer cover of the Beau Brummels’ minor hit “Don’t Talk to Strangers” that definitely improves on the original.

Go CrazyEverywhere I GoThere’s a FireDon’t Talk to Strangers

In this internet age it’s never too late to make somebody a star. Do your part, click on the link, and complete your Billy Sullivan collection today!

Breaking news: Webbed Wing, Brett, Martha, The Skullers, Nick Frater, Golden Seals, and Project Ghost Outfit

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Screen Shot 2019-10-31 at 11.45.26 PMOk, today’s breaking news is overloaded like a Toyota pickup taking too much concrete from Home Depot. The problem is, there is just too much damn fine music out there that needs your attention. Here at Poprock Record we travel the highways and byways to find only the finest, fresh poprock and today’s crew is certainly some of the fine-i-est and fresh-i-est!

Screen Shot 2019-10-31 at 11.49.08 PMLet’s begin with Webbed Wing. Emerging from the ashes of the more grungy Superheaven, their new album Bike Ride to the Moon has a grinding guitar sound overladen with hooks that get stuck in your head. Like the uptempo opening cut “Bad For Me,” or the catchy harmonica-drenched “All Went Wrong,” or the more mellow, grooving “Tunnel Vision.” There’s a bit of Sugar Ray cranked to 11 here, with a touch of Weezer at times. But sometimes the record just cuts loose, alternating between punky abandon and industrial lo fi. But the poprock payoff comes with “Door Creaks Open,” a delightful more easy-going acoustic treat. A bit heavier than our usual fare at times but worth the detour!

Screen Shot 2019-10-31 at 11.49.58 PMSome describe Brett as a kind of dream pop but on their recent EP Perfect Patterns there’s more meat to the tunes and performance than that label might suggest. Sure “Nonchalant” and the title track (with its spot-on 1980s keyboards) are a tad dreamy but opening cut “Tenebaum” comes on in a rush like a great lost New Order track. And then “Bad Luck” kicks out some pretty sweet new wave rhythm guitar with totally up front vocals – definitely not dreamy. More Darwin Deez than Cocteau Twins. Or how about that should-be double A-sided single set of tracks, “Wisdom Tooth” and “Hard Feelings.” Ear worm much? I just kept hitting repeat. ‘Brett’ no longer just refers to some 1980s hockey player for me now. Brett is value-added poprock.

Screen Shot 2019-10-31 at 11.50.44 PMCounty Durham’s Martha have so many facets to their musical personality. Sometimes folky, sometimes punky, sometimes AM radio hit machine. Their third album is Love Keeps Kicking and it has so many gems it should be guarded by some guy in a ill-fitting suit. Opening track “Heart is Healing” is an onslaught of pop goodness with a vocal that makes it sound like indie version of Supertramp  but one still cranking out hits. The acoustic rhythm guitar here is unstoppable! I could review every song here and tell you how great each one is (truly, there is not a single one I’d give up) but I’ll just focus on a few of the more outstanding compositions/performances. Like “Mini was a Preteen Arsonist”: the song is a perfect of melding of political sentiment with solid melodic hooks. Kinda like Spook School meets Chumbawumba. “Love Keeps Kicking” sounds like a winning hit single. Or is the melodic rock of “The Void” the hit? It certainly has that stadium fist pumping jump up and down quality. Ultimately Martha is big bag of talent, spilling over with vocal talent, tight musicianship and clever catchy material. And I haven’t even really dug into the back catalogue yet!

Screen Shot 2019-10-31 at 11.52.01 PMI’ve long had a weak spot for The Skullers ever since they released that hypnotic single “Can We Do That Again” with its killer bass line and seductive vocals. 2018’s “I’m Your Man” was another winner, peppy, happy and swinging. Now they’ve returned with an EP Freight Trains & Party Games and it’s chock full of catchy tunes. Opener “Brooklyn Girls” has a lovely midtempo feel, lulling you like train ride through a rainy day. “Convenient” kicks things into a higher gear, rocking the poprock a bit more. The single is “She Denies the Things She Loves” and it has a nice Oasis vibe to my ears. A few listens confirms it’s ear worm infectious. The EP ends with probably my fave track, the more low key “Still Life” but I love the vocal and shuffle hooky beat. One day The Skullers will give us a whole album.

Screen Shot 2019-10-31 at 11.52.58 PMCroydon’s Nick Frater is back with a new long-player, Full Fathom Freight Train, and it’s right on time. Check out the fantastic artwork! And hey, the music’s pretty good too. This time out Nick embraces a full-on Paul McCartney and Wings beat group sound on tracks like “Oh Now Girl” and “Your Latest Break Up Song” Then there’s songs like “The Getaway” that exude an early 1980s poprock vibe or “What Does Good Look Like Baby” that is reminiscent of 10CC to me. Did I mention the cool train on the cover? This is one slick package that’s easy on the ears. And the 28IF on the album cover locomotive clearly harkens back to the Abbey Road cover.

Screen Shot 2019-10-31 at 11.53.44 PMHow am I the last guy to this party? Ottawa, Ontario’s Golden Seals have announced their fifth and final album will be Something Isn’t Happening and I only just discovered them! Well this new record is quite an introduction. Opening track “Independence Day” gives you a sense of what they are about – a low level XTC vibe layered over some pretty creative songwriting. “Ball and Tether” is AM radio enjoyable bouncy pop. Meanwhile “Something Isn’t Happening” and “The Opposite End of the Country” both wade pretty deep into Wings territory. Look I could make comparisons all day long but some of what appears here is just some pretty original stuff. “Idiot Kid” has an unique approach and will hook you in the best poprock sort of way. And then there’s the Billy Joel cover. Ok, “Vienna” is guilty fave of mine and GS gives us lovely stripped down electric piano version. This David James Merritt guy is some kind of talented mess.

Screen Shot 2019-10-31 at 11.54.33 PMProject: Ghost Outfit is an indie super group bringing together experienced country sideman Adam Schoenfeld, poprock godfather Bill Lloyd, Cheap Trick bassist Tom Petersson, and graphic designer-cum-drummer Keith Brogdon. We love Bill Lloyd here at Poprock Record so anything he’s involved with is bound to be pretty good. Their self-titled EP/LP contains seven poppy, ear wormy Beatlesque tracks that really deliver on melody and hooks. Obviously “Somebody’s Heart” and “Hang On” have first call on potential singles. Though, personally, I love the understated approach of “Mess My Mind” where low key verses cut to choruses loaded with harmony vocals. Or there’s “Never Remember” that vibes “Things We Said Today” for me. I’m also keen on “Buying Time” which features some killer organ and great vocal interplay.

Hang OnMess My MindNever Remember

Time to rush to Webbed Wing, Brett, Martha, The Skullers, Nick Frater, Golden Seals and Project: Ghost Outfit for further comment on these breaking news stories. Luckily they are just a link away!

Sun-breaking electric tower thingy photo courtesy Larry Gordon.

Should be a hit single: Wyatt Blair “(I’ll Keep) Searching for You”

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Screen Shot 2019-10-28 at 9.53.10 AMHit play on Wyatt Blair’s latest release “(I’ll Keep) Searching for You” and you’ll notice the winning quality right away. First there’s the sibilant guitar reminiscent of all those early Pretenders singles. Then there’s an organ right off a mid-period Springsteen record. Finally, the record eases into a hooky groove that just doesn’t let go. It’s like it’s 1979 all over again. Blair’s previous releases mined the 1960s garage poprock sound to perfection on tracks like “Gotta Get Away” and “Won’t Back Down” (from 2018’s Inspirational Strawberries). “(I’ll Keep) Searching for You” is the third single in three months from an as-yet-unnamed future album project but, suffice to say, the material released so far advances his sound by a decade into the late 1970s/early 1980s. I can’t wait to see where he’s going next.

Blair is a record company founder, talent scout, record producer, and recording artist. So he’s busy. Check out his bandcamp page to catch up on his latest musical exploits. It’s literally hooks galore!

Around the dial: Pugwash, the Pernice Brothers, Berwanger, Slaughter Beach-Dog, and Extra Arms

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Screen Shot 2019-10-25 at 3.31.14 PMThe autumn has brought a seasonal gust of new releases and they arrive just in time to compensate for the fading sunlight and sinking temperatures. There’s nothing like a good melodic hook to amp up the joy quotient of a grey day. Today’s turn around the dial brings back some old faves and new discoveries!

Ireland’s Thomas Walsh is solid. Every release from his group Pugwash contains great songs and oh-so-interesting performances. His love of XTC regularly shows through but always in his own distinctive and original way. And the guy can write should-be hit singles! I couldn’t stop playing “Easier Done Than Said” from 2017’s Silverlake. Now he’s back with The Olympus E.P. and it’s just more of the good we’ve come to expect. “You Can Build a House on Love” opens with that familiar somewhat dark string section that haunts so many super Pugwash tracks, “August Born” is a bit more upbeat, while “Happy Again” adds a more rock and roll feel to the EP. This is another winning addition to the Pugwash canon.

Another no disappointment artist is Joe Pernice, with or without the rotating cast of characters that populate his Pernice Brothers outfit. Seemingly out of nowhere he’s got a new record and it’s a killer. Spread the Feeling goes from strength to strength songwise, kicking off with the lovely, superbly crafted pop gem “Mint Condition.” From there it’s a veritable rollercoaster of hooky tunes: the ear wormy poprock genius of “Devil and the Jinn,” the nice acoustic-based “Wither on the Vine,” “Throw Me to the Lions” with its catchy New Order-style guitar lines, and that poppy melodic treat “Skinny Jeanne.” There’s also more than few endearing slower tempo numbers like “Evidently So.” Another easy candidate for the ‘best of’ year-end lists!

Speaking of consistency, Lawrence, Kansas indie-cum-classic pop rockers Berwanger have another satisfying disc with Watching a Garden Die. Tracks like the opening cut “Long Way Down” and the neo-1950s early solo John Lennon sound of “Bad Vibrations” have those familiar Berwanger hooks and swing. But the lion’s share of the album is more introspective and low key, as on tracks like the acoustic “Even the Darkness Doesn’t Know” or the bass-dominant “Friday Night” or the mellow “I Keep Telling Myself.” Ultimately, this is a record satisfying in its familiarity while still pushing against its own self-imposed boundaries.

Looking for some ‘pared-down folk rock’? You get a mix of rockier material and a more swinging acoustic vibe on Slaughter Beach, Dog’s new LP Safe and Also No Fear. Paired example: “Good One” and “Heart Attack.” The former has a nice build up, laying some grungy rhythm guitar overtop an initial acoustic base, with some attractive vocal harmonies near the chorus. Meanwhile the latter has a sunshiney swing that will work its way into your head, helped along by its sparkly acoustic guitar anchor and spare embellishments. Ryan Allen’s Extra Arms are back with their sophomore effort Up From Here and it sounds like Fountains of Wayne doing a rawk tribute. Edgy power chords with some solid melodic hooks, particularly on tracks like “F.L.Y.,” “Coming in Waves,” “Hold Me (All the Time),” and “Up From Here.” Overall, this baby’s a bit harsher than our usual fare but hey sometimes you really need to jump up and down and punch the air. This is your gateway air-punching release for 2019.

So many talented bands and solid releases so far this year. Check out Pugwash, The Pernice Brothers, Berwanger, Slaughter Beach, Dog, and Extra Arms in more detail by clicking on the links.

Curvy light road photo courtesy Larry Gordon.

I get mail: David Woodard, Breakfast in America, Jonathan Pushkar and Ben Vogel

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Screen Shot 2019-10-19 at 2.45.01 PMPeople write me. They tell me about their band and/or new single/album. And what is impressive is I nearly always end up writing about them. Eventually. Today I gather together a bunch of avid self-promoters whose songs you deserve to hear now.

David Woodard wrote me a while back about his great single and EP of the same name, I Used to Be Cool. I loved it! The single was a slick and catchy piece of popcraft and the EP had other great songs, including a pretty impressive cover of the Beatles’ “Help.” Meanwhile the Lego video for “I Used to be Cool” was hilarious! But somehow his release slipped from my view. Now he’s back with another EP and it is even more impressive. Everything in Between has some superior jangle pop with “We’re Not Coming Back,” a cracking holiday tune in “Waiting for Christmas,” and a nice cover of Nick Lowe’s brilliant “What’s So Funny About Peace, Love and Understanding.” But undoubtedly the standout track is the ready-for-chart-action single, “Nine Hundred Ninety Nine” with its unmistakable Matthew Sweet vibe. This guy is going places!

Edmonton calling with our next artist, Breakfast in America. Their name is taken from an English band’s best-selling album ever but their sound is self-described as ‘California surf grunge’. Confused? Check out the tunes themselves for clarity here and find some harmony-laden poprock gems – more laid back Tom Petty-meets-1970s California melody-rich rock and roll. Love their first single “Santa Fe” from 2017 and their follow up 2019 EP Side Hustle doesn’t disappoint either.

Next up a man that claims to “write songs for today’s audience like it’s 1965” and that about sums it up. On his debut LP Straighten Up Johnathan Pushkar ferries across the Mersey with considerable confidence on tracks like “The Girl Next Door” and “Isabella,” though there’s more than a little That Thing You Do and Fountains of Wayne here too (particularly on his note perfect cover of FOW’s “Hackensack”).

Spokane native Ben Vogel rounds out this letter bag with tracks from his debut album Whistling After Midnight. On his website Vogel describes his inspiration as Marshall Crenshaw, XTC, Squeeze and the Beatles and I’m like ‘hold up there, that’s four of my top ten acts all of time!’ I am so ready to love this. What Vogel offers is actually more distinctive, adding a strong 1970s soft rock and pop sensibility to the aforementioned influences. You can really hear it on “Leave This Town,” “Early Morning Hours,” and country-inflected “I Hope You’re Happy Now.” But the star moment here is “Cassidy” with its hooky guitar work and twist and turn melody. Very 1981, in a good way.

Up and coming talent deserves your financial attention. Take a trip internet-style to David Woodard, Breakfast in America, Jonathan Pushkar and Ben Vogel now.

Spotlight single: Screen Test “Notes from Trevor”

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Screen Shot 2019-10-14 at 1.18.49 PMMusic veterans Screen Test put out some of their best music in 2018 with their Stones album-title riffing compilation Through the Past Brightly. Featuring both new and older unreleased tracks, the majority of the record is made up of the more recent material and it is IMHO some of their finest work. And that’s really saying something for guys who’ve been gigging and recording since the late 1970s with The Flashcubes, Screen Test, as solo artists, and with a host of other projects. Of the record’s new tunes I really like “Make Something Happen,” “Tomorrow is Another Day,” and particularly the single-worthy “Best Seller” with its hooky Mersey-jangle lead guitar.  But the song that sings ‘hit’ to me without a doubt is “Notes from Trevor” with its killer build up and knock out earwormy chorus. Think of something filling the space between Pugwash and XTC and you’re in the zone. Or, as reader Fabian Byrne notes, very Smithereens! The band also have a great new tune worth checking out: “End of the Line.”

Notes From TrevorBest Seller

Screen Test prove that it’s possible for bands to keep the creativity going at any stage of their careers. Surely that deserves some kind of reward? Click on their hot-linked name to find out more!

The single file: Ryan Hamilton and the Harlequin Ghosts, The Empty Hearts, Ezra Furman, and Signals Midwest

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Screen Shot 2019-10-10 at 1.02.02 PMI’m always geared up for some great singles. I’m not the kind to insist on a whole album of hits. That can be so greedy. So let’s roll out some should-be hit single poprock radio fodder.

Screen Shot 2019-10-10 at 1.10.29 PMLet me say right at the outset that Ryan Hamilton and the Harlequin Ghosts’ new album This is the Sound is an all-round good time, filled with great tunes. It’s what we’d expect from a guy whose talents have ranged from his killer sunshine-blast solo album Hell of a Day to super outings with Bowling for Soup’s Jaret Reddick in People on Vacation. But there is something particular about “Feeling Like Falling in Love” on his latest album that really grabs me. Maybe it’s guitar hook that loops throughout the song or the effortless tenor of Ryan’s vocals but the song sticks with me. Or maybe you’re looking for something more old school new wave? Got just the release here with the latest single from The Empty Hearts. Described by some as a ‘garage rock supergroup’ I’d probably characterize them as a bit more smooth than that. Their latest “Coat Tailer” offers up the polished sheen of Romantics-style guitars with some cool Rubber Soul-ish background vocals. B-side “Run and Hide” is no slouch either with its mellow jangle and slight country vibe. Can’t wait for the full album follow up to these teasers.The Empty Hearts – Coat Tailer

Screen Shot 2019-10-10 at 1.11.40 PMEzra Furman is undeniably one of most exciting artists to emerge over the past decade. Fabulously original, combining a punk-like sentiment with a solid mastery of 1950s and 1960s songwriting styles. He’s like a gender-fluid John Lennon – angry, tuneful, with a whole lot of something to say. His latest record 12 Nudes cranks the punk and snarl on most cuts but “In America” rides its wondrous ragged delivery over some killer hooks. I’d vote for this guy. Carrying on in a punky vein, Cleveland’s Signals Midwest take their sound in a more melodic direction with their latest EP Pin, particularly on the first single, “Your New Old Apartment.” The song goes in a number of directions with surprising musical adornments and ace vocal support from Sincere Engineer (aka Deanna Belos). Love the echo-y background vocal ‘oh oh ohs’ that show up late!

Imagine Ryan Hamilton and the Harlequin Ghosts, The Empty Hearts, Ezra Furman, and Signals Midwest all just waiting eagerly for responses to their songs like kids waiting by the tree at Xmas. Let’s end the wait and get on over to their web locales.

Slouching music listening guy photo courtesy Larry Gordon.

Superheroes

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Screen Shot 2019-10-03 at 11.24.52 PMDon’t get me started on superhero movies. Sometimes it seems like Hollywood makes little else. But songs about superheroes can be great. That’s probably because songwriters can’t simply rely on a green screen or endless explosive pyrotechnics. So let’s let it rip with these superhero song stylings!

Kicking things off is a band and a song with the same name. There’s not a lot of ink on the Danish group Superheroes, though leader Thomas Troelsen has gone on to produce a bevy of mainstream international pop superstars like Justin Beiber, David Guetta and Lil’ Wayne. Luckily, his band sounds nothing like them. Instead, the group vibes a 1970s art rock meets new wave sound, updated for the new century. “Superheroes” is a slow burn hook-wise but give it some time and its earworm qualities will grow on you. XTC offer up super melodies on “That’s Really Super, Super Girl,” from their Todd Rundgren-produced masterpiece Skylarking. A great locomotive blast of Andy Partridge wordplay and ornamental, guitar-driven poprock. Things slow down with the light acoustic swing of Jill Sobule’s bittersweet “Spiderman,” from 2009’s California Years. It’s a not-so-super superhero song but hey, she’s keeping it real.Superheroes – SuperheroesXTC – That’s Really Super, SupergirlJill Sobule – Spiderman

R.E.M.’s “Superman” was immediately one of my fave cuts from what is probably still my top R.E.M. album, Life’s Rich Pageant. I knew it was a cover but I assumed The Clique were just some other 1980s Athens-based indie outfit and R.E.M. was sharing the love. Recently I found out that the original goes back to the 1969. Initially just a b-side, the The Clique’s version of “Superman” is a revelation! Recognizable but distinctly different than the cover and well worth a listen. Another recent discovery is Paul McCartney and Wings’ “Magneto and Titanium Man” from Venus and Mars. Apparently Sir Paul loves his Marvel comics and this treat is so 1975 Wings but also contains a few melodic twists. Nice video utilizing old Marvel kids cartoon footage. One of Jim Infantino’s musical vehicles is the often hilarious, always politically intelligent Jim’s Big Ego. But his turn at superhero songwriting is a bit more serious on “The Ballad of Barry Allen.” Apparently, being the fastest guy is not always such a thrill.The Clique – Superman

Rounding things out is Lazlo Bane’s addictive banjo-laden, superhero name-dropping “I’m No Superman,” though the tune is probably best known as the theme song on the long-running network sitcom, Scrubs. It’s the right sentiment to end on. Nobody’s really a superhero. Just get that through your thick pop culture heads. Except when melodic hooks are involved.

This post has mostly older releases but that doesn’t mean they don’t need some cash love. Click on the hyperlinks to show off your superness.

Introducing Bombadil (rhymes with daffodil)

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Screen Shot 2019-09-25 at 12.58.41 PMHave you met Bombadil? Given the band formed in 2006 and has released 7 albums and 2 EPs, it’s definitely possible. But given our present state of low impact indie self-promotion it’s entirely likely you haven’t. Well, get ready for a sonic treat. One where every instrument aims to create a carefully crafted moment. Where the songs are intellectually engaging, though not in some hipster elitist sort of way but in a thoughtful everyday relatable way (e.g. “Perfect”). Where no instrument break is wasted but each is like a perfectly tended garden of sounds, both colourful and creative. Possible musical comparisons abound, from the quirky musicality of They Might Be Giants and Tally Hall to the wordy yet poetic lyrics of The Shins and the Magnetic Fields. Longtime band member Daniel Michalak once described the band’s influences as ‘Ernest Hemingway, Ronald Dahl, or Shel Silverstein’ as well as ‘science/math and computer programming’. One reviewer called the band, ‘obtuse but melodic indie folk pop with a flair for the fantastic,’ while another suggested Bombadil were like a ‘less drunk Pogues.’  Longtime drummer James Phillips described their sound as simply ‘pop-rock.’ That sounds about right to me.

How to describe discovering Bombadil? How about ‘enchanting’? A lot of that has to do with the bracing originality of the songs. The band’s catalogue ably demonstrates the continuing, seemingly endless creative possibilities left in a 3 minute pop song, whatever genre. And these guys definitely push genre boundaries. The folk veneer is there but can easily give way, depending on where the song goes. “Johnny,” from the band’s 2006 debut EP (also included on their 2008 debut long-player A Buzz A Buzz), illustrates this, vibing folk but quickly coming on like an outtake from Will Finn’s Broadway smash, Falsettoland, while from the same album “Get to Getting On” showcases Bombadil’s signature folk/country sound and their distinctive harmony vocals.  

You can dip in anywhere over the band’s next six albums and come up with a treasure. Like “Sad Birthday,” “Kate and Kelsey” and “Matthew” from 2009’s Tarpits and Canyonlands. Check out the exquisite piano turnaround at the 21 second mark of “Matthew” – a killer and unexpected hook. Or the Pogues meets You Won’t aura of the songs on 2011’s All That the Rain Promises, particularly “Laundromat” and the lyrically eccentric “Leather Belt” (with that great banjo). 2013’s Metrics of Affection broadened the sonic palette with the Rogue Wave-ish “Learning to Let Go,” the magisterial “Born at 5:00,” the moving solitary piano balladry of “Have Me,” and the whimsically folky “When We Are Both Cats.” Meanwhile, “One More Ring” sounds like an alternate universe hit with its endearing melodic twists. 2017’s Fences continued the good vibes trend with “Perfect” an aptly named should-be single.

As luck would have it for recent Bombadil converts, a brand new album is out, Beautiful Country, and it may just be their best yet. I love how “Goodwill Socks” starts with an uber folky sound but then quickly adds more instrumental depth and hooky ornamentation. “The Man Who Loves You” is the should-be hit single, with a stirring vocals arrangement and hooky handclaps. And then there’s the lovely duet with Kate Rhudy on the “The Real Thing.”

Did I mention that Bombadil have recorded songs in French (“Framboise” from 2015’s Hold On) and Spanish (“Laurita” from Tarpits and Canyonlands)? Just one more reason to hustle over their Bandcamp page and buy up their whole catalogue.