Guitars to the front: Poole, Travoltas, Genes, The Ivins, Odd Robot and Terry Malts

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guitar and ampSome bands throw their guitars to the front of mix or offer up some hooky guitar lick that drives the song. This post features songs from bands where the guitar attack is a key part of the charm but none take up the challenge in quite the same way.

PoolePoole’s “Supermerica” blasts open with a guitar storm not unlike more than few singles from Fountains of Wayne but the vocals have more of a Bob Mould solo tinge. The band put out three albums in the 1990s but didn’t really take off, sadly, as their 1995 debut Alaska Days is fantastic and features this song. The Travoltas drop into “I’m Sorry” with crunchy load of rhythm guitar before settling into a great poprock sound that the Dutch seem to have patented in recent years with bands like this one and Tommy and the Rockets. TravoltasThis song has nice of dose of Beach Boys harmony about two-thirds of the way through, not surprisingly given this 2002 album title is Endless Summer. The band’s most recent album, Until We Hit the Shore, continues to mine this beach-infused party punk sound. GenesAustralia’s Genes or The Genes (depending on the recording) make their acoustic guitars jump out of the speakers on tracks like “A Smile Will Do” and “I Know.” Our featured track is from their 1995 record, Buy a Guitar, and the whole record is pretty consistently acoustic guitar dominant in ways you didn’t really think possible. Of the three bands, only the Travoltas seems serious about promoting their music online. You will search in vain for much info or a website for the other two. I’m SorryA Smile Will Do

IvinsOf the bands featured in this post, The Ivins probably most fit the bill of potential mainstream rock success with “Roam the World” from their new album, The Code Duello. Eclectic Music Lover put me on to them and this song rumbles into life with a killer echo-y guitar riff. The style is very old-school FM radio rock, less poprock, but the brothers who comprise the band have a killer harmony sound that ups the melody quotient at various points in the song. Odd RobotBy contrast, Odd Robot give off an indie vibe both in terms of their guitar sound but also their vocal style. I love how it all comes together on our featured song “Take With Two White Pills” from their recent album A Late Night Panic. The guitars and vocals are some great poprock, tweaked with just a hint of that discordant indie élan. Wrapping up this post is recovering noise punk band, Terry Malts. I say ‘recovering’ because the boys appear to be changing their stripes with this most recent single “It’s Not Me” but there are indications that old habits die hard.  Terry MaltsThe song opens with a crisp lead guitar line that loops around as the main hook of the tune while the vocals are bit more shoegaze. It’s a really great poprock single but it is about the only one in their extensive catalogue. Ok, I shouldn’t be greedy, one song is better than none. However, when I saw the band recently in Toronto even this song got the noise punk treatment.  Would love to see more songs in this vein from the band.

I didn’t find any internet sites for Poole or Genes but the Travoltas, Ivins, Odd Robot, and Terry Malts all make internet contact easy. I’ve only scratched the surface of what they offer here. Dig deeper.

Pitching Fastball

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Fastball in TorontoAre you a fan of Fastball? If you love straight up rock and roll with a keen sense of melody, you should be. Fastball is another band that I somehow missed when they broke out in the 1990s and have only just discovered recently. Now when you mention Fastball to people they nearly always know “The Way” and that’s about it. Sure, it’s a great song but I’m not even sure it’s the best song on that album, let alone the defining moment of their career. This is band that just keeps getting better and better with each album release.

All_the_Pain_Money_Can_Buy_(Fastball_album_-_cover_art)Their debut album from 1996, Make Your Mama Proud, lays out the basic genius at work here. This is a band that gels solidly around the rock and roll combo fundamentals – solid beat, hooky lead guitar lines, and a generous helping of harmony vocals – captured nicely in the featured tune here, “Seattle.” Then came their breakout album, 1998’s All the Pain that Money Can Buy with its monster single “The Way.” Personally I prefer “Fire Escape,” “Slow Drag,” and the brilliant “Out of My Head.” The band followed up that hit album with The Harsh Light of Day, a record that really pushed the development of their sound melodically and sonically (let those guitars ring!), apparent on tracks like “Don’t Give Up On Me.” But audiences didn’t take to the new sound and sales fell off precipitously.

SeattleDon’t Give Up On Me

KYWOThe band pressed on in 2004 with what might be their greatest achievement, Keep Your Wig On. The songwriting on this record is amazing, with Petty-esque brilliance on tracks like “Perfect World,” and “Our Misunderstanding,” or the easygoing, almost Eagles-like confidence of “Someday” or “Mercenary,” or the Mexicali fun of “Red Light.” Five years later, Little White Lies took the band into a more melody-drenched direction and the should-be hits are many: check out the James Bond undercurrent to “Little White Lies,” the great swing of “Mono to Stereo,” or the nice Beatles’ touches and bouncy piano on “She’s Got the Rain.”

Perfect WorldOur MisunderstandingShe’s Got the Rain

Step into lightFast forward to 2017 and Fastball are back after an absence of eight years with what I am prepared to boldly declare may be their best record yet: Step Into Light.  The record blasts off with “We’re On Our Way,” a rocking number with a few ELO flourishes on the keyboards. Vocals give way from the more rough-hewn Mike Zuniga to the oh-so-smooth Tony Scalzo on the next track, “Best Friend,” a song that screams hit single with its propulsive, driving hookiness. Other candidates for hit single include the Beatlesque “I Will Never Let You Down” (with its great video!) and the very catchy “Just Another Dream.” The care in choosing the instrumental mix on this record is impressive. Check out the nice guitar bits on “I Will Never Let You Down” that echo George Harrison’s simple and straightforward guitar lines on a host of mid-career Beatles records. Or the jaunty acoustic guitar that anchors “Behind the Sun,” clearly an homage to McCartney’s felicitous picking on tunes like “Mother Nature’s Son.” I could go on. Suffice to say, there isn’t a bum track here – if you like one song, you’re going to want the whole album.

Best FriendBehind the SunJust Another Dream

So that’s my pitch for Fastball, your soon-to-be favourite new/old rock and roll group. I say, buy their records and see them on tour this summer. Get started at Fastball’s internet real estate for all the details.

Top photo credit: Fastball live in Toronto, June 11, 2017 at the Danforth Music Hall.

Meet the Feltworths

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Fetlwroth bandThey’re Feltworth, actually, a puppet band with a plausible backstory and a couple (literally) of killer tunes. The whole concept is brilliant and funny but what aces the deal is that the music is no joke. If they sound a lot like Canadian indie poprockers Sloan, well that’s just the rumour mill for you. Here’s the pitch: Feltworth, a quartet of cat felt puppets (another fab four, though here ‘fab’ is short for fabric) allegedly have been working the kids music scene for years but now have turned their back on the tots for more adult fare. You can get the whole elaborate and amusing story in a recent interview with Ion magazine or watch a kind of ‘making of’ Feltworth video here. If you’re the obsessive kind the Feltworth Films site has 15 different videos showcasing their adventures in a Sesame Street segment sort of way.

Now, you may stop here for the novelty but you will stay for the tunes. “Forget This Feeling” is pure Sloan, with chugging guitars, searingly sweet harmony vocals and hooks galore, while “You Turn Me On” is a nice acoustic-based bit of pop fun. Power pop and poprock fans will rejoice when these guys turn this project into a full blown album. But touring could prove a challenge.

Feltworth have a website and Facebook page – you can meet the Feltworths there.

Spotlight single: Los Straightjackets “Rollers Show”

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LosStraitjacketsInstrumentals are the original cross cultural phenomena. Not just because they overcome the language barrier in an increasingly global world, but also because they tend to be the first bridge crossed by generationally divided tastes. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, albums of often tepid instrumentals introduced Elvis and the Beatles to an aging record buying public brought up on swing bands and Frank Sinatra. Rock and roll was too noisy for them but the hooks proved too much to ignore. Radio stations offering ‘easy listening’ formats of contemporary songs done in an instrumental style were a popular addition to elevators and doctors’ offices everywhere by the 1970s. Then with the explosion of California beach and car culture in the early 1960s instrumentals became a thing in rock and roll too. Today, its an established sub-genre.

losstraitjackets-whatssofunnyaboutpeaceloveandlosstraitjackets-cover-1-1Which brings us to this fabulous interpretation of Nick Lowe’s 1975 throw away tribute to the Bay City Rollers, “Rollers Show.” For Nick, the song was largely a contractual obligation effort, a way to cynically cash in on the teenybopper love of all things BCR at the time and fulfill his contract with United Artists records.  But even knock offs from Nick can still showcase his songwriting magic, lovingly teased out in this rendition from the hilarious, over-the-top instrumental group Los Straightjackets. The band has produced a whole album of Nick covers and they are not merely knock offs. Each song is creatively reinterpreted, sometimes in boldly different ways (check out their languid version of “Cruel to be Kind” as an example).  The first single was a great version of “Peace, Love and Understanding” but my current faves are “All Men Are Liars,” “I Live on a Battlefield,” and, most of all, “Rollers Show,” which really is the standout track here in my view. The album cover is pretty cool too – a riff on Lowe’s Jesus of Cool album with Nick himself featured prominently. Rollers Show

What’s So Funny About Peace Love And Los Straitjackets is out now. Find out more about this and their other fine recordings as well as their current tour with Marshall Crenshaw here.

The doctored poprock of Leisure McCorkle

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LeisureI love unusual life stories. Like Charlotte, North Carolina’s Leisure McCorkle. William ‘Lee’ McCorkle is Leisure McCorkle, the band and its larger than life leader, songwriter, guitar player and vocalist, with help from some occasional band members. In 1997 he launched his recording career with the largely homemade EP Nappy Superstar. Since then he’s released another EP and three albums, only two of which are available digitally. The wrinkle in McCorkle’s story is that he took a break in his rock and roll career to get a PhD in evolutionary and cognitive psychology and do the professor thing. But that didn’t stop him from roaring back in 2016 with another killer album after a break of thirteen years!  Most attention on the internet focuses on his 2003 release Jet Set Baby and the more recent 5000 Light Years Beyond the Speed of Sound, the only recordings readily available to music consumers. Hopefully the rest of his back catalogue will cross the digital divide soon, but in the interim our focus will be on these two releases as well.

Jet Set BabyJet Set Baby is 44 minutes of blistering rock and roll fun. Internet reviewers have rightly highlighted the nods to the early new wave sound of Joe Jackson, Elvis Costello and Graham Parker, with a healthy dollop of early Cars guitar crunch and some very creative keyboards. But the influences are always reminiscent, never derivative, in part because the songwriting and execution are so strong. Check out the languid, chorus pedal-drenched guitar opener of “Does She Really Know?” before it segues into some great hooks. Or the transition from spare electric guitar to anthem-like chorus on “Like That.” McCorkle does slow things down occasionally on nice tracks like “100%” and “Dissin’ You” but mostly the record rocks out with hook-filled masterpieces like “This Girl,” the swinging “Alcohol,” and achingly sweet “Blum’s Lullaby.”  These are should-be hits by any measure.Does She Really Know?AlcoholBlum’s Lullaby

5000 LYNow fast forward past a decade of building an academic career to when McCorkle decided to return to his first love in 2016 with the release of 5000 Light Years Beyond the Speed of Sound. The first thing you notice on “Warehouse,” the opening track, is a little less vocal edge, a little less urgency in hitting the rock and roll marks. Here McCorkle is willing to let the sonic effect wash over the listener a bit more, at least until the lead guitar comes in near the end with a slightly edgy but still melodic flourish.  “Transmission” sounds a bit late 1970s pop to me a la the California sound. “Acting Like a Friend of Mine” reminds me a bit of some of Springsteen’s more recent melody-heavy poprock releases while “Turn It Up” harkens a bit more back to his earlier material. One of the standout tracks is “Ghost Angeles” with its lovely vocal arrangement and strongly acoustic backdrop, very Teenage Fanclub-esque, as is the album’s closer “The Loneliest I’ve Ever Been.”WarehouseActing Like a FriendGhost Angeles

So this review is no ‘revise and resubmit’ recommendation. The professor’s musical publications are highly citation worthy! You can catch up on the musical side of Dr. McCorkle’s career at his website here.

Around the dial: Ginger Wildeheart, Sunday Sun, Umm, Spirit Kid, and Title Tracks

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As we travel around the dial today we explore bands that are established but not necessarily wildly successful along with others that are just getting started.

GWI stumbled across Ginger Wildeheart quite recently and quickly found myself wondering how I hadn’t heard of him before. This guy oozes talent. Whatever style he turns to, he masters. Whatever hook he is crafting, he nails it. He has so many bands and recordings, it is going to take me some time just get through them all. So today we’ll just feature this recent bit of ear candy, his 2016 single “If You Find Yourself in London Town.” Deceptively sweet sounding, the single is peppered with a hint of menace, kinda like a Mike Leigh film. Ok, I can’t resist, I have to include one more great tune, this time from one of Ginger’s many side projects, Hey! Hello!, a concentrated piece of rock pop entitled “Swimwear.”

SSI loved Sunday Sun from the first time I heard the opening refrains of their Beatlesque “Beating Low” from the 2012 EP Iii.  The combination of carefully constructed vocal harmonies over jangly guitars was a formula that couldn’t lose for me. Their most recent long player Live Out Loud accents the pop over the rock effectively rebalancing their sound away from their earlier work. Would I have preferred some more prominent Rickenbacker guitar lines here and there? Sure. But the band write such catchy and clever songs and the vocals are so impressive, what you have here is still pretty awesome. “When We Kiss” is relentless in its hooky delivery, “Can’t Stop” has a great swing, “Marry You” is a lovely acoustic number just in time for the wedding season, and “Oh Let Me Love You” could easily be a super Hall and Oates single.

When We KissMarry YouOh Let Me Love You

UmmFrom the opening of Umm’s “Black Summer” you wouldn’t think they would get past the censors on this blog. But just wait for the vocals. This duo enjoy an eerie symbiosis vocally that is enthralling (and the cool organ runs don’t hurt either). Couple Chris Senseney and Stefanie Drootin had a band called Big Harp that had a nice folky/synthy thing going (check out “Golden Age” below for a taste) but in a recent interview noted they were grooving a lot on the Everly Brothers’ harmonies and knew they needed a new vehicle to take up this direction. The result is Umm, a kind of Everly Brothers on acid, though they also remind me of a lot of other great duos out now, many that we’ve reviewed here like the amazing Jack and Eliza or The Kickstand Band.  Check out their super video for “Oh Yes No” featuring Creative Commons film footage from “Westinghouse Traveler’s Choice 66” from the Prelinger Archives.

To my romeoMystery be thy name, Spirit Kid. There is not a lot to find about this act other than their many great recordings. Spirit Kid is the name of the band and their first album from 2010, which features two strong tracks in “My Imagination” and “Assumed by You.” “Wrong Kind of Money” from the same year is pretty good too. 2011 saw a strong EP with Happiness where the band sound really gels into an Apples in Stereo groove. Is Happening came out in 2014 with “Playing Cupid” and “Heart Attack” but then there is a break until this year’s “To My Romeo.” Easy going and poppy, with just a hint of T Rex and the British glam sound. Love the cover art on the most recent single as well – very fun!

TT LDLong Dream is the most recent album from Title Tracks, a band with dreamy sound, vocals that remind me of The Smithereens at times, with some very cool guitar lead lines. “I Don’t Need to Know” bolts out of the pen in a very Bob Mould style, with some cool breakout lead guitar. “Empty Heavens” has a more languid strummy feel with the treble significantly upped on the lead guitar. “Peaceful Uses” has a nice instrumental roll out before settling into a catchy indie poprock vibe. Given how solid this record is, I look forward to mining their back catalogue more carefully.

Visiting Ginger Wildeheart, Sunday Sun, Umm, Spirit Kid, and Title Tracks online has never been easier. Just click on the links.

Is that so gay? The queer poprock of The Smiths and Pansy Division

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17 year old meIt was 1982. I was 17, gay as springtime, and loved rock and roll. Musically at that time I would find myself caught between different worlds – there really wasn’t any place to call home. That same year a friend of mine and I snuck into our first gay bar. I thought it was going to be great, to finally be somewhere full of other gay people. But I just couldn’t get past the terrible music. It was all tuneless dance beats, nary a guitar or a melodic hook in sight. I thought of myself as pretty well informed about all kinds of music even then but all night I didn’t recognize a single song. Years later I would come to appreciate why gay popular culture had evolved as it had, why a certain kind of music dominated the scene then. But at the time I experienced it as incredibly alienating. Just another place I didn’t fit in.

In early 1980s, gay was a no go zone for music, a one way trip off the charts and into commercial oblivion. Sure, David Bowie, Lou Reed, and Elton John had dabbled in public bisexuality in the 1970s but when that fad passed it was back to ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ for gay musicians trying to have a career in music. There were a few stark exceptions: Pete Townshend’s “And I Moved” and “Rough Boys” from 1980s Empty Glass, Joe Jackson’s “Real Men” from 1982’s Night and Day, and Tom Robinson’s fiercely political “Glad to be Gay,” which I first heard as a solo acoustic performance on the 1980 album The Secret Policeman’s Ball. But these performers were either not gay or not really focused on giving voice to gay experience.

THE_SMITHS_HATFUL+OF+HOLLOWMEAT+IS+MURDERTHE+WORLD+WONT+LISTEN-431594And then came The Smiths. There may have been acts that I liked more at the time but none affected me as profoundly as this Manchester quartet. I found a copy of “What Difference Does it Make” in the discard pile at my radio broadcasting school and it blew my head off. The guitar hook immediately had my full attention but the lyrics were also startling – this was my life in a rock and roll song, something that had never happened before. I immediately set out to find more and picked up the BBC sessions/compilation album Hatful of Hollow. The fall of 1984 was all Smiths, all the time. The songs were so obviously about working class gay experience – “William, It Was Really Nothing,” “This Charming Man,” “Handsome Devil,” etc. – that it was painfully embarrassing to see Morrissey equivocate about his sexuality in later interviews.  British artists in the 1980s seemed divided about taking a stand on gay identity with Morrissey and the Pet Shops Boys avoiding the issue while others like Bronksi Beat wrote powerfully direct songs like “Small Town Boy.” Later Smiths albums were definitely more oblique about sexuality, but it didn’t matter. The early recordings broke through a barrier of rock and roll masculinity, proving to be as exciting as any previous three chord wonder. Others would take note.

PansyMany years later a friend gave me a copy Pansy Division’s Wish I’d Taken Pictures. Now here was the ‘out and proud’ gay rock and roll I had wanted The Smiths to be. Talk about flaunting it – this legendary San Francisco queercore band is hilariously in-your-face about their gay lives. Going back in their catalogue, their 1993 debut Undressed spoke directly, often intimately, about gay sex, gay dating, really anything you could describe as gay experience in both tender and amusing ways. No more Smithian innuendo, just refreshingly frank talk on tracks like “Boyfriend Wanted,” “The Story So Far,” and “Surrender Your Clothing.” Though their sound owes a lot to the California’s pop punk groove of the late 1980s and early 1990s, Pansy Division oscillate between a more hardcore guitar attack and an almost Jonathan Richmanesque playfulness in terms of emotional honesty and a more low key poprock sensibility.

PDQuiteContraryWith seven albums of original material there is simply too much to review here but I could easily single out a host of songs from across their catalogue. From the early period I would note the above-mentioned songs from Undressed, “Don’t Be So Sure” and “Kevin” from 1996’s Wish I’d Taken Pictures, and “Sweet Insecurity” and “Used to Turn Me On” from 1998’s Absurd Pop Song Romance. The band branches out stylistically in the new century with some new guitar sounds and song structures. 2003’s Total Entertainment comes on like a rush of adrenaline with a new sonic mix on tracks like “When He Comes Home,” “Not Good Enough for You,” and “First Betrayal,” while 2009’s That’s So Gay pumps the politics quotient on “Some of My Best Friends” and the ‘not taking ourselves too seriously’ factor on “Dirty Young Man” and “Pat Me on the Ass.” 2016’s Quite Contrary album mimics the cover of their Wish I’d Taken Pictures record released twenty years earlier, replacing the strapping lads of the original with the band’s now aging selves, though they still seem to be cavorting and having a good time. The song themes too reflect their present gay circumstances with issues like the ongoing religious attacks on queers in the US in “Blame the Bible” or aging in “(Is This What It’s Like) Getting Old.” Being from Canada, I have to high five Pansy Division’s ode to our great white north, “Manada” which manages to name check a host of Canadian cities and laud out boys, with versions in both English and French! These guys are a class act.

Me at 23 2In the end, the question remains: is it really that important whether a band is gay or not? Yes and no. As I’ve grown older, more comfortable and confident about who I am, I don’t necessarily need to be surrounded by reflections of myself. I love all kinds of music regardless of sexuality or any other kinds of identity markings. But when we are young it is terribly important to see ourselves in popular culture. To be invisible in the world is to be invisible to ourselves. To have our hopes and dreams, heartaches and disappointments given expression in culture is to be part of the broader world. Indeed, to identify across our differences requires first that those differences be articulated. Perhaps it is easier for a rock and roll gay boy today. I hope so, though we should never underestimate how hard it is to be different. Despite the gains in social tolerance, western societies remain profoundly conformist in a host of ways.

Nobody really needs to help The Smiths sell any new product. As one wag noted, for a band critical of rampant consumerism, they have proven to be very adept at packaging and repackaging their material in the most stylish and collectible way. On the other hand, I suspect Pansy Division are probably not in a position to buy an island any time soon. So do visit the boys, share a laugh, and of course spend some money.

Photos of 17 and 24 year old Dennis Pilon by David Curnick and Michael Willmore.

Breaking news: Dan Rico, The Primitives, Richard Turgeon, and Cait Brennan

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My musical cup runneth over. There always seems to be a surplus of great music to write about and only so many dedicated blog hours to get it all in. So straight to business. This instalment of breaking news sees the return of some old favourites and the discovery of some amazing new talents.

Rico NKDan Rico is back with Nobody Knows, proving with this dynamic 11 minute EP that he is much more than a one album wonder. The familiar elements are all there – the neo-1970s pastiche of glam and 1950s rock and roll – with a few new twists. Opening track “Love in Vain” gets the party started with its insistent boogie beat but Rico blows the doors off with a killer hook at the 40 second mark that will have you hitting rewind almost immediately. “Nobody Knows” captures that border line 1970s punk-cum-garage rock sound with a nice guitar line. Rounding out the EP is “Rock-a-bye” with its hints of pop psychedelia and the mild melodrama of “Roxy Goddamn.”

Primites NTCoventry’s The Primitives also have a new EP out, New Thrills, and from the opening riff of “I’ll Trust the Wind” you know you’re about to get just what you came for: catchy melodies, ringing guitars, and Tracy Tracy’s cool but understated pop vocals. All four tracks are the high quality 1960s-inspired poprock fare you’ve come to expect from this combo but check out the distinctive echo-y guitar sound and hooks on “Same Stuff” and lead guitarist Paul Court’s nice vocal turn on the chirpy “Oh Honey Sweet.” I could write and write about how great this band is but, really, it’s all there in the recordings. Just hit play.

RT.pngOn the new discovery front, Richard Turgeon is a modern everyman: successful purveyor of image and communication skills, music business ‘how to’ book writer, novelist, multi-instrumentalist, and songwriter, as well as suburban husband and father. He put together his latest record, Between the Spaces, literally between the spaces of his busy work and home life, ‘mostly on nights and weekends’ as he says on his website. The album kicks off with the very fun “Bigfoot’s an Alien” but really gets into gear for me with pristine poprock of “Bad Seed,” a driving number that reminds me of Matthew Sweet. “I Don’t Need You” opens with a great guitar hook and has a super sing-a-long chorus. The whole album is pretty solid, full of well-crafted tunes but, if pressed, I find myself most partial to the above-mentioned selections as well as “Watch Me Now” and “Frostbites.”

Brennan-Third-OV-217.jpgOur last breaking new discovery is Cait Brennan. New to me, it appears, because there is a hell of lot written about her first record and unusual career path on the ole internet (thanks to I Don’t Hear a Single for the tip). And the hype is dead on – Brennan is a major talent in both the singing and songwriting department. “Underworld” from her debut album, Debutante, demonstrates this perfectly: the song oozes classic, soon-to-be-covered-by-Rod-Stewart-and-Tony-Bennett kinda good. Her new record is equally impressive, though perhaps more in the poprock vein this time around, much to the delight of this particular blog. “He Knows Too Much” is a wonderful single, from its breathy opening vocal line, to its clever lyrics, to the drop dead perfect musical arrangement. Brennan’s vocals – both the lead and backing – nail all the hooks, while being just faintly reminiscent of Neil Finn’s vocal timbre and phrasing. Another highlight is the sardonic “Benedict Cumberbach” with its Beatlesque roll out and Split Enz-like manic chorus. But this is just scratching the surface of what is here. This record is sure to be on a lot of ‘Best of 2017’ lists come year’s end.He Knows Too MuchUnderworld

Social media is standing ready to log your visits, likes, and credit card numbers so visit Dan Rico, The Primitives, Richard Turgeon, and Cait Brennan before you become distracted by something else.

Girls with record collections: Eytan Mirsky and Fernando Perdomo

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turntable-2157292_1920What is it with guys and record collections? While I think things have changed a bit recently, coming of age in the 1980s the record store and music obsessions were predominantly male preserves. Nobody captured it better than Nick Hornby in the first chapter of High Fidelity, which opens with the male protagonist deciding for the umpteenth time to reorganize his record collection, this time in the order he purchased them. I remember looking up from the book thinking ‘somebody’s been watching me …’

FP GWRC rockSo here are two songs that capture the traditional range of views about women and record collections. In one, the singer is delighted to find a girl with a serious record collection, noting she “blew me away, with her 45s, they’re all alphabetized …” But in the other, the narrator “did a quick inspection and found [her] ELO” and dumps her, directing her to “take your record collection and go.” In either case, the serious female record collector is either a surprise or unthinkable. Yet both songwriters are clearly mocking this sort of narrow thinking.  Get readyEytan Mirsky has a large body of hilarious, self-mocking poprock. One album features a pathetic looking Mirsky slouching in a chair as some girlfriend’s luggage is heading for the door – the album title? Was it Something I Said? On his song “Record Collection” (from Get Ready for Eytan!)  the shallowness of his male narrator deciding to dump the girl he’s moved in with over some supposed musical indiscretions is both mocked and yet somehow also sadly believable. Meanwhile, producer extraordinaire Fernando Perdomo offers up two distinctly different versions of his charming “Girl with a Record Collection,” one leaning on a jangle poprock sound while the other exploits a more poppy arrangement.

Eytan Mirsky and Fernando Perdomo both have enormous back catalogues of music on Bandcamp just waiting to be perused in a leisurely fashion, preferably with a martini or a beer to encourage impulse buying.

Resurrection shuffle: The Emperors of Wyoming and The Empty Hearts

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HotelIn the early 1980s I went to see Gerry and the Pacemakers play at the International Plaza Hotel in North Vancouver. It was a small room but Gerry was larger than life and clearly a few decades older than his replacement Pacemakers. He belted out his early 1960s hits and closed the show with a version of then chart-topping Lionel Ritchie’s “Hello.” Gerry was a great showman but I left feeling a bit sad. Was this the unavoidable fate of every one-time hit maker? Recycling their past night after night? The good news is, no. Some artists manage to find new inspiration and keep on producing exciting new music.

EWA while back we featured the criminally overlooked Fire Town, a band who put out two great albums of country-tinged poprock in the late 1980s before its members went off to super fame (Butch Vig and Doug Erikson to Garbage) or out of music altogether (Phil Davis). In 2012 Vig and Davis, along with a few other old friends from their musical pasts, reunited to form The Emperors of Wyoming, a kind of revival of the Fire Town project, minus some of the shimmering guitars and with a bit more of a gritty western sound. The results are fantastic. “Bittersweet Sound of Goodbye” opens the record with pretty much the formula of what is to come: acoustic guitar anchoring the sound, nice lead guitar flourishes, and an achingly sad tenor to the vocals. Next up is the album’s marquee single, “Avalanche Girl,” a pretty solid slab poprock songwriting. Everything about this song rolls out flawlessly: strong hooks, great vocals and a host of nice guitar motifs tucked in here and there. The whole record is pretty solid, though I’d single out “I Don’t Know Why I Love You” for its humour and super banjo.I Don’t Know Why I Love You

The_Empty_Hearts_LP_CoverThe Empty Hearts draw more broadly for their resurrected super-group, including former members of Blondie, the Cars, the Romantics and the Chesterfield Kings. Former Romantics lead singer Wally Palmar gives the group a distinctive vocal stamp, aided by new wave producer Ed Stasium’s crisp production. “I Don’t Want Your Love” is a fun sing-a-long shouter, one of a number of rock and roll workouts on the record, while “(I See) No Way Out” sounds like a great lost Romantics single. But the musical highlight for me is the stunning “Fill an Empty Heart,” a killer tune arranged to hit all the poprock marks – love the organ (courtesy the Faces’ Ian MacLagan) and oh-so-new wave guitars. The album has many highlights but check out “Perfect World” and the country-ish “I Found You Again.”Fill an Empty HeartI Found You Again

I don’t claim to understand the magic that allows musically creative people to write great songs and make dynamite records. But it’s inspiring to see artists maintain the mojo throughout their careers. Maybe these guys are just getting started? After all, Leonard Cohen kept batting them out of the park creatively right up to his lunch date with the Grim Reaper. You can find out more about The Emperors of Wyoming and The Empty Hearts online. Don’t be afraid to show them some love – that never gets old.