There are a variety of Bears with guitars out there. One has a former guitar player from King Crimson as a member. Another put out an album called Burrito Palace. But this group of Bears is from Cleveland and they peddle something they describe on their Facebook page as “indiepop! Or something else maybe.” They have a sound that is at times DIY and LoFi or even Elephant 6 when they really get excited. Their self-titled debut album Bears arrived in 2006 and the band’s two tonal moods are captured nicely with the moody “How to Live” (check out that crazy haunted movie music organ!) and the more upbeat, boppy “When You’re Away.”
2007 saw the release of two EPs, Shortest Day of the Year and Summer Tour. Here’s a song from each: “You Can Tell” features the band’s signature strummy sound while “Wait and See” has a very Apples in Stereo vibe. The latter song appears again on the band’s 2008 LP Simple Machinery with a lighter, more keyboard heavy arrangement. From the same record, “Your Help” opens with an Amélie-like accordion sound and a vocal that exudes Morrissey on a good day. “Who Knows” came out the same year as a stand alone single and represented a sonic departure for the band with its early Elvis Costello organ burst at the start and various intervals of the song.
Productivity slowed up after 2008. Aside from a holiday EP, fans had to wait for 2012’s Greater Lakes but it was worth it for the soaring and peppy “Wash My Hands” alone. In fact, the whole record had a stronger punch to the songs and arrangements. 2014’s double A-sided single “Friends/Choosing Your Words” is the last release from Bears, though more recent recordings from spin off projects are now emerging (see the Kalaika project here). “Choosing Your Words” has a lovely loping rhythm which seems to coda this band’s efforts in style.
One gets a sense from the self-effacing tone of the band’s self-penned history on their website that they had no illusions about becoming some kind of superstar success story. But I just discovered them via that great iTunes ‘listeners also bought’ feature so if we times that by 10,000 other random discoveries who knows? Check out the full complement of recordings and contact info for Bears on their Bandcamp, Facebook and band website.
If I liked them once, chances are I’ll probably like them again. So new releases by previously featured artists are always exciting. At least, until I get through the preview stage – then some are, on occasion, disappointing. But not this crew. It’s all pretty solid stuff from artists that I particularly dug the first time I encountered them.
Ezra Furman blew into my 2015 with a tantalizing catalogue of material: neo-1960s girl group meets Bob Dylan transitioning out of folk music, with just a dash of new wave and punk and cross-dressing. He lit up the now-closed Silver Dollar in Toronto with an eclectic and electric show that autumn with a both in-your-face punk and deeply vulnerable performance. This guy is a must-see performer if he comes near your town. Furman has a new album – Transangelic Exodus – set to drop in February of next year, with a few teaser singles available now. But I prefer here to draw from his year old EP Big Fugitive Life, which nicely showcases the incredible range of his talent. Just check out “Little Piece of Trash” with its neo-1950s vibe, particularly that honking sax. But just when you think Furman is doing nostalgia he breaks out an amazing frenetic chorus featuring great punky-new wave hooks. “Teddy I’m Ready” is another strong track from this EP with its brilliantly understated and tender vocal.
Little Piece of Trash
Canadian David Myles is surely a reincarnation of Buddy Holly. He looks the part and his new album Real Love sounds like it takes up where Buddy would have left off in 1959. Myles has an amazing ear for the period – there’s a bit of Elvis, a lot of Marty Robbins, a hat tip to Roger Miller, and Buddy obviously. And yet this is not just a space age revival record. Unmistakable contemporary twists can be heard all throughout the album. Title track “Real Love” stretches its melody out of its neo-1950s groove here and there. The horns on tracks like “Look at Me” don’t quite obey the period norms. But as with all Myles releases, it is the songwriting that pulls everything together. The subtle and understated performance of “If You Want Tonight” underplays its classic song structure. I can hear Elvis or Marty doing this one. “Cry, Cry, Cry” is so Buddy. “Everybody Knows” opens large with a scat vocal reminiscent of so many Roger Miller records but quickly segues into a catchy period number. “Easy” also sounds very early 1960s with its slightly discordant vocals. Myles is big time love-song-singer and fittingly the album ends with the beautiful “Crazy to Leave.” Slip this baby on and teleport to those make-believe simpler times.
If You Want TonightEverybody Knows
We went a bit wild for Berwanger’s back catalogue when we discovered it here at Poprock Record. The gleeful mixture of classic and indie rock, shamelessly tuneful, vibing a range potentially stretching from the Vaccines to the Tom Petty. The new record And the Star Invaders continues the band’s sonic mission to explore and inhabit new musical territory. Opening track “The Star Invaders” begins with Berwanger’s familiar catchy rhythm guitar but then suddenly shifts into a ‘she’s gone’ mini-chorus that sounds straight out the New Pornographers songbook. The hooks in this song are so addictive they should require a prescription. So too “Horror Show” starts off low key only to break out into a swinging poprock delight at the 37 second mark and never lets up. “Broken Moon” breaks out the acoustic guitars to ghost up a really nice but more meandering melody. All ain all, another strong outing.
I couldn’t get enough of Good Old War when I stumbled across their perfectly modulated poprock single “Broken Record.” The production, the tightly arranged acoustic guitars and vocal harmonies, the nice School House Rock nod with the double stop ahhs. Really, this was mini masterpiece. How could I know it was an outlier on a record that was itself a departure from their usual sound? In the end it didn’t matter. I fell in love with all the great songs on Broken into Better Shape with its slicker, more produced sound than their previous more folky vibe. Almost as a nod to older fans, the band followed up the record by releasing a series of more acoustic versions of some of the songs from the album. Now their new Part of Me EP scales back the production for a return to their earlier simpler sound. “The River” opens things up with a nice swinging melody, title track “Part of Me” is a finger picking slower mediation on love and belonging, while “Oak Tree” sounds like a traditional country folk ballad you might hear in church, if people in your church could sing. A very nice something to tide us over until a new album arrives.The RiverNever Gonna See Me Cry (Acoustic)
I know what you’re thinking. Just what kind of name is Funderburk anyway? I was thinking that too as I absent-mindedly hit play on “Love Will Lead the Way.” And then I didn’t care because this single’s magnetic quality completely drew me in. The chimey guitar made the sparse hair on my forearms stand on end. Then the drum kicked in, setting the scene for a John Waite “Missing You” kind of hypnotic tempo. What followed was a marvelous piece of hit-single-worthy songcraft. “Love Will Lead the Way” has a beautifully restrained musical arrangement, vocals and performance that delivers its melodic punch all the more effectively for it. The later Fountains of Wayne effervescent harmonies were just the icing on the cake. As the song faded out I knew I’d be hitting replay more than a few times.
Before I knew it, I was downloading Funderburk’s entire catalogue from Bandcamp, including two albums from his band Second Saturday, a teenage release and an album of demos. As I skimmed these many recordings I was thinking, who is this fricking poprock genius? All this stuff is great, and that is not even getting to the album that includes our featured single, 2013’s Novel and Profane, which is also, by the way, freakin’ fantastic. The record is loaded up with tunes that sound like a Beach Boys beach party, if Fountains of Wayne and Bowling for Soup were put in charge of updating the sound. I knew I should spend some time with all these recordings and pull together a career retrospective – Funderburk deserves it – but I’m not feeling particularly patient right now. People need to know how great this single is pronto!
Now, if I may be so bold Wyatt, I’m going to mess with the past and reconfigure the release of this single. The current b-side – “The Reason” – is great but I’m convinced that another song from Novel and Profane would turn this baby into a killer double A-sided single. So I’m going to add “Never Seen the Sun” as the new b-side. I love the subtleness of the hooks in this song, particularly in the change up of the lyric measure on the ‘but you’ve never seen the sun’ line. Overall, the tempo and general feel is very Beatles country, with splashes of FOW on the vocals here and there. Brilliant!
It’s hard to find that much out about Funderburk. It appears he is producer that has worked with artists like Kurt Baker, the Wellingtons, and Bowling for Soup, among many others (Funderburk features recordings by many of the artists he’s worked with on his Soundcloud page). But a one-stop career recap is hard to come by. Nevermind. His recording are readily available on Bandcamp, iTunes, and elsewhere. Don’t deny yourself.
I landed a copy of Adam Daniel’s 1999 debut Blue Pop sometime around 2008. From the opening strains of “Breaking Up” I was hooked. Reviewers at the time gushed about the brilliance of the record, comparing it to work by Marshall Crenshaw and Tommy Keene. Daniel’s genius was to overlay the discordant vibe of the 1990s onto some pretty classic poprock. The album has so many highlights it’s a shame to focus on just this or that song … but I will. “Battle Song” is a rock solid single, with hooks and tempo changes that give it first-class ear-worm status. “Cured” reminds me a bit of the bouncy guitar pop of Mary Lou Lord. “Her Shake” kicks off with the tear-away electric guitar fun of a Fountains of Wayne single before resolving into a more uptempo Elliot Smith feel. “Said Don’t Go” is one of those subtle, melodic deep cuts each listener thinks is the special song only they have noticed. “Guess I Got a Girl” updates some neo-1950s motifs for the 1990s to create some pretty hooky magic. Meanwhile the various acoustic guitar numbers (“You Wrecked Me,” “Lovebug”) demonstrate the songwriting strength on this album. Sure the distinctive production and instrumentation makes this record sound pretty special but it wouldn’t go far without strong material. The album ends on a strong note with “Say Goodbye,” a slower tempo number that has a languid beauty, a slow hooky groove.
Somehow I lost my copy of Blue Pop in one of my many epic computer memory fails of the new millennium. I’d been listening to it a lot in the car but now, wiped from the hard drive, I couldn’t recall the name of the artist or the album title or even a single song. But from all music I lost, I somehow knew this was one I was really missing. When I chanced upon “Battle Song” on the internet recently, it all came flooding back. It’s great to be reunited with Adam Daniel!
Daniel has had a sporadic output since Blue Pop but the magic is still there in various releases, all of which can be perused on his Bandcamp, Facebook or personal website pages.
The story of commercial popular music is largely an English-speaking one, at least to those of us living in the English-speaking world. It is a rare thing indeed for a song with even a hint of foreign language content to grace the British or American charts. Yet it always struck me as strange that bands like ABBA would sing in English, given they were from Sweden. But the bottom line on linguistic choice has always been financial. Making records for six million Swedes and few million more in the other Scandinavian countries, or cashing in on a potential market numbering in hundreds of millions? The decision was obviously pretty easy. And so what if ABBA’s early English lyrics were a tad grade school – the hooks were there in abundance! Of course, if one traveled to distant lands in the past you could find bands singing in their native languages, but international travel was more exclusive then and shipping albums home was expensive. But now, with the internet, a veritable United Nations of poprock is just a click away! Today we focus mostly on western Europe but in future I plan to go as far afield as I can find.
Let’s begin with the Dutch. They’ve topped a number of English-speaking charts with songs sung in English. I’m talking huge hits like the Shocking Blue’s “Venus” and Golden Earring’s “Radar Love.” But singing in Dutch? Not so much. That’s a shame because there’s some pretty catchy poprock material sung in that language from The Kik. I swear there is a Beatles laboratory hidden somewhere in Holland that churns out modern-day, throwback-sixties beat groups. Some members of The Kik were also in a Dutch group called The Madd and they produced two great albums sung in English that went nowhere. Reformed as The Kik in 2010 they too started their recording career singing in English but then switched to Dutch. It makes no difference – the hooks these guys lay out are amazing. “Simone” is the calculated pop hit single from the 2012 debut album Springlevend (translation: ‘Alive and Kicking’) but other tracks like “Even Voor Altijd” and “Van Wie Hij Was En Wie Hij Is” demonstrate the band’s melodic depth and command of the mid-1960s British beat sound. Two years later 2 showed the band expanding their sound even further with the Monkees-like “Elektriciteit” and the 1990s swinging poppy number “Cupido.” A brand new album of covers is just coming out (Hertalt!), including a particularly jangly version of the Rembrants’ “I’ll Be There For You,” sung in Dutch. It’s just what your holiday needs! I have to throw in a special mention here for the band’s super b-sides, specifically “Here’s Hoping” (sung in English) and “Bel Mijn Nummer” (b side to “Cupido”).
Even Voor AltijdBel Mijn Nummer
The Germans too have had a few popular English-singing exports. Falco and Nena easily come to mind. But singing in German for English-speaking audiences? Only Connie Francis could pull that off. Again, we’re limiting ourselves. Check out what Thees Uhlmann does with healthy dose of Springsteen influence on his two solo albums. “Zum Laichen und Sterben ziehen die Lachse den Fluss hinauf” (whoa, long German titles!) opens with that classic atmospheric Springsteen piano but pumps up the poprock as the song develops. Meanwhile “Die Bomben meiner Stadt” has a totally different melodic vibe. While we’re on German-singing acts let’s slip next door to Austria to check out a song from Wanda, a Vienna-based band who mine a more obvious 1960s beat group sound on “Schickt mir die Post.”
On to French – but not France. This time we’ll get the diasporic influences on the language via French-Canadian singer Tremblay. Montreal-based Maxime Desbiens-Tremblay has two albums out and is also a novelist. He leans heavily on acoustic guitar in his particular mix of poprock, clearly evident on “J’suis pas tout seul” from his 2012 debut Ça va, ça va. It’s there too on “Sarah (Avec un H)” but so is the piano on a cut that could easily slip onto Michael Buble album. 2015’s Porcelain toughened up the sound on the opening single “Aime / Pardonne” but the acoustic guitar is still central. He even slips in a bilingual number (so Canadian!) with “Summer Love.”
They say that Spanish is the loving tongue. Well, we certainly feel the love here at Poprock Record where visitors from Spain rank 4th behind the US, UK, and Canada. And why not? Spain has some crazy love going on for all kinds of power pop. So much so that a number of specialty labels focused on the genre are based there. Elefant records is one of them (recent Primitives records have come out under their imprint) and they have released or re-released a host of records by the very modish Los Flechazos. These guys sound like a 1965 London nightclub – if it were located in Spain. They did release one killer EP sung in English (1996’s One More Try) but otherwise their material is sung in Spanish. But you won’t care once you hear the great jumpy rhythm guitar, cool organ and swirl of background vocals. It’s there with the totally 1965 beat sound on “Dejeme en Paz.” Or check the roll out and build up on “Quiero Regresar.” Or there is the more-hard edge, later sixties sound of “Ayer.” Got to sneak another Spanish contribution in here from the great Los Secretos. “Sobre un Vídrío Mojado” is from their 1996 album Grandes Exitos and vibes a bit more of 1980s poprock sound.
Dejeme en PazQuiero RegresarSobre un Vídrío Mojado
My two-volume Oxford dictionary on historical principles informs me that an ‘overlord’ is not just any feudal ruler but a guy pretty far up on the Middle Ages food chain. The uber lord, if you will. But then the online urban dictionary claims its just a bit of modern slang for “one who excels greatly over their peers in any particular task.” I think either one could work for Overlord, the highly literate poprock band from Brooklyn, NY. Their new single is “Up for Anything” and it’s brilliant. A straight up, one minute and 18 seconds of manicured pop songcraft, no filler. But to really appreciate what Overlord has to offer, we’ve got to go back – way back – to the 1990s and track the evolution of a slightly noisy, fuzzed out garage outfit to the finely crafted poprock connoisseurs they’ve become.
The band’s discography is like a picture slowly coming into focus. The first albums and EPs are somewhat discordant, vibing a kind of DIY punk ‘tude. But everything becomes more clear and pristine over time. The turning point is 2001’s The Wonderful World of Chemistry. Both “Populist Anthem,” with its blurry take on late 1960s California pop, and “Meet the Situation Artist,” featuring nice strummy electric guitar and washed out vocals, up the melodic anti for the group. But it is the brilliant “The 70th Love Song (Class of 1993 Reunion Theme)” that gestures toward the wit and intelligence to come on future releases. Beyond the stylized vocal effects, the song features some killer lyrics. It takes a certain perspective on things to contrast “some boys’ lips are made for smiles” with “some boys’ lips are made for sutures.”Populist AnthemThe 70th Love Song (Class of 1993 Reunion Theme)
These early tendencies are much in evidence on 2006’s Ticker Symbols. The deadpan drollery is there on “The Very Next Person to the Hold My Hand Can Have Me” and “When You Were Crazy” but things also get more melodically serious on the “We’ll Never Get Away” with its Brydsian and Beatles’ Revolver era élan. Meanwhile “The Song that Saved the World” sounds like a milder XTC take on the pretensions of ‘let’s give the planet a big hug’ musicians. Five years later In Soviet Russia, My Heart Breaks For You serves up another great batch of songs, particularly “Oh, My Mechanical Heart!” “Keep it from the Baby,” “Nothing is Wrong.” There is something very Hollies or even late 1960s Moody Blues in the broad sonic palette here, especially the vocals. The band’s mastery of form is even more obvious four years later on their note-perfect homage/send up of the mopey one on “I Want to Die with You Morrissey.”The Very Next Person to Hold My Hand Can Have MeWe’ll Never Get AwayThe Song That Saved the World
All this leads us to 2016’s The Well Tempered Overlord, the band’s undeniable masterpiece. The wit is cutting, the umbrage exquisite. This is deeply intelligent and catchy music, intellectually riffing on indie culture and beyond. Think of all those smart and clever bands – The Smiths, Magnetic Fields, They Might Be Giants, XTC – and this record adds a new member to the club. There really isn’t a weak cut on the album but I’m specifically loving the hooks on “You’re Gonna Love This One” or the great lead guitar and vocals on “It’s a Travesty,” the alternating tempo of “Incredibly Human” and the rollicking rush of “Posthumous Honors,” with its great line about ‘my whole life was a bad idea.’ And for those who came only for the sardonic wit you’ve still got “Give Up Your Dreams” and “My Absence Will Go Unnoticed.”
This particular turn of the dial takes us all over the musical map, sometimes to the very edge of poprock country. From indie folk-rock to proto-mod to alt country and then some, we have a lot of ground to cover.
On their 2012 debut album The River and the Road were a pleasant folk rock band, hailing from Canada’s major west coast city. But with Headlights, their 2015 release, some kind of transformation occurred. More electric, certainly, though the album also featured a number of strong acoustic numbers. No, something changed in their musical demeanor, kinda like they’d hit the musical gym, bulking up their sound and impact. Case in point – “Mistakes” rips open with a muscular electric lead line that keeps searing into the tune, aided by the full band dropping in at the 8 second mark. This is not really poprock. It’s got more of an edgy indie vibe but still there is something very hooky about the band’s guitar work. “I’m Broke” swings with a strong alt country melody, roughed up just a bit by the band’s more rocking sound. By contrast, “Strange Disease” reverberates with a drone-like banjo backing. And this is just a few highlights – really, the whole album is great. You may think you know what you’re getting with a band like The River and the Road (i.e. four on the floor Americana) but the record keeps pushing its own boundaries.I’m BrokeStrange Disease
When the name of your band is a reference to a 1976 song by another band, which is in turn a reference to a line from a 1965 movie, you’re deep into a very self referential world defined by its own measure of cool. Seattle’s Shake Some Action have been at it a decade now and they sound like a band whose sound has been forged in the fire of 1960s poprock, the late 1970s mod revival a la The Jam, with a healthy dollop of 1980s jangle pop. Their brand new album, Crash Through or Crash, is a sonic treat, all shimmery guitars and hooky reverb-drenched vocals. The opening cut, “Waiting for the Sun,” is a strong single, masterfully arranged to hit all the marks, from the hypnotic lead line to the seductive ‘ahhs’ that announce the chorus. I couldn’t help recalling all those great Mighty Lemondrops records, just for the sheer joy captured here. “Whose Side Are You On” is another tremendous song while “Starting Again” utilizes the Rickenbacker electric 12-string to great effect.
There is nothing precious about Rozwell Kid’s art. The West Virginia band specialize in the sort of ironic, sometimes goofy, sometimes smurky odes to nerdy dudes and their pathetic attempts to be cool. Thus their 2017 release, Precious Art, dials the irony up to eleven on a super collection of slightly off-kilter, buzzed-out guitar tunes. There are highlights galore. “Wendy’s Trash Can” sounds like Weezer meets Fountains of Wayne. “Mad TV” emotes a bit of Bad Books and some of Ken Devine’s solo material to me. “Michael Keaton” channels Weezer and tells a great story. And so on.
Toronto’s First Base are mining the same theme as Tommy and the Rockets and all the other bands whose origin story ultimately links back to the cartoon pop punk of the Ramones. Their bandcamp page has a host of strong singles stretching back to 2008 that are great garage punky romps. But their latest release – “Not That Bad” – represents something new. Sonically, lyrically, melodically, the sound is richer and the song more polished than earlier work. Imagine Teenage Fanclub with a late 1970s lead guitar player. This teaser isn’t even officially out yet. The new album is also called Not That Bad and I can’t wait to hear what the whole record accomplishes.
Heyrocco’s “Yeah” kicks off in a fairly standard rocking vein but then pushes the melody pedal at the 22 second mark in a way that really hooks me. The chorus says jump up and down and shake your head with 40 other people crowding the front of the stage. Melody is not Heyrocco’s main thing but when they make it a priority, they do it right. I usually find one tune I really love on their releases. On 2015’s Teenage Movie Soundtrack it was the great swinging slow rocker “First Song” with its Bernard Sumner vocal. “Yeah” is my fave from the band’s 2016 EP Waiting on Cool. Every now and then I hear just a bit of Sugar Ray in this band, which, personally, I think is a very good thing. Also, check out the fantastic demo version of “First Song” below, from the band’s 2013 Greatest Hits of the 1990s.Yeah
I was blasting through the Forty Nineteens new album, Good Fortune, thinking ‘ya, this is nice’ but it wasn’t grabbing me the way a new release needs to if I’m going give the replay button some exercise. Then I hit the very last song and completely changed my mind. “Two Pillows” is single-worthy magic. Great tune, killer arrangement, wonderful performance – I could go on. Laid on a bed of electric piano, the song has a poprock country feel, sharpened by a searing yet melodic guitar solo and great vocals. It made me go back and re-evaluate the whole album.
In 2006 I heard Ben Kweller’s “I Gotta Move” and I was hooked. His self-titled album released the same year only confirmed my initial strong reaction. The record was replete with should-be hits like “Run,” the magical “Sundress” and, of course, “I Gotta Move.” It’s a record where Kweller manages to bridge the guitar/piano divide that often divides poprock performers. Melding both instruments into the mix, he balances an aching pop sensibility with a familiar rock and roll sound. And all the songs are framed around strong hooks. Other strong tracks include “Thirteen,” “Nothing Happened,” and “I Don’t Know Why.” But why choose? There really aren’t any weak tracks here.RunSundressI Gotta Move
As an album, Ben Kweller spoiled me. I couldn’t wait for Kweller’s next record. Sure, I did a bit of digging, checked out his ‘sugar metal’ band Radish, as well as earlier solo recordings like the Ben Folds-ish “Falling” from 2002’s Sha Sha. But none really matched the mastery, both in terms of songwriting and production, of Ben Kweller in my view. When 2009’s Changing Horses arrived I must admit my first reaction was a bit of disappointment, as the album represented a fairly dramatic change of direction, away from the melodic poprock of earlier material toward an alt country vibe. While it has grown on me, I welcomed 2012’s Go Fly a Kite as a kind of musical course correction. The record opens with a trio of killer tunes, from the rockier “Mean to Me” with its Cars-like atmosphere, to the hooky “Out the Door,” to “Jealous Girl” with its distinctive piano and great ‘whoa ohs’. There is a country feel to some of the songs here too like “Full Circle” and “You Can Count on Me” but across all the material is a strong focus on melody. As a whole, Go Fly a Kite doesn’t hit a false note, with consistently strong songwriting and production.Mean to MeOut the DoorJealous Girl
But that was 2012. Since then, nothing, other than a holiday single and some movie work. Where is Ben Kweller? From a boy wonder who regularly churned out new material we have heard little in over half a decade. After a bit of searching I did come across a recent video session between Kweller and fans where he said he was working on a new album and had 50 songs to draw from. Well I’ve been missing Ben Kweller – it can’t come fast enough.
Ben’s work is available (mostly, some Radish and early EPs are hard to find) in the usual places. As for his new record, all we can do is regularly check out his website and Facebook pages and hope for updates.
Talent is breaking out all over and it is relentlessly resynthesizing decades of poprock influences in these contributions, from slacker pop to repurposed 1960s-influenced singles to rehabilitated punk-infused melodies and rock and roll.
Variously described as ‘lesbian garage rock’ or ‘Sackville stoner chicks,’ East Coast-cum-Windsor, Ontario duo Partner actually defy easy categorization. Early songs like “Personal Weekend” and “Hot Knives” were rough, often hilarious, and definitely garage-y. So knock me down when I got wind of their just-released, super slick new record, In Search of Lost Time. This thing is a monster of exquisite playing, deft hooks, and whip-smart wordplay. I don’t even want to select a couple of songs to feature, it’s just too painful trying to choose! “Everybody Knows” is the first single, an obvious choice, and it’s a winner, chock full of great imagery of clueless stoners shopping their brains out in an oh-so straight world. But that would be obvious, wouldn’t it? I prefer to go with the songs that really highlight the duo’s musical subtlety and hooks. Like “Gross Secret,” a mellow number with a nice slow-burn guitar solo. “Angels from Ontario” sounds a bit like a certain kind of off Broadway musical number, before it takes off mid-tune. “Play the Field” and “Creature in the Sun” both have swell melodies while “Remember This” features a knock out guitar solo. There is something decidedly nineties about the overall sound, very Weezer in places, but the vocal blend of the two singers is totally unique. This whole record really is something special.
After featuring the Lund Bros. amazing back catalogue in August, imagine my delight to discover a new solo recording from chief songwriter and vocalist Chris Lund. Great Event Syndrome is self-produced and home-recorded, though you’d never know it from the Abbey Road-like production values. Content-wise the record is maximum ear candy with Lund slipping in all sorts of nods and winks to that classic mid-1960s British Invasion rock and roll sound. It’s all on display on the single-worthy “Tell Me,” from the chunky guitar hooks, to vocals that shift from sounding very Cheap Trick-Robin Zander early on, to something like Rush’s Geddy Lee in a mellow mood, to ever-so-Beatles on the stretched out ‘tonight-t-t-t’ in the chorus. Love the wobbly synth that crops up all over the tune. “What’s Her Name” is another highlight for me, showcasing Lund’s careful attention to vocal arrangements. Though the knee-jerk critics’ reaction is to connect Lund’s style with the Beatles (and on songwriting that is definitely true), vocally he reminds me a lot of Alan Clarke of the Hollies and the harmonies associated with that band. Also check out “The Juice,” where nice acoustic guitar picking combines with some 1960s American west coast vocal stylings to belie the song’s serious subject matter. And this just scratches the surface of this great album.Tell MeWhat’s Her Name?The Juice
The Safes follow a familiar trajectory in band development, from raucus rock and roll origins to a more refined sound as we get closer to the present. “Deception” from 2006’s Well Well Well showcases the fun, almost live feel of their early work. But fast forward to the 2013-16 period and the sound has shifted to more melody and harmony on tracks like “Live Life Like You Want to Live” with its almost plaintive single note piano solo. The basic elements are actually all still there, they’ve just been rejigged in importance, as can be seen from the great rock and roll guitar intro to “I Would Love You,” which also features a distinctive keyboard solo, this time on organ. Which brings us to the present and The Safes’ fabulous new record Tasty Waves. Sounding like a more punky version of Apples in Stereo, the band aces the first single and opening track “Hometown” with its chiming guitar and swinging hookiness. Here comes a serious ear worm infection! The whole album is pretty strong, though I’d single out “Streets and Sanitation” for special mention with its insistent strummy-ness, rumbly lead line and nice horn motifs.
Take some of the 1960s more melodic rock and roll and combine that with a 1990s punk esthetic and you might have Together PANGEA. 2014’s Badilac reinterpreted the Yardbirds’ pop sensibilities as if they were a garage rock act and the results were amazing on the title track and songs like “Offer” and “No Way Out.” Now they’re back with Bulls and Roosters and the creative reinvention of the 1960s continues, this time brilliantly mining Memphis soul on their swinging “Money On It,” though the ragged vocals stamps the tune as suitably garaged-up. Or things seem familiar with the in-your-face punky style on “Better Find Out” until the chorus explodes melodically like a Young Rascals’ single on speed. Run don’t walk to get tickets to these guys. Your dancing shoes will thank you.
Partner, Chris Lund, The Safes and Together PANGEA are never going to take the world by storm without your help, by which I mean your money. Check out their sites and seriously consider contributing to their ongoing musical reproduction.
Phil Dutra strikes me as an eminently nice guy. His songs have a pleasant 1970s soft rock aura, roughed up just a bit around the edges with some 1980s new wave and 1990s indie sensibilities. His recorded output has emerged in fits and starts in 1999, 2007, and more recently in 2014. I like a lot of what he does. But I was floored on first listen to what I think should be a monster hit, his anthemic “She Walks Away,” particularly the Michael Lloyd remix featured on his 2007 EP Right Behind the Rain with its more tweaked vocal effects. This is a big song, with changes that ring out with that ‘I’m a classic song’ feel. I can’t believe the song has not been picked up by some hit-belting vocal giant like Michael Buble or Rod Stewart. Of course, I’d prefer covers more in the Fountains of Wayne register but you get my drift. The song deserves to be sung and should be Dutra’s regular paycheque. Well, for now we have Dutra’s version and make no mistake it’s pretty special.
Catch up with Phil’s recordings on Bandcamp or his latest music news on his Facebook page. And recommend this song to some insanely popular vocalist you know.