Bob of the Pops is a labour of love from Robyn Gibson, leader singer of The Junipers and, in this case, a one-man band performing all parts on this particular project. Sneaking in recording sessions after his main band was done work for the day, Gibson took five years putting together this amazing collection of covers. The range is spectacular, from rare to well known choices covering 1960s up to the 1990s. Gibson’s formula is simple: take catchy tunes and apply his unerring talent for recreating a jangly 1960s British poprock sound. The fit is obvious with his covers of sixties bands like the Hollies, the Springfields, the Who, the Beatles and the more obscure Honeybus, but it works just as well for later material from the Dentists, Kirsty MacColl, Teenage Fanclub, and the Laverne and Shirley TV theme.
Bob of the Pops is a strong collection but the standout track for me is Gibson’s reinvention of Nick Heyward’s “He Doesn’t Love You Like I Love You.” The song is a nice cut from Heyward’s 1993 album From Monday to Sunday, penned and ably performed by the former Haircut 100 front man. But Gibson brings out the song’s inner 1960s soul, tweaking the melody as if it had been a hit by the Searchers (the first time around). Besides, who refers to ‘rag dolls’ outside of the 1960s? Nobody. This is now the definitive version (sorry Nick).
Bob of the Pops deserves wide exposure, it’s that much fun. Tell your friends, give it to your relatives. You can get the album on Bandcamp and visit Robyn on Facebook.
There was a group of kids in high school who were into all the punk and early post-punk material. I could dig some of the sentiments but just couldn’t hear the tunes. That’s why I steered more to the new wave side of the street: Elvis Costello over the Damned, the Jam over Sex Pistols, and the mid-to-late period Clash over the early Clash. But if we see punk as more a sentiment than a genre, then we can always find a number of acts punking up the perimeters of poprock. Today we explore that punky poprock sentiment.
We begin – where else? – Austin, Texas. The Republican voting, open-carry gun-toting, millennial-cult-confronting state also breeds a damn fine indie music scene. Jonly Bonly exemplify that tradition with a cool rush of adrenaline-soaked punky poprock on their debut album, Put Together. I love the kick off to “I Don’t Mind” – so 1960s garage rock – and then the catchy lead guitar line that threads its way throughout the song. “Never Thought I’d Die” has a nice hook and an interesting mix of guitar sound, as does “Long Distance.” All three songs are strong on melody.
The Lowboys take us somewhere in Virginia, the band being mostly the work of Joseph Hurlock, described on Facebook as a “song guy from VA.” The performances here all have a wonderfully chaotic feel to them. “Defense Mechanism” is a song that often seems to be hanging on to its structure by a thread, given the endearingly shambolic vocal, but the basic hook survives and the chorus hints at a more straight up poprock potential. Don’t miss the eccentric solo. “Don’t Fail Me Now” is another good song that meanders out of the gate but somehow really comes together in the chorus.
Last up is Volcano, I’m Still Excited, an Austin-meets-Brooklyn combo that vocally reminds me of Everything Everything on their only single, “In Green.” The song is a work of subtle discordant genius and clocks in at just over two minutes. As quickly becomes apparent in listening through their self-titled debut (and only) album, these guys have the musical chops but they make their cuts in the most unexpected places.
Everything about this song says monster hit: the hooky lead line opening, the understated build up to the chorus, and then the amazing melodic payoff. Fire Town exude a western poprock sound that was all over the mid to late 1980s with bands like Rank and File, the Bodeans, True West, Blue Rodeo and the recently featured Soul Engines. Their material has just a hint of country influence, particularly in the vocals, usually set against a trebly lead guitar that all comes together in a solid hook-laden chorus. Fire Town had two albums in the late 1980s and handful of strong singles, like “Carry the Torch” and “Heart Country” from their their 1987 debut In the Heart of the Heart Country. But “She Reminds Me of You” from their 1989 record The Good Life suggested a band really just taking off. Then they broke up. Some of the band members reformed their old group, Spooner, which also has some great material, before going on to form the fabulously successful band, Garbage.
She Reminds Me Of You
Most of the members of Fire Town have reunited on a new project with similar elements, the Emperors of Wyoming, which you can find out about here.
The accent today is on fresh and contemporary versions of poprock that nonetheless draw on all the classic elements: sparkly guitars, upfront melody, and close harmonies, with the occasional cool synth thrown in for good measure.
Berwanger’s Exorcism Rock is not what I expected it to be. From the title to the cover art I was expecting some kind of strip joint boogie rock or a 1980s hair band. But this album is whole heap of melodic fun. The range of material is simply amazing, from the Tom Petty-inflected “Booty Shake” to the breathy Vaccines-style vocal on “Black Sun” to the killer poprock riff driving “Slutty Skin.” As one might expect from a veteran of two successful bands (The Anniversary; The Only Children), band leader Josh Berwanger has really got his songwriting chops down. I also like the slow but melodic “Guess You Weren’t Wrong.” Check out Berwanger’s older material as well. The 2015 EP Demonios has a more downhome rock and roll feel, while 2013’s Strange Stains focuses more on the pop side with super tracks like “Bullets of Change,” “Mary,” and “Everybody Knows.”
So you live in Norway and decide to name your band Sweden – that’s not going to be confusing … Another great guitar band that relies on mixing up the guitar sound over songs with solid hooks. “Hey C’mon” from 2012’s Under the Sycamore Tree kicks off with a catchy acoustic guitar riff before exploding into a full on band treatment. “Barefoot Summer” from 2013’s Sixes and Sevens shifts back and forth between what an old rock and roll friend of mine once called ‘gunga’ rock (because the guitar makes that gunga gunga sound over and over) and tasty melodic solo bits. “American Kiss” is another strong cut from this album. Then most recently 2016’s Oh, Dusty has a slew of strong tracks. “Just a Kid” kicks off with a sound reminiscent of Hall and Oates ace single, “You Make My Dreams” but then goes in a totally different direction. “Stockholm” is a pretty solid single while “Hanging Around” is prime poprock craft.Hey C’monBarefoot Summer
Everything you read about SWMRS focuses on their punk sentiments and crazy stage shows. Certainly they look the part in their many online videos, i.e. young, male, and scruffy. But I don’t hear that listening to their 2016 release, Drive North. Instead these guys have a smooth and polished sound, apparent on tunes like “Turn Up” with its solid acoustic guitar and bass anchoring the song, and “Figuring it Out.” I also really like “Lose It,” a masterpiece of understated poprock. Check out this clever line – it just rolls out effortlessly with the music: “Why you’d have to have such a damn fine taste in music? Yeh, if all my favorite songs make me think of you I’m going lose it.” The band is on tour but curiously seem to be avoiding any effort to actually drive north – no Canadian dates have been announced.Turn UpLose It
Speaking of Canada, its version of Vancouver has a huge crop of great bands making the rounds these days, like The Zolas. It is interesting to hear the subtle change in this band’s sound over the course of a number of albums. 2009’s Tic Toc Tic puts the piano upfront in a recognizable poprock combo sound on tracks like “The Great Collapse” and “These Days.” But melody and hooks come to the fore with 2012’s extremely catchy Ancient Mars. Both the title track and “Knot in my Heart” seriously up the spooky melody quotient while “Escape Artist” is brilliant both lyrically and melodically. “Strange Girl” is bit more rocking but with an eerie, haunting melody in the chorus. 2016 brings more change as the band puts its synthesizer front and centre to good effect on its most recent album, particularly the killer title track, “Swooner.”
Got some great tips for this week’s Around the Dial from a super poprock site – Sweet Sweet Music Blog – that combines band interviews with their music videos. But don’t take my word for it. Be sure to visit SSMB as well as Berwanger, Sweden, SWMRS, and The Zolas online and find out for yourself.
I guess I lived in a 1960s bubble. Growing up with my parents’ record collection it seemed that if the music was catchy and the performance was strong then it would be hit. But I think it was the stalling of Marshall Crenshaw’s career after Field Day that woke me up to fact that not all great music gets to be widely popular. There is an inescapable randomness to it all. You don’t get two more clear examples of the fickleness of the fame god than Soul Engines and The Someloves. Today’s tracks are red-hot bona-fide should-be hits.
The Soul Engines hail from the Jersey shore and apparently put out a few albums, though only 2002’s Closer Still is widely available. If their other records are even half as good as that one, the world is missing out on some pretty incredible music. The whole album is a pretty solid genre-crossing effort, a perfect melding of old rock and roll, Everly Brothers’ style country harmonies, and upfront melody. But two songs stand out as extraordinary efforts: “It’s Just Another Day” and “Tomorrow’s Girl.” I can’t stop hitting replay on these two tunes. “It’s Just Another Day” bursts open with a rapid fire smatter of jangly lead guitar that eases into the song with a nice organ backdrop. The guitars, organ and vocals play off each other with a sound reminiscent of a lot of western-style 1980s poprock like True West, Rank and File, and Canada’s Blue Rodeo. “Tomorrow’s Girl” kicks off with some great drumming that never lets the energy dissipate. It’s a tune with great swing and harmony vocals: the whole arrangement of the song is perfect, there just isn’t a note out of place. These songs would be in heavy rotation on Poprock Record radio!It’s Just Another DayTomorrow’s Girl
The Someloves are yet another example of the seemingly endless poprock talent pool that is Australia. Formed in Perth in the mid-1980s, the band released a handful of singles and just one album, 1990’s Something or Other. In this case, the lack of success is a bit easier to understand as one half of the band’s creative duo simply refused to tour in support of their recordings, killing their record deal. Still, there have been non-touring success stories in rock and roll and given how drop dead amazing their lone album is, the lack of accolades and gold records remains surprising. I mean, check out the killer roll out of “Know You Now.” It’s all ringing guitars and The Three O’Clock-style breathy vocals that builds to an catchy chorus and then back to more ringing chords. It’s an intense three minutes and 49 seconds of poprock. “Sunshine’s Glove” works a similar formula but ups the melody enrichment, allowing the ringing guitars to echo the hooks. Pretty addictive stuff as a kind of double A-side single. The good news here is that unlike the Soul Engines, a fabulous double CD greatest hits retrospective is available for The Someloves: 2006’s Don’t Talk About Us.Know You NowSunshine’s Glove
Hey, it’s never too late to make these guys the stars they deserved to be. Check out the recordings they have available on iTunes and with other sellers. Contacting bands that don’t exist anymore is a bit more problematic but not impossible. The songwriters from the Soul Engines have a number of new projects on the go and can be contacted on their Jenny Pilot’s and The Susan Rumors sites. Don Mariani from The Someloves has solo recordings and work with The Stems and DM3 available and can be reached at his website and on Facebook.
Speaking of Facebook, I discovered these two acts via some great Facebook music groups: I Love Power Pop and Power Pop Rock. There is so much to know – it’s great to have help.
Ever since Billy Bragg came back to folk through punk rock, a succession of scratchy rock and rollers have downed their noisy musical tools for the more sombre, spare delights of an acoustic guitar and a well turned phrase. What emerges is neither traditional folk nor folk 2.0 but something more synthetic: Darren Hanlon calls it urban folk, a great label (whatever it may mean). I stumbled across Hanlon in the “Listeners Also Bought” section below an Ice Cream Hands album on iTunes, which tells you how much the categories have become mixed up, in a good way.
Since 2000 Hanlon has released a number of homemade sounding albums and EPs, chock full of earnest ballads and sometimes hilarious material. “Punk’s Not Dead” from 2002’s Hello Stranger being a classic example of the latter. But with the release of his 2010’s I Will Love You All Hanlon takes his songs and artistry to a new level. So many great songs to choose from, the name-checking references for comparison seemingly endless. The sweet “All These Things” with its charming video conjures up the acoustic side of Feist or the boyish enthusiasm of Jonathan Richman. “Butterfly Bones” is wistful and whimsical, both lyrically and musically. “Modern History” has more of a poprock feel, with a great hook.
The confidence of his 2010 release remained evidence for his 2015 album, Where Did You Come From? Again, the songs and performances seem perfectly pitched: “Salvation Army” sounds like any number of classic 1960s folk duos, “Awkward Dancer” is built around a great hooky lead line, while “Halley Comet, 1985” evokes the romantic imagery of Don McLean.
Darren Hanlon is a slice of something authentic. Explore what he has to offer on his website or Facebook page.