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.
Gregory Pepper is no stranger to Poprock Record. We’ve lauded his early work (“Gregory Pepper is not a problem”), tested the audience reaction to his many changing moods (“The Pepper challenge: Classic Greg versus New Greg”), and included his tunes on themed blog posts (“Celebrity poprock: What’s in a name?“). We’ve even shamelessly name-dropped him and his talents when we’re featuring other artists. But now we can offer you more, much more – a veritable ticket to Pepperland! Now you can see inside the creative process of this superlatively talented artist by joining his Song of the Week Club on Patreon or Bandcamp. Every Friday Pepper posts a new song and the website features Pepper sharing insights into his creative process, answering fan queries, and trading quips with the creative people who’ve signed up to support him.
Now I know what you’re thinking. You’ve seen these sort of crazy K-tel-esque offers before and they just seem too good to be true. Oh, it all starts off nice but after a few weeks of genuinely new material the whole operation degenerates into live album outtakes and crude demo tapes. But hey, would I steer you wrong? As your poprock curator I’ve already sampled the goods and I can assure you everything has an address on quality street. The Song of the Week Club got its start July 4 with the anthemically timely “Going Back to the U.S.A.” Since then he’s produced 14 wholly new poprock gems. By special permission from the head Pepper himself, I can showcase some of this new material here to whet your appetite.
Only 14 songs into his 52 song odyssey and already the wide range of material presents too much choice. But the four songs below I think give you a sense of what Gregory Pepper is doing. The songs capture his musical dexterity, sublime lyrical creativity, and sense of fun. “Sublime Sun Tattoo” has a late 1950s, early 1960s melodrama pop sound, with a lyric devoted to exploring Enya’s possibly castle-fed loneliness. “Worrier Spirit” has very Elvis Costello melodic subtones circa Punch the Clock to my ears. I love the way the guitars charge out of the gate, only to drop out with the vocals, the great pulsing organ, and the theramin/Quinn Martin Productions sound that appears at the three-quarter mark, capped by a cool James Bond chord ending. It’s the little details that make these such melodic masterpieces! “Give Yourself a Hand” has a great swinging feel with sweetened vocals that add just a touch of light to the desperate drabness so typical of a bachelor party trip to the strip joint. “Two Speeds” showcases Pepper’s mastery of different stylistic eras, with some nice Merseybeat touches, particularly the guitar riff and the overall song structure. I gotta stop here or I’ll give away the store.Sublime Sun TattooWorrier SpiritGive Yourself a HandTwo Speeds
And the price? Just $4 a month for a new tune every Friday. That is some crazy bargain. Of course, you can always offer to pay more. Hustle over to the Patreon or Bandcamp sites and sign up today – you won’t regret it.