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.”
Zum Laichen und Sterben ziehen die Lachse den Fluss hinaufDie Bomben meiner Stadt
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.