This turn around the dial offers up some real variety, from melodic indie to spacey jangle to neo-1950s to straight-up heartland poprock.
With a name like The Front Bottoms I just assumed the British vaginal slang meant they were from somewhere in the UK. But New Jersey hasn’t been part of the United Kingdom for hundreds of years so I guess you can’t judge a book by its title. Nor can you judge a band by its past efforts. I’d heard some cuts from this group years ago and it wasn’t particularly my cup of tea with its mostly-talking-rather-than-singing vocal style and attitude-oriented punk esthetic. But something happened on their 2015 release, Back on Top – the band dramatically increased the melodic quotient of their songs while actually singing a bit more, with “Cough it Out” and “Help” (great keyboard opener!) real stand-out tracks. This year’s Going Grey just solidifies this new sound. The hit single for me is clearly the anthemic “Peace Sign.” The song opens with lovely echo-y keyboard and builds from there, from spare verses to crunching choruses that hit you with hooks that make an impact. Even the bridge is worth mentioning – it’s the musical equivalent of edging given the way it holds the melodic tension. Other album highlights include the staccato groove of “Bae” with its surging chorus and the hooky drone of the more musically muscular “Grand Finale.” But really, the whole album hits all the marks of intense listenability. BaeCough It Out
Music veteran Stephen Smith has been playing in bands and writing music since the early 1980s and his most recent vehicle The Morning Line bears the influence of all that history and experience on their latest record, Smoke. 1960s poprock, some jangle, that slightly muddy 1980s underground sound, with splashes of indie country and folk. “Los Angeles” opens the record with an acoustic guitar and builds a hypnotic pace into something very radio single-worthy. “Anybody Else” unleashes the jangle guitar while “All Mine” sounds very 1960s beat group channeled through 1980s with its great rumbly electric lead guitar. I love the opening to “Polygraph” which builds on a guitar riff in a very 1970s sort of way before segueing into a Graham Parker sound, if Graham was a bit more mellow. “Mailboxes” finishes things with slightly country poprock feel. Smoke is an enjoyable ride – hit play and hit the highway for at least 30 minutes or so.
Brighton UK’s Fur sound like an early 1960s British beat group offering up their versions of 1950s classics. The song structures are pure 1950s. “If You Know That I’m Lonely” could easily be mistaken for the sort of material the bubbled all over American radio circa 1958-9 while “Not Enough” mimics that airy ballad style honed to perfection by a legion of boy and girl singers at the cusp of the 1960s. “Trying” updates things somewhat with its fat sibilant lead guitar sound – this one is a bit more pastiche with its modern and classic touches. Would love to see the record collections that influenced this outfit! I love the sound they have created. It is somehow simultaneously both contemporary and wonderfully dated. Can’t wait to check out a whole album by this bunch.Not EnoughTrying
We raved around Gordy Garris’ 2015 release The Pulse for its songs and understated delivery. Garris always seems to squeeze a hook out of his songs with the most bare delivery. Well his most recent album builds on his previous efforts as he becomes a first class songsmith. Never Give Up opens with “Let Me In,” which sounds like Garris going for the hit single with its slow build and smooth background vocals. This one starts sparse (in classic Garris style) but develops a slicker and more commercial sound, but in a good way. And from here there are so many highlights it’s hard to choose amongst them. “Good Times” starts with a great acoustic guitar hook and then gets its swing on with a catchy tune. “All That I Want” showcases how Garris uses a great vocal delivery to bring out the hooks in his songs. “Stole My Heart” sounds very Joe Jackson circa Body and Soul, minus the acerbic delivery. Other highlights for me include “Move Me,” “Remember Me,” “Out of My Mind,” and the ballad “Believe Me.” So, yes, basically the whole album. It’s that good.
Wrapping up this twist of the dial is the poppy Americana jangle of Mike Daly and the Planets. This is another performer in for the long haul. Mike Daly’s been making music and records in a host of bands for decades. It shows on this remarkable debut from his new outfit. Just check out the Beatlesque opening tempo of “Never Too Late” and its seamless shift into a great new wave vibe. Or the Costello feel of “No Simple Task” with its swinging melody. But the album’s highlight is undoubtedly the majestic “Salvation,” a song that manages to be both moving and insanely catchy at the same time. And to show where Daley comes from, check out these tracks from his former band, Every Damn Day. I love the banjo that kicks in half way through “Theme From an Imaginary Sitcom” and the full-on Costello-cum-Beatles homage in “It’s All About Tonite.” These are lost gems!Never Too LateSalvationNo Simple TaskTheme from an Imaginary SitcomIt’s All About Tonight