Ok, I can’t wait anymore. Winning Star Champion is the forthcoming debut album from Seattle’s Matt Batey, aka Ruler, due to drop May 25 of this year. But you need to hear this guy now. Besides, a few of his really catchy tunes are available now and won’t even figure in the line-up of the new record. Take “Easy Life” – my far and away fave Ruler track. This hook-filled treat swings just a bit, with a great break out in the chorus, only to drop out in the verses in an oh-so-seductive way. The layered background vocals are heaven! And the guy can afford to leave this gem off his debut album? Wow. Another free-standing single is “Complicated Mind,” a slow starting melodic burn than also takes off in the chorus. Winning Star Champion’s release is still months away but the three tracks in preview suggest this baby is going to cross the tape way ahead of the competition. The album’s opening track is “Petrified,” a perfect distillation of Ruler’s winning formula: ragged edges butted up against ever so expertly crafted poprock, with a few guitar riffs borrowed from your favourite New Order record. Another winner is “Unhindered Pace,” which reminds me Kevin Devine’s solo stuff and his work with Bad Books.
Teenage Fanclub is a band that keeps on giving. I count no less that seven break away bands and side projects that have emerged from the TF stable. It kind of reminds me of those early 1970s rock family trees that would trace the relationship of the Bryds, the Hollies, Buffalo Springefield, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and so on. Of course, in this case none of the subsequent bands have quite matched the success of the original, but they have produced some damn fine music.
Now BMX Bandits technically preceded Teenage Fanclub but TF members like Norman Blake and Francis Macdonald regularly went back and forth between the two groups. Douglas T. Stewart wrote endearing, melodic tunes with both of the above mentioned TF members. The band has ten albums and lot of great stuff to choose from but I’m singling out “Back in Your Heart” from 2003’s Down at the Hop. Though I also have to mention the charming and wistful “Take Me to Heaven” from 2007’s Bee Sting. Then Norman Blake created a new outfit called Jonny with Dave McGowan joining later. The combo had a very TF sound rubbed around the edges with some 1950s sensibilities. It took a few years to produce a record but 2011’s self-titled Jonny was worth the wait. “Candyfloss,” “You Was Me” and “Circling the Sun” are standout tracks for me.
BMX Bandits – Back in her Heart
And what is it about the drummers from this band? Drummer Paul Quinn left the band to form The Primary 5 who released three strong albums in the first decade of the new millennium. 2004’s North Pole maxes out the jangle on killer catchy tunes like “Mailman” and “What Am I Supposed To Do” and then changes things up with the sophisticated piano-laden “Easy Chair” and country-rock “Happy.” 2007’s Go kicks off with a heavier sound on “Off Course” but quickly melts back into those Byrdsian harmonies. “Sunsets” is a lovely languid mid-1960s piece of poprock. Meanwhile “Out in the Cold” has a more ominous 1980s melodic rock sound. And then there is the former and current TF drummer Francis Macdonald, a super talented singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist who has released a wide variety of material, including some moving piano and cello classical work. His band Nice Man and Bad Boys released The Art of Hanging Out in 2011 with a sonic palette just a bit more spare, acoustic and spacey in its arrangements than TF but still recognizably related. We featured the great single “Love is Game Two Can Play” before, but that doesn’t exhaust the great stuff here. A comparable single is certainly the hooky “Forever is a Long Time Without You” that opens the record. Other highlights would be the smooth 1950s-cum-1980s “Pretty Brown Eyes” and amusing and whimsical “Slinky.”
The Primary 5 – Mailman
For a lighter touch, Snowgoose (featuring David McGowan and Raymond McGinley) and Lightships (featuring Gerard Love) take the peaceful easy feeling part of the TF legacy for a spin. “Hazy Lane” from Snowgoose’s 2012 Harmony Springs has a lovely traditional pop-folk feel but those signature TF harmonies are still there. Meanwhile Lightships take things into a more LoFi direction on 2012’s Electric Cables. I love the slow build on the mildly chiming “Sunlight to the Dawn.” The last stop on this TF diaspora world tour is Norman Blake’s most recent diversion, The New Mendicants, with ace power popper Joe Pernice. These two make a great dissonant combo, pushing each other in new directions. The background vocals and musical style is a definite departure from the TF branded sound. Very Beatles on “Cruel Annette” while “If You Only Knew Her” mines a part of the country-rock canon somewhat neglected by TF, particularly on the vocals.
Snowgoose – Hazy LaneLightships – Sunlight to the Dawn
Amid all this other band activity, Teenage Fanclub go on, still putting out solid records more than two decades later. But clearly there was just too much music to be contained within the TF brand. Aren’t we the lucky ones? Start your tour of the diasporic influence of TF on BMX Bandits, Jonny , The Primary 5, Nice Man and Bad Boys, Snowgoose, Lightships and The New Mendicants and expand your TF universe.
Hurry and get your hands on this really super collection from the mysterious and musically iconoclastic Paul Ryan, aka Super 8. As a record T-T-T-Technicolour Melodies is defined by an acoustic sensibility but never limited to it. Instead Ryan’s acoustic guitar acts like old faithful in the background, sustaining every song, which are then adorned with all manner of ear candy: harmonica, slide guitar, cello, horns, you name it. Naming influences on this record is a potentially endless task, it is such an amazing synthesis of musical styles. In terms of tempo and feel, I hear the laid back confidence of Van Morrison in his masterful early 1970s period. Over the range of songs, you can hear a bit of the Rolling Stones, Wilco, the Velvet Underground, even the Verve here and there. But overall, the performance really reminds me of Beck on Odelay in its freewheeling, seemingly effortless pastiche of different sounds and musical motifs. And then there’s the songwriting, which is pretty impressive. This batch of tunes is mellow, soulful, and hooky. Need some uplift? Put this on while tooling around the house and feel the colour of your day change.
So what songs are the highlights? This whole record is great – there’s isn’t a bum track here. To my ear, “Last Final Cigarette” is the single with its mellow guitar hooks and subtle ear worm chorus. I love the background vocals that open “Catsuit” and the mournful harmonica and banjo that kicks off the “To Morocco” (which sounds like a great Stones acoustic number). Things rock up on the title track with some nice tempo shifts and tasty guitar work. “Just a Serenade” has a lovely lilting bounce that reminds me of vintage Wilco or acoustic Verve. The Beck influence seems particularly strong on the album opener “Tomorrow’s Just Another Day” and “Hey ! Non-Believer.” And then the whole thing wraps up with “My Sweet Baby Jane,” a track that sounds like it was pinched from a classic early 1970s country rock album by the Stones or the Byrds.
Super 8 is a major talent. Get in on the ground floor by checking out his internet real estate.
This turn around the dial is all about singles in their glorious yet circumscribed catchiness, ideally maxing out at just a few minutes of focused bliss. Today’s contributors vibe some solid poprock credentials, drawing from the post-1950s pop tradition, all things Beatles, stripped down new wave and various 1980s indie hooks.
Let’s begin with Brad Marino. His work with The Connection is stellar, melodic yet hitting all the rock and roll marks. Not surprisingly, his solo single is piece of poprock magic, oozing a late 1970s compressed new wave sound akin to The Ramones, Rockpile and, more recently, Tommy and the Rockets. Tommy Sistak reaches a bit further back with “You Can’t Change Me,” a track that sounds so British beat group circa 1964. What I love about this song are the clear 1950s influences on the sound and songwriting. Reno native Nick Eng goes straight for a Beatles 65 sound with his single “Reminiscing.” The song is catchy, with great Beatlesque background vocals and Harrison-worthy guitar licks.
Shifting gears into indie mode, it’s been fascinating to see Hurry shed its links with the punky garage sound of some of its earlier material (and Matt Scottoline’s earlier band, Everyone Everywhere) for a more unabashed melodic aura. It was strongly apparent with the hooky “When I’m With You” 2016’s Guided Meditation and is reinforced with “Waiting for You” from their latest Every Little Thought. This is ear worm central. Rounding out this batch is some good old fashioned 1990s-reminscent alienated indie with pop undertones. Hyness hail from Ontario’s Kitchener-Waterloo and “Choke” might give you some idea of what it’s like to live there. Extra points for succeeding with a Smith’s cover! “Hand in Glove” works here because the guitar work is sufficiently trebly and the vocals are yearning without aping Morrissey. There is something very Tracy Thorn in the delivery.
Hit singles can lead to quality albums which can lead to stadium tours, purchased islands, and conspicuous consumption documented by unreliable tabloids. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Why don’t we just settle for a hit single? Check out Brad Marino, Tommy Sistak, Nick Eng, Hurry and Hyness online to help make that happen.