Musical gods of summer, you have heard our pleas! We have need of sunshine melodies and cool hooks to accompany our unrealistic seasonal aspirations and you have answered our prayers with new albums from some reliable sources. Get the bottle opener and air pump ready!
American-French duo Freedom Fry are no one thing. Their range runs the gamut of neo-cabaret to low-key dance numbers, with a whole lot in between. They’ve mostly put out original singles and EPs along with some inspired covers since 2011. But now comes their first long player, Classic, and it’s aptly named. Gone are the syncopated beats of last year’s Strange Attraction in favour of a more stripped down, acoustic sound e.g. banjos, dreadnought 6 strings, with just a touch of spaghetti western a la Ennio Morricone. You can really hear the western lilt on tracks like “For You,” “Cold Blooded Heart” and especially on the sunny “Past Lives” with it’s haunting whistling. Freedom Fry channel a kind of happy-go-lucky, feel good disposition on a lot of their tunes, even when the subject matter is dark. Kinda like riding a bike by the ocean on a sunny day. Feel that breeze on tracks like “Awake” and “Ticking.” This is a predictably solid debut album from a band that’s been single-teasing us for years!
For YouPast Lives
Just six months after the release of his stunning debut, T-T-T-Technicolour Melodies, Paul Ryan aka Super 8 is back with another solid 1960s-infused musical rumination on life, love and politics with his new record, Turn Around Or …There is a late 1960s Kinks and Stones-like quality to the recordings here, both in terms of social commentary and the easygoing acoustic-but-still-rocky vibe to the whole album. “Hey Mr. Policeman” and “Be Careful What You Say” update 1960s social criticism for the new millennium while “Smile” and “Turn Around Or” exude that 1960s endless summer. I love the harmonica blasts on “You Say You’re Leaving” and the rockier “Calling Out.” Ryan changes up the pacing with “Never Had a Love,” which reminds me of McCartney’s forays into older musical forms. But the highlights here for me are the subtle, building hooks on the Jayhawks-reminiscent “Mary Jane” and the obvious single, “Your Love is my Blanket.” Nice cover of fellow Scots BMX Bandits great tune, “Serious Drugs.” Turn Around Or …is a sixties-vibing, easygoing summer party album, and it has arrived just in time.
Musical gods must be paid and prayers won’t pay the rent or put new strings on the dobro. Get on over to Freedom Fry and Super 8’s internet real estate and pay the piper.
Every now and again a band comes along that writes great tunes and performs them in an ever so pleasing poprock way but also has something important to say. Really important, in fact. That is The Spook School. The Glaswegian foursome’s early recordings were favourably compared to the Buzzcocks with their general demeanor of punky urgency but quickly established that they were their own musically distinctive entity. The Spook School are all about gender identity and the many ways it shapes and is shaped by what people do. Their music and lyrics capture the confusion, heartbreak, loneliness and danger that accompanies anyone who is gender non-comforming. I challenge anyone to listen to the band’s recorded output and remain indifferent to the aching, tender, and angry insights they have to offer. And they are kick ass songwriters, with a quirky, delightful approach to re-inventing 1970s and 1980s rock and roll.
The debut album, 2013’s Dress Up, has all the band’s key themes on display: chugging rhythm guitars, searching lyrics, and hearts on sleeves, particularly on tracks like “Are You Who You Think You Are?” “I Don’t Know” and “History” with its great rock lead line. 2015’s Try to Be Hopeful takes this formula forward with “Burn Masculinity” and “Try to be Hopeful” but also offers up more single-ish material like “Speak When You’re Spoken To” and the wonderfully celebratory “I Want to Kiss You.” Continental Drift is a compilation from 2016 with two great contributions from The Spook School, the deliriously frantic “Sometimes I Hide From Everybody” and the hooky “Gone Home.”
But nothing could prepare fans for 2018’s Could It Be Different?, an album that roils with explosive intensity and a powerful sense of confidence. The Spook School kick out the gender jams on this release. The tone is set with the opening track, “Still Alive,” as the singer lets loose with “Fuck you, I’m still alive,” surely the most clear statement any oppressed group can make. From there the album is a tour de force, a major statement about being different and how hard that is. The killer tracks are just about everything: “Best of Intentions,” “Bad Year,” “Alright (Sometimes),” “I Hope She Loves You,” and “While You Were Sleeping” with its great lead guitar opener. This record is a top ten for the year, no doubt.
Do you know someone struggling with gender and gender identity? Because The Spook School is the kind of cultural support they need. Something that can give voice to their struggles and pain and, even, joy sometimes – with music and words. And everybody else wouldn’t suffer from hearing The Spook School either. Check our their tunes and latest adventures online.
At a glance Hamburg’s The Catherines appear to be the bastard child of The Smiths and The Magnetic Fields with their jangly guitars, parade of gorgeous 1960s diva single covers, and outrageously long and involved song titles. But that is just scraping the surface – there really is so much more. Yes, track titles like “Is Your Bigmouth Girlfriend Really So Charming” obviously vibe Morrissey but this band takes things further. Much further. Into the hilarious and absurd. I love how over the top things get with “If You Come Back You’ll Know What’s in the Fridge” and “Yes You’re Beautiful to Look at but So Ugly Inside.” Still, things live or die on the quality of the tunes and they are excellent. Janglepophub put me on to this band and he wasn’t wrong.
Let’s start with “Everytime You Say It’s Ok, I Know It Is Ok,” the latest single, a song that adds some stylish 1960s California pop sounds to the band’s distinctive jangle. Here is proof that band’s potential range exceeds the late 1980s Britpop scene. Of course, when they’re time-traveling back to the 1980s, it’s pretty special. “Good Golly Goo” has a delightful musical roll out and vocals that sound a bit more polished than the group’s usual melodic drone. Another Smithian homage must be “If You Knew What’s Behind Her Smile You Wouldn’t Want to Make Her Happy” with a ringing guitar right off that Manchester band’s debut album. Then “Let’s Kiss Goodnight in the Morning” combines a low key vocal delivery, jangle, and wordplay reminiscent of Stephen Merchant while “I Just Want to Lie Here and Listen to Our Heartbeat” combines a bit more crunch at the start and some lovely background vocals. I even hear some very Kinks influences on tracks like “May I Say I Love You Or Will You Faint?” So, I’m basically saying, you may come for the bombastic titles and cool covers but you’ll stay for the songs and performances.
You can buy The Catherines as load of singles here or get their album (which brings together some of the singles) here and keep up with their adventures here.
Summer is nearly upon us so it’s time to start thinking about that party playlist. You don’t want to be caught tuneless with the BBQ on and the craft beer flowing. The party element is important because the origins of rock and roll can be found in the joy and fun and abandon of people + good rocking + Saturday night. It’s the adrenaline that runs through Chuck Berry’s “Rock and Roll Music,” Jerry Lee Lewis’s “Great Balls of Fire,” and Elvis’ “Hound Dog.” So today’s selection of pop rock bands channel that original rock and roll party vibe in varied and exciting ways.
Santa Barbara’s The Tearaways sent me their latest CD (thanks boys!), but they needn’t have. I’d already bought most of their back catalogue, so I would have gotten around to getting the new one. These guys have been in the rock and roll game for the long haul, forming in 1982 but relentlessly gigging ever since. Their early to mid-career recorded output is hard to find, but since 2014 they’ve released five killer albums of 1960s-inflected pop rock and roll. These guys know their Merseybeat hooks and layer that with exquisite California beach harmonies. Sometimes it’s pure 1960s redux. Other times, very 1979 new wave or 1980s indie. But throughout the songwriting is strong, at times fun, even a bit goofy, or just filled with straight up party hooks. You can literally hear the party starting on the Irish-inflected 2013 single “We’re All Going to Drink Tonight.” Or put either of 2014’s Earle Mankey albums and hit shuffle for instant party mode with should-be classics like “Girls Who Love Cars” and “James Bond” or “Friends and Enemies” and “John Wayne.” 2017’s DW Hofner, Martin Gibson, Ludwig Rickenbacker, Earle Hammond & Vox Fender, ESQ adds a bit of Britpop/Oasis to the mix with “Find Yourself Another Fool” along with great rock and roll name dropping on “Bash” and “That’s Rock.” But my fave here would “Hello Isla Vista” with its dynamic vocal harmony drenched chorus. The new record is no slouch either. Anthems and Lullabies sees the band branching out, featuring some distinctive new solo vocal performances on the swinging “I Could Love You Forever” or the Orbisonesque “Remember to Forget.” And then there’s the hilarious, hooky “What a Jerk” and my choice for should-be hit single, the flawless “Sometimes Saying Nothing Says it All.” Live footage of the band confirms they pull off these tunes with an extra measure of rock and heart.
We’re All Going to Drink TonightGirls Who Love CarsJohn WayneWhat a JerkSometimes Saying Nothing Says It All
Our next group is the band that was playing in the background of your ‘night out at the bar’ when you suddenly realized they’re freakin’ fabulous (and it’s not just the beer talking). Minneapolis’ J. Eastman and the Drunk Uncles play like they’ve been playing together forever. They’re tight and easy at the same time. Their first album, No Capo Required, has a rough but solid indie sound, particularly on tracks like “Not the Liquor” and “Lack of Medication.” And then there’s earwormy jangle gem, “Josephine.” I’ve hit replay on this baby countless times – a real should-be hit! The band is back this year with Pleasing Some of the People None of the Time, an album that maintains all their indie charm with just a bit more polish. Comparisons to The Replacements and REM are not out of order, though I also hear a bit of a Springsteen, particularly some of his more recent poprock-oriented material (e.g. “Hurry Up Sundown” from 2014’s American Beauty EP). Highlights for me include “On Your Dime” and “Holding On.” But my hands down fave is “No Political Agenda.” I love its explosive ‘out of the box’ opening and driving guitar hooks. Gimme a twofer and a spot close to the stage this Friday night’s live performance!
Better shine up your dancing shoes for our next band, LA’s The Condors. They meld a classic rock and roll sound with that new wave sheen circa 1979 – think The Romantics meets Tom Petty, with a dash of The Cars and Elvis Costello thrown in for good measure. 2001’s Kinks’ inspired Tales of Drunkenness of Cruelty has a wonderful punky poprock sound on tracks like “Listen to Me Now.” By 2007’s Wait For It the sound had tightened up considerably. ‘Somewhere over the rainbow … there’s a party going on’ kicks off “Waiting Half the Night” and the start of a non-stop party album. Songs range from the droll “Don’t Want a Girl Who’s Been With Jack” to the blasting, driving “Carnival of Fools” to the rollicking “Wake Up.” However, my fave is probably the more sophisticated melody on “Something Better Coming Soon.” 2012’s 3 Item Combo changed up the sound a bit, adding considerable variety, sounding a bit Eels at times, Cars at others. Album highlights for me include “My Slice of Life,” “Seraphina Why” and full-on rock out on “Full Blown Love Attack.” In 2015 the band released just one single but what a tune! “Back to Jackson” echoes Nancy and Lee’s 1967 hit but takes it further. 2017’s EP Joi De Vivre shows the boys have still got it on tracks like “Tell It to the Judge” and the smoking instrumental “High Chaparral.” A night with this band would be dance heaven.
Listen To Me NowWaiting Half the NightCarnival of FoolsWake UpFull Blown Love AttackBack to JacksonHigh Chaparral
Looking to party like it’s 1965? Then The Connection is your band! I imagine a party night with this group is kinda like one of those dance scenes from A Hard Day’s Night. These guys have rock and roll chops influenced by a classic 1960s poprock groove, British pub rock, and American new wave. Think mid-1960s Stones, Rockpile, with a bit of NRBQ and Ramones. And the hooks! Songwriters Marino and Palmer leaven their party rock with healthy dose of melody at every turn. I can’t go through every album with this band – there’s just too many great songs. I love the early 1960s sweetness of “Little Lies” from 2011’s New England’s Newest Hitmakers or the rockin’ swing of “Gonna Leave You” from 2012’s Connection Collection, v.1. Then again 2013’s Let It Rock is all full of cool tracks like “She’s a Keeper” and “The Way Love Should Be.” 2015’s Labor of Love mines the more 1970s poprock sound of Nick Lowe and the Kinks, for instance on “Pathetic Kind of Man.” Ok, I did cover most of the albums. And don’t miss out on the band’s latest, Wish You Success – it may be their best yet. “The Girl is Trouble” is poprock perfection. But my current fave is “Mechanical Heart” with it’s sneaky earworm effect. Get your skinny tie on for this party band.