I’m a notorious needle-dropper. I skip through albums like some people click through the ‘recently added’ section on Netflix. But every now and then an album grabs me and I find myself listening all the way through, taking more from each song with every listen, or sometimes just transfixed by the order of the tunes themselves. When I run across material like that it’s time to repair to the listening room and give the albums in question some serious attention. Today’s listening room selections are new releases from Mike Pace and Child Actors and Aaron Lee Tasjan.
Forget what you’ve heard from this performer – get ready for something new. With sound like a distilled retro 1980s poprock playlist, the energy on Mike Pace and the Child Actors’ new release Smooth Sailing is seemingly irrepressible, akin to Bleachers’ great debut Strange Desire in its ability to take sonic elements from decades past and make them into something new. This is well illustrated on the opening track, “Everyone Out of the Car” which squeezes just about every ounce of 1983-era indie into one propulsive number, or “Senior Statesman” which injects a little melodic 1980s Springsteen into the mix. This album has highlights galore. “Blaster” kicks off with hit single written all over it and never lets up. “Disconnected Heart” captures the tender acoustic Big Star sound while “Troubleshooting” swings like Joni Mitchell at full volume. Back catalogue honourable mention – don’t miss out on Mike Pace’s previous band, Oxford Collapse, particularly the infectious “In Your Volcano.” Actually, you can’t far wrong with anything stamped ‘Mike Pace’ somewhere.
Aaron Lee Tasjan makes it look so easy. His songs lope along, seemingly straightforward, and then – bang – some ever so simple change up reels you in. Karma for Cheap has a classic easygoing rock and roll combo sound, a bit of Beatles’ Abbey Road guitar here, some classic early 1980s poprock background vocals there. But it all comes down the songwriting. As I listened to the record I kept saying, ‘damn, this is best song!’ Until the next one came along. “If Not Now When” kicks things off with a great stretched guitar sound and pumping piano, “The Truth is So Hard to Believe” sounds like a great lost outtake from The White Album, while “The Rest is Yet to Come” has a super poppy blues feel. But nothing really prepares you for the subtle brilliance of “Heart Slows Down,” the obvious single. Oh, it starts ordinarily enough. But at the 35 second mark something starts happening that leads right to the killer chorus and before you know it you’ve hit replay five times. Those great back up vocals! So simple, so seductive. Then “End of the Day” (which could easily be mistaken for a Tom Petty single) does it again with an innocuous start that hits the fast lane in the chorus as the background vocals and driving lead guitar line combine into radio-friendly, hit single bliss. But Tasjan’s not done with us yet. On “Strange Shadows” he is the spot on reincarnation of Roy Orbison while “Set You Free” lets loose some fine jangle guitar and solid stadium-size poprock hooks. There are other songs I haven’t mentioned but I don’t want to seem obsessed.