The autumn has brought a seasonal gust of new releases and they arrive just in time to compensate for the fading sunlight and sinking temperatures. There’s nothing like a good melodic hook to amp up the joy quotient of a grey day. Today’s turn around the dial brings back some old faves and new discoveries!
Ireland’s Thomas Walsh is solid. Every release from his group Pugwash contains great songs and oh-so-interesting performances. His love of XTC regularly shows through but always in his own distinctive and original way. And the guy can write should-be hit singles! I couldn’t stop playing “Easier Done Than Said” from 2017’s Silverlake. Now he’s back with The Olympus E.P. and it’s just more of the good we’ve come to expect. “You Can Build a House on Love” opens with that familiar somewhat dark string section that haunts so many super Pugwash tracks, “August Born” is a bit more upbeat, while “Happy Again” adds a more rock and roll feel to the EP. This is another winning addition to the Pugwash canon.
Another no disappointment artist is Joe Pernice, with or without the rotating cast of characters that populate his Pernice Brothers outfit. Seemingly out of nowhere he’s got a new record and it’s a killer. Spread the Feeling goes from strength to strength songwise, kicking off with the lovely, superbly crafted pop gem “Mint Condition.” From there it’s a veritable rollercoaster of hooky tunes: the ear wormy poprock genius of “Devil and the Jinn,” the nice acoustic-based “Wither on the Vine,” “Throw Me to the Lions” with its catchy New Order-style guitar lines, and that poppy melodic treat “Skinny Jeanne.” There’s also more than few endearing slower tempo numbers like “Evidently So.” Another easy candidate for the ‘best of’ year-end lists!
Speaking of consistency, Lawrence, Kansas indie-cum-classic pop rockers Berwanger have another satisfying disc with Watching a Garden Die. Tracks like the opening cut “Long Way Down” and the neo-1950s early solo John Lennon sound of “Bad Vibrations” have those familiar Berwanger hooks and swing. But the lion’s share of the album is more introspective and low key, as on tracks like the acoustic “Even the Darkness Doesn’t Know” or the bass-dominant “Friday Night” or the mellow “I Keep Telling Myself.” Ultimately, this is a record satisfying in its familiarity while still pushing against its own self-imposed boundaries.
Looking for some ‘pared-down folk rock’? You get a mix of rockier material and a more swinging acoustic vibe on Slaughter Beach, Dog’s new LP Safe and Also No Fear. Paired example: “Good One” and “Heart Attack.” The former has a nice build up, laying some grungy rhythm guitar overtop an initial acoustic base, with some attractive vocal harmonies near the chorus. Meanwhile the latter has a sunshiney swing that will work its way into your head, helped along by its sparkly acoustic guitar anchor and spare embellishments. Ryan Allen’s Extra Arms are back with their sophomore effort Up From Here and it sounds like Fountains of Wayne doing a rawk tribute. Edgy power chords with some solid melodic hooks, particularly on tracks like “F.L.Y.,” “Coming in Waves,” “Hold Me (All the Time),” and “Up From Here.” Overall, this baby’s a bit harsher than our usual fare but hey sometimes you really need to jump up and down and punch the air. This is your gateway air-punching release for 2019.
So many talented bands and solid releases so far this year. Check out Pugwash, The Pernice Brothers, Berwanger, Slaughter Beach, Dog, and Extra Arms in more detail by clicking on the links.
Curvy light road photo courtesy Larry Gordon.