Head Sounds is another super-Cali-fantastic release from Paul Ryan aka Super 8! Imagine Ray Davies joining the Beach Boys sometime in 1968 for a one-off album outing and you kinda get the picture. Ryan aces that late 1960s California poprock sound on tracks like “Dragonfly,” with its sometimes dreamy, sometimes swinging groove and timely sentiments about ‘what if you could only live for a day’? And things just get more groovy from there. Five of Head Sounds numbers already appeared on an EP of the same name but the expansion really fills out the original sunny, sand-flecked ambiance. Dig the happy township jive animating “BoNes,” or the addictive rhythmic hook undergirding “BeBopALuLa,” as well as inspired covers of both the Beatles (“Across the Universe”) and Beach Boys (“In My Room”). There a Roddy Frame/Aztec Camera quality to “Love Like Ours,” a skipping-on-a-sunny-day feel to “Millionaire,” and a laid-back let it be vibe to “Keep the Home Fires Burning.” If sunshine had a soundtrack, it might sound like Head Sounds. Drop the needle anywhere on this disc and groove your cares away.
Super 8 has delivered the tonic we need at this particular historical moment, an album to help us ‘stay calm and carry on’. Get your smile on with a copy of Head Sounds right now.
No pandemic is gonna stop us twisting that radio dial to find out just what is out there music wise! Today’s featured acts take ‘moody’ and ‘strange’ in all sorts of melodic and unexpected directions.
All my favourite poprock artists are growing up. Here with another 30-something pre-midlife crisis album is Mo Troper and his wrenching pain and discomfort adds up to 34 minutes of sweet sweet listening pleasure for us on his latest, Natural Beauty. Similar to Gregory Pepper (whose recent I Know Why You Cry is another winning sonic rendering of 30-something issues), Troper is toting up his 20s shortcomings with a bevy of frank, focused, but still melodious tunes. And like Pepper, Troper’s latest may be his most mature, fully realized work to date. “I Eat” kicks things off and sets the tone for the album, with its serious theme and carefully manicured production. Natural Beauty is just full of wonderfully layered sounds, strikingly varied keyboard flourishes, and an often naked honesty on the vocals front. Then again, “Your Boy” is the other side of this record, a textbook poprock masterpiece, anchored by a brilliant La’s-like jangle guitar hook at the start which just keeps mutating across piano, electric guitar and a slew of melodic vocals. This song is the soundtrack to a 1960s montage sequence where the boy meets a girl and joins a band and then a host of happy stuff happens. More serious themes emerge on “Potential,” “Lucky Devils” and “Better Than Nothing” but still they remain perky, poppy numbers. Possible influences abound here, with perhaps a bit indie 10cc or McCartney-meets-Morrissey on “In Love With Everyone” or a McCartney/Shins combo on “Your New Friend,” while “Everything” really reminds me of Apples in Stereo’s “Seems So” period. Personal fave: the new wave-ish “Almost Full Control” with its hypnotic bass work. For me, Natural Beauty is heading straight to the ‘best of 2020’ list, a must-have-the-whole-album release.
Melbourne’s Danny McDonald is a veteran of the Aussie indie music scene, playing on over 70 different projects since the early oughts. But one listen to his latest EP Modern Architecture and you’re going to be wondering where has he been? How has a guy this talented kept such a low international profile? Right out the gate, McDonald grabs the listener full force on the supercharged power pop should-be hit single, “Cordyline,” with its Big Star hooks and Brydsian background vocals. Then things rumble-guitar along nicely on the touching, rootsy duet with Anna Burley, “The Suburb I Grew Up In.” The 58 seconds of “Judge Me for my Art, Not Where I Live” sounds a lot like a punked up treatment of a great lost Plimsouls track. “Commuters Lament” vibes just a little Jayhawks while “Keeping the Dogs at Bay” is in the same vein as Richard Turgeon’s stolid stripped-down rocked-up pop. My only complaint about Modern Architecture is that is all ends too soon!
Another winning act from Melbourne is Adam Madric’s latest project, Pure Moods. On their debut album, Upward Spirals, there’s a fleeting Teenage Fanclub vibe at times, but on the whole this record is marked by a distinct sound – the rhythm guitar. More than is typical, it’s up front in the mix, anchoring the sonic portrait of the band. I love what sounds like an envelope of sound, the jangle drone, that opens the record on “Tide” and remains on “Backwards World.” Things shift gears with the title track which grooves along with a very 1970s soft rock rhythm guitar – that is until the Kraftwerk keyboards kick in and the whole thing slides in a different direction. There’s a tempo uptick on “Sideways Glance” and the jaunty “Sparkle” and both tunes shine melodically. Pure Moods’ Upward Spirals makes for intriguing, ultimately enjoyable listening with catchy songs that ride the tension between their lively musical performance and Madric’s somewhat low key, alienated vocals.
Taking a spin through Strange Passage’s Shouldn’t Be Too Long makes you realize just how good all those Morrissey solo albums could have been if they’d just sounded like this. And these guys are not even from some dreary northern British former industrial town but they’ve nailed the jangle alienation of the Mopster and his guitar pals. Seriously though, the songs here bubble with Smithian fun, like the energetic “Cloying Melody” with its rush of guitars and R.E.M.-meets-The The vocals. From the opening cut, “Idle Time,” it’s clear this is a really strong outing song-wise. Frankly, I can’t find a single track I wouldn’t hit replay on. Ok, maybe “Shouldn’t Be Too Long” seems special for cranking the sparkle on the guitars or “Ode” for being so Paul Simon doing Morrissey. Despite the comparisons, Strange Passage are not some wannabe something else band. They work this sound into something quite their own and it’s a pleasure to hear.
So far, the end of world sounds more like “The Sounds of Silence” than the rumble and destruction of a Simpsons-esque apocalyptic crowd waving torches. But if this is the end of the world, what should our soundtrack sound like? Not the obvious choices, obviously (yes R.E.M., I mean you). At the very least the end of times should give struggling indie artists the spotlight for once.
That’s why we’re kicking things off with cheeky Portland band Streetcar Conductors. They’ve got a great new song called “Brand New Lease on Life” (which also seems timely in its own way) but our featured tune and the inspiration for this post, “It Sounded Like the End the World,” is actually from their amusingly-titled debut album, The Very Best of the Streetcar Conductors. Kicking off your career with a ‘greatest hits’ – that’s serious moxy. On the theme of worlds ending, Lannie Flowers wastes no time getting to the “Edge of the World,” a terrific song that clocks in at just a minute and two seconds. Good thing too as I guess we really don’t have time to waste. Liverpool’s Rob Clarke and the Wooltones lighten the mood with their jaunty, jangly “End of the End,” from their 2014 LP The World of the Wooltones. Who says bad news has to sound bad? By contrast, a song sure to be voted more cinematically ‘end of the world’ is The Call’s “Apocalypse,” from the band’s least successful early album, 1984’s Scene Beyond Dreams. I always thought The Call were British but they are certainly vibing their Santa Cruz roots on this track. Annabelle Lord-Patey is Elliott Smith reborn on her gentle apocalyptic ode, “Doomsday,” a cut from her wonderful debut album Polaris. Fingerpicking your way to oblivion never sounded so good. Hip fuzz rockers Best Coast prepare for “The End” in style on this song from their exquisite 2010 release Crazy for You. This swinging track will definitely put a skip in your step. And for something a bit different, Jill Sobuleimagines the end of times as an orgy of not paying bills and making beds on “A Good Life” from her 2009 record California Years. Now, that sounds about right to me.
Lannie Flowers – Edge of the WorldThe Call – ApocalypseBest Coast – The EndJill Sobule – A Good Life
It may have sounded like the end of the world over this past week but we’ve been mistaken before. On the off chance we’re still all here in the days ahead, let’s help our fave artists keep heart and hearth fortified with some cash transfers via Bandcamp or your favourite internet music retailer.
Shamelessly exploit an emerging health crisis for some weak blog tie-in? Not our style friends. Think of this as a public service, designed to distract you from the impending end of the world as we know it. As someone once said, if we’re going to have to go, we might as well go out singing!
Not that we should get too excited. Phoebe Bridgers captures a bit of the aura of impending doom that’s all about on her low key but catchy “Motion Sickness.” By contrast, The Popravinas “Almost Sick” almost sounds celebratory in a country ‘my truck died’ sort of way. KC Bowman’s crew of musical friends also have a timely tune in their Preoccupied Pipers guise with the sprightly “Sick Time.” On the other hand, Swedish/German duo It’s a Musicalget right to the point with the quirky “The Music Makes Me Sick” (disclaimer: no music on this site will actually make you sick). Another KC Bowman vehicle is the cleverly named Stik Pinz and they sound positively blissed out to get some “Medical Time.” Well, who wouldn’t, under our present circumstances? Can I get a doctor? That might be what Chris Von Sneidern is saying on “Doctor.” Then again, the album is called Big White Lies so who knows. It’s a lovely song and that’s all my prescription guarantees. The Lolas get a little more specific with “Doctor Apache” and they’ve pretty’d up their usual rocking sound with some lovely jangly guitar argpeggiations. Juliana Hatfield has turned out so many great, underappreciated LPs. Like Pussycat, with its topical “I Wanna Be Your Disease.” Working the Americana side of the poprock street, The River and the Road layer in the banjo to earworm up their thematic contribution, “Strange Disease” and it works! Just the musical cure we’re looking for. And for the wrap, how about some Bill Lloyd from his fab 2018 album, Working the Long Game in the form of “What Time Won’t Heal.” Hopefully, if our preparations were effective, you’ve been toe-tapping your way to distraction and forgot all about … what was that news headline?
Chris Von Sneidern – DoctorLolas – Doctor ApacheThe River and the Road – Strange DiseaseBill Lloyd – What Time Won’t Heal
Time to pull together people. Even as we practice some social distancing to survive in the days and weeks ahead, we can always let the music bring us together. Click the links above and bring some money-joy to our performers as they tart up their quarantine quarters, er, I mean, wherever they call home!
Melody central stands at the junction of pop and rock, with hooky guitar lines and heavenly background vocals to spare. It’s one stop shopping for your melody-coated rock and roll needs. Today’s melody-ers hit the beat with just the right balance between old time inspiration and a contemporary indie elan.
Bandcamp has this ‘if you liked’ feature that runs across the bottom of the page of any artist you might be checking out. I find so many great acts there! Like Chicago’s Batteries Not Included. Just looking at their website live show pics, these guys seem like the ultimate party band to me. Rockin’ together since 1980, sporadically releasing an LP and EP, BNI boast opening for a wide range of classic sixties bands (e.g. Spencer Davis, Lovin’ Spoonful) and more recent indie poprock outfits (e.g. The Smithereens) over the years. Still, while remaining active, they’ve never really broken out big. A quick spin through their latest long player, Hey Hey Hey, is proof their stick-to-it-ness is not misplaced. What fun, happy tunes! “Winning Ticket” shimmers with early Romantics hookyness. “Count on Me” is so early 1960s Buddy Holly meets Bobby Fuller. And then there’s tracks like “Fall for You,” “Bit by Bit,” and “I Knew” which vibe the fresh, crisp melodic rock and roll sound of the Paul Collins’ Beat. This is a no-risk purchase if you’re looking for a hooky no-nonsense poprock record.
Toronto-cum-Brooklyn’s Young Guv has a double album that practically lunges out of the speakers with its raucus, jangly opening cut, “Patterns Prevail,” vibing Teenage Fanclub on speed. Perhaps that’s not surprising as Young Guv’s main man is Ben Cook, sometime leader of punk bands Fucked Up and No Warning. Well, he has taken a turn down the melody mile on this latest release as things start out hooky and just don’t let up from there. “Roll with Me” sounds very uptempo Elliott Smith. Then “Every Flower You Meet” gets a solid Matthew Sweet groove on. “Luv Always” steps on the jangle pedal hard. And so on. Personally, I love the hooky lead guitar line anchoring “Exceptionally Ordinary” – very Primitives – and the Jayhawks aura lingering over “She’s a Fantasy.” The second half of the album turns down the amps and goes a bit pop-soul but remains divine. Guv I & II is available bundled together or sold separately. Is there anything Young Guv’s Ben Cook can’t do?
I can hear all sorts of classic influences on Travel Lanes’ new record ON: Tom Petty, the Replacements, a bit of Elvis Costello and, of course, the Beatles. Indeed, you can hear all those elements permeate the kick off track, “True and Tried.” Then things turn in a slightly different direction with the country, pub rock feel of “Answer My Prayers” and the dynamite pedal steel on “It’s Time.” It’s funny, while Frank Brown writes and sings the songs, there is a strong ‘band’ sound to this record. Songs like “Routine,” “Big Heart,” and “Lover’s Lane” are played with the ease and comfort of a Rockpile-esque sense of boozy togetherness. This is group that really knows how to play and they play together so well. ON is an album listener’s treasure: you’re gonna listen to it again and again.
The Overtures bill themselves as the ‘UK’s finest 60’s tribute act’ and the fact they’ve been hired by the likes Paul McCartney and Elton John kinda backs up their bona fides. But with their new album Once in a World they cast aside the ‘merely a cover band’ label to offer up a raft of original tunes – and the result is brilliant, and not just in the jangle sense of that term (though, yes, it is that too). Frankly, with this band’s back story and image, I was worried that taking a crack at more original material might just produce something that was too derivative. And, hey, the British invasion and Beatles influences are all over this record, for sure. But this album is a winner, chock full of simply great tunes performed by a band with killer chops. Exhibit A: album opener “Till Your Luck Runs Out” has guitar sounds that are very Searchers but in their comeback 1980 new wave guise. Then the obvious should-be hit single arrives with “Once in a World” and it’s a timeless slice of poprock. Seriously, it could 1980s Squeeze (if they’d picked up an electric 12 string!) or it could be any number of great melodic rock tracks released just this last year. Other songs harken back to the 1960s and 1970s: “The Hollow Bells” sounds very Hollies-Bryds-Turtles, “She Belongs to Yesterday” has a lovely, hooky British invasion lead guitar line, “Red Dolls House” could be a great lost Elvis Costello tune, “Find Out What You Mean to Me” is a Cavern-era Beatles workout – I could go on. Really, there are so many highlights on this album, you’re going to want the whole thing. My personal fave is “She Shines a Light” with its seductive lilting hooks. You can pick up a physical copy of the album from the good people at Kool Kat Music!
Today’s mailbag is brought to you by the letter S. I swear this happened totally by accident! Somehow everyone waiting in the queue had an S name.
Starting in the global south, Argentina’s Super Ratones (translation: Super Mice) are veterans of that country’s rock and roll scene, forming in 1985 and releasing eight albums over their decades-long career, even surviving the loss of founding member and lead singer José Luis Properzi to cancer in 2015. Yet their 2019 release, Carreras de Aviones (translation: Airplane Racing) sees the band back in top form with strong collection poppy rock and roll numbers. Title track “Carreras de Aviones” has all the key elements: a rollicking rhythm salted with strong melodic hooks. That vocal harmonies would be strongly in evidence is not that surprising for a band initially compared to the Beach Boys on their first few recordings and you hear it here on tracks like “Me Gusta La Lluvia” and “Si No Tuvieras Miedo.” On the whole, the album is a great addition to their catalogue. And, by the way, you wouldn’t go wrong dipping into any of the previous seven releases either.
In the ‘now for something completely different’ part of our programming, we’ll push the boundaries of our self-declared genre limits a bit with two acts that are more indie raucous than muy melodic. Calgary’s Scratch Buffalo mostly combine a raw ‘rawk’ sensibility with a talky in-your-face vocal style that’s typically not my scene. Having said that, I do really like album closer “Life Somewhere’s Else” with its earthy combo of mellow acoustic guitar backing, tasteful lead guitar and understated vocal. So too Limehouse, Ontario’s The Soviet Influence is working an alienated indie rock seam with nary a jangly guitar in sight. Still, “Rust” has a lulling earwormy quality that gets to you on repeated listenings, also carried by a nice acoustic guitar, a remote but lovely lead guitar line, and affectingly intimate vocals.
Ok, back to our regular programming … A former member of pop punk pioneers Bum (Rob Nesbitt) has dropped his snarl but retained the band’s signature hooks on his new project The Suitesixteen and I love it. Don’t get me wrong, Bum was great, but it’s no secret I tend to prefer The Beatles over The Stones. Hints of punk are still there on tracks like “Bob Greene” but now you can really hear how the melody shines through, particularly vocally. Across the album as whole, comparisons to Green Day or Bowling for Soup would not be out of order. But then there’s the more nakedly Big Star-ish “A Very Well Known Secret” and “That Sweet Ache.” Personally, my fave track is the swinging closer “Why I Love You and I Did.” The album is entitled Mine Would be the Sun and it is worth more than a casual listen.
Nobody has press quite like Seoul, South Korea-based stars on fire. Described as ‘rough, mischievous, and utterly charming,’ a ‘drunk Lloyd Cole seizing control of Felt,’ and a ‘well-crafted, lo-fi blend of shoegazer psych-rock and jangly indie-pop’ the band’s two 2019 EPs definitely throw a lot of influences into the hopper. To my ears, there a bit of The Smiths, particularly on those hooky electric guitar openers on tracks like “stuck somewhere” and “I Need Nobody (that’s you).” At other times they sound like The Catherines with hungover Leonard Cohen on vocals. Wherever your dip into these EPs there’s a winning combination of distinctive guitar work and even more distinctive vocals. Finally, rounding out today’s mailbag is a should be hit single from Sheffield’s The Suncharms. The band’s original era stretched from 1989-93 but they reunited in 2018 and new recordings have since emerged, like “Jet Plane” featured on the fadeawayradiate records compilation F.A.R. Out. Very The Church, with that charming mixture of pop hooks amid a general psychedelic vibe.