With records that are all hot off the digital presses, this is definitely a timely episode of breaking news. And the anticipation is high for these five artists because they regularly hit it out of the poprock park. Have they done it again? Spoiler – get ready for some jangling good times.
Scottish jangle stalwarts The Vapour Trails wrap their new album Golden Sunshine in sixties pop psychedelia and the results are out of this world. The opening title track rides that fine line between melodic tripping and more free-form musical extemporization. The sound is a new sonic frontier for the band, melding sixties influences with 1980s reinventions of those themes from bands like The Stone Roses and even mid-period Grapes of Wrath. This carries on with “Dr. Barnes” which offers up a hooky sitar-like rumination on the traditional psychedelic sound. But the band doesn’t push the theme too far, returning to more familiar jangle pop on “Lonely Man” and “Why Wonder Why?” Then there’s the magnificent “Behind You” with its stunning “Day Tripper” like lead line. Nobody throws down 1965 lead guitar work quite like this band – I mean, just wait for the sprightly lead guitar instrumental break – heaven! This song alone is worth the price of admission. Other ear candy moments include acoustic guitar-driven “This May Be the Time,” with its distinctive drum feel and lovely harmonies, and beautiful, understated “Seabird.” With The Vapour Trails you might come for the jangle but you’ll stay because they offer so much more. This is a band that has yet to reach its musical summit and I’m loving the ride.
You only need to hear about ten seconds of the guitar hook kicking off album opener “Upper Hand” to know you are in for something special with Nick Piunti and the Complicated Men’s new record. Piunti’s been at this a long time and he knows where he fits into the power pop pantheon so Downtime delivers the taut melodic rockers we’ve come to expect. Needle-dropping this record, I sometimes hear the Beatles or early period Bryan Adams, Mike Viola, or the under-appreciated Odds. But really this record has a timeless, classic poprock sound all its own. All the songs on this release are pretty strong but click on “Bright Light” for a masterclass in melody-drenched rock and roll, featuring some heavenly background vocals. As for the rest, well how do you pick out highlights when everything is so good? You won’t go wrong with the Bryan Adam-ish “Every High” and “Never Belong to Me” while “Contract” has a great blast of guitar driving it along and a very Odds-like chorus. My personal fave is the Squeeze-meets-Tom Petty “Gonna Be Good” with its hypnotic occasional keyboard backdrop. And just to show he can slow things down, “Good Intentions” offers up a lovely acoustic guitar and piano number. All the hip indie bloggers are talking up Downtime. Don’t be left out.
With a career like Bill Lloyd’s you might expect him to kick back and take it easy. He’s played with so many cool artists, put out a great body of work as one-half of Foster and Lloyd, and has countless killer solo albums to his name. But Lloyd’s got more music to share and the message from his new Don’t Kill the Messenger is definitely positive. Why? It’s the songwriting. Lloyd keeps churning out listenable tunes, delivered in his comfortable poprock style. Put your ear next to “I’ll Take It From Here,” particularly when Lloyd leans on ‘Amanda’ in the chorus, and tell you me you haven’t caught something you can’t get out of your head. Similar hooks can be found in songs like “Not This Time ‘Round” and “Sorry, But I’ve Got to Take This.” I did do a double-take on a few tracks, mistaking them for cuts from some new Marshall Crenshaw album (like “Don’t Kill the Messenger,” “Undone,” and “The Girls of Sylvan Park”). At other times, the songs reminded me a little of Ben Vaughn (“I’ve Had Enough of Your Love”) or some good old pub rock (e.g. “Kake’ n’ 8 it” and “You Got Me”). And Lloyd cooked up a few surprises, like the Talking Heads-ish “Etch-A-Sketch” and the breezy, instant standard “Kiss of the Summer Wind.” So you don’t need to hesitate over this album. Paraphrasing Merle Travis, a record from Bill Lloyd is like money in the bank – guaranteed!
Richard Turgeon kicks off his new album Sea Change with some ominous chords ringing out over “Never Leaving California,” perfectly capturing the enduring sense of dread that defines out times. The song’s chilling POV is the rumination of a mythical Charles Manson follower, drawn into the myth and mayhem of a particular moment of time for the Golden State. From there Turgeon grinds out his distinctive Matthew Sweet-meets-grunge sound on winning, timely tracks like “Still Not Ready to Die” and “Running for Your Life.” Sea Change confirms Turgeon as a veritable hook machine as the songs here are all just brimming with catchy melodies. I mean, check out the ear worm choruses of “Car Crash” and “Cull the Herd” for a quick confirmation. And then there’s the real treat, the bliss-inducing, obvious should-be hit single “Higher” – power pop perfection! This record also features a few nice departures from the usual, like the Weezer-vibing “Jolene,” the low-key dreamy “Sunset,” and the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young-like vocalizing on the “The Journey,” with its cool sparse finger-picking opener. This record just confirms why Turgeon keeps showing up on so many ‘best of’ lists each year.
On Even Time Ed Ryan returns to his roots, re-recording some tunes from previous bands The Rudies and Jupiter Jets, as well some new material. Having noted that, opening and title track “Even Time” marks a bit of a departure for the normally guitar-oriented Ryan with a reliance on keyboards to anchor the tune that adds just a bit of dramatic tension. There’s also some refreshing naked acoustic guitar here on “I’ve Got the Smile” and the rollicking “I Want to Go.” But worry not, power pop Ed is here full force on should-be singles like “Say What You Will” and “Let It Out,” with some catchy neo-1950s background vocals elevating “Never Lied to You.” “Here and Now” kicks off with a blast of Springsteen-like energy before settling into a solid rocker. I really like the nice change of pace with the piano-based “Everywhere,” a delightful tune with shades of Styx in places (and that’s not a bad thing, in this case). Ryan then wraps things up with a return to tradition on “Make It Through the Night,” a track that really captures the classic power pop sound of late 1970s sound, complete with punchy chorus. All in all, Even Time marks a welcome return to the studio for this music veteran.
For digital access, click on the artist names above. For compact disc or vinyl, visit Futureman/Big Stir records for The Vapour Trails and Kool Kat Musik for Nick Piunti, Bill Lloyd, and Richard Turgeon. With so much news breaking, it’s hard to keep up with all the new releases. That’s what we’re here for. These releases are all Poprock Record Grade A-approved long-players. Imbibe with confidence.