Automatics, Beachheads, Dan Israel, Friends of Cesar Romero, Hearts Apart, Jack Skuller, Kid Gulliver, Macarrones, Quivers, Real Sickies, Remember Sports, Speedways, Teenage Joans, The Laughing Chimes, The Mergers, The Popravinas, The Sheepdogs, The Skullers, Wildings
If there is someone who understands the power of the 45 rpm single, it’s Smiths’ guitar man Johnny Marr. In an interview with Clash magazine in 2019 he was quoted saying “the seven inch single for me has always held a mystical position because it’s such a brilliant format.” Why? In a word: impact. For Marr, the single format forces artists to “pack the message, the hooks and everything into a shorter space.” Citing examples like The Beatles “Paperback Writer” or even his own “Panic” Marr argues that with a single “you get pulled into a world for three and a half minutes, exploring art or philosophy …” But, he adds, “it also has to be wildly entertaining.” Here at Poprock Record we couldn’t agree more. In the first of two posts, we explore the magic and concision of some recent glorious 45s.
We get things started with a solid ‘hitting the road’ tune, Dan Israel’s latest single “The Hang of It.” The song has a 1970s FM radio feel with his reliably Dylanesque vocals, Harrisonian pedal steel and party jam band vibe. The lyrics are so of our time: “I’m getting out of the house, I been crazy as a loon, I’ve been quiet as a mouse …” Here here brother. Next we step on the pop punk pedal with Edmonton’s Real Sickies. These guys are graduates of the Ramones school of rock, blasting power chords but always with an accessible melody line threaded in somewhere. “Communications Breakdown” is from their latest long-player, Love is for Lovers, and it’s a breakneck party tune, a surefire get-them-dancing number. The Skullers front man Jack Skuller has returned with a new solo EP, the more somber My Disappearing Act. It has the carefully curated guitar sounds we might associate with his past work but, on the whole, the project is more introspective than his full band work. All five songs here are winners but I’m drawn to “Antibodies (Buy You Time),” with its timely sentiments and a subtle hookiness that reminds me of early Josh Rouse. Slipping down-under for a moment, Adelaide Australia’s Teenage Joans describe their sunny guitar-heavy tunes as juice-box pop punk, a fresh take on the punk-meets-pop genre. Their new EP is Taste of Me and it is definitely a strong sampler of what this duo of teen gals can do. The first single “Something About Being Sixteen” has been getting plenty of attention but personally I think opening cut “Ice Cream” really showcases the breadth of their talent. The punk feel takes a back seat to seductively layered background vocals, droning hooky guitars, and melody accentuated by a lead vocal that reminds me just a bit of The Sundays at times. Another band exuding a strong punky vibe is Friends of Cesar Romero. But punky more in sentiment than sound. The ‘band’ is really just one guy, North Cheyenne/Lakota garage rocker J. Waylon Miller, but you’d never know it from his voluminous bandcamp collection of singles, EPs and albums. Some tracks are driving, noisy sixties garage rock verging on punk. Others draw from the melodic side of the 1960s, more like carefully crafted musical sketches. “Summer Boyfriend” is the Miller’s latest single and it’s a real treat, combining an urgent propulsive energy with melodic hooks worthy of any Mighty Lemon Drops song. B-side “I Just Wanted to See You So Bad” is pretty special too, with a hypnotic drone and catchy guitar line in the chorus. I can’t wait to dig into FCR’s back catalogue.
Oslo Norway’s Beachheads brought out a killer self-titled debut album in 2017. Mixing elements of Weezer with Oasis and Husker Du the album is explosion of guitars and earwormy tunes. But somehow I managed to not write about them. I don’t know what happened as I bought the album and remember thinking it was pretty amazing. Well, suffice to say, check it out. It’s a no brainer purchase. And you can add their brand new single to your shopping as well. “Jupiter” has a slightly more sweet melodic flavour, reminding me a little of the melodies I recall from Et Tu Bruce’s early work. Boston’s Kid Gulliver offer up a stylized old school new wave single with “Stupid Little Girl” from their latest EP Gimme Some Go! The vocals are so reminiscent of a load of early 1980s indie girl groups and girl-led bands. Speaking of old school, the Automatics have something in their DNA that allows them to effortlessly synthesize a host of 1960s influences. It’s there in how the vocals meld with the guitars on their great new single, “Black Velvet Elvis.” This is a should-be hit single. I hear just a hint of Freedy Johnston in the vocals, particularly in the chorus. Santa Monica’s The Popravinas continue to develop their unique blend of poppy Americana on their new single “Do the Creep.” It comes in advance of their new LP Goons West and breaks new ground songwriting-wise for the band, with its sleek guitar lines and rather dark moody aura and lyrics. Pitchfork called Quivers’ “Gutters of Love” an ‘instant anthem,’ the sound of 1980s bedsit indie college rock. I’d have to agree. As the opener to the band’s new album Golden Doubt it’s a marvelous ‘welcome home’ for fans and a hearty ‘hey, hello’ to new listeners. The light jangle, alternating vocals, group singing and soaring choruses are very Grouplove or The Smittens on a particularly tidy day. You’ll come for this single but stay for the rest, for sure.
The Italian rock scene is holding its own these days. We reviewed Vicenza’s Hearts Apart’s recent single “Waste Time” and now the rest of its accompanying EP is out, Number One to No One. The five songs alternate between punk pop and more straight up rock and roll. I’m digging the rollicking “It’s All the Same” with its cheeky guitar licks and hint of Americana in the chorus. Though “Lonely Days” is a pretty close runner up with a vibe reminiscent of The Vaccines. London’s The Speedways have delivered a neat little EP entitled Borrowed and Blue, featuring covers tunes from bands as diverse as Hanoi Rocks, ABBA and Kirsty MacColl. But the track that knocked me over was the cover of Billy Ocean’s 1976 single “Love Really Hurts Without You.” The band really crank the Motown feel, driving the hooks home like The Jam might do. The other covers here are equally inspired, a very fun collection. One look at The Sheepdogs website and you know these guys are heavily into the 1970s. Their music is clearly inspired by the poppy boogie rock of that decade. Being from Canada, they remind me of bands like The Stampeders or even mid-period Chilliwack. Their latest single is “Keep On Loving You” from their No Simple Thing EP and it’s pure AM radio 1974. Its got the swing, its got pumping piano action, its got those guitars with chorus effects that go on for days. Mostly its got that countryfied vocal sound that bands as disparate as the Doobies, the Eagles, and Band went in for in the mid-seventies. Remember Sports are the band formerly known as just Sports. They’re also the band formerly known for ‘basement rock’ but their new LP Like a Stone has come upstairs. The sophistication of the album has drawn comparisons to Sleater Kinney and Rilo Kiley. There’s plenty of variety here but I’ve fastened myself onto the almost Buddy Holly punk title track, “Like a Stone.” There’s an edge to the song that belies but somehow intensifies it melodic content. I’m also partial to the very Rilo “Out Loud” and the country-ish “Odds Are.” Spain is a land full of power pop lovers. One day I plan to go there to see some kick ass Spanish power pop band. Perhaps like Madrid’s Macarrones. The band’s latest album is emblazoned with XX across its low-key cover. But inside is a blistering collection guitar-slashing, very danceable tunes. I’m just going to focus on one that has a bit of a new wave groove and some sweet background vocals, “Más Que Una Idea.”
Wilding’s compilation album Hello My Name Is … is described as ‘folk pop’ but there are more than a few departures from that script on this fabulously diverse collection of his tunes from the past decade. Like “Swipe Right.” A bit of 1960s pop psychedelia, a dab of XTC, even a hint of The Vaccines, it’s a delightful dose of manicured indie poprock. And the other 19 songs are worth checking out too. On their prior records The Mergers sounded like they’d got lost on Merseyside around 1964 and somehow just resurfaced with their setlist intact. But the band is actually from Germany and with their new record Three Apples in an Orange Grove they are striking out for new musical territory as well. They’ve expanded their sound for a broader neo-psychedelia meets Britpop, kinda like Love meets Oasis. You can really hear that hybrid on “Seekin’ for the Light” but I’m more drawn to guitar hook anchoring “Right as Rain.” We wrap up this instalment of Life at 45 rpm with a pair of teen brothers from Ohio who have got their jangle down. As The Laughing Chimes their debut record In This Town is proof these guys know their way around those early REM and Smiths records. The jangle is off the charts and the songwriting is strong. My current fave is “Back to My House.” I love the ways it builds with plinky piano, reverbed-up guitar and vocals that remind me of early Grapes of Wrath.
Well there you have it, a whole lot of 45s to take in – and there’s more on the way. Needle drop your way through these selections and click on the hyperlinked names of the ones that grab you to learn more.
The top photo is actually of a collection of paintings by Morgan Howell. He paints very large versions of classic rock and roll 45s. You can check out the range of his work here.