Today’s featured artists have done the rounds on this blog many times. At some point I stumbled across them and I’ve kept stumbling over each new release since then. They’re just that reliable. So get ready to take a fall with me, all over again.
David Brookings is a nice guy’s nice guy. And he makes smoking good records, with or without his Average Lookings band. On Mania at the Talent Show Brookings strikes a minor key on many of the songs, exploring a more 1970s melodic soft rock vibe than previous, more rocking releases. The album kicks off with the acoustic guitar up front in the mix on the first three tracks, interposed between an eerie synth and timely pandemic-reflecting lyrics on “Hard Times,” buoying up the beat during “Keep It Real,” and casting a bright counterpoint to the otherwise somber feel of “Driving to Ojai.” The end of the 1970s witnessed the singer/songwriter folk thing shapeshift into a more hooky soft rock direction – think Al Stewart or Gerry Rafferty – and tracks like “One of Us Is Crazy (the Other One is Me)” and “Mystery of Time” take me there. Brookings throws a few surprises into the mix as well. There’s a great neo-1950s influence vamped up on “Women of L.A.” or more subtly felt in “Words Come Back to Haunt You.” Or there’s the more Hall and Oates feel lurking in the background to “Killshot.” He certainly nails the cover of Tom Petty’s “Magnolia” and does so without giving in to just doing a Petty impersonation (which is hard to avoid – the song is sooo Petty). But the undeniable show stopper for me here is the manic bubblegum fun that is “Mania at the Talent Show.” Perhaps a bit of Brookings autobiography? As the story unfolds it is hard not to see a miniature DB as the star of song’s show. And check out those blistering rock and roll solos!
If Mo Troper’s 2020 Natural Beauty was a perfectionist’s carefully-crafted poprock record then his new long-player Dilettante is a return to a rougher DIY/punky sensibility. But with Troper’s instincts for melody and hooks still intact. And at 28 tracks the record is a sprawling double album of White Album breadth, depth and eccentricity. First, the could-be hits. As the production style here is akin to a rehearsal-level Nick Lowe ‘basher’ approach (i.e. turn on tape, make beautiful noise) the finished product is not really AM radio friendly. But there are songs here that could top any playlist if 1977 punk had only triumphed over disco. “The Expendables Ride Again” is classic hooky Mo Troper. “Better Than Nothing” is all driving guitars floating under a divine Matthew Sweet melody. Another slow burn hooky winner is “My Master’s Voice,” aided by some lovely jangly guitar. Or there’s “Armpit” exuding a FOW sense of desperation and euphoria over a supremely catchy tune. Some of the tracks here seem little more than idea sketches but they still manage to flash serious brilliance, from the psych Beatles instrumental album opener “Total Eurphoria” to a Rubber Soul rehearsal session-like feel on “New King” and “Blake and Lanny.” Clocking in at less than a minute, both “Skyscraper Sized Bong” and “A Girl Like Andy” sound incomplete but I still love’em. Beyond the obvious hooks, Dilettante also features songs brimming with complexity. Give “American Dad,” “Velvet Scholars Line” and “Winged Commander” more than a cursory spin to uncover some rather unusual twists of melody. Personally, I think “Tears on my Dockers” is the star of this album, with a sound and structure of any bona fide classic of the 1960s-derived power pop genre. There’s also examples of Troper’s penchant for a McCartney-esque sweet simplicity on “Caleb” and “I Would Dance With You.” The album also includes Troper’s previously-released, aptly-named “The Perfect Song.” One listen to Dilettante and you’ll know the LP was misnamed – Virtuoso would have been closer to the mark.
Another Lolas album, another slice of poprock perfection. On All Rise, bandleader and songwriter Tim Boykin delivers the goods with 13 glorious gems that run both hot and cold, sometimes amping up the power pop, sometimes soothing us with delicate acoustic guitar flourishes. Album opener “Never To Be Mine” is a perfect distillation of the classic Lolas vibe with its out-of-the-gate rhythm guitar attack and seductively sweet vocal melody. Then “Storm the Heavens” tweaks the formula by adding a way cool instrumental break that features some distinctive sounding lead guitar and keyboards. I love the guitar hook opening “My Thoughts Have Been Replaced” and how it melds perfectly with Boykin’s Lennon in psychedelia mode vocals. The album shifts gears on “I Can Hear Your Beard Through the Phone” and “You and Me Will Always Be” by putting an acoustic guitar at the front of the mix and slowing the tempo. Clearly, Boykin’s not just a chord basher. Another shift can be found with the jaunty “Louise Michel” and easygoing pop of “General Assembly,” the latter feeling very Wings circa Venus and Mars. But I’ll save my poprock hero worship for “Pain in My Heart.” Everything about this should-be hit single works, from the catchy guitar work to the eminently hummable melody. It reminds me a bit of Screen Test’s superior single “Notes From Trevor” and a lot of great work from The Smithereens. Do yourself a favour, Lolas All Rise is a full album treat you really owe yourself. Now.
One can imagine Croydon’s Nick Frater rolling his trolly down the aisles of an imaginary 1970s rock supermarket looking for ideas after just one listen to his fabulous new record, Earworms. The ten tracks here are like a love letter to that oft-maligned decade of music. Because beyond the flash of disco, the fug of prog rock, and the full-on aural assault of punk, the 1970s were really much more about pop music. Think of the superstar chart dominance and stratospheric sales of the acts like the Carpenters or ABBA. Yet, at the same time, hooky melodies were also central to the success of more rock and roll outfits like ELO, 10cc and Queen. Opening cut “It’s All Rumours” gives the game away with its distorted glam guitar and Leo Sayer falsetto vocals in the chorus. Frater’s thrown down the gauntlet, he’s going seventies and doesn’t care who knows it. “Buggin’ Out” initially sounds kinda Abbey Road, particularly the guitar work, but then shifts into that 1970s neo-fifties aura that everybody was doing then, with a flash of Buddy Holly’s “Raining in my Heart” buried deep in the song. “What’s With Your Heavy Heart” is one of my faves on this LP with its gently rollicking Wings-ian feel. From there the album goes very English, vibing 1970s UK pop acts like 10cc on “Not Born Again,” Gilbert O’ Sullivan on “Lucky Strike” and even Queen on “How to Survive Somebody.” Things veer near yacht rock with a dab of Carpenters on “Star Crossed” while I could hear ABBA easily covering “The Unbroken.” Aside from the faithful rendering of the 1970s sonic palette, Frater also manages to capture the histrionic over-the-top lyrics of the time, for instance, on “Who Says I Need a Plan At All.” If you’ve been longing for simpler musical times sans the sticky polyester, get Earworms. Your ears will thank you.
Nothing says welcome like a wad of cash. Slip on over to the web locations of these artists and get friendly with their latest releases.
Banner photo: Fred Herzog