Tacoma’s favourite sons are a back with a teaser single from a whole new album that will be coming in the new year. For me, it can’t come soon enough. The Rallies burst on the indie music scene with their strong debut album Serve in 2017 and followed that up with the terrific Upside Down two years later. Their main strength was in combining memorable tunes with some straightforward, just slightly Americana-meets-jangle playing. A quick listen to their new song suggests album number three is going to be just as good. “Must Be Love” establishes itself quickly with the band’s signature rhythm guitar hooks and uplifting harmony vocals, adorned with jangling lead guitar runs in all the right places. The tune sounds deceptively simple but the genius is the band’s careful arrangement of all the elements. You can hear a bit of Wilco here, some late solo John Lennon, and a host of those 1980s jangle bands.
What makes The Rallies so special? Sure, other bands have got jangle. And there’s plenty of new tunes coming out all the time. But The Rallies play with a unique kind of heart. There’s some distinctive alchemy that goes on in their songs that set them apart.
Get on over the bandcamp to collect this new single and get the early word on the next album.
Why focus a post on women? After all, it’s not like we focus one on men and their accomplishments. Or don’t we? In a way nearly all posts about rock and roll are about men because men dominate the music industry. Despite comprising more than 50% of the human race research on gender and popular music finds that women total only 20% of popular music performers, 12% of songwriters and just 3% of producers. And they mostly go it alone, largely performing as solo artists. Just 7% of popular music features women in bands. Now the typical response from the gallery at this point might be something like ‘well, maybe listeners just don’t prefer the music women are putting out.’ But as we’ll show in today’s post, that’s bogus. Women rock and in the very best melodic ways.
Forget the crimson, it’s all Clover on my music player right now. Kate Clover is a rock and roll force to be reckoned with. The internet is chock full of glowing notices for her debut album Bleed Your Heart Out and deservedly so. The album opens with a bass guitar rumble that kickstarts a dance party that just won’t quit. “Crimewave” conjures up the heat of the club and a dance floor pulsing with bodies. And things just keep getting more and more intense from there. Reviews lean on ‘punk’ to describe what is going on here but I hear more of the rock and roll reaction to the punk scene, how it added a dynamic and exciting edge to bands like Blondie and the Pretenders. The Chrissie Hynde feel is definitely there on “Gnarcissist” and “Heaven Down Here.” I hear a bit of Liverpool’s Zuzu on “Channel Zero” and “Pleasure Forever,” the latter also featuring some mesmerizing, kinetic electric guitar work. I love the catchy harsh jangle defining “Love You to Death” while the vocal reminds me of a punky revival of The Motels’ Martha Davis. The Davis vibe comes back again for me on “Daisy Cutter.” And who wouldn’t love a jump rocker with a dash of Sergio Leone like “Follow My Heart”? This album is a relentless rocking affair in the best way. Once you hit play there’s no way to turn it off until its done.
When I got wind of Linda XO’s “California Girl” I didn’t connect the dots to her work with poprock masters The Orion Experience, despite reviewing a number of their records. But the more I dug into her catalogue the more obvious the links were. First up, “California Girl” is the totally poptastic new single from her upcoming 2023 album Donuts and Flowers. You need only listen to the first few lines to hear the Mike Viola hooks on this Candy Butchers cover. Hard to do but Linda XO brings out even more of the tune’s earwormy melody than the original, sounding not unlike a number of Viola-produced projects e.g. Kelly Jones’ SheBang album. From there I went back in time, checking out her 2021 Linda XO EP and 2020’s Stupid Love. I wasn’t disappointed. The tracks on Linda XO EP have a sophistico-pop elan, vibing a bit of The Sundays and Ivy. Stupid Love resurrects the world of mid-1960s UK dollybirds and American westcoast pop songters but filtered through a more modern pop sensibility, kinda like what Sharleen Spiteri did on her 2008 LP Melody. “I Think I Love You” is a case in point with its saucy soul groove and early 1960s pop elan. Other tracks like “Fun” and “Stupid Love” sound more 1980s-edgy alt-pop. But the variety doesn’t stop there. You’ve got “Jing a ling” with its Ike Reilly talking-song bounce or “Leona” showcasing a rhythmic rock and roll lurch reminiscent of Marshall Crenshaw’s “Someday Someway.” Personally I dig “Moving On” as just a straight-up good-time radio single. And that’s barely half the record. Like anything from The Orion Experience this record is just so much irrepressible fun. Seems the solo apple doesn’t fall far.
On “Out of My Mouth” Madeline Rosene starts out like Sinead O’Connor but somewhere segues into Tracy Thorn. So the vocals are pretty up front here, but not in that vocal pyrotechnics style so prevalent today. Instead Rosene’s style is alluring, drawing you into a tapestry of sounds, alternatively comforting and challenging. As an LP, that’s Everyday Existential Crisis brought into focus, an album of many moods. “Out of My Mouth” starts out light, like an early morning walk in the park. Then “Words” turns meditative and ethereal, a lovely number whose low-key melody gets into your head. “Burn” shifts the mood into a contemporary great American songbook style. And so on. Rosene just keeps shifting the emotional focus song by song but somehow establishes a coherent ambience to the whole undertaking. Check out how “Hearts on Fire” lets the pumping piano chords drive the song, interspersed with more reflective moments. Shifting down, title track “Everyday Existential Crisis” has a carefully crafted acoustic Jill Sobule intimacy, though it could fit on any early Everything but the Girl album. “Lobotomy” has the sound of a single to me, particularly when it picks up tempo a third of the way through. Or maybe the hit single is the 1990s dark pop aura all over the Liz Phair-ish “Sugar” that wraps up the album? I can’t decide. What I do know is that Everyday Existential Crisis is a now record, capturing the emotional texture of our musical times. It’s intense, sometimes seemingly ambivalent, but curious and reassuring all at the same time.
Towering over us, these 50 foot women have got the rock and roll stuff of your dreams. Just click the links to make them real.
Photo: Fragment of “La formation de la personnalite,” collage by Jacques Rozier.
Squeeze are famous for being cheery blokes. Friendly, affable, seemingly always up for laugh. Definitely guys to head down to the pub with. When I finally got to see them live in Manchester in 1988 the show was everything I’d hoped for and more. The band and the fans interacted like long lost pals. I even got to meet them after the show and they chatted with me like a neighbour in the street. What more could I ask for? Well, as a political scientist by trade, I’m always impressed when popular culture icons use their fame to draw attention to politics. And that’s what Squeeze does with their brand new single and EP of the same name Food for Thought.
Now, this is not the first time the band have gone political. In 2016 the band amended the lyrics to their song “Cradle to Grave” to defend public housing and embarrass the Conservative Prime Minister when he rubbished the welfare state on a BBC chat show they were both appearing on. And the band’s early work was notable for its ‘kitchen sink drama’ themes that focused on the plight on the working class, most notably on tracks like “Up the Junction” from Cool for Cats (which took its name from Neil Dunn’s 1963 novel) or “Separate Beds” from Argybargy. But as band member Glenn Tilbrook relates, “I had my head up my arse for a good deal of time as far as politics was concerned. I was blissfully unaware of the impact of stuff on people, I was in my own little bubble of success.” Now the band returns to social commentary, giving voice to the growing sense of anger with the state of economic inequality in present day Britain. In interviews accompanying the new EP Tilbrook is pretty clear where he stands. “[Politicians] just look the other way. I’m fed up with it. I think a lot of people are. Most of us have more empathy than that. But we’re driven by a hard-right ideological government that can’t see that, which makes me very fearful.” The EP will raise funds for food banks but the lyrics to “Food for Thought” suggest that Squeeze’s political critique goes far beyond charity.
As an EP Food for Thought is basically a glorified single, showcasing a new song and then offering new recordings of older songs and a few live recordings. The dour “The Very First Dance” from 1982’s Sweets From a Stranger gets an uptempo reinvention while “Electric Trains” from 2008’s Ridiculous is given a breezy redo. Live tracks include “Slap and Tickle” from Cool For Cats, “In Qintessence” from East Side Story, and “The Day I Get Home” from 1991’s Play. And these are great. But what about the new song? People, it’s up to the band’s very highest standards. Musically “Food for Thought” harkens back to the band’s late 1980s poprock sound on records like 1987’s Babylon and On, perhaps a bit less new wavey than their early records, less rootsy than post 1990s material. The track is deceptively peppy but lyrically moving in naming the struggles so many are going through and relentless in its critique of those responsible.
These four lines really capture this dual focus:
Pay less taxes ditch red tape Cosy contracts for their mates Cutting help right to the bone Empty stomachs freezing homes
In speaking to the motivation behind the song Tilbrook eloquently captures what is and isn’t going on: “The social security system was set up to save people who didn’t have work, and now people are earning wages and it’s still not enough. More and more people are being pushed into a position they have no control over. With more austerity on the way and interest rate rises, it’s going to get worse.”
I’ve loved Squeeze for more than three decades, ever since I heard “Another Nail in My Heart” on Vancouver’s CKLG back in 1980. But I’ve never been more proud of them, turning their talents on this new song to rally listeners to attend to the great political crises of our time. Do your part, get your copy of Food for Thought now and go see the band if you’re lucky enough to live where they’re taking the tour.
Today’s selections lean into rock side of our poprock brief. These are bands that know the joy of a good rocking out session. Definitely worth mainlining or, as the dictionary says, to ‘enjoy without restriction.’
I’ve been itching to write about The Kryng’s new LP Twelve Hymns to Syng Along ever since I snagged a copy a few months back. Fans will return to hear more of the 1960s-inspired, garage rock Beatlesque tuneage that filled out previous records. New listeners may hip to the Merseybeat but also appreciate the quality of the songs. “Our Love” kicks thing off on the right jangle footing. “Get” steps on that pedal, twinning harmony vocals and propulsive guitar work. Then the album alternates between dance stompers like “Deep Inside” and more period set pieces like “Roll-Anda” with its distinctive Monty Norman 007 aura. Or compare how “She’s a Dream” paints a psychedelic pop delight while “Don’t You Know” is a driving garage rocker that falls somewhere between The Yardbirds and the Smithereens. For Beatlemaniacs, “She Knows My Name” and “It Disappears” vibe a Beatles ’65 ambience. And then there’s “Although You’re Gone” which sounds both old and new, conjuring Rubber Soul, Bryds, and Monkees influences but also reminds me of Mississippi power pop outfit Lolas. Another hard to place number is “I Know ‘Cause I See” which sounds so now but also like a poppy version of Cream. Warm up the turntable, you will definitely satisfy your many party moods with Twelve Hymns to Syng Along.
Another highly anticipated release for me has been The Veras’ V is for Vera. The band teased us with a few early singles last year but then taunted us for months about the coming album. Now it’s here and what stands out for me is the tightness. This is a band that has played countless shows together over the years and it shows. “Sevens and Nines” jumps to it, opening the album with big organ and a swinging chunky guitar rhythm that defines this album. The influences here are strongly 1970s – Queen, Bowie, even Supertramp – but the output often slips into the 1980s. Listening to “If You Ain’t Got Love” I hear a touch of Madness filtered through 10cc. “She’s Into Magic” is another one that sounds so Farfisa organ fantastic. Another organ-centric number is “Winner Not a Sinner” with its ABBA vibe. Fun is definitely on the agenda of this album whether it’s the early 1970s sunshine pop feel on “Are You Having Fun Yet?” or the more Harrisonian psychedelic groove of “Ordinary Fun.” Then things shift pop punky on “Bad Dream” and glammy with “Spaceman.” “I Should Know Better” and “My Country Girl” have the big AM pop radio sound I associate with 10cc cut with a bit of Queen. The should-be hit single here is “Paper Cup Telephones” with its perfect meld of slick vocals, organ and guitars, animated by an on-point 1970s pop song swing.
With Indian SummerChris Lund has produced a most perfect car+summer+girls rock and roll record. Is that Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander guest vocalizing on opening track “Everything is Fine”? No, that’s just Lund nailing the Cheap Trick formula. The song has got the vocal, the edgy guitar, and the band’s signature hint of menace in the melody. Or one can hear a bit of Brendon Benson here. But hey, it’s all Lund really – the genius is in how he puts it all together. This early excitement is maintained on title track “Indian Summer” as the sonic palate expands to a broader set of 1970s melodic rockers, perhaps a bit of April Wine. “Mary Jane” has a very Beatles feel, but like if they’d carried on into the 1970s while “Guarantee” has a “Don’t Let Me Down” pacing with an Odds-like melodic punch. In many ways the guitar playing is the star of this record, anchoring the various stylistic jaunts. “Down the Line,” “Killing Kindness,” and “Time Runnin’” show what Lund can do with a guitar, casting alluring lead lines against a solid wall of rhythm guitar. Then “Please Me” offers up a stark, mostly acoustic guitar number accompanied by very emotive Lennon-esque vocals, with some nice instrumental change ups throughout. The should-be power pop hit single here is “Military Girl.” This one’s got a killer set of hooks with just right level of jarring edge to offset the sweetness. While the weather may turn Chris Lund’s Indian Summer will always be in season.
Sometimes you’ve just got to go direct to the rock and source material. Today’s acts combine hooks with a rocking edge that can be oh so satisfying.
Photo credit: Herve Gloaguen “Hippies” from Le Livre de la Sante by Joseph Handler (Monte Carlo: Andre Sauret, 1968), volume 13: Adolescence, Hygienes, Viellissement.
A return engagement with a favourite artist is something special precisely because you’ve got a sense of what is coming but not exactly what may arrive – it’s just that tension creates a unmatched sense of anticipation. Today’s post features two such favourites indeed, artists inspired by some of the legends of my poprock pantheon.
It seems Washington D.C. music veteran Edward O’Connell has doubled the wait time between albums, from four years between albums one and two to eight years getting out album three. But wow has it been worth the wait. Feel Some Love is a great big bevy of post pub rock goodness. Anyone familiar with O’Connell’s past work knows that his basic musical portrait is a triptych of Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello and Tom Petty influences. They’re all here, though perhaps with a splash more Costello colour on these 15 featured cuts. “Golden Light” opens things with a poppy Tom Petty meets Elvis Costello demeanor. There’s a really great piano and organ tension driving this song along, topped with some distinctive lead guitar work. Then title track “Feel Some Love” slips in a bit of pop soul, particularly in the chorus. Overall there’s less of the Tom Petty rocking feel to this outing, though Petty influences are definitely there on “Florida Man,” “Things Have Really Changed,” and “Sad and Lonely,” the latter a cover of 1980s DC indie band The Neighbors. The vibe is more latter day Nick Lowe in his poprock elder statesman guise: more mellow, countryish at times, with the same devlish wordplay. “Buddy Crocker” is obviously very Lowe but also check out “Who’s Watching Your Baby” with its spot-on Paul Carrack organ sweep and understated yet alluring vocal. Reminds me of all those obscure sixties numbers Nick has been crafting into mini pop gems. For a dose of solid mid-period Costello there’s “I Got a Million of Em,” “All My Sins,” and “As No One Once Said,” the latter with some sweet Harrisonian lead guitar. “You Wish” is something a bit different emoting a poppy feel reminiscent of the late 1970s post-folkies Ian Matthews and Gerry Rafferty. For should-be hit single, I’d vote for “A Thousand Pardons” just for the solid guitar hooks. Welcome back Ed, I’m definitely feeling some love for this LP.
On Shadow PlaySteve Robinson and Ed Woltilreunite to further their exploration of the various hues of folk rock, both light and dark, poppy and austere. Some of the songs are unabashedly AM folk pop, like opening cut “Chasing Angels” which reminds me of 1980s pop folk artists like Al Stewart. Or there’s “Lifeboat” or “The Way You Love Him” with their very mainstream pop folk sound circa 1979. Both “Life on a Trampoline” and “On Your Side” reach a bit further back to the previous decade, mixing Beatles with Pink Floyd influences on the former or Cat Stevens late 1969 folk-inflected pop on the latter. Things do get more indie on “Kickstart” which vibes an XTC folk feel a la Mummer, with a bit of Peter Gabriel in the vocal. Then the album goes darker. Cuts like “Ultramarine” sound a bit more dire, like a poppy Richard Thompson, while “Vulgar Tongue” has an Appalachian folk flavour melded with psychedelic elements. I love the austere and stark folk canvas of “One Day Never” and “On My Way to My Appointment with Death,” very similar to recent efforts from Tacoma Washington’s Vanilla. “Shadow Wall” is yet another different flavour of folk, this time in tune with more serious folkies like Bruce Cockburn, though with a dab of Beatles melodically. Album wrap up song “Make Amends” lends a White Album folk atmosphere to its very timely sentiment. All in all another folk-tastic release from guys who just won’t limited by a genre label.
I’m loving this return engagement with O’Connell, Robinson and Woltil but perhaps you’re seeing the show for the first time? Click on the links above to get caught up with these superior showmen.
Your November pick-me-up is a fabulous new single from The Primitives. It’s been 4 plus years since the band’s last EP New Thrills and, frankly, we could use some. “Don’t Know Where to Start” kicks off like an early 1960s sock hop hit, all drums and snaky organ work. But 17 seconds in that distinctive jangly Paul Court guitar slides in to liven up the proceedings. From there it’s all ‘get those shoes onto the dance floor’ hustle. Tracy Tracy is in fine form vocally and the organ runs are like a special guest star on this track. The single’s b-side “Till I’m Alive” features a vocal turn from Paul Court and it’s pretty understatedly groovy, balancing Court’s lowkey gravelly vocals with a beat that just won’t quit. The bass guitar lines really pop throughout the song, giving it a solid bass and drum heft. These tracks are paired with a live version of “Panic” and a fuzzy acoustic rendition of “Don’t Know Where to Start” on an extended single version of the release, due out in January digitally. Can a new Primitives long-player be far off? Positive vibes people, let’s keep sending those positive vibes (and $).
While we wait, let’s explore some lesser-known Primitives cuts. These are songs I haven’t found included on any official album releases or compilations LPs. “Always Coming Back” was the b-side to “Lose the Reason” but didn’t make the cut for Spin-O-Rama album that came out a bit later. Upon release the band described the song as akin to Bobbi Gentry or Nancy Sinatra joining the Velvet Underground and covering the Beatles. Personally, I think the lead guitar has a very CCR tone. Then there’s the airy, somewhat acoustic “Never Kill a Secret” that appeared on the Coventry-area sampler The Alternative Sounds. Sort of an English take on early 1970s California sunshine pop. Finally, I love the vibe all over the band’s cover of The Aislers Set’s “Been Hiding” for the Girlsville benefit compilation Be Gay, Do Crime! The band give the song a classic Primitives treatment.
Don’t know where to start? Start here (and then work your way back through that fantastic Primitives catalogue here).