This is it, round three of our year-end record round-up, our final one for the year. And it is definitely a strong finish. If round one was rocking and round two was retro then round three is a tad more out there and experimental. But oh-so listenable.
Everyone Stop is *repeat repeat’s sprawling new 27-cut double-plus album. Just released at year’s end, you can enjoy it as an uninterrupted 91 minute experience or skip all over its many different contributions, needle-dropping your way through its musical depths. With so much material here the record lacks the laser-like stylistic focus of the band’s magisterial 2019 release Glazed. But the expanse gives them a chance to hang out in so many different sonic playrooms. The results are a rocking good-time funk dancing acoustic emotional ballad roller coaster. You’re gonna need to hang on tight to hang in here. The first three cuts are a good introduction to the textured genius of this band: “Everyone Stop,” “Dearly Departed,” and “Arrangements” hit you with such cool guitar tones, a solid dance bass/drum combo, and airy-light vocals. The whole album could have just stayed in this lane. But suddenly “Adult Friend Finder” flips the script, taking us into alt-folk territory not unlike the likes of You Won’t and Bombadil. Just looking for earworms? Let’s cut to the hits chase: “Hmm Feels Like,” “Diamonds,” and “Tripping (I Know I Will)” are all should-be hit singles. What hooks! What sonic artistry! There’s so much to love here and I can only scrape the surface of what the band accomplish on this LP. Right now I’ll just draw attention to the wistful “I Was Happy” which lays its dreamy pop over a musical bed that sounds so Portugal the Man. Or there’s my today-fave cut (it may change tomorrow) “Burn Another Layer.” My recommendation: you’re going to need to set aside some time to fall in love with Everyone Stop. But you will.
I fell hard for The Stroppies killer 2019 single “First Time Favourites” with its harpsichordian keyboard riffs and folk rock vocals. So my first hit of their new album Levity was more than a bit jarring. But I loved it. What an interesting shift of musical emphasis from this band on this record, to a more daring, somewhat techno-experimental sound laid over solid rock and roll tunes. You can feel the creative tension of this mixture rippling throughout opening cut “The Perfect Crime,” with the guitar and keyboard parts pulling in different directions. Then “Smilers Strange Politely” floats a pleasant melody over a relentless guitar riff that gets seared into your consciousness. The record is really all about letting the electric lead guitar drive the songs – songs like “Up To My Elbows,” “I’m In the Water” and “Figure Eights” all let the guitar work cut loose in exciting ways. And yet there’s still a folk rock feel to so many tracks here, like “Material Conditions” and “Butchering the Punchline.” Seriously, Levity is a great new direction from a very good band.
Philadelphia’s 2nd Grade always give a little bit more. 2020’s Hit to Hit had 24 songs. 2021’s Wish You Were Here Tour Revisited had 23. Now in 2022 they’ve scaled back – to 16 cuts. But new LP Easy Listening does not skimp on quality. This is one fine crew of melodic tunes, accent on poppy. Opening cut “Cover of the Rolling Stone” hits all the classic powerpop marks, vibing Mo Troper pretty strongly for me. But then “Strung Out On You” throws some 70s rock jauntiness into the mix. “Hung Up” is all 1980s guitar pop. “Me and My Blue Angels” works in a few more minor chords while “Wouldn’t It Be Nice to Let It Be” lets a big room rumble guitar fill the space in another otherwise airy lowkey number. For variety check out the Stones rhythmic slouch all over “Poet in Residence” or the bubblegum Ramones feel to “Beat of the Drum.” This record is like some K-tel super hits collection, there’s so much diversity here (and I’m not even half through the album). Personal faves: “Teenage Overpopulation” and “Hands Down” – such exhibit A perfect poprock singles. “Planetarium” is pretty sweet too. Easy Listening is not just truth in advertising, it’s 100% fun.
I feel like I’ve been trying to write about The Rubs all year. Ever since I ran across their Stonesy “I Want You” last March and found their album (dust) in August it’s been on the shortlist. But for one reason or another the record didn’t fit into this to that post. Not for lack of trying. So now let me say, this album is phenomenal piece of work. It’s like a great lost record from the 1979 to 1982 period, it so nails the guitars and poppy rock and roll songwriting and sound of the records in that era. Songwriter and one-man band Joey Rubbish (not his real name?) takes a host of classic rock motifs and pops them up, front-loading some great melodies. Opening cut “I Want You” is an attention grabber, so classic rock and roll but those candy coated vocals make it irresistible. But then things shift with “Dana” and its kooky fun spacey keyboards. From there variety comes in many forms, from the folk rock “Here In My Dreams” to the keyboard punchy “I Don’t Wanna Wait” to Thin Lizzy-ish “Hang On To Me.” Rubbish so nails the everyman rock and roll vocals of the late 1970s on tracks like “Waste of Time” or the propulsive Plimsouls guitar drive on tunes like “The Same Thing to Me.” But my vote for outstanding track here is “When I Dream About You,” a genuine poprock tour-de-force. What a majestic melody! Don’t waste time, just place (dust) directly into your ‘best of the year’ pile.
NYC’s Cherry Slide are a slice of acoustic guitar pop, dropped from the Family of the Year mold. It’s all strummy strummy strummy against a wash of harmony vocals. Except when it’s not. “Not Fair” captures the basic sound: acoustic guitar front and centre, light and airy vocals, all in the service of a poppy tune. “I Took a Number” adds some variation to this with its nice lead guitar accents. But then we have “Generate This!” It’s a wonderful single that just cooks along, riding a strong acoustic rhythm guitar and dropping in bits of electric guitar amid a captivating mix of vocals. Picked straight from the ‘hits’ tree. The band also offer up a souped-up cover His Name Is Alive’s rather spare “Wall of Speed” adding a soft-rock Spector Wall of Sound effect. Moving north Halifax Nova Scotia’s Municipality also ride the lowkey guitar pop train, sounding a bit more Elephant 6 though. On their debut Sunroom they really do sound sometimes like Apples in Stereo just popped into the Beatles Let It Be sessions. “First and Last” and “Let It Go” have really got that late period Abbey Road feel. But the material itself is more 90s indie poprock e.g. there’s a bit of Elliot Smith on “Without You.” On the other hand, “All in My Mind” sounds like the single to me with its hooky guitar shots.
It’s been an odyssey, getting through this end-of-the-year record round-up. But so worth it – so many great acts, so many great tunes. And dropped in just in time for 2022.
Photo fragment of 57 Chevy ad courtesy James Vaughn.