The phone used to be something that hung on the wall. Now it’s a friend depository, an entertainment centre, an information lifeline, and more. People almost seem to be in a relationship with their phone – they can’t stand to be separated from it and mourn its loss if it goes astray. Everywhere you look it’s a sea of bowed heads. A lot of people don’t even talk on their phones, they’re so busy doing other things. Today’s artists have got a strong connection to their devices for sure, though the link here does appear to come back to an actual human being.
Gavin Bowles and the Distractions are all over our phone theme. Their soon-to-be released album is entitled Phoning It In while their pre-release single is “On the Telephone (I Used to Call You).” The setting lyrically and stylistically is 1979 modish power pop. I definitely get a pre-Parallel Lines Blondie feeling taking this in. By contrast The All Night Chemist brings the banjo out front for “I’m In Love With My Phone.” No, this is not a paean to some AI-driven device but someone replaying a lost love’s phone message over and over. The song is a great shambolic mix of folk and new wavey keyboard riffs. The indomitable Fernando Perdomo has yet another vehicle to showcase his formidable talents with his new duo Broken Sound. “Fiero” is taken from their new self-titled album and it’s working our phone theme hard. As the video and lyrics for the song demonstrate, it’s all about car phones. The video pastiche of 1970s movie and TV car phone clips perfectly captures how cool/not cool the car phone was at the time. Last up a band literally living our focus, The Telephone Numbers. Ok, the song is not about phones but I’m giving them a pass because this single is so good. “Weird Sisters” has a Anglo-folk pop sound I associate with Roddy Frame or The Lilac Time. A poppy delight.
Being ‘on the phone’ appears to mean something very different today compared to days of yore. And people are gonna write songs about it. You can dial up these should-be new faves by clicking the hot-linked names you see above.
Top photo featuring Poprock Record exclusive model Rob Elliott courtesy Swizzle Studio.
The Merseybeat goes on. Despite now being a long-time distant from both its time and place of origin bands just keep taking up the influence and re-working the sound. Not that I’m complaining.
With a name like The Mop Tops I was halfway to liking this group without hearing a note. This Swedish band has put out a scant few albums since 1995 but each one is pretty special. Sure, there’s a strong Beatles vibe to everything but the song-writing here is outstanding, letting the band succeed on their own merits. All 12 songs on the debut record Inside are terrific. “She’s So Fine” definitely skews to Beatles ’65 but songs like “Whenever I’m Alone” have a Smithereens’ feel. “Sending Letters” sounds a bit like Steve Earle channeling Buck Owens. And I love the driving droney guitar defining the title track “Inside.” Of course, there’s a reason “Plastic Moon Rain” was the single – it’s a killer. Thirteen years later the band returned with Ground Floor Man and it was another home run, brimming with fab cuts exuding Beatles, Tom Petty and Elvis Costello influences. Opening cut “You Crucify Me” just grabs the listener and won’t let go. Then last year the band returned with Running Out of Time and it was like no time had passed at all. The songs, the jangle, the strong Mersey vibe were all there. “Queen of Misery” gets my vote for the should-be hit single.
New Jersey’s The Weeklings seem to have come full circle. Their early records were very Mersey, recreating an early Beatles atmosphere to shroud their original songs and covers of Beatles rarities on successive albums released in 2014, 2015, and 2016. From those early records I love “If I Was In Love” and “Morning, Noon & Night” because the songs depart from the formula just a bit, marking them as unique without sacrificing the influence. 2020’s 3 saw the band branching out from their Mersey roots with a much more original sound, still Beatlesy but distant enough to make its own splash. Opening cut “I Want You Again” sets the scene with its Cheap Trick or Knack-ish fresh but rocking sound. Fast forward to 2023 and the band return to Mersey-proper with an inventive remake of “I’ve Just Seen a Face,” adding some rock muscle and vocal layering to one of McCartney’s bounciest tunes. You can hear the Weeklings’ mastery of the Beatles sonic stylings on all these recordings, whether they’re going full-on Merseybeat or just shaping a particular element to suit their melodic purpose.
The Nerk Twins album Either Way was a one-off collaboration between Herb Eimerman and Shoes member Jeff Murphy that came out in 1997. Unlike the two previous bands the Mersey influence here is more muted, filtered through a creative independence that is synthetic rather than imitative. Other than taking their name from John and Paul’s throwaway reference to their partnership this record is more Beatles-adjacent than mainline Merseybeat. Still, there are some striking Beatle-isms featured here and there. Like the classic “I Want to Hold Your Hand” instrumental turnaround tucked into “In the Middle of the Night.” Or listen to how “I Still Don’t Love You Anymore” sounds like an outtake from the Rubber Soul sessions. Then again “Dream for Love” has some very Byrdsian vocal harmonies while “On & On & On” has a late 1960s California sunshine pop vibe. But mostly this album aces that lovely mid-1980s poprock sound on nearly every cut. Long out of print, its recent digital return is most welcome.
Somewhere in Hobart, the capital city of Australia’s island state of Tasmania, you’ll find Beatles aficionado Mondo Quinnworking up another Mersey-drenched bit of pop goodness. Online he’s got two albums and handful of singles that exude the loveable charm of the Fab Four in full-on Beatlemania mode. “I Love You (Why Don’t You Love Me Too)” from Quinn’s 2013 album Another Time, Another Place has a 1960s Searchers bounce to its lead guitar work while the vocal would suit Cliff Richards to a T. From the same album “Molly’s Song” is a dynamite instrumental with a fresh, crisp acoustic guitar sound reminiscent of “And I Love Her.” Then on 2019’s Pop Till You Drop “Girl Of My Dreams” has a vibe that is so “Bad to Me.” Altogether Mondo Quinn’s work is a delightful time capsule of the 1964 Merseybeat sound.
As long as the drums keep pounding that distinctive Liverpool rhythm to our brains, the Merseybeat goes on. Check out these modern fab beat groups to see how it’s done.
Radio used to be so important, an entrée into the broader world for the lonely or bored. A lifeline sometimes, or just a bit of fun, a diversion. So let’s get some quality diverting going on.
On her 2020 self-titled debut album Juniper so nailed the early 1960s girl singer sound it was like a love letter to all the jilted dolly birds on both sides of the Atlantic. But on her follow-up long-player She Steals Candy she’s settling into her own distinctive style, folding the sixties into a broader mix that takes from country, 1980s poprock, and contemporary indie rock and roll. Producer Michael Shelley has put together a crack team of players that really lets Juniper’s vocals stand out while the selection of songs is delectable. Basically you’ve got members of Los Straitjackets, Belle and Sebastian, the Mekons, NRBQ, and The Smithereens, among others, helping to cover songs by the Go Gos, the Bangles, the Muffs, and a host of rare compositions from Delbert McClinton’s early band, The Ron-Dells. Everybody doesn’t necessarily play on everything but you get the idea. The Bangles “James” is given an interesting make-over here, sounding wonderfully familiar and yet peppered with interesting changes. Contrast that with the inventive new take on the Go Go’s “Turn To You” where the light backing and slower tempo really allows the song to breathe. The album tracks like the changing moods of a summer party, shifting from the pleasantly tuneful to a rocking good time. I hear a bit of Marti Jones on “She Steals Candy,” some country-style Nancy Sinatra on “Picture of You,” and shades of Mary Lou Lord on “Alone With You.” The more rocking tunes like “Ride Between the Cars” and “I’ve Gotta Boy” are a blast, really demonstrating Juniper’s range. Personal faves include the cover of Delbert McClinton’s countryish “I Cry Cause I Care,” a duet with the Cactus Blossoms’ Page Burkum, and the uber cool atmospheric “Dawn Stole My Guy” with that unmistakeable lead guitar work from Greg Townson. To get in on this party, you’ll find Juniper’s She Steals Candy filed under ‘maximum fun.’
Vancouver band Star Collector’s reputation is that they live in a mod, mod, mod, mod world, one where elevators all play The Jam between floors and Pete Townshend is the resident poet laureate. But on their new record Attack, Sustain, Decay ... Repeat there’s a little bit more going on. As leader Vic Wayne says in a recent interview, you can hear a bit of The Sweet, Sloan, Cheap Trick, even some Grand Funk Railroad. You really get that 1970s rocker vibe from opening cut “Feeling It Coming On” but with a poppy Alice Cooper sheen. “Beat It To Death” opens with an almost Bad Company stripped-back set of chords but morphs into something more Fastball once it gets going. Wayne himself described “Halfway Home” as Tom Petty meets Echo and Bunnymen and I can hear that. Then “If We Can’t Take a Joke” cranks up a great distorted lick that runs through the song like the Beatles “I Feel Fine” or the Monkees “Pleasant Valley Sunday.” “Crashin’” – oh, there’s the Grand Funk. Then the opposite universe, there’s a lovely acoustic guitar ballad “Cross My Heart.” Personal faves are the Sloan-ish “Don’t Have to Fold” and delightful “Hungry Like the Wolf” strutter “Broken Butterflies.” You better get your dancing shoes ready, this is a 1970s-throwback party album, par excellence.
Chris Church knows how to throw out a hook while cranking his amp. His records have been billed ‘heavy melody’ by more than few writers. But as I listened to his new album Radio Transient I kept feeling like I’d stumbled back into 1986, something about the guitar tones, the way the bass guitar seemed so up front in the mix. Now I’m often guilty of thinking everything sounds like 1980s – it was my coming-of-age decade after all – so I was relieved to read in Church’s liner notes that the sound he was going for on this album was something he’d dubbed ‘Buckingham-Fixx.’ Yes! That is what I’m hearing here. This album takes sonic elements of Lindsay Buckingham’s manic 1980s pop records, those great mega-hit Hall and Oates releases, and the dynamic keyboard-plus-bass sound of The Fixx. It’s all there on his fab pre-release single “Going ‘Til We Go” and “I Don’t Want to Dance With Me,” with perhaps a dab of John Waite. And the theme carries on throughout the album, leaning into particular musical nuances on each cut. “I Think I Think I Like You” really captures that bouncy-guitar dance pop that soundtracked the early part of the eighties. Then “Already In It” sneaks in some of Church’s westcoast poprock sound a la Walter Egan, with some lovely other-worldly keyboards. “Gotta Go, Gotta Ramble” turns up the 1980s Buckingham influence, with perhaps a dash of early Split Enz. But the solid gold single is undoubtedly “One More Chance to Get Over You.” This is a gorgeous piece of poprock songwriting, a masterclass in how to put all the melodic elements together for maximum impact. Guest lead guitar jangle from legendary Bill Lloyd only seals the deal. With Radio Transient Chris Church rescues the very best of the 1980s for your here and now.
I can’t quite put my finger on just what The Scarlet Goodbye are doing on their debut album Hope’s Eternal. And I kinda like that. There’s a bit of Americana and Ozzie poprock and a subtle Beatles backdrop going on. Album opener “Rosary” introduces the basic tension pursued throughout the record, the pull of a more mellow melodic ennui cast against a sometimes urgent rocking backdrop. The lead guitar features prominently in “Panic and Blame,” though taken up more like a paint brush than an axe. And then comes the obvious single “Rosary” with it’s brilliant, hooky lead guitar work and AM radio polish. This contrasts nicely with the folkie vibe threaded throughout the album on tracks “Paris,” “Charity” and “Minor Things.” “Paris” particularly sounds a bit like Peter Case on his first solo records or the Eels. For Americana there’s a western tilt to “Surprised” or countryish feel to “Firefly.” But such genre distinctions break down on songs like “Celebrated Summer” and “The Ballad of Julie Ann,” with the former’s folkie poprock reminiscent of Guster (especially that great chorus!) while the latter is kinda Crowded House (especially that great organ!) with dash of Bond. On “Sandy” the band let their rock roll a bit more than elsewhere here and it’s another should-be hit for me. “Fresh New Hell” is another highlight, coming on like Michael Penn in full-on ennui mode. You can listen to the whole album here.
There’s four fine diversions coming down your radio relay towers. Click on the hotlinks to tune in for more.
Jewel Portable Tube Radio Model 5310 (USA 1953) image courtesy Mark Amsterdam Flikr collection.
The magic of music can be its ability to capture the emotional intensity of a particular moment or conjure up long gone, almost forgotten feelings out of thin air. For many of us, music can carry a lot of emotional freight and today’s featured track is a stark, striking example of that power. No song captures the tender, fragile, wildly aching love of the early teen-age years quite like Big Star’s “Thirteen.” The song’s lyrics are so innocent and emotionally transparent, the singer so vulnerable and seemingly ripe for heartbreak. Wes Anderson’s cinematic illustration of the song’s themes in Moonrise Kingdom really captures the innocence of “Thirteen” and looks fabulous, even if it shirks a bit on the vulnerability angle.
Despite growing up in the 1970s I don’t think I heard Big Star’s “Thirteen” until the 1990s. Their catalogue and reputation was a bit too hipster to fall across my more AM radio radar. But when I heard it I was immediately transported back to Grade 8 and that desperate feeling I had in the pit of my stomach most of the time, crushing on nearly every boy I met but unable to tell anyone. Seems like everybody’s got a similar ‘hearing “Thirteen” for the first time’ heartbreak story. It’s a song with impact. Which makes covering it more than a bit tricky. Some say, why bother? I’d say it can be done but it takes a special kind of ear and restraint to hear just how to do it without surrendering the song’s performative beauty. Everything But the Girl recorded a fairly straightforward version in 1991 for their Acoustic album but it didn’t make the cut, only coming out on the expanded version in 2013. It’s bracing and simple and a little emotionally distant, so EBTG in other words. Who is surprised that Elliott Smith could pull off a pretty impressive cover? This version was recorded in 1996 but only released with the Thumbsucker soundtrack in 2004. Smith has a vocal delivery seemingly built just for this song.
There are actually a lot of “Thirteen” covers, most emerging post-2000, but most suffer some serious missteps. People try to bend the song into a new shape, thus losing the charm, or seem to think they can just slouch their way through a slow-dirge, finger-picking bit of shoe-gaze. Big Star make their slow pitch on the song look easy but it is hard to sound so profound without overdoing it. Rachel Gordon strikes a nice balance with guitar and piano and a vocal that avoids over-statement. Rome, Italy’s Lone Horn is one of those rare efforts that manages to speed the tempo of the song without dropping its emotional ballast. The interesting vocal harmonies and snappy lead guitar work definitely help. Chris Richards and the Subtractions do the opposite, slowing things down and breaking out different elements while still holding the song’s unique tension together. Joshua Speers takes Big Star’s original acoustic guitar starting point but then uses that to spread out in different directions, adding complementary electric guitar, vocal effects and a Beatles-in-Abbey Road blend of background as things go on. The result is careful, understated, and ultimately complementary to the tune.
Last up, a bit of a departure, Toronto’s Choir Choir Choir lead a cast of amateur singers in a touching, almost all voice rendition of “Thirteen.” I’m not crying, you’re crying.
It’s a special ‘Ryan’ only blog post, dedicated to new musical offerings from people with that name. Luckily we have two great examples handy.
Ed Ryan tells us the aim of his new record A Big Life “was to make a big, fun rock record!” Well he’s succeeded and then some. From the rollicking opener “Settle Down” with its rhythm guitar shots and 1980s J. Geils synth lines to a closer that reworks Solomon Burke’s “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love” into a rock and roll dance stomper, this record hits all the party marks. It’s like he’s taking us through all the many musical eras he’s lived through since the 1970s, adding his own distinctive Ryan-esque filter to everything. We go from what sound like 1970s guitars on “Take Away Everything” to a 1980s guitar vibe on “The Dreaming Moon.” “Wonder” is a lovely number that melds acoustic guitar and organ in a very 1970s Stonesy way. “Mary Anne” exudes what we used to call AOR (album-oriented rock) in the 1980s, where big crashing guitar chords and screaming solos ride a solid melody. Title track “A Big Life” also goes guitar-big but really delivers a subtle hook in the chorus. Then there’s the post-pub rock-styled “You Keep Me Up All Night” with its “I Knew the Bride (When She Used to Rock and Roll)” feel. But if I had to single out tracks for extensive radio play they would be “Lighthouse” and “Testify.” “Lighthouse” combines jangle guitar with a jaunty tune that skips merrily along while “Testify” just sounds like the single to me.
On his latest LP The Last Rock BandRyan Allen cooks up a concept album that explores the classic ‘Is rock dead?’ fixation of rock and roll players via a disjointed band biography. With song titles like “Start a Band,” “Like the Ramones,” and “The Last Rock and Roll Band” you can see where this is going, narrative-wise. And listening through the album it’s clear the lyrics here are smart. But concept albums really live or die by the music. Happily these tracks rock, in the very best way. As usual, the range of styles Allen pulls out is impressive. “The Last Rock Band” sounds like an edgy Bryan Adams, “Discovery” is laden with guitar windmills borrowed from The Who, while “Stop the Train” has a delicious reverby pop sound reminiscent of Fountains of Wayne. Going more for the 1970s “Second Act” has those big seventies Thin Lizzy guitars or you can enjoy something that sounds like Bowie meets Big Star on “We Have Returned.” “Bought a Computer” is that part of the story where the protagonist briefly abandons his guitar for technology but all I can hear here is some spot-on Chris Collingwood kind of lyrical phrasing. “Wrong Place Wrong Time” is just a great intense rocker. Saving the best for last Allen wraps the album with the obvious should-be hit single “Because I Have To,” a nonstop hook machine of a song. Rock may not dominate popular culture like it once did but Ryan Allen’s latest long-player proves it’s not quite on life support yet.
People named Ryan sometimes make great music. Like these guys. Press ‘Ryan’ as your hotlink choice to find out more.
I haven’t heard much about The Plus 4 but the music they’ve released so far is really speaking to me. The band kicked off 2023 with the aptly-dubbed “Resolution (Happy New Year),” a vampy glam strutter with a touch of 1970s Kinks in the vocals. The song has a got a shambolic party vibe but don’t be fooled, that’s just a stylistic covering. This baby is one solid 45. Then barely one month later the band released another real smash single, the janglicious “You Look Right Through Me.” This one has a got a Beatles “Should Have Known Better” ambience, with an extra helping of Byrdsian trebly guitar. The more I listen to this track the more I want to listen to it. I mean, those ‘sha la la’s are exquisite. This month witnessed another singles instalment, this time taking things in a different direction. Sure, the jangle is still there, but the source material is a curious choice, a cover of Toyah’s “It’s a Mystery.” Now to be honest, going back and listening to the original version this is not a song I would normally give the time of day. But The Plus 4 take this thing off life support and literally breathe new life into it. You can hear the melody and the hooks that were buried in the original’s early-1980s bombastic production and instrumentation. The song now sparkles, all bright guitar lines, airy vocals and delightful shots of atmospheric harmonica.
The Plus 4 manage to sound so familiar and yet something new at the same time. Clearly I’m digging this new breed. I just hope it’s not going to take another 7 months to fill out a 10 track album.
For now, you can check out the jangle mystery of The Plus 4 at their Bandcamp page here.
It’s been a long time since Seattle’s Ransom and the Subset’s last album release – you’ve got to go back to 2014’s No Time to Lose. And I was late to that party, only catching on to the band in 2017. But I am on top of the latest band news, their brand new single is “Perfect Crime.” This song has got a textured pop goodness baked into its DNA, making all the various musical adornments just more ear candy. From the opening that jumps right in, to the drop-out quiet build-up in the verses, to the alluring ‘bah de bah’s in the chorus that draw you in, this song is a ride where you won’t care if you miss your stop. The sound has a smooth pop sheen I associate with Sam Roberts or Ben Folds, with some great lead guitar break out moments and organ backing. No doubt a special guest appearance from ace session guitarist Jay Graydon didn’t hurt (he played on Steely Dan’s “Peg”). The single is the first release from the band’s new album Perfect Crimes, due out in April, and it certainly bodes well for what is to come.
Give “Perfect Crime” a spin at the band’s Futureman Records Bandcamp page that can be found here.