Once upon a time yesterday’s chart heroes might have been relegated to playing the motel bar circuit. But the millennial explosion of niche music spaces has changed all that, effectively reviving more than few stalled careers. Along with your used plastics and carboard you can now expect to recycle all your favourite rock stars too. Today’s post makes the case, featuring a load of stars from yesteryear who’ve still got a bit more sparkle and shine to share.
When you’re the drummer from a band with more indie press headlines than chart hits the future can look dire when things hit the skids. And skid-hitting pretty much sums up what happened to legendary 1970s indie darlings Big Star. So that makes Jody Stephens’ recent project with Luther Russell look pretty ‘triumphing-over-adversity’ phenomenal. The new band is Those Pretty Wrongs and Stephens is not merely drumming but singing and co-writing all the tunes. Their new LP Holiday Camp is just out and it’s their third long-player to come out since Stephens and Russell hooked up after the making of the 2012 documentary Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me. I think it’s their best yet. The sound is, not surprisingly, pretty Big Star-ish. Or perhaps it should be a surprise, given that Stephens did not sing on Big Star recordings. And yet opening cut “New September Song” has the vocal vulnerability that was emblematic of his old band. Of course, one can also hear a lot of the Byrds or even REM here and there, on tracks like “Always the Rainbow” for the former and “This Painted Sky” for the latter. “Brother, My Brother” has got some classic Big Star acoustic lead guitar runs. The guitars really sparkle all over this album, whether in folky mode on “The Way” or working up a delightful lead guitar rumble for “Paper Cup.” “Ride Along” is another highlight, the light acoustic guitar treatment perfectly offsetting the tender vocal. The Big Star lineage might bring you here but the quality of Holiday Camp will have you setting up your tent for a spell.
On album number six Santa Barbara’s The Tearaways rinse/repeat their timeless rock and roll formula with good effect. The new record is And For Our Next Trick and it brings together a number of cool pre-release singles they’ve put out recently, like the rock and roll drummer’s homage “Charlie, Keith, and Ringo.” The song seems pretty apropos given the band’s drummer is the legendary Clem Burke of Blondie, Romantics and The Empty Hearts fame. The other ten tunes are also relentlessly good. The sixties nods are there but the overall sound is that dynamite eighties fusion of old and new rock and roll honed by Petty’s Heartbreakers, the Romantics and many others. “Not Good Enough For Me” captures this synthesis perfectly, mixing Norman Petty Texas rock elements with straight-up 1980s FM rock radio. Pumping piano and sweet harmony vocals define “Come On Jaan” while “No Love Lost” is carried by a buoyant lead guitar solo. “Let Me Be The Last,” “Goodnight Nurse” and “Emotional Distance” really lean in to the 1960s, very Beatles Revolver/Rubber Soul era. Then “Saturday Everyday” and “Easier Done Than Said” punch a more 1980s weight. But the should-be hit single for me is “Married and Single” with its earwormy guitar work and candy-coated vocals. And For Our Next Trick is another winning collection from a band that never gets old.
The notion of a ‘supergroup’ and Canada don’t naturally fit together. Maybe if Gordon Lightfoot, Randy Bachman and Anne Murray had gotten together at some point. But when you bring members of Hollerado, Sloan, Sam Roberts Band and Tokyo Police Club together to record you’ve definitely got something pretty super going on. The band is Anyway Gang and they’ve got two albums – the most recent being 2022’s Still Anyways – and the results are consistently stellar. Of course, it’s hard not to hear the constituent bands in the songs. “Reckless Reckless” sounds pretty Hollerado. “What’s Left of My Love” has got a solid Sloan vibe. And there is no mistaking the Sam Roberts stamp on “Out of Nowhere.” But at other points things just groove along melding the different influences together. “Alternative View” feels very Zolas to me while “Real Thing” bops along with great rock hooks. “Don’t Give Up On Your Dreams” harkens back to a breezy 1980s Men At Work style of poprock. There’s even some folk pop (“Love is Here”) and alt country (“Call on Me”). Personal fave: “Remember To Forget” – this one’s got a light AM bounce to it that insists ‘play me again.’
It’s hard to go wrong with a band consisting of members of REM, The Young Fresh Fellows and I Was King. In fact, things go very right as The No Ones move into the concept album zone on their second outing, My Evil Best Friend. Largely conceived and directed by Scott McCaughey and featuring guest appearances from members of the Bangles, Death Cab for Cutie, Camper Van Beethoven and Teenage Fanclub, the record is a loving homage to all the great LPs and artists that inspired the band members. Opening cut “KLIV” name drops its way through a load of great sixties musical icons and sets the scene for this imagined musical time capsule. Some tributes are direct, like “Phil Ochs is Dead” and “Song for George,” while others are more muted, like the Tom Petty-ish “Throwdown in Whispertown.” If you had to boil it all down, the whole package is clearly most inspired by The Byrds, with REM and Teenage Fanclub vibes here and there. You can hear it pretty clearly on “304 Molina Way” – this is some quality retro jangle. There are few surprises, like The Smiths-ian echoes on “Band With No Head.” Then by the time you get to “The After Party” the jaunty 1960s poppy-ness of it all will send you right back to the start. It really is a joy to hear people who know what they’re doing hit all the marks. If The No Ones are your kind of people, then My Evil Best Friend will be yours too.
Doing our part for a zero waste society, you can pick up these recycled rock stars at your favourite e-music emporium (though appropriately re-purposed physical product is cool too).
Photo courtesy of Swizzle Studios.