Gather round people and hear today’s topical troubadour Jonny Polonski give voice to what we’re all feeling right now. On his new single “People Are Lonely, Horny, Angry and Depressed” the man sings it like it is, namely that everybody is tired, randy, cranky and feeling blue. Of course, it rhymes when he says it. And the music is like a shot of Elvis Costello meets the Eels. So just listen to him and you can skip my blathering. You’ll be glad you did because Polonksi is a legendary talent. Though somewhat reclusive and mercurial in his recording and record releasing habits, just about everything he’s put out has been critically acclaimed. And deservedly so. You can dip in just about anywhere in his catalogue and find a real gem. To me, this one-off, clearly pandemic inspired single is no exception.
In 1979 I was 14 years old, barreling into a world of music my parents didn’t know anything about. New wave clicked with me in part of because it recycled the sixties sound I’d grown up with listening to my parents’ record collection. But there was something stripped down and edgy to it that appealed to me as well. Today’s artists so nail the musical aura of that time it’s like déjà vu for me. The good kind.
Norway’s fave one-man band Caddy has released an album that is like finding some great lost band’s record in the second hand shop. Put this thing on headphones and you’ll swear it’s gotta be a legit new wave era release. The guitar that opens the record is just so late 1970s. The song is “Walking on the Roof,” a cover of a Sgt. Arms track from 1982 and the treatment is pretty close to the original, except where it flares out on occasion with a muscular intensity reminiscent of The Tubes in Completion Backwards Principle mode. The concept for the album was simple, scour obscure new wave records circa 1979-83 for fabulous but historically ignored deep cuts. And then re-interpret them, but drawing from the same era’s sonic palette. Detours and Dead Ends Vol. 1 is the result and it’s a faultless collection, faithful to the era’s dynamic range without sounding derivative. Yet at the same time, the songs here sound fresh and contemporary. It’s in the guitar amp choices and vocal styles. Exhibit A: “Heart of Stone” with its driving guitar and oh-so early 1980s vocals. “Call Your Name” is a real tour de force, unleashing guitars and hooks that remind me of Blue Oyster Cult doing AM radio hit singles. “Cost of Love” is a quintessential 1980s take on the 1960s beat group song. And it just doesn’t stop, the whole record just goes from strength to strength. Check out the unrelenting take on The Freshies “No Money” with oh-so-nice vocals and crashing guitars. Really, there’s more than a little magic in this LP. Volume 2? Yes please.
Paul Kelly’s been running with that Scottish indie music mafia connected to Teenage Fanclub and BMX Bandits for some time. But his own project – The Martial Arts – has legs too. Though they’ve only released one full album, 2006’s Your Sinclair, the band have delivered a smattering of singles and EPs over the years. They’ve even got a Christmas EP. What I can’t figure out is how I’ve only managed to hear about them now. That first record is a dynamite collection of tunes, clearly vibing a 1970s poprock sound that mixes a bubblegum hookyness with a dash of new wave’s guitar crispness. “Don’t Want to Talk” is the killer single here, a clear should-be hit. Pair that with “Summer Tweed” and “Finale” and tell me if you don’t hear something like a Scottish version of The Shins. There’s a bit of James Mercer in both the vocals and the songwriting styles. Fast forward to 2015 and the title track from I Used to Be EP is working in some very ABBA keyboards and even, dare I say, Bay City Rollers melodic turns. And the video is priceless! Now the band are back with new EP, Getting Stranger by the Month, and all these amazing musical elements remain. Seriously “Guilt by Association” sounds straight from the Benny and Bjorn songwriting workshop. Or there’s “Bethany” with its dreamy Shins feel. A new album is rumoured to be in the works and I can’t wait.
Apparently new wave never gets old. There’s something fresh and exciting in the style that keeps music makers coming back for more (inspiration). So why not relive the past in the present with these recordings from Caddy (from Kook Kat here) and The Martial Arts today.
In this era of streaming and individual song downloads, we are told the album is dead. Or is it? Somebody clearly forgot to inform today’s featured artists. Gear up for a post full of five star quality LPs.
Richie Mayer’s experience shows on The Inn of Temporary Happiness. With a career stretching back to the late 1970s new wave scene, his new album effortlessly mixes influences from more than a half century of popular music. The record opens with the obvious single, “Dangerous Rhythm,” and it’s a winner. I love how it builds out of just voice and acoustic guitar, adding more instruments and taking unexpected melodic turns. There’s something a bit Colin Moulding in the chorus, a dash of ELO or Alan Parsons Project with the background vocals, and a heavy dollop of late Beatles guitar work in the solos. But don’t get comfortable because Mayer changes things up stylistically from track to track. There’s some folk rock (“The Inn of Temporary Happiness”), country-ish (“The Hall of Blame” ) and even music hall numbers (“How Can I Leave When I’m Already Gone”). But mostly there’s just great songwriting, in the way great 1970s and 1980s singles used to sound. The Beatles and Beach Boys figure prominently amongst the influences here, particularly “Love Will Find a Way” and “Warmth of the Sun,” though there’s a bit of a 10cc vibe on the former while the latter oozes some Hall and Oates Philly soul. “This is the Day” even has hints of Supertramp’s “Goodbye Stranger” particularly from the keyboards. I could go on – there’s not a weak track anywhere on the LP. Definitely check out the should-be single “She’s Taking It Too Well” (so many Beatle-istic touches here!) and the lovely acoustic guitar instrumental “Kat’s Guitar.” Spend some time with this record: your happiness will not be temporary.
The pandemic interrupted the recording of a new Decibels album so Brent Seavers filled the time making YouTube videos of himself covering a bevy of poprock classics (check out his fantastic cover of Marshall Crenshaw’s “You’re My Favorite Waste of Time” below) and recording a solo album. BS Stands for Brent Seavers sounds like The Decibels, not surprising, but also not like them too. The solo gig has allowed Seavers to drift a bit forward in time, from mid-1960s right up into the new millennium indie poprock scene. Obviously there some very Decibels material here, like “Out in the Rain,” “Clean Reflection,” and the jangle-heavy “All the Better.” The band’s sixties-meets-the-1980s vibe is also there on the Smithereens-ish “Flatline” and the muscled-up California pop hue all over “Running Me Down.” But I’m going to go out on a limb here to suggest the band haunting this record might actually be They Might Be Giants. That Brooklyn duo’s jocular sense of musical whimsey lurks on “Unlike Superman,” “Me and My Melancholy Face,” and most obviously on the fun sing-along “I Wrote a Song.” Seavers even sounds a bit like TMBG’s John Linnell vocally on the album opener, “Play.” On the other hand, should-be hit single “More Than a Friend” is Seaver’s own distinctive brand of melodic rocking out, with strong harmonies, and killer earworm chorus. This is another total album enjoyment collection.
I’ve been listening Rob Fetters’ new album Ship Shake on repeat for the last two weeks or so. The more I hear it, the more I like it. It’s the kind of record that grows on you, as more and more of its musical and lyrical subtleties reveal themselves. Part of the appeal is its hefty dose of positivity. “Turn This Ship Around” is an amazing slice of hooky, indie Americana but it’s also the message we need right now. Or “Not the End” highlights the little things we can do day to day to make the world just a little bit better, set to a carefree summer car-radio soundtrack. Not that all the message here is light. Fetters delves into issues of sexuality, abuse, loss and forgiveness with such a direct sincerity it’s disarming. Themes like these can get a bit preachy but he pulls it off. Ultimately Ship Shake is an album about what really matters in life: people, relationships, and what we’ve learned from our own experience. For instance, on the widely misinterpreted track “Nobody Now” Fetters sounds like he is complaining about the loss of fame and its trappings but what he’s really doing is moving beyond it. In the end, it’s the combination of this emotional depth with great tunes that will bring you back for more. Songs like “Can’t Take It Back” really capture this, showcasing Fetters’ hooky melodies and Tom Petty meets Warren Zevon vocal delivery. And let me say, the guitar playing on this record is pretty extraordinary. From the riff that kicks off the opening track, you know you are in presence of guitar god, but one that can temper technique with melody. This record is a must hear.
What did I tell you? The album is far from dead. Visit Richie Mayer, Brent Seavers, and Rob Fetters to get your living proof.
Today Poprock Record celebrates International Workers’ Day or May Day as is it more generally known. With music, of course. But this is not just another May Day for me, it is the first without my mentor, Ph.D. dissertation supervisor, and friend, Leo Panitch, who passed away last fall from the combined effects of COVID 19 and cancer. Leo was a giant on the political left, a longtime editor of the influential Socialist Registerwhose research, writing and impact on working class politics continues to be felt in social movements, political parties and amongst critical academics around the world. I don’t know that Leo would necessarily approve of all the musical selections included here today (frankly, he was more of a 1960s cool jazz cat) but I’m certain he’d sign off on the sentiments they express.
Darren Hayman gets things started with a song appropriately entitled “May Day 1894.” The track comes from his 2015 album Chants for Socialists, a project that sets to music a book of poetry of the same name from 19th century English socialist William Morris. The results are a gorgeously fuzzy poprock single, with striking guitar work and a lingering pastoral melody. In keeping with its socialist ethos, the album is available on a ‘pay what you can’ basis. Australia’s The Basics live up to their name, putting forward the most basic question relevant to socialists, namely “What Ever Happened to the Working Class?” The song and its album were a response to the blasé and dismissive attitude of that country’s rightwing government to working people but the song offers no easy answers. Brooklyn’s The Defibulators take a more humorous approach in “The Working Class” yet still give voice to that sense of dislocation many working class people feel about themselves and their life chances.
Not that there’s necessarily a lack of ideas out there. Music fans looking for a bit of programmatic direction can turn to Stoke-on-Trent’s Milky Wimpshake to lay it all out with admirable melodic clarity. Their most recent album is Confessions of an English Marxist, containing such should-be classics as “Capitalism is a Perversion,” “I Don’t Want to Work” and “No War (But the Class War).” The sound here sometimes reminds me Scotland’s Spook School, when it isn’t full on 1977 angry punk. For an American contribution, Austin Texas has The Capitalist Kids betraying Milton Friedman’s ethos over the course of four LPs on tracks like the highly sarcastic “Socialist Nightmare” and the more illuminating “Socialism isn’t a Dirty Word,” delivered with a nineties poppy punk sneer.
Now I know Leo would approve of Ginger Wildheart’s “Benn,” a rare cut from his Ginger’s Christmas Sack featuring clips of longtime English Labour MP Tony Benn speaking over Ginger’s driving musical accompaniment. Though, to tell the truth, I could just listen to Benn sans the music (no offence Ginger!) for hours. With songs like “Otherwise Occupied on Wall Street” and “The Servants Quarters” Jimmy Haber seems to attuned to the struggles of the oppressed. That comes out loud and clear in his melody-drenched, rocking anthem “We Should Start a Revolution.” Jimmy, I second your emotion.
Wrapping up our poprock tribute to May Day, we must turn to the most perfect purveyors of what might best be dubbed ‘agit-pop,’ Chumbawamba. On their 2008 album The Boy Bands Have Won they articulate the appropriate relationship between music and social struggles, noting in the opening cut “When an Old Man Dies” that ‘you should never try to freeze music, to try to maintain a song in that form, to say this is exactly how it was, is a silly way of looking at things’. In other words, music must always change to respond to the needs of the moment, to the struggles we face now. The band so perfectly capture the uncertainty and possibility with the lyrics of the album’s final song, “What We Want”:
We know what we want We know what we’ve got But what do we need? What do we need? [voice-over] ‘What’s happened to the music is that it’s changing. It’s changing to suit people’s needs now.’
Exactly. Music will always be a part of the struggle for social justice but it must be music that the people who will make change happen (the working class, in all its diversity) can relate to. I’m sure Leo would approve. Today’s post is dedicated to him. Though I march without him this May Day and for all those to come, I’ll keep something about him close to me with these songs.
So many bands deserve another turn in the spotlight. Beyond a certain level of talent and creativity, chart success (or not) can be a random, capricious thing. Thus shining a light on some of these amazing acts and their recordings is just the decent thing to do.
Our first spotlight candidate arguably had a pretty good run at fame. Their song “I’ll Be There For You” got played every Thursday night on American television for ten years. Yet, as The Rembrandts, the duo behind the song were largely dismissed as a one hit wonder. It was an unfair assessment for a number of reasons, not least of which because the band actually had an earlier, higher charting single. But here we’ll focus on their earlier incarnation as Great Buildings and the dynamite album they put out in 1981, Apart from the Crowd. Album opener “Hold On to Something” sounds like a hit to me with its high harmonies and sing-along chorus, coming on like a new wave Journey. From there the album rolls out with a host of radio friendly tracks, perhaps just a bit ahead of their time. For instance, “… And the Light Goes On” and “Dream That Never Dies” give off an ambience that would later work wonders for acts like The Outfield. And not surprising, songs like “Another Day in My Life” signal where the duo would go later with The Rembrandts. What this albums demonstrates is that any hit deficit afflicting this duo was not for lack of some quality trying.
When Brisbane, Australian band Up and Downs released The Sky’s In Love With You in 2017 the record sounded like an eerie, contemporary update on some classic 1980s indie acts. That shouldn’t have been surprising, they were a classic 1980s indie act! They’d had a minor hit in 1986 with “The Living Kind” but broken up in 1990. The compilation Out of the Darkness (Sleepless, Singles & Other Stories) has that song a host of others from their first three albums. Coming back together in 2007 the band did a few gigs over the next decade but only got back in the studio in 2017. But it was like they never left. The Sky’s In Love With You is a very listenable album but, for me, “True Love Waste” is the standout should-be single. The song ranks alongside anything from the first few Grapes of Wrath albums with its nice juxtaposition of acoustic and electric guitars, arranged with spare but at times surging effect. More recently the band put out an engaging cover of The Hummingbirds’ “Two Weeks With a Good Man in Niagara Falls.”
Listening through the back catalogue of Three Hour Tour I’d swear the band has got a magic box that can apply a Rubber Soul veneer to everything. It’s there in the vocal harmonies and the up-front placement of the acoustic guitars in mix. And it doesn’t hurt that main songwriter Darren Cooper has a knack for turning out pretty solid Beatlesque tunes. The band launched in the early 1990s with a number of solid albums and great singles, notably “Valentines Day” and “Next Time.” Then after a break of a few years they put out four albums between 2007 and 2018. The records have a consistent sonic and substantive quality, reminding me a lot of work from The Lolas and The Smithereens. So many great songs that could be featured but if forced to select a few highlights I’d go with the sterling title track from 2007 comeback album B-Side Oblivion, the oh-so-Beatles vibe on “Dead Reckoning” from 2010’s Looking for Tomorrow, the more mellow acoustic “Shifting Sands” from 2015’s Actions and Heroes, and “Theodore’s Last Call” from 2018’s You Never Know. But there’s plenty more pleasing poprock on these various long-players.
As far as I can tell The Galaxies put out just one album, 2008’s Here We Go! But what an album it was. The first four tracks on the record should come with a sticker-warning, they’re such effective ear worms. And here’s a left field observation: lead vocalist Bobby Cox really sounds REO Speedwagon’s Kevin Cronin to me. I’ll admit to having a soft spot for that mid-west American MOR-pop outfit’s catchier tunes so putting that sound into a more power pop setting works for me. For more contemporary points of reference, fans of The Rallies or The Spindles are going to like what they find here. Check out the magical weave of the hooky guitar lead line around the chorus of “Baby I Believe” or the slice of AM radio perfection that is “You Promised.” Another should be hit single is “Love Has Found Me,” a soft rock number elevated with some tasty jangle guitar. Or for a change, there’s a nice Paul Carrack pub rock groove to “An Ocean Between Us.” This is a full-play, leave-it-on-repeat long player.
A truly great poprock single usually has a catchy opener, some hook that makes you pause and want to know what comes next. Portland’s Throwback Suburbia nail this with their 2007 debut single “Circles.” The lone synth riff comes out of nowhere, a head turner that grabs the listener long enough for the band to come crashing in. What follows is a great synthesis of eighties and nineties melodic rock influences. With a vocal that is pure Glenn Tilbrook phrasing, a guitar and keyboard attack vibing ELO, and a melodic sheen reminiscent of Rooney, the result should have been super radio hit. But the AM/FM music directors apparently didn’t get the memo. The band would release a few EPs and two critically acclaimed albums but wild success wasn’t in the cards. A shame really. Everything they released was pretty solid on the rockin’ melodic song front. They even put out killer covers of tracks from their most obvious influences, Squeeze’s “Up the Junction” and Elvis Costello’s “Accidents Will Happen.”
You can keep up with band members’ post Throwback Suburbia efforts on the group’s Facebook page as well as buy up their existing catalogue of tunes.
Some artists just belt it out. Others treat a song like sculpture, carefully teasing out the song’s essential elements with a perfectionist’s sense of sonic finesse. Today’s post features the latter, some very carefully crafted poprock to delight and entertain you.
Ken Sharp is an uber talented guy. Author of 18 non-fiction books, liner-notes writer to the stars, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and the guy’s got a great sense of style. I mean, his albums and singles always look amazing, wonderfully illustrated and featuring great sixties and seventies fonts and images. His just released record, Miniatures, breaks even more new ground, delivering 32 songs in just 41 minutes. They are miniatures in the sense of being short in length but also in terms of their execution. Each track is a carefully crafted sonic landscape, evoking different musical eras, songwriting styles, and moods. Album opener “Me and My Big Fat Mouth” sets the tone, establishing a Bacharachian precision in terms of song arranging while the tune exudes a Dionne Warwick or Neil Sedaka melodic sensibility. There are so many highlights here, I can’t possibly go into them all (though for an excellent deep dive into the album’s songs and inspirations, check out Keith Womack’s amazing coverage in Salon) so I’ll just riff on a few of my faves. On the whole, the record vibes an early 1970s pop sound, that intimate, glossy, compressed effect I associate with Partridge Family records, the Carpenters, folk pop artists of era like Cat Stevens, and the theme from the TV show Love, American Style. Having said that tracks like “Susannah Silently Shining” remind me a bit of Apples in Stereo while “Stack O’ Records” has a Big Star in acoustic mode feel. From there the album has so many jaunty, ambling-away-the-summer-days pop numbers, like “This Kiss,” “Every Day is Holly Day,” and “My Lullaby.” Sharp does occasionally let loose, upping the tempo on numbers like “Down the Drain” and the Costello-ish “Something’s Happening.” Baroque is a term often thrown around for this project and it sticks to songs like “Dollhouse,” “We’re Moving On,” album closer “Miniatures,” and the delightfully inventive and mannered “Black Coffee Cigarettes and Bach’s Minuet.” You can basically jump in anywhere on Miniatures and feel the delight, the whimsy, and a load of positive vibes. It’s all so nicely captured on what is probably my favourite tune from the record, the Cat Steven-ish sing-along “Count On Me.” Sharp definitely delivers a much-needed seasonal mood improver with this tuneful trove.
It all started with deceit. A group releases a series of singles under different band names, pretending to be separate acts with different styles. But when the ruse is revealed April 1st (naturally) it quickly becomes apparent that what began as a lark has turned into a serious musical accomplishment. Incognito reveals TheArmoires as a much more ambitious, dynamic outfit than we ever imagined. The record’s focus splits three ways, between covers, country and an updated new wave sound (with some overlap). You’re exposed to the ambition behind the LP right away with the opening cut, the band’s inspired cover of John Cale’s “Paris 1919.” Their interpretation effectively delivers on a poprock promise only implied in Cale’s original. Other hooky contributions defy a singular style, vibing a nouveau Kirsty MacColl feel on “I Just Can’t See the Attraction” or a bit of the New Pornographers on “I Say We take Off and Nuke the Site from Orbit” or a Teenage Fanclub sensibility with the 2020 cover “The Night I Heard a Scream.” The country-ish contributions are equally affecting, from the old timey feel of “Bagfoot Country” to the more bluesy country of “Homebound” to the shot-glass soaked duet that is “Shame and Bourbon.” My own vote for should-be hit single is the breezy, rollicking “Great Distances” with its light touch of jangle and homey harmonies. And these are just the highlights for me – I could on. To sum, despite its variety in song and styles Incognito is definitely the work of one band, one that is discovering there really are few limits to what it can be and do.
Richard Turgeon has done it again. Defying the sequels curse, his second album of covers is a summer car-driving mix-tape champion. 10 Covers Volume 2 applies his Turgeon-izer (a distinctive dissonant hooky stamp) to classic songs from the 1960s, indie faves from the eighties and nineties, as well as songs that are barely a few years old. You’ve got to admire the cheek of trying to cover such classics as The Monkees’ “I’m a Believer” or The Mamas and Papas’ “California Dream’” but Turgeon pulls it off. The trick to effectively covering well known material is to offer up the familiar hooks but colour in some new melodic shading in unexpected ways or in different parts of the tune. Turgeon’s “I’m a Believer” is a little less manic than the original, a bit more indie-casual with some entertaining lead guitar embellishments. His “California Dreamin’” sounds a bit more believably desperate and stark. The cover of the Bryds’ “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better” dials down the jangle, offering a more straight up rocking feel. Turning more recent material, I love the version of Potty Mouth’s “22” here. Turgeon turns an already great fun stomper into a power pop classic, with spot on vocals and great guitar lines. But his greatest reinvention on this album is a reworking of Hole’s “Malibu.” The guitar approach better anchors the melodic hooks of song while Turgeon’s vocals add an emotional depth that was missing from the original. Another song Turgeon improves on is Bobby Fuller’s “A New Shade of Blue” where, again, his singing adds something new. You really believe he’s got the blues! And there’s more – I haven’t even mentioned the nice Tom Petty, Oasis, and Cure covers. Suffice it to say, no drive to the beach is really gonna be complete without blasting this through the speakers this summer.
Like the Proclaimers, I’m not prepared to throw the R away. Today’s post showcases a bevy of R-named acts I’ve accumulated over the years but haven’t had a chance to celebrate. Until now. Get ready for a ripping read of these records.
Let’s start things light and easy, with Rabbit! This duo offer up frothy pop tunes chock full of whimsy and positivity. “Magic” is from an early EP Connecting the Dots but everything between then and now is pretty They Might Be Giants meets Grouplove. The sonic arrangement on this song is meticulous, an aural portrait of bright sounds and striking musical contrasts. But oh so sing-along good. Look for their brand EP Happiness is Simple for more of the same. Then, for a dramatic mood change, Radioactivitykick out the Texas rock and roll jams with an adrenaline-fueled double-A side single. I love the relentless guitar riff on “Erased” that just keeps driving the hook into your head. This song is pulsing, crowd-pleasing, jump-up-and-down sort of thing. By contrast “Fear” has an ominous yet melodious hard rocking feel that I associate with Blue Oyster Cult, in a punky mood. Tennessee’s The Rectangle Shades are a time travel trip back to 1966, with amazing jangle guitar and Bryrds-worthy songwriting and singing. On “Running Out of Time” I kept expecting Jackie DeShannon to show up after every stellar hooky lead guitar line. And while this single is something special, the whole of the album Mystical Numbers is a treat. Moving over to Columbus, Ohio Red Skylark are vibing mid-1980s guitar bands from both sides of the Atlantic on their 2020 EP Run On. A bit of the Silencers, a touch of west coast Paisley a la The Three O’Clock, and whole lot that’s totally original. Check out those exquisite melodic turns and vocal harmonies in the chorus of “Soulfire Gone” or the surging jangle guitar work and ghostly vocals on “Shiver.” There’s even some Moody Blues-like group vocals on “Damned.” This is one mighty fine 14 minutes of EP.
On first listen The Rentals sound like any other good post-millennial indie band. But there’s always a twist somewhere. Like the other-worldly chorus that emerges from an otherwise swinging pop number in “Little Bit of You in Everything,” aided by a very Mary Lou Lord vocal feel, or the lyrically more esoteric but still poppy “Elon Musk is Making Me Sad.” Dip into any of the dozen or so releases from Matt Rendon as The Resonars or some other 1960s psychedelic creation and you won’t go away disappointed. Self-dubbed ‘psychedelic garage pop’ the sound is like an American mix of Rubber Soul and Revolver influences, with a bit more fuzz guitar. Check out the trippy jangle pushing “Why Does It Have to be So Hard” forward, from 2002’s Lunar Kit, for an emblematic experience. And there’s plenty more to enjoy with four LP releases of new material coming out in 2020 alone! A band of Ride’s stature hardly need any plug from me but my interest might be a bit of outlier as I really like the band’s 2017 comeback album Weather Diaries and the single “Charm Assault” in particular. The dynamic vocals arrangement combined with a guitar that sounds very The The Soul Mining is instantly addictive. Nick Pipitone wowed listeners with his 2020 concept album, Thiensville, and it was not a one-off achievement. Back in 2014 his band The Rip Off Artists released The Intercontinental, a strong collection of story tunes in the key of E, Costello and FOW. The whole album is highly listenable but I’ve got “Inside the Actor’s Studio Apartment” and “Mr. Right and Mrs. Right” on repeat.
Dublin, Ireland’s The Riptide Movement offer up a bit of four on the floor melody with their 2013 hit “All Works Out.” The sing-along chorus is just the capper to a song carried by a strong hooky lead guitar line weaved throughout the tune. There’s not much I can add to the tragic story of The Rosenbergs. Three albums of power pop gold, loved by critics but largely unknown to potential fans because the band dared speak out about how the music industry continued to screw over the talent. For an eye opening account of how corruption and payola still dominates American music read band founder David Fagin’s account of their career over on Power Popaholic. As for songs, so many great possible choices but let’s go with “Nighttime Lover.” It’s got a video. Ruby Free have two albums of self-described ‘Wings-inspired 70’s radio pop’ but I hear more of a Chris Collingwood style on “Slow Parade.” This baby is definitely the should-be hit single here – give it a few listens and you won’t be able to get it out of your head. Brothers Jonathan and Wes Parker are Ruth Good, a band named for their grandmother. The boys have got some fine blood harmony going on their recent EP Haunt, particularly the single “All My Life.” While they characterize their work as ‘slacker pop’ I hear a distinct country rock undercurrent with some Fleet Foxes ambience vocally. Past releases are also good, with “YLIE” from 2017’s Spliff EP and standout track for me.
Gotta love what R brings to the poprock table. Get caught up on these artists by clicking their hyperlinked names and checking out their internet presentations of self.
School is a perennial theme of rock and roll that, on the whole, doesn’t fare too well. Sure, the Beach Boys have that cheery “Be True to Your School” vibe going but they’re an outlier. More typically school appears as a burden, as something to escape from, preferably as soon as possible. The traditional sentiments were ably established in Chuck Berry’s classic “School Days” back in 1957. More recently Australian indie poprockers Starky summed things up with “Theme from High School” from their 2004 debut LP Mirror, Signal, Manoeuvre.
Ok, so high school sucks. What about higher education? Is there musical love for technical college or university? Our mix of tunes offers a range of views, as is only appropriate for academe. Rogue Wave conjure up the uncertainty that is the uni experience for many on “College” from 2013’s Nightingale Floors. Things are less cerebral for 2 Wheeled Tricycle’s “College.” Here the issue is more about whether to go or not to, egged on by some nice edgy synth riffs. Gentle Hen vibe some Hayden on “College Town,” a song with a sunny, good times feel and just a hint of darkness. Timmy Sean spares a moment during his concept album A Tale From the Other Side for his protagonist to reflect on “The College Year” and how decisions taken then impact what comes later, delivered with Sean’s larger than life theatrical pop hooks. The Incredible Casuals are all about the party experience. On “College Girls” the band execute their unerring rock and roll chops with shimmery guitars and some seriously melodic humming.
Advancing up the academic ladder, Toronto’s hHead bash out a great melodic rock and roll tribute to higher education on “University.” A more indie Grapes of Wrath or Northern Pikes is what I hear here. Former The Trend songwriter John McMullan has put out a few great solo tunes, like his tell-all expose of legal education on “Law School.” I love the Springsteen organ and the hooky guitar lines all over this song. And McMullan actually did become a lawyer. Winnipeg music veteran John K. Samson knows academe as well as the music biz and captures every grad student’s dilemma on “When I Write My Masters’ Thesis.” Then he updated his musical academic CV in 2016 with “Postdoc Blues.” I guess he got that MA thesis written after all.
Forget enrolling in some school of rock, you can learn about great music just about anywhere. Like here. Right on this blog. Just scroll back through the posts for your own do-it-yourself degree in poprock.
This just in from the teletype, my breaking news is not always so ‘breaking’ timewise. Oh well. I’m sure what appears here will be news to someone. Today’s post brings us old reliables and new discoveries, in equal measure.
I’ve run out of superlatives to describe all the great things that Aaron Lee Tasjan is. He topped our 2018 must-have LPs list with Karma for Cheap and I’ve gushed all over everything he’s put out since then. Stylistically, Tasjan has that Nashville rock and roll vibe going: shades of sixties country, more than a little Orbison tenderness in the vocals, and an unerring ear for rock and roll melody. But Tasjan’s new album Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan! marks out new territory, pushing his songwriting and performance into new lyrical and sonic geography. Keyboards gain more prominence here. “Up All Night” has Tasjan’s vocal floating over a synth hook whose relentless texture propels the song forward. Lyrically Tasjan’s connects the 1970s gender bending rock and roll of Bowie and others to the present on “Feminine Walk” while celebrating the women of his past on “Sunday Women.” Perky poprock numbers are in abundance here, like “Computer of Love” and “Cartoon Music.” And there’s still plenty of this artist’s warm Wilbury’s song stylings on tracks like “Another Lonely Day” and “Don’t Overthink It.” Elsewhere Tasjan’s not afraid to give a song space to breathe. “Now You Know” ambles along pleasantly, building ever so slowly to the most subtle of killer hooks. “Not That Bad” is another of Tasjan’s beautiful acoustic ballads, melding a bit of McCartney with Elliott Smith. Meanwhile “Got What I Wanted” is so wistful McCartney circa McCartney II. Altogether, this record is a delightful surprise from an artist who regularly delivers the poprock goods.
I first cogged on to Benny Hayes with his The Good Good Things project, particularly the title track of the EP Soundtrack 2000. I loved the marriage of the slightly discordant vocals with his self-described guitar pop style. Hayes is back with a new EP Night Drives that retains the guitar pop but with an overall package that sparkles a bit more. There something very early Everything But the Girl or Housemartins going on here, like Hayes is the punky younger brother turned loose in the studio. It’s there on the opening tune “Authentic Me” with its up front acoustic guitars and in-your-face vocals. “Don’t Make Me Go” has a smoother feel, a bit of acoustic pop soul, with a tasty melodic guitar solo. “Night Drive” harkens back to Hayes more discordant guitar pop past, with another very engaging solo guitar near the end. “Sunshine” sounds like the single to me. Night Drives is mostly a guy, his guitar and voice, but somehow Hayes makes great big beautiful noise that just right for your car radio.
If you’re looking to get caught up with Boston shoe-gazey jangle band 3 A.M. Again then Come Back from the Sun is the album for you. Combining tracks from a number of previous EPs and long-players, the collection is a mammoth 20 track set that is very attractively priced. The record opens with a solid should-be hit single in “I Can Always Tell the Difference,” a song that builds nicely with a lilting swing and breezy melody. Folkie acoustic guitar work defines this album, definitely shading the distinctive feel of songs like “Painted from the Moving Train” and beautiful instrumentals like “Thatcher Road.” But sometimes the tempo picks up a more rocky demeanor on songs like “Bring Me Out” and “No Help When You Were Young.” There’s a sixties psychedelic pop feel to “You Should Let Me Love You” while “Not Willing” exudes California sunshine pop. I love the late 1960s acoustic guitar folk feel and CS&N vocal style on “Does It Help.” This record is the perfect accompaniment to a sunny day out walking somewhere.
I thought I knew Chris Church. I’ve reviewed more than a few of his singles and albums. His guitar work is typically highly finessed with just a bit of grit thrown in, coating but never obscuring the basic melodic strengths of his songs. But Game Dirt is a game changer. Here Church conjures up the ghosts of the mid-1970s California country-tinged rock and roll scene of Warren Zevon or Walter Egan, mingling them with some of the most genre-stretching material of his career. “Learn” opens things up with strong dose of David Lindley/John Fogarty bluesy rock but then “Faderal” shifts gears, an urgent, original dose of poprock that seems to owe more to arty bands like Split Enz or mid-period Squeeze. “Fall,” “Lost,” and “Trying” then sets the tone for much of what follows, a easygoing 1970s westcoast feel, a bit Fleetwood Mac, a hint of the Eagles, even a little Marshall Crenshaw on the last entry. Some signature Church guitar returns on the should-be single “Know” where the guitar hook winds itself around the central vocal melody with propulsive force. Country comes to the fore in a down-home rollicking sort of way on “Smile” while “Sunrise” has a very Jayhawks ambience. Looking for some nice pop hooks and a bit of jangly guitar? “Removed” will fit the bill. Basic takeaway: Game Dirt is a remarkable piece of work from an artist that clearly still has a few surprises for us.