It’s a new year – time to break out some brand new 2019 material. This collection of hooky poprock gems are fresh and date-stamped with the new year!
Manchester’s The Maple State formed in 2004, gigged until 2008, and then took a break before releasing a stellar comeback album in 2018, Things I Heard at the Party. Keeping up the momentum, they’re back this month with a double-A sided single release, “Germany” / “A Notion.” On first listen, the band sounds a bit post-punk until you hit the chorus on “Germany” and some pretty glorious power pop kicks in. Meanwhile, “A Notion” is more low key but still swinging, achieving an almost campfire sing-along sense of atmospheric fun. By contrast, Juliana Hatfield has never really gone away (and that’s a good thing!). Year after year she puts out pretty amazing albums, like last year’s phenomenal tribute to Olivia Newton John (check out Hatfield’s take on “Magic” – wow!). Her new, just released album is Weird and it is wonderfully so with another 11 strong tracks, though I’m presently hitting replay on “Sugar.” Somehow Hatfield makes her conflicted feelings about it clever, catchy and hilarious.
Scotland’s seeming bottomless pit of quality jangle gains more depth with Aberdeen’s The Vapour Trails. Their new extended 3 song single is named for one of the songs, “Godspeed It” but I’m more drawn the Rickenbacker-anchored jangle driving “The Inner Truth.” The vibe is a perfect distillation of late 1960s Byrdsian sibilant ringing guitar and nice harmonies. And the demo of their previously released “Golden Sunshine” is pretty special too. Though hailing from Pennsylvania and largely known for his distinctive guitar work, Steve Gunn has nailed a pretty ace Crowded House vibe on “Vagabond” from his new album The Unseen in Between. I mean, the guitar works here is still fantastic but it rightly remains secondary to his evocative melody and vocals. Rounding things out is some super-charged California pop from The Popravinas with their new single, “Sofia (CMU).” I love the candy-coated vocals on this track. Very late 1970s power pop, a vein mined by a host a great bands like The Connection and Tommy and Rockets. Looking forward to the band’s soon-to-released new album!
The Vapour Trails – The Inner TruthThe Popravinas – Sofia (CMU)
The Everly Brothers are part of the DNA of poprock. They didn’t rock like Elvis or Jerry Lee Lewis or Chuck Berry. They were just nice country boys whose vocal harmonies made the world swoon. The Everlys’ influence is all over everything that comes after them, from the Beatles and Crosby, Stills & Nash to Rockpile and the Proclaimers. And it remains a powerful influence on poprock today, as exhibited by today’s selections.
The Cactus Blossoms are brothers Page and Jack who hail from Minneapolis, Minnesota but sound more like Memphis with their eerie, almost reincarnated Everly/Louvin brothers sound. Close your eyes and listen to “You’re Dreaming” and it’s 1958 all over again. This is pure shiver city. “Clown Collector” captures the rollicking ‘party time’ vibe of so many uptempo Everly numbers while “If I Can’t Win” has the aching feel of the Everly’s slower material. Meanwhile “Mississippi” and “Stoplight Kisses” wouldn’t have gone amiss in Patsy Cline’s catalogue. The brothers have a new record on the horizon, Easy Way, featuring a more new wave, Nick Lowe/Dave Edmunds retro sound, sample-able right now on the preview single, “Please Don’t Call Me Crazy.”
You’re DreamingPlease Don’t Call Me Crazy
I would not have picked Green Day lead vocalist Billie Joe Armstrong or Norah Jones as Everly-philes, but their Everlys tribute album, Foreverly, is full of delightful surprises. The record essentially rerecords the Everly Brothers’ 1958 album, Songs Our Daddy Taught Us and the modern duo manage to add new energy and a bit more swing to the material. The opening cut, “Roving Gambler” is a case in point: a bit more bright on the delivery compared with the Everlys’ more dirge-like performance. Moving to Memphis proper, Motel Mirrors have got a broad set of retro sounds to showcase on their new record. From the Johnny Horton rockabilly of title track “Gotta Lotta Rhythm” to the Elvis-ey quality of “Ooh Las Vegas” the band is firing on some pretty original rock and roll cylinders. But “Meet Me on the Corner” has the jaunty guitar work and hooks reminiscent of the Everly’s early Warner Brothers records.
Billie and Norah – Roving GamblerMotel Mirrors – Meet Me on the Corner
There’s no immediate election on the horizon but that doesn’t mean we can’t mount the hustings in search of ever greater popular support for poprock! Over the years, our promises have remained the same and we’ve delivered: chiming guitars, heavenly harmonies, seductive melodies, and irresistible hooks. I promise you this: today’s post sees our poprockers taking up political themes but never at the expense of a great song.
The dBs Chris Stamey and Yo La Tengoget things started with their brief PSA for the 2004 US Presidential election, “V.O.T.E (Public Service Announcement).” It’s a pleasant bit of Beach Boys-inspired, voting encouragement but it’s over way too soon! Denton, Texas’s The Hope Trust get a nice melodic lurch going with “Campaign Button,” a song that raises the question of just who is working for whom in this whole political arrangement. Shifting to Dallas (what is it with all this Texas political poprock?) Nicholas Altobellicranks up the melody and some great jaunty lead guitar on “Exit Polls.” Dennis Meehan aka Clovis Roblaine is that classic rock and roll story – guy puts out his own crazy fun Buddy Holly-esque album in 1979, then waits 35 years to put out his second! Appropriately titled Geezer, the album is a tribute to crusty old guys everywhere. “Insane Clown Party” talks up a familiar sounding party from the US, now headed by a guy with orange hair. Nuff said. Now there can’t be a political moment without at least some revolutionary declaration. Luckily Jimmy Haber has arrived with his Beatlesque, acoustic-driven poprocker, “We Should Start a Revolution.” Seattle’s Tacocatdo a hilarious send up of all-too-serious trust fund anarchists on “This is Anarchy.” Finally rounding things out is everyone’s fave agit-poprockers, Chumbawamba. After getting knocked down and getting back up again more than a few times, the band declared defeat on their 2014 release, The Boy Bands Have Won. Seriously though, “Sing About Love” laments the fact that the band do not get to sing about love because there are just too many political songs that still need to be sung. In blissful harmony.
Clovis Roblaine – The Insane Clown PartyTacocat – This is AnarchyChumbawamba – Sing About Love
Campaigns needs money, even ones that just need new guitar strings. Vote your faves by clicking on the band names and buying in to what they’re selling.
2017’s Exposure and Response heralded the arrival of Portland’s Mo Troper. All the punker, outsider ferocity of his previous recordings found themselves melded into shiny perfect poprock here, albeit still coated with a heavy of dose of hipster alienation, particularly on the vocals. As we await a follow up, Mo decided to throw this at us: “Never Dream of Dying,” a pretty stellar, spot-on rogue James Bond theme. Things start out so Bond circa 1970s with full on orchestrated tension before dissolving into a deceptive ballad (you can just see the silhouetted girls with guns float by). But wait, he’s not done, Troper’s got a Macca-worthy Bond bridge and an orchestral big finish! “Never Dream of Dying” is a delightful bit of fun from a guy who has the pop culture chops down.
Check out all of Mo Troper’s fine recordings at his bandcamp page here.
I’m not really an album guy. Particularly now in our ‘download-any-song-you-want-era’. I grew up on compilation albums and AM radio. It was all singles, singles singles: a new sound every three minutes. A whole album is just a vinyl horizon for my needle dropping. But I have to say this year I got hooked on more than a few long players. What grabbed me? I could say it was the songwriting, a coherent sonic palette, the performative ingenuity, etc. But hey, who am I kidding? It was mostly the hooks. Fair warning: there is considerable overlap of artists here with my should-be hit singles list (duh) but not entirely. Bottom line: you won’t go wrong putting your cash down on these LPs in toto.
So, here are Poprock Record’s 20 must-have LPs for 2018:
Best ‘best of’ compilation: KC BowmanImportant with a Capital I; Best covers album: Tommy and RocketsI Wanna Be Covered; Special merit award: Super 8T-T-Technicolour Melodies, Turn Around Or …, HI LO
Edging out Daisy House’s fantastic Bon Voyage by a hair, my number one album for 2018 is Aaron Lee Tasjan’s Karma for Cheap. The more I listened to this record, the more I loved the songs and the performances. There is something extraordinary in just how Tasjan combines his elements. He’s got rumbly guitar, he’s got jangly guitar. His vocals run the gamut from Tom Petty-solid to Roy Orbison-aching tenderness. There’s not a weak cut here, but pay special attention to subtle hooky vocal interplay on “Heart Slows Down,” or the driving guitar hook behind “End of the Day,” or the touching “Dream Dreamer.” You won’t steer wrong with his back catalogue either, particularly 2016’s Silver Tears! There is so much I could say about all 20 albums but frankly the music speaks for itself. Click the links to go directly to the band’s bandcamp, Facebook or webpages.
One final word: I had to single out Super 8’s stupendous triple album accomplishment this year for special attention. After a two-decade career in rock and roll that can only be described as cinematic in its litany of seeming breakthroughs, bad luck, record company shenanigans and some bandmate’s bad faith, these albums are a vindication of his resolve to stick with music. Each record is finely crafted portrait of late 1960s summertime sunshine poprock. Your time machine back to 1968 is ready for boarding! Just hit play.
Let’s make 2019 another great year for poprock – buy these albums, get out to some concerts, and tell your friends about these great finds.
2018 was a freakin’ fantastic year for poprock! How do I know? Every year-end I put together a playlist of tunes released that year. In 2016 it consisted of 58 songs clocking in at just over 3 hours. By 2017 that list expanded to 98 songs running over 5 hours. This year the list exploded to 175 songs going on for over 9 hours! My list of should-be hit singles had to expand to a top 50 just to accommodate all this talent. Hit the links below to find each artist as featured in my original blog post this past year or to go to their bandcamp or Facebook page if I didn’t write them up.
So, without further ado, here is Poprock Record’s should-be hit singles for 2018:
For the second year running Daisy House tops my list of should-be hit singles. I have simply run out of superlatives to describe the musical genius of this band. Great songwriting, a killer 1960s vibe, flawless production and performance – it just doesn’t get any better than this. Do yourself a favour and head over to Bandcamp to download their whole catalogue. Oberon Rose came a close second with what must be one of the coolest singles rolled out this year. Ruler ruled my playlist for a good part of 2018, with “Unhindered Place” just one of the great songs on his album. I love the way William Duke’s guitar sounds like a jangle waterfall on his hooky masterpiece “Carole and Silver Screen.” And Aaron Lee Tasjan is a real find – so many possible selections – but more on that with my upcoming ‘20 must-have LPs for 2018’ post. I could go on … (but click on the links to get the full story).
I hope you enjoy these fifty songs enough to click on over to some of the artists’ web real estate and help them along career-wise. 2019 promises to be another hungry year for many of these mostly struggling artists – so do your part: buy their music and go see them live when they come to your town.
What awaits us in 2019? Well, if 2018 is anything to go by it’s gonna be a year full jangly guitars, blissed out harmony vocals, rocking rhythm sections, and hooks, hooks, hooks. Fads change but these essential elements combined together will always have an audience – thank goodness! On to the business at hand: I love timely themes so today is all about new year’s – in song, of course.
Matt Pryor gets us into the right frame of mind with “Totally New Year” from his 2008 album Confidence Man. Basic message? Take up the new in the new year and move on from the ‘bones the closet may hold.’ That’s not far off Ryann Allen’s sentiment on “New Year’s Day” where everybody deserves the chance at renewal that ‘new’ promises. ‘Don’t let another year slip away …’ indeed. Taking up the tempo a bit Summer Magic offer us a shimmering “New Year’s Day Surprise” via their unique brand of mellow psychedelic pop. Shifting into full on wistful, Rob Clarke and the Wooltones channel the Beach Boys from their fab holiday EP Bring Me the WooltonesThis Year! with “New Year New Day.” Stepping on the queercore pedal to wrap this up, a great tune from the super Pansy Division comeback album, Quite Contrary, “Kiss Me at Midnight (New Year’s Eve).”
Matt Pryor – A Totally New YearSummer Magic – New Year’s Day Surprise
Pugwash’s Thomas Walsh was quoting his mother when he said ‘it’s nice to be nice’ and that seems like the right spirit to round out this year’s blog posts. A little more niceness won’t hurt anybody. Today’s acts are so very nice. Just the kind you could take home to mother.
The Smittens exude everything that people who are not from Burlington Vermont think that town would be about. Quirky free spirits just saying ‘hey, let’s live and let live!’ City Rock Dove is their latest album and it’s a longplaying bit of wonderful, with nearly every track capturing some wistful sentiment or upbeat heartache. I love “Three States,” “Love is a Word,” and, well, just about everything else. Let’s settle on “Season One” as emblematic of their Magnetic Fields meets Simon and Garfunkel brand of eccentric intimacy. Ben Talmi is an indie artist with a long resume of providing musical arrangements and backdrops for others but with Distractionism it really feels like his own artistic vision has come together. His hooky acoustic vibe and soft intimate vocal style reminds of Jeremy Fisher and Paul Simon at times, particularly on tracks like “Life is but a Dream” and “All for You.” But if I have to focus your attention on his unique brilliance, check out the fabulous roll out to “Chances.” You’ll be hooked.
Billy and Dolly have a great 1960s vibe going, with jangly guitars, rumbly organ and melody to spare. But what grabs you are the killer vocal harmonies! On Five Suns the duo rock out the hooks on tracks like “Setting Sun” but you can pretty much sum up the genius here with the gorgeous “Everything is Off.” Textbook should-be hit single. By contrast The Sidekicks somehow manage to make a pretty bleak situation sound totally OK on “Don’t Feel Like Dancing.” Again, some pretty hooky vocals draw the listener in. The singer may not be dancing but we are! “Weed Tent” is another melodic highlight.
Tacoma, Washington’s The Rallies delivered a break out should-be hit album in 2017: Serve, one that meshed jangle with up-front acoustic guitars and a host of touching sentiment. This year they just teased us with a single from their forthcoming album, due in 2019. But what a single! I’ve been holding off featuring the tune because I really think it’s a song apropos for today. “All of Us” speaks to the better world that resides in us all. We have what it takes, if we have faith in ourselves and each other. Despite our world of war, deprivation, poverty and Trump, the human spirit is moved by hope and joy and solidarity. And they are the only things that change things for the better. As the band say, “It’s in you, it’s in me, what is real and ought to be. If we look inside all of us.”
Check out The Rallies online and sign up for early sightings of their new album!
Christmas music gets a bad wrap (pun intended). Some people seem to think that you can take any old song and throw a seasonal reference in and – voila! – holiday classic. Hardly. Every year an ocean of new Christmas songs hit the holiday beach but few have any staying power. There is something inexplicably magical about the combination of tune, sentiment, and bells that maketh music genuinely seasonal. Kinda like if tinsel and marzipan had a soundtrack. Fortunately, there are a few tunesmiths who still understand how to work the formula, with some of the finest featured here on our now annual holiday music post!
Nine. I don’t why or how I settled on that number but my three previous holiday music posts have all featured nine artists. Weird. Well, I’m not one to needlessly buck tradition so here’s nine more … starting with the amazing Lannie Flowers. Flowers is a longtime veteran of the power pop/indie music scene, charming audiences with his consistently Beatlesque melodic hooks. He returns this year with a remixed version of his 2013 holiday release, “Christmas Without You,” a song that nicely combines jangle with just a hint of country. Next up is a very modern take on seasonal themes, namely, that surely Joseph would have had some doubts about just what was going on with Mary and their miracle baby. Only the New Pornographers could pull off such content and they do on “Joseph, Who Understood,” a new holiday, sing-along classic. Proving their recent comeback Good Times! album was no fluke, the Monkees return this year with a whole album of festive music, with a similar crew of indie pop royalty providing the tunes and musical direction. There’s plenty of good stuff here but “The House of Broken Gingerbread” stands out for me as a superior poprock tune, written by celebrated author Michael Chabon and FOW’s Adam Schlesinger. I’m kinda cheating a bit with this next contribution from Gregory Pepper who just released his holiday-themed four song EP Tsundere. I’m treating his effort like a double-A sided effort, but one with four songs. Pepper’s work sounds deceptively simple but melodically and lyrically he’s a master of so many genre styles and a brilliantly funny and smart lyricist. Spend some time with these tunes. Anybody who can song-check both Macca (“Secret Satan”) and the mopey one (“Home Alone”) knows what he’s doing!Lannie Flowers – Christmas Without YouThe New Pornographers – Joseph, Who UnderstoodThe Monkees – The House of Broken Gingerbread
Digging a bit deeper into our Christmas music bag, Pugwash prove they are the deserving inheritors of XTC’s brand of hooky, intelligent indie poprock with “Tinsel and Marzipan,” capped with a darling Irish-accented child at the end! Crossing the water to Liverpool Rob Clarke and the Wooltones Mersey up the Christmas music scene with a whole album of festiveness on Bring Me the Wooltones This Year! It’s a very Beatles-ish collection of serious and not so serious contributions, with new songs and old faves. The double-A single for me would be “Another Wooltones Xmas Record/Santa Claus.” It can’t be a Christmas tune-age roundup without a tender ballad of seasonal longing so now we head a bit north to Glasgow to hear from The Pooches and their simple song of needing to be with someone as the yuletide comes, “Christmas, With You.” Both stark and moving. Super poprock stars Fun. haven’t put out much in terms of albums but they did put out a holiday single shortly after their first album. “Believe in Me” bears all the hallmarks of that band’s winning formula: intriguing change ups in the song structure, toy piano solos, and plenty of hooks of course.Pugwash – Tinsel and MarzipanThe Pooches – Christmas (With You)Fun. – Believe in Me
Wrapping up this year’s holiday blog post (literally this time), something more traditional. Well, sort of. Quiet Company love the holidays and we’ve featured their stellar coverage of the traditional canon before. Now they’re back with a timely release that captures the distemper of the times with Baby It’s Cold War Outside. With song titles like “Merry Christmas, The President is Terrible” and “Alone on Christmas (You’re Going to Die)” the sense of seasonal dread really comes through. But the traditional themes of hope are there too with “Little Drummer Boy” and particularly on their original reworking of “Carol of the Bells/Setting the Trap.”