This iteration of breaking news marks the exciting return of a host of artists who seldom miss a beat. Definitely worthy of film at 11.
So where were we? Oh right, Sacramento’s reliable hook-meisters The Decibels were in the middle of recording a follow up to 2019’s smash LP Scene, Not Herd when a world-stopping pandemic hit, effectively pausing the tape machine. All was not lost however. Band member Brent Seaver did shift into solo gear, putting out a fabulous record entitled BS Stands For … But now the band have completed their interrupted sessions and the result – When Red Lights Flash – is everything you’ve been waiting for. Great songs, fab guitar tones, killer playing. Stylistically, it draws from both 1960s and 1980s poppy rock traditions. “Why Bother With Us” breaks things open with a skipping-in-the-sunshine bit of jangly guitar that seems to cross The Monkees with REM. “Enough” definitely revs the 1980s poprock engine a la the Paul Collins Beat. “There’s Just Something About You” has the happy-go-lucky early 1960s American pop sound, but with a bit more muscle. “Walk Away” vibes a crisp 1979 new wave sound while “In Remembrance” has a melodic arc that is reminiscent of an early 1960s song-writing style, but updated. And so goes the rest of the album, merrily shifting decades without ever seeming to jolt the listener. I love the almost early Go Go’s punky ferocity on “He Thinks He’s Right (But He’s Wrong),” particularly the sizzling lead guitar break, the Romantics-worthy chord changes and handclaps defining “We Don’t Need to Be Afraid,” and the Marshall Crenshaw-like “World Goes Around.” Should-be hit single? I vote for “Looking Back.” I could totally hear The Smithereens covering this. If you’re looking for an album that hits the rock and roll melody pedal and never lets up, pick up a copy of When Red Lights Flash – it’s absolute listening pleasure.
Andrew Taylor must be one of those guys always scribbling down new song ideas on napkins or humming into his phone. Still, between recent releases as a solo artist, with Andrew Taylor and the Harmonizers, and The Boys With The Perpetual Nervousness, it’s hard to believe there could there be anything left for a new Dropkick record. But there is. Welcome Dropkick album #14, The Wireless Revolution. “Don’t Give Yourself Away” kicks things off like a coy suitor, somewhat tentative at first before easing into a comfortable familiarity. Then there’s “Telephone,” in many ways an exemplar of the band’s signature sound – so Teenage Fanclub but with Dropkick’s own original stamp. “Unwind” gives us gentle pop driven by ever so pleasant jangly guitars. Bringing out the band’s more country hues Alan Shields takes over both song-writing and lead singing duties on “The Other Side” in a very Jayhawks vein. I love the lead guitar runs and light keyboard touches that swathe “It Could Finally Happen.” I hear echoes of Neil Finn and his work with Crowded House throughout this song. Another guitar-charged pop beauty of a should-be single is “Ahead of My Time,” almost a Teenage Fanclub meets the Beatles mash. “Wouldn’t Know Why” also really delivers in the supremely pleasant pop tune department. Churning, chimey guitars – check. Lighter than air harmony vocals – check. Hitting replay again – check. Don’t let the title fool you, The Wireless Revolution delivers another jangle tour de force in the grand Dropkick tradition.
A month back we called Ransom and the Subset’s new single “Perfect Crime” ‘textured pop goodness’ and that judgement still stands. In fact, it can be extended to the whole of the band’s fabulous new album Perfect Crimes. These guys really know how put together a slick pop sound without sacrificing originality or nuance. Second single “Sara Kandi” showcases these strengths. It’s got a 1982 Alan Parsons Project clever sheen to it. Still, putting a name to the overall sound that defines this album is challenging. “Left Her at the Shinkansen” floats in an almost yacht rock vibe, punctuated by subtle lead guitar and pedal steel work plus a killer hook in the chorus. Stay with me here but I actually hear a lot of Rupert Holmes’ soft rock magnum opus Partners in Crime on this tune. Or perhaps the sound is more akin to the smooth poprock of Hall and Oates in their Private Eyes/H2O prime. I really do feel the pull of H&O on tracks like “Meet You Again” and “One Last Thing (Leaving).” Or check out the manicured pop precision on “Time in a Tunnel,” each element and instrument is so carefully conducted into the mix. Not that the band fails to turn up the rock from time to time. “Don’t Remember What Was Her Name,” “Should Have Said Nothing At All,” and “Fast Car” all ace that early 1980s poprock style. With Perfect Crimes Ransom and the Subset prove that perfectly polished pop songs are a thing of beauty.
On Be The Now Cliff Hillis marshals his considerable song-writing and performance talents to create a veritable poprock confectionary, something for all 1970s-inflected melodic tastes. There’s straight-up seventies AM radio soft rock (“Wanna Feel Good”) with a folkie chaser or some ELO-infused popcraft (“Motel Parking Lot”) introduced by a dose of Bacharach/Costello strings. At other points Hillis appears to be channeling Adam Schlesinger in both movie/TV (“Take Me As I Am”) and band modes (“Good Morning and Good Night”). I could really imagine Mike Viola belting out the latter tune. He even throws in some classic 1970s goof country on “Spring Forward” as well as a touching and fun tribute to folkie protest singer Dan Bern (with Bern echoing the sentiments to Hillis in a duet). But let’s get serious here – where is the hit single? Hillis rarely denies us some piece of dynamic should-be chart magic on his releases. The mellow FOW-ish “Just Drive” could be it. The sentiment is so summer car-driving playing-on your-radio. Then again “Goodbye Spider” sounds more like the jump-out-of-the-speakers uptempo hit. It’s got that killer sing-along chorus – just try not to join in. I’ve listened to Be The Now a number of times and I still don’t know what the ‘now’ is – but I want to be it.
The news cycle moves fast but I’d recommend taking it slow in reviewing these stories. You’ll want to tune into all the hooky details.
Top photo courtesy Heather David Flikr collection ‘1957 Wall-Tex scrubbable wallpaper ad.’