People write me about their music and most are spot on in terms of getting what we’re doing at Poprock Record. As long as what you got is melody-heavy, we can find some room for it here!
Case in point – Blake Jones and the Trike Shop. As you can hear from their recent Make album, these guys are wonderfully weird. Bit of Talking Heads and Devo in their quirky inventiveness. Then again, some They Might be Giants is there too in terms of humour, wonderfully captured on “My Soft Rock Girlfriend.” I’m not into art for art rock’s sake so thankfully the band takes a lot hooks with them as they walk on the wild side, evident on “At Every Train Stop” and “Take a Look at the Stars.” But my personal fave on the record is the boppy “Alchemy C’mere.”
Soft Rock GirlfriendAlchemy C’mere
John Lathrop is The Stan Laurels, a one man, cinematic distillation of Beatles influences c. 1966-67, with a Jeff Lynne-esque sense of ambition. His back catalogue contains an album, EP and a movie soundtrack, the latter featuring both incidental music cuts and actual songs. Early tracks from 2009’s Death of the Sun like “Lovebirds” and “If I Walked with the Dead” have a great psychedelic pop vibe. But with 2013’s Bill and Theodore soundtrack there’s new depth to the recordings, particularly with the very-present banjo on “Blue Song” or the lovely acoustic guitar on “A Million Miles High.” Then Lathrop takes satirical aim at early 1960s stalker pop with the alternatively hilarious/horrifying “DAMN, I Shot My Baby (Again).” “Jack the Car Back” is one of the particularly engaging instrumental/incidental music numbers. The Stan Laurels’ new album Maybe, another soundtrack (this time for the film Maybe Shower), is perhaps the best yet. Lead off single “Maybe” is a slow groove, hooky number with Harrisonian undertones here and there – a great poprock single! I also like “Life, Lemons and an Alien.”
Variously described as psych Scouse-pop and Scousedelia, the connection to the Liverpool music scene appears to be strong with Annexe the Moon. Though to my ears, these guys have a got a softer, more dreamy pop sound than I typically identify with rough and tumble Scousers like The La’s, Cast, and The Real People. It’s always good to challenge my assumptions about such things! Early releases like “Ever Meaning Less” and “Bring You Down” almost sound Moody Blues-ish to me, particularly on the vocals. The sound gets more complex on the bouncy “1000 Miles from Hollywood” and the most recent single, “Full Stop.” The latter is really a tour de force of sonic layering, echoing some of the best 1980s keyboard-based poprock bands.
We do occasionally rock here at Poprock Record. But we seldom rawk. The long hair, the spandex, it’s just not our thing. But there are a few border cases, bands on the edge of rawk yet anchored by strong melodies. Today’s crew all have their amps cranked up to eleven but the hooks are still there.
Vancouver’s Head exude a strong 1980s vibe, in a good way! The lead off single from their new album Dear Father is “Road to Ruin,” a catchy slice of 1980s FM radio pop rawk that sounds just a bit Pat Benatar at times. But my heatseeker single would be the great, synth-driven “Love Lies.” There’s a real ear worm in the chorus. Cardiff’s Junior have the California punk pop sound down on “Veronica,” a track that works with crunchy guitars but you know would also sound great unplugged. If there was any concern that last year’s resurrection of Thrift Store Halo was just come-back luck, check out their latest killer double-A side single, “Concrete Sky/Every Time with You.” The latter particularly combines a jangly 1960s feel with more jagged guitars and vocals. Again, I could totally see this song done up as a retro Merseybeat number but, hey, it really works in its present form too. Wild Animals are from Madrid and their brand new album is The Hoax. For me, the single should be “Science Fiction,” a track that blasts out of the gate on a wall of guitars while the vocal melody line seems to just float on top. Last up, Kitchener Ontario’s Sam Coffey and the Iron Lungs. These guys mix so many rawk styles with some really sweet melodies – and it works! I can hear a bit of Springsteen with a whole lot of Thin Lizzy on “Tough,”a rockin’ rollicking tune with screaming guitars, brash vocals, and a load of hooks in the chorus.
Ever since Bonnie Jo Mason first warbled “Ringo, I Love You” back in 1964 there’s been a regular outpouring of musical love for the famous. Some serious, most not, with a great deal of it amounting to little more than hopeful AM radio opportunism. Some are so clever, you can’t tell if the songs are sincere or mockery. Nick Lowe produced a lovely tongue-in-cheek tribute to one uber-famous teen sensation in the 1970s with his “Bay City Rollers, We Love You,” though, tellingly, he kept his name off the 45 (it was credited to the Tartan Horde). But another approach combines genuine admiration with a proper sense of fun. After all, loving the famous shouldn’t be taken too seriously!
I got started on this theme after hearing Ken Sharp’s fab new single, “She Hates the Beatles,” thinking I could whip up a post focusing on songs about the Beatles. But that went bust quickly. There weren’t that many songs, surprisingly, with most of the good ones written by ex-Beatles themselves! Heading back to the thematic drawing board, I decided to broaden the focus to include songs about the musically famous more generally, stopping short of Beethoven. Now I could gather a solid handful of tunes. Sharp led the pack with his aforementioned new single. This guy is one impressive dude: longtime music journalist, author of numerous books on great musical acts, and a not too shabby songwriter and performer. “She Hates the Beatles” is the product of challenge from producer Fernando Perdomo, who provided the title and push to turn it into a song. The result is a wonderful, definitely Beatlesque, pop song. The only real concern here is how the protagonist got into this clearly doomed relationship at all! Sharp also secured our number two position with his hooky homage to David Cassidy on “I Wanna Be David Cassidy.” This single hits all the Partridge Family marks, maybe better than the original. The amazing of-the-period-style artwork on these two singles is also worth mentioning.
The other contributions here run the gamut from straight-up hero-worship to giddy brushes with fame to reverent late night recollections to open admissions of strong feelings of ‘like.’ Steve Ison likes “Lou Reed” enough to write a whole song about just how cool he was. Ison recalls how he and his mates would “… steal and die to be cool but they’ll never be you.” And yes, there is a little Reed-iness in the vocals, but that can’t really be helped. Seriously, you can’t write a song about Lou Reed without vibing him a bit. Amy Rigby strikes just the right balance between awe and a pretty cool stance of her own on “Dancing with Joey Ramone.” The song is alternatively ragged and polished, the vocals bare and then super-harmony enhanced, the lyrics original as well as referencing a load of classics. Jonathan Rundman, by contrast, is sincerity’s straight shooter with a country/folk rumination about “Johnny Horton” and his spirituality, of all things. Pop country nationalism or amazing cross-over rockabilly, yes, I associate both with Horton but this theme is new to me. Last on our list is Coach Hop’s California punk/poppy paean “I Like Taylor Swift.” The song is so not Taylor Swift, which makes the understated vote of support often hilarious. The singer admits “I’ve only heard a couple songs” but that’s enough. He likes her, not as a guilty pleasure but as a “normal pleasure.” Really, this one is capital F fun, melodic in a guitar crunchy/occasional screaming sort of way.
Ah, the telephone. That iconic 20th century technology is all over the rock and roll canon, mostly in its original analog form but with a few recent smartphone additions. Plenty of obvious telephone songs to choose from in terms of hits: The Marvelettes’ “Beechwood-45789,” ELO’s “Telephone Line,” Blondie’s “Call Me,” Tommy Tutone’s “867-5309,” and many, many more. There’s also a slew of less obvious yet popular niche tunes like the Nerves’ “Hanging on the Telephone,” Nick Lowe’s “Switchboard Susan,” and R.E.M.’s “Star 69.” But in this post I wanted to feature some less obvious material, either with songs that focus on key aspects of the phone experience or by lesser known but certainly deserving artists.
“Party Line” appeared on the Kinks’ 1966 album Face to Face and even saw release as a single in Norway (it was the B-side of “Dandy” everywhere else). Leave it to the Kinks to go right for the classed aspect of the modern phone experience, no surprise really given Ray Davies’ lyrical attention to social issues. Nearly everybody from a working class background in the 1950s and 1960s had a party line, a cheaper phone service that you had to share with other households. Like “Dead End Street” and “Picture Book” the song catalogued the not-so-hidden injuries of class in 1960s England, in this case the indignity of the singer’s failed efforts to make a private call. At one point he even mock threatens, “I’m not voting in the next election if they don’t do something about finding out who is on my party line.” One can definitely hear the cross-pollination of Kinks/Beatles reciprocal musical influences on this tune, particularly on the guitar work.
The Kinks – Party Line
The Records debuted with a pretty great album, 1979’s Shades in Bed, featuring should-be hits like “Starry Eyes” and “Teenarama.” The record also featured “The Phone,” which opened with a classic operator voice-over announcing “I’m sorry, but that number doesn’t answer. Would you please try your number again.” The singer bemoans the phone’s ability to bring food, love and possibly danger but not necessarily connection. In contrast to such serious themes, Rupert Holmes showcases the lighter side of 1970s telephonic tunes on “Answering Machine” from his 1979 album Partners in Crime. In the late 1970s answering machines were just taking off as mass market items and Holmes’ protagonists play an early game of telephone tag with a marriage proposal and response, including the distinctive (and jarring) message-ending beep.
The Records – The PhoneRupert Holmes – Answering Machine
But enough of the past – there are some great recent telephone songs too. Twin Peaks kick up their heels on the rollicking “Telephone” from their 2014 album Wild Onion, a song that sounds so light but recounts love lost via the phone line. Mo Kenney also finds the phone a barrier to communication with her significant other. From Kenny’s 2014 release In My Dreams, the song has some great lines, both lyrical and melodic, and a great video. Brian Jay Cline paints a melodic, Americana-inflected portrait of the passing of a broken down payphone and his relationship on “Payphone” from his wonderful 2017 album Idle Chatter. Taking phone technology into the 21st century (but with a poprock sound borrowed from the late 1970s), Rob Bonfiglio encourages his intended to “Text Me” on a track from his 2012 album Mea Culpa. There is something so Hall and Oates in this song’s mix of pop soul and guitar hooks. Rounding out our telephonic tribute, Gregory Pepper is not impressed with the advances in phone technology on his brief “Smart Phones for Stupid People,” from the hilarious collection of incredibly short songs that can be found on his 2015 release Chorus, Chorus, Chorus.
Sometimes you run across a band’s new song and then discover a whole fabulous back catalogue of musical adventures. Just seems greedy to keep that hook-filled past under wraps. So today we celebrate the present and the past musical accomplishments of this crew of poprockers.
Ok, truth be told I didn’t actually run across any brand new material for Ed Ryan. It’s just that I realized he had been in the ‘should write about’ pile for too long. Ryan goes way back – to the 1970s and 1980s with various power pop bands. That must be why his two recent solo records sound so accomplished. From the blistering guitar opening of “Everything is Going to be Alright” to the achingly sweet vocal on “Heartbreak in Disguise” you know you’re in good hands on 2016’s Roadmap. This is an eminently playable record, and you don’t even have to turn it over! I’m particularly fond of the mid-1960s British beat group vibe all over “Bridges are Burning” and the way a basic rock and roll sensibility is art-rocked up on “Elvis’s World,” with its wonderfully kooky instrumental break. Then 2017’s Furious Mind is even more blistering out of the gate with “You’re My Kind of Fun,” and even more achingly sweet on “Lullaby.” If there’s a difference, I get the sense that Ryan really pushed up the Beatles’ crossfader on these recordings. “Here I Am” has some lovely late-period Beatles’ touches on the instrumentation, while “Drifting” has such an early period Beatles song structure, particularly in the verses. Other highlights for me would include “Rocket Ship,” which sounds very Ramones-fun to me, while “So Hard to Know” offers a nice acoustic country-ish turn. But my fave is the melodic rocker “Can’t Drag Me Down.” Can’t wait to see what Ryan comes up with for 2018!
Brad Peterson has described his style as ‘garden shed rock and roll.’ Well he has some pretty complex and impressive results coming out his backwoods Chicago DIY garden recording studio. I mean, I love DIY but it usually sounds a bit more rudimentary than the polished stuff Peterson is offering up. Case in point: his new record Ellipsis sounds like any number of major label indie offerings with songs like “What the Heart Will Allow” and “Unbroken.” But it’s the more poprock hooks that really get me. I’m currently addicted to the ear worm stamped “Clap Your Hands.” This one is so simple but still simply irresistible. “Far Off Places” and “Just In Time” also showcase Peterson’s melodic chops while “See You on the Other Side” exudes a Springsteen-esque weariness, complete with aching harmonica solo. It always feels good to feel this bad. And if you like this, there’s more in the back catalogue. 2009’s TheDuctape Album has a song that is so Steve Miller I could have easily mistaken “More” for the master, though the Beatlesque bridge might have given the game away. And then there’s “Beat Myself Up” from 2006’s The Red Album, a pretty special single featuring some subtle Everly Brothers’ hooks and harmonies.
Joe Adragna’s work with The Junior League is an exquisite composite of 1960s to 1980s poprock motifs. His recordings are full of hidden treasures, subtle homages to all sorts of great artists and recordings. His new album Eventually is Now showcases this nicely with its opening track, “Teenage Bigstar,” which delivers just what the name implies. Or dig the very subtle Mamas and Papas background vocals on the album’s single, the infectious “I Only Want to Begin Again.” Another radio-friendly, hook-filled single would be the country-rock-ish “Someday.” But the whole record is a pleaser. Digging into the band’s catalogue there are just so many great songs to highlight. The debut, Catchy, from 2006, is loaded with should be hits: “The Beautiful Room is Empty,” “Hear My Voice,” and the hooky tour de force “I Don’t Believe in Love.” Or the melodic rootsy feel of “Keep it Home” from 2013’s You Should Be Happy, which also features the heartbreaking duet, “I Don’t Think I’m Kidding This Time.” “Also Rans” from 2015’s Also Rans has a sweet country rocking feel. And this just scratches the surface of this band’s great back catalogue.
I get mail! Jeff Litman wrote last week to let me know about his new record Crowded Hour so I gave it a listen. “Only You” grabbed me as the obvious single, with its 1980s melodic torch rocker vocals and sweet lead guitar lines. I also really liked “Disappear,” a nice spare acoustic ballad. Wasn’t long before I was digging through Litman’s past recordings – holy cow! Some great stuff on all his previous releases. “Primetime” from 2015’s Primetime has a very early Elvis Costello sheen. 2012’s Outside has a host of poprock shades, bit of John Hiatt on “Don’t Do That,” Tom Petty on “Don’t Want to Talk About It,” and more touching acoustic balladry with “What Hasn’t Happened Yet.” Litman’s 2009 debut Postscript sounds very Michael Penn to me, particularly on tracks like “Anna” and “Everything You’re Not.” But then things break out in a cool late 1970s rock mode with “Detroit Lawyer” and “Knock Me Down.”
Unlike days of yore, where old recordings would end up in a cut out bin somewhere, seemingly lost forever until suddenly discovered years later (and sporting a huge ‘rarities’ price tag!), old stock never goes bad today. You can easily take stock of Ed Ryan, Brad Peterson, The Junior League and Jeff Litman right now, courtesy the good people at Bandcamp. Ahem … yes, right now.
Teenage Fanclub is a band that keeps on giving. I count no less that seven break away bands and side projects that have emerged from the TF stable. It kind of reminds me of those early 1970s rock family trees that would trace the relationship of the Bryds, the Hollies, Buffalo Springefield, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and so on. Of course, in this case none of the subsequent bands have quite matched the success of the original, but they have produced some damn fine music.
Now BMX Bandits technically preceded Teenage Fanclub but TF members like Norman Blake and Francis Macdonald regularly went back and forth between the two groups. Douglas T. Stewart wrote endearing, melodic tunes with both of the above mentioned TF members. The band has ten albums and lot of great stuff to choose from but I’m singling out “Back in Your Heart” from 2003’s Down at the Hop. Though I also have to mention the charming and wistful “Take Me to Heaven” from 2007’s Bee Sting. Then Norman Blake created a new outfit called Jonny with Dave McGowan joining later. The combo had a very TF sound rubbed around the edges with some 1950s sensibilities. It took a few years to produce a record but 2011’s self-titled Jonny was worth the wait. “Candyfloss,” “You Was Me” and “Circling the Sun” are standout tracks for me.
BMX Bandits – Back in her Heart
And what is it about the drummers from this band? Drummer Paul Quinn left the band to form The Primary 5 who released three strong albums in the first decade of the new millennium. 2004’s North Pole maxes out the jangle on killer catchy tunes like “Mailman” and “What Am I Supposed To Do” and then changes things up with the sophisticated piano-laden “Easy Chair” and country-rock “Happy.” 2007’s Go kicks off with a heavier sound on “Off Course” but quickly melts back into those Byrdsian harmonies. “Sunsets” is a lovely languid mid-1960s piece of poprock. Meanwhile “Out in the Cold” has a more ominous 1980s melodic rock sound. And then there is the former and current TF drummer Francis Macdonald, a super talented singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist who has released a wide variety of material, including some moving piano and cello classical work. His band Nice Man and Bad Boys released The Art of Hanging Out in 2011 with a sonic palette just a bit more spare, acoustic and spacey in its arrangements than TF but still recognizably related. We featured the great single “Love is Game Two Can Play” before, but that doesn’t exhaust the great stuff here. A comparable single is certainly the hooky “Forever is a Long Time Without You” that opens the record. Other highlights would be the smooth 1950s-cum-1980s “Pretty Brown Eyes” and amusing and whimsical “Slinky.”
The Primary 5 – Mailman
For a lighter touch, Snowgoose (featuring David McGowan and Raymond McGinley) and Lightships (featuring Gerard Love) take the peaceful easy feeling part of the TF legacy for a spin. “Hazy Lane” from Snowgoose’s 2012 Harmony Springs has a lovely traditional pop-folk feel but those signature TF harmonies are still there. Meanwhile Lightships take things into a more LoFi direction on 2012’s Electric Cables. I love the slow build on the mildly chiming “Sunlight to the Dawn.” The last stop on this TF diaspora world tour is Norman Blake’s most recent diversion, The New Mendicants, with ace power popper Joe Pernice. These two make a great dissonant combo, pushing each other in new directions. The background vocals and musical style is a definite departure from the TF branded sound. Very Beatles on “Cruel Annette” while “If You Only Knew Her” mines a part of the country-rock canon somewhat neglected by TF, particularly on the vocals.
Snowgoose – Hazy LaneLightships – Sunlight to the Dawn
Every decade is doing the nostalgia thing. Soft rock has joined disco as the go-to 1970s sound. Synth and trebly guitar bands define the retro-1980s movement now afoot. But they’ve got nothing on the 1960s, the decade that refuses to die. While the 1950s now sound increasingly dated (though I still love them!), the dynamic range and never ending freshness of the 1960s keeps coming back with revivals of the original artists, box sets and re-issues, and the decade’s continuing influence on new artists. These three recent acts live and breathe the 1960s, without sounding like some tribute band. They’ve got the guitar sounds, the groove, but – most importantly – some strong songwriting.
Here’s exhibit ‘A’: check out the guitar hook that jump starts The On and Ons’ “Whole World” from their 2017 release Welcome Aboard. It’s got a solid grounding in The Who’s early work, with perhaps a bit of The Action modding things up a bit more, and a nice quasi-sitar guitar bit at the end. Of course, the sound can also be characterized as new wave on this and tracks like “She’s Leaving” in a very Nerves/Plimsouls sort of way. I love the melody shift in “Can’t Avoid” which evokes a Zombies’ wistfulness. Also, don’t overlook the great tracks on their 2015 debut It’s the On and Ons Calling, particularly “Before Our Eyes” and “Not a Friend in Sight.” It’s no wonder that Paul Collins had this band back him up on a recent North American tour. They perform like veterans but deliver a fresh take on the 1960s sound.
Whole WorldCan’t AvoidBefore Our Eyes
Anyone who puts their band’s theme song as the first cut on their debut album is OK with me. I mean, it was good enough for The Monkees, right? The Squires of the Subterrain are the product of the seemingly mad poprock genius, Chris Earl. Earl loves the 1960s and simultaneously pays homage to while reinventing its signature sounds. Sometimes it’s Nuggets-style oh-so-garage rock like “Sweet” from 2003’s Strawberries on Sunday, or the brittle mid-1960s English poprock on “Intoxicating Violet” from 1998’s debut Pop in a CD. Whole albums are given over to exploring different styles, like the playful send up of early 1960s American radio vocal beat groups on 2009’s Adventures in …, or the spot off Beach Boys reinvention of 2012’s Sandbox. 2017’s Slightly Radio Active is a more straight up album of great songs, though delivered with Earl’s wry lyrical insights and slightly off-kilter performance. “Meltdown” has a lovely subtle hook on piano. Title track “Slightly Radio Active” is a great garage single, with super guitar hooks. Both “Letters from Heaven” and “Highly and Unqualified” showcase Earl’s inventiveness in song instrumentation, arrangement and sentiment. This guy pays repeated listens – there is simply so much to hear here!
Theme SongWhoa, Whoa, Yeah, YeahSlightly Radio Active
Last up on That 1960s Show is a band that sometimes sounds so late 1960s country rock a la the Byrds or International Submarine Band but then shifts to a more jangly poprock style on other tunes. Rifling through the band’s catalogue, The Carousels ace that languid country rock vibe on “Winds of Change” while “Call Along the Coast” almost seems to jump out at you with its peppy bass, trebly lead guitar, and killer harmonies. The band’s more recent 2017 album Sail Me Home, St. Clair combines these strengths on cuts like the country-styled “Josephine” and more jangly “Lord Speed My Hurricane” and many others.
Winds of ChangeCall Along the CoastLord Speed My Hurricane
Names come and go. Some, like Gertrude, Hilda, and Agnes, are probably never coming back. But others carry on through generations, like Maryanne. It’s a name that conjures up the quintessential girl next door. She seemed to be at every dance in the 1950s, ended up shipwrecked with Gilligan in the 1960s, and was the focus of a host of singer-songwriter’s attentions in the 1970s. Leonard Cohen tried to say “So Long Marianne” but it didn’t work. More Mary Anne songs kept coming. Today’s post focuses on songs named for Maryanne, Mary Anne or Mary-Anne (though, curiously, not Marianne).
What sparked this theme was my just discovering The Spongetones’ amazing single “My Girl Maryanne” from their 1984 album, Torn Apart. How did I miss these guys back in the 1980s? They had it all going on: a thoroughly Beatlesque esthetic, catchy poprock tunes, with jangly guitars and killer harmonies. The chorus from this song channels a vocal harmony straight out of 1966, as if the Mamas and Papas got the Beatles to swap out the Wrecking Crew for a session.
Of course, any mention of Mary Anne immediately got me thinking of a deep cut from Marshall Crenshaw’s stellar self-titled debut album from 1982. Distinctive guitar and background vocals always made this one a favourite for me, while the chord changes struck me as similar to Nick Lowe’s “My Heart Hurts” from the same year (similar but still sufficiently different).
But two songs hardly a theme blog post make. I needed more material. There was that Cohen cut, or The Who’s “Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand, or even The Four Season’s “C’mon Marianne” but they didn’t work with the blog or seemed too obvious (though I was sorely tempted to go with the Who!). Then I stumbled across a rare vocal turn from the normally instrumentally focused Shadows on their own “Mary Anne” song. Not bad for guys who usually let Cliff Richard do all the singing.
Rounding out this tribute to various Mary Anne’s is a more modern track from Boston’s alt-country outfit, Girls Guns and Glory. “Maryanne” comes from the band’s 2014 release, Sweet Nothings. The whole record is a worthwhile kick-up-your-heels, Dwight Yoakam-ish country-plus-rock and roll mash up. But check out the melodic twist in the chorus – pure poprock! Don’t overlook their 2016 album, Love and Protest, particularly the killer single “Rock and Roll.”
With the internet, releasing a single or album is now an event that never really ends. The chance that some old thing from years ago could take off unexpectedly is so much more possible now than previously. So drop in on The Spongetones, Marshall Crenshaw,The Shadows, and Girls Guns and Glory and let the hit-making begin!
Time passes and it’s amazing the musical acts you realize you haven’t thought about in a long time. Could even be bands you once loved but now regularly pass over in the record collection. Then something brings them back to mind and you discover they have carried on, despite your indifference. Of course, sometimes such rediscoveries can be painful. But in the case of these three once mega-successful acts, the missing years have some seen them produce great stuff worthy of a bit of musical reconnaissance.
If ever there was a band that seemed likely to gain the ‘fad artist’ label, it was Duran Duran. Flashy outfits, winning hairstyles, and plenty of jump-cut videos were oh-so-early 1980s. When they abandoned their hook-driven material for more bass-heavy R&B on 1986’s Notorious the exit sign over their career seemed to be flashing brightly. But despite the odds they persevered, turning out ten more albums over the years, all with at least a few pretty solid, hook-driven tunes, songs like “I Don’t Want Your Love,” “Ordinary World,” and “Come Undone.” The new millennium has seen the release of strong albums like Astronaut (2004) and All You Need is Now (2010). But their most recent Paper Cuts (2015) is arguably their best since 1983’s Seven and the Ragged Tiger. Largely written and and produced by recent wunderkind Mr. Hudson, the record still has the remarkably familiar stamp of Duran Duran while breaking new ground musically. Standout tracks include title cut “Paper Cuts” and “Sunset Garage.” If you haven’t checked out the band in a while, it’s time to return to the fold.
Paper GodsSunset Garage
I still remember finding my first used copy of New Order’s “Blue Monday.” I wasn’t really into techno or dance but there was just something so cool about the hypnotic driving bass and keyboard riffs. I dutifully purchased Low Life and Brotherhood when they came out. But I do remember being a bit disappointed with Technique, which seemed a bit too aptly named for comfort. New Musical Express complained that the band should just break up rather than repeat themselves (but then MNE was pretty infamous for hating bands as soon as more than a handful of people started liking them). So, in the nineties me and New Order drifted apart. Imagine my pleasant surprise to catch up on their post-Technique catalogue only to discover some of their best recordings! 1993’s Republic was OK, but 2001’s Get Ready is amazing, upping the traditional indie rock sound without losing the club vibe. And the songs are pretty strong: “Crystal,” “60 Miles an Hour,” and “Run Wild.” Four years later the band did it again with the stellar Waiting for the Siren’s Call, featuring killer tracks like “Krafty” and “Turn.” Songs left off the latter album were released as Lost Sirens in 2013 and they weren’t just leftovers: check out strong tracks like “I’ll Stay with You” and “I’ve Got a Feeling.” 2015’s Music Complete (minus longtime bass player Peter Hook) couldn’t help but disappoint by comparison, though “Superheated” is pretty cool.
CrystalTurnI’ll Stay With YouSuperheated
The first record I ever bought was Billy Joel’s 52nd Street. It was 1978 and one of the only non-country albums stocked in the dry goods store in Cassiar, the asbestos mining town in northern BC where we lived briefly when I was 13. On reflection, I don’t like it nearly as much as The Stranger (with its drop dead hit single, “Only the Good Die Young”), or Glass Houses, which really was Joel’s songwriting peak (from a poprock perspective). Sometimes you have to make do. But after The Nylon Curtain and An Innocent Man I kinda lost interest in what Joel was doing. I mean, I really couldn’t figure out how the dirge-like “We Didn’t Start the Fire” could make it from the out-take pile let alone top the charts. Different strokes. And then Joel just stopped making albums altogether after 1993, surely a bizarre development in our music-as-commodity world. I would have said ‘who cares’ until I ran across two beautiful late Joel songs recently, one each from his last two albums. “And So It Goes” from 1989’s Storm Front has a slightly Randy Newman-esque feel to the arrangement, when it’s not just exquisite Joel balladry. But minus the flash – this performance is remarkably restrained and vulnerable. “Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)” is the best thing on 1993’s River of Dreams, a beautiful love song for his daughter.
And So It GoesLullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)
Catching up with former superstars is so much easier in the internet age. Check out Duran Duran, New Order and Billy Joel in all the usual places.
I get by with a little help from my friends. Because I can’t possibly keep up with all the great new music coming out every day, other blogs are a reliable source of new material. And I’m proud to say that I think my blogroll is a finely curated list of sites that really deliver on content. In fact, they’re so good I can’t visit them too much or I’ll just want to write about all the things they’ve already posted! But sometimes cruising through the blogs reminds me of hitting the record shops when I was younger. Vancouver in the early 1980s had a plethora of new and used record stores: Kelly’s, A&A Records, Track Records, Neptune Records, and, of course, the main new records shop, A&B Sound. A&B focused mostly on selling stereo components (I bought my first tape deck there on layaway!) but used albums as a loss leader to get people into the store. Their signature ‘featured bargain’ bins (where they stacked records flat on top of each other) crowded the front of the store and usually sold for $4:99 when the going price for an album was typically anywhere from $6:99 to $10:99. I would buy records I had no clue about, just because they looked cool and were cheap. Such bargains included New Order’s Power Corruption and Lies, Men at Work’s Business as Usual, and OMD’s Dazzle Ships. Well, the record stores, like the book stores of my youth, are largely gone. But the excitement of finding new music lingers on, now re-platformed to the blogosphere!
I don’t know about you but I love year end ‘best of’ lists. It appeals to the completist in me, the big picture guy who wants to somehow grasp the whole of what is going on. It also feels like a delightful cheat, like I’m getting to use someone else’s homework. My blogroll’s ‘best of’ lists introduced me to a host of music I had overlooked in the past year. Below I focus on just one artist from each that I’m glad I didn’t miss.
Absolute Powerpop may not generate the volume of blog posts he once did, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t paying attention. His best of lists for 2017 were colossal: a top 100 singles, top 20 EPs, top 10 Americana and top 100 albums list. I snagged eight new artists that really caught my ear. But I want to draw your attention to Jesse Terry‘s Stargazer. The whole album is strong but if I had to pull a single, “Dangerous Times” sounds like a collaboration between Crowded House and Peter Case, combining the former’s unique melodic palette with the latter’s gritty yet melodic folk rock meets Americana. I would also pair this a-side with the delightfully airy, Macca-esque “Only a Pawn” as a strong b-side.
Powerpopaholic is the godfather of power pop blogs. Given the range and depth of his coverage and sheer volume of posts, if a band or song is somewhere on the power pop spectrum it will eventually appear here. I snagged five new bands from his Top 30 list this year but have chosen to showcase Onesie, a tongue-in-cheek outfit from Brooklyn that specializes in quirky melodic rock and roll, evident in spades on “Husbands in Finance”: great rhythm guitar swing, fun sing-along vocals, and hooks, hooks, hooks.
I only picked one new artist from I Don’t Hear a Single’s many ‘best of’ lists but that’s because I’ve been nicking great stuff from him all year! Berwanger, Mothboxer, Daisy House and many, many more. IDHAS is an early finder – bands show up here that inevitably show up everywhere else, but a few months later. And he has a particularly good handle on the British and European scene. Having said that, my find from IDHAS is GospelbeacH, a group of LA music scene veterans whose latest project distills the magic of a host of California poprock and country-rock influences. My choice for double a-sided single would combine the breezy yet muscular poprock feel of “Hanging On” with the more laidback country/Byrds ‘tude of “(I Wanna See U) All the Time.”
Hanging On(I Wanna See U) All the Time
Powerpopulist seems like a machine that scours the internet for freely offered up tunes from great indie bands you’ve yet to hear of. I am constantly blown away by his industry – so many bands! So many tunes! His tastes typically run a bit harder than mine but he does love his jangle. His ‘best of’ list ran to 109 songs, from which I scored five acts that are real keepers. The Harringtons are great example. These Sheffield teens crunch their guitars like the Who and the Jam but offer up sweeter harmonies. The combo really works on ‘”Scootch” from their debut EP Change Is Gonna Come.
The rest of my blog finds are not from ‘best of’ lists or from blogs necessarily. Well, one is – Goldmine columnist John Borack had a great list of singles and albums – nicked the rather kooky Mo Troper from him. The album is Exposure and Resistance and it has an uneven, even raw quality at times. But when the poprock clicks, it’s heaven. My choice for a double a-sided single include the exquisite “Free Bin” and “Clear Frames,” the latter reminding me of a hetero version of Pansy Division. Pop Fair alerted me to the fact that the incredibly talented Richard X. Heyman had a new record out last year, from which “Gleam” really is a stand out track. Power Pop Square put me on to Jeremy Messersmith, whom I featured recently, but here is a different cut – the very catchy “Love Sweet Love.” Two of my favourite blogs appeared to hit the pause button sometime in 2017 but that didn’t stop them from putting out some great stuff before that happened. Everyone’s favourite foul mouthed blogger at The Best Indie Songs offered up a slew of choice cuts but I’m highlighting Autonomics “Southern Funeral,” with its insanely catchy thumping beat and sing-along chorus. Meanwhile Mufoandthings caught my ear with the acoustic jangling 1960s sound of Wilbur on “Perfect Stranger” and the more rocking, Yardbirdsesque “She’s Gone.”
Richard X. Heyman – GleamJeremy Messersmith – Love Sweet Love
Click on the names of the bands above to get closer to forking over some cash for these great singles and albums. In the record store I’d have a bundle of records under my arm and then have to decide which ones to keep and which ones to put back. It’s so much easier to be indecisive now.