So far, the end of world sounds more like “The Sounds of Silence” than the rumble and destruction of a Simpsons-esque apocalyptic crowd waving torches. But if this is the end of the world, what should our soundtrack sound like? Not the obvious choices, obviously (yes R.E.M., I mean you). At the very least the end of times should give struggling indie artists the spotlight for once.
That’s why we’re kicking things off with cheeky Portland band Streetcar Conductors. They’ve got a great new song called “Brand New Lease on Life” (which also seems timely in its own way) but our featured tune and the inspiration for this post, “It Sounded Like the End the World,” is actually from their amusingly-titled debut album, The Very Best of the Streetcar Conductors. Kicking off your career with a ‘greatest hits’ – that’s serious moxy. On the theme of worlds ending, Lannie Flowers wastes no time getting to the “Edge of the World,” a terrific song that clocks in at just a minute and two seconds. Good thing too as I guess we really don’t have time to waste. Liverpool’s Rob Clarke and the Wooltones lighten the mood with their jaunty, jangly “End of the End,” from their 2014 LP The World of the Wooltones. Who says bad news has to sound bad? By contrast, a song sure to be voted more cinematically ‘end of the world’ is The Call’s “Apocalypse,” from the band’s least successful early album, 1984’s Scene Beyond Dreams. I always thought The Call were British but they are certainly vibing their Santa Cruz roots on this track. Annabelle Lord-Patey is Elliott Smith reborn on her gentle apocalyptic ode, “Doomsday,” a cut from her wonderful debut album Polaris. Fingerpicking your way to oblivion never sounded so good. Hip fuzz rockers Best Coast prepare for “The End” in style on this song from their exquisite 2010 release Crazy for You. This swinging track will definitely put a skip in your step. And for something a bit different, Jill Sobuleimagines the end of times as an orgy of not paying bills and making beds on “A Good Life” from her 2009 record California Years. Now, that sounds about right to me.
Lannie Flowers – Edge of the WorldThe Call – ApocalypseBest Coast – The EndJill Sobule – A Good Life
It may have sounded like the end of the world over this past week but we’ve been mistaken before. On the off chance we’re still all here in the days ahead, let’s help our fave artists keep heart and hearth fortified with some cash transfers via Bandcamp or your favourite internet music retailer.
Shamelessly exploit an emerging health crisis for some weak blog tie-in? Not our style friends. Think of this as a public service, designed to distract you from the impending end of the world as we know it. As someone once said, if we’re going to have to go, we might as well go out singing!
Not that we should get too excited. Phoebe Bridgers captures a bit of the aura of impending doom that’s all about on her low key but catchy “Motion Sickness.” By contrast, The Popravinas “Almost Sick” almost sounds celebratory in a country ‘my truck died’ sort of way. KC Bowman’s crew of musical friends also have a timely tune in their Preoccupied Pipers guise with the sprightly “Sick Time.” On the other hand, Swedish/German duo It’s a Musicalget right to the point with the quirky “The Music Makes Me Sick” (disclaimer: no music on this site will actually make you sick). Another KC Bowman vehicle is the cleverly named Stik Pinz and they sound positively blissed out to get some “Medical Time.” Well, who wouldn’t, under our present circumstances? Can I get a doctor? That might be what Chris Von Sneidern is saying on “Doctor.” Then again, the album is called Big White Lies so who knows. It’s a lovely song and that’s all my prescription guarantees. The Lolas get a little more specific with “Doctor Apache” and they’ve pretty’d up their usual rocking sound with some lovely jangly guitar argpeggiations. Juliana Hatfield has turned out so many great, underappreciated LPs. Like Pussycat, with its topical “I Wanna Be Your Disease.” Working the Americana side of the poprock street, The River and the Road layer in the banjo to earworm up their thematic contribution, “Strange Disease” and it works! Just the musical cure we’re looking for. And for the wrap, how about some Bill Lloyd from his fab 2018 album, Working the Long Game in the form of “What Time Won’t Heal.” Hopefully, if our preparations were effective, you’ve been toe-tapping your way to distraction and forgot all about … what was that news headline?
Chris Von Sneidern – DoctorLolas – Doctor ApacheThe River and the Road – Strange DiseaseBill Lloyd – What Time Won’t Heal
Time to pull together people. Even as we practice some social distancing to survive in the days and weeks ahead, we can always let the music bring us together. Click the links above and bring some money-joy to our performers as they tart up their quarantine quarters, er, I mean, wherever they call home!
Melody central stands at the junction of pop and rock, with hooky guitar lines and heavenly background vocals to spare. It’s one stop shopping for your melody-coated rock and roll needs. Today’s melody-ers hit the beat with just the right balance between old time inspiration and a contemporary indie elan.
Bandcamp has this ‘if you liked’ feature that runs across the bottom of the page of any artist you might be checking out. I find so many great acts there! Like Chicago’s Batteries Not Included. Just looking at their website live show pics, these guys seem like the ultimate party band to me. Rockin’ together since 1980, sporadically releasing an LP and EP, BNI boast opening for a wide range of classic sixties bands (e.g. Spencer Davis, Lovin’ Spoonful) and more recent indie poprock outfits (e.g. The Smithereens) over the years. Still, while remaining active, they’ve never really broken out big. A quick spin through their latest long player, Hey Hey Hey, is proof their stick-to-it-ness is not misplaced. What fun, happy tunes! “Winning Ticket” shimmers with early Romantics hookyness. “Count on Me” is so early 1960s Buddy Holly meets Bobby Fuller. And then there’s tracks like “Fall for You,” “Bit by Bit,” and “I Knew” which vibe the fresh, crisp melodic rock and roll sound of the Paul Collins’ Beat. This is a no-risk purchase if you’re looking for a hooky no-nonsense poprock record.
Toronto-cum-Brooklyn’s Young Guv has a double album that practically lunges out of the speakers with its raucus, jangly opening cut, “Patterns Prevail,” vibing Teenage Fanclub on speed. Perhaps that’s not surprising as Young Guv’s main man is Ben Cook, sometime leader of punk bands Fucked Up and No Warning. Well, he has taken a turn down the melody mile on this latest release as things start out hooky and just don’t let up from there. “Roll with Me” sounds very uptempo Elliott Smith. Then “Every Flower You Meet” gets a solid Matthew Sweet groove on. “Luv Always” steps on the jangle pedal hard. And so on. Personally, I love the hooky lead guitar line anchoring “Exceptionally Ordinary” – very Primitives – and the Jayhawks aura lingering over “She’s a Fantasy.” The second half of the album turns down the amps and goes a bit pop-soul but remains divine. Guv I & II is available bundled together or sold separately. Is there anything Young Guv’s Ben Cook can’t do?
I can hear all sorts of classic influences on Travel Lanes’ new record ON: Tom Petty, the Replacements, a bit of Elvis Costello and, of course, the Beatles. Indeed, you can hear all those elements permeate the kick off track, “True and Tried.” Then things turn in a slightly different direction with the country, pub rock feel of “Answer My Prayers” and the dynamite pedal steel on “It’s Time.” It’s funny, while Frank Brown writes and sings the songs, there is a strong ‘band’ sound to this record. Songs like “Routine,” “Big Heart,” and “Lover’s Lane” are played with the ease and comfort of a Rockpile-esque sense of boozy togetherness. This is group that really knows how to play and they play together so well. ON is an album listener’s treasure: you’re gonna listen to it again and again.
The Overtures bill themselves as the ‘UK’s finest 60’s tribute act’ and the fact they’ve been hired by the likes Paul McCartney and Elton John kinda backs up their bona fides. But with their new album Once in a World they cast aside the ‘merely a cover band’ label to offer up a raft of original tunes – and the result is brilliant, and not just in the jangle sense of that term (though, yes, it is that too). Frankly, with this band’s back story and image, I was worried that taking a crack at more original material might just produce something that was too derivative. And, hey, the British invasion and Beatles influences are all over this record, for sure. But this album is a winner, chock full of simply great tunes performed by a band with killer chops. Exhibit A: album opener “Till Your Luck Runs Out” has guitar sounds that are very Searchers but in their comeback 1980 new wave guise. Then the obvious should-be hit single arrives with “Once in a World” and it’s a timeless slice of poprock. Seriously, it could 1980s Squeeze (if they’d picked up an electric 12 string!) or it could be any number of great melodic rock tracks released just this last year. Other songs harken back to the 1960s and 1970s: “The Hollow Bells” sounds very Hollies-Bryds-Turtles, “She Belongs to Yesterday” has a lovely, hooky British invasion lead guitar line, “Red Dolls House” could be a great lost Elvis Costello tune, “Find Out What You Mean to Me” is a Cavern-era Beatles workout – I could go on. Really, there are so many highlights on this album, you’re going to want the whole thing. My personal fave is “She Shines a Light” with its seductive lilting hooks. You can pick up a physical copy of the album from the good people at Kool Kat Music!
Today’s mailbag is brought to you by the letter S. I swear this happened totally by accident! Somehow everyone waiting in the queue had an S name.
Starting in the global south, Argentina’s Super Ratones (translation: Super Mice) are veterans of that country’s rock and roll scene, forming in 1985 and releasing eight albums over their decades-long career, even surviving the loss of founding member and lead singer José Luis Properzi to cancer in 2015. Yet their 2019 release, Carreras de Aviones (translation: Airplane Racing) sees the band back in top form with strong collection poppy rock and roll numbers. Title track “Carreras de Aviones” has all the key elements: a rollicking rhythm salted with strong melodic hooks. That vocal harmonies would be strongly in evidence is not that surprising for a band initially compared to the Beach Boys on their first few recordings and you hear it here on tracks like “Me Gusta La Lluvia” and “Si No Tuvieras Miedo.” On the whole, the album is a great addition to their catalogue. And, by the way, you wouldn’t go wrong dipping into any of the previous seven releases either.
In the ‘now for something completely different’ part of our programming, we’ll push the boundaries of our self-declared genre limits a bit with two acts that are more indie raucous than muy melodic. Calgary’s Scratch Buffalo mostly combine a raw ‘rawk’ sensibility with a talky in-your-face vocal style that’s typically not my scene. Having said that, I do really like album closer “Life Somewhere’s Else” with its earthy combo of mellow acoustic guitar backing, tasteful lead guitar and understated vocal. So too Limehouse, Ontario’s The Soviet Influence is working an alienated indie rock seam with nary a jangly guitar in sight. Still, “Rust” has a lulling earwormy quality that gets to you on repeated listenings, also carried by a nice acoustic guitar, a remote but lovely lead guitar line, and affectingly intimate vocals.
Ok, back to our regular programming … A former member of pop punk pioneers Bum (Rob Nesbitt) has dropped his snarl but retained the band’s signature hooks on his new project The Suitesixteen and I love it. Don’t get me wrong, Bum was great, but it’s no secret I tend to prefer The Beatles over The Stones. Hints of punk are still there on tracks like “Bob Greene” but now you can really hear how the melody shines through, particularly vocally. Across the album as whole, comparisons to Green Day or Bowling for Soup would not be out of order. But then there’s the more nakedly Big Star-ish “A Very Well Known Secret” and “That Sweet Ache.” Personally, my fave track is the swinging closer “Why I Love You and I Did.” The album is entitled Mine Would be the Sun and it is worth more than a casual listen.
Nobody has press quite like Seoul, South Korea-based stars on fire. Described as ‘rough, mischievous, and utterly charming,’ a ‘drunk Lloyd Cole seizing control of Felt,’ and a ‘well-crafted, lo-fi blend of shoegazer psych-rock and jangly indie-pop’ the band’s two 2019 EPs definitely throw a lot of influences into the hopper. To my ears, there a bit of The Smiths, particularly on those hooky electric guitar openers on tracks like “stuck somewhere” and “I Need Nobody (that’s you).” At other times they sound like The Catherines with hungover Leonard Cohen on vocals. Wherever your dip into these EPs there’s a winning combination of distinctive guitar work and even more distinctive vocals. Finally, rounding out today’s mailbag is a should be hit single from Sheffield’s The Suncharms. The band’s original era stretched from 1989-93 but they reunited in 2018 and new recordings have since emerged, like “Jet Plane” featured on the fadeawayradiate records compilation F.A.R. Out. Very The Church, with that charming mixture of pop hooks amid a general psychedelic vibe.
Poor Myrtle. She’s only got Muzak® to keep her company through the long shift at work. If only she had access to this great new list of must-have LPs from 2019, helpfully assembled by Poprock Record, she might actually close that Henderson account and get off early. The lesson? You can take an oldies fixation too far. You don’t have to live in the past to love that retro sound. This year’s best-of round up of LPs from 2019 is definitive proof that everything old can be new again!
Just a word of caution – there’s no science to the list and rankings below. Here are just 25 albums and 10 EPs that caught my ear this past year and kept me coming back for more. There was something about each, their combination of elements (songwriting, instrumentation, performance), that I thought really worked as a coherent whole. And that’s saying something in our world of social media distractions and a renewed music biz focus primarily on singles.
So let’s begin with Poprock Record’s 25 must-have LPs for 2019:
I really like the variety covered in this list. There’s everything from jangle (4, 11, 15, 25) and country (12) and Dylanesque stylings (21), to keyboard contemporary (8) and acerbic social commentary (10, 23) and straight-up Beatlesque poprock (17, 19). And there’s a lot of sweetness, like Mondello’s impressive 20 year labour of love (18). My number one album, Bombadil’s Beautiful Country, embodies this commitment to diversity. It’s got an overall indie-folk vibe but the songwriting and playing are so sophisticated that somehow the label fails to capture all of what’s going on. Believe me, it’s a 37 minute journey through a myriad of lyrical and musical delights. Close behind at #2 Matthew Milia’s Alone at St. Hugo represents an amazing synthesis of melodic rock influences, from the Beatles (obviously) to the more mellow Fountains of Wayne moments. It’s an tone setter – put it on and drift away! At #3 was #1. Confused? #1 was the name of the debut album from the power pop veterans behind The Brothers Steve and it did not disappoint. The record is like a veritable hit machine. I can only imagine that this was what it was like to get your hands on a new Beatles record in the 1960s: immediately engaging, inventive yet relatable, and with nary a bum track. And I could go on about every entry on this list … but instead just click on the links to go my original posts about the bands and you can judge them for yourself.
Next up, Poprock Record’s10 must-have EPs from 2019:
The revival of the EP is very much in the spirit of the times as performers try to woo listeners to fork over for music in an era of YouTube shuffles and streaming. Personally, I’m usually left feeling that most are just bloated maxi-singles or Readers Digest condensed albums. But these ten show just how punchy an EP can be! Content-wise, I’ll just say this about my number 1 choice: wow. Dave Molter got his musical start in the 1960s (as evident on the record!) but waited until his 70s to put out Foolish Heart. What you get are five gems polished to poprock perfection: hooks, harmonies, the whole deal.
One last thing: a special mention for Aaron Lee Tasjan’s Karma for Cheap: Reincarnated. The original record was my number 1 album for 2018 and this reinvention beautifully reimagines all those great tunes in often stark and stripped down ways. If you liked the original, you’re gonna love the remake.
2019 had plenty of jangle, hooks, harmonies and melody to spare. From an initial list of over 200 songs I’ve managed to whittle my should-be hit single list to just 50 chart toppers for this year. Man, it was hard. Because I only post music I like this whole exercise is a bit like choosing your favourite child. Well, IMHO, the 50 songs featured here all have a strong earwormy quality to them. But let me know if you agree or disagree! Hit the links below to find each artist as featured in my original blog post this past year.
So, without further ado (drum roll please!), here is Poprock Record’s should-be hit singles for 2019:
As you can see, the list is a bit all over the map. There’s hints of country and folk and a lot of rock and roll. Because I’m working a broad poprock vein (as opposed to a more narrow power pop) my list crosses lines that other melodic rock blogs might not. That means the pop folky Bombadil and Fruitbats can sidle up to the more edgy melodic punk of Ezra Furman or country rock of The Cerny Brothers. But most of the entries fall neatly into my definition of ‘poprock’ – as in, melodic rock and roll characterized by plenty of hooks and harmony vocals. It’s all there in my number one song from The Golden Seals “Something Isn’t Happening” with its swinging acoustic guitar base, various hooky lead guitar lines, and catchy vocal melody. Or you can hear it in the addictive guitar drone driving Juliana Hatfield’s great single, “Sugar.” Same goes for The Well Wishers’ fantastic poprock reinvention of Fleetwood Mac’s 1977 sound on “Feeling Fine.” And I could just go on dropping superlatives on every entry on this list. Instead, click on the links and check out my original posts about all these artist.
All these artists have instruments to keep in tune and studio time to pay for, not to mention all the time they take away from paying work to write the songs and practice performing them – all in aid of getting this exciting music out there for us to enjoy. Help them thrive by getting out to see them live and buying their music.
My vision for 2020 would be for a bit more truth, beauty and justice to come to light. It’s getting harder and harder for working class people to make ends meet, all the while a circus of obscene over-consumption by the 1% of the 1% is shoved down our throats culturally. So why don’t ‘the people’ revolt? Well, there are lots of reasons …
Some of the reasons are cultural. Despite the supposedly liberating, equalizing effects of social media, representations of ‘the people’ in commercial media remain highly distorted in class terms. On TV and in movies it would appear that everyone’s rich and there’s nothing that can’t be solved with just a bit of celebrity charity (‘thanks Ellen!’). But as New Yorker Jeff Rosenstock bluntly puts it, “TV stars don’t care about who you are.” Rosenstock’s work ranges from straight up punkish rock to more dreamy melodic numbers with a dollop of shoegaze. “TV Stars” is from his 2018 album Post- and makes the point that ‘nice’ isn’t really equal to caring.
Of course, part of the reason people mistake nice celebrities for friends is that media seldom mirrors the great unwashed or their experiences in any recognizable form. The first step toward self-respect is recognizing who you are (and who you are not). And every now and then a tiny bit of authenticity breaks through. Like Scotland’s Gerry Cinnamon. He is a rare example of an unabashedly working class artist who has eschewed major labels and conventional music promotion. Movies and TV never tire of pushing the trope that any decent idea, if it’s worthy, can take off via social media, eluding the gate keepers and corporate media machines, but the reality is that a kitty appearing to dance and sing “Bohemian Rhapsody” is much more likely to succeed. But in Cinnamon’s case, the myth actually became real. He is an unsigned artist who plays sold out shows throughout the UK. I can’t help but feel that part of his appeal is that his songs give voice to the experience of an alienated working class youth in believable ways. The songs on Cinnamon’s 2017 Erratic Cinematic have the same gut impact of early Dylan, Jake Bugg, Springsteen when he’s got his harmonica out, and Ike Reilly. No one does heart-wrenching loneliness quite like Cinnamon on tracks like “What Have You Done” or check out the Morricone-esque quality of the title track, complete with haunting whistling. Cinnamon did release a single in 2019, a teaser from his coming 2020 album, entitled “The Bonny” – with pretty magical harmonica accompaniment.
Artists like Cinnamon make working class experience visible and that is crucially important because making such lives visible allows other people to realize that their problems are not merely personal (i.e. their own fault) but happening to all kinds of people all over the place. Of course, the next step politically would be to act on that knowledge. Here I want to harken back to the just reviewed new album Bulletproof from The Lolas and a few particular songs that really name the work to be done. Like “Storm of Silence,” where songwriter Tim Boykin sings “workers have so much to win” by breaking the ‘storm of silence’ because “there’s a million people standing strong and another million coming on.” Or the Steve Miller Band-ish “Stand Up and Fight,” where he asks “who is it going to be if not you or me?” because “you can call the local news and I bet they won’t care, but if you dare this might be the start of something big.” Boyko ends the album with the classic leftwing liberation anthem, “L’Internationale,” with its still relevant theme of international working class solidarity.
Seeing who your real friends are is partly cultural work but it is also affected by dramatic and ever increasing economic inequality that defines western countries. Make no mistake, a lot of money is spent by powerful people to keep the gauze over our eyes. Making the depravity and cruelty of that inequality more visible is also crucial to seeing a more progressive vision triumph in this new year. And it just happens to be good for music too!
2019 has been a generous year for poprock. So many great songs! And yet here are a few more that I somehow didn’t manage to squeeze in before now.
There is some debate about when Jeff Whalen’s amazing solo album 10 More Super Rock Hits was released. Some say 2018, others 2019. Whatever. I have to showcase something from this very special album. Hard to choose just one song but I’ve settled on “Don’t Give Up” with its super sweet Partridge Family poprock hookiness. Whalen is a master of styles and here he nails the 1970s AM melody-to-the front pop sound. Fans of this year’s Brothers Steve album will also love this one! Portsmouth UK’s Lost Ships offer up some serious jangle with “Drug Store” from their recent EP All of the Pieces. A lot of reviewers link the sound to early Teenage Fanclub but I hear a bit of early The Lilac Time sweetness too. Cudas hail from Cape Town, South Africa and so far have released the double-sided single “TV is Cool Again”/“Kids Want Hits” – but what a release! I love the guitars and the slightly ominous melody lines in the former while the latter nails a Ramones-as-hit-makers sound with its inventive use of synth and Cheap Trick sounding enunciation of ‘tonight’ in the chorus. All this bodes very well for some future album release!
Jeff Whalen – Don’t Give Up
I love the Paste magazine tag line on their review of the Toronto janglers Ducks UnlimitedEP Get Bleak: “The Toronto quartet writes lilting, throwback jangle-pop for the isolated and the underemployed.” While many commentators highlight the anomie embedded in the songs, I hear a pretty sweet and distinctive jangle coming out of “Anhedonia” that makes my heart swell! “Gleaming Spires” is also pretty fresh and sprightly IMHO. When I think of Milwaukee I think of socialist mayors and Happy Days and beer. Now I can add Trolleyto that list. “I’ll Never Tell” has that Revolver-era Beatles vibe if The Byrds had recorded it. It’s the teaser single from the band’s fifth long-player, The Carnival Of Grey and White, to be released in 2020. At long last, a new record emerged from Army Navy late this year, also suggesting a future album release. “Seismic” is lovely low key number, laid over top of a basic acoustic guitar and delicately adorned with a bit of synth and a whispery vocal style. I can’t wait for more.
I could have sworn The SmartHearts were from the UK. Something about their brash punky yet melodic style of rock and roll. But they hail from Philadelphia. Vocally they remind me of Titus Andronicus, with perhaps a bit of the Clash on back up. And then there’s “Man from the Company,” which exudes a bit of mid-1960s pop sensibility, particularly on guitar, while melding it with a more punk vocal delivery. The Safesreturned in 2019 with a song that put together a lot of interesting pieces together in unusual ways. “Baggage Claim” mixes keyboards and acoustic instruments and voices into a winning, distinctive combo. Tacoma’s Vanilla released a few new singles this year. I was particularly taken with the XTC-ish “Treefort.” Seriously, this could easily be mistaken for a Colin Moulding outtake. Winning stuff, obviously.
With 2020 within sight, let’s honour these 2019 winning singles with a visit from the money store. Just click on their highlighted names above.
So many albums to listen to! Welcome to the listening room session II where we carry on distracting you from any holiday malaise that might be afoot with melody, hooks, harmonies and some jangle guitar.
Oslo, Norway’s The Needs is just another example of Nordic superiority. They manage to combine driving guitars with sweet melodies that make you want to jump and sing at the same time. The album is entitled You Need the Needs and truer words were never spoken. The record kicks off with “Summerbore,” a song that blasts out of the gate with the band’s signature driving guitar, coated with a slick vocal that holds back just a bit, creating tension between the vocal and instrumental elements. Next up is the obvious single, “I Regret It,” with its early Rooney-esque demeanor. And so on. There are a cartful of great tunes here: the hooky “I’m Doing Fine,” the more mid-tempo “First to Go,” and the fabulous “Stay at Home Friend” with its crashing guitars and endearing melody. Guitar lovers rejoice! Your needs are answered with this latest Norwegian export.
I agree with Richard Rossi over at Power Pop News that there is something very Cheap Trick meets Sloan on this latest release from Chicago’s The Bishop’s Daredevil Stunt Club. You can really hear it at the one minute mark of the opening track of “Burndown at Sundown” – wow! Loaded with great change ups throughout the song, this is a hooky masterpiece. And we’re just getting started. Then comes the clear single “Christine You’re Mean,” a straight up rocky poprock number, with the crunchy guitar riding just beneath the melody-drenched vocals. End Over End is another album that is a full listen release, no needle dropping required. Of course, if forced to choose, I do find myself particularly partial to “Get Up Get Up,” “The Henry Norman Hotel,” and “Remind Me of Summer.” And clocking in at 48 minutes, that’s a lot of power pop-tastic quality product.
Bulletproof is album number two for Birmingham, Alabama’s The Lolas for 2019 and there is no evident dilution in the quality of offering the second time around. And that’s pretty impressive because The Lolas is only one of the many musical projects that Tim Boykin is regularly writing for and performing in. Opening cut “Deestroy” sets the tone for the fun to come, sounding like a power pop Ramones with lyrics about wanting to ‘destroy capitalism’ and ‘take away your desolate vision.’ Finally, a ‘peace on earth’ vision I can get behind! Then Boykin goes all Rubber Soul Beatles on us with the delightful “Fall Away” while “Oceans on the Moon” sounds like a great lost Hollies cut to me. But the real news with this record is how political it is compared with earlier releases. Titles like “Stand Up and Fight,” “Stop the War,” and “Gunshot Holes” advertise their sentiments pretty clearly. But others, like “Storm of Silence,” carry a message of worker solidarity and hope that requires more active listening. Going political is a risk for any performer and can go agitprop in a bad way pretty quickly in the wrong hands. But this effort is entirely in good hands with Boykin, who strikes the right balance between message and art. And I love the final cut, a Merseybeat rendition of “L’Internationale” that totally works!
In our one last EP file, here’s a release from 2018 that somehow missed my radar last year from Brooklyn’s Answering Machine – Color TV. Vocalist Samantha Campanile often comes off sounding like a edgier Neko Case meets Jenny Lewis on the epic tunes showcased here like title track “Color TV,” “Tri-State Kids,” and “Save the Date.” Though vocalist J.D. Fetcho also sounds great on backup or lead on tracks like “East of Eden.” The band did release a single in 2019 and “Bad Luck” bodes well for the group’s upcoming debut release due sometime in 2020, almost sounding an indie, slightly punk version of mid-period Fleetwood Mac.
Need some distraction to get through the holiday season’s seemingly endless family overtime period? Come with me to the listening room where we can tuck in to a raft of albums, all worthy of diverting your attention from squabbling children and leftovers. Divided into two sessions for your listening pleasure.
I miss a lot a stuff as the year goes by and one major oversight was overlooking relocated PEI-now-Toronto poprockers kiwi jr and their fab debut LP Football Money. The Canadian critics are falling all over themselves to heap praise on the band and deservedly so. Songs like “Gimme More” manage to namecheck a load of Canuck references and still sound cool! Listeners constantly reference Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus but I hear a lot of Cool for Cats-era Squeeze on tracks like “Leslie” and “Football Money” or maybe a bit of The Strypes on “Murder in the Cathedral” and “Comeback Baby.” Personally, I’m loving the nice jangly guitar, Jonathan Richman wide-eyed vocals, and oh-so-clever lyrics that are all over this record, but particularly pronounced on the obvious single, “Salary Man” and the delightful “Nothing Changes.” Football Money is not a pick-and-choose amongst the songs release, it’s definitely a full download.
Valencia, Spain’s Star Trip are obviously big Big Star fans. The influence is all over their 2019 long player, Salto al vacio. And yet they are so much more. First, their songwriting is strong and original. Coated with a shimmering guitar resonance and blissful harmony vocals the songs sound like a sun dappled summer day. I have no idea what they are singing about (it’s all in Spanish) but the sonic palate strongly suggest a post-1960s dose of truth, beauty and love. The whole record says ‘play me!’ but if I were single out anything, listeners are going to love the jangle and hooks propelling the opening title track, or the country pop elements undergirding “Hasta el atardecer,” or the Matthew Sweet quality of “Dias sin saber.” Overall, Salto al vacio is a must add for jangle addicts.
Add the new Mike Adams at his Honest Weight record to the pile with the likes of Matthew Milia, Telekinesis’ Michael Benjamin Lerner and even Marshall Crenshaw. Their defining element? Albums full of ebullient melodic gems, showcasing a deep knowledge of the poprock canon and an ability to twist such influences into original new material. Adam’s new LP There is No Feeling Better is a case in point. Each song is a perfectly crafted melodic miniature. From the off-kilter Beatles influences framing the opening track “Pressing Mesh” to the epic keyboard/acoustic guitar contrasts animating the closer “So Faded” this is a record of oh so pleasant surprises. “Do You One Better” is the obvious single, with its measured build up and strong melodic payout in the chorus. “Free and Reduced” has some great interplay between the rumbly guitar and 1980s keyboard while “Wonderful to Love” stokes a 1980s languid poprock groove. And check out “Datsun Dashes” with its reinvention of early 1960s American pop and Beatles influences or “I Need You” which sounds like a beat group version of the Eagles. Another ‘all-player’ for any road trip lasting longer than 39 minutes.
Let me slip in an EP amongst all this LP celebration. I featured a song recently by Pittsburg native Dave Molter but then got a copy of his 2019 EP Foolish Heart. Wow! What an action packed collection of ear worms. While citing the 1960s and Beatles as his main influences, Molter offers up a collection that exudes the best of 1980s poprock a la Greg Kihn, Huey Lewis and the News and ELO. I already lauded the Jeff Lynne-ish “Mid-Century Man” in my previous Molter post, now let me add praise for the EP’s title track “Foolish Heart” which could easily find its way onto any John Waite solo album, the psychedelic “See the Sunshine,” and the smile-generating Beatlesque “Tell Me That You Love Me.” Seriously, for Beatles fans, try not breaking into a grin when this song comes on! My only complaint about Foolish Heart is that it is an EP. Poprock Record wants more Molter!