Ah love. The autumn rustle of leaves amid crisp sunny days brings a new tableau for songwriters to paint love into the picture. Or out of it, as the case may be. Today’s post covers it all: from easy loving to yearning feelings to distinct varieties of heartbreak. Let’s get the loving started!
Canadian crooner David Myles is no slouch on guitar and he puts his smooth vocals and wiley acoustic playing together in a wonderfully Jim Croce-easygoing manner on “Loving You Is Easy.” It’s from his lovely new album Leave Tonight. Myles really excels at these laid back love songs so break out the candlelight if you’re going to spin this disc tonight. I love how Ride member Andy Bell’s new solo single starts abruptly, like you’ve tried to drop the needle in between vinyl cuts and not quite got the start. “Love Comes in Waves” is lovely rush of Bryds-influenced dream pop, accent on a spacey feel. Myles and Bell have clearly got the love and aren’t afraid to let you know about it.
Meanwhile, others are still looking for love. The Amplifier Headscomposed a nice “Short Pop Song About a Girl” that features spot-on 1960s lead guitar work and a winsome vocal style. There’s some serious wooing going on here. George McFall sets the scene a bit differently, coming on with more of an industrial tinge to start. But “The Boyfriend” delivers a great big head-exploding hook in the chorus that will have you hitting repeat to get just a little bit more of it. When he’s not leading the Lunar Laugh, Jared Lekites is apparently pining for love that’s not coming his way. His new EP Looking for Diamond X is a winning handful of loser laments, delivered in a most melodious way. “Unrequited Love Song” pretty much speaks for itself.
And then there’s heartbreak town. Sweden’s Mom have a new album called Pleasure Island but the song titles suggest that love may not appear on the street map. There’s “I Want You to Feel What I Feel,” “Hurt By You,” “Waste My Time,” and “Suzie (Use Me).” Sounds more like I’m-All-Out-Of-Love Island. But hey, I’m not saying the songs aren’t great – they are!. Check out the fab guitar and early Cars-vibe on “Don’t Leave With My Heart.” Lastly, Mike Daly and the Planets finally give falling out of love its due with a song of its own, the aptly-named “Falling Out of Love Song.” I mean, why should falling in love get all the songs? Love the Elvis Costello wordplay and sound on this track.
If love is in the air, forget the mask – it’s not going to protect you. Whether it’s coming or going or just being ignored, today’s artists demonstrate you can always set it to music. Hey, why not get a little love going on your own, a little money love for these artists? Hit the hyperlinks to do your part.
While there is little in the post-Beatles era that is not somehow touched by their influence, some bands wear that influence a bit more obviously than others. Today’s crew are veritable Beatlemaniacs, long suffering and uninterested in any cure. At times, they almost are The Beatles, they come so close to the masters in song structure and/or performance. Yet they all add some magic of their own, some original element that elevates their efforts beyond mere imitation. Get ready for some old and new Beatlers!
One of the earliest post-Beatles bands working the Mersey side of street was Liverpool Echo. Their self-titled 1973 album was a refreshing reworking of the 1964 Beatles sound for the seventies with strong songwriting from Martin Briley (later of “Salt in my Tears” fame) and Brian Engel. Countless songs start out like a Beatles’ classic, only to veer into something else, e.g. “You Know It Feels Alright” kicks off with a “Love Me Do” harmonica, or “Don’t You Know I’ve Been Lying” sounds very “I Call Your Name” at the start. But the record sports more than a few really original cuts, like “Gone, Gone, Gone” and the hooky “Girl on a Train.” Former hard rockers The Szutershave a broader take on The Beatles’ sonic legacy on their new album Sugar, filtering their efforts through a Todd Rungdren/Utopia Deface the Music set of influences (particularly on “If You Only Knew”) or a Cheap Trick (on “She’s Coming Home With Me”) or even early Squeeze (“Good Thing”). But “I Don’t Wanna Cry” and “Two We Will Always Be” nail The Beatles circa ’64.
With Putting the L in WooltonesRob Clarke and the Wooltonesmove a bit beyond their usual Mersey predilections to explore some other 1960s sounds. But there’s still one classic moptop number with “It’s Only You,” a lovely track that could easily live in the Beatles For Sale universe. And then there are actual cover bands, though few stand out like Apple Jam. As one commentator once said, “Apple Jam are possibly the most arcane Beatles tribute band in the world.” Why? Because they only record the songs The Beatles never officially recorded. Their 2009 Off the Beatle Track album reworks 15 early Lennon-McCartney tunes (and one Harrison song), their 2018 Off the White Album takes up all those songs that didn’t make the White Album cut, while other singles and EPs give a Beatles treatment to various solo material from the fabs. The results are pretty spectacular. Imagine all those songs the Beatles gave away in the 1963-4 period but now informed by the polished sound they gave on their official releases. “I’m In Love” and “From a Window” get upgraded to an obvious should-have-been Beatles release. “Goodbye” as performed here seems to merit inclusion on the White Album. And their Beatles 1964-style interpretation of McCartney’s “On the Wings of a Nightingale” is pretty special. The band’s most recent single is a version of Harrison’s unreleased “Window Window” from the Let It Be-era.
Unlike our other Beatle-vibing bands Cupid’s Carnival solidly occupy the mid-period Beatles zone, stretching perhaps from Help! to Yellow Submarine. They load their songs with uber cool Beatles references but the songwriting stands on its own. Their recent 2020 release Colour Blind kicks off strong with “Working All Day,” acing those familiar Beatles harmonies. The hooky “I Got It Wrong” and “Happiness” are Beatles poprock bliss! “Clapham Junction – Platform 9” uses a “Strawberry Fields” mellotron to good effect. And the record includes their masterful should-be hit “She Don’t Care” from their 2018 EP Clapham Junction. Detroit’s The Singles are all over the Meet the Beatles sound on their 2003 debut Better Than Before. The title track is simultaneously pure 1964 and yet timeless in execution, absolute dance party killer. “She’s Got a Hold” works that special Beatles jangle into a lovely melodic number with great harmonies. Since then the band has released a number of solid poprocking albums, albeit ones that beat the Beatles drum a bit more lightly.
55 years ago “Help!” was heading for number one on the Billboard Hot 100. Today we’re still living in the shadow of that influence. Help keep the flame alive by clicking the hyperlinked band names above.
It’s been five years since I embarked on this mad journey: to write a music blog. I dithered over the decision to start one for a number of months. There’s nothing more pathetic than to start something with maximum fanfare and enthusiasm, only to have it flame out a half dozen posts later. The questions I had to ask myself were: (a) was there enough of ‘my kind’ of music to regularly post about, and (b) could I sustain the effort to get regular posts up on the blog? Well here’s the proof. In five years I’ve managed to produce 347 blogs posts. I’ve written more than 170,000 words about poprock tunes. And, most importantly, I’ve featured almost 1000 different artists. Guess the answers to (a) and (b) are both a resounding yes!
I think the biggest reason this blog thing has worked out for me is that it is such a great outlet for being creative and having fun with something that has always been pretty central to my life: music. I love doing all the mock serious regular features (e.g. Breaking news, Around the Dial, Should be a hit single) and coming up with goofy themes as a way to feature different artists (e.g. “Telephonic Poprock,” “Summer’s Coming,” and the Cover me! series. Sometimes I’ve pushed the posts in more serious directions (“Is That So Gay,” “Campaigning for Hooks,” and “Pandemic Poprock“) but only if the melodies and hooks were there in abundance. The blog has also allowed me to pay tribute to my musical heroes (Buddy Holly, The Beatles, The Zombies, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Marshall Crenshaw, Suzanne Vega, Aimee Mann). But, as regular readers know, such luminaries mostly appear as reference points to better help people get of a sense of what all these new acts are doing.
If you’ve just tuned in, I’m not assigning the past five years of posts as homework. Instead, I offer today’s anniversary post as a retrospective of what’s been happening here. I reviewed all 347 posts to pick out some choice examples of the range of styles I can cram under the rubrik of ‘poprock’. It wasn’t easy! My first go round produced a list of 118 songs. When I converted that to a playlist I got the number down to 81 tracks. Ack! Still too many. So I’ve broken things down into themes. This is not a ‘greatest hits’ or ‘best of’ Poprock Record. I’ve left out a lot of acts I really love. It’s just a representative sample of what goes on here, to borrow some lingo from my day job. Click on the highlighted band names to go to the original posts on the blog.
Let’s start by recognizing that not all that appears here is new. The blog has allowed me to explore a huge number of acts I’ve missed over the years, particularly in the 1990s when my new day job (academe) took over my life. I can’t believe I somehow missed great bands like Fire Town and the Soul Engines with their incredible guitar hooks. The Sighs “Make You Cry” is a pretty perfect poprock single. I knew about Billy Cowsills’ Blue Northern but had never heard of his later group, the Blue Shadows. And Eugene Edwards’ sole solo release, My Favorite Revolution, is a must add for any melodic rock and roll fan.
There have been acts that appeared again and again on the blog, my ‘old reliables’ as I might call them. These are performers I can pretty much carve out space in the queue for whenever I hear a new release is on the way. Gregory Pepper is probably my most covered artist. I love his quirky, always hooky, sometimes touching efforts. Ezra Furman was another great find who has an unerring knack of placing a memorable hook at the centre of whatever he’s doing, whether it’s retro 1950s pop or a punkish political ode. I discovered Jeremy Fisher long before the blog but I’ve used it to feature his work, old and new. He’s like a new wave Paul Simon with great videos. Edward O’Connell only has two albums, but they are reliably good. We really need a third. Mo Troper always delivers something wonderfully weird but still melodic and ‘can’t get it out of your head’ good. Finally, Jeremy Messersmith’s records regularly encompass big vision but he doles it out in memorable should-be hit singles.
In my world of poprock, while any instrument goes, the electric guitar is arguably pretty central. Some bands really know how to ride a guitar-driven song right into your head. Jeff Shelton’s Well Wishers excel at putting the guitar up front. “Feeling Fine” is practically a ‘how to’ example of killer guitar-dominant poprock. The David James Situation and The Format are no slouches either. Jangle is a related field of guitar poprock and takes a number of forms, from the 1960s-inflected Byrds sound of The Vapour Trails to the more jaunty bubblegum feel of The Lolas “We’re Going Down to the Boathouse.” Jangle also usually features pretty addictive harmony vocals, showcased below in Propeller’s “Summer Arrives.”
As the original and defining decade of poprock (in my view), the 1960s sound continues to be mined by new artists. Daisy House have few rivals in nailing the late 1960s California poprock vibe, sounding like time travelers from San Francisco’s 1968 club scene. Space Dingus have got The Monkees feel down. Both Shadow Show and The On and Ons gives us that rockier pop sound of the mid 1960s, with the latter delivering killer lead guitar hooks. By contrast, both Cut Worms and The Young Veins offer a candy-coated pop sound more akin to The Cyrkle and Simon and Garfunkel.
I’m a sucker for shivery harmony vocals so they’ve been featured regularly on the blog. One of Jenny Lewis’ side projects is the one-off album from Jenny and Johnny, I’m Having Fun Now. Aptly named, the record gently rocks and delivers amazing vocals. The Secret Sisters offer up a punchy tune where the harmony vocals seal the hooky deal. The Carousels “Call Along the Coast” has a big sound the rides a wave of harmony vocalizing and Beatlesque guitar work. Meanwhile Scotland’s Dropkick corner the market on delightful lilting songcraft on “Dog and Cat.” The blog sometimes shades into retro country and folk territory. Bomabil are an eccentric outfit who stretch our sense of song but never drop the melody. The Top Boost are pretty new wave but on “Tell Me That You’re Mine” they’re channeling Bakersfield via the Beatles 65. The Fruit Bats put the banjo upfront in “Humbug Mountain,” where it belongs. Gerry Cinnamon is like Scotland’s Billy Bragg and he shows what you can do with just an acoustic guitar and a Springsteen harmonica.
I’m proud to say that the blog has sometimes strayed off the beaten path of conventional poprock into more eccentric territory with bands that are smart and quirky and not afraid to lodge a hook in a more complex setting. Tally Hall pretty much define this approach. So ‘out there’ but still so good melodically. Chris Staples and Hayden offer up more low key, moody tunes but they still have a strong melodic grab. Overlord take clever to a new level, like a grad school version of They Might Be Giants. Coach Hop is just funny and hooky with his unabashed ode to liking Taylor Swift.
After the 1960s the new wave era is the renaissance of poprock for me with its combination of hooky guitars, harmony vocals, and melody-driven rock and roll. Screen Test capture this ambience perfectly on “Notes from Trevor” with a chorus that really delivers. The Enlows drive the guitar hook right into your head on the dance-madness single “Without Your Love.” Billy Sullivan epitomizes the reinvention of 1960s elements that occurred in the 1980s, well embodied in “Everywhere I Go.” Another strong theme in the blog has been the “I Get Mail” feature, populated largely by DIY songsters who write me about their garage or basement recorded releases. It is inspiring to hear from so many people doing their thing and getting it out there, especially when it is generally really good. Daveit Ferris is a DIY workaholic with an amazing range of song and recording styles. “Immeasurable” is a good illustration of his genius, with a banjo-driven chorus that always makes me smile. Mondello is practically the classic indie artist movie script, struggling to get an album out after 20 years. But then his follow up single, “My Girl Goes By,” is gold!
I want to leave you with a two-four of should-be hits from Poprock Record. These songs are all quality cuts, grade A poprock with melodies and harmonies and hooks to spare. Some of these songs leave me panting, they’re so good. I kicked off the blog back in 2015 with Family of Year and I still think “Make You Mine” is a textbook should-be AM radio hit. Sunday Sun channel The Beatles through a 1980s song filter, in the very best way. Sitcom Neighbor’s “Tourist Attraction” is a delightful earworm affliction. Wyatt Blair has somehow boiled down the essential formula of a 1960s-influenced poprock hit. Wyatt Funderburk understands how to assemble the perfect melody-driven single. And so on. Get your clicking finger warmed up and you’ll be introduced to the essence of Poprock Record in 24 melodious increments.
One thing I didn’t anticipate was all the great people I’d come in contact with writing a music blog. Thanks to all the bands, record labels, and readers who have responded so positively to what I’ve been doing here. A special thanks to Best Indie Songs, Tim at Powerpopulist and Don at I Don’t Hear a Single for their advice over the years and to my friends Rob at Swizzle and Dale at The View from Here for encouraging me to do this.
This post features pics from my poprock-postered 1985-7 apartment in Vancouver’s West End. Just $285 a month, all inclusive. No wonder I could buy so many records.
Writing a blog is mostly a solitary endeavor. So it’s nice when people write to say they are enjoying what I’m posting and even better when they get a conversation going about our mutual musical loves. Some even make great suggestions about tunes I should check out. Like Ralph. He wrote with a list of suggested artists and songs so good I thought it warranted a post all its own. Some of the artists I was familiar with but not the songs (like Bruce Foxton) while others were completely new to me (like The Ruen Brothers). From a long list of choices from Ralph I’ve picked out the ones that really grabbed me, so this is very much a collaborate effort.
Was there ever an act that sounded more American than The Ruen Brothers? The band, actual brothers, hail from a small town a little north east of Sheffield in northern England. But somehow through the magic of Dad’s record collection, they come off like Nashville or Lubbock rockabilly locals. Their 2018 debut All My Shades of Blue, produced by Rick Rubin, is an amazing distillation of influences both old and new. My personal fave is “Vendetta” with its cool “Secret Agent Man” vibe and punk rock Roy Orbison vocals. To see them touring with Orville Peck makes a lot of sense, two acts that draw from the past but refuse to simply dwell there. Bruce Foxtonhad a glorious past as bassist for The Jam but struggled to find a future after they broke up. A 1984 solo album barely dented the charts so Foxton spent most of the next decade and half playing with Stiff Little Fingers. But in 2012 he returned with a second solo album, Back in the Room, which contained strong material like the hooky “Coming On Strong.” A band I didn’t even know had made a comeback are The Long Ryders. Early Americana and alt country influencers, the band hadn’t released an album since 1987. Nevertheless, a new record emerged in 2019, the aptly-named Psychedelic Country Soul, and critics declared it a winner with radio-friendly tracks like “Greenville.” Personally I love the heavenly wash of background harmonies cushioning “Let It Fly.”
The Ruen Brothers – VendettaBruce Foxton – Coming On Strong
A band I somehow missed altogether was Ocean Colour Scene, despite the fact they had five top 10 albums and 17 top 40 singles in the UK, with six songs that made the top 10. Initially associated with the Madchester Britpop scene, the band toured with Paul Weller and Oasis, eventually becoming big stars in their own right. With a lot of material to choose from, my focus on “I Told You So” might seem curious, given both the song and its 2007 album On the Leyline charted poorly. Still, I think it’s a winner. I love the Cat Stevens “There Goes My Baby” lilt to the tune and its overall cheery demeanor. Brandt Huseman is a busy guy, active in at least four bands by my count. I love his work with Greenberry Woods and Splitsville but I was less familiar with The Pale Stars, an outfit he produced two albums with. The band’s self-titled debut has that 1980s alt western vibe – think True West or Rank and File – and it comes out nicely on “Turncoat.” Another band on the comeback trail is The Old 97s whose 2020 release is simply called Twelve. Now, in truth, the band and its frontman Rhett Miller never really went away. Perhaps that’s why “Turn Off the TV” is like hanging with old friends, a familiar fun time that could easily descend into a group sing-along. And check out the cool cameo appearance from Puddles Pity Party at the end of the video.
The Pale Stars – Turncoat
Ralph picked out some real winners that totally suited what I do with Poprock Record making it easy to write them up for a post. Register your take on these choices by clicking on the band names to check out what they’re doing.
Big spending letter ‘P’ is today’s post sponsor bringing you a bevy of poptastic new material, all from artists and bands working the P side of the street. We’ve got a stripped down release from a reliable jangle-meister, rediscovered rarities and demos from a Teenage Fanclub diaspora group, a Wisconsin concept album, and so much more. Strap in, this will get poppy and rocky!
Papillshail from Växjö, Sweden, located about halfway between Copenhagen and Stockholm and apparently in the middle of nowhere musically. The band members complain their town is overpopulated with metalheads. Yet despite this Papills insist on offering up a relentlessly sunny, hooky sound on their new album Too Hot For May. The record really reminds of a host of poppy, harmony-drenched British groups like The Fronteers or even a rockier version of Stornaway. Blissful harmonies over ringing guitars is what you get with the singles-oriented “Too Hot for May” and “What To Call It.” Get your dancing shoes on for “Happy Fish,” which vibes just a bit of Oasis in the chorus. Then the band really gets a rock and roll workout going on “California Surfin’” and “Hit Me Blind.” But another side of Papills is a really sweet, swinging Everlys-sounding, acoustic guitar-driven sensibility on tracks like “All the Same” and “Overthought.” Papills may be too hot for May but they are just right for now.
As an album Almost Night is an amazing record of rock and roll reconnaissance and reclamation. The Palisadeswere a short-lived 1960s-meets-The Ramones outfit that rocked out the teenagers in the Beach Boys’ home town of Hawthorne California for two years around 1982-83. They never got their big break and they never laid down the perfect great lost album. So lead vocalist and co-songwriter Lear Schwarze decided to finally release the band’s rough 1980s era recordings along with some re-recordings of the material with a new back up band. It’s the kind of project that can go horribly wrong but Schwarze knew what he was doing. The new recordings faithfully re-animate the original songs in both spirit and style but with a much more professional sound. Having said that, I love the garage DIY sound of the originals. The 1980s version of “All Around the World” is so Plimsouls or early Alarm, “Nowhere to Unwind” has a solid Romantics buzz, while “Gone” and “Will Not Get Fooled” offer up super guitar hooks. Personally I think “Lonely Tonight” is the great lost hit single here. The new recordings are dynamite, particularly the new version of “All Around the World,” which is definitely chart-ready. The Palisades are a great lost band that have come back to life – enjoy their past and present on Almost Night.
I tend to love all things associated with Teenage Fanclub, especially all the impressive break-away projects from current and former members. Probably my favourite is the slight catalogue from Paul Quinn’s Primary 5. Just three albums released between 2004 and 2008 and that was it. I was late to the party, only first writing about them in 2018, so I wrote to Paul asking about the band, new material, or anything else he might be working on. He told me about a rarities project that would be coming out. Well, here it is, though Revive: Demos and Rarities, 2001-2008 appears to have been previously released, albeit only briefly. So 2020 might just represent its digital download return. No matter, fans of Primary 5 are going to want to add this to their collection. The alternative version of the majestic “What Am I Supposed To Do?” alone is worth the admission price. The stripped-down demos, some accompanied just by acoustic guitar, really showcase the strength of the songwriting. Unreleased tracks like the Beatlesque “The Beat Goes On” just confirm what we knew all along – there’s more fabulous Primary 5 material out there. If we can’t have a new Primary 5 album I’m sure fans will settle for what Revive has to offer … for now.
After blowing fans away with the band’s remarkable eighth album, Spread the Feeling, Pernice Brothers’ leader and creative force Joe Pernicedecided to dial things down in 2020 with Richard, a mostly acoustic album of lovely low key tunes. Turn down the lights, open the wine and let “Starry Clown” and “Sullivan Street” get you into a special ruminative mood. The trumpet that dots the background of the latter is particularly special. “Lonely People” is a bit more urgent but still muted. The song wouldn’t go amiss on some 1963 AM radio station, covered by Marty Robbins or Skeeter Davis. “If We Were Better Friends” is the kind of longing loser song that Nick Lowe has seemed to corner the market on lately. And I could go on. It’s great to see an artist stretching out, pushing beyond expectations but taking their audience with them. Just give “You Should Have Came”a listen to understand the power of Pernice’s songwriting and performance, like a stripped-down Jim Croce with uber cool whistling. Some versions of the album also contain two excellent bonus tracks, “Here Comes September” and “Spend This Mountain,” so keep an eye out for that one.
A concept album all about Theinsville, Wisconsin? Ok, I’ll give just about anything a spin. And man I’m glad I did because Nick Pipitone’s Theinsville is surely set to make countless ‘best of’ lists this year. The album opens with a great roll out on “Century Estates,” which sets the scene for what is to come, plenty of clever acerbic commentary on suburbia and hooks galore. Many of the songs have a Difford and Tilbrook kitchen sink quality, except when they offer up some Elvis Costello bite. Overall the style is very English early 1980s poprock, with a bit of Odds and Eels thrown in the mix. You can hear that distinctive Squeeze sound on tracks like “Heidel Road” and “John Henry” while “The Prime Minster” nails the psychedelic pop of the Beatles circa “Baby You’re a Rich Man.” I detect a more XTC vibe to “The Gathering” and “Fireman’s Park” with Steve Drake vocals (from Odds) on the latter. There are so many highlights on this record you can drop the needle just about anywhere and come up a winner: “Coffee Wars” is so Costello, “Village Scoop” is mid-period Odds, and so on. But really I’ve saved the best for last – “Hear Me Out, Theinsville” is a remarkable track, a bit of departure from the rest of the record but it still fits in, a bit orchestral and ornamental, with a drop dead subtle hook in the chorus. The song deserves to be the sleeper hit single of the summer! I guess I’m telling you, hustle to visit Theinsville. You won’t regret it.
Click the names above to check out the bands and where to get their digital offerings while physical copies of The Palisades and Nick Pipitone albums are available from Kool Kat records.
From somewhere back in the 1970s I recall a radio promotion that promised the winner a chance to rush through a record store with a shopping cart grabbing all they wanted within a specified time. Whatever you got to the cash register with before the time ran out was all yours absolutely free! I really really wanted to win that contest. Years later I stumbled across a limited edition album that was obviously a promo just sent to record store management to pitch the contest, extolling how it would be good for their business. Funny, but the guy pushing the cart on the cover kinda looked like Elvis Costello (not that EC would be caught dead wearing a runner’s headband).
In the spirit of the record rush, let’s hurry the introduction of some exciting August releases, starting with the uptempo tracks from Andrew Weiss and Friends’ new album, The Golden Age of Love and Chemistry. After four albums of alternative poprock with previous outfit High Fascination and now a second album with the Friends, Andrew Weiss is a practically a veteran of a sound he calls “power pop-icana,” melding hooks with that classic Americana country rock style. “All the News Fit to Print” and “This Might Hurt a Little” hit all the Tom Petty/Byds marks in a bright, breezy and melodic way. I was late add on the Silver Sun love train but once I got the schedule I hit all the stops. I thought “Jody”was poprock perfection! So imagine my delight to see the band back with new LP this month, Switzerland. The critics are oozing all over “Photograph” (and deservedly so) but my vote for a double A-sided single goes to the delightfully jumpy pop of “Over Me at All?” backed with the new wavey “Original Girl.” Let’s be clear, I’m not neutral about Switzerland. It’s a freakin’ great album, a triumphant return from a band I thought we’d lost for good.
Andrew Weiss and Friends – All the News Fit to PrintAndrew Weiss and Friends – This Might Hurt a LittleSilver Sun – Over Me At All?Silver Sun – Original Girl
Cleveland’s Herzoghave a new album on the way, Fiction Writer, and the title track sounds like a likeably harsher version of the Beatles’ more paperback variety, with a Sam Roberts kinda vibe particularly on the vocals. Definitely boding well for the full album release. Epic songwriter/producer Bleuhas largely denied us the brilliant solo career that could have been, hinted at in such solid albums as Redhead and Four. But the occasional single does emerge from time to time, like the magisterial “I Want to Write You a Symphony.” It’s fun and cinematic and eccentricly earwormy. If The Toms Tommy Marolda had only put out his one-man, 3 day recording session masterpiece The Toms back in 1979 it would have been more than enough. But he’s back with a new single and has lost none of the magic that made those early recordings so special. The double A side whammy that is “One Man Girl Parade” and “You Shoot Me Out of Your Cannon” are both teeming with glorious candy-coated double-tracked Beatlesque vocals, lovely melodic twists and turns, and great guitars. The songs expertly ride the line between sounding so classically retro but still fresh and contemporary. A new Toms album? Yes please.
Apparently record rush contestants would spend hours working out just how to manoeuvre around the store to get maximum vinyl-grabbing results. Today I’m just going let my fingers do the walking … online. Meanwhile you can rush to check out Andrew Weiss and Friends, Silver Sun, Herzog, Bleu and The Toms.
Here in the great white north the first August long weekend offers a national statutory holiday but cast in bespoke local themes. Each province does its own thing: British Columbia has ‘BC Day,’ Nova Scotia has ‘Natal Day’ and so on. So to aid this year’s party planning, we’re doing our celebration a little early with this Sunday singles jamboree! And I can clear some of the backlog of great songs in the queue …
Someone put me on to the countryfied poprock magic that is Portland’s Blitzen Trapper. I hastened to my local Mp3 seller and quickly downloaded a bunch of songs from all over their nine album catalogue, committed to writing something about them. Well, that didn’t happen (sorry guys!). But here we are with a new album soon to arrive so now I’m making up for lost time. “Masonic Temple Microdose #1” is the first single from their upcoming LP Holy Smokes Future Jokes and it’s a winning slice of melodic rock and roll in the best Eels or Brendan Benson style. Heading slightly north on the I5 will get us back to a band we have covered in times past, Tacoma’s poptastic Vanilla. This time they take their XTC influences in a decidedly fun country direction with “Easy,” duetting with special guest Jessica Van Horn. This sweet harmony treat is just one of a series of singles released by the group since the start of 2020 (so an album surely can’t be far off). Nashville’s Aaron Lee Tasjan has a new EP out, Found Songs Vol. 1, and it’s definitely up to his usual fantabulously high standards. I love how he can slip in the most innocent musical hook, like the high pitched keyboard hook in “Fake Tatoo,” and voila! – instant earworm affliction. The rest of the EP is pretty solid, with two touching acoustic-heavy tunes, “What a War” and “August is a Blessing.” Meanwhile back in LA, The Reflectors turn up the amps and blast the chords on an ode to early 1980s new wave with “Teenage Hearts.” You could easily party like it was 1979 with these dudes! The song begs to heard live with plenty of room for dancing.
Chatham, Kent’s Pete Molinari has long been cast in the Dylan/folkie milieu, both for his songwriting and vocal style. But his new record Just Like Achilles should blow up any easy generalization about what he is doing musically. Just check out the amazing “I’ll Take You There” with its hat tips to Buddy Holly, California’s 1960s sunshine pop, and the Mavericks. This is a mini masterpiece of a song, effortlessly combining so many dynamic catchy elements. Heading back to the USA, Rookie have that laid back feel so well worn by fellow Chicago-area bands like Twin Peaks, dubbed by some as ‘cosmic country.’ Personally, I hear a more popified The Band going on here. The self-titled debut is now out and it’s a delight, particularly the first single “Sunglasses,” which sounds like an updated 1970s classic FM radio staple. LA’s Theo Katzman is one smooth, smooth operator, with a vocal delivery that could rival Bruno Mars in combining soul and pop. His new album Modern Johnny Sings is a unique mix of acoustic pop and 1970s R&B influences, captured perfectly in the obvious single, “You Could Be President.” This track is a wonderfully executed bit of swing pop and soul jam, sometimes vibing Queen in their more acoustic moments. How is this song not a radio hit already? Malmo, Sweden is the home of a band named Mom and what’s not to like about their chugging blast of guitar and hook-filled choruses on their recent single “Tonight”? Again, 1979 springs to mind with the pop-glam guitar chords, neat keyboard riffs, and lighter-than-air vocal harmonies.
Pete Molinari “I’ll Take You There”
Let’s wrap up with a comeback story. Brooklyn’s The Rabies had a new wavey thing going on circa 1981-3 with a few singles, an EP, and appearances at the legendary CBGBs. But then life happened. Now, practically centuries later, they’re back with a new pair of tunes and it’s like they never left. Actually though, they’ve fattened up their sound in a tasty way, sounding Bob Mould Sugar-ish or even Smithereens-like vocally. “Adderall Girl” has a slight 1950s feel song-structure-wise but the execution is a crisp indie new millennium performance. B-side “You’re the Glue” has a wonderful thumping stomp to the guitar and drums that will get your head banging.
Imagine it’s a summer like any other. Sunshine, lotion, BBQ, and sweet sweet tunes on the portable stereo. There are songs just made for summer and today’s contributors are all vying for a place on your summer soundtrack.
Austin’s Nite Sobs alternate between a Jonathan Richman-led Weezer project (“Vowelerie”) and a reinvented Merseybeat sound (“I Need to Hear It”) on their debut longplayer Do the Sob! So if you’re looking for a bit of sock-hopping fun, minus all the drama and insecurity, then dial into this record. I mean, lyrically, there’s all the usual heartache, sometimes with a delightfully madcap delivery (“Aftermath”). But it’s hard to stay down with so much upbeat material on offer here. I love the updated beat group sound on tracks like “Saving You a Place” with its great synth shots. Or check out the sweet sweet harmonies carrying the album’s first single, “I Could Tell You.” You can clearly see the influences in the band’s spot on cover of the Lennon-McCartney cast off composition “I’ll Keep You Satisfied,” a 1960s hit for Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas. It’s all there packaged perfectly in the sign off should be single, “Victoria,” with its driving beat, jaunty guitar and punchy vocal delivery. This is a record packed with good vibrations.
Every now and then a band comes along that is smart, well-informed and seemingly able to knock out a cracking tune on any theme. Today that band is Glasgow’s Brontosaurus. The sort-of title track “(Theme from) These People” sets the tone for the album of proletarian poprock to follow, casting bitter lyrics about how “we don’t have dreams, we don’t have freedoms, we don’t have hopes, we don’t have reasons” against some sparkling and hooky guitar work. “Band of the Week” turns the camera back on the self-indulgence of the indie artist with their ‘box of CDs’ and ‘band of the week’ designation from ‘May 2014’ (with just a melodic hint of “Band on the Run” laced throughout the tune). “Blogger” cuts a bit close to home, singing about people who ‘write a blog no one reads about bands no one likes’ – ouch! The song is pretty brilliant though, cleverly quoting The Smiths (‘people see no worth in you but I do’) and deftly exposing the blogger/band racket: “‘we need each other, band and blogger …” With vocals that sound sometimes Morrissey-ish (if he actually cared about something) or Marc Almond (minus all the overwrought libidinous affectation), what comes through is a strong dose of sincerity, despite the send ups. Songs like “Contact Centre Advisor” manage both incisive social commentary lyrically (the job is experienced by the worker as ‘a filter for your rage on the minimum wage’) and catchy guitar solos. Other highlights for me include the Beautiful South-meets-Spook School “A Do-It-All Dad’s Denim Dream,” “Powerpop by Numbers” with its killer chorus, and “The Supergeek,” which explains everything you need to know about how to respond to online trolls (key lyrical insights: ‘there’s more to life’ and ‘he needs this more than you’). Not since Pulp’s “Common People” has a band so effortlessly captured our present working class malaise. ‘I am a binman for the council’ indeed!
You put together two phenomenal and prolific talents like Lisa Mychols and Super 8 and you’re pretty much guaranteed something pretty special. His lock on the late 1960s sunshine sound (from the Village Green to Haight Ashbury) combined with her unerring power pop chops makes their debut collaborative album a nonstop summer delight. “What Will Be” sets the groovy tone from the outset while “Trip and Ellie’s Music Factory” assures listeners a rollicking good time will be had by all. The laid back California sound is all over this record, in multiple registers. There’s the sophisticated Dionne Warwick, Bacharach & David smooth pop of “You & Me, Me & You” and “Honey Bee.” Or the San Francisco acoustic vibe behind “The Monkey Song,” “Your Summer Theme,” and their amazing cover of Kenny Rankin’s “Peaceful” (which owes more to his original than Helen Reddy’s cover). But there are departures, like the great Rolling Stones homage “Time Bomb,” the mournful, serious “Flying Close to the Sun,” and the Sgt. Pepper-esque psych pop feel to “The Arms of Water.” Recognizing all these highlights, I think my fave track is the exquisite “Laguna Nights to Remember” with its amazing vocal from Lisa, which reminds me of work from Juliana Hatfield and Liz Phair. Believe me, you’re going to want to add this Lisa Mychols and Super 8 record to you ‘don’t forget’ beach list, right after the sun screen and disguised bottles of Bud Light.
Ok, I’ll admit what caught my eye about The August Teens was their new album cover and its title, I’m Selfish and So is My Cat. But what caught my ear was the band’s straight-ahead 1980s FM radio sound – equal parts early 1980s new wave, with echoes of the BoDeans and the Eels as well. Goofy album title notwithstanding, this is a no nonsense rock and roll outfit. Exhibit A: “You’re Not Like Me Baby” – a track that Pat Benatar would surely give her eye teeth for. The album opens with a foot on the accelerator with guitars blasting through “This Time,” a song sweetened in the chorus with some dynamite harmonies. “Oh Emily” kicks off like an early Who outtake before easing into a more easy-going jangle-laden melody. “Backup Man” then shifts things into a more country gear. And so on. So many classic-1980s sounding songs: a bit of Tom Petty (“Be Still, My Rock and Roll Heart”), a touch of Springsteen (“You’re Going to Lose Me”), and smokin’ hot dance number (“I’m in Love with Rock and Roll”). And then there’s the obvious single, “Crestfallen,” a brilliant hooky number that barrels along with some nice change ups. You know what, forget the jokey album cover for a minute. This is a seriously high quality piece of poprock goodness. It deserves your full listening attention.
Canadian content or ‘Cancon’ rules place a quota on radio programming in Canada requiring that a certain percentage of the music played must be from Canadian artists. While decried by market libertarians, there’s a reason the Canadian music scene exploded in the 1970s – the rule worked. Before its introduction, worthy Canadian acts could not get onto playlists, crowded out by high profile American and British artists. For Canadians, success in Canada would only follow making it in the United States, a path successfully taken by group like the Guess Who but few others. But from the 1970s on, thanks to Cancon, a host of homegrown acts could make a living just being stars in Canada. This Canada Day (yes, international audience, today is Canada’s national holiday), let’s focus on just two great Canadian acts made possible (at least in part) by the legacy of Cancon.
Welland, Ontario’s Daniel Romano is an irrepressible musical force, unrestrained by genre boundaries or conventional marketing strategies. Country, metal, new wave, prog rock – different musical styles are just a blank canvas for Romano to work out his songwriting and performance magic. Seriously, is there anything this guy can’t do? I got turned on to his talent with his killer swinging single, “When I Learned Your Name” from 2017’s Modern Pressure. I just had to keep hitting replay. Then his 2018 double album drop of Nerveless and Human Touch turned my head. Man, I thought, can he crank out the songs. Well 2020 has seen Romano surpass even his previous over-achieving bar, releasing seven albums so far! And with no compromise on quality. I’m going to highlight tracks from just a few of them but, really, you won’t go wrong with anything stamped Daniel Romano.
From Visions of the Higher Dream I’m digging “Where I Take My Rest” which has a nice, almost brittle 1979 sort of sound, with a great punchy change-up in the chorus. Super Pollen has a winning title track, a great barreling-forward poprock song, carried on a bed of blistering but still melodic electric guitars. But perhaps the most adventurous mix comes on Dandelion, a more mellow rock and roll rumination with touches of country and super smooth background vocals. There something so Canadian about this recording, with hints of the more radio-friendly Bruce Cockburn here and there guitar-wise. Check out the distinctive horn shots on the hit single hooky “If You Don’t or If You Do,” or the catchy rhythm acoustic guitar guiding “Silent Spring,” or the new wave keyboard on “Ain’t That Enough for You.”
Toronto’s Girlongirl describe themselves as “jangle pop smothered in grunge” and that is confirmed with “Take,” the opening track of their most recent album. I like it, but the band really get down to business in my view with track 2, the obvious single “Girls,” throwing out an irresistible guitar hook to anchor the song. This is a band with a tight, distinctive sound, typified by the dreamy rumble guitar behind “Nen” and “Burn Me” and strong vocals. Another should-be hit single is “Marathon” which alternates between ethereal jangle and grunge guitar, making the shift on the transition from verses and chorus. You can tell from the performances here that Girlongirl would be a kick ass live band. Someday we’ll get to find out …
We’re not the flag-waving, love-it-or-leave-it types up here in the great white north. Canada Day often passes with little more than a BBQ and some cranking of the backyard tunes. This time, add Daniel Romano and Girlongirl to your Cancon-inspired holiday playlist. Cancon or no, they’re most deserving.
I seem to recall Canadian poprock iconoclast Gregory Pepper saying something about two minute songs. For him, anything more was surplus to requirements. But stitching together a meaningful short song is harder than it looks. Fools tend to rush in to verses and a chorus and run out of song before they know it. Today we feature two masters of the exquisitely short song, Stephen Merritt’s Magnetic Fields and Philadelphia indie pop combo 2nd Grade.
Like many people, I fell in love with Merritt’s work after just a few listens of 1999’s sprawling, three CD set, 69 Love Songs. The humour, the pathos and, most importantly, the hooks kept me hitting replay again and again. Since then he’s gone in a number of directions with his work (e.g. the rockier Distortion) but regularly delivers solid songwriting, often in abundance. Case in point, his recent 50 Song Memoir witnessed Merritt handling all the vocals on a project that documented each of his 50 years with a separate tune. Now MF are back with a brand new album and Quickies sees Merritt re-assembling the full band, complete with his usual collection of vocalists. The songs are short, definitely sharp and often shocking. I mean, only Merritt could craft a catchy number about “The Biggest Tits in History” or “The Day the Politicians Died” but both tracks really work, with smart lyrics and eminently hummable tunes. A song about bathroom sex? Got that covered on “Bathroom Quickie.” Merritt’s songwriting sometimes comes off like a stream of consciousness riff on his lifetime encounter with popular culture, like on “Kraftwerk in a Blackout.” And nothing is sacred, as is clear on “I’ve Got a Date with Jesus” and “You’ve Got a Friend in Beelzebub.” With 28 songs, I can’t go into everything on this record but like a deluxe box of Quality Street chocolates, there’s plenty to like here and a lot to savor. If you’ve liked past Magnetic Field efforts, you won’t be disappointed.
2nd Grade offer up what we might call a ‘two-four’ of songs here in Canada on their latest long player, Hit to Hit: 24 tracks, most clocking in at 2 minutes or less. As a songwriting strategy, it really works here. The material is snappy, fresh, vibing a bit of Apples in Stereo or recent Mo Troper. Ranging over the selections, the band are lyrically playful on songs like “Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider” and “When You Were My Sharona,” punk things up “W2” and “Trigger Finger,” or just offer up straight ahead poprock on “Shooting From the Hip” (with a touch of mid-period Fleetwood Mac here) and “Sunkist.” Tempo shifts include more low key folkie material like “Something I’ll Have to Remember” or the nicely Elliott Smith-paced “Maybe I.” My personal faves are probably the mildly urgent “Over and Over” and the seasonal smash, should be hit “Summer of Your Dreams.” But hey, with so many choices why settle on a strict ranking just yet? I’d recommend hitting random play and see what moves you. There’s a lot of serious goodness here to discover.
Short songs, long albums – variety! That’s what you’ll be getting with these offerings. It’s a nice twist on the usual thing. So check out Magnetic Fields and 2nd Grade’s latest magnum opi, live with them a bit, and see if you don’t just want to listen to them a bit more.