Shane Tutmarc has spent more than two decades releasing records with bands like Dolour, Solar Twin, Shane Tutmarc and the Traveling Mercies, and as a solo artist. So there’s a lot of material to potentially focus on. Here I’ll shine some light on a track from his criminally overlooked 2014 release Borrowed Trouble, an album he describes as leaning on a Memphis soul style. The record is a perfect distillation of his Seattle-meets-Nashville sound with highlights like the McCartney-esque “Can I Count on You?” and the punchy horns of “Fair Warning.” But my fave track on the album is the lurching, organ drenched “Goodbye Love.” Let this one sink in. It starts off inauspiciously, with nice acoustic guitar, organ and your basic slow, scotch-addled vocal. But then chorus sneaks up and hooks you like the best 1970-74 era Lennon single. And each time it comes around that chorus exerts just a bit more magnetic melodic pull. It’s a sound that vibes a bit of Wilco, the Replacements, and Nick Lowe in his more recent ‘mature’ phase, particularly the fabulous organ work.
“Goodbye Love” is also featured on a brand new collection, a ‘should have been greatest hits’ album of sorts entitled Written and Produced by Shane Tutmarc. The record features work from across the breadth of his long career and from all his different musical vehicles. So many great songs here! Personally, I can’t get enough of the uplifting, anthemic “Brave New World.” Think of this record as a perfect Tutmarc starter pack.
I love finding a record by a new artist and then discovering there’s a whole back-catalogue world yet to explore. Get into Shane Tutmarc’s musical orbit at his website and bandcamp. Or you can order physical copies of his efforts from Kook Kat Musik.
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.
It’s almost like somewhere a gargantuan holiday music factory is just pumping them out, songs that are largely indistinguishable from the regular commercial fare but for their obligatory invocation of Santa, mistletoe, and snow. But buried amongst the dreck are always some well crafted seasonal tunes, if you’re paying attention. Over the past year I’ve set aside any good holiday material I’ve run across for this very special Hooks for the Holidays blog entry.
Let’s begin with that classy poprock elder statesman, Nick Lowe. Considering he once eschewed the idea of recording a Christmas album as ‘vulgar, tawdry commercialism,’ his finished product is pretty impressive. Quality Street squeezes subtle hooks out of clever covers and new material. Though Lowe was once the quintessentially mercurial poprock artist, he has honed a more laid back, almost jazzy crooner sound over his last few albums. Quality Street continues in this vein. Check out the instrumental backdrop to Boudleaux Bryant’s classic, “Christmas Can’t Be Far Away” – arranged to perfection like expert miniature painting. Other highlights include Ron Sexmsith’s “Hooves on the Roof” and Lowe’s co-written composition with Ry Cooder, “Dollar Short of Happy” (the lyrics on the latter are hilarious). A lot of critics like Lowe’s sardonic “Christmas at the Airport” but my faves would have to be the raucous reworking of the traditional “Rise Up Shepherd” and Lowe’s own quietly moving “I was Born in Bethlehem.”
Rise Up ShepherdI Was Born in Bethlehem
Cheeky is a not uncommon approach to holiday music, meant to deflate a bit of the earnestness surrounding the whole ‘birth of a saviour’ thing. And no one flouts overweening sincerity like Jonathan Coulton. His “Chiron Beta Prime” is the perfect antidote to treacly sentiment, documenting the poor Anderson family’s travails on a robot mining asteroid. Robot overlords, soylent green pies, and redacted holiday messages: what could be more perfect this year? On the other hand, we’ve got earnest covered too. Canadian David Myles is just sooo nice, every mother’s dream date for their respective boy or girl. “Santa Never Brings Me a Banjo” is lovely tale of disappointed expectations. Actually, Myles has a whole album of Christmas tunes that is pretty solid. Check out the wonderful bouncy lead guitar line and jazz vocals on “Sleigh Ride” or the exuberant fun of “It Snowed Last Night.”Chiron Beta Prime
For something a bit different, Franco-American indie hipsters Freedom Fry have a fun rollicking tale with “Oh Santa (Bad World).” Seems the naughty list has gotten a bit too long and Santa is calling it all off this year. Forget that empty parental threat to cancel Christmas, this is much bigger – and the live version here sounds just like the recording! English band Farrah do a nice Paul McCartney re-invention on their 2008 release “Santa Don’t Go.” Now I’m having a wonderful holiday time. On the poppier side of poprock, two great singles: Allie Moss’ wistful “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and Schuyler Fisk’s upbeat and cheery “More Than I Wished For,” which bears the distinctive stamp of Tim Myers’ collaboration.Santa Don’t GoMore Than I Wished For
We began the year with Quiet Company, an amazing band from Texas, so it seems only fitting to fit a few selections from their terrific 2012 seasonal EP, Winter is Coming in here. This band loves the holiday, as evident from the series of house concerts they are doing throughout their home state this month. Here you can see they excel at both commercial and traditional Christmas fare, delivering fantastic versions of both “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “Angels We Have Heard on High.”
Imagine the Tardis landed and dumped out this guy direct from 1976. It would not be a stretch for a Dr. Who plotline or from what appears on Dan Rico’s debut solo album Endless Love. The record channels an early DIY punk esthetic through that 1970s mash-up of 1950s nostalgia, breathy emotive R&B male vocals (that Prince would use to great effect in the 1980s), and crunchy rock and roll guitars. Having said that, what marks the record is the coherency of its sound, even as it showcases multiple styles in songwriting and production. That’s saying something as Rico has produced a lot of recorded material with other bands that is great fun but lacks this album’s poise and restraint, qualities that allow the strength of his material and performance to really come to the fore.
“Soft Feeling” kicks things off with a lead line that reminded me of the languid confidence of Chris Staples’ recent work. The song has a rollicking carnivalesque sound I associate with early 1960s poprock: a bit fuzzed out, like you’re hearing it over a midway sound system on a hot summer night, but hooky and with enough swing to get inside your head. Title track “Endless Love” has almost punky rhythm guitars that sound like they are being held back by the Nick Gilder-like vocals. “Kinda Wanna” and “Wasted Youth” have that straight up late 1970s rock and roll sound that was influenced by punk to strip away all unnecessary pretense. “Cold Cold Heart” swings back to the early seventies and vocal style reminiscent of John Oates’ best work.
Here we can see the creative tension at work on the record, as the material straddles the shift in 1970s sounds from 1950s revival influences apparent in “On a Tear” (the song structure is so 1950s, with great trebly guitar) to the emerging new wave sound of the late 1970s on tracks like “Casual Feeling.” But far and away my favourite track (other than the delightful “Soft Feeling”) is “Dangerous.” From the wonderful organ opener with its perfectly arranged juxtaposition of sounds, the rest of the song is an R&B-ish rock and roll grind at its best. One could easily hear the Rolling Stones doing this one.
Rico’s Endless Love is an old fashioned album, you put it on and get busy doing whatever while the songs grow on you. And there’s more where this came from, with numerous demo and alternative versions featured on Rico’s Soundcloud page. Check out the album on Bandcamp and Rico’s Facebook for career updates. I’m excited to see where he goes with future recordings.
Today’s turn around the dial is all about contrasts, music that combines discordant elements but in way that resolves the tension via a great hook. Whether channeling experimental rock or 1950s song structure or a revived beach fun ethos or dreamy vocal harmonies, its all about melody.
Let’s begin in Eau Claire, Wisconsin where Whale House are a band of many colours: proudly experimental on a number of tracks, languidly acoustic-strummy on others, and straight out rockers when the amp gets knocked up to eleven. It’s all there in their latest trio of songs, with “Red Sun” and “Think of Me” covering the experimental rock and “Freeway” focusing on melody. I love the cover shot for the latest single with its space cruiser speeding into some crossword time-space anomaly! Songwise, the obvious single to me is “Freeway.” The song kicks off with a super nice trippy guitar line that threads it way through the song, brought into contrast by a chorus that brings on a stronger attack from both guitars and piano, and vocals that have a nice, ever-so-slightly punky quality, hinting at alienation yet curiously endearing at the same time. Warning: repeated listening will imprint the guitar line on your brain like the Apple home screen on your TV (in this case, not a bad thing). Previous releases from Whale House are also worth exploring. Check out their 2013 single “Stand Out” or “Smoke Signals” and “Dark Rituals” from their 2014 EP The Negative Space (the latter track sounds like a spot on 1980s FM radio staple).
Rockford, Illinois is the home base of Pink Beam, a band whose new album, Big Vacation, is a strong debut that fires all over the poprock map. “Sleep When You Are Dead” evokes the Beatles’ Abbey Road, particularly “Because,” but that’s just a teaser as the song develops its own unique direction. “Floozy” is a great rollicking rock and roll romp while “Michael” has a 1970s soft rock vibe reminiscent of some early Chicago (not the ballads and minus the horns). But the tour de force is the wonderfully weird “Jamie,” a story song about regret, though perhaps never told quite this way before. Its distinctive sound – think early 1960s tragedy ballad run through the 1970s fifties revival – effortlessly shifts between a sweet poprock melody and a great discordant vocal counterpoint. Pink Beam are onto something original here.
Then there is something so 1978 about “Silly Teenage Love” from Tommy and the Rockets, a one-off musical project comprised of Danish poprock songwriter Thomas Stubgaard and three members of the New Trocaderos. The song kicks off with the tight guitar and compressed vocal sound so perfected by Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds in their legendary Rockpile band. Sure the record exudes that beachy 1960s sound too but it’s the distinctive 1970s poprock drive that gives it the oomph. “Silly Teenage Love” is included on the album Beer and Fun and Rock and Roll, which pretty much sums the whole point of the exercise: a celebration of sunny summer beaches and the libations that make them rock.
A wonderful blend of vocals marks The Kickstand Band’s new EP, Summer Dream. Comparisons to indie darlings Jake and Eliza immediately come to mind. As with them, this duo’s musical debts are a curious mixture of past and present: early sixties Brill Building pop, 1950s vocal harmony, late 1970s and early 1980s poprock a la Dwight Twilley or Marshall Crenshaw. “Stay Inside” charges out of the gate and shifts deftly between three different interesting and distinctive vocal motifs, including close harmonies and swooping background oohs and aahs with a catchy set of hooks. “Fall Back” sounds like those early 1960s sincere girl ballads but switches it up into the chorus to a late 1960s California pop harmony sound. Title track “Summer Dream” kicks off with a whole load of reverb-drenched vintage guitar before dropping out for a eerily quiet verse that gives way to a blast of hooky chorus. EP number three is the charm for this duo. Previous releases certainly have highlights but Summer Dream is where the songs and their sound really comes together.
This blog will feature music that broadly falls under the rubric of poprock. On occasion it will feature something else. There will be boundary issues. No one can ever really decisively define a genre. It’s a conversation, an exploration, and a personal demarcation of where one’s tastes lie. Think of this blog then as a clearing house for what I consider to be poprock. I want to do this because there is just so much great music being released right now that could be considered poprock but it can be a bit hard to find. So if poprock, broadly defined, is your thing, there should be plenty appearing here to interest you.