‘Today, I’m five!’ A Poprock Record retrospective

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Fire Town – She Reminds Me of You
Soul Engines – Just Another Day
The Sighs – Make You Cry
Eugene Edwards – Congratulations My Darling

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.

Edward O’Connell – The End of the Line
Jeremy Messersmith – Fast Times in Minnesota

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.”

David James Situation – I Should Know
The Format – Wait Wait Wait

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.

The On and Ons – Before Our Eyes
The Young Veins – Cape Town

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.

Jenny and Johnny – Scissor Runner
The Secret Sisters – Black and Blue
The Carousels – Call Along the Coast

Gerry Cinnamon – What Have You Done

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.

Tally Hall – Sacred Beast
Overlord – The Song That Saved the World

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!

Screen Test – Notes from Trevor
Billy Sullivan – Everywhere I Go

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.

Family of the Year – Make You Mine

Ex Cops – James

Sitcom Neighbor – Tourist Attraction
The Primary 5 – Mailman
Daisy – I Just Don’t Believe It

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.

Around the dial: The Memories, Honeywagon, Sunshine Boys, Open Sound, and Tom Curless and the 46%

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

I get to everything … eventually. Like this crew of great acts. They’ve been in the queue for a while and now here they are, ready for our poprock primetime.

The Memories hang out in L.A. now but they’re originally from Portland and that makes a lot of sense. There is something very Portland about their new record Pickles and Pies given its variety and indie unpredictability. The vibe reminds me a bit of Grouplove with its loose, almost hippie interplay amongst vocalists and players, particularly on tracks like “Waves From the Shore” and “Last Chance to Dance.” The band also have an old school 1960s dreamy pop thing going on with songs like “In My Heart I’m Sailing,” “Kissing Candy,” and “Under the Sea.” Rock it up? Sure. The album kicks off with a smoking cool cover of R. Stevie Moore’s “Too Old To Fall in Love” complete with both crunchy and eerie guitar sounds. But the hit single money shot here is undoubtedly the slightly swinging “Second Try” with its subtle hooks and captivating harmonies. And that’s just six of the 13 tracks here. Pickles and Pies has a lot more surprises from a band that clearly won’t stylistically sit still.

Halfdog is the fifth album from Honeywagon and it is one smooth, melodious piece of work. The poprock craft on this record is phenomenal, from the rollicking Brydsian jangle of “Anywhere the Wind Blows” to the straight up Paul Collins Beat-like hooks driving “On the Beach.”  These guys make the guitars sing on tracks like “All That Matters” and “All the Little Things” but effectively slow things down with some very Beatles guitar on “Maybe Maybe Not.” Then there’s a more Tom Petty feel to the single-worthy “For Love” and “Halfdog About a Dog.” You won’t be half listening to Halfdog, songs this good are going to grab your full attention.

I first came across Chicago’s Sunshine Boys with their earwormy seasonal offering “I Love Christmastime” so I was primed to like the band’s latest record, Work and Love. And there’s a lot to like here. Like the obvious single, the R.E.M. vibing “Infinity Girl” with its hypnotic guitar work and spot on Stipe delivery. But the inspiration runs in a number of directions. I hear a lot of Marshall Crenshaw on tracks like “The World Turning Around” and “Summertime Kids.” Or a hint of XTC around “I Was Already Gone.” I love the darker melody line carrying “The Serpent in Spring” along or the hook that anchors “Don’t Keep It Inside” on a seemingly constant loop. And then there’s the light, airy “A Ghost, At Best” with its surprising twists and turns.

Fernando Perdomo must be the hardest working man in indie music production. He seems to have a hand in a host of other people’s projects – writing, producing, performing – and he still manages to find time for his own creative work. Open Sound is just the latest, a two man effort with Justin Paul Sanders. What jumps out at you immediately from their self-titled debut is the striking sonic impact of their harmony vocals. From the opening measure of “You’re So Fine” you know you’re in for something special. There’s a bit of ELO here, fed through a southern California pop filter. “I Wanna Look in Your Eyes” has everything that was great about mid-to-late 1970s poppy rock: melodic hooks, tasty guitar solos, and lighter than air harmony vocals. This could be April Wine circa 1975 if I didn’t know better. I love how “Reason to Write” kicks off with hooky lead guitar line and barrels along with a 1970s McCartney-esque drive. There’s a touch of yacht rock on Open Sound, evident on tracks like “She’s On Her Way” and “Thinking of You.” There’s also some lovely acoustic guitar-based tunes like “Gotta Run,” “California Moon” and “Broadway.” But I’m a bit more partial to the duo’s uptempo numbers, like their great remake of Perdomo’s “I Want a Girl with a Record Collection” and “It’s Only You.” Is there nothing this Perdomo guy can’t do?

The robot gracing the cover of the new Tom Curless and the 46% record made me smile. He definitely does not look like he’s ready for the future. Not at all, never mind almost. But Almost Ready for the Future is certainly ready to start amassing serious fandom. “Always in Between” blasts out of the box, setting the tone for the new-wavey rock and roll record to come. “House on Fire” is a particular highlight on this album, with its alluring roll out guitar work and a distinctive keyboard fill I haven’t heard since Adam Daniel’s “Breaking Up.” But the price of admission is paid in full with “Just Wanna Talk,” a should-be hit single if ever there was one. The build-up to the chorus creates just the right amount of anticipatory tension, the pre-chorus holds things back, and then, wham, AM radio chorus gold! You could stop here, but I wouldn’t. Almost Ready for the Future has highlights all over the disk. Personally, I like the midtempo rock and roll feel of “Middle Ground” and “Unexpected Knock” as well as slower cuts like the mellow “Miles to Go” and touching “Burn and Shine.” As no-one knows what the future may bring you might as well hum your way into oblivion, if that’s just around the corner. Rest assured, Tom Curless and 46% can help you with that.

Just twisting your radio dial will probably not bring these artist to you, sadly. But click on The Memories, Honeywagon, Sunshine Boys, Open Sound, and Tom Curless and the 46% for a direct link to their great tunes.

Another fabulous banner photo courtesy Larry Gordon.

Now this from Ralph

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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 Foxton had 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.

Banner photo courtesy Larry Gordon.

They still got the beat: The Go Go’s “Club Zero”

Tags

, ,

I was defenseless in the face of “Our Lips Are Sealed” and “We Got the Beat” back in 1981. It was grade 11 and it didn’t get any better for all-night dancing tune-age. I connected with the sheer joy of it all. Only later would I understand how important it was to have all female band, writing and playing their songs, zooming up the charts. But at the time the fact was that the Go Go’s were as good as poprock could get, regardless of gender. After Beauty and the Beat, “Vacation,” “Head Over Heels” and “Turn To You” would later send me back to the record store, again and again. But then, poof, they were gone.

Well now the Go Go’s are back in more ways than one. Fans can check out the career-spanning documentary The Go Go’s that tracks their career from LA punks, to touring the UK with The Specials and Madness, to their breakthrough and dissolution in the US from 1981 to 1985. For those of us who lived through it, the doc is an emotional journey that tracks the highs and lows that faced women in the business that was rock and roll at that time.

But that’s not all. They’ve got a brand new single and “Club Zero” is proof the band has lost none of the magic that made them such big stars in the early 1980s. Check it out and see if you don’t agree that the Go Go’s sound is timeless.

You won’t have any trouble finding The Go Go’s website, Facebook or many fan sites. And see them in person if you can, they are a kick ass live rock and roll outfit.

Staying home with Will Courtney and the Wild Bunch

Tags

, , , , , ,

Screen Shot 2020-08-19 at 4.50.13 PM

Let me say it at the outset, Will Courtney is a major talent. Sure, his new EP At Home with Will Courtney and the Wild Bunch showcases his band’s ability to make other people’s great songs even better. It is a highly listenable treat. But when you get your hands on his back catalogue it’s going to blow your mind. In a good way. Let’s dwell a bit on the new for a moment. The just released EP sees Courtney and company covering everything from new wave to pub rock to urban blues to west coast country rock without missing a beat. Nick Lowe’s “Cracking Up” is not an easy track to cover but Courtney owns it. His remake of Warren Zevon’s “Splendid Isolation” has a lovely sprawling quality, reminding me a bit of Ben Kweller. And the choice of Neil Young’s Byrdsian “Days That Used to Be” was inspired, in perfect synch with this band’s mojo. If you dig these styles you’re going to be very happy with this EP.

Screen Shot 2020-08-19 at 4.48.04 PM

But there is lot more to Will Courtney. Going back to his early band Brothers and Sisters you’ve got two albums of solid poprock. The 2006 self-titled debut leans on distinctive organ work and an almost-Apples in Stereo cheery vibe with poppy tracks like “Lost and Found.” Two years later Fortunately broadened the 1960s sound, with a Bryds-like jangle all over “The Air is Getting Thicker” and some Turtles ‘ba ba ba’-ing on “Wash Away.” In 2013 Courtney’s first solo record A Century Behind offered up a stripped-down but sophisticated country-ish feel. “I’d Have to be Crazy” reminds me of Aaron Lee Tasjan for Courtney’s ability to deliver such a tender vocal. 2016’s Planning Escapes mixes things up, combining low key ballads with a few more up-tempo pieces. “The Days When Bands Could Make You Cry” is a timeless piece of poprock, vibing late 1970s new wave or just a host of contemporary releases. You hear “I Got Your Back” and the Tom Petty comparisons start to make sense. The album’s single “The Pain (Song for Dennis Wilson)” brings on a serious Elliot Smith vibe.Brothers and Sisters – Lost and FoundBrothers and Sisters – The Air is Getting Thicker

Screen Shot 2020-08-19 at 4.49.00 PM

What was working in Courtney’s previous releases coalesces into a magnum opus with 2018’s Crazy Love. From the opening chords of “Too High Now” there’s a palpable sense that something crazy good is about to happen. The song sounds like an instant classic. “Loaded” keeps the party going, vibing a solid CCR rock and roll boogie. “Crazy” is the obvious hit single, from the seductive opening guitar lines to the more subtle changes and hooks throughout the song. “Look At All The Things” is another classic with shades of late Beatles in the chorus. You can really hear the Tom Petty inspiration on tracks like “Take You Away” and “Finally.” And there’s a few surprises, like the Nick Lowe-meets-Mark Everett (of Eels in his solo ‘E’ guise) feel to “Partner in Time.” Really, you can slip Courtney right into your collection next to the Jayhawks, Tom Petty, Elliott Smith and, as I suggest, Aaron Lee Tasjan. He’ll fit right in.

August is turning out to be all about Will Courtney for me. It could be for you too. Check out Courtney at his website or bandcamp site.

Brought to you by the letter P: Papills, The Palisades, Primary 5, Joe Pernice, and Nick Pipitone

Tags

, , , , , , , , , ,

Screen Shot 2020-08-12 at 5.53.07 PMBig 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!

Screen Shot 2020-08-12 at 5.56.07 PMPapills hail 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.

Screen Shot 2020-08-12 at 5.57.02 PMAs an album Almost Night is an amazing record of rock and roll reconnaissance and reclamation. The Palisades were 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.

Screen Shot 2020-08-12 at 5.58.58 PMI 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.

Screen Shot 2020-08-12 at 5.59.41 PMAfter blowing fans away with the band’s remarkable eighth album, Spread the Feeling, Pernice Brothers’ leader and creative force Joe Pernice decided 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.

Screen Shot 2020-08-12 at 6.00.41 PMA concept album all about Theinsville, Wisconsin? Ok, I’ll give just about anything a spin. And man I’m glad I did because Nick Pipitones 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.

August record rush: Andrew Weiss and Friends, Silver Sun, Herzog, Bleu and The Toms

Tags

, , , , , , ,

Screen Shot 2020-08-05 at 2.47.10 PMFrom 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 Herzog have 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 Bleu has 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.

Difford versus Tilbrook

Tags

, ,

Screen Shot 2020-08-01 at 2.41.54 PMSurely there must be a bit of friendly rivalry amongst all great songwriting teams? We know Lennon and McCartney kept each other sharp throughout the 1960s with their competitive, constantly outward-reaching creativity. But the dynamic within a host of other teams is much less clear. Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook are the much-lauded songwriters responsible for 15 albums of original material with Squeeze. Do they have a sense of competition in their writing? In our Finn versus Finn post we assessed Neil and Tim’s various separate and combined contributions to Split Enz, Crowded House and the Brothers Finn records, as well as their solo material. But it’s not possible to divide Difford and Tilbrook the same way. Unlike say Partridge and Moulding who wrote their XTC contributions solo, or even Lennon and McCartney who really only wrote as a duo on the first few Beatles albums, Difford and Tilbrook have always written their songs together, though not in the same room. As they’ve recounted in many interviews, Difford would typically deliver a sheaf of scribbled pages to Tilbrook who would then work out the music. Thus if we want to assess these songwriting partners separately we’ll have to forgo their Squeeze catalogue and rely on their solo work. Luckily we’ve got roughly four albums apiece, with each kicking off a solo career when Squeeze downed tools (for the second time) in 1999. Let the game begin!

Screen Shot 2020-08-01 at 2.47.01 PMI must say at the outset that I was a bit worried about Chris Difford’s ability to compete here. Let’s face it, it’s the tunes people hum in the shower. The lyrics? Well I don’t think anyone just recites them as poetry. As the guy on the lyrical side of Squeeze’s songwriting, a lot would ride on whether he could drum up melodies as catchy and memorable as those we’ve become accustomed to from Glenn Tilbrook. Well, I’m happy to report that Difford rallied some clever tunesmiths to his cause. He even handles both music and lyrics on his 2003 debut I Didn’t Get Where I Am, which builds on the jazzy and country pop elements apparent on the 1984 Difford and Tilbrook non-Squeeze album with tracks like “Tightrope” and “Playing with Electric Trains.” By 2008 The Last Temptation of Chris put the sound back on more Squeeze-ish poprock footing. This time songwriting with former Bible frontman Boo Hewerdine, the familiar kitchen sink themes are here on “Broken Family,” “On My Own I’m Never Bored” and “Fat as a Fiddle.” By 2011 Difford is vibing glam pretty seriously on “1975” from the cleverly titled Cashmere If You Can. Personally, I love the rollicking feel of “Back in the Day” on this record and Penguin Books-inspired album artwork. 2018’s Pants goes all music hall, a bit reminiscent of the Cool for Cats sound on songs like “Round the Houses” and “Vauxhall Diva.”

Vauxhall Diva

Screen Shot 2020-08-01 at 2.45.29 PMTilbrook got the solo games going first with his 2001 album The Incomplete Glenn Tilbrook and it’s arguably the most Squeeze-like release from the duo working separately. With songwriting contributions from the likes of Aimee Mann and Ron Sexsmith perhaps that’s not surprising (though 9 of the 15 cuts are solo Tilbrook numbers). The Mann/Tilbrook cut “Observatory” is a killer, definitely hit single material. Though I’m also partial to “Parallel World,” “Morning,” and “I Won’t See You.” Three years later 2004’s Transatlantic Ping Pong kept the Squeeze vibe alive on hooky numbers like “Untouchable” and “Neptune,” adding some Nashville comedy on “Genitalia of the Fool” and a catchy instrumental with “One for the Road.” The 2008 Binga Bong EP and 2009 Pandemonium Ensued are credited to Glenn Tilbrook and the Fluffers but they don’t shift from the solo formula too much as evident on cuts like “Once Upon a Long Ago” and “Relentless Pursuit.” Tilbrook’s last solo album is 2014’s spectacular Happy Endings. The songwriting is strong and the delivery is charming, strongly acoustic with lovely vocal flourishes on the catchy should-be singles “Everybody Sometimes” and “Peter.” The artwork is pretty cool too.

If pushed I’d have to say I favour Tilbrook over Difford in this going-solo songwriting competition, but only by a hair! Difford impressed and surprised with me his willingness to go off-Squeeze-script on his first solo album as well as deliver dynamic singles like “1975.” Not surprisingly, Tilbrook has a load of could-be hit singles here, particularly on his first and last solo albums. Of course, as always, there’s no need to choose. I think I speak for all Squeeze fans when I say, we all ultimately prefer to see the lads writing together, a faith definitely rewarded with the two most recent Squeeze albums, 2015’s Cradle to Grave and 2017’s The Knowledge.

Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford both have internet portals to visit and you can keep up with Squeeze here.

Going “Green” (again) with Bull

Tags

,

Screen Shot 2020-07-30 at 5.38.51 PMYork UK’s Bull are back with a revitalized version of “Green,” a song featured prominently on their self-released 2014 long-player She Looks Like Kim, and it is definitely worth a second listen. The original was certainly delightful, the guitar and vocals were a bit more up front in the mix, and the whole thing had a solid indie feel. But the new version smooths some of the rougher edges, turning the Turtles-esque background vocals way up and tweaking the jangly poprock hooks. The release is part of the band’s new major label deal with EMI so I imagine an album of new material can’t be far away. What direction it will take is anyone’s guess. The 2014 album was a bit punky and loose but this “Green” remake suggests something tighter and hookier might be on the horizon.

You can keep tabs on Bull’s Facebook page for the latest album and single news.

Sunday singles jamboree

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Screen Shot 2020-07-26 at 2.38.02 PMHere 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.

Once was the time when you could put a nickel in the slot to enjoy your fave tune. Inflation happens. But prices are still pretty reasonable on this stock from Blitzen Trapper, Vanilla, Aaron Lee Tasjan, The Reflectors, Pete Molinari, Rookie, Theo Katzman, Mom and The Rabies. Just click and pay to play.