Lingua poprock


, , , , , ,

Lingua PoprockThe story of commercial popular music is largely an English-speaking one, at least to those of us living in the English-speaking world. It is a rare thing indeed for a song with even a hint of foreign language content to grace the British or American charts. Yet it always struck me as strange that bands like ABBA would sing in English, given they were from Sweden. But the bottom line on linguistic choice has always been financial. Making records for six million Swedes and few million more in the other Scandinavian countries, or cashing in on a potential market numbering in hundreds of millions? The decision was obviously pretty easy. And so what if ABBA’s early English lyrics were a tad grade school – the hooks were there in abundance! Of course, if one traveled to distant lands in the past you could find bands singing in their native languages, but international travel was more exclusive then and shipping albums home was expensive. But now, with the internet, a veritable United Nations of poprock is just a click away! Today we focus mostly on western Europe but in future I plan to go as far afield as I can find.

The KikLet’s begin with the Dutch. They’ve topped a number of English-speaking charts with songs sung in English. I’m talking huge hits like the Shocking Blue’s “Venus” and Golden Earring’s “Radar Love.” But singing in Dutch? Not so much. That’s a shame because there’s some pretty catchy poprock material sung in that language from The Kik. I swear there is a Beatles laboratory hidden somewhere in Holland that churns out modern-day, throwback-sixties beat groups. Some members of The Kik were also in a Dutch group called The Madd and they produced two great albums sung in English that went nowhere. Reformed as The Kik in 2010 they too started their recording career singing in English but then switched to Dutch. It makes no difference – the hooks these guys lay out are amazing. “Simone” is the calculated pop hit single from the 2012 debut album Springlevend (translation: ‘Alive and Kicking’) but other tracks like “Even Voor Altijd” and “Van Wie Hij Was En Wie Hij Is” demonstrate the band’s melodic depth and command of the mid-1960s British beat sound. Two years later 2 showed the band expanding their sound even further with the Monkees-like “Elektriciteit” and the 1990s swinging poppy number “Cupido.” A brand new album of covers is just coming out (Hertalt!), including a particularly jangly version of the Rembrants’ “I’ll Be There For You,” sung in Dutch. It’s just what your holiday needs! I have to throw in a special mention here for the band’s super b-sides, specifically “Here’s Hoping” (sung in English) and “Bel Mijn Nummer” (b side to “Cupido”).

Even Voor AltijdBel Mijn Nummer

TheesThe Germans too have had a few popular English-singing exports. Falco and Nena easily come to mind. But singing in German for English-speaking audiences? Only Connie Francis could pull that off. Again, we’re limiting ourselves. Check out what Thees Uhlmann does with healthy dose of Springsteen influence on his two solo albums. “Zum Laichen und Sterben ziehen die Lachse den Fluss hinauf” (whoa, long German titles!) opens with that classic atmospheric Springsteen piano but pumps up the poprock as the song develops. Meanwhile “Die Bomben meiner Stadt” has a totally different melodic vibe. While we’re on German-singing acts let’s slip next door to Austria to check out a song from Wanda, a Vienna-based band who mine a more obvious 1960s beat group sound on “Schickt mir die Post.”

TremblayOn to French – but not France. This time we’ll get the diasporic influences on the language via French-Canadian singer Tremblay. Montreal-based Maxime Desbiens-Tremblay has two albums out and is also a novelist. He leans heavily on acoustic guitar in his particular mix of poprock, clearly evident on “J’suis pas tout seul” from his 2012 debut Ça va, ça va. It’s there too on “Sarah (Avec un H)” but so is the piano on a cut that could easily slip onto Michael Buble album. 2015’s Porcelain toughened up the sound on the opening single “Aime / Pardonne” but the acoustic guitar is still central. He even slips in a bilingual number (so Canadian!) with “Summer Love.”

Los FlechazosThey say that Spanish is the loving tongue. Well, we certainly feel the love here at Poprock Record where visitors from Spain rank 4th behind the US, UK, and Canada. And why not? Spain has some crazy love going on for all kinds of power pop. So much so that a number of specialty labels focused on the genre are based there. Elefant records is one of them (recent Primitives records have come out under their imprint) and they have released or re-released a host of records by the very modish Los Flechazos. These guys sound like a 1965 London nightclub – if it were located in Spain. They did release one killer EP sung in English (1996’s One More Try) but otherwise their material is sung in Spanish. But you won’t care once you hear the great jumpy rhythm guitar, cool organ and swirl of background vocals. It’s there with the totally 1965 beat sound on “Dejeme en Paz.” Or check the roll out and build up on “Quiero Regresar.” Or there is the more-hard edge, later sixties sound of “Ayer.” Got to sneak another Spanish contribution in here from the great Los Secretos. “Sobre un Vídrío Mojado” is from their 1996 album Grandes Exitos and vibes a bit more of 1980s poprock sound.

Dejeme en PazQuiero RegresarSobre un Vídrío Mojado

If there is one thing people around the work look forward to, its unexpected foreign love, especially in the form of electronic purchases. The Kik, Thees Uhlmann, Wanda, Tremblay, Los Flechazos and Los Secretos would love to see you drop by their internet way stations. Do it now.

Dude, I am the poprock Overlord


, , , , ,

Overlord 2My two-volume Oxford dictionary on historical principles informs me that an ‘overlord’ is not just any feudal ruler but a guy pretty far up on the Middle Ages food chain. The uber lord, if you will. But then the online urban dictionary claims its just a bit of modern slang for “one who excels greatly over their peers in any particular task.” I think either one could work for Overlord, the highly literate poprock band from Brooklyn, NY. Their new single is “Up for Anything” and it’s brilliant. A straight up, one minute and 18 seconds of manicured pop songcraft, no filler. But to really appreciate what Overlord has to offer, we’ve got to go back – way back – to the 1990s and track the evolution of a slightly noisy, fuzzed out garage outfit to the finely crafted poprock connoisseurs they’ve become.

WWOCThe band’s discography is like a picture slowly coming into focus. The first albums and EPs are somewhat discordant, vibing a kind of DIY punk ‘tude. But everything becomes more clear and pristine over time. The turning point is 2001’s The Wonderful World of Chemistry. Both “Populist Anthem,” with its blurry take on late 1960s California pop, and “Meet the Situation Artist,” featuring nice strummy electric guitar and washed out vocals, up the melodic anti for the group. But it is the brilliant “The 70th Love Song (Class of 1993 Reunion Theme)” that gestures toward the wit and intelligence to come on future releases. Beyond the stylized vocal effects, the song features some killer lyrics. It takes a certain perspective on things to contrast “some boys’ lips are made for smiles” with “some boys’ lips are made for sutures.”Populist AnthemThe 70th Love Song (Class of 1993 Reunion Theme)

TSThese early tendencies are much in evidence on 2006’s Ticker Symbols. The deadpan drollery is there on “The Very Next Person to the Hold My Hand Can Have Me” and “When You Were Crazy” but things also get more melodically serious on the “We’ll Never Get Away” with its Brydsian and Beatles’ Revolver era élan. Meanwhile “The Song that Saved the World” sounds like a milder XTC take on the pretensions of ‘let’s give the planet a big hug’ musicians.  ISRMHBFYFive years later In Soviet Russia, My Heart Breaks For You serves up another great batch of songs, particularly “Oh, My Mechanical Heart!” “Keep it from the Baby,” “Nothing is Wrong.” There is something very Hollies or even late 1960s Moody Blues in the broad sonic palette here, especially the vocals.  The band’s mastery of form is even more obvious four years later on their note-perfect homage/send up of the mopey one on “I Want to Die with You Morrissey.”The Very Next Person to Hold My Hand Can Have MeWe’ll Never Get AwayThe Song That Saved the World

TWTOAll this leads us to 2016’s The Well Tempered Overlord, the band’s undeniable masterpiece. The wit is cutting, the umbrage exquisite. This is deeply intelligent and catchy music, intellectually riffing on indie culture and beyond. Think of all those smart and clever bands – The Smiths, Magnetic Fields, They Might Be Giants, XTC – and this record adds a new member to the club. There really isn’t a weak cut on the album but I’m specifically loving the hooks on “You’re Gonna Love This One” or the great lead guitar and vocals on “It’s a Travesty,” the alternating tempo of “Incredibly Human” and the rollicking rush of “Posthumous Honors,” with its great line about ‘my whole life was a bad idea.’  And for those who came only for the sardonic wit you’ve still got “Give Up Your Dreams” and “My Absence Will Go Unnoticed.”

You can get caught up with Overlord on Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Facebook or the band’s own eclectic website. Get ready to swear fealty to a new musical ruler.

Around the dial: The River and the Road, Shake Some Action, Rozwell Kid, First Base, Heyrocco, and the Forty Nineteens


, , , , ,

dialThis particular turn of the dial takes us all over the musical map, sometimes to the very edge of  poprock country. From indie folk-rock to proto-mod to alt country and then some, we have a lot of ground to cover.

HeadlightsOn their 2012 debut album The River and the Road were a pleasant folk rock band, hailing from Canada’s major west coast city. But with Headlights, their 2015 release, some kind of transformation occurred. More electric, certainly, though the album also featured a number of strong acoustic numbers. No, something changed in their musical demeanor, kinda like they’d hit the musical gym, bulking up their sound and impact. Case in point – “Mistakes” rips open with a muscular electric lead line that keeps searing into the tune, aided by the full band dropping in at the 8 second mark. This is not really poprock. It’s got more of an edgy indie vibe but still there is something very hooky about the band’s guitar work. “I’m Broke” swings with a strong alt country melody, roughed up just a bit by the band’s more rocking sound. By contrast, “Strange Disease” reverberates with a drone-like banjo backing. And this is just a few highlights – really, the whole album is great. You may think you know what you’re getting with a band like The River and the Road (i.e. four on the floor Americana) but the record keeps pushing its own boundaries.I’m BrokeStrange Disease

SSAWhen the name of your band is a reference to a 1976 song by another band, which is in turn a reference to a line from a 1965 movie, you’re deep into a very self referential world defined by its own measure of cool. Seattle’s Shake Some Action have been at it a decade now and they sound like a band whose sound has been forged in the fire of 1960s poprock, the late 1970s mod revival a la The Jam, with a healthy dollop of 1980s jangle pop. Their brand new album, Crash Through or Crash, is a sonic treat, all shimmery guitars and hooky reverb-drenched vocals. The opening cut, “Waiting for the Sun,” is a strong single, masterfully arranged to hit all the marks, from the hypnotic lead line to the seductive ‘ahhs’ that announce the chorus. I couldn’t help recalling all those great Mighty Lemondrops records, just for the sheer joy captured here.  “Whose Side Are You On” is another tremendous song while “Starting Again” utilizes the Rickenbacker electric 12-string to great effect.

RozwellThere is nothing precious about Rozwell Kid’s art. The West Virginia band specialize in the sort of ironic, sometimes goofy, sometimes smurky odes to nerdy dudes and their pathetic attempts to be cool. Thus their 2017 release, Precious Art, dials the irony up to eleven on a super collection of slightly off-kilter, buzzed-out guitar tunes. There are highlights galore. “Wendy’s Trash Can” sounds like Weezer meets Fountains of Wayne. “Mad TV” emotes a bit of Bad Books and some of Ken Devine’s solo material to me. “Michael Keaton” channels Weezer and tells a great story. And so on.

First BaseToronto’s First Base are mining the same theme as Tommy and the Rockets and all the other bands whose origin story ultimately links back to the cartoon pop punk of the Ramones. Their bandcamp page has a host of strong singles stretching back to 2008 that are great garage punky romps. But their latest release – “Not That Bad” – represents something new. Sonically, lyrically, melodically, the sound is richer and the song more polished than earlier work. Imagine Teenage Fanclub with a late 1970s lead guitar player. This teaser isn’t even officially out yet. The new album is also called Not That Bad and I can’t wait to hear what the whole record accomplishes.

HeyroccoHeyrocco’s “Yeah” kicks off in a fairly standard rocking vein but then pushes the melody pedal at the 22 second mark in a way that really hooks me. The chorus says jump up and down and shake your head with 40 other people crowding the front of the stage. Melody is not Heyrocco’s main thing but when they make it a priority, they do it right. I usually find one tune I really love on their releases. On 2015’s Teenage Movie Soundtrack it was the great swinging slow rocker “First Song” with its Bernard Sumner vocal. “Yeah” is my fave from the band’s 2016 EP Waiting on Cool. Every now and then I hear just a bit of Sugar Ray in this band, which, personally, I think is a very good thing. Also, check out the fantastic demo version of “First Song” below, from the band’s 2013 Greatest Hits of the 1990s.Yeah

4019sI was blasting through the Forty Nineteens new album, Good Fortune, thinking ‘ya, this is nice’ but it wasn’t grabbing me the way a new release needs to if I’m going give the replay button some exercise. Then I hit the very last song and completely changed my mind. “Two Pillows” is single-worthy magic. Great tune, killer arrangement, wonderful performance – I could go on. Laid on a bed of electric piano, the song has a poprock country feel, sharpened by a searing yet melodic guitar solo and great vocals. It made me go back and re-evaluate the whole album.

What do The River and the Road, Shake Some Action, Rozwell Kid, First Base, Heyrocco and the Forty Nineteens all have in common? They wanna be rock stars. Don’t you want to be part of that dream? Hustle on over to the links above and do your part.

Missing Ben Kweller


, ,

BKIn 2006 I heard Ben Kweller’s “I Gotta Move” and I was hooked. His self-titled album released the same year only confirmed my initial strong reaction. The record was replete with should-be hits like “Run,” the magical “Sundress” and, of course, “I Gotta Move.” It’s a record where Kweller manages to bridge the guitar/piano divide that often divides poprock performers. Melding both instruments into the mix, he balances an aching pop sensibility with a familiar rock and roll sound. And all the songs are framed around strong hooks. Other strong tracks include “Thirteen,” “Nothing Happened,” and “I Don’t Know Why.” But  why choose? There really aren’t any weak tracks here.RunSundressI Gotta Move

SundressAs an album, Ben Kweller spoiled me. I couldn’t wait for Kweller’s next record. Sure, I did a bit of digging, checked out his ‘sugar metal’ band Radish, as well as earlier solo recordings like the Ben Folds-ish “Falling” from 2002’s Sha Sha.  But none really matched the mastery, both in terms of songwriting and production, of Ben Kweller in my view.  When 2009’s Changing Horses arrived I must admit my first reaction was a bit of disappointment, as the album represented a fairly dramatic change of direction, away from the melodic poprock of earlier material toward an alt country vibe. While it has grown on me, I welcomed 2012’s Go Fly a Kite as a kind of musical course correction. The record opens with a trio of killer tunes, from the rockier “Mean to Me” with its Cars-like atmosphere, to the hooky “Out the Door,” to “Jealous Girl” with its distinctive piano and great ‘whoa ohs’.  There is a country feel to some of the songs here too like “Full Circle” and “You Can Count on Me” but across all the material is a strong focus on melody. As a whole, Go Fly a Kite doesn’t hit a false note, with consistently strong songwriting and production.Mean to MeOut the DoorJealous Girl

But that was 2012. Since then, nothing, other than a holiday single and some movie work. Where is Ben Kweller? From a boy wonder who regularly churned out new material we have heard little in over half a decade. After a bit of searching I did come across a recent video session between Kweller and fans where he said he was working on a new album and had 50 songs to draw from. Well I’ve been missing Ben Kweller – it can’t come fast enough.

Ben’s work is available (mostly, some Radish and early EPs are hard to find) in the usual places. As for his new record, all we can do is regularly check out his website and Facebook pages and hope for updates.

Breaking news: Partner, Chris Lund, The Safes and Together PANGEA


, , , , , , ,

typeTalent is breaking out all over and it is relentlessly resynthesizing decades of poprock influences in these contributions, from slacker pop to repurposed 1960s-influenced singles to rehabilitated punk-infused melodies and rock and roll.

Partner ISVariously described as ‘lesbian garage rock’ or ‘Sackville stoner chicks,’ East Coast-cum-Windsor, Ontario duo Partner actually defy easy categorization. Early songs like “Personal Weekend” and “Hot Knives” were rough, often hilarious, and definitely garage-y. So knock me down when I got wind of their just-released, super slick new record, In Search of Lost Time. This thing is a monster of exquisite playing, deft hooks, and whip-smart wordplay. I don’t even want to select a couple of songs to feature, it’s just too painful trying to choose! “Everybody Knows” is the first single, an obvious choice, and it’s a winner, chock full of great imagery of clueless stoners shopping their brains out in an oh-so straight world. But that would be obvious, wouldn’t it? I prefer to go with the songs that really highlight the duo’s musical subtlety and hooks. Like “Gross Secret,” a mellow number with a nice slow-burn guitar solo. “Angels from Ontario” sounds a bit like a certain kind of off Broadway musical number, before it takes off mid-tune. “Play the Field” and “Creature in the Sun” both have swell melodies while “Remember This” features a knock out guitar solo. There is something decidedly nineties about the overall sound, very Weezer in places, but the vocal blend of the two singers is totally unique. This whole record really is something special.

chrislund_largeAfter featuring the Lund Bros. amazing back catalogue in August, imagine my delight to discover a new solo recording from chief songwriter and vocalist Chris Lund. Great Event Syndrome is self-produced and home-recorded, though you’d never know it from the Abbey Road-like production values. Content-wise the record is maximum ear candy with Lund slipping in all sorts of nods and winks to that classic mid-1960s British Invasion rock and roll sound. It’s all on display on the single-worthy “Tell Me,” from the chunky guitar hooks, to vocals that shift from sounding very Cheap Trick-Robin Zander early on, to something like Rush’s Geddy Lee in a mellow mood, to ever-so-Beatles on the stretched out ‘tonight-t-t-t’ in the chorus. Love the wobbly synth that crops up all over the tune. “What’s Her Name” is another highlight for me, showcasing Lund’s careful attention to vocal arrangements. Though the knee-jerk critics’ reaction is to connect Lund’s style with the Beatles (and on songwriting that is definitely true), vocally he reminds me a lot of Alan Clarke of the Hollies and the harmonies associated with that band.  Also check out “The Juice,” where nice acoustic guitar picking combines with some 1960s American west coast vocal stylings to belie the song’s serious subject matter. And this just scratches the surface of this great album.Tell MeWhat’s Her Name?The Juice

The SafesThe Safes follow a familiar trajectory in band development, from raucus rock and roll origins to a more refined sound as we get closer to the present. “Deception” from 2006’s Well Well Well showcases the fun, almost live feel of their early work. But fast forward to the 2013-16 period and the sound has shifted to more melody and harmony on tracks like “Live Life Like You Want to Live” with its almost plaintive single note piano solo. The basic elements are actually all still there, they’ve just been rejigged in importance, as can be seen from the great rock and roll guitar intro to “I Would Love You,” which also features a distinctive keyboard solo, this time on organ. Which brings us to the present and The Safes’ fabulous new record Tasty Waves. Sounding like a more punky version of Apples in Stereo, the band aces the first single and opening track “Hometown” with its chiming guitar and swinging hookiness. Here comes a serious ear worm infection!  The whole album is pretty strong, though I’d single out “Streets and Sanitation” for special mention with its insistent strummy-ness, rumbly lead line and nice horn motifs.

Together PTake some of the 1960s more melodic rock and roll and combine that with a 1990s punk esthetic and you might have Together PANGEA. 2014’s Badilac reinterpreted the Yardbirds’ pop sensibilities as if they were a garage rock act and the results were amazing on the title track and songs like “Offer” and “No Way Out.” Now they’re back with Bulls and Roosters and the creative reinvention of the 1960s continues, this time brilliantly mining Memphis soul on their swinging “Money On It,” though the ragged vocals stamps the tune as suitably garaged-up. Or things seem familiar with the in-your-face punky style on “Better Find Out” until the chorus explodes melodically like a Young Rascals’ single on speed. Run don’t walk to get tickets to these guys. Your dancing shoes will thank you.

Partner, Chris Lund, The Safes and Together PANGEA are never going to take the world by storm without your help, by which I mean your money. Check out their sites and seriously consider contributing to their ongoing musical reproduction.

Spotlight single: Phil Dutra “She Walks Away”


, ,

PDPhil Dutra strikes me as an eminently nice guy. His songs have a pleasant 1970s soft rock aura, roughed up just a bit around the edges with some 1980s new wave and 1990s indie sensibilities. His recorded output has emerged in fits and starts in 1999, 2007, and more recently in 2014.  I like a lot of what he does. But I was floored on first listen to what I think should be a monster hit, his anthemic “She Walks Away,” particularly the Michael Lloyd remix featured on his 2007 EP Right Behind the Rain with its more tweaked vocal effects. This is a big song, with changes that ring out with that ‘I’m a classic song’ feel. I can’t believe the song has not been picked up by some hit-belting vocal giant like Michael Buble or Rod Stewart. Of course, I’d prefer covers more in the Fountains of Wayne register but you get my drift. The song deserves to be sung and should be Dutra’s regular paycheque. Well, for now we have Dutra’s version and make no mistake it’s pretty special.

Catch up with Phil’s recordings on Bandcamp or his latest music news on his Facebook page. And recommend this song to some insanely popular vocalist you know.

A ticket to Pepperland: Gregory Pepper’s Song of the Week Club


, ,

gregGregory Pepper is no stranger to Poprock Record. We’ve lauded his early work (“Gregory Pepper is not a problem”), tested the audience reaction to his many changing moods (“The Pepper challenge: Classic Greg versus New Greg”), and included his tunes on themed blog posts (“Celebrity poprock: What’s in a name?“). We’ve even shamelessly name-dropped him and his talents when we’re featuring other artists. But now we can offer you more, much more – a veritable ticket to Pepperland! Now you can see inside the creative process of this superlatively talented artist by joining his Song of the Week Club on Patreon or Bandcamp. Every Friday Pepper posts a new song and the website features Pepper sharing insights into his creative process, answering fan queries, and trading quips with the creative people who’ve signed up to support him.

Going Back to the USANow I know what you’re thinking. You’ve seen these sort of crazy K-tel-esque offers before and they just seem too good to be true. Oh, it all starts off nice but after a few weeks of genuinely new material the whole operation degenerates into live album outtakes and crude demo tapes. But hey, would I steer you wrong? As your poprock curator I’ve already sampled the goods and I can assure you everything has an address on quality street. The Song of the Week Club got its start July 4 with the anthemically timely “Going Back to the U.S.A.” Since then he’s produced 14 wholly new poprock gems. By special permission from the head Pepper himself, I can showcase some of this new material here to whet your appetite.

GP SOTWCOnly 14 songs into his 52 song odyssey and already the wide range of material presents too much choice. But the four songs below I think give you a sense of what Gregory Pepper is doing. The songs capture his musical dexterity, sublime lyrical creativity, and sense of fun. “Sublime Sun Tattoo” has a late 1950s, early 1960s melodrama pop sound, with a lyric devoted to exploring Enya’s possibly castle-fed loneliness. “Worrier Spirit” has very Elvis Costello melodic subtones circa Punch the Clock to my ears. I love the way the guitars charge out of the gate, only to drop out with the vocals, the great pulsing organ, and the theramin/Quinn Martin Productions sound that appears at the three-quarter mark, capped by a cool James Bond chord ending. It’s the little details that make these such melodic masterpieces! “Give Yourself a Hand” has a great swinging feel with sweetened vocals that add just a touch of light to the desperate drabness so typical of a bachelor party trip to the strip joint. “Two Speeds” showcases Pepper’s mastery of different stylistic eras, with some nice Merseybeat touches, particularly the guitar riff and the overall song structure. I gotta stop here or I’ll give away the store.Sublime Sun TattooWorrier SpiritGive Yourself a HandTwo Speeds

And the price? Just $4 a month for a new tune every Friday. That is some crazy bargain. Of course, you can always offer to pay more. Hustle over to the Patreon or Bandcamp sites and sign up today – you won’t regret it.

From the ‘how did I miss this’ department: Fruit Bats, The Mayflies U.S.A., and Pete Droge


, , , , , , , ,

highway at nightAn enormous amount of talent cruises through the internet everyday with yours truly discovering barely a smidgen of what’s out there. But there are times when I have to ask myself ‘how did I miss this’? Well, actually, it happens so much we have a whole department looking into it here at Poprock Record.

FBALFruit Bats is the least forgiveable because we previously featured the band’s delightful “Rainbow Sign” with its great acoustic feel and harmony vocals from 2003’s Mouthfuls. Somehow I missed their most recent album, released just last year.  Absolute Loser is a more muscular effort, showcasing a full band sound. “From a Soon-to-Be Ghost Town” ripples along with just a hint of that countrypolitan sound indie bands like so much, with vocals that remind of James Mercer of the Shins. “Humbug Mountain Song” kicks off nicely enough but then suddenly introduces a hypnotic banjo riff that keeps coming back, with a smooth 1970s soft rock chorus. Title track “Absolute Loser” is a slow burn hook, with vocals that remind me of You Won’t’s unusual harmonic charms. All in all, this is one eminently listenable album.From a Soon-to-Be Ghost TownAbsolute Loser

MFPLOk, I can be forgiven for missing The Mayflies U.S.A. because they fall into the power pop ghetto that has long proved a hit with critics but a dud with mainstream audiences, at least in the period when most of their records came out. When guys like Matthew Sweet can barely register in the mainstream, there just isn’t much chance this sort of talent is going to register outside of niche circles. And that is shame because these guys (pop) rock!  The songs are hooky and the vocals meld into a special kind of ear candy. Just check out the title track from 2002’s Walking in a Straight Line – churning guitar hooks and pleasantly sibilant vocals galore. Or tune into “The End of Line” from 2000’s The Pity List with its subtle but seductive hook buried at the end of the chorus. I couldn’t hit replay fast enough. “I Just Wanna Be Your Gun” is also pretty special.

PDNSHow I passed over Pete Droge is more mysterious because I actually have long owned a copy of The Thorns album he recorded with Matthew Sweet and Shawn Mullins. But I think I was going through a pretty heavy Sweet fix at the time and judged the album to be too low key. In any event, I recently stumbled across Droge in an iTunes ‘listeners also bought’ section and haven’t looked back. Droge has five solo albums and a soundtrack that are all pretty good but I find myself really digging 1994’s Necktie Second and 2008’s Under the Waves, the former channeling a mellow Tom Petty vibe while the latter has a strikingly spare acoustic demeanor. PDUTWFrom Necktie Second “If You Don’t Love Me (I’ll Kill Myself)” reinvents the old “Mockingbird” song in an original way, all sparkling guitar lines and nicely reverby vocals. Meanwhile, I swear “So I Am Over You” comes on like a really great Tom Petty out-take. Fast forward to 2008 and the material from Under the Waves has Droge digging deep into more atmospheric territory on the title track or channeling Paul Simon circa Graceland on “Giving it All Away” with some very ABBA guitar. Even more recently his The Droge and Summer Blend project takes off in another direction, this time a folky/country harmony-rich concoction, with great tracks like “Sad Clown” and “Island.”So I Am Over YouUnder the WavesGive it All AwayIsland

Making up for lost time is a never too late proposition. Scurry on over to these web portals hosted by Fruit Bats, The Mayflies U.S.A., and Pete Droge to find out just how to catch up on their great recordings, live shows, and future plans.

Fifty music critics can be wrong: Tinted Windows


, , , ,

TW2When rock critics got wind of a new supergroup forming in early 2009 that would combine talent from the Smashing Pumpkins, Fountains of Wayne, Cheap Trick and Hanson they were giddy with anticipation. But when Tinted Windows’ self-titled debut dropped in April, the gloves suddenly came off. Pitchfork called the record “hopelessly dated and irrelevant,” declaring “the whole of Tinted Windows is so much less than the sum of its considerable parts…” The review ended thus: “If there are dollar bins in the future, that’s where you’ll find this failed debut.” Ouch. Others were just as scathing. PopMatters complained that “Tinted Windows, tragically, is everything that a pop-rock disc shouldn’t be: bland, boring, and completely forgettable.” The reviewer thought the record was a “terrible, hookless affair,” perhaps “the worst album to be released in 2009 thus far.” There were more balanced reviews but they too were often hemmed in with backhanded compliments. The A.V. Club described the album as “wonderfully shallow,” Spin thought it “safe and bouncy enough for Jo Bros fans and Stacy’s mom alike,” while Rolling Stone preferred FOW more clever lyrics but allowed that “these likable tunes usually hit their modest marks.” Not exactly ringing endorsements.

TintedwindowsalbumI heard about these reviews at the time but only landed a copy of the record a few months ago. Imagine my surprise to discover that Tinted Windows is an amazing debut album. Forget all the rock critic super-group nonsense. Tinted Windows are a straight-up, guitar-driven poprock group, delivering a new century take on that stripped down late 70s/early 1980s melodic rock and roll sound, with all the usual nods to the Cars, the Knack, Big Star and the Cheap Trick. Adam Schlesinger writes most the songs and you can definitely hear the Fountains of Wayne influence on tracks like “Dead Serious” with its super hooky chorus or “Can’t Get a Read on You.” But as he noted in interviews, he deliberately toned down the signature FOW wordplay for a more direct lyrical style. You can really hear this on the debut single, “Kind of Girl,” with its solid thumping poprock groove. Other members of the group contribute a few songs: James Iha gets a nice slow Cheap Trick grind going with “Back with You” while lead singer Taylor Hanson’s “Nothing to Me” has some nice Beatlesque guitar changes. But the album’s hit single should have been “Without Love,” which opens with a killer hook that just won’t let up – hands down, best song on record. The Hanson/Schlesinger composition “Take Me Back” is another strong contender for a single with some very catchy hooks in the chorus.Without LoveTake Me Back

In separate interviews as recent as 2014 both Hanson and Iha claimed that Tinted Windows would be back with another record one day. Perhaps this time music critics will judge what the band actually delivers instead of what they thought the band should be. In the meantime, buy Tinted Windows wherever it can be found.

A James Bond song redux


, , , , , , , ,

Songs BondI don’t often get to use a word like ‘redux’ but when I do it’s definitely for collections like this. In Songs, Bond Songs: The Music of 007 twenty-five artists ‘restore, bring back’ and ‘present in a new way’ the entire canon of theme songs from the James Bond movies, with an accent on indie, poprock treatments. Why bother, you might ask? Well the Bond canon is unique in so many ways. The quality of the songs stretching over a half century is surprisingly strong and consistent. And, as is apparent from the performances on this record, they are open to broad and varied re-interpretations. Some performances here are fairly safe and unremarkable but most try to do something original with the basic raw material of their specific Bond song. I won’t comment on everything but rather just highlight what I think are the more unique, sometimes daring, and ultimately single-worthy remakes from the collection.

It makes sense to start with the ever-present James Bond Theme itself. Peppered throughout the various Bond films, often featuring wildly different arrangements and orchestrations, the theme never failed to raise audience excitement, at least for my crew of 1970s ten year olds. What different kind of treatment could possibly be offered up now? Well Lannie Flowers rises to the challenge, offering up a self-referential postmodern pastiche of the theme, including bits from songs that were themselves influenced by it. First, Flowers cuts up the traditional parts and puts them back together in a new and interesting way. The basic electric guitar hook is there and played just a bit faster with a nice trebly bite. Then at 1:13 he throws in a riff from McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” which ultimately segues into the orchestral Bond-ish intro that appeared on the Beatles’ American album recording of “Help” – brilliant and inspired!

Next up, the amazingly talented and criminally underappreciated Wyatt Funderburk’s cover of Bacharach and David’s “The Look of Love.” Is he Dusty Springfield? No, nobody can touch that goddess. But what we have here is a classy treatment that offers up some nice vocal and instrumental twists, vibing ever so slightly on the Pet Shop Boys at times. In the ‘didn’t see that coming’ department, Ryan Hamilton put out a very boppy poprock record recently (2015’s Hell of a Day) so handing him Louis Armstrong’s rather laconic “We Have All the Time in the World” might seem a curious choice. But it works. Sometimes spare, sometimes intricate acoustic guitar work undergirds Ryan’s spacious take on the vocal. Very car-top-down wind-blowing sunshine music. Shifting gears, can you be an undiscovered superstar? Because Mike Viola has it all going on: record producer, movie music provider, songwriter, recording artist, etc. But his synthesizer-laden remake of Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does it Better” highlights his impressive vocal talent. Ultimately, understated and ear-wormy.

What we see on this record is a tendency to downplay glamour and bombast, staples of the Bond music genre, in favour of subtlety and nuance. Take the Freedy Johnston contribution, for instance. Now personally I’d gladly listen to Johnston sing his grocery list – there is just something about the combination of his voice and acoustic guitar. But his re-imagining of Sheena Easton’s “For Your Eyes Only” adds up to more than his usual genius. He has such a light touch on the vocal and guitar, it lets the tenderness and vulnerability of song really come through. Another surprising cover featured here is Jay Gonzalez’s samba-inflected take on Duran Duran’s “A View to a Kill.” He really rescues this tune from its overwrought mid-1980s over-production, demonstrating there really is a song here and it’s a good one. Look Park’s cover of “The World is Not Enough” represents another rescue mission, this time recovering the hooks buried in the original Garbage version. Hard to believe this is the same song. But if ever there was a song doctor, it would Chris Collingwood from Fountains of Wayne, working here with his new vehicle Look Park. Last up on this Bond remake playlist is Big Box Store’s playful remake of Madonna’s “Die Another Day.” I had a soft soft for the original, even if it was a bit busy and overwrought at times. BBS strip away everything that is not essential, anchoring the song in what sound like the low buttons on the accordion. Eerie, haunting, and catchy.

Songs, Bond Songs is a creative project put together by Curry Cuts, some guys who seem to have nothing better to do than dream up kooky compilation ideas and then get a whole load of cool bands to go along with their crazy schemes. I say we encourage them.