Lockdown at Camp Pepper

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Screen Shot 2020-06-19 at 4.03.48 PMWhen last we left our hero he had just released a smash new album, I Know Why You Cry, to critical blogger acclaim and, no doubt, impending worldwide domination. But before he could launch a tour that surely would have left audiences swooning and American late night talk shows clamouring for appearances, COVID 19 hit. Unperturbed, work at his Camp Pepper headquarters continued, preparing the release of The Complete “Dad Year” Recordings (2017-2018) and now a new treat, Under a Heather Moon. I’ve gotten to the point where I count down the days to a new Pepper release, a ritual previously reserved for the likes of Marshall Crenshaw, Nick Lowe, Fountains of Wayne and early 1980s Paul McCartney. Under a Heather Moon does not disappoint. It is a delightful slice of everything that is magical about Gregory Pepper: clever wordplay, subtle melodies, with just a touch of sardonic social commentary. But don’t blink – you might miss this record. The album’s seven tunes collectively barely clock in at five and a half minutes! The bandcamp edition includes three bonus tunes that stretch things out to almost a quarter hour. But hey, I’m not complaining. Short they may be but the tracks are undeniably little gems.

Screen Shot 2020-06-19 at 4.04.42 PMPepper has a McCartney-esque facility with different musical styles, ranging from music hall (“Smile”) to musicals (“Mayor’s Tomb”) to heel-clicking danceable poprock (“Do Sports”). “Whoa Dude, Whoa” has a deliciously ominous vibe, like the soundtrack to mid-1960s secret agent movie. Then he gets his wist on with lovely piano pieces like “(Isolation)” and “Finite Thing” (though the latter has a nice blow up half way through). “Recluse Abandon” really showcases Pepper as a master melodian, squeezing hooks into the tightest song spaces. The bonus tracks allow things to stretch out a bit. Particularly noteworthy is an extensively reworked version of “Funny, Eh” (originally from the Dad Year recordings), this time a little less manic and bit more ornate (in a good way).

Why not enjoy a (brief) respite from whatever you’re avoiding or stressing over right now with this new mini-album from Gregory Pepper and his Problems? And don’t forget, it’s available in extended form on bandcamp. It’s delightful. It’s even delovely.

And now for something completely different: Wakes and TV Girl

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Screen Shot 2020-06-17 at 7.41.54 PMI can get wild. Sometimes. Ok, let’s face it, any genre boundary-crossing I’m doing still involves a lot hookyness, even if there’s some guitar distortion, yelly vocals, or an amp cranked past 11. Cases in point –  today’s featured acts. They’ve got dialed up guitars and discordant singing or some cool stylistic weirdness going for them. And it works!

San Diego’s premier postmodern pop band is TV Girl. With three EPs and four albums released since 2010, this is a group that knows how to get wonderfully weird and stay there. I’m impressed with their ability to pastiche up and over a host of influences, riffing on great hooks (sometimes) borrowed with ease from multiple pop culture sources. Take the oh-so-soul sounding familiarity of “Benny and the Jetts” or the winter skating-rink party ambience of “Baby You Were There.” It’s a winning formula on these early EPs: TV Girl build original pop songs from bits and pieces of old time sixties and seventies sampled hits, like the blast of Todd Rungdren’s “Hello It’s Me” that kicks off and then haunts their own “If You Want It.” You can really hear the Burroughs cut up production style all over the first TV Girls longplayer, The Wild, The Innocent, The TV Shuffle released in 2012. Check out the brilliant melding of early 1960s girl singer Linda Scott’s classic “I Told Every Little Star” into the band’s original song, “Misery,” or the threading of the Beatles’ version of Arthur Alexander’s “Anna” throughout “On the Fence.”

By the release of 2014’s French Exit the band’s songwriting really comes on stream with catchy numbers like “Pantyhose,” “Birds Don’t Sing,” and “Angela.” Since then TV Girl have explored more dance and hip hop grooves on 2014’s Who Really Cares and 2018’s Maddie Acid’s Purple Hearts Club Band and some chilly dream pop on Death of a Party Girl from later that same year. But personally I’m really digging the just released 2020 collection of outtakes from French Exit, dubbed The Night in Question. Think The Shortwave Set with a dash of Simple Kid and Tally Hall and you’re in the ballpark.

Boston’s Wakes evokes the holy spirit of rock and roll with spooky sounding guitars and somber world-weary vocals. But embedded in most tunes is that subtle melody-ness I associate with Buddy Holly and Bruce Springsteen. It jumps out in the jaunty guitar lines carrying “Headlines” from Wakes 2014’s album Feral Youth. The overlay of crackling, haunting vocals just seals the deal. Actually, the guitars on this album keep things shifting back and forth from an edgy rock and roll dance party to a car-driving radio-relay-tower passing ambience. From there Wakes dials down the productivity, offering just a covers EP and final mini-album in 2017 before calling a halt to music altogether. The swan song collection of unreleased stuff is gold, ranging from an industrial 1950s vibe to sweet fairground attractions to stark acoustic folk-iness. Entitled Ends, it kicks off with “I Don’t Want to See You Anymore,” an off-kilter bit of Eddie Cochrane-infused psycho-billy brought to life by a furious, driving guitar hook. I also love the stroll-down-the-fairway vibe on “Year After Year,” guided by a mellifluous Del Shannon organ. One can only hope that Wakes’ Tim Oxton’s design/art career goes gangbusters and he can return to a bit of music on the side.

I’m not afraid of a bit of avant garde, genre-blending indie music, as long as a load of hooks are buried somewhere in the mix. That’s what you get with TV Girl and Wakes. Take a walk on their wild side right now.

Short sharp shocks: The Magnetic Fields and 2nd Grade

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Screen Shot 2020-06-11 at 5.07.42 PMI seem to recall Canadian poprock iconoclast Gregory Pepper saying something about two minute songs. For him, anything more was surplus to requirements. But stitching together a meaningful short song is harder than it looks. Fools tend to rush in to verses and a chorus and run out of song before they know it. Today we feature two masters of the exquisitely short song, Stephen Merritt’s Magnetic Fields and Philadelphia indie pop combo 2nd Grade.

Like many people, I fell in love with Merritt’s work after just a few listens of 1999’s sprawling, three CD set, 69 Love Songs. The humour, the pathos and, most importantly, the hooks kept me hitting replay again and again. Since then he’s gone in a number of directions with his work (e.g. the rockier Distortion) but regularly delivers solid songwriting, often in abundance. Case in point, his recent 50 Song Memoir witnessed Merritt handling all the vocals on a project that documented each of his 50 years with a separate tune. Now MF are back with a brand new album and Quickies sees Merritt re-assembling the full band, complete with his usual collection of vocalists. The songs are short,  definitely sharp and often shocking. I mean, only Merritt could craft a catchy number about “The Biggest Tits in History” or “The Day the Politicians Died” but both tracks really work, with smart lyrics and eminently hummable tunes. A song about bathroom sex? Got that covered on “Bathroom Quickie.” Merritt’s songwriting sometimes comes off like a stream of consciousness riff on his lifetime encounter with popular culture, like on “Kraftwerk in a Blackout.” And nothing is sacred, as is clear on “I’ve Got a Date with Jesus” and “You’ve Got a Friend in Beelzebub.” With 28 songs, I can’t go into everything on this record but like a deluxe box of Quality Street chocolates, there’s plenty to like here and a lot to savor. If you’ve liked past Magnetic Field efforts, you won’t be disappointed.

2nd Grade offer up what we might call a ‘two-four’ of songs here in Canada on their latest long player, Hit to Hit: 24 tracks, most clocking in at 2 minutes or less. As a songwriting strategy, it really works here. The material is snappy, fresh, vibing a bit of Apples in Stereo or recent Mo Troper. Ranging over the selections, the band are lyrically playful on songs like “Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider” and “When You Were My Sharona,” punk things up “W2” and “Trigger Finger,” or just offer up straight ahead poprock on “Shooting From the Hip” (with a touch of mid-period Fleetwood Mac here) and “Sunkist.” Tempo shifts include more low key folkie material like “Something I’ll Have to Remember” or the nicely Elliott Smith-paced “Maybe I.” My personal faves are probably the mildly urgent “Over and Over” and the seasonal smash, should be hit “Summer of Your Dreams.” But hey, with so many choices why settle on a strict ranking just yet? I’d recommend hitting random play and see what moves you. There’s a lot of serious goodness here to discover.

Short songs, long albums – variety!  That’s what you’ll be getting with these offerings. It’s a nice twist on the usual thing. So check out Magnetic Fields and 2nd Grade’s latest magnum opi, live with them a bit, and see if you don’t just want to listen to them a bit more.

Misspent youth: Westcoast edition

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Screen Shot 2020-06-02 at 1.29.44 PMIn the 1970s and most of the 1980s, I grew up in Vancouver, Canada’s largest city on the country’s west coast. I still love the town’s abundance of Edwardian architecture, kooky downtown neighbourhoods, and even its long stretches of gray, rainy weather. But it wasn’t until I moved away that I realized just how isolated it was from the rest of urban North America. Many was the time that major music acts would skip Vancouver on their tours – it just wasn’t economical for a lot of bands to make the trek so far from touring circuits based out of Los Angeles or Chicago or New York City. Yet this geographic reality, combined with Canadian content laws introduced in the 1970s to help Canadian music get on the radio, contributed to a pretty cool music scene.

Some of the earliest westcoast acts I remember hearing were the Poppy Family and Chilliwack. Terry Jacks would achieve uber fame with his international hit cover of the Brel/Mckuen classic “Seasons in the Sun” in 1974 but I much prefer his earlier Poppy Family recordings with then wife Susan Jacks. The band’s biggest hit was the title track to their 1969 debut, Which Way You Going Billy?, and it is a great song, but check out the smoking cool organ and melodic hooks that animate “Where Evil Grows” from the follow up record, Poppy Seeds. This is an absolutely perfect sonic confection! Chilliwack were a Vancouver music institution, releasing countless hit records in Canada throughout the 1970s and early 1980s under the guidance of creative leader, Bill Henderson. A lot of people only know the band for their biggest U.S. hit, “My Girl (Gone, Gone, Gone) from 1981 but they had 19 chart entries in Canada from 1970 to 1983. Personally, I’ve always loved “There’s Something I Like About That” from the band’s 1974 album Riding High (which contained the distinctive hit single, “Crazy Talk”). The album is transitional, with the band shifting from hippie folk and long-hair rock to a more catchy, rock and roll singles sound, and it shows on this song with its shifts between a seductive shuffle in the verses and the belt out fun chorus.

As the 1970s gave way to the eighties new wave and punk hit Vancouver hard, without entirely shaking loose the locale’s hippie and dude rock and roll vibes. Such musical contradictions were all over Prism, a band initially put together by soon-to-be-superstar producer Bruce Fairbairn and Bryan Adams songwriting partner Jim Vallance. The band produced a spate of great singles like “Flying,” “See Forever Eyes,” “Armageddon,” and “Young and Restless” but my fave remains the Lindsay Mitchell/Bryan Adams-penned “Cover Girl.” The Payola$ were more straight-up new wave-influenced and the band always seemed a bit too cool for the local scene. Despite that, they couldn’t find their footing chart-wise, with their early albums a bit too indie for the mainstream (e.g. 1982’s No Stranger to Danger) while later bids for commercial success failed to grab radio play and alienated longtime fans (e.g. 1985’s Here’s the World For Ya). Personally, I think 1983’s Hammer on the Drum hit the sweet spot artistically and it should have been the break out hit with jaunty tracks like  “I’ll Find Another (Who Can Do It Right)” and the touching “Where Is This Love.” The record did produce a #8 Canadian hit duet with Carole Pope, the upbeat “Never Said I Love You.”

Something happened in the mid-1980s with the consolidation of a broad, non-mainstream indie music scene, largely supported by college radio and small music venues. Suddenly it seemed that not everyone was going the stadium rock route or topping the AM radio charts, and that was Ok. The most exciting local band working this seam for me were the Grapes of Wrath. Technically a Kelowna band, they set up shop in Vancouver in 1984 and released their debut a year later. September Bowl of Green blew me away. I worshipped these guys. They were like our local R.E.M. They had jangly guitars and great songs and I couldn’t stop playing their first single “Misunderstanding.” Their second release was the Tom Cochrane-produced Treehouse and it was a masterpiece. Really, their whole catalogue (six albums, one EP) is pretty solid, including an incredible comeback record in 2013. Another band proudly wearing the indie banner were 54-40. They’ve released 14 albums since 1984 and, despite a lack of hit singles, they’ve sold a lot of albums in Canada and maintained pretty high standards throughout. I don’t get it – tracks like “One Gun,” “Miss You” “One Day in Your Life,” and “Casual Viewin’” all sound like radio hits to me. But if I had to cut my 54-40 collection to just one song it would be the enigmatic, hypnotic, addictive “Baby Ran.”

I left Vancouver permanently in 1996 and leaving town was hard but, ultimately, good for me. The world is a big place and seeing a bit more of it put my home town into better perspective. I could see how small and contained it was, provincial in many ways. But I could also appreciate how much it accomplished – a pretty vibrant music scene – despite its geographic isolation. So, in honour all of things westcoast, click on the band names to get caught up with these great acts! And if you’re looking for a primer on Vancouver’s music scene from an era prior to this one, the Vancouver Record Collector’s Association have a four volume history of the best local acts covering the 1950s and 1960s, with exhaustive liner notes written by local rock expert Michael Willmore (check out Willmore’s wacky but informative TV show, Rockinitis).

The banner photo is an incredible diorama of a typical Vancouver street block by a fellow I only know as dancecommander. You can read his write up here and see more pics here.

I get mail: Sanglorians, You’re Among Friends, R.E. Seraphin, The Pozers and more!

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Screen Shot 2020-05-28 at 4.53.01 PMWhen I say I get mail, I mean messages, email, notifications, etc. And that’s a good thing given what I’m hearing about the challenges moving music through the conventional mail services right now. Rain, sleet, snow, hail? Clearly they’re easy-peasy compared to Covid 19. Well the pandemic will not get in the way of today’s delivery of loud guitars, bedroom pop, finely crafted songscapes, and much more.

Eclectic Music Lover nailed it when he described You’re Among Friends as “funky, blues-infused folk rock” channeling “Steely Dan, The Grateful Dead and even a bit of Elvis Costello.” I might add a bit of chooglin’ CCR on a few tracks. From their new record Start Making Sense I love the jazzy swing on “Waiting for Life to Start Making Sense,” definitely a bit of early Costello-vibing here, and the groove anchoring “Once the Toothpaste is Out of the Tube.”

Robby Miller’s debut EP is a nice slice AM radio-friendly poprock songcraft. With a vocal delivery falling somewhere between Al Stewart and Fountains of Wayne’s Chris Collingwood, the songs shift between sweet and light melody and a bit guitar crunch, particularly apparent on “Freya” and “Take a Smile.”

Former Talkies frontman R.E. Seraphin is being written up all over the power pop blogosphere and deservedly so for his uber cool solo debut, Tiny Shapes. The record is a wonderful distillation of power pop rock and roll influences, slightly notched down from genre’s regular amp setting of 11 via a warm DIY performance. Opener “Today Will be Kind” is like a road map for the whole album: great song, hooky lead guitar lines, hushed alluring vocals. The formula really delivers again on “Bend” and “I’d Rather be your Enemy.” Then “Fortuna” changes it up, offering an early 1980s atmospheric poprock vibe. Everybody was doing this kind of spare, spooky guitar thing back then and it really works on this song. I also love the discordant jangle of “Streetlight” and lead guitar line hooks all over “Safe to Say.” This album is more than a collection songs, it’s an album that’s got its own distinctive and oh-so-pleasant aura going on.

Dallas power pop veterans The Pozers have been rocking out for more than 25 years, eliciting comparisons to Cheap Trick and the Beatles with their combo of airy background vocals, melodic guitar runs and impressive stylistic range. 2019’s Crybaby Bridge showcases all those elements in fine form. Check out the light Beatlesesque rompiness of “The Only Girl” while “Nonstop” has a bit more Revolver-era crunch with just a dab of understated organ in the mix. Meanwhile “Telling My Secrets” updates things with a bit of Oasis-ish panache. Believe the hype – the Pozers are the total poprock package.

Described as power pop meets prog rock, Sanglorians definitely ignore guitar town’s city limits on their first record in seven years, Odalisque. The sheer inventiveness on this record is breathtaking and, after just a few listens, quickly endearing. Some tracks come on like AM radio hit singles. “Miriam” kicks things off with a faint breeze of Weezer, “Down to Affection” is a melodic wild ride worthy of a Fun album deep cut, while “Come Back to What You Are” sounds like a great lost ELO single. But other parts of the album are a bit more experimental. Wait out the 60 second instrumental prelude to “Clearer” and you’re rewarded with a sweet, hypnotic, XTC-like melody. Throw in a few choice covers (Beatles, Magnetic Fields) and at least one more candidate for a great big hit single (“In Bruges”) and it’s pretty clear Sanglorians are back with a hooky vengeance.

What would happen if you could take the sneer out of Steely Dan? You might end up with something like Essex’s The 1957 Tail Fin Fiasco. These guys have definitely got the Steely Dan cool swing down but somehow sound less jaded and blasé than the original. Actually, I hear a lot of 10cc on the band’s new album The Harvard Tango, particularly some of the vocal textures on tracks like “Bros. Fairchild & Marylebone” and the boogie strut on “Dirk is not a Bogey.” On the whole, there is pleasant, rollicking 1970s piano-based rock and roll feel to this album, like Elton John with a bit more glam (exhibit A: title track “The Harvard Tango”). But personally, I like the outliers on the record, like the acoustic guitar, harmony vocal-driven “A Yard of Place” and the sensational, jaunty “Monogamy Pews.” For clever cheekiness, the boys remind of London’s Scandinavia.

Wilson & The Catholics is the new side project of Tennis Club frontman Wilson Hernandez. Fans of TC’s fantastic low-key psych-pop album Pink from 2019 may find the stripped-down sound of WLC a bit underwhelming but the melodic payoffs are still here. Dreamy, atmospheric, drawing from that early 1960s style of disaster rock (‘Look out! Look out! Look out!’) on tracks like “Strawberry Hill” and “Commercial Alley” or just a breezy poppiness on “MD 2020” and “Super Bowl ’97.” Bedroom pop suitable for those times when you really need to hide from your roommates.

Hitting the bottom of the mailbag, I got word from the Suncharms’ Marcus Palmer about a fabulous new collection from Indonesia-based Shiny Happy Records and it’s a winning tip. Shiny Happy Fanzine 4 – Please Rain Fall Compilation is jam-packed with 19 tracks of shimmering low-key jangle goodness. There are so many highlight here but I’ll just twig you to Tullycraft’s hilarious “We Couldn’t Dance to Billy Joel,” Well Whale’s “She’s a Punk,” and, of course, The Suncharms’ own stellar contribution “3 Billion Heartbeats.”

Things are so easy today, you don’t even need to write a cheque to send away for new music by mail. You can have it all now, without leaving your exclusive listening lounge! Click on the artist names to get closer to some new music immediately.

A new millennium girl singer: Juniper

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Screen Shot 2020-05-25 at 5.33.36 PMThe self-titled debut album from Juniper is a blast of girl power circa 1963, complete with roller coasters, badly behaving boys, and crushes galore. There’s a spooky kinship here with the distinctive girl singers sound of Linda Scott’s “(I Told) Every Little Star,” the Angels’ “My Boyfriend’s Back,” Skeeter Davis’ “Gonna Get Along Without You Now,” and just about any track from Lesley Gore’s Golden Hits. Tracks like “Boys! Boys! Boys! Boys! Boys!” “Girls Just Want a Boy To Rest Their Head Upon,” and “Gotta Draw the Line” could easily slip onto any 1960s Connie Francis or Brenda Lee LP. But the album also takes those influences in a more contemporary direction, sounding very early Go Go’s on “Kids on the Corner” or vibing a low key 1980s pop psychedelia with “I Don’t Want to Dream About You.” “Punk Rock Boy” and “Everybody has a Crush on Chad” even veer into well-behaved rock and roll (with a touch of glam on the latter). Single? I’d go with “Best Kept Secret,” a hooky poprock delight with just hint of off-kilter indie charm, evoking more recent artists like Jeanines or Lisa Mychols. But then again I’m pretty partial to “Sticking with Henry,” a retro workout that somehow sounds so fresh and now. Credit here has to go the album’s producer and musical director, Michael Shelley, who wrote or co-wrote eight of the record’s twelve songs, and assembled a dream team of players from bands like the Mekons, the Smithereens, Los Straightjackets, Look Park, and many others.

Get the jump on your summer fun listening with this lovingly crafted collection of retro-infused, chaperone-approved, catchy teenage party tunes. Juniper can be found on Bandcamp and other e-music services.

Pandemic poprock

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Pandemic-Diary---ball-and-chain-and-scientistWe tend to be inspired by the world we live in so it’s not surprising that some artists are ruminating musically about our present pandemic. While the artists featured below are all over the map in terms of their responses to the situation, the results are all music to my ears!

Kicking things off, prolific poprocker Michael Carpenter teams up Michael Oliver for the slightly country, melodious, and oh so apropos “It Only Hurts When I Breathe.” Thankfully Michael-squared only seem to be suffering from heartbreak rather than lung dysfunction. Whew! Tilting the mood somewhat, the one-off single “wr fkd” is from the Whateverly Brothers, aka Chris Church, and its churning grind of delicious jangle definitely captures how a lot of people are feeling right now. Again, it might be love problems motivating these musical sentiments but, hey, if it fits the bigger picture why not use it? Another deliberately displaced tune comes from Asylums’ last album, Alien Human Emotions, but here too I think the song speaks to our present moment. As some lobby for a quick return to economic normalcy, one has to wonder if the results won’t be a kind of “Graveyard Tourism.” Dead rich, that’s what they’re really aiming to be. Planning to defy that end game is LA’s powerpop grunge-meister Richard Turgeon on “Still Not Ready to Die.” It’s a brand new song that is definitely about what is happening now and it rocks, in his reliably hooky way. Let’s end on an up note with America’s most cheery musical iconoclasts, They Might Be Giants, and their eminently pleasant, uplifting and predictably quirky “It’s Good to be Alive.” Maybe play this one a few times, just to up your dose of good feelingness. And don’t forget to click on all the artist names to give them some money-coloured love.

Today’s feature graphic is courtesy Toronto pop artist Rob Elliott. If pointed laughter is your thing, head over to his Pandemic Diary pages and laugh until you cry.

Fountains of Wayne forever!

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Screen Shot 2020-05-17 at 11.47.23 AMIn the 1990s Fountains of Wayne had a huge impact on me. A Beatles, Elvis Costello, Marshall Crenshaw, and Squeeze kind of impact. I loved the quirky, alienated melodic should-be hits of the debut, couldn’t stop bopping to the hooks on Utopia Parkway, and marveled at the Sgt. Pepper-esque stature of Welcome Interstate Managers. Sure, Traffic and Weather seemed a bit of a holding pattern but then Sky Full of Holes had them back in fine form. I just assumed there’d be many more great albums to come. The recent passing of one half of the band’s creative force, Adam Schlesinger, has put the coda on that amazing body of work. Well, we’ll always have the songs. Indeed, now we’ll have to make do with how others take up the catalogue.

Screen Shot 2020-05-17 at 12.34.12 PMAnd here I am delighted to report that a fantastic new chapter of FOW life begins now with a great new collection of covers from Radiant Radish Records. If you love the band, there’s no doubt in my mind you’re gonna want to check out Can’t Shake That Tune: A Tribute to Fountains of Wayne. RR’s Mike Patton has put together a splendid stable of indie artist covering FOW material, with selections from each of the band’s albums. And for a collection put together in about a month – from conception to recording to release – the quality is impressive. Some artists hue pretty close to the originals (American Wood “Denise”; The Easy Button “The Summer Place”) while others attempt to jar our sense of the familiar with new tempos and styles (Jonathan Pushkar “Stacy’s Mom”). There’s punked-up energy (Vista Blue “The Senator’s Daughter”), folkie stripped-down restraint (Christian Migilorese “Troubled Times”), and plenty of ukulele too (The Soft Spots “Sink to the Bottom”).

You can feel the love all over this collection. And there really are no filler tracks here – everyone’s gonna have their faves. For me, it’s hard not to get choked up listening to “Hey Julie,” a song that encapsulates the genius of FOW, both songwriting and performance-wise. The Wellingtons capture the joy of the song, delivering something unique while honouring the feel of the original.

Can you believe it? This collection is being offered up entirely free! Get to Radiant Radish Records on bandcamp and dowload your copy. And while you’re there, click on the links for all the contributing artists to see what they’re doing and support independent music.

Springtime sound explosion!

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Screen Shot 2020-05-14 at 12.04.41 PMThirteen original artists! Twenty featured songs! Springtime 2020 is witnessing an explosion of sounds, curated here specifically to ease your pandemic-induced isolation. It’s not K-Tel, but it’s the next best thing. And the best part? No groove-cramming or adverts for a bogus, non-working record selector. So get ready to add some hooks to your springtime playlists.

Since the early 1980s scribes have routinely dubbed Kyle Vincent’s 19 album body of work ‘soft pop’ but that changes with his new release Whatever It Takes. Well, sort of. There’s still a strong easy listening pop vibe to the album (he’s even written a song that name-checks Gilbert O’Sullivan, so that’s a strong clue) but with former members of the Raspberries for a backing band on some tracks, things rock up a bit in a 1970s soft focus, low wattage power pop way. It’s there on the breezy Shaun Cassidy-esque “Bubblegum Baby” as well as my choice for b-side, “Hard to be Happy,” with its low key ABBA notes. Another incredibly productive fellow is Brian Jay Cline, with 13 albums and 4 EPs out since 2001 by my count. His most recent EP is Songs for a Generation of X’s and it taps that vein of melodic Americana that Cline does so well. I’ve been hitting repeat on the addictive “Two Left Feet” with its great Springsteen harmonica and irresistible hooks. Heading over the Valencia, Spain Baby Scream has a new album of covers out entitled, predictably, Just Covers, and this time everybody’s fave DIY John Lennon definitely colours outside the lines. This is fun collection, with inspired reworkings of Cyndi Lauper, the Psychedelic Furs, 10cc, Culture Club and more! I’m singling out for a double A side the muted yet rollicking “Secret Agent Man” on one side with the tight pop-rocking Fastball track “Warm Fuzzy Feeling” on the other. Back in North America, if anyone doubts that Montreal is Canada’s undisputed cool city, slip Pale Lips 2020 LP After Dark on the turntable. Self-described ‘dripping mascara slopped rock and roll with sprinkles,’ the party vibe is evident from the opening chords of “Some Sort of Rock and Roll,” the album opener. Overall, the songs are variations on a 1950s-meets-1970s workout, except for “That Old Ghost Don’t Lie” which changes things up, slowing the tempo, and anchoring everything with a spooky lead guitar. B-side? Definitely the hilarious romp “All My Baby Brought Back Was the Blues” – such great lyrics!

Kyle Vincent – Bubblegum BabyKyle Vincent – Hard to be Happy

If anyone has written an anthem for our times, it’s Dolph Chaney. “It’s Ok” (from his recent Rebuilding Permit) was written before our current state of affairs but its message definitely resonates now. Well, frankly, it’s always a pretty relevant message. And Dolph loads it with a host of nice melodic twists and turns, shifting the song’s dynamics like a hooky mood swing. Also love the distinctive synth solo at the 1:50 mark! Bill Majoros describes his new Foreign Films record Ocean Moon ‘retro-futurism, musical technicolor and groovy beats’ and I’d have to agree. It’s certainly a departure from his previous 2018 set, The Record Collector, a sprawling, 3-album stylistically varied offering. Now Majoros turns to a somewhat familiar, pleasantly throwback sound circa early 1980s. I’m particularly enthused about the title track “Ocean Moon” with its breathy Elvis Costello-meets-Roy Oribison vocals and Travelling Wilburys rhythm guitar. Another new single echoing some classic EC to my ears is the latest from former Cry! Leader Tommy Ray. The new LP is First Hits Free and check out the catchy lead line and brash guitar driving “Hey Susanne.” The dance floor never looked so alluring. For a b-side to this single, I’d add “Tuesday’s Girl” with its mid-1980s British energy and familiar vocal snarl. Honourable mention: “Gone South” – love that organ opener! Chicago’s Beach Bunny are doing that contemporary dissonant pop sound with a bit of vocal grit in the mix all over their debut record, Honeymoon. Personally, I’m loving the deep cut single, “Cloud 9” with its hooky bass line and rocking-out swinging chorus. I could see “Ms. California” as the b-side with its almost FOW-style chorus and crunch rhythm guitar. On this record, feeling bad never felt so good.

Speaking of alienation, there are times when West Virginia’s Rozwell Kid sound like they’re channeling some serious Weezer love, like on “Letterman” from their new Dreamboats 2 album. But then they shift gears and up the pop quotient on the obvious single, “Absolutely.” You can’t pin these guys down, other than to find the fun in what they do. The LP is celebration of pop culture, with tunes celebrating David Letterman, Dr. Doom, a possible fourth sequel to Back to the Future, and even an Enya cover! Now if you need a driving insistent guitar/synth combo, have I got a song for you. Nicholas Altobelli picks up the pace from 2019’s more low key Vertigo LP with his new single, “Ghost.” This is the distinctive melodic rock and roll that drew me to Antobelli releases like the great EP The Day-Olds and single “Exit Polls.” B-side “Wonder” is also a winner, with its charming, light 1950s ambience. Now, for a bit of Merseybeat, look no further than Tommy Sistak. Music for Sale is the new record and “On My Way to Somewhere” manages to work in that familiar Liverpool 1964 sound without sounding derivative. Like visiting an old friend who still has a few surprises in store for you. Speaking of old friends, people waiting for a follow up to Ed Ryan’s super 2017 Furious Mind have something to tide them over given his recent collaboration with Orbis Max on “Everybody Wonders.” The song is a solid slice of poprock, featuring some cool organ solos and nice vocal interplay. The song bodes well for new album of Ed Ryan tunes!

Hey, let’s end on with a guaranteed ear worm. I know I name-drop Fountains of Wayne a lot but Steven Wright-Mark sounds like he’s channeling a lost deep cut from Welcome Interstate Managers with “Underground,” from his recent EP Wake Up! If I had a Poprock Record chart this one would definitely be zooming up it. The vocal delivery, the background instrumentation with that seductive Gotye feel, it all adds up to ‘hit single’ to me.

Whew! That was a lot of should-be hit-single ground to cover. But health crisis or no, the chords must play. Assemble your own bargain hits collection by clicking links above. Looking for vinyl? You can the physical platter for many of these artists at Kool Kat Music.

Song of the day: Mondello “My Girl Goes By”

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Screen Shot 2020-05-11 at 8.41.33 AMMondello was a break-out indie darling in 2019 with a story of musical struggle straight out of rock and roll central casting. Boy works for 20 years on an album of songs (Hello, All You Happy People) that finally sees the light of day and finds an appreciative audience amongst those who value slightly eccentric DIY-plus power pop. What a happy ending! Well, now he’s back with a new single and it’s a killer. Get ready for a slightly more polished AM radio-friendly Mondello on this outing, which features a horn section, anthemic chorus, and excerpts from a 1960s surrealist Italian sex movie for a video. Seriously, the execution of this single is nothing short of masterful, reminiscent of that very British reinvention of the sixties that occurred in the 1980s with Elvis Costello and Wreckless Eric, among others. Give this baby a few listens and see if you don’t agree it’s earworm central. “My Girl Goes By” definitely confirms Mondello is no one-indie-hit wonder.

You can get Mondello’s new single here or any of the usual e-music outlets.