Oh I could write a book: Amos Pitsch, Trapper Schoepp, and The Great American Novel


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As a young man one of my ambitions was to be a novelist. I plowed through a load of 19th century Russian and 20th century American novels in my early twenties so I was pretty sure I’d absorbed enough alienation and ennui to pull it off. But after many fruitless nights home alone with a typewriter it became clear that novelizing was not for me. I just couldn’t put my ideas into someone else’s mouth. I was more of a ‘lay it out direct’ kind of guy and damn the artistic pretences. Eventually I found an academic writing home but, happy ending, I do get my creative writing fix here with this blog. So today’s post riffs on the ‘novel’ side of music, with acts that exude a literary demeanor to me in one way or another.

This might seem like a stretch but Appleton, Wisconsin artist Amos Pitsch has a name that sounds like a character from a Harper Lee novel to me. I came to Pitsch’s work on his debut solo record, the bracing, delicately lyrical, mostly acoustic guitar-laden Lake Effect. To get a sense of the ambience you might check out “Lake of the Old Northeast,” a track that reminds me of The Shins or Guster in a mellow mood. Or dig the subtle melodic hook buried in the spare acoustic guitar and vocal performance of “Shiny Things to Stop Your Tears.” But the standout track here for me is the title song “Lake Effect,” a real poprock gem – again, simple and direct in execution with a wonderful swirl of vocals, up front rhythm guitar, and colourful piano lead lines. There’s a light Ben Folds air about the song. Pitsch’s new 2022 album Acid Rain departs from this ambience, adding more lyrical bite and musical distortion. Opening cut “I’m So Angry” lays it all out over a buzz of reverby, distorted guitar. The album is a incisive critical rumination on where America is now politically. “(We Got It Made) In the USA” bristles with sarcastic condemnation, practically sung through gritted teeth. There are upbeat moments too though, like the keyboard-riffic “It Feels So Good (To Know That You’re Around).” Or the seventies-positive Wings vibe on “In Our Old House, Part Two.” The album wraps with two tracks that capture the 1970s cross-over country feel of The Band. “Oak Hill Blues” is hit worthy and wouldn’t be amiss covered by The Sheepdogs. “Dying Young” has a more soul vamp, like 70s Hall and Oates meets Levon Helm. Basic takeaway: Pitsch is smart but relatable, like any good novelist should be.

Another novel-like character name is Trapper Schoepp. I can see him springing from the pages of Sinclair Lewis or even Jack Kerouac in his later period. Musically, this boy is a great big ball of talent. Over the course of five or so albums his crack band has conjured up an Americana sound with bits of influence from the Byrds, Tom Petty, Wilco and early Bruce Springsteen. “Pins and Needles” from 2012’s Run Engine Run is emblematic of this fun synthesis, vibing a Replacements-style ramshackle excitement. On 2016’s Rangers and Valentines producer Brendan Benson gives Schoepp’s word-packed tunes a wonderful poprock sheen. So many highlights here like “Mono, Pt. 2,” “Ogailala,” and “Settlin’ or Sleepin’.” The album oscillates between uptempo and more Dylanesque folky numbers. Check out the Springsteen River-ish feel on “Dream.” As an interlude 2017’s EP Bay Beach Amusement Park is a neo-1950s celebration of the rides on the midway. 2019 brought Shoepp’s tour-de-force recording Primetime Illusion. What a collection of tunes! Again, I hear some Springsteen, this time a less bleak Darkness-era aura, particularly on “Drive-Thru Divorce.” Shoepp’s strongly socially-conscious lyrics shine powerfully on his anti-sexual assault song “What You Do To Her.”  The album also contains his co-write with Bob Dylan on “On, Wisconsin” though my personal fave is “TV Shows” with its tasty guitar work. In 2021 Schoepp took a pastoral turn on May Day, mixing up the tempo from tune to tune, from the lovely “Paris Syndrome” to the more acid “Hotel Astor.” With song titles like “May Day” “Mr. President, Have Pity on the Working Man” and “My Comrade” there definitely something literary going on here.

Trapper Schoepp – Pins and Needles

And now for the inspiration behind today’s themed post, New York City’s The Great American Novel. These guys have got it all: literary references, wry humour, and hooks galore. The band’s debut Kissing is essentially a concept album revolving around the post-teenage experiences of the group’s creative force, Layne Montgomery. Songs deal with kissing, being good at kissing, sleeping alone, being bad with girls, and wanting to hang out, interspersed with numbers dropping clear literary references. Alienation and ennui? Check. But hold up, the tunes themselves belie such downer labels. “Sleeping Alone” is the peppiest rumination on the theme I’ve ever heard. “American Weekend” is a rollicking poprock romp.”Raymond Carver” lands where pub rock meets new wave, with great organ and background vocal highlights. “Kissing” sounds like it borrowed keyboards from the Penguin Café Orchestra. A year later album number 2 featured a harsher sound and a less coherent concept but the songs were still strong. I’d single out “Wish You Were Beer” and “Rad Education” for special mention. The next seven years would only see the occasional single or EP surface, like the punchy “Teenage Feelings.” In 2021 the band finally turned out a new LP, the very Sloan-ish Extremely Loud and Incredibly Online. The amps are turned up and the songs have a bit more attack: less jokey tentative, more rockin’ you direct. “Grabbin’ a Slice” sounds like 1990s FM radio hit single material. The short cut opener “Bad News, I Still Love You” is a winner too.

Well if today’s post has taught us anything it’s that some acts belt out the tunes and have something to say. In our visually saturated world, that is novel.

Photo courtesy Swizzle Gallery.

Should be a hit single: Denim “Summer Smash”


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Ok this one really should have been a hit single. It was pre-released and getting good reactions from radio music journos in late August 1997 until a princess car crash led the record company to pull it to avoid possible accusations of poor taste. Poor Lawrence (no surname)! After releasing 10 critically acclaimed but not million selling albums and singles as Felt in the 1980s his new band Denim was supposed to bring on the success his talent so obviously deserved. Alas, it wasn’t to be. This single and the third Demin album it was supposed to launch never materialized. Lawrence would go with another vehicle Go Kart Mozart/Mozart Estate that would continue with his playful dystopian social commentary and peppy tunes, though with similar commercial results. A recent-ish documentary has revived interest in Lawrence’s career and catalogue, so perhaps it will help finally garner the mass audience he once dreamed would be his.

It’s fascinating to see the arc of Lawrence’s career through his many different musical projects: from an English indie-jangle Lou Reed (early Felt), to ground-breaking keyboard heavy indie pop (later Felt), to more focused (though still eccentric) efforts at commercial hit-making (in both later bands). “Summer Smash” is really the best example of Lawrence’s wonderfully weird reach for a chart topper. The keyboards are so computer poppy and boppy, the track bubbles with hooky charm and a radio friendly elan. Nothing ironic here. Just a fun blast of carefully crafted sure-fire hit tuneage. If this really had got its proper release back in 1997 it would have wallpapered radio everywhere.

Denim – Summer Smash (remix single)

If you’re just getting started with Lawrence I’d recommend Felt’s Forever Breathes the Lonely Word from 1986, it’s their electrifying transition-to-keyboards album. For Demin, there’s a great 4 song Summer Smash EP. And check out Lawrence’s most recent single from Mozart Estate “When You’re Depressed” to see how his hooks never fail him.

You can keep up with Lawrence’s occasional news on his Mozart Estate Facebook page.

Is that a Viola I hear? On McKenna, Moore, and Jones


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Mike Viola is a mountain of talent. Singer, songwriter, performer, producer – he can do it all. And sometimes he does do everything  – for himself and for others. Indeed, I seem to have left ‘collaborator’ off of the list. When Viola turns his hand to helping others the results a very Viola, in the most good way possible. Today we focus on just three examples of his production/song-writing oeuvre focusing on work he’s done with Kelly Jones, Mandy Moore and Lori McKenna. We could cover more, many more. But these three are pretty special examples of the ‘Viola’ effect.

I first discovered Kelly Jones via her collaboration with Teddy Thompson on 2016’s Little Windows, particularly the magical opening cut “I Never Knew You Loved Me Too.” By contrast, I only ran across her 2008 SheBang! album this past year (that’s ten years of special album goodness I’m never gonna get back). You can really see Mike’s ‘all in’ approach to project management on this record. He’s the producer, a good deal of the band (contributing guitar, bass, keyboards and backing vocals), and co-writes seven of the ten songs on the record. And what songs they are! “There Goes My Baby” kicks things off in full 1983 Tracy Ullman mode. “Same Songs” has solo-era Viola guitar all over it. “Fire Escape” has those signature Viola melodic hooks. And “The Girl With the Silver Lining” is just Go Go’s fun. Meanwhile Jones proves she not just a singer of sad country songs. Her energetic stand-out vocals balance perfectly with Mike’s power poprock production and performance. SheBang! got accolades from all the critics and deservedly so.

A year later Viola was back in the studio, this time with former teen pop princess Mandy Moore. The resulting album, Amanda Leigh, was more varied stylistically than the Jones record, with forays into country, pop, and what might best be described as ‘alternative’ American songbook. The Viola impact here was more subtle, perhaps stronger in the instrumentation than any song-writing stamp (despite co-writing nearly everything on the record). Opening cut “Merrimack River” is duet with Viola and does sound like something from one of his solo albums. “Love to Love Me Back” weaves classic Viola guitar sounds into a more country vein. But the unmistakeable mark of Viola is all over the should-have-been monster hit single, “I Could Break Your Heart Any Day of the Week.” Man, this one is a killer, practically a master class in how to write and produce an ear worm radio-ready single. The record helped solidify Moore as serious, mature artist, though curiously it’s rather hard to find these days. Things obviously went well as Moore brought Viola back to produce her 2022 release In Real Life.

Viola had less involvement with folk artist Lori McKenna’s 2013 record Massachusetts, other than co-writing and playing on a single track, the gorgeous “Love Can Put It Back Together.” The song has a classic Viola melodic arc, with sweeping highs and lows delivered in an intimate, almost 1970s soft rock sort of way. Listening to this song, I get now why Viola has participated in so many 1970s tribute albums. There’s a faint echo of the period in his work, suitably powered up for the 1990s and beyond.

Lori McKenna – Love Can Put It Back Together

You get it, I like Mike. If you can’t get enough Mike Viola you can live vicariously through the artists he collaborates with. Either these ones or the many, many other projects he’s worked on.

Around the dial: Slack Times, Papercuts, Bill Lloyd, and Kids on a Crime Spree


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Summer’s dank days need some tunes to get that blood pumping. This turn around the dial has jangle, chamber pop, inspired cover-age, and some Brill Building noise pop. Start warming up the wireless.

Carried Away is both a sprawling 14 track introduction to Birmingham, Alabama’s Slack Times and summation of their work to date, combining two previously released EPs with six new tunes. In reviews of the album, scribes have been quick to point out the band’s obvious links to the solid southern jangle lineage of REM, Guadalcanal Diary and Let’s Active. I hear that but I also think there’s something more. Title track “Carried Away” opens the album with the band’s signature distinctive lead guitar tone but the vocal is a surprise, delivered in an Americana style not unlike recent work from Sam Weber. “Look at You” gives us a more rush jangle feel while the noise pop vocal is reminiscent of Indoor Pets. Then “Leave Me Alone” really marks out this band’s range, departing from the standard jangle script to evoke a more sophisticated Rogue Wave vibe. Listening to tracks like “I’m Trying,” “Bad Move” and “My Time” it’s hard not to see the lead guitar work on this album as the real star. But the song-writing is giving it a run for that designation. Just get your ears around “Can’t Count on Anyone” – the track is guitar pop perfection, a should-be hit single for sure. The band even offer variety in their approach to jangle, with “Yips” striking a Manchester pose while “Let Down” captures that deep southern US sound. Personally, I’m also digging the short sombre guitar instrumental “Slack Times,” named for the band. It’s not like any other tune here but somehow still fits in.

Past Life Regressions is an album of mystery and imagination. Jason Quever’s seventh Papercuts outing is another oh-so precisely produced collection of chamber pop but one with a few surprises. You can find them in the myriad musical textures that give these songs shape – the sprightly guitar picking that launches “I Want My Jacket Back,” the strings backing “My Sympathies,” the mellotron-sounding keyboards anchoring “The Strange Boys,” and so on. Each one is a carefully painted pop miniature. And yet none of the musical settings seem to stay the same. Listen to how Quever twists the musical trajectory of “I Want My Jacket Back” from a jaunty Peter and Gordon aura into a late 60s neo-psychedelia Moody Blues direction. You don’t need to spin this record too many times to realize it’s a real aural treat. I love the freaky keyboard tones animating “Hypnotist.” Or the droney guitar look driving “Remarry.” But arguably it’s the songs that allow everything to shine here. “Lodger” is the obvious should-be chart-climbing single, a pretty sweet reinvention of paisley pop tarted up with a load of inventive keyboard shading. “Sinister Smile” is another strong singles contender, contrasting a rock solid pacing with a dreamy pop melody. “My Sympathies” and “Palm Sundays” are also pretty solid sixties-inspired, hooky tunes. Past Life Regressions may just be Papercuts best album yet.

Somehow I overlooked Bill Lloyd’s fabulous collection of covers from 2016, Lloyd-Ering. Now re-released by Spyderpop in concert with Big Stir Records, it’s definitely time to give it the love it deserves. The project gathers together 12 rare tracks Lloyd has recorded for various tribute albums since 1990, covering artists as disparate as The Lovin’ Spoonful and Wreckless Eric. Thematically, the record is an homage to classics of melody-rich rock and roll, a genre Lloyd has made a significant contribution to himself. In terms of covering style, Lloyd remains pretty faithful to the spirit of the originals, with a few twists. The opening take on Bobby Fuller’s “Let Her Dance” is just riveting fun while the shiver-inducing version of the Byrds’ “The World Turns All Around Her” could be easily mistaken for an alternate-take from the original sessions. Probably my favourite cut here is Lloyd’s reinvention of The Raspberries “Going Nowhere Tonight.” He adds the muscle the song was missing IMHO, taking it out its original soft rock register for a more guitar-ringing poprock style. Favourites? Who I am kidding. I’m favouring just about everything here, though if pressed the dBs, Let’s Active, and Badfinger covers would rank just a little higher. And then there’s Lloyd’s genius reworking of Wreckless Eric’s “Whole Wide World.” Two chords never sounded so good. If you love classic poprock reinterpreted by a master, do yourself a favour, pick up a copy of Lloyd-Ering. You deserve it.

Is Kids on a Crime Spree just the best band name ever? You can debate that in the comments section but my take is that it really does captures the reckless fun demeanor of this group, at least as it is captured on their decennial recordings. The band rocketed onto the indie music scene in 2011, fueled by an uber cool lofi Phil Spector sound on their debut EP We Love You So Bad. Critics put a run on the superlatives bank praising it so much. And then – nothing. Now more than ten years later they’re back with Fall In Love Not In Line and the wait has been worth it. If the first record channeled a Ramones punky charm then the new one is more Magnetic Fields. The Brill Building song popcraft is still here but now delivered with more polish and hooky finesse. “Karl Kardel Building” signals this shift effectively. The opening is so Crystals but quickly goes quirky in a pop boheme style. “When Can I See You Again” has its rumbly guitar lead track the vocal, nicely merging a punk and pop sensibility. “Vital Points” chunks up the rhythm guitar but without surrendering its melodic vitality. “All Things Fade” is another genre-mixer, coming on with a punk guitar ferocity only to seduce us with a heavenly mix of harmony vocals. I could go on. There isn’t a bum track on the album. There’s first album nostalgia cuts (“Goods Get Gone”), Who guitar chord wonders (“Overtaken by the Soil”), noise pop Shangri Las reinventions (“Steve, Why Are You Such a Liar”), and just plain good old guitar pop fun (“Boomdoom”). This album is a ‘must get’ LP for 2022. But be careful. I’d vote Fall In Love Not In Line as the dance platter most likely to be stolen from the party.

Sometimes you leave the radio on and discover something unexpected. But mostly these days you come to a place like this. You can still pretend you’re fiddling the dial.

Banner photo courtesy Swizzle Studio.

Double O2: Jenny O and Amy O


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Two women named O. There’s a bit of a Tristan overlap between them on occasion but otherwise they’re doing their own thing and their things involve clever, sometimes moving lyrics and ever so subtle hooks. Get ready to file these new album acquisitions under ‘O.’

From the opening bars of Jenny O’s “God Knows Why” you know you are about to be immersed in something pretty cool. The subtle shuffle that drives the song along becomes utterly seductive with the added hook in the chorus. Check that constant undercurrent of synth holding everything together or the floating, competing, overlapping vocals in the bridge. What a tune! And that’s just the opener of Jenny O’s stunning 2020 album New Truth. From there the album shifts and shimmers through a rich variety of sonic hues. “I Don’t Want To Live Alone Anymore” sounds like Rilo Kiley fed through a Jon Brion filter. “Colour Love” has got a bit of Tristan meets Lana Del Rey. “What About That Day” has a country-folk Susan Jacks feel that appears to draw songwriting inspiration from Bill Withers in the chorus. “Not My Guy” stars off sounding like an early 1960s Crystals reinvention before breaking out into Go Go’s/Bangles territory in the chorus. I can hear echoes of Mary Lou Lord on the sprightly “Even If I Tried” and the folksy charm of Jane Siberry on “Seek Peace.” New Truth is an album of immense variety but one where the differences are cast more as subtle shading rather than distinct genre changes, leaving Jennifer Ognibene’s own unique contributions intact. Personal fave: “A Different Kind of Life.” Hard to beat to the finely structured melodic arc embedded here, even if it only runs about a minute long.

What is Amy Oelsner doing with her Amy O project? Is it freak folk? Highly-caffeinated singer songwriter? Rogue pop? Listening through her 2019 release Shell is like turning the pages of mixed up photo album, events and people and moods shift unpredictably. But oh so delightfully. “Shell” ushers us into Oelsner’s unique pop maelstrom, with hooks bouncing off curious instruments while the lyrics and delivery are reminiscent of Suzanne Vega. Then “Synethesia” has a spartan bounce, with alluring, occasional snatches of banjo, stripped-back lead guitar, and contrasting crunchy electric guitar chords. “Good Routines” starts all folky mellow but then picks up some nice chunky electric guitar chords and a load of smooth vocal melody lines. Comparisons come to mind as the songs go by: maybe Mo Kenny on “Planet Blue,” a bit of Tristan on “Zero,” and you can hear some of what Tamar Berk has been doing lately on “Loose Cassettes.” Then there’s work that sounds like nothing else, like the art-rock musical-ish “Shrinking” or the carefully crafted pop bliss of “Blueberries.” But my fave cut on the album is definitely “Later On.” Love the build on this track, the precise placement of various instrumental riffs, and the Vega and Jane Siberry feel to the vocals. Shell is great ride, musically adventurous and with lyrics that are oh so well written.

It looks like the O’s have it. Talent that is. And there’s even more new O material on the way. Visit Jenny O and Amy O online to further fill out the ‘O’ section of your music library.

Photo courtesy Swizzle Gallery.

So long Sunshine Boys



Chicago’s Sunshine Boys are going out on a high note with their brand new two song EP 2×3. Yes, they are calling it quits after playing and recording together for six years and here’s the heartbreaking thing, this double shot of songs is probably their peak performance (and that is saying something). The song-writing and playing here is simply masterful. “Underwater” is a gorgeous tune, lifted by great melodic guitar lead lines and wonderful overlapping vocal parts. There’s a very Crowded House or Neil Finn solo feel to the song. “The Beginning” maintains a different kind of harmonic tension, reminding me of some of the material on Marshall Crenshaw’s mid-period albums (e.g. Mary Jean and Nine Others). Both tracks conjure up a very distinct kind of atmosphere, reflective, sometimes a bit tense, but ultimately positive. And check out the cool cover artwork by Caroline Murphy.

So long Sunshine Boys, it’s been good to know you.

You can check out these tunes and Sunshine Boys’ fabulous back catalogue at their Bandcamp page or just drop them a line at their website or Facebook.

Breaking news: Super 8, R.E. Seraphin, Mick Trouble, Dave Scarbrough, and The Happy Somethings


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As the teletype drones in the background a stentorian voice announces more breaking news, none of it good. But relax, this breaking news post is just good stuff, headlines full of groovy, jangly, modish, melodic guitar fun. Hold your questions till the end.

Paul Ryan’s reconnaissance of late 1960s and early 1970s aural soundscapes continues with his latest Super 8 release Universal Journey. This time the pitch is cast somewhere between the psych pop of 1967 and the mellow sunshine pop of 1971, aided by vocal help from power pop songstress Lisa Mychols. “Universe” kicks things off in a laid back psychedelic style, letting you know that, baby, everything is just gonna be groovy. “Galatic 9” puts a bit of spring into that step, Mychols vibing a mix of breathy 1960s dolly bird singing with some lighter-than-clouds background vocals. But then the mood shifts on “California Road Trip” with a bright piano and crisp vocal that is oh so Carpenters (minus the wall-of-strings). “All Because of You” and “Ghost in my Heart” also have this vibe. From there the album offers up a variety of styles: a decided blues feel to “Cracks in the Pavement,” driving, pumping piano on “On the Radio,” a boogie psych lurch animating “The Door Beneath the Eyes,” and Sgt. Pepper-esque psychedelia defining “Feel.” “Rocky Roads” is a bit more timeless, just a could-be-anytime great poprock single. And then there’s the obvious summer anthem “Where’s the Sunshine,” a track that really captures the obvious musical chemistry between Paul and Lisa. Altogether Universal Journey is fun in the sun and then some.

On his new Swingshift EP San Francisco’s R.E. Seraphin leans into a bigger, bolder guitar sound. Opener “Playing House” lands with a sense of presence, the prominent early guitar chords saying ‘hey there, check this out!’ By the chorus I’m convinced I’m hearing some great lost Might Lemon Drops out-take (and that’s a good thing), the keyboards and guitar meld so effortlessly. Then “Big Break” pulls back, the guitar attack is lighter giving way to a more boppy pop feel. “Stuck in Reno” takes us in a more spacey jangle direction, at least until the lead guitar pyrotechnics kick in. Seraphin’s press kit mentions The Replacements and Cheap Trick influencing the record but if there’s a band haunting these proceedings it’s the Church circa the “Under the Milky Way” period. I hear it on “The Virtue of Being Wrong” and definitely all over “Miss Grief.” Seraphin rounds things out with two delightfully delivered covers, The Wipers’ “I’ll be Around” and Television Personalities’ “This Time There’s No Happy Ending.” My only complaint is that everything’s over in just 18 minutes.

To the uninitiated the whole Mick Trouble thing can come off like some sort of elaborate inside joke. Alleged to be a long lost early 1980s mod banger, Mick is supposed to have been only recently rediscovered. Turns out though that the whole enterprise, British accent and all, is the invention of New York-based Teenage Strides and Jeanines member Jed Smith. But man does Smith commit to it! On his second outing in this guise, It’s Mick Trouble’s Second LP has a sound that is so 1960s pop effervescent meets the austere mod revival of late 1970s acts like The Jam and Merton Parks. The record kicks off in jangle guitar overdrive on “A Well Known Drag” with a vocal menace matching Paul Weller, except when it slips into a softer, more seductive Weller croon. Smith knows his England-isms and they litter his lyrical landscape on tracks like “Jim’ll Fix It,” “Living in a Kingdom” and “Hastings to Normandy.” But the strength of the record is in the song-writing and killer period-perfect performances. “Do Nothing ‘Till You Hear From You Me” is so 1960s pop whimsy, “The Bleeding Downs” is strummy sing-a-long good, and “Julia” applies Searchers guitar to that early 1980s austere rewrite of the sixties beat group sound. In a different retro vein, “Me and the Riddle Tree” ambles along with a very 1980s guitar vibe while “No Deal” is my vote for should-be hit single, it’s such a perfect bit of guitar pop. With Mick Trouble, you might come for the novelty but you’ll stay for the show.

All the bloggers are saying very nice things about Dave Scarbrough and his ‘debut’ album Happy Every After. And so they should – the record is freakin’ fantastic. But as recent interviews highlight, Dave’s been at the music thing for a long time and that might explain the polish, the confidence, and the high quality of what he’s produced. Opening cut “Catherine” captures it all: the slashy guitar chords, the glorious keyboard runs, and the hook that won’t let up. Sure all the usual comparisons are there – Costello, Squeeze mainly – but there’s something more at work here too. “Wachet Auf” has a different poppy rock feel, reminding me of Seattle’s Ruler. Ballad “The Coming Good” is another departure, this time into Boo Hewerdine territory. Then “Wanna Believe” has a menacing Americana rock feel, switching up the tempo and the vocals. Ok, “As Far As I Know” and “Hilary” take us back into Costello territory but I hear a bit of Edward O’Connell’s take on the master as well. My point (and I do have one) is that Scarbrough may have strong influences but he’s carving out his own path too. I mean, check out the distinctive guitar stamp on “Runaround” or song structure of “Oblivious.” Either one would make pretty good singles IMHO. “Sorry” is another winner too. All I can say is, thank you Sioux Falls, South Dakota for sharing this major talent with the rest of us.

Can I say I think I’m in love with The Happy Somethings? This band of seemingly socialist songsters give their music away for free and self-describe themselves as an ‘independently unpolished band who like to be happy … making music for pleasure.’ But don’t be fooled. This is some pretty top notch stuff, sometimes sounding like a lofi Chumbawumba, at other times a fuzzy jangle band. Their new EP is Ego Test and it gives you a pretty good sense of what they’re about. “New Life” is definitely happy and positive, with a Elephant 6 sensibility. “Ego Testicle” drapes its critique of our money-centric world with another sunny melody and some sharp guitar work. I love the timbre of the guitar tone opening “Takes a Long Time,” a dreamy, droney paean to being yourself amid a world of deception. “I Hope” wraps things with oceans lapping and metaphysics unresolved but hey, that’s life. And then they’re done. But don’t worry, there’s more on their Bandcamp back pages. And did I mention it’s free? But you can still contribute to helping their make band-ends meet, if you like.

Well, as they used to say on the radio broadcasts, you’re all caught up, with these headlines anyway. Make sure to do your own follow up on these stories and click on the band links to get all the details.

Top photo courtesy Black Zack.

Accept no facsimiles of The Photocopies


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Roaming somewhere in Michigan is a band with killer jangle instincts, a dash of #c86 DIY creativity, and influences ranging across decades of popular music. Over the past year The Photocopies have released 32 songs, mostly in two to three song increments, and the results have been a consistently wild and fun ride. Their story begins June 2021 with the release of the band’s first double A-sided single, “Good Riddance” and “Kind of Old,” both vibing a more garage version of The Primitives. A month later the single combo Mozzers things up in the lyrics on “Just Shut Your Mouth” while “Autocorrect” offers up a nice 1960s rough beach feel. The September trio of songs is another resplendent sixties love letter, made obvious with material like “Sha La La La La La La La La (Sha La La La La La)” and “Radio City.” But a few months later December witnessed more than just a change of season. “It’s Not Complicated” showcases a more distinctive guitar sound while the melodic heft of the tune is reminiscent of The Cure. 2021 closed out on a dour but still rocking note with “Better Than Nothing, I Suppose,” performed, again, in a very Primitives register to my ears.

Into the new year the style of the releases changed again, this time fattening the jangle and offering a more sophisticated melody on “I Don’t Want You to Want Me.” March continued with innovation: the Triple B-side release had the Pansy Division-like “Something More” and the Buzzcocks-ish “Pop Quiz,” the latter featuring manic, hilarious lyrics. April’s offering stretched to four songs but the standout track for me was “Inside Out Upside Down” with its 1960s go-go-dancing good-time atmosphere. The short instrumental “Glass Elevator” was also a delightfully camp inclusion. May’s release contained a few surprises, like “The Not Knowing” which seemed reminiscent of New Order if they’d dialled down the synth. June boasted another winning trio of strong songs, though “(Wishing I Had) Tickets to St. Etienne” is the obvious should-be hit single. After full year of surprises this month witnessed the band deliver their first official extended play release Between You and Me and I’m liking where year 2 is going. There’s the mellow jangle of “Somebody’s Fool” and the rollicking neo-early 1960s romps “Vexed” and “Anywhere Without You.”

You won’t need to worry about spilt printer ink with The Photocopies. Just hit the multiple copies button and enjoy the performance.

Cheese and Onions (and The Onions)


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This is not a post about The Rutles song “Cheese and Onions,” a satiric take on the Beatles psychedelic period. I like the Rutles project but that track is not one of Neil Innis’s more listenable send-ups IMHO. No, this post has its origins in my accidental discovery of the Danish band Cheese. I love finding out-of-the-way acts, oddities, and overlooked gems. Cheese definitely fits that bill. But I was stumped trying to figure out how to feature them. Then it hit me – what goes with cheese? Onions. And after a little look-see over at Bandcamp, wouldn’t you know it, I found two poppy rock bands named for onions! Do you see the lengths I go to bring quality to this site? Ladies and germs, I present Cheese and Onions (and The Onions).

Cheese actually go way back, to a host of post-high school performances and recordings as another band (The Hue) dating back to the early 1990s. They became Cheese (sometimes The Cheese) in 1996 and proceeded to put out a number of rough recordings over the next two decades. The story of these efforts is recounted on their website, with serious doses of self-deprecation sprinkled throughout. But things change with the three most recent albums released from 2017 on. These sound more tight, more professional. 2017’s Sofa, So Good has an acoustic vibe on a lot of the tunes, sometimes in a White Album vein, sometimes more 1970s FM rock-radio mellow (particularly with their distinctive harmony vocals). “Well Well Well” is the stand out track for me, though “Broken Home” is a pretty good too. 2018’s The Best Irish Band continues with the harmony vocals and acoustic guitars but ups the tempo a bit, even heading in a Moodies 1970s poprock direction with “Day of the War.” “Julian” is a tight McCartney-esque acoustic guitar closer on that album. Then the band decided to be even more Danish for 2019’s Metaforisk Mercedes (translation: Metaphorical Mercedes) by actually singing in Danish. Interestingly, the album is their most polished effort to date and their strongest collection of tunes. Here I really like the soft hooky “Det’ Mit,” though the more acoustic guitar heavy “Godmorgenmanden” comes in a close second.

Boys who come from west Yorkshire to study music in Salford (near Manchester) inevitably form bands, like Onions. Early releases in 2007 and 2008 definitely showed promise but it was with the release of 2012’s Pleasure Blast that things really took off. Songs range from an Everything Everything meets Futureheads vibe on “Or an IE Or AY” and “Belle Vue Fair” to the simple, classic jazzy American songbook demeanor of “Those Wide Eyes.” But the star of this album for me is “Quip of the Tongue.” What a blast! It combines a punky looseness, surfy background vocals, and a relentless hook in the verses, all delivered amid a Sparks/B52s kind of party cacophony. 2015’s Shame of the Nation leans on the early 1960s girl group influences with a Roddy Frame feel to the vocals. Highlights for me include “Here Comes the Rage” and “Boring” but my fave is the bouncy Elephant 6-ish “Deary Me.” Sadly that was the last Onions record as they broke up shortly after its release. Totally different onions band, Columbia, Missouri’s The Onions have got one long-player I can find, 2015’s He Kissed Me and I Knew. The record is a wonderful update on that early to mid 1960s melodic rock-and-roll sound associated with acts ranging from the Everly Brothers to the Bee Gees and the songs are mostly covers from the same era. The band do a nice job of freshening up the sound on Jan and Dean’s “Easy as 1,2,3,” the Bee Gees’ “Kitty Can” and even Roger Miller’s “Swiss Maid.” But check out the energy on their cover of the Magnetic Field’s “Saddest Story Ever Told” – wow. Lovingly rendered, with sparkling guitars and a strong vocal arrangement.

You probably didn’t know there were bands named Cheese or Onions (or The Onions). Now you do.

Beach blanket singles


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Beach weather is finally here and nothing goes better with sand, sun, and surf than some suitably summer-proofed tunes. Today we offer 21 suggestions for your latest sun sojourning mixed tape.

A new record from Freedy Johnston is truly an occasion for celebration. He is a master story spinner and songwriter in the vein of John Hiatt, Robbie Fulks, and Elvis Costello. The new record will be called Back on the Road to You, Johnston’s 9th, due out in September. Right now we’ve got the pre-album release single “There Goes a Brooklyn Girl” and it’s a good as anything he’s ever released, with snappy, resonant lead guitar lines and a melodic hook that is teased out and then pulled taut at just the right moments. METZ bandleader Alex Edkins has a new solo project entitled Weird Nightmare and it’s a great big ball of wonderful guitar noise. Don’t let the guitar onslaught opening the second single from the self-titled album fool you, “Luisitania” has some genius pop instincts lurking behind its wall of sound, reminiscent of Catatonia at certain moments. It’s hard to keep up with Franco-American duo Freedom Fry. Seems like they’re putting out a new EP or single every month. I’m just going to hit pause on their many releases to appreciate “Strange for Love” from their May EP of the same name. The snazzy looping guitar licks are just so addictive in a fresh Fleetwood Mac sort of way. The vocal harmonies only reinforce the Lindsay and Stevie comparison. “Down the River” is Chicago’s Ratboys from their reinvented and re-recorded greatest hits collection Happy Birthday Ratboy. It is interesting to compare this latest version with the original. Where the former is somewhat stark and spare, the new version has a lovely pop candy-coating to it, with vocals that vibe The Weepies. Talk about timely tunes, Ireland’s No Monster Club “Waterfight” is just the right dose of that summer feeling. The song is a large bit of goofy fun, sounding very mid-1980s sonically and in its complete lack of seriousness.

Freedy Johnston – There Goes a Brooklyn Girl

Austin’s Phil Dutra writes big songs. I’m talking sweeping soundscapes that are cinematic in their intensity and presentation. His latest single “Is Anybody Home?” conjures images of all those over-the-top 1980s MTV moments full of heartbroken teens, hella-good hair products, and cars driving off into the distance. But wait for the unbreakable hook anchoring the chorus. Dutra knows how to deliver solid melodies, always with a slightly surprising twist. I’ve written about Portland’s Kurt Hagardorn before. He’s a reliably good rock and roll guy who can play in a variety of styles. But his new single is really something else. “Caveat Emptor” exudes 1970s rock and roll boogie time, a bit of CCR, a touch of The Sheepdogs, carried by solidly hooky rhythm guitar work, some tasty horn playing, and a judicious use of cowbell. Words like ‘shimmering’ spring to mind as soon as Mercvrial’s “Be That Someone” hits the turntable. The band is typically filed under the dreampop or shoegaze labels but what I hear is New Order in club dance mode. The driving keyboard riffs just propel the song along. On “Archipelago” from The Dreaded Larimie’s new EP Everything a Girl Could Ask all I can hear are echoes of Jane Siberry, if Siberry had joined The New Pornographers. The band call their sound a mix of power pop and femmecore, which combines slashing guitar chords and dreamy vocals. I call it a winner. Sweden’s Red Sleeping Beauty team up with indie songstress, sometimes economist, Amelia Fletcher on “Solid Gold.” It’s a jaunty number mixing a light Housemartins-style ambling pop sensibility with that reliable Swedish melancholia. Delightful guitar pop for anyone suffering though a bout of nostalgic self regret.

How does power pop legend Tommy Marolda keep sounding so cool? The guy’s been on overdrive since his famous 1979 long-weekend recordings as The Toms became every indie power pop fan’s must-have item. His band is back with a new LP called Stereo comprising 12 melodic pleasers. Currently I can’t get enough of “Atmosphere.” It’s so quirky and fresh-sounding and loaded with hooks. Portland’s Super Hit takes DIY chutzpah to new highs with his exciting deep cut “Run Away With Me.” Ok, this one’s not new. I’ve dug it up from his 2015 EP Pocket Rock. But man it deserves a second look. It kicks off in a pretty low key, sounding like something recorded in a someone’s bedroom register, but 53 seconds in a seriously wicked electric guitar kicks in and it’s deliciously hooky. Think trebly 1960s garage rock, just turned down a little. Sticking with Portland, I’m totally digging Shaylee’s single from last fall, “Ophelia.” The opening guitar work is so cool, sneaky yet delicate, weaving a bluesy-folk lick into your consciousness. By the time full band sound kicked in I was bewitched. The song is about the rush of new, sometimes brief, love and the music manages to mirror the rapturous roller coaster that relationships can be. When you take the Bryds into the 1980s you either get Tom Petty or the Grapes of Wrath, depending on how hard you hit the drums. John Larson and the Silver Fields are in the sweet spot, a little bit country, a whole lot rock and roll, with an accent on jangle on their most recent long-player The Great Pause. What is interesting to me is how different reviewers are raving over totally different tunes on the record. Personally I’m loving “Reversible Heart.” The jangle guitar sparkles and the tune is so Marshall Crenshaw meets Blue Rodeo. On Wide Awake Seattle’s Shake Some Action give the people what they want: jangle-infused psych poprock that shimmers and sparkles with electric energy. And the songs! There’s all the usual 1960s flavours here but I hear quite a good dose of Britpop too. Then there’s “Night Train to Munich,” a seductive gem of tune, its spare use of Rickenbacker nicely framing the haunting melody.

Artist Lucas Nathan is the band Jerry Paper and they are looking to just be themselves. In the case of Nathan that means identifying as non-binary, something the single “Kno Me” touches on. If that messes with your head the message here and on other cuts from the album Free Time is you’re just going to have to live with it. “Kno Me” cops an uber cool stance, challenging what we think we know about the singer and their gender. Meanwhile the chorus is pure pop bliss. When you’ve played with indie royalty like the New Pornographers and Woodpidgeon getting something new off the ground can fight to draw focus. But Frontperson deserves the spotlight. The title track from their new album Parade is so light and frothy, like unpredictable performance art (but not the boring self-indulgent kind). It kicks off so Laurie Anderson before the vocals turn more Joni Mitchell meets, well, the New Pornographers. The song’s got a thoroughly poppy positive vibe, despite the somewhat dire lyrics. You can’t help but feel a bit uplifted after hearing it. Japan’s The Kafers have so nailed the early Beatles sound it’s eerie. And I’ve heard a lot of Beatlesque numbers over the years. “Crying for the Moon Instead” sounds like it’s right off Please Please Me or With the Beatles, it’s got that Crickets-post-Holly vibe with guitars that are so 1963. If you listen to more than a few tunes by Mike Brunacini you’ll hear he’s got a distinctive piano pop thing going on, very Ben Folds. But I like his recent “Summer of 2009” in part because it’s such a departure. Sure it’s got piano but the guitar is pretty much in front for a lot of the tune. I love the variety he puts into performance, adding endearing bits of melodic ornamentation here and there to what is already a pretty strong number. fine.’s last album I’m Glad It’s Over Now is so listenable, the blending of the duo’s vocals a so smooth yet sibilant harmony. But the standout track for me is a bit of different, the so-this-post-topical “South by the Beach” with its accordion-sounding keyboard parts. The overall sound really reminds me of the synth-intimate atmosphere created by the likes of Long Island’s Red Barn.

The Kafers – Crying for the Moon Instead

Song 21 on our beach mix-tape odyssey is from Chris Castino’s new album Brazil. “Chinese Whispers” is a mellifluous pop number in a Paul Simon or Joshua Radin style. It’s a perfect accompaniment to your drive to beach, with the wind in your hair and some good feeling in your heart.

As Jonathan Richman once said, the beach be one of the best things we got. What makes that better? Tunes, of course. Stock up your playlist here!