Breaking news: The Brothers Steve, Bleached, Joe Sullivan and In Deed

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Screen Shot 2019-07-27 at 1.42.02 PMA very exciting batch of genuinely breaking bands and songs on this post that bridge the Atlantic, going the distance from California to Michigan to Uppsala, Sweden.

Screen Shot 2019-07-27 at 1.43.31 PMThe Brothers Steve debut album #1 is a concentrated dose of poprock goodness. This baby is all killer, no filler, beginning to end. From the double A-side blast of “Angeline/Carolanne” to the hip-shaking good time feel of “She” to the tongue-in-cheek hooky hilarity of “We Got the Hits.” And it sounds especially sweet on blue vinyl! I love the mix of acoustic guitars, electric leads and sweet harmonies. Check out the mix on “C’mon Pappy” with its 1970s English power pop sound, particularly the vocal stylings. “Songwriter” ups the crunch with a great driving beat, adding just a hint of a “Paperback Writer” refrain on the chorus. “Carry Me” pushes the jangle pedal hard while the vocals have a lovely Byrdsian swirl. “Good Deal of Love” is my current fave, a track that would not sound out of place on any Marshall Crenshaw album. “Sunlight” has listeners exiting the album on a sunny, acoustic guitar-drenched mellow vibe. With three-quarters of the melody rocking heroes from Tsar in the band, perhaps it’s not surprising how strong this debut is. And yet it’s a clear departure from their earlier work in style and delivery. Look for this on my top album list this year, a ‘you-can’t-go-wrong’ album recommendation from Poprock Record. Good Deal of Love

Screen Shot 2019-07-27 at 1.44.35 PMLos Angeles’ Bleached advance from the punky beach esthetic that defined the sonic palate of their earlier work to a more confident glossy poprock sound on their new record, Don’t You Think You’ve Had Enough? It’s immediately apparent on the opening track “Heartbeat Away” – now the vocals are upfront and taking charge of the tune, to great effect. But that can’t prepare you for “Hard to Kill,” a delicious slice on late 1970s ska-influenced new wave. The track practically leaps out of the speakers, oozing Parallel Lines-era Blondie riffs and vocal mannerisms. The album is full of retro-brushed delights, from the Go-Go-ish “Somebody Dial 911” to the dreamy “Silly Girl” to the more straight-up melodic rock and roll vibe of “Rebound City” and “Valley to LA.” This is another full play recommendation. In a world of seemingly interminable single-teasing, Bleached have dropped an album that is worth putting on repeat at your next party.

Screen Shot 2019-07-27 at 1.45.42 PMJoe Sullivan’s Growing Up Schlockstar is more than a sequel to his 2014 debut Schlockstar, it’s a clear advance on what were already recognized as formidable talents as a songwriter and performer. The record teems with familiar sounds: a Glen Tilbrook-esque turn of phrase and delivery, a bit of Jeremy Messersmith’s understated wordplay, and riffs clearly paying homage to bands ranging from the Beatles to Queen. And the hooks! They’re slathered all over tracks like “Mr. Positivity,” “Greenfield Acres” and “Time Machine.” Fans of clever lyrics are going to love “Gifted and Talented,” “Cheerleader” and “Space Princess.” Anyone who can effortlessly name check Starbuck, Captain Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard in a song should get extra points!

Screen Shot 2019-07-27 at 1.46.31 PMEverest is actually the 2019 American re-release of In Deed’s 2018 record. Still, I think the band from Uppsala, Sweden can rest on their laurels a bit as Everest was their first release in 16 years. Luckily, it’s fantastic! From the attention grabbing opener “Another Start” (with its distinctive Killers-like guitar opening) and throughout the breadth of the album, it quickly becomes clear this is a group full of surprises. Indeed, the very next song on the record marks a striking shift in sound and tempo: “Five Times a Day” is a more melody driven tune, delivered with acoustic guitars and a lush vocal-focused sound reminiscent of work from Holland’s Sunday Sun. At other times In Deed channel a modernized mid-1960s beat sound on tracks like “Don’t Need, Don’t Care” and the jangle-heavy “According to You” or shift to a late 1980s UK poprock sound a la the Darling Buds or The Primitives on “Heart Attack.”  Sometimes they just melodically rock out with great driving numbers like “Song to You” and “Flavour of the Month.”

For artists to ‘break out’ people have to break with some cash. Visit The Brothers Steve, Bleached, Joe Sullivan and In Deed online to help make this happen.

Photo credit: Larry Gordon.

This may be your year

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Screen Shot 2019-07-23 at 2.04.54 PMSongs about years, songs with years in the titles … anything for a kooky theme. If you were born in the early to mid-1980s, or graduated from high school, these may be your years! While I searched in vain for a 1980 and 1982, I do have 1981, 1983, 1984 and 1985 covered.

Things kick off with hardcore punk legend Kevin Seconds channeling his poprock side on a cut from his 2002 split album with Matt Skiba. “1981” recounts a lost love from that year. And it was probably for the best. Neon Trees’ take on “1983” from their 2010 album Habits is a bit more rosey-coloured, perhaps because songwriter Tyler Glenn was busy being born that year. His recollections are understandably hazy. Power pop stalwarts The Records come on all ominous with the George Orwell-inspired “1984” from their 1979 debut Shades in Bed. But it’s still hooky (in a “Break-up Song” sort of way). 1985 gets two treatments. Canadian west-coast folkie Ryan McMahon gives us a classic balladeer’s story about hitting lows both economic and personal in “1985” from his 2011 record All Good Stories. Meanwhile punky funsters Bowling for Soup took SR-71’s paean to crippling nostalgia “1985” to new chart highs in 2004, a cut from their The Hangover You Don’t Deserve release.

Kevin Seconds – 1981The Records – 1984

Years pass but in our constantly connected world it’s never too late to get caught up on some past masters. Click the links on the artist names above to connect with these acts.

Top photo is from a 2016 newspaper story about a fan who built a 1980s replica cinema in his backyard in Stoke-on-Trent, UK.

Should be a hit single: The Cerny Brothers “American Whore”

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Screen Shot 2019-07-16 at 5.47.50 PMFans of Bruce Springsteen, John Cougar Mellencamp and Tom Petty at their hookiest are gonna love the Cerny Brothers’ “American Whore” from their late 2018 release, Looking for the Good Land. Like their inspirational sources, the brothers head a crack band and there’s some pretty amazing playing all over the album, particularly on the boogie piano-heavy “Laugh at the Devil” and the beautiful, moving “Million Miles,” with its light harmonica and banjo touches. But “American Whore” is clearly the centre-piece of the album, with AOR hit single written all over it. Curiously, though the band has nailed the sound and songwriting style of Springsteen and Mellencamp, the song’s message is decidedly different.  Internet entertainment magazine PopDust quoted Robert Cerny describing the song as “… born out of frustration. So many people rally against capitalism and consumerism, yet don’t always admit we’re all a part of it. The system is a product of us, for better or worse – not the other way around.” In my trade (social science), this is what we call a logical fallacy. The fact that people work within a system of rules doesn’t mean they are the authors of it. But no matter. You don’t have agree with an artist to enjoy or even learn something from their art. “American Whore” is a great song that bodes well for future releases from the brothers Cerny.

Check out the Cerny Brothers’ website for deets about tours and new releases.

Summer snack pack: Vanilla, Space Dingus, Rachael Gordon, and Jenny and Johnny

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Screen Shot 2019-07-13 at 10.09.43 PMContinuing on a summer theme, seasonal snacking has a musical side too where we seek out a bit of crunch, the tang of a few spicy licks, a selection of sweet treats, and something refreshing to wash it all down. This post delivers a variety of summer-proofed hooks in a sonic ‘bits and bites’-like format. Dip in anywhere.

Screen Shot 2019-07-13 at 10.11.00 PMAmerica’s Pacific Northwest appears to be home to a host of super poprock talent of late, including Tacoma’s Vanilla. The band’s recent Mystik Knights of Tacoma is a testament to the abiding freshness of melody-driven rock and roll, at times channeling Macca or 10cc on tunes like “On a Night Like This,” or midperiod XTC on “Let’s Call it a Day,” or even the Everly Brothers on “Be Not Coy,” or ELO on “Bankside.”  The album is flawlessly performed, smooth but not slick. And while you’re here, it pays to reach back in Vanilla’s catalogue for “Twilight” from 2015’s Vanilla 2.0, a real treat!

Screen Shot 2019-07-13 at 10.20.12 PMSuper 8 put me on to Space Dingus, labelmates on Subjangle records, and what a great recommendation it was. This is a band with an original distillation of 1960s sounds going on, working in a variety of styles and tempos. “Ronald Raygun” sets the tone right out the gate with hooky bass runs, trebly rhythm guitar, and slightly punky vocals. But then the group effortlessly shift to a spacy jazz Classics IV vibe on “Check the Exits.” On the whole, the album has a rockin’ party feel on tracks like “Haunted Shoes,” “Intrepid,” and “Honey Teeth.” Clearly, this would be amazing live band to see! And then “George” changes the pace again, slowing things down into an electric folky rumination. But the album highlight for me is a song that sounds like a great lost Monkees cut, “Parchment Squire, Paper Knight.” Killer!

Screen Shot 2019-07-13 at 10.21.16 PMI had the car iTunes on shuffle and a sound came out of the speakers that was pure pop rock bliss: Rachael Gordon’s cover of Paul Collin’s “Rock and Roll Girl.” At some point I had picked up her 1999 compilation of the same name which collected various EPs and one-off singles together. But clearly I didn’t really give it a serious listen. Now I had it on maximum repeat! So many great tunes. Highlights for me include her cover of Moe Berg’s “Man’s Best Friend” (sounding like a female Eytan Mirsky – or is he a male Rachael Gordon?), “Goodbye to You,” “Fun at Your House,” the Beatlesque “And Sometimes,” and an inspired cover of the Plimsouls’ “When You Find Out.” Her 2004 release Coming of Spring is also top quality, channeling Nick Lowe on cuts like “Where Are You Tonight,” the Go Go’s and Bangles on “Ariel” and the remake of her own “Fun at Your House,” or folk rock on “Dresden Station.” But save time for the closer, “The Farewell Song,” a galloping, good-time melodic romp. Why haven’t we heard more music from Rachael Gordon? Life’s not fair.Rock and Roll GirlAnd Sometimes

Screen Shot 2019-07-13 at 10.22.10 PMWhen Ed Ryan suggests something to me, I run to check it out. He’s a distinguished artist in his own right and has great taste in music. So when he mentioned I’d probably like Jenny and Johnny, I knew it was going to be special. But how special? I was not prepared for how good this was going to be. I’m Having Fun Now is the product of a collaboration between Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis and her then boyfriend, Johnathon Rice. The record rocks off to a great start with “Scissor Runner,” a track that sounds like it was left off the Plimsouls’ first album. “My Pet Snakes” alternates J and J’s vocals to good effect in a swinging, hooky number. “Switchblade” goes a bit more country all Jayhawks/Blue Rodeo-like. And so on. There’s not a bum track on the album. Personally, I love “Animal,” “New Yorker Cartoon,” and “Straight Edge of the Blade,” but save my greatest appreciation for the delightfully earwormy “Just Like Zeus.” Enjoy this, because the break up probably means there won’t be any more.Scissor RunnerJust Like Zeus

So get out the summer snack bowl and crank up these tunes. And make sure to give Vanilla, Space Dingus, Rachael Gordon, and Jenny and Johnny an internet-like visit.

Go west with Bruce Springsteen!

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Screen Shot 2019-07-11 at 9.29.25 AMBruce Springsteen’s new LP Western Stars finds the Boss back in top form, in control of his muse, throwing off hooks shrouded in poprock adornments from the past fifty years. The album has strings, horns, Bacharach and David orchestrations, Born to Run sparkly piano, and Nebraska-era acoustic guitar appegiations. And the songs! Not since Tunnel of Love has Bruce produced such a coherent set of songs, such a thematically clear statement of where he’s at. There’s hope, love, loss and regret – the usual, in other words. But the balance of themes and performance captured here in on par with some of his very best work.

Western Stars is Springsteen’s cinematic soundtrack of a neoliberal America. Where Born to Run captured the insecurity of a boom-time working class that might just lose anyway, Western Stars bookends Darkness at the Edge of Town, Springsteen’s prescient, dark rumination about the beginning of the end of the economic good times for working people at the close of the 1970s. But with Western Stars, the damage is now done, and his various protagonists are just trying to hang on. Or simply hang on to their regret. And they’re still drifting. Songs like “The Wayfarer,” “Western Stars,” and “Chasin’ Wild Horses” all evoke that Springsteen-esque ramble, mixing steel guitar and a judicious dollop of strings. But the thread of possible redemption formerly dominant in Springsteen’s earlier work is much weaker here. With it’s Louisiana Cajun pep “Sleepy Joe’s Café” is the one backward glance at the good times. But compared to the dour mood animating the derelict and overgrown “Moonlight Motel” it can’t help but sound a bit forced.

Somewhere North of NashvilleStones

And then there’s the loss. Because no one does wistful regret like the Boss. The mournful “Somewhere North of Nashville” captures the pain of letting ambition get in the way of love, only to end up with neither. “Stones” is a slow-paced, country dirge-like rumination about betrayal. And then there’s the magisterial “There Goes My Miracle,” a song whose vocal soars with Roy Orbison-like beauty and sorrow. At his best, Springsteen gives feeling to that sense of failure that accompanies a late recognition of life’s poor choices. Still, the record is not completely devoid of hope. The acoustic “Hitch Hikin’” captures the joy of travel and discovery, while the horn and piano-heavy “Tucson Train” celebrates the joy of an imminent romantic reunion.

There Goes My MiracleHitch Hikin’

On this album, as with most of his previous releases, Springsteen provides no easy answers. His work is a series of life sketches, highlighting a nearly invisible working class experience. It exists as a curio for some, a desperate reflection for others. In the end, “Hello Sunshine” has the Boss admitting he may have had a thing for the lonely town, the blues, and the empty road. But now he simply asks for a bit of sunshine. And we’re left wondering if he’ll get it. Or, by extension, whether we’ll get it.

Bruce is everywhere. So check out Western Stars, give it a few listens, live with it for a bit, and see if you don’t agree it’s one of the best things he’s delivered in a long while.

Singles going summer: Girlfriend Material, pronoun, Sunsleeper, and Taylor Knox

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Screen Shot 2019-07-03 at 11.18.46 PMAh, the heat! Summer is upon us and bevy of singles have arrived all vying to soundtrack the season for us this year. Get ready to roll down the windows and crank the stereo to test these ones.

Sourcing talent from Hollerado and Tokyo Police Club, Toronto-based Girlfriend Material are teasing audiences with just few tunes from their upcoming new album, Cool Car. “First of the Month” launches with a catchy discordant jangle that devolves into a glorious head-bobber, alternating between understated and more punky vocals. Capitalization-averse pronoun is the moniker of Brooklyn-based artist Alyse Vellturo and her new album sounds to me like the poprock album Enya might make. A bit dreamy from the start, the debut single “run” has a killer roll out guitar hook that kicks in and never lets up. The album is i’ll show you stronger and it’s worth a listen, particularly for the perfectly titled “you didn’t even make the bed.” Salt Lake City’s Sunsleeper is often tagged as emo and it’s definitely there in their catalogue but the new record You Can Miss Something and Not Want it Back does hold some surprises. Like “Soften Up,” a more uptempo driving tune than their usual fare. Toronto-based Taylor Knox continues to develop a unique brand of crunchy poprock on his just-released LP Here Tonight. Case in point: “City of Night,” a cool slice of melodic AM radio sunshine, particularly in the chorus.

Summer means patios and drinks with umbrellas and just how are Girlfriend Material, pronoun, Sunsleeper, and Taylor Knox supposed to pay for all that? You know the drill.

Boardwalk photo courtesy Larry Gordon.

Canada D’eh!

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Screen Shot 2019-07-01 at 12.55.12 PMThe great white north is less so on its national holiday, which falls on the sunny side of the calendar. Though I’d steer clear of a dip in any our Great Lakes, which remain icicle cold through most of the summer. Instead, I’d recommend feeling the national spirit with some highly melodious and hooky Canadian content from western Canada’s Northern Pikes. Thirty-five years after their founding and 16 years since their last record, the band is back with a new album, Forest of Love, and a song made for the country’s muted brand of nationalism, “Canada Boy.” The record is as good as anything on their back catalogue – which is to say it’s great! But there is a welcome twist to the overall sound with the addition of the Grapes of Wrath vocalist/songwriter Kevin Kane, particularly evident on the fabulous “Canada Boy,” a song that really marries the two bands’ complementary styles.

The Northern Pikes – Canada Boy

Show your love of country the musical way and check out the band’s website and Facebook page.

Cover me! Marshall Crenshaw’s “You’re My Favorite Waste of Time”

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Screen Shot 2019-06-25 at 3.29.53 PMWhat started out as a home demo B-side has gone on to become one of Marshall Crenshaw’s most enduring and widely covered songs! Crenshaw recalls that “You’re My Favorite Waste of Time” was written while he was still employed playing John Lennon in the off Broadway production of Beatlemania, and that it was one of his very first forays into songwriting. Marshall’s version of the song – still the definitive treatment IMHO – has him playing all the parts in his New York City apartment home studio in 1979, despite being credited on the 45 to the ‘Handsome, Ruthless and Stupid Band’ when released as the B-side to “Someday Someway” in 1982. Cover versions have emerged at regular intervals since then. What draws people to the tune? No doubt it’s Crenshaw’s unmistakable, unforgettable vocal hook in the chorus that gives the song its classic and timeless poprock sound.

Marshall Crenshaw

Marshall’s original version of the song has a curious tempo and an eerie vocal harmony. It’s sounds just a little out of kilter, with distinctive keyboard notes, and a lovely stumbling finish. Why he didn’t elect to produce a polished professional studio version is unclear. Still, the demo version is charming. The song’s covers have ranged all over the style map, from country to dance club to rock and roll. But not every version is a winner, from my poprock-biased point of view. Bette Midler’s slick, poppy  early 1983 cover no doubt gave the song it’s major exposure to American audiences, while Owen Paul’s more dance-pop take made the UK top ten in 1986. But neither version really grabs me. By contrast, the Bellamy Brothers’ version from their 1985 LP Howard and David has real heart. So I’m gonna be choosy here, featuring only the covers I think honour the spirit of Crenshaw’s vision for the song.

The Bellamy Brothers

Crenshaw’s musical oeuvre stands at the crossroads of rock and roll’s country and rhythm and blues roots. Not surprisingly then, the covers that work best draw from these traditions too.  Kevin Johnson and the Linemen really nail the song on their 1991 debut album, Memphis for Breakfast, with an alt country-fied rock and roll sound. They almost sound like Crenshaw himself! Then the covers really start coming in the new millennium. Crenshaw himself played on Ronnie Spector’s 2003 cover of the song from her EP of his tunes, Something’s Gonna Happen, so it rocks, not surprisingly. Jeffrey Foskett is well known for his work with Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, particularly on vocal support. Predictably, he makes the most of the vocal machinations embedded in the song, especially in the chorus. A poprock superstar version came out in 2013 from Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs, a bonus track addition to volume 3 of their Under the Covers series. And the song has also gone international with Irish, Swedish and Norwegian bands taking it on, from Johnny Logan, The Drowners and Kjetil Linnes respectively, producing great straight-up, poppy, rock and roll renditions. The most recent cover I could find can be found on Rachel Kiel’s super 2017 release, Shot From a Cannon.

Kevin Johnston and the LinemenRonnie SpectorMatthew Sweet and Susanna HoffsJohnny LoganThe Drowners

Who should have covered this song? The Everly Brothers, that who. But barring that now irreparable oversight, there’s room for more time-wasting song-wise. Click on the links above to get to know these cover artists other material, and don’t forget to give Marshall lots of love too!

Around the dial – Orville Peck, Scandinavia, and Summer Colds

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Screen Shot 2019-06-18 at 12.30.43 PMBold new visions are all that make the cut on today’s dial twisting installment.  Each of our featured acts puts a unique spin on the poprock genre.

Screen Shot 2019-06-18 at 12.32.05 PMOrville Peck comes on like the bastard love child of Elvis Presley and Morrisey. His voice has the spine chilling warmth of the King on tracks like “Nothing Fades Like the Light.” But his phrasing on cuts like “Winds of Change” and “Dead of Night” are so the Mopester. It would be easy to shrug off Peck’s killer debut album, Pony, as just another bit of kitsch or retro country a la early K.D. Lang or K.C. Musgraves (prior to her most recent release). Obviously songs like “Roses Are Falling” and “Take You Back (The Iron Hoof Cattle Call)” encourage such a response. But Pony is so much more. Despite the obvious fun Peck is having there is deep sincerity to the performances too. Peck isn’t just kidding. When he hits the ‘alright’ part of the vocal in “Turn To Hate” something happens that’s hard to explain. You hear the mastery, the control, the hurt. The song could easily have had a pumping Pet Shop Boys synth backdrop but Peck has crafted a distinctive bit of musical synthesis, drawing from retro rock and roll, country and a gay club esthetic. This guy is something big waiting to explode.

Screen Shot 2019-06-18 at 12.33.32 PMLondon’s Scandinavia wrap an acerbic critique of empty consumerism and widespread inequality in a delicious melodic coating throughout their latest long player, Premium Economy. At first I thought the title was a jokey, ridiculous play on how the corporate world increasingly sells status inequality to different gradations of the striving middle class. Actually, it’s a real thing, offered up by SAS airlines! Satire is getting harder and harder but Scandinavia still give it a go. Empty-headed contrarians take a beating on “I Don’t Believe in Anything,” corporate interests disguised as a ‘love of science’ are exposed on “Choose Science,” and American imperialism is rightly condemned on “Pax Americana.” But hey, at the end of day the record stands or falls on the quality of the tunes. And here I can attest that they are pretty amazing. “Melody Glade” is a stroll through a lush grove of jangle. “Ghetto Blaster” exudes a blast of sunshine, particularly with its harmony-drenched chorus. And “I Own An Island” manages to skewer the depths of wealthy over-consumption while wooing us with killer hooks in the chorus. And don’t miss the back catalogue for more of the high quality same.

Screen Shot 2019-06-18 at 12.34.34 PMIt’s a fairly predictable hipster transition to see former punkers mellowing into the roots music scene in old age. But Nic McNamara has gone the other way. After two respectable neo-folkie albums with his band Black Bears Fire he’s back with a more muscular, punky rock and roll sound with new band Summer Colds on their debut album, Here Comes Nothing. The result is a fascinating synthesis of country harmonies with a poppy American punk sound. This is particularly apparent on opening tracks “Low” and “Found,” both featuring vocals that remind of such alt-folk luminaries as You Won’t and Good Old War. When we get to the single “Whiteout” the comparisons to Weezer start to make sense with its grind of buzzing guitars and smooth hooky vocals. Special mention: check out the great western country harmony lurking under the rock veneer on “Killing Flies.”

Today’s bands all amount to more than their most immediate appearances and bear repeated listening to really appreciate them. There’s no better way to make that happen than to invest in their musical products. Click on Orville Peck, Scandinavia, and Summer Colds to get that started.

Cow photo: Larry Gordon.

Artist spotlight: Omicrom J Trauma

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Screen Shot 2019-06-11 at 10.21.40 AMDallas must be some kind of music town – so many cool bands! And here’s another one: Omicrom J Trauma. With media comparisons to Cheap Trick, Sloan, and The Posies, they definitely sound worth investigating. So far they’ve released just one EP, You Should Have Thought About That, but it’s a killer. “Good Conversations” opens things up with some solid guitar crunch but the swing of the tune is wonderfully eccentric, vibing a bit of 1970s jazz pop a la Steely Dan at times. Then “Leave You Alone” establishes the band’s poprock bona fides, accent on rock, with a snappy lead line and more crunchy rhythm guitar – this is the obvious hit single. “Luna” buzzes on with a summertime feel good dance groove. And so on. This is a band about to take off and it promises to be a wildly entertaining ride. Can’t wait to see them live!

Click on the link above to give Dallas’ newest hitmakers some money love at Bandcamp or any of the usual music dispensing locales.