On episode 2 of our year-end record round-up we’re going seriously retro. These acts know their influences and lean into them, heavily. But not without some creative licence.
What happens when you bring a bona fide 1970s indie legend into contact with a Spanish sunshine-pop hipster? Magic my friends, that’s what. Marc Jonson and Ramírez Exposure’s debut collaboration Turning On The Century, Volume 1 is a love letter to California’s sunny pop traditions, a bit baroque a times with a whole lot of sixties rock and roll heart. Opening track “Tape Recorder” brings a masterful Beach Boy-like vocal interplay to a song that goes Dion and on and on. Or just listen to how the acoustic lead guitar bounces along carrying “The Real Sound of the World.” “Sour Lemonade Sour” sounds bit more mid-1970s sweet pop while “Appears” is a great tune where the vocals seem to float over a very late seventies McCartney-like backing. “I Don’t Know Your World” adds some Neil Diamond-ish musical change-ups to a song that I could hear the Everly Brothers doing. Then the duo wrap things up with a more modern 1980s sound on “The Anchorite.” Seems like Turning On The Century, Volume 1 is just begging for a volume 2.
Once upon a time I looked to artists like Matthew Sweet to deliver album after album of reliably poprocky hooks. Now I turn to Greg Pope. Over the course of now eight solo albums he just never lets me down, turning out absolutely fabulous hook-filled long-players. This year’s Rise of the Mythical Creatures is no exception. Album opener “As You Love” sounds very Sweet, very much like the should-be hit single. Then “Words No One Can Say” has an intensity and occasional vocal presence that has me imagine a new wave John Lennon. But what is striking about this record, and perhaps a bit of a departure for Pope, is how the acoustic rhythm guitar is pushed to the top of the mix in so many of the songs here, in a very seventies way. It’s obvious in the absolutely dynamite single-ish “Sorry I Wrote This Song.” But you can really hear it on “Holding on to a Sunny Day” and “Looking Down.” I’m also partial to “Backwards Through a Door” which echoes the best of the poppy efforts from bands like Blue Oyster Cult. Sometimes myths are true – this record proves you can believe in Greg Pope.
Somewhere Sideways Same As You is the first album for Drew Beskin with his new band The Sunshine, gathering together a bunch of things he’s been working over the past year or so. Tracks like “Lisa Simpson Fangs” and “Horror Movie Plot” came out a while back. Others are more recent, like “Spoilers,” a buoyant, lighthearted keyboard romp from this past summer. What all this means is that while the record contains a mix of styles it still somehow establishes a constant mood. I hear the refined Americana pop sound of Sam Weber on tracks like “Not If But When.” But then cuts like “Pear Plum Blues” add some grit to the guitar, establishing a heavier, almost punky sound. My personal fave is “The Mystery of Being a Boy.” The song is just a great straight-up poprock tune, breezing along with the abandon of a deep cut from Rank and File or the Grapes of Wrath. “Sun Cancer” reverts to a Weber-like pop sophistication, dropping in some clever hooks.
Who is Peter Astor? I don’t know. But after hearing “New Religion” from his recent Time On Earth album I feel like I should have. Turns out, he goes way back, to the late 1970s break out new wave/punk scene, to the moody 1980s English band scene, to plenty of solo records. Man, have I got a lot of homework to do with his back catalogue. But for now, let’s take on Time On Earth, an album that meanders through a variety of styles. There’s the wonderfully mannered, mellow ruminations that remind me of Black e.g. “English Weather” (what horns!). Or the obvious should-be hit-single “New Religion” with its great combo of distinctive synth work and a vocal melody reminiscent of Boo Hewerdine’s work. And what about that Steve Nieve-worthy keyboard work on “Time on Earth”? Killer stuff. “Miracle on the High Street” is just a lovely folk tune. On “Undertaker” Astor goes all Nick Lowe elder statesman, the guitar warbles just so, the vocal harmonies shiver on cue. Then “Fine and Dandy” calls a wrap on the record by actually turning up the amps and knocking off a few tasty guitar solos. I’ve listened to this record more than few times and each time I’m impressed by Astor’s effortless mastery of whatever he’s putting out.
Given the surprising death of Dallas Good earlier this year Colder Streams marks the final release from The Sadies classic line-up featuring Good family brothers Dallas and Travis. It’s a shame for many reasons, not least of which is that the quality of the band’s recent musical output has shown no signs of fading. Depending on how you count their records Colder Streams is their 20 LP and it is undeniably rip-roaringly good. What we have here is a wonderful synthesis of garage, psych and jangle, sometimes tipping more rock, sometimes leaning country. Opening cut “Stop and Start” even sounds like The Smithereens-meets-The The, put through a psychedelic filter. I’d divide the album into three thematic realms. There’s a western Morricone feel to “More Alone” and certainly the deliberately cinematic “End Credits” which throws in some Bond elements too. I love the Gregorian chant vibe infused into the otherwise spaghetti western-ish “Cut Up High and Dry.” Then there’s garage rock and psych influences defining “No One’s Listening” and “Better Yet,” the latter evoking such seminal acts of the genre as the Chocolate Watch Band. I also hear a very REM gloss on a few tunes, such as “So Far for So Few” and “Ginger Moon.” On the outlier front, there’s country banjo lurch of “All the Good.”
People familiar with Marco Busato’s previous band More Kicks will need to adjust their expectations. On Night of My Times, Busato’s solo debut, the power pop intensity is dialed down in favour of a more subtle sonic shading and impact. The songs here are light pop confections, elevated with a variety of delicious guitar tones. Feel the gentle swing of opening cut “Sunken Ships” to fully get the brief here. The overlapping lead guitar lines are often short, simple and utterly seductive, tied together with some heavenly vocal ‘ahhs’ wallpapering the background. In another way, the record is a bit disorienting. The different musical elements sounds so familiar – there’s bits of 60s psychedelia, 70s AM pop, surf guitar, etc. – but nothing here is really retro. Instead this palette is used to add colour to these oh-so pleasant songs. Check out how the lead guitar and offbeat rhythm brighten “I Don’t Know Why” and particularly the surf-ish instrumental “Tropical Downtime.” At other times the feel is so 1970s AM radio melodious, as on “Find the Way” and “Night of My Times.”
Rounding up records can be like herding sheep, there’s a lot of noise and you’re not really sure where things are going. But that’s half the fun. More to come!
Photo courtesy of James Vaughn.