Lowered expectations new year


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Psst. Reasonably pleasant new year to you. I’m just keeping this celebration thing on the down low. If we’ve learned anything over the past few years it’s don’t get your hopes up, don’t expect big and bold good things, just rescale your sense of what’s possible. Between war and inflation and these almost-over but really never-ending pandemics we’ve all taken a beating. So let’s start 2023 with an attitude adjustment, a reality reset, a proper mind-frame for (limited) success. And a few tunes.

Talk about timely. Austria’s The Geezers literally have just released an album and single entitled 2023. This from a band with song titles like “Jeff Lynne” and “Tom Petty,” which tell you a lot. But this new song suggests they might need tunes named for New Order or some of those Britpop artists. An interesting mix of rock and roll and dance synth elements. Perhaps 2023 might be time to take what’s familiar in some slightly new directions.

Brian Dunne’s most recent album is Selling Things. With song titles like “Getting Wrecked on Election Day” and “I Hope I Can Make it to the Show” you get the sense he’s fully onboard with this whole lowered expectations thing. But his track “Nothing Matters Anymore” is an acoustic guitar-loaded gut-wrencher from the Springsteen school of social realist heartache. Really the song is saying ‘what does matter’? And that is the question for our age. RL’s response is “Be True.” Stripped down name, stripped down sentiment. With some groovy, rather spacy organ riffs and spare guitar work.

In times like these some people turn inward, looking for love in all the most available spaces. Sweden’s The Genuine Fakes make the whole enterprise sound pretty sweet melodically, if still somewhat lyrically dicey, on “Two Fine Lovers.” Rogers and Butler country-rock things up on “Oh Romeo” in a Steve Forbert kind of way, calling for Romeo to play his predictable bad boyfriend part. Janelane is having no part of that on “Goodbye to Heartache,” responding with a Tamar Berk sense of upbeat rocking melody and noticeable electric piano hooks.

Of course, another option to go really inward, like ‘dude where’s my inner peace?’ inward. That does make some sense. Now with wacky tibaccky legalization happening most everywhere across western countries Bellows suggest just letting “Marijuana Grow.” This mellow tune is so channeling the Elliott Smith school of breathy poprock – and I like it. The Moneygoround call for you to ‘hazy up the day’ with a Beach Boys vibe but perhaps that’s not spliff code on their light and breezy single “Catch a Breeze.” Or maybe it is. You can enjoy it either way.

I’ve been messaging Jonathan Kupersmith about getting his fabulous tunes up on some service where the whole wide world can buy them. So far he’s just got an album’s worth of stuff on YouTube videos. I guess that’s working for him. “Number One On My Playlist” seems apropos for our ‘scaling it back’ theme here. Or, going back to The Genuine Fakes fabulous new EP Extended Play Vol. 3, perhaps  “We’re All We Need”?

What’s advice worth? Not the e-paper it’s printed on. But anyways, happy new mumble mumble …

Photo courtesy Stefan Van der Straeten.

Record round-up III


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This is it, round three of our year-end record round-up, our final one for the year. And it is definitely a strong finish. If round one was rocking and round two was retro then round three is a tad more out there and experimental. But oh-so listenable.

Everyone Stop is *repeat repeat’s sprawling new 27-cut double-plus album. Just released at year’s end, you can enjoy it as an uninterrupted 91 minute experience or skip all over its many different contributions, needle-dropping your way through its musical depths. With so much material here the record lacks the laser-like stylistic focus of the band’s magisterial 2019 release Glazed. But the expanse gives them a chance to hang out in so many different sonic playrooms. The results are a rocking good-time funk dancing acoustic emotional ballad roller coaster. You’re gonna need to hang on tight to hang in here. The first three cuts are a good introduction to the textured genius of this band: “Everyone Stop,” “Dearly Departed,” and “Arrangements” hit you with such cool guitar tones, a solid dance bass/drum combo, and airy-light vocals. The whole album could have just stayed in this lane. But suddenly “Adult Friend Finder” flips the script, taking us into alt-folk territory not unlike the likes of You Won’t and Bombadil. Just looking for earworms? Let’s cut to the hits chase: “Hmm Feels Like,” “Diamonds,” and “Tripping (I Know I Will)” are all should-be hit singles. What hooks! What sonic artistry! There’s so much to love here and I can only scrape the surface of what the band accomplish on this LP. Right now I’ll just draw attention to the wistful “I Was Happy” which lays its dreamy pop over a musical bed that sounds so Portugal the Man. Or there’s my today-fave cut (it may change tomorrow) “Burn Another Layer.” My recommendation: you’re going to need to set aside some time to fall in love with Everyone Stop. But you will.

I fell hard for The Stroppies killer 2019 single “First Time Favourites” with its harpsichordian keyboard riffs and folk rock vocals. So my first hit of their new album Levity was more than a bit jarring. But I loved it. What an interesting shift of musical emphasis from this band on this record, to a more daring, somewhat techno-experimental sound laid over solid rock and roll tunes. You can feel the creative tension of this mixture rippling throughout opening cut “The Perfect Crime,” with the guitar and keyboard parts pulling in different directions. Then “Smilers Strange Politely” floats a pleasant melody over a relentless guitar riff that gets seared into your consciousness. The record is really all about letting the electric lead guitar drive the songs – songs like “Up To My Elbows,” “I’m In the Water” and “Figure Eights” all let the guitar work cut loose in exciting ways. And yet there’s still a folk rock feel to so many tracks here, like “Material Conditions” and “Butchering the Punchline.” Seriously, Levity is a great new direction from a very good band.

Philadelphia’s 2nd Grade always give a little bit more. 2020’s Hit to Hit had 24 songs. 2021’s Wish You Were Here Tour Revisited had 23. Now in 2022 they’ve scaled back – to 16 cuts. But new LP Easy Listening does not skimp on quality. This is one fine crew of melodic tunes, accent on poppy. Opening cut “Cover of the Rolling Stone” hits all the classic powerpop marks, vibing Mo Troper pretty strongly for me. But then “Strung Out On You” throws some 70s rock jauntiness into the mix. “Hung Up” is all 1980s guitar pop. “Me and My Blue Angels” works in a few more minor chords while “Wouldn’t It Be Nice to Let It Be” lets a big room rumble guitar fill the space in another otherwise airy lowkey number. For variety check out the Stones rhythmic slouch all over “Poet in Residence” or the bubblegum Ramones feel to “Beat of the Drum.” This record is like some K-tel super hits collection, there’s so much diversity here (and I’m not even half through the album). Personal faves: “Teenage Overpopulation” and “Hands Down” – such exhibit A perfect poprock singles. “Planetarium” is pretty sweet too. Easy Listening is not just truth in advertising, it’s 100% fun.

I feel like I’ve been trying to write about The Rubs all year. Ever since I ran across their Stonesy “I Want You” last March and found their album (dust) in August it’s been on the shortlist. But for one reason or another the record didn’t fit into this to that post. Not for lack of trying. So now let me say, this album is phenomenal piece of work. It’s like a great lost record from the 1979 to 1982 period, it so nails the guitars and poppy rock and roll songwriting and sound of the records in that era. Songwriter and one-man band Joey Rubbish (not his real name?) takes a host of classic rock motifs and pops them up, front-loading some great melodies. Opening cut “I Want You” is an attention grabber, so classic rock and roll but those candy coated vocals make it irresistible. But then things shift with “Dana” and its kooky fun spacey keyboards. From there variety comes in many forms, from the folk rock “Here In My Dreams” to the keyboard punchy “I Don’t Wanna Wait” to Thin Lizzy-ish “Hang On To Me.” Rubbish so nails the everyman rock and roll vocals of the late 1970s on tracks like “Waste of Time” or the propulsive Plimsouls guitar drive on tunes like “The Same Thing to Me.” But my vote for outstanding track here is “When I Dream About You,” a genuine poprock tour-de-force. What a majestic melody! Don’t waste time, just place (dust) directly into your ‘best of the year’ pile.

NYC’s Cherry Slide are a slice of acoustic guitar pop, dropped from the Family of the Year mold. It’s all strummy strummy strummy against a wash of harmony vocals. Except when it’s not. “Not Fair” captures the basic sound: acoustic guitar front and centre, light and airy vocals, all in the service of a poppy tune. “I Took a Number” adds some variation to this with its nice lead guitar accents. But then we have “Generate This!” It’s a wonderful single that just cooks along, riding a strong acoustic rhythm guitar and dropping in bits of electric guitar amid a captivating mix of vocals. Picked straight from the ‘hits’ tree. The band also offer up a souped-up cover His Name Is Alive’s rather spare “Wall of Speed” adding a soft-rock Spector Wall of Sound effect. Moving north Halifax Nova Scotia’s Municipality also ride the lowkey guitar pop train, sounding a bit more Elephant 6 though. On their debut Sunroom they really do sound sometimes like Apples in Stereo just popped into the Beatles Let It Be sessions. “First and Last” and “Let It Go” have really got that late period Abbey Road feel. But the material itself is more 90s indie poprock e.g. there’s a bit of Elliot Smith on “Without You.” On the other hand, “All in My Mind” sounds like the single to me with its hooky guitar shots.
It’s been an odyssey, getting through this end-of-the-year record round-up. But so worth it – so many great acts, so many great tunes. And dropped in just in time for 2022.

Photo fragment of 57 Chevy ad courtesy James Vaughn.

Record round-up II


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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.

Record round-up I


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It happens every time. Year-end rolls around and the ‘to-be-reviewed’ pile is groaning under the weight of the thus-far neglected, could-be super hits. To give everyone some airtime in their year of release this is the first of three record round-ups before the new year. I may accent brevity here but know this, the love is as fulsome as ever.

I just discovered that Farewell Horizontal is not just the name of a Melbourne noisy pop outfit but also Pavement’s last album. I don’t really hear a connection. Farewell Horizontal, the band, get noisy here and there, like on “Nosy Parker.” But most of their fourth album Tales of Woah has a killer poppy undercurrent on the rock and roll, like the best of Matthew Sweet. Opening cut “Brighton’s Full Of Arseholes” catches your attention for its title alone, but the song cooks, the vocal melody carrying us along. “Summer of Disease” is a bit more acoustic guitar pop in a Guster style. I love the oscillation between menacing and dreamy themes sustaining “The Answer is No.” Things lean in a Pixies direction on a number of cuts, like “Uh Oh (No)” and “The System Works.” Love the lead guitar opening and recurring throughout “Never Give Up (Unless You’re Shit).” On the whole, Tales of Woah is a ‘don’t hold back’ kind of album purchase.

People have been writing a lot about Washington D.C. rock and roll stalwarts Dot Dash and their new release Madman in the Rain. And why not? It’s so listenable. There is something early 1980s poprock with a jazzy tinge about this record, sorta like what the Style Council and Everything but the Girl were doing back then. Just hit play on “Space Junk, Satellites” to get the feel. Other tracks are more straight up 1980s guitar pop, with cool extra vocal adornments. Like the ‘ooh oohs’ sprinkled throughout “Forever Far Out.” I hear a lot of Roddy Frame influence here, on “Madman in the Rain” particularly but also more generally in terms of the album’s overriding ambience. The keyboards steal the show on the single-worthy “Tense and Nervous” along with all those new wave band/song shout-outs. Or one might recall The Grapes of Wrath listening to “Saints/Pharaohs.” Where is my sideways button-up shirt?

Turn on In Deed member Richard Öhrn’s new solo album Sounds in English and you are immediately transported to a pop-psychedelia English summer garden circa 1967. It’s in the jangle, the mock flute solos, and the emotional ennui soaking all the songs. “Seal Your Move” is practically a musical poster child for the era, shaded with touches of the Hollies and the Turtles here and there. Then “5th Month Announcement” sounds like a cross between Simon and Garfunkel and Moody Blues. And who but an expert on the late 1960s folk pop era could drive along “Someone to Forgive You” with something that sounds like Greek balalaika lead lines and a subtle organ undercurrent. “Take This Bottle” comes back to the Hollies, but with a bit of the Searchers thrown in for good effect. And then there’s the utterly delightful piano lines defining “Love and Friendship.” What an album! Öhrn’s magic touch is in making the musical past fully present again.

Album number 13 is still lucky for Canadian east coast power pop institution Sloan. How do they keep turning it out? Could be their democratic creative ethos – all members sing and write songs. There’s no ‘front man’ here. Right from the break-out guitar driving album opener “Magical Thinking” Steady is in your head – to stay. This record is all highlights: “Spend the Day,” “Scratch the Surface,” “Keep Your Name Alive” – all are glorious guitar-heavy, chord-bashing wonders. They’re songs that will have you asking in exasperation ‘Just where is 11 on this crummy amp?!’ Of course, I do especially love the really melody-heavy numbers, like “She Put Up with What She Put Down,” “I Dream of Sleep,” and  “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” the latter with a decidedly Revolver-ish panache. No need for hard judgement here, just file this in the ‘best of the year’ pile.

And now for a bit of baroque pop. A whole lotta baroque, actually. How Birmingham, Alabama’s The Mellons come off sounding like a pitch perfect Beach Boys on their debut Introducing … The Mellons is just one of those mysteries of life. A definitely delightful mystery! Just hit play on “So Much to Say” and see if Beach Boys doesn’t register immediately, with a hefty dose of sunshine pop adornments. From there its beachscape all the way. You can practically hear the waves lapping up on “Devil’s Advocate” and “What a Time to Be Alive.” Though to be fair, there’s a strong psych pop feel to what is happening here, apparent strongly on “It’s Just a Phase” and “Salad Made of Butterflies.” Introducing … The Mellons is like time travel. A band that plays this good is a ‘happening’ for sure.

Another solid album is this year’s release from Ian M. Bailey, You Paint the Pictures. The sound is so sixties reminiscent but fresh and now at the same time. Title track and opening cut “Paint the Pictures” is a case in point. The jangle is clearly Brydsian through a Tom Petty filter but still timeless in its execution. If anything it reminds me of the AM radio-friendly work from McGuinn, Clark and Hillman in the late 1970s. “I Wanted the Sun to Shine” adds a slight country undercurrent to the rippling jangle while “I Don’t Want to Start Again” takes a more folk rock turn. “Life Without You” moves things into more Al Stewart/Gerry Rafferty territory while “Hey Little Girl” offers up a country pop vibe. For breezy should-be AM radio single I’d vote for “Change is Easy.” Song by song, this is a strong outing by any measure, for jangle-heads You Paint the Pictures is a real treat. Available from Kool Kat records here.

Paint the Pictures
I Wanted the Sun to Shine

Our record round-up is now well underway. I’m not saying we’ve left the best for last in these posts but we’ve clearly got some stuff left that is pretty good. Stay tuned.

Photo 1974 Spokane Expo World’s Fair postcard courtesy Joe Haupt.

Happy Beatles-mas!


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Now I know many of you are probably jingle-exhausted after months of a festive sounds dogging you every time you ventured out in public. But I can’t help bringing together two of my favourite things on this special day: the Beatles and holiday music. Only certified Beatlemaniacs could come up with something as kooky as this and make it work. Today’s bands fit the diagnosis and then some. Here’s what they do: they mash together a holiday standard with some classic from the Beatles catalogue. The point is meld the two as seamlessly as possible, typically maintaining the tune of the holiday song while putting it to a Beatles beat or adorning it with recognizable Beatles riffs. It’s easy to do but hard to do well, as our three fab yulesters musically demonstrate.

First up, The Butties from Syracuse, New York. Starting out in college in the 1980s they just kept getting together yearly, playing gigs and eventually recording some holiday tunes in a Beatles style. In 2005 they released an album of them entitled 12 Greatest Carols (the cover riffs on The Beatles 20 Greatest Hits). Our featured choice from the LP is their take on “Joy to the World” which incorporates “Please Please Me” in various ways. There’s the distinctive “Please Please Me” harmonica and rhythm guitar end-of-verse turnarounds. The vocal harmonies on this track are super and the harmonica runs are so Beatles but in other ways the synthesis doesn’t quite gel for me.

Number two on our docket is Danish Beatles cover band Rubber Band. Their 1994 album Xmas! The Beatmas also offers 12 Beatles-re-engineered Christmas songs. A lot of review attention at the time focused on the band’s reworking of “Last Christmas” to sound a bit like “Please Mister Postman.” The Wham!/Marvelettes mash-up didn’t grab me but there are other examples here where the synthesis works better. Like the creative combining of “Feliz Navidad” with “No Reply.” The latter adds some drama that the former sorely lacks. And then the decision to mix “Ticket to Ride” into “White Christmas was sheer brilliance. The distinctive guitar hook wraps around the tune like a warm blanket. The middle-eight break out to Lennon’s “Happy Xmas” was a nice touch too.

Rubber Band – Feliz Navidad (No Reply)
Rubber Band – White Christmas (Ticket to Ride)

All this is well and Beatlesy good but you haven’t heard anything till you hear the masters of this particular arcane genre, The Fab Four. They’ve got the accents and vocal tics down, the guitar sounds are spot on, and their ability to seamlessly stitch holiday song and Beatles classic together is unparalleled. Just listen to how they lay an “I Saw Her Standing There” backbeat onto “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.” It’s like they were made for each other. Or putting “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” together with “Help.” Once you hear it there’s a ’duh’ moment that immediately follows. And for Beatles geeks check out how they combine “Good King Wenceslas” with Help! album deep cut “Tell Me What You See.” Genius! I first enjoyed these tracks on the band’s 2002 10-song collection A Fab Four Christmas but eight more were added for a revamped 2012 re-release now entitled Hark!

The Fab Four – Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer (I Saw Her Standing There)
Good King Wenceslas (Tell Me What You See)

Wrapping things up (pun intended), we turn to the actual Fabs themselves from their 1967 fanclub-only 45 release “Christmastime (Is Here Again).” Too bad they didn’t work this up into a fully proper song as there are some great melodic elements here.

Well there you have it, two great tastes that sound great together – traditional holiday tunes done Beatles-style. From everyone here at Poprock Record, here’s hoping you’ve had the fab-est ‘whatever-you’re-celebrating’ holiday season ever!

Vancouver calling: Limblifter, Dead Soft, and Mounties


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The music scene in my old westcoast Canadian hometown has been definitely filling its quota of quality poprock of late. Today three bands you-could-stand-to-get-acquainted-with are hailing you from way out west. You really need to take this call.

Limblifter go back to the 1990s in one form or another. I came across them in their Pacific Milk period circa 2015. Wow. Sounds like Zolas, the Shins, and nothing you’re ever heard before. “The Fauves” and “Mood of Mechanics” are the stand out tracks for me. Their recent album Little Payne takes the sonorous guitar and keyboard licks in totally new directions on a host of cuts. But the monster should-be hit single here is “Haystack Rock.” What an earworm! This is a perfectly produced bit of poprock songcraft. So many interesting twists and turns, from the chugging rhythm guitars to the synthy keyboard wash to the delicious candy-coated vocals. Altogether, a pretty magical three minutes.

If you’re looking for a bit more dread and distortion in your melodic rock Dead Soft may be more on your wavelength. Combing through their Bandcamp back pages I might have gone with shoe-gazey or Swervedriver-ish as a descriptor. But their most recent single brightens their heavy pop sound quite a bit, in a fab Matthew Sweet sort of way. “Glimpse” has harmony vocals and super-charged lead guitar runs that will give you chills in all sorts of places. For the full treatment, check out their long-playing record Big Blue. Then there’s Mounties, a supergroup of sorts that delivers yet another flavour of westcoast poprock. I discovered the band quite by accident stumbling over their spot-on 1980s-riffing song “Hall and Oates.” Though if I’m being honest the sound is more Alan Parson Project with just a few Oatesian vocals interjections. “Pretty Respectable” from the same 2014’s Thrash Rock Legacy is also seriously good. Their more recent Heavy Meta is also loaded with killer cuts like “De-Evolve Again” and “Burning Money.” Personally I hear shades of Brendon Benson tucked in here and there.

Vancouver doesn’t call as often as it should. But when it does, with bands like these, you just gotta answer.

Reindeer Games


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Things got a bit out of hand for Santa this year at the Reindeer Games. It started with too much rum and eggnog at breakfast and, well, you get the picture. Still, this year’s annual musical celebration of the season is back, vibing all the key warm and fuzzies of the holiday: anticipation, desire, tradition and joy. Let’s take up each, in song.

That holiday music machine Make Like Monkeys are now my go-to source for any and every kind of seasonal single. Need a Mersey-drenched bit of poprock to bring your holiday and dating into focus? Can do. “Please Don’t Let Christmas Come Without You Girl” sounds so Beatles-derivative beat-group circa 1964. And I love it. The Essex Green offer up an Everly Brothers-worthy slice of late sixties country rock, making peace with a “Green Christmas.” The heavenly guitars and layered background vocals on this track are all I need under the tree. Seasonal songsters Christmas Aguilera sound like they’re auditioning for a ‘I hate the holidays’ telethon what with all the disaster accompanying their yuletide plans in “All Wrapped Up.” But the subtext to all the apparent chaos seems to be a grudging, recognizable family kind of love. And the tune is a real winner too, chock full of hooks and harmony vocals. Proceeds from this help the campaign to end homelessness and poor housing in the UK. Daryl Bean delivers an eerie XTC-ish paean to the anticipation of the season on “Holidaze.” You’d swear there’s a Partridge in his pear tree.

Turning to desire Toronto’s Jane’s Party capture the youthful sense of really wanting to get that specific something at Xmas with “I Want It Bad.” And they deliver it with it a bit Motown swing. The Decibels’ Brent Seavers delivers a retro sounding classic holiday tune with “I Want You for Xmas,” complete with addictive ‘fa la la la la’s’ to really reel you in. I can’t decide if Frank Royster sounds more like Fastball or The Smithereens on his fab holiday track “Christmas is Fun.” Whichever, the song sounds like a slick bit of 1980s poprock magic. Turning to tradition, rock and roll traditionalists Jeremy and the Harlequins add a heflt of solid rock backing to “White  Christmas” to shake things up. I don’t know how much Superchunk owe to Dylan Thomas but their “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” is hooky and jangly and the that’s good enough for me. It’s hard to add much to that holiday rock and roll classic “Jingle Bell Rock” but premiere guitar instrumentalist Joel Paterson manages to inject some of his special, unique playing style into the song. Old dogs, new tricks indeed!

Feeling swamped by the crass commercialism of capitalist Christmas? This year don’t puzzle till your puzzler is sore about it. As the Grinch said, “Christmas, perhaps, is a little bit more.” Like hope, and peace, and joy. Berlin’s Shybits accent the hope on “Hope This Christmas,” a chaotic swirl of Futureheads meets The Spook School indie-pop seasonal goodnesss. The pop incomparable Orion Experience wield a serious joy stick on their seasonally-appropriate, all-you-need-is-love ode “Rich Man’s Holiday.”  As they sing it, you don’t need money when ‘your love is the greatest gift in the world.’ Then there’s the peaceful easy feeling that flows from Scoopski’s new Christmas classic “Your First Christmas.” The husband and wife duo sing about their actual recent baby, a stand in for the joy that every baby anywhere can bring to a hopefully peaceful world.

And yet is wouldn’t be the holidays without mixed feelings. It’s a tough season for so many. Some with or without family, with or without faith. Anthony D’Amato captures that holiday ennui on “Merry Christmas, I Guess.” Not sad, exactly. More lonely. All wrapped up in a musical pretty paper that sounds like the pedal-steel country blues. By contrast, The Surf School Dropouts won’t suffer in silence. They utilize their Beach Boys-vocals to call out to the jolly plus-size guy himself on “Help Me Santa.” Vancouver’s Odds have got a clever plan to deal with all the garbage this season produces, both emotional and physical. While the mall marketing people say ‘more! more!’ they have Santa telling voters to share the gift of love with ‘neighbour and your honey.’ We lost the legendary girl group pioneer Ronnie Spector this past year. Right to the end she was radiating joy and goodwill to all. In terms of her long career “Best Christmas Ever” is a fairly recent release but one that captures everything great about her enduring talent and style.

It’s almost a wrap here at this annual Reindeer Games. Let’s go out looking for that star that will help lead us where we need to go in the days ahead. My new favourite one-stop-shopping seasonal music provider Make Like Monkeys can provide the accompaniment with “Star.”

Merry ho ho to all and to all a goodnight!

Top photo courtesy Kevin Dooley.

Late breaking debuts: Dave Woodard and Stephen Schijns



Some people save their debut for when they’re really good and ready. Like today’s artists – they’ve been treading the boards for years but are only just now getting around to slipping us a bona-fide long-playing album. But trust me, it’s been worth the wait.

Over the past few years David Woodard has produced a full album of material and then some. Thus far though he’s been more of an EP than LP kind of guy. Five EPs in fact. Now on Stupid Kid he stretches out a bit, presenting 12 tunes cast in a variety of power pop hues. Things start off strong with the magnificent title track “Stupid Kid,” a song for anyone whose teen self ever fantasized playing before adoring fans or just an adolescent crush. This song has new-wave throwback hit written all over it, a poppy rock delight in a solo Paul Collins or John Faye vein. “Literally Probably Maybe” keeps the 1980s guitar pop sheen shining brightly while “Right Through Me” takes this formula but adds a sweetness to the melody and vocal harmonies, courtesy the incomparable Lisa Mychols. If you really want to divine the magic behind what Woodard’s doing on this album just give a close listen to songs like “She Believes” and “More Than Happiness.”  They’re chock full of interesting melodic turns and creative vocal arrangements that allow them to really stand out. And then there’s the hooky guitar work. I love the guitar lick opening of “You’re Not Alone” but I’ll stay for the fabulous harmony vocals. With Stupid Kid David Woodard is all grown up and making power pop you really do want to hear.

Kelowna BC native Stephen Schijns (pronounced ‘Skines’) has been posting singles on Bandcamp for half a decade or so, whenever he cooked up something new. Now he’s gathered together some of those songs with a load of new material for his debut album Where Do We Go? The result is a jam-packed collection of melody-rich tunes, 18 in fact. Schijns’ style is a kind of everyman rock and roll, clearly informed by the sixties but with that smooth feel of the 1980s. Think Greg Kihn, Huey Lewis, Paul Collins, perhaps a splash of Jonathan Richman – that sort of thing. But what stands out here is the range and quality of song-writing, from the rollicking, freewheeling 1980s radio vibe of “What? Why?” and “MAP” to the sixties-infused “Friday Saturday Sunday O’ Clock” and “Round We Go,” the latter clearly an homage to those early 1960s dance numbers, complete with honking sax. There’s even a fun beach guitar workout on “Trans-Pacific Beach Bum.” But Schijns can also shift the mood dramatically with cuts like “1000 Miles From Nowhere” and “Take Your Life and Run,” both exuding a very Gordon Lightfoot feel and vocal phrasing. “Hard Edged World” even weaves a bit of old fashioned social commentary into the mix. For should-be hit singles adjust your set to play the light boppy “What Do I Know About Love?” and spot-on Brydsian re-creation “I Met Her Yesterday.” Where Do We Go? is that kind of record you can just play right through. And then maybe play again.

It’s never too late to make your debut. Some people just save what’s better for later.

Bah humbug, the Hans Gruber edition


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Welcome to what appears will be an annual post of music for people who hate the holidays. Last year’s edition of Bah Humbug stumbled upon a veritable treasure-trove of holiday-hating should-be hits. It was all a bit shocking but still delightful. I mean, personally, I’m a sucker for holiday tunes yet I can’t help but admire the dedication and intensity of the anti-holiday crowd. And the comedy. The antis have definitely got a healthy disregard for the more sickly sweet seasonal sentiments. To honour all this disdain, it only seems fitting to draw inspiration from that Christmas movie for people who hate Christmas movies, Die Hard. So get your Grinch on and open your ears for Bah humbug, the Hans Gruber edition.

We kick things off with some jangle, naturally, because surely if ever there was a holiday guitar sound it would have to be the Rickenbacker 12 string. Joe Algeri’s The JAC (and the Christmas Crew) project crank up the Byrds influences to launch their anti-materialist “I Don’t Want Your Presents” and even give a shout out to Canada. Honestly the song is not so much anti-holiday as anti-consumerist but given that it attacks a key element of the holy trinity of modern Christmas (e.g. Santa, presents, and that historical dude having a birthday) it goes into the ‘anti’ lock-up. It’s just one of a load of great Christmas-critical tunes on their Just Not Quite … A Christmas Album (Vol. 2). Classic Pat strikes a different note of holiday misgiving with “I Got What I Wanted for Christmas.” Poor Pat. He’s got the girl, it’s Christmas morning, only he’s having second thoughts about the whole ‘I love you’ thing. Definitely awkward. Power pop workaholics The Photocopies aren’t taking a break this season but don’t be fooled by their seasonally-titled Cheer Up, It’s Christmas EP. More like Merry F-ing Xmas. In one song the protagonist takes 37 seconds to confront and dump a cheating partner while in another they ooze desperate holiday insecurity about being alone on Christmas day. But the music is pretty peppy. “Christmas Alone” vibes a bit of “Crimson and Clover” in the very best way. Being down never sounded so good.

NYC’s Make Like Monkees are holiday mad. Just try counting up all the Christmas tunes on their multiple Bandcamp pages. Seemingly no aspect of the holiday scene goes unsung about, good or bad. “Christmas Hit-n-Run” is particularly lyrically brutal, with lines like ‘you’re the worst the gift I have got’ and ‘you’re everything a good gift’s not’. Ouch! But more from MLM later on. Mike Weatherford’s ramshackle ode “All I Want For Christmas is You (To Leave Me Alone)” is loaded with anti-Christmas sentiment but what makes it special is its comic timing. Again and again he turns what sounds like his initial lyrical meaning upside down. Ah, the burn. The Happy Somethings are anything but this season with three different versions of their self-described ‘jolly miserabilist festive ditty’ “It’s Christmas Time (We’re Miserable as Sin).” We’re featuring the ‘bah humbug’ version, naturally. And then Edward O’Connell captures a yuletide spirit I can really relate to with “MFC.” That stands for ‘merry effing xmas,’ pardon my French. Growing up, rarely did the season pass in my house without that expletive phrase putting in an appearance.

Our next three Christmas critics have all got a love/hate thing going on about the holidays which they regularly set to music. Christmas Aguilera put a new seasonal single out every year to raise money to end homelessness and poor housing. “This Sky” draws attention to how many people face a stark reality of rising bills and housing uncertainty, even as others throw back another rum and eggnog. Another holiday song machine is Rotterdam’s The Non-Traditionals. With pop culture-riffing album titles like Ok Christmas and All the Jingle Ladies they’re not a serious lot. Or aren’t they? Their ambitious proposal to gather up every “Plastic Tree” and burn them is either an inspired bit of political and environmental direct action or a recipe for very poor air quality. Leaning into the organ Make Like Monkees return now to pretty much kill the Christmas spirit with their revelation that “Santa Claus is Dead.” Hard to recover any festive bonhomie after that.

We wrap up this hate-the-holidays telethon where we began – with Hans. Can anybody really match his contempt for Christmas? Instead of giving the guy is focused on taking: the money, whatever Christmas Eve good feeling they were cooking up at the Nakatomi tower, and more than a few lives along the way. Luckily we have a song that perfectly captures all this and more from Athens, Georgia sparse-folkie Four Eyes. “Everything Will Change This Christmas: The Ballad of Hans Gruber” is a brilliant Freedom Fry-like rumination on the true meaning of Gruber, how he brings a special ennui and FU to holiday time. Really, Christmas isn’t complete without him.

You’re welcome, all you merry misanthropes. Turns out there is a crapping-all-over-Christmas playlist designed especially for you. Even if your heart really is two sizes too small, you needn’t just grind your teeth in silence anymore. Now you can sing out ‘bah humbug’ for all to hear!

Singles for a snowy day


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Pictures of a snowy day are invariably idyllic but the reality can be much less so. All the more reason to supercharge your season with a blast of melody and some serious riffage. Here are 21 relatively new tunes to soundtrack your snow day.

Cambridge UK native Sean Trelford was only 14 when he recorded his debut album Care Home Party during lockdown in 2020, though the record is only just coming out now. Wow. This LP conjures up a bleak though still pleasing atmosphere of world weary solitude and an injured heart that seems beyond teen years. “Dearest One” is the smoothest slice of dire-sounding popcraft here and a great start to the album. Another impressive young talent that has a debut album out is Scott Robertson of Vapour Trails fame. Not surprisingly Footprints in the Butter is crammed full of enticing, intriguing and exciting jangle. The riffage here is so 1967! “Out of Service” starts with an alluring low-key reverby lead guitar line before opening up with harmony vocals that sound very Byrds or Monkees. On album number 4 Into Beautiful Blue Charlottesville, Virginia band Kingdom of Mustang take their self-described ‘alterna-poprock’ into a more XTC-meets-Crowded House territory. “All I Can Do” delivers the delightful melodic quirks we’d expect of those influences, wrapped in a timely lyrical message that ‘everyone laugh’ as a form of coping. On Ice Cream Chords musical refugee from the 1970s Ward White turns on the Cars filter, just to make what he’s doing even more interesting. The record has White’s standard seductive David Bowie/Bryan Ferry vocal attack but on “Mezcal Moth” this combines with a song style that is very Elvis Costello circa Imperial Bedroom. The result are pop magic in a three minute, 51 second dose. Nashville’s Passion Fruit Boys sound like a new wave version of Americana, combining a country-ish songwriting base with a 1980s synth pop finish. “Glad You Came” throws out a distinctive set of guitar riffs to lure you in, buffeted by dreamy keyboards and a Cactus Blossoms vocal delivery.

It’s pretty hard to improve on The Hollies, most especially their star single “Bus Stop.” Terms like ‘pop perfection’ originated with songs like this for good reason. But sometime Odds singer/axeman Murray Atkinson reinvents the song in a dramatic and exciting way, adding modern textures and a creative arrangement that both totally work. More remakes along these lines would not go amiss in my record collection. With Draw the Lucky Card Jack Skuller steps out from behind his similarly named band moniker The Skullers to officially go solo. The result is an eclectic a mix of indie rock and melody-infused singer-songwriter material. I hear a strong Squeeze imprint on “Asking for a Friend” songwriting-wise, with a very Josh Rouse vocal delivery. Jersey City’s Sunshine and Rain sound so Darling Buds or The Primitives to me. And that’s definitely a good thing. We’re going back a few years to the band’s 2018 album Beneath the Stars to rescue their utterly poptastic should-be hit single “It’s All in Your Mind.” Get ready to hit replay a few times on this. Turin, Italy’s The Wends were briefly Smile and put out the jangle-fabulous single “What a Heart is For.” The name change alters nothing in their winning melodic chemistry. Relive the 1980s UK sibilant guitar revival via their new EP It’s Here Where You Fall. Robert Sherwood writes about music like a spurned true believer with an intellect that is ruthless in its dissection of his unearned musical roots and a heart big enough to still love them. Those influences are all over his new single “Coming Home.” The song starts out with deceptive simplicity, it has an almost dirge-like quality. But then he layers in some serious XTC/Peter Gabriel-like complexity that is utterly captivating. More please!

Not satisfied with releasing a killer album earlier this year (It Should Have Been Tomorrow) Love, Burns is back with late autumn EP Fade in the Sun. The effort leans country but in a indie rock artist-does-country sort of way. The choice for single has to be “Pencils.” The melding of hooky lead guitar lines with the sonorous keyboard backing perfectly suit the Lloyd Cole vocals to a T. It’s been a while since we’ve heard from Philadelphia’s Travel Lanes. New single “I Might Need Help” is in the ballpark of Tom Petty and Fastball, it sounds both classic and not exactly like anybody else. Prelude to a new album? Let’s hope so. I’ve been a bit slow to notice powerpop super group The Andersons! and their album debut Family Secrets. With jangle giants Derrick Anderson and Robert Rist involved how could the results not be solid? The whole record is a treat but I’m singling “Falling Out” as the must-hear song. There’s a Difford and Tilbrook feel to the tune but a totally Big Star coating on the performance. The Sighs’ 1996 single “Make You Cry” was an instant replay classic for me. So when I discovered I missed their most recent album release from 2019 I knew I had to make up for lost time. The title track from Tearing My Heart Again is another soft rock pop delight in an Outfield or Hooters style. He’s the hardest working man in Minnesota show business with 17 albums to his name and no signs of slowing down. Dan Israel’s new album is Seriously and I’m showcasing opening cut “Happy for Now.” It’s got a late 1970s SoCal vibe, think Jackson Browne or Walter Egan.

The Sighs – Tearing My Heart Again

San Francisco’s Richard Turgeon is a one-man rock and roll machine, pumping out timeless west coast-themed ‘new vintage rock,’ as one reviewer dubbed it. His new single “Without You” rings out with Turgeon’s signature guitar sibilance and country rock harmony vocals. The song sounds like summer to me. Turning to stars of yesteryear, it must be great to have been part of a legendary band. But you know what’s better? Having something new that lets people know you’re not just living in the past. Bruce Foxton nails that brief on his new album with Russell Hastings, The Butterfly Effect. There are a lot of great tunes here but I’d single out “She Said,” a winning slab of jangle-infused song-writing and performance. Grant Lindberg’s got a new free single playing over on Bandcamp. “Anything But You” is a bit dreamy, with a poppy Weezer feel to the proceedings. Like the crack dealer, this free sample is designed to get you hooked. I think it will work. The Laughing Chimes follow-up to their critically-acclaimed debut album In This Town is just an EP worth of tunes, Zoo Avenue, and like its predecessor it’s a jangle-fest. Your taster selection is title track “Zoo Avenue,” a track vibing early REM so hard it’s like I’m 19 all over again. Another special dose of jangle is delivered by St. Paul, Minnesota’s The Persian Leaps. The band usually offers up its own distinctive, original brand of hooky material but this time they’ve got a cover with a unique story. “Maybe Time Will Let Me Forget” is a lost gem from an obscure 1967 band, The Coachmen, who happened to include future folk pop giant Dan Fogleberg and Jon Asher, uncle to Persian Leaps driving force Drew Forsberg. The original is quaint but this remake really fulfills its potential.

Rounding out this snow session is what I’ve crafted as a double-sided single from Richard X. Heyman’s stellar new album, 67,000 Miles an Album. Heyman’s roots stretch back to the 1960s via legendary work with The Doughboys and a relentless release of top notch solo records. The guy appears to be unstoppable. “Crave” and “When the New Dawn Comes” cover both sides of the powerpop canon, the former charging forward sixties-rock-style while the latter sparkles and shines melodically in a more mellow way.

Richard X. Heyman – Crave
Richard X. Heyman – When the New Dawn Comes

Snowed in? Relax. You can set your locked-in time to music with a raft of these snow-proofed singles.

Photo featuring exclusive Poprock Record model Rob Elliott courtesy Swizzle Gallery.