This edition of the news contains a superstar quartet, with material literally hot off the presses. These very new releases are headliners all, teeming with should-be chart-climbing tunes. Set your mood ring to maximum joy.
Self-described ‘bleeding hearts power pop band’ Afterpartees mix an earnest yearning with blasts of quirky youthful fun on album number three Family Names. The opening cut and title track showcases a lot of what follows: an engaging, playful melody, some almost jazzy guitar riffs, and a cramped, endearing 1980s vocal intimacy. Then “Melatonia” rocks things up a bit more with some New Order-worthy guitar lines and chord strumming. The band cite Parquet Courts and Jonathan Richman as influences as you can definitely hear a bit of that going on when “I Don’t Want the World to Stop” plays. But at other times the band channels a laconic Lou Reed wild side vibe on tracks like “The Bunn.” This tension between a rockier sensibility and a more contemplative jazzy pop mood defines the album. “The Parade” and “Running Around” get rockier, with some great organ and catchy lead guitar lines carrying the tunes. Then “Every Cowboy is a Winner” and “Poolside, Midnight” revel in their quirky pop lack of convention and bouncy punch. “Some People Are Talking” is a real treat, like Jonathan Richman meets the Rolling Stones in midtempo single mode. Family Names is really something different but still oh-so relatable.
As charter members of the Caledonian jangle mafia, Glasgow’s U.S. Highball do not disappoint on album number three A Parkhead Cross of Mind. The sparkling guitars jump out all over this place on this record. Not that there aren’t surprises. Gone are the lingering folky affectations that were a key element of the duo’s debut Great Record in favour of a more consistent loud pop sound. The record opens with the distinctive punchy guitar of “Mental Munchies” but when the vocals kick in it’s all ‘welcome back boys.’ “Double Dare” also starts in a new register, the programmed drums and keyboards a departure but, really, the tune and vocal performance are so reliably familiar (in a good way). So despite what appears to have been a concerted effort to give this record a new sound the results really just build on of the band’s two great strengths, solid guitar-based tunes and uplifting vocals. The experimentation is sometimes exquisite, like the effective Johnny Marr guitar resonance that opens “By the Clydeside.” But I’m a sucker for a great hooky guitar chord-led song like “(You’ve Got To) Activate a Carrot” and “Jump to the Left.” “Down in Timperley” kicks off with a vibe that is very Squeeze “Another Nail in My Heart” before blooming into its own perfect pop confection. “Almost Cut My Hair” owes more to Crowded House than Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young (this is, in fact, a totally different song from the CSNY tune of the same name). Then there’s the big vocal numbers like “Grease the Wheel” and “Bleatings from Yorkshire” with their uplifting harmony singing. You might notice A Parkhead Cross of Mind for its stylish colourful cover but it’s what inside that will capture your heart.
Ever since Fastball charged back into the limelight in 2017 with their fantastic Step Into Light album (after an eight year absence) they’ve been regularly releasing strong material. Their new EP is Soundtrack and while just four tunes long they’re all a treat, worthy of a band with a reputation for solid indie Beatles-inspired hooks. I mean, just listen to the roll out to opening cut and title track “Soundtrack” – perfection! The guitar lead line locks into the song like a long lost puzzle piece. It’s a time trip to the best 1981 hit-oriented FM radio of Tom Petty or Greg Kihn. “Chump Change” goes from zero to serious rocking pretty much instantly, with an almost CCR-like intensity. “House on the Edge of the World” is a bit more wistful, with a SoCal feel and a very cinematic lead guitar line that haunts that last third of the song. “Electric Cool-Aide” is just great poprock that I could hear Marshall Crenshaw or The Smithereens covering. Gentlemen, more please!
The indie music media are all over Young Guv’s new album Guv III and why not? It’s a non-stop jangle fest, crammed with hooky tunes that spill out into adjacent genres. “I Couldn’t Leave You If I Tried” opens the album with a very Matthew Sweet guitar feel but then quickly takes Brydsian flight. So far, no surprises. But with “It’s Only Dancing” the mood shifts to a decidedly late 1970s vibe, still jangle but now more pop. Kinda like what Daniel Romano’s been putting out for years. “Lo Lo Lonely” is different again, with a bit of glam impact accompanying the Marc Bolan wash on the vocals. The rhythm guitar opening “Only Wanna See U Tonight” sounds almost naked, there’s so little sibilance, at least until it gets going. The song has a very 1970s AM pop feel, some Big Star in the vocals, with a Harrison lead guitar solo slipped in the middle. “Good Time” trades Tom Petty Americana influences with a Partridge Family pop polish in the chorus. “Same Old Fool” is a straightforward jangle wonder. And check out the roll-out lead guitar line kicking off “She Don’t Cry For Anyone” – wow! Is it an homage to late 1960s British garage rock or late 1970s American new wave? Either way, get your skinny tie on. The album ends with another surprising turn, hitting the tempo brakes on “April of My Life,” sounding very Beatles 1967 psychedelic pop. Apparently Guv IV is due out later this year. Hard to imagine what the band can deliver to top this.
You’re going to want to stop the presses to catch your breath given these fabulous releases but do not touch that dial. Just let it all wash over you. Good news like this can’t be held back.