All Over the Shop, Astro Chicken, Half Catholic, James Henry, Kingfisher, Old Town Crier, Pink Beam, Robby Miller
The mailbag is full. So many of today’s artists have to do it all: write, record, make the tea, and slop the product to people like me. The least I can do is respond with a little word love.
Rockford isn’t just the name of some trailer park living, hard luck 1970s private detective. It’s the Illinois home of Half Catholic (formerly Pink Beam) and their neo-1950s goth poprock. Right now they’re just a single: the stylized, mixed-genre “Slow Down.” The song has some nice 1950s touches layered into the background of a contemporary melodic angst rock number, particularly the swooping background vocals. It has a consistent feel, despite various timing changes and shifts in aural attack. Keen to see where an album or EP will take these elements. Just a state away Detroit’s All Over the Shop offer up a distinct rock sound featuring stripped down guitar work and a vocal timbre that conjures the intimate intensity of early Roxy Music on “Moving Too Slow” and Richard Thompson, particularly on the should-be single “If That’s Magic” and “Brand New Summer.” The latter track has some striking melodic changes, particularly into the chorus, with the guitar and vocals in a dynamic but complementary tension. These tracks and more all appear on the band’s recent self-titled debut EP.
If we keep moving east we’ll end up somewhere else. Like Astro Chicken’s new record Different Town. The band still reside in NYC but stylistically they’ve moved on, to a more intimate sound, sometimes folky (“Fight”), sometimes just a more laid back poprock (“Hey Charlie” “SOB” “Card Trick”), sometimes both (“Fred”). If I were a bet-making guy my money would be on “Love Comes Close” as should-be hit single material with its unmistakable Nick Lowe/John Hiatt notes. Though I admit I’m partial to the languid lead guitar driving the instrumental “At Least For Now.” Get caught up on the arc of AC’s past heroic indie poprock efforts from our previous post on the band and then enjoy the adventures this new album represents. Heading north Toronto’s Robby Miller hit 2020 with a nice bit of poprock crunch on his debut EP. But his new single “Little Words” turns up the melodic elements in a very nice Beatles/FOW sort of way. The rhythm and lead guitars nicely balance each other and there seems to be a new confidence in the songwriting. A whole album of tunes along these lines would be most welcome.
Fans of Squeeze, Crowded House, Paul Carrack or any of those early 1980s guitar poprock groups (like the revived version of The Searchers) are going to love James Henry’s new album Pluck. Henry is a virtuoso guitar player and some of his earlier work reminded me of John Martyn or Roy Harper in their more melodic moments. But with Pluck he embraces his 1980s beat group sensibilities, tossing irresistible hooks into every song. Album opener “A Girl Like You” has a vocal and song structure that is so Glenn Tilbrook meets Paul Carrack. But I hear a bit of Neil Finn (“I’ve Never Loved You More”) or Joe Jackson (“Cinema Haze”) or Todd Rundgren (“Currently Resting”) or even an updated Beatles (“Available for Selection”) elsewhere on the album. Currently I’m hitting replay on the addictive “So Many Times Before,” with its Merseybeat guitar flourishes and Billy Bremner sense of heart on the vocal. Other should-be chart toppers include “Only Find Love” with its killer chorus and background response vocals and “Tomorrow May Be Too Late” featuring those hypnotic lead guitar hooks. Get a copy of Pluck, the album is a masterclass in poprock songwriting and performance.
Sometimes the mail presents me with boundary issues. Is this song/album/band really poprock? I’d put Sweden’s Kingfisher somewhere near the border yet still inside. Overall their sound may be a bit on the rock club/dancy side of things but “Illusions” has the punch and swing and melodic chops I associate with genre-crossing acts like Portugal The Man, particularly the guitar work. So I’m counting them in. Their current release of three singles definitely shows tremendous promise. Meanwhile Old Town Crier has that old timely Americana thing going on. “Don’t Go” sounds like something Lennon and McCartney might have vamped during those extended Let It Be sessions, Americana with a touch of punk. But most of the EP I’m Longing for You Honey in Middleboro, Mass has a more Springsteen meets Titus Andronicus vibe, particularly the distinctive harmonica/piano combo on “I Might Get Lost.”
You don’t need a letter from me to find these acts. Click on the hotlinked artist names to reward their melodic hustle.