Armchair Oracles, Billy Tibbals, Dropkick, Freez, Jamie Hoover, Katie Morey, Kid Gulliver, Leslie Rich and the Rocket Soul Choir, Marc Valentine, Paul McCann, Phil Dutra, Popular Creeps, Ready Steady Go!, Richard Turgeon, The Bablers, The Goa Express, The Happy Somethings, The No Ones, The Rockyts, The Zells, Thee Lonely Hearts, Tim Izzard
The UK’s Ready Steady Go! was the sixties alternative to the more establishment Top of the Pops. Bands performed (mostly) live and the audience were the featured models and dancers, giving the show a more loose, spontaneous feel. I’d like to think our chosen singles are a modern embodiment of the show’s cool élan but hey, you be the judge.
Power pop legend Jamie Hoover is well known for his decades-long work with the Spongetones and collaborations with a variety of indie stalwarts. But his latest single sees him declaring his love for the recently-single mega-influencer “Kim Kardashian.” Co-written with power pop scribe and record producer Richard Rossi, the song is an amusing poke at social media and celebrity, delivered in an impeccable poprock style. Burnley and Todmorden’s The Goa Express have got a pop snarl that launches “Portrait” with a sonic 3-D impact. Comparisons to The Artic Monkeys, Oasis and the Strokes make sense, the sound here is so live and starkly authentic. Vocalist James Douglas Clark keeps the snarl neatly in check while the guitars crash in and out with an intoxicating intensity. So far it’s just singles from this band but a full album seems overdue. Leslie Rich knows political trouble, hailing from Northern Ireland. But now ensconced in Minneapolis Minnesota he’s seeing American issues from a whole new perspective. Leading Leslie Rich and the Rocket Soul Choir on “Revolt” he subtlety condemns the fake victim mentality of those with a knee on ‘some guy’s neck’. The track is so smooth, with a Fleetwood Mac mid-1970s precision of rhythm and mood. Fun but serious popsters The Happy Somethings kicked off 2023 with a collection of errant singles, bit and pieces of things set aside from the previous year. Like “Anglepoise,” a noise pop Bo Diddly remake if ever there was one. The band uncharacteristically turn up the amps this time. Hailsham’s Tim Izzard is everybody’s modern Mr. Glam, channeling a 1970s performance and song style for contemporary audiences. On his new EP Deepfake 99 you can hear him tapping a particularly Marc Bolan vein on “Walk the Walk” or a big ballad-mode Bowie on “Alice Pearl” and “Will the First to Believe Please Turn on the Lights?” But overall I’m charmed by the strut of the title track “Deepfake 99.”
Marc Valentine’s Futura Obscura is a solid album of power pop delights but few of the songs challenge the obvious power single, “Last Train Tonight.” The driving guitar-based melody is delivered with a mix of what sounds like Fountains of Wayne and Farrah influences, the latter particularly evident in the chorus. Rochester’s Katie Morey is a great post-folk artist. You can tell by skipping through her Friend of a Friend album that coffee houses and streel strings played a key part in its genesis. But then other instruments come in, adding to the aural splendour. Just listen to the mix on “Deep End” with its great contrast of rumbly guitar and deadpan vocals. A slightly more rock and roll Suzanne Vega or Jane Siberry I think. Thee Lonely Hearts have got a quartet of songs caught in the twilight between retro cool and modern indie panache. Last Fall’s “Glen Ponder” cooks with a clean 1980s take on sixties guitar poppy rock while b-side “I Came Back Again” channels The Smithereens. But the band’s should-be hit is undoubtedly “Treat Me Like You Just Don’t Care.” This 45 has the energy of an updated early Beatles number performed by Eugene Edwards. Schio Italy’s Freez sound like members of California’s slacker pop punk diaspora. Their 2019 album Always Friends alternated between rocking workouts and more subtle, alluring melodic numbers. Then late in 2022 they offered up something different again. “Nothing” is brief 90 seconds of relentless droney attack, somewhat hypnotic, ready for pogo-ing. The new millennium has witnessed the rebirth of a crowd of decades-dormant bands from days gone by. But few sound as fresh and in the swing of now as Finland’s The Bablers. Sure, there’s a retro feel to “Holding Me Tight Tonight” and yet the sound is so timeless too. Altogether the song has that smooth poprock sheen of the 1980s Moody Blues in comeback mode with a touch of 1974 McCartney in the bridge.
In the fading hours of 2022 there was a lot buzz about Michigan’s Popular Creeps. A lot of ‘R’ band references got thrown around, as in The Replacements, REM, and the Rolling Stones. Kicking back with the full album All This Will End in Tears there’s definitely a lot ‘R’ here, though I tend to agree with Add to Want List that the sound is perhaps closer to Peter Case and Paul Collins, particularly on tracks like “Gone By 45.” My vote for double A-sided single goes to the combo of “From the Past” and “Keep It To Myself,” just for exuding so much new wave joy and echoes of The Connection. On Ant Farm Pittsburg’s The Zells give voice to the harsh working class experience of contemporary America where living is from payday to payday and life is suffering and suffering truther uncles. But the record shifts back and forth between distorted punk anti-paeans to tracks that expose the band’s superior musical chops. Like on “Dummy,” a song that kicks off sounding like a speed version of “Dancing With Myself” only to switch to a Titus Andronicus vocal and guitar attack. The lead guitar line snaking throughout Kid Gulliver’s latest single “Kiss and Tell” is so captivating it just keep running through my head long after the song has ended. It’s got fun adornments, like riffs from the Batman theme, but really the backbone of the song is Simone Berk’s smooth vocal and that killer lead guitar work. Another guitar winning single comes from LA’s Billy Tibbals. Reviewers are noting the 1970s glam and pub rock influences but all I can hear is that addictive droney lead guitar on “Onwards and Upwards” that says new wave to me. So many potential influences here but I hear some Zombies in the vocals and even some Squeeze in the melodic twists. As a band The No Ones are full of someones: people like REM’s Peter Buck and Young Fresh Fellows alumnus Scott McCaughey. And on their soon-to-be-released new album My Best Evil Friend the list of guest stars is pretty gob-smacking, including contributions from Ben Gibbard, Debbi Peterson and Norman Blake. Of the two pre-release teaser singles I can’t decide which I like more, the dreamy, bucolic “Song for George” or the more Byrdsian “Phil Ochs is Dead.”
When Ottawa band The Rockyts burst on the scene in 2019 with their debut album Come and Dance reviewers were dumbfounded that three gangly teens could recreate the 1960s sound so authentically, both on originals and covers from the era. Now reduced to a one man band focused on lead guitarist, songwriter and singer Jeremy Abboud, their new single “I Get High” recasts the retro influences into a totally contemporary sound. Well, 1980s Cars-era contemporary anyway. The guitar work is now more stolid, the vocals enlivened by some otherworldly harmonies. By contrast Austin Texas troubadour Phil Dutra brings back his signature telenovela-style big emotional ballad on “I Feel Your Pain.” There’s something very Vicki Lawrence or 1970s Cher style-wise lingering over this tale of cheating and remorse while the hooks are big and bold and stuck in your head. I can already see the movie montage running behind this song. Scotland’s Dropkick are like your favourite hang-out spot, immediately familiar, comforting, but open to some surprise guests. The advance single from their upcoming album The Wireless Revolution is “Telephone” and it is everything fans of the band love: ringing guitars, a sweet feel-good vibe, and a strong Teenage Fanclub family resemblance. On his new album Alter Ego Irish singer/songwriter Paul McCann offers a mix of styles, both fast and slow, sounding at times 1970s lush or 1980s poppy rock. My current fave is “Lost in This Moment” with its slow build up and break out hooky chorus. Another lush poprock offering comes from Norway’s Armchair Oracles. Given the song’s focus, perhaps that’s not surprising. “Nilsson Wilson” observes how two great artists emerged from traumatic childhoods. The vibe is very Rogue Wave meets Al Stewart.
Rounding out our ready steady singles is another fab new song from mister poprock-reliable, Richard Turgeon. “I’ve Got You Now” features Turgeon’s now familiar formula of discordant guitars and poppy melodic hooks, delivered with a captivating vocal arrangement. Grunge definitely meets the beach on the this 45.
RSG! only ran on UK television for three years but it defined an era of mod music, hip fashion, and an almost DIY broadcast esthetic. And The Who managed to appear on the show 18 times! Our humble efforts pale by comparison but I like to think that the spark lives on in the music. Click on the hyperlinked band names to feel that surge.