American Cigarettes, American Dream, Autumn Almanac, Be True to Yourself, Ben Kweller, Best Shirt On, Big Times, Bodyheat, Chuck Prophet, Circuit Boredom, Critical Hit, Dead Stars, Declan McKenna, Diners, Do You Like Us Now, Don't Want to Talk About It, Dreams Don't Come True, Elephant Stone, Emily, Fuzzysurf, Gal Gun, Greg Pope, Hollow, I Could Only, I Wanna Be Your Sam, Impossible Sum, Indoor Music, Irene Para, It's This, Joey Molland, Jump Back from the Light, Let's Start Over Again, Maxwell Stern, Menacing Smile, Own Sweet Time, Phonographic Memory, Premium, Rainy Day Man, Saving Me Saving You, SCV3, Sweet Tooth, The Embryos, The Ern Malley Affair, The Kinks, The Land That Time Forgot, The Lolas, The On and Ons, The Ruen Brothers, The Wrecking Yard, Vanilla, Water Tower, Wishing on a Dark Star, Yeah is What We Have, Zeros
Hard to believe that the Kinks took “Autumn Almanac” to number 3 in the UK back in the fall of 1967. Going against the grain of the emerging psychedelic scene, the song is so laid back, almost anti-commercial. Ultimately, the single kicked off the band’s grand pastoral-romantic period that followed with albums like The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society and Arthur and the Decline of the British Empire. But enough about Ray and company. They’re just the inspiration to launch our own autumn singles almanac, a carefully curated collection of 20 songs to lighten up your fall, ease you in to the autumn, and get you hooked on these hooks!
The Ruen Brothers evoke a distinctive atmosphere on their new single “Saving Me, Saving You,” somewhere spooky, perhaps with fog. But when the titanic vocals cut in there’s no hiding. The spotlight is on and something electric is going on. These guys have got style! It’s a haunting 3 minute mélange of guitars and striking songcraft. Prolific popmaster Greg Pope puts the acoustic guitar to the front of the mix on his new album, Wishing on a Dark Star. It really carries this light, carefully crafted pop gem that appears about two thirds of the way through the album, the aptly titled “Jump Back from the Light.” The hooky ‘whoa-oh’s are just gravy. Chicago garage poppers Gal Gun offer up a literal “Premium” single from their soon to be released new album Critical Hit. The song has a strong Weezer vibe, exhibiting that pleasant mixture of dissonant punk qualities laid over an early 1960s song structure. The b-side (“Oh Oh I Love Her So”) is all that, even more so. Tacoma’s Vanilla change our pace completely with a lovely McCartney-esque “Let’s Start Over Again.” John Lennon used call these sort of tunes ‘granny music’ but I love’em. I’m certainly impressed with the band’s command of different song idioms. I don’t know what ‘indie tinged emo’ is but apparently it is Yeah Is What We Have. So, I guess I love indie tinged emo because their new single “I Could Only” is great. The mix of spare guitar work, percussion and sweet vocals is addictive and endearing.
Speaking of sweet, Declan McKenna burst on the scene as an uber talented charismatic teen boy wonder with his hooky protest song “Brazil” back in 2015. Now entering his twenties he’s still working the adorable seam pretty hard with this new album Zeros. He continues to push the boundaries of his songwriting and performance, turning in a memorable take on a Wings-ian pop tune with “Emily,” among many other fab contributions to the new album (like the Bowie-esque “Key to Life on Earth”). Surf indie pop purveyers Fuzzysurf are back with a new record, Sweet Tooth, and it’s more of the same good synthesis of old and new poprock influences that carried their earlier work. “Do You Like Us Now” has a strong 1960s guitar stamp, with a nice cleaned-up garage vibe. Ready for dancing? Definitely. I first heard Chuck Prophet with the Green on Red recordings but then missed his early solo work, checking in finally with the fantastic Night Surfer LP. Since then, I’ve paid closer attention to his releases. Bobby Fuller Died for Your Sins is a good as it sounds like it will be. And Prophet’s brand new The Land That Time Forget is another winner. “Best Shirt On” is a lovely well-crafted tune with such subtle hooks and an overall feel of mid-1960s low key lushness. Brooklyn’s fuzz pop band Dead Stars grind out a slow burn melodic treat with “Dreams Don’t Come True” from their recent Never Not Here. This one works turned down low or blasted from the car stereo. The band The Ern Malley Affair are almost as mysterious as the fake poetry scam they take their name from. The internet turns up only out-of-date MySpace pages and nary a mention of the group’s work from back in 2009. But apparently they have new material out now and it carries on with their earlier ‘dirty folk’ sound. Words like ‘jaunty’ and gently ‘spirited’ come to mind listening to the delightful “It’s This.” Love the mellow organ and hooky shuffle.
God how I’ve missed Ben Kweller. The guy’s got a way with sneaky earworm tunes that get in your head and you find yourself humming them for days. He’s been pretty skint about new material over the past half decade (his last album was 2014’s Go Fly a Kite) but 2019 saw the release of a few new singles and now a new LP Circuit Boredom seems imminent. If “American Cigarettes” is anything to go by, it’s going to be a very good time. The song’s got his signature cool low-key swagger, bolstered by some nice but oh-so-subtle melodic shots in the chorus. Feel the sway of gentle jangle propelling The Embryos “I Wanna Be Your Sam” from their recent EP SCV3. They sound like The Church or The La’s in very mellow mood and that is totally cool. Sydney, Australia’s The On and Ons so nail the 1966 poprock sound – again – this time on a tight little EP called Menacing Smile. “Don’t Want to Talk About It” particularly exudes a strong Mickey Dolenz/Mike Nesmith vibe. Now if you want a rush of poppy guitar goodness, The Lolas always deliver. “The Wrecking Yard” glides along with a melodic ease aided by lightly ringing guitars and nice harmony vocals. Bodyheat produced a fab self-titled debut EP back in 2015 that contained some really winning tunes like “Talk It Over” and “Poor Girl.” Now a new EP is forthcoming and Indoor Music gets a promising start with a single like “Phonographic Memory,” which reminds a little of The Silencers and a host of other great 1980s indie guitar bands.
Finally some Canadian content. Montreal’s Elephant Stone are the working the psychedelic seam of the sixities revival sound on their fab recent album Hollow, showcased nicely on that album’s first single “Hollow World.” But personally I’m digging their stand-alone election-era single, “American Dream,” with its muted jangle, harmonica and healthy caution about all things U.S.A. in 2020. ‘Gee, Ma, I want to go back to Ontario’ indeed. While they self-describe themselves as farkle wiki pop, when I hit play on Phoenix’s Diners all I heard was capital-F fun. From the light glam guitar to the cheesy fun fair organ, “Big Times” won’t fail to put a great big grin on your face with its Apples in Stereo-like cheekiness. I bought Irene Para’s “I Won’t Back Down” as a cool take on Tom Petty but quickly switched allegiance to the b-side, a Para composition called “Own Sweet Time.” There’s something slightly majestic in how this song builds throughout. A real earworm. Signals Midwest member Maxwell Stern’s solo album Impossible Sum is out and making the charts. Just a taste of single “Water Tower” suggests deservedly so. Here Stern’s punky inclinations (more in evidence on Signals Midwest material) are smoothed out by driving acoustic guitars, reverby lead lines, and punchy yet sweet vocals. And now we end with a bit of a happy ending. I say bit cuz it involves just a quarter of one of the most tragic bands in rock and roll history, Badfinger. Lone survivor Joey Molland has outlived his compatriots to collect his share of the royalties and make what should be a triumphant return to niche poprock love. “Rainy Day Man” is the advance single from Molland’s upcoming album Be True to Yourself and it hits all those Beatles, ELO and Badfinger marks we rightly expect it would. A lovely little slice of expert popcraft.
Almanacs are big things, you can’t necessarily get through them in one sitting. Don’t worry, these 20 original should-be hits from our 20 original should-be stars will be here for your continued consumption throughout the fall season.