Cabin Life, Dropkick, Jeremy Messersmith, Late Stage Capitalism, Linus of Hollywood, Longwave, Someplace Better, The Sick Rose
This edition of Breaking News is all about new albums by artists with a strong track record. Hopes are high and possible disappointment is being held at bay. From Minnesota to Scotland to California to Italy, the poprock news is good. No, cancel that – great!
I can’t get enough of Jeremy Messersmith. I only just discovered last year’s ukulele masterpiece and then his back catalogue and now he has a new record out and it’s fantastic too. Late Stage Capitalism is the latest installment in Messersmith’s enigmatic, intellectual poprock quest. Any casual listen reveals this man has a way with a tune. What seem like deceptively simple songs at first reveal melodic depth on repeated plays. Listen to how “Purple Hearts” ebbs and flows, softly sneaking up on our melodic sensibilities and then letting the hooks spill out everywhere. This is sing-along, fist-pumping, feel-good masterpiece. But Messersmith’s lyrics are something else too: tender, bittersweet, droll, sometimes biting. This guy is a less acerbic Morrissey or Stephen Merritt, an intelligent guy’s intelligent guy but with plenty of heart. Check out the sad yet sympathetic portrait exhibited in “Fast Times in Minnesota” or the sweet, Cyrcle-esque bounce of “Monday, You’re Not So Bad” with its Fountains of Wayne wordplay. I don’t know whether capitalism really is in its late stage or not but I do know one thing – this record is a winner.
The new Dropkick album is out and the Teenage Fanclub and Jayhawk vibes are striking, particularly on radio-friendly “It’s Still Raining.” Longwave is the band’s fourteenth album since 2001 and it continues in the vein of low key acoustic guitar-based tunes that mark the group’s style. BBC Radio Scotland called them “Scotland’s finest alt-country power-pop band” but I think of them more as strummy, melodic poprock, in a low gear. Exhibit A: “All I Understand” is a sweetly swinging song, with subtle hooks. Oh there is country, sure. “Blue Skies” is a lovely slow country crawl. But there is so much more: the uptempo feel of “Fed Up Thinking of You,” the Byrdsian jangle of “Even When You’re Gone,” and the lovely spare acoustic treatment on “Turning of the Tide.” Altogether, this may be my favourite Dropkick album.
A new Linus of Hollywood album is something to savor. The songs are always tightly packed musical gems with strong hooks, sparkling instrumental performances, and surprising arrangements. Cabin Life is no exception, a lush-sounding assortment of hooky AM radio-friendly should-be hits. Title-track and opening cut “Cabin Life” makes my point. LOH lulls us with a spare opener and then adds successive melodic and musical elements to build up the song, constantly shifting the listener’s attention – in a good way! Other songs put their poprock blast up front, like “At All.” This is a tune whose lyrical bitterness acts as counterpoint to its buoyant pop melody. “Wasted and in Love” sounds like the hit single to me with distinctive guitars that sound like they’re popping out of the speakers and strong melodic hooks. And this album’s ‘sounds most like Glen Tillbrook’ award goes to very Squeeze-like “Won’t Let it Get Me Down.” Excuse me while I hit repeat on this super new album.
The Sick Rose are solid rock and roll outfit from Torino, Italy clocking thirty-five years together with the release of their seventh LP, Someplace Better. The evolution of this band is testament to the ability of great musicians to keep changing, taking their sound in new directions without repudiating what went before. Their early records are pure 1960s melodic garage rock, replete with killer organ fills and crunchy lead guitar lines. But a few records later the sound has shifted into more clean 1970s rock sound. Then on their more recent releases the turn has been to a more power pop sound. Check out their masterful remake of The Liverpool Echo’s “Girl on a Train” from the band’s 2014 EP Live in the Studio.
The new record completes the shift to a more poprock sound under the expert production of The Posies’ Ken Stringfellow. “How to be Your Friend” kicks things off with an edgy guitar teaser before settling into more melodic vein with some nice vocal arrangements. The killer riff that opens “Frustrated” harkens back to their mid-period rock sound but the chorus is pure poprock. “Milk and Honey” is the pick for single for me, with a very smooth AM radio-friendly set of hooks. The band digs out the organ for the swinging “Sweet as Punch” and caps off the record with the title track “Someplace Better,” a jaunty instrumental. The Sick Rose were always great but, given my tastes, I think they’re getting better with age.
Jeremy Messersmith, Dropkick, Linus of Hollywood and The Sick Rose have worked hard to bring you these poprock delicacies. All you have to do now is open your wallet. And with e-finance, even that’s just a metaphor – no actual physical wallet-opening is necessarily required. It just doesn’t get any easier to keep our musical friends from hocking their instruments or casting their children into the street. Really.