Given the ubiquity of Big Star in the power pop universe, it’s no surprise to find ‘star’ worked into all sorts of guitar slashing, melody-infused musical projects. Today’s exemplars are bit different though. Both acts are not afraid to step away from the type casting on occasion, adding a different layer of poprock sophistication to their tunes. Vancouver’s Star Collector are veterans of many Who-like chord-ringing anthems and their recent Game Day is no exception, with plenty to please fans of the Who/Jam/Weller nexus. But I’m drawn to an outlier on the record, the subtle acoustic ear worm that is “Hook, Line and Singer.” The vocals remind me of The The’s Matt Johnston while the overall vibe of the song is reminiscent of John Power’s 1990s band Cast or a low key Oasis. Tripping over to Europe, Cheap Star offer up a very different mix of melody-rich influences, drawing on Teenage Fanclub, the Posies, Matthew Sweet and many others. I loved the Nada Surf wash all over “Flower Girl” with its smooth vocals and slight hint of menace in the melody when I reviewed it last fall. Now I’m grooving on the band’s great hooky new song “Wish I Could See,” another pre-release single from the upcoming album of the same name.
You won’t need a sextant or telescope to find these stars. Just open your ears at their respective Bandcamp pages and let the music do its work.
Holidays come and go and but singles don’t review themselves. That’s why I’m back here hard at work to clear a backlog of delicious three-or-so minute melodic treats. This is a fun, curious collection of tunes: a bit punky, all poppy, some serious, others mocking. In other words, something for everyone!
Written at the end of the summer, “There Goes the Sun” captures the wistful joy of those sun-filled days, one we’re definitely missing around here right now. Even though Vista Blue admit ‘we don’t live in a Beach Boys song’ they’re taking what sun they can get. The song brims with the band’s usual punky poprock vitality, with just a dollop of lush beach-strip background vocals. With Boston retro new wave outfit Muck and the Miresits a cheeky rave-up on “She Blocked My Number.” In my head, I can hear a killer Knack rendition of this ditty but that’s not saying this original doesn’t cut it. These guys are party rock and roll plus, a feeling that courses through this track. Taking things in a more serious direction, we have Sean Lund (of the fab Lund Brothers) going solo with “The Harder They Fall.” This is not a Jimmy Cliff cover. Instead Lund offers up a subtle poppy groove that is very Beatles’ White Album in tone, with an equally subdued but nevertheless effective political commentary. Cleveland’s Bill March has done his time in the trenches, a stalwart of his local music scene as band member and sideman to many projects. But lately he’s stepped out the shadows with some dynamite singles and extended play releases. 2018’s Songs from the Lifetime had a killer single in “I Need a Night” and his recent Home Remedies has the AM radio-friendly “Don’t Turn Away.” If that ringing 12 string electric sounds familiar, it should – it’s Billy Sullivan’s distinctive playing. Cheap Starhave a slick gleam of power pop coating all over “Flower Girl.” Maybe that’s a predictable outcome when you’ve got member of Fountains of Wayne and The Posies playing with you. But, in the end, “Flower Girl” really works because its got the hooks.
Jeff Gammillis having a busy year, despite COVID. His band Nite Sobs is heading for a host of year-end ‘best of’ lists for their fantastic debut Do the Sob! and people (like me) are still discovering the plenty-pleasing back catalogue for his old band, The Capitalist Kids. Now he’s got a solo thing going as ‘Jittery’ Jeff Gammill with the sprightly, punkish single “Good News (I’m Over You)” and it’s a winner. Just another delightful side to this talented guy. Portland’s Corvair mine what sounds like a new wave Moody Blues synthesis to me on “Sunday Runner,” a teaser single from their soon-to-be released debut. The organ on this song is so 1967 but the vocals are pure 1980. This husband and wife team are veterans of many indie bands, including Eux Autres, which bodes well for the rest of the album. Located in West Kirby at the northwestern tip of Merseyside’s Wirral peninsula,West Coast Music Club take their name from their geography. But they might as well be somewhere in California in 1966 because they’ve got the jangle guitar vibe down. “The Long Goodbye” is a reverb-drenched, guitar-heavy end-of-year bonus track from a band that already put out an album and EP this year. Very Vapor Trails on this song but the band offer a broader range of 1960s-inspired material on their longer players. Toronto’s Talk Show are cruising some nice punk pop on “This Monologue” when suddenly the chorus breaks out a serious ear-worm-worthy set of hooks. Can’t wait to hear the rest of what they’ve been up to when the whole album drops next February. To end things on this rifle-through-the-singles-bin post, Space Cadet’s “Forever for a While” is mad blast of rushing guitars and somewhat spacey, compressed vocals. It’s like Britpop meets an earlier generation of guitar poprock a la Simple Minds or INXS and the synthesis is very, very good.
As a product of the last gasp of 1970s AM radio dominance, I’ll always be a singles guy. Or maybe I’m just too distract-able for albums. Whatever. Needle-drop your way through these ten tunes and find yourself a year end fave, before it’s too late.