Once again I’ve assembled a crack team of ace reviewers to whittle our towering pile of albums from 2022 down to an essential must-have list of just 25 choices. How could these stuffed suits know what’s hip, you might say? It’s kinda like how album covers can be deceiving – the dullest dust jacket may obscure a real gem. So I’ve had these guys working overtime to bring you the very best of 2022, as featured in the annals of this here blog over the past calendar year. They’ve combed through countless long-players, extended plays and concept albums to put together multiple ‘must have’ lists. Tough work but you can tell by quality of their tailoring that they were up for it.
Cue drumroll – here we have it, Poprock Record’s 25 must-have LPs from 2022:
Tamar Berk’s outstanding album Start at End tops our list for 2022. Melodic, poppy, inventive, and with a smooth AM radio sheen that encourages repeated listening. And then it’s hard not to fall for the manic, almost gleeful energy of Trevor Blendour’s Falling in Love. The Televisionaries’ Mad About You is just a wonderful mixture of retro rock and roll and hooky modern melodic riffing. I could go on (and I have – click on the hot links to go to the original posts). The list has got old faves (Freedy Johnston, Edward O’Connell, Eytan Mirsky), power pop stalwarts (Sloan, Greg Pope, Chris Lund), and a whole lot that was entirely new to me (Kate Clover, Push Puppets, Pete Astor). And there’s jangle to spare (The Kryng, Young Guv, The Boys with the Perpetual Nervousness). The list is proof that, contra claims we are solely a sample culture, the long-playing album is alive and well in the new millennium.
And there’s more. The ongoing revival of the extended play record format has led to this list, Poprock Record’s must-have EPs from 2022:
The Happy Somethings make me happy, about a lot of things. They say important things, they give me hope. And their tunes are swell. The rest of the list is pretty winning too. Great tunes in smaller packages. That leaves no excuses not to check them out.
Sometimes an album is bigger than its constituent parts. Sometimes it’s just big. So I had to carve out a special category for Ken Sharp’s latest homage to the 1970s, Poprock Record’s must-have concept album from 2022:
Our last category recognizes an artist of prodigious talent and shocking productivity. By my reckoning over the past year alone he has turned out 2 albums of completely new material, 8 EPs of new material, 3 double-sided singles, 3 greatest hits albums, a b-sides album, an EP of remakes, and a holiday EP. Sleep is apparently not for this guy. Thus we bestow the Poprock Recordspecial award of awesome poprock merit to:
It was another busy year for melody-drenched rock and roll. Releases were coming fast and furious and frankly I could barely keep up. Still, I managed to get 82 posts up on the blog in 2022 and write over 64,000 words on the loosely-defined rock and roll sub-genre I call ‘poprock.’ I couldn’t write about everything that crossed my desk or what others may have necessarily thought was review-worthy, I just covered what caught my ear or worked itself into some kooky theme I cooked up. So let me be clear, what appears here is a completely arbitrary exercise in personal taste and discretion. I’m sure others may have a somewhat different set of worthy tunes that deserve more attention. And that is totally cool. The point is to celebrate the artists and perhaps give people another shot at checking them out.
So here it is, Poprock Record’s top 50 should-be hit singles from 2022:
There were so many great songs put out this past year, I was spoiled for choice. And choosing wasn’t easy. Sometimes I cheated a little. Grrrl Gang’s “Pop Princess” technically came out before 2022 but I only got around to writing about it this last year. What a tune! It’s a perfect example of the kind of excitement a great single can generate and, really, why I write this blog. People need to hear it! Or there’s the fresh indie hooks driving The Bleeding Idahos’ “The Beat Said” and Bloody Norah’s “Shooting Star.” Dazy had a knock out AM radio earworm with “Rollercoaster Ride.” And then there was veteran songster Allan Kaplon coming on like The Highwaymen at first only to let loose the Rockpile hooks in the chorus of “Restless Ones.” There were new faces and old favourites and surprises aplenty. Click on the links to go to the original posts featuring each song.
I had to create a few new categories this year, just to capture all that was good and groovy about 2022. The post-Covid covers album phenomenon continued and most were great fun. But some were particularly inspired. And then there were a lot of acoustic guitar-dominant tunes out this past year that I felt really needed to be singled out in a category I’ve dubbed folk pop.
So, without further ado, here are Poprock Record’s most inventive covers from 2022:
I do love making lists but the choices do not amount to any big heavy pronouncement on anything – just my bit of fun and chance to celebrate these artists a little bit more. Check them out and see if you don’t agree, they’re seriously good!
Welcome to what appears will be an annual post of music for people who hate the holidays. Last year’s edition of Bah Humbug stumbled upon a veritable treasure-trove of holiday-hating should-be hits. It was all a bit shocking but still delightful. I mean, personally, I’m a sucker for holiday tunes yet I can’t help but admire the dedication and intensity of the anti-holiday crowd. And the comedy. The antis have definitely got a healthy disregard for the more sickly sweet seasonal sentiments. To honour all this disdain, it only seems fitting to draw inspiration from that Christmas movie for people who hate Christmas movies, Die Hard. So get your Grinch on and open your ears for Bah humbug, the Hans Gruber edition.
We kick things off with some jangle, naturally, because surely if ever there was a holiday guitar sound it would have to be the Rickenbacker 12 string. Joe Algeri’s The JAC (and the Christmas Crew) project crank up the Byrds influences to launch their anti-materialist “I Don’t Want Your Presents” and even give a shout out to Canada. Honestly the song is not so much anti-holiday as anti-consumerist but given that it attacks a key element of the holy trinity of modern Christmas (e.g. Santa, presents, and that historical dude having a birthday) it goes into the ‘anti’ lock-up. It’s just one of a load of great Christmas-critical tunes on their Just Not Quite … A Christmas Album (Vol. 2). Classic Patstrikes a different note of holiday misgiving with “I Got What I Wanted for Christmas.” Poor Pat. He’s got the girl, it’s Christmas morning, only he’s having second thoughts about the whole ‘I love you’ thing. Definitely awkward. Power pop workaholics The Photocopies aren’t taking a break this season but don’t be fooled by their seasonally-titled Cheer Up, It’s Christmas EP. More like Merry F-ing Xmas. In one song the protagonist takes 37 seconds to confront and dump a cheating partner while in another they ooze desperate holiday insecurity about being alone on Christmas day. But the music is pretty peppy. “Christmas Alone” vibes a bit of “Crimson and Clover” in the very best way. Being down never sounded so good.
NYC’s Make Like Monkees are holiday mad. Just try counting up all the Christmas tunes on their multiple Bandcamp pages. Seemingly no aspect of the holiday scene goes unsung about, good or bad. “Christmas Hit-n-Run” is particularly lyrically brutal, with lines like ‘you’re the worst the gift I have got’ and ‘you’re everything a good gift’s not’. Ouch! But more from MLM later on. Mike Weatherford’s ramshackle ode “All I Want For Christmas is You (To Leave Me Alone)” is loaded with anti-Christmas sentiment but what makes it special is its comic timing. Again and again he turns what sounds like his initial lyrical meaning upside down. Ah, the burn. The Happy Somethings are anything but this season with three different versions of their self-described ‘jolly miserabilist festive ditty’ “It’s Christmas Time (We’re Miserable as Sin).” We’re featuring the ‘bah humbug’ version, naturally. And then Edward O’Connell captures a yuletide spirit I can really relate to with “MFC.” That stands for ‘merry effing xmas,’ pardon my French. Growing up, rarely did the season pass in my house without that expletive phrase putting in an appearance.
Our next three Christmas critics have all got a love/hate thing going on about the holidays which they regularly set to music. Christmas Aguilera put a new seasonal single out every year to raise money to end homelessness and poor housing. “This Sky” draws attention to how many people face a stark reality of rising bills and housing uncertainty, even as others throw back another rum and eggnog. Another holiday song machine is Rotterdam’s The Non-Traditionals. With pop culture-riffing album titles like Ok Christmas and All the Jingle Ladies they’re not a serious lot. Or aren’t they? Their ambitious proposal to gather up every “Plastic Tree” and burn them is either an inspired bit of political and environmental direct action or a recipe for very poor air quality. Leaning into the organ Make Like Monkees return now to pretty much kill the Christmas spirit with their revelation that “Santa Claus is Dead.” Hard to recover any festive bonhomie after that.
We wrap up this hate-the-holidays telethon where we began – with Hans. Can anybody really match his contempt for Christmas? Instead of giving the guy is focused on taking: the money, whatever Christmas Eve good feeling they were cooking up at the Nakatomi tower, and more than a few lives along the way. Luckily we have a song that perfectly captures all this and more from Athens, Georgia sparse-folkie Four Eyes. “Everything Will Change This Christmas: The Ballad of Hans Gruber” is a brilliant Freedom Fry-like rumination on the true meaning of Gruber, how he brings a special ennui and FU to holiday time. Really, Christmas isn’t complete without him.
You’re welcome, all you merry misanthropes. Turns out there is a crapping-all-over-Christmas playlist designed especially for you. Even if your heart really is two sizes too small, you needn’t just grind your teeth in silence anymore. Now you can sing out ‘bah humbug’ for all to hear!
A return engagement with a favourite artist is something special precisely because you’ve got a sense of what is coming but not exactly what may arrive – it’s just that tension creates a unmatched sense of anticipation. Today’s post features two such favourites indeed, artists inspired by some of the legends of my poprock pantheon.
It seems Washington D.C. music veteran Edward O’Connell has doubled the wait time between albums, from four years between albums one and two to eight years getting out album three. But wow has it been worth the wait. Feel Some Love is a great big bevy of post pub rock goodness. Anyone familiar with O’Connell’s past work knows that his basic musical portrait is a triptych of Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello and Tom Petty influences. They’re all here, though perhaps with a splash more Costello colour on these 15 featured cuts. “Golden Light” opens things with a poppy Tom Petty meets Elvis Costello demeanor. There’s a really great piano and organ tension driving this song along, topped with some distinctive lead guitar work. Then title track “Feel Some Love” slips in a bit of pop soul, particularly in the chorus. Overall there’s less of the Tom Petty rocking feel to this outing, though Petty influences are definitely there on “Florida Man,” “Things Have Really Changed,” and “Sad and Lonely,” the latter a cover of 1980s DC indie band The Neighbors. The vibe is more latter day Nick Lowe in his poprock elder statesman guise: more mellow, countryish at times, with the same devlish wordplay. “Buddy Crocker” is obviously very Lowe but also check out “Who’s Watching Your Baby” with its spot-on Paul Carrack organ sweep and understated yet alluring vocal. Reminds me of all those obscure sixties numbers Nick has been crafting into mini pop gems. For a dose of solid mid-period Costello there’s “I Got a Million of Em,” “All My Sins,” and “As No One Once Said,” the latter with some sweet Harrisonian lead guitar. “You Wish” is something a bit different emoting a poppy feel reminiscent of the late 1970s post-folkies Ian Matthews and Gerry Rafferty. For should-be hit single, I’d vote for “A Thousand Pardons” just for the solid guitar hooks. Welcome back Ed, I’m definitely feeling some love for this LP.
On Shadow PlaySteve Robinson and Ed Woltilreunite to further their exploration of the various hues of folk rock, both light and dark, poppy and austere. Some of the songs are unabashedly AM folk pop, like opening cut “Chasing Angels” which reminds me of 1980s pop folk artists like Al Stewart. Or there’s “Lifeboat” or “The Way You Love Him” with their very mainstream pop folk sound circa 1979. Both “Life on a Trampoline” and “On Your Side” reach a bit further back to the previous decade, mixing Beatles with Pink Floyd influences on the former or Cat Stevens late 1969 folk-inflected pop on the latter. Things do get more indie on “Kickstart” which vibes an XTC folk feel a la Mummer, with a bit of Peter Gabriel in the vocal. Then the album goes darker. Cuts like “Ultramarine” sound a bit more dire, like a poppy Richard Thompson, while “Vulgar Tongue” has an Appalachian folk flavour melded with psychedelic elements. I love the austere and stark folk canvas of “One Day Never” and “On My Way to My Appointment with Death,” very similar to recent efforts from Tacoma Washington’s Vanilla. “Shadow Wall” is yet another different flavour of folk, this time in tune with more serious folkies like Bruce Cockburn, though with a dab of Beatles melodically. Album wrap up song “Make Amends” lends a White Album folk atmosphere to its very timely sentiment. All in all another folk-tastic release from guys who just won’t limited by a genre label.
I’m loving this return engagement with O’Connell, Robinson and Woltil but perhaps you’re seeing the show for the first time? Click on the links above to get caught up with these superior showmen.
It’s been five years since I embarked on this mad journey: to write a music blog. I dithered over the decision to start one for a number of months. There’s nothing more pathetic than to start something with maximum fanfare and enthusiasm, only to have it flame out a half dozen posts later. The questions I had to ask myself were: (a) was there enough of ‘my kind’ of music to regularly post about, and (b) could I sustain the effort to get regular posts up on the blog? Well here’s the proof. In five years I’ve managed to produce 347 blogs posts. I’ve written more than 170,000 words about poprock tunes. And, most importantly, I’ve featured almost 1000 different artists. Guess the answers to (a) and (b) are both a resounding yes!
I think the biggest reason this blog thing has worked out for me is that it is such a great outlet for being creative and having fun with something that has always been pretty central to my life: music. I love doing all the mock serious regular features (e.g. Breaking news, Around the Dial, Should be a hit single) and coming up with goofy themes as a way to feature different artists (e.g. “Telephonic Poprock,” “Summer’s Coming,” and the Cover me! series. Sometimes I’ve pushed the posts in more serious directions (“Is That So Gay,” “Campaigning for Hooks,” and “Pandemic Poprock“) but only if the melodies and hooks were there in abundance. The blog has also allowed me to pay tribute to my musical heroes (Buddy Holly, The Beatles, The Zombies, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Marshall Crenshaw, Suzanne Vega, Aimee Mann). But, as regular readers know, such luminaries mostly appear as reference points to better help people get of a sense of what all these new acts are doing.
If you’ve just tuned in, I’m not assigning the past five years of posts as homework. Instead, I offer today’s anniversary post as a retrospective of what’s been happening here. I reviewed all 347 posts to pick out some choice examples of the range of styles I can cram under the rubrik of ‘poprock’. It wasn’t easy! My first go round produced a list of 118 songs. When I converted that to a playlist I got the number down to 81 tracks. Ack! Still too many. So I’ve broken things down into themes. This is not a ‘greatest hits’ or ‘best of’ Poprock Record. I’ve left out a lot of acts I really love. It’s just a representative sample of what goes on here, to borrow some lingo from my day job. Click on the highlighted band names to go to the original posts on the blog.
Let’s start by recognizing that not all that appears here is new. The blog has allowed me to explore a huge number of acts I’ve missed over the years, particularly in the 1990s when my new day job (academe) took over my life. I can’t believe I somehow missed great bands like Fire Town and the Soul Engines with their incredible guitar hooks. The Sighs “Make You Cry” is a pretty perfect poprock single. I knew about Billy Cowsills’ Blue Northern but had never heard of his later group, the Blue Shadows. And Eugene Edwards’ sole solo release, My Favorite Revolution, is a must add for any melodic rock and roll fan.
There have been acts that appeared again and again on the blog, my ‘old reliables’ as I might call them. These are performers I can pretty much carve out space in the queue for whenever I hear a new release is on the way. Gregory Pepper is probably my most covered artist. I love his quirky, always hooky, sometimes touching efforts. Ezra Furman was another great find who has an unerring knack of placing a memorable hook at the centre of whatever he’s doing, whether it’s retro 1950s pop or a punkish political ode. I discovered Jeremy Fisher long before the blog but I’ve used it to feature his work, old and new. He’s like a new wave Paul Simon with great videos. Edward O’Connell only has two albums, but they are reliably good. We really need a third. Mo Troper always delivers something wonderfully weird but still melodic and ‘can’t get it out of your head’ good. Finally, Jeremy Messersmith’s records regularly encompass big vision but he doles it out in memorable should-be hit singles.
In my world of poprock, while any instrument goes, the electric guitar is arguably pretty central. Some bands really know how to ride a guitar-driven song right into your head. Jeff Shelton’s Well Wishers excel at putting the guitar up front. “Feeling Fine” is practically a ‘how to’ example of killer guitar-dominant poprock. The David James Situation and The Format are no slouches either. Jangle is a related field of guitar poprock and takes a number of forms, from the 1960s-inflected Byrds sound of The Vapour Trails to the more jaunty bubblegum feel of The Lolas “We’re Going Down to the Boathouse.” Jangle also usually features pretty addictive harmony vocals, showcased below in Propeller’s “Summer Arrives.”
As the original and defining decade of poprock (in my view), the 1960s sound continues to be mined by new artists. Daisy House have few rivals in nailing the late 1960s California poprock vibe, sounding like time travelers from San Francisco’s 1968 club scene. Space Dingus have got The Monkees feel down. Both Shadow Show and The On and Ons gives us that rockier pop sound of the mid 1960s, with the latter delivering killer lead guitar hooks. By contrast, both Cut Worms and The Young Veins offer a candy-coated pop sound more akin to The Cyrkle and Simon and Garfunkel.
I’m a sucker for shivery harmony vocals so they’ve been featured regularly on the blog. One of Jenny Lewis’ side projects is the one-off album from Jenny and Johnny, I’m Having Fun Now. Aptly named, the record gently rocks and delivers amazing vocals. The Secret Sisters offer up a punchy tune where the harmony vocals seal the hooky deal. The Carousels “Call Along the Coast” has a big sound the rides a wave of harmony vocalizing and Beatlesque guitar work. Meanwhile Scotland’s Dropkick corner the market on delightful lilting songcraft on “Dog and Cat.” The blog sometimes shades into retro country and folk territory. Bomabil are an eccentric outfit who stretch our sense of song but never drop the melody. The Top Boost are pretty new wave but on “Tell Me That You’re Mine” they’re channeling Bakersfield via the Beatles 65. The Fruit Bats put the banjo upfront in “Humbug Mountain,” where it belongs. Gerry Cinnamon is like Scotland’s Billy Bragg and he shows what you can do with just an acoustic guitar and a Springsteen harmonica.
I’m proud to say that the blog has sometimes strayed off the beaten path of conventional poprock into more eccentric territory with bands that are smart and quirky and not afraid to lodge a hook in a more complex setting. Tally Hall pretty much define this approach. So ‘out there’ but still so good melodically. Chris Staples and Hayden offer up more low key, moody tunes but they still have a strong melodic grab. Overlord take clever to a new level, like a grad school version of They Might Be Giants. Coach Hop is just funny and hooky with his unabashed ode to liking Taylor Swift.
After the 1960s the new wave era is the renaissance of poprock for me with its combination of hooky guitars, harmony vocals, and melody-driven rock and roll. Screen Test capture this ambience perfectly on “Notes from Trevor” with a chorus that really delivers. The Enlows drive the guitar hook right into your head on the dance-madness single “Without Your Love.” Billy Sullivan epitomizes the reinvention of 1960s elements that occurred in the 1980s, well embodied in “Everywhere I Go.” Another strong theme in the blog has been the “I Get Mail” feature, populated largely by DIY songsters who write me about their garage or basement recorded releases. It is inspiring to hear from so many people doing their thing and getting it out there, especially when it is generally really good. Daveit Ferris is a DIY workaholic with an amazing range of song and recording styles. “Immeasurable” is a good illustration of his genius, with a banjo-driven chorus that always makes me smile. Mondello is practically the classic indie artist movie script, struggling to get an album out after 20 years. But then his follow up single, “My Girl Goes By,” is gold!
I want to leave you with a two-four of should-be hits from Poprock Record. These songs are all quality cuts, grade A poprock with melodies and harmonies and hooks to spare. Some of these songs leave me panting, they’re so good. I kicked off the blog back in 2015 with Family of Year and I still think “Make You Mine” is a textbook should-be AM radio hit. Sunday Sun channel The Beatles through a 1980s song filter, in the very best way. Sitcom Neighbor’s “Tourist Attraction” is a delightful earworm affliction. Wyatt Blair has somehow boiled down the essential formula of a 1960s-influenced poprock hit. Wyatt Funderburk understands how to assemble the perfect melody-driven single. And so on. Get your clicking finger warmed up and you’ll be introduced to the essence of Poprock Record in 24 melodious increments.
One thing I didn’t anticipate was all the great people I’d come in contact with writing a music blog. Thanks to all the bands, record labels, and readers who have responded so positively to what I’ve been doing here. A special thanks to Best Indie Songs, Tim at Powerpopulist and Don at I Don’t Hear a Single for their advice over the years and to my friends Rob at Swizzle and Dale at The View from Here for encouraging me to do this.
This post features pics from my poprock-postered 1985-7 apartment in Vancouver’s West End. Just $285 a month, all inclusive. No wonder I could buy so many records.
Sure, when you first hear Edward O’Connell you get the Costello vibe, you get it bad (by which I mean you get something good). You might even think “Hey, this guy is putting out the albums I wish Elvis Costello would …” But the seemingly familiar Costello ring to the songs, to the vocals, to the turns of phrase is so much more than simply reminiscent. O’Connell has taken the inspiration and made it his own. And there is so much more influence afoot in his two albums of material: a bit of Matthew Sweet, a dash of Peter Case, even some Marshall Crenshaw and, of course, Nick Lowe and Tom Petty.
His debut record from 2010, Our Little Secret, is a solid start: a host of great tunes and a cover riffing off of Nick Lowe’s Jesus of Cool album and the unknown comic. “I Heard It Go” has a great turnaround in the chorus, “Cold Dark World” has wonderfully shimmery vocals, “We Will Bury You” is trademark Costello country, while “All My Dreams” sounds like a lost track from Imperial Bedroom. But the standout song on this album for me is the majestic “Pretty Wasted.” A real gem that exudes equal parts Elvis Costello and Graham Parker, with a lovely Nick Lowe lyrical sleight of hand with the line ‘She’s pretty wasted … pretty wasted on you.’
Four long years passed before O’Connell’s sophomore effort, Vanishing Act, emerged in 2014, but it was worth the wait. The album kicks off with strong material in “My Dumb Luck” and “Lonely Crowd” but the third tune, “Every Precious Day,” is a master class in poprock songwriting: killer guitar riff opener, great Tom Pettyish vocals, with just a hint of Crowded House in the swirling organ and guitar work at the 2/3 mark. Other highlights include “Severance Kiss” (with another great guitar opener), “Odds Against Tomorrow,” “Yesterday’s World,” and “Last to Leave” with its exquisite low tempo atmosphere. “The End of the Line” deserves to be featured if only for its surprisingly aggressive guitar opener that then melds seamlessly into a super midtempo poprock number. But my favourite song on the record is the witty Nick Lowe-ish “I’m the Man,” a sad tale of a man who ‘should have seen it coming’ with his death-obsessed partner.
Besides the music, the best thing about O’Connell is the back story: intrepid university lawyer by day, poprock genius by night. Here’s a guy who trolled in the Washington D.C. rock and roll scene for decades, playing back up for various people, while holding down a legal day job, but finally decided to put his own creative efforts at the forefront rather late in life (at least according to the standard rock and roll biography). Better late than never, indeed.
Looks to be a strong live performer as well: here you can see him doing “Lonely Crowd” solo in Bethesda, Maryland.