Ancient Mars, Berwanger, Drive North, Exorcism Rock, Oh Dusty, Sixes and Sevens, Strange Stains, Sweden, SWMRS, Swooner, The Zolas, Under the Sycamore Tree
The accent today is on fresh and contemporary versions of poprock that nonetheless draw on all the classic elements: sparkly guitars, upfront melody, and close harmonies, with the occasional cool synth thrown in for good measure.
Berwanger’s Exorcism Rock is not what I expected it to be. From the title to the cover art I was expecting some kind of strip joint boogie rock or a 1980s hair band. But this album is whole heap of melodic fun. The range of material is simply amazing, from the Tom Petty-inflected “Booty Shake” to the breathy Vaccines-style vocal on “Black Sun” to the killer poprock riff driving “Slutty Skin.” As one might expect from a veteran of two successful bands (The Anniversary; The Only Children), band leader Josh Berwanger has really got his songwriting chops down. I also like the slow but melodic “Guess You Weren’t Wrong.” Check out Berwanger’s older material as well. The 2015 EP Demonios has a more downhome rock and roll feel, while 2013’s Strange Stains focuses more on the pop side with super tracks like “Bullets of Change,” “Mary,” and “Everybody Knows.”
So you live in Norway and decide to name your band Sweden – that’s not going to be confusing … Another great guitar band that relies on mixing up the guitar sound over songs with solid hooks. “Hey C’mon” from 2012’s Under the Sycamore Tree kicks off with a catchy acoustic guitar riff before exploding into a full on band treatment. “Barefoot Summer” from 2013’s Sixes and Sevens shifts back and forth between what an old rock and roll friend of mine once called ‘gunga’ rock (because the guitar makes that gunga gunga sound over and over) and tasty melodic solo bits. “American Kiss” is another strong cut from this album. Then most recently 2016’s Oh, Dusty has a slew of strong tracks. “Just a Kid” kicks off with a sound reminiscent of Hall and Oates ace single, “You Make My Dreams” but then goes in a totally different direction. “Stockholm” is a pretty solid single while “Hanging Around” is prime poprock craft. Hey C’monBarefoot Summer
Everything you read about SWMRS focuses on their punk sentiments and crazy stage shows. Certainly they look the part in their many online videos, i.e. young, male, and scruffy. But I don’t hear that listening to their 2016 release, Drive North. Instead these guys have a smooth and polished sound, apparent on tunes like “Turn Up” with its solid acoustic guitar and bass anchoring the song, and “Figuring it Out.” I also really like “Lose It,” a masterpiece of understated poprock. Check out this clever line – it just rolls out effortlessly with the music: “Why you’d have to have such a damn fine taste in music? Yeh, if all my favorite songs make me think of you I’m going lose it.” The band is on tour but curiously seem to be avoiding any effort to actually drive north – no Canadian dates have been announced.Turn UpLose It
Speaking of Canada, its version of Vancouver has a huge crop of great bands making the rounds these days, like The Zolas. It is interesting to hear the subtle change in this band’s sound over the course of a number of albums. 2009’s Tic Toc Tic puts the piano upfront in a recognizable poprock combo sound on tracks like “The Great Collapse” and “These Days.” But melody and hooks come to the fore with 2012’s extremely catchy Ancient Mars. Both the title track and “Knot in my Heart” seriously up the spooky melody quotient while “Escape Artist” is brilliant both lyrically and melodically. “Strange Girl” is bit more rocking but with an eerie, haunting melody in the chorus. 2016 brings more change as the band puts its synthesizer front and centre to good effect on its most recent album, particularly the killer title track, “Swooner.”
Got some great tips for this week’s Around the Dial from a super poprock site – Sweet Sweet Music Blog – that combines band interviews with their music videos. But don’t take my word for it. Be sure to visit SSMB as well as Berwanger, Sweden, SWMRS, and The Zolas online and find out for yourself.