I’m always geared up for some great singles. I’m not the kind to insist on a whole album of hits. That can be so greedy. So let’s roll out some should-be hit single poprock radio fodder.
Let me say right at the outset that Ryan Hamilton and the Harlequin Ghosts’ new album This is the Sound is an all-round good time, filled with great tunes. It’s what we’d expect from a guy whose talents have ranged from his killer sunshine-blast solo album Hell of a Day to super outings with Bowling for Soup’s Jaret Reddick in People on Vacation. But there is something particular about “Feeling Like Falling in Love” on his latest album that really grabs me. Maybe it’s guitar hook that loops throughout the song or the effortless tenor of Ryan’s vocals but the song sticks with me. Or maybe you’re looking for something more old school new wave? Got just the release here with the latest single from The Empty Hearts. Described by some as a ‘garage rock supergroup’ I’d probably characterize them as a bit more smooth than that. Their latest “Coat Tailer” offers up the polished sheen of Romantics-style guitars with some cool Rubber Soul-ish background vocals. B-side “Run and Hide” is no slouch either with its mellow jangle and slight country vibe. Can’t wait for the full album follow up to these teasers.
The Empty Hearts – Coat Tailer
Ezra Furman is undeniably one of most exciting artists to emerge over the past decade. Fabulously original, combining a punk-like sentiment with a solid mastery of 1950s and 1960s songwriting styles. He’s like a gender-fluid John Lennon – angry, tuneful, with a whole lot of something to say. His latest record 12 Nudes cranks the punk and snarl on most cuts but “In America” rides its wondrous ragged delivery over some killer hooks. I’d vote for this guy. Carrying on in a punky vein, Cleveland’s Signals Midwest take their sound in a more melodic direction with their latest EP Pin, particularly on the first single, “Your New Old Apartment.” The song goes in a number of directions with surprising musical adornments and ace vocal support from Sincere Engineer (aka Deanna Belos). Love the echo-y background vocal ‘oh oh ohs’ that show up late!
If I liked them once, chances are I’ll probably like them again. So new releases by previously featured artists are always exciting. At least, until I get through the preview stage – then some are, on occasion, disappointing. But not this crew. It’s all pretty solid stuff from artists that I particularly dug the first time I encountered them.
Ezra Furman blew into my 2015 with a tantalizing catalogue of material: neo-1960s girl group meets Bob Dylan transitioning out of folk music, with just a dash of new wave and punk and cross-dressing. He lit up the now-closed Silver Dollar in Toronto with an eclectic and electric show that autumn with a both in-your-face punk and deeply vulnerable performance. This guy is a must-see performer if he comes near your town. Furman has a new album – Transangelic Exodus – set to drop in February of next year, with a few teaser singles available now. But I prefer here to draw from his year old EP Big Fugitive Life, which nicely showcases the incredible range of his talent. Just check out “Little Piece of Trash” with its neo-1950s vibe, particularly that honking sax. But just when you think Furman is doing nostalgia he breaks out an amazing frenetic chorus featuring great punky-new wave hooks. “Teddy I’m Ready” is another strong track from this EP with its brilliantly understated and tender vocal.Little Piece of Trash
Canadian David Myles is surely a reincarnation of Buddy Holly. He looks the part and his new album Real Love sounds like it takes up where Buddy would have left off in 1959. Myles has an amazing ear for the period – there’s a bit of Elvis, a lot of Marty Robbins, a hat tip to Roger Miller, and Buddy obviously. And yet this is not just a space age revival record. Unmistakable contemporary twists can be heard all throughout the album. Title track “Real Love” stretches its melody out of its neo-1950s groove here and there. The horns on tracks like “Look at Me” don’t quite obey the period norms. But as with all Myles releases, it is the songwriting that pulls everything together. The subtle and understated performance of “If You Want Tonight” underplays its classic song structure. I can hear Elvis or Marty doing this one. “Cry, Cry, Cry” is so Buddy. “Everybody Knows” opens large with a scat vocal reminiscent of so many Roger Miller records but quickly segues into a catchy period number. “Easy” also sounds very early 1960s with its slightly discordant vocals. Myles is big time love-song-singer and fittingly the album ends with the beautiful “Crazy to Leave.” Slip this baby on and teleport to those make-believe simpler times.
If You Want TonightEverybody Knows
We went a bit wild for Berwanger’s back catalogue when we discovered it here at Poprock Record. The gleeful mixture of classic and indie rock, shamelessly tuneful, vibing a range potentially stretching from the Vaccines to the Tom Petty. The new record And the Star Invaders continues the band’s sonic mission to explore and inhabit new musical territory. Opening track “The Star Invaders” begins with Berwanger’s familiar catchy rhythm guitar but then suddenly shifts into a ‘she’s gone’ mini-chorus that sounds straight out the New Pornographers songbook. The hooks in this song are so addictive they should require a prescription. So too “Horror Show” starts off low key only to break out into a swinging poprock delight at the 37 second mark and never lets up. “Broken Moon” breaks out the acoustic guitars to ghost up a really nice but more meandering melody. All ain all, another strong outing.
I couldn’t get enough of Good Old War when I stumbled across their perfectly modulated poprock single “Broken Record.” The production, the tightly arranged acoustic guitars and vocal harmonies, the nice School House Rock nod with the double stop ahhs. Really, it was a mini-masterpiece. How could I know it was an outlier on a record that was itself a departure from their usual sound? In the end it didn’t matter. I fell in love with all the great songs on Broken into Better Shape with its slicker, more produced sound than their previous more folky vibe. Almost as a nod to older fans, the band followed up the record by releasing a series of more acoustic versions of some of the songs from the album. Now their new Part of Me EP scales back the production for a return to their earlier simpler sound. “The River” opens things up with a nice swinging melody, title track “Part of Me” is a finger picking slower mediation on love and belonging, while “Oak Tree” sounds like a traditional country folk ballad you might hear in church, if people in your church could sing. A very nice something to tide us over until a new album arrives.The RiverNever Gonna See Me Cry (Acoustic)
I have seen the future of rock and roll and he is a self-described cross-dressing bisexual Jew from Chicago. I’m only just kidding. Rock and roll, though regularly proclaimed to be dead, survives because somebody comes along and recombines its various influences in new ways. Ezra Furman is one of those guys. His music mines 1950s doo wop and sax solos, throws in hefty dose of early 1960s melodic melodrama, oozes 1970s pre-punk, and ties it together with an earnest reedy vocal style. Imagine if Dylan had gone electric but remained political, or Jonathan Richman had stayed the course on reinventing the Velvet Underground – you start to get some sense about what Furman is doing and capable of.
One of the many things I find impressive about Furman is his rock and roll chops. This is not some sloppy DIY punker making a late conversion to hipster indie cool, or an earnest singer-songwriter giving his angst the band treatment. Right from his 2007 debut you can hear how solid his grasp of rock and roll forms is on tracks like “She’s All I’ve Got Left.” 2008’s Inside the Human Body features a very Dylanesque “The World is Alive” and Velvet Underground/early Jonathan Richman-ish “Take Off Your Sunglasses.”
By the time Mysterious Power rolls out in 2011 Furman has expanded the melodic range of what he is doing: “Fall in Love with My World” manages to be plaintive without being pathetic, “Hard Time in a Terrible Land” sounds like a punked-up Pete Seeger, while “Mysterious Power” turns a simple guitar part into Furman’s most catchy and solid single to date. Subsequent albums turn out more polished singles, like the double A-side “My Zero/Caroline Jones,” songs that manage to channel the early 1960s vibe by working in whistling and sax solos. And I’m only featuring the stuff I like. Furman has a load of material that would fall into a more straight up alienated punk groove (for people who like that sort of thing).
Take Off Your Sunglasses
This year’s Perpetual Motion People brings all these disparate influences together into a surprisingly coherent and solid package. Again, the range is impressive: from the folksy spiritual quality of “One Day I will Sin No More” to the weirdly melodic and unpredictable “Can I Sleep in Your Brain.” 1950s sax and doo-wop stylings return on “Pot Holes,” a hilarious political commentary on phony civic boosterism with lightening word play and a fade out ‘waa-ooh’ vocal that would make Del Shannon proud. “Ordinary Life” sounds like a great lost John Lennon song. And the video single for “Restless Year,” while not my favourite song on the record, does capture the frenetic, unpredictable energy that is Ezra Furman.
Furman is booked for a show in Toronto October 10th at the Silver Dollar – this promises to be an ‘I was there when …’ event, not to be missed!