This particular turn of the dial takes us all over the musical map, sometimes to the very edge of poprock country. From indie folk-rock to proto-mod to alt country and then some, we have a lot of ground to cover.
On their 2012 debut album The River and the Road were a pleasant folk rock band, hailing from Canada’s major west coast city. But with Headlights, their 2015 release, some kind of transformation occurred. More electric, certainly, though the album also featured a number of strong acoustic numbers. No, something changed in their musical demeanor, kinda like they’d hit the musical gym, bulking up their sound and impact. Case in point – “Mistakes” rips open with a muscular electric lead line that keeps searing into the tune, aided by the full band dropping in at the 8 second mark. This is not really poprock. It’s got more of an edgy indie vibe but still there is something very hooky about the band’s guitar work. “I’m Broke” swings with a strong alt country melody, roughed up just a bit by the band’s more rocking sound. By contrast, “Strange Disease” reverberates with a drone-like banjo backing. And this is just a few highlights – really, the whole album is great. You may think you know what you’re getting with a band like The River and the Road (i.e. four on the floor Americana) but the record keeps pushing its own boundaries. I’m BrokeStrange Disease
When the name of your band is a reference to a 1976 song by another band, which is in turn a reference to a line from a 1965 movie, you’re deep into a very self referential world defined by its own measure of cool. Seattle’s Shake Some Action have been at it a decade now and they sound like a band whose sound has been forged in the fire of 1960s poprock, the late 1970s mod revival a la The Jam, with a healthy dollop of 1980s jangle pop. Their brand new album, Crash Through or Crash, is a sonic treat, all shimmery guitars and hooky reverb-drenched vocals. The opening cut, “Waiting for the Sun,” is a strong single, masterfully arranged to hit all the marks, from the hypnotic lead line to the seductive ‘ahhs’ that announce the chorus. I couldn’t help recalling all those great Mighty Lemondrops records, just for the sheer joy captured here. “Whose Side Are You On” is another tremendous song while “Starting Again” utilizes the Rickenbacker electric 12-string to great effect.
There is nothing precious about Rozwell Kid’s art. The West Virginia band specialize in the sort of ironic, sometimes goofy, sometimes smurky odes to nerdy dudes and their pathetic attempts to be cool. Thus their 2017 release, Precious Art, dials the irony up to eleven on a super collection of slightly off-kilter, buzzed-out guitar tunes. There are highlights galore. “Wendy’s Trash Can” sounds like Weezer meets Fountains of Wayne. “Mad TV” emotes a bit of Bad Books and some of Ken Devine’s solo material to me. “Michael Keaton” channels Weezer and tells a great story. And so on.
Toronto’s First Base are mining the same theme as Tommy and the Rockets and all the other bands whose origin story ultimately links back to the cartoon pop punk of the Ramones. Their bandcamp page has a host of strong singles stretching back to 2008 that are great garage punky romps. But their latest release – “Not That Bad” – represents something new. Sonically, lyrically, melodically, the sound is richer and the song more polished than earlier work. Imagine Teenage Fanclub with a late 1970s lead guitar player. This teaser isn’t even officially out yet. The new album is also called Not That Bad and I can’t wait to hear what the whole record accomplishes.
Heyrocco’s “Yeah” kicks off in a fairly standard rocking vein but then pushes the melody pedal at the 22 second mark in a way that really hooks me. The chorus says jump up and down and shake your head with 40 other people crowding the front of the stage. Melody is not Heyrocco’s main thing but when they make it a priority, they do it right. I usually find one tune I really love on their releases. On 2015’s Teenage Movie Soundtrack it was the great swinging slow rocker “First Song” with its Bernard Sumner vocal. “Yeah” is my fave from the band’s 2016 EP Waiting on Cool. Every now and then I hear just a bit of Sugar Ray in this band, which, personally, I think is a very good thing. Also, check out the fantastic demo version of “First Song” below, from the band’s 2013 Greatest Hits of the 1990s.Yeah
I was blasting through the Forty Nineteens new album, Good Fortune, thinking ‘ya, this is nice’ but it wasn’t grabbing me the way a new release needs to if I’m going give the replay button some exercise. Then I hit the very last song and completely changed my mind. “Two Pillows” is single-worthy magic. Great tune, killer arrangement, wonderful performance – I could go on. Laid on a bed of electric piano, the song has a poprock country feel, sharpened by a searing yet melodic guitar solo and great vocals. It made me go back and re-evaluate the whole album.
What do The River and the Road, Shake Some Action, Rozwell Kid, First Base, Heyrocco and the Forty Nineteens all have in common? They wanna be rock stars. Don’t you want to be part of that dream? Hustle on over to the links above and do your part.