Andy Bell, Bill DeMain, Drew Beskin and the Sunshine, Ducks Ltd., Ducks Unlimited, Flipp, Frank Royster, Freedom Fry, Fresh, Lysa Mychols and Super 8, Monica LaPlante, Neil Brogan, Phil Thornalley, Robby Miller, Teenage Tom Petties, The Demos, The Embryos, The Happy Somethings, The Kryng, The Rooftop Screamers, The Veras, Wiretree
The surging summer heat of late August really could do with a soundtrack all its own. What better way to fill that void than this 21 single salute? Strap in, here’s another slew of could-be hits for your perusing pleasure.
How did I miss Ducks Ltd.’s fall 2021 release Modern Fiction? Could be the name switch up from Ducks Unlimited. I guess you can have too much of a fowl thing. Critics have been all over “18 Cigarettes” from the new album and hey it’s great but I’m all in for the strummy magic that is “Grand Final Day.” It’s got jangle, New Order-worthy bass work, and some killer percussion. The overall effect is very Cure-like. “Fit to Burst” is another favourite with its discordant lead guitar lines. Netherlands sixties-style rockers The Kryng have a new album out, Twelve Hyms to Syng Along, and a full review will be coming. Right now I return to their previous single and the driving-fun stomper b-side specifically, “Twenty Two.” This one is dancing shoes approved! It’s a full-on 1966 Top of the Pops go go-ing classic. A band experiencing a reanimation after some time away is Minneapolis rockers Flipp. Time has smoothed the pop hooks in their material, i.e. less Kiss more Romantics. Their new album Too Dumb to Quit kicks off with “You Can Make It Happen” – check out the riveting cowbell and slashing guitar chords opener! This is a song that pulses with urgency but these veterans know how to pace our interest, giving the tune plenty of sonic space and changes in tempo. Fans of The Tearaways and The Empty Hearts will love this. Rural France member Tom Brown has got a thing for Tom Petty, obviously. The most recent RF record had a song called “Teenage Tom Petty” and now he’s got a side band dubbed Teenage Tom Petties. Well if loving Tom were a crime a lot of us would be doing time. TTP gives this Tom a chance to go for a bit more rough sound than Rural France but without sacrificing any hooks. “Boxroom Blues” has a muddy feel to its mix but the lead guitar grinds out a relentlessly melodic line throughout. Things get turned up to 11 on Robby Miller’s new single “Staying for the Weekend.” It rides pretty close to going all rawk with its distortion and waka waka guitar effects at times but Millar has a knack for melody that ultimately reins in any guitar excess. An album of rocking Millar tunes surely can’t be far off.
Fresh should get an award for best fake-out opener to a song. The alluring distorted guitar hook that launches “Deer in the Headlights” says punky combobulations coming right up. But then things veer into a sophisticated pop vibe reminiscent of The Sunday’s debut album. The riff then keeps coming back in, jostling the listener – but it totally works. Just one of many creative contributions to the band’s new LP Raise Hell. Chicago’s The Embryos clearly spent some time taking in the mammoth Beatles’ Get Back documentary during lockdown because their new single “The Tone” is a subtle love letter to the sound of those sessions. The vibe kicks off casual, like a rehearsal session, but as the song advances things tighten up, adding more and more polish and nuance. The Demos “Streetlight Glow” is calling up so many different possible comparisons: the spooky background vocals sounds Zolas, the acoustic guitar-anchored verses has a Farrah feel, the electric guitar shots is so Vaccines. Despite this variety it all hangs together, descending into sing-along goodness near the end. The track is from their stylishly designed new long player 24 Hour Hotline featuring a stunning candy apple red Western Electric model 500 telephone. Monica LaPlante is a solid rock and roll gal. I mean, listen to her version of Echo and Bunnymen’s “Do It Clean” – it’s like she put it through some kind of B-52’s dance machine. “Selfish Bitch” is another good time rocker. But then other tracks exude a Chrissie Hynde cool. The 2019 single with “Tinted Lights” and “Opposite Sides” doesn’t just feature an classic looking cover, both tracks have a sublime sophistication. “Opposite Sides” is particularly striking, like Peggy Lee with a Nancy Sinatra swagger floating over wonderfully ominous musical textures. It would be great to pull all Laplante’s various singles and EPs into one great big album for easy appreciation. The Veras‘ new single “Sevens and Nines” has a wow-guitar chunkiness to it. There’s something very 1970s to the monster electric guitar chord attack, a bit glam with a touch of BTO swing. This one’s a party-time crowd-pleaser! You can preview a few more tunes from their upcoming new LP V is for Vera on their website.
Time to turn down the lights for a mellow moment with Franco-American duo Freedom Fry on “True to Ourselves.” This starts off spare but just wait until Marie Seyrat gets to the line “Well it’s you and me, my friend till the bitter end …” Bliss! Very early 1970s folk pop in a Poppy Family way. Former (and current, I guess) Ride guy Andy Bell keeps releasing singles from his super solo record Flicker but the latest “Lifeline” contains a special treat, a cover of Pentangle’s “Light Flight” from their 1969 album Basket of Light. I love the English twist on sixties folk rock with its unique guitar tunings and medieval aura. Hard to live up to guitar masters like Bert Jansch and John Renbourn but here Bell proves he’s no slouch. Speaking of the Middle Ages, The Happy Somethings give a solid folk footing to their paean to Everything But the Girl’s female vocalist on “I Wish You Could Sing Like Tracey Thorn.” Who doesn’t? They offer two versions on this double b-side, both delightful in their own way. Austin’s Wiretree deliver their reliable strummy goodness on a recent one-off single “Inside.” No breaking headlines here, just the usual quality merch, a dreamy mix of acoustic guitars and swirling vocal harmonies. Or for something completely different, check out Lysa Mychols and Super 8’s expert deconstruction of The Who’s “I Can’t Explain.” Powerpopaholic called it a ‘beatnik version’ and I’d have to agree, right down to the finger snapping and period wardrobe in the video.
Time now for the Jeff Lynne portion of our programming. Starting with Phil Thornalley. Phil’s usually that man behind the curtain, writing, producing and playing on hits for all sorts of people without taking the spotlight himself. He recently launched a strong solo effort with his Astral Drive project, particularly the should-be hit single “Summer of ‘76” (reviewed here). And his soon-to-be released solo effort Now That I Have Your Attention promises to be a winner if this pre-release single is anything to go by. “Fast Car” is a loving homage to everything ELO. It’s got the strings, the pumping piano, the army of background vocals, and an earwormy set of melodic hooks. Another artist working some Lynne-isms into their new song is Bill DeMain, co-songwriting partner to a load of should-be stars and one half of Swan Dive. “Lone Ranger” is a brilliant riff on fame and heroes well past their sell-by date. But musically it’s like a easter egg hunt for ELO motifs. Pretty genius stuff here. The Rooftop Screamers offer a more distant echo of Lynne influences on “The Great Unknown.” It’s there more in the melange of sounds, the organ, Tim Smith’s great vocals, and the song’s relentless hookiness. Another drip released single on the way to a new album undoubtedly. Belfast’s Neil Brogan combines a wonderfully weird set of styles on his recent album Things Keep Getting in the Way. Not so much ELO as the melodically-folky, sometimes-rocking sound of acts like Darren Hanlon, Hayden, and Ron Sexsmith. Title track “Things Keep Getting in the Way” is a case in point: the sonorous guitar lines jump out but the vocals are so folky understated. Now get ready for a bit of joy wrapped up in a new single from Drew Beskin and the Sunshine, “Spoilers.” The opening instrumental roll out is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face, the chorus is so uplifting, and the musical breaks just bolster the good feeling. A single from the much anticipated upcoming album Somewhere Sideways Same as You.
We wrap up this batch of singles with a brand new cut from Frank Royster. Those familiar with Royster’s two phenomenally good but overlooked solo albums understand what good news this is. “Open Door” has a hint of The Smithereens songwriting stamp all over it while it’s message of faith is in your face but curiously not jarring. This is the second new single from Royster this year in anticipation of an album coming in 2023.
Whew, 21 options for your end-of-summer playlist. Surely something here to tickle every fancy.
Photo courtesy merobson.