65MPH, Barenaked Ladies, Dave Strong, Emma Swift, Freedom Fry, Full Power Happy Hour, Geoff Palmer, Harkness, Kerosene Stars, Kimon Kirk, Los Lobos, Richard Turgeon, Stacey, The Blips, The Connection, The Easy Button, The Eisenhowers, The Kickstand Band
For The Smiths guitar slinger Johnny Marr the 45 is a “short burst [that] is going to explain where we’re at, right here and right now” from “artists who are taking that three, four minute moment really seriously.” Forget the album as artist statement – for Marr, the single is where an artist can really say something. He also makes an interesting observation about the class dimensions of the form, arguing that in the sixties and seventies (when 45s were at their peak popularity in the UK) their brightly coloured sleeves and concise musical content served as a kind of working class art for the “young women who were working in Woolworths, and young men who were working in shops and warehouses and bus stations.” It’s in that spirit of love for the 45 that we continue with our second post of fab new late-summer singles.
Franco-American duo Freedom Fry just can’t help themselves. They’d barely gotten their French-language album L’Invitation out the door last April when two EPs of covers followed just one month later and now this summer three more original songs have hit their Bandcamp page. Productive much? Not that I’m complaining. There is always something so fresh and positive about a new Freedom Fry record. Like “Colors,” with its saucy keyboard lick opening and buoyant melody. Let this light and breezy single colour your listening time with a hit of audio sunshine. Another bit of fun pressed into 3 minutes or so comes from the Barenaked Ladies new album, Detour de Force. “Bylaw” is a goofy yet still melodious mediation on a topic I’m fairly certain has largely evaded musical attention up to now. But leave it to BNL to make it sing! The rest of the album is pretty catchy too, particularly the topical “New Disaster.” Indie power pop supergroup The Legal Matters are back with their third album, entitled Chapter Three. On the whole, its another reliably hooky installment in their ongoing musical saga but the song that leaps out at me is “Please Make a Sound.” I love the low-key jangle and the lighter-than-air harmony vocals. Stylistically it really stands out from the rest of the album, underlining how these guys can pull off just about anything. Have you been missing that tight, almost chrome-coated seventies rock and roll sound perfected by Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds across a series of great albums, both solo and with Rockpile? Well relax, you can get your fix with Geoff Palmer’s new record, Charts and Graphs. Hey, this shouldn’t be news. Palmer’s been acing the Lowe/Edmunds sound for years with his band The Connection. I’m just letting you know he’s done it again. I’m singling out two tracks as my preferred double A-sided 45, “Tomorrow” and “The Apartment Song.” The former comes off like new wave as if the Beach Boys had gone that route in 1979 (instead of doing that disco album) while the latter is a rollicking, hooky stomper (and, as Ralph points out in the comments, a Tom Petty cover). I’ve been on a bit of Los Lobos bender for the past month, really getting to know their Spanish language recordings (e.g. Del Este de Los Angeles and La Pistola y el Corazon). You don’t need to speak Spanish to understand these records are telling you to kick up your heels! For 2021 the party continues on Native Sons with the band covering a host of their favourite radio hits, songs like Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” and the Beach Boys “Sail On, Sailor.” But I’m keen on the album’s only original cut, the title track. It’s a lovely Americana slow dance supported with a beautiful horn section that is all about the band themselves and their relationship to their home town.
Is it wrong to like a band’s cast-offs album more than the main release? I mean, don’t misunderstand me, I think Scottish band The Eisenhowers’ third album Judge a Man by the Company He Keeps is a bonny collection of sophisticated tunes. But somehow I’m more drawn to the tracks that didn’t quite make the official album but did get released a few months later on the aptly named Too Much Music. For instance, “Suffer” is lovely lilting poppy tune, a little bit Crowded House, a smattering of Barenaked Ladies. And that’s just the first of many winners that got cut from the main LP but manage to appear here. Dave Strong tries to hide his classic sixties melodic instincts behind a punky veneer but “Little Girl” can’t be denied. This single is a blasting two and half minutes of gloriously amped up poppy fun. B-side “I Would” is pretty cool too. Detroit’s basement pop exemplars The Kickstand Band have been holding out on us. Just one single since 2017 and nary an LP or EP since 2016! Well the wait is over because a double A-sided single is out, “Cube” and “Hey Julianne.” The former is a neat if somewhat ominous low-key number that breaks out melodically briefly – but spectacularly – in the chorus. The latter is a killer should-be hit, in the mould of the band’s amazing synthesis of early 1960s and late 1970s AM radio hits. Those harmonies! Let’s have a new TKB album please. From the northern US to the deep south, The Blips hail from Birmingham Alabama and they deliver that wonderfully messy country rock sound we might associate with Titus Andronicus or the Band. “Inside Out” is the featured single from their self-titled debut LP and I’m loving it. If this style is your thing, I think you will too. Tampa Florida’s The Easy Button have an astonishing collection of 22 tunes out right now for the price for a regular album. The record is Lost On Purpose and it runs the gamut of clever poprock: a bit of Beach Boys, a lot of Fountains of Wayne, and plenty of fun. There are just so many great tunes here but I’ll draw your attention to the playful, generationally-focused “ReRun.” Though I’m more a seventies television guy I know a lot of the name-checked references here.
I came upon Kimon Kirk via a link to a duet he did with Aimee Mann in 2017. So I thought, ok, I’ll bite, let’s check out this guy. There’s wasn’t a lot to find, just a handful of releases since 2009. But what an interesting range of material! Like Mann, there’s a great American songbook feel to some of his stuff, like the cabaret feel to “The Road to No Regret” from 2011’s Songs for Society. Other releases are crazy good guitar poprock like stand alone 2017 single “Powerstroke.” His new record is Altitude and the song I’d single out is “The Girl I Used to Know” which cooks along like a Lindsay Buckingham track with just a tad more enthusiasm in the chorus. Richard Turgeon is back with a seasonally appropriate new EP of cool tunes, Campfire Songs. Once again he mixes a slightly discordant element into otherwise reliably poppy rock tunes. The timely “Goodbye to Summer” has the feel of an uber cool summer single, its cinematic potential fueled by classic sounding guitar embellishments and Turgeon’s own minor key vocal. But I also really like the easygoing rock and roll songbook feel to “Never Good Enough” and “Promised Land.” Chicago’s Kerosene Stars often sound like some 1980s English guitar band (and I like that!) but their new batch of singles seems to mark a new direction for the outfit. Ok, maybe there’s still an English feel to “Where Have You Been?” with its wordy but eloquent lyric delivery, but I like it, and it clips along with a somehow both reserved but still manic tempo. Recently I wrote about Pearl Charles’ eerie 1970s throwback material and that moved someone dropped me a line about Toronto-based Stacey. Wow. Also very 1970s. Like a Tardis time-travel good recreation. Check out “Strange (But I Like It)” from her latest LP Saturn Return. It’s got a minor key feel in places that reminds me of Sniff ‘n’ the Tears “Driver’s Seat” or any mid-period Little River Band. At this point it’s hard to believe that anyone could do anything new with Bob Dylan material, it’s all been covered by so many people and in so many ways. But Australian Emma Swift manages to add a new twist to the Dylan’s classic “Queen Jane Approximately.” With its light jangle and Rumours-era Fleetwood Mac rhythm section feel, the song sounds more like a radio hit than ever. It can be found with a host of other Dylan songs on her just released Blonde on the Tracks album.
Continuing in Dylanesque vein, Brisbane Australia’s Full Power Happy Hour give us a fresh dose of melodious folky-country guitar noodling on “Old Mind of Mind.” The song is the opening cut on their self-titled debut long-player and it combines keen guitar work with an inspired vocal. Heading back to the UK 65MPH anchor their sound with a striking mix of acoustic and electric guitars and tunes that mine a new neo-folk rock sound that I associate with acts like The Fronteers. “Cruel World” is just one of a host of peppy, winning singles the band has put out over the past few months. Rounding things out on this singles extravaganza, a deep cut from the latest album by Toronto band Harkness. The songs on The Occasion run a gamut of styles, featuring unusual instrumental choices and some complicated vocal arrangements. Personally I’m taken with “Tornado” and its solid mid-1980s Brit band mix of moody guitars and vocals.
Well, there it is, another colossal mix of singles, all mini musical manifestos from a wide array of acts. Think of them as ever so brief introductions to people with much more to say. Click the hyperlinks to continue the conversation.