Bob of the Pops, Chris Catalyst, Daisy House, David Woodard, Frank Brown, Girlatones, Hayley and the Crushers, Hearts Apart, Henry Chadwick, Johnathan Pushkar, Los Straightjackets, Major Murphy, Nova Waves, Robyn Gibson, Ryan Allen and his Extra Arms, Silver Torches, Talk Show Host, The Coral, The Embryos, The Fratellis, The Lousy Pop Group, Travel Lanes
Spring always comes a bit later than I reckon it should in my part of the geographical woods. But it is definitely here – at last – and that can only mean one thing: dance party. Even if I’m only dancing with myself I can still restock the singles bar with a load of exciting new singles!
The Fratellis have always been a bit off-the-beaten indie rock and roll track, utilizing uncommon, sometimes old-timey song structures. Their new album is no exception. Just one listen to title track “Half Drunk Under a Full Moon” had me hooked with its cinematic airy piano opening and striking lyrical imagery. I’m imagining my own b-side to that single would be “Lay Your Body Down,” a lovely throwback, could-be sing-a-long. Henry Chadwick is back with a new single “Tomorrow is Today,” a sleek modern slice of poprock. The song is so nicely put together, an effortless swirl of alternating sonic blasts of textured guitar and vocals, reminding me a bit of Ben Kweller and Mark Everett. A nice surprise arrived a few weeks back with a new single from Daisy House, a band on indefinite hiatus since 2018. “Last Wave Home” is what the band does best, evoking the magic of that mid-1960s California sun, sand and surf with a Beach Boys’ feel for melody and harmonies. The Go Go’s will be joining the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and rightly so, as their influence is unmistakable across a wide range of music and genders. I mean, check out Go Go’s vibe all over Hayley and Crushers rockin’ single, “Kiss Me So I Can.” The guitars are so Jane and Charlotte while the vocals really ace a Belinda delivery. And it’s a great tune as well. Major Murphy move in a new, darker direction with the title track on their new record Access. The song has an ominous undercurrent that is both hypnotic and catchy. The vocal harmonies that dominated their last album are back but put to slightly different harmonic purposes. The end result is captivating and unnerving, in a good way.
I’ve been remiss in getting something written about Girlatones. “One Chord Too Many” came out about a year ago but my philosophy is that it’s never too late to sing a single’s praises. The song is very guitar pop, a bit of Belle and Sebastion meets the Byrds. My choice for b-side would be the fantastic 1960s-emoting “2 Young 2 Forget,” written in a style reminiscent of all those songs the Rolling Stones gave away (e.g. “Too Much in Love”). The lead guitar is so spot on 1966 jangle! Seattle’s Silver Torches sneak up on us with “Love Someone,” a song that ambles along until it suddenly blasts off in the chorus, fattening up the vocals and the sense of emotional release. Very movie montage-ish, cue hero overcoming whatever is holding them back. Travel Lanes’ Frank Brown put out a nice little EP a few months back entitled This One’s For You. Low-key, unassuming, the songs are just delightful small group sketches. I’m particularly partial to the rollicking, jaunty “Summer,” with a vocal delivery that reminds me of Dan Israel. Robyn Gibson’s amazing Bob of the Pops cover albums series has worked its way up to volume 5 with no loss of momentum or quality. Basically, Gibson takes both classic and forgotten singles of 1960s and 1970s yesteryear and reworks them into a slightly different 1960s register from their original. For instance, his cover of Marmalade’s 1971 song “Cousin Norman” moves away from the country rock feel of the original, putting it into a late 1960s beat group style. The result is a fresh take that gives the song swing and puts the melody more up front. This next group initially caught my eye for their name. The Lousy Pop Group is just so disarming, beating crabby reviewers to the punch. But the LGP are not lousy at all. “When I’m With You” is a great piece of lofi jangle, combining a Smiths-ian songwriting feel with a more low-key vocal and guitar delivery.
This party could use a bit more no-holds-barred rocking out so to that end we turn now to Italy, of course. Seriously, there’s some superior gritty but melodic rock and roll coming out of that country lately and Hearts Apart embody that. “Waste Time” is driven by its rough and ready rhythm guitar work and some nice call and response vocals. The rest of their almost released EP, Number One to No One, is more of the good same. My local punk popsters, Toronto’s Talk Show Host, never fail to please. The new record is the stylishly designed Mid-Century Modern and the two advance singles back me up. “Blood in the Sand” dials down the punk in favour of flooring the pop pedal, with plenty of catchy ‘oh ohs’ to fuel some audience sing-along-ing. Chris Catalyst has some great crashing guitars contrasting his polished vocal harmonies on “Divide and Rule” from his latest LP Kaleidoscopes. Something very Revolver going on here, filtered through a 1980s British power pop filter. I love the flexibility of Chicago’s The Embryos. One minute they’re vibing the Bryds and Teenage Fanclub, the next they’ve got a Church-meets-The La’s thing going. With their new stand-alone single, “Rattlesnakes,” they seem to be defining their own unique synthesis of all these influences. The song also has some killer organ fills and lead guitar lines. Ryan Allen and his Extra Arms reliably churn out highly-listenable full-band rock and roll. But his most recent EP Digital Hiss includes a hypnotic, largely acoustic-guitar driven ditty “Can You Take My Thoughts Away.” The song uses an economy of words and instrumentation but still manages to deliver an Elliott Smith level of performative punch. The song has a tension that seems poised to break out of its low key shell at any moment, even though it holds its powder.
Nova Waves are an interesting band for a host of reasons. They live in three different countries, and thus must send tapes around the world so each member can add their own something to the mix. The results vary, from revivalist 1960s rock to carefully crafted indie pop. “Radio Sound” is from their new album Going the Distance and captures this range, with an Apples in Stereo pristine pop sound, punctuated with 1969 Beatles ‘la’s la’s’ and guitar embellishments. The Coral also have a new album, Coral Island. I can’t decide my initial fave song, split between the obvious single “Change Your Mind” and the should-be sleeper hit “Vacancy” with its crazy good organ. There’s something very laid back 1970s California country rock mixed with The Zombies keyboard work all over this album. Johnathan Pushkar loves the Beatles and that influence is all over his new record Compositions. Yet with this outing he also moves more decisively into Fountains of Wayne territory with at least half the songs, particularly “Gonna Be Alright” where his phrasing and song structure is very Chris Collingwood. Another guy vibing a bit of FOW is David Woodard on this recent EP Butterfly Effect. It’s there on the opening to “the last word” but Woodard quickly takes the song in his own direction. The track has a low key hook so subtlely placed that its only on repeated listenings that it really gets into your head. Now, to wrap up, we’ll skip the vocals. A good instrumentals band makes it look so easy. You just replace the vocal melody with some twangy guitar right? But the magic is all in how you do that, the choice of guitar tone and timbre, how you lean into the melody line, the phrasing, etc. Nashville’s Los Straightjackets are the current masters of this genre and they showcase their considerable chops on an infectious reworking of The Hollies “Bus Stop.” Hard to add anything new to either the song or the original version but LS manage to cast some new light on the song’s melodic nuances. Magic stuff, for sure.
Twenty new should-be hits for your spring dancing playlist. Shake your tailfeather on over these bands’ internet locales and get better acquainted with they’ve got on offer beyond these great songs.