Today’s turn around the dial is all about contrasts, music that combines discordant elements but in way that resolves the tension via a great hook. Whether channeling experimental rock or 1950s song structure or a revived beach fun ethos or dreamy vocal harmonies, its all about melody.
Let’s begin in Eau Claire, Wisconsin where Whale House are a band of many colours: proudly experimental on a number of tracks, languidly acoustic-strummy on others, and straight out rockers when the amp gets knocked up to eleven. It’s all there in their latest trio of songs, with “Red Sun” and “Think of Me” covering the experimental rock and “Freeway” focusing on melody. I love the cover shot for the latest single with its space cruiser speeding into some crossword time-space anomaly! Songwise, the obvious single to me is “Freeway.” The song kicks off with a super nice trippy guitar line that threads it way through the song, brought into contrast by a chorus that brings on a stronger attack from both guitars and piano, and vocals that have a nice, ever-so-slightly punky quality, hinting at alienation yet curiously endearing at the same time. Warning: repeated listening will imprint the guitar line on your brain like the Apple home screen on your TV (in this case, not a bad thing). Previous releases from Whale House are also worth exploring. Check out their 2013 single “Stand Out” or “Smoke Signals” and “Dark Rituals” from their 2014 EP The Negative Space (the latter track sounds like a spot on 1980s FM radio staple).
Rockford, Illinois is the home base of Pink Beam, a band whose new album, Big Vacation, is a strong debut that fires all over the poprock map. “Sleep When You Are Dead” evokes the Beatles’ Abbey Road, particularly “Because,” but that’s just a teaser as the song develops its own unique direction. “Floozy” is a great rollicking rock and roll romp while “Michael” has a 1970s soft rock vibe reminiscent of some early Chicago (not the ballads and minus the horns). But the tour de force is the wonderfully weird “Jamie,” a story song about regret, though perhaps never told quite this way before. Its distinctive sound – think early 1960s tragedy ballad run through the 1970s fifties revival – effortlessly shifts between a sweet poprock melody and a great discordant vocal counterpoint. Pink Beam are onto something original here.
Then there is something so 1978 about “Silly Teenage Love” from Tommy and the Rockets, a one-off musical project comprised of Danish poprock songwriter Thomas Stubgaard and three members of the New Trocaderos. The song kicks off with the tight guitar and compressed vocal sound so perfected by Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds in their legendary Rockpile band. Sure the record exudes that beachy 1960s sound too but it’s the distinctive 1970s poprock drive that gives it the oomph. “Silly Teenage Love” is included on the album Beer and Fun and Rock and Roll, which pretty much sums the whole point of the exercise: a celebration of sunny summer beaches and the libations that make them rock.
A wonderful blend of vocals marks The Kickstand Band’s new EP, Summer Dream. Comparisons to indie darlings Jake and Eliza immediately come to mind. As with them, this duo’s musical debts are a curious mixture of past and present: early sixties Brill Building pop, 1950s vocal harmony, late 1970s and early 1980s poprock a la Dwight Twilley or Marshall Crenshaw. “Stay Inside” charges out of the gate and shifts deftly between three different interesting and distinctive vocal motifs, including close harmonies and swooping background oohs and aahs with a catchy set of hooks. “Fall Back” sounds like those early 1960s sincere girl ballads but switches it up into the chorus to a late 1960s California pop harmony sound. Title track “Summer Dream” kicks off with a whole load of reverb-drenched vintage guitar before dropping out for a eerily quiet verse that gives way to a blast of hooky chorus. EP number three is the charm for this duo. Previous releases certainly have highlights but Summer Dream is where the songs and their sound really comes together.
Try out these recordings from Whale House, Pink Beam, Tommy and the Rockets, and The Kickstand Band for free. You can listen to their whole albums on Bandcamp before deciding that you really can’t live without them.