10 More Super Rock Hits, Army Navy, Cudas, Ducks Unlimited, Jeff Whalen, Lost Ships, The Safes, The SmartHearts, Trolley, Vanilla
2019 has been a generous year for poprock. So many great songs! And yet here are a few more that I somehow didn’t manage to squeeze in before now.
There is some debate about when Jeff Whalen’s amazing solo album 10 More Super Rock Hits was released. Some say 2018, others 2019. Whatever. I have to showcase something from this very special album. Hard to choose just one song but I’ve settled on “Don’t Give Up” with its super sweet Partridge Family poprock hookiness. Whalen is a master of styles and here he nails the 1970s AM melody-to-the front pop sound. Fans of this year’s Brothers Steve album will also love this one! Portsmouth UK’s Lost Ships offer up some serious jangle with “Drug Store” from their recent EP All of the Pieces. A lot of reviewers link the sound to early Teenage Fanclub but I hear a bit of early The Lilac Time sweetness too. Cudas hail from Cape Town, South Africa and so far have released the double-sided single “TV is Cool Again”/“Kids Want Hits” – but what a release! I love the guitars and the slightly ominous melody lines in the former while the latter nails a Ramones-as-hit-makers sound with its inventive use of synth and Cheap Trick sounding enunciation of ‘tonight’ in the chorus. All this bodes very well for some future album release!
Jeff Whalen – Don’t Give Up
I love the Paste magazine tag line on their review of the Toronto janglers Ducks Unlimited EP Get Bleak: “The Toronto quartet writes lilting, throwback jangle-pop for the isolated and the underemployed.” While many commentators highlight the anomie embedded in the songs, I hear a pretty sweet and distinctive jangle coming out of “Anhedonia” that makes my heart swell! “Gleaming Spires” is also pretty fresh and sprightly IMHO. When I think of Milwaukee I think of socialist mayors and Happy Days and beer. Now I can add Trolley to that list. “I’ll Never Tell” has that Revolver-era Beatles vibe if The Byrds had recorded it. It’s the teaser single from the band’s fifth long-player, The Carnival Of Grey and White, to be released in 2020. At long last, a new record emerged from Army Navy late this year, also suggesting a future album release. “Seismic” is lovely low key number, laid over top of a basic acoustic guitar and delicately adorned with a bit of synth and a whispery vocal style. I can’t wait for more.
I could have sworn The SmartHearts were from the UK. Something about their brash punky yet melodic style of rock and roll. But they hail from Philadelphia. Vocally they remind me of Titus Andronicus, with perhaps a bit of the Clash on back up. And then there’s “Man from the Company,” which exudes a bit of mid-1960s pop sensibility, particularly on guitar, while melding it with a more punk vocal delivery. The Safes returned in 2019 with a song that put together a lot of interesting pieces together in unusual ways. “Baggage Claim” mixes keyboards and acoustic instruments and voices into a winning, distinctive combo. Tacoma’s Vanilla released a few new singles this year. I was particularly taken with the XTC-ish “Treefort.” Seriously, this could easily be mistaken for a Colin Moulding outtake. Winning stuff, obviously.
With 2020 within sight, let’s honour these 2019 winning singles with a visit from the money store. Just click on their highlighted names above.
Lightspeed Toronto streetcar photo courtesy Larry Gordon.