Gavin Bowles, Jenny, Jim Basnight, Kamino, Lucy and the Rats, Michael Penn, Monogroove, The Feels, The Outta Sites, The Umbrella Puzzles, The Veras, Thee Holy Brothers, Weezer, West Coast Music Club
I do remember skating to the AM radio tunes of the 1970s. Even though we were just going round and round in circles there was something about the Steve Miller Band or Cars accompaniment that made it seem cool rather than just cold. So as temperatures continue to dip this winter it’s time to playlist a modern version of the skating party with only the coolest of new singles.
For a moment I thought Jim Basnight’s “Rebel Kind” was a cover of Dino, Desi and Billy’s 1960s hit but turns out it’s much more cool than that. The song was originally by the criminally under-appreciated Vancouver band The Modernettes. Basnight honours the tune with a Replacement’s indie vibe that really connects. This is just one of 21 highlights from his recent covers album, Jokers, Idols and Misfits (check out the fabulous “This Is Where I Belong” for another surefire winner). Ok, sometimes new singles are just new to me, like Kamino’s “Where Do You Want Me?” iTunes unreliably informed me it was a 2020 release but the song actually came out in 1999 on the band’s debut EP Donut. Frankly, it sounds so fresh and contemporary it could be brand new. The song has an analog feel to the instrumentation and a clever melodic dissonance the reminds me of Fountain of Wayne’s best work. Would love to see this group take up where they left off. Weezer have a brand new album out (OK Human) and as with all their releases I can find at least one absolutely fab single-worthy cut. This time out it’s “Here Comes the Rain” with its dramatic piano hooks and earworm after effects. From the ‘who doesn’t need some low key jangle?’ file The Umbrella Puzzles have a nice little EP built around the striking guitar work on the single, “Slips Through the Cracks.” It’s an amble along little ditty with a surprisingly rich tone on the solo lead guitar that is something special. I’d have bought Gavin Bowles’ This Year’s Modern for the cover alone, he so aces mimicking This Year’s Model right down to the shady brown hue on the backdrop. The title track is an interesting vamp with some Steve Nieve organ and 1940s background vocals. For a very Costello vibe in sound and songwriting check out “Boy From an Unknown Planet” from the same record.
I raved about The Feels “She’s Probably Not Thinking of Me” as the prototypically perfect poprock single, from the guitar hooks to the melody-echoing background vocals to the overall sound. So it won’t surprise readers that I’m loving the band’s recent new song, “Is Everything Alright?” It’s got a bit of Bleu or Adam Daniel about it and it’s making me itch for a whole album. Jenny are a straight up pop punk outfit that blast through “Rose City” at an enjoyable clip. They know what their audience wants and they deliver with just the right amount of guitar distortion and melodic undercurrent. Lucy and the Rats offer up an updated early 1960s girl group sound, elevating the rock and roll feel on “On Fire.” The guitar sound and plinky keyboards meld so wonderfully with the group vocals. I think the best descriptor for The Outta Sites is neo-1960s. The band has got the sixties chops but aren’t afraid to mix in stuff from other eras. You can hear it on the title track of their recent album Beautiful You, a delightful bouncy mid-sixties-style song combined with a fab late seventies syth lead line. The band’s skill here really reminds me of The Smithereens, particularly on tracks like “This Time.” Now for a departure, I’ve got some neo-folk/gospel with Thee Holy Brothers. The sound is very Bombadil in escaping the bounds of conventional folk, evident on “My Name is Sparkle,” and the album cover is so Brothers Four 1962. I’m not a god guy but I like what these guys are doing all over this record.
I got message from Monogroove to check out their catalogue and I’m glad I did. “The Looking Glass” combines a Beatles Abbey Road vibe with some unerring 1970s pop hooks. A winsome bit of airy melodic goodness. You don’t have to take a ferry across the Mersey to get caught up with the Wirral’s West Coast Music Club, I’ve got their new single right here. “Thinkin’” mines the rock face these guys excel at: jangly, slightly distorted, melodically dissonant tunes, this time with a hint of Crosby, Stills, and Nash on the vocals. I love The Veras not just because they’ve taken my dear grandmother’s name but because their song is on a kind of permanent repeat right now. “Paper Cup Telephone” has a main structure so familiar to listeners who lived through the glam-drenched 1970s but the build up to it is so interesting. Those heavenly background vocals! Such out of this world guitars! And that organ. More please. Our skate ends with something a bit more subdued from Michael Penn. Anything new from this guy is to be treasured since he abandoned us for scoring movies. “A Revival” obviously speaks to the present moment in American politics, with Penn reassuring listeners that change is gonna come. It’s a stark, subtle, yet reassuring testament, with his usual knack for the aching, low-ball hook that keeps coming back to you long after the song has faded out.
The zamboni’s waiting to get on the ice, the ushers are screaming for the kids to exit the rink, and songs continue to rattle around in our heads as we twist our skates off. Funny how music can make the most mundane things seem special.