Now that live music has opened up again it’s time for me to take that long delayed southern tour I’ve been promising myself. Welcome fellow travelers to a melodious excursion through the American deep south with a whistle stop in each of four bottom southeastern states: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia.
We begin our tour in Lafayette Louisiana with the guitar fabulous Television Man. Their 2017 long-player Always is packed full of great tunes leavened with some seriously tasty guitar work, super riffy and yet a bit chill at the same time. Opening track “Pay No Mind” is boppy fun while “Just Can’t Get Around” works a nice Bond riff into the tune. “Gator Girl” seems so Louisiana appropriate. But my choice cut here is the hooky guitar crash-out that is “Always” with its scent of Weezer. Hitting the road to Mississippi we time travel back to the 1980s to spend time with The Windbreakers, a band favourably compared to other southern alt-poprock contemporaries like REM. Their 1985 album Terminal is seen by many as their peak but I’m also partial to their 1991 farewell Electric Landlady (not to be confused with a similarly named album from Kirsty MacColl the same year). “Changeless” from the former is so mid-1980s in a Rank and Rile or True West sort of way while “The Girl From Washington” from the latter is more a Byrdsian throwback.
Moving on to Birmingham Alabama Billiards! have got a guitar sound found somewhere between the early to mid-period Beatles and the Monkees. Their 2019 self-titled debut is a bit of beat group revivalism that still manages to sound fresh and new. “Realize” has a touch of psych pop while “Just to be With You Tonight” has a folk rock touch. But ultimately it’s opening cut “Please Tell Her” that really grabs me with its hooky lead line and relentless swing. A year later their EP1 features a slightly tougher sound but is still folky psychedelic, vibing more 1968 than the previously dominant 1966. Heading off to Georgia we slide into Atlanta in time to catch the latest from Mattiel. The new album is Georgia Gothic but titles can be deceiving. Sure tracks like “Blood in the Yolk” and “Other Plans” have gothic-y feel. But so much of the album has a spirited spring to its step. Opening cut and early release single “Jeff Goldblum” motors along with an angelic cadence to the vocals and great guitar shots. Songs like “You Can Have It All” and “Lighthouse” have got hooks galore. My current album fave is “On The Run” with its psychedelic western vibe and a vocal that is so Neko Case meets Susan Jacks.
Our brief tour of the American south suggests there much more to the southern music scene than plastic country and good old boys. They’ve also got guitars, Cadillacs and some seriously hooky material to boot.
1920s American southern regional map fragment excerpted from Asprey’s Atlas of the World (London: Asprey, 1920), page 135, courtesy Maps Etc.
Tis the season for shovels and snowflakes … and singles! What better way to wrap up the year than a slew of new 45s. Here’s 21 songs to get you through your snow-shoveling workout.
Atlanta’s Mattiel’s have early-dropped a single from their forthcoming new LP, the aptly named Georgia Gothic. The song is titled “Jeff Goldblum” and this outing is a bit more pop, kinda like something 1978 bordering on new wave. I like where this is going. I’m sneaking in another holiday-themed tune, but only because it’s so subtlely done. Brad Peterson’s “Beautiful and Bright” is lovely low-key ode to peace and goodwill, and who really gets enough of that? Nobody, that’s who. A year ago it was political drama central but amid all the competing headlines I somehow missed Sloan’s fabulous on-point single, “Silence Trumps Lies.” No fake news here, just slick melodies and wise sentiments. I may be getting to it a bit late but it’s definitely worth a replay. With “Stranger” Evan Myallcombines some classic rhythm guitar shimmer with a nice bit of Todd Rundgren-like pop songcraft. From his recent EP Snail. Sticking to America’s west coast L.A. Exes offer up a light jaunty neo-early 1960s romp on “Baby Let’s Pretend.”
Cupid’s Carnival are clearly working their way up to a new album release sometime soon, given the singles we’ve seen this year. “Thinking About You Girl” is what the boys do best, another catchy mid-period Beatlesque charmer. Boston’s Bird Mancini manage to sound both very familiar and highly original, all at the same time. From their recent album The One Delight, I’m loving the rollicking joy of “Space Between Two Worlds,” driven by Ruby Bird’s impressive vocals. Sydney Australia’s Middle Kids remind me of a certain kind of contemporary poppy rock sound, like Grouplove. The keyboard opening to “Stacking Chairs” is so magnetic, drawing you in, building to a calliope-like drive in the chorus that’s aided by some nice guitar work. The song is from their most recent long-player, the perhaps only slightly over-stated Today We’re the Greatest. Dave Sheinin takes his reliable power pop chops in a sometimes rockier, sometimes more mellow direction on his recent release The Measure of Things. “St. Paul” has got a hooky bar band rockin’ feel. Richard Turgeon turns on the mellow meter for “7 Stories,” lulling us with some nice guitar swing and vocal harmonies that vibe that distinctive Eagles shiver-inducing effect.
It’s been a while since we’ve heard an album from Wollongong, South Australia band Leadfinger but a few new singles have come out this last year. I’m currently attached to “The Fall of Rome” with its addictive lead guitar runs and ominous melodic undercurrent. I’m guessing a new album is not far off. Ottawa’s teen sixties retro band The Rockyts are clearly between albums so they released “It’s a Dirty Shame” to tide us over this year. The track plays to their melodic rock and roll strengths while adding just a bit of contemporary polish. Jeff Roberts is a mysterious guy from Charlottesville, Virginia who likes to just give his songs away. That’s right, just click on ‘free’ on Bandcamp! And you’re gonna want to with tracks like “Bones,” a shuffle-demon of a track that’s a little bit country, a little bit rock and roll. Half Catholic is another band on its way to a new album, for sure, if the spate of recent singles is any indication. “What Good is Gone” has his trademark jangly lead guitar and expressive vocal delivery. It’s mournful and peppy in the same moment. For a change in direction, we head to Munster, Germany where Nah … get their twee baroque pop going on with a new single “The Useless Model.” It’s very theCatherines with some Everything but the Girl thrown in.
DIY poprocker Stephen Schijns has a load of one-off singles on his Bandcamp page and they’re all pretty good. Indeed, some are pretty great even. Like the alluring charm of “I Met Her Yesterday” with its Byrdsian overtones and Al Stewart inflections. “What Do I Know About Love” is also pretty sweet. The Brandy Alexanders’ “Conventional Lie” starts off very George Harrison “My Sweet Lord” but quickly segues down its own distinctive path, combining winning vocals with some cool guitar and keyboard lines. Palmyra Delran and the Doppel Gang give their single a super-charged lick familiar to any early 1960s pop fan but it works on “Lucky in Love,” adding rather than overwhelming the tune. They’re a group with a limited resume that I’d love to see more from. New Orleans band Silver Synthetic have got a classic Americana thang going on. You can’t go wrong dropping your needle anywhere on their self-titled debut album but if I were calculating special moments I’d put my money on “In the Beginning.” The Caternary Wines have an otherworldly aura about them. There something Moody Blues/Jethro Tull spooky here. I’m hard pressed to choose one song from that their fab record Birling Gap but I’m going with the Enya-esque “Face on the Rail Line.”
I can’t recall who put me on to Nashville songstress Tristen but whoever you were, thank you. Thank you! She has an amazing ability to reach inside you and find some feeling you barely knew was there. At some point I’ll pay tribute to her great catalogue but for now let’s attend to her latest LP Aquatic Flowers. This is a very listenable album, with so many great cuts. I was going to recommend “I Need Your Love” and it is a great song but if I can only feature one tune then it has to be “Athena” with its dissonant lurch and melodic purity. It’s pretty special, but then Tristen is no ordinary songmaker.
No snowflake is exactly the same – ditto our singles. Celebrate the icy cool of our snow-inspired single selections. And drop a few bucks over at Bandcamp for these stellar artists.
It’s so close you can almost taste the vodka cocktails. Summer! And that means music to accompany those warm breezes, surf and sand, and lazy, hazy days of scorching heat. To that end, let me present an almost summer bevy of selections for your mixtape, uh, I mean, playlist. In this first of two installments, we offer up 20 suggestions for high rotation seasonal singles.
Let’s get started with my hometown, Vancouver, and some nice ringing guitar from The Uptights on “The Pulse.” The song is from the longplayer Back Again, which came out right near the end of 2020. I love the organ that really comes to fore as the song progresses. 4000 kilometres away (but still in Canada!) Waterloo’s B.U.D. rises from the ashes of Goldfinch in a new solo project from Omar Elkhatib. There’s not much not to like here. Crunchy guitars, punchy synths, and a solid swinging hook anchors “What’s the Point of This (If I’m Not Into It).” A promised follow up EP has yet to materialize but a few more singles have arrived, like the rollicking fun “Popstar Rock N’ Roll.” Ok, enough Canadian content (for now), we’re off the NYC and a bit of a boundary tester for this blog from Laura Stephenson. “After Those Who Mean It” is just a heart-wrenching acoustic number from an artist who normally rocks it up a bit more. There’s something searing and so melancholy about this performance. I can be such a sucker for a good sad song. In Memphis, Your Academy offer a pick-me-up with “Starlight,” a great guitar poprock tune with a slight country feel, from their recent self-titled debut. Now I say ‘debut’ but the band are all veterans of the local music scene and it shows all over this tight record. Brooklyn’s Answering Machine also have a debut album out (well, actually, it’s been out for a year …). Verdict? Bad Luck is more of the eerie melodic rock goodness that appeared on previous EPs and stand-alone singles. For me, the stand out song here is “Marie.” The lead vocal has the soulful country ache of Neko Case cast against a driving lead guitar hook and surging rock and roll beat. It would be a killer cut live in concert, no doubt.
Now, generally speaking, I’m not a live album guy. But when I saw the cover of The ShamblesLive at the Casbah with its obvious nods to The Beatles Second Album (Long Tall Sally in Canada) I thought it warranted a needle drop. The opening cut was the band grinding through their first single from 1993, “(She’s Used to Playing With) Fire,” and from the opening rhythm guitar I was hooked. The performance is anything but a shambles: loose yet solid, exciting, with great harmony vocals. The album was assembled from various shows at this location early in the new millennium and it showcases the band’s strong material and serious live chops. Another California band effectively working the retro rock and roll scene are The Forty Nineteens. Their new album The New Roaring Twenties vibes those classic 1960s rock and roll outfits (e.g. Rolling Stones, CCR) while still giving off a bit of 1980s indie (a la The Replacements), depending on which track you pick. I was torn about whether to choose the rockin’ Joe Walsh-ed vocal on “I’m Always Questioning Days” or the more melodic package that is “It’s the Worst Thing I Could Do.” I went with the latter, with its pumping piano and judicious use of jangle guitar. Throwback Suburbia’s drummer had an interesting idea. Write some songs and then ask a gang of different artists to sing on different tracks for a new band, Rooftop Screamers, and a new album, Next Level. It’s a project idea that can easily lose its focus but Mike Collins makes it work, largely because the songwriting is so consistently good. Case in point: “Buckle Up,” featuring Jellyfish vocalist Tim Smith. The song has the sleek pop aura of a top rank Crowded House single. I fell hard for the ear candy that was Ten Tonnes “Better Than Me” from his 2018 self-titled debut. Recently he reignited that spark with the glammish “Girl Are You Lonely Like Me?” with its shuffle beat and emotional vocal, kinda like The Vaccines or Haircut 100 in therapy. The kid’s got swing and killer sing-along background vocals. For those of us who can’t get enough of the Bryds, a very special record is due out soon from an exquisite jangle-friendly band, The Floor Models. You can get a taste of their fab back catalogue from the 2013 retrospective Floor Your Love but here I want you to enjoy their indie-fied version of “Lady Friend,” a teaser from their soon-to-be-released album, In Flyte Entertainment: A Tribute to the Byrds.
Jeremy Porter and the Tucos’ “Dead Ringer” is straight ahead melodic Americana, reminding me of the more upbeat moments on that first Peter Case solo album back in 1986, particularly vocally. I love the synth snippet that kicks in at 3:10 in the final few moments of the solo. It’s featured on their new longplayer, Candy Coated Cannonball, and it’s just one of many highlights. Given that Ramirez Exposure’s latest album is named after an environmental newsletter that advocated the end of humanity as a solution to environmental crisis, the contents are surprisingly chirpy. Opening track “Bridges and Roads” is light and sunny, but it is the title track “Exit Times” that really grabbed my attention with its cool electric guitar arpeggiations and dreamy vocals. Sometimes I imagine NYC as just teeming with bedrooms for making pop music. Like the work from Goodman. I’ve featured this talented, almost totally one-man-band before and every new release reveals new depths and influences. On his new record Goodman Versus the Nostalgia Machine he is like Ray Davies reborn, piling up catchy tunes with clever commentary. “Bitter. Alone. Again” shimmers with sneaky, subtle hooks and vocals that add emotional colour and depth. From the mean streets of Baltimore Bombardier Jones offers us the cool vocal delivery of a Steve Miller. “Great Ideas” from Dare To Hope is just a straight up AM radio goodtime single, circa 1975. Love the spare piano solo to bursts on the scene two thirds in. Cotton Mather guitarist Harold Whit Williams has a side project that might conjure up the ‘s’ word for any remaining red diaper babies out there. It’s called Daily Worker. Now you don’t have to be a card carrying anything to enjoy what he’s doing here. I mean, check out the shuffling strut behind “I Got Hypnotized” with its creative mix of acoustic guitar rhythm, sixties organ, and tasty lead guitar. The rest of Hometown Hero is a winner too, with a Harrisonian soft rock flair competing with a Plimsoulsian new wave vibe.
You’d swear contemporary LA band Electric Looking Glass were giving it to you straight from 1968 Haight Ashbury in San Francisco. It’s not like they’re hiding their influences with an album title like Somewhere Flowers Grow. But it really is there in the music too. Opening cut “Purple, Red, Green, Blue and Yellow” kicks off with a solid blast of psychedelic pop guitar before opening up into a great bit of Turtles/Jefferson Airplane hippie poprock. Moving back to the future, there is something so cool about the brooding New Order-ish riff kicking off and driving Mattiel’s recent single, “Those Words.” I really enjoyed the rough-hewn rock and roll sound of the band’s last effort Satis Faction and this new song suggests there more where that came from. The band’s vocalist/songwriter Mattiel Brown really delivers on both here, with a striking performance and timely lyrics. Some bands like a real challenge, like writing a song about American President Warren G. Harding. Who, you might ask? He’s no Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, or Kennedy but The Rose Petals manage to turn out a western style performance a la True West or Rank and File all about Harding’s many foibles. It’s the opening track on the band’s engaging debut LP American Grenadine. Now for a complete change of mood, there’s Robert Sherwood. On Mr. Sherwood he showcases a bevy of light pop sketches that remind me Roddy Frame’s Aztec Camera. Sherwood does wonders with interesting vocal harmonies and spare but intriguing lead guitar work. On “Blue All Over” and the rest of this highly listenable record there’s more than a hint of a genius song arranger bearing similarities to Richard X. Heyman or the Eels’ Mark Everett. Ok, big finish time and what better band to close things out by taking us over the top than Weezer? Seems like an army of haters are out there just waiting for Rivers and Co. to stumble but the band just keeps on delivering the goods. The playful Van Weezer is no exception. “The End of the Game” cleverly rides the edge of rawk bombast with love while delivering the band’s signature knock-out hooks. And there’s more to love here – my blog writing friends can’t agree on what track they love the best.
The pent up energy for a perfect summer this year is swelling all out of control. People are desperate for fun. Here at Poprock Record we take our public service role seriously. So relax, we’ve got your music sorted. And even more is on the way with part II, coming soon.
There may be bad news on the doorstep but our musical headlines are nothing but blue skies ahead! Today’s news breakers include a brand new long-player, a recent album release, as well as an overlooked gem from years past.
Atlanta’s Mattiel has a rough rock and roll sound with just a touch of indie country, particularly on the vocals. It’s hard to put your finger on what this sound is like, exactly, with shades of Neko Case, Patsy Cline, Liverpool’s Zuzu, and even Ike Reilly on “Food for Thought.” Mattiel’s most recent record is 2019’s Satis Factory and it definitely exceeds that standard and more. Love the recurring riff that carries “Populonia” forward while “Blisters” has an endearing early 1960s pop country vibe. Other highlights for me include the sprightly “Keep the Change” and “Millionaire” with a backing like a Velvet Underground deep cut. There’s a bit of beat poet, performance artist, and rock and roll badass all rolled into one with Mattiel. This record is an event you’re gonna want to say you were in on the ground floor for.
Something Better is the brand new debut album from New York’s Loose Buttons and it rocks in that NYC sort of way (think of bands like Public Access TV). The guitar attack all over this record is dynamite, lifting the material to even greater heights. Some come on strong, like “Something Better” and “Home Movies (Let Down Lately)” while others mellow the pace. I love how languidly the hook rolls out on curiously addictive “Strangers in a Nightclub.” The guitars-up-front style here is contrasted with strongly melodic vocal parts, delivered with a slight dissonance but always bending back toward hooks, particularly in the chorus (an approach that really reminds me of Asylums sound on “Joy in a Small Wage”). And then there’s the obvious single, “I Don’t Really Know,” with its engaging guitar line that lures you into the song and then keeps you there with its shimmering poprock chorus. Just eight tracks but all good – a definite full LP purchase.
I loved Darwin Deez’s 2015 release Double Down, littered as it was with killer tunes like “Last Cigarette” and “Kill Your Attitude.” I even got to see him in fantastically small club that fall for a super live show. So how did I miss his 2018 release 10 Songs That Happened When You Left Me With My Stupid Heart? Clearly my super fan designation is going to lapse. The good news is that 10 Songs is another challenging yet worthwhile poprock platter from one of most interesting dudes working the scene. Deez makes his listeners work for the hook that always lurks somewhere in his tunes. Take “Anna-Maria” with its cold grey dissonant verse opening the song only to subtly break out the million dollar hook in the chorus. Or the contrast is even more stark on the old worldy, partly acapella “The World’s Best Kisser.” And then there’s the sweet, jazzy “Daddy Always” that wraps things up. In terms of clever words and smooth performance, this guy is the Steely Dan of poppy rock and roll.