I fell hard for Miniature Tigers’ 2016 single “Crying in the Sunshine.” It had such an original mix of dreamy vocals, percussive keyboard impact, and deliciously sly melodic hooks. For a long time I just kept hitting repeat again and again. So I don’t know how I missed the band’s 2019 release Vampires in the Daylight. It’s another delightful collection of synthy, indie dream pop, one part of Family of Year, another part Sitcom Neighbor. Highlights for me include title track “Vampires in the Daylight,” “Better Than Ezra” and “Manic Upswings.” But my fave is undoubtedly the slow-burn jangly ear-worm “Anything Else.’ Kicking off with a catchy fingerpicking allure not unlike Magnetic Fields’ “Acoustic Guitar,” the song slowly builds intensity in an almost meditative fashion. And it’s not just the obvious, superior hooks that make this song work, it’s the varied choices for subtle instrumental ornamentation dotted here and there. Halfway through I was convinced the track was perfect montage music for that part in the movie where the protagonist is broken and not sure if they make any heroic recovery. Either way, whether the hero lives or thrives, the listener gets to be a winner. I say, hit play on this dreamy wonder and get carried away.
As we drift, Miniature Tigers are drip releasing new singles and working on a brand new album. Get ready to dream big time. Updates can be found on the band’s Facebook page.
It’s been five years since I embarked on this mad journey: to write a music blog. I dithered over the decision to start one for a number of months. There’s nothing more pathetic than to start something with maximum fanfare and enthusiasm, only to have it flame out a half dozen posts later. The questions I had to ask myself were: (a) was there enough of ‘my kind’ of music to regularly post about, and (b) could I sustain the effort to get regular posts up on the blog? Well here’s the proof. In five years I’ve managed to produce 347 blogs posts. I’ve written more than 170,000 words about poprock tunes. And, most importantly, I’ve featured almost 1000 different artists. Guess the answers to (a) and (b) are both a resounding yes!
I think the biggest reason this blog thing has worked out for me is that it is such a great outlet for being creative and having fun with something that has always been pretty central to my life: music. I love doing all the mock serious regular features (e.g. Breaking news, Around the Dial, Should be a hit single) and coming up with goofy themes as a way to feature different artists (e.g. “Telephonic Poprock,” “Summer’s Coming,” and the Cover me! series. Sometimes I’ve pushed the posts in more serious directions (“Is That So Gay,” “Campaigning for Hooks,” and “Pandemic Poprock“) but only if the melodies and hooks were there in abundance. The blog has also allowed me to pay tribute to my musical heroes (Buddy Holly, The Beatles, The Zombies, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Marshall Crenshaw, Suzanne Vega, Aimee Mann). But, as regular readers know, such luminaries mostly appear as reference points to better help people get of a sense of what all these new acts are doing.
If you’ve just tuned in, I’m not assigning the past five years of posts as homework. Instead, I offer today’s anniversary post as a retrospective of what’s been happening here. I reviewed all 347 posts to pick out some choice examples of the range of styles I can cram under the rubrik of ‘poprock’. It wasn’t easy! My first go round produced a list of 118 songs. When I converted that to a playlist I got the number down to 81 tracks. Ack! Still too many. So I’ve broken things down into themes. This is not a ‘greatest hits’ or ‘best of’ Poprock Record. I’ve left out a lot of acts I really love. It’s just a representative sample of what goes on here, to borrow some lingo from my day job. Click on the highlighted band names to go to the original posts on the blog.
Let’s start by recognizing that not all that appears here is new. The blog has allowed me to explore a huge number of acts I’ve missed over the years, particularly in the 1990s when my new day job (academe) took over my life. I can’t believe I somehow missed great bands like Fire Town and the Soul Engines with their incredible guitar hooks. The Sighs “Make You Cry” is a pretty perfect poprock single. I knew about Billy Cowsills’ Blue Northern but had never heard of his later group, the Blue Shadows. And Eugene Edwards’ sole solo release, My Favorite Revolution, is a must add for any melodic rock and roll fan.
There have been acts that appeared again and again on the blog, my ‘old reliables’ as I might call them. These are performers I can pretty much carve out space in the queue for whenever I hear a new release is on the way. Gregory Pepper is probably my most covered artist. I love his quirky, always hooky, sometimes touching efforts. Ezra Furman was another great find who has an unerring knack of placing a memorable hook at the centre of whatever he’s doing, whether it’s retro 1950s pop or a punkish political ode. I discovered Jeremy Fisher long before the blog but I’ve used it to feature his work, old and new. He’s like a new wave Paul Simon with great videos. Edward O’Connell only has two albums, but they are reliably good. We really need a third. Mo Troper always delivers something wonderfully weird but still melodic and ‘can’t get it out of your head’ good. Finally, Jeremy Messersmith’s records regularly encompass big vision but he doles it out in memorable should-be hit singles.
In my world of poprock, while any instrument goes, the electric guitar is arguably pretty central. Some bands really know how to ride a guitar-driven song right into your head. Jeff Shelton’s Well Wishers excel at putting the guitar up front. “Feeling Fine” is practically a ‘how to’ example of killer guitar-dominant poprock. The David James Situation and The Format are no slouches either. Jangle is a related field of guitar poprock and takes a number of forms, from the 1960s-inflected Byrds sound of The Vapour Trails to the more jaunty bubblegum feel of The Lolas “We’re Going Down to the Boathouse.” Jangle also usually features pretty addictive harmony vocals, showcased below in Propeller’s “Summer Arrives.”
As the original and defining decade of poprock (in my view), the 1960s sound continues to be mined by new artists. Daisy House have few rivals in nailing the late 1960s California poprock vibe, sounding like time travelers from San Francisco’s 1968 club scene. Space Dingus have got The Monkees feel down. Both Shadow Show and The On and Ons gives us that rockier pop sound of the mid 1960s, with the latter delivering killer lead guitar hooks. By contrast, both Cut Worms and The Young Veins offer a candy-coated pop sound more akin to The Cyrkle and Simon and Garfunkel.
I’m a sucker for shivery harmony vocals so they’ve been featured regularly on the blog. One of Jenny Lewis’ side projects is the one-off album from Jenny and Johnny, I’m Having Fun Now. Aptly named, the record gently rocks and delivers amazing vocals. The Secret Sisters offer up a punchy tune where the harmony vocals seal the hooky deal. The Carousels “Call Along the Coast” has a big sound the rides a wave of harmony vocalizing and Beatlesque guitar work. Meanwhile Scotland’s Dropkick corner the market on delightful lilting songcraft on “Dog and Cat.” The blog sometimes shades into retro country and folk territory. Bomabil are an eccentric outfit who stretch our sense of song but never drop the melody. The Top Boost are pretty new wave but on “Tell Me That You’re Mine” they’re channeling Bakersfield via the Beatles 65. The Fruit Bats put the banjo upfront in “Humbug Mountain,” where it belongs. Gerry Cinnamon is like Scotland’s Billy Bragg and he shows what you can do with just an acoustic guitar and a Springsteen harmonica.
I’m proud to say that the blog has sometimes strayed off the beaten path of conventional poprock into more eccentric territory with bands that are smart and quirky and not afraid to lodge a hook in a more complex setting. Tally Hall pretty much define this approach. So ‘out there’ but still so good melodically. Chris Staples and Hayden offer up more low key, moody tunes but they still have a strong melodic grab. Overlord take clever to a new level, like a grad school version of They Might Be Giants. Coach Hop is just funny and hooky with his unabashed ode to liking Taylor Swift.
After the 1960s the new wave era is the renaissance of poprock for me with its combination of hooky guitars, harmony vocals, and melody-driven rock and roll. Screen Test capture this ambience perfectly on “Notes from Trevor” with a chorus that really delivers. The Enlows drive the guitar hook right into your head on the dance-madness single “Without Your Love.” Billy Sullivan epitomizes the reinvention of 1960s elements that occurred in the 1980s, well embodied in “Everywhere I Go.” Another strong theme in the blog has been the “I Get Mail” feature, populated largely by DIY songsters who write me about their garage or basement recorded releases. It is inspiring to hear from so many people doing their thing and getting it out there, especially when it is generally really good. Daveit Ferris is a DIY workaholic with an amazing range of song and recording styles. “Immeasurable” is a good illustration of his genius, with a banjo-driven chorus that always makes me smile. Mondello is practically the classic indie artist movie script, struggling to get an album out after 20 years. But then his follow up single, “My Girl Goes By,” is gold!
I want to leave you with a two-four of should-be hits from Poprock Record. These songs are all quality cuts, grade A poprock with melodies and harmonies and hooks to spare. Some of these songs leave me panting, they’re so good. I kicked off the blog back in 2015 with Family of Year and I still think “Make You Mine” is a textbook should-be AM radio hit. Sunday Sun channel The Beatles through a 1980s song filter, in the very best way. Sitcom Neighbor’s “Tourist Attraction” is a delightful earworm affliction. Wyatt Blair has somehow boiled down the essential formula of a 1960s-influenced poprock hit. Wyatt Funderburk understands how to assemble the perfect melody-driven single. And so on. Get your clicking finger warmed up and you’ll be introduced to the essence of Poprock Record in 24 melodious increments.
One thing I didn’t anticipate was all the great people I’d come in contact with writing a music blog. Thanks to all the bands, record labels, and readers who have responded so positively to what I’ve been doing here. A special thanks to Best Indie Songs, Tim at Powerpopulist and Don at I Don’t Hear a Single for their advice over the years and to my friends Rob at Swizzle and Dale at The View from Here for encouraging me to do this.
This post features pics from my poprock-postered 1985-7 apartment in Vancouver’s West End. Just $285 a month, all inclusive. No wonder I could buy so many records.
While known largely for just two tunes – “The Breakup Song” and “Jeopardy” – Greg Kihn actually has an amazing catalogue of material. Pick out any of his albums from the 1970s or 1980s and you’ll find more than a few gems. Well twenty years after his chart heyday Kihn is back with a new album, Rekihndled, and the good news is that the magic is still there, particularly on the lead single, “The Life I Got.” Things open with that familiar Kihn crunchy guitar and a ‘whoo’ from somewhere, giving way to vocals with perhaps a bit more gravel than back in the day. But when the chorus kicks in with its catchy drone-like lead guitar line it might just be 1982 all over again. Nice to see a veteran pop rocker jump back in and show he’s still got it.
The Life I Got
This new EP from Denmark’s Tommy and Rockets is a special treat with its fabulous artwork and blast of perfectly modulated 1970s poprock. Comparisons with early Ramones and Rockpile abound but the sound that really comes to mind is Dave Edmunds’ retro-1950s movie soundtrack work on Stardust and Porky’s Revenge. Edmunds had a talent for producing a very tight, almost squished sound, like the music was made to be heard through a transistor radio at the drive in, and Tommy and Rockets similarly feels very AM radio, in a good way. My featured cut from Rock ’n’ Roll Wrecking Machine is “Hey Daisy,” a wonderfully structured tune, from its early alluring guitar lines to its compressed vocals.
I discovered the Shins after wandering into a book store/coffee house in some remote college town and instantly fell in love. Oh, Inverted World,Chutes Too Narrow, and Wincing the Night Away were so chock full of inventive, quirky songs brimming with hooks that I just couldn’t get enough of them. Then came the Broken Bells experiment and the more subdued Shins release, Port of Morrow, neither of which grabbed me like the first three releases. Hey, artists have got to follow their muse – far be it from me to hold them to just what I prefer. But I will say that the new Shins album, Heartworms, is a bit of a return to form for those who really dig the early records. “Midenhall” harkens back to the Shins’ strengths in really bringing out hooky melodies from acoustic arrangements, title track “Heartworms” layers up the poprock sonic landscape, while “Dead Alive” has a nice loping Halloween aura.Heartworms
Chris Collingwood from Fountains of Wayne was reviewing the most recent Shins album with much more insight than I could ever hope to muster when he mentioned a few bands he was listening to. One was Brooklyn’s Miniature Tigers. I immediately flew to iTunes to check out their latest record, I Dreamt I was a Cowboy. I was not disappointed! They have a wonderfully textured sound that reminds me of Foster the People, particularly the keyboards and vocals on “Crying in the Sunshine.” Another great track is “Pictures of You” with its impressive range of character instruments (e.g. a Hawaiian-style guitar solo) popping in here and there. The music here is deceptively simple-sounding but in reality pretty sophisticated poprock.