Nick Frater certainly keeps himself busy. In the summer he launched an ambitious video and audio project 59 Vignettes, an endeavor that reminded me of John Dos Passos’ USA Trilogy in its effort to recalibrate fiction along emerging cinematic lines. Few of the contributions here exceed one minute and the accompany videos highlight the fragmentary, impressionistic feel of the pieces. There are a few more fully formedl song sketches on the record, tracks like “Number Name Unknown” and “In Another Song.” Some vibe McCartney on “Pay You Next Time” or even the Rolling Stones on “Fading Stones.” Other efforts are more experimental, like “Chiff Intermission” and “The Pelican Song (Wow and Flutter version).” Then there’s some fairly straightforward poprock numbers, like “Under Hogarth Skies.” But, given what came later, 59 Vignettes was clearly just a bit of fun, a diversion before Frater dropped his 2020 album proper.
On his more conventional record release for 2020 Fast & Loose, Frater lets his 1970s pop sensibility fly in grand style. The opening title track is practically a love letter to those 1970s TV themes. Then he kicks in with “Let’s Hear it for Love,” an anthem for our times that draws from a decidedly early 1980s ABBA vibe. Shifting gears, I love how the organ shots on “Luna” propels that song along. From there Frater showcases his talent for 1970s motifs with a bit of McCartney on “Cocaine Girls, some ELO on “So Now We’re Here” (with that great organ solo), and a spot-on 1970s pop feel to “California Waits.” But there are a few surprises, like the older ballroom sound on songs like “Endless Summertime Blues” and “That Ship Has Sailed.”
It’s always a splendid outing with Nick Frater. From the design, to the production, to the solid songwriting the results are routinely both eye and ear-catching, stylish and substantive. Mosey over the Frater-ville and you won’t miss a thing.
Ok, today’s breaking news is overloaded like a Toyota pickup taking too much concrete from Home Depot. The problem is, there is just too much damn fine music out there that needs your attention. Here at Poprock Record we travel the highways and byways to find only the finest, fresh poprock and today’s crew is certainly some of the fine-i-est and fresh-i-est!
Let’s begin with Webbed Wing. Emerging from the ashes of the more grungy Superheaven, their new album Bike Ride to the Moon has a grinding guitar sound overladen with hooks that get stuck in your head. Like the uptempo opening cut “Bad For Me,” or the catchy harmonica-drenched “All Went Wrong,” or the more mellow, grooving “Tunnel Vision.” There’s a bit of Sugar Ray cranked to 11 here, with a touch of Weezer at times. But sometimes the record just cuts loose, alternating between punky abandon and industrial lo fi. But the poprock payoff comes with “Door Creaks Open,” a delightful more easy-going acoustic treat. A bit heavier than our usual fare at times but worth the detour!
Some describe Brett as a kind of dream pop but on their recent EP Perfect Patterns there’s more meat to the tunes and performance than that label might suggest. Sure “Nonchalant” and the title track (with its spot-on 1980s keyboards) are a tad dreamy but opening cut “Tenebaum” comes on in a rush like a great lost New Order track. And then “Bad Luck” kicks out some pretty sweet new wave rhythm guitar with totally up front vocals – definitely not dreamy. More Darwin Deez than Cocteau Twins. Or how about that should-be double A-sided single set of tracks, “Wisdom Tooth” and “Hard Feelings.” Ear worm much? I just kept hitting repeat. ‘Brett’ no longer just refers to some 1980s hockey player for me now. Brett is value-added poprock.
County Durham’s Martha have so many facets to their musical personality. Sometimes folky, sometimes punky, sometimes AM radio hit machine. Their third album is Love Keeps Kicking and it has so many gems it should be guarded by some guy in a ill-fitting suit. Opening track “Heart is Healing” is an onslaught of pop goodness with a vocal that makes it sound like indie version of Supertramp but one still cranking out hits. The acoustic rhythm guitar here is unstoppable! I could review every song here and tell you how great each one is (truly, there is not a single one I’d give up) but I’ll just focus on a few of the more outstanding compositions/performances. Like “Mini was a Preteen Arsonist”: the song is a perfect of melding of political sentiment with solid melodic hooks. Kinda like Spook School meets Chumbawumba. “Love Keeps Kicking” sounds like a winning hit single. Or is the melodic rock of “The Void” the hit? It certainly has that stadium fist pumping jump up and down quality. Ultimately Martha is big bag of talent, spilling over with vocal talent, tight musicianship and clever catchy material. And I haven’t even really dug into the back catalogue yet!
I’ve long had a weak spot for The Skullers ever since they released that hypnotic single “Can We Do That Again” with its killer bass line and seductive vocals. 2018’s “I’m Your Man” was another winner, peppy, happy and swinging. Now they’ve returned with an EP Freight Trains & Party Games and it’s chock full of catchy tunes. Opener “Brooklyn Girls” has a lovely midtempo feel, lulling you like train ride through a rainy day. “Convenient” kicks things into a higher gear, rocking the poprock a bit more. The single is “She Denies the Things She Loves” and it has a nice Oasis vibe to my ears. A few listens confirms it’s ear worm infectious. The EP ends with probably my fave track, the more low key “Still Life” but I love the vocal and shuffle hooky beat. One day The Skullers will give us a whole album.
Croydon’s Nick Frater is back with a new long-player, Full Fathom Freight Train, and it’s right on time. Check out the fantastic artwork! And hey, the music’s pretty good too. This time out Nick embraces a full-on Paul McCartney and Wings beat group sound on tracks like “Oh Now Girl” and “Your Latest Break Up Song” Then there’s songs like “The Getaway” that exude an early 1980s poprock vibe or “What Does Good Look Like Baby” that is reminiscent of 10CC to me. Did I mention the cool train on the cover? This is one slick package that’s easy on the ears. And the 28IF on the album cover locomotive clearly harkens back to the Abbey Road cover.
How am I the last guy to this party? Ottawa, Ontario’s Golden Seals have announced their fifth and final album will be Something Isn’t Happening and I only just discovered them! Well this new record is quite an introduction. Opening track “Independence Day” gives you a sense of what they are about – a low level XTC vibe layered over some pretty creative songwriting. “Ball and Tether” is AM radio enjoyable bouncy pop. Meanwhile “Something Isn’t Happening” and “The Opposite End of the Country” both wade pretty deep into Wings territory. Look I could make comparisons all day long but some of what appears here is just some pretty original stuff. “Idiot Kid” has an unique approach and will hook you in the best poprock sort of way. And then there’s the Billy Joel cover. Ok, “Vienna” is guilty fave of mine and GS gives us lovely stripped down electric piano version. This David James Merritt guy is some kind of talented mess.
Project: Ghost Outfit is an indie super group bringing together experienced country sideman Adam Schoenfeld, poprock godfather Bill Lloyd, Cheap Trick bassist Tom Petersson, and graphic designer-cum-drummer Keith Brogdon. We love Bill Lloyd here at Poprock Record so anything he’s involved with is bound to be pretty good. Their self-titled EP/LP contains seven poppy, ear wormy Beatlesque tracks that really deliver on melody and hooks. Obviously “Somebody’s Heart” and “Hang On” have first call on potential singles. Though, personally, I love the understated approach of “Mess My Mind” where low key verses cut to choruses loaded with harmony vocals. Or there’s “Never Remember” that vibes “Things We Said Today” for me. I’m also keen on “Buying Time” which features some killer organ and great vocal interplay.
Move over ‘Selsdon Man,’ Croydon’s got a new cultural pace-setter to offer the world and he’s music to my ears: Nick Frater. Oh Frater’s not new, he’s been around. He’s played in countless bands and produced an impressive body of solo work, much of it mining a late-Beatles era kind of chamber pop. But on recent releases Frater has muscled up the sound with impressive effect. Goodbye Kayfabe showcases a range of influences from melodic and power pop to more crunchy poprock and smooth 1970s hooks. And the guy’s got a sense of humour (check out his cheeky album title/cover take-offs!). This video for his stand-alone single “Sara” captures a bit of the madness that is Nick Frater.
The album races out of the gate with the incredible, obvious hit single, “Built to Last.” I hear Cheap Trick blasting through this song. Great guitars and background vocals keep the musical tension fraught right through to the end. But then “Paperchase” sounds like a radio hit too, with its strong rhythm guitar backing, elegant 1970s lead guitar lines, and strong vocal performance. “Fruit Punches” opens with some nice Shadows riffs before shifting to a 1970s-style, smooth vocal delivered over a spare Beatles-in-acoustic mode sound. Then – bang – a great surprise change-up in the chorus. All in all, a pleasant, delightful deep cut. “More Than This” reminds me of mid-period ELO, if Jeff Lynne had any element of restraint. Frater even manages to slip some Selsdon-meets-Brexit politics into the mix with the boppy “Remoaner.”
You won’t have to wrestle with your choices on this album, the whole thing is great. Download it here and keep up on Nick’s antics at his web and Facebook pages.