The extended play format or ‘EP’ nearly expired with the twentieth century, only to be revived of late amid the chaos of a declining commercial music scene. It would now appear many artists see EPs as a cost-effective way to put out a clutch of songs without all the hoopla of a conventional long-player. Personally I’m loving these concentrated splashes of artistic flavour. They can be fun or experimental or just a great couple of songs. Today’s EPs make that point each in their own way, with a unique stylistic stamp.
Studio veteran Joe Dilillo comes out from behind the console to deliver a stunning debut EP on Superhero Star. The five songs here are superbly crafted gems from the Aimee Mann, Jon Brion, and Fountains of Wayne school of pop-singles perfection. “Loser Girl” opens the EP so low-key, slowly building an atmosphere of exquisite musical tension between guitar and vocals. By the time the Aimee Mann keyboards kick in it’s way too late, you’re completely seduced. Backing band The Lickerish Quartet provide astonishing accompaniment on this tune, so subdued and yet strongly present. Title track “Superhero Star” shifts focus, evoking a more Mike Viola-working-with-Adam Schlesinger style. And then things get tender. The guest vocals from A Girl Called Eddy on “Boulevard” are striking, so achingly on display. A Mark Oliver Everett feel here for sure. Both “Mend You Heart” and “I’m Sorry” remind me of Adam Daniel with their combination of melodic sophistication and spare rock and roll simplicity. Superhero Star is so easy to listen to again and again. Hey, I’ve been doing it for weeks! This year’s ‘must have’ EPs list just got a front runner.
America’s hardest-working punky power-pop band The Friends of Cesar Romero return with installment #35 in their Doomed Babe series, Gameboy America. Combining lyrical themes of lost love and gaming disappointment over a relentless rock and roll beat, this latest EP gets it all done in a brisk 7 minutes. But what a ride! Title track “Gameboy America” is seemingly unstoppable, driven by a poppy rock attack that hammers a new waved-up Velvet Underground vibe. “Somebody’s Somebody” is equally intense, defined by a lively lead guitar line and FCR’s trademark compressed vocals. And then there’s “Punching Ian Sharp.” Though just 54 seconds long it’s a pretty neat slice of a wall-of-chords hooky goodness. No need for a reminder here, we’re permanently tuned to The Friends of Cesar Romero station.
Rochester NY’s fabulous retro music scene has space for a bit of late 1970s/early 1980s smooth pop songcraft from Papa Schmapa. The new EP What You Gonna Do aces a melodic AM radio sound I associate with the 1980s Moody Blues on the comeback trail, the Alan Parsons Project in hit mode, or mid-to-late period Wings. EP opener “If I Knew” is so McCartney, with Abbey Road-era psychedelic guitars and a melody straight from Macca’s late 1970s playbook. “I’ve Been There Before” and “Take Me As I Am” remind me of prior work by the band, very much in the Alan Parsons finely-crafted pop style. “You” reflects more 1980s Moody Blues sonic shifts with hints of The Outfield at times. Despite offering just four songs What You Gonna Do is impressive, a slick AM radio-worthy product with a still-beating melodic heart.
Why not make space in your calendar for extended play-time? Today’s EPs show you how. Just hit play and you get a glimpse of a load of talent without having to commit to a whole LP.
Radio was the aural wallpaper of my youth. Always on somewhere and playing plenty of things I could dig, if not all the artists I was into. Today’s post focuses on radio-ready sounds that could have fit into yesteryear as well as today.
I thought I knew what I was getting when I picked up a copy of Televisionaries new album Mad About You. I’d heard the recent singles and needle-dropped my way through their back catalogue. I’d loved band member Trevor Lake’s solo album Bunker Stew, as well all his involvement in other retro music projects. And the band’s traditional focus on 1960s-inspired retro rock is certainly still there, with splashes of surf, Merseybeat and a Stonesy take on R&B. But there’s much more here too, with a strikingly modern flavour to a number of the tunes. The album kicks off with the smoking, highly danceable “Mad About You,” a track that meets in the rock and roll no man’s land separating the Beatles and Rolling Stones circa 1964. Then “Girls” captures that urgent pop feel reminiscent of so many of those early Beatles album deep cuts. Other songs recall different distinct moments of rock and roll’s glorious guitar past, like classic 1950s rockabilly instrumentals (“Curmudgeon”), or signature Chuck Berry guitar work (Quarter Past Eight”) , or lush surf ballads (“Satisfaction”). But get ready for something different when you get to “Over and Out.” This should-be hit single represents a whole new vista for this group stylistically, exuding a fresh contemporary sound. “Ultimatum” is another surprising departure, vibing more modern bands like The Strypes. I’m loving this new twist on the band’s influences. Also in the ‘more modern’ category would be “Annie” and “Yesterday.” Here I hear bands like The Connection. Meanwhile “Too Much Time” has a seventies pop feel, kinda like bands like King Harvest. Look out world, Televisionaries are broadcasting on some new frequencies.
It’s hard to figure out just what Ex-Vöid is. An angrier Teenage Fanclub? An indie rock remaking of Richard and Linda Thompson? The 2018’s teaser maxi-single that gave us a taste of their brilliance with early takes on “Boyfriend” and “(Angry) At You Baby” certainly signalled something special was on the way. And it’s finally here, debut album Bigger Than Before. The album practically launches out of the speakers with the urgent guitar bash of “Churchyard.” “Chemical Reaction” fakes out a punk opening before settling into jangly swirl of guitars and a unique of blend of male and female vocals. “Angry at You Baby” really brings to mind the updated Richard and Linda Thompson comparisons with the discordant tension between the two vocalists riding a wave of chunky rhythm guitar. “Boyfriend” remains the obvious single, cast in a more muscular setting this time around. Then again, “Weekend” takes the jangle in a more pop direction, reminding me of Mary Lou Lord’s wonderful guitar pop numbers. This is what aids the mystery around this band. One minute they’re rocking out on numbers like “So Neurotic” and “Lying To You.” Then they effortlessly shift gears into more melodically poppy moods on tracks like “I Couldn’t Say It To Your Face” and “No Other Way.” The album ending offers further surprises with “My Only One,” a lovely harmony-laden acoustic ballad. Bigger Than Before is an exhilarating mix of exciting guitar and beguiling harmony vocals, definitely not to be missed.
The great thing about Michael Goodman’s material is that whether instrumentally tarted up or stripped down to just an acoustic guitar the songs work. His Goodman project’s latest album How Close Are You To The Ground? is full of solid songs, delightfully played. Goodman’s style? Timeless. He takes the basic poprock songwriting style that gelled in 1960s and performs them in a way that defies an easy identification with any particular era. “One Thousand Channels” opens with a guitar/organ blast that is vaguely 1979 Springsteen but then resolves into a more stripped-down guitar-pop number. “Mis’rable” uses call and response vocals to add intensity to its basic pop hooks – to my ears – in a classically 1980 AM radio way. Despite the strong rhythm guitar sheen to most tracks here the keyboards are the hidden star on this record. Listen to how they lend an earworm quality to “how to tie your shoe.” Title track “How Close Are You to the Ground?” is one of those winsome deep cuts you enjoy getting to when you let the album play through. “Weekend Cruise” updates a basic early 1960s vamp style into something sounding fresh and now. And, as noted in a previous review, “Au Pair” is the obvious single, a genius bit of poprock production. Or, if you’re into a more slowburn bit of hooky songwriting, “Desk W/ A View” will definitely sneak up on you. Give How Close Are You To The Ground? a few spins and see if you don’t agree, it’s another high quality installment of the Goodman musical saga.
In the early 1980s there were a host of bands that put out smooth AM radio-friendly poprock that got a lot of airplay. Think of all those clearly Beatles-influenced hit singles from The Alan Parsons Project or the revived Moody Blues. That sound is back with a vengeance on Papa Schmapa’s Where Are You Now? You can definitely hear it on various tracks from the band’s earlier 2019 album, songs like “I Don’t Mind” and “In the End,” but the effect seems more solidified on the new record. Album opener “Warm” surges to a start with guitars reminiscent of those Gerry Rafferty hit singles and a tune that is so SoCal 1981. Then “It’s All Over Tonight” starts slow before transforming into a kind a pop version of a Blue Oyster Cult single. “Keep This All in Mind” offers up a striking mix of jangle guitar and change ups in the vocal style, particularly in the chorus. The guitar work is very mid-period Beatles while the vocals from Elysia Cristantello sound a bit early 1980s Carlene Carter. Most of the vocals on the album are handled by Joe DelVecchio who has a great everyman rock and roll timbre, though together with Elysia something magic happens, as on the propulsively poppy “What You Gonna Do.” Elsewhere the record vibes the mellow pop feel of 1970s Wings on cuts like “Come Bad Days” and “Fly Away.” But the bands also rocks things up a bit on “Love is on the Line” and serves up a soaring melodic chorus in “Where Are You Now?” So whether it’s 1981 or the here and now, I’m pretty confident Where Are You Now? should meet your approval as a very pleasant car-driving, cassette tape-decking playing good time.
Even if radio isn’t the be all and end all for music exposure today it still haunts our collective imagination, defining a kind of sound and success (for better and worse). My gut says today’s artists are radio ready even if radio isn’t really up to the challenge anymore.
Top photo: exclusive Poprock Record model Rob Elliott tunes into radio in an undisclosed eastern European location. Courtesy Swizzle Gallery.