beach music, Chris Castino, fine., Freedom Fry, Freedy Johnston, Frontperson, Jerry Paper, John Larson and the Silver Fields, Kurt Hagardorn, Mercvrial, Mike Bunacini, No Monster Club, Phil Dutra, Ratboys, Red Sleeping Beauty, Shake Some Action, Shaylee, Super Hit, The Dreaded Laramie, The Kafers, The Toms, Weird Nightmare
Beach weather is finally here and nothing goes better with sand, sun, and surf than some suitably summer-proofed tunes. Today we offer 21 suggestions for your latest sun sojourning mixed tape.
A new record from Freedy Johnston is truly an occasion for celebration. He is a master story spinner and songwriter in the vein of John Hiatt, Robbie Fulks, and Elvis Costello. The new record will be called Back on the Road to You, Johnston’s 9th, due out in September. Right now we’ve got the pre-album release single “There Goes a Brooklyn Girl” and it’s a good as anything he’s ever released, with snappy, resonant lead guitar lines and a melodic hook that is teased out and then pulled taut at just the right moments. METZ bandleader Alex Edkins has a new solo project entitled Weird Nightmare and it’s a great big ball of wonderful guitar noise. Don’t let the guitar onslaught opening the second single from the self-titled album fool you, “Luisitania” has some genius pop instincts lurking behind its wall of sound, reminiscent of Catatonia at certain moments. It’s hard to keep up with Franco-American duo Freedom Fry. Seems like they’re putting out a new EP or single every month. I’m just going to hit pause on their many releases to appreciate “Strange for Love” from their May EP of the same name. The snazzy looping guitar licks are just so addictive in a fresh Fleetwood Mac sort of way. The vocal harmonies only reinforce the Lindsay and Stevie comparison. “Down the River” is Chicago’s Ratboys from their reinvented and re-recorded greatest hits collection Happy Birthday Ratboy. It is interesting to compare this latest version with the original. Where the former is somewhat stark and spare, the new version has a lovely pop candy-coating to it, with vocals that vibe The Weepies. Talk about timely tunes, Ireland’s No Monster Club “Waterfight” is just the right dose of that summer feeling. The song is a large bit of goofy fun, sounding very mid-1980s sonically and in its complete lack of seriousness.
Austin’s Phil Dutra writes big songs. I’m talking sweeping soundscapes that are cinematic in their intensity and presentation. His latest single “Is Anybody Home?” conjures images of all those over-the-top 1980s MTV moments full of heartbroken teens, hella-good hair products, and cars driving off into the distance. But wait for the unbreakable hook anchoring the chorus. Dutra knows how to deliver solid melodies, always with a slightly surprising twist. I’ve written about Portland’s Kurt Hagardorn before. He’s a reliably good rock and roll guy who can play in a variety of styles. But his new single is really something else. “Caveat Emptor” exudes 1970s rock and roll boogie time, a bit of CCR, a touch of The Sheepdogs, carried by solidly hooky rhythm guitar work, some tasty horn playing, and a judicious use of cowbell. Words like ‘shimmering’ spring to mind as soon as Mercvrial’s “Be That Someone” hits the turntable. The band is typically filed under the dreampop or shoegaze labels but what I hear is New Order in club dance mode. The driving keyboard riffs just propel the song along. On “Archipelago” from The Dreaded Larimie’s new EP Everything a Girl Could Ask all I can hear are echoes of Jane Siberry, if Siberry had joined The New Pornographers. The band call their sound a mix of power pop and femmecore, which combines slashing guitar chords and dreamy vocals. I call it a winner. Sweden’s Red Sleeping Beauty team up with indie songstress, sometimes economist, Amelia Fletcher on “Solid Gold.” It’s a jaunty number mixing a light Housemartins-style ambling pop sensibility with that reliable Swedish melancholia. Delightful guitar pop for anyone suffering though a bout of nostalgic self regret.
How does power pop legend Tommy Marolda keep sounding so cool? The guy’s been on overdrive since his famous 1979 long-weekend recordings as The Toms became every indie power pop fan’s must-have item. His band is back with a new LP called Stereo comprising 12 melodic pleasers. Currently I can’t get enough of “Atmosphere.” It’s so quirky and fresh-sounding and loaded with hooks. Portland’s Super Hit takes DIY chutzpah to new highs with his exciting deep cut “Run Away With Me.” Ok, this one’s not new. I’ve dug it up from his 2015 EP Pocket Rock. But man it deserves a second look. It kicks off in a pretty low key, sounding like something recorded in a someone’s bedroom register, but 53 seconds in a seriously wicked electric guitar kicks in and it’s deliciously hooky. Think trebly 1960s garage rock, just turned down a little. Sticking with Portland, I’m totally digging Shaylee’s single from last fall, “Ophelia.” The opening guitar work is so cool, sneaky yet delicate, weaving a bluesy-folk lick into your consciousness. By the time full band sound kicked in I was bewitched. The song is about the rush of new, sometimes brief, love and the music manages to mirror the rapturous roller coaster that relationships can be. When you take the Bryds into the 1980s you either get Tom Petty or the Grapes of Wrath, depending on how hard you hit the drums. John Larson and the Silver Fields are in the sweet spot, a little bit country, a whole lot rock and roll, with an accent on jangle on their most recent long-player The Great Pause. What is interesting to me is how different reviewers are raving over totally different tunes on the record. Personally I’m loving “Reversible Heart.” The jangle guitar sparkles and the tune is so Marshall Crenshaw meets Blue Rodeo. On Wide Awake Seattle’s Shake Some Action give the people what they want: jangle-infused psych poprock that shimmers and sparkles with electric energy. And the songs! There’s all the usual 1960s flavours here but I hear quite a good dose of Britpop too. Then there’s “Night Train to Munich,” a seductive gem of tune, its spare use of Rickenbacker nicely framing the haunting melody.
Artist Lucas Nathan is the band Jerry Paper and they are looking to just be themselves. In the case of Nathan that means identifying as non-binary, something the single “Kno Me” touches on. If that messes with your head the message here and on other cuts from the album Free Time is you’re just going to have to live with it. “Kno Me” cops an uber cool stance, challenging what we think we know about the singer and their gender. Meanwhile the chorus is pure pop bliss. When you’ve played with indie royalty like the New Pornographers and Woodpidgeon getting something new off the ground can fight to draw focus. But Frontperson deserves the spotlight. The title track from their new album Parade is so light and frothy, like unpredictable performance art (but not the boring self-indulgent kind). It kicks off so Laurie Anderson before the vocals turn more Joni Mitchell meets, well, the New Pornographers. The song’s got a thoroughly poppy positive vibe, despite the somewhat dire lyrics. You can’t help but feel a bit uplifted after hearing it. Japan’s The Kafers have so nailed the early Beatles sound it’s eerie. And I’ve heard a lot of Beatlesque numbers over the years. “Crying for the Moon Instead” sounds like it’s right off Please Please Me or With the Beatles, it’s got that Crickets-post-Holly vibe with guitars that are so 1963. If you listen to more than a few tunes by Mike Brunacini you’ll hear he’s got a distinctive piano pop thing going on, very Ben Folds. But I like his recent “Summer of 2009” in part because it’s such a departure. Sure it’s got piano but the guitar is pretty much in front for a lot of the tune. I love the variety he puts into performance, adding endearing bits of melodic ornamentation here and there to what is already a pretty strong number. fine.’s last album I’m Glad It’s Over Now is so listenable, the blending of the duo’s vocals a so smooth yet sibilant harmony. But the standout track for me is a bit of different, the so-this-post-topical “South by the Beach” with its accordion-sounding keyboard parts. The overall sound really reminds me of the synth-intimate atmosphere created by the likes of Long Island’s Red Barn.
Song 21 on our beach mix-tape odyssey is from Chris Castino’s new album Brazil. “Chinese Whispers” is a mellifluous pop number in a Paul Simon or Joshua Radin style. It’s a perfect accompaniment to your drive to beach, with the wind in your hair and some good feeling in your heart.
As Jonathan Richman once said, the beach be one of the best things we got. What makes that better? Tunes, of course. Stock up your playlist here!