What awaits us in 2019? Well, if 2018 is anything to go by it’s gonna be a year full jangly guitars, blissed out harmony vocals, rocking rhythm sections, and hooks, hooks, hooks. Fads change but these essential elements combined together will always have an audience – thank goodness! On to the business at hand: I love timely themes so today is all about new year’s – in song, of course.
Matt Pryor gets us into the right frame of mind with “Totally New Year” from his 2008 album Confidence Man. Basic message? Take up the new in the new year and move on from the ‘bones the closet may hold.’ That’s not far off Ryann Allen’s sentiment on “New Year’s Day” where everybody deserves the chance at renewal that ‘new’ promises. ‘Don’t let another year slip away …’ indeed. Taking up the tempo a bit Summer Magic offer us a shimmering “New Year’s Day Surprise” via their unique brand of mellow psychedelic pop. Shifting into full on wistful, Rob Clarke and the Wooltones channel the Beach Boys from their fab holiday EP Bring Me the WooltonesThis Year! with “New Year New Day.” Stepping on the queercore pedal to wrap this up, a great tune from the super Pansy Division comeback album, Quite Contrary, “Kiss Me at Midnight (New Year’s Eve).”
Matt Pryor – A Totally New YearSummer Magic – New Year’s Day Surprise
Christmas music gets a bad wrap (pun intended). Some people seem to think that you can take any old song and throw a seasonal reference in and – voila! – holiday classic. Hardly. Every year an ocean of new Christmas songs hit the holiday beach but few have any staying power. There is something inexplicably magical about the combination of tune, sentiment, and bells that maketh music genuinely seasonal. Kinda like if tinsel and marzipan had a soundtrack. Fortunately, there are a few tunesmiths who still understand how to work the formula, with some of the finest featured here on our now annual holiday music post!
Nine. I don’t why or how I settled on that number but my three previous holiday music posts have all featured nine artists. Weird. Well, I’m not one to needlessly buck tradition so here’s nine more … starting with the amazing Lannie Flowers. Flowers is a longtime veteran of the power pop/indie music scene, charming audiences with his consistently Beatlesque melodic hooks. He returns this year with a remixed version of his 2013 holiday release, “Christmas Without You,” a song that nicely combines jangle with just a hint of country. Next up is a very modern take on seasonal themes, namely, that surely Joseph would have had some doubts about just what was going on with Mary and their miracle baby. Only the New Pornographers could pull off such content and they do on “Joseph, Who Understood,” a new holiday, sing-along classic. Proving their recent comeback Good Times! album was no fluke, the Monkees return this year with a whole album of festive music, with a similar crew of indie pop royalty providing the tunes and musical direction. There’s plenty of good stuff here but “The House of Broken Gingerbread” stands out for me as a superior poprock tune, written by celebrated author Michael Chabon and FOW’s Adam Schlesinger. I’m kinda cheating a bit with this next contribution from Gregory Pepper who just released his holiday-themed four song EP Tsundere. I’m treating his effort like a double-A sided effort, but one with four songs. Pepper’s work sounds deceptively simple but melodically and lyrically he’s a master of so many genre styles and a brilliantly funny and smart lyricist. Spend some time with these tunes. Anybody who can song-check both Macca (“Secret Satan”) and the mopey one (“Home Alone”) knows what he’s doing!Lannie Flowers – Christmas Without YouThe New Pornographers – Joseph, Who UnderstoodThe Monkees – The House of Broken Gingerbread
Digging a bit deeper into our Christmas music bag, Pugwash prove they are the deserving inheritors of XTC’s brand of hooky, intelligent indie poprock with “Tinsel and Marzipan,” capped with a darling Irish-accented child at the end! Crossing the water to Liverpool Rob Clarke and the Wooltones Mersey up the Christmas music scene with a whole album of festiveness on Bring Me the Wooltones This Year! It’s a very Beatles-ish collection of serious and not so serious contributions, with new songs and old faves. The double-A single for me would be “Another Wooltones Xmas Record/Santa Claus.” It can’t be a Christmas tune-age roundup without a tender ballad of seasonal longing so now we head a bit north to Glasgow to hear from The Pooches and their simple song of needing to be with someone as the yuletide comes, “Christmas, With You.” Both stark and moving. Super poprock stars Fun. haven’t put out much in terms of albums but they did put out a holiday single shortly after their first album. “Believe in Me” bears all the hallmarks of that band’s winning formula: intriguing change ups in the song structure, toy piano solos, and plenty of hooks of course.Pugwash – Tinsel and MarzipanThe Pooches – Christmas (With You)Fun. – Believe in Me
Wrapping up this year’s holiday blog post (literally this time), something more traditional. Well, sort of. Quiet Company love the holidays and we’ve featured their stellar coverage of the traditional canon before. Now they’re back with a timely release that captures the distemper of the times with Baby It’s Cold War Outside. With song titles like “Merry Christmas, The President is Terrible” and “Alone on Christmas (You’re Going to Die)” the sense of seasonal dread really comes through. But the traditional themes of hope are there too with “Little Drummer Boy” and particularly on their original reworking of “Carol of the Bells/Setting the Trap.”
This blog is really one long testimonial to the Beatles’ influence on all sorts of popular music, past and definitely present. Indeed, my shorthand for describing what I do here to any random person is to say the blog features new music that builds on the legacy of the Fab Four. Today we attend to that influence more directly with bands that wear their Beatles love on their sleeves. Sometimes it’s the sound, other times it’s the subject matter, or it can just be an inspired cover.
On sound, Rob Clarke and the Wooltones nail the distinctive elements of the Merseyside scene circa 1963. “Brown Paper Bag” is strongly reminiscent of the Liverpool’s Big Three, a band briefly thought to be able to rival the Beatles (until 1964 came along), particularly their version of “Some Other Guy.” Cupid’s Carnival also mine the early Beatles sound on two different versions of their most recent single “She Don’t Care” (from their new EP Clapham Junction), one a straight up rock and roll treatment, the other featuring a more flamenco-style rhythm. But unlike a host of more derivative Beatles copy-cat acts, this homage works because the songwriting and performance are so strong. Addison Love also has the 1960s sound down but his contribution is more notable for its lyrical content. With a focus similar to Ken Sharp’s “She Hates the Beatles” (featured recently on this blog here), Love’s “Like the Beatles” suggests he just can’t sustain a relationship with someone who doesn’t relate to John, Paul, George and Ringo. Poor kid. Lucky for him, the Beatles’ popularity shows no sign of diminishing! Rounding out our Beatles love is a cover of “Paperback Writer” from the B52s. There is no shortage of Beatle’s covers but this one caught my ear because while it remains fairly true to the original there is a fresh sense of fun about it, as one would expect from this group. Recorded in 2004 for use in a car commercial when the band didn’t even have a record contract, the song remains officially unreleased and unavailable for purchase.
Cupid’s Carnival – She Don’t CareCupid’s Carnival – She Don’t Care (Flamenco Version)Addison Love – Like the Beatles