This site is pretty retro mostly. We work the 1960s-through-1980s melodic rock side of the street and we’re happy with that. But every now and then we get into something a bit more contemporary. Like post 2000. Today’s post embraces the modern hooky taste-makers that cross our radar because, after all, melody is timeless.
Waaves is one of those bands with a legendary reputation rooted in a certain kind of ‘tude,’ generally a post-punk indie snarl. But with Hideaway the band drops the pretence of cool indifference to openly seduce us with catchy tunes and inventive musical arrangements. Album opener “Thru Hell” vibes a bit of The Vaccines for me. Then “Hideaway” delivers on the band brand of pop punk, delivered oh-so smooth. But with “Help Is On The Way” things branch out. The big vocal hooks, the up-front rhythm guitar remind me of Vancouver’s The Zolas. In fact, I hear a bit of that band on the mid-tempo pleaser “Planting a Garden,” though punched up here and there. “Sinking Feeling” is the showcase single and it shows, with a killer roll-out featuring cool competing guitar lines. The song itself has a mesmerizing effect, a hypnotic tension created between the drumming and rumbly versus jangle guitar counterpoint. The country influences are probably the most surprising addition to the mix here. “The Blame” is great rollicking country pop number, perhaps my fave cut on the album. There’s a subtle John Lennon/Beatles melodic intensity at work in here somewhere. “Marine Life” is another track with just a bit of a country veneer pulling focus from the overall punk feel. I’m also partial to “Honeycomb,” a nice, bit spacey, mid-tempo pop rock number. Overall Hideaway banishes the genre tags that have dominated Waaves’ career to just let the music speak.
The gorgeous cover of Big Nothing’s new album Dog Hours deserves vinyl proportions to really be appreciated. The pastoral cover painting also gives clear visual clues to what’s inside, a veritable wrestling match with melancholia, with sadness pulling at the edges of all the sonic sketches included here. If sometimes it feels good to feel bad, get ready to feel very good indeed. The album begins with “Always On My Mind” setting the scene with its shoe-gazey, Teenage Fanclub sombre sensibility. This one sounds like the radio-ready single release. “A Lot of Finding Out” follows with something a bit more up-tempo, a straight-up indie rock number with a touch of country going on. Liz Parsons takes over vocals on “Still Sorta Healing” giving the band a very different sound, almost The Carnations-like. But with “Don’t Tell Me” the album’s basic mood gets established. Building off an acoustic guitar base, the song has a 1980s crossover country/indie sound in REM mode. “Curiosity” uses subdued piano and guitar flourishes to create a low-key backdrop, only to lift us up with harmony vocals in the chorus. Even the rippling lead guitar lines buffeting title track “Dog Hours” can’t obscure the downbeat feel of the song. “Make Believe” is a bit more cheery, a bit of that crossover country/indie vibe laden with killer lead guitar lines. “Back the Way” also works its hooky lead guitar line into every available space in the song. “Accents” has jumpy acoustic guitars driving the song, sounding very very 1980s English guitar band. And then the album ends with its basic ennui intact using an acoustic guitar-picking colouring to define “What I Wanna Say.” Dog Hours is an album for a wistful walk at twilight or sound-tracking some late-night lamp-lit apartment. By combining melancholy with melody, it’s ultimately a feel good record.
Semprini is one of those brand new bands of old guys that I just love. Veterans of numerous 90s grunge and indie bands they’ve now come out with self-titled debut album that sounds as fresh as anything their younger selves might have put together. The flavour of the first few songs is very Bob Mould in his immediate post-Sugar phase. Listen to “Words You Say” and “Puts Hands in Last” along with “Eastbound” a bit further into the album and you might come away with singular view of what the band is doing. But there’s some striking variety on this album. “Soft Focus” has a very new wave Byrds feel and “Understand Anything” continues in the same vein, with a slight country tweak. “The Front Door” adds an Americana dimension to what is going on while “Best Of You” sets it hooky guitar breaks against an almost Band-like piano background. “Wish We Had Kissed” sounds like the single with its jangle guitar and earwormy constant invocation of the title line. And then the record ends with another surprise, “When the Lights Go Out,” a lovely, almost meditative tune where the bass guitar line really hooks you in, only to build to a bit of structured chaos in the latter half. Give Semprini a listen to hear some old dogs doing new tricks.
Vancouver’s Said the Whale are really saying something with their seventh long-player, Dandelion. Like ‘we’re ready to be big stars’ with this winning collection of killer tunes. The confidence in the execution of these songs rings out on tracks like “The Ocean” and “Sweetheart.” There’s no filler here. Every inch of album space is an opportunity to demonstrate all the amazing things this group can do. Just listen to how the band shift effortlessly from the extremely danceable “Honey Lungs” to the somber instrumental piano ballad “February 15.” The record is really a kaleidoscope of shifting musical motifs. There’s the earnest, relentless poppiness of “99 to the Moon,” a head-bopping Portugal the Man-esque turn on “Return to Me,” and the touching, stark ballad effort with “Dandelion.” The voice-over and sound effects on “Everything She Touches is Gold to Me” give a cinematic launch to a tune that is both subtly alluring in the verses and wonderfully bombastic at the chorus. Meanwhile, “Show Me Everything” sounds like it’s going to be a big vocal ballad before twisting in the chorus to something more melodically sinister – brilliant! Dandelion is an album bursting with sonic surprises and melodic goodness from a band clearly ready for the big time.
Just because something’s modern doesn’t mean it has to leave old men shouting ‘get off my lawn’ in its wake. It can be relatable. Today’s acts know how wrap good old fashioned hooks in the most modern of fancy paper.