Chicago’s Sunshine Boys are going out on a high note with their brand new two song EP 2×3. Yes, they are calling it quits after playing and recording together for six years and here’s the heartbreaking thing, this double shot of songs is probably their peak performance (and that is saying something). The song-writing and playing here is simply masterful. “Underwater” is a gorgeous tune, lifted by great melodic guitar lead lines and wonderful overlapping vocal parts. There’s a very Crowded House or Neil Finn solo feel to the song. “The Beginning” maintains a different kind of harmonic tension, reminding me of some of the material on Marshall Crenshaw’s mid-period albums (e.g. Mary Jean and Nine Others). Both tracks conjure up a very distinct kind of atmosphere, reflective, sometimes a bit tense, but ultimately positive. And check out the cool cover artwork by Caroline Murphy.
So long Sunshine Boys, it’s been good to know you.
You can check out these tunes and Sunshine Boys’ fabulous back catalogue at their Bandcamp page or just drop them a line at their website or Facebook.
I get to everything … eventually. Like this crew of great acts. They’ve been in the queue for a while and now here they are, ready for our poprock primetime.
The Memories hang out in L.A. now but they’re originally from Portland and that makes a lot of sense. There is something very Portland about their new record Pickles and Pies given its variety and indie unpredictability. The vibe reminds me a bit of Grouplove with its loose, almost hippie interplay amongst vocalists and players, particularly on tracks like “Waves From the Shore” and “Last Chance to Dance.” The band also have an old school 1960s dreamy pop thing going on with songs like “In My Heart I’m Sailing,” “Kissing Candy,” and “Under the Sea.” Rock it up? Sure. The album kicks off with a smoking cool cover of R. Stevie Moore’s “Too Old To Fall in Love” complete with both crunchy and eerie guitar sounds. But the hit single money shot here is undoubtedly the slightly swinging “Second Try” with its subtle hooks and captivating harmonies. And that’s just six of the 13 tracks here. Pickles and Pies has a lot more surprises from a band that clearly won’t stylistically sit still.
Halfdog is the fifth album from Honeywagon and it is one smooth, melodious piece of work. The poprock craft on this record is phenomenal, from the rollicking Brydsian jangle of “Anywhere the Wind Blows” to the straight up Paul Collins Beat-like hooks driving “On the Beach.” These guys make the guitars sing on tracks like “All That Matters” and “All the Little Things” but effectively slow things down with some very Beatles guitar on “Maybe Maybe Not.” Then there’s a more Tom Petty feel to the single-worthy “For Love” and “Halfdog About a Dog.” You won’t be half listening to Halfdog, songs this good are going to grab your full attention.
I first came across Chicago’s Sunshine Boys with their earwormy seasonal offering “I Love Christmastime” so I was primed to like the band’s latest record, Work and Love. And there’s a lot to like here. Like the obvious single, the R.E.M. vibing “Infinity Girl” with its hypnotic guitar work and spot on Stipe delivery. But the inspiration runs in a number of directions. I hear a lot of Marshall Crenshaw on tracks like “The World Turning Around” and “Summertime Kids.” Or a hint of XTC around “I Was Already Gone.” I love the darker melody line carrying “The Serpent in Spring” along or the hook that anchors “Don’t Keep It Inside” on a seemingly constant loop. And then there’s the light, airy “A Ghost, At Best” with its surprising twists and turns.
Fernando Perdomo must be the hardest working man in indie music production. He seems to have a hand in a host of other people’s projects – writing, producing, performing – and he still manages to find time for his own creative work. Open Sound is just the latest, a two man effort with Justin Paul Sanders. What jumps out at you immediately from their self-titled debut is the striking sonic impact of their harmony vocals. From the opening measure of “You’re So Fine” you know you’re in for something special. There’s a bit of ELO here, fed through a southern California pop filter. “I Wanna Look in Your Eyes” has everything that was great about mid-to-late 1970s poppy rock: melodic hooks, tasty guitar solos, and lighter than air harmony vocals. This could be April Wine circa 1975 if I didn’t know better. I love how “Reason to Write” kicks off with hooky lead guitar line and barrels along with a 1970s McCartney-esque drive. There’s a touch of yacht rock on Open Sound, evident on tracks like “She’s On Her Way” and “Thinking of You.” There’s also some lovely acoustic guitar-based tunes like “Gotta Run,” “California Moon” and “Broadway.” But I’m a bit more partial to the duo’s uptempo numbers, like their great remake of Perdomo’s “I Want a Girl with a Record Collection” and “It’s Only You.” Is there nothing this Perdomo guy can’t do?
The robot gracing the cover of the new Tom Curless and the 46% record made me smile. He definitely does not look like he’s ready for the future. Not at all, never mind almost. But Almost Ready for the Future is certainly ready to start amassing serious fandom. “Always in Between” blasts out of the box, setting the tone for the new-wavey rock and roll record to come. “House on Fire” is a particular highlight on this album, with its alluring roll out guitar work and a distinctive keyboard fill I haven’t heard since Adam Daniel’s “Breaking Up.” But the price of admission is paid in full with “Just Wanna Talk,” a should-be hit single if ever there was one. The build-up to the chorus creates just the right amount of anticipatory tension, the pre-chorus holds things back, and then, wham, AM radio chorus gold! You could stop here, but I wouldn’t. Almost Ready for the Future has highlights all over the disk. Personally, I like the midtempo rock and roll feel of “Middle Ground” and “Unexpected Knock” as well as slower cuts like the mellow “Miles to Go” and touching “Burn and Shine.” As no-one knows what the future may bring you might as well hum your way into oblivion, if that’s just around the corner. Rest assured, Tom Curless and 46% can help you with that.
It’s been blasting in your ears for last two months I know: festive music! Typically the same 20 songs or so. But I refuse to Grinch out on holiday music simply because we’ve become tired of the classics and not-so-classic that dominate the airwaves and the shops. So as my [insert appropriate holiday commitment here] present to you, dear reader, I’ve scoured the poprock-o-sphere for some fresh holiday tune-age. And I’m happy to report there’s still a whole lot of great stuff to choose from!
Let’s start with a brand new blast of melodic punky goodness from Jagger Holly. “Mistletoe” appears on the band’s just released seasonal LP It’s Christmas Somewhere. Overall, the record is defined by a Ramones-esque approach to crunchy speed rock and roll where the band takes on classics like “Santa Baby” while also offering up a host of original tunes. I chose “Mistletoe” because it slows the generally frenetic tempo a bit and showcases the band’s impressive stylistic range, tapping a more indie 1980s melodic rock vibe. With their album #1The Brothers Steve already gave us a pretty spectacular present this year. But was that enough? No. So in time for the holidays they’ve cooked up a double-sided holiday single entitled Christmas Magic (even though neither song has that title!). Personally, I love “Listen Up! It’s Christmastime” with its oh so subtle ear wormy chorus and warm cocoon of background vocals enveloping the whole track. It’s got the sound of a classic poprock holiday tune to me! The Austria-cum-Liverpool MonaLisa Twins initially made their name as a YouTube cover tune sensation, though recently they’ve released albums of original material too. And they’re actually twins. Their records have an amazing vibe! Rootsy with Merseybeat accents and those spine-tingling blood harmonies. Their plainly-named seasonal record is Christmas, and it contains all the usual tunes with a key exception: “Walking in the Air.” The song is known to Brits from appearing in the Howard Blake-scored animated film of Raymond Briggs’ children’s book The Snowman. Child soprano Aled Jones’ version is a bit choiry for my tastes. The MonaLisa Twins transform the song into a rootsy, indie classic! I would have loved to hear the Everly Brothers cover this.
The Brothers Steve – Listen Up! It’s Christmas TimeMonaLisa Twins – Walking in the Air
Despite the un-Christmas-y climate, Los Angeles native Todd Herfindal gets right into the spirit, ramping up the jangle on a trio of jingle tunes with a maxi-single entitled Christmas Star. The title track sparkles guitar-wise with heartfelt vocals in the verses giving way to some shimmering harmonies in the chorus. Hard to choose between this one and the Fountains of Wayne swing of “Santa’s Got Something for You” as my fave. So why choose? Consider it a ‘double A-sided single’ with something extra. Chicago’s Sunshine Boys step on the stereotypical Christmas bells pretty hard as this song opens but what follows is an amazing tune, an instant sing-a-long. “I Love Christmastime” is a bit poignant, a smile-inducer for sure, with candy cane jangle lead guitar lines and a cool subtle organ layering in the background. Another instant classic, IMHO. Norwegians American Suitcase offer up tune that sounds like a country-era Byrds holiday moment with “Christmas Blues #2”: a catchy lead guitar line lures you in to a sweet tune, cloaked in holiday harmonies and hooks. A pleasing addition to any holiday mix.
American Suitcase – Christmas Blues #2
Now for something a bit different, Sofa City Sweetheart’s “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” from their holiday EP Christmas on the Sofa. While I’m not one for traditional carols as my go-to holiday songs typically, what works here is how the stark simplicity of the piano and vocals resonate in a truly beautiful and touching performance. The EP is full of other highlights as well, like the engaging instrumental “Boogie Woogie Midnight.” LA’s Army Navy also got into the holiday music game with “Stay In,” a lushly acoustic-driven poprock treat, with clever lyrics and a nice vocal counterpoint to lead singer Justin Kennedy with The Like’s Charlotte Froom. The tempo is very cozy-by-the fire hipster, in a good way. My last recommendation is a bit of a cheat – I usually limit myself to nine suggestions but the ninth this time is actually an album! But Kool Kat Kristmas Vol. 3 is worth bending the rules for. This is a solid collection in terms of songwriting and performance quality, consistency, and listenability (from a poprock perspective, of course). Highlights include Evert Almond’s Beach Boys-inflected “Have a Very Very Very Merry Christmas,” Nick Frater’s perennial parental threat “Christmas is Cancelled,” Richard Turgeon’s Pansy Division-esque “Skippin’ Christmas,” The Stan Laurels’ dreamy “Noche Buena,” and the big guitar sounds of Ed Ryan’s “Noel (You Gotta Sing).” You can put this one on and just hit play – it’s that good.
It is my belief that melody makes the world a little less dark, so I do hope my little blog has given you the gift of some happy moments this year. And to all the featured artists, I hope it has filled your bank account with some financial love. With that in mind, hey readers, click on the artist links and let the spirit of giving begin! Merry happy everyone, wherever you are and whatever you believe.