Bad Moves, Blitzen Trapper, Foxycontin, Holy Smokes Future Jokes, SODO Pop, Supercrush, The Adam Brown, This Time You're On Your Own, Untenable, What We'll Never Know
So much music, so many stations to tune into! In this first of two back-to-back installments of Around the Dial there’s hooky guitars and keyboards to spare.
If Matthew Sweet had joined a grunge band it might have sounded like Supercrush. It’s there in the sometimes unwieldy but always hooky guitar lines and breathy vocals on tracks like “Be Kind to Me,” “Get It Right” and “Have You Called Him By My Name.” Then there’s the should-be hit single “On the Telephone,” a song that pushes its hooks relentlessly. This is an earworm no doctor’s gonna cure. For contrast, there’s the shoe-gazey, Swervedriver-ish sheen of “I Didn’t Know We Were Saying Goodbye,” the hypnotic guitar riff-propelled “Parallel Lines,” or the hint of pedal steel on the almost country “Fair Weather Fool.” What stands out on this album is that no matter what kind of grinding guitars show up on any given track, a strong sense of melody carries the day. “I Can’t Stop (Loving You)” is a perfect illustration, sounding like a hopped-up Teenage Fanclub writing a Beatles tune. The album wraps up with what sounds like a great lost Big Star single, the wistful, acoustic guitar-driven “When I’m Gone.” SODO Pop is Supercrush’s first proper full album release (as opposed to just a collection of singles) and it’s a stunning, highly listenable introduction to the band’s considerable talents.
Sticking to America’s Pacific Northwest we head down the I-5 highway from Seattle to Portland to check out Blitzen Trapper’s fabulous latest album, Holy Smokes Future Jokes. Ten albums in and the eclectic band continue to fox expectations and easy labeling. Sure there’s the folky, country-ish vibe they’re known for on tracks like “Dead Billie Jean” and “Sons and Unwed Mothers” (the latter sounding like a wrong-side-of-the-tracks Paul Simon). But then things turn in directions that defy easy categorization. Both “Masonic Temple Microdose #1” and “Bardo’s Light (Ouija Oujia) have solid poprock feel, with a subtle depth reminiscent of the best work from Mark Oliver Everett’s Eels. Then the title track has that easy going laidback confidence that reminds me Aaron Lee Tasjan’s recent country-tinged rock and roll while “Magical Thinking” sounds like an indie reinvention of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Then there’s songs that sound like 1970s AM radio should-be hits like “Hazy Morning” and the swinging “Don’t Let Me Run.” This record will undoubtedly be an end-of-year indie chart topper.
Philadelphia’s Foxycontin sound like they were inadvertently dropped from the Stiff records roster circa 1978. You can hear it on the title track “This Time You’re On Your Own” where it’s clear the band has somehow nicked Steve Nieve’s organ from Elvis Costello’s early records. What a killer single! While described in most reviews as pop punk I just hear a straight-up no-frills rock and roll sound like the kind desperately trying to escape the commercial bombast of the 1970s. Sometimes the band comes on like an edgier Romantics on tracks like “Alive in Interesting Time” or an American Graham Parker on “It’s Starting to Show.” At other moments they are the ultimate kick-ass party band, tossing off a host of great covers ranging from Nick Lowe’s fun stomper “Heart of the City” to the more obscure Brian Seymour song “Junk Passion.” And there’s stuff like “The Whole World Knows I’ll Never Get Over It Now” which exhibits the steely passion of an Ike Reilly cut. You ready to party? If you’re looking dance-ready fun, you won’t go wrong with This Time You’re On Your Own.
When I read that Bad Moves had opened for Scotland’s Spook School it all made sense: the in-your-face-politics, the dynamic mix of styles, the achingly open emotional themes. This is band with something to say. “Local Radio” kicks things off, gearing up like a cross between Grouplove and the New Pornographers. “Night Terrors” is all over the place in a wonderful way, sometimes vibing Spook School with a bit of B52s or sounding like New Pornographer’s Neko Case. Then there’s the almost-anthemic single and video “Party With the Kids Who Wanna Party With You,” a perfect pop song distillation of political anger and social coping. The record is called Untenable, as in the state of things generally is not acceptable. The band’s particular talent is wrapping this unstinting stand in accessible, inventive hooky 2-3 minute increments. Like “Toward Crescent Park.” The song’s got an opening guitar hook that reaches out and won’t let go. “Muster” has a Weezer-like pop intimacy with a punky Merseybeat break in the middle. I love the slow groove on tracks like “Settle Into It” and the more chipper clip defining “Same Bad Friends.” Then the record ends with another great should-be hit single, the swinging ‘ooh-oohing’ “End of Time.” As one reviewer put it, Bad Moves offers nothing but good moves here. I agree!
Montreal’s The Adam Brown absolutely nail the 1982 guitar/synth hybrid thing that was going on with “Indie Rock Has-Beens,” the opening track of their new long-player What We’ll Never Know. At the same time, I hear just a hint of Queen and The Vaccines. And that pretty much captures the dynamic animating The Adam Brown, a band that can effortlessly flash some influence without ever surrendering their own distinctive sound. I mean “Disco Mossman” had me thinking there’s something so White Album John Lennon going on here, perhaps with a generous dollop of Kraftwerk. But still, it is its own thing too. On the other hand, “Get Up” sounds like a new wave Bruce Springsteen to me, or “The Law Was Love” feels like all an out 1960s jam. Aside from the influence markers, what elevates this album is the songwriting craft. These are just some seriously hummable tunes. “Hummin’ Around,” “I Will Let You Run” and “Its Emotion” could all be heat-seeking hit singles, to my ears. What We’ll Never Know is the kind of record you’ll have on repeat a few times before realizing it’s run its course … and you’ll listen to it again.
Lockdown has meant little live music but a lot of great record releases! Click on Supercrush, Blitzen Trapper, Foxycontin, Bad Moves, and The Adam Brown to hear more.