Andrew Taylor and the Harmonizers, Angel Du$t, Benjamin Belinska, Cub Scout Bowling Pins, Danny Laj and the Looks, Daryl Bean, Exnovios, Francis Lung, Glowbox, Guided By Voices, Harrison Lemke, Hey Pam!, LMNOP, Spygenius, The John Sally Ride, Walcot
In a race against time we’re squeezing the final artists on my ‘to write about in 2021” list into this second installment of a big fat post of everything. It’s not pretty but it gets the job done.
Sometimes the parts don’t add up the way you might expect. Angel Du$t is a supergroup of sorts comprised of members from various hardcore bands but the record is anything but. Yak: A Collection of Truck Songs is the title of the album and it’s a misdirection too, the collection is more Weezer than hillbilly hangout. Check out “Big Bite” to get a taste of the poppy flavour of this outing. Mmm, good. Boston’s Glowbox grab you with guitars up front on opening cut “Screaming at the Sky” from their recent record Your Call is Very Important to Us. But that’s just the lure, it’s an album full of catchy tunes in that straight up, stripped back late 1970s rock and roll form. For instance, “Don’t Give Up on Me” is the should-be hit single for me. Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin are such an amazing band it’s not surprising that their spin off projects are pretty cool too. SSLYBY guitarist Will Knauer is one half of Hey Pam! along with Marrisa Mac and they’ve got an album of tunes that fall somewhere between Dropkick/Teenage Fanclub and The Weepies. It’s a bit hard to find but check out “Apocrypha” to get a sense of what they’re doing. I don’t know what it was about the pandemic that said ‘hey bands, do albums of covers!’ but they have, again and again. But Canterbury’s Spygenius give the formula a new twist on Blow Their Covers, recasting the tunes in the register of different eras and choosing a truly eclectic mix of tunes. I initially tuned in for Gene Clark’s magisterial “So You Say You Lost Your Baby” but had to stay for the reinventions of Squeeze’s “Is That Love” and Madness’ “Michael Caine.” But the real gem here the brilliant cover of The Soft Boys’ “Queen of Eyes.” He’s the driving creative force behind Dropkick and The Boys with Perpetual Nervousness but hey, that’s not enough, Andrew Taylor has another project, Andrew Taylor and the Harmonizers. So what is different here? Not that much, some pedal steel guitar maybe. Don Valentine over at I Don’t Hear a Single dubbed them ‘country guitar pop’ and that fits the bill. Basically it’s another album of Andrew Taylor goodness. Don recommends “Life is Good” and “Older” and they’re great but I think you should start with “It’s Misery Again” with its creative melodic twists and turns.
Speaking of over-achievers, Guided By Voices dropped three albums in 2020 and another in 2021 and still found time for a Dukes of Stratosphere side project called Cub Scout Bowling Pins. So far there’s an EP Heaven Beats Iowa and album Clang Clang Ho and the results are wonderfully offbeat. Check out “Copyright 123” or “Magic Taxi” for representative samples. Bejamin Belinska’s Lost Illusions is marked by gently buoyant guitar playing that sometimes reminds me of Bruce Cockburn, despite its somewhat darker themes. The guitar lines that opens the album on “Dancing on the Southside” are so lyrical and set the stage for the whole album, a marriage of guitar impressionism and dark of night folkie vocals. And yet I think “Disappearing” is more of a rollicking ride in the country single. One man band LMNOP is a blast of DIY poppy fun with just tinge of punk here and there on his curiously titled album, WhatNOP dONW7. Opening cut “Things” is a good introduction to what is going on here but I’m more partial to the lilting swinging “Diver’s Head.” Very 1980s UK guitar pop. Forever Only Idaho is Harrison Lemke’s concept album of sorts, tracking what happened to the 2006 graduating class of Coeur d’Alene High School by 2018, in song. I was drawn to the contrast between the complex concept here and the simplicity of its execution, a rustic acoustic guitar heavy post-folk effort. Dip in anywhere on the record to get the feel but I’m really liking “Hayden Hello.” Ed Ryan put me on the Francis Lung and any Ed recce is usually good news. What a guitar player! Miracle is full of inspired playing and memorable tunes. “Bad Hair Day” is the single, sounding like a more uptempo Elliott Smith.
Spanish band Exnovios bring together old and new influences on their album Un Neuvo Dia, late 60s psych-tinged rock and roll, 1980s and 1990s indie artists, and more. But I’m digging the jangle on tracks like “Vuela Jambo” and particularly title track “Un Nuevo Dia.” Next up, literally the great white north. Danny Laj and the Looks hail from Sudbury, Ontario, far from those wimpy border towns where most Canadians live. But that hasn’t hardened their hearts, if the joy emanating from their new album Ten Easy Pieces is anything to go by. There’s serious rocking all over the record but it’s the light boppy feel to “Don’t Keep Me Guessin’” that is keeping a smile on my face. Brighton, Michigan native Daryl Bean has got the must-have EP this year with Mr. Stangelove. Just four songs long, it’s gonna make you hate Mr. Bean – why just four songs? We want more! Spin “Keeping Me Alive” and see if you don’t hear a deliriously good reanimation of the golden years of Squeeze, Aimee Mann and Elvis Costello. Or check out his musical love letter to Fleabag star “Phoebe Waller-Bridge.” Wow. This guy should be on the star track. I’ve only heard one song from Chicago band Walcot’s upcoming album Songs for the Disenfranchised but I like it. “Dreaming Away” launches like a jaunty 1970s reinvention with just a hint of B.J. Thomas buried in the tune but as it goes on it develops in a totally original way. Can’t wait to hear more. My last contribution is from John Sally Ride’s recent LP Now Is Not A Great Time. I’ll be posting a more in depth review in the new year but for now know this, it’s amazing. Great tunes, beautifully played. Here’s a teaser, “She Doesn’t Do Nostalgia.” This is clearly ‘grade A’ Difford and Tilbrook inspired stuff.
Well there you have it. List checked off. My apologies to the artists for cramming you in like this but I had to write something about your great recordings before the year was over. Click on the hyperlinks to explore these efforts with the attention to detail they deserve.