It happens every time. Year-end rolls around and the ‘to-be-reviewed’ pile is groaning under the weight of the thus-far neglected, could-be super hits. To give everyone some airtime in their year of release this is the first of three record round-ups before the new year. I may accent brevity here but know this, the love is as fulsome as ever.
I just discovered that Farewell Horizontal is not just the name of a Melbourne noisy pop outfit but also Pavement’s last album. I don’t really hear a connection. Farewell Horizontal, the band, get noisy here and there, like on “Nosy Parker.” But most of their fourth album Tales of Woah has a killer poppy undercurrent on the rock and roll, like the best of Matthew Sweet. Opening cut “Brighton’s Full Of Arseholes” catches your attention for its title alone, but the song cooks, the vocal melody carrying us along. “Summer of Disease” is a bit more acoustic guitar pop in a Guster style. I love the oscillation between menacing and dreamy themes sustaining “The Answer is No.” Things lean in a Pixies direction on a number of cuts, like “Uh Oh (No)” and “The System Works.” Love the lead guitar opening and recurring throughout “Never Give Up (Unless You’re Shit).” On the whole, Tales of Woah is a ‘don’t hold back’ kind of album purchase.
People have been writing a lot about Washington D.C. rock and roll stalwarts Dot Dash and their new release Madman in the Rain. And why not? It’s so listenable. There is something early 1980s poprock with a jazzy tinge about this record, sorta like what the Style Council and Everything but the Girl were doing back then. Just hit play on “Space Junk, Satellites” to get the feel. Other tracks are more straight up 1980s guitar pop, with cool extra vocal adornments. Like the ‘ooh oohs’ sprinkled throughout “Forever Far Out.” I hear a lot of Roddy Frame influence here, on “Madman in the Rain” particularly but also more generally in terms of the album’s overriding ambience. The keyboards steal the show on the single-worthy “Tense and Nervous” along with all those new wave band/song shout-outs. Or one might recall The Grapes of Wrath listening to “Saints/Pharaohs.” Where is my sideways button-up shirt?
Turn on In Deed member Richard Öhrn’s new solo album Sounds in English and you are immediately transported to a pop-psychedelia English summer garden circa 1967. It’s in the jangle, the mock flute solos, and the emotional ennui soaking all the songs. “Seal Your Move” is practically a musical poster child for the era, shaded with touches of the Hollies and the Turtles here and there. Then “5th Month Announcement” sounds like a cross between Simon and Garfunkel and Moody Blues. And who but an expert on the late 1960s folk pop era could drive along “Someone to Forgive You” with something that sounds like Greek balalaika lead lines and a subtle organ undercurrent. “Take This Bottle” comes back to the Hollies, but with a bit of the Searchers thrown in for good effect. And then there’s the utterly delightful piano lines defining “Love and Friendship.” What an album! Öhrn’s magic touch is in making the musical past fully present again.
Album number 13 is still lucky for Canadian east coast power pop institution Sloan. How do they keep turning it out? Could be their democratic creative ethos – all members sing and write songs. There’s no ‘front man’ here. Right from the break-out guitar driving album opener “Magical Thinking” Steady is in your head – to stay. This record is all highlights: “Spend the Day,” “Scratch the Surface,” “Keep Your Name Alive” – all are glorious guitar-heavy, chord-bashing wonders. They’re songs that will have you asking in exasperation ‘Just where is 11 on this crummy amp?!’ Of course, I do especially love the really melody-heavy numbers, like “She Put Up with What She Put Down,” “I Dream of Sleep,” and “Nice Work If You Can Get It,” the latter with a decidedly Revolver-ish panache. No need for hard judgement here, just file this in the ‘best of the year’ pile.
And now for a bit of baroque pop. A whole lotta baroque, actually. How Birmingham, Alabama’s The Mellons come off sounding like a pitch perfect Beach Boys on their debut Introducing … The Mellons is just one of those mysteries of life. A definitely delightful mystery! Just hit play on “So Much to Say” and see if Beach Boys doesn’t register immediately, with a hefty dose of sunshine pop adornments. From there its beachscape all the way. You can practically hear the waves lapping up on “Devil’s Advocate” and “What a Time to Be Alive.” Though to be fair, there’s a strong psych pop feel to what is happening here, apparent strongly on “It’s Just a Phase” and “Salad Made of Butterflies.” Introducing … The Mellons is like time travel. A band that plays this good is a ‘happening’ for sure.
Another solid album is this year’s release from Ian M. Bailey, You Paint the Pictures. The sound is so sixties reminiscent but fresh and now at the same time. Title track and opening cut “Paint the Pictures” is a case in point. The jangle is clearly Brydsian through a Tom Petty filter but still timeless in its execution. If anything it reminds me of the AM radio-friendly work from McGuinn, Clark and Hillman in the late 1970s. “I Wanted the Sun to Shine” adds a slight country undercurrent to the rippling jangle while “I Don’t Want to Start Again” takes a more folk rock turn. “Life Without You” moves things into more Al Stewart/Gerry Rafferty territory while “Hey Little Girl” offers up a country pop vibe. For breezy should-be AM radio single I’d vote for “Change is Easy.” Song by song, this is a strong outing by any measure, for jangle-heads You Paint the Pictures is a real treat. Available from Kool Kat records here.
Our record round-up is now well underway. I’m not saying we’ve left the best for last in these posts but we’ve clearly got some stuff left that is pretty good. Stay tuned.
Photo 1974 Spokane Expo World’s Fair postcard courtesy Joe Haupt.