The autumn mailbag has brought a host of good things to my attention. There’s a bit of folk, straight up AM radio pop, some Americana and a solid blast of power pop. Let’s get sorting!
Andrew Stonehome’s self-titled debut album sounds like a loving homage to the soft rock sounds of the 1970s, whether leaning on the piano, acoustic guitar or some heavenly background vocals to set the scene. But occasionally he rocks out a bit more and the result is a pretty sweet poprock single in “Heartbreaker.” There’s something very Gilbert O’Sullivan meets the Bay City Rollers about this tune, with just a touch of glam. The song’s got swing and a strong sing-along quality. I can totally see the movie montage this tune is sound-tracking.
The Orange Goodness describe their sound as ‘groove-infused alt/indie music from Minneapolis’. There is definitely a hyper-kinetic and playful quality to the tunes on their new EP Flying Under the Radar of Chaos. The overall feel reminds me of The Happy Fits, with nod here and there to Queen or even Sparks. The track that has me hitting replay right now is “Settle Up Settle Down.” It’s a bit more subdued, but only compared to the rest of the EP. The vocals and instrumentation are in a kind of fine tension I haven’t heard since Nick Gilder was on the charts. The guitar work here is inventive and a bit hypnotic. Opening cut “Trust It’s Love” also demands attention with its unrelenting hooky percussive punch.
The man in the one-man-band Not a Moment Too Soon is a political scientist. The writer of this blog is a political scientist. Coincidence? Well I’m here to say we are not some kind of secret brotherhood – NMTS got into this post entirely on his poprock merit. But, hey, I can’t deny his day job certainly caught my attention. I mean, with song titles like “Helmut Kohl and Mitterand,” “The Second Amendment and All That Jazz,” and “Love, Market and Morality” my two great interests (music and politics) are clearly in attendance here. As NMTS’s Pierre Englebert confesses in his liner notes, “I can’t help it, being a political scientist.’ Now if you’re not into politics, don’t worry, because Englebert knows his way around a tune, cast in a variety of styles. Over the course of three albums released since the beginning of 2020 he’s consistently turned out some lovely hooks. The latest is Wait, What?, an album that is constantly shifting between silly and serious, from the tender to the tendentious. Stand out tracks for me include the loping hook monster “In the Zoom Breakout Room” and the extremely brief but still delightful “Long Story Short.” “Virgin No More” is also a striking piano ballad instrumental. There are clearly many influences behind the album but the nods to Queen are clear and I’d add the Alan Parsons Projects at times. From previous releases, check out the ELO-ish “Self-Pity Party” and the sweet “When Carson Palmer Lived With Us” from Well.
Vancouver’s Johnny Payne seems to have something big coming down the pike. After a few years helming indie rockers The Shilohs through a few fine albums he’s taken the last few years a bit slower, offering up only the occasional single or uber cool video. His 2019 single “All Messed Up” was a delightful slice of 1970s pop R&B. I could practically hear the girly choruses coming. Or how about that fun video with his headless Margarita Machine band for “Man in the Mist”? But now the teasing is over. A new album King of Cups is just about here and, from the drip release singles, it promises to be pretty special. First up “Calle Easy” (or ‘easy street’ en Espanol) is classy bit of curio pop, like Fantasy Island meets those 1950s Hawaiian movie ballads. But it is “Someday” with its restrained 1970s melodrama – on piano of course – that says ‘ hello there’ should-be hit single. It’s like John Lennon and Eric Carmen got together to bang out a hit. Can’t wait to hear what else is in store on this long-player.
On From the Marrow Jon Arthur Schmidt steps away from the more directly spiritual themes pursued on prior works for a more open-ended exploration of what it means to be connected with the broader universe. The approach is a folkie pop songwriting style akin to a mellow acoustic guitar wielding Kenny Loggins or Dan Fogelberg. You can definitely hear it on “Daylight (Never Left)” with its lovely strings adding to the delicate tension created by the acoustic guitar and the more piano-based “Beautiful World.” By contrast “Library Land” captures that sense of fun and wonder that honours its theme. But the perfectly painted miniature on this album is undoubtedly the exquisite “Lovesong Lullaby,” a track deserving many cover versions. Particularly at bedtime, for this album’s listeners’ children everywhere.
Anyone familiar with Scott Warren from his intimate Americana duo work in Wounded Bird might find the vibe on his solo album Shadow Bands more than a little jarring. There are fuzzed out electric guitars and a Marc Bolan glam shuffle all over this album. Of course, his previous two solo albums gave fair warning, Warren’s a rock and roll boy. “Press Reset” opens the album and sets the tone with a Beatles via Dukes of Stratosphere appreciation of psych rock. “Left Out on the Joke” is more poppy and glam in that T Rex sort of way. “Bury it Down” hides a delicate melody behind some big guitars and carefully modulated vocal. The record also takes a more mellow turn on a few cuts, sounding mildly Beck-ish on “Regret” and “In the Devil” or McCartney-esque on “Mountainside” and “See Feel.” “She Walked Away From It All” reminds me all those psych folk ballads that rocker bands like Led Zeppelin to Jethro Tull pursued in the early 1970s. And then there’s “Chemical Trails” which sounds a bit like Oasis, if the boys had been just a bit better socially adjusted.
I love getting surprises in the mail and I have to say most writers I hear from pay attention to our brief, which is essentially melody plus guitars. Click on the linked names to find out even more about these (thankfully) shameless self-promoters.