*repeat repeat, 65MPH, A. Michael Collins, Billy Bragg, Bryan Adams, Classic Pat, Goin' Places, Hovvdy, Invisible Rays, K. Campbell, Kerosene Stars, Pictish Trail, Robby Miller, Smiles, Stephen Schijns, Tamar Berk, The Lovetones, The Rills, The Stranglers, The Telmos, Tracy Shedd
This is a countdown to both warmer temps and hotter tunes: our spring singles countdown! I find my incoming new singles pile never really shrinks but that’s not really a problem is it? So here goes with another 21 songs just pining for your attention.
The Stranglers were one of those bands I was vaguely aware of in my youth but I was too distracted by the melodic heft of The Jam and Squeeze to take notice of their more subtle charms. In fact it was only in the past few years I heard the band’s exquisite “Golden Brown” from their 1981 album Le Folie. Fast forward to last year and the band’s 18th album Dark Matters is full of winning tunes. The tribute to late longtime band member Dave Greenfield “And If You See Dave …” is touching while “The Last Men on the Moon” has a hooky futuristic vibe a la 1980s Moodies meets Blue Oyster Cult. Another band doing the coming-back-strong thing are The Lovetones. After a decade gone they returned in 2020 with Myriad and the must hear song for me is “Rescue.” Ok, this is not a breaking single but it should have been, it’s got that magical mid-1960s sparkle tune-wise. Tamar Berk is building up to something pretty extraordinary, if her drip drip of confident pre-album singles is anything to go by. “Tragic Endings” opens with alluring simplicity, just a single electric guitar and Berk’s clear voice, before adding layer after layer of sonic hooks. The song is masterful arrangement of push and pull melodic effects and the vibe is like Pat Benatar meets Blondie, with a touch of Laurie Anderson thrown in. The upcoming album is Start at the End but you’re gonna want in at the beginning. Ottawa’s Robby Millar turns up the 1970s bubblegum/glam guitars on “All We’ve Got” with a chorus that is very The Cure. It’s a creative combination that is oh so obvious once you hear it. Incipient spring brings a new double A sided single from Nashville artists *repeat repeat and they certainly paint a picture, “Soft” a dreamy, shoe-gazey float along the water, “Hmm Feels Like” a punchier Kevin Devine-ish acoustic bit of hooky shuffle.
Houston’s enigmatic poprocker K. Campbell layers his recent single “Breaking Glass” with an intoxicatingly compressed sound, like a classic 45 blasting from a transistor radio. But listen a little more closely to hear all the subtle shifts in sonic texture that elevate the tune. Another textured mini-masterpiece comes from L.A.’s A. Michael Collins. “In Other Climes” initially sounds like it’s a member of the Bryds family tree with its jangly guitars and harmony vocals. But it quickly turns into something more contemporary, not unlike the retro reinventions from the likes of Richard X. Heyman. Bryan Adams albums typically alternate between effing-eh truck-driving stadium-rawk and more radio-friendly poprock earworms. Album 15 So Happy It Hurts delivers on both but I’m drawn more to the latter, which just happen to be all the songs he wrote here with his traditional hit-songwriting partner Jim Vallance. “I’ve Been Looking For You” is textbook poprock goodness: so simple, nothing ground-breaking here, but man does Adams know how to put it together. Now for something a bit different, Classic Pat takes on Trisha Yearwood’s “She’s In Love With the Boy” stripping out all its ‘easy listening’ country elan and replacing that with a fabulous 1980s Canadian indie vibe e.g. The Northern Pikes or The Grapes of Wrath. The song is just one of many commercial country make-overs appearing on a worthwhile album split with Buzzard Buzzard Buzzard entitled Country Buffet. Austin duo Hovvdy wowed critics with their self-described ‘pillow core’ album True Love last fall. Now they’re back with a new single “Everything.” The acoustic guitar sets the tone and hook for the song, building from a stark and spare backdrop only to drop in a bit banjo on its way to veritable wall of sound as the tune builds. It is somehow both a bit manic and oh-so-smooth at the same time.
Everything about Isle-of-Eigg dweller Johnny Lynch is original. His recordings as Pictish Trail defy easy categorization. Me, I’m drawn to the melody central cuts, which really comprise only some small part of his musical vision. As Guardian writer Jude Rogers reveals, his latest album Island Family is an oblique love letter to his island home and community. My choice for your listening pleasure is “Melody Something” but the rest of the album is worth some dedicated listening. Lincoln UK’s The Rills are something a bit different again, offering up a lot of story detail on “Skint Eastwood.” The verses have a driving, almost relentless attack but when the chorus kicks in, wow, it’s like melodic crack. Staten Island’s Goin’ Places have shifted the intensity of their punk delivery over their twenty years together, edging slightly into more pop punk territory on their most recent album, Save the World. It’s a strong album but personally I’m digging the Mersey-ish “Recover.” Sure, there’s a still a strong punky feel to the proceedings but the boys add some very melodic guitar lines and sweet background vocals. Veteran protest songster Billy Bragg came out with a new album The Million Things That Never Happened last fall and it had more than a few of his signature hooky folk rock numbers. The highlight for me was album closer “Ten Mysterious Photos That Can’t Be Explained” with its rollicking tempo and razor sharp social commentary. Kelowna’s Stephen Schijns has a curious new single that combines an eerie Gordon Lightfoot-reminiscent vocal with a chugging yet propulsive bit of poprock performance, and a tasty bit of 1970s guitar solo. It really works.
North Carolina’s Tracy Shedd ambles onto centre stage with her single “Going Somewhere,” its laid back feel gaining more urgency in the chorus. Definitely a bit of car-driving, windows-open on a summer day sort of music. The Telmos’ “What She Knows” actually first appeared on the band’s 2019 EP How Quick It Goes Away but it has now been re-released by Aldora Britain Records. It definitely deserves a second chance, given its sunny 1960s pop psychedelic feel. Kinda like The Zombies jamming with The Hollies. Back into the pop punk field, Boston’s Invisible Rays pump out what sounds like a somewhat more socially adjusted Weezer on “Landline.” This one is jump-up-and-down dance good. Another late find for me is smiles “Gone For Good.” This 2019 release oozes Teenage Fanclub, Big Star and Matthew Sweet vibes. Turn it up loud and get lost in the melodic haze. Chicago’s Kerosene Stars continue their English 1980s band revival kick with “Purpose of Friend,” a song that sounds like something from Manchester 1988. A bit confessional folkie, a bit swing poprock.
We’ll wrap things up with a double blast from prolific Cambridgeshire indie artist 65MPH. The recent singles “Real Life” and “Don’t Walk Away” cap a series of releases from this guy, so an album proper cannot be far off (can it?). I love the rough and ready vibe on these songs, reminding me of work from the likes of The Jam and Cast.
Twenty-one singles crammed into one post is like finding a variety box of quality chocolates on your Easter egg hunt. There’s definitely going to be some you really like. Time to start indulging.