Bleu, Cavetown, Dan Rico, I Was a King, Jim Basnight, Keats, Lydia Loveless, Monnone Alone, Nectar, Nick Piunti, Rich Arithmetic, Rumble Strip, The Forresters, The Front Bottoms, The Mommyheads, The Orion Experience, The Ruen Brothers, The Suncharms, The Vaccines, The Webstirs
The rush of fall is upon us with nary a wayward summer breeze to distract us. I guess we’ll just have to turn to this rash of singles to get us through. Here are acts old and new, famous and not so well known, in a variety of poprock styles. Something to tickle every fancy.
Besides having an election, Norway is in my newsfeed because Oslo’s I Was a King have got a new album out. Entitled Grand Hotel, the record steers between spare Brydsian folk numbers and good old fashioned Teenage Fanclub guitar pop songs. The latter spirit strongly guides “Song for the Dead,” the obvious stand out single for me. Former Lucksmiths member Mark Monnone’s latest vehicle is Monnone Alone, though he does get help from a rotating cast of musical characters. His latest release Stay Foggy has a looser feel than this previous longplayer, the more raucus Summer of the Mosquito. It hits me with a summer beach party kinda vibe. I love the early 1960s throwback shuffle of “The Silos.” But my feature track is “Pepper Jar” with its lovely low key jangle and subtle vocals hooks. The long wait for a new album from the fabulously talented Bleu is finally over with the arrival of Six Tape. The record brings together songs released over the past year (like the fantastic “I Want to Write You a Symphony”) as well as tunes originally intended for other projects. The end result does not disappoint. Listeners looking for his trademark larger-than-life ELO-meets-Queen reinvented sound, look no further than the wonderfully over the top “Baby By Your Side.” But I’m featuring something from the more subtle side of Bleu, the playfully acoustic-ish “Kid Someday.” Now I know I highlighted The Orion Experience recently but I can’t resist their brand new single, “Lemon Boy.” The song is a cover of indie artist Cavetown but in TOE’s clutches the track becomes a perfect slice of “Teddy Boy” era McCartney, with just a hint of Chumbawumba’s softer acoustic wistfulness, particularly in the combination of male and female voices. It’s a teaser from a promised new album from the band – I can’t wait! Champaign Illinois’ Nectar are often described as pop-punk but I just hear a great bunch of guitars and some beguilingly melodic vocal turns. As a single “Fishy” has a great driving, droney guitar sound, sometimes drifting into Swervedriver territory but then correcting back to some strong hooks in the chorus. Ok, the song was actually a 2020 release but it has been a 2021 experience for me.
“For a Moment” is the second advance single from Chicago band The Webstirs soon-to-be-released self-titled sixth album. It’s a solid piece of poprock, in line with their glorious past efforts but with a few new twists, like the engaging and original keyboard sound. Despite taking a long break in the middle of their career this song suggest they are back better than ever. Also from Chicago, Dan Rico and I go way back. He was one of the first truly independent artists I wrote about. Then as now I appreciate his artistic dexterity, his ability to mix styles but somehow always remain unmistakably Rico. Over the past year he’s been working up singles for a new album and right now I’m digging “Rose Gold,” a lightly swinging bit of old rock and roll/indie pastiche with slight punky delivery. Sydney Australia’s The Forresters are also working their way towards a new album, dropping singles on a regular basis. “The Tightrope” has all the magical elements this band excels at: plenty of guitar jangle, an endearing Americana vocal style, and those oh so uplifting hooks. I love the spooky ‘ah’ background vocals filling in the sound as well as the late arrival horn section. The Mommyheads are a smart person’s smart band. “Amnesia Collective” from their recent album Age of Isolation is no exception to this rule. Biting social commentary is delivered with a smooth late Beatles pop sheen, melodically buoyant amid carefully calibrated instrumental surprises and a vocal reminiscent of Freddie Mercury in his more subdued playful moods. Boston’s Ward Hayden and the Outliers (formerly Girls, Guns and Glory) sound geographically misplaced, offering up a more southern Americana feel on their releases, like “Nothing to Do (For Real This Time)” from their recent record Free County. There’s more than a little of that 1980s western feel I recall from bands like True West and Rank and File and that’s why I like’em.
Am I only one who hears a bit of Tracy Thorn with Lydia Loveless? There’s something in her heartfelt, urgent delivery that really hits me like Everything but the Girl’s songstress. Check out “Let’s Make Out” to see if I’m on to something or just lost it. This song is also evidence of how labels like ‘alt country’ just don’t capture the exquisite synthesis that is Loveless’ oeuvre. The recent revival of The Suncharms is confirmed as a undeniably good thing with “Dream of a Time Machine” from their recent LP Distant Lights. It’s all the usual shoe-gazey goodness you’ve come to expect, disciplined by a solid hooky guitar lead line threaded throughout the tune. Nashville’s Keats offer up a bunch of great rollicking rock and roll tunes on The Saturday Night Shocker. My choice selection from the record is “Look At Us Now,” a track that brims with chord changes sounding somewhat like BTO meets Bad Company. Detroit’s Nick Piunti is back with uber cool new single, a driving bit of new wave retro with a vocal that is acid-drenched like Bryan Adams or Tom Cochrane entitled “Heart Inside Your Head.” The keyboards on this baby are outasite, expertly running up against a wall of chugging rhythm guitars. All of which leads me to say, where is the new album? I was into The Vaccines long before they became pandemic cool and they have never failed me. The new album is entitled Back in Love City and I am definitely feeling the love for my choice of single, “Heart Land.” The track is a chord-filled re-declaration of love for all things America, e.g. ‘milkshakes and fries,’ ‘favourite bands and Spiderman,’ ‘Easy Rider and Kerouac,’ etc. Post-Trump America may have some worldwide making up to do but not with this band. With rumbly lead guitar lines and dreamy vocals, this is a 5 star enjoyable single.
On Rich Arithmetic’s new stand-alone single “You Are Always Right” there so many hints of rock and roll’s glory days, like the very Beatles-y song structure covered over with light jangle and a shoe-gazey folk rock vocal. It’s a sound that a whole lot of 1980s indie artists spent much time imitating. But Rich makes it his own. And check out B-side “Up To You,” it’s pretty sweet too. Jim Basnight has pulled a full album out of his musical bag of tricks, remixing tracks to freshen their appeal. Altogether Makin’ Bacon is 17 tracks full, with plenty of straight-up, unadorned rock and roll. I’m really liking “Ho Chi Minh” with its tasty guitar lead line and unrelenting background vocal ‘ah’s buffeting the lead vocal. The Ruen Brothers sound so retro country meets early rock and roll, except when they don’t. Case in point, recent single “Cookies and Cream” is a full on melody blast, where a contemporary production vibe accents their usual Blue Velvet sonic palate. The single is a bouncy bit of fun, like combining Johnny Rivers with Wham! From London to New Jersey we return to The Front Bottoms who have been drip releasing some singles lately, like the trippy “Voodoo Magic.” It sounds like classic TFB, with a soaring guitar lead line and slick melodic vocal. Somehow I missed the band’s 2020 album, In Sickeness & In Flames – check out the fab “Montgomery Forever” as homework. Dave Nachmanoff and Richard Rossi recently worked together on the superb John Wicks tribute album. Now they’re back at it, collaborating on a new project called Rumble Strip and an accompanying EP, Let’s Roll. As the liner notes suggest, the effort walks a line between Americana and power pop with an easy, well worn confidence. My choice cut is the organ-drenched “Checkin’ Out,” a breezy number with flashes of Dire Straits and pub rock. But frankly, I’m also partial to Rockpile-ish “Adam West” and the amusing vamp that is “Uber Driver.” Really, the whole EP is a winner.
Twenty tunes to cap off your September. Now you’ve got a playlist to gather those leaves by. Click on the artist names indulge yourself just a little bit more.