Cue the applause and the AM radio announcer, the chartbusters are here! Today’s featured artists have got that something extra, a certain kind of chart charisma if you will. Well, they sound like hits to me. Give them a spin and see if you don’t agree.
No, not the English theologian, not the baseball Hall of Famer either, but the rock and roller from Santa Cuz, California. Henry Chadwick wowed the indie rock world with his stellar 2018 debut album Marlin Fisher. Now he’s back with album number 2, We All Start Again, and it’s another winner. Things are a bit more languid this time around, with album opener “Bloodshot” setting the pace with a strong Ben Kweller acoustic guitar feel. The acoustic guitar is the guide instrument on a host of other tracks here like ”Long Way Back,” “What I Mean to Say” and “Brief Relief” though those Abbey Road background vocals really add something to the proceedings. Not that Chadwick is averse to rocking out on occasion, as on “I’ll Tell You What” and “10 Minutes Reign.” He pulls these many influences together on proto-singles like “Tik and Talk” with a guitar reminiscent of The White Album and Mark Everett Eels’ vibe. But the radio tarted single is obviously the uptempo “Mind’s Eye” with its distinctive Tom Petty guitar ring.
Believe it not, Settle Down in the Dirt is the first full album from Kitchener, Ontario’s Hyness. Their previous two EPs were great but this record is frickin’ fantastic. The band breaks out here full of confident song bluster and bonhomie. Opening cut “Afterlife” is sonic thing of beauty, with its resonant vocals and jangle guitar. It’s actually a bit of a departure from the rest of the album, which is generally darker and heavier though still pretty melodious. Sometimes the band appear to be channeling their 1960s influences openly, as on Merseybeat-ish “Cruelty” and the mod, mod “Foam.” “Bedroom” has got its Weezer vibe going pretty strong. But elsewhere the record is reminiscent of those fab near millennium Swervedriver records, combining a wall of buzzy guitars with sneaky, earwormy tunes. I hear that influence all over “Spill” and “Wring.” Or check out the marriage of a grungy esthetic with a George Harrison kind of vocal on “Beyond.” These guys have clearly got a talent for marrying the discordant with the melodic. Things almost get metal-FOW on “Trash” and “Mabelline” but both really soar in the chorus, tipping things back into hook country. Don’t touch that dial, this thing is already set to 11.
It’s not a moment too soon for Vancouver’s The Zolas to Come Back to Life. It’s been five long years since their last long-player, Swooner, and audiences have to wonder where we will they be at now. On past records I marveled at their ability to combine a 1980s pop keyboards sensibility with rocking dance beat. Early on “Yung Dicaprio” puts to rest any concerns I might have, with its charging, relentless rocking verse/choruses a finely taut counterpoint to the more melodic drop out sections. Classic hooky danceable Zolas are here in abundance on the catchy “Energy Czar” and early single “Bombs Away.” But there’s a Britpop twist in the mix too, with “Miles Away” and “I Feel the Transition” dosed with a smatter of Oasis and even some Stonsey The Verve on the latter track. The spacey “Let It Scare You” hosts an uncanny Smiths’ sounding guitar about a third of the way through, a delightful surprise. But the break out should-be hit here for me is the immaculate “Ultramarine” with its addictive lurch and a chorus that is all hooky bliss. The band even give us an oh-so-timely low-key anthem for these times, “Come Back to Life.” And, scene.
Just once I’d like to see every indie opinion-leader’s fave band bust a chart. NRBQ go right back to the stone age of modern rock and roll, forming in 1967 and getting their first album released in 1969. 22 albums later, Dragnet is their latest pitch for chart domination. While it’s unlikely to topple this week’s whine-monger from the Lukewarm 100, it’s gonna be a hit with people who like this sort of thing. The signature old time-rock and roll-plus-country and a tinge of jazz sound is back along with another slew of eminently hummable tunes. “Where’s My Pebble?” kicks things off with a Beatles in “I Saw Her Standing There” mode rocking feel. A Beach Boys California sunshine pop sounds puts in an appearance on the clearly Trump era-influenced “You Can’t Change People.” That distinctive Bakersfield guitar sound is all over “I Like Her So Much.” And so on – it’s just the usual NRBQ mastery of so many styles on display here. “Memo Song” goofs on technology but the accordion accompaniment adds a gravity and impact to the effort. “Miss Goody Two Shoes” is a standard Terry Adams jazz vocal vamp, one that appears on nearly every NRBQ release. The band’s cover of “Dragnet” is a reverent, boogie-tinged 1960s vamp, as fans would expect. Then “The Moon and Other Things” is a happy, stroll along in the sunshine pop tune (reminding me of early Chicago) while “That Makes Me a Fool” is cast in a jazzy American songbook style that Mel Torme would ace. Overall I’d say the verdict on Dragnet is guilty – of delivering just what the fans expect.
My chart-busting artists may not dominate the scene but that’s not for lack of trying. Let them climb yours with just a click on the hyper-linked names above.