Benji Tranter, Canadian Invasion, Eytan Mirsky, Good Wilson, Hearts Apart, K. Campbell, Kurt Lanham, Mansfield, Odds, Paint Fumes, Patty and the Ohs, Randy Klawon, Roller Disco Combo, Skoopski, Teenage Tom Petties, The Krayolas, The Low Spirits, The McCharmlys, The Menzingers, Thomas Charlie Pederson, Zev
Sunshine and blooming buds can no longer be contained. Time to spring a new load poppy rock and roll singles on you. Whether you’re clearing the garden or chasing new love right now, you’ll need some tunes. Here’s your first instalment of 21 seasonally-approved spring singles.
Let’s get started with what one wag called the ‘savage pop’ of North Carolina’s Paint Fumes on “Starting Over.” It’s got a rough and ready veneer hiding more than a glimmer of pop goodness. These are rock and roll hooks par excellence. And there’s more of the good same all over the band’s just released fourth album Real Romancer. From the delightful surprise file, a new single from Vancouver’s Odds. The band broke out big in the 1990s, then went on hiatus for a while, returning post-2007 with a series of unjustly over-looked new releases. The latest single “Crash the Time Machine” sounds like vintage Odds, all striking lead guitar lines and deadpan Northey vocals. Time to let your Odds flag fly, the band website promises a whole new album soon. It’s funny how labels stick. Scranton’s The Menzingers are regularly described as a punk band but you’d be hard pressed to single out the punk element of their new single “Bad Actors.” Ok, maybe it’s there in the vocal delivery but, on the whole, this new single is just solid poprock, the melody guiding the rocking backdrop into solid potential audience sing-along territory. How does one capture what Eytan Mirsky is? Is he just a magisterial vocalist? Seriously, I could listen to this guy sing the New York Times crossword. Lately he’s proven to be a crack song-writing collaborator too, taking lyrics from friends and acquaintances and cooking up up dynamite material like “Lost in the Jet Stream.” In some ways it’s signature Mirksy – those organ trills! But the guitar work is pretty special too. Vienna’s Good Wilson offer us some very jazzy guitar vibes on “Undecided Changes.” Think Steely Dan in space mode. Or a bit like The School Book Depository and The Golden Seals.
My blogging friend Eclectic Music Lover introduced me to Copenhagen’s Thomas Charlie Pederson, specifically “Yesterdays and Silly Ways” from his latest LP Employees Must Wash Hands. He describes the sound as chamber pop (read EML’s detailed breakdown of the album here) and that nails it, the song is very like The Zombies on tracks like “Care of Cell 44” from Odyssey and Oracle. Philadelphia’s Canadian Invasion are hiding in plain sight, releasing music with seeming impunity. Perhaps they hope to seduce the American empire from within with song? Their latest Your Favorite Lies EP might just do that with killer tracks like “Catch a Falling Knife.” Who marries an addictive violin solo and echoes of FOW’s song-writing? Geniuses, that’s who. Speaking of genius marriages, everybody’s fave Beatlemaniac TexMex combo The Krayolas have a bit of old and new out on their new EP King of Pop. There’s a great cover of The Monkees (“Pleasant Valley Sunday”), some totally new material, and a remix of “Catherine,” originally featured on 2008’s La Conquistadora. The latter is pretty stunning, a perfect distillation of all that this great band can do and has done over its decades-long history. Just catching “In Flames” from Roller Disco Combo on my phone shuffle I had to stop short, thinking it was a new single from Farrah. No joy on the Farrah reunion but plenty of smiles for RDC’s new EP The Sun After the Rain. Cleveland music legend Randy Klawon has cooked up a magic bit of 45rpm popcraft on “Marlo Maybe,” with help from former Raspberries drummer Jim Bonfanti. The style reminds me of tracks like Paul Davis’ early 1980s hit “65 Love Affair” in that it reinvents nostalgic pop motifs for a new era.
Every since J.D. McPherson relaunched the neo-1950s sound for a new millennium a host of acts have been trying to tread the same boards. But few nail the atmosphere quite like The McCharmlys. “Love Me Too” breaks out of the speaker like the soundtrack to a classic 1950s movie montage sequence. The fine balance between rapier-quick lead guitar lines and the band’s commanding lead vocalist gives this tune its particular charge of excitement. This is doo wop on steroids, with a dab of Debbie Harry and Amy Macdonald thrown in. We’ve featured Floridian guitar virtuoso Kurt Lanham and his inventive covers of classic pop hits a few times (“I Want To Hold Your Hand,” “Jenny 867-5309”) but he also writes and sings on his own original material. Like “Pallas” from last year’s LP Lanham. The song has got a languid bit of swing in the playing, buffeting the melodic vocal lines and varied guitar tones. Mellow but definitely ear-wormy. Back to Denmark for a moment, it was such a hard choice to decide on a cut from Mansfield’s repertoire. Both “Tell It Like It Is” and “Please, Shine a Light” from their 2020 debut album Star Crossed Lovers are a special blend of Merseybeat and Oasis influences but “Chasing After You” from their new EP Come Rain or Shine brings a decidedly Jake Bugg swagger into the mix. How about a dose of both? Today’s artists like to spread themselves over multiple projects, undoubtedly to satisfy their creativity and increase the chances that something will land with the public. See Benji Tranter’s resume for exhibit A. He’s a member of psych-folk group The All Night Chemist and power pop trio Ski Lift while also a collaborator with Show Boy. His recent solo effort Songs to Make You Happy is a definite departure from his group work, going for a more full-on folk effect. I really get a sense of Elliott Smith déjà vu from “Speed Camera.” Husband and wife duo Skoopski add to their continuing inventory of inventive stand-alone singles with “Double.” The song shifts from a stark, stripped-down, almost off-Broadway feel to a more full blown indie workout. I love the lead guitar tone that threads its way through the tune.
Live fast, die young might sound romantic to aspiring artists but the reality is just loss, for a whole lot of people. What might have been won’t be. Zev was an up-and-coming indie artist still finding his own unique sound when he died in a car accident earlier this year at just 16. But just listen to his promise. On “Parachute” he owns a Velvet Underground groove like he’s camped out at Lexington Avenue and 125th Street. It’s got a touch of psychedelia in the chorus and some prophetic lyrics:
‘that young boy with no parachute looks a lot like me’
‘that young boy’s gonna die’
‘someone save him’
Still, my fave from his handful of songs is “4th of July.” What a neat slice of cool guitar pop. It’s hard not hear a Ben Kweller influence here. Vicenza, Italy’s Hearts Apart shift between spare verses and a combustable poprock sound in the choruses of “You’re All Around.” They’re clearly building up to something, an album perchance? There is something going on in Rochester, New York these days. The range of bands putting out amazing sixties inspired new material is incredible. The Low Spirits have got the garage angle covered. It’s like the Leaves or the Troggs time-travelled and got into a modern studio to cut a few tunes. “Outta Sight” is so the 1966 garage rock brief. What a party band these guys must be. Speaking of partying, the Teenage Tom Petties are back with a great double-sided single. A-side is “Posters” and I like it. But I like the B-side more, “My First Beer.” It’s strummy and, as the band say “95 seconds of pure first-beer-buzz, all climaxing in a messy-as-hell solo before passing out in the garden.” Really, couldn’t have summed it better. Heading now to the American Pacific northwest we pull a few tracks from Patty and Oh’s debut album Out of Everything. The record’s first single “Useless Love” is pretty cool. Like Jonathan Richman if he’d focused on getting a hit single. But I’m skipping over that for “Heard Some Kind of Light.” I love the computer-ish keyboard work. It’s got a sprightly pop feel, yet with some eclectic David Byrne notes. B-side? I’d choose “New Flavor of Gum.” It’s great guitar pop elevated with endearing keyboard tones and layered background vocals.
I was going to call a wrap on this instalment of spring singles sampling with K. Campbell’s recent song “Smoke.” And it is a great track. But then I stumbled across Campbell’s even more recent release “Neil and Joni” and I had to shift gears. Two iconic Canadian songsters celebrated in one song? What’s not to love? And the additional accent vocals here from Mandy Kim Clinton really add something consequential.
Spring singles are a thing and this is just phase one. Return here for more seasonally-attuned songs soon.
Top image courtesy Mark Amsterdam Flikr collection: ‘Citroen car dealer brochure 1963’