Welcome to our sixth annual collection of should-be hit singles gathered from the artists, albums and tunes featured on Poprock Record in the previous year. You’d think after five tries I would have come up with some kind of rock solid science to make these choices. But, no. Still winging it, going with whatever takes my fancy. I mean, I think you’ll see a pattern: catchy guitar hooks, soaring melodies, earwormy compositions, all accomplished in three minutes or less usually. Putting this list together was particularly challenging this year – positively spoilt for choices! My initial list of possible songs had over 200 selections. The hyperlinks below will take you to the original post about each artist as they first appeared on the blog.
So let’s get to it, Poprock Record’s top 50 should-be hit singles for 2021:
This year’s list privileges strong, strong hooks. I’m talking the jangleliscious guitar work from the ever reliable Boys With The Perpetual Nervousness on “I Don’t Mind,” the relentless driving guitar riffs animating White Fang’s “Never Give Up,” or the delicious 1960s roll out kicking off The Vapour Trails’ “That’ll Do It.” Or the pumping, plinky piano and organ cocktail that undergirds James Holt’s killer single “Mystery Girl.” Then there’s the more traditional poprock Brent Seavers, springing the earworm in the chorus of “More Than a Friend.” Still, there’s room for variety on this list, from the tender acoustic Aaron Lee Tasjan ballad “Another Lonely Day,” to the Beach Boys homage in Daisy House’s “Last Wave Home,” to a folk rock duet from Steve Stoeckel and Irene Pena on “Why,” to the striking sonic heartbreak embodied in Richard X. Heyman’s touching “Ransom.”
Truly, this list is just a bit a fun, one more chance for me to shine a light on the artists whose work had me hitting replay in 2021. But I’m sure you might make different choices. Feel free to tell me all about them! Either way, don’t forget to find some way – buying music, attending live shows (when it’s safe!), or taking up those opportunities to interact with them online – to support their bottom line. They may not only be in it for the money, but money does allow them to stay in it.
In between competing Canadian and American Thanksgivings is most of November, a month where nothing much really happens. What better time to shine a little light on some new singles? No time, my friends. Get ready to taste test twenty or so new tunes in between bites of leftover turkey.
There’s something very Bowie about Ward White. His delicate yet forceful delivery defies easy categorization. His new album, The Tender Age, is full of sophisticated tunes but I’m drawn to the more rootsy, almost pub rock “Don’t Let’s Die at the Stop Light.” The organ and lead guitar work are fabulous and the chorus takes a surprising melodic turn. The new Grip Weeds record Dig is a cover album tour-de-force. The band blast through an inspired collection of sixties psych rock classics and then some. But their treatment of The Byrds “Lady Friend” is epic, taking the song to new heights by amping the psych content and nailing the vocal arrangement (adding some Turtles’ ba ba ba’s to good effect). And don’t skimp on getting the deluxe double-album version because disc two has some real killers, like the wild cover of The Monkees “For Pete’s Sake” and the banjo-licious take on the Nightcrawlers’ “Little Black Egg.” Another band working the sixties side of the street pretty hard is The On and Onsand they ace that garage-y yet poppy rock and roll sound with guitars that practically leap from the speakers. The new album is Back for More and you will be, guaranteed. But as a taster, check out “Your Kind of World.” What a fab hooky guitar lead line opener! And the rest is a pretty winning Bryds-meets-Beatles “Rain” era single. The minute I spotted that Tommy Scifres had played with Aaron Lee Tasjan I had a feeling his record would be pretty cool. And it is. The LP is Last Legs, a lovely collection of melody central tuneage, like the mellifluous “Thought You Knew” with its spacey vocals and trippy guitar. Like some very early 1970s Steve Miller Band. But I’m liking “What’s at the Bottom of Your Heart” even more with its retro 1950s swing. How many bands can take two decades off from recording and come back like they’d just slipped out to the store for a pack of smokes? Clearly The Connells can. Steadman’s Wake is their new album and it is a fantastic mélange of Americana and Tom Petty poprock. The whole album is a keeper but I’m presently grooving on “Fading In (Hardly)” with its Billy Bragg song-framing and shiver-inducing, gut-punch of a chorus. Get those lighters ready.
There’s something old and something new about Sydney, Australia band The Hard Ons’ new album, I’m Sorry Sir, That Riff’s Been Taken. Going on 40 years as a musical outfit (with a few times outs) obviously the band is something old. But The Hard Ons 2021 have a brand new lead vocalist, former You Am I singer Tim Rogers, and pretty punchy poprock sound, apparent on the driving “Hold Tight.” Love the band name, love the album title. Boston’s Scrimshanders get labelled with tags like alt country but I don’t get it from listening to “SXMS,” featured on their latest long-player Songs That Never Were. Just check out that rough chord-slashing guitar work and those John Doe vocals. This is rock and roll baby. Ok, maybe tracks like “Restless Heart” have a bit of country in them, but, again, I hear more of the Jersey shore in those twin engine organ and guitar blasts. I totally loved Nashville band *repeat repeat’s 2019 album Glazed with its unique blend of contemporary and retro sounds. Since then they’ve been teasing us with a succession of tasty singles, practically a new album’s worth. The latest is “Trippin’ (I Know I Will)” and it is wonderfully otherworldly with hooky, winsome lead guitar work that frames a lovely little pop song. Chicago’s The Cut-Outs describe their sound as punk-powerpop-rock and roll. Ya, that about captures it, though not on every song. Take “Ordinary Man” from their latest collection Let’s Go! – it’s a late 1960s rocker all the way. Of course, there definitely a heavy dollop of poppy punk ambiance defining the album’s opening cut “Tuesday Night.” I love the manic clapping and the Dave Rave-like vocals. Washington D.C.’s The Buzz have got that spare 1979 guitar sound all over their most recent record Cut Loose! There are so many great songs here but overall I’m really grooving on “Stuck in the Cloud,” a bona fide should-be hit single. There are a load of subtle melodic change ups in this song, with the band regularly altering their attack and deftly layering interesting musical dynamics behind a glam era vocal.
Orlando Florida’s The BellTowers psych their jangle pretty thoroughly throughout Magnetic, both Reel One and Reel Two. The double EP is a whole lot of intensely sibilant guitar work. My recommendation is, start with “Erase Any Doubts.” The guitar is everywhere, hypnotically drawing you in, keeping you focused on it like a great montage sequence from any season one episode of The Monkees. Look I’m not saying it’s an Australia thing but I can’t help but hear a kind of punk rock Paul Kelly vibe embedded in Suburban Urchin’s “4000 Miles Away” from their Born in the Suburbs release. The cut charges along with such fist-waving intensity, you know this would be a dance hall stomper. Milan, Italy’s Radio Days just keep dropping exquisite singles. This time they draw from the British beat group era circa 1965 for the background sonic pallete. There’s an early Mersey feel to the guitar lead line kicking off “Walking Alone” but then the song branches out into a more timeless power pop sound. Buzzard Buzzard Buffalo are a mysterious band that leave a light footprint on the ole interweb. They hail from Manchester Tennessee but sound like they hang in that more famous version of the town. “Love Song for You” is a quirky, endearing bit of lofi pop. It’s a song that comes on in the background and before you know it you’re turning up the volume and hitting repeat. I’ve loved St. Paul Minnesota’s The Persian Leaps for a long time. I own two of their albums, an EP, and handful of singles. So how come I’ve never managed to write about them? Epic coverage fail! Well, let me make up for lost time – get the band’s newest release, Drone Etiquette: it’s great. I mean, check out how that banging guitar opener to “When This Gets Out” is cast against vocals that are so melodically refined, offset by some polite piano shots. Then for something different, there’s “The Company She Keeps” which has such a fab Andy Partridge/XTC chime.
I’ll admit I initially stopped at Växjö, Sweden musician Fredrik Solfors’s site because his band name was so intriguing:School Book Depository. And what’s not to like about a guy with a ‘Bob’ song on every album? Album number three is now out, Bob and the Eastern Beacon of Hope, collecting a host of drip pre-released singles and then some. I’m loving the gentle hooky charm of “Killer in the Mountains,” a carefully crafted bit of poprock portraiture. There are so many delightful details here, from the Owl City meets Good Old War vocals to a captivating musical arrangement. With “Lipstick Queens” Rocket Bureau bolt out of the singles gate with a track that sounds like a mix of some mad off-off-Broadway show and a new wave revival album. They claim to be Wisconsin’s ‘basement-rock and roll-one man-studio band’ but to my ears they are ready to take the stage. The song is from the album Middle Angst, and its got a lot more 1970s guitars and hooky tunes for you. For a while it seemed like the name Andy Boppwas everywhere. “Bopp’s a genius,” they’d say. “Bopp’s got a killer album,” proclaimed the reviews. Who is this guy, said I? Well after a stroll through his latest LP AB, I caught a bad case of ‘reviewer meets genius.’ Everything you’ve heard is true. Just test drive “Uncommon Disaster,” it’s a thing of sonic beauty. It kicks off with some 1966 Beatles rock guitar chords before resolving into a new wave era Kinks kind of number, with some outta-sight background vocals and a bridge to die for. Tacoma Washington’s Vanilla are curio poprock all stars, no genre can stump them. Their most recent collection Sideshow makes my case, with a bit of alt country, old timey pop, XTC-infused new wave and more. But “I Shall Be Re-released” is the standout here for me. Listen closely for those subtle vocal shifts in melody and harmonies, the almost buried retro lead guitar. It’s both familiar and different at the same time. As the world shut down these past few years music collective Orbis Max decided to get some socially distanced jamming going, the results emerging now on The Covid Collaborations 2020-21. There’s a rotating cavalcade of indie starts included here – Danny Wilkerson, Lanny Flowers, Ed Ryan, etc. – as well as great cuts just featuring the essential members of the band. Like “You Sold Tomorrow” with some super ‘woo hoos’ and pumping piano and a Harrisonian sheen to it all.
Track 21 in this monster collection of November tunes is something very Autumn, Chicago indie production legend Andy Reed’s lofi treatment of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Only Living Boy in New York.” I’ve always had a soft spot for Simon’s acoustic-y soft rock numbers but Reed manages to strip the MOR production values out of the original to give the track some added indie allure. The heavenly background vocals are still there, even if the church organ isn’t. Altogether a fresh take on a deep cut classic.
While no alternative artists were forced to dance awkwardly through a background desert motif, here’s hoping that our November singles mediation has spawned some listening pleasure. Click those hyper-linked artist names to signal yes.
I know, you’re too busy to scour the racks for great singles. If only you could find some great albums to kick back with? Something to slip on the old record player and enjoy with a cool drink. Well here at Poprock Record we feel your pain. So we’ve assembled the crack team you see above to vet the very best LPs from throughout the year that was 2020. The kids may be a tad young for martinis but do not doubt their vinyl erudition and exquisite taste. From more than a hundred possibilities they’ve whittled things down to an essential 25 albums that you must possess to say you’ve really experienced the past twelve months of melodic music. Fill your K-Tel Record Selector with these super fantastic long players!
So, let’s get to it – Poprock Record’s 25 must-have LPs for 2020:
Gregory Pepper dominated my listening for 2020 with his outrageously good I Know Why You Cry. The album was his own specially curated re-recordings of tracks originally composed during his year long Song-of-the-Week extravaganza. There’s whimsy, there’s pathos, there’s references to Enya. It’s the kind of poprock that makes my heart burst, a never-fail mood improver. Coming up second this year was the kick-ass second album from The Happy Fits, What Could Be Better. Other than Pepper, I’m hard pressed to suggest anything. This whole album is a killer production that puts the cello at the centre of melodic rock and roll (where it belongs). Here are songs and performances that inspire descriptions like ‘thrilling’ and ‘exciting’. And then there’s the extreme hooky pleasantness of Nite Sobs throughout Do The Sob! An impressive head-bopping good time. And so on. All the records here really pay dividends via repeated listens so carve out some time to enjoy them. The great lost art of an album-long musical vision lives on with these 25 selections.
What?! Another Pepper selection topping the chart. Fear not dear reader, our completely unscientific selection process has not erred here. Hey, I just really like Pepper’s stuff. And he is crazy talented, as is obvious from this stylistically varied and pumped up collection of song snippets, 10 in all amounting to just 15 minutes of music. But what a ride. I mean, just check out the brilliant 17 second track, “Do Sports.” I want more! These other EPs are pretty special too and fabulous for those times when you can barely sit down and squeeze in a quick sherry.
And let’s not forget, Poprock Record’s best compilations for 2020:
2020 tried our patience but, glass half full, it did provide a bit of downtime. That allowed for a lot more album listening than normal and what a treat that turned out to be. And given the impact of 2020 on live music, artists need albums sales more than ever. So let the rewards flow freely from your e-wallet to theirs.
Hard to believe that the Kinks took “Autumn Almanac” to number 3 in the UK back in the fall of 1967. Going against the grain of the emerging psychedelic scene, the song is so laid back, almost anti-commercial. Ultimately, the single kicked off the band’s grand pastoral-romantic period that followed with albums like The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society and Arthur and the Decline of the British Empire. But enough about Ray and company. They’re just the inspiration to launch our own autumn singles almanac, a carefully curated collection of 20 songs to lighten up your fall, ease you in to the autumn, and get you hooked on these hooks!
The Ruen Brothers evoke a distinctive atmosphere on their new single “Saving Me, Saving You,” somewhere spooky, perhaps with fog. But when the titanic vocals cut in there’s no hiding. The spotlight is on and something electric is going on. These guys have got style! It’s a haunting 3 minute mélange of guitars and striking songcraft. Prolific popmaster Greg Pope puts the acoustic guitar to the front of the mix on his new album, Wishing on a Dark Star. It really carries this light, carefully crafted pop gem that appears about two thirds of the way through the album, the aptly titled “Jump Back from the Light.” The hooky ‘whoa-oh’s are just gravy. Chicago garage poppers Gal Gun offer up a literal “Premium” single from their soon to be released new album Critical Hit. The song has a strong Weezer vibe, exhibiting that pleasant mixture of dissonant punk qualities laid over an early 1960s song structure. The b-side (“Oh Oh I Love Her So”) is all that, even more so. Tacoma’s Vanilla change our pace completely with a lovely McCartney-esque “Let’s Start Over Again.” John Lennon used call these sort of tunes ‘granny music’ but I love’em. I’m certainly impressed with the band’s command of different song idioms. I don’t know what ‘indie tinged emo’ is but apparently it is Yeah Is What We Have. So, I guess I love indie tinged emo because their new single “I Could Only” is great. The mix of spare guitar work, percussion and sweet vocals is addictive and endearing.
Speaking of sweet, Declan McKenna burst on the scene as an uber talented charismatic teen boy wonder with his hooky protest song “Brazil” back in 2015. Now entering his twenties he’s still working the adorable seam pretty hard with this new album Zeros. He continues to push the boundaries of his songwriting and performance, turning in a memorable take on a Wings-ian pop tune with “Emily,” among many other fab contributions to the new album (like the Bowie-esque “Key to Life on Earth”). Surf indie pop purveyers Fuzzysurf are back with a new record, Sweet Tooth, and it’s more of the same good synthesis of old and new poprock influences that carried their earlier work. “Do You Like Us Now” has a strong 1960s guitar stamp, with a nice cleaned-up garage vibe. Ready for dancing? Definitely. I first heard Chuck Prophet with the Green on Red recordings but then missed his early solo work, checking in finally with the fantastic Night Surfer LP. Since then, I’ve paid closer attention to his releases. Bobby Fuller Died for Your Sins is a good as it sounds like it will be. And Prophet’s brand new The Land That Time Forget is another winner. “Best Shirt On” is a lovely well-crafted tune with such subtle hooks and an overall feel of mid-1960s low key lushness. Brooklyn’s fuzz pop band Dead Stars grind out a slow burn melodic treat with “Dreams Don’t Come True” from their recent Never Not Here. This one works turned down low or blasted from the car stereo. The band The Ern Malley Affair are almost as mysterious as the fake poetry scam they take their name from. The internet turns up only out-of-date MySpace pages and nary a mention of the group’s work from back in 2009. But apparently they have new material out now and it carries on with their earlier ‘dirty folk’ sound. Words like ‘jaunty’ and gently ‘spirited’ come to mind listening to the delightful “It’s This.” Love the mellow organ and hooky shuffle.
God how I’ve missed Ben Kweller. The guy’s got a way with sneaky earworm tunes that get in your head and you find yourself humming them for days. He’s been pretty skint about new material over the past half decade (his last album was 2014’s Go Fly a Kite) but 2019 saw the release of a few new singles and now a new LP Circuit Boredom seems imminent. If “American Cigarettes” is anything to go by, it’s going to be a very good time. The song’s got his signature cool low-key swagger, bolstered by some nice but oh-so-subtle melodic shots in the chorus. Feel the sway of gentle jangle propelling The Embryos “I Wanna Be Your Sam” from their recent EP SCV3. They sound like The Church or The La’s in very mellow mood and that is totally cool. Sydney, Australia’s The On and Ons so nail the 1966 poprock sound – again – this time on a tight little EP called Menacing Smile. “Don’t Want to Talk About It” particularly exudes a strong Mickey Dolenz/Mike Nesmith vibe. Now if you want a rush of poppy guitar goodness, The Lolas always deliver. “The Wrecking Yard” glides along with a melodic ease aided by lightly ringing guitars and nice harmony vocals. Bodyheat produced a fab self-titled debut EP back in 2015 that contained some really winning tunes like “Talk It Over” and “Poor Girl.” Now a new EP is forthcoming and Indoor Music gets a promising start with a single like “Phonographic Memory,” which reminds a little of The Silencers and a host of other great 1980s indie guitar bands.
Finally some Canadian content. Montreal’s Elephant Stone are the working the psychedelic seam of the sixities revival sound on their fab recent album Hollow, showcased nicely on that album’s first single “Hollow World.” But personally I’m digging their stand-alone election-era single, “American Dream,” with its muted jangle, harmonica and healthy caution about all things U.S.A. in 2020. ‘Gee, Ma, I want to go back to Ontario’ indeed. While they self-describe themselves as farkle wiki pop, when I hit play on Phoenix’s Diners all I heard was capital-F fun. From the light glam guitar to the cheesy fun fair organ, “Big Times” won’t fail to put a great big grin on your face with its Apples in Stereo-like cheekiness. I bought Irene Para’s “I Won’t Back Down” as a cool take on Tom Petty but quickly switched allegiance to the b-side, a Para composition called “Own Sweet Time.” There’s something slightly majestic in how this song builds throughout. A real earworm. Signals Midwest member Maxwell Stern’s solo album Impossible Sum is out and making the charts. Just a taste of single “Water Tower” suggests deservedly so. Here Stern’s punky inclinations (more in evidence on Signals Midwest material) are smoothed out by driving acoustic guitars, reverby lead lines, and punchy yet sweet vocals. And now we end with a bit of a happy ending. I say bit cuz it involves just a quarter of one of the most tragic bands in rock and roll history, Badfinger. Lone survivor Joey Molland has outlived his compatriots to collect his share of the royalties and make what should be a triumphant return to niche poprock love. “Rainy Day Man” is the advance single from Molland’s upcoming album Be True to Yourself and it hits all those Beatles, ELO and Badfinger marks we rightly expect it would. A lovely little slice of expert popcraft.
Almanacs are big things, you can’t necessarily get through them in one sitting. Don’t worry, these 20 original should-be hits from our 20 original should-be stars will be here for your continued consumption throughout the fall season.
Here in the great white north the first August long weekend offers a national statutory holiday but cast in bespoke local themes. Each province does its own thing: British Columbia has ‘BC Day,’ Nova Scotia has ‘Natal Day’ and so on. So to aid this year’s party planning, we’re doing our celebration a little early with this Sunday singles jamboree! And I can clear some of the backlog of great songs in the queue …
Someone put me on to the countryfied poprock magic that is Portland’s Blitzen Trapper. I hastened to my local Mp3 seller and quickly downloaded a bunch of songs from all over their nine album catalogue, committed to writing something about them. Well, that didn’t happen (sorry guys!). But here we are with a new album soon to arrive so now I’m making up for lost time. “Masonic Temple Microdose #1” is the first single from their upcoming LP Holy Smokes Future Jokes and it’s a winning slice of melodic rock and roll in the best Eels or Brendan Benson style. Heading slightly north on the I5 will get us back to a band we have covered in times past, Tacoma’s poptastic Vanilla. This time they take their XTC influences in a decidedly fun country direction with “Easy,” duetting with special guest Jessica Van Horn. This sweet harmony treat is just one of a series of singles released by the group since the start of 2020 (so an album surely can’t be far off). Nashville’s Aaron Lee Tasjan has a new EP out, Found Songs Vol. 1, and it’s definitely up to his usual fantabulously high standards. I love how he can slip in the most innocent musical hook, like the high pitched keyboard hook in “Fake Tatoo,” and voila! – instant earworm affliction. The rest of the EP is pretty solid, with two touching acoustic-heavy tunes, “What a War” and “August is a Blessing.” Meanwhile back in LA, The Reflectors turn up the amps and blast the chords on an ode to early 1980s new wave with “Teenage Hearts.” You could easily party like it was 1979 with these dudes! The song begs to heard live with plenty of room for dancing.
Chatham, Kent’s Pete Molinari has long been cast in the Dylan/folkie milieu, both for his songwriting and vocal style. But his new record Just Like Achilles should blow up any easy generalization about what he is doing musically. Just check out the amazing “I’ll Take You There” with its hat tips to Buddy Holly, California’s 1960s sunshine pop, and the Mavericks. This is a mini masterpiece of a song, effortlessly combining so many dynamic catchy elements. Heading back to the USA, Rookie have that laid back feel so well worn by fellow Chicago-area bands like Twin Peaks, dubbed by some as ‘cosmic country.’ Personally, I hear a more popified The Band going on here. The self-titled debut is now out and it’s a delight, particularly the first single “Sunglasses,” which sounds like an updated 1970s classic FM radio staple. LA’s Theo Katzman is one smooth, smooth operator, with a vocal delivery that could rival Bruno Mars in combining soul and pop. His new album Modern Johnny Sings is a unique mix of acoustic pop and 1970s R&B influences, captured perfectly in the obvious single, “You Could Be President.” This track is a wonderfully executed bit of swing pop and soul jam, sometimes vibing Queen in their more acoustic moments. How is this song not a radio hit already? Malmo, Sweden is the home of a band named Mom and what’s not to like about their chugging blast of guitar and hook-filled choruses on their recent single “Tonight”? Again, 1979 springs to mind with the pop-glam guitar chords, neat keyboard riffs, and lighter-than-air vocal harmonies.
Pete Molinari “I’ll Take You There”
Let’s wrap up with a comeback story. Brooklyn’s The Rabies had a new wavey thing going on circa 1981-3 with a few singles, an EP, and appearances at the legendary CBGBs. But then life happened. Now, practically centuries later, they’re back with a new pair of tunes and it’s like they never left. Actually though, they’ve fattened up their sound in a tasty way, sounding Bob Mould Sugar-ish or even Smithereens-like vocally. “Adderall Girl” has a slight 1950s feel song-structure-wise but the execution is a crisp indie new millennium performance. B-side “You’re the Glue” has a wonderful thumping stomp to the guitar and drums that will get your head banging.
2019 has been a generous year for poprock. So many great songs! And yet here are a few more that I somehow didn’t manage to squeeze in before now.
There is some debate about when Jeff Whalen’s amazing solo album 10 More Super Rock Hits was released. Some say 2018, others 2019. Whatever. I have to showcase something from this very special album. Hard to choose just one song but I’ve settled on “Don’t Give Up” with its super sweet Partridge Family poprock hookiness. Whalen is a master of styles and here he nails the 1970s AM melody-to-the front pop sound. Fans of this year’s Brothers Steve album will also love this one! Portsmouth UK’s Lost Ships offer up some serious jangle with “Drug Store” from their recent EP All of the Pieces. A lot of reviewers link the sound to early Teenage Fanclub but I hear a bit of early The Lilac Time sweetness too. Cudas hail from Cape Town, South Africa and so far have released the double-sided single “TV is Cool Again”/“Kids Want Hits” – but what a release! I love the guitars and the slightly ominous melody lines in the former while the latter nails a Ramones-as-hit-makers sound with its inventive use of synth and Cheap Trick sounding enunciation of ‘tonight’ in the chorus. All this bodes very well for some future album release!
Jeff Whalen – Don’t Give Up
I love the Paste magazine tag line on their review of the Toronto janglers Ducks UnlimitedEP Get Bleak: “The Toronto quartet writes lilting, throwback jangle-pop for the isolated and the underemployed.” While many commentators highlight the anomie embedded in the songs, I hear a pretty sweet and distinctive jangle coming out of “Anhedonia” that makes my heart swell! “Gleaming Spires” is also pretty fresh and sprightly IMHO. When I think of Milwaukee I think of socialist mayors and Happy Days and beer. Now I can add Trolleyto that list. “I’ll Never Tell” has that Revolver-era Beatles vibe if The Byrds had recorded it. It’s the teaser single from the band’s fifth long-player, The Carnival Of Grey and White, to be released in 2020. At long last, a new record emerged from Army Navy late this year, also suggesting a future album release. “Seismic” is lovely low key number, laid over top of a basic acoustic guitar and delicately adorned with a bit of synth and a whispery vocal style. I can’t wait for more.
I could have sworn The SmartHearts were from the UK. Something about their brash punky yet melodic style of rock and roll. But they hail from Philadelphia. Vocally they remind me of Titus Andronicus, with perhaps a bit of the Clash on back up. And then there’s “Man from the Company,” which exudes a bit of mid-1960s pop sensibility, particularly on guitar, while melding it with a more punk vocal delivery. The Safesreturned in 2019 with a song that put together a lot of interesting pieces together in unusual ways. “Baggage Claim” mixes keyboards and acoustic instruments and voices into a winning, distinctive combo. Tacoma’s Vanilla released a few new singles this year. I was particularly taken with the XTC-ish “Treefort.” Seriously, this could easily be mistaken for a Colin Moulding outtake. Winning stuff, obviously.
With 2020 within sight, let’s honour these 2019 winning singles with a visit from the money store. Just click on their highlighted names above.
Continuing on a summer theme, seasonal snacking has a musical side too where we seek out a bit of crunch, the tang of a few spicy licks, a selection of sweet treats, and something refreshing to wash it all down. This post delivers a variety of summer-proofed hooks in a sonic ‘bits and bites’-like format. Dip in anywhere.
America’s Pacific Northwest appears to be home to a host of super poprock talent of late, including Tacoma’s Vanilla. The band’s recent Mystik Knights of Tacoma is a testament to the abiding freshness of melody-driven rock and roll, at times channeling Macca or 10cc on tunes like “On a Night Like This,” or midperiod XTC on “Let’s Call it a Day,” or even the Everly Brothers on “Be Not Coy,” or ELO on “Bankside.” The album is flawlessly performed, smooth but not slick. And while you’re here, it pays to reach back in Vanilla’s catalogue for “Twilight” from 2015’s Vanilla 2.0, a real treat!
Super 8 put me on to Space Dingus, labelmates on Subjangle records, and what a great recommendation it was. This is a band with an original distillation of 1960s sounds going on, working in a variety of styles and tempos. “Ronald Raygun” sets the tone right out the gate with hooky bass runs, trebly rhythm guitar, and slightly punky vocals. But then the group effortlessly shift to a spacy jazz Classics IV vibe on “Check the Exits.” On the whole, the album has a rockin’ party feel on tracks like “Haunted Shoes,” “Intrepid,” and “Honey Teeth.” Clearly, this would be amazing live band to see! And then “George” changes the pace again, slowing things down into an electric folky rumination. But the album highlight for me is a song that sounds like a great lost Monkees cut, “Parchment Squire, Paper Knight.” Killer!
I had the car iTunes on shuffle and a sound came out of the speakers that was pure pop rock bliss: Rachael Gordon’s cover of Paul Collin’s “Rock and Roll Girl.” At some point I had picked up her 1999 compilation of the same name which collected various EPs and one-off singles together. But clearly I didn’t really give it a serious listen. Now I had it on maximum repeat! So many great tunes. Highlights for me include her cover of Moe Berg’s “Man’s Best Friend” (sounding like a female Eytan Mirsky – or is he a male Rachael Gordon?), “Goodbye to You,” “Fun at Your House,” the Beatlesque “And Sometimes,” and an inspired cover of the Plimsouls’ “When You Find Out.” Her 2004 release Coming of Spring is also top quality, channeling Nick Lowe on cuts like “Where Are You Tonight,” the Go Go’s and Bangles on “Ariel” and the remake of her own “Fun at Your House,” or folk rock on “Dresden Station.” But save time for the closer, “The Farewell Song,” a galloping, good-time melodic romp. Why haven’t we heard more music from Rachael Gordon? Life’s not fair.Rock and Roll GirlAnd Sometimes
When Ed Ryan suggests something to me, I run to check it out. He’s a distinguished artist in his own right and has great taste in music. So when he mentioned I’d probably like Jenny and Johnny, I knew it was going to be special. But how special? I was not prepared for how good this was going to be. I’m Having Fun Now is the product of a collaboration between Rilo Kiley’s Jenny Lewis and her then boyfriend, Johnathon Rice. The record rocks off to a great start with “Scissor Runner,” a track that sounds like it was left off the Plimsouls’ first album. “My Pet Snakes” alternates J and J’s vocals to good effect in a swinging, hooky number. “Switchblade” goes a bit more country all Jayhawks/Blue Rodeo-like. And so on. There’s not a bum track on the album. Personally, I love “Animal,” “New Yorker Cartoon,” and “Straight Edge of the Blade,” but save my greatest appreciation for the delightfully earwormy “Just Like Zeus.” Enjoy this, because the break up probably means there won’t be any more.Scissor RunnerJust Like Zeus