Friday, November 17, 2017

Dave Caruso-Buddha Pesto Manifesto.

Dave Caruso returns to the (virtual) airwaves with the dad-joke-titled Buddha Pesto Manifesto, after having first caught my attention with his Elizabeth Parker EP back in 2009. Caruso has a slick pop sound informed by Elvis Costello, Squeeze, and of course The Beatles and he puts those influences to good use in "Boomer, Jenna & Lennie" (which also reminds me of Mark Bacino), "Hanging With You" (which could be a Beatles '65 outtake), and "God's Green Acre" (a lovely chamber-pop ballad). Elsewhere, Caruso's gift for Costello-like wordplay comes to the fore with "Punctuating Shatner", in which the verbal tics of Jeff Goldblum and William Shatner are a metaphor for lovers with communication issues. But Caruso's appeal on this album can be summed up by the title of one of its better tracks, "The Girl Who Checks All the Boxes", as he checks all the boxes when it comes to fans of smart, melodic adult pop.

CD Baby (preview all tracks)

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Rock'n'Roll Tuesday.

Today we feature a couple of albums that lean to the more rocking side of power pop.

Brian Lisik & The Unfortunates-We're Sorry... I've had this Akron band on my radar since Brian Lisik's solo album in 2012 and with We're Sorry... Lisik & The Unfortunates have released their most realized collection of tunes. In fact this album may be the Replacements record you've been waiting for since Pleased to Meet Me (or at least Don't Tell a Soul). From its title (which recalls Sorry Ma...) to its shambolic-but-melodic sound, 'Mats fans and fans of rocking power pop in general will enjoy this album. "Don't Like Nobody" captures the Westerbergian outlook on life, while the gender-bending "Bye Bi Love" might be the spiritual successor to "Androgynous". Elsewhere, "Heart a Hand" recalls Westerberg's gift for metaphor and wordplay and "Indescribable" is a smoky barroom ballad in the vein of "Here Comes a Regular". Now all they need is a drunken appearance on Saturday Night Live.


The Brixton Riot-Close Counts. The Brixton Riot are back with their first new album in 5 1/2 years, and it's like they never left as these Jersey rockers give us another slice of straight-up, no-chaser power pop. "Can't Stop Now" is an irresistible opener with a nifty guitar hook/riff, "Hector Quasar" is another powerful gem, and everyone's favorite ex-Beatle gets his lament on "The Ballad of Pete Best" (spoiler alert: it's not a ballad, musically). Other standouts include "Maybe Tomorrow", featuring some fine backing vocals from Alejandra Rodriguez and "Little Spark", a nostalgic look back at old ways of listening to music which middle-agers like myself should know better to resist but can't.


Tuesday, November 07, 2017

The Red Button-Now it's All This!

One of the best things to happen to power pop in the last 10 years was Seth Swirsky and Mike Ruekberg, both accomplished solo artists, joining forces to form The Red Button. Their 2007 debut, She's About to Cross My Mind, was a brilliant take on the Beatles and swinging 60's London that wasn't a shameless Rutles-like imitation. It topped my year-end list and several others, and although their 2011 followup, As Far as Yesterday Goes (which added a 70s singer-songwriter sensibility to the mix), wasn't quite as brilliant it was still one of the best records released that year.

10 years later, Swirsky and Ruekberg have decided to commemorate their partnership by releasing Now it's All This!*, a 2-disc compilation that consists of those two full-length albums on disc one, and a second disc that features an EP of 6 new songs and 4 additional "unplugged" (I use the quotation marks because they don't sound that unplugged) versions of tracks from the first two albums. Obviously of particular interest here are the six new tracks. "Can't Let Candy Go" opens things much as "Cruel Girl" and "Stuck in the Middle" opened the first two albums, a Ruekberg raver that draws on Hard Day's Night-era Beatles. His "Behind a Rainbow" follows with what might be the EP's best track, a tale of mismatched lovers with a buoyant melody and chorus. Swirsky's "Tell Me it's Over" is another gem, a midtempo number with Rickenbacker that would have fit in perfectly on the second album.

The second half of the EP commences with "Tracy's Party", 2:08 of early Beatles-inspired Ruekberg rocking followed by Swirsky's gorgeous "Solitude Saturday", a ballad that owes as much to Brian Wilson as it does the Fab Four. And as on the two albums the closer finds them harmonizing together, this time on the jangly title track. Obviously if you have the first two albums you should just go ahead and individually purchase the new tracks, unless of course you want their full output in one CD collection. And for those who have been under a rock the last 10 years or just started getting into power pop, this is a collection that's not optional.

*The title is cleverly an apparent reference to the aformentioned Rutles, specifically Ron Nasty's comment on the brouhaha that resulted from Nasty stating the Rutles were bigger than Jesus.


Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Bret Bingham-The Well Curve.

California's Bret Bingham has released a few singles over the last couple of years which I've enjoyed, but I don't normally review singles on this site, especially of artists I've never featured before. But now he's released The Well Curve, a full-length which builds on the promise of those singles and makes for an impressive proper debut. Bingham draws from The Beatles, Queen and Jellyfish, the latter a notable influence on the baroque, piano-based opener "Nothing". "Break You" is an enjoyable pop confection while "Goodbye to Everyone" is a languid, Lennon-esque number. Elsewhere, "Close to You" (not a Carpenters cover) is a pretty ballad with strings, "Scheme" features a power pop sound with a catchy melody, and Bingham saves the album's best track for the ninth position with "My Angel", a bright rocker with an earmworm chorus. The album closes with the stately piano ballad "Amen", and "amen" is what you'll be saying after giving this one a listen.


Monday, October 30, 2017

Chris Lund-Great Event Syndrome.

As 1/2 of Seattle's Lund Bros, Chris Lund along with brother Sean released several albums during the previous decade, the last of which (Songbook IV) was one of the 2008's best. After a long absence, Chris is back solo with what could be one of 2017's best. Lund wears his influences on his sleeve, as well as on his album cover which finds him posing in front of a Sgt. Pepper's poster. It's Big Star that's the touchstone on the rocking opener "Tell Me" and the catchy "700 MPH", but it's both the slightly trippy "The Path" and the jangly "Glimpse" which bear the influence of the Fab Four. Elsewhere, "Remember the Daze" channels early 80s Cheap Trick, and "What's Her Name" is another Beatlesque beauty. Lund's not afraid to change things up in the second half of the album - "Girl Done Wrong" is a regular blues, "Fall on Me Rain" has a prog rock feel to it, and "Fare Well" borders on punk rock and features some choice guitar work. With an album whose first 7-8 tracks are as good as anything released lately, Chris Lund's return is a Great Event.

iTunes | Kool Kat

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Brian Jay Cline-Hang Ups (& singles)

I like to think I keep on top of the latest in new power pop, religiously checking the daily releases from CD Baby, Bandcamp and elsewhere, and poring over lists of what's added to Spotify, etc. But I just haven't been able to keep up with Brian Jay Cline this year. Having already released Writer's Block around the new year (even though according to Amazon and iTunes it wasn't released until August), Cline has put out a series of singles this year and another full-length. And while I was searching for links to include moments before beginning this post, I came across still another single he released last month of which I was unaware. Since Writer's Block kicked this all off, I'm viewing that title as either being extremely ironic or something Cline has overcome in a big way.

Anyway, it's Hang Ups that I want to concentrate on here, as Cline's rootsy pop a la Marshall Crenshaw, Walter Clevenger and Bill Lloyd is in fine form again. Hang Ups plugs in to the stresses of life in 2017, with "Monday" and "21st Century Nervous Breakdown" appreciating how hard it is to just get out of bed and start the week these days. But the real highlight here is "Wall (You're Gonna Pay for It)", which takes one of the 2016 election's hoariest cliches and applies it as a metaphor for dealing with an ex. It's not only one of Cline's most clever lyrics, it's one of his catchiest tunes in a deep catalog of catchy. Other standouts include the country shuffle of "Ride" and the upbeat-despite-its-title "Low Winter Sun".

But wait - there's more. I referred to his various singles, and they're all pretty good. There's the rocking "I Get You"; the (possibly) autobiographical "Latch Key Kid"; "The Ballad of Rosetta Stone"; "Never Saw it Coming" (which does channel Crenshaw); and the one I just stumbled upon, "She Idles Wild", which on first listen seems a moody departure that almost recalls Chris Isaak. And there's probably one more that come out while I was composing this post.

Hang Ups on iTunes

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Successful Failures-Ichor of Nettle.

Wrap him for shroud in a petal. / Embalm him with ichor of nettle.

— Robert Frost, Departmental, 1936

With a name drawn from a Jack London short story and an album whose title refers to the Robert Frost passage above, New Jersey's The Successful Failures do have a literary bent. And on their latest, they manage to work up another collection of three-chord pop-and-roll that plays as well in intellectual circles as it does on the car radio with the top rolled down. For the higher-minded, you have the album title, and tracks such as "The Ballad of Julio Cuellar", which draws on this real-life story and a paean to legendary Texan Sam Houston. Then you have the philosophical musings of "When Did Everybody Grow Up?" and "The Shit That Weighs You Down", the former being a power popping rocker and the latter a rootsy stomp. And finally you have the regular guys from the Northeast who know there's "No Good Way" to travel from Boston to Philly so they can sing their "PA Fight Song". It's all here from power pop to classic rock to Americana to roots rock. They're The Successful Failures, and they'd have it no other way.