Thursday, May 24, 2018

Welcome to the Future, man.

It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who reads this site, but Futureman Records has emerged over the last several years as one of the top power pop labels around and they're really killing it in 2018. Fresh off the Matthew Sweet tribute (and with new albums from Gretchen's Wheel, Super 8 and Your Gracious Host's Tom Curless to drop in the weeks to come), they have a pair of excellent albums out now and featured below.

Chris Richards & The Subtractions-Peaks and Valleys. Veteran power popper Chris Richards has been so active this decade with covers albums, compilations, live albums and appearances on other artists' records that it was almost shocking to realize that this is his first proper new album since 2009's Sad Sounds of the Summer. And a welcome return it is, as the man who was once hip enough to get a 7.3 on Pitchfork is back with ten new tracks that are most certainly more peaks than valleys. The peaks include the rocking opener "Half Asleep", the pop perfection of "Just Another Season" and the Raspberries-esque "The Coast is Clear". Other highlights include "The End of Me", "Call Me Out" (which sounds like a mid-80s AOR hit) and an interesting cover of Big Star's "Thirteen" which turns it into a mid-tempo band-backed performance as opposed to the largely acoustic Alex Chilton original. And not to be overlooked are the Subtractions themselves, with Andy Reed now on board in a clear case of Subtraction by addition, and Nick Piunti (who himself has an great-sounding album coming this summer) chiming in with guitar on a couple of tracks.

iTunes



Phil Yates & The Affiliates-Party Music! Yates & Co. follow up their fine 2015 release No Need to Beg with this collection of rollicking power pop that yes, just might be party music (if it's a cool party). The guitars are front and center here, and the hooks and melodies aren't too far behind - "My Favorite Bag", "Triple Fisting" and "Send Him the Bill" are a rocking 1-2-3 punch before the relatively slower-tempo'd "Nothing Happened" gives you a chance to breathe. Reminiscent at times of The Posies and Elvis Costello at others (especially "One Man's Trash") Yates & the Affiliates deliver the dictionary definition of power pop in fine fashion.

iTunes

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Some quick hitters.

Catching up on my music backlog with a few words on some fine new releases.

Smash Palace-Right as Rain EP. Veteran Philly poppers Smash Palace are back with their first new music in nearly four years and it's a welcome return with five tracks of the jangle-rock they've been perfecting for the last 30+ years. Opener "It Happened to Me" is their best track of this decade with "Heart of a Loving Man" and the title track close contenders.

iTunes




Jeremy Fetzer-Wisdom of the Octopus EP. This 3-song EP was released in the fall of 2017 and I've been meaning to getting around to mentioning it here for about 6 months now. Fetzer is a confederate of Reno Bo (who's been releasing some excellent singles of his own lately), and Bo co-wrote "You Should Know by Now", a deliciously melodic tune that serves as the perfect example of his Beatles-meet-Van Dyke Parks pop. The title track and "When Will You Be Home?" aren't too shabby either with the latter being the EP's most baroque.

Free download from Bandcamp



Checkpoint Charley-The Great Jedi Mind Trick EP. Last month I was pleasantly surprised to see Adrian Whitehead back after a 10-year + hiatus, and now Checkpoint Charley is the next long-lost artist from the mid-2000s to return after wondering whether we'd hear from them again. Last heard from in 2005 with the heavily Jellyfish-influenced Songs One Through Twelve, these Tennessee poppers are back with a 4-song EP about the Star Wars universe. And the good news is that they have an Indiegogo crowdfunder for the proper followup to the debut, titled none other than Songs 13-24.

iTunes



Dan Israel-You're Free. Minneapolis singer-songwriter Dan Israel has been going strong for a couple of decades now, and I've featured him on the site before. On album #14 he serves up another winning combination of Tom Petty-influenced heartland rock and Dylanesque folk-rock. Top cuts: the title track, "Gets You Through It", "Someday You'll Say".

iTunes


Wednesday, May 02, 2018

It's Dave Hill's world and we're all just living in it.

Seems like Dave Hill is everywhere these days. His comedy stylings are ubiquitous and if you've watched HBO's Late Night With John Oliver at all over the last few years you've heard Valley Lodge's "Go" from 2013's Use Your Weapons as the show's theme song. And now his all-out aural assault continues with two releases from different projects, both of which are worth your time.

Painted Doll-Painted Doll. Hill loves his different musical projects (going all the way back to Uptown Sinclair, one of my favorite all-time band names) and by looking at the cover of his latest effort you might be forgiven for thinking it's another heavy-metal outing like his band Witch Taint (one of my least-favorite all-time band names), especially when you learn that he's teamed up here with Chris Reifert of "extreme metal" bands such as Autopsy and Death. But Painted Doll is closer in spirit to Hill's power pop band, Valley Lodge, only without the bubblegum. It's a rock album that's more rock than rawk, drawing on Hill and Reifert's love of 60s/70s garage, psychedelic rock and stoner rock, and will appeal to power-poppers as well. Opener "Together Alone" owes a bit to "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" (and perhaps The Smithereens' "Blood and Roses"), while "Hidden Hand" has a bit of a glam rock vibe. Elsewhere both the title track and the catchy "She Talks to Mirrors" channel late 60s British mod rock and "Find Your Mind" is just straight-up raucous rock. And it all closes with the loudest, trippiest cover of "I Put a Spell on You" that you're ever likely to hear.

iTunes



Valley Lodge-Stand b/w Come Back to Bed. And fear not power poppers, Valley Lodge is back as well as Hill & Co. have released a two-sided single from what is believed to be a forthcoming album. "Stand" is another of the Lodge's infectious, almost-danceable tracks in the vein of the aforementioned "Go" while "Come Back to Bed" is straight-ahead, catchy rock.

iTunes



Friday, April 20, 2018

Adrian Whitehead / Dave Sheinin

Adrian Whitehead-Nerd from the Suburbs. I got heavily into indie power pop in the mid-2000s and started this blog shortly thereafter, so a lot of the discs I grew to love in those first few years still stand out in my memory. And when I'm reminded of one of those albums and then realize the artist hasn't released anything new since then I figure to myself that he or she has moved on to other, likely better-paying pursuits and I'm just thankful for the music they did make. So it was truly a "whoa" moment when I noticed that Adrian Whitehead, who had my #3 album of 2008 with One Small Stepping Man, has released his first new album in ten years. Nerd from the Suburbs isn't quite a rerun of the debut, which was heavily Beatlesque. Instead, it's more like Elliott Smith when Smith was at his Beatlesque. "Folie a Deux" (French for "shared delusion" and the title of a great X-Files episode) is a wonderful album-opener and the prime example of this slight shift in sound, driven by acoustic guitar but with an electric solo all in service of a pretty melody. The E.Smith comparison also applies to the darker yet baroque combo of "Blaming the Snake" and "Sigmund Freud" both of which feature trumpet, tuba and trombone. Other standouts include the piano ballad "Shades of Grey", the gloriously melodic "Gilded Cage", and the title track which isn't the autobiography its title implies but an honest plea for love and friendship. Unlike some artists who sound the same even after a decade+ absence, Whitehead has clearly evolved, going from the boyish Beatle-pop of the debut to a richer, more mature set of songs both lyrically and musically.

iTunes



Dave Sheinin-First Thing Tomorrow. In the Adrian Whitehead review above, I spoke of musicians moving on to other pursuits but here's a case of someone more prominent in another field making music. Dave Sheinin is the national baseball writer for the Washington Post (you can read his articles here), and his debut album is one of 2018's best to date. Sheinin gets help from the Myracle Brah's Andy Bopp among others, but these are his songs and they're uniformly good. With its staccato guitars and catchy melody, "Lies" kicks things off with a definite 70s AM radio vibe while "Oh Amelia" boasts a jangly, chiming riff at its center. "Little California" sound as sun-kissed as its title and features backing vocals from Bopp, and "City You Left Behind" sounds like a lost Posies track. Throw in a couple of fine piano ballads ("A Warm February" and "You Love the Sunrise") and First Thing Tomorrow is the rare debut album that sounds like the work of a long-time professional. And it's easily the best album from a sportswriter since J.P. Cregan's Man Overboard.

P.S. The album art looks like it was inspired by the opening credits of The Leftovers, which earns it bonus points in my book.

iTunes

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Monday, April 02, 2018

A pair of old friends.

Today it's a pair of new releases from artists who've been releasing new music almost every year since I started this blog in 2006.

The Well Wishers-A View from Above. Jeff Shelton is back with his ninth Well Wishers full-length (not counting last year's covers album) and ho hum, it's another top-notch collection of jangle pop/rock. What sets it apart from recent Well Wishers albums is that it's a bit more folk-rock oriented, hearkening back to mid-2000s WW albums such as Under the Arrows. You won't notice right away as the rocking "Gravity Waits" opens the proceedings but the acoustic guitars come out for the mid-tempo "In Another Life", the tres jangly "April is Only a Lie" and perhaps the album's best track, "Ways & Means". But fear not, rawkers: there are plenty of loud guitars here on "I Like You Better", "There Goes My Gun" and "I'm Not the Enemy", a track first heard on last year's Trip Wire album with Shelton being a part of that collective. And "The New Fade Out" is a terrific album-closer, 5 1/2 minutes of Shelton at his melodic best.

Bandcamp



Dropkick-Longwave. The boys from Edinburgh are back in town with their annual release (technically the first since 2016 but last year saw an Andrew Taylor solo album which differed in name only) and Longwave is what you've come to know and love from this Scottish band. Opener "Out of Tune" is anything but, and it only takes a matter of seconds for their Teenage Fanclub-inspired pop to take hold of your ears and "I Thought it Was OK" with its dreamy melody is an instant Dropkick classic. And while nobody's going to mistake them for Led Zeppelin, a few of these tunes do rock harder than others - most notably "It's Still Raining" and "Fed Up Thinking of You", both of which retain the band's trademark melodies and harmonies. Their amazing consistency over what is now 15 albums is worthy of note, and even if there's a strong element of predictability to their music, having new Dropkick music fall into your lap or pop up randomly on shuffle is always a welcome thing.

iTunes

Monday, March 12, 2018

Aaron Fox & The Reliables / The Lazy Lies

Aaron Fox & The Reliables-In Transit. An urban legend has it that you replace all your body cells every 7 years, so perhaps Chicago's Aaron Fox needs a full reset before releasing new music as his previous 2 albums came out in 2003 and 2010. Whatever the reason, it's good to have this version of Fox & friends back with In Transit. The jangly "Unpromised Land" recalls the likes of Gin Blossoms and Toad the Wet Sprocket, while "Neverending" would have given The Wallflowers a run for their chart spot in 1996. "No One Knows Me" effectively rocks and "Better Days" channels the Gary Louris-led version of The Jayhawks (but isn't, however, a cover of that band's song of the same name on Smile). A bright collection of Midwestern-influenced power pop, you should be listening to this when you're In Transit (or even at home).

iTunes



The Lazy Lies-Less Talk More Action. With their impeccable pop melodies and boy/girl vocals, Barcelona's The Lazy Lies could be considered a Spanish New Pornographers but their sound is a bit less manic and much more influenced by 60s and early 70s pop. Opener "Flower Garden" might be the grooviest song you hear this year (or in 1966) with its buoyant melody and nifty guitar riff, while Montse Bernad takes lead on "Pinstripe Suit", a fun tune complete with horns in which Montse sings about wowing the boys with some traditionally male attire. Meanwhile, "Spiral Skies" is a Beatlesque gem in the vein of "Penny Lane", "The One About Being Brave" sounds like The Kinks at their most poppy (and isn't a bad Friends episode title), and "Jack & Sophie (Separate Lives)" is a slice of Merseyside life. There isn't a bad track here, and this album is an absolute blast (from the past).

iTunes

Friday, February 23, 2018

The Junior League & Mark Eng.

The Junior League-Eventually is Now. Joe Adragna is back as The Junior League for the first time since 2015's Also Rans, and he delivers another fine collection of jangly roots-pop. As on his past two albums, Adragna is assisted by Minus 5 frontman and R.E.M. sideman Scott McCaughey, who thankfully is recovering from a stroke suffered last fall. And in case you wondered where Adragna is coming from here, the album opens with the six-string bliss of "Teenage Bigstar" which of course sounds like the two bands referenced in the title and speaks to the power of music over the course of one's life. The languid "Say Please and Thank You" recalls latter-day Marshall Crenshaw and "The Wrong Kind of Blue" is positively gorgeous with its strings-and-piano backing and if Roy Orbison were alive today I'd love to hear him cover it. Meanwhile, McCaughey takes the mic on the piano ballad "You Didn't Miss a Thing", and although the general tone of the album is more subdued than previous Junior League releases, the uptempo "I Only Want to Begin Again" hearkens back to Adragna's classic sound. Another gem from the man from the Big Easy. UPDATE: For those of you who need physical media, Kool Kat will have the CD for sale come April.

iTunes



Nick Eng-Nick Eng. On his self-titled debut, Nick Eng sounds more like he's from Reading, England than his hometown of Reno, Nevada with this decidedly retro-sounding collection of 60s-influenced pop. "Reminiscing" starts things off in grand fashion, sounding like a track from an artist who was recording at Abbey Road in 1965 for George Martin when The Beatles were otherwise occupied. Speaking of the moptops, "On Cloud 9" has a real element of the early Fab Four in its DNA, while "Someday Someone" is irrepressibly jaunty (and catchy). And no 1960s-Merseyside-sounding pop album is complete without a story song about some older gent of the neighborhood and "Mr. Greene" fills the bill here. There's not a bad track among the ten on the album, and this is an early front-runner for the year-end list. The 21-year-old Eng may have been born 50+ years too late, but it's nevertheless encouraging to see someone under the age of 40 carry the torch for the sounds of the 60s.

iTunes