Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Mid-July Roundup.

Andrew Taylor-From the Outside Looking In. Dropkick frontman Andrew Taylor has been accumulating a collection of songs over the last 15 years that he hadn't recorded with his band, and he decided to play and record them completely by himself. Interestingly enough though, the end result sounds a lot like Dropkick, which is a good thing. This means it's another fine collection of top-shelf jangle pop that Taylor and his mates have been known for over the years that's found the golden mean between Teenage Fanclub and Matthew Sweet. Standout tracks here include "I Saw Through You" (with it's "you-ooh-ooh" chorus), the more rocking "Someone", and the album's catchiest track, "Who We Really Are", which reminds me of pre-Hotel California Eagles. So it's Dropkick without the Dropkick, or something like that.

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Various Artists-Songs, Bond Songs. Andrew Curry, the maestro of themed power pop compilations, is at it again. After his 70s lite rock opus that broke the rules against compilations and topped my 2013 list and 2014's followup covering the "second British invasion" of the 80s, his latest project features the songs of the James Bond movie franchise. As with the other two comps, Curry has enlisted a who's-who of indie power pop and the results are a blast. After Lannie Flowers gets you in the mood with the famous Bond theme, you're off an adventure that will leave you stirred, if not shaken. With such a variety of songs and artists involved (26 of each), everyone's bound to have their personal favorites, and mine here are Wyatt Funderburk's groovy take on "The Look of Love", Ryan Hamilton's "We Have All the Time in the World", Cirrone's "The Living Daylights" and Look Park (Chris Collingwood of Fountains of Wayne) with "The World is Not Enough". Make sure you take advantage of your license to listen below.

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The Glad Machine-The Glad Machine. The Glad Machine hails from western Massachusetts, and their self-titled debut hits all the classic power pop sweet spots. Reminiscent of bands like The Shazam, The Tories and The Cautions, TGM starts things off with "Homecoming" where "it's 1985 here every day", and follows it with "Wake Up, Girl", more classic power pop with a killer chorus. Meanwhile, "I Wanna Drive" recalls Jellyfish in their less-baroque moments, "87 Highland Avenue" is a well-executed power ballad, and the melodic closer "Cake" is the icing on top, so to speak. Not a bad track in the lot, and it's a welcome return to what power pop sounded like in the 80s and 90s.

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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Late June Roundup.

Plasticsoul-Therapy. It's been a long wait, and while there have been various new tracks included on compilations in the interim, Steven Eric Wilson - a/k/a Plasticsoul - has finally released the followup to 2009's Peacock Swagger, my #1 album of that year. It's a lot to live up to but thankfully Therapy is a worthy successor. Wilson produces a somewhat more sophisticated brand of power pop than the typical three-chords-and-a-hook band with influences in the vein of John Lennon, Michael Penn and Jon Brion. After opening with the lovely, languid "My Heavy Soul", the rocking title track kicks in, complete with an Elvis Costello-esque snarling vocal and a galloping melody. Speaking of Elvis C, "All Died Pretty" would have fit in nicely on Armed Forces, while "In Her Raincoat" recalls Cheap Trick in their more Beatlesque moments. Elsewhere, the album rocks more than previous Plasticsoul releases with the densely-produced "Come Down from Your Raincloud", the swirling psychedelia of "The King of Hash" and the revved-up "Monkey on a Stick". And the closer "Biff Bang Pow" sounds just as you'd expect, proving that good music really is the best Therapy.

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Cliff Hillis-Many Happy Returns EP. Death, taxes, and a wonderfully melodic new release from Cliff Hillis are life's three certainties. After his last full-length a few years back Hillis has been going the EP route, with Many Happy Returns marking his third straight which is just fine by me, getting 5-6 new tracks every year rather than waiting 2-3 years for 10-12. The highlights this time are the straight-ahead power pop of "Time an Evangelist", the whimsical title track which could have come off a Seth Swirsky/Red Button album, and "With All the World", a fine midtempo number that sounds like music made by a real adult. But really, all six tracks are great; even the one titled "Superfluous" is anything but.

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The Brigadier-Wash Away the Day. Another repeat artist to these pages is Matt Williams, known to us as The Brigadier. Wash Away the Day is his first new album in four years, and it's a welcome return to the Beach Boys-meets-XTC sunny British pop we've grown accustomed to from previous releases. The buoyant "I Know You're the One for Me Baby" fits that description to a T, and "Rainy Day Friend" throws in enough minor key curves to make it one of his all-time best tracks. Meanwhile, "Feels Like Something" rocks harder than your typical Brigadier number while the breezy "Keep Your Ego Down" will take you back to the 70s. This might be The Brigadier's best yet, and frankly I think he's overdue for a promotion to Major General.

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Friday, June 09, 2017

Early June Roundup.

Marble Party-Sometimes a Great Ocean. San Francisco's Marble Party returns with the followup to the excellent Plush, which finished #11 on my 2014 year-end list. Aside from their strong pun game with the title, they back up the promise of Plush with another collection of diverse power pop. "Brooklyn Battles Winter" sounds like a slightly revved-up Shins song, "Shotgun Superman" starts off like a Ben Folds piano number only to morph into something off Wilco's Summerteeth, and "Coaster" incorporates horns and a bit of a 70s R&B feel. Elsewhere, "60 Cycle" channels The Beatles, complete with sitar, the 80s-rock-influenced "S.A.M." piles on the synths, and "Lilies of Coldwater" brings Jellyfish to mind. Another tour-de-force from these pop/rockers which should have another spot in my year-end top 20.

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Stingy Brim-Stingy Brim EP. Stingy Brim is New Zealand's Andrew Thorne, and his debut EP is three tracks (plus a bonus) of classic Cheap Trick-styled power pop. "Gun Monkey" kicks things off in rocking fashion, "Made Up" is the most purely melodic track here and its little piano fill really makes it special, while "Rising Sun" takes a back seat to neither of the first two. I see why "Rolling Back" was added as a bonus track, as its psych-folk doesn't quite jibe with the others but it's an interesting track nonetheless. Hopefully Thorne won't be so "stingy" and will follow this up with a full-length.

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The Loved-Back to Me EP. Portland's The Loved are back with another EP on the heels of last year's self-titled debut, and it's three more tracks of their signature "three chords and the truth" sound. The title track rocks with melody and abandon, the main riff in "Run Away" recalls classic Oasis/Blur-styled britpop, and "Cruelest Month of the Year" incorporates a "Bo Diddley"-style backbeat into a languid mid-tempo ballad.

Bandcamp

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Late May Roundup.

A quick look at some quality new releases:

Ruby Free-Shades. Maple Mars' Rick Hromdaka teams up again with Lisa Cavaliere (his wife) as Ruby Free, and the result is another wonderful laid-back album of 70s-inspired husband & wife pop. Highlights here are the guitar pop of "Take a Ride", the psychedelic shuffle of "Walking Along", the Paul-and-Linda inspired "Say Goodnight" and a note-perfect cover of The Carpenters' "Superstar". An album with great melodies - and charm. One of 2017's best.

iTunes | Kool Kat



The Mike Benign Compulsion-Kid. Our favorite Milwaukee power poppers are back again with a concept album of sorts about childhood and growing up, complete with the Let it Be-styled cover with photos of the band as youngsters. It's another collection of top-notch Squeeze-meets-Elvis Costello pop with standout tracks "Gadfly", "Kid" (with its memorable hook), and the rocking "The Best Years of Our Lives". And keep listening through - the 10th track, "Generations", might be the best here, sounding like a lost early-80s hit.

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Pasadena 68/Dakota Shakedown-Good Night Air. Ex-High on Stress frontman Nick Leet's Pasadena 68 has once again teamed up with friend and former 90's bandmate Mike Hjelden's Dakota Shakedown for another split album. DS gets the first five tracks, and P68 the last five and despite being a split LP the bands' similar Replacements-rock sensibilities make for a seamless experience. DS' "Hurry Up and Wait", with its Westerbergian mix of yearning and fire, is their standout here, while P68's rootsy, laid-back "Peace Garden State" is a gem as well.

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Party Battleship-Cake + Flames. The New Pornographers have a new album out, and as always it's worth picking up. However, if you want an American version of them there's another male/female-fronted supergroup of sorts which collects some of the best power poppers of Charlotte, NC. Shalini Morris (Kissyfish, Vinyl Devotion, Mitch Easter), Donnie Merritt (Lodestar, Mark Crozer and the Rels), John Morris (Tyre Fyre, Electrolux, Snagglepuss) and Adam Roth (Bellglide, The Catch Fire, Laburnum) join forces here for a rocking collection of driving pop tunes. The ones here to catch are their opening "Theme Song", "Almost Overton", and the Marshall Crenshaw-esque "The Fifth Season", but they're all pretty good. Party on!

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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Quick singles update.

As I've noted on many occasions, I don't normally review singles. But as I've also done on others, when artists of note have singles out I'll make an exception.

Bryan Estepa-Rattled and Rolled. It's been over 10 years since Estepa had Michael Carpenter produced his outstanding debut album All the Bells and Whistles, and the two got together last month, jammed a bit and came up with this single in a day. It's an excellent midtempo tune that will appeal to both, and proceeds go to The Heart Foundation.

Bandcamp



Lannie Flowers-Kiss a Memory b/w Everything a Man Could Want. We haven't gotten new music from Lannie Flowers in quite a while - his last release was 2012's New Songs Old Stories, but that itself consisted of full-length versions of several of the snippets that made up his 36-song Same Old Story medley. So it's great to hear these two new tracks, and they're vintage Flowers which means classic power pop melodies with a bit of a Texas twang.

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Radio Days-I'm in Love With You, Haruka. Italy's Radio Days are heading out on their first Japanese tour, and in promotion of it they've released a 2-track single with the new title track and a cover of the Undertones' "Teenage Kicks". It's of a piece with their existing catalog so it has their typical 60s Merseyside sound.

Bandcamp





Thursday, May 04, 2017

Early May Roundup.

The Hangabouts-Kits & Cats and Saxon Wives. The Hangabouts are back with their long-awaited followup to 2011's Illustrated Bird, and it's another delightful collection of 60s/Merseyside-influenced pop with a touch of psych and boy/girl harmonies (and with very fab cover art). The opening title track nails this sensibility with a mid-60s melody and noodling guitars, which is followed by the jangly and jaunty (and mostly instrumental) "Cricket Time". The clever and catchy "Evelyn Wood" is a real gem here, both in its sound (which is what Fountains of Wayne would sound like if their touchstone were the 60s instead of the 70s), and the lyrics, which use the titular speed-reading teacher as a metaphor for a woman who wants to go too fast in a relationship. Also worth particular mention are the Beatlesque "Selling Out", the twee and lovely "Twelve Songs" and the sunny pop of "Taking You to Leave Me". In the end, there's but one word to describe this album: groovy.

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Colman Gota-Fear the Summer. This is the third album for this pop/rocker from Spain (not counting his work in Insanity Wave), but the first I've reviewed here and it's about damn time I got around to him. On his recent releases Gota was been working with genre legend Mitch Easter (who engineers here) and there's an element of his southern-fried power pop sound present here, with the crunchy guitars of the opening title track and the straightforward melodic rock of "What Goes on in My Head" (complete with cowbell). Elsewhere, the soaring melodies of "What You Want Me to Be", the piano-backed midtempo "For a Reason", and the classic power pop of "Call it Quits" are among the standouts here. All in all, it's a solid collection of Tom Petty-styled power pop which you shouldn't fear adding to your music collection this summer.

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The Over Unders-Bet on Us EP. Wisconsin's The Over Unders are a literal band of brothers, led by Sam and Matthew Hellman and who have released two EPs the last two years with Bet on Us the followup to last year's self-titled debut. They remind me quite a bit of Fight Songs-era Old 97s, and the catchy opening track "Come On" wouldn't have sounded out of place of that album while "Won't Go Home" and "Out West" have a Gin Blossoms-meet-The Replacements vibe. Plus, the debut EP is of a piece with this one and is worth seeking out as well so there's essentially a fine full-length album here when you put them together.

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Mid April Roundup.

Greg Ieronimo-Never Leaving California. Greg Ieronimo, who wowed us with his 7-track debut EP in 2014, doubles our fun here with his followup 14-track full-length release Leaving California. Ieronimo is Power Pop with two capital Ps, as his way with both a hook and crunchy guitars recalls many of the classic artists of the genre. Whether its the Matthew-Sweet-circa-100%-Fun blast of the title track or the bouncy staccato beat of "You Love Me" or the shoulda-been-a-theme-song-for-a-modern-day-Monkees-reboot "Best Day of Our Life", Ieronimo's knack for melody and eagerness to rock shine through. Elsewhere, "Outta Sight" is a better Weezer song than Weezer has put out in recent years, and "Beautiful Disaster" would slip in nicely on a Cheap Trick album. Another outstanding release in what's already shaping up to be a great year for power pop.

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Gregg Stewart-Gregg Stewart. Speaking of Greg(g)s, Gregg Stewart, the former frontman of Americana band Stewboss, brings us his self-titled solo debut that he says is inspired by the year 1978, his favorite year in music. And with his blonde hair and beard, he's got the Andrew Gold/Jay Ferguson look down as well. Leadoff track "R is for Rockstar" is an amusing look at how to act like a hotel-trashing, groupie-loving 70s rocker, "Let's Go Find a Night" channels solo Mick Jagger, and the driving, catchy "You're the One" practically begs you to roll down the car windows and sing along. Also worth cranking up are rockers "Stone Cold Fox" (which Stewart says is a tribute to Joan Jett) and the soulful "Give it All You Got". So party like it's 1978, and be glad you don't have to wait in a gas line while listening to these tunes.

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Bread & Butter-Bread & Butter. And speaking of 1978, Seattle's Bread & Butter comes out of the blocks with an album full of songs that you would have likely heard on your local AOR station had they existed back then. Even though you've pretty much heard it before, they make it fresh - "Worst of Times" kicks off the proceedings with a sound that's big enough and with enough swagger to make you feel like they've re-invented the rock wheel. "Desperation" and "Keys to the City" distill Kiss and Cheap Trick, and "Shoot My Mouth Off" shows their way with a mid-tempo rocker. These guys just have the sound of something bigger, and if revivalists like Oasis, The Strokes and Jet can hit it big, there's no reason this crew can't. (Other the general fragmentation of the music biz and declining market share of rock in the last 15-20 years, but who's counting?)

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