Friday, February 16, 2018

How Sweet it is.

Various Artists-Altered Sweet: A Tribute to Matthew Sweet. Futureman Records' Keith Klingensmith knows his way around a tribute album, and 2016's Sloan tribute was one of the best of the genre. So to say this project covering another power pop luminary with a long track record of quality music was widely anticipated in the power pop community is a bit of an understatement, and unsurprisingly Futureman comes through here again. Like the Sloan tribute, Altered Sweet has a lineup dominated by artists I've featured on these pages, so the winning tribute formula of "songs you like covered by artists you like" is clearly present here.

Although Sweet has been active since the mid-to-late 80s and remains so through today, the bulk of the covers here are from his peak creative period in the 90s from Girlfriend through In Reverse. The title track of the former is probably Sweet's best-known track and Michael Carpenter (a master of covers himself with some 6 covers albums under his belt) does the honors here with a straightforward version. Lannie Flowers is a great choice for Girlfriend's jangle pop classic "I've Been Waiting", while Phil Ajjarupu has a breezy take on "Thought I Knew You" and the man with the plan, Klingensmith, handles the ultimate "feeling sorry for yourself" song "You Don't Love Me" with class. But as beloved as Girlfriend is, my favorite Sweet album is 1995's 100% Fun* and it too is well-represented here, with Greg Pope's vintage low-fi power pop making "Not When I Need It" sound like one of his own, Gretchen's Wheel's "Walk Out" sounding like a lost Aimee Mann track, and in the most radical re-imagining of the collection Simple Friend delivers an acoustic boy-girl folk-pop version of "Sick of Myself", one of Sweet's more heavier rocking tracks, proving its melody works well in either genre. 1997's Blue Sky on Mars is represented by Andy Reed's faithful reading of "Where You Get Love" complete with synths, while fellow Michiganer Nick Piunti tackles "Behind the Smile" with the guitars front and center and The Well Wishers rawk on "All Over My Head". And 1999's In Reverse (Sweet's most underrated album in my opinion) finds Paranoid Lovesick giving us a punchy version of "What Matters" and Donny Brown coming through with an excellent cover of my favorite Sweet ballad, "Hide".

Interestingly Altered Beast, the album from which the tribute derives its title, only has three covers here - Elvyn puts their jangly roots-pop stamp on "Time Capsule", Nick Bertling has a heavy version of "Falling" and Chris Richards & The Subtractions does Sweet proud with "Someone to Pull the Trigger". Also by my count, only 4 of the 27 covers come from outside those 90s albums: Trolley reaches back to 1986's "Inside" with "Quiet Her", The Hangabouts un-Earth "When I Feel Again" from 1989's Earth, Fireking offers "Dead Smile" from 2003's (originally Japan-only) Kimi Ga Suki, and Arvidson & Butterflies mines 2008's Sunshine Lies for "Byrdgirl", which is more rocking and less jangly than the title implies.

Futureman has hit another home run here, and I can only look forward to whatever artist Klingensmith turns his attention to next. (I helpfully suggested Marshall Crenshaw to him on Twitter, but we'll just have to see).

Bandcamp



*I may have mentioned this elsewhere, but the title "100% Fun" was Sweet's response to those who criticized Altered Beast for being "too dark" (it certainly wasn't the followup to Girlfriend many were expecting). And after Blue Sky on Mars wasn't well-received by the critics, Sweet responded on In Reverse with the none-too-subtle "Write Your Own Song", giving him the title of thinnest-skinned popster since 1970s Billy Joel.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Mark Lane & The Reed Brothers

Mark Lane-New Memory. LA singer-songwriter Mark Lane doesn't release new music often, but when he does it's worth paying attention to. New Memory is only his third release in the last 14 years (after 2004's Golden State of Mind and 2012's Something New) and it's a pop gem that should place highly on 2018's year-end list*. Lane's Bandcamp page categorizes his sound as "classic pop" and the opener "Takin' That Ride" recalls Teenage Fanclub while the looping piano-based melody of "Something Grand" channels Harry Nilsson. Elsewhere, "Too Far into You" sounds like Gerry Rafferty jamming with Tom Petty, the 6-minute "Goodbye" (which is not the last track on the album) bears the influence of Lennon and Elvis C, and the title track is propulsive pop. New Memory is a tour-de-force of 70s singer-songwriter styles and definitely worth a listen.

*Yes, technically this was a 2017 release but it came out about a week before the end of the year so I'm going ahead and counting it for 2018.

iTunes



Andy Reed & Jason Reed-Make Your Move. Andy Reed needs little introduction to AbPow readers with his long history of releases and involvement in the Michigan power pop "mafia", but here he introduces brother Jason to the mix on a new EP. They originally billed themselves as The Reed Brothers on the advance single "Left to Right" but it turned out there were some other musicians known as The Reed Brothers so they simply went with their full names. Whatever they're called, it's an interesting EP that of course fans of Andy Reed will want to hear. The moody, midtempo "The Longest Pause" opens the EP (but with only a pause of 6 seconds before the music starts) while the aforementioned "Left to Right" brings another brother combo, The Finn Brothers, to mind with its quirky melody. "The Welcoming Song" and "Find My Way Back Home" are a pair of anthemic, semi-ethereal tracks, and the EP closes with Jason at the mic on "Make Your Move", an 80s-influenced synth rocker. A bit off the beaten path for Andy Reed here, but an interesting and enjoyable diversion nonetheless.

iTunes

Friday, January 19, 2018

A little bit of twang in your pop.

Scott Warren's been one of the most consistent artists featured on this site over the last 12 years, from his days in Signal Hill Tranmission to a series of quality solo albums including 2012's Dyed in the Wool, one of the best pop albums of the decade. Here he teams up with Molly Orlando as Wounded Bird for an EP of Americana informed with a pop sensibility. "Medication for My Heart" is a classic alt-country duet in the vein of Gram & Emmylou or Ryan Adams & Caitlin Cary in Whiskeytown, while Orlando takes lead on the vintage balladry of "Arms". Meanwhile, fans of Warren's output will enjoy "I'll Grow Old With You", the most pop-informed track of the batch with its loping electric guitar and which would have fit right in on Dyed in the Wool. And "Workin' Out the Kinks" is a rave-up that shows off Warren's versatility.

iTunes



Brady Harris Band-NoHo Calling. Another longtime favorite of the site who's straddled the line between Americana and power pop is Brady Harris, who returns with NoHo Calling, "NoHo" being a reference to his North Hollywood via Texas base of operations. The album is a mix of the twangy Beatlesque ("Let's Live", "Better Late Than Never"), bloozy ballads ("Raise a Glass", "The NoHo Sound"), some clever covers (The Go-Go's "Our Lips Are Sealed" and Grace Jones' "I've Seen That Face Before") and rootsy rockers ("I Think I Know", "Drain Me"). And to round things out there's even a paean to "Old Drunk Motherfuckers", of which Brady may or not be one.

Bandcamp

Thursday, January 11, 2018

David Bash's Best of 2017.

As always the highlight of the year-end list-making in the power pop community is International Pop Overthrow's David Bash's exhaustive lists.

I usually reproduce them in whole here, but rather than do that I'm just going to link to David's Facebook post with them:

David Bash's Best of 2017

As always there's new stuff to discover that even obsessives like myself overlook (for example I had no idea The Virtues released a new album in 2017, as it looks like it was a Europe-only release) and of course it's helpful to get a somewhat different perspective (David's more into psychedelic, garage and 60s-ish pop/rock than I am for instance).

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Getting in gear with the new year.

Now the list-making is over (although I will share David Bash's exhaustive lists as usual), it's time to get 2018 in gear with a couple of releases, one that came out not long before year's end and one that came out just after and both of which feature artists you may be familiar with releasing records under names you're not.

Daydream Retrievers-Daydream Retrievers. Seeing as I often can't remember what I had for breakfast later that day, it's not a shock that I could have sworn I had this release in my top 100 last week but when I went to look up the rank I noticed it wasn't there. So better late than never to extol the virtues of the latest release from Ian Olvera, formerly of the Ian Olvera Band and Ian Olvera & The Sleepwalkers. Taking his name out of the equation entirely this time, Olvera nevertheless serves up a 9-song collection of catchy heartland power pop influenced by Tom Petty and Wilco. "Ballad of an Exit Strategy" and "Cars Can't Stop" have a bright but rootsy vibe not unlike Gary Louris' version of The Jayhawks, while "New Parade" rocks like Petty's Heartbreakers. Meanwhile, the 3-song run in the middle of the album of "Tuesday Night in America", "Right is Right" and "Hi How Are You's" channels Big Star, both in the rock stylings of the former, and the melacholy balladry of the latter two. And "Learning to Live With the End of the World" with its upbeat piano-based melody is Wilco meets Springsteen. Had I slotted this one on the year-end list, it would have been about #30.

iTunes




Rooftop Screamers-Vol. 1. Rooftop Screamers is the new project of former Throwback Suburbia drummer and songwriter Mike Collins, and its 8-track debut is the first top-notch power pop release of 2018. Collins isn't a singer, though, so to bring his compositions to life he's enlisted the help of various friends to sing lead including indie pop luminaries such as Kyle Vincent and Ken Stringfellow. "Sign Me Up" kicks things off, and it's a blast to hear Vincent sing lead on a rocker that's part Queen and part Cheap Trick instead of his typical soft pop. Stringfellow, who it seems lately has guested on more releases than Michael McDonald in the late 70s and early 80s, takes the mic on "Roses Again" and it's a melodic gem with Brian May-like guitars that comes across as a lost Posies/Jellyfish mashup. But even the tracks with the lesser-known Portland-area singers stand with the big names - Geoff Metts sings on "Have Mercy", a heartland rocker, while Andrew Paul Woodworth gives "Get Outta Your Way" a Beatlesque feel. This is a fun project as Collins is a top-notch power pop songwriter, and here's looking forward to Vol. 2.

CD Baby



Friday, December 29, 2017

The Absolute Powerpop Top 100 of 2017, #1-50.

Here's the top half of the list, and since I never did formally review the album at #1 I'll say a few words about it below. 2017 was another pretty good year for pop, and I say "pop" instead of "power pop" as 2017 was a great year for softer pop, be it 70s AM Gold-style pop or Bacharachian pop or more baroque pop. Albums from Brent Cash, Bill DeMain, Rob Martinez and Kyle Vincent held down spots in my top 50 (Cash and DeMain in the top 10), while Almost Charlie, Dave Caruso, Paul Steel and Lewis Wilson were in yesterday's bottom half, plus tomorrow's EP list will feature an EP tiled AM Gold.

1. The Nines-Colour Radio (American Transistor)
The Nines have been a long-time staple of these lists, and have released albums in the autumn of each of the last three years. But the previous two were soundtracks, while this was their first proper album since their self-titled 2013 release and it's perhaps their best to date. Steve Eggers & company tried on a lot of pop styles and wore them all quite well, from the ELO-influenced "Crazy Little Girl" to rowdy piano pop of "On and On She Gets By" to the straight-up 70s R&B Stevie Wonder-influenced "You Can Get More Than This" and "Don't Be Losing Your Game". And as always Eggers shines on piano ballads such as "Guess I'm Crazy" and "I'm Lucky". This album really is like listening to an American transistor radio circa 1975, and that's as high a compliment as I can pay.

2. Pugwash-Silverlake
3. Liam Gallagher-As You Were
4. Corin Ashley-Broken Biscuits
5. Theo Katzman-Heartbreak Hits
6. Brent Cash-The New High
7. Bill DeMain-Transatlantic Romantic
8. Hornal-The Game Begins With the Lights Out
9. Plasticsoul-Therapy
10. Chris Lund-Great Event Syndrome
11. Derrick Anderson-A World of My Own
12. Terry Anderson-Jimmy's Arcade
13. Darryl Rahn-Everything is Fine
14. Brian Jay Cline-Hang Ups
15. Blitzen Trapper-Wild and Reckless
16. Scott Gagner-Pins & Needles
17. Wesley Fuller-Inner City Dream
18. Colman Gota-Fear the Summer
19. Eyelids-Or
20. Tommy Zamp-You Don't Know Me
21. Greg Ieronimo-Never Leaving California
22. Hemlock Pop-Crushing on What Might Be
23. Gospelbeach-Another Summer of Love
24. Koria Kitten Riot-Songs of Hope and Science
25. Rob Martinez-Today My Mind...Tomorrow the World
26. The Hangabouts-Kits & Cats & Saxon Wives
27. Trip Wire-Cold Gas Giants
28. The Safes-Tasty Waves
29. Matthew Sweet-Tomorrow Forever
30. The Lunar Laugh-Mama's Boy
31. Bret Bingham-The Well Curve
32. Dave Keegan-S/T
33. Marble Party-Sometimes a Great Ocean
34. Cotton Mather-Wild Kingdom
35. Kyle Vincent-Miles & an Ocean
36. Shane Nicholson-Love and Blood
37. Sitcom Neighbor-Shag
38. Paul Bertolino-Toy Box
39. Christopher Galen-The Master Plan
40. Ruby Free-Shades
41. Danny de la Matyr-Crybaby
42. Jesse Terry-Stargazer
43. The Rallies-Serve
44. Daisy-Ornament & Crime
45. John Rooney-Still Here
46. The Glad Machine-S/T
47. The Fisherman-Down
48. Dan Auerbach-Waiting on a Song
49. Rich McCulley-Out Along the Edges
50. Eric Harrison-Mercy Road