Monday, October 20, 2014

Back in the saddle.

Back after an extended hospital stay but everything is fine now and I've recovered completely. Thanks for all the well wishes, and now back to the power pop:

Rick Hromadka-Trippin Dinosaurs. It's been several years since the last Maple Mars album, but frontman Rick Hromadka has kept busy. In 2012, he teamed up with his wife for the excellent Ruby Free album, and now he's completely solo (and I mean COMPLETELY solo as he played all the instruments on the album) with Trippin Dinosaurs. Like Ruby Free, this isn't a replication of his Maple Mars sound but a different type of genre exercise as he goes the psych-pop route with debts to Pink Floyd and The Move. Opener "Conversation" with its "I Am The Walrus"-type vibe sounds straight outta 1968, while Hromadka puts the "pop" in psych-pop with "It's All in Your Head" and "Dreams of a Hippy Summer", the latter which would have been right at home on the Ruby Free album. And "Twice a Sunny Day Tomorrow" will transport you in your head to coastal California. I can safely say that this album has done everything it can to bring back "groovy" as an adjective of favor.

CD Baby | iTunes | Listen at Spotify

The Rip Off Artists-The Intercontinental. Nick Pipitone and Peter Batchelder are back for the first time since 2008's Esque with another round of sophisticated pop. Befitting its title, The Intercontinental is a tale of billionaires' daughters, failed actors, tennis instructors, college professors on the make, and miserable commuters among others. The result is an Elvis Costello-meets-Fountains of Wayne sensibility. So we get "Commuter's Blues", a song to hum along to while stuck in traffic, "Inside the Actor's Studio Apartment" (great title), a (lack of) character study set to a power pop beat, the Beatlesque "Mr. Right and Mrs. Right", where Pipitone and Batchelder trade vocals a la John and Paul, and the bouncy "Bachelor of Arts", in which we meet our sleazy professor. And as we approach the holidays, even "Christmas Eve" isn't safe from their cynical gaze. Nevertheless, The Intercontinental is a breath of fresh air in the power pop genre with lyrics that go beyond the usual staples of girls and cars.

As best as I can tell, at the moment this is a digital-only release on Bandcamp at the bargain price of $5, money you'd otherwise blow on an overpriced cup of coffee.

Friday, October 03, 2014

On the sick list.

Currently hospitalized, having surgery shortly, so no new posts until late next week at the earliest. Nothing life-threatening.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Weekend Roundup.

The Tripwires-Get Young. It's been a long five years to wait since their last album, but The Tripwires are back. This Seattle "supergroup" (consisting of members and former members of The Model Rockets, The Minus 5, Screaming Trees and Mudhoney) is hands down one of my favorite power pop bands as they do what so few bands are doing these days - playing pre-80s-styled power pop/pub-rock a la Rockpile and NRBQ - and doing so with one hyper-catchy tune after another. The opening title track seems a nod to Big Star, with its "O My Soul"-styled guitar riff and opening line "spilling into the street", but quickly becomes their own kind of rave-up. There really isn't a bad track here with just about all of them clocking in between 2-3 minutes, a testament to how tight their sound is. But the ones more equal than others are "Be All End All" (which is angular-sounding enough that The Strokes could cover it), "Production Sedan" (someone call Terry Anderson), and the frenetic "Owner Operator" which is 2:01 of musical dynamite. Right now it's only available through the FOLC Records Bandcamp site, and still claims to be in "pre-order" even though the release date listed is September 15. Either way, enjoy the mp3s now and get the vinyl or CD later. This would even sound good on 8-track.

FOLC Bandcamp



The Deathray Saints-The Deathray Saints. Not to be confused with John Dufilho's The Deathray Davies, this San Francisco band has crafted an interesting debut album that's part indie rock, part melodic rock/pop. Other than that I can't tell you more about them as they don't seem to have a website or Facebook page, making them as mysterious as the infamous Mozley. And perhaps that's fitting as their sound, while melodic, has a mysterious feel to it. I was drawn in by opening track "East of Eden", which has a Smithereens' "Blood and Roses" feel to it and a sneaky hook. The acoustic guitar-based "Down" is another treat, reminiscent of Portland's Derby, another personal favorite band of mine. And the midtempo "The Stars Have Let You Down" sounds like a lost alternative classic from the 90s. One thing they don't do here is skimp on the tunes; there's 17 here in all and while I can't recommend every one I can say with confidence that 10-12 of them are quite good.

CD Baby | iTunes

Listen at Spotify

Friday, September 05, 2014

Friday Roundup.

Cliff Hillis-Song Machine EP. It's always a good year for power pop when Cliff Hillis decides to release new material, and his followup to 2012's Dream Good is this new 7-song EP which he crowd-funded. If you weren't among those who already supported the EP you won't want to waste any time adding this to your collection. Hillis is matched by only a handful in the power pop scene when it comes to pure songcraft, and the seven tunes here are confirmation from the pensive opener "Dashboard" (which builds to a great crescendo) to the would-have-been-an-AM-Radio-hit-in-the-70s "Just One More" to the jangly, Beatlesque "Tonight". And Hillis is good for one track that instantly grabs you as a favorite - on 2008's The Long Now it was "Elevator", on Dream Good it was "Keep the Blue Skies", and here it's "Turn on a Dime" with a melody both catchy and effortless. It's going to be a real Sophie's Choice to pick between this and the Peter Buzzelle I review in July for 2014's top EP.

Tallboy Records (CD) | iTunes



Eugene Benjamin-Photograph. This Maryland singer-songwriter's second album isn't precisely power pop, but it's a tuneful mix of pop/rock and Americana that owes a debt to Tom Petty, George Harrison and John Hiatt and will appeal to fans of artists we've featured here like Mike Barnett. The opener "Baby Blue Eyes" is a gem with a great guitar hook in the chorus, "Cindy" reminds me of a typical Petty song about a woman, "Over Me" rocks melodically, and "Good-Bye" is top-drawer jangle rock. Put this one on your music player of choice, and it will be all about the Benjamin.

CD Baby | iTunes

Friday, August 22, 2014

Friday Roundup.

Joe Sullivan-Schlock Star. 2014 has the year of Michigan power pop, with quality releases from The Legal Matters and their constituent members (Chris Richards, Andy Klingensmith). The latest in the pipeline might be the best yet, as Saginaw's Joe Sullivan (with major help from The Legal Matters' Andy Reed) gives us the highly catchy and highly infectious Schlock Star. Opening with the Beach Boys-influenced "Conspiracy Radio", Sullivan displays his pop chops right away, and the "ba-da-da" chorus of "Nurse Tracy" will stick in your head. Elsewhere, the bubblegum pop of "Okinawa Girl" stands side-by-side with the Paul Simon pop of "Sean Patric's Balloon" and the pensive "Look at Me Now", which reminds me of one of Reed's crafty compositions. Star Wars fanatics will enjoy the album closer, "Victims of the Sarlaac", but you don't need to know the difference between Jabba the Hutt or Pizza the Hutt to find it enjoyable. Right now, this is a Bandcamp-only release, but you can get the CD or the mp3s.

Bandcamp



Willodean-Willodean. One of my favorite discs of 2005, and really of the previous decade, was Randy & The Bloody Lovelies' Lift, which featured piano pop of the highest order with a sophistication not often seen in the genre. The "Randy" in question here was Randy Wooten, who also supplied the husky, pack-a-day vocals that added to the atmosphere. Wooten then dropped off the radar, and there was no followup to Lift. So I was quite pleased to see Wooten resurface with Willodean, teaming up with Eric Holden and Dan Barrett with the latter providing vocals in the same raspy manner as Wooten and the former on upright bass. The result is a soulful melange of pop and Americana with a bit less piano than Lift but a worthy listen nonetheless. From the laid-back vibe of "Pieces" to the late-night cabaret feel of "Ghost Town" to the pop-with-pedal steel of "Oh Darkness", there's a nice mix of sub-genres here. But the real fun to be had here is the catchy "Julie Drinks With Demons", which will have any Bloody Lovelies fan grinning from ear to ear.

CD Baby | iTunes

Friday, August 08, 2014

California pop day.

Linus of Hollywood-Something Good. Back with his first album of new material since 2006's Triangle, Kevin Dotson a/k/a Linus of Hollywood is back with the same winning combination of classic pop and power pop that made him a force in the power pop community in the first half of the last decade. The buoyant, driving 1-2 punch of "Caught Up in a Feeling" and "Ready for Something Good" will get your toes tapping right off the bat, the McCartney-esque "A Girl That I Like" is very easy on the ears, and "I Don't Wanna Go Home if You're Not There" makes for a great power ballad. Linus even throws in a faithful cover of the Kiss classic "Beth", while the overall quality of the album heeds the admonition of one of the disc's catcher tracks, "Don't F**k it Up". One of the year's best.

Bandcamp | iTunes



Jeff Larson-Close Circle. Having reviewed the previous five releases of this wonderfully consistent folk-rocker, it's getting hard for me to say something new about him, so how about this? Close Circle might be the best and most assured of his recent releases. For those just tuning in, Larson's music is the epitome of laid-back, melodic mellow SoCal rock and reflected in the fact that he's a confidant of and collaborator with Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell, better known as America. After opening with the beautifully understated "Rescue", the disc clicks into gear with the excellent "Following the Echoes". Other standouts include the Jeffrey Foskett-backed "Goodbye Ocean Street Beaches" and "Rain Soaked Cloud", which features the America boys on backing vocals.

CD Baby | iTunes | Kool Kat

NOTE: Kool Kat is also releasing a CD-R of last year's download-only Larson EP Leaves for those who want a physical disc.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Friday Roundup.

Bubble Gum Orchestra-Beyond Time. Michael Hildebrandt, a/k/a Bubble Gum Orchestra, returns again with Beyond Time, another collection of ELO-inspired tunes. Just as last year's The Discovery was a riff on ELO's Discovery, this follow-up takes its cue from ELO's Discovery followup, Time (I'm guessing the next BGO released will be some variation of Secret Messages). Anyway, I probably don't need to tell you that if you're an ELO fanatic this album is a must, from the rocking "23rd Century Woman" (which goes beyond ELO to borrow the guitar riff from Foreigner's "Long, Long Way from Home") to the futuristic "I'm in Love With a Robot" (BGO's nod to ELO's "Yours Truly, 2095") to the catchy "Return 2 4 Ever". But the quintessential BGO track is "ELO Forever", the lyrics to which are primarily comprised of ELO song titles (example: "Mr. Blue Sky met his Sweet Talkin' Woman/they fell in love and their hearts Turned to Stone"), the best track of its kind since Bob Dylan used Springsteen song titles to write the Traveling Wilburys' "Tweeter & the Monkey Man".

CD Baby | iTunes


Peter Buzzelle-Sea of White EP. Boston's Peter Buzzelle is a classic power popper who released a pair of fine discs in 2010 and 2011 but were overlooked on this site. I can't ignore him any longer, though, thanks to his outstanding new EP that's the first power pop disc I've heard with the subject of marrying and marriage as its concept. Opener "I'm Gonna Know You" might be the best power ballad I've heard in years, with a swelling, catchy chorus, while "Til Death Do Us Part" and "Happiness and Misery" are a couple of excellent Posies/Matthew Sweet-styled rockers, and "Our Life is the Song" closes things out in hooky fashion. This might be the best EP of 2014 to date, and I'd daresay you'll like it some much you'll want to marry it.

CD Baby | iTunes