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.


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

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Midweek Roundup.

Edward O'Connell-Vanishing Act. Edward O'Connell's Our Little Secret was the power pop find of 2010, an assured debut arriving out of nowhere to claim the #3 slot on my year-end list. Four years later he's released the followup, and it strides confidently in the footsteps of its predecessor. If you missed out on the debut in 2010 or (less likely) forgot about it, O'Connell specializes in Nick Lowe/Tom Petty/Elvis Costello pop'n'roll and Vanishing Act is another 12 tracks of quality. This becomes immediately apparent with the opener "My Dumb Luck", an Elvis C-style track with an effortless melody that aging rock critics would be writing about with reverence had it come out in 1979. "Lonely Crowd" is another winner with a chorus backed by driving, Petty-like guitar, and "What Have You Done?" is a mini-masterpiece with a transcendent middle-eight (or bridge). Elsewhere, fiddle and pedal steel make "I'm the Man" a nice, country-tinged track and the minor key of "Yesterday's World" gives it an early 80s Squeeze/Smithereens feel. As with the debut, it's almost folly to single out individual tracks as every one of them has something to offer. Speaking of offers, Kool Kat has this disc exclusively before its official release date next week, and they're offering to throw in Our Little Secret with each purchase. Even if you already have the debut, take this deal and give a copy of it to a friend who appreciates good music.

Kool Kat | CD Baby | iTunes

The Paul and John-Inner Sunset. While an obvious Beatles reference, The Paul and John are also the first names of Paul Myers and John Moremen who have teamed up to give us a fine debut EP that, yes, owes a bit to the more famous Paul and John but has other influences as well. Many of you may know Moremen from his solo records and his time as guitarist for The Orange Peels, and Myers was the man behind the Toronto power pop group The Gravelberrys as well as an author of biographies of Todd Rundgren and Long John Baldry. Thankfully the record lives up to their respective CVs. After the 20-second McCartneyesque "Inner Sunrise", we segue into the wonderful "Everything Comes Together", a glorious acoustic guitar-based track that reminds me of The Autumn Defense at their poppiest with some Byrdsian jangle throw in. "Long Way Back" rocks a bit harder and makes good use of the principals' harmonies, and the title track with its stacatto beat and British Invasion melody sounds like the soundtrack to a parade down Carnaby Street. An excellent debut and a nice companion piece to the Edward O'Connell disc reviewed above.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Friday Roundup.

Mike Barnett-Everybody Gets to Dream. Mike Barnett has been entertaining us for the last several years with his brand of George Harrison/Traveling Wilburys-style pop/rock, and on his latest he finds a kindred spirit in producer Salim Nourallah, whose Hit Parade was my favorite album of 2012 and was itself a Beatlesque tour de force. Nourallah applies his sonic flourishes to Barnett's heretofore low-fi sound and the result is Barnett's best album to date. Opener "Who Loves You Blue?" is a nod to Harrison himself, both in the title and with Barnett's use of slide guitar, "I Could Fall" and "Late at Night" benefit from the Nourallah production with some jaunty keyboard use, while the title track is one of Barnett's most contemplative and sublime tracks. There isn't a bad track here, and the lovely piece of chamber pop "To You" closes things out with a smile on your face. Don't miss out on this one.

CD Baby | iTunes

Marble Party-Plush Up. Marble Party is a San Francisco band with a power pop sound that's both modern and retro. The driving lid-lifter "Afterglow" aligns them with the Weezers of the world, "About Her" channels Squeeze and the extraordinary "Song from the Coast" with its tinges of psychedelia recalls The Beatles by way of The Red Button. Never afraid to genre-hop, they turn to country rock to fine results on "Stuck in the Middle", complete with steel guitar, and close things out with the piano-based Jellyfish-esque "Prove Me Wrong". Showing a clever mastery of various power pop styles, Marble Party is one of my favorite finds of 2014 to date.

CD Baby | iTunes

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Power pop on Amazon Prime.

Last week Amazon added a music streaming component to their Prime membership program. For those who already subscribe to a service like Spotify or Rdio or Beats, Prime Music is nothing impressive, given it contains about 5-10% of the number of tracks offered by those services. But for those like me who already have an Amazon Prime membership but don't subscribe to one of the established services, it's a nice add-on that you're not paying extra for.

But what makes it a little tough to use is that there's no real good way to find out which artists/albums/songs it carries without checking them individually to see if they can be added to your Prime library. So in that spirit, and to help out those who have Prime and are power pop fans, I've compiled a list of power pop that I've found available for streaming on the service. By no means is this list exhaustive, and there are some quirks in that sometimes full albums are available but in other instances only certain songs from an album is available. Anywhere, here's what I have so far in the realm of contemporary power pop with some other notables included. If you know of some others, please mention them in the comments.

Apples in Stereo - most of their catalog prior to their two most recent releases. Includes the #1 Hits Explosion comp.
Army Navy - S/T and The Last Place
BC Camplight - most of Hide, Run Away
Ben Folds/Ben Folds Five - Rockin' the Suburbs, Whatever and Ever Amen, The Sound of the Life of the Mind, Live, most of the Best Imitation comp.
Big Star - Third/Sister Lovers
Bill Lloyd - Boy King of Tokyo the only full album, but lots of tracks from others
Bleu - A Watched Pot + several from Besides
Brendan Benson - You Were Right, What Kind of Love
Butch Walker - Butch Walker & The Black Widows
Cheap Trick - Greatest Hits, Dream Police, In Color, Heaven Tonight, The Latest
Cliff Hillis - Better Living Through Compression
Cotton Mather - The Big Picture, several tracks from Kon Tiki
Curtains for You - several tracks from two most recent albums
David Mead - Dudes, Almost and Always, Live at Schuba's (2006)
Electric Soft Parade - The Human Body EP, several from Holes in the Wall and The American Adventure
Everybody Else - S/T debut and Wanderlust
The Exploding Hearts - Guitar Romantic, Shattered
The Format - Interventions & Lullabies
Fountains of Wayne - Sky Full of Holes
fun. - Some Nights, Aim & Ignite
Future Clouds and Radar - S/T
Geoff Smith - Gravity
Gigolo Aunts - several tracks
Household Names - Picture in My Head, several other tracks
Jack's Mannequin - Everything in Transit
Jason Karaban - most of Shift
Jeff Larson - Room for Summer
Jeff Lynne - Armchair Theatre
Jeremy Messersmith - The Reluctant Graveyard, The Silver City
Jet - Get Born
Jim Boggia - Fidelity is the Enemy
Josh Fix - This Town is Starting to Make Me Angry, most of Free at Last
Ken Stringfellow - Touched
Kyle Vincent - most of Where You Are
L.E.O. - most of Alpacas Orgling
Locksley - S/T
The Meadows - assorted tracks
Mike Ruekberg - Acrimony & Cheese
Mike Viola - Electro de Perfecto, Acoustic de Perfecto
The Raconteurs - Broken Boy Soldiers
The Red Button - She's About to Cross My Mind, As Far as Yesterday Goes
Rick Altizer - various tracks
Seth Swirsky - Watercolor Day
The Silver Seas - Chateau Revenge, Alaska, High Society
Sloan - Navy Blues, One Chord to Another, Twice Removed, various other tracks
Smash Palace - Fast Long Loud, most of Do it Again, others
The Spongetones - Number Nine, many others including most of Always Carry On comp
Steven Wright-Mark - My Plastic World, Pop Motel, Sideshow Freak
Title Tracks - In Blank, It Was Easy
Todd Herfindal - Right Here Now, most of Collective, others
Wanderlust - Record Time
Wiretree - Bouldin, Get Up

Friday, June 13, 2014

Friday Roundup.

The Legal Matters-The Legal Matters. Some of my favorite power pop over the last decade has come from the Detroit area, be it Chris Richards or Andy Reed (solo and as An American Underdog) or Nick Piunti. So it's great to see them team up as the "supergroup" The Legal Matters. Richards, Reed and Keith Klingensmith make up the core of the group, with Piunti adding some of his fine guitar work. The results are as you'd expect: one power pop gem after another, from Richards shining on the opener "Rite of Spring" (pure midtempo melodic bliss) to Reed on the George Harrisonesque "Have You Changed Your Mind?" to the three-part harmony of the ballad "Mary Anne". Often supergroups turn out to be a disappointment, but these guys are at the very least the sum of their parts and definite year-end list contenders.

CD Baby | iTunes

Andy Kentler-No Love Lost. Andy Kentler hails from Down Under and before No Love Lost had one solo album to his name in 2004, so he isn't exactly a household name in the power pop community. But after coming across this album, maybe he should be. His music is a fusion of Tom Petty, The Kinks and Big Star and there are plenty of standout tracks here. "Gettin' on Home" opens the album in Petty style, tough and melodic. "Big Hits & Misses" is brash, radio-ready power pop with a big hooky chorus, and "Marnie & Stan" tells the story of a couple of the run in rocking fashion (with "ooh-la-la-la" backing vocals). Kentler saves the best for the latter part of the album, with "Walk Out on Me" pure power pop in the vein of the aforementioned Chris Richards, and the catchy "Nobody's Fool" closing things out.

CD Baby | iTunes