Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Rick Hromadka-Better Days.

The former Maple Mars frontman is back with his second proper solo release after 2014's Trippin' Dinosaurs and it's a welcome return to form. Enlisting help from a wide variety of current-day power pop luminaries too many to mention (see his site for a full listing), Hromadka says "I'm Here to Entertain" and entertain he does with tracks such as that one which has a "McCartney goes to the circus" feel, "Better Days", which has the classic Maple Mars sound, and the heavy ELO-influenced pop of "Searchlight". Great stuff, and the best power pop album of the second half of 2020 so far.

Get it at his site. And listen to the whole thing below:

Friday, August 28, 2020

Late August Roundup.

Marshall Holland-Paper Airplane. San Francisco's Marshall Holland is back with his first pop album in 6 years, and it's a welcome return. Holland's brand of winsome pop draws on bands like The Posies and artists like Brendan Benson and Ken Sharp. Some of these songs speak to our world today, like the driving, Attractions-era Elvis Costello stomp of "Our Fate" and the anti-Trump "Whatcha Gonna Do". Elsewhere he gives us timeless-sounding tracks like "When the Rain Comes" and "Waiting for the Peace & Love" which display his effortless-sounding pop as well as the McCartney-esque, largely acoustic "When a Hand Holds a Bird". And the sophisticated 70s singer-songwriter title track recalls Seth Swirsky. Another best of 2020 contender.

Bandcamp



J.P. Cregan-Twenty. We've waited even longer for a new J.P. Cregan full-length as it's been 8 years since Man Overboard, and it's also great to have him back. Twenty is a concept album (or to use today's preferred term, a "song cycle") about his 20 years of marriage but you don't need to follow the concept to enjoy his sweet pop confections. "History of Man" is a great opener with melody and drive, and "In California" sounds like a old folk song brought to life with its martial beat and harmonica. "Pay to Play" is the kind of upbeat power pop you get from Michael Carpenter and Cliff Hillis, and "The Belle of USC" recalls the skinny tie sound of the late 70s. And "Fern, Destroyer of Worlds!" could almost be a lost Guided by Voices track. There's not a bad track here (I'm not counting the interstitial bits).

iTunes



Robby Miller-Robby Miller EP. I don't know much about this guy and I forgot how I stumbled on to this EP about six weeks ago, but it's good stuff and "Lovesick Again" is the kind of silly pop that gets stuck in your head for good. "Freya" and "Take a Smile" are classic guitar pop, and "This Guy" and "Perfect Form" are perfectly fine ballads, but the gooey pop of "Lovesick Again" and its 80s-sitcom theme song sound is something else. You'll be hearing "Can't go in to work/whole body hurts/guess who's lovesick again?" on repeat in your brain if you dare listen.

iTunes

Friday, August 07, 2020

Early August Roundup.

The Szuters-Sugar. If the name "The Szuters" rings a bell for you, it's maybe because you became aware of them in the original incarnation in the mid-90s, where they became quite popular in Japan (a power pop cliche, I know). They later changed their name to Magna-Fi and went to a harder, modern/alt rock sound, played Ozzfest, supported Sevendust on tour and broke up by the end of the decade. Well brothers Mike and CJ Szuter reformed The Szuters, came back with a classic power pop sound and the byproduct Sugar is one of 2020's more pleasant surprises in a year of unpleasant surprises. Opener "Two We Will Always Be" has an early-Beatles sound, the piano-based "Don't Lie to Me" has a bit of Todd Rundgren to it, and "Baby Don't You Be So Blue" channels The Raspberries. Elsewhere "The Things That You Said" has a Jon Brion-in-Jellyfish vibe and closer "The Most Beautiful Girl" should have been chiming out of AM transistor radios in the 70s. This is Power Pop with two capital Ps, and though the general sound may be familiar, the songs themselves are fresh and exciting. Easily a top 10 candidate for the year-end list.

iTunes



The Lees of Memory-Moon Shot. Superdrag was one of the great power pop bands of all time, spanning the 90s through the mid-2000s. The creative force behind the band, John Davis, has had various projects solo and otherwise since that time but lately has teamed up with Brandon Fisher as The Lees of Memory over the last several years. While the Lees have had several singles, EPs and even a double album which have all been just fine, Moon Shot is the first Lees release that stands with the best of Superdrag. Hearing the crunchy guitars and melodies of "Lonely Everywhere" along with Davis's voice will bring you back to those days, as will the take-no-prisoners heavy pop of "Crocodile Tears". The spacey rock and indelible chorus of "Free & Easy" is a real triumph as is the loud-but-languid "No Floor No Ceiling". This Moon Shot is definitely more Apollo 11 than Apollo 13.

iTunes



Nite Sobs-Do the Sob!. This Austin, Texas 3-piece has a real throwback sound and Do the Sob! is 13 tracks of catchy-as-hell pop which all clock in under 2:46. They bill themselves as "skinny ties and four eyes" (all 3 members are bespectacled) and that's just about enough to describe their sound given their debt to the likes of Buddy Holly and Marshall Crenshaw. Hooks and harmonies galore and all of these songs are excellent, but my two favorites are "I Need to Hear It" and "Vowelerie"; your mileage may vary. So ignore The Pretenders and start your Sobbing.

iTunes

Monday, July 13, 2020

Mid-July Roundup.

Dolour-The Royal We. Shane Tutmarc is back with the first new Dolour record in over a decade and it's one of 2020's best to date. The Royal We is filled with great pop tunes, none more so than leadoff track and first single "Yes and No" which as I'm fond of saying would be a hit in alternative universe. That's followed by "The Snake Eye", fittingly titled because its melody will slither into your brain and the extremely catchy "Drunk Dial". Other standouts include the bossa-nova influenced "Wake Up the Sun", featuring the vocals of Luella, the sardonic "I Can Quit at Any Time", the 70s smooth R&B-influenced "I'm Over It" and the grandiose pop of "Words I Thought You Said". First-rate adult pop for fans of Cliff Hillis, Michael Carpenter as well as softer poppers like Kyle Vincent or Brent Cash.

iTunes



Dead Stars-Never Not Here. From the sleek sophisticated pop of Dolour we switch to the harder-edged, Replacements/Guided by Voices-style power pop of Brooklyn's Dead Stars. This is their fourth full-length but the first they've caught my ear and they marry melody to loud guitars in fine fashion. The opening duo "Dreams Don't Come True" and "Hold My Breath" will appeal to the Superdrag fan in you while "Cool Summer" is a classic grunge rocker, "February Ghost" does the quiet/loud Pixies/Nirvana thing well and "Story of Your Life" has a bit of "Come as You Are"'s DNA in it. Roll down the windows and crank it loud.

iTunes



Jim Trainor-Glass Half Full EP. When you think about it, Glass Half Full is a great title for an EP because it describes how one might feel about a really good EP as opposed to a full-length album. And this is a really good EP of classic Beatlesque power pop. "The Only One" reminds me of George Harrison's poppier moments, "Claire" features a stacatto lead-in that's classic to the genre (think "Getting Better"), the midtempo "Sometimes" has a bit of Lennon in it, and closer "Dolly Rae" almost builds into a mini "Hey Jude". Good stuff, and not every day you get fresh power pop from Idaho.

iTunes

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Summer Singles Roundup.

Cliff Hillis-Seven Sisters. New music from Cliff Hillis is always a treat, and his latest single may not be the upbeat power pop he usually traffics in, it's a beautiful melancholy ballad featuring Louis Clark Jr. (of The Orchestra) on cello.

iTunes



Starbelly-Love Song 26 (feat. Roger Joseph Manning Jr.). And if a new Cliff Hillis single isn't enough, here he is with Starbelly and special guest Roger Joseph Manning Jr. "Love Song 26" is a classic Beatlesque mid-tempo number which features Manning on piano, backing vocals and orchestration.

iTunes



The Top Boost-Tell Me That You're Mine/Early Morning Days. And as we continue to thematically link the current single to the one before it, this Vancouver duo had their 2019 EP produced by Roger Joseph Manning Jr. This time around, the guys trade in their classic pop stylings for Sweetheart of the Rodeo-era Byrds on "Tell Me That You're Mind" while "Early Morning Days" has a more lush countrypolitan sound. An interesting but welcome departure.

iTunes



Dungeon of Skeletons-Valencia. Some of you may remember Justin Kline from earlier last decade. He's been quiet for a while but is back with his band Dungeon of Skeletons. Despite the death metal-sounding name, "Valencia" is more of the bright pop Kline was known for as a solo artist and it's a great summer track.

iTunes



Empty City Squares-Parmenides/History Rhymes. Big Stir Records has been bringing us some great power pop singles the last few years and the latest from Empty City Squares, whose 337 was one of the pleasant surprises of 2019, is a double-sided single which is "thinking man's pop" as it's literally about a thinker, the philosopher Parmendies. But don't worry, these are catchy tunes, not ponderous navel-gazing.

Buy at Big Stir (scroll down)



Bryan Estepa-Weight in Gold/Subject to Change. Like Cliff Hillis above, Bryan Estepa has been one of most consistently excellent power pop artists of the past 15-20 years and fresh off his grabbing of the top spot in 2019's year-end list on this site he has two new tracks that are, uh, worth their weight in gold. "Weight in Gold" is a sweet, subdued track that gets by on charm and melody, while "Subject to Change" is more classic Estepa with its big, catchy chorus.

iTunes



Ryan Allen-Hope and Control/Feeling Alright?. Ryan Allen is back with more of his heavy power pop (but without his Extra Arms this time) on a couple of new tunes. "Hope and Control" is classic Allen while "Feeling Alright?" has a glam sound. Proceeds from this single are going the Black Lives Matter Foundation, so check it out.

Bandcamp




Monday, June 01, 2020

Early June Roundup.

Nick Piunti & The Complicated Men-Downtime. Nick Piunti has been the gold standard for indie power pop over the last decade with year-end top 10 spots for all four of his previous releases, so a new record is always a welcome thing. This time around he bills his backing band and the more the merrier as Downtime is another lean, mean collection of 10 instant power pop classics. With the backing band more prominent there's a slightly harder edge to the tunes but not at the expense of melody. Opener "Upper Hand" will wake you out of whatever slumber you were in, "Every High" is one of his typical could-have-been-a-hit-in-the-80s tunes, and "Gonna Be Good" is both one of the better tracks on the album and what I'm thinking when I hear there's a new Nick Piunti album.

iTunes



The Breakup Society-Before the Intervention Ruined Everything. Power pop isn't always known for its sharp or clever lyrics, but Ed Masley and his band The Breakup Society have been giving us tunes with a twist for a while now. A search of my archives reveals that this is the first time I've written about them, an injustice I'm remedying now. Masley's lyrics are reminiscent of a less bitter, less acerbic Elvis Costello and the music is first-rate. Titles like "My Little Cautionary Tale", "Slow Day at the Outrage Factory", "Her Alpha Male" and "Don't Let the Hipsters Catch You Crying" speak for themselves and you'll have your share of "aha" moments while listening. And album closer "Strength Was Always Your Weakness" was co-written by kindred spirit Scott McCaughey, with his Minus 5 catalog being another touchstone for Masley & Co.

iTunes



Tom Curless and the 46%-Almost Ready for the Future. Like Nick Piunti above, Tom Curless is an honorary member of what I call the Michigan power pop mafia, and also like Piunti he brings his backing band, the 46%, front and center on his latest solo release. This is his second under his own name; before that he had released several albums as Your Gracious Host. This one's a more rocking affair than his 2018 album Songs of Movement and you could put the album on a playlist with Piunti's and it would fit right in. "Always in Between" gives the album rocket fuel right out of the gate and following is probably the album's best track "House on Fire", which throws in some cheeky Cars-esque synths. "Just Wanna Talk" has a bit of a Beck vibe (without the white boy rap) while "Unexpected Knock" rocks hard. Whatever future you're almost ready for, it should include Curless's latest.

iTunes

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Mid-May Roundup.

Coke Belda-Coke Belda 4. Coke Belda's first two albums - I and Nummer Zwei (German for #2) - were outstanding slices of power pop with the former making my top 20 in 2013 and the latter the top 10 in 2015. #3 was an album of Bee Gees covers which was nice, but they were covers. So after a five-year wait for original material I'm glad to report that Coke Belda 4 is another gem headed for at least my 2020 top 20. He isn't bashful about his influences or heroes as the leadoff track is "Thank You, Paul" a you-know-who-esque tribute to you-know-who into which he drops many a Macca solo song title (see the lyrics here). Next up is "Another Day", which somewhat surprising isn't a McCartney cover but Belda's own melodic masterpiece. Also of note are the lovely "Believe", a simple acoustic guitar-based ballad, the Jellyfish-influenced "6x8 Basement" and trips both in time ("1968") and distance ("Harlan, Kentucky"). And it all climaxes in the epic "Watching You", six minutes of slow build-up that's his own "Hey Jude". I said "top 20 of 2020" a few sentences back, but who am I kidding - this is top 10 stuff.

Kool Kat (pre-order on CD)



Andrew Weiss and Friends-The Golden Age of Love & Chemistry. New York's Andrew Weiss caught my ear in 2018 with his debut album The Honeymoon Suite but he's taken a big step up with his new one, a collection of what I like to call Popicana. His touchstones are Tom Petty and The Jayhawks and the opener "All the News Fit to Print" recalls the former while followup track "Homesick Blues" channels the latter. Elsewhere "The Morning After" is a mature and melodic mid-tempo number, the power ballad "Everybody Loves a Comeback" could have been a late 80s/early 90s hit, and "Diamond" could almost be a lost Bread classic. Impressive stuff.

iTunes



Cupid's Carnival-Color-Blind. Cupid's Carnival returns with the followup to their 2016 debut Everything is Love and everything is love once again as this extremely Beatlesque London band follows up with a collection they say is for the Summer of Love 2020 (maybe make that the Summer of Isolation). "Working All Day" provides a Hard Day's Night/Help! vibe, "Yesterday's Gone" has a touch of "Penny Lane" without the horns, and "Looking for Rainbows" could be a Rubber Soul outtake. Falling somewhere between The Red Button and The Rutles, Cupid's Carnival lives in a world where it's always 1965 - and in some respects, that's not a bad thing.

iTunes