Friday, October 19, 2018

Valley Lodge and Mario Soutschka

Valley Lodge-Fog Machine. The Dave Hill musical assault continues with the fourth Valley Lodge album and first since 2013's Use Your Weapons. That album made Hill's music a household item as it spawned "Go", the theme to Last Week Tonight With John Oliver. And the band's self-titled 2005 debut remains one of my favorite power pop records of all time while Hill's Painted Doll project brought us some serious rawk earlier this year. So what does he do for an encore? He serves up 14 power-poppin', catchy-as-hell tracks is what he does. "Stars Won't Fall" kicks things off in classic VL form (melodies, call-and-response falsetto vocals and rocking guitars) just like "Go" and "If it Takes All Night" were the lynchpins of the previous efforts. "Stand" is a frenetic, almost danceable number in the manner of "Go" ready-made for another late-night talker to adopt, while "Come Back to Bed" is a rocker with attitude. Other standouts include the soulful "I'm Gone" (the chimes in the chorus give it a Philly soul feel), the Slade-esque glam rock of "It's Alright", which hearkens back to 2009's Semester at Sea, the mid-tempo power pop of "Fire", and "Days of Our Lives" which starts off with (gasp!) an acoustic guitar before settling into another of Hill's melodic numbers. So crank up the Fog Machine and get ready to rock (and pop).

iTunes




Mario Soutschka-Long Stories Short. While Dave Hill and Valley Lodge are undoubtedly familiar to AbPow readers, I'm quite certain German singer/songwriter Mario Soutschka isn't. His second full-length caught my ear with its bright tuneful power pop in the vein of Butch Walker and Cliff Hillis. "Right Back to Me" comes out of the blocks with guitars and melodies from the Badfinger playbook, and "Do" is a catchy number with a shuffling melody. "Facebook Mom" recalls Fountains of Wayne both spiritually and sonically, "Flying Away" is a lovely, largely acoustic duet with Melanie Hirsch, and "One in a Row" is a fine rocker.

iTunes




Thursday, October 11, 2018

Fall Singles Collection

Quite a few power poppers of note have singles out, so it's time to round them all up in one place.

Bleu-Love You So. Bleu McAuley has proven to be a pop polymath over the years and his latest is an ultra-catchy slice of pop in the true sense. In fact "Love You So" is so catchy it's been featured in a ubiquitous eBay commercial you've probably heard. iTunes



Bryan Estepa-No Ordinary. Great to have new music from one of power pop's most reliable performers over the last decade-plus, and while I want to say "No Ordinary" is no ordinary Bryan Estepa track, it kinda isn't but that's a good thing. iTunes



Andy Reed-Truth to My Love. Andy Reed's been busy making music with The Legal Matters and brother act The Reed Brothers so this is the first release under his own name in some time and it's another example of his fine pop songcraft. iTunes



Downstate Darlings-King James/Ordinary Kind. While the name Downstate Darlings may not have a familiar ring, it's the new project from New York rocker Chris Abad, featured here before. This double-sided single is a great introduction for the project. "King James" is a Fountains of Wayne-type tune with crunchy guitars and synths, and "Ordinary Kind" is a melodic rocker. iTunes



Timmy Sean-In California. After his exhaustive 52-track Song of the Week project in 2015, Timmy Sean is back with some new music and "In California" has all the big hooks and big guitars you remember from his previous work. iTunes



Michael Simmons-This is Most Certainly True. Simmons has been a standout over the years in bands such as sparkle*jets u.k. and The Yorktown Lads, and his recent solo work. His latest applies his knack for melody with political protest as he takes on our increasingly toxic political culture.



Thursday, September 27, 2018

Checkpoint Charley and Ken Sharp.

Checkpoint Charley-Pomp, Twaddle & Bombast: Songs 13-24. Back in May I was excited to see the return of Checkpoint Charley after a 10+ year absence when they gave us a Star Wars-themed EP which featured a contrarian take on Jar Jar Binks. At the time they promised the proper followup to 2005's Songs One Through Twelve and the bombastically-titled Pomp, Twaddle & Bombast: Songs 13-24 is now here. Like their previous releases, Songs 13-24 is vintage power pop, chock full of hooks and melodies with influences ranging from Jellyfish to Badfinger. "Acting My Age" obliquely addresses their absence and their middle age in tuneful fashion, "Facing the Music" is top-rate power balladry, "Out of the Blue" has something approximating a dance beat, and the baroque "Adam and Eve" and "Young and Naive" are where they really channel Falkner, Manning & Co. And those guys are getting back together anytime soon, so the return of Checkpoint Charley is as close are you're gonna get. I don't have samples to share unfortunately, but if you listen to their older stuff you'll get the idea. Kool Kat is offering the CD along with the Jedi EP as a package deal or you can download directly at their official site.

Kool Kat | Official site

Ken Sharp-Beauty in the Backseat. Ken Sharp remains one of the most interesting guys in the power pop scene, equally adept as an author as he is a musician, with his most recent tome being Volume 4 of his "Play On! Power Pop Heroes" series. Ken's now out with his latest musical opus, and it's a slight departure from the classic power pop he's usually known for. On Beauty in the Backseat he adds a Philly soul element to the mix and it's a welcome progression. Fernando Perdomo proudces and Sharp's gotten some of those pop heroes he writes about to help him out - if you're making a Philly Soul-influenced album there's no one better to get than John Oates and he contributes backing vocals to the wonderful "Philly Kind of Night", and Ace Frehley of KISS (the subject of one of Sharp's books) throws in a guitar solo on the opener "Rock Show", the best song of its kind since Paul McCartney's on Venus and Mars. Other standouts include the delightfully smooth "Lemons to Lemonade" and "The Hardest Part" while fans of Sharp's more traditional power pop sound won't be disappointed either - "24 Hours a Day" and "Pull the Strings" (speaking of Jellyfish-influenced) fill the bill on that score. This is pop at its purest, so you'll want to look Sharp with this album in your collection.

iTunes


Monday, September 10, 2018

Early September Roundup.

Caddy-Ten Times Four. Tomas Dahl is back again as Caddy after his work with Aussie band The Stanleys and he continues to be one of power pop's best-kept secrets. Ten Times Four, as the title implies, is Dahl's fourth Caddy album and might be the best of the lot. "Miracle Turn" is a driving midtempo pop tune that recalls classic Teenage Fanclub, while "Somewhere Beautiful" is another earworm and lead single "Contagious" recalls The Raspberries. Other standouts include the 70s rock of "Avoiding Me Avoiding You" and the sweet harmonies among the crunchy guitars of "Safe Travels". With not one bad track, Dahl goes 10-for-10 here and has one of 2018's best to date.

Kool Kat | iTunes



Rayland Baxter-Wide Awake. Nashville singer-songwriter Rayland Baxter has been better known through his first two albums as a roots-rocker, more known in Americana circles. With Wide Awake, Baxter turns his songcraft to a more pop-oriented sound and has also fashioned one of 2018's best. The lead single "Casanova" is my favorite track of 2018, with its slinky (Kinks-y?) melody and infectious chorus (try to get "back to the hole that I came from" out of your head). But the fun doesn't stop here - "Angeline" is a McCartney-esque track with baroque backing, "79 Shiny Revolvers" is a wonderfully melodic track that tackles America's gun violence, "Amelia Baker" owes to Ray Davies as well, "Hey Larocco" recalls the Jayhawks at their poppiest, and the lovely ballad "Without Me" bears a Harry Nilsson influence. If you want a melodic gem of an album that strays off the beaten power pop path, Wide Awake is a must.

iTunes



Johnny Stanec-The Future of Nothing. Johnny Stanec is nothing if not prolific - The Future of Nothing is the eleventh album released under his own name or his band First in Space in the last 11-12 years or so. His latest doesn't break the Midwestern power pop a la The Gin Blossoms mold of his body of work but it's one of the best-sounding examples of it. Opener "I'll Be Your Ghost" is pleasingly melodic, "Feeling Lost" has that BoDeans/Connells feel to it, while "Phases of the Moon" and "The Strangest Sound" delve into Jayhawks-styled Americana. If you have any or all of his previous ten releases, you'll want this one.

iTunes

Friday, August 24, 2018

Late August Roundup.

The Great Affairs-Ten & 2. Denny Smith returns again with The Great Affairs and their latest is a harder-rocking, crunchier-sounding affair that reminds me more of Smith's former band, fORMER. No longer content to play in the Gin Blossoms' sandbox, Ten & 2 owes more to Cheap Trick, KISS and maybe even Bon Jovi. This is vintage 80s/90s AOR with the standouts being "What You Get is Gone", "Unfound" and "Back to Boston", which could become a Fenway Park anthem in the near future. Rock on!

iTunes | Kool Kat



Bird Streets-Bird Streets. It's been quite a while since we heard from John Brodeur and in that time the New York popster has hooked up with Jason Falkner, who co-writes and produces this new Brodeur joint under the name Bird Streets. And damned if it doesn't sound like a Jason Falkner album, which is always a good thing. This is apparent on the chorus of opener "Carry Me" which has that Jellyfish feel, while the other highlights are the anthemic "Stop to Breathe", the angular mid-tempo rocker "Direction" and the trippy "Heel". A first-rate collection of tunes which will appeal to Brodeur fans as well as Falkner/Jellyfish fans.

iTunes



V Sparks-Moderne Life EP. This Chicago 5-piece got on my radar last year with their fine EP New Sensation, but they've taken a leap forward here with the followup. These guys specialize in high-energy pop with manic tempos, synths and pianos, and high-register vocals that recall Bryan Scary, The Format/Nate Ruess and Queen. The latter band is clearly the influence on "The Game of Everybody Knows It's You", which is the best Queen rip I've heard in ages, drawing on A Night at the Opera's "Lazing on a Sunday Afternoon". The frenetic "Remodel" and "Hollywood" are also standouts. This is high octane-fun that's perfectly suited to an EP because frankly 10-12 tracks like this would be exhausting.

Bandcamp (out on the 28th)


Saturday, August 04, 2018

New playlist!

After a year and a half, I've finally updated the Spotify playlist over on the right. It's a bunch of stuff I've featured on the site lately and a bunch of stuff I haven't, so dig in!

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Early August Roundup.

The Late Show-Sha La La. Grizzled (and I mean grizzled) vets of the power pop scene will remember Portable Pop, the 1980 release from NYC band The Late Show which landed at #46 of the 200 most essential power pop albums in John Borack's Shake Some Action: The Ultimate Power Pop Guide. They went on to record a followup in 1983 that never saw the light of day to record label issues and essentially weren't heard from again - until now. Now based out of Indianapolis, the original lineup is back with a followup. Although I can't say it was worth the wait as 38 years is too long to wait for just about anything - it's certainly worth your listening time. It's power pop in the classic sense, chock full of hooks, guitars and melodies, right from the Knack-like opener "To Let it Go" to Big Star-in-their-quieter-moments-sounding "Tears" to the acoustic guitars in the verses and electric in the chorus of "Hello Linda". The album has a timeless sound to it, and it's one more entry in a banner year for power pop. It's good to have these guys back, but none of us are going to survive another 38-year wait for the next one.

iTunes




Michael Roberts-There is No Blue. Michael Roberts was one of 2016's pleasant surprises with the Welshman's debut Suspended in This Space placing in the top half of my year-end list. He's back with the followup, and while it's not as consistently brilliant as the debut it's a fine collection of 70s-AM-singer-songwriter-styled pop. The standouts here are the baroque "Stardust Symphony", the pastoral "It's for Real", the breezy pop of "And Again", and the lovely "Turn Your Face into the Sun".

Kool Kat




William Duke-Quatro. San Francisco's William Duke (also of The Bye Bye Blackbirds) is back for the first time in three years with what you might have guessed from the title is his fourth album, and Quatro may truly be his best. Known for his dreamy California pop in the vein of Cloud Eleven or the Pernice Brothers, Duke this time cranks up the guitars a bit for more straight-ahead power pop sound. "Caroline and the Silver Sun" is pure jangle pop, and "Junk #2" which off its title you might be forgiven for expecting a breezy instrumental is instead a catchy rocker with some bite. "Hotels End" and "As Good as it Gets" feature the dreamy pop sound you've come to expect from Duke, while "Complications #1" veers into Jayhawks-styled popicana. While the styles might change song-to-song, the common denominator is Duke's songwriting craft and Quatro is a welcome return.

Bandcamp