Friday, June 24, 2016

Late June Roundup.

Cupid's Carnival-Everything is Love. This London band appears to have sprung up out of nowhere - I can't find a website, Facebook page or anything else for them. Given how Beatlesque they sound, perhaps the Fabs have resurfaced in the lowest-key way possible (remember those Klaatu rumors from the late 70s?). OK I know that's ridiculous but whoever they are, they've dropped the best Beatles-influenced album of 2016 to date on us with Everything is Love. It opens with the McCartney-esque "Girl" complete with Harrison-like slide guitar, "Working Girl" has a driving melody, and "I Was the Boy" drifts into psych-pop territory. There's even a cover of "A Whiter Shade of Pale" here. But the real fun comes at the end with the title track, a Lennon-styled ballad that sounds like a Beatles outtake, and "Sunny Days", the latest variation on "Mr. Blue Sky". Whoever these guys are, they should take a bow.

iTunes



The Well Wishers-Comes and Goes. I believe this is Jeff Shelton's eight full-length album as The Well Wishers (plus an EP), and they've all been so consistently good that I've just about run out of things to say about them. So in other words this is less a review and more of a notification that there's a new Well Wishers album out there you need to pick up. The differences between this one and the others is slight; it's a bit more consistently rocking than 2014's A Shattering Sky. "Impossible to Blame" opens the album and from the first few notes you know you're listening to The Well Wishers, while "It's On" has a classic AOR sound to it. Only "In Love With" and "Nobody's Dancing Alone" slow things down a bit from the norm, and the closer "Nature's Son" belies its pastoral name with some of the hardest rock Shelton's undertaken. But as I said, it's a new Well Wishers album - you really don't need me to describe it.

Bandcamp



Bill Lloyd-Lloyd-ering. Nashville's Bill Lloyd is essentially one of power pop's elder statesmen, a songwriter's songwriter who's written for some big names over the years, been one-half of the great 80s duo Foster & Lloyd, did a one-off album with The Spongetones' Jamie Hoover, was part of the power pop supergroup Swag and released several outstanding solo albums this century. Many of my readers probably know this already, but somehow this is the first time I've featured one of his releases here so I'll pay him his proper respects. Another thing Lloyd is known for is his penchant for covers, and it seems as if there hasn't been a tribute album in the power pop community that he hasn't contributed a song to. Lloyd-ering is an attempt to collect these scattered covers (many of which are out-of-print) in one collection and even though it misses a few, this is an excellent 12-song sampler. He leads off with the Bobby Fuller Four classic "Let Her Dance" (also memorably covered by Marshall Crenshaw), captures the spirit of the Byrds with "The World Turns All Around Her" and gives John Lennon a run for his money with his version of "Across the Universe", among others. My only quibble is that "When Time Stood Still" from the Jeff Lynne tribute Lynne Me Your Ears was omitted, but maybe that'll be on the Lloyd-ering box set someday.

iTunes



Friday, June 10, 2016

Early June Roundup.

Michael Carpenter & The Cuban Heels-Ain't Nothing Left to Say. When we last left Michael Carpenter the previous autumn he had released our album of the year, The Big Radio, which was billed as probably his last solo record. But that doesn't mean we've heard the last of him, and a scant seven months later he's returned with The Cuban Heels, his rotating band of fellow Aussie pop/rockers including Russell Crawford, whom we've featured here in his own right. The difference between a Cuban Heels album and a proper MC solo joint is that he turns to a more alt-country/Australiana sound but his gift for melody and the catchy tune isn't diminished by addition of some twang or pedal steel. In fact, the title track with its "na na, na na na na" backing would fit right at home on one of his pop albums, and "Photo" is more power pop than country. Still you do get some twang here (which in my book is welcome) with "I Should Have Told You" and "Wasted Years, Wasted Time". I could go on, but this is new Michael Carpenter music. I don't need to tell you it's worth a listen.

Bandcamp



The Person & The People-Dark & Low. This Minneapolis band has been kicking around the better part of a decade and Dark & Low is their fourth release in that time so it's long past time I mentioned them on these pages. Their sound is highly melodic indie rock, and although they mention Ryan Adams and Weezer as RIYL artists on their album page, I hear more Teenage Fanclub as covered by Superdrag. Anyway, it's an interesting brew and this album features such gems as the almost-jangly "Hot Summer Nights", the 2:08 burst of "Sleep All Day" and the crisp rock of "Until the Morning". And after you get into this one feel free to dive into their back catalog, which is quite good as well.

iTunes



David Brookings & The Average Lookings-David Brookings & The Average Lookings. Also back on our pages again is David Brookings, who this time bills himself with his backup band The Average Lookings. This is his seventh album and another great collection of his jangly, breezy west coast pop. Crediting the backup band here is appropriate as Brookings has a fuller sound here, heard on tracks such as "Time to Go", "The Optimist" and "You're Right, it Went So Wrong", which are Grade-A power pop. Also of note is the alt-countryish "I'm in Love With Your Wife", which considers the famous George Harrison/Patti Harrison/Eric Clapton love triangle, and the shiny pop of "Place We Can Go", perhaps the quintessential David Brookings track. They may consider themselves "average looking" but this is some pretty handsome pop.

iTunes

Monday, May 23, 2016

Late May Roundup.

Bryan Estepa & The Tempe Two-Every Little Thing. A new Bryan Estepa record is invariably one of the highlights of the music year and with his new release 2016 is no exception to that rule. This time around Estepa is backed by "Tempe Two" but Every Little Thing is of a piece with his previous records: fine melodic pop/rock that owes as much to power pop as it does to Brian Wilson-styled California pop and roots rock/Americana (Australiana?). So whether it's the catchy first single "Object of My Disaffection" or the mid-tempo opening track "Think of You" or the lovely ballad "Sooner of Later", Estepa's ear for melody is always there. Speaking of Wilson, "Don't Hurry Baby" owes its title to a play on words of one of Wilson's most famous songs but is also an enjoyable pop song in its own right. Easily one of the year's best (again).

iTunes



Fallon Cush-Bee in Your Bonnet. Fallon Cush has been on my year-end lists three times since 2011, but somehow I never managed to write a single word about them. That ends today with the latest full-length from Australian Steve Smith, who uses the Fallon Cush moniker. For those unfamiliar with his previous release, Smith's sound here is Teenage Fanclub meets the Gary Louris-led Jayhawks. Leadoff track "There's a Dark Side to That Moon" is a wonderful example of this, roots rock with a pop sensibility. "Less Your Near" and the rocking "Kings Ransom" are standouts, as is "Dorothy", a moody mid-tempo rocker that would sound at home on the new Jayhawks record. While I'd recommend you seek out the previous Fallon Cush releases, this one is clearly Smith's best and the place to start.

iTunes



Joe Giddings-Better from Here. Now that you've heard today's Australian roots pop/rockers, it's time for some good old-fashioned American-style power pop and California's Joe Giddings is here to provide it for you. Giddings has been around for the better part of a couple of decades now, originally with Star Collector and with an early-2000s Not Lame album as The JTG Explosion under his belt, and lately he's been recording covers galore for the Theme Music group on Facebook. It was his covers on some recent tribute albums that caught my attention, and when I recognized his name in the new releases on Bandcamp, I jumped all over this straight-ahead power pop collection of original tunes. There's something cheeky about having your leadoff track be a rocker titled "Rock 'n' Roll" and the cheek continues with "Irrelevant", capturing the state of the independent musician trying to get by in an unfashionable genre in 2016 ("Cause 15 likes on Facebook can't be wrong") to a great melody. The title track, "Born Apart" and "Brand New Day" are also tracks that deserve rotation in whatever playlist you're currently working up. Power pop at its most pure.

Bandcamp

Friday, May 06, 2016

Early May Roundup.

Cliff Hillis-Love Not War EP. If there's one word I associate with Cliff Hillis, it's "songcraft". Few artists today have the ability to write pure, perfect-sounding pop songs on a consistent basis, and Hillis always delivers the goods. His latest is an EP of seven pop gems, and the title track and first single might be the third or fourth best track on the EP even thought it could have been a Rupert Holmes-style hit in 1979. But the straight-up power pop of "A Boy Downtown" and "Suicide Doors" shines even brighter, and "Mayor of Midnight" is the kind of mid-tempo track with a smooth, effortless melody that recalls other recent Hillis favorites like "Keep the Blue Skies" and "Elevator". It's going to take something very, very special to keep Love Not War from being my #1 EP of 2016 come year's end.

iTunes



Radio Days-Back in the Day. My favorite Italian power pop band is back with their fourth full-length and first since 2013's Get Some Action as Dario Persi & the boys continue to bring us power pop in the vein of the Paul Collins Beat, The Rubinoos (with whom they released a split EP in 2014) and The Knack. Opener "Why Don't You Love Me Anymore" has that late-60s, Nuggets-era feel to it and "Rock'n'Roll Night" sounds just like you think it does while "Your Words" sounds like The Beatles meet The Kinks. And the closer "Betta (Are You Feeling Better)" might even be the best thing here, capturing their 60s influences and perhaps surpassing them for a moment.

Bandcamp



Labradors-The Great Maybe. If Radio Days is my favorite Italian band, these guys just might be my second-favorite. Following up on the promise of last year's Hate Summer EP, The Great Maybe is a fine collection of harder-rocking power pop in the vein of Superdrag, as evidenced by the one-two punch of the title track and "Jasmine". They have a facility with the less-rocking tunes as well, with the lovely opening ballad "I Won't Let Anyone Hurt You" and the midtempo "Terrible Friend" of particular note. And for a band that seems named after a dog breed, they give us an ode to cats on "Paws". Pet sounds, indeed.

iTunes



Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Mid-April Roundup.

Conrad Korsch-On the Threshold. Conrad Korsch, the bassist in Rod Stewart's touring band for the last 10+ years, steps out on his own with a top-notch collection of power pop. Opener "1+1+U" recalls Matthew Sweet circa 100% Fun, "Earthlings" sounds like a lost hit from the 80s, and "We Write Our Own Eulogies" has more hooks than a tackle box. If your taste in power pop runs in the glossier-sounding side of things, this one's for you. Plus it's Rod-endorsed:



CD Baby (for samples)

Swedish Polarbears-The Great Northern. Swedish Polarbears are back! You can be forgiven for not being excited as me, but these guys had an EP of sorts back in 2007 that I wrote about here, and were never really heard from again until recently when they released a couple of singles in advance of their long-awaited (by me at least) full-length debut. To say these guys (who are in fact Swedish) are influenced by Teenage Fanclub might be an understatement as one of those 2007 tracks was titled "Norman Blake", and they also tip their sonic hat to countrymen The Tangerines and The Merrymakers. So you get melodic gems like "Sleeping/Dancing", the jangly "Sun of a Gun" and "Rewinder". And "Stay Young" does indeed sound like a lost Teenage Fanclub track. How Swede it is.

iTunes | Listen at Spotify



Mark Roebuck-The World and All Within. Virginia's Mark Roebuck has been kicking around the power pop scene since the 1980s, in bands such as The Deal and Big Cirle, and releasing some solo albums. (He also recorded an acoustic folk-rock album with fellow-at-the-time bartender Dave Matthews in 1989 as Tribe of Heaven) His latest finally brings him to my pages, and it's a wonderful collection of Byrds/Big Star/Badfinger-styled pop. "One More Fall" opens the album in fine fashion with some Byrdsian flair, and "Billboard Blue" follows in the same vein. Other tracks of note include "King William County's the Place" which has a British-sounding rustic-era Kinks feel, the lovely ballad "Holden", and the rocking "God is a Gun". So if you haven't caught up with Mark Roebuck in his many musical incarnations over the years, this is as good a time as any.

iTunes

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Late March Roundup.

Broken Promise Keeper-Broken Promise Keeper. Georgia's Rob Stuart is back for the first time in six years as Broken Promise Keeper, and BPK doesn't break the promise of prime power pop this time around with Stuart's best effort to date. The sound here is similar to fellow southern power poppers The dBs and Scott's Garage, with the standout tracks being the effervescent "She's So Cool", the Merseyside-influenced "Sasquatch Love" and the jangly "Get My Message". Don't miss out on the bouncy "Play Ball" either.

iTunes



Latvian Radio-Until Tomorrow Gets in the Way. One of my favorites, this New York Band which I've compared in the past to Brendan-Benson-meets-The-Shins is back with another collection of bubbly pop tunes. The indefatigable "Power Lines and Bedroom Blinds" is an instant favorite, while "From the Top of a Building" and "Weight of the World" are shining exemplars of their signature frenetic pop sound. They even use the Bo Diddley beat on "Letter to the National Enquirer", and close out the album with the lovely, reflective title tune. Don't let tomorrow get in the way of adding this one to your collection, get it today.

iTunes



Dropkick-Balance the Light. Speaking of bands that release consistently excellent albums, perhaps none are more consistent than the Scottish roots-poppers Dropkick, who with Balance the Light release their 12th or 13th (I've lost count and am just guessing) full-length album. This one's another fine addition to their canon and if you've liked their Teenage Fanclub-style pop in the past, you'll love this one. Tracks to go on your Dropkick best-of: the breezy "Slow Down", the pensive opener "Save Myself", and the brilliant "Out of Love Again", which perfectly distills their sound.

iTunes

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Mid-March Roundup

VA-If it Feels Good Do It-A Sloan Tribute. Keith Klingensmith & co at Futureman Records have put together one of the best power pop tribute albums I've heard, and given how long Sloan's been out there I'm kind of surprised it took until 2016 to get one. What makes Sloan such a great band for this kind of compilation is that they're the rare band that has four legitimate singer-songwriters. Specifically, you have the 70s AM radio pop of Jay Ferguson, the traditional Shoes-style power pop of Chris Murphy, Patrick Pentland's classic/hard rock-influenced tunes, and the Pink Floyd-esque art-pop of Andrew Scott. So that gives the contributors some extremely fertile ground to draw from, and the results here are pretty great. I'm personally partial to Ferguson's tunes, and here Stereo Tiger and Klingensmith open and close the comp with fine covers of "C'mon, C'mon (Let's Get it Started)" and "I Wanna Thank You" respectively (both from Sloan's career-great Navy Blues album). Another Ferguson track that finds the perfect match of artist and material is The Well Wishers' version of "The Lines You Amend", which sounds like one of Jeff Shelton's creations to begin with. Nick Piunti rescues "Right or Wrong" off Sloan's somewhat forgettable Action Pact and also makes it his own, while other standouts include The Anderson Council's take on Pentland's great rocker "Iggy & Angus" and Andy Reed's fine reading of Murphy's "I Love a Long Goodbye" from the underrated Pretty Together. The only misstep here is an odd version of Ferguson's "Don't You Believe a Word" which Hidden Pictures chose to cover with processed, synthesized vocals (I'm hoping there's a version of that track where they sang it straight as they looked a good match on paper for the tune). The only omission that disappointed me here is that nobody covered Murphy's brilliant and complex "Fading into Obscurity" from the song-medley album Never Hear the End of It. I make rare exceptions for compilations on my year-end lists (like 2013's #1 Drink a Toast to Innocence), but I just might be doing so again in 2016.

Bandcamp



Cheap Star-Songs for the Farrelly Brothers. The French band with my favorite power pop legend-based hybrid name is back with their first full-length since 2009's Speaking Like an Elephant, and it's an excellent return. They're kind of an auxiliary Posies, as they've toured with them and Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow play on all their records (including this one) and have produced them as well. So yes, there's an obvious Posies influence here, as well as bands like Nada Surf and Teenage Fanclub. Just about all the tracks here as equally as good, with the moody, driving "Memories", the very Posies-like "Separated from You" and the rocking "What's the Point" more equal than others. (NOTE: I was too lazy to reach out to them to see if these were tracks actually written for a Farrelly Brothers movie, but if not it's a helluva random title).

iTunes



Propeller-Fall Off the World. First of all, let's talk about that cover. It's an homage to the classic K-Tel album covers from the mid-70s, specifically Music Express, which I once owned and you can see here, so they grabbed my attention there. And the San Francisco band has backed it up with ten seriously power-poppin' tunes, any of which would have proudly found their way onto one of those K-Tel albums. Their sound is kind of a more rocking Teenage Fanclub or a poppier Replacements, and tracks like "Can You Hear Us Now" and "Mismatched Shoes" will have your head bobbing and toes tapping right along, while "Wish I Had Your Picture" channels The Raspberries to great effect. No gooey ballads here, just one kick-ass track after another that can serve as the soundtrack to summer 2016. And it's "name your price" at Bandcamp.

Bandcamp