Wednesday, December 04, 2019

December Mega-Roundup.

Making up for lost time with a mega-roundup with twice the albums!

Latvian Radio-Give in to the Night. Patrick Westoo & friends continue to deliver the goods on their seventh album, and it's more of the upbeat, buoyant pop they're known for. Combining new wave and power pop, the standouts here are the breezy "21st Century Shakedown" (complete with horns), the danceable title track, and the almost jangly "She's Back to Kill Again".

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Goodman-The Era of Buckets. It's been over 2 1/2 years since we last heard from Michael Goodman, but it was worth the wait. His latest collection of tuneful and insistent indie pop is another keeper, with the highlights being the opener "Don't", "Watch Your Mouth" (both reminiscent of AC Newman's work in The New Pornographers), and the heavy power pop of "Shallow (Completely Shallow)".

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Fallon Cush-Stranger Things Have Happened. Fallon Cush (a/k/a Australia's Steve Smith) is another returnee to these pages as he continues to mine a consistent career threading the needle between indie rock and alt-country, or as I've said before, Teenage Fanclub meets the Gary Louris-led Jayhawks. "Sleep Her Away" might be the quintessential Fallon Cush song with its sweet chorus, and "The Key" finds the alt-country side of things emphasized a bit more. Also of note are the lovely acoustic guitar ballad "Yaraman" and the Band-esque "Tempo over Time".

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Slumberjet-World of Sound. After a 9-year hiatus from their first collaboration, Barry O'Brien & Duncan Matiland team up again as Slumberjet. Both have had fine solo careers (with Maitland's Lullabies for the 21st Century clocking in at #2 on my 2010 year-end list), and here the whole is even better than the sum of the parts with tracks such as the Beatlesque "Round x 2", the infectious and rocking "(Theme from) Our Street", the could-have-been-an-80s-hit-with-its-synths "Across the Divide" and the McCartney-influenced "The Big Snow". A welcome return and a year-end list contender for me.

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Saul Glennon-North on Broadway. Saul Glennon is not a solo artist, but rather the name of an Ohio band derived from a Batman comic which riffed on the whole "Paul is Dead" rumor with Saul standing in for Paul and Glennon for Lennon. With that kind of background story, you won't be surprised to see the band draws from 60s and 70s British rock and pop and North on Broadway is a love letter to the area of Cleveland in which they grew up during the 70s. It's also one of the more pleasant surprises I've come across this year with one catchy guitar pop tune after another. From the Todd Rundgren-esque "Hello '76" to the Merseyside sounds of "Meet Me at Morgana" (with shout-outs to McDonald's and the old "special orders don't upset us" Burger King theme) to the whimsy of "Cause I was 15" it works as well as a concept album as it does a collection of cool tunes.

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The Inside Passenger (Cliff Hillis)-The Inside Passenger. The Inside Passenger is the alter-ego of the great Cliff Hillis, and this short (12 minutes and change) EP is a departure for him, hence the different name. Instead of the pristine power pop he's know for, Hillis has branched out into a more atmospheric sound which he compares to the likes of Grizzly Bear, Fleet Foxes, Elliott Smith, Sparklehorse and Nick Drake. While this aren't his usual toe-tappers, songs like "Truth Be Told", "Listen to Your Mother" and "If I Swam the Seven Seas" see Hillis's melodic gifts put to use in the context of some beautiful, haunting music. Listen for yourself below.

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Friday, November 08, 2019

Early November Roundup.

Extra Arms-Up from Here. Ryan Allen returns with his Extra Arms with an album that's as rocking and raw for us as it was cathartic for him. Having gone through a divorce the year before, Allen lets it all out with eight tracks that clock in at about 22 minutes total. Leading things off naturally is "F.L.Y." (which stands for "fuck last year"), a raucuous, almost punk-rock anthem for anyone who's gone through a bad period. "Disruptor" is another aggressive gem, and "Comes in Waves" is loud power pop that any Bob Mould or Superdrag fan would be glad to add to their record collection. And the closing title track might be one of his finest songs, melding his raucous rock with a hint of optimism.

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The Pozers-Crybaby Bridge. The Pozers are one of power pop's best-kept secrets despite having been around for some 25 years. On their seventh album (and first in seven years), they continue to deliver the goods. Unlike a lot of other power poppers, all the songs on a Pozers album don't sound the same, and here we have "SoCal" which despite its title sounds more like The Beatles than The Beach Boys, "The Only Girl" which kinda does sound like The Beach Boys, the psych-rock of "Telling My Secrets" and the 70s pop of "If You Really Wanna Know". Quality all around, and disc comes with acoustic and remixed versions of most of its tracks if you're into that sort of thing. All in all not bad for a band led by a guy (Jim Richey) who's an English professor with a Ph.D.

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Anny Celsi-Kaleidoscope Heart: 12 Golden Hits. It's been six years since I last checked in on Anny Celsi (not counting her album with Duncan Maitland and Nelson Bragg) but there's no better time to catch up than the present with this 12-track career retrospective. Showing why she's become of the first ladies of power pop over the years, this collection starts off with the title track from my favorite album of hers, the Byrds-ian "Tangle-Free World" and continues with gems like the jangly "Empty Hangers", the lovely folk-rock of "The Night She Learned to Drive" and perhaps her best track, "Little Black Dress" which is as slinky and sultry as the title would imply. If you're new to Anny Celsi, this is the perfect place to start.

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Thursday, October 17, 2019

Mid-October Roundup.

Jordan Jones-Jordan Jones. Apparently LA's Jordan Jones released this self-titled debut on cassette last year, but it wasn't until Sweden's Beluga Records picked it up for wide release earlier this year that it was noticed in the power pop scene. I start off with this bit of housekeeping because it's going to end up pretty high on my 2019 list despite its origin. This is the kind of debut that keeps obsessives like myself forever on the prowl for new music, poring over release lists and CD Baby or Bandcamp new releases, and Jones has come through with quite a set of tunes here. Jones' high-register voice comes in somewhere between Ken Sharp and Jeff Whalen, and so does his high-register power pop. Opener "Wrote You a Song for Me" is a clever, catchy number which makes you weep for those who won't get to hear it, "Understood" is a high-tempo rocker that's pop-punk-adjacent, "No Makeup" is a song as pretty as the girlfriend the lyrics are directed to, and naming a new song "Be My Baby" would normally be presumptuous but Phil Spector would probably enjoy Jones' namesake. There isn't a weak track here, and it's great to see a young artist keeping the power pop flame alive.

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The Mike Benign Compulsion-Bygones. Mike Benign & friends return with another quality collection of thinking man's power pop. His albums always sound like the answer to question "What if Elvis Costello was an American indie popster in the 21st century" and the leadoff track "Beauty & Pedigree & Bank" has just the right mix of cynicism and melody to be a winner, while "Bonafide Americans" is an Elvis C-like takedown of our addled president. "Let it Be or Let it Rain" uses the two classic rock tracks in its title to take on the boomer generation, while other standouts include "These Heroes" (which doesn't spare Generation X) and the Lennon-esque "Olivia Rainmaker". What a concept: power pop with lyrics worth listening to as well as the music.

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Dan Israel-Social Media Anxiety Disorder. Minneapolis singer/songwriter Dan Israel has been one of the more reliable roots pop/rockers out there over the last couple of decade and his latest (complete with an album cover that's an homage to K-Tel) is another sturdy collection. "Be My Girl" blasts out of your speakers with its horn section and Rockpile-like sound, "125" is groovy psych-pop that recalls Steve Earle's "Transcendental Blues", and "Just Can't Take It" pays tribute to 80s snyth-pop (and is catchy as hell). And those are just the first three tracks. Also worth a listen: the folk/rock of "Might as Well Be Me", "Another Day" which also channels Elvis C, and the rollicking "Alright".

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Friday, October 04, 2019

Fall Singles Roundup.

Michael Carpenter-The Start of Being Alone. Michael Carpenter may have "retired" from straight-up power pop, but he remains busy writing, producing and collaborating and his sense of melody and songcraft isn't retired. He bills this new single as alt-country but to these ears it's more rock than twang and in the vein of Tom Petty.

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Dave Sheinin-The Lies of Summer. The debut album from longtime Washington Post sportswriter Dave Sheinin was perhaps the most pleasant surprise of 2018, finishing #8 on my year-end list, and he's back with this fine Andy Bopp-produced track.

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Andrew Stonehome-I Am King. Normally I don't seek out singles from artists I'm unfamiliar with, but this tune from Portland's Andrew Stonehome caught my ear and hasn't let go. Bright, crunchy power pop that sounds like Cheap Trick crossed with Big Star. This song is apparently a teaser for an upcoming full-length album due in 2020, and I for one can't wait for it.

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Peter Baldrachi-The Suffering. My last singles roundup several months back featured his great tune "Breathe", and Baldrachi continues to release new tunes in advance of his upcoming full-length next year as well. This is one is 2:19 of his usual ear candy, and despite the title no suffering is involved.

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The Hangabouts-Who Wants Cilla?/Mrs. Greene. One of our favorite Detroit pop bands returns with a double-sided single, which I'll let them describe for you: "A throwback to Phil Spector pop backed with a Kinks-ish ode to your favorite teacher". Can't go wrong there.

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Dave Hill-Parking the Moose. Comedian/author/rocker Dave Hill, best known around here as the frontman of Valley Lodge, has a new book out which provides his unique twisted perspective on Canada, and his promotional theme song for it is pretty much what you'd expect: a fun tune with goofy lyrics name-dropping everything Canadian.

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Monday, September 16, 2019

Mid-September Roundup.

The Rallies-Upside Down. Seattle's The Rallies burst upon the power pop scene in Spring 2017 with Serve, an album that finished in the top half of my 100 best of that year. And with Upside Down they've evaded any sophomore slump as the followup builds on the Tom Petty-meets-Crowded House vibe of the debut. The melodies are still sweet and the jangle keeps jangling as the opening one-two punch of "All Over Town" and "It's Okay" will attest. There's not a weak track in the lot as they're all pretty much uniformly melodic, but I'll give the nod to the slow-building "All of Us" and the uplifting closer "You're the One".

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The Brothers Steve-#1. Jeff Whalen was the frontman of late-90s major label power poppers Tsar, and last year he re-emerged with 10 More Rock Super Hits which I didn't review but placed at #7 on my year-end list. Now he's teamed up with former Tsar bandmates Jeff Solomon and Steve Coulter, as well as Os Tyler and Dylan Champion to form The Brothers Steve. The sound here isn't the heavy pop/glam of Tsar but more of a classic late 60s/early 70s made-for-TV pop feel. Lead single "Angeline" is as hypnotic as the album cover, the infectious "We Got the Hits" makes a perfect theme song for the band, the latest single "She" channels The Monkees, and the "Beat Generation Poet" who turned assassin should be made into a movie. In keeping with the spirit of the era that inspired it this album is currently only available on the medium of the time, vinyl. However, a CD and digital release is coming soon, and in the meantime you can order the digital single of "Angeline" and "Carolanne" here.

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David Woodard-Everything in Between EP. David Woodard had one of my favorite EPs last year with his debut I Used to Be Cool, and he's followed that up with another winner of an EP. Last time around I said his sound reminded me of fellow Nashvillian Bill Lloyd and nothing here changes that, with the jangly and catchy "We're Not Coming Back" opening the proceedings. Meanwhile, the title track conjures "Penny Lane", "Nine Hundred Ninety-Nine" is effortlessly melodic and "Flipped the Script" brings Teenage Fanclub to mind. Along with these four, Woodard throws in a fine cover of "(What's So Funny 'bout) Peace, Love & Understanding" and a remix of last year's holiday single "Waiting for Christmas".

iTunes

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Late August Roundup.

Bryan Estepa-Sometimes I Just Don't Know. Bryan Estepa may have titled his new album "Sometimes I Just Don't Know" but that phrase hardly applies to whether you should get a new Bryan Estepa release as the Aussie has shown over the past 15 or so years that he's as consistently good as they come in the power pop community. With his signature brand of melodic pop/rock that owes as much to power pop as it does to Brian Wilson-styled California pop and roots rock/Americana, there's just one quality track after another here. I've already reviewed the singles "I'm Not Ready for This" and "No Ordinary" but among the previously unheard "Like the Cruel" (with it's "whoa-oh-oh" chorus) and "Drawn Like Magnets" are the standouts. Sorry other artists, but a year with a Bryan Estepa release means one fewer spot in my year-end top 20 for you to grab.

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Rob Laufer-The Floating World. Another beacon of consistency over the last 15 or so years has been Rob Laufer, although his new albums are fewer are farther between. The Floating World is his first since 2010's Excruciating Bliss, and it finds him in fine form again albeit this time in a bit of a softer pop mode. As always, these are well-crafted tunes which are easy on the ear, from the Harrison-esque opener "Avalanche" (featuring some fine slide guitar) to the chugging "Bolt of Blue" (featuring Danny McGough on "alien signals") to the title track (as pretty-sounding as the title implies) to the stately "This River". First-rate pop that can be called "adult contemporary" as opposed to the pablum that typically is given that label.

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The Junior League-Adventureland. And the theme of today's post - proven commodities - is complete with the latest from Joe Adragna's The Junior League. No waiting nine years here, though, as he follows up 2018's Eventually is Now with a more raucous collection than usual. The none-too-subtle signal for this is that the opening track is titled "Heavy" and it features louder and crunchier guitars than previous JL releases. Melody is not sacrificed in the process, though, and Adventureland is clearly the most "power pop" of today's three featured albums. "Have Faith in Yourself" (written by The Minus 5's Scott McCaughey) follows with just enough touch of weird (dig those swirling keyboards) to pass for a Minus 5 track, while "Falling in Love" hews more closely to Adragna's traditional sound, a catchy number with handclaps and female backing vocals. Elsewhere, "Queen of the Dead" and "Town in a Box" rock loud, making Adventureland the Monster of Adragna's catalog (and by the way, Monster is my favorite R.E.M. album, so there).

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Thursday, August 08, 2019

Early August Roundup.

Erk-When Night Meets Day. Erk is Berlin's Erk Wiemer, and although this is his third album (the first two came in out 2005 and 2009) he's new to me and I'm sure to you. What makes Erk worth your acquaintance is his unabashed pop sound, the kind of classicist pop that incorporates everything from Bacharach to the Brill Building to Motown to the likes of The Beach Boys and ELO, all of which is in service of the catchy tune. Leadoff track "Living My Life Without You" captures his essence, with Motown horns, Beatlesque guitars and an uptempo beat. "Taking My Time" finds Erk dueting with Diane Weigmann which recalls Matthew Sweet teaming up with Susanna Hoffs except this is an original 60s-inspired tune. "Malibu Beach's in Berlin" is Brian Wilson meets Paul McCartney, "Move On" seems ready to break out into "Happy Together" at any time, "I'm Standing Here" is Nilsson by way of the Left Banke and I was looking for a Bacharach/David writing credit on "Better Sad Than Dead". A joyous pop tour de force, When Night Meets Day is one of the more fun albums you'll listen to this year.

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Matthew Milia-Alone at St. Hugo. Alone at St. Hugo is the solo debut of Detroit's Matthew Milia, better known as the frontman of the Americana band Frontier Ruckus, a band I had enjoyed over the years. Here Milia trades in the rootsier sound of FR for a more pop-oriented direction and the result is an unqualified success. Milia has said the album pays tribute to bands such as Big Star, Teenage Fanclub, and The Lemonheads, and opener "Alive at the Same Time" is prime indie pop that sounds like a happier, better-adjusted version of Elliott Smith. "Puncture" also draws the Smith comparison as it's densely epic in scope and length, the amusingly-titled "Sometimes I Feel Like My Arm's Falling Off" would be at home on a Pernice Brothers album, "Attention Students" is a power pop paean to lost love and old school days, and in the end Milia finds himself "Abruptly Old and Caffeinated". The lyrics are clever as well, a step above the usual fare.

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Breakfast in America-Side Hustle! This Edmonton band named after Supertramp's classic album has given us a quality debut EP. They describe their sound as "California surf grunge" but I hear more of a quirky pop sensibility as shown on "Mean Old Man" which is kind of Tom Petty meets Beck while "Pizza Boy" could pass for a less art-conscious version of Spoon. The real highlight here is "San Juan Capistrano", a pleasing power pop number that fits somewhere in between Petty and The Jayhawks.

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