Friday, December 09, 2016

Early December Roundup

Timothy Nelson-Words Like Young. Aussie Timothy Nelson has been recording for a while as the frontman of The Infidels, who put out a couple of fine rocking records in recent years. On his solo debut Nelson trades in the sometimes raucous rock of his previous band for a more midtempo style that mixes power pop and alt-country to wonderful effect and recalls the likes of countrymen Michael Carpenter, Bob Evans and Bryan Estepa. The opener "Explain" is the perfect encapsulation of this sound, mixing a hooky melody, some pedal steel and a bridge that evokes Big Star. "Living Saloon" gallops along nicely and melodically, while the dreamy "It's a Shame" brings Teenage Fanclub to mind. In a recent review, I mentioned the sub-sub-genre of odes to New York City and Nelson adds one to the canon here with "New York (You'll Never Be Mine)", a country-tinged piano ballad that would make Ryan Adams proud. Throw in the catchy pop of "Darling No" and the anthemic closer "We Never Change", and you have one of 2016's best albums.


Kevin Devine-Instigator. Instigator is Brooklyn alt-rocker Kevin Devine's ninth album (!) but the first that crossed my radar and it's a power pop delight. Produced by John Agnello who's worked with Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr., you'd expect the album to rock - and it does - but it's also melodic in the style of Matthew Sweet or Brendan Benson. "No Why" blasts out of your speakers to start things off (recalling Benson's "Good to Me" minus that song's distinctive riff), and the crunchy title track follows to keep the momentum going. Other standouts include "Magic Magnet" and "Daydrunk" both of which put the "power" in power pop, and of note is the acoustic ballad "Freddie Gray Blues", which looks at last year's famous Baltimore police custody death with sensitivity to the police (Devine's family is in law enforcement) but doesn't let them off the hook.


The Unswept-Fake It EP. Could have sworn I wrote about one of this 60s-influenced Chicago band's previous releases earlier this decade but my archives tell me not. So it's time to remedy this oversight by bringing to your attention their new EP, the first new music from the band in a couple of years due to what they term "circumstances far too tedious (and oftentimes ridiculous) to go into" that prohibited them from releasing anything. But with their difficulties behind them, it's great to hear them back with Fake It, a 4-song EP that's actually 8 as it tacks on mono mixes of the 4 new tracks. The title track borrows the riff from "I Feel Fine" and transports you back to Merseyside with its groovy melody while "The Boy Who Wakes You Up" has it roots in the more contemporary, recalling Belle & Sebastian in a way. "She Just Knows it's Over" would fit right in on a Red Button album, and "SALLY" (in all caps for some reason) is 2:26 of catchy. Good to have these guys back.


Thursday, November 17, 2016

New playlist (and new look).

First of all, I have a new Spotify playlist over on the right. It's about half stuff I've reviewed here lately and half stuff I haven't, so of note from the latter are fine new singles from Reno Bo and Shake Some Action! as well as tracks from Kyf Brewer, Pop Cult, Matt Joe Gow and Kevin Devine, whose full-length albums I would recommend checking out.

And more obviously, I changed the template on the blog. Nothing fancy (one of Blogger's generic options), but I grew tired of the old look (as I'm sure you have), and now it looks a little less 2006 and a little more 2009 at least.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Mid-November Roundup.

The Nines-Alejandro's Visions And now for something completely different. OK maybe not completely different, but Steve Eggers & Co. (with help from The Foreign Films' Bill Majoros) have returned in the space of a year with the "soundtrack" to Alejandro's Visions, a fictional 50s/early 60s movie that has allowed them to branch into 50s rock-and-roll, doo-wop, early Beach Boys, and other sounds that were the rage among the cool kids of that era. Additionally, many of the songs open with radio jingles or dialogue from the "movie" to add to the mise-en-scène. So from the pre-rock era "I Have Found You" and "My Sweet Marie" to the Beach Boys-ish "Escape from a Small Town" to the Phil Spector-influenced "Operator (Coming Home to You)" the album is a tour-de-force of early rock era pop styles. Throw in a couple of classic Eggers ballads in "And Suddenly" and "When Our Love Was in Bloom" and you have one of 2016's most interesting, if not best, releases.


Denny Smith-An Overnight Low. The frontman of The Great Affairs and fORMER finally put his own name on the cover with his solo debut. Unlike the harder-edged pop of fORMER, his solo excursion is more a piece with his other band; in other words, classic mid-tempo pop/rock that's radio-ready (90s radio that is). "Silver Lining" opens the album in fine fashion with just the right dose of melancholy to go along with a winning melody, while the more uptempo "Hard Stop" finds the golden mean between Butch Walker and The Gin Blossoms. "All in the Livin'" is an upbeat, acoustic number that's quite ingratiating, and the power ballad "Missing You" is another delight. Smith isn't going to reinvent the wheel, but that doesn't mean the ride isn't still smooth.


Preston Cochran-Sunshine EP. Preston Cochran's Sunshine is one of the best EPs of 2016, but I have to dock him points for not releasing this until the fall, so what could have been the soundtrack of the summer will instead have to brighten your day as the leaves fall and the temperatures drop. As its name implies, the title track is a jangly delight of 12-string guitars, a pretty melody and a catchy chorus, while the buoyant "Superstars" does nothing to kill the buzz of its predecessor track. Elsewhere "Ocean Drifting" boasts a Beatlesque sheen and the carefree "Sunday Poetry" captures the sunny, pastoral vibe of the album cover.


Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Late October Roundup.

The Legal Matters-Conrad. Power pop's Michigan mafia (Andy Reed, Chris Richards, Keith Klingensmith) reunite as The Legal Matters with Conrad, the followup to their excellent 2014 debut. There is a bit of a shift here to a softer pop (as opposed to the classic power pop seen on their individual releases, especially Richards) but it's all very well done. The mid-tempo "Anything" opens the album with aplomb and is featured on a promotional EP the band released on NoiseTrade last month. It's fitting that that EP contained an unreleased cover of a Teenage Fanclub tune since that's the operative sound on this track. "I'm Sorry Love" follows, a slice of baroque pop out of the Jon Brion playbook. Elsewhere, pop gems "Minor Key" and "Short Term Memory" provide a Beatlesque vibe and the plaintive "More Birds Less Bees" recalls Jellyfish when they dialed things back a few notches. Between this album and recent strong releases from Nick Piunti and Ryan Allen, I may have to establish "Michigan" and "non-Michigan" categories for the year-end best-of list.


John Macom-Unforeseen Circumstances. John Macom has been around the music biz for a while now, having been in the band Binge, which contributed tunes to TV shows such as Dawson’s Creek, Party of Five and Felicity. Here, the New Yorker goes solo for the first time, and his experience shines through in an auspicious debut that's as pure and smooth as pop gets. Working off the basic Lennon-McCartney guitar pop template, Macom churns out one catchy tune after another - "Hi and Goodbye" reminds me of Cliff Hillis at his best, the languid "Think About You" find him crooning "youuuuu" to hooky effect, and "It's All Coming Back to Me Now" is great Crowded House-styled mid-tempo (but with momentum) pop. And I defy anyone to get the chorus of "Nadia" out of their head. This might be the best debut album I've heard in 2016, and I've embedded the YouTube playlist of the album below so you can confirm for yourself.


Goodo-Better Than Millions. With their Big Star-influenced sound, Sweden's Goodo obviously takes its name from "The Ballad of El Goodo", but I'm guessing they couldn't use the "El" because that name was already taken. This is 70s-styled power pop with shades of Cheap Trick and Matthew Sweet as well, from the rocking opener "Her Love is a River" to the Raspberries-ish "Jenny" (not the one at 867-5309) to "Line of Fire", which would have fit in snugly on #1 Record. You probably know by now without listening to it if it's up your alley, but if you're still not sure, listen below.


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

It's singles time!

Normally I don't write about singles, as often they're just teasers for albums I'll review later or just because I'd rather spend my time on an artist who puts out a full album rather than merely a single. But recently several artists I've featured here before have new singles out, so it's time to round them up in one post in case many of you have missed one or more of them.

David Myhr-Spellbound. While we're still waiting on the full-length followup to 2012's great Soundshine, the ex-Merrymaker regales us with this brilliant ELO-and-70s-pop-inspired single from the soundtrack of Flykten till Framtiden, a Swedish time travel movie likely not coming to a theater near you. If only Myhr himself could master time travel, he could have released this in 1974 and knocked "Hooked on a Feeling" off the top of the charts.


The Tories-We Still Shine. Yes, you read that right - it's The Tories, reunited for their first new music in 15 years. While Steve Bertrand and James Guffee have given us some fine solo albums over this time, it's great to see them back together and hopefully this single is the forerunner of a new full-length album. The new song captures the pop style that allowed them to break out of the "power pop ghetto" around the turn of the century and is worth your time.


Michael Carpenter and Allan Caswell-Back When I Was Older. For someone who was supposedly retired when he announced that last year's The Big Radio would be his final solo album, Michael Carpenter sure has been busy in 2016. First, he released a new album with The Cuban Heels and now he's teamed with Australian country music legend Allan Caswell for this fine single. The song shares a theme with Dylan's "My Back Pages" ("I was so much older then/I'm younger than that now") and is an enjoyable, catchy country rock tune that's of a piece with Carpenter's Cuban Heels work.


Mark Bacino-Not That Guy. NYC popster Mark Bacino re-emerges for the first time since 2010's Queens English with a wonderful new single that finds him at his melodic best. It's a jaunty, McCartney-esque track that reminds us of how much we've missed new music from him.


John Faye-Miss America. Ex-Ike guitarist John Faye comes to us just in time for this contentious election season with a track that isn't about a beauty queen but about the state of nation as he small-m miss(es) America. Although the lyrics are social commentary, they're not particularly preachy, and the sound itself is classic Faye - crunchy, loud guitars and a hooky melody. In other words, classic power pop.


Thursday, September 29, 2016

Late September Roundup.

Bubble Gum Orchestra-Sticky Love Songs Vol. 1 and 2. If it's the classic ELO sound you desire, you had to have been excited last fall when Jeff Lynne released a new album as "Jeff Lynne's ELO". It turned out to be fine, but it sounded more like a latter-day Jeff Lynne solo album than ELO in its heyday. This of course meant your next option was to wait for Michael Hildebrandt to release another Bubble Gum Orchestra album. That wait is over, as not only is there a new BGO album, but there's the equivalent of 2 new albums as Hildebrandt has gone Out of the Blue here with the 20-track Sticky Love Songs Volume 1 and 2. With 20 tracks to play with, Hildebrandt spreads out a bit here. Of course you get the vintage ELO sound in tunes like "You Called to Tell Me" and "My World Blue" (a Jeff Lynne title if there ever was one), but you get the straight-up Beatlesque "Peppermint Smile", the more rocking "You Gave Up on Love" (with guest vocals from Lannie Flowers), and even some acoustic guitar on the acid love song "You're Not the One That Got Away". Closing it all is the self-referential "BGO Motel", a track as catchy as it is clever. You won't find this at the usual sites, so click on the link below to listen and purchase.

Sample and buy here

Greg Pope-Guiding Star. The man I named the Pope of Power Pop is back with his sixth full-length solo release (not counting the Pete EP and his best-of compilation) and once again he's delivered another fine collection of southern-fried power pop. Featuring a Stranger Things-inspired cover, Guiding Star demonstrates why Pope is the one of the more consistent artists in the genre. Opener "Innocent Breakdown", with its nervous, insistent beat shows Pope (a one-man band who can drum with the best) isn't content to sit on his laurels, while "Four Leaf Clover" lashes at the singer's dudebro ex in service of a catchy chorus. Elsewhere, "Sun is Gonna Rise" rocks with gusto, the acoustic guitar-based shuffle "I Think Not" is classic Pope, and "If You Want Answers" may or may not have them, but it's a great listen and could have been a hit in another era. No longer the "company man" he was back in his Edmund's Crown days, Pope is now older and wiser and Guiding Star is as humanistic as power pop gets.


Ryan Allen & His Extra Arms-Basement Punk. Every time I turned around there's another great new release from the Michigan power pop scene. Last time out it was the latest from Nick Piunti and today it's Ryan Allen and His Extra Arms. (Next time it may be The Legal Matters, who have a new one out in a few weeks). Basement Punk is Allen's third album and builds off the promise of last year's Heart String Soul. "Watch Me Explode" is the kind of frenetic rocker that's perfectly situated as the album opener, and "Chasing a Song" is a brilliant bit of pop in the vein of Big Star. "Mal n' Ange" is another winner, sounding like an early-70s English classic rock track complete with guitar solo between the second and third verses, while "Gimmie Some More" is a fun "In the Street"-style rocker. Between the Greg Pope album above and this one, it's a great time for one-man bands.


Thursday, September 08, 2016

Early September Roundup.

Nick Piunti-Trust Your Instincts. One of 2016's more anticipated releases in the power pop community is finally out, as Nick Piunti stays on his new album every 18 months schedule with Trust Your Instincts. Piunti, whose last two releases finished #2 and #6 in my year-end lists, bids for the top 10 again with another insanely catchy collection of power pop tunes. There aren't really any ballads here, but the one difference between this one and the last two is that the tempos have slowed just the slightest. The opening title track is a typical Piunti barnburner, and "One Hit Wonder" rocks as well (someone let Piunti have a big hit so he can be the subject of this song), while "Blame in Vain" and "Dumb it Down" are wonderful midtempo tunes. Elsewhere, "Ready for Whatever" and "This Ain't the Movies" would have been spun by Casey Kasem in a Top 40 Countdown in 1978, and the Gin Blossoms-esque "Stay Where You Are" closes the album with some acoustic guitar prominent in the mix. As usual, Piunti is backed by fellow Michiganders Andy Reed and Ryan Allen (who has a new album of his own out in a few weeks) to fine effect. So trust your instincts on this one, and pick up a copy starting tomorrow.

Bandcamp | iTunes

Val Emmich-Whatever's Chasing You. New Jersey's Val Emmich is probably better known to you as an actor, even if you don't know him by name. He was Alex on HBO's Vinyl, Liz Lemon's coffee-boy fling on 30 Rock, and was in four episodes of Ugly Betty. He's also a fine musician with several albums under his belt and it's his latest here that grabbed my attention. With a sound that recalls Pete Yorn, Ben Kweller and even Tom Petty, Emmich's tunes are radio-friendly. While "I Want to Hang Out" and "Nobody Makes it on Their Own" are a fine 1-2 opening punch, it's "Slow Connection" that won me over with country/roots-influenced chorus that reminds me a bit of Chris Isaak. Other standouts include the Americana-tinged ballad "Almost Lost You" and the spare pop of "I Shouldn't Bother". You can check this one out while I dig into his back catalog.