Thursday, August 18, 2016

Mid-August Roundup.

Seth Swirsky-Circles and Squares. Seth Swirsky is back with his first collection of new music since 2011's Red Button album, and it might just be his best since the first Red Button album from 2007, my #1 album of that particular year. Between his solo and Red Button work, Swirsky has established himself as one of the premier Beatlesque artists, but one who evokes their sound (primarily on the McCartney end) without slavish imitation. And it's not just the Beatles - Swirsky incorporates flourishes that recall Brian Wilson and Burt Bacharach as well and that's apparent on the dreamy opener "Shine". The playful title track follows with some McCartneyesque melodies before its calmer ending, and the midtempo "Old Letter" is as comfortable as an old pair of shoes and features a killer countermelody. Elsewhere, the stately piano ballad "Far Away" would have topped the charts in 1970, "Trying to Keep it Simple" is a gem that includes the line "I don't have to be a Beatle", "Belong" is guitar pop of the first order and "Table" breaks out the Rickenbackers for some top-notch jangle pop. Finally, while "I Don't Have Anything (If I Don't Have You)" treads the familiar ground of songs that state material goods mean nothing without love, here Swirsky gives his status as one of the country's top baseball memorabilia collectors a shout-out. Clocking in at a generous 16 tracks, Circles and Squares pretty much is guaranteed a slot in 2016's top 10, the question being just how high.

iTunes



Gillwire-Silver Streak. Gillwire is Arizonan J.G. Thwaits, and he's crafted an impressive debut album that mixes power pop, classic rock and indie pop with the common thread being his sense of melody (He calls it "retro-alternative pop", which is a good a description as any). The title track (and opener) is a clever tune that's equal parts Beck, Cake and Dean Friedman, the gentle, lilting "Find Me a Movie" finds itself in McCartney/Neil Finn territory, "Big Win" boasts a beats-based melody, and "Sand in My Pockets" is the most power-popping track of the lot. While this is a debut album, Thwaits sounds as though he's been around the melodic block a few times before.

iTunes



The Villas-Long Player. The Villas hail from Austin, TX and have been around since 2011 and I'm wondering how it was just now with this release I'm hearing of them. Better late than never as Long Player - their appropriately-titled full-length debut after some singles and EPs - is a fine example of Britpop-flavored (or should that be "flavoured"?) sound. The opening title track and "Never Had a Morning" go by in a Blur (pun intended), while the languid "Julie" just sounds cool, and "Natural Selection" and "Eva" rock with melodic abandon. A catchy-as-hell summer album if there ever was one for 2016.

iTunes

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Early August Roundup.

Today's post features a common theme: Known artists with new releases under a different name.

Look Park-Look Park. Look Park marks the solo debut of sorts for Fountains of Wayne's Chris Collingwood, who teams up here with famed producer Mitchell Froom for a collection that isn't quite a FoW album by another name. So instead of the power pop of "Stacy's Mom" or "Radiation Vibe", Collingwood and Froom employ more of a laid-back, contemplative sound. This doesn't mean the catchy melodies are gone - single "Aeroplane" and the wonderful (and appropriately-titled) "Breezy" display the songcraft we've become familiar with over the years. But where FoW had the guitars front and center, Look Park's signature instruments are the keyboards, primarily piano. In fact, tracks such as "I'm Gonna Haunt This Place" and "Minor is the Lonely Key" bring the bedroom pop of another Froom collaborator - Neil Finn - to mind. So as long as your expectations aren't that this is that latest FoW album, you should have no problem enjoying it on its own pop-friendly terms.

iTunes



Happiless-Happiless. Regular readers will known Mike Benign of the Mike Benign Compulsion, and here he teams up with Allen Keller as Happiless. Benign hails from Milwaukee and Keller Los Angeles, so they collaborated long-distance through email and other electronic means to create the album, and the result is a mix of top-notch power pop and mildly baroque pop. The advance single "Sleepyhead" has a Michael Penn feel to it, "Hopscotch Town" is as bouncy as its title would imply, and "We Let Our Story Tell Itself" and "Stranger to Yourself" sound like classic Mike Benign. So let your goals be life, liberty and the pursuit of Happiless.

iTunes



Biltmore-Revolutions and Romantics. Another familiar name with an unfamiliar new band name is Phil Ayoub, who put out a couple of fine solo albums in 2006 and 2010 and here re-emerges as Biltmore. Those who enjoyed those albums will want to pick this one up as it continues Ayoub's bright, radio-friendly pop/rock stylings. The top examples of such are driving opener "Never Let You Go", the swirling melody of "Neon", the heartland rock of "Las Vegas Blue" and "Going Out" (which sound like lost hits from the heyday of late 90s alt-pop), and the anthemic Brit-pop sounding "Stars in the Attic". A welcome return.

iTunes

Monday, July 25, 2016

Late July Roundup.

King Mixer-Hang On. King Mixer is Chicago's Eric Howell, whom some of you may remember from his Greatest Hitch, Vol. 1 debut in 2008 (which itself was a culmination of a 15-year career in singing/songwriting). This time around, King Mixer may be an appropriate moniker as Howell provides us a mix of pop, rock, power pop and Americana with the common denominator being quality melodies. Standout tracks include "Let it Go", Cheap Trick-styled power pop you'd find on a 45 on your record player in the days gone by; the Beatlesque staccato guitars of the catchy "Back to You"; the 70s-influenced midtempo piano number "Somethin' Else", and the pure pop of "One Too Many". Also seek out the single "45" which can be found at his Bandcamp page.

iTunes



Ryan Krga-A Testament EP. One of 2016's more promising debuts is this 3-song EP (maxi-single?) from another Chicagoan, Ryan Krga. All three songs are top-notch here: "What Makes Me Blue" is fine guitar pop that has a bit of a Guided by Voices feel; the moody "She Gets Results" channels Michael Penn; and the title track wouldn't be out of place on a Teenage Fanclub record. Can't wait to hear more from Mr. Krga.

Bandcamp



Wesley Fuller-Melvista EP. This young Aussie brings the glam and power pop on a rocking 5-track EP. "Change Your Mind" borrows the underlying beat from Gary Glitter's infamous "Rock and Roll Part 2", the title track is unadulterated sunshine pop, "Shock Me" is both guitar pop and dance pop at the same time, and "The Dancer" would sound right at home between "Ballroom Blitz" and "Little Willy" on a Sweet mixtape.

iTunes

Friday, July 08, 2016

Early July Roundup.

Justin Levinson-Yes Man. 10 years. That's how long Absolute Powerpop has been around, and that's also how long it's been since Justin Levinson debuted on the power pop scene with 1175 Boylston. The debut was Ben Folds-styled piano pop and since then he's veered into alt-country and most recently a bit of light soul-inflected singer-songwriter pop with 2012's This Side of Me, This Side of You. Now with Yes Man, Levinson has come full circle with his most straight-up pop album since his debut. Opener "Together Forever" is a bouncy confection that's well-timed for summer; the title track is a Beatlesque romp, and the waltz-time baroque pop of "Safety in the Rain" recalls Jellyfish. Elsewhere, "Broken Heart Running" is the type of piano-based pop found on the debut, and closer "Colleen Compassion" evokes a lost Ben Folds track in both sound and title. In all this is one of 2016's best so far as even the tracks not noted here are worthy of note. The tenth anniversary truly can be the sweetest.

Sample and buy at Amazon

Ken Sharp-New Mourning. Speaking of 10-year anniversaries, it's almost been that long since Ken Sharp's last album, 2007's Sonic Crayons, which at that time was his first album in seven years and which came in at #13 on my best-of-2007 list. So it's a bit of an understatement to say this album was long-awaited, and it doesn't disappoint. Of course Sharp has an excuse for the delays between albums - when he's not recording, he's writing and writing prolifically about music with 18 published books to his credit including a series titled "Play On! Power Pop Heroes" which chronicles the leading lights and forerunners of the genre. And if Sharp's going to keep putting out albums (however infrequently) like New Mourning, he's going to be worthy of a chapter of his own as his latest is his best and most consistent. From the classic power pop of "Dynamite & Kerosene" and "Let's Be Friends" to the Motown-influenced "Solid Ground" through the 70s MOR balladry of "L.A. Can Be Such a Lonely Town" and the string-laden closing power ballad "Loser", New Mourning is 14 tracks of solid gold and also a clear contender for Best of 2016.

iTunes



The Loved-The Loved EP. The Loved are a three-piece band from Portland, Oregon who push all the right retro buttons on their debut EP, right up to the album artwork. Dense guitars and a languid melody make for a great combination on the first single "How Do You Fall in Love", while the midtempo "Sun Moon Stars" features a hypnotic vibe and "Lost at Sea" rocks with "three chords and the truth", as the band described itself in their Facebook bio. Give it a listen below, and it'll be Loved by you as well.

iTunes

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.

EDIT: As helpful commenter Rick notes below, some of these tracks were released in 2008 under the band name Cherrystone (which in fact I reviewed on these pages). So before you buy, check the recesses of your mp3 collections - you may have some of these songs already.

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