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.

Bandcamp



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.

iTunes

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.

iTunes


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