Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A quick roundup.

Former-And Nothing But The Truth. This Nashville band describes their music as "loud pop", and I can't disagree. High-energy rock/pop that recalls Swirl 360, Steve Bertrand's Avion, and Rob Bonfligio in spots, Former is truly worth checking out. Highlights include "Lies", "I'll Sleep" and "Nobody Knows You". Perfect for those who love the "power" in "power pop".

CD Baby | MySpace | iTunes

SpreaderCraig-Who I Am. This pop singer/songwriter from Sheffield, England with the strange moniker has given us a charming debut that will appeal to fans of Neil Finn, Glenn Tilbrook and Mitch Linker . Top tracks: "I'm Gonna Make It", "A Million and One Things Unsaid" and "I'm on Top of the World". But be warned - these tracks definitely have a quite high stick-in-your-head factor.

CD Baby | MySpace | iTunes

Mitch Friedman-Game Show Teeth. You may not be able to judge a book by its cover but quite often you can with albums. No better example of that than Mitch Friedman's Game Show Teeth, which is as quirky and goofy as the cover art would indicate. No joke, though, is the fact that XTC's Andy Partridge and Dave Gregory help out with the proceedings, and Friedman is a fine songsmith even if his songwriting is in service of some silly numbers. "This is a Song" is a particular standout, as Friedman mocks, lays bare, and pays homage to the classic pop song structure. Obviously your QTF (quirk tolerance factor) may vary, and you'll know within one or two tracks whether you love it or hate it, but one thing you shouldn't do is ignore it.

CD Baby | Official album site (a hoot) | iTunes

Friday, February 20, 2009

Friday Night Roundup.

Wax Poets-Wax Poets. This Calgary band has come out of left field to become of the more pleasant surprises I've run across lately. They rock - and pop - with a swagger that reminds me of big-name bands like Oasis and Jet. They start auspiciously with opener "Junkstar", complete with fake crowd noise (a la countrymen Sloan) and the rocker "Can't Slow Down", and pull off a couple of fine Beatlesque numbers in "Sgt. Strange" and "Sometimes". Other standouts include the driving (and clever) "Making Conversation" and the melodic midtempo "Vicki". These guys come as a breath of fresh air through your speakers, so make sure to check them out.

CD Baby | MySpace | Listen @CBC Radio | iTunes

The Damwell Betters-Coming In Hot. In 2007, this Illinois band (not to be confused with The Damnwells) had a fine debut in the Wallflowers/Tom Petty vein with Make Love Not Babies, and they've followed up with an album that could almost be rated NC-17 in spots. The title is just one of many double entendres (and in the case of "Your C___ Is Killing Me" and "Dance All Night", single entendres) to be found here in an album that recalls the similarly sex-obsessed Greg Dulli in both Afghan Whigs and the Twilight Singers. The two examples cited above are fine Stonesish rockers, but where the band excels is on the slower numbers like "June", "Just Another Girl" and "Shanghai Lullaby", where they recall Del Amitri and yes, The Damnwells. Quality stuff, but don't play it with the kids in the car (as I quickly learned when "Dance All Night" came on).

CD Baby | MySpace | iTunes

Solin-Energy Fair. Solin (or Solin, Solin as he's sometimes billed) is a pop veteran who's played John Lennon in off-Brodway Beatlemania, and shared the stage with the likes of Roger McGuinn, Aimee Mann and Jon Brion. The good news is that he has the tunes to match his resume, both in quality and length (18 tracks here). Bruce Brodeen at Not Lame compares him to P.Hux, and I'd concur in that and I'd throw in some Chris von Sneidern and Jeremy Morris as well. There's a lot to choose from here, but for my money the opening 1-2 of "Which Way to Sanity" and "Take it from the Top" are the standouts here. "I Go Ghost" recalls the aforementioned Mr. Brion, and the jangly "Robin" is another treat.

CD Baby | MySpace | Listen @Lala | iTunes

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

CD of the Day, 2/18/09: Tommy Keene-In the Late Bright

The release of a new Tommy Keene album has been a reason to celebrate in the power pop community since 1984, and remains so in 2009. For the most part, In the Late Bright doesn't deviate significantly from his established sound so you're getting a known quantity here. But there's a darker edge to the proceedings, from the album cover to the song titles ("Nighttime Crime Scene", "Hide Your Eyes") to the lyrics, giving the album a "power pop noir" feel.

Keene announces that he "cannot feel any more" on the brief opening title track, which segues seamlessly into the next track, "A Secret Life of Stories", a perfect example of his trademark gritty power pop that nevertheless throws some "Penny Lane"-style horns (I think they're horns) into the cacophonous mix at the end. "Tomorrow's Gone Tonight" is vintage Keene as well, a jangly number that probably has the most upbeat lyrical content on the disc.

One of the more interesting (yet brief, clocking in at 2:05) tracks is "Goodbye Jane" which manages to come across as a bit of a cross between "Tumbling Dice" and "My Sharona", mixing Exile-era Stones honky tonk piano with an insistent power pop beat. The aforementioned "Nighttime Crime Scene" is next with a bit of an epic feel, complete with a haunting piano hook and a serious dose of melancholy, which then leads in to "Elevated", a 5-minute electric guitar instrumental that serves in a sense to reboot the album as "Realize Your Mind" follows with the energy and buoyancy of an album opener.

All in all, In the Late Bright shapes us as one of Keene's best albums to date, which is saying something given his track record.

Kool Kat (w/10-song bonus disc offer) | MySpace | iTunes

Monday, February 16, 2009

CD of the Day, 2/16/09: Dennis Schocket-The Cinderblock Mansion

Somehow (like just about everyone else in the power pop community, judging by its only recently appearing at the usual suspects), I missed the news that Dennis Schocket had released his solo debut last spring. Which is a shame because it would have easily cracked my top 20. For the uninitiated, Dennis Schocket was last heard from in Starbelly, and he was the driving force behind their brilliant 2002 album Everyday and Then Some, one of my favorite power pop albums of the decade.

Here he gets help from Myracle Brah's Andy Bopp, and while there's an element of Bopp's sound here, the more compelling frame of reference is his former bandmate in the earlier Starbelly days, Cliff Hillis. The opener "Lovesick Blue", however, throws a bit of a curveball as it's a somewhat poppier version of the bluesy Americana the Stones sometimes trade in (cf. Exile on Main Street and Peter Wolf's Jagger/Richards-aided solo 2002 release Sleepless). And the tuneful "About the Girl" follows in a slightly similar laid-back style, making one wonder whether Schocket has gone for something tonally different than Starbelly. But "Another Perfect Breakup Song" arrives, and it's the kind of Beatles-by-way-of-Badfinger midtempo guitar pop that Schocket mastered in Starbelly.

The delightful "Parachutes" follows in the same vein, with one of those choruses that see out the song and stick in the cranium. "Breathe" chimes in with some Girlfriend-era Matthew Sweet goodness, and the late-period Beatle-y "Tangerine Scene" is as fruitful as its name would imply. Finally, "Girl of the Year" completes one of the best 5-song in-album runs you'll hear, a nice bookend to "Another Pefect Breakup Song". This is not to imply the remainder of the disc is somehow lacking, though. Schocket goes nearly straight-up country with the affecting "This Forgiving Heart", "Ghost" is some mighty fine paisley pop, and "Willow" is as good as anything on the disc, reminding me of Hillis' "Elevator" from last year's The Long Now. "Unified" and "As You Said" close things out, and they serve the laudable purpose of insuring that there isn't a bad track on the disc.

Albums like this (and a few other recent ones I've reviewed) are driving me toward compiling a supplemental best of 2008 list, because to go back and see this one not listed just isn't right.

Not Lame | Kool Kat | MySpace (no solo tracks streaming, but some great Starbelly stuff)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

New Damnwells album - Free!

I've always enjoyed The Damnwells and their mix of pop and Americana, so I was quite thrilled to see that their new disc One Last Century is being made available for free through Paste Magazine. The only thing asked for is your email to join The Damnwells mailing list.

Link for download

And although this isn't on the new album, it's one of my favorite songs of the last several years and from their previous release Air Stereo:

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

CD of the Day, 2/11/09: The Naomi Star-Through the Eyes

Here's another late 2008 release that finally found its way before my ears after the calendar turned, and one that would have warranted placement on my year-end list. This is the third disc from The Naomi Star, a band from Connecticut that seems to get better with each disc. Whereas their first two releases were more straight-ahead pop, Through the Eyes finds them branching out, adding country and folk elements to their already pleasing pop palette.

This becomes apparent off the bat with the Band-influenced "Karma", which in a just world would make these guys big money as the new theme for the TV show "My Name Is Earl". The down-homey "Where are You Going" is Exhibit "B" for their new sound, similar in feel to many of the songs on the new Ben Kweller (another popper gone country-inflected) disc, and the winsome "She Told Me" completes the opening trilogy of their new country-pop sound.

Things return to familiar ground with "Moneyman", a rocker in the style of Patrick Pentland's offerings in Sloan, and "Powerpop Nugget" is just that - a 2 1/2-point track about a powerpop track that went straight to the "top of the charts". Elsewhere, the title track and "A Better Place" are dreamy pop treats, "Anjoulie" is another country-influenced stomper, and "Slowing Down" finds the golden mean between pop and country with a Jayhawks-like grace. Great stuff.

CD Baby | MySpace

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Hush Now freebie!

A few months back, I reviewed the fine debut disc from The Hush Now, and as part of a promotion of their upcoming CD release party, they're making the disc available for a free download here. Grab it while you can!

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Sunday Night Roundup.

Stephen Lawrenson-Somewhere Else. Paisley Pop's Pennsylvanian power popper Stephen Lawrenson broke through in 2004 with Home, a fine disc that mixed the sound of Jeff Lynne with Crowded House, and he's finally released the followup, Somewhere Else. After the baroque instrumental "Theme from Somewhere Else", Lawrenson adds some punch to his power pop with "Let's Go", which has a Tommy Keene/Steven Wright-Mark sound, and "Home to Me" is a midtempo gem. Other standouts include the Harrisonesque "Anybody Else", the jangly "Faith in You" and the psychedelic "Truth". A recommended disc, and here's hoping we don't have to wait another 4-5 years for the next one.

CD Baby | MySpace | iTunes

Greg Lato-Monday Morning Breakdown. For those craving some "poppier pop", Providence, Rhode Island's Greg Lato is your man. This 8-track mini-album is slick top 40 pop in the vein of acts like Mika, The Feeling, Jack McManus & others. "Beautiful Woman" is the prize here, an upbeat tune with a great melody and all the top 40-type bells & whistles, including strings. The piano-based title track is another treat with harmonies that bring to mind First Class' 1974 hit "Beach Baby", and "Last Girl" is another song you'll love in spite of yourself. Although the whole genre of power pop could be considered a guilty pleasure, this one's a guilty pleasure for power poppers.

CD Baby | MySpace | iTunes

Wild Bores-Wild Bores. Last April, we told you about the teaser EP for this disc, and with the turn of the year, the full-length is now out. Wild Bores is Nashville-via-Chicago's John Whildin, and the sound here captures a mix of both of those cities: roots rock with a midwestern feel. "Whatever Makes You Happy" opens the disc and captures the essence of Whildin's sound - kind of a lighter Jayhaws/Wilco/Gin Blossoms mix. "My Home Town" has a Jeff-Tweedy-circa-Being-There feel, and "Lovely Place" is sweetly melodic. Anyone who enjoyed the recent Leave disc will enjoy this as well, as of course anyone who picked up the EP last year.

CD Baby | MySpace | iTunes

Thursday, February 05, 2009

CD of the Day, 2/5/09: Jeff Litman-Postscript

Trained in classical guitar and jazz, NYC's Jeff Litman might seem like an unlikely popster. But those genres' loss are our gain, as Litman has crafted an excellent singer/songwriter debut that fans of smart power poppers like Jon Brion, solo Rhett Miller and (perhaps most of all) Jim Boggia should be all over.

Litman demonstrates his chops right away with the bouncy "Anna". Vocally, he resembles Steven Page of Barenaked Ladies, and one could be forgiven for mistaking "Anna" as a lost BnL track. The piano-driven "Complicate" is another winner and the jangly midtempo pop gem "Everything You're Not" brings to mind Nick Pipitone, both solo and with The Rip Off Artists. These three tracks would be good enough to anchor most discs, but there's more to be had. The rocking yet charming "Detroit Layover" and "Knock Me Down" are where the solo Rhett Miller comparisons come in, and the sweet pop of "Open Arms" (not a Journey cover) recalls The Goldbergs.

Litman also proves masterful on the slower numbers. The title track is a particular delight in this regard - its lilting melody and tasteful strings would fit right in on the new David Mead album, and the closing number "It Wasn't Me" is gorgeous as well. Without a doubt this is the best singer/songwriter debut I've come across in many months, and 2009 has another early best-of contender. This is one Postscript that deserves to be in the main body of the message.

CD Baby | MySpace | Stream @official site (click on "listen here" on the left) | iTunes

Monday, February 02, 2009

CD of the Day, 2/2/09: The Tomorrows-Jupiter Optimus Maximus

Old school power pop fans will no doubt remember the 1996 self-titled release of the Vancouver band The Roswells as one of the better releases of that decade, and it was included in Top 200 Power Pop Albums of all-time as compiled by John Barack in his Shake Some Action! tome. In recent years however, they've been shrouded in almost as much mystery as the town from which they took their name. Wonder no more, as The Roswells' primary singer/songwriters Marc Stewart and Scott Fletcher have returned to form The Tomorrows, and their debut album Jupiter Optimus Maximus is out this week on Kool Kat.

Stewart and Fletcher take the Roswells template and build it on with a more expansive, crunchier sound without sacrificing the melodies that drove that band. "Effortless Lee" opens the disc and clocks in at just over five minutes - not a problem, though, as its a Big Star/Raspberries-style mashup that never wears out its welcome. "Love is Dead" throws a bit of Queen into the mix, and the necessarily spacey title track recalls countrymen The High Dials. Elsewhere, "Don't Worry About Me" channels Velvet Crush, "Such a Shame" demonstrates their facility with midtempo janglers, and the geek-rock of "Anime" is endearing. Closing things is the 6-minute epic "Remember", which fits the spirit of the album.

With the first great power pop disc of 2009, R.I.P. The Roswells, and long live The Tomorrows! Grab it from Kool Kat and they'll send you a 4-track bonus disc that includes a cover of "And Your Bird Can Sing".

CD Baby | Kool Kat | MySpace