Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Two for Tuesday, 2/28/12

Throwback Suburbia-Shot Glass Souvenir. I often take an expansive view of "power pop" in the choice of releases reviewed on here, but you don't have to stretch the definition of "power pop" very far to include Portland's Throwback Suburbia. These guys have the quintessential power pop sound: crunchy guitars, sweet melodies, hooks galore and songs about girls. Their third full-length builds on the strengths of their previous releases and finds them on top of their game. "Give and Take" fits the template described above with "bah-bah" vocals in the bridge and nice use of piano to back the usual power trio, "Setting Sun" follows the bouncy staccato beat template that goes back to The Beatles' "Getting Better" to fine effect, and "It's You" has a breezy-enough melody that would have found massive radio airplay if the calendar found us wearing bell bottoms and complaining about Richard Nixon. And if smoking weren't considered passe, we'd all be holding up our lighters during the classic power ballad "Here Again". So yes, the "throwback" in their name fits to a T, and we wouldn't have it any other way, would we?

CD Baby


Jay Gonzalez-Mess of Happiness. One of my old-time online power pop buddies (Daniel from Spain) brought this one to my attention, and given the artist's name and his neo-classic power pop sound my first impression was that Gonzalez is the latest in a long line of Spanish power pop revivalists like Damien Lott. But no, Jay's as American as apple pie, hailing from Athens, GA, and he just happens to be the current keyboardist for alt-country icons Drive-By Truckers. But alt-country this is not - Gonzalez has crafted a highly melodic album in the vein of Brendan Benson and Jason Falkner and frankly I'm enjoying it more than the most recent releases from those two. "Punch of Love" is an aptly-named punchy opener, and the absolutely gorgeous and melodically spry "Luisa" is hands-down my favorite track on the album. Elsewhere, the joyous "Turning Me On" is almost like a Gilbert O'Sullivan track brought into the 21st century, "Baby Tusk" wears its 70s influences on its sleeve with a melody ripped from the era, and Gonzalez lets his keyboard prowess come to the fore with the quirky pop of "Sticky Little Fingers". There's nothing like an unexpectedly great album to come from an unexpected source to make one's day, and this one will be hard-pressed to be dislodged from my year-end top 10.

Bandcamp | iTunes

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Two for Tuesday, 2/21/12

Jeff Litman-Outside. After bursting onto the power pop scene three years ago with the excellent Postscript NYC's Jeff Litman is back, and with Outside he's crafted another top-shelf singer-songwriter disc. Litman's style is Petty/Westerberg filtered through, say, Jim Boggia, and the result is one pop gem after another. The first three tracks encapsulate his sound: "Over and Over" recalls Pete Droge and features some fine guitar work from Litman; the driving "Runaway" is a cousin of Petty's "Runnin' Down a Dream"; and the title track is a bouncy pop tune wouldn't sound out of place coming from Jon Brion. Other standouts include the rocking "Chasing My Tail" and the catchy "Girl Down I-95" which almost demands radio play (at least in the Northeast along I-95). It's nice to see there isn't a sophomore jinx at play here, and you can listen to the entire album via the Bandcamp embed below.

CD Baby | Bandcamp | iTunes

Prattle On, Rick-Songs of Our Fathers. Another returning artist to this site following up on a debut is Nashville's Prattle On, Rick. Patrick Rickelton & Co. gave us an impressive debut EP in 2010, and their latest EP is another winner. Like the debut, this is catnip for Elliott Smith lovers and anyone else who likes quality acoustic guitar-based pop. "I'll Start Again" is a deceptively simple track a la "I've Just Seen a Face" that opens the EP in fine fashion; "Song of Our Fathers" is taken to another level with its use of cello; and "If You Would Love Me Too" sounds like a lost folk-pop classic. A definite contender for Top EP of 2012.

CD Baby | Bandcamp | iTunes

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Two for Tuesday, 2/14/12

Secret Powers-More Songs About Her. The men from Missoula are back with what has become an annual tradition: a new album. More Songs About Her makes five releases in five years and Shmed Manes & Co. never manage to disappoint. But there are some subtle differences here from the previous releases, although they open as usual with a killer track from Schmed: like last year's strong opener "Generation Ship", "Dragon Slide" is Secret Powers at its ELO/Jellyfish best. The differences kick in with John Brownell taking more of the lead vocal duties starting with the melodically frenetic "Impossible Girl" (complete with timpani and bells) that recalls Bryan Scary, and the Jellyfishesque "Post War". In fact, Schmed drops out for three straight tracks before re-appearing with "Drip Drop Drip", which might be the quintessential Secret Powers track with its driving melody, changing time signatures and on-its-sleeve wit. And his piano ballad "Hard to Be Someone" might be his best slower number. All in all, we see Secret Powers functioning more as a democracy this time around, and the results are just as strong. Here's looking forward to their 2013 release.

CD Baby | MySpace | iTunes

The Riffbrokers-The Green Key Will Let You In EP. While on the topic of prolific bands from the US Northwest, the Riffbrokers are back with a brand new EP on the heels of last year's Every Pilot's Blinded by the Sun. Featuring more of the Petty/Replacements-style rock we've come to know and love over the years, the EP features several strong tracks including the opener "Around Too Long" and the closing rave-up "Re-Entry". But its the contemplative middle that makes this a special release; "An Extra in a Cowboy Film" and the title track show that it's not all loud guitars and heartland rock with these guys. And the best part is that this EP, along with apparently the rest of the Riffbrokers' back catalog, is free for download at Bandcamp.

Free download of all Riffbrokers albums from Bandcamp

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Two for Tuesday, 2/7/12

Minky Starshine-Womanity. Boston's Minky Starshine is back with the followup to 2009's excellent Unidentified Hit Record, and they may have topped themselves with Womanity. They've worked in the past with Ken Stringfellow and Chris Manning, and there is a Posies-meet-Jellyfish element to their classic power pop sound. The buoyant, ultra-catchy opener "Hard Times" (replete with horns) will shake you of whatever funk you happen to be in at the moment, "Cinematic Mojo" (video below) adds a Motown bass line to their power pop mix, and "Beautiful Girl" is a power ballad done right. Elsewhere, "Straight Hip" channels the aforementioned Posies and "What I Want" makes nice use of its boy-girl vocals in service of a radio-friendly tune. Another example of 2012 being off to a great power pop start, and to paraphrase the famous Hindenburg announcer, "Oh the Womanity!"

CD Baby | iTunes | Listen

The Backpeddlers-Songs of Guilt & Revenge. Back in 2007, I gave these guys a brief mention when they were known as Mark Norris & The Backpeddlers. Back then, I had alluded to them being described as "The Basement Tapes recorded with Ray Davies instead of Bob Dylan", and on the followup with Norris still in charge but no longer top-billed it's more songs in this vein, with a bit of a harder edge. Opener "Turn the Tables" is a raucous rocker that recalls Guided by Voices, "It's All True" does the Pixies-like quiet/loud thing, and the late 60s Nugget-sounding "We Know (Who We Are)" earns them the Kinks komparisons. While this might not be the sweet-sounding power pop usually featured here, those who want something a bit different and bit crunchier will want to give this one a shot.

CD Baby | Bandcamp | iTunes