Monday, December 29, 2014

The Absolute Powerpop Top 75 of 2014.

I was originally set to do a top 100 as I usually do, but as in 2011 I've pared down down the list to 75, as my first run-through of what I listened to last year only yielded 86 titles, and rather than pad it with 14 that I didn't deem "top 100 worthy", I scaled it back to 75. And it's a good thing that the last 3-4 months of the year brought us quite a few excellent discs because this would have been a top 50 around September 1. The top EP list will run tomorrow. Anyway, here's the list - I will annotate it with links as the day goes on:

1. The Tripwires-Get Young
2. Secret Powers-Secret Powers 6
3. Edward O'Connell-Vanishing Act
4. Adrian Bourgeois-Pop/Art
5. Sloan-Commonwealth
6. Linus of Hollywood-Something Good
7. Phonograph (UK)-Phonograph Vol. 1
8. Smith & Hayes-People All Over the World
9. The Well Wishers-A Shattering Sky
10. Latvian Radio-For Love & Spite
11. Marble Party-Plush Up
12. Greg Ieronimo-Bipolar Love
13. Joe Sullivan-Schlock Star
14. Old 97s-Most Messed Up
15. Marshall Holland & The Etceteras-S/T
16. The Ships-The Summer of Our Lives
17. The Dowling Poole-Bleak Strategies
18. Jeremy Messmersmith-Heart Murmurs
19. The Legal Matters-S/T
20. The New Pornographers-Brill Bruisers
21. The Jeanies-S/T
22. The Die Youngs-Nothing's Broken
23. Shake Some Action!-Catch the Sun
24. The Autumn Defense-Fifth
25. The Deathray Saints-S/T
26. Rob Bonfiglio-Freeway
27. The Pearlfishers-Open Up Your Colouring Book
28. First in Space-In the Red
29. The Sleepwalkers-Lost My Mind in Stereo
30. The Orange Opera-Land of Tall
31. Dropkick-Homeward
32. Ransom & The Subset-No Time to Lose
33. David Grahame-Toy Plane II
34. Aerial-Why Don't They Teach Heartbreak at School?
35. The Great Affairs-Dream in Stereo
36. The Rip Off Artists-The Intercontinental
37. The Jellybricks-Youngstown Tune-Up
38. J Scott Bergman-Beautifulordinary
39. Static in Verona-Everything You Knew Before You Knew Everything
40. Rick Hromdaka-Trippin Dinosaurs
41. The Baseball Project-3rd
42. The Tangerines-Turn on the Light
43. Nude Beach-77
44. Goodman-Isn't it Sad
45. Mitch Gettman-Stop Living Like it's the End of the World
46. Damp-S/T
47. The New Mendicants-Into the Lime
48. Sunday Sun-We Let Go
49. The Nines-Nine Lives
50. Jeff Larson-Close Circle
51. Mothboxer-Sand and the Rain
52. Doug Gillard-Parade On
53. Mike Barnett-Everybody Gets to Dream
54. Bubble Gum Orchestra-Beyond Time
55. Eugene Benjamin-Photograph
56. Andy Klingensmith-Bright Again
57. Watts-Flash of White Light
58. Chris Koza-In Real Time
59. The Blood Rush Hour-And Then...The Unthinkable Happened!
60. Wilder Embry-Smolderolderingpictureaid
61. Paul Starling-Suit of Armor
62. Pill Hill-It Tastes a Little Sweeter
63. Magic Eight Ball-Last of the Old Romantics
64. Fernando Perdomo-Girl With a Record Collection (no link, he discontinued this as an album)
65. The Paul & John-Inner Sunset
66. The Mike Benign Compulsion-Here's How it Works
67. Jeffrey Dean Foster-The Arrow
68. The Safes-Record Heat
69. Glenn Case-This Album Has 12 Songs on It
70. Fauna Flora-S/T
71. High on Stress-Leaving MPLS
72. Fremont-Trees to Stone
73. Sunrise Highway-Windows
74. Andy Kentler-No Love Lost
75. Kinematic-Kinecism

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Year-end list update.

I had hoped to have the year-end lists up starting yesterday, but they will be delayed to between Christmas and New Year's.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Three Great Debuts.

Matthew Shacallis-Reach the Stars. Aussie power popper Matthew Shacallis has crafted an impressive debut EP, recalling another power popper with the name Matthew S., Mr. Sweet. "Summer Sun" is melodic bliss, buoyed by Shacallis' Brendan Benson-esque vocals, "Tell Me Girl" recalls his "Sweet" namesake as it wouldn't have sounded out of place on Girlfriend, and "Do You Love Me" has a Zombies vibe. Easily one of the top EPs of 2014, and you can count on seeing this in next week's year-end lists.


The Ships-The Summer of Our Lives. From Australia we travel to Spain, from The Ships sail with another impressive debut. This full-length evokes The Posies and Teenage Fanclub. Standout tracks include the jangly "Want", the uptempo "Second Hand Store" "Hipster"(in which they don't want of any them at their shows) and the relentless "Julia". Spain has always had a healthy power pop scene, and these guys are making it proud.

Amazon | iTunes

The Jeanies-The Jeanies. Rounding out our trio of top-notch debuts is Brooklyn's The Jeanies, who traffic in a more old-school power pop sound reminiscent of Dwight Twilley and The Plimsouls. "I Seen Her Dance" is a rocking gem that will get you in the mood right off the bat, "It's For You" could have been an AM radio hit from the 70s, and "Believe Me Jenny" sounds a decade earlier, almost like a lost La's track. As long as artists like the three featured today keep emerging, power pop will continue to be in good hands.


Friday, December 05, 2014

Weekend Roundup.

Various Artists-A Kool Kat Kristmas Vol. 2. Kool Kat's 2010 A Kool Kat Kristmas was the best power pop Christmas compilation in recent years, so Ray Gianchetti & company decided to greenlight a sequel. And while it may not be as consistently great as the original, Volume 2 is another fine collection of power poppers giving us original holiday-themed tunes. The Pencils' "Christmas is Coming Again" starts things off in majestic fashion, sounding like an outtake from Phil Spector's A Christmas Gift for You, and the Honeymoon Stallions (f/k/a The Goldbergs) follow with the suitably jaunty "Snowbirds". Other standouts include the Tor Guides wishing for "Beatles Vinyl", The Geniune Fakes with the Christmas power ballad "You Always Come Back Home", Shake Some Action's typically jangly "Christmas in the Sun", and Stephen Lawrenson's unmistakeable Jeff Lynne-influenced psych-pop sound on "Glad it's Christmas". As with the first volume, proceeds from the disc will benefit the Susan Giblin Foundation for Animal Wellness and Welfare. Good music for a good cause - you can't beat that.

Listen at Soundcloud | Kool Kat

Secret Powers-Secret Powers 6. Another early Christmas present for power poppers is the return of Secret Powers. I have to admit, I was getting a bit worried about them; after releasing an album a year from 2008 to 2012, Ryan "Schmed" Maynes & the boys from Missoula, Montana had gone dark for 2 1/2 years. But they're back, and what they lacked in imagination in naming the disc they more than made up for with the new tunes. For those joining us in that time frame, what makes Secret Powers great is their heavy ELO/Jellyfish influence and knack for the great melody. The epic ballad "Bitter Sun" serves doubly well as an album opener and a re-introduction, and that leads us into the frantic and hyper-catchy "Palarium" (the most Jellyfish-esque of tracks) and the ELO homage "Spare Parts", which is half "Mr. Blue Sky" and half "Yours Truly, 2095" in its story of an android. Elsewhere, "She's Electrical" glides along on a sweet melody with all the band's attendant bells and whistles, and the closing ballad "Ready to Get Old and Die" evokes McCartney. Great to have these guys back.

CD Baby | iTunes | Listen at Spotify

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Weekend Roundup.

First in Space-In the Red. Johnny Stanec and the boys from Youngstown are back with their fourth full-length, and it just might be their best, trading in the Replacements-style rock of the last album for a purer pop sound. Although you wouldn't tell from the driving opener "Letters from Hell", it becomes evident on tracks like the bouncy "Forward Progress" and the midtempo, Gin Blossoms-like "The Other Side", and "Now or Never" is straight-up power pop reminiscent of Cliff Hillis or Michael Carpenter. And you only have to in the red for $5 for a digital copy at Bandcamp.

CD Baby | iTunes

VA-Here Comes the Reign Again: The Second British Invasion. Andrew Curry has done it again. After last year's compilation of contemporary power poppers covering the lite rock classics of the late 70s, Curry has gotten another all-star cast together to tackle the next decade when all those British bands came out of nowhere thanks to the emergence of MTV. Now while last year's comp was my favorite album of the year, this one - while executed just as well - may not achieve those heights due to my own personal preference for those late-70s tracks versus some of the synth-heavy sounds of the early 80s. Still there's plenty here to enjoy (and even geek out over if you're a bigger fan of the era than I) and like on the last compilation, the best covers here are those that sound like natural extensions of the artists covering them. So the suburban milieu of "Life in a Northern Town" is a perfect fit for Fountains of Wayne's Chris Collingwood, and "Everytime You Go Away" sounds so much like a typical Linus of Hollywood track that I forgot it was a cover when listening to it alongside his most recent release. Also in this category are "Save a Prayer", which is in David Mead's ballad wheelhouse, and the pure midetempo pop of "Wouldn't it Be Good" in Cliff Hillis's hands. Then you have the reinterpretations, and the ones that work here best are Mike Viola slowing down "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" and Graham Alexander doing likewise with Tracey Ullman's "They Don't Know". This is another must for power pop fans.

CD Baby | iTunes

Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween roundup.

Latvian Radio-For Love & Spite. These New Yorkers return with their latest full-length, another collection of their joyous power pop that will appeal to fans of indie poppers like The Shins as well as traditional power poppers like Brendan Benson. There's plenty to love here, from the jangle pop of "To Find You There" and "On Display" to more reflective numbers like "North of the Keys" and "Stand Clear of the Closing Doors". And with the uptempo melodies of the title track and "Oh No", For Love & Spite is like an instant party you can attend whenever you put on the album. With autumn in full swing, this is perfect record to listen to while enduring the drudgery of raking leaves.

CD Baby | iTunes

The Well Wishers-A Shattering Sky. Consistency, even when at a high level, can sometimes be a curse. This comes to mind whenever it's time to review a new Well Wishers disc because Jeff Shelton is so good at what he does that it's hard to say anything that hasn't be said over the previous five albums and an EP he's released since I started this blog in 2006. And to a large extent A Shattering Sky, Shelton's latest, is "more of the same". But to paraphrase Animal Farm, some Well Wishers album are more equal than others, and I'd say this is his best release since 2005's Under the Arrows. What made that album my favorite of his were the slower, midtempo numbers like "Only Sky" and "Before the Race Was Run". While all of the WW albums in the interim had the top-notch, driving jangle pop tunes, A Shattering Sky stands out for me with the quality of the slower tracks like "The Last to Fall in Love" and "Right Here at Last". Of course there's plenty of the "full-bodied power pop" (as Shelton describes it) to go around here too, and those tunes are great as well, including the jangly "Bring it Back" and "Goodbye" and the rocking "I Believe". This is the Well Wishers album to get if you only have one (and you should have them all).

CD Baby | iTunes

Monday, October 20, 2014

Back in the saddle.

Back after an extended hospital stay but everything is fine now and I've recovered completely. Thanks for all the well wishes, and now back to the power pop:

Rick Hromadka-Trippin Dinosaurs. It's been several years since the last Maple Mars album, but frontman Rick Hromadka has kept busy. In 2012, he teamed up with his wife for the excellent Ruby Free album, and now he's completely solo (and I mean COMPLETELY solo as he played all the instruments on the album) with Trippin Dinosaurs. Like Ruby Free, this isn't a replication of his Maple Mars sound but a different type of genre exercise as he goes the psych-pop route with debts to Pink Floyd and The Move. Opener "Conversation" with its "I Am The Walrus"-type vibe sounds straight outta 1968, while Hromadka puts the "pop" in psych-pop with "It's All in Your Head" and "Dreams of a Hippy Summer", the latter which would have been right at home on the Ruby Free album. And "Twice a Sunny Day Tomorrow" will transport you in your head to coastal California. I can safely say that this album has done everything it can to bring back "groovy" as an adjective of favor.

CD Baby | iTunes | Listen at Spotify

The Rip Off Artists-The Intercontinental. Nick Pipitone and Peter Batchelder are back for the first time since 2008's Esque with another round of sophisticated pop. Befitting its title, The Intercontinental is a tale of billionaires' daughters, failed actors, tennis instructors, college professors on the make, and miserable commuters among others. The result is an Elvis Costello-meets-Fountains of Wayne sensibility. So we get "Commuter's Blues", a song to hum along to while stuck in traffic, "Inside the Actor's Studio Apartment" (great title), a (lack of) character study set to a power pop beat, the Beatlesque "Mr. Right and Mrs. Right", where Pipitone and Batchelder trade vocals a la John and Paul, and the bouncy "Bachelor of Arts", in which we meet our sleazy professor. And as we approach the holidays, even "Christmas Eve" isn't safe from their cynical gaze. Nevertheless, The Intercontinental is a breath of fresh air in the power pop genre with lyrics that go beyond the usual staples of girls and cars.

As best as I can tell, at the moment this is a digital-only release on Bandcamp at the bargain price of $5, money you'd otherwise blow on an overpriced cup of coffee.

Friday, October 03, 2014

On the sick list.

Currently hospitalized, having surgery shortly, so no new posts until late next week at the earliest. Nothing life-threatening.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Weekend Roundup.

The Tripwires-Get Young. It's been a long five years to wait since their last album, but The Tripwires are back. This Seattle "supergroup" (consisting of members and former members of The Model Rockets, The Minus 5, Screaming Trees and Mudhoney) is hands down one of my favorite power pop bands as they do what so few bands are doing these days - playing pre-80s-styled power pop/pub-rock a la Rockpile and NRBQ - and doing so with one hyper-catchy tune after another. The opening title track seems a nod to Big Star, with its "O My Soul"-styled guitar riff and opening line "spilling into the street", but quickly becomes their own kind of rave-up. There really isn't a bad track here with just about all of them clocking in between 2-3 minutes, a testament to how tight their sound is. But the ones more equal than others are "Be All End All" (which is angular-sounding enough that The Strokes could cover it), "Production Sedan" (someone call Terry Anderson), and the frenetic "Owner Operator" which is 2:01 of musical dynamite. Right now it's only available through the FOLC Records Bandcamp site, and still claims to be in "pre-order" even though the release date listed is September 15. Either way, enjoy the mp3s now and get the vinyl or CD later. This would even sound good on 8-track.

FOLC Bandcamp

The Deathray Saints-The Deathray Saints. Not to be confused with John Dufilho's The Deathray Davies, this San Francisco band has crafted an interesting debut album that's part indie rock, part melodic rock/pop. Other than that I can't tell you more about them as they don't seem to have a website or Facebook page, making them as mysterious as the infamous Mozley. And perhaps that's fitting as their sound, while melodic, has a mysterious feel to it. I was drawn in by opening track "East of Eden", which has a Smithereens' "Blood and Roses" feel to it and a sneaky hook. The acoustic guitar-based "Down" is another treat, reminiscent of Portland's Derby, another personal favorite band of mine. And the midtempo "The Stars Have Let You Down" sounds like a lost alternative classic from the 90s. One thing they don't do here is skimp on the tunes; there's 17 here in all and while I can't recommend every one I can say with confidence that 10-12 of them are quite good.

CD Baby | iTunes

Listen at Spotify

Friday, September 05, 2014

Friday Roundup.

Cliff Hillis-Song Machine EP. It's always a good year for power pop when Cliff Hillis decides to release new material, and his followup to 2012's Dream Good is this new 7-song EP which he crowd-funded. If you weren't among those who already supported the EP you won't want to waste any time adding this to your collection. Hillis is matched by only a handful in the power pop scene when it comes to pure songcraft, and the seven tunes here are confirmation from the pensive opener "Dashboard" (which builds to a great crescendo) to the would-have-been-an-AM-Radio-hit-in-the-70s "Just One More" to the jangly, Beatlesque "Tonight". And Hillis is good for one track that instantly grabs you as a favorite - on 2008's The Long Now it was "Elevator", on Dream Good it was "Keep the Blue Skies", and here it's "Turn on a Dime" with a melody both catchy and effortless. It's going to be a real Sophie's Choice to pick between this and the Peter Buzzelle I review in July for 2014's top EP.

Tallboy Records (CD) | iTunes

Eugene Benjamin-Photograph. This Maryland singer-songwriter's second album isn't precisely power pop, but it's a tuneful mix of pop/rock and Americana that owes a debt to Tom Petty, George Harrison and John Hiatt and will appeal to fans of artists we've featured here like Mike Barnett. The opener "Baby Blue Eyes" is a gem with a great guitar hook in the chorus, "Cindy" reminds me of a typical Petty song about a woman, "Over Me" rocks melodically, and "Good-Bye" is top-drawer jangle rock. Put this one on your music player of choice, and it will be all about the Benjamin.

CD Baby | iTunes

Friday, August 22, 2014

Friday Roundup.

Joe Sullivan-Schlock Star. 2014 has the year of Michigan power pop, with quality releases from The Legal Matters and their constituent members (Chris Richards, Andy Klingensmith). The latest in the pipeline might be the best yet, as Saginaw's Joe Sullivan (with major help from The Legal Matters' Andy Reed) gives us the highly catchy and highly infectious Schlock Star. Opening with the Beach Boys-influenced "Conspiracy Radio", Sullivan displays his pop chops right away, and the "ba-da-da" chorus of "Nurse Tracy" will stick in your head. Elsewhere, the bubblegum pop of "Okinawa Girl" stands side-by-side with the Paul Simon pop of "Sean Patric's Balloon" and the pensive "Look at Me Now", which reminds me of one of Reed's crafty compositions. Star Wars fanatics will enjoy the album closer, "Victims of the Sarlaac", but you don't need to know the difference between Jabba the Hutt or Pizza the Hutt to find it enjoyable. Right now, this is a Bandcamp-only release, but you can get the CD or the mp3s.


Willodean-Willodean. One of my favorite discs of 2005, and really of the previous decade, was Randy & The Bloody Lovelies' Lift, which featured piano pop of the highest order with a sophistication not often seen in the genre. The "Randy" in question here was Randy Wooten, who also supplied the husky, pack-a-day vocals that added to the atmosphere. Wooten then dropped off the radar, and there was no followup to Lift. So I was quite pleased to see Wooten resurface with Willodean, teaming up with Eric Holden and Dan Barrett with the latter providing vocals in the same raspy manner as Wooten and the former on upright bass. The result is a soulful melange of pop and Americana with a bit less piano than Lift but a worthy listen nonetheless. From the laid-back vibe of "Pieces" to the late-night cabaret feel of "Ghost Town" to the pop-with-pedal steel of "Oh Darkness", there's a nice mix of sub-genres here. But the real fun to be had here is the catchy "Julie Drinks With Demons", which will have any Bloody Lovelies fan grinning from ear to ear.

CD Baby | iTunes

Friday, August 08, 2014

California pop day.

Linus of Hollywood-Something Good. Back with his first album of new material since 2006's Triangle, Kevin Dotson a/k/a Linus of Hollywood is back with the same winning combination of classic pop and power pop that made him a force in the power pop community in the first half of the last decade. The buoyant, driving 1-2 punch of "Caught Up in a Feeling" and "Ready for Something Good" will get your toes tapping right off the bat, the McCartney-esque "A Girl That I Like" is very easy on the ears, and "I Don't Wanna Go Home if You're Not There" makes for a great power ballad. Linus even throws in a faithful cover of the Kiss classic "Beth", while the overall quality of the album heeds the admonition of one of the disc's catcher tracks, "Don't F**k it Up". One of the year's best.

Bandcamp | iTunes

Jeff Larson-Close Circle. Having reviewed the previous five releases of this wonderfully consistent folk-rocker, it's getting hard for me to say something new about him, so how about this? Close Circle might be the best and most assured of his recent releases. For those just tuning in, Larson's music is the epitome of laid-back, melodic mellow SoCal rock and reflected in the fact that he's a confidant of and collaborator with Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell, better known as America. After opening with the beautifully understated "Rescue", the disc clicks into gear with the excellent "Following the Echoes". Other standouts include the Jeffrey Foskett-backed "Goodbye Ocean Street Beaches" and "Rain Soaked Cloud", which features the America boys on backing vocals.

CD Baby | iTunes | Kool Kat

NOTE: Kool Kat is also releasing a CD-R of last year's download-only Larson EP Leaves for those who want a physical disc.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Friday Roundup.

Bubble Gum Orchestra-Beyond Time. Michael Hildebrandt, a/k/a Bubble Gum Orchestra, returns again with Beyond Time, another collection of ELO-inspired tunes. Just as last year's The Discovery was a riff on ELO's Discovery, this follow-up takes its cue from ELO's Discovery followup, Time (I'm guessing the next BGO released will be some variation of Secret Messages). Anyway, I probably don't need to tell you that if you're an ELO fanatic this album is a must, from the rocking "23rd Century Woman" (which goes beyond ELO to borrow the guitar riff from Foreigner's "Long, Long Way from Home") to the futuristic "I'm in Love With a Robot" (BGO's nod to ELO's "Yours Truly, 2095") to the catchy "Return 2 4 Ever". But the quintessential BGO track is "ELO Forever", the lyrics to which are primarily comprised of ELO song titles (example: "Mr. Blue Sky met his Sweet Talkin' Woman/they fell in love and their hearts Turned to Stone"), the best track of its kind since Bob Dylan used Springsteen song titles to write the Traveling Wilburys' "Tweeter & the Monkey Man".

CD Baby | iTunes

Peter Buzzelle-Sea of White EP. Boston's Peter Buzzelle is a classic power popper who released a pair of fine discs in 2010 and 2011 but were overlooked on this site. I can't ignore him any longer, though, thanks to his outstanding new EP that's the first power pop disc I've heard with the subject of marrying and marriage as its concept. Opener "I'm Gonna Know You" might be the best power ballad I've heard in years, with a swelling, catchy chorus, while "Til Death Do Us Part" and "Happiness and Misery" are a couple of excellent Posies/Matthew Sweet-styled rockers, and "Our Life is the Song" closes things out in hooky fashion. This might be the best EP of 2014 to date, and I'd daresay you'll like it some much you'll want to marry it.

CD Baby | iTunes

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Midweek Roundup.

Edward O'Connell-Vanishing Act. Edward O'Connell's Our Little Secret was the power pop find of 2010, an assured debut arriving out of nowhere to claim the #3 slot on my year-end list. Four years later he's released the followup, and it strides confidently in the footsteps of its predecessor. If you missed out on the debut in 2010 or (less likely) forgot about it, O'Connell specializes in Nick Lowe/Tom Petty/Elvis Costello pop'n'roll and Vanishing Act is another 12 tracks of quality. This becomes immediately apparent with the opener "My Dumb Luck", an Elvis C-style track with an effortless melody that aging rock critics would be writing about with reverence had it come out in 1979. "Lonely Crowd" is another winner with a chorus backed by driving, Petty-like guitar, and "What Have You Done?" is a mini-masterpiece with a transcendent middle-eight (or bridge). Elsewhere, fiddle and pedal steel make "I'm the Man" a nice, country-tinged track and the minor key of "Yesterday's World" gives it an early 80s Squeeze/Smithereens feel. As with the debut, it's almost folly to single out individual tracks as every one of them has something to offer. Speaking of offers, Kool Kat has this disc exclusively before its official release date next week, and they're offering to throw in Our Little Secret with each purchase. Even if you already have the debut, take this deal and give a copy of it to a friend who appreciates good music.

Kool Kat | CD Baby | iTunes

The Paul and John-Inner Sunset. While an obvious Beatles reference, The Paul and John are also the first names of Paul Myers and John Moremen who have teamed up to give us a fine debut EP that, yes, owes a bit to the more famous Paul and John but has other influences as well. Many of you may know Moremen from his solo records and his time as guitarist for The Orange Peels, and Myers was the man behind the Toronto power pop group The Gravelberrys as well as an author of biographies of Todd Rundgren and Long John Baldry. Thankfully the record lives up to their respective CVs. After the 20-second McCartneyesque "Inner Sunrise", we segue into the wonderful "Everything Comes Together", a glorious acoustic guitar-based track that reminds me of The Autumn Defense at their poppiest with some Byrdsian jangle throw in. "Long Way Back" rocks a bit harder and makes good use of the principals' harmonies, and the title track with its stacatto beat and British Invasion melody sounds like the soundtrack to a parade down Carnaby Street. An excellent debut and a nice companion piece to the Edward O'Connell disc reviewed above.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Friday Roundup.

Mike Barnett-Everybody Gets to Dream. Mike Barnett has been entertaining us for the last several years with his brand of George Harrison/Traveling Wilburys-style pop/rock, and on his latest he finds a kindred spirit in producer Salim Nourallah, whose Hit Parade was my favorite album of 2012 and was itself a Beatlesque tour de force. Nourallah applies his sonic flourishes to Barnett's heretofore low-fi sound and the result is Barnett's best album to date. Opener "Who Loves You Blue?" is a nod to Harrison himself, both in the title and with Barnett's use of slide guitar, "I Could Fall" and "Late at Night" benefit from the Nourallah production with some jaunty keyboard use, while the title track is one of Barnett's most contemplative and sublime tracks. There isn't a bad track here, and the lovely piece of chamber pop "To You" closes things out with a smile on your face. Don't miss out on this one.

CD Baby | iTunes

Marble Party-Plush Up. Marble Party is a San Francisco band with a power pop sound that's both modern and retro. The driving lid-lifter "Afterglow" aligns them with the Weezers of the world, "About Her" channels Squeeze and the extraordinary "Song from the Coast" with its tinges of psychedelia recalls The Beatles by way of The Red Button. Never afraid to genre-hop, they turn to country rock to fine results on "Stuck in the Middle", complete with steel guitar, and close things out with the piano-based Jellyfish-esque "Prove Me Wrong". Showing a clever mastery of various power pop styles, Marble Party is one of my favorite finds of 2014 to date.

CD Baby | iTunes

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Power pop on Amazon Prime.

Last week Amazon added a music streaming component to their Prime membership program. For those who already subscribe to a service like Spotify or Rdio or Beats, Prime Music is nothing impressive, given it contains about 5-10% of the number of tracks offered by those services. But for those like me who already have an Amazon Prime membership but don't subscribe to one of the established services, it's a nice add-on that you're not paying extra for.

But what makes it a little tough to use is that there's no real good way to find out which artists/albums/songs it carries without checking them individually to see if they can be added to your Prime library. So in that spirit, and to help out those who have Prime and are power pop fans, I've compiled a list of power pop that I've found available for streaming on the service. By no means is this list exhaustive, and there are some quirks in that sometimes full albums are available but in other instances only certain songs from an album is available. Anywhere, here's what I have so far in the realm of contemporary power pop with some other notables included. If you know of some others, please mention them in the comments.

Apples in Stereo - most of their catalog prior to their two most recent releases. Includes the #1 Hits Explosion comp.
Army Navy - S/T and The Last Place
BC Camplight - most of Hide, Run Away
Ben Folds/Ben Folds Five - Rockin' the Suburbs, Whatever and Ever Amen, The Sound of the Life of the Mind, Live, most of the Best Imitation comp.
Big Star - Third/Sister Lovers
Bill Lloyd - Boy King of Tokyo the only full album, but lots of tracks from others
Bleu - A Watched Pot + several from Besides
Brendan Benson - You Were Right, What Kind of Love
Butch Walker - Butch Walker & The Black Widows
Cheap Trick - Greatest Hits, Dream Police, In Color, Heaven Tonight, The Latest
Cliff Hillis - Better Living Through Compression
Cotton Mather - The Big Picture, several tracks from Kon Tiki
Curtains for You - several tracks from two most recent albums
David Mead - Dudes, Almost and Always, Live at Schuba's (2006)
Electric Soft Parade - The Human Body EP, several from Holes in the Wall and The American Adventure
Everybody Else - S/T debut and Wanderlust
The Exploding Hearts - Guitar Romantic, Shattered
The Format - Interventions & Lullabies
Fountains of Wayne - Sky Full of Holes
fun. - Some Nights, Aim & Ignite
Future Clouds and Radar - S/T
Geoff Smith - Gravity
Gigolo Aunts - several tracks
Household Names - Picture in My Head, several other tracks
Jack's Mannequin - Everything in Transit
Jason Karaban - most of Shift
Jeff Larson - Room for Summer
Jeff Lynne - Armchair Theatre
Jeremy Messersmith - The Reluctant Graveyard, The Silver City
Jet - Get Born
Jim Boggia - Fidelity is the Enemy
Josh Fix - This Town is Starting to Make Me Angry, most of Free at Last
Ken Stringfellow - Touched
Kyle Vincent - most of Where You Are
L.E.O. - most of Alpacas Orgling
Locksley - S/T
The Meadows - assorted tracks
Mike Ruekberg - Acrimony & Cheese
Mike Viola - Electro de Perfecto, Acoustic de Perfecto
The Raconteurs - Broken Boy Soldiers
The Red Button - She's About to Cross My Mind, As Far as Yesterday Goes
Rick Altizer - various tracks
Seth Swirsky - Watercolor Day
The Silver Seas - Chateau Revenge, Alaska, High Society
Sloan - Navy Blues, One Chord to Another, Twice Removed, various other tracks
Smash Palace - Fast Long Loud, most of Do it Again, others
The Spongetones - Number Nine, many others including most of Always Carry On comp
Steven Wright-Mark - My Plastic World, Pop Motel, Sideshow Freak
Title Tracks - In Blank, It Was Easy
Todd Herfindal - Right Here Now, most of Collective, others
Wanderlust - Record Time
Wiretree - Bouldin, Get Up

Friday, June 13, 2014

Friday Roundup.

The Legal Matters-The Legal Matters. Some of my favorite power pop over the last decade has come from the Detroit area, be it Chris Richards or Andy Reed (solo and as An American Underdog) or Nick Piunti. So it's great to see them team up as the "supergroup" The Legal Matters. Richards, Reed and Keith Klingensmith make up the core of the group, with Piunti adding some of his fine guitar work. The results are as you'd expect: one power pop gem after another, from Richards shining on the opener "Rite of Spring" (pure midtempo melodic bliss) to Reed on the George Harrisonesque "Have You Changed Your Mind?" to the three-part harmony of the ballad "Mary Anne". Often supergroups turn out to be a disappointment, but these guys are at the very least the sum of their parts and definite year-end list contenders.

CD Baby | iTunes

Andy Kentler-No Love Lost. Andy Kentler hails from Down Under and before No Love Lost had one solo album to his name in 2004, so he isn't exactly a household name in the power pop community. But after coming across this album, maybe he should be. His music is a fusion of Tom Petty, The Kinks and Big Star and there are plenty of standout tracks here. "Gettin' on Home" opens the album in Petty style, tough and melodic. "Big Hits & Misses" is brash, radio-ready power pop with a big hooky chorus, and "Marnie & Stan" tells the story of a couple of the run in rocking fashion (with "ooh-la-la-la" backing vocals). Kentler saves the best for the latter part of the album, with "Walk Out on Me" pure power pop in the vein of the aforementioned Chris Richards, and the catchy "Nobody's Fool" closing things out.

CD Baby | iTunes

Friday, June 06, 2014

Quick notes on new stuff.

New Hot Nun single! Jeff Shelton and the guys (including the legendary Nash T. Habit) are back with a new single by way of follow-up to last year's rocking good album. This one's called "A Little Too" and can be found on Bandcamp.


Jay Gonzalez-The Bitter Suite. When he's working his main gig playing keyboards for Drive-By Truckers, Jay Gonzalez plays power pop on the side as we saw with 2012's Mess of Happiness. Inspired by Abbey Road, Jay's put together a 13-minute song medley called The Bitter Suite, which he wants to release on vinyl. Hence his Kickstarter project which is about 2/3 of the way to its goal. Support his muse, readers of Absolute Powerpop, and check out the video below:

Friday, May 23, 2014

Memorial Day Weekend Roundup.

The Squires of the Subterrain-S/T. Christopher Earl and friends are back with another trippy release of psych-pop. Unlike their previous release (Sandbox) which applied their psych-pop to Beach Boys-styled tunes, their self-titled latest finds them trading 60s California for 60s London, with Merseypop delights like "History" and "This Charming Place" and the so-goofy-you-know-what-it-sounds-like-by-the-title "Private Gherkin's Psychedelic Silly Mustache Band". Other highlights include the near-jangly (for them) "Attitude and Altitude", and the piano-based, Beatlesque "If Memory Served". But the real treat here is "From Getting High (to a Higher Power)", which manages to encapsulate the pop styles of the big 3 Bs of the era (Beatles, Beach Boys, Byrds) in one track. This just might be their best album to date.

CD Baby | iTunes

High on Stress-Leaving MPLS. We've been following these Minneapolis rockers from almost the beginning in the middle part of the last decade, so it's sad to hear that Leaving MPLS is the last batch of their Replacements-meet-early-Wilco songcraft. But at least Nick Leet & Co. go out on a high note. "Windy City Endings" (with a chorus reminiscent of the 'Mats "I'll Be You") is a great, tuneful rocker, while "Gimme Truth" might be the closest they've come to a classic power ballad. And the wonderful country-folk-rock of the title track captures their spirit perfectly, ensuring we'll miss them down the line.

CD Baby

Friday, May 09, 2014

Weekend Roundup.

The Metal Babies-Ghostly. Taking their name from a classic Teenage Fanclub track, this Australian band follows up the promise of their 2012 debut EP with a fine full-length. And despite their name, this isn't a TF tribute band but instead a combination of power pop styles from jangle to roots rock. Having said that, opener "Spat" could easily pass for a TF track with its melancholy mid-tempo melody and chiming guitars. It's followed up by the aptly-titled "Great", which is a top-drawer jangle-rock number which starts off smooth and rocks out in the end. Elsewhere, highlights included the lovely "Make a Start", the Replacements-rock of "Explanations" (clocking in at 1:01) and the title track, and the Pernice Brothers-esque "All a Waste of Time". An impressive effort from these guys, and this one should end up comfortably in the top half of my year-end list.

CD Baby | iTunes

Dropkick-Homeward. Speaking of bands influenced by Teenage Fanclub, the prolific Scottish band Dropkick return with their annual/biennial release, and Homeward is a fine addition to the canon of brothers Andrew & Alastair Taylor. They don't reinvent the wheel here, so it's safe to say that if you enjoyed any of their previous releases, you'll want this one. Opener "Come Home" has a lovely, laid-back feel that would have been right at home on the latest Autumn Defense album, "Halfway Round Again" jangles like there's no tomorrow, and "Jump Start" boasts a great chorus and organ-based hook. The album closes with the pretty ballad "Carry Me Home", a tune which would make Mark Olson and Gary Louris proud. Already looking forward to the next one in a year or so.

Bandcampwith Vinyl & CD options

Friday, April 25, 2014

Friday Roundup.

The Die Youngs-Nothing's Broken. Denny Smith's been supplying a lot of the music I've written about on the pages over the last several years, either through his roots-rockin' band The Great Affairs or his harder-rockin' band fORMER. Through that time, he's collected a fair number of tunes that didn't make the albums for one band or the other, and had some other songs kicking around, so why not create a third project? Teaming up with fellow Nashvillian Kenny Wright, Smith gives an album that may not be as cohesive as his other releases, but in my book 13 quality tunes are cohesion enough. So you get some fine Butch Walker-styled "hard power pop" in "As Fine as You Are" and "Dirty on the Stereo", rootsier moments like "Some Things Never Change" and "Crawl", and straight up power pop in "That's My Girl" and the title track. The common denominator here is Smith's radio-friendly sound, even if in this case we're talking about different radio formats.

CD Baby | iTunes

Phonograph (UK)-Phonograph Vol.1. Phonograph (I added the "UK" to their name since there's an American alt-country/roots rock band I'm fond of with the same name) is a 4-piece out of London who've made an auspicious debut that David Bash sent in my direction. They have a timeless sound that recalls many of the leading power pop touchstones, and "She Knows It" opens things in grand fashion, a Big Star-influenced number that's quite catchy, while the Beatlesque, midtempo "Waiting for the Sun" and it's "la da da da" chorus make for an instant earworm. Speaking of Beatlesque, "Don't You Bring Me Down" has a real Merseyside 1965 sound and "Fading into You" would fit nicely on one of Badfinger's first few albums. This is probably the most accomplished "classic power pop" debut since Cirrone a few years ago, and could be a year-end best-of contender. Right now, it's download-only from Bandcamp, and you'll have to convert pounds to dollars if you're in the USA, but it's worth it.


Saturday, April 12, 2014

Weekend Roundup.

The Sleepwalkers-Lost My Mind in Stereo. The SLeepwalkers are Ian Olvera & company, whose last two records came out as The Ian Olvera Band, and then Ian Olvera & The Sleepwalkers. Along with the subtle shift in band names, there's been a subtle shift in their sound as well. Where once it was Jayhawks-meet-Tom-Petty, now it leans more to the Petty side of things with some slight nods to pop-punk not unlike Archie Powell & The Exports. Opener "My Best Wasn't Good Enough" advertises this change, rocking with attitude and melody, as does the frenetic "Come Around". Other standouts include the rocking and catchy "Talking Out of Turn" and the laid-back nod to their earlier sound in "Chicago". Top-notch stuff with a Saturday night feel to it.


Static in Verona-Everything You Knew Before You Knew Everything. Also returning to our pages is Rob Merz and his Static in Verona projecc, following up his 2012 EP Some Things You Knew with this appropriately-titled release. Here Merz delves further in dream-pop, opening with the densely melodic "Bitter Branches" and following that with the percussion-heavy, vaguely electronic "Rosemary (Bury Me)" which still sports the hooks. There are still some nods to traditional power pop here, courtesy of "Roman Candle", but the sound here is summed up by the majestic "Friendly Fires" and its pop-friendly soundscapes. If you want to hear something a bit different that the usual power pop, but from an artist we know has the melodic bonafides, this one's a good investment.

CD Baby } iTunes

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Midweek Roundup.

Goodman-Isn't it Sad. NYC's Goodman is back with his second full-length, following up last year's What We Want. Isn't it Sad is another collection of tuneful indie pop, with the standouts being the power-popping title track, the midtempo "I'll Live Without Your Love", and the 80s-influenced "Like What They Like". A must for fans of AC Newman and Robert Pollard.

Bandcamp only

Evil Arrows-EPs 1 & 2. Evil Arrows is the latest project from Bryan Scary, well-known to readers of this site and the power pop community in general. His early releases were tuneful but suffered from a bit of ADD, but he later dialed it down and now with Evil Arrows he's honed his craft and put out an engaging pair of EPs with more apparently to come. We'll take these first two, released within about a month or so of each other, as one album. From EP1, "Romancer" finds Scary in playful mode, with a rollicking tune festooned with a lot of "la la la"s, "Silver Bird" has a Jellyfish vibe to it with its baroque piano parts, and "The Lovers" reminds me of Queen. On EP2, things take a turn for the cheeky with the frantic "Last Living Doll" and "Putting My Heart on the Pyre" recalling Scary's early work, while "Shadow Lovers" channels the early 70s glam rock of Sweet and Gary Glitter. It's great to have some more Scary power pop again.

iTunes (EP1) | iTunes (EP2)

The Orange Opera-Land of Tall. The Orange Opera is led by Kevin Hambrick, who has written hundred of songs over the years and was even featured in a documentary about being a musician in Fort Wayne, Indiana. His experience shows in his intricate popcraft, which fits in thematically with the two artists featured above as piano-based indie pop. Opener "Coy" is clever and catchy, somewhere in between Ben Folds and The Format, and "Happy" fits that bill as well. And don't miss "We Were Laughing", which is McCartney's "Nineteen Hundred & Eight Five" meets Jellyfish.

CD Baby | iTunes

Friday, March 21, 2014

Weekend Roundup.

Greg-Ieronimo-Bipolar Love. About once a week, I sift through the latest releases on CD Baby. It's a somewhat painstaking process that takes a couple of hours, and as the saying goes you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a prince. But coming across debuts as tight and power popping like Greg Ieronimo's debut EP, Bipolar Love, makes the whole enterprise worth it. Ieronimo's crunchy power pop comes in somewhere between Cheap Trick and vintage Weezer, as you'll hear once you click on "Roller Coaster Ride" below. The more jaunty yet rocking "Catch Me" has a hint of Jellyfish to it, as does the more acoustic guitar-based "Lucky Day". There's not a bad track among the seven featured here - "Home" recalls Foo Fighters in power pop mode, and "Goodbye Love" is a Beatlesque treat. One of the best debuts I've heard in months, if not years, Bipolar Love will be extremely tough to dislodge from my top of my 2014 year-end EP list.

CD Baby | iTunes

Damp-Damp. Damp is a guy named Ryan from Oregon (that's about all the biographical information I could glean) who makes some highly melodic indie pop on his debut album. Although it's primarily piano-based, Damp's music is more Shins or Ben Kweller than Ben Folds as demonstrated by opening duo of "Time" and "What's to Come from What Has Been", a pair of gorgeous tracks. Although these two tracks might lead you to believe he's a bit earnest and straightforward, there's plenty of playfulness on display here as well, from the almost-vaudeville piano of "Ye Ol' Bitch" to the baroque pop of "What's Wrong, Oh So Wrong" to the (actual) blues of "Cherry Pickin' Blues" to the catchy-yet-kazoo backed "I'm Thinking of You". This a an audacious, fun debut that also makes my panning for gold on CD Baby worth it.

CD Baby | iTunes | Official site (w/a few full-length tracks)

Friday, March 07, 2014

Weekend Roundup.

The Mike Benign Compulsion-Here's How it Works. Our favorite Milwaukee power-poppers are back with their third - and best - album to date. Benign & Co. perfect their Squeeze/Elvis Costello-styled pop with tracks like "Mrs. Kean" (which has a bit of Ray Davies to it), the stomping "Haley Daley" and the minor chords of "No Dumb Luck". Plus, to make the Elvis C comparison complete Benign throws in a track called "Imperial Bedroom" which would make the man himself proud. You won't find this one on CD (unless you burn one yourself), it's digital download and vinyl-only. That's just how it works.

CD Baby
| iTunes | Bandcamp

Ed Woltil-Paper Boats. Ed Woltil has been a mainstay of Tampa Bay area power pop scene, most recently as one-half of The Ditchflowers, who turned in a couple of top-notch albums over the last 5-6 years. This time around Woltil goes for a bit more intimate, laid-back sound on his solo excursion, not unlike label mate Steve Robinson. So while you may not dance to these tunes, their craft is impeccable from the beguiling opener "Algebra" and its catchy chorus to the lovely "In Plain Sight" to the lightly bluesy "Someone Else's Life". This is grown-up pop for fans of artists like David Mead, Josh Rouse and Neil Finn, but how many teens are reading this anyway?

CD Baby | iTunes

Gen Pop-Waiting for Disaster. Guess it's Wisconsin day at Absolute Powerpop, since in additional to Mike Benign these pop/rockers hail from the Cheese State as well. Their debut disc is warm and catchy with a hint of The Lemonheads and The Gin Blossoms' style of 90s power pop. Opener "Warm Sun" will draw you in while the quirky "You Scare Me" will bring Weezer to mind. Meanwhile the standout here is "Top of the World", a midtempo number that sounds like it could have been a hit for somebody about 20 years ago. A promising debut that you can name your price for on Bandcamp.

CD Baby } Bandcamp | iTunes

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Two Four for Tuesday, 2/18/14

To make up for no new posts last week, I'll double the usual two featured discs with a quick look at four:

Shake Some Action!-Catch the Sun. James Hall is back again with another collection of top-drawer jangle-pop with Catch the Sun, his fifth full-length as Shake Some Action!. "Colors Exploding" is just as groovy as its title implies,
"Wait for the Summer" is the kind of 60s/70s power pop that Hall does best, and "Moonlight Mind" jangles so hard it would make Roger McGuinn jealous. You know what you're getting with an SSA album, and you're getting more of it this time around.

CD Baby | iTunes

The Rationales-Dream of Fire EP. Also back with new material are The Rationales, who bring us a strong 5-track EP this time around. As before, they offer up a mix of power pop and Americana with leadoff track "Drunk All the Time" a great Tom Petty-esque raver with a memorable chorus and the Replacements-styled "Last Words" the standouts here.

CD Baby | ITunes

Ryan VanDordrecht-Beast of Love. Upon the release of his debut EP in 2009 I wrote the usual "can't wait for the full length" comment, and lo and behold five years later here it is. This Portland musician specializes in tuneful pop/rock with a touch of Americana and the top tracks here are the anthemic Jayhawks/Gin Blossoms-like "Great American Life", the jangly "Wild Ones" and the 70s-styled rocker "You Got a Hold on Me". Good stuff here.

CD Baby | iTunes

Preston Cochran-Waiting for the Day. This is the third album for Virginia's Preston Cochran, but the first that caught my ear. Cochran has a slick yet tuneful adult-contemporary sound that brings the likes of Matt Nathanson and Graham Colton to mind. My favorites here are the laid-back "Shoes in the Sun", the melodic title track, and the midtempo gem "Footnotes", which reminds me of Josh Rouse. A bit more "pop" than "power pop", but definitely worth a listen.

CD Baby | iTunes

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Two for Thursday, 2/6/14

The Autumn Defense-Fifth. The Autumn Defense is somewhat of a "bigger" band than I usually feature on this site, being a side project of Wilco's John Stirratt and Pat Sansone. Nevertheless their last release, 2010's Once Around, topped my year-end list and Fifth will be a strong contender for this year's as well. On their first three albums, they couldn't decide whether to be Bread or the Gary Louris-led version of The Jayhawks and they finally synthesized that difference on Once Around. Fifth continues that trend with a strong stylistic voice that will appeal to power poppers and country rockers alike. "None of This Will Matter" might be quintessential AD track, with its pop sensibility, easy melody and swelling chorus. The same applies to "I Can See Your Face" as well, while "I Want You Back" finds them in Pernice Brothers chamber-pop territory. And they really hit their stride on the piano-backed "Calling Your Name" which has a hint of the Beatlesque about it, and the jangly "Things on My Mind". Kool Kat is offering up on a deal on this with 2 bonus discs, so check it out.

Kool Kat | iTunes

Finest Grain-Can't Control It. I had the previous album from this Indianapolis band in my iTunes library but it didn't motivate me enough to write about it. That's changed with their latest, a real step forward that's a catchy and crunchy collection of "heartland power pop". The infectious "Back to You" opens things up, recalling The Gin Blossoms and The BoDeans, while the rollicking title track and "Again and Again" bring The Old 97s to mind. Other standouts include the near-ballad "Smile" and the wonderful "Hands are Tied", which recalls Big Star's janglier moments. It's always nice when a band you kind of like puts out an album you really like, and Finest Grain has done it here.

CD Baby | iTunes

I don't have an embed, but you can listen to whole thing here.