Elvyn-Valley of the Kilowatt Hour. After releasing The Decline in early 2010, an album that so impressed me it ended up at #4 on my year-end list, Elvyn is finally back after 5 1/2 long years with Valley of the Kilowatt Hour, a followup that they had been teasing for over a couple of years now. They released the single "AM" in September 2013, and since then Valley has been one of my most anticipated albums. So was it worth the wait? The answer is pretty much yes. Following on with more of their sound which finds the sweet spot between power pop, classic rock and Americana, there are a number of excellent tracks to be found here. Opening single "Ellie" recalls Teenage Fanclub, "This is the End" is the kind of jangly power pop you'll hear from Tom Petty or Paul Westerberg, and "Here We Surrender" has a "Things We Said Today" Beatlesque feel to it. Elsewhere, "Landslide Cities" channels Sloan circa Navy Blues, "Turning Me Down" finds them going alt-country, and the poppy "True Luv Can't Hide" finds them at their melodic and harmonic best. Plus, "AM" still rocks two years later in its vaguely Smithereens-ish way. The bottom line: another top 10 finish this year seems assured.
Michael Carpenter-The Big Radio. And oh yeah, Michael Carpenter has a new album out too, his first release of all originals since 2009's Redemption #39. That's the good news. The bad news is he has said this will be his last solo album of new material. This would be a disappointment of course, but he's given us so much wonderful music over the last 15 years of so that I can't begrudge him moving to other endeavors. And if The Big Radio is his swan song, it's a helluva finale. Distilling everything we've come to love about his music (which would have made him a superstar in 1975), The Big Radio has one killer track after another, from the catchy opener "Don't Open the Door" to "She's in Love With Herself" and "I Kissed That Girl" (which put the power in "power pop") to "Chrissie Hynde", a tribute that honors her lyrically and musically. And "Run Away" might be my new favorite track of his. Most Michael Carpenter albums sound like a greatest hits album of songs you haven't heard yet, and The Big Radio is no exception, finding him at his best. Currently, it's only available as download from Bandcamp but will be on CD in January.