Hornal-The Game Begins With the Lights Out. Iain Hornal has been quite the prolific sideman over the last several years, playing with Jeff Lynne's ELO, 10cc and The Feeling among others. Now it's his turn to be in the spotlight as he releases his solo debut, and it's of a piece with the artists he's played with. "Staring at the Sky", with its spacey intro and light harmonies, recalls a Lynne ballad, while The Feeling's Paul Stewart and Ciaran Jerremiah with Billington & Quinn join Hornal on "Jennifer", which is bright and buoyant as much of that band's output. (They also join on the lovely ballad "Pictures of Past"). More friends help out here as well, with the legendary Graham Gouldman and Kevin Godley of 10cc providing vocals (and not a small bit of inspiration) to album closer "Say the Word", a wonderful slice of eccentric British pop complete with spoken word interlude from IT Crowd actor Matt Berry. But the top track here is one that doesn't have any flashy guests: the catchy "She Doesn't Have Anyone", yet another #1 single from an alternate universe. An early 2017 top 10 contender.
The Drywall Heels-The Drywall Heels EP. Power pop doesn't come more straightforward or more fun than this debut EP from Toronto's The Drywall Heels. "You Should Know"'s hooks reel you right in with its "oh-uh-oh-oh-oh" chorus and Raspberries-meet-Cheap Trick sound, "Richmond Hill" is a 1:31 blast of guitar pop, the ghost of Big Star haunts "Claudia" and "Lauren (Let Me In)" would make fellow countrymen Sloan smile. With all five tracks clocking in under 3 minutes each, it'll leave you wanting more. And the best part is that it's "name your price" at Bandcamp. (Technical note: this was released on December 23 but since it was so late in the year I'm counting it for 2017 list purposes)
Bandcamp (name your price)
The Lunar Laugh-Mama's Boy. Jared Lekites (featured here earlier as a solo artist) and Connor Anderson team up for their second album as The Lunar Laugh and like the first it splits the difference between power pop and folk/rock to fine effect. The title track is a rollicking pop tune that recalls the awkwardness and pain of growing up, while the midtempo "Sticks and Stones" wouldn't sound out of place on an Autumn Defense album. Elsewhere, Lekites shines on "Work in Progress", a great track reminiscent of Gary Louris's version of The Jayhawks and album closer "Nighthawks & Mona Lisa" (released earlier as a single) just might be their signature song with its warm mix of melody and harmony.
Bandcamp (digital, CD & Vinyl)