Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Some quick hitters.

Catching up on my music backlog with a few words on some fine new releases.

Smash Palace-Right as Rain EP. Veteran Philly poppers Smash Palace are back with their first new music in nearly four years and it's a welcome return with five tracks of the jangle-rock they've been perfecting for the last 30+ years. Opener "It Happened to Me" is their best track of this decade with "Heart of a Loving Man" and the title track close contenders.

iTunes




Jeremy Fetzer-Wisdom of the Octopus EP. This 3-song EP was released in the fall of 2017 and I've been meaning to getting around to mentioning it here for about 6 months now. Fetzer is a confederate of Reno Bo (who's been releasing some excellent singles of his own lately), and Bo co-wrote "You Should Know by Now", a deliciously melodic tune that serves as the perfect example of his Beatles-meet-Van Dyke Parks pop. The title track and "When Will You Be Home?" aren't too shabby either with the latter being the EP's most baroque.

Free download from Bandcamp



Checkpoint Charley-The Great Jedi Mind Trick EP. Last month I was pleasantly surprised to see Adrian Whitehead back after a 10-year + hiatus, and now Checkpoint Charley is the next long-lost artist from the mid-2000s to return after wondering whether we'd hear from them again. Last heard from in 2005 with the heavily Jellyfish-influenced Songs One Through Twelve, these Tennessee poppers are back with a 4-song EP about the Star Wars universe. And the good news is that they have an Indiegogo crowdfunder for the proper followup to the debut, titled none other than Songs 13-24.

iTunes



Dan Israel-You're Free. Minneapolis singer-songwriter Dan Israel has been going strong for a couple of decades now, and I've featured him on the site before. On album #14 he serves up another winning combination of Tom Petty-influenced heartland rock and Dylanesque folk-rock. Top cuts: the title track, "Gets You Through It", "Someday You'll Say".

iTunes


Wednesday, May 02, 2018

It's Dave Hill's world and we're all just living in it.

Seems like Dave Hill is everywhere these days. His comedy stylings are ubiquitous and if you've watched HBO's Late Night With John Oliver at all over the last few years you've heard Valley Lodge's "Go" from 2013's Use Your Weapons as the show's theme song. And now his all-out aural assault continues with two releases from different projects, both of which are worth your time.

Painted Doll-Painted Doll. Hill loves his different musical projects (going all the way back to Uptown Sinclair, one of my favorite all-time band names) and by looking at the cover of his latest effort you might be forgiven for thinking it's another heavy-metal outing like his band Witch Taint (one of my least-favorite all-time band names), especially when you learn that he's teamed up here with Chris Reifert of "extreme metal" bands such as Autopsy and Death. But Painted Doll is closer in spirit to Hill's power pop band, Valley Lodge, only without the bubblegum. It's a rock album that's more rock than rawk, drawing on Hill and Reifert's love of 60s/70s garage, psychedelic rock and stoner rock, and will appeal to power-poppers as well. Opener "Together Alone" owes a bit to "(Don't Fear) The Reaper" (and perhaps The Smithereens' "Blood and Roses"), while "Hidden Hand" has a bit of a glam rock vibe. Elsewhere both the title track and the catchy "She Talks to Mirrors" channel late 60s British mod rock and "Find Your Mind" is just straight-up raucous rock. And it all closes with the loudest, trippiest cover of "I Put a Spell on You" that you're ever likely to hear.

iTunes



Valley Lodge-Stand b/w Come Back to Bed. And fear not power poppers, Valley Lodge is back as well as Hill & Co. have released a two-sided single from what is believed to be a forthcoming album. "Stand" is another of the Lodge's infectious, almost-danceable tracks in the vein of the aforementioned "Go" while "Come Back to Bed" is straight-ahead, catchy rock.

iTunes



Friday, April 20, 2018

Adrian Whitehead / Dave Sheinin

Adrian Whitehead-Nerd from the Suburbs. I got heavily into indie power pop in the mid-2000s and started this blog shortly thereafter, so a lot of the discs I grew to love in those first few years still stand out in my memory. And when I'm reminded of one of those albums and then realize the artist hasn't released anything new since then I figure to myself that he or she has moved on to other, likely better-paying pursuits and I'm just thankful for the music they did make. So it was truly a "whoa" moment when I noticed that Adrian Whitehead, who had my #3 album of 2008 with One Small Stepping Man, has released his first new album in ten years. Nerd from the Suburbs isn't quite a rerun of the debut, which was heavily Beatlesque. Instead, it's more like Elliott Smith when Smith was at his Beatlesque. "Folie a Deux" (French for "shared delusion" and the title of a great X-Files episode) is a wonderful album-opener and the prime example of this slight shift in sound, driven by acoustic guitar but with an electric solo all in service of a pretty melody. The E.Smith comparison also applies to the darker yet baroque combo of "Blaming the Snake" and "Sigmund Freud" both of which feature trumpet, tuba and trombone. Other standouts include the piano ballad "Shades of Grey", the gloriously melodic "Gilded Cage", and the title track which isn't the autobiography its title implies but an honest plea for love and friendship. Unlike some artists who sound the same even after a decade+ absence, Whitehead has clearly evolved, going from the boyish Beatle-pop of the debut to a richer, more mature set of songs both lyrically and musically.

iTunes



Dave Sheinin-First Thing Tomorrow. In the Adrian Whitehead review above, I spoke of musicians moving on to other pursuits but here's a case of someone more prominent in another field making music. Dave Sheinin is the national baseball writer for the Washington Post (you can read his articles here), and his debut album is one of 2018's best to date. Sheinin gets help from the Myracle Brah's Andy Bopp among others, but these are his songs and they're uniformly good. With its staccato guitars and catchy melody, "Lies" kicks things off with a definite 70s AM radio vibe while "Oh Amelia" boasts a jangly, chiming riff at its center. "Little California" sound as sun-kissed as its title and features backing vocals from Bopp, and "City You Left Behind" sounds like a lost Posies track. Throw in a couple of fine piano ballads ("A Warm February" and "You Love the Sunrise") and First Thing Tomorrow is the rare debut album that sounds like the work of a long-time professional. And it's easily the best album from a sportswriter since J.P. Cregan's Man Overboard.

P.S. The album art looks like it was inspired by the opening credits of The Leftovers, which earns it bonus points in my book.

iTunes

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Monday, April 02, 2018

A pair of old friends.

Today it's a pair of new releases from artists who've been releasing new music almost every year since I started this blog in 2006.

The Well Wishers-A View from Above. Jeff Shelton is back with his ninth Well Wishers full-length (not counting last year's covers album) and ho hum, it's another top-notch collection of jangle pop/rock. What sets it apart from recent Well Wishers albums is that it's a bit more folk-rock oriented, hearkening back to mid-2000s WW albums such as Under the Arrows. You won't notice right away as the rocking "Gravity Waits" opens the proceedings but the acoustic guitars come out for the mid-tempo "In Another Life", the tres jangly "April is Only a Lie" and perhaps the album's best track, "Ways & Means". But fear not, rawkers: there are plenty of loud guitars here on "I Like You Better", "There Goes My Gun" and "I'm Not the Enemy", a track first heard on last year's Trip Wire album with Shelton being a part of that collective. And "The New Fade Out" is a terrific album-closer, 5 1/2 minutes of Shelton at his melodic best.

Bandcamp



Dropkick-Longwave. The boys from Edinburgh are back in town with their annual release (technically the first since 2016 but last year saw an Andrew Taylor solo album which differed in name only) and Longwave is what you've come to know and love from this Scottish band. Opener "Out of Tune" is anything but, and it only takes a matter of seconds for their Teenage Fanclub-inspired pop to take hold of your ears and "I Thought it Was OK" with its dreamy melody is an instant Dropkick classic. And while nobody's going to mistake them for Led Zeppelin, a few of these tunes do rock harder than others - most notably "It's Still Raining" and "Fed Up Thinking of You", both of which retain the band's trademark melodies and harmonies. Their amazing consistency over what is now 15 albums is worthy of note, and even if there's a strong element of predictability to their music, having new Dropkick music fall into your lap or pop up randomly on shuffle is always a welcome thing.

iTunes

Monday, March 12, 2018

Aaron Fox & The Reliables / The Lazy Lies

Aaron Fox & The Reliables-In Transit. An urban legend has it that you replace all your body cells every 7 years, so perhaps Chicago's Aaron Fox needs a full reset before releasing new music as his previous 2 albums came out in 2003 and 2010. Whatever the reason, it's good to have this version of Fox & friends back with In Transit. The jangly "Unpromised Land" recalls the likes of Gin Blossoms and Toad the Wet Sprocket, while "Neverending" would have given The Wallflowers a run for their chart spot in 1996. "No One Knows Me" effectively rocks and "Better Days" channels the Gary Louris-led version of The Jayhawks (but isn't, however, a cover of that band's song of the same name on Smile). A bright collection of Midwestern-influenced power pop, you should be listening to this when you're In Transit (or even at home).

iTunes



The Lazy Lies-Less Talk More Action. With their impeccable pop melodies and boy/girl vocals, Barcelona's The Lazy Lies could be considered a Spanish New Pornographers but their sound is a bit less manic and much more influenced by 60s and early 70s pop. Opener "Flower Garden" might be the grooviest song you hear this year (or in 1966) with its buoyant melody and nifty guitar riff, while Montse Bernad takes lead on "Pinstripe Suit", a fun tune complete with horns in which Montse sings about wowing the boys with some traditionally male attire. Meanwhile, "Spiral Skies" is a Beatlesque gem in the vein of "Penny Lane", "The One About Being Brave" sounds like The Kinks at their most poppy (and isn't a bad Friends episode title), and "Jack & Sophie (Separate Lives)" is a slice of Merseyside life. There isn't a bad track here, and this album is an absolute blast (from the past).

iTunes

Friday, February 23, 2018

The Junior League & Mark Eng.

The Junior League-Eventually is Now. Joe Adragna is back as The Junior League for the first time since 2015's Also Rans, and he delivers another fine collection of jangly roots-pop. As on his past two albums, Adragna is assisted by Minus 5 frontman and R.E.M. sideman Scott McCaughey, who thankfully is recovering from a stroke suffered last fall. And in case you wondered where Adragna is coming from here, the album opens with the six-string bliss of "Teenage Bigstar" which of course sounds like the two bands referenced in the title and speaks to the power of music over the course of one's life. The languid "Say Please and Thank You" recalls latter-day Marshall Crenshaw and "The Wrong Kind of Blue" is positively gorgeous with its strings-and-piano backing and if Roy Orbison were alive today I'd love to hear him cover it. Meanwhile, McCaughey takes the mic on the piano ballad "You Didn't Miss a Thing", and although the general tone of the album is more subdued than previous Junior League releases, the uptempo "I Only Want to Begin Again" hearkens back to Adragna's classic sound. Another gem from the man from the Big Easy. UPDATE: For those of you who need physical media, Kool Kat will have the CD for sale come April.

iTunes



Nick Eng-Nick Eng. On his self-titled debut, Nick Eng sounds more like he's from Reading, England than his hometown of Reno, Nevada with this decidedly retro-sounding collection of 60s-influenced pop. "Reminiscing" starts things off in grand fashion, sounding like a track from an artist who was recording at Abbey Road in 1965 for George Martin when The Beatles were otherwise occupied. Speaking of the moptops, "On Cloud 9" has a real element of the early Fab Four in its DNA, while "Someday Someone" is irrepressibly jaunty (and catchy). And no 1960s-Merseyside-sounding pop album is complete without a story song about some older gent of the neighborhood and "Mr. Greene" fills the bill here. There's not a bad track among the ten on the album, and this is an early front-runner for the year-end list. The 21-year-old Eng may have been born 50+ years too late, but it's nevertheless encouraging to see someone under the age of 40 carry the torch for the sounds of the 60s.

iTunes

Friday, February 16, 2018

How Sweet it is.

Various Artists-Altered Sweet: A Tribute to Matthew Sweet. Futureman Records' Keith Klingensmith knows his way around a tribute album, and 2016's Sloan tribute was one of the best of the genre. So to say this project covering another power pop luminary with a long track record of quality music was widely anticipated in the power pop community is a bit of an understatement, and unsurprisingly Futureman comes through here again. Like the Sloan tribute, Altered Sweet has a lineup dominated by artists I've featured on these pages, so the winning tribute formula of "songs you like covered by artists you like" is clearly present here.

Although Sweet has been active since the mid-to-late 80s and remains so through today, the bulk of the covers here are from his peak creative period in the 90s from Girlfriend through In Reverse. The title track of the former is probably Sweet's best-known track and Michael Carpenter (a master of covers himself with some 6 covers albums under his belt) does the honors here with a straightforward version. Lannie Flowers is a great choice for Girlfriend's jangle pop classic "I've Been Waiting", while Phil Ajjarupu has a breezy take on "Thought I Knew You" and the man with the plan, Klingensmith, handles the ultimate "feeling sorry for yourself" song "You Don't Love Me" with class. But as beloved as Girlfriend is, my favorite Sweet album is 1995's 100% Fun* and it too is well-represented here, with Greg Pope's vintage low-fi power pop making "Not When I Need It" sound like one of his own, Gretchen's Wheel's "Walk Out" sounding like a lost Aimee Mann track, and in the most radical re-imagining of the collection Simple Friend delivers an acoustic boy-girl folk-pop version of "Sick of Myself", one of Sweet's more heavier rocking tracks, proving its melody works well in either genre. 1997's Blue Sky on Mars is represented by Andy Reed's faithful reading of "Where You Get Love" complete with synths, while fellow Michiganer Nick Piunti tackles "Behind the Smile" with the guitars front and center and The Well Wishers rawk on "All Over My Head". And 1999's In Reverse (Sweet's most underrated album in my opinion) finds Paranoid Lovesick giving us a punchy version of "What Matters" and Donny Brown coming through with an excellent cover of my favorite Sweet ballad, "Hide".

Interestingly Altered Beast, the album from which the tribute derives its title, only has three covers here - Elvyn puts their jangly roots-pop stamp on "Time Capsule", Nick Bertling has a heavy version of "Falling" and Chris Richards & The Subtractions does Sweet proud with "Someone to Pull the Trigger". Also by my count, only 4 of the 27 covers come from outside those 90s albums: Trolley reaches back to 1986's "Inside" with "Quiet Her", The Hangabouts un-Earth "When I Feel Again" from 1989's Earth, Fireking offers "Dead Smile" from 2003's (originally Japan-only) Kimi Ga Suki, and Arvidson & Butterflies mines 2008's Sunshine Lies for "Byrdgirl", which is more rocking and less jangly than the title implies.

Futureman has hit another home run here, and I can only look forward to whatever artist Klingensmith turns his attention to next. (I helpfully suggested Marshall Crenshaw to him on Twitter, but we'll just have to see).

Bandcamp



*I may have mentioned this elsewhere, but the title "100% Fun" was Sweet's response to those who criticized Altered Beast for being "too dark" (it certainly wasn't the followup to Girlfriend many were expecting). And after Blue Sky on Mars wasn't well-received by the critics, Sweet responded on In Reverse with the none-too-subtle "Write Your Own Song", giving him the title of thinnest-skinned popster since 1970s Billy Joel.

Friday, February 02, 2018

Mark Lane & The Reed Brothers

Mark Lane-New Memory. LA singer-songwriter Mark Lane doesn't release new music often, but when he does it's worth paying attention to. New Memory is only his third release in the last 14 years (after 2004's Golden State of Mind and 2012's Something New) and it's a pop gem that should place highly on 2018's year-end list*. Lane's Bandcamp page categorizes his sound as "classic pop" and the opener "Takin' That Ride" recalls Teenage Fanclub while the looping piano-based melody of "Something Grand" channels Harry Nilsson. Elsewhere, "Too Far into You" sounds like Gerry Rafferty jamming with Tom Petty, the 6-minute "Goodbye" (which is not the last track on the album) bears the influence of Lennon and Elvis C, and the title track is propulsive pop. New Memory is a tour-de-force of 70s singer-songwriter styles and definitely worth a listen.

*Yes, technically this was a 2017 release but it came out about a week before the end of the year so I'm going ahead and counting it for 2018.

iTunes



Andy Reed & Jason Reed-Make Your Move. Andy Reed needs little introduction to AbPow readers with his long history of releases and involvement in the Michigan power pop "mafia", but here he introduces brother Jason to the mix on a new EP. They originally billed themselves as The Reed Brothers on the advance single "Left to Right" but it turned out there were some other musicians known as The Reed Brothers so they simply went with their full names. Whatever they're called, it's an interesting EP that of course fans of Andy Reed will want to hear. The moody, midtempo "The Longest Pause" opens the EP (but with only a pause of 6 seconds before the music starts) while the aforementioned "Left to Right" brings another brother combo, The Finn Brothers, to mind with its quirky melody. "The Welcoming Song" and "Find My Way Back Home" are a pair of anthemic, semi-ethereal tracks, and the EP closes with Jason at the mic on "Make Your Move", an 80s-influenced synth rocker. A bit off the beaten path for Andy Reed here, but an interesting and enjoyable diversion nonetheless.

iTunes

Friday, January 19, 2018

A little bit of twang in your pop.

Scott Warren's been one of the most consistent artists featured on this site over the last 12 years, from his days in Signal Hill Tranmission to a series of quality solo albums including 2012's Dyed in the Wool, one of the best pop albums of the decade. Here he teams up with Molly Orlando as Wounded Bird for an EP of Americana informed with a pop sensibility. "Medication for My Heart" is a classic alt-country duet in the vein of Gram & Emmylou or Ryan Adams & Caitlin Cary in Whiskeytown, while Orlando takes lead on the vintage balladry of "Arms". Meanwhile, fans of Warren's output will enjoy "I'll Grow Old With You", the most pop-informed track of the batch with its loping electric guitar and which would have fit right in on Dyed in the Wool. And "Workin' Out the Kinks" is a rave-up that shows off Warren's versatility.

iTunes



Brady Harris Band-NoHo Calling. Another longtime favorite of the site who's straddled the line between Americana and power pop is Brady Harris, who returns with NoHo Calling, "NoHo" being a reference to his North Hollywood via Texas base of operations. The album is a mix of the twangy Beatlesque ("Let's Live", "Better Late Than Never"), bloozy ballads ("Raise a Glass", "The NoHo Sound"), some clever covers (The Go-Go's "Our Lips Are Sealed" and Grace Jones' "I've Seen That Face Before") and rootsy rockers ("I Think I Know", "Drain Me"). And to round things out there's even a paean to "Old Drunk Motherfuckers", of which Brady may or not be one.

Bandcamp

Thursday, January 11, 2018

David Bash's Best of 2017.

As always the highlight of the year-end list-making in the power pop community is International Pop Overthrow's David Bash's exhaustive lists.

I usually reproduce them in whole here, but rather than do that I'm just going to link to David's Facebook post with them:

David Bash's Best of 2017

As always there's new stuff to discover that even obsessives like myself overlook (for example I had no idea The Virtues released a new album in 2017, as it looks like it was a Europe-only release) and of course it's helpful to get a somewhat different perspective (David's more into psychedelic, garage and 60s-ish pop/rock than I am for instance).

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Getting in gear with the new year.

Now the list-making is over (although I will share David Bash's exhaustive lists as usual), it's time to get 2018 in gear with a couple of releases, one that came out not long before year's end and one that came out just after and both of which feature artists you may be familiar with releasing records under names you're not.

Daydream Retrievers-Daydream Retrievers. Seeing as I often can't remember what I had for breakfast later that day, it's not a shock that I could have sworn I had this release in my top 100 last week but when I went to look up the rank I noticed it wasn't there. So better late than never to extol the virtues of the latest release from Ian Olvera, formerly of the Ian Olvera Band and Ian Olvera & The Sleepwalkers. Taking his name out of the equation entirely this time, Olvera nevertheless serves up a 9-song collection of catchy heartland power pop influenced by Tom Petty and Wilco. "Ballad of an Exit Strategy" and "Cars Can't Stop" have a bright but rootsy vibe not unlike Gary Louris' version of The Jayhawks, while "New Parade" rocks like Petty's Heartbreakers. Meanwhile, the 3-song run in the middle of the album of "Tuesday Night in America", "Right is Right" and "Hi How Are You's" channels Big Star, both in the rock stylings of the former, and the melacholy balladry of the latter two. And "Learning to Live With the End of the World" with its upbeat piano-based melody is Wilco meets Springsteen. Had I slotted this one on the year-end list, it would have been about #30.

iTunes




Rooftop Screamers-Vol. 1. Rooftop Screamers is the new project of former Throwback Suburbia drummer and songwriter Mike Collins, and its 8-track debut is the first top-notch power pop release of 2018. Collins isn't a singer, though, so to bring his compositions to life he's enlisted the help of various friends to sing lead including indie pop luminaries such as Kyle Vincent and Ken Stringfellow. "Sign Me Up" kicks things off, and it's a blast to hear Vincent sing lead on a rocker that's part Queen and part Cheap Trick instead of his typical soft pop. Stringfellow, who it seems lately has guested on more releases than Michael McDonald in the late 70s and early 80s, takes the mic on "Roses Again" and it's a melodic gem with Brian May-like guitars that comes across as a lost Posies/Jellyfish mashup. But even the tracks with the lesser-known Portland-area singers stand with the big names - Geoff Metts sings on "Have Mercy", a heartland rocker, while Andrew Paul Woodworth gives "Get Outta Your Way" a Beatlesque feel. This is a fun project as Collins is a top-notch power pop songwriter, and here's looking forward to Vol. 2.

CD Baby