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).


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).


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.


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.


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).


*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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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