Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Summer Singles Roundup.

Cliff Hillis-Seven Sisters. New music from Cliff Hillis is always a treat, and his latest single may not be the upbeat power pop he usually traffics in, it's a beautiful melancholy ballad featuring Louis Clark Jr. (of The Orchestra) on cello.

iTunes



Starbelly-Love Song 26 (feat. Roger Joseph Manning Jr.). And if a new Cliff Hillis single isn't enough, here he is with Starbelly and special guest Roger Joseph Manning Jr. "Love Song 26" is a classic Beatlesque mid-tempo number which features Manning on piano, backing vocals and orchestration.

iTunes



The Top Boost-Tell Me That You're Mine/Early Morning Days. And as we continue to thematically link the current single to the one before it, this Vancouver duo had their 2019 EP produced by Roger Joseph Manning Jr. This time around, the guys trade in their classic pop stylings for Sweetheart of the Rodeo-era Byrds on "Tell Me That You're Mind" while "Early Morning Days" has a more lush countrypolitan sound. An interesting but welcome departure.

iTunes



Dungeon of Skeletons-Valencia. Some of you may remember Justin Kline from earlier last decade. He's been quiet for a while but is back with his band Dungeon of Skeletons. Despite the death metal-sounding name, "Valencia" is more of the bright pop Kline was known for as a solo artist and it's a great summer track.

iTunes



Empty City Squares-Parmenides/History Rhymes. Big Stir Records has been bringing us some great power pop singles the last few years and the latest from Empty City Squares, whose 337 was one of the pleasant surprises of 2019, is a double-sided single which is "thinking man's pop" as it's literally about a thinker, the philosopher Parmendies. But don't worry, these are catchy tunes, not ponderous navel-gazing.

Buy at Big Stir (scroll down)



Bryan Estepa-Weight in Gold/Subject to Change. Like Cliff Hillis above, Bryan Estepa has been one of most consistently excellent power pop artists of the past 15-20 years and fresh off his grabbing of the top spot in 2019's year-end list on this site he has two new tracks that are, uh, worth their weight in gold. "Weight in Gold" is a sweet, subdued track that gets by on charm and melody, while "Subject to Change" is more classic Estepa with its big, catchy chorus.

iTunes



Ryan Allen-Hope and Control/Feeling Alright?. Ryan Allen is back with more of his heavy power pop (but without his Extra Arms this time) on a couple of new tunes. "Hope and Control" is classic Allen while "Feeling Alright?" has a glam sound. Proceeds from this single are going the Black Lives Matter Foundation, so check it out.

Bandcamp




Monday, June 01, 2020

Early June Roundup.

Nick Piunti & The Complicated Men-Downtime. Nick Piunti has been the gold standard for indie power pop over the last decade with year-end top 10 spots for all four of his previous releases, so a new record is always a welcome thing. This time around he bills his backing band and the more the merrier as Downtime is another lean, mean collection of 10 instant power pop classics. With the backing band more prominent there's a slightly harder edge to the tunes but not at the expense of melody. Opener "Upper Hand" will wake you out of whatever slumber you were in, "Every High" is one of his typical could-have-been-a-hit-in-the-80s tunes, and "Gonna Be Good" is both one of the better tracks on the album and what I'm thinking when I hear there's a new Nick Piunti album.

iTunes



The Breakup Society-Before the Intervention Ruined Everything. Power pop isn't always known for its sharp or clever lyrics, but Ed Masley and his band The Breakup Society have been giving us tunes with a twist for a while now. A search of my archives reveals that this is the first time I've written about them, an injustice I'm remedying now. Masley's lyrics are reminiscent of a less bitter, less acerbic Elvis Costello and the music is first-rate. Titles like "My Little Cautionary Tale", "Slow Day at the Outrage Factory", "Her Alpha Male" and "Don't Let the Hipsters Catch You Crying" speak for themselves and you'll have your share of "aha" moments while listening. And album closer "Strength Was Always Your Weakness" was co-written by kindred spirit Scott McCaughey, with his Minus 5 catalog being another touchstone for Masley & Co.

iTunes



Tom Curless and the 46%-Almost Ready for the Future. Like Nick Piunti above, Tom Curless is an honorary member of what I call the Michigan power pop mafia, and also like Piunti he brings his backing band, the 46%, front and center on his latest solo release. This is his second under his own name; before that he had released several albums as Your Gracious Host. This one's a more rocking affair than his 2018 album Songs of Movement and you could put the album on a playlist with Piunti's and it would fit right in. "Always in Between" gives the album rocket fuel right out of the gate and following is probably the album's best track "House on Fire", which throws in some cheeky Cars-esque synths. "Just Wanna Talk" has a bit of a Beck vibe (without the white boy rap) while "Unexpected Knock" rocks hard. Whatever future you're almost ready for, it should include Curless's latest.

iTunes

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Mid-May Roundup.

Coke Belda-Coke Belda 4. Coke Belda's first two albums - I and Nummer Zwei (German for #2) - were outstanding slices of power pop with the former making my top 20 in 2013 and the latter the top 10 in 2015. #3 was an album of Bee Gees covers which was nice, but they were covers. So after a five-year wait for original material I'm glad to report that Coke Belda 4 is another gem headed for at least my 2020 top 20. He isn't bashful about his influences or heroes as the leadoff track is "Thank You, Paul" a you-know-who-esque tribute to you-know-who into which he drops many a Macca solo song title (see the lyrics here). Next up is "Another Day", which somewhat surprising isn't a McCartney cover but Belda's own melodic masterpiece. Also of note are the lovely "Believe", a simple acoustic guitar-based ballad, the Jellyfish-influenced "6x8 Basement" and trips both in time ("1968") and distance ("Harlan, Kentucky"). And it all climaxes in the epic "Watching You", six minutes of slow build-up that's his own "Hey Jude". I said "top 20 of 2020" a few sentences back, but who am I kidding - this is top 10 stuff.

Kool Kat (pre-order on CD)



Andrew Weiss and Friends-The Golden Age of Love & Chemistry. New York's Andrew Weiss caught my ear in 2018 with his debut album The Honeymoon Suite but he's taken a big step up with his new one, a collection of what I like to call Popicana. His touchstones are Tom Petty and The Jayhawks and the opener "All the News Fit to Print" recalls the former while followup track "Homesick Blues" channels the latter. Elsewhere "The Morning After" is a mature and melodic mid-tempo number, the power ballad "Everybody Loves a Comeback" could have been a late 80s/early 90s hit, and "Diamond" could almost be a lost Bread classic. Impressive stuff.

iTunes



Cupid's Carnival-Color-Blind. Cupid's Carnival returns with the followup to their 2016 debut Everything is Love and everything is love once again as this extremely Beatlesque London band follows up with a collection they say is for the Summer of Love 2020 (maybe make that the Summer of Isolation). "Working All Day" provides a Hard Day's Night/Help! vibe, "Yesterday's Gone" has a touch of "Penny Lane" without the horns, and "Looking for Rainbows" could be a Rubber Soul outtake. Falling somewhere between The Red Button and The Rutles, Cupid's Carnival lives in a world where it's always 1965 - and in some respects, that's not a bad thing.

iTunes


Monday, April 27, 2020

Late April EPs & Singles Roundup.

Steven Wright-Mark-Wake Up! This EP is the first new music from NYC's Steven Wright-Mark since 2012's Plastic World, and it's great to have him back even if it's only four tunes. But it's a case of quality over quantity as all four tracks are pop gems that will appeal to fans of Cliff Hillis and Michael Carpenter. "Just a Dream" features a great call-and-response chorus, "Runaway, Baby" adds some Tom Petty influence to the mix, and "Whisper in the Wind" is a top-notch ballad. But the lead single "Underground" is worth the price of admission alone, one of 2020's best songs to date. It's a thinly-veiled commentary on the state of things today, but is anything but preachy and features handclaps and an irresistible chorus. A shoo-in for my year-end EP list.

iTunes


Mitch Linker-I'll Take My Chances EP. Speaking of long absences, Hartford's Mitch Linker brings us his first new music in 13 years. Perhaps best known for the short-lived power pop band The Day Traders, Linker serves up a slick four-track EP that could be called adult contemporary in the vein of Josh Rouse or David Mead. "Given Everything" and "I'll Take My Chances" are the standouts here, mellow gold for a new decade.

iTunes



The Explorers Club-Ruby/I Wonder What She's Doing Tonite. Like presidential elections and Summer Olympics (though maybe not this year), The Explorers Club has been releasing new much precisely every four years since 2008. This two-song single is a preview of the two albums they have coming out this summer, one consisting of originals and the other all covers. We get one of each here, with the original "Ruby" a great example of their glorious sunshine pop finding the mean between 60s California pop and Merseyside. "I Wonder What She's Doing Tonite", meanwhile, is a cover of the 1968 Boyce & Hart top 10 hit that's of a piece with band's sound. This is all making me eagerly await the full-length releases.

iTunes



Creamer-Hideaway. Phillip Creamer's debut album was one of my favorites of 2018 as it perfectly captured the early 70s Big Star sound, and his new single is more of the same - a gentle ballad that builds to an operatic crescendo. Hoping this heralds a new album.

iTunes



Bleu-I Wanna Write You a Symphony. Another artist from whom new music is always welcome is the irrepressible Bleu, and his new single is as a grandiose undertaking as its title implies with all of his trademark bells and whistles.

iTunes



Salim Nourallah-Building a Case. The man who brought us my favorite album of 2012, Hit Parade, otherwise has released several albums I've enjoyed but haven't been over the moon about. But this catchy new single about his lover "building a case against our love" demonstrates his clever charm and wit and wouldn't have been out of place on Hit Parade, so I'm highly recommending it.

iTunes





Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Early April Roundup.

The Foreign Films-Ocean Moon (New Songs and Hidden Gems). Bill Majoros spent most of the previous decade working on and releasing his 3-disc epic The Record Collector, the proper followup to his brilliant 2007 double-disc debut Distant Star. His latest offering is Ocean Moon, a more modest 9-track disc which starts off with six new tracks then revisits a trio from The Record Collector, recontextualizing them into a loose concept album of sorts about being in love, both with a woman and with the music of the 60s. The six new songs are all quite excellent, from the Zombies-like opener "Dream With Me Tonight" to the "sha-la-la-la-la" chorus of "Katie and the Crystal Hearts" to the latter-day Jeff Lynne stylings of the title track. Will these six new songs end up as part of some multi-disc release in the next few years? Stay tuned, but tune into these new ones now.

iTunes



High on Stress-Hold Me In. Like many, six years ago I was bummed to hear that Minneapolis rockers High on Stress broke up, and like many I'm thrilled that Nick Leet & company have reunited. Hold Me In sounds like they never went away, delivering a dozen tracks in the vein of The Replacements-meets-early Wilco. "Work Release" is a great opener, with "my heart's on work release" a metaphor worthy of some of Westerberg's best. "Dakota" features a country beat, "Never Got That Far" is a great folk-rocker with ex-Billy Pilgrim Andrew Hyra joining on vocals, and speaking of guest stars, Laurie Lindeen (of ZuZu's Petals and Westerberg's ex) duets with Leet on what's perhaps the album's best track, the yearning "Wish This Moment Gone". A return to form, if not an improvement on form.

Bandcamp



Surrender Human-Surrender Human. The Chapel Hill NC music scene might not be what it was in the 90s, but three veterans of that era have teamed up in their best effort to bring them back. Matt McMichaels (vocals, guitar) of the late great Mayflies USA joins Ben Folds Five bassist Robert Sledge and drummer Tony Stiglitz (Jett Rink, Chris Stamey) as Surrender Human, and their debut disc finds them in fine form. It's a mix of 90s slacker-era indie rock with an older and wiser pop sound, and fans of any of the bands these guys played in or with will love it. The bright rocker "Boxcar Reel" lets you know what you're in for, the catchy "Let You Down" could have been a staple on college rock radio stations 25 years ago, and "Girls Not Talking" is some nifty power pop. Surrender to this one.

iTunes


Saturday, March 21, 2020

March Roundup.

Mike Barnett-Scattered Debris. Mike Barnett is back with his one-man Traveling Wilburys-inspired roots rock, and this collection is a mix of new and re-recorded previously-released tunes he's done with other projects such as his Barnett/Gurley outing several years ago, hence the title. He has favorites such as Salim Nourallah, Joe Reyes and the aforementioned Dennis Gurley helping out here, and the optimistic (poptimistic?) tunes here are the best - the easygoing "I'm Gonna Be OK" and "I Hope" are highlights. But it's all as comfortable as an old pair of shoes.

iTunes



Dave Kuchler-It's Pronounced... New Jersey's Dave Kuchler is an old school power popper, and when I say "old school" I'm talking about the fact that he's had these songs kicking around for 25-30 years as life got in the way before he could put them on a record. Also during this time Kuchler was in the overlooked band Soul Engines, and some of these were tracks written for the aborted followup to their classic album Closer Still. Thankfully these tunes have seen the light of day and fans of Marshall Crenshaw and Brian Jay Cline will enjoy the jangly roots pop of "If I Saw You" and "Better Things to Do", which fit in nicely with his cover of "When You Walk in the Room". Kuchler's also not averse to throwing in some horns and some R&B flourishes here and there and he'll take you back to a time when the Jersey shore meant Springsteen and Southside Johnny and not Snooki and The Situation.

Bandcamp



VA-Garden of Earthly Delights: An XTC Celebration. Keith Klingensmith and Futureman Records have done it again with another lavish (49 tracks!) and comprehensive tribute project, this time taking on the legendary XTC. As you'd come to expect it has a star-studded lineup of indie power pop with nearly 2/3 of the acts present having been featured on this site over the years. So rather than single out individual tracks (there are a few "re-imaginings" but most are fairly faithful to the originals), I'll just go with a few of my general impressions. One, it's been a long time since I've listed to a lot of XTC as I did in the late 80s and early 90s and it's great to hear these tunes again. Another is that their songs (especially Andy Partridge's) are fairly idiosyncratic (often in their "Englishness" for lack of a better term). So whereas a lot of the covers on say, Futureman's Sloan tribute sounded like the cover artists making them their own, here no matter who's singing it's tough not to hear Partridge and Moulding. Still it's a great chance to hear some of your favorite artists tackle some pop classics.

Bandcamp



Sunbourne Rd-Teenage Lyrics. It's great to hear power pop from around the world, and Italy's brought us some great acts like Radio Days and The Labradors. You can add Sunbourne Rd to the list with their Beatlesque full-length debut Teenage Lyrics. While the raved-up opener "Baby! Baby! Baby!" earns its exclamation marks, "Different Life" and "Fire from the Sun" are mid-tempo standouts with a hint of Lennon. And the wall of sound of "Scars" brings ELO to mind. They have a couple of prior EPs under their belt and I plan to check them out as you should too.

iTunes



Bird Streets-Ghosts EP. John Brodeur's teamup with Jason Falkner brought us the brilliant 2018 Bird Streets album, one of the year's best. While this isn't the proper follow-up to the debut (not sure Falkner is even involved here), Brodeur has released four new tracks he's had kicking around for a while, and they're pretty good. The real highlight is the final track "Fallout", which is on par with the best of the full-length and "Round My Way" is a punchy classic rock-sounding track.

Bandcamp



Travel Lanes-On. Frank Brown is back with his third Travel Lanes album, and it's a tight 8-song collection of quality rock that finds the mean between Tom Petty and Elvis Costello, or perhaps an American Graham Parker. Brown moves from the straight-ahead rock of "True and Tried" to rockabilly of "Answer My Prayers" to the Americana of "It's Time". And "Big Heart" comes right from the Elvis C ballad playbook. Sometimes it's good to stay in your Lanes.

iTunes

Friday, February 28, 2020

Late February Roundup.

Pete Molinari-Just Like Achilles. British singer-songwriter Pete Molinari has been around a while - this is his fifth album - and he's amassed a fair number of celebrity fans such as Yoko Ono (with whom he performed a couple of Lennon tunes onstage), Jakob Dylan (who sang a live version of one of this album's songs with him) and Evan Rachel Wood (who appears in a video for one). His latest is my first exposure to him, and well I can say the celebrities are onto something here. Although his earlier albums were more folk-based this one is a pure pop delight. Opener "Goodbye Baby Jane" is first-rate Britpop, "Steal the Night" has an irresistible, anthemic chorus, "I'll Take You There" channels the Merseyside sound and "Waiting for a Train" is top-notch jangle pop. A tuneful tour-de-force.

iTunes



The Suitesixteen-Mine Would Be the Sun. The Suitesixteen is the brainchild of British Columbia's Rob Nesbitt, frontman of the early 90s power pop band Bum. He's been working on this album on and off for the last 16 years and its 16 tracks (sense a pattern here?) are a testament to the process. The songs here run from Green Day-like pop-punk ("Start at 13", "It's Not True") to the GbV-influenced ("Bob Greene", "My Wife, Doom, Singular, Fate") to Big Star-styled power pop ("A Very Well Known Secret", "Burn and Cool", "Taught Me a Lie"). Given its length of gestation and the variety of styles, it plays like a greatest hits album from an alternate universe and is an early Best of 2020 contender.

Bandcamp



Hanemoon-Mammals. Back in the early-mid 2000s, there were a couple of similarly-named bands with similar-sounding albums called Seaside Stars and The Sealevel and they released some wonderful breezy jangle pop. The common denominator in those bands was Hans Forster and he's back under a new guise as Hanemoon with a brand new album. And yes if you liked those "sea" bands you'll like this one. Similar in sound to Dropkick and Teenage Fanclub, his songs such as "Bang the Wire" and "Where the Cars Collide" will have you feeling right at home, while "Sunset Alvarado" and "The Captain's Daughter" are also standouts.

iTunes

Friday, February 07, 2020

Early February Roundup.

The Misdom-Abbey Roaded 2.0 EP. This Spanish band has been kicking around for the past decade but only just came to my attention with their latest 4-song EP, and as you guess from the title there's a strong Beatles influence at work here. "12 de Octobre" opens the proceedings in agreeable, shuffling fashion while "One Way" recalls Lennon's "Free as a Bird". And "Roses" and "Town" are bright late 60s/early 70s British pop. They have a few prior releases worth checking out as well, and fans of the late great The Sunday Drivers should enjoy them too.

iTunes



Dropkick-The Scenic Route. I could tell you that this is the album where Scottish mainstays Dropkick changes up their sound and incorporates some harder rock or reggae influence or some danceable beats, but I'd be lying. Nope, their 16th album is much like the 15 that came before it and The Scenic Route is one more data point to prove that the only things you can count on in life are death, taxes and Dropkick. But as long as they keep making album after album of top-notch jangle pop/folk in the vein of Teenage Fanclub and The Jayhawks I'm not gonna complain. The standouts here are the breezy opener "Feeling Never Goes Away", the lovely ballad "Disappearing" and "Tomorrow".

iTunes



Tommy Ray!-First Hits Free. This is the debut solo album from the lead singer of The Cry! and you can tell from the exclamation points alone that you're in for some high-energy, fast-moving power pop with a pop-punk edge. If you partook of the recent couple of Cry albums you'll know what to expect, otherwise think The Clash in their poppier moments or The Exploding Hearts. It's all very infectious, from the 1978 vibes of "Life Goes On to "Hey Susanne" (which reminds me a bit of "I Fought the Law") to the 60s rock of "Coming Back". This is fun stuff, and I can see it ending up on Little Steven's Underground Garage.

Bandcamp

Friday, January 17, 2020

New year, new music

Time to kick off 2020 with a new album, EP and single!

Rob Martinez-Maybe Miss America. Albuquerque pop-rocker Rob Martinez is back with his third album on Adam Marsland's Karma Frog label and though I enjoyed his first two (one of which I had in a year-end list) I just realized I hadn't featured him on the site. Time to remedy this with Maybe Miss America, his most assured work to date. For the unfamiliar, Martinez is a purveyor of adult pop in the vein of Neil Finn and Cliff Hillis, and on this one he opens with the 1-2 punch of the mid-period Beatles-influenced "The Letter" and the poptastic "Summer of Love", a deft mix of Merseyside and Brian Wilson. Other highlights include the groovy "All I Ever Wanted", which wouldn't be out of place on a Red Button album; the McCartneyesque ballad "Genevieve Chasteau"; and the jangly title track. Suddenly now there are 99 spots left on my top 100 of 2020.

Karma Frog



Brian Jay Cline-Songs for a Generation of X's EP. You just can't sleep on Brian Jay Cline. When I was compiling my year-end lists a couple of weeks ago I checked the link for his Critics Darling album I was including and discovered he had released another EP mid-year which I missed. And then on top of that, he released this new EP last week. So my advice is to bookmark his Bandcamp page and keep checking at least once a month. This latest EP again finds Cline doing what he does best - rootsy pop/rock a la Marshall Crenshaw and Bill Lloyd. "Two Left Feet" is a gem complete with harmonica, "Permanent Midnight" has an 80s feel to it with the rangy guitars and synths in the background and "High and Lonesome" is an earnest, building rocker. And Cline even tries out reggae with "Knockout" which succeeds in despite of itself. Keep 'em coming, Brian!

iTunes



Rooftop Screamers-"Our Lucky Night" featuring Keith Slettedahl. Former Throwback Suburbia drummer and songwriter Mike Collins' Rooftop Screamers project continues apace with new music featuring various frontmen from the indie power pop community, and his latest for 2020 is "Our Lucky Night" which finds Keith Slettedahl, former lead singer of The 88, on vocals. The song has a great winding melody and with Slettedahl on board it can easily pass for a lost 88 track.