Saturday, August 04, 2018

New playlist!

After a year and a half, I've finally updated the Spotify playlist over on the right. It's a bunch of stuff I've featured on the site lately and a bunch of stuff I haven't, so dig in!

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Early August Roundup.

The Late Show-Sha La La. Grizzled (and I mean grizzled) vets of the power pop scene will remember Portable Pop, the 1980 release from NYC band The Late Show which landed at #46 of the 200 most essential power pop albums in John Borack's Shake Some Action: The Ultimate Power Pop Guide. They went on to record a followup in 1983 that never saw the light of day to record label issues and essentially weren't heard from again - until now. Now based out of Indianapolis, the original lineup is back with a followup. Although I can't say it was worth the wait as 38 years is too long to wait for just about anything - it's certainly worth your listening time. It's power pop in the classic sense, chock full of hooks, guitars and melodies, right from the Knack-like opener "To Let it Go" to Big Star-in-their-quieter-moments-sounding "Tears" to the acoustic guitars in the verses and electric in the chorus of "Hello Linda". The album has a timeless sound to it, and it's one more entry in a banner year for power pop. It's good to have these guys back, but none of us are going to survive another 38-year wait for the next one.

iTunes




Michael Roberts-There is No Blue. Michael Roberts was one of 2016's pleasant surprises with the Welshman's debut Suspended in This Space placing in the top half of my year-end list. He's back with the followup, and while it's not as consistently brilliant as the debut it's a fine collection of 70s-AM-singer-songwriter-styled pop. The standouts here are the baroque "Stardust Symphony", the pastoral "It's for Real", the breezy pop of "And Again", and the lovely "Turn Your Face into the Sun".

Kool Kat




William Duke-Quatro. San Francisco's William Duke (also of The Bye Bye Blackbirds) is back for the first time in three years with what you might have guessed from the title is his fourth album, and Quatro may truly be his best. Known for his dreamy California pop in the vein of Cloud Eleven or the Pernice Brothers, Duke this time cranks up the guitars a bit for more straight-ahead power pop sound. "Caroline and the Silver Sun" is pure jangle pop, and "Junk #2" which off its title you might be forgiven for expecting a breezy instrumental is instead a catchy rocker with some bite. "Hotels End" and "As Good as it Gets" feature the dreamy pop sound you've come to expect from Duke, while "Complications #1" veers into Jayhawks-styled popicana. While the styles might change song-to-song, the common denominator is Duke's songwriting craft and Quatro is a welcome return.

Bandcamp

Friday, July 20, 2018

Nick Piunti / Danny Wilkerson

Nick Piunti-Temporary High. Over the past five years Nick Piunti has established himself as one of the scene's preeminent power poppers (his last three albums finished at 7, 6 and 2 in my year-end lists) so it's not an understatement to say this was one of the year's most anticipated releases. Which leaves a couple of questions: Does it disappoint? Hell no. Is it his best? That's like asking which of your children are your favorite. Suffice it to say there will be 9 releases fighting over the top 10 this year because Piunti's accustomed spot is spoken for. Endlessly catchy and endlessly rocking, Temporary High finds Piunti at his best from the opening title track through the Elvis Costello-like "You Invented Hell" through the poptastic "If This Was Right" to "Contagious", the closest thing here to a classic power ballad. The high here may be temporary, but it's one you can return to whenever you want.

iTunes



Danny Wilkerson-Wilkerson. July 20 may go down this year as Power Pop Christmas because in addition to Nick Piunti's gem above, Danny Wilkerson has today released his debut album and it's also a very strong release. Wilkerson, who has worked with Lannie Flowers in the Pengwins among others over the years, has teamed up with Bleu who produces and co-wrote the songs here, in addition to providing backing vocals. And the power pop royalty isn't limited here to Bleu - Roger Joseph Manning Jr. plays on the record, along with New Pornographers drummer Joe Seiders and Pat Buchanan, formerly of Idle Jets and a couple of outstanding solo records of his own. And it sounds as good on disc as it looks on paper. The bouncy, catchy "Everyone Loves to Love" opens things, sounding like a cross between Bleu and Jellyfish as might be expected, "Enough for Somebody" throws horns and glockenspiel into the mix and is a bombastic delight, and first single "Let it Go Tonight" is an anthemic beauty. And the hits keep on coming: the McCartney-esque "Endless Haze" boasts a wonderful string arranagement, "Too Much of a Good Thing" almost brings to mind Bleu's L.E.O. project, and "Carry the One" is some fine power balladry.

CD Baby

Monday, July 09, 2018

Streetcar Conductors / Tom Curless

Streetcar Conductors-The Very Best of Streetcar Conductors. Naming your debut album The Very Best of is a cheeky thing to do, but technically true (of course it's just as technically true that it's The Very Worst of). Nevertheless Jonathan Moore and friends live up to the billing here as this does play like a greatest hits album from a parallel universe as right off the bat we get "Pushover", a Jellyfish-vibed number that pushes all the power pop (belly)buttons, and with Carmen Charters providing harmony vocals and its prominent synths "Let's Not (and Say We Did") could pass as a New Pornographers track. Other "greatest hits" include the 70s singer-songwriter pop of "Other People's Happiness", the ambivalent ode to selfies "Pictures of Ourselves", the 60s-influenced "Staring at the Sun" and the sophisticated adult pop of "True Love, They Say". One of 2018's more impressive debuts.

iTunes



Tom Curless-Songs of Movement. If the name Tom Curless doesn't jump out at you, it's probably because you know him better from the seven albums he's released as Your Gracious Host. Curless stated that he felt a bit different on this record which is why he went with his name, but it's in the same vein as those YGH releases you've come to know and love over the last ten years - in fact this might be his best since 2012's 1Up2Down. "Gennessee County Stomp" kicks things off with a Tom Petty-styled rocker while "The Dream is a Lie" could pass for a lost Posies track. "Oceans of Love" is as lovely and ethereal as its title implies, "Always Bloom Forever" is straight-ahead power pop, and "Accelerated Moon" recalls Gary Louris' Jayhawks. Another quality release from Futureman Records, which has released more quality records in six months than many labels do in a year.

Bandcamp

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Spindles / Three Hour Tour

The Spindles-Past and Present. The Spindles are a Chicago 4-piece who are not to be confused with the California folk/rock band The Spindles who were active in the previous decade. These Chicago Spindles (I should start calling them that like how R&B legends The Spinners were referred to as "The Detroit Spinners" in the UK) have a clean, Midwestern power pop-meets-British Invasion sound on Past and Present, which is titled as such given the album contains nine originals and three covers (a faithful rendition of The Hollies' "Look Through Any Window" and two tracks from The Elvis Brothers, who were active in the 80s and 90s, had quite a following in the Midwest and whose members play some on the album). Among the originals, "Prisoner of War" is a great choice to lead off the album with its bright melody and jangly guitars, "Whenever We're Together" with its "ooh" harmonies and Merseyside influence could have been a hit in 1965 while "Almost the Same" calls to mind another famous Illinois power pop band, Shoes. And "I Want My Baby Back" is thankfully not a cover of the famous Chili's commercial jingle but rather a Raspberries-styled power pop number featuring hooks galore. With its power pop influences spanning the decades from the 60s to the 80s, Past and Present pays homage to power pop history in the best way, and should be part of your future.

CD Baby




Three Hour Tour-You Never Know. Darren Cooper returns to our music devices again with another Three Hour Tour album, his first since 2015's Action and Heroes. As usual for him, You Never Know is first-rate power pop that sounds like Matthew Sweet meets The Replacements, with help from Adam Schmidt and - small-world alert - Brad Elvis of The Elvis Brothers. There's plenty to enjoy here, from the title track which calls to mind the late Tommy Keene to the Robert Pollard-esque "Gray Waves" to the power ballad "Here it Comes". Cooper also pays melodic tribute to one of great drummers of all time in "The Ballad of Buddy Rich" and throws in a nifty instrumental number in "Pascal the Hypnotist".

iTunes


Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Starbelly and Sarakula

Starbelly-Four. It's not quite the crossover team-up of Avengers: Infinity War, but fans of melodic pop have their own summer blockbuster as Cliff Hillis and Dennis Schocket have reunited as Starbelly for the first time in approximately 15 years. Hillis, of course, has been a staple of these pages from the beginning, but Schocket hasn't been heard from since his brilliant late-2008 album The Cinderblock Mansion. The reunion doesn't disappoint as it features both singer/songwriters at the top of their respective games. Schocket's wonderful McCartney-esque ballad "The Boy Who Learned How to Cry" (about the passing of a father) opens the album, followed by Hillis's "Lay Low", the kind of effortlessly-sounding melodic gem that it almost seems he can write in his sleep, and it's great to hear them both harmonize on "Sleep", which recalls Bread at its creative peak. It's not all softer pop - "The Stars of Constantine" has the guitars front and center with a classic power pop sound, "Yes I Love Her Again" finds Schocket jangling and "Strange Constellations" is a fine rollicking Hillis number. Other standouts include the lovely "Emily Says" and the five-and-half-minute sorta-rock-opera of "Danny Opus" about a has-been rock'n'roller. Just an all-around instant classic, and halfway through the year we have 2018's best.

iTunes | Kool Kat




Joel Sarakula-Love Club. London-by-way-of-Australia's Joel Sarakula is a top-notch synthesist, taking pop styles from the 60s through the present day and mixing them up to create a tour de force that should appeal to anyone with a ear for melody and song structure. This time around Sarakula targets the 1970s, with shades of that decade's R&B and disco sounds influencing his sound and readily apparent on the opener "Understanding" with its sleek groove and the horn-backed "In Trouble". Meanwhile, "Baltic Jam" is less of a jam and more a 70s-ish singer/songwriter piece while "Dead Heat" and "Coldharbour Man" have a light disco feel. It's all very catchy, pop without the power but with real craft.

iTunes

Friday, June 08, 2018

A Wanderlust reunion (of sorts)

Wanderlust was one of my favorite power pop bands from the 90s and they did in fact reunite in 2012 but who knows if they will ever again. So instead we have the next best thing - brand new solo albums from their primary singer/songwriters Scot Sax and Rob Bonfiglio, released within weeks of each other.

Scot Sax-Drawing from Memory. Sax has been the consummate music professional over the years, from fronting Wanderlust and Feel to a wide-ranging body of solo work that's included everything from pop to rock to funk to country as well as being a songwriter-for-hire who's penned hits for the likes of Faith Hill and Tim McGraw. Drawing from Memory is his return to the pop/rock idiom with the emphasis on the "pop". It kicks off with "Where Do You Go to Cry?", a midtempo number that sounds like a pop standard, and continues with "I Never Loved You", a Bacarachian ballad sung with Judy Blank, followed by "Am I Still Living?", a Lennon-esque number that's classic Sax. Highlights elsewhere are the string-laden "Parade of No's" which sounds co-written by Neil Finn, the ukulele-strummed "Addicted to the Needle" (which is about his love for vinyl, not drugs) and the wistful "Used to the Idea". It's the kind of album that Harry Nilsson used to make, a type not seen much these days.

iTunes




Rob Bonfiglio-Trouble Again. If it's straight-ahead power pop that you prefer to singer-songwriter stuff, then Sax's former bandmate Bonfiglio delivers for you with his latest solo album. I once wrote that Bonfiglio has a power pop sound that's big - big choruses, big hooks, big melodies. It's kind of a cross between indie power poppers like The Meadows and Velvet Crush and big name artists like Matthew Sweet, Collective Soul and Oasis, and the one-two punch to open the album of "Passenger Seat" and the title track makes that clear, as does "Spread This Feeling". But Bonfiglio can take things down a notch as well, with the wonderful "Gone" incorporating some Philly soul into the mix while "There Goes My Heart" sound like a top ten hit that charted sometime between 1975-1985. In fact, the whole album almost plays as a greatest hits from an alternate universe where Bonfiglio ruled the charts during that era and might be his best, most consistent album yet as well as one of 2018's.

iTunes