Friday, August 07, 2020

Early August Roundup.

The Szuters-Sugar. If the name "The Szuters" rings a bell for you, it's maybe because you became aware of them in the original incarnation in the mid-90s, where they became quite popular in Japan (a power pop cliche, I know). They later changed their name to Magna-Fi and went to a harder, modern/alt rock sound, played Ozzfest, supported Sevendust on tour and broke up by the end of the decade. Well brothers Mike and CJ Szuter reformed The Szuters, came back with a classic power pop sound and the byproduct Sugar is one of 2020's more pleasant surprises in a year of unpleasant surprises. Opener "Two We Will Always Be" has an early-Beatles sound, the piano-based "Don't Lie to Me" has a bit of Todd Rundgren to it, and "Baby Don't You Be So Blue" channels The Raspberries. Elsewhere "The Things That You Said" has a Jon Brion-in-Jellyfish vibe and closer "The Most Beautiful Girl" should have been chiming out of AM transistor radios in the 70s. This is Power Pop with two capital Ps, and though the general sound may be familiar, the songs themselves are fresh and exciting. Easily a top 10 candidate for the year-end list.

iTunes



The Lees of Memory-Moon Shot. Superdrag was one of the great power pop bands of all time, spanning the 90s through the mid-2000s. The creative force behind the band, John Davis, has had various projects solo and otherwise since that time but lately has teamed up with Brandon Fisher as The Lees of Memory over the last several years. While the Lees have had several singles, EPs and even a double album which have all been just fine, Moon Shot is the first Lees release that stands with the best of Superdrag. Hearing the crunchy guitars and melodies of "Lonely Everywhere" along with Davis's voice will bring you back to those days, as will the take-no-prisoners heavy pop of "Crocodile Tears". The spacey rock and indelible chorus of "Free & Easy" is a real triumph as is the loud-but-languid "No Floor No Ceiling". This Moon Shot is definitely more Apollo 11 than Apollo 13.

iTunes



Nite Sobs-Do the Sob!. This Austin, Texas 3-piece has a real throwback sound and Do the Sob! is 13 tracks of catchy-as-hell pop which all clock in under 2:46. They bill themselves as "skinny ties and four eyes" (all 3 members are bespectacled) and that's just about enough to describe their sound given their debt to the likes of Buddy Holly and Marshall Crenshaw. Hooks and harmonies galore and all of these songs are excellent, but my two favorites are "I Need to Hear It" and "Vowelerie"; your mileage may vary. So ignore The Pretenders and start your Sobbing.

iTunes

Monday, July 13, 2020

Mid-July Roundup.

Dolour-The Royal We. Shane Tutmarc is back with the first new Dolour record in over a decade and it's one of 2020's best to date. The Royal We is filled with great pop tunes, none more so than leadoff track and first single "Yes and No" which as I'm fond of saying would be a hit in alternative universe. That's followed by "The Snake Eye", fittingly titled because its melody will slither into your brain and the extremely catchy "Drunk Dial". Other standouts include the bossa-nova influenced "Wake Up the Sun", featuring the vocals of Luella, the sardonic "I Can Quit at Any Time", the 70s smooth R&B-influenced "I'm Over It" and the grandiose pop of "Words I Thought You Said". First-rate adult pop for fans of Cliff Hillis, Michael Carpenter as well as softer poppers like Kyle Vincent or Brent Cash.

iTunes



Dead Stars-Never Not Here. From the sleek sophisticated pop of Dolour we switch to the harder-edged, Replacements/Guided by Voices-style power pop of Brooklyn's Dead Stars. This is their fourth full-length but the first they've caught my ear and they marry melody to loud guitars in fine fashion. The opening duo "Dreams Don't Come True" and "Hold My Breath" will appeal to the Superdrag fan in you while "Cool Summer" is a classic grunge rocker, "February Ghost" does the quiet/loud Pixies/Nirvana thing well and "Story of Your Life" has a bit of "Come as You Are"'s DNA in it. Roll down the windows and crank it loud.

iTunes



Jim Trainor-Glass Half Full EP. When you think about it, Glass Half Full is a great title for an EP because it describes how one might feel about a really good EP as opposed to a full-length album. And this is a really good EP of classic Beatlesque power pop. "The Only One" reminds me of George Harrison's poppier moments, "Claire" features a stacatto lead-in that's classic to the genre (think "Getting Better"), the midtempo "Sometimes" has a bit of Lennon in it, and closer "Dolly Rae" almost builds into a mini "Hey Jude". Good stuff, and not every day you get fresh power pop from Idaho.

iTunes

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