Thursday, October 17, 2019

Mid-October Roundup.

Jordan Jones-Jordan Jones. Apparently LA's Jordan Jones released this self-titled debut on cassette last year, but it wasn't until Sweden's Beluga Records picked it up for wide release earlier this year that it was noticed in the power pop scene. I start off with this bit of housekeeping because it's going to end up pretty high on my 2019 list despite its origin. This is the kind of debut that keeps obsessives like myself forever on the prowl for new music, poring over release lists and CD Baby or Bandcamp new releases, and Jones has come through with quite a set of tunes here. Jones' high-register voice comes in somewhere between Ken Sharp and Jeff Whalen, and so does his high-register power pop. Opener "Wrote You a Song for Me" is a clever, catchy number which makes you weep for those who won't get to hear it, "Understood" is a high-tempo rocker that's pop-punk-adjacent, "No Makeup" is a song as pretty as the girlfriend the lyrics are directed to, and naming a new song "Be My Baby" would normally be presumptuous but Phil Spector would probably enjoy Jones' namesake. There isn't a weak track here, and it's great to see a young artist keeping the power pop flame alive.

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The Mike Benign Compulsion-Bygones. Mike Benign & friends return with another quality collection of thinking man's power pop. His albums always sound like the answer to question "What if Elvis Costello was an American indie popster in the 21st century" and the leadoff track "Beauty & Pedigree & Bank" has just the right mix of cynicism and melody to be a winner, while "Bonafide Americans" is an Elvis C-like takedown of our addled president. "Let it Be or Let it Rain" uses the two classic rock tracks in its title to take on the boomer generation, while other standouts include "These Heroes" (which doesn't spare Generation X) and the Lennon-esque "Olivia Rainmaker". What a concept: power pop with lyrics worth listening to as well as the music.

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Dan Israel-Social Media Anxiety Disorder. Minneapolis singer/songwriter Dan Israel has been one of the more reliable roots pop/rockers out there over the last couple of decade and his latest (complete with an album cover that's an homage to K-Tel) is another sturdy collection. "Be My Girl" blasts out of your speakers with its horn section and Rockpile-like sound, "125" is groovy psych-pop that recalls Steve Earle's "Transcendental Blues", and "Just Can't Take It" pays tribute to 80s snyth-pop (and is catchy as hell). And those are just the first three tracks. Also worth a listen: the folk/rock of "Might as Well Be Me", "Another Day" which also channels Elvis C, and the rollicking "Alright".

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Friday, October 04, 2019

Fall Singles Roundup.

Michael Carpenter-The Start of Being Alone. Michael Carpenter may have "retired" from straight-up power pop, but he remains busy writing, producing and collaborating and his sense of melody and songcraft isn't retired. He bills this new single as alt-country but to these ears it's more rock than twang and in the vein of Tom Petty.

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Dave Sheinin-The Lies of Summer. The debut album from longtime Washington Post sportswriter Dave Sheinin was perhaps the most pleasant surprise of 2018, finishing #8 on my year-end list, and he's back with this fine Andy Bopp-produced track.

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Andrew Stonehome-I Am King. Normally I don't seek out singles from artists I'm unfamiliar with, but this tune from Portland's Andrew Stonehome caught my ear and hasn't let go. Bright, crunchy power pop that sounds like Cheap Trick crossed with Big Star. This song is apparently a teaser for an upcoming full-length album due in 2020, and I for one can't wait for it.

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Peter Baldrachi-The Suffering. My last singles roundup several months back featured his great tune "Breathe", and Baldrachi continues to release new tunes in advance of his upcoming full-length next year as well. This is one is 2:19 of his usual ear candy, and despite the title no suffering is involved.

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The Hangabouts-Who Wants Cilla?/Mrs. Greene. One of our favorite Detroit pop bands returns with a double-sided single, which I'll let them describe for you: "A throwback to Phil Spector pop backed with a Kinks-ish ode to your favorite teacher". Can't go wrong there.

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Dave Hill-Parking the Moose. Comedian/author/rocker Dave Hill, best known around here as the frontman of Valley Lodge, has a new book out which provides his unique twisted perspective on Canada, and his promotional theme song for it is pretty much what you'd expect: a fun tune with goofy lyrics name-dropping everything Canadian.

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Monday, September 16, 2019

Mid-September Roundup.

The Rallies-Upside Down. Seattle's The Rallies burst upon the power pop scene in Spring 2017 with Serve, an album that finished in the top half of my 100 best of that year. And with Upside Down they've evaded any sophomore slump as the followup builds on the Tom Petty-meets-Crowded House vibe of the debut. The melodies are still sweet and the jangle keeps jangling as the opening one-two punch of "All Over Town" and "It's Okay" will attest. There's not a weak track in the lot as they're all pretty much uniformly melodic, but I'll give the nod to the slow-building "All of Us" and the uplifting closer "You're the One".

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The Brothers Steve-#1. Jeff Whalen was the frontman of late-90s major label power poppers Tsar, and last year he re-emerged with 10 More Rock Super Hits which I didn't review but placed at #7 on my year-end list. Now he's teamed up with former Tsar bandmates Jeff Solomon and Steve Coulter, as well as Os Tyler and Dylan Champion to form The Brothers Steve. The sound here isn't the heavy pop/glam of Tsar but more of a classic late 60s/early 70s made-for-TV pop feel. Lead single "Angeline" is as hypnotic as the album cover, the infectious "We Got the Hits" makes a perfect theme song for the band, the latest single "She" channels The Monkees, and the "Beat Generation Poet" who turned assassin should be made into a movie. In keeping with the spirit of the era that inspired it this album is currently only available on the medium of the time, vinyl. However, a CD and digital release is coming soon, and in the meantime you can order the digital single of "Angeline" and "Carolanne" here.

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David Woodard-Everything in Between EP. David Woodard had one of my favorite EPs last year with his debut I Used to Be Cool, and he's followed that up with another winner of an EP. Last time around I said his sound reminded me of fellow Nashvillian Bill Lloyd and nothing here changes that, with the jangly and catchy "We're Not Coming Back" opening the proceedings. Meanwhile, the title track conjures "Penny Lane", "Nine Hundred Ninety-Nine" is effortlessly melodic and "Flipped the Script" brings Teenage Fanclub to mind. Along with these four, Woodard throws in a fine cover of "(What's So Funny 'bout) Peace, Love & Understanding" and a remix of last year's holiday single "Waiting for Christmas".

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Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Late August Roundup.

Bryan Estepa-Sometimes I Just Don't Know. Bryan Estepa may have titled his new album "Sometimes I Just Don't Know" but that phrase hardly applies to whether you should get a new Bryan Estepa release as the Aussie has shown over the past 15 or so years that he's as consistently good as they come in the power pop community. With his signature brand of melodic pop/rock that owes as much to power pop as it does to Brian Wilson-styled California pop and roots rock/Americana, there's just one quality track after another here. I've already reviewed the singles "I'm Not Ready for This" and "No Ordinary" but among the previously unheard "Like the Cruel" (with it's "whoa-oh-oh" chorus) and "Drawn Like Magnets" are the standouts. Sorry other artists, but a year with a Bryan Estepa release means one fewer spot in my year-end top 20 for you to grab.

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Rob Laufer-The Floating World. Another beacon of consistency over the last 15 or so years has been Rob Laufer, although his new albums are fewer are farther between. The Floating World is his first since 2010's Excruciating Bliss, and it finds him in fine form again albeit this time in a bit of a softer pop mode. As always, these are well-crafted tunes which are easy on the ear, from the Harrison-esque opener "Avalanche" (featuring some fine slide guitar) to the chugging "Bolt of Blue" (featuring Danny McGough on "alien signals") to the title track (as pretty-sounding as the title implies) to the stately "This River". First-rate pop that can be called "adult contemporary" as opposed to the pablum that typically is given that label.

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The Junior League-Adventureland. And the theme of today's post - proven commodities - is complete with the latest from Joe Adragna's The Junior League. No waiting nine years here, though, as he follows up 2018's Eventually is Now with a more raucous collection than usual. The none-too-subtle signal for this is that the opening track is titled "Heavy" and it features louder and crunchier guitars than previous JL releases. Melody is not sacrificed in the process, though, and Adventureland is clearly the most "power pop" of today's three featured albums. "Have Faith in Yourself" (written by The Minus 5's Scott McCaughey) follows with just enough touch of weird (dig those swirling keyboards) to pass for a Minus 5 track, while "Falling in Love" hews more closely to Adragna's traditional sound, a catchy number with handclaps and female backing vocals. Elsewhere, "Queen of the Dead" and "Town in a Box" rock loud, making Adventureland the Monster of Adragna's catalog (and by the way, Monster is my favorite R.E.M. album, so there).

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Thursday, August 08, 2019

Early August Roundup.

Erk-When Night Meets Day. Erk is Berlin's Erk Wiemer, and although this is his third album (the first two came in out 2005 and 2009) he's new to me and I'm sure to you. What makes Erk worth your acquaintance is his unabashed pop sound, the kind of classicist pop that incorporates everything from Bacharach to the Brill Building to Motown to the likes of The Beach Boys and ELO, all of which is in service of the catchy tune. Leadoff track "Living My Life Without You" captures his essence, with Motown horns, Beatlesque guitars and an uptempo beat. "Taking My Time" finds Erk dueting with Diane Weigmann which recalls Matthew Sweet teaming up with Susanna Hoffs except this is an original 60s-inspired tune. "Malibu Beach's in Berlin" is Brian Wilson meets Paul McCartney, "Move On" seems ready to break out into "Happy Together" at any time, "I'm Standing Here" is Nilsson by way of the Left Banke and I was looking for a Bacharach/David writing credit on "Better Sad Than Dead". A joyous pop tour de force, When Night Meets Day is one of the more fun albums you'll listen to this year.

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Matthew Milia-Alone at St. Hugo. Alone at St. Hugo is the solo debut of Detroit's Matthew Milia, better known as the frontman of the Americana band Frontier Ruckus, a band I had enjoyed over the years. Here Milia trades in the rootsier sound of FR for a more pop-oriented direction and the result is an unqualified success. Milia has said the album pays tribute to bands such as Big Star, Teenage Fanclub, and The Lemonheads, and opener "Alive at the Same Time" is prime indie pop that sounds like a happier, better-adjusted version of Elliott Smith. "Puncture" also draws the Smith comparison as it's densely epic in scope and length, the amusingly-titled "Sometimes I Feel Like My Arm's Falling Off" would be at home on a Pernice Brothers album, "Attention Students" is a power pop paean to lost love and old school days, and in the end Milia finds himself "Abruptly Old and Caffeinated". The lyrics are clever as well, a step above the usual fare.

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Breakfast in America-Side Hustle! This Edmonton band named after Supertramp's classic album has given us a quality debut EP. They describe their sound as "California surf grunge" but I hear more of a quirky pop sensibility as shown on "Mean Old Man" which is kind of Tom Petty meets Beck while "Pizza Boy" could pass for a less art-conscious version of Spoon. The real highlight here is "San Juan Capistrano", a pleasing power pop number that fits somewhere in between Petty and The Jayhawks.

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Friday, July 26, 2019

Late July roundup.

Todd Herfindal-Two Track Mind. It's been a long wait but ex-Meadows frontman Todd Herfindal is back with a new album, his first since 2013's Right Here Now. As always Herfindal is ably assisted by longtime collaborator Rich McCulley, who plays on and co-wrote several of the tracks here, and Two Track Mind is another collection of his roots-infused power pop. Opener "Bright White Light" has a "Wanted Dead or Alive" vibe to it, and "Muddy Water" is a stomping rocker while "Lucky One" has the signature Tom Petty-influenced sound of The Meadows. Other standouts include the midtempo "Bound for the Sun" and the straight-up power pop of "Sweet and Low (Get That)". A welcome return.

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Scott Gagner-Hummingbird Heart. Hummingbird Heart is the latest from Scott Gagner and a fine followup to 2017's Pins & Needles. Gagner remains one of today's more thoughtful singer-songwriters and this latest collection is another example. His songs range from folk/rock to power pop and once again the legendary (and indefatigable, judging by how many records he shows up on) Ken Stringfellow of The Posies collaborates. Leadoff track and lead single "Bella" definitely leans to the power pop side of the equation and it wouldn't be out of place on a Posies album while "Baby Gets What Baby Wants" is another catchy number complete with handclaps. "Other People" is a real highlight, a wonderful folk/rock song which gradually builds to a peak, complete with piano and a late guitar solo, the title track is a languid beauty with sweet backing vocals from Omega Rae, and the roots rock of "You Can't Break a Broken Heart" belongs on a late-70s playlist somewhere. And that's just the first half of this 13-track album, which should place highly on my year-end list.

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Farrington-Pictures of Pretty Things. LA's Farrington is one of the more exciting new artists to come across my radar this year and their debut album is a love letter to glam 70s rock/pop (and mastered by Andy Reed). After a couple of throat-clearing rockers to start the album the fun begins with tracks influenced by Elton John ("Stones"), Queen ("When I Was You", "The Love Show"), Jeff Lynne/ELO ("Hey Mr. Rock'N'Roll"), Jellyfish ("Stupid Plastic War", "Maybe if You Leave Her", "Blue"), and even some Ken Sharp ("Long Way to Nowhere", "Violins"). If you're looking for a new favorite band, you can do a lot worse than Farrington.

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Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Early July roundup.

Xavier Calvet-Crosswinds. Spaniard Xavier Cavlet's debut album Firebird caught my year a couple of years ago, but nothing in it prepared me for this outstanding followup as he's traded in Firebird's rootsier sound for a janglier 80s pop sound. There's not much jangle though in the opener "The Runner" which lives up to the driving nature of its title and builds to a pulsating crescendo, but "Lovers for All Time" and especially "Hard to Believe It" split the difference between The Smiths and Tom Petty. Although the momentum flags a bit mid-album, "Get a Job" and "Windy Winter" restore the power pop, the Jayhawks-esque "Meet Me in the Crowd" returns to Calvet's roots, and the ballad "Old Days" closes things with a touch of Brian Wilson.

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Static in Verona-The Loud Nothing. Speaking of stylistic shifts, the last few albums from Rob Merz's Static in Verona have drifted from his power pop roots to more of an esoteric dream-pop sound. With The Loud Nothing, Merz opts for a more direct approach in his sound while still retaining the signature Static in Verona sound. The title track informs of this shift right away with its wall-of-sound production in service of a wonderfully melodic number, while the urgent "Ruin the Riot" lets you know that the more direct sound is no fluke and the hook-filled "Fade to Gray" leaves you catching your breath. Merz' eclecticism hasn't gone, though - "Daggers" (with ethereal vocals from Seraphina) finds him mixing the electronic and experimental with his pop, as does the cacophonous "Stuck With Silver". With the pendulum having swung back a bit, this might be the quintessential Static in Verona album.

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Paul Bertolino-Poseur. Paul Bertolino is another artist who had a fine 2017 album (Toy Box) that I didn't write about at the time who's back with a new release that's compelled me to mention. Bertolino can bring the power pop, but his true muse is 70s AM radio and the sax-infused, R&B-influenced "On the Downslide" opens Poseur in suitably funky (and catchy) fashion, and "Parade" wouldn't be out of place on a Jackson 5 or an Osmonds album. Meanwhile, the power ballad "Ghosted" finds Bertolino in full falsetto a la Phillip Bailey, and the flute and sax on "All the Way to Chicago" really does transport you back to 1975. There's straight-ahead power pop to be found here too with "Pressing On", "Tap Out" and "Doll". But if you grew up on radio that one minute played Stevie Wonder or Billy Preston one minute and Paul McCartney or Todd Rundgren the next, Poseur will get you in that spirit again.

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