Thursday, March 30, 2006

New Doug Powell music on the way.

The term "pop genius" gets thrown around a lot, but in my opinion the label is an appropriate one for Doug Powell. If you're not familiar with his music and you regularly read this site, you're definitely missing out. As the AMG bio I linked to states, he's cut from the Todd Rundgren/Andy Partridge mold. I'd add Jeff Lynne in there as well. Unfortunately for us, Doug has decided to leave the music biz, a sadly common occurrence when the quality of talent isn't equated by a quantity in sales. Still, he's left us an outstanding body of work, and his fans are going to get a new release before he goes, Four Seasons.

Four Seasons will be an oddities collection, containing a 4-song Japan-only EP (Venus DeMilo's Arms), two songs from an aborted album, a song he wrote for Ringo Starr, and most interesting of all, five songs he wrote for The New Cars when he was involved in that project. It's due in May on Paisley Pop. But if you want to hear four of those New Cars songs, you don't have to wait until May - they're streaming at his site. And my preliminary take on them (from listening once or twice) is that they're outstanding, and Powell does an expert job of sounding like Ric Ocasek. Collectively, they impress me more than "Not Tonight", which was pretty decent in its own right.

You'll have to click the "next track" button three or four times to get to the New Cars songs, but if you haven't heard the stuff from his other albums that's streaming, listen to those as well, including a selection from the great Swag album, a pop supergroup that included Powell, Cheap Trick's Tom Petersson, the Mavericks' Robert Reynolds, and ex-Wilco drummer Ken Coomer among others, as well as my favorite Powell track "Cul-de-Sac", from his Lost Chord album.

If you're looking to get into Powell after all of this, or just need to catch up, his two most recent proper solo albums (including The Lost Chord) can be found at eMusic here, as well as Swag's Catch-All.

(hat tip to Hersh Forman of the Audities list for bringing the Four Seasons release to attention)

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

CD of the Day, 3/29/06: Sean Watkins-Blinders On

Although the name Sean Watkins might not jump out at you, there's a good chance you've heard of the band in which he has his regular gig, Nickel Creek, perhaps the best known of the "new" bluegrass bands. Blinders On, however, is no bluegrass album. Instead, it's high quality singer-songwriter pop, albeit a bit more folky than what I usually tout around here.

I don't have time to go into excruciating detail, but two tracks alone are worth the price of admission: the opener "Summer's Coming", which sounds a bit YHF-era Wilcoish, and "I'm Sorry", which features Jon Brion on piano and has the feel of a Brian Wilson ballad. You can stream both of these tracks on his myspace page, and sample and/or buy at Amazon.

Please stand by.

Just finally getting over the sickness today, and now I'm really backed up with work. And to compound matters, I have both of my rotisserie (fantasy) baseball drafts this weekend, which require a lot of time and preparation as well. So the bottom line is that new posts will be few and far between over the next several days. Use this break in the hype to catch up on the dozens (if not hundreds by this point) of fine records I've posted about to date.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Sick day.

As Fountains of Wayne sang on their first album, I'm taking a sick day today. In fact, I just woke up here at the crack of 2:30 PM, the latest victim of the nasty stomach virus that has run through my family. Depending upon how I feel, I might have something later to post, but I'm not making any promises.

Monday, March 27, 2006

CD (EP) of the Day, 3/27/06: Ari Shine-Age/Occupation

Now here's an impressive debut. Rocking and sounding like Armed Forces-era Elvis Costello crossed with Eugene Edwards, Ari Shine's debut EP Age/Occupation should appeal to just about everyone who reads this site.

The EP opens with "Crank It Out!", one of the best rockers you'll hear this year. You'll want to double check your calendar, though - it may leave you wondering whether it's 1977 or 2006. "Try a Little Harder" and the title track are also serious rockers, while "All For Yourself" is a high-quality power (pop) ballad.

You can stream the EP in its entirety at his site (just click the "play" symbol at the top). And it's being sold for a reasonable $6 at Not Lame. Low cost, high quality - can't beat that combination.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Final Four, baby!

Go Gators!!!! They reached the Final Four today (almost on schedule, having previously gone in 1994 and 2000) for the third time in school history.

By the way, for non-basketball fans, the Gator pictured above going in for a dunk is their star player, Joakim Noah, son of 80s tennis superstar Yannick Noah. The elder Noah is now a successful singer in Europe, so there's a pop connection there.

CD of the Day, 3/26/06: Brian Fennell (Barcelona)-Safety Songs

Although Seattle's Brian Fennell (who has named his band Barcelona subsequent to the release of this album) bills Safety Songs as "indie pop", he sounds a lot more like the more conventional singer/songwriter poppers than someone that, say, Pitchfork might give the time of day to (except perhaps to bash).

Not that there's anything wrong about that - in fact, Safety Songs is an outstanding debut in the vein of Adam Daniel (he of the great album Blue Pop), Ben Kweller, Ben Folds, Justin Levinson, et al. The album gets off to a strong start with "Just About Enough", a bouncy keyb-driven number, followed by another great driving tune, "Colors", which reminds me a lot of Semisonic's "Singing In My Sleep". Fennell/Barcelona can slow it down and not lose any quality: "Boy of Dreams" is a fine midtempo track, "Smaller Than This" is a splendid waltzing ballad, and "My Slow Motion" is a moody piano number in the manner of Ben Folds ballads like "Smoke" and "Fred Jones", while "Response" and "Numb" are almost anthemic in quality. An impressive debut.

You can stream three tracks, including "Colors" and "Response" at the Barcelona myspace page, and you can download a rough mix of "Just About Enough" as well as "Reponse" at his purevolume page. And of course you can sample them all and buy it at cd baby.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

New at Not Lame, 3/24/06: Part 2

Best of the rest:

The Humbugs-Twist The Truth. The Humbugs are an interesting band; fronted by husband and wife team of Adam & Kristin Marshall, they trade off lead vocals on a track-by-track basis. Kristin sounds a lot like a cross between Aimee Mann & Chrissie Hynde, and her songs tend to be the more adventurous of the two ("Done" almost sounds like an ABC song). Adam's tracks are more conventional power pop, sounding a bit like a Neil Finn/Michael Carpenter cross, and his "King of the Absurd" is my favorite track on the disc. "Done" and "One More Zero" (an Adam track) are streaming at their myspace page, while the remainder can be sampled at cd baby. Good stuff.

David and the Citizens-EP
This one falls into the indie pop category, with Decemberists and New Pornographers comparisons being thrown around. Check em out for yourself with these mp3s:

Big Chill
Let's Not Fall Apart

This EP is actually the US release of six tracks from their previous works, in anticipation of an upcoming full-length release.

The Holy Ghost-Welcome to Ignore Us
More indie pop. This one's available on eMusic, so sample it there, or at cd baby. Plus, you can also stream the track that's raved about in the reviews quoted in Not Lame, "Commercial" at their myspace page.

CD of the Day, 3/25/06: Fran King-Beautification

Here's the pedigree for Dublin's Fran King: opened for David Mead, Brendan Benson and Tears for Fears. Helped out Pugwash on his Jollity album. That should give you a pretty good idea of what Fran King sounds like, and Beautification lives up to the standards of his colleagues.

Another name to throw into the mix is Neil Finn; in fact this album reminds me a lot of the Finn-ish David William disc that's residing near the top of my best of 2006 list. This album actually came out last June, but I've only come across it in the last week; had I been aware of its existence, it may have very well secured a top 20 spot for 05. Aside from the bookending title track instrumentals, Beautification is one great midtempo number after another (no out-and-out ballads, no rockers either). Particular highlights are "When You Come Around", "Never Enough", "Misunderstood" and "Fine Day". The first three of these can be streamed at his myspace page. Here's an mp3:

Never Enough (radio edit)

Several additional tracks can be sampled at cd baby, which is the best place to purchase it. Fran King isn't going to reinvent the wheel here, but if you like sophisticated adult pop in the vein of Mead, Finn, et al, you'll love this disc.

Friday, March 24, 2006

New at Not Lame, 3/24/06: Part 1

As alluded to yesterday, we've gotten the mother lode over at Not Lame, so we'll break this down into two posts.

Peter Murray-Ants and Angels. This one's being compared to XTC, Squeeze and Elvis Costello, and gets a "big time extremely highly recommended" from Bruce. I'm liking what I hear for the most part - don't be put off by the opener "Gen X DJ on E", which sounds a bit too cute by half to me. You've heard of try before you buy? Well, that's the case here, as you can download mp3s of the entire album at his site. If you'd rather just click once and have a few of his songs start streaming, here's his myspace page.

Brian Ray-Mondo Magneto
. Ray was a touring guitarist with Sir Paul McCartney on his recent tour, joining Rusty Anderson (who put a great album of his own in 2004, Undressing Underwater). And from the samples I've heard, this one sounds very, very good (so much I so that I've already ordered it). If you go to his site and click on "audio", you can stream a couple of tracks, which were good enough to sell me. The same two are streaming at his myspace page. Whooray, indeed.

Moonlight Towers-Like You Were Never There. I've had this one since it came out last fall, and it's quite good. It's kind of power roots pop, described by one reviewer as "poppier V-Roys or maybe a twangier Superdrag". It's a very, very solid disc and I recommend it.

Some mp3's to hear for yourself:

I Sleep Alone
If We Make It To The Light
Every Second Drags

You can sample the rest at their cd baby page.

I neglected to note last night that they were also featuring the very good Big Silver disc that I noted in an eMusic post earlier this week. More tomorrow on the rest.

Movie of the Year.

Although I try and stay focused on power pop and related items, sometimes I have to make an exception. No matter that this won't be out until August - nothing can top Samuel L. Jackson and a plane full of snakes. I, for one, cannot wait to plunk down $8-10 to hear Jackson say, as only he can: "I want these mother------- snakes off the mother------- plane!" The trailer here is a must-watch.

You can have your Merchant/Ivory productions or your serious politically charged films. Give me snakes getting tasered and bad guys smacked with a snake any day of the week.

CD of the Day, 3/24/06: Keef-Keef

Keef is a three-piece out of New Jersey who bring out the power in power pop. Their debut cd actually reminds me a lot of Superdrag, with perhaps some Sloan, Weezer and Tsar thrown in for good measure.

The disc opens with "I Believe", complete with Beach Boy harmonies at the beginning, and enough piano to recall . "Jonzin' Jannie" follows, with a bit of a funky beat to it, bringing to mind a 70s song I can't quite put my finger on. "Read Between The Lines" features more of the rollicking piano sound, and "My California Dream" is high-energy Weezer-rock. And the closer, "Lonely Love" turns it down a couple of notches to fine effect, yet still rocks out in the chorus.

It's tough to find much on this band, but you can download and/or stream "I Believe" and "Lonely Love" here, and you can sample and buy the disc (at a very reasonable $8) the same place where I did, at cd baby. I don't know if these guys named themselves after Keith Richards, but I think he'd be pleased with how they rock.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Another Not Lame flood.

It appears that Not Lame is going from featuring 8-10 discs or so twice a week, to going to 20 at a time once a week. So odds are I'm going to do my commentary on them in two parts. I can eliminate six right off the bat: I discussed the new Okay Paddy in a recent Kool Kat roundup, and another is the new Josh Rouse. Two more are reissues and/or best-ofs.

And the final two I can dispense with now are a couple that have been featured as our CDs of the Day: Phil Ayoub's Schoolbus Window Paper Heart, and Barnacle Bill's Toward The Pebbled Shore. These are two of my favorite new discoveries of the year so far, and I'm glad to see them get wider exposure (as well as being quoted in the blurbs).

More on the rest over the weekend.

Weekly Mead.

Several days late (apparently there was an upload issue with myspace), the latest track to be unveiled from David Mead's Tangerine is "Reminded #1", available for streaming at his myspace page. I'm a bit underwhelmed with this one, an a capella track with Mead being backed by what almost sounds like The Jordanaires.

CD of the Day, 3/23/06: Dum Dog Run-Dum Dog Run

From the album cover to song titles like "Mullet", "Jennifer Aniston" and "Psycho Girlfriend" to the band's motto of "LOUD guitar rock that keeps it simple. No wimpy keyboards.", Rick Altizer's Dum Dog Run wins the Truth-In-Advertising Award by a country mile.

Altizer is a power pop vet with whom many of you may be familiar. He pretty much has had the field of CCM (Contemporary Christian) Power Pop to himself (at least until Superdrag's former frontman John Davis got on board last year). His solo records have been fine power pop with a touch of the devotional. In any event, he's gone secular here with DDR, and there's virtually zero chance you'll hear these songs played at any contemporary service at a church near you.

DDR doesn't stop rocking, and the comparisons of Cheap Trick, Weezer and even Kiss and AC/DC are well-earned here. And what makes DDR even more enjoyable is the sense of humor that prevails throughout here. There's even the obligatory power ballad, which is titled...."Power Ballad". There's a cover of the Cars' "Let's Go" as well, which excises the "wimpy keyboards". My favorite track on the album is "Superstar", in which Altizer both celebrates and mocks the desire to be famous ("I wanna be a superstar/I wanna see Ozzy throwing up in my yard"), but there are plenty of other winners here as well, including the three I mentioned at the outset as well as "Gig to Play".

Stream 'em at myspace, sample 'em at cdbaby, and buy from any of your favorite power pop retailers. This is about as much power pop fun as you can have.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

CD of the Day, 3/22/06: Joe Lies-Joe Lies

At first blush, NYC's Joe Lies may appear like just another emo/pop punk band. In fact, that's how they bill themselves on their myspace page. But what sets Joe Lies apart from so many of their brethren is their gift for melody, making their music really more "power pop" than "emo".

The opening salvo of "Garden", "Shine" and "Everybody" will convince any power popper of this. Sounding more like a rocking Fountains of Wayne rather than, say, Jimmy Eat World, they have the spunk and sass of the former in their lyrics and delivery. "Shine" in particular shines, from the opening and underlying guitar riff (most likely unintentionally) borrowed from the Drive-By Truckers' "Marry Me", to the pure pop of the chorus. They even slow it down effectively on the midtempo piano-based "Mad Love".

Check some mp3s out for yourself:

Mad Love

(Note: these files are a bit goofy, if you save them to disk, they need to be renamed with an mp3 extension). You also have the option to stream these songs from this page.

At the myspace page linked to above, they're featuring four songs from what I presume to their new album (although there are no details about it on their website or myspace page) You Hate Me, Don't You?, including an amusing number titled "Kelsey Grammer's Daughter".

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

New release Tuesday on eMusic.

The big news among this morning's releases is Josh Rouse's Subtitulo. Although I didn't conceal my disappointment with the album relative to his three preceding brilliant releases, it still has its moments. Plus, this is an opportunity to check out all the songs as well. At a minimum, there are several tracks worth cherry-picking; "Quiet Town", "It Looks Like Love", "His Majesty Rides", "Giving it Up" and "Wonderful" would have made a great EP.

Also available is the new Essex Green release Cannibal Sea, which was featured on Not Lame recently.

One that I'm downloading is Big Silver's Afterlife. Although eMu is billing it as Americana, it has a real pop sensibility to it and would definitely fit into my somewhat loose definition of power pop. If this sounds intriguing to you, check out the eMu samples or their myspace page. I'm really digging "My Love Is In a Hurry".

CD of the Day, 3/21/06: Pushstart Wagon-LA Was Our Alamo

It's always interesting to see the torch pass. Almost 20 years ago, Paul Westerberg and the Replacements recorded "Alex Chilton", one of the best tribute songs in rock history. And now, LA's Pushstart Wagon lead off their fine album LA Was Our Alamo with "Paul", a tribute to Westerberg, which directly references one of my favorite 'Mats tunes, "Can't Hardly Wait": "Jesus wouldn't buy you no smokes/he wouldn't laugh at your off-color jokes" they sing on the chorus, and the circle is complete.

Pushstart Wagon isn't a 'Mats tribute band, though. While there is a palpable Replacements influence at work here, other influences enter into the mix - there's some REM, some Being There-era Wilco, as well as an Americana element to their sound. The highlights on this album are many. Any song titled "Radiation" is going to put Fountains of Wayne's "Radiation Vibe" in my head, and in some respects this track sounds like a slower version of the FoW classic but with a sound of its own. "Breathing Room" is most the classic power pop-sounding track on the album, kind of in between Cheap Trick and Weezer. "Defend You" jangles and shines like a cross between the Gin Blossoms and Smile-era Jayhawks, and the closer "Los Angeles" is a graceful, understated ballad that reminds me of David Mead's similar paean to NYC, "How Much", which closed his great Wherever You Are EP.

You can stream "Breathing Room", "Paul" and "Los Angeles" at their myspace page, and some tracks are also streaming at their site. Sample the rest at cd baby, and you can buy it at Not Lame or Kool Kat. This Alamo is worth remembering.

Monday, March 20, 2006

My #1 Album of 2001: Pernice Brothers-The World Won't End

Back in 2001, my favorite artist was shaping up to be Ryan Adams (this was before he became a parody of himself). His solo release Gold and the delayed release of Whiskeytown's swan song, Pneumonia, were 1-2 (or 2-1) on my best-of list that year. But around October, I discovered the Pernice Brothers and The World Won't End, and there was no looking back, and there still isn't - this is my favorite album of the new century to date as well as for 2001.

For anyone who's been introduced to the Pernice Brothers through their last two albums and hasn't gone back and listened to this one, you're in for a pleasant surprise. Last year's Discover a Lovelier You was maddeningly twee, and 2003's Yours, Mine and Ours was solid but not truly outstanding. The World Won't End, though, is about as perfect as power pop gets in my book. The dominant influences on this one are the Zombies (Pernice's Colin Blunstone-like vocals), the Beach Boys, the Beatles and a touch of Bacharach.

The lead track "Working Girls (Sunlight Shines") gets things off to a rousing start, with its insistent guitar hook and pristine melody. And while the power pop genre isn't known for its particularly insightful lyrics, this isn't a problem with Joe Pernice. Throughout the album, Pernice's sunny, breezy rockers mask dark, almost depressing lyrics about serious themes. In this track, Pernice's female postgrad struggles through a temp job while "contemplating suicide/or a graduate degree".

Next up is the driving Brian Wilson-influenced "7:30", complete with a Mamas-&-Papas-ish "ba-ba-ba-ba" break in the middle eight, despite the "There's nothing there/just bitterness" refrain in the fade-out. This track is followed by the disc's real triumph, "Our Time Has Passed". As the title intimates, it's a breakup song. But it transcends the usual breakup song cliches with lines like "hiding out from the winter sundays/sleeping past the crack of noon", "i'm in love with the way i'm shaking", and the comparison of the doomed like to a "flash of radiation/that leaves the buildings where they stand". But all the literate lyrics in the world aren't worth much without a great melody behind them, and this song has it as well, complete with swelling strings.

Meanwhile, the hits just keep on coming. "She Heightened Everything" jangles along while being the first pop/rock track I've heard to feature the word "moribund", "Bryte Side" mines the failed relationship territory as well ("I hope I never love anybody/the way we never really tried"), and "Let That Show" is a real treat, complete with (almost) cheesy 70s keyboards and answering guitar riffs.

After the tour de force of these first six tracks, the album does come down a bit from the stratosphere, but the remainder is hardly filler. "Flaming Wreck" rocks out as Pernice contemplates his death in a plane crash (did I mention the lyrics were dark?), and despite its enigmatic title, "The Ballad of Bjorn Borg" is beautiful pop as well. And for all the orchestration and bells and whistles of the preceding tracks, things close on a simple note with the pretty ballad "Cronulla Breakdown", which has a bossa nova feel.

Sample it at Amazon. There's a goofy video for "Working Girls" available on their site. And reason #345,430 to subscribe to eMusic: they have it. If this one isn't in your collection yet, you need to make room.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

CD (EP) of the Day, 3/19/06: Voxtrot-Raised by Wolves

There's something about Austin that brings out the inner Anglophile in an artist or a band. Austin's now-defunct Cotton Mather was one of the best at turning out 60s British Invasion pop/rock in recent years, and now we have Voxtrot, who takes on the 80s Britpop sound favored by The Housemartins, The Smiths and even some Belle & Sebastian, but with a power pop sensibility.

The Raised by Wolves (or self-titled, depending on which site you read) EP is an outstanding 5-song treatment of this genre. But what sets them apart is that the manage to avoid sounding too twee, mopey or self-indulgent. The title track is a great tune which reminds of The Strokes, only with intelligble vocals and without the strain to be hip. "The Start of Something" thumps along with the classic Motown bassline and almost sounds like a great lost Jam track, and the midtempo "Long Haul" out-Belles (and out-Sebastians) Belle & Sebastian.

Get an mp3 here:

The Start of Something

Stream 'em at myspace, and get an mp3 from their forthcoming ep here. Further sampling is available at cdbaby, as well as the disc itself. It's time to do the Voxtrot.

Blogging note.

As you may have noticed, blogging has been light here the past several days. There's a three-word explanation: NCAA Basketball Tournament. I'm not immune from its productivity-sapping powers. And if the Florida Gators keep up their great run, I may continue to be unproductive.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

CD of the Day, 3/18/06: The Basics-Private Drive

With a name like The Basics, you know you're not going to get an extravagantly produced album with all the bells and whistles. What you get instead is good, solid rock 'n' roll, and their latest album, Private Drive, delivers the goods.

The Basics have a definite retro sound to them, kind of a 60s/70s hybrid. The Grip Weeds immediately sprang to mind as a band with a comparable sound, as well as D.L. Byron, The Smithereens (in places), and even latter-day Marshall Crenshaw. Highlights on this one include the opener "Nothing But Time", "Betty Brown", and perhaps the cd's best track, "Perfect". Private Drive may not knock your socks off, but it's a consistently good album, which isn't an easy thing to find these days.

The entire cd can be streamed (albeit one song at a time) at this site, and can be purchased at CD Baby. It's time to get back to (The) Basics.

Friday, March 17, 2006

CD of the Day, 3/17/06: Chris Brown-Now That You're Fed

By popular demand, I'm making Chris Brown's Now That You're Fed today's CDotD. I've been concentrating on the more overlooked discs, and as this one did get some play lately, having been featured at Not Lame etc., I figured it probably didn't need featuring.

But then I realized I overlooked it myself by not putting it in my top 10 of 2006 to date, because it does deserve a spot there. Why all the fuss? This is one of the more accomplished and inventive power pop debuts of late. Here are the testimonials gathered at the cd baby page for the album:
"The front runner for album of the year in 2006. Flat-out brilliant... a stunning debut."
-- Alan Haber, Host, "Pure Pop" WEBR Fairfax, VA

" of intensely highly styled pop will fall down and worship at the altar of Brown."
-- Bruce Brodeen, President, Not Lame Recordings

"If you like clean, well-orchestrated pop you will love this! (the dude can write one heck of a Pop song). The vocals, which are layered and rich, remind me of the Beach Boys with a dash of XTC -- seriously solid singing...Give it a listen...I fear you may be impressed.”
-- Renee Richardson, Host, KFOG San Francisco, CA

"...already one of my faves for 2006."
-- Craig Leve, Host, "Snap, Crackle, POP!" KWVA Eugene, OR
Who am I to argue with these luminaries?

Brown is a kind of modern-day renaissance man; while not recording great albums, he's an independent filmmaker. The sound here is as described above, although comparisons I would add are Roger Joseph Manning of Jellyfish, Elliott Smith, and vocally above all, Joe Pernice. Listening to this album straight through while composing this post, I have to come to the conclusion I must have been on crack when I left this off the top 10 of 2006 list. The first three songs, "Right on Time", "I Won't Ask Why" and "All My Rivals" start off about as perfect as an album can, perfectly encapsulating all of the influences mentioned herein. The rest of the album is great as well, and even the 6 1/2-minute "April" doesn't wear out its welcome.

Here's an mp3 to download:

All My Rivals

Sample all the rest at cd baby. I'm not finding a myspace page after checking all the usual suspects (chrisbrown, chrisbrownmusic, chrisbrowntunes, etc.) nor do I see one linked from his site. The mp3 and the cd baby samples should be enough to convince anyone predisposed to like this kind of power pop. And I'll make sure I put down the crack pipe when it comes time to update the top 10 around April 1.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Classic XTC Video.

This one comes via NY Mary, a link to a video I've never seen: "Grass" from XTC's career pinnacle, 1987's Skylarking.

Grass (video)

I'm not going to go back that far, but rest assured that Skylarking is my #1 album of 1987, although George Harrison's Cloud Nine is right up there.

CD of the Day, 3/16/06: Hawaii Mud Bombers-Mondo Primo

What do you get if you cross The Ramones with The Beach Boys? I don't know, but I bet it'd sound a lot like the Hawaii Mud Bombers. Mixing surf, power pop and punk, the Bombers' 2004 release Mondo Primo is 13 tracks that will be perfect for driving around during the summer ahead. Despite their name (and their sound), the Bombers are not from Hawaii. Nor are they from California. They're actually from the balmy beaches of....Sweden.

The true highlight of Mondo Primo is "Johanna Beach". The keyboard hook that underlies this track is one of those that stick in the brain, and it's a darn near perfect power pop tune. No doubt you've heard it if you've ever listened to Little Steven's (Van Zandt) Underground Garage on Sirius Satellite Radio, as it's been a staple there since I first heard it in the fall of 2004. In fact, it's so good it's one of the 300 or so all-time favorites I just put on a 1GB mini-SD card to go in my new toy. And here it is to download:

Johanna Beach

And you can watch the video for it here. There are some other great tracks on this album, including "The Act", "MTV" and "Mr. Menage a Trois". There are some more mp3s available from the album at their site, and if you prefer streaming, head on over to their myspace page (and be their friend for pete's sake, they only have 11). If you like what you hear, buy it at Not Lame.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

My #1 CD of 2002: Paul Westerberg-Mono/Stereo

I was always a big fan of The Replacements. Time has revealed them to be one of the more influential and respected bands of the 80s, and for quite a stretch there, nobody in rock was writing better songs than Paul Westerberg. The 'Mats broke up in 1991 (although in reality it had been a bit sooner; their 91 swan song, All Shook Down, was pretty much a Westerberg solo album), and Westerberg embarked on a solo career that turned out to be maddeningly uneven. By the time he released his widely-panned third solo disc, Suicaine Gratification, in 1999, he sounded tired and defeated.

Shortly thereafter, he lost his major label deal (Suicaine was released on Capitol), and retreated to his home studio. Three years passed, and after being picked up by the indie label Vagrant, Westerberg released two discs simultaneously: Stereo, the official release, and Mono, a "bonus disc" that accompanied it. Mono was credited to his alter ego, "Grandpaboy", an alias Westerberg used to release an EP of rockers that didn't quite fit in with the singer/songwriter tack he took with his 90s solo albums.

Finally freed to follow (and rediscover) his muse, Mono/Stereo turned out to be the best and most consistent music Westerberg recorded since his heyday with the 'Mats. Mono is the real triumph of the two, an album of punchy power pop and balls-out rockers. The former is represented by the album opener "High Time", "2 Days Til Tomorrow", and the album closer "AAA" ("I ain't got anything to say to anyone anymore"), while the latter includes the Keef-influenced "Kickin' The Stall", "Eyes Like Sparks" and "Silent Film Star" (a kiss-off to Winona Ryder?).

Stereo is more the singer-songwriter album, and the album is largely acoustic, mostly Westerberg and his guitar recorded in his home basement studio. But unlike his half-baked 90s efforts, he brings better songs to the table, and his penchant for twisted wordplay that made many of his 'Mats songs true classics returns here: "Let the Bad Times Roll", for example, as well as "We May Be The Ones" ("up close, we look far away"), "Only Lie Worth Telling" ("is that I'm in love with you") and "Got You Down" (its double meaning title describing both the emotional state and predictability of a woman involved with a married man).

All in all, two outstanding albums that re-established Westerberg as one of our premier songwriters. The best place to give Mono and Stereo a listen is at Amazon, where you can get 30-second clips. Stereo is available at eMusic, and so is Mono, although it's under Grandpaboy (thanks to JB for finding Mono on eMusic). If you loved the 'Mats but solo Westerberg put you off in the 90s, go back and get this combo. You won't regret it.

CD of the Day, 3/15/06: Tody Castillo-Tody Castillo

If I had picked up Tody Castillo's debut album before January of this year, there's a good chance it would have made my Top 20 of 2005 list. This album came to light in the power pop scene after an Audities member made it his #1 album of 2005 in the year-end polls, and retailers like Not Lame and Kool Kat took notice.

An interesting note about this disc is that Castillo likes to name his tracks after more famous ones; there are songs called "Independence Day" and "Backstreets" (Springsteen), "God Only Knows" (Beach Boys), and "This Is Love" and "Brainwashed" (George Harrison) on the album. There are some elements of all of these artists here, but it's mostly a mix of power pop and singer/songwriter pop. Another interesting facet of this disc is that Castillo alternates between slower numbers (the odd-numbered tracks) and rockers (the evens) throughout the entire 14 tracks.

Comparisons for Castillo to Jeff Tweedy, Ryan Adams and Tom Petty have abounded, but to me he sounds more like a Texas version of Ron Sexsmith. My favorites are the rockers: "I'm Gonna Change", "Brainwashed" and "Politics" are as good as any pure power pop you're going to hear, and among the slower numbers, "Not That Kind of Girl" is a delight, almost sounding like a lost Elliott Smith track. Castillo is definitely a major talent, and this disc definitely won't disappoint.

Sample full-length tracks at his site and his myspace page. Samples of all the tracks are available at his cdbaby page, although the album isn't (currently out of stock), so you'll have to get it at Not Lame or Kool Kat.

UPDATE: I just noticed that "I'm Gonna Change" is on the latest Not Lame Podcast. Some other good stuff on there, including a track from the oustanding new Chris Brown release.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

New at Not Lame, 3/14/06.

What's new? Lots of stuff. They have what appears to be a record 14 discs featured tonight. I don't have the time or inclination to go over them all, so head on over and check out for yourself the ones I don't mention in this post. One of them has already been featured here, the fine new release from The Ride Theory. Here are some of the rest:

Blankety Blank - Is This Your Pill
. This one gets big-time raves over there, and a brief sampling allows to me confirm some of them. They have five tracks to stream or download at their site, and you can sample the rest here. It's a 2003 release, but I hadn't heard of it until now.

The Oohs-Llamalamp. The latest from these power pop vets. Stream some of em here. They have the download links enabled, but I had no luck downloading.

The Red Carpet-The Noise of Red Carpet. Enjoying the sound of this one; Bruce's Jon Brion/Badly Drawn Boy comparison seems apt here. Here's a download:

When You Sing

Their myspace page is here with four other songs from the album.

The High Score-We Showed Up To Leave. Listening to three of the tracks at their myspace page, I have to concur that these guys rock. They claim they'll have some mp3s up at their site, so if you're reading this on a later date, you might want to check in here.

The "new" Cars.

As many of you already know, The Cars have re-formed, sans Ric Ocasek. But it's not like they started a reality show and ended up with someone like JD Fortune fronting the band - instead, they got the legendary Todd Rundgren to take the mic. There's a new album in the works, and the first taste of it is "Not Tonight". You can get the video here:

Not Tonight (video)

First thoughts: A pretty good song, definitely has the classic Cars sound. The references to Blackberry and e-Mail are a bit cheesy and date the song, but otherwise it's a blast. There's been some controversy about this version of The Cars among the die-hards, but I'm keeping an open mind.

And for readers in the USA: they're slated to appear on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno this evening.

Thanks to Bob M. for the link to the video and the Leno news.

UPDATE: "Not Tonight" is now available as a download from eMusic, along with the New Cars' version of "Just What I Needed".

CD of the Day, 3/14/06: Warren Zanes-People That I'm Wrong For

Well, here it is: the album we've (I've) been waiting for. Released into the wild today, Warren Zanes' People That I'm Wrong For is a worthy followup to his solo debut Memory Girls, my favorite disc of 2003.

My favorites are "Jr's Bag of Tricks", a jazzy/funky number with horns that has a killer chorus, and which Zanes claims was inspired by Patty Hearst (it positively SLA-'d me); "Ella's Arms", a rocking track that's almost Springsteenian; "Carrying Me/Carrying You", which reminds me of "First on the Moon" from Memory Girls; and the vaugely Beatlesque title track. And the remainder are solid tunes as well.

Best place to start checking it out (if you haven't already from my previous posts) is at his site, where you can stream about half the cd and get his track-by-track commentary. However, you'll have to go to his myspace page to stream "Jr's Bag of Tricks", as well as "Fool The Moon", so you'll end up getting to hear about 2/3 of the disc. And best of all, you can get it on eMusic here. While I've gone Zane-y over this one, it'll Warren-t your attention as well. (Forgive me, I woke up in kind of a goofy mood this morning.)

Monday, March 13, 2006

Mo' Mead.

David Mead's weekly rollout of Tangerine tracks continues, and this week's selection is "Chatterbox", a decidedly more uptempo number than the previous two. It's a pretty cool song, complete with a horn break about 2/3 of the way in. It has a real 70s feel to it; in fact, it reminds me of a cross between "Love Vibration" and "James" from Josh Rouse's 1972. Have a listen to it here.

CD of the Day, 3/13/06: Michael Bowling-Uptown/Dogtown

Richmond's Michael Bowling has a winner on his hands with his debut album Uptown/Dogtown. This is really good uptempo/midtempo stuff, reminding me of a poppier Elvis Costello, as well as Eytan Mirsky, Michael Shelley and Chris von Sniedern.

The piano-based "If Anything Breaks Your Heart" is the highlight here, with its Harry Nilsson/Randy Newman vibe, but close behind is "You'll Never Reach Heaven From The Mountaintop", a guitar-based number with a groove that recalls Mirsky along with Michael Carpenter, complete with "doo doo doo" backing vocals. "Apologies to Morrisey" is self-explanatory, and the jaunty "Amelia Believe" closes the disc in fine fashion.

You can stream four tracks from the album at his site, along with a couple of non-album tracks labeled as a single that are pretty good themselves. He has a myspace page, too, which has the "single" as well as a couple of the same album tracks. And you can sample the remainder of the album, including "If Anything Breaks Your Heart", at CD Baby, where you can pick up the album for a cool $9.99. No gutter balls on this one.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

New at Kool Kat Musik, 3/12/06.

New at da Kat:

*Cabinessence-Comes Back to You. This group describes itself as "Glam Parsons", which should give you a pretty good idea of their interesting hybrid of glam/psych-rock and alt-country. The track "I Know" is pretty darn good. Download that one and another here:

I Know
Bread and Butter

Their myspace page is here.

*(The Sounds of) Kaleidoscope-From Where You Were To How You Got There. Gotta love a band that uses a parenthetical in its name. The comparison thrown around with these guys is Pavement, which sounds about right. PopMatters says: "It’s not music you can slap onto an iPod or run while you balance a checkbook." And here I was balancing my checkbook while listening to my iPod. Sheesh, sometimes a guy just can't win. The best song I heard was the psych pop-sounding "Th' Strangebirds". Hmmm...these guys have one of the longer album titles out there, and they can't be bothered to put the "e" in "The". They have four tracks streaming at myspace, but don't listen if you're balancing your checkbook too.

*The Virtues-Where Were You? This the domestic release of the latest from this Swedish band, who have the jangly pop thing down pretty well, thank you. The title track starts off with some nice jangle, and a "whoo hoo hoo", so I'm suckered in immediately.

Here's a couple of downloads:

Where Were You?


They do sound like they have their virtues.

*Okay Paddy-The Cactus Has a Point. Cute title, befitting of their quirky indie pop. Sample them at myspace, or download here:

Oo Man, La World

*The Sw!ms-Ride of the Blueberry Winter. I have this one, and I was eyeing it as a possible cd of the day. I guess instead I'll discuss it here. This has an indie pop sound as well, and reminds me of The Spectacular Fantastic, SNMNMNMNM, Of Montreal and a few others. "Sara Jean" is one of my favorite songs of 2006. Download 'em here:

We Need Lava
Depth Charge
Vermillion Archer

These three, plus "Blood In The Lanai", are streaming at their myspace page. Two thumbs up on this one, even though I can't find a stream or download of "Sara Jean".

CD of the Day, 3/12/06: Don DiPaolo-Everything You Want

I had somewhat forgotten about this fine effort from last spring by Don DiPaolo. But thanks to the magic of shuffle play yesterday, it all came back to me. Everything You Want, DiPaolo's debut effort, is a disc that will appeal to fans of The Wallflowers, The Goo Goo Dolls, and Pete Yorn.

There are hooks-a-plenty here, nowhere moreso than on the leadoff track "Happening Again", whose "no no no no no" refrain in the chorus made it one of those songs that only a lobotomy could remove from my head. Other standout tracks include "Freeze This Moment", "2AM" and "Night You Came Around". This is the kind of power pop record that your non-powerpop-freak friends will enjoy. My guess is if you're driving along with someone and you put this on, or play it at some sort of get-together, you'll be asked "Who's this?".

You can stream the album in its entirety at his site, and he has a myspace page. You can buy it at cd baby.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

eMusic Adds.

Quite the flood of released added today to eMusic (900+). Here are the highlights for power poppers, with a quick one sentence description. All are worth checking out.

Adam Marsland-You Don't Know Me. Acerbic singer-songwriter piano pop.

Bill Ricchini-Tonight I Burn Brightly. What a David Mead/Joe Pernice collaboration might sound like.

Luke Temple-Hold a Match for a Gasoline World. "A very cool mellow, early 70`s styled release that reminds us equally of Paul Simon/Simon & Garfunkel, Donovan, Elliot Smith, Colin Blunstone, acoustic Marc Bolan and Jeff Buckley." - Not Lame.

Man of the Year-A New and Greater Tokyo. Another fine Portland band (cf. Derby) that melds britpop and power pop.

Spiraling-Transmitter. High energy power pop/rock that's kind of like Ben Folds meets the Foo Fighters.

The Cloud Room-The Cloud Room. If you were plugged into the music scene last year, you probably remember their big hit "Hey Now Now".

The Handsome Charlies-Gentlemen Never Tell
. Aussies out of Austin (TX), making uptempo pop music that's equal parts Radiohead, XTC and the Pixies.

The Imprints-Sounds of the Aftermath
. Indie pop - the Posies meet YHF-era Wilco. And yes, they're from Portland too (I'd like to know what's in the water over there).

CD of the Day, 3/11/06: Truman Falls-Little Happyhells

I normally don't reach back this far for the CD of the Day, but I have to make an exception here. I only discovered Truman Falls last year when I picked up the International Pop Overthrow 8 compilation (a great deal at 3 cds for $16 by the way), and heard their absolutely outstanding track "Last Man on the Moon". It was so good I had to pick up the 2003 full-length, Little Happyhells.

Although Truman Falls is billed as a band, it's really the vehicle for singer/songwriter Simon Rea, who hails from the Isle of Man in England. What you get here is quality singer/songwriter pop, and it's no accident that Josh Rouse has Truman Falls opening for him on his current UK tour. This will appeal to fans of Rouse, David Mead and Joe Kennedy, among others. After a brief intro, Rea gets right down to business with the title track, a breezy number. BBC2's Bob Harris likens him to the lovechild of Burt Bacharach and Harry Nilsson, and he's spot on (as the Brits would say) with this comparison. Other highlights include the Rouse-like "My Beautiful Mistake" and "Buttermouth", the Paul Simonesque "Paper Ann", and of course "Last Man on the Moon", one of those songs that I could listen to on a continuous loop and not tire of. And you can listen to it here, as I've made it my Song of the Day.

Stream 'em at their myspace page, and you can sample them here and here, where you can buy it as well.

Friday, March 10, 2006

New at Not Lame, 3/10/06.

Some interesting new developments at Not Lame today. Before I go into the featured releases, they're offering streaming (and special pre-order deals) for two new releases the power pop community has been looking forward to. First is the Matthew Sweet/Susanna Hoffs covers album, Under The Covers Vol. 1. They have a special pre-order deal here (with autographed booklet), and you can stream it here in its entirety:

Under The Covers Vol. 1

And the other big release is the new solo disc from Jon Auer of the Posies, titled Songs From The Year of Our Demise. The pre-order deal (with a bonus cd of live tracks) is here, and the full-length stream is here:

Songs From The Year of Our Demise

Good stuff. I'm going to have the give the Auer a listen over the weekend.

On to the featured releases. There's a familiar look here with a couple of them: First off, is Stuart Valentine's Melody's True, which was our CD of the Day a few weeks ago. (Note the different album cover on the Not Lame page). Also featured is the new Warren Zanes, which hits the streets Tuesday, and which I've discussed on several occasions. I think only Supraluxe has received more namedrops on this blog than Zanes has. There are also a couple of the new Cheap Trick reissues featured as well.

* As for the stuff that's both new and new to being mentioned on this blog, we start with latest from The Animators, How We Fight. The Animators are not the typical band, incorporating accordion, glockenspiel, and cajon into the mix. As Bruce puts it, "it`s pretty much impossible to say 'Hey, The Animators sound like "XXX" band(s)'", but they do manage to retain a somewhat conventional sound despite some of the unusual instrumentation. The opening track, "Good to Be Here", for one is damn impressive.

They have four songs from the new one streaming at their myspace page, and further samples can be found at the cd baby page for the album.

* Next up is the Norwegian band CoStar and their 2004 release Keep It Light. I've had this one for over a year myself, but I haven't listened in a long time. In situations like this, I use the iPod test: if it's still on my iPod it must be good, because I have all 60 gigs filled and I'm now at the point where I'm deleting to add new stuff. Bruce namedrops The Posies, Elbow, Manic Street Preachers and Oasis, and from listening to some of it again I have to say he's in the ballpark.

You can download 4 mp3s (if you have your browser set to "save to disk" on mp3 links) from the album at their site. The rest can be sampled at cd baby. They actually have a new album soon to be released, titled Fix, and their myspace page is streaming tracks from that album.

* Finally, we have Chuck Maiden's Adobe. There's no truth to the rumor that the liner notes only come in a .pdf file, and I don't think Maiden's an acrobat. Bad software humor aside, Adobe sounds like the kind of singer-songwriter pop that I have a penchant for, with the names of Penn, Finn and Petty thrown about. I missed this one when it came out last summer, so I'm glad Bruce & Co. have found it.

It's also available on eMusic here, where you can get the 30-second sample blitz. And it appears you can stream the whole thing at his site in the media player right at the bottom.

eMusic Miscellany.

First off, I neglected to mention in yesterday's Brokedown piece that The Dutchman's Gold is available via eMusic.

And the rollout continues for The Waxwings, as their second album, 2003's Shadows of the Waxwings, was added this morning.

CD of the Day, 3/10/06: Red Guitar-Beauty Will Save The World

It's time for some power pop and roots rock straight from the heartland of America - Mission, Kansas, the home of Red Guitar. Their brand new release Beauty Will Save The World is turning out to be one of the more enjoyable releases of this barely 2 1/2-month-old year.

Red Guitar seems to be an amalgam of The Jayhawks, The Gin Blossoms, Matthew Sweet and a slower, midtempo Weezer (i.e., "Island In The Sun"). There really isn't a bad track on this album, which came to my attention during a recent wade-through of cd baby releases. Things start off smashingly with "V-Day", which has a bit of "With or Without You" U2 behind the verses, but the chorus is pure power pop. The title track follows with a more modern sound, kind of like Millicent Friendly, for those familiar with that fine 2005 release. "Leave It In Another Day" is a slight bit slower, but with a punchy, anthemic chorus, and "The Sting" is where the "midtempo Weezer" sound is most apparent. And the ones I'm not singling out aren't slouches either; most of the remaining tracks have memorable chourses at the least. Discoveries like these are what make the CD Baby listening marathons worth undertaking.

You can stream the title track and "Leave It In Another Day" at their myspace page, and sample the rest (and buy) at CD Baby. The two-minute samples should be enough to hook you, as they hooked me. If you go to their official site, you won't hear anything from their new album, but you can stream their first album, 2003's Based on a Blue Story, which from my brief sampling sounds pretty good as well.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

New Brokedown track on MySpace.

One of my favorite EPs of 2005 (or does 7 songs constitute a mini-album?) was The Dutchman's Gold, the debut from LA band The Brokedown. Although a lot of bands have both power pop and alt-country influences, they managed to create a fairly unique sound of their own that draws from the best of both. They cite Big Star, ELO, The Byrds, Rolling Stones, Wilco, Flying Burrito Bros. as influences, with good reason.

And now they've just put a new track on their myspace page, titled "Baby On My Arm", which sounds just as nice (despite the rough demo mix) as the tracks on The Dutchman's Gold. Listening to it as I type, I'm reminded of "nothingsevergonnastandinmyway(again)" from Wilco's Summerteeth. Do yourself a favor and check out the new one over there, as well as three that are streaming from the EP. Or just grab one or both of these mp3s courtesy of their official site:

Down In The Valley

Don't miss out on these guys.

CD of the Day, 3/9/06: Chris Staig-Davenport

Having just (re)touted Warren Zanes' Memory Girls, it's kind of fitting that I've selected Chris Staig's Davenport as today's featured disc. Staig, from Toronto, has a very similar sound to Zanes, both vocally and stylistically.

Davenport features a winning combination of power pop, roots rock and singer/songwriter pop. There are also hints of Neil Young and John Lennon as well as Grandaddy's Jason Lytle. Things start off in fine fashion with Staig pleading for a "Rock'n'Roll Holiday", as it's "time to blow up my television/can't make shopping my new religion"; in the next track Staig sings of how he "Fell Off The Wagon", an ode to getting plastered. "All I Need Is You" is a catchy rocker in the vein of the Ike Reilly disc I raved about yesterday, and "Another Year" almost heads into the Rockpile territory mined so well by Terry Anderson (he of the Olympic Ass-Kickin' Team).

He has three tracks from Davenport streaming at his myspace page, and others can be sampled at cd baby, which is of course the best place to pick it up.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

My #1 CD of 2003: Warren Zanes-Memory Girls

See here.

Odds & Ends.

A couple of bits of news worth sharing:

* Buva is almost ready to release its first full-length album, All This Humming, next month. Some of you may remember their 2004 EP Daydream, which was well-received upon its release. If you haven't heard Daydream, you can stream it here (click on "media"). And now three tracks from the new one are streaming at Buva's myspace page. I'm enjoying them - very good soft pop, kind of like Matthew Sweet's mellower tunes.

* Ranchero, the debut album from Park Police that came out last year, is available on eMusic as of this morning. Read more about this release here and here. You can stream four tracks here. I give this one a thumbs-up as well.

CD (EP) of the Day, 3/8/06: Kit Ashton-Blindsided

It's not every artist who has the blessing of Paul McCartney. “Brilliant. Great stuff – really beautiful songs,” McCartney said of Kit Ashton after jamming with him at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, where Ashton was a student. He's just released his debut EP, Blindsided, and Macca may be on to something here.

Ashton definitely has the British pop sound down on Blindsided. While opener "You You You" is a quality tune, things really take a step forward with "Take The Strain", which sounds like The 88 by way of Parallax Project, with a bit of Jellyfish thrown in. "Fantastic" is just that, with some Robbie Williams/Supergrass influences to go along with the Jellyfish sound. All in all, a promising debut.

You can stream "You You You", "Take The Strain" and "Indian Stone Blues" at his myspace page, and sample "Fantastic" and "Don't Beat Yourself Up" at the cd baby link.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

New at Not Lame, 3/7/06.

First off, they're featuring a couple of releases we've already discussed here: John Carrillo's Von Karma, which was our CD of the Day about three weeks ago, and the new Frank Lee Sprague, in our Kool Kat post last week. As for the rest:

Ross Rice-Dwight
. Bruce gives this one an "extremely highly recommended", although it didn't do much for me (I recall passing on this one when it appeared on cd baby). But decide for yourself which one of us is right: Rice has four tracks from the album streaming at his myspace page, which should give you a good idea. And the rest can be sampled at the cd baby page I linked in the parenthetical.
By the way, Rice has some miscellaneous mp3s at his site, including his cover of ELO's "Evil Woman", although none are from the album.

The Confusions-5 AM. I have this one and have given it a few spins. It's pretty good, definitely more power than pop, although there's plenty of both here. The first five tracks or so are kind of garagey, with dirty guitars and driving beats. Things mellow a bit on the first single "Don't Let The World Catch You Crying" (a nod to Gerry & The Pacemakers?), which sounds like late 90s Stereophonics, and on the title track. And no, "How Do You Sleep?" is not a remake of the infamous Lennon tune that ripped McCartney; instead it's a pretty decent poppy number reminiscent of Del Amitri. I'll concur with Bruce's "Extremely Highly Recommended" on this one. Sample their wares at myspace and at the Not Lame link.

The Miniatures-Coma Kid. Wow. This one really sounds good. It's actually from 2004, but I guess it got by us all until now. The Miniatures are a band from Ontario, and this release sounds like it covers all the power pop bases. Bruce's description is pretty much spot on, so click on the link to get some comparisons. Head over to their site right now and select the "click here for mp3 player" link, where you'll hear streams of four excellent tracks. You can also stream an additional two tracks at their myspace page, and sample a couple more at the cdbaby page for this one. These guys rock!

MySpace tracks up for Warren Zanes.

I've mentioned Warren Zanes' upcoming release (due next Tuesday) People That I'm Wrong For a couple of times on here before, so I thought I'd note that he's just put three tracks from the album on his myspace page: "Jr's Bag of Tricks" (a great track that I made available earlier, "Ella's Arms", which was streaming at his site, and "Fool The Moon", which hasn't been previously available and sounds like a nice ballad as I listen to it as I type this. Looking foward to next week. I feel pretty confident that this will also be available on eMusic next week as well, since they carry Dualtone releases.

My #1 Album of 2004: The Ike Reilly Assassination-Sparkle In The Finish

Now that I've dispensed with the top 20 of 2005, it's time for a new recurring feature: My favorite albums of recent years. Off the top of my head, I can go back to 1997, so I'll go at least that far back. Without further ado, here's the 2004 installment.

Wayne Bledsoe of the Knoxville (TN) News wrote this about the Ike Reilly Assassination's Sparkle In The Finish, and I'd swear he was channeling my thoughts:
"Every once in a while, an album comes out of nowhere from someone you've never heard of and becomes your favorite album of the year. "Sparkle in the Finish," the second disc by Libertyville, Ill., native Ike Reilly is exactly that kind of record. Reilly's combination of power pop, Americana and even white-boy hipster rap is irresistible."
Sparkle In The Finish indeed became my favorite album of 2004, and it's a real tour de force. Reilly is an incredibly inventive lyricist, and if he were 20 years younger and black (or even remained white, I suppose), he'd likely be one of the biggest rap stars today. Instead, his gift of verbal facility is used in service of some great power pop and rock songs, with one exception: the rapping "I Don't Want What You Got (Goin' On)", in which Reilly namedrops Chuck Berry, Ludacris and Jerry Lee Lewis over a Beck-like beat and it somehow works. While its verses are rapped, the chorus is killer guitar rock.

And then the power pop kicks in. "Holiday in NY" finds Reilly unable to please his woman and lamenting his buddy's drug addiction (a theme that found its way to his also lyrically clever, but less musically enjoyable, 2005 followup Junkie Faithful) and "Whatever Happened To Girl In Me?" rocks with abandon.

But the real highlights of the album come about midway back-to-back: "The Boat Song (We're Getting Loaded)" is Reilly's kiss-off to all of those who he's found annoying, including himself ("The Willy Lomans of rock'n'roll") atop a great melody. The lyrics can be found here. And then there's the excellent "Garbage Day", in which Reilly meets a girl at a protest outside of an execution and ends up dumping her at "a strip joint in the basement of a transient hotel", set to a sing-along chorus.

Things do trail off a bit after that, with some good but not great tracks thereafter, but the highs on this one are so high that they blew away any shortcomings the rest may have had. Reilly is a true talent, even if he's past the prime age for music stardom.

With this album not being Reilly's latest release, it's not easy finding promotional streams and mp3s. You can stream "I Don't Want What You Got (Goin' On)" from his site, but unfortunately the stream for "Garbage Day", while listed, appears to be disabled. The only myspace page for him is a fan-created one that doesn't stream any tracks. 30-second samples of all the tracks can be found at CD Universe. You can pick it up for as little as $4.79 at the Amazon marketplace, and it is available via iTunes.

In closing I have to quote this reviewer from Pop Matters (who wrote a much better and more in-depth review): "this record kicks my ass like it's Ron Artest and I just threw a beer at it."

Hotel Lights and Waxwings on eMusic

Just a quick note that let you know that yesterday's Cd of the Day, Hotel Lights, is newly available today on eMusic, as part of its Bar/None release.

Another great release just added is the 2000 debut of The Waxwings, Low To The Ground. As AMG wrote,
If jangly guitar rock is a dead art form, no one told Detroit's Waxwings. Thankfully, lead songwriter and singer Dean Fertita and his band of merry janglers still keep the faith and hold a torch for the glory days of three guitar and harmonizing vocals as practiced by such rock & roll luminaries as the Byrds, Big Star, and, well, the Beatles.
This really was a good one.

CD of the Day, 3/7/06: Orson-Bright Idea

Mark my words, these guys are going to be next big thing. This LA band is already building a buzz in the UK, where this album is going to be released in May. Lead single "No Tomorrow" is already a smash over there.

According to, Orson play what their singer Jason Pebworth calls simply "two-guitar power-pop", or, equally simply, "rock and roll that girls can dance to". But this is power pop with a more modern sound, and these guys borrow some from Franz Ferdinand and the Scissor Sisters, as well as from some classic influences like the Stones. The album opens with the title track, which is a great power pop tune with its driving beat; "No Tomorrow" is full of sass and has a slinky groove; "Already Over" reminds me of The 88 via Cheap Trick and Butch Walker; and "Tryin' to Help" rocks like TSAR. They then move into danceable territory with the Ferdinandesque "So Ahead of Me" and "Last Night". "Look Around" is the obligatory ballad a la Jet's "Look What You've Done", and then they return to power pop with the last two tracks, "Save The World" and "OK Song", the latter of which reminds me of the Valley Lodge release that was in my top 20 of 05.

As for US availablity, I'm not sure. This album was originally released in 2004 via cd baby (where I picked it up what seems like eons ago), and the page for it remains here. The page says "coming back in stock soon", and you can leave your email with cd baby to be notified when they have it. So perhaps it's a temporary thing, and they haven't pulled it from there as a result of the upcoming UK release. Unfortunately, there are only 3 samples streaming on cd baby, so you'd be better served going to their myspace page, where "No Tomorrow", "Bright Idea" and "Tryin' to Help" are streaming in full, along with a video for "No Tomorrow". But the good news is that you can stream one-minute samples of the remainder of the tracks at their official site.

Currently available or not, I probably won't need to do too much reminding if it's not available until later on, because I have the feeling you'll end up sick of reading about these guys by the end of the year. So do what you can to enjoy their music before the hype takes over.

Monday, March 06, 2006

New David Mead track.

Living up to his promise to make available one track from his forthcoming album Tangerine per week, David Mead now has "The Trouble With Harry" up at his myspace page for your streaming pleasure. This one is a mellow number, complete with strings. I'd give it a 6 out of 10.

Top 20 of 2005 Recap.

The main purpose of this post is to gather all the links for the top 20 of 2005 in one place, so that I can link to it in the sidebar. And of course if you missed any of the previous Top 20 posts, you can get them here:

1. Derby-This Is The New You
2. Okkervil River-Black Sheep Boy
3. Josh Rouse-Nashville
4. Michael Penn-Mr. Hollywood Jr., 1947
5. The Well Wishers-Under The Arrows
6. The 88-Over and Over
7. Catlin Cary & Thad Cockrell-Begonias
8. Graham Cousens-Living Room Sessions
9. Randy & The Bloody Lovelies-Lift
10. Smash Palace-Over The Top
11. Valley Lodge-Valley Lodge
12. Jim Boggia-Safe In Sound
13. Pugwash-Jollity
14. Peter Bruntnell-Ghost in a Spitfire
15. Terry Anderson & The Olympic Ass-Kickin' Team
16. The Golden Apples-Cooler Jets Will Prevail
17. Feel-Invisible Train
18. Sparkwood-Jalopy Pop
19. James Cooper-Second Season
20. Checkpoint Charley-Songs One Through Twelve

My Top 20 of 2005, #1: Derby-This Is The New You

Well, 20 days later, here it is: #1. My top spot for 2005 goes to Derby, a band out of Portland, Oregon who put out a stunningly accomplished debut last February to great acclaim. However, most of that acclaim came around the time the album came out. While I heard and read several saying at the time that the album was "best-of-year" and "top 10" material, it pretty much got the shaft on the Audities year-end poll despite my #1 vote. The only other place I saw it was on David Bash's list at around #27, and by the time I saw it there, I was grateful to see it at all. I know Craig Leve of Snap Crackle Pop touted them, but I never did see his best-of list, so perhaps I wasn't alone, but still a distinct minority.

OK, enough complaining about how this album didn't get the props it deserved, and time to explain why it did deserve them. Simply put, it's an album that pays homage to the greats without slavishly imitating them, and by the time you've finished listening to it, you realize they have their own distinct sound. Who are the influences? Well, you can start in their backyard with fellow Portlander Elliott Smith, and for contemporaries you can also include The Shins and The Pernice Brothers (circa The World Won't End), and for the classics, The Beatles and The Kinks. But they've managed to assimilate all of these influences into something of their own.

The album starts off with the acoustic "Jet Set", which is where the Smith/Shins influence can be heard. Frontman Nat Johnson, who has a voice that reminds me of a less histrionic Ed Roland, sings "maybe it's all right to turn you on/turn you on to something new", which could serve as the mission statement for this blog. This beautiful yet short number is suddenly overtaken by the crashing chords of "Qualities", where the brilliance continues. While at first sounding like Bends-era Radiohead or even good Coldplay, the song then turns to a late Beatles sound in the "stereo afterglow" of the bridge, and then it all comes around again.

And another winner immediately follows with the shuffling "Sunk a Few", complete with handclaps and Revolver-ish backwards-sounding guitars. After that comes "One Reason", which sounds like a great lost Alan Parsons Project track (Johnson does have a bit of Eric Woolfson in his voice as well); "Parade", which features Johnson's best vocal performance of the album; the uptempo "Get to the Feeling" which summons Sloan and borrows their use of fake crowd noise to nice effect; and the rocking "This Conversation", whose cool-sounding keyboard intro has found a place as the bumper music for the Not Lame Podcast. Finally, Derby close with "Pay No Mind", a driving track that's equal parts ELO's "Mr. Blue Sky" and the Beatles' "Getting Better". And when Johnson sings "a photograph is all I have/a photograph is all I have of you" in the fadeout, you're almost sad the album is over. This release also reminds me quite a bit of my current year's #1 to date, Supraluxe (or perhaps the other way around, since Derby came first). If you like that one, you'll like this one as well.

Where to listen? Start with some mp3s here (they're playing SXSW, which is where the first one is from):

Sunk a Few

You can stream "Parade" and "Pay No Mind" here. Then hop on over to their myspace page, where you can stream live versions of "Get to the Feeling" and "This Conversation". Finally, you can sample the rest at their cd baby page. You can get it there, or at Not Lame, or a used copy in the Amazon marketplace. I won't care where you buy it, just as long as you do. And Audities, I demand a recount.

UPDATE: Also available via eMusic.

CD of the Day, 3/6/06: Hotel Lights-Hotel Lights

Hotel Lights is the solo project of ex-Ben Folds Five drummer Darren Jessee. And before you think it might simply be a case of Jessee trading on his Folds association, keep in mind that Jessee pretty much wrote the band's biggest hit, the 1998 megasmash "Brick", to which Folds added some lyrics. So it's no surprise that Hotel Lights sounds like the work of a unique artist, rather than a mere sideman.

Unlike the manic Folds, Jessee turns things down a notch or two on Hotel Lights. This is more the lush pop sound of the Pernice Brothers or Elliott Smith than what you remember from the Five, and the first two tracks tell you that you're not in Kansas (or at least North Carolina) any more. "You Come and I Go" is a beautiful mellow 70s AM-type track, almost reminiscent of how Bread might have sounded had they come up in today's indie scene. And just in case such a comparison didn't leap to your mind, the next song, "AM Slow Golden Hit" will make it for you. A great track (which alert readers will note I featured as my "song of the day" a couple of days ago), Jessee namedrops songs like "Rocket Man" and "Walking on Sunshine" while crooning "soft rock on the radio/everything comes 'round again", essentially describing his own sound. He summons up some of the old BFF attitude in "Small Town Shit", while cranking things up a bit on the organ-driven "Marvelous Truth".

It's really a great debut, and it actually first appeared in the late summer of 2004 as a self-released disc. They recently signed with Bar/None, who is giving it a proper label release tomorrow, and they're playing SXSW later this month. Here's the SXSW-approved mp3:

AM Slow Golden Hit

Here are some more places to listen: Very high-quality streams of "AM Slow Golden Hit", "You Come and I Go" and two others at their site; a lesser quality stream of "Anatole" at their myspace page, and 2-minute samples of the rest at cd baby. While poring over their site, I notice that they've also just released an EP titled goodnightgoodmorning available here (with mp3s). Yes, I've already sent them my $8.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Blogging update.

Been a slower posting day today, as I've been busy with some other stuff, and I'll be watching the Oscars tonight, so don't expect too much new the rest of the day either. I do have the CD of the Day post for tomorrow in the can, so look for that at its usual midnight time, and I know you're all waiting with baited breath for the unveiling of my #1 disc of 2005, which will also come at its usual time, at about 7:30AM Eastern. I can tell you it will be a properly considered "power pop" release, unlike my #2.

So if you're reading this today, take an opportunity to check out some of the great discs already blogged about in the archives while I somehow hope that Good Night and Good Luck can miraculously beat out Brokeback for the Best Picture Oscar.

UPDATE: Well, there was an upset in the Best Picture category, but it wasn't Good Night. Instead, it was the movie I thought the least of among the five (I did see them all), Crash. It was well-made and well-acted, but thematically it had all the subtlety of a mallet to the head.

My Top 20 of 2005, #2: Okkervil River-Black Sheep Boy

It might seem strange a non-power pop release holds down my lofty #2 position, but Okkervil River's Black Sheep Boy was that good. It's a tough album to categorize neatly: one part Indie, one part Americana and one part Emo. In a similar vein, Conor Oberst a/k/a Bright Eyes broke through last year with this formula, but he sounds like a relative lightweight compared to Okkervil River on this one. In fact, the musicianship and vibe here makes this album sound like a less self-indulgent and less cloying Oberst backed by The Band.

After starting off with the title track, a cover of a Tim Hardin song, frontman Will Sheff and the band rip into "For Real", a rocker that's equal parts Wilco and My Morning Jacket. Other highlights include "Black", another uptempo number; "A King and a Queen" and "A Stone", which really do sound like a couple of lost Band tracks, and the epic "So Come Back, I Am Waiting", which builds to a Springsteenian climax. Here's a review that gushes more than I do about this album.

Grab a couple of mp3s from the album:

For Real


You can sample the rest of the tracks at the amazon page linked above. And if you end up digging this album, I'll note they followed it up later in the year with the Black Sheep Boy Appendix, an EP of leftover tracks from the BSB sessions that's pretty darn good for leftovers.