Thursday, December 25, 2008

The Absolute Powerpop Top Songs of 2008 - Part 1

The "best songs" recap of 2008 will feature a different format this year. First of all, I've embedded the tracks from Lala so you can easily listen to them. Secondly, it's not a comprehensive list; I'm just using tracks available on Lala. And third, to keep the number of loading embeds within reason, I'll do about 7-8 at a time.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Absolute Powerpop Top 125 of 2008, #1-5.

And now at long last, the Absolute Powerpop Top 5 of 2008:

5. Pale Hollow-Pale Hollow. The best classic rock/British pop disc of the year, and it's the product of a guy from Cleveland, Michael Allen. With touchstones from Neil Young to The Kinks & solo Ray Davies to Peter Bruntnell to Al Stewart to Oasis, and a bunch of great songs to do those influences proud, Allen has made a disc that will instantly appeal to anyone who grew up in the 60s or 70s.

4. Cliff Hillis-The Long Now. With the best "pure pop" album of the year, Hillis has reached that state of musical zen where it all seems so effortless. I described him in the original review as the "golden mean of power pop" and there's something for everyone here, whether your tastes run to the crunchier or softer sides of the genre. Plus, "Elevator" and "Northern Lights" are two of the catchiest tracks of the year.

3. Adrian Whitehead-One Small Stepping Man. It's always nice to be pleasantly surprised. Last spring, I was excited to be getting the new Bryan Estepa disc from Popboomerang (with justification as it ended up #10), and the label threw in a couple of other discs I wasn't expecting, one of which was this one. And what a breath of fresh air it was. Hands down the best Beatlesque disc of 08, Whitehead serves up one chewy pop confection after another.

2. Clint Sutton-Clint Sutton. Back in April when I unveiled an early-year best-of, I had this disc at #1 and it was a semi-controversial pick. "All the songs sound the same", "not enough melodic variety", etc. were among the criticisms. To which I respond: if you do one thing and do it extremely well, you don't need to be a virtuoso. Sutton has stripped power pop down to its most basic elements: loud, crunchy guitars and sweet melodies. No bells and whistles, no string-laden ballads, no baroque flourishes and no spoken-word interludes. Just 11 tracks of kick-ass melodic rock that despite their relative lack of variance, still sound fresh to me every time I go back and listen to them.

And at #1.................

1. Greg Pope-Popmonster. I knew Greg Pope was a talent in his days fronting Edmund's Crown, but given a chance to fly solo he really outdid himself. A true one-man effort (Pope played all the instruments, wrote all the songs, and did everything except design the tres cool album cover - maybe the best of the year in that field as well), Popmonster is kind of the anti-Clint Sutton: Pope jumps around from indie rock to power pop to classic rock to Americana and pulls all of these styles in a uniformly excellent manner. Clocking in at 16 tracks, it runs the risk of solo self-indulgence, but never crosses that line or wears out its welcome. While some albums demand to be played in sequence as a cohesive whole, Popmonster is like a jukebox filled with your favorite songs and is perfect for shuffling on an iPod.

The Absolute Powerpop Top 125 of 2008, #6-25.

UPDATE: Top 5 going up at 1PM Eastern.

6. Derby-Posters Fade
7. Andy Reed-Fast Forward
8. Todd Herfindal-Collective
9. Rob Bonfligio-Bring on the Happy
10. Bryan Estepa-Sunday Best
11. The Galaxies-Here We Go!
12. Adrian Bourgeois-Adrian Bourgeois
13. Scott's Garage-Scott's Garage
14. John McKenna-Stone Cold Summer
15. The Favorites-Bright Nights, Bright Lights
16. Tyler Burkum-Darling, Maybe Someday
17. The Meadows-First Nervous Breakdown
18. Scott Murray-Vinyl Generation
19. The Afternoons-Sweet Action
20. The Goldbergs-Under the Radar
21. Mike Viola-Lurch
22. Ike-Where to Begin
23. The Smith Bros-Restless
24. Pugwash-Eleven Modern Antiquities
25. The Offbeat-The Offbeat

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Best of 2007 in one place.

In preparation for rolling out the 2008 lists, I noticed that I never consolidated all of the 2007 lists (which were posted in sections) in one place. I will use this post as well to point to the 2007 lists. Here are the links:

The Best of 2007, #1-5
The Best of 2007, #6-25
The Best of 2007, #26-50
The Best of 2007, #51-75
The Best of 2007, #76-100
The Best of 2007, #101-125

The top 10 EPs of 2007

The top songs of 2007

The 2008 top 125 has finally been compiled, as has the EP list. The EP list will go up first tomorrow, followed by top 125 in 5 chunks (actually 6 chunks over 5 days, as I'll give the top 5 a separate post like last year) from Friday through Tuesday.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

CD of the Day, 12/16/08: The Eisenhowers-Film Your Own Atrocities

Glasgow's The Eisenhowers are back with Film Your Own Atrocities, the follow up to their 2006 debut Almost Half-Undressed. Atrocities is a step forward from the debut, as they refine their take on the classic British pop of bands like Squeeze, XTC and The Kinks.

Frontman/songwriter Raymond Weir shares the sardonic sensibility of his influences, and "Reign of the Stupid" does them proud with its biting Elvis Costello-style lyrics and its easy-on-the-ears Squeeze-style melody. "Less Than Nothing" continues in the same vein, although with strings and more of an XTC influence. The disc's most ambitious track is "1969", in which Weir weaves the awe of the first moon landing together with an indictment of today's mass culture, all in the context of a "Hey Nineteen"-style attempted seduction. At 6+ minutes with strings, choirs and samples of the Apollo 11 astronauts, it runs the risk of overkill, but Weir & Co. manage to pull it off.

There are plenty of other highlights: the Beatlesque piano pop of "The Things That Make You Happy", the lilting, loungy "Janine", and the Ray Davies-inspired "Lighthouse". By the time things close with the epic, 6:43-length "Icaurus Succumbs", you'll realize that this isn't a run-of-the-mill release; instead it could best be described as a thinking man's power pop album. Or to be succinct, I like The "Ikes".

CD Baby | MySpace
The Eisenhowers - Film Your Own Atrocities

Monday, December 15, 2008

Monday roundup.

The Slingsby Hornets-Whatever Happened To... Frank E. Slingsby (nee Jon Paul Allen) and his Hornets are back with another mix of covers and originals just like last year's Introducing The Fantastic Sounds, and it may be even more fun this time around. This time around, the covers include "Pictures of Matchstick Men" and "For Your Love", but my favorite here is all-time cheesy classic, the Bay City Rollers' "Rock 'n' Roll Love Letter". The originals are pretty good, too: "Way of the World" has a baroque opening but settles into a Posies-like groove; "Flying Tonight" is a pretty mid-tempo number, and "Black & White Movie" recalls Teenage Fanclub. And if you act now, he'll throw in a 5-track bonus disc of covers titled Knee Deep In Glitter and featuring his take on classics like "Does Your Mother Know" and "Devil Woman".

CD Baby | MySpace

Steven Wright-Mark-Sideshow Freak. Some of you may recall Steven Wright-Mark from Pop Motel, his debut of a few years ago. Those who don't (and those who do) can jump right on board with his latest, Sideshow Freak. This one hits all the power pop sweet spots with a sound reminiscent of Matthew Sweet combined with Elvis Costello, and a pop sensibility shared by the recently reviewed Rob Bonfiglio. Standouts include "Change", "Baby's Coming Home", "Because of You" and "The Real You", which I've helpfully embedded below. Good stuff.

Not Lame | MySpace | Listen at Lala

Hangar 18-The Alien Highway. When I first came across this disc from this New Jersey band, I noticed it had 20 tracks. It's been my experience that in the case of new bands this is more of an indication of quantity rather than quality, so I was skeptical before I started listening. Sometimes it's good to have your instincts proven wrong, as The Alien Highway is excellent Beatlesque/British Invasion power pop. Highlights (too many to list in full) include the staccato guitars of "Anymore", the uptempo "My Shirt", the rocking "She Rocks", the pensive "Two Tone" (which recalls Icecream Hands), and the Michael Carpenteresque "Talk to Me". Plus, they throw in a cover of The Beatles' "You Can't Do That". I can't recommend all 20 tracks, but the hits far outweigh the misses so you'll still get your money's worth.

CD Baby | MySpace | Listen at Lala

Saturday, December 13, 2008

CD of the Day, 12/13/08: The Respectables-Sibley Gardens

Martha Reeves once sang "Can't forget the Motor City", and in 2008 that admonition certainly applies to the power pop community. With great releases from bands such as The Offramps and The Romeo Flynns already on the books, up step The Respectables to keep the Detroit power pop flag flying high. Motown may not be getting much love from Washington DC these days, but it should be getting some from you as Sibley Gardens is another Detroit-based winner.

Like the bands mentioned above, The Respectables bring the characteristic Motor City grit to their power pop, and leadoff track and first single "Charged by the Minute" gets down to brass tacks right away - think Mitch Ryder meets Cheap Trick. The midtempo "Could It Be" allows Nick Piunti (who has the appropriately raspy voice for these tunes) & Company to show off their melodic gifts in service of a fine Westerbergian number. "To My Knees" is a retro-sounding gem that has some melodic elements in common with "Paint It, Black", and "When You Come Around" is a raucous rocker that still delivers the hooks. Other standouts include "Bottom of the Sea", an Oasis-style rocker, the staccato guitars (and ukelele!) of "From This Place", the bluesy hard rock of "Pick Your Poison" and "When You Gonna Be Mine", which closes the album not with a wimpy ballad but with another capital-D Detroit rocker.

So make sure you check out The Respectables. For only $11, you can help keep a Detroit industry afloat, and you get a rocking CD in return.

CD Baby | MySpace
The Respectables - Sibley Gardens

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Kickbacks Freebie!

While the title of this post may seem as if it has something to do with Rod Blagojevich, it's actually a free 5-song EP (or sampler, to be accurate) from The Kickbacks' Even The Blues disc, reviewed in this space a couple of weeks ago. They're giving the songs away for the rest of the month on their official site, so grab 'em while you can.

CD of the Day, 12/10/08: Rob Bonfiglio-Bring on the Happy

Rob Bonfiglio might not be a household name (at least in power pop households), but the bands he's been in are. A longtime member of Wanderlust and most recently in charge of The Skies of America (whose Shine was one of 2006's best), he now has his first proper solo disc out and he's going to Bring on the Happy for power pop fans everywhere.

Much as he did in The Skies, Bonfiglio has a power pop sound that's big - big choruses, big hooks, big melodies. It's kind of a cross between indie power poppers like The Meadows and Velvet Crush and big name artists like Matthew Sweet, Collective Soul and Oasis. "Nothing Will Hold You Down" jumps out of your speakers right away, with hints of poppy funk/R&B in the verses matched with a big rock chorus. "That's Alright" is a hooky rocker in the Matthew Sweet vein, while the midtempo piano-based "How to Mend a Heart" brings to mind artists such as David Mead and Randy & The Bloody Lovelies.

Meanwhile, "React" brings to mind an old test I've had for albums over the years. If the fourth song is right up with the first three, the odds are very strong that the album as a whole will be outstanding. By track #4, really good albums will hit a groove and develop a momentum of their own. By bringing this up, it should be no surprise that the rocking "React" passes this "fourth track test" with flying colors. The hooks continue relentlessly on "What You Need", which doesn't wear out its welcome at 5:41. Bonfiglio does a good job of mixing it up as "Straight From the Heart" follows, a wonderful Brian Wilson/Bacarachian number. The rest of the disc is sublime as well: the Rundgrenesque "The Best Is Yet to Come", the good time Stonesish rock of "Blow Me Away", and the wonderful closing ballad "Some Days are Better".

If I could boil this review down to one word, it would be "quality". Nothing even close to resembling a bad track, a professional sound, and just one hook after another. Power poppers everywhere can't ask for much more than this, and Bring on the Happy may be bringing on my top 10 (which reminds me, I need to get cracking on the year-end list).

CD Baby | MySpace
ROB BONFIGLIO - Bring On the Happy

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

New David Mead!

Longtime readers of this blog know what a David Mead fanboy I am, so I'm quite pleased to pass on the news that his new disc, Almost and Always, is available for download through NoiseTrade. Well, the first half of it at least (for now). Click on the widget below, and you get the option of a free download by telling five friends, or pay what you want. I'd urge the latter, since there are few artists more deserving.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Mini-review time.

I've accumulated several discs that I've been meaning to mention, so I'm going to catch up by giving them a sentence or two with the appropriate links. All are worthy of a listen:

The Crowd Scene-With Complete Glossary for Squares
. This Virginia band is back with their first disc in several years, and it's a wonderful example of pop with a British sensibility as the sound is a cross between Ray Davies, Elvis Costello and John Lennon. After that description, would it surprise you that the best track on the disc is titled "Edward Learjet"? CD Baby | MySpace | Stream at Official Site

Mike Pettry-The Voices in My Head. If you're in the mood for sardonic, quirky New York piano pop, Mike Pettry's your man. A listen to the title track will tell you where he's at, and there's even a song about checking SiteMeter to see how many visitors your site gets ("Hits"). CD Baby | Listen at Lala

Cherrystone-Our Life
. Fine Beatlesque EP from this London band (not to be confused with the plurally named Cherrystones). And when I say Beatlesque, I mean really Beatlesque. Unfortunately, their fab tunes are not found on MySpace, so you'll have to settle for the short CD Baby samples, although you can listen to "Our Life" at Lala. CD Baby | Two tracks at Lala.

Shane Barry & The Distractions-Radio Friction. This seems like one of those discs that's destined to be criminally overlooked (and I suppose I'm doing so as well by mentioning it here instead of a standalone review), as it's a genre-busting power pop disc of sorts. Rooted in a 70s sound, it's not just 70s-style power pop but pop with some R&B and punk mixed in as well. Opener "Let It Be Known" sounds like a lost FM classic, and the funky piano of "Kites" recalls McCartney's "Ninety Hundred and Eighty Five". A really cool album. CD Baby | MySpace | Listen at Lala

David Dewese-Make the Best of It
. In which the erstwhile frontman of The Luxury Liners and The Foxymorons goes solo, with satisfying results in that lead-singer-goes-solo kinda way. "Dear Self" has the makings of a classic, and "Without You" is the kind of laid-back number lead singers gone solo tend to excel at. Not quite the triumph of another southern power popper's contemporaneous solo debut (Greg Pope of Edmund's Crown), but still definitely worth your ear time. CD Baby | MySpace | Listen at Lala

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Thursday Roundup.

The Warm Fuzzies-The Bubblegum EP. Athens, Georgia is known for R.E.M. and a host of "college rock" bands, but it can produce some fine power pop as well. The Warm Fuzzies hail from Athens, and their debut Bubblegum EP is a treat. Aside from the physical disc itself which has a bubblegum scent, the songs are chewy and tasty as well. There's a bit of the Weezer about them, which is apparent in opening track "Hey, Milunka". Nor would it be shocking to know there are synths in "Space Invaders" or "All My Friends are Robots", the latter of which bears some Superdrag influence. And they ask the musical question that amazingly has not been asked until now: "Why Do Girls Wear Big Sunglasses?", which they rhyme with Onassis (as in Jackie). Did I mention this EP was a lot of fun?

CD Baby | MySpace

Magdalena-Magdalena. When I mention piano pop, I'm guessing that Ben Folds and his acolytes immediately spring to mind. Well, the California band Magdalena is piano pop, but more in the Coldplay/Keane manner. And that's a good thing here, as they just strive to write good songs without being smartalecky and all that. "The Resolution" is just a flat-out fine pop tune, and "A Chance to Follow" reminds me of Jay Ferguson's piano-based numbers in Sloan. "The One" boasts pop smarts as well, while "Come Inside" brings Jack McManus to mind and "Want You (Real Bad)" is similar in feel to Frank Ciampi and The 88. Magdalena may not be reinventing the wheel here, but there's something to be said for an unassuming, all-around, honest-to-goodness quality pop disc.

CD Baby | MySpace

Fawkes-Curiosity and Consequence. When I first came across this band, I assumed they had to be English, given their namesake, the failed revolutionary and mythic English figure Guy Fawkes. But no - they're as American as apple pie, hailing from SoCal. Still they don't sound Californian; they're much more in the Crowded House ballpark, and opening track "Drive You Home" is classic Finnpop (I'm talking Neil, not Finland). "Try It Again" continues in this vein, sounding like one of Finn's more rocking tracks on, say, Together Alone. "I Need Love" is a fine acoustic ballad, and the curiously titled "Mulch" is a rollicking piano pop number that has a hint of Jellyfish to it. This one nearly slipped by me, but I'm real glad it didn't.

CD Baby | MySpace | Listen at Lala

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

CD of the Day, 12/2/08: Your Gracious Host-Your Gracious Host

Flint, Michigan has been synonymous with documentary filmmaker Michael Moore and as ground zero for the economic blight that has hit the manufacturing sectors of the United States, but there is a flower in the dirt: Your Gracious Host, the new project from Flint singer/songwriter Tom Curless. YGH has fashioned one of the most audacious tricks in the music industry book - the double-disc debut album - and has pulled it off. Curless mixes indie pop and power pop to fine effect, and fans of Teenage Fanclub, The Shins, XTC and a host of other similarly minded and sounding bands will enjoy this generous offering.

The uptempo "Minutes=Hours" begins the proceedings, and it has a TF vibe; the densely melodic "Admit to Myself" recalls Elliott Smith; "Changed So Much" sounds a track off the Pernice Brothers' Yours, Mine & Ours album; The acoustic guitar-driven "The Big Leap" has a breezy, 70s feel; the power poppin' "Time to Spare" brings Robert Pollard to mind, while "Reaching Stars" is positively Posies-esque. And that's just the first disc.

Disc 2 rocks a bit more and features "I Feel Alright", a rootsy power pop number in manner of Marshall Crenshaw; the driving "Why You're Here"; the dreamy "Taking Time Away", which also channels The Posies; "Really Too Late", which brings a bit of Bob Mould into the mix; and closes with the lovely "Cloud In The Sky" which has a bit of a High Llamas/Cloud Eleven feel. All in all, there's 21 tracks here for the price of a single disc, and if they all don't work for you, odds are at least 2/3rds of them will. You'll want to RSVP to Your Gracious Host.

CD Baby | MySpace
Your Gracious Host - Your Gracious Host

Monday, December 01, 2008

CD of the Day, 12/1/08: The Well Wishers-Jigsaw Days

If power pop were like a sports league, Jeff Shelton might be the frontrunner for MVP. From his work in the The Spinning Jennies to his current role as frontman for The Well Wishers to his work in keeping the power pop flame alive through active participation in Audities and his podcast (The Power Pop Show), Shelton does it all in our neck of the woods. Although it seems like yesterday when Shelton formed The Well Wishers, the newly released Jigsaw Days marks the band's fourth full-length release and as usual, he delivers the goods.

The dominant sound for the Wishers is a midtempo jangly pop that finds its closest match in The Posies, especially as Shelton sounds like a cross between Ken Stringfellow and Jon Auer. "Heroes" jumps off the disc in much this manner, and if you have their previous releases, it's like putting on your favorite comfortable sweater. "All The Suckers" rocks harder than the average Well Wishers track, but that's a good thing here; "Conscience Breaking Down" throws a few melodic curves, with a light 80s britpop influence, and Shelton goes largely acoustic in "Florida", his ode to my home state, which is greatly appreciated if for no other reason than it's not the 48927898099th song about California. Elsewhere, the one-man-and-his-disorted-guitar sound of "Drunk on the Tilt-O-Wheel" recalls The Replacements' "Answering Machine", and Shelton really lets loose on his axe in "Moving Mountains" and "Love Lies" is pure jangly bliss. By the end, I really couldn't help but starting chanting "M-V-P", "M-V-P". I got some funny looks, but you had to be there.

CD Baby | MySpace | eMusic
The Well Wishers - Jigsaw Days

Friday, November 28, 2008

Black Friday Roundup.

Crazed Outlook-Double Talk. NYC's Crazed Outlook is back, and their sophomore effort following up 2006's Crazed Out is another disc worth your while. Much like the first disc, the operative sound here is Elvis Costello by way of John Wesley Harding as frontman Matt Crazed is a vocal ringer for the two (esp. Harding). Plenty of standout tracks here: opener "Casual Dating" looks at the practice with a jaundiced eye; "Society Says" is kind of a "Career Opportunities" for the 21st century; "Breakup Songs are Boring"'s title speaks for itself; and "Peer Pressure" extends the sensibility found throughout the disc. Fans of Graham Parker and The Figgs will want in on this one, too.

CD Baby | MySpace

The Kickbacks-Even the Blues. Dependability is an overlooked concept in music when we're all looking for the newest bright, shiny object. Even The Blues is the fifth disc from The Kickbacks, and it's another high-quality offering that might be their best yet. Despite hailing from Boston, Tad Overbaugh & Co. have the midwestern rock sound down, kind of a golden mean between Paul Westerberg and Tom Petty. It's not always easy to be rocking and tuneful, but The Kickbacks most certainly are. The one-two punch of "Figure You Out" and "Going Out to Get Home" tell you all need to know about the band, but they do throw in some twists. "Motel Stars" (the title of their previous disc) has some Stones-y swagger to it, "Getaway Car" is a gentle ballad in the vein of "Skyway", and "Isolation Blue" has a jangle to it. Kick back with the Kickbacks, you won't regret it.

CD Baby | MySpace

The Bigfellas-Chubbed Up. And now for something completely different. This San Diego band has a twisted take on pop, and while you wouldn't want your entire music collection to consist of discs like this, zero of them is too few. Where else do you get a hilarious gangsta rap take on golf (with the backing track being "Love's Theme"), "Mr. Blue Sky" played on banjos, the Gershwinesque romp "I Wish That I Were Gay" and the Francophile "Vous Ne Parlez Francais"? Nowhere, I tell you. So if you want to have a laugh, and a think, and hear some damn creative pop music in the process, get Chubbed Up with The Bigfellas.

CD Baby | MySpace