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

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

CD of the Day, 11/25/08: Birdwatchers of America-There Have Been Sightings

There's just something about the debut disc from Boston's Birdwatchers of America that defies categorization. First of all, is it an EP or a full-length? Nominally it's 13 tracks clocking in at 40 minutes, which sounds like a full-length. But 6 of the 13 tracks are spoken-word interstitials, so there are really only 7 proper songs here, which is more like an EP. And if the format classification is tricky, the sound is even more so. Not quite power pop, not quite jangle-rock, not quite classic rock, but not quite Americana, There Have Been Sightings may be tough to pin down genre-wise but is an outstanding accomplishment nonetheless.

After the first of six brief spoken-word musings on ornithology, "Rain Down The Chimes" bursts through the speakers with a classic sound that recalls birds spelled with a "y" instead of an "i", but not as jangly. There's a bit of the Third of Never and The Grip Weeds in this track, yet it stands on its own as melodic, atmospheric rock. "Ashes of the Sun" pushes the six-minute mark, but never wears out its welcome as it first appears a straightforward midtempo rocker but builds an interesting momentum. "The Boy Emperor and G.I. Joe" recalls Sound of Lies-era Jayhawks, when Gary Louris was attempting to channel Alex Chilton, and is another quality track. Elsewhere, "Save The Berlin Wall Committee Blues" also leans Americana, with more the feel of some of Wilco's more adventurous Mermaid Avenue outings; "Call From Virginia" is a 7-minute gem which makes me rethink my philosophy that the best pop songs shouldn't exceed 3-4 minutes, and the final proper track "My Stolen Bird" is another fine tune in the overall vein of the disc.

With its idiosyncratic retro-yet-new pop sound and loose concept, this disc has the makings of a pop cult classic that some tastemaker will unearth 10-15 years from now. But don't wait until then - grab what may turn out to be 2008's most singular pop release today.

CD Baby | MySpace | eMusic

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

CD of the Day, 11/19/08:The Hush Now-The Hush Now

The Hush Now are a three-piece out of Boston led by frontman/songwriter Noel Kelly, and they've crafted a quality debut that dabbles in indie pop, college rock, and power pop. In essence, they've distilled a classic 80s/early 90s sound that recalls Teenage Fanclub, The Posies, Guided by Voices, and even at times REM.

"Bedtime Stories", the first track after a brief intro, beings with TF harmonies and ends with a Psychedelic Furs vibe, while "Vancouver" also follows in That 80's Sound. "Sadie Hawkins' Dance" is the first single, and it's a bright uptempo track the recalls The Ocean Blue, and "Pining" is a real treat, a midtempo atmopsheric number where the Posies comparisons apply. Other standouts include "Traditions", a throwback to the early REM sound, and "Landlord and tbe Tenant", another uptempo winner.

If quality 80s-influenced indie pop is your thing, I'll just hush now and let you click on one of the links below:

CD Baby
| MySpace | "Sadie Hawkins Dance" mp3

Monday, November 17, 2008


I'm currently in the hospital with some adbominal issues, and if things go OK, I should be out around the end of the week. Just like the guy in the photo, I have my laptop and the hospital has wi-fi, so depending how I feel I may squeeze out a review during the week.

UPDATE 11/19: Getting out tomorrow. Thanks for all the well wishes!

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Three high-quality EPs to check out:

Sofa City Sweetheart-Sofa City Sweetheart. Sofa City Sweetheart is LA's J. Lopez, and his self-titled debut EP is a melodic marvel. The sound here is reminiscent of John Lennon, Elliott Smith, Jon Brion and independent poppers like Plasticsoul and Adrian Whitehead. "Good News for Jackie" is right out of the Brion playbook, and "Maria" is pure pop bliss with a bridge that sends the song to another level. "Julia (We Never Wanted You)" sounds like Elliott Smith in his Beatles phase (think "Baby Britain", and the breezy melody of "Sunflowers" begs for the whistling break about 2/3 of the way through. "The Magic Umbrella" completes the EP with its own magical mystery tour of sounds. Look for this one high up the year-end EP list.

CD Baby | MySpace | Listen at iLike

Justin Kline-Six Songs. Back in 2006, a group called The Heartstring Band put out a quality EP titled Aurora Songs Vol. 1, which to my surprise upon looking back at this site's archives was never mentioned here. I'll correct that oversight now, and note that the frontman of that band was Justin Kline, who now has an EP of his own out, and it's a leap forward for him. This is one of those EPs that jumps out of your speakers and grabs you by the lapels (or shirt collar) - as soon as you hear the chorus of "All I Need", you know you're in for a ride full of pop goodness. "Heart Attack" brings Roger Joseph Manning Jr. to mind (Kline has a somewhat similar voice), and "How I Became The Wind" recalls Manning's band (Jellyfish) as well as the aforementioned Adrian Whitehead. The influence of Jeff Lynne is at work in "Kaledioscope", while "Singing in the Air" and "Sunshine" close things out with more flawless power pop. An outstanding solo debut.

"Heart Attack" mp3 | MySpace | Listen at Lala

Paul Spencer & The Maxines-Either Sunset or Sunrise. Rounding out our trip of primo EPs is another artist that I've been remiss to mention on this site: Paul Spencer & The Maxines. They've put out a couple of no-nonsense, hard-poppin' garagey discs, most notably last year's Cut The Jive. Here they take a sonic left turn as the EP is largely acoustic and Americana-influenced. One of the bands they've been compared is to the Replacements, and they compare opener "Whatever Forever and Ever" to the Mats' "Answering Machine". It does have that same acoustic-punk quality to it, while "Sunny Town for Shady People" has a Tex-Mex feel to the proceedings. "Clara Bow" is a real stunner - an ode to a 1920s silent film star complete with a tasteful string section. Spencer breaks out the Rickenbacker on "Hurry Up & Wait", a Latin-tinged number, and the EP closes with "The Man With The 30 Second Memory" a 1:16 ditty that leaves you wanting more.

CD Baby | MySpace

Monday, November 10, 2008

CD of the Day, 11/10/08: The Bye Bye Blackbirds-Houses & Homes

Whenever an artist puts out a smashing EP, the inevitable cry is "bring on the full-length". San Francisco's The Bye Bye Blackbirds burst onto the scene in 2006 with the high-quality Honeymoon EP, and two years later, the full-length has arrived. Houses & Homes was worth the wait, as they build on the indie-pop/power pop sound of Honeymoon and take it to the next level.

"The Ghosts are Alright" leads off the disc, and the band is alright as well. A jangly number that's as much Byrds as Beulah, it never wears out its welcome at 5:02. The absolutely lovely "Shed The Skin" follows, reminiscent of Elliott Smith and complete with "Because"-like ethereal backing harmonies. "In Stereo" channels the Go-Betweens, while the plaintive "Edge of Town" brings to mind the mellower moments of Big Star such as "What's Going Ahn?". Elsewhere, "Original Streets" flirts with a Latin feel, especially with the trumpet, and "Leave a Light On" is a wondefully melodic indie pop number. Despite the horrible real estate market, these Houses & Homes are holding their value.

Kool Kat | MySpace | eMusic

Thursday, November 06, 2008

CD of the Day, 11/6/08: Charley Dush-September's Sun

As long-time readers of the site well know, my favorite genre after power pop is alt-country/Americana, so when an artist is at the junction of these two genres I definitely take notice. St. Paul's Charley Dush is one such artist, and he's refined his art to a craft here on September's Sun, his fourth album. Members and former members of such bands as The Jayhawks, Son Volt and The Honeydogs help Charley out here, and if your tastes run in the George Harrison/Tom Petty/Traveling Wilburys area, this disc is a real treat.

"Whiskey Mama" opens on the country side of things, all fiddle, honkytonk piano and sing-along choruses, while "Drug Test Blues" follows, reminiscent of a more uptempo "For You Blue". "Trouble" is just a flat-out great pop tune, with sweet harmonies and backing fiddles; "Come In From The Cold" is a midtempo roots number a la the Wilburys' "End of the Line", and "Maybe Mounds Park" is a Kinks-style rocker in a pensive key. Other highlights include the Beatlesque "Sorry", the rollicking "Jukebox Pulpit" and the trippy 5:44 closing title track, which gives Dush and his mates some room to strech out. Another winner from perhaps Popicana's most consistent artist.

CD Baby | MySpace

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

CD of the Day, 11/4/08: The Smith Bros-Restless

It may be Election Day in the USA, but forget Obama & McCain for a minute and cast your vote for The Smith Bros., who hail from the swing state of Ohio. Their new full-length Restless will take your ears in a landslide, without a hanging chad in sight. Now that I've dispensed with the electoral metaphors (had I done this another day, I would have gone the cough drop route), let me just say that this disc looks likely to be up there when the year-end list gets compiled.

Their sound is very reminiscent of Teenage Fanclub, with some Posies and a bit of Gin Blossoms/Tom Petty/heartland rock thrown in. If you don't hear the TF influence in the opening track, I'd tell you "How Wrong You Are", while the rocking "Down to You" brings to mind The Wallflowers and Minibar. "She's Under My Skin" has kind of a "Heartland Beatles" sound, and "Talk of the Town" betrays some Elvis C influence. Meanwhile, the straight-up power pop of "Every Day Gets Better" gets better with each listen, and "You Did It All" is another winner in the TF mold. Elsewhere, "Moments" is a more rocking Rembrandts-style track, and the midtempo "My Great Regret" has just the right mix of melancholy and melody to capture the song's mood. An outstanding disc from end to end, and fans of hyper-melodic pop will not be disappointed.

Jam Recordings | Not Lame | Kool Kat | MySpace

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Sunday Morning Roundup.

The Wellingtons-Heading North For The Winter. This fine Aussie band is now out with their third release, and I love the motto at their CD Baby page: "life's too short to listen to bad power pop". That's kind of the mission statement here as well, and you won't be wasting any precious minutes by giving this disc a spin. For the unfamiliar, The Wellingtons specialize in upbeat power pop, blending youthful exuberance with a classic sound, and Heading North For The Winter might be their best yet. The first five tracks blast out of the gate in their best The Argument-meets-Rooney sound; the sixth, "Natalie", is a gem as well, recalling Big Kid and Jellyfish. One high-tempo melodic gem after another.

CD Baby | MySpace | Listen at Lala

The Riffbrokers-Weight of Line and Intersection. This act from Washington state has always sported one of my favorite band names, and their excellent roots rock has consistently lived up to their moniker. If I could describe their sound in a sentence, I'd say it would be as if Elvis Costello grew up in the Pacific Northwest and fronted The Replacements. "Told You to Go" kicks things off with just the right mix of swagger, definance and yes, riffs; "Evaporate" is another barnburner, "Myth to Struggle With" shows they can take it down a notch and still deliver the goods, "Roy Orbison" pays tribute to the man in their own style, rather than trying to imitate the inimitable, and "End of All Things" is a standout closer. Riff On!

CD Baby | MySpace

Luke Jackson-...And Then Some. Here's a treat. Toronto's Luke Jackson hooked up with Magnus Börjeson of Beagle and Favorita, and went to Sweden to record this pop gem that will appeal to fans of the aforementioned band as well as anyone who likes smart, sophisticated, melodic pop. "Come Tomorrow" might be one of the songs of the year: an insanely catchy chorus, great melody and just overall pop perfection. The rest of the songs have a tough act to follow, but they come through as well: the laid-back "Trouble" has a fine Josh-Rouse-does-the-70s sound; Jackson dons a Cockney accent in the fun, uptempo "Goodbye London"; "Half a World Away" is a jangly number with definite Swedish influence; and "Longest Day" is a rocking power popper a la fellow Canadian Tal Bachman. Don't let this one slip by you.

CD Baby | MySpace