Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Lala embeds added.

Thanks to their becoming available on Lala subsequent to my original reviews, you can now listen to Valley Lodge's Semester at Sea and J.P. Cregan's Man Overboard in their entirety by scrolling down to the respective reviews below. A great way to spend the next hour and fifteen minutes or so.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Another freebie (and some drama) from Shake Some Action!

The day of freebies continues....

As mentioned earlier, Shake Some Action! is unveiling their new album as it's recorded, and track #3 (Fire and Ice) is now available at their blog.

But apparently frontman James Hall and Gary Miller have decided to go their separate ways from this point forward, as Hall explains:
It’s fair to say that the last song, Fire and Ice, triggered some fundamental changes in this project.

Firstly, Gary and I came to the realization our musical ideas weren’t as compatible as they once were, so SSA has reverted to a solo project again, as it was for the first record.

Secondly, it occurred to me that my contributions so far had a recurring theme of elements - Touch the Sky, Fire and Ice - that I wanted to explore further as some sort of theme throughout the record. What came to mind was exploring the idea of people’s apparent indifference to climate change - that maybe by the time everyone’s satisfied it’s actually happening it’ll be too late to do anything about it.

Maybe human civilization has come and gone many times before and on some deeper level we know that if climate change wipes us out, human life will always re-emerge through evolution. Or maybe we’re all just narcissists . . . .

How do I take those ideas and make power-pop songs out of them?

Stay tuned.

New Static in Verona EP (yours free!)

Freebie morning at Absolute Powerpop rolls on:

Last year's Static in Verona release, a side project from Ash Avenue frontman Robert Merz, was a favorite around these parts, so I'm happy to announce that he has offered up a new SiV EP for free download. Titled Life-Size Replica, it's inspired by his impending fatherhood, and can be downloaded from the band's official site.

Who said Mondays were depressing?

New Grand Atlantic single for download.

The Aussie band Grand Atlantic is back, set to release the followup to their excellent 2007 debut disc This is Grand Atlantic in June on Laughing Outlaw Records, but you can get the first single right now. Titled "She's a Dreamer", it's of a piece with their sound on the debut, a hybrid of Oasis (when they didn't suck) and Sloan.

Get it here:

Download "She's a Dreamer"

And as a curiosity, here's the band covering Beyonce's "Single Ladies" in concert:

Friday, April 24, 2009

Friday roundup.

Chris Swinney-Try This at Home. UK singer-songwriter Chris Swinney has released three previous albums but it wasn't until #4, Try This at Home, that he managed to catch my ear. Thanks to how good the new one is, I'll definitely be looking into the first three. Swinney offers up a singer/songwriter album, power pop style, in the vein of Richard X. Heyman or Bill Lloyd with a British sensibility. "Not Going Down" is pure melodic bliss, and the chiming guitars and catchy hooks of "Makes Me Feel Good" have burrowed their way into my head on a semi-permanent basis. Other highlights include the midtempo "Pull it Down" and the ballad "It Always Ends This Way". Contrary to the admonition of the album title, do try this one at home. Or in the car. Or at the office.

CD Baby | MySpace | iTunes

The Humbugs-On the Up Side. Another act that has a few releases under their belt that have gotten by me are the Minneapolis band The Humbugs. They're overlooked no more thanks to their wonderful new release On The Up Side. With male/female lead vocals and a smart pop sensibility, they draw inevitable comparisons to bands like The New Pornographers and AbPow fave The Cheeksters, but their sound is more straightforward pop. There's quality here from top to bottom, with "One More Day", "Employee of the Month", and the propulsive "Calico Eyes". Looks like I have another back catalog to sift through!

CD Baby | MySpace | iTunes

Brian Dilts-After the Dawn EP. Philly piano popper Brian Dilts' new EP After the Dawn has made my short list for 2009 EP of the year. Dilts has a more tasteful piano pop sound than the Ben Foldses of the world, and "Shadow Ball" and "Five Minutes Away" are perfect examples of his way with a melody, while "Free" does resemble Folds in sound if not sensibility.

CD Baby | MySpace | iTunes

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Expectations: Valley Lodge-Semester at Sea & Bob Evans-Goodnight, Bull Creek!

I've often thought about how expectations and preconceptions influence music (and other forms of art) reviews. There's no doubt they have an impact, as an artist's first album is judged on its own merits and in relation to the general sea of music in that genre, while the second album is inevitably compared to the first. In the case of an artist putting out a disc that is one of the best of its year, decade (or even all-time), the bar is set almost impossibly high and even a very good followup disc can come out looking relatively off by comparison.

Which brings me to two discs I've eagerly been awaiting. The first is Valley Lodge's Semester at Sea, the followup to their brilliant 2005 self-titled debut, which I recently declared the fifth best power pop album of all time*. So try topping that, guys! As it turns out, they really didn't try topping the first disc; instead, they created a somewhat different sound. Instead of a more traditional power pop sound with sugary and crunchy melodies (i.e., making Valley Lodge II), they've opted to go in a harder, faster, glam-rock direction. Although off-putting at first (hey, what happened to Dave Hill randomly going falsetto?), letting the album wash (or steamroll, to be more accurate) over me has quelled my original disappointment. There's plenty to love here: Opener "Break Your Heart" (which namechecks "Every Little Thing", the first disc opener), "The Door" (the best song Gary Glitter or Sweet never wrote), "When the Rain Comes", possibly the disc's best track with its big guitar riffs and lyrics of decadence ("been kissed/been pissed/got freaky at a brist"), "Baby It's a Shame" (probably the closest cousin to the debut), the gloriously catchy "My Baby" and the rifftastic "Comin' Around". An interesting choice here is the (apparently) unironic cover of "Sentimental Lady"; it's a bit out of place but well-executed nonetheless. So while they didn't manage the near-impossible task of topping themselves, Valley Lodge has nevertheless topped about 90% of what's out there in the power pop genre right now, and will be up there at year's end.

CD Baby | MySpace

Bob Evans' 2006 release Suburban Songbook may not have been the all-timer that Valley Lodge was, but it was still my #1 disc of that year. Unlike Valley Lodge, Evans has charted the same course with his new release, Goodnight, Bull Creek!. Once again, he's enlisted genius producer Brad Jones and the overall sound is quite similar to Suburban Songbook. Which means you'll get tuneful tracks in the manner of Neil Finn, Josh Rouse (before he went to Spain) and David Mead (before he got all show-tuney) with a twinge of Americana (Australiana?). "Someone So Much" is the kind of folky ballad that Evans is a master at; "Pasha Bulker" is an uptempo treat that reminds me of Rouse's "Winter in the Hamptons", and "Hand Me Downs" is as good as anything on Songbook, with a backing piano riff and harmonica that gives the chorus a Stevie Wonder/"Don't You Worry Bout a Thing" feel. Elsewhere, "Your Love" is a bright, sunny track; "We're a Mess" rocks with a busy background, and "Power of Speech" is a lovely ballad with a bossa nova sound. Evans has done it again, and while there may not be a "Friend" or "Comin' Around" here, like Valley Lodge he's going to be high on the year-end list. (Like Suburban Songbook, this disc isn't being released domestically in the USA initially; expect it to show up at some point, though, at least through iTunes).

MySpace | Listen at official site

*Astute observers will note that despite considering Valley Lodge the fifth-best power pop album of all-time, it only placed #11 on my 2005 year-end list. A couple of caveats: it came out very late in the year (around Thanksgiving), and while Derby's This is the New You was my favorite album during 2005, VL is obviously now my favorite album of 2005.

Friday, April 17, 2009

CD of the Day, 4/17/09: The Campbell Stokes Sunshine Recorder-Makes Your Ears Smile

If you're a hardcore power pop fan, you've probably found yourself asking "Whatever happened to Bronco Bullfrog?" If you're not, you might be asking "Who the heck is Bronco Bullfrog?" Either way, it's news that Bronco Bullfrog's Andy Morten is back, this time with his new project The Campbell Stokes Sunshine Recorder. The band's name comes from an actual 19th century device that was used to measure sunlight, and the name of the album comes from the feeling you'll get after listening to this disc.

Picking up where Bronco Bullfrog left off, Morten & Co. offer a brand of winning British-influenced paisley power pop. The highly meta "Track One" finds Morten lamenting (or celebrating) that he's "too poppy for rock'n'roll" and giving a tongue-in-cheek rundown of his music set to a classic power pop beat. "She Looks Good in the Sun" sounds good on the disc, keeping the promise Morten makes in "Track One" about being true to his pop self, and "Tony Hazzard" is a tuneful Kinksian character sketch about a wannabe pop star complete with kazoo. Elsewhere, "Bye Bye Mrs. Bumble" is a mid-period McCartney Beatles-style track by way of The Monkees, and speaking of McCartney, "Everybody Loves the Good Times" is an "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey"-style pastiche that sounds like several song fragments rolled into one.

On the back end of the disc, "Olivia's Plaything" is a jangly midtempo featuring some "woo hoos", "TV Jingle Man" sounds about how you'd expect, uptempo and catchy, and closer "No Name #7" is a largely acoustic cap on the proceedings that serves as a fitting bookend to "Track One". All in all, if you want a melodically bright and extremely catchy disc that isn't afraid to poke fun at itself, Andy Morten's The Campbell Stokes Sunshine Records will, in fact, make your ears smile.

CD Baby | MySpace

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

CD of the Day, 4/15/09: J.P. Cregan-Man Overboard

As those who subscribe to my Twitter feed might know, I'm big into fantasy sports as well as power pop. But never the twain shall meet - or so I thought until I ran into the debut release of LA's J.P. Cregan. For those into fantasy basketball (I'm a baseball and football guy myself), you may know him as ESPN's John Cregan, who writes a column on the topic at But to those in the power pop community, you'll be knowing him as J.P. and you'll be enjoying his debut release Man Overboard as one of the top singer/songwriter discs of 2009.

Cregan isn't a musical novice - he's played in several bands and is currently in Parklane Twin, a "Popicana" band who put out a fine 2007 disc. But on his solo debut he emphasizes the pure pop (for now people) and it's all catchy as hell. Although opener "Carolyn (The Pledge Drive)", with its Nick Lowe/Brian Jay Cline-style country/roots vibe, might be lumped in with his band work, it's a springboard to the power pop stylings of "Count to Three" and "Barbara is Strange", perhaps the album's best track - pure ear candy with Beatlesque backing vocals, tambourines, fine Telecaster work, and a great melody.

That opening three might be worth the price of admission alone, but the hits just keep on coming. "Jeni", with its "Misery"-style tumbling piano chords, a Costello/Lowe melody and chiming British Invasion guitars, is another standout. "Out of Our Minds", with its Spectorish opening, is a treat, "Miss Highland Park" lays on the handclaps as it recalls Marshall Crenshaw, "Shouldn't Take it (So Hard)" rocks a la Matthew Sweet, and "Winter of '85" both namedrops and serves as an answer song to Bryan Adams' "Summer of '69". The disc ends on a high note with "The Underdog", another outstanding Elvis Costello-inspired track. In the vernacular of fantasy sports, Man Overboard is a no-brainer first-round pick, a power pop equivalent of Albert Pujols, Adrian Peterson or LeBron James.

CD Baby | MySpace

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

New Seldon Plan on the way.

Baltimore's indie pop/rockers The Seldon Plan, a favorite on these pages, are getting ready to release their third disc next month. Titled Lost and Found and Lost, its title track is now available as a free download from their official site, and they also have a great deal ($5) on the new CD for a limited time.

Get it here.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Monday roundup.

Mike Gent-Mike Gent. The Figgs' singer/guitarist goes solo and the results are promising. While in band mode Gent & Co. can be rocking and raucous, here he goes for a more laid-back rootsier sound. "(Romantic Needs Led To) False Alarms" recalls Salim Nourallah in its spare but tuneful production, while "Paper Knives" brings Dylan and Elvis Costello to mind. But the real highlight is "Haste & Wrath", which builds on its simple "Picture Book"-style guitar riff to hypnotically catchy effect. An old-school disc which Gent compares to Rod Stewart's Never a Dull Moment and Pete Townshend & Ronnie Lane's "Rough Mix", it certainly captures the spirit of those two classics.

CD Baby | iTunes

The Milk & Honey Band-Dog Eared Moonlight. Released on Andy Partridge's Ape House Label, the Milk & Honey Band's second album will appeal to XTC fans, provided they go more for "Chalkhills and Children" rather than "The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead". In other words, the more (to use a word invoked in virtually every other review of this disc) "pastoral" sound of XTC. This is great rainy day music, from the spare opener "Just You" to the pedal steel-drenched "No World at All" to the quintessentially British "Maryfaith Autumn". While not quite as immediate as their debut The Secret Life Of..., it's still a grower worthy of your time.

MySpace | iTunes

Clockwise-Faders on Stun. This Toronto band matches the cartoony flair of their album cover with a cartoony flair to their power pop, which recalls Sloan (opener "Opposites Attract"), Elvis Costello & the Attractions ("Boomtown"), and The Odds ("Upside Down"). Other standouts include the hypercatchy "You Really Got Me Goin'" and "If You Don't Want Love (I Must Be Wrong)". They even get environmentally conscious on "Water on the Moon". Good stuff.

CD Baby | MySpace | iTunes

Thursday, April 09, 2009

New Maple Mars Video.

Maple Mars has a new album on the way (yay!) and here's a video for a new song, "Transcendental Guidance". Quality tune.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Midweek 3-pack.

Terry Anderson & The Olympic Ass-Kickin' Team-National Champions. Lock the doors. Hide the children. Terry Anderson and his Olympic Ass-Kickin' Team are back and ready to wreak havoc on the power pop landscape once more. Anderson's been deeply involved in southern power pop and rock'n'roll for a couple of decades now, and this is his second go-round with the OAK Team (not counting their live disc). 2005's self-titled debut was a roots-pop masterpiece, and the followup ain't half bad either. This time around Terry takes to task Barry Bonds ("Willie Mays"), empty-headed jingoism ("Pow'ful 'Merka"), and women who won't shut up ("Indy 500"), all in his southern-fried Rockpile/NRBQ style. And where else but a Terry Anderson album are you going to find a track titled "You Had Me at Get Lost"? I defy you to listen to National Champions without cracking a smile.

CD Baby | MySpace

The Test Dream-The Test Dream. These Long Island lads take their name from the title of a Sopranos episode and their sound from a variety of pop sources. Sounding both classic and contemporary, they have a way with effortless-sounding melodies on their debut EP like the leadoff track "Open Wide" (think a less precious Shins) and "Directing Traffic" (reminiscent of Justin Kline's AbPow top EP of last year). Elsewhere, "Look for the Boy" has a Brill Building feel and "Shadows in the Dark" somehow manages to combine the Beatles, Motown and handclaps in one song. A promising debut, and an early EP of the year contender.

CD Baby | MySpace | iTunes

Dipsomaniacs-Social Crutch. Kool Kat and Not Lame have gotten lots of deserved praise for being top-notch power pop labels, but not to be overlooked is New Jersey's FDR Records, who quietly have been releasing a stream of fine releases from bands like The Successful Failures and Blank Pages. In fact, you could say there's an "FDR Sound": no-nonsense, straight-up, rock-oriented, garage-style powerpop that draws on bands like The Replacements and The Who. And nobody is more emblematic of that sound than the Dipsomaniacs, back with their sixth release here. On Social Crutch, the Dipsos hit quite a few high notes: the opening track "Together We Can Rule the World", which merges the sound of fellow Jersyians Fountains of Wayne and The Smithereens; the revved-up and highly catchy "Oh Jose", and the first song I've heard about army brats, "Kids on Base". Rock on!

CD Baby | MySpace | iTunes

Monday, April 06, 2009

CD of the Day, 4/6/09: The Alice Rose-All Haunt's Sound

It's become apparent I've been doing this a while when I'm doing more and more reviews of second discs of bands I've discovered since starting this blog. The latest example is Austin's The Alice Rose, whose wonderful 2006 debut Phonographic Memory has been followed up by their equally wonderful sophomore release All Haunt's Sound.

The Alice Rose has a lush sound that falls between indie pop and power pop, but whatever the categorization, the common denominator is their highly melodic songcraft. The disc opens brightly with "She Did Command", which has a Jon Brion/Michael Penn feel to it, while the jittery beat of "Waste Away" sounds a bit like how Spoon would sound if they were guitar-based instead of piano-based. "Maybe a Ride" would be the obvious choice for the "single" from the disc if singles were a viable format these days, with its bright melody and uptempo sound. The Beatlesque "Slumberella" is another winner, and the joyous "It's All Allowed" will set your toes to a-tappin'. If you like your pop with a little bit of a sophisticated edge, The Alice Rose is perfect for you.

CD Baby | MySpace | iTunes

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Wednesday 3-pack.

The Library-The Life and Times of Rosa Lee. Back around the turn of the century, North Carolina's Mayflies USA were one of the top quality power pop acts going. They broke up several years ago, and now their members are gradually re-assimilating into the music world. We found Adam Price in Hundred Air, and now here's ex-Mayfly Matt Long hooking up with Jason Caperton to form The Library. Their debut EP The Life and Times of Rosa Lee is a real treat, with a sound that draws on Elliott Smith (especially on the title track), Jon Brion and Joe Pernice as well as the Mayflies. Opener "Wish I Knew" is a gem, featuring Long's angelic vocals and a little bit of lap steel. Other standouts include "Club Amnesia" and "Nothing to Lose", which reminds me of the Sofa City Sweetheart EP from late last year.

CD Baby | MySpace | iTunes

Matt Miller-EP and EP II. LA rocker Matt Miller may have a nondescript name, but his music is anything but. He's put out two EPs over the last couple of years and taken together they make a fine album equivalent. EP #1 was produced by the legendary Jack Douglas (who produced John & Yoko's Double Fantasy, Aerosmith's classic 70s discs and discovered Cheap Trick for starters) and it has a radio-ready sheen. Reminiscent of AbPow favorite Josh Fields as well as mainstream acts like Fastball and Semisonic, Miller starts off strong with the instantly catchy "Anytime at All", and "Nowhere, Somewhere, Anywhere" is a midtempo delight.

EP II is a more intimate extension of the first, opening with the very catchy acoustic-based "You're There Somewhere", featuring the Ryan Adamseque "The Question Still Remains" and closing with the anthemic "The Whole Night Through". Miller has now formed a band called Graydon, and I'll be looking forward to their first release.

CD Baby (EP I) | CD Baby (EP II) | MySpace | iTunes (both EPs)