Monday, August 31, 2009

Two for Tuesday, 9/1/09

Evan Hillhouse-Transition. Evan Hillhouse was one of the finds of 2006, when at 17 he pulled off an assured, tuneful self-titled debut. The future looked bright, and now it's here as his followup Transition finds him taking a step forward with a new backing band (The Shrines) and 10 poptastic tracks. Hillhouse takes his cue from the Jon Brions, Jim Boggias and Jason Falkners of the world, and there's plenty to like here, from the sprightly piano pop of "You Can't Ask That Much" to the Falkneresque "Running Out of You" to the quiet/loud of "Strangers" and the sunshine pop of "Everybody Knows". Hillhouse also demonstrates facility on the ballads as well; "Let's Change Our World" and "A Day or Two" are gorgeous. And things close out in fine fashion with "Save Yourself", a piece of baroque pop that would make Jellyfish proud.

Not Lame | Kool Kat | MySpace

Gerard Masters-Spin EP. The debut EP from this Aussie is a real treat, as Masters has gone from jazzman (as the Gerard Masters Trio) to popper here, citing his growing up with the sounds of Neil Finn and Split Enz. Finn no doubt would appreciate the outstanding title track, a slice of pop goodness with a killer chorus that screams out for radio airplay. Not a dud to be found elsewhere on this EP - "Hey Stargazer" is a midtempo treat, "She Runs" is a punchy pop/rocker, and "Home Away from Home" is an acoustic guitar-and-piano number with sweet harmonies. No "Spin" here - this is yet another great 2009 EP.

CD Baby | MySpace

Here's a video for "Spin":

Friday, August 28, 2009

CD of the Day, 8/28/09: Vinyl Candy-Land

They don't make albums like this any more. (OK, they do, but they're hard to find, which is why I've been blogging here for the past 3 1/2 years). Land is a rarity - a power pop concept album, and it's about the rise and fall of a rock star with the titular name. But to work as a power pop concept album (unlike concept albums in other genres), the individual songs need to stand up as well and here they do.

Vinyl Candy is from LA, and they're Californian through and through. In 2004, they released the outstanding Pacific Ocean Park, which is a must-have for any power popper. Land is their followup, and it's been a painstaking process as this album has been billed to be released at any time over the past couple of years and is finally seeing the light of day. It's an ambitious project and thankfully their reach hasn't exceed their grasp for the most part as they bring hints of touchstones from The Beach Boys to Jellyfish to the table.

After a 20-second cacophony of random sounds, things start off with "I'll Be Fine (Part One)", a bouncy pop number that recalls Jellyfish and their SoCal brethren, Big Kid. The brash "Fan Club History" finds our hero acquiring a fanbase, and "All Along the Way" is a tuneful rocker with some quality guitar work. The Rundgren-esque "Chasing Time" (teamed with a reprise of "I'll Be Fine") features minor keys and synths as Land starts to get the blues over his new life of travel, while "California (Part 2)" - there is no part 1 - serves a fever dream of the idyllilc life left behind for our hero.

The midway point of the disc gives us the winning "Gasoline & Tangerines", which finds the hitherto unfound sweet spot between Jellyfish, Supertramp and Everclear, and the breezy melody of "Living a Lie", which mixes a little 70s Philly soul into the mix. Meanwhile, "Star Struck" is the homage/ripoff of Led Zeppelin's "Trampled Under Foot" that's been sitting out there for 35 years, and the Zep imagery is perfect to illustrate how "Land" has become a jaded, burned-out rocker. The anthemic, cleansing "Want it So Bad" finds our hero downsizing and getting back to basics, and the instrumental "Synthetic Therapy" could serve as the score to the story should it ever be filmed. Things come full circle to close out the album (and the story) with "I'll Be Fine (Part 2)", which recasts the original version as a drunken singalong performed in an intimate venue. One can almost see the "Puppet Show and Spinal Tap" sign in his or her mind's eye.

As I said out at the outset, they don't make too many of 'em like this any more, so make sure you give this a listen all the way through to get the full effect. You'll be glad you did.

CD Baby | MySpace | iTunes

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Two for Tuesday, 8/25/09

Jon Auer & Cheap Star-Two for the Money. A very intriguing split EP between the Posies power pop legend and the upstart French band fresh off their Posie-esque debut Speaking Like an Elephant. Each act contributes one new song and a pair of covers to the mix, and the result is a must-get for Posies fans everywhere. Auer's contributions include the new track "Northern Sky", a fine track that mixes the classic Auer/Posies sound with a bit of Morrissey, and a cover of Say Hi to Your Mom's "Pop Music of the Future", right in Auer's wheelhouse with its insistent acoustic guitar. Cheap Star, meanwhile, gives us the original "Not My Friend", a dense, melodic rocker that fits right in with Auer's work, and a rollicking cover of Gene Clark's "Changing Heart". But the most interesting touch is that each covers the other as well here; Auer tackles Cheap Star's "You Got it All", while Cheap Star gives its take on Auer's "Josephine", making the synergy complete. Just as The Posies seamlessly stepped in for Chris Bell in the reunited Big Star, I could easily see Cheap Star stepping in for Auer or Stringfellow in 10-15 years if either is unwilling or unable to participate in a Posies reunion.

CD Baby | MySpace

Alan Windram-10 o'clock in the Morning. Windram describes his sound as "melodic, sun-kissed Scottish Americana" and who am I to argue? Fans of Daniel Wylie, his Cosmic Rough Riders, Teenage Fanclub and The Primary 5 will want to check out this disc. Highlights include the TF-ish "Someday", the catchy "Crazy Girl", the jangly "Under Her Spell", and "Out of My Head", the excellent uptempo rocker which closes out the album. A promising solo debut from the ex-Splendid Scotsman.

CD Baby | MySpace | eMusic

10 O'clock In The Morning - Alan Windram

Sunday, August 23, 2009

CD of the Day, 8/23/09: Barnett/Gurley-Evidence

Jangle lovers and lovers of harmony, you're in for a treat. Mike Barnett, the Missourian whose 2006 release Nowhere Tennessee was featured on this site, has teamed up with kindred spirit Dennis Gurley to release Evidence and answer the music question, "What if the Everly Brothers were jangle poppers?"

Barnett on his previous albums has managed to meld a sound that's equal parts George Harrison/Badfinger and Steve Forbert/Bobby Sutliff, and with Gurley, a similarly-styled roots rocker on board, the synergy here is on a level with what Seth Swirsky and Mike Ruekberg did with The Red Button. The proceedings begin with the laid-back, silky-sounding "Elusive Smile", fronted by Barnett, followed by Gurley's "Need a Little Sunshine", a jangly number that also features some fine slide guitar work from Barnett. "She's a Mystery" is a wonderful acoustic-based number that gets double duty on the disc, with both Barnett's fully-produced version and a version of the song with Gurley on vocals as a bonus track.

The guys really hit their stride with the best track on the disc, the aptly-titled "Jingle Jangle", in which they trade vocals and harmonies awash in 12-sting guitars and harmonica. Pure jangly bliss. Elsewhere, the spunky "Hard Thing to Do" brings to mind the recently-reviewed Brian Jay Cline, "A Little at a Time" is positively Byrdsian (Sweetheart of the Rodeo-era Byrds that is), and "You Saved Me" is top-notch balladry from Barnett. The album closes with Gurley's excellent "Somebody Else", another jangly standout. Hopefully, this review will be all the Evidence you need to avail yourself of this understated treat.

CD Baby | MySpace

Here's a video for "Somewhere Else", peformed live:

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Three for Thursday, 8/13/09

Grand Atlantic-How We Survive. The Aussies with the big pop/rock sound are back with the followup to 2007's This is Grand Atlantic, and they've managed another disc that will lodge its tunes in your head and give your speakers a workout. Oasis, Sloan and Cheap Trick are the bands that come to mind when describing their sound, and there are plenty of great tracks to choose from on this sophomore effort. You could start at the beginning with "Coast is Clear" with its dense guitar sounds and insinuating melody, or with the synths and handclaps of the catchy FoW-esque "Tripwires", or with the Oasis-styled "She's a Dreamer". Then go from there to the classicist power pop of "Freeway", the languid title track, or the raucous "Holding Pattern". No duds here, and most certainly no sophomore jinx.

CD Baby | MySpace | iTunes

Michael Gross & The Statuettes-Dust and Daylight EP. First Lamar Holley and now Michael Gross - it's a veritable flood of Utah poppers. Formerly with The Brobecks, Gross caught my ear with his solo disc Tales from a Country Home last year, and now has formed a new band to release Dust and Daylight. Gross & Co. fit into the pop/rock/Americana mix, with a hint of the Wallflowers about them. "I've Been Wrong Before" rocks with a distinct Western feel; "Stone Face" recalls the Old 97's, while "Novocaine" does the straight-ahead rock thing quite well. The Year of the Quality EP rolls along.

Stream & Buy Here | MySpace

Broken Promise Keeper-Ice Cold Pop. Broken Promise Keeper is the Atlanta-area's Rob Stuart, who keeps cranking out the power pop each year with now his third release. He kind of has a retro-80s power pop sound, bringing to mind Shoes, Let's Active, R.E.M. and adds a level of wit and whimsy to the proceedings. Tracks you'll want to check out below: "I Blame James" (in which a series of famous James are blamed for our narrator's shortfalls), the exuberant "Kristine", and the Beatlesque "Worship from Afar". Good pop that goes down smooth.

CD Baby | MySpace | iTunes

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

CD of the Day, 8/11/09: Throwback Suburbia-Throwback Suburbia

Heads up, power poppers! Portland's Throwback Suburbia returns with the followup to their fine 2006 release Eight Tracks, and has taken a great leap forward. Their self-titled second album is an instant contender for the upper reaches of year-end lists, and truly represents what most people think of as "power pop".

Their influences range from Jellyfish to The Tories to Velvet Crush as well as Cheap Trick, and they get your attention right away with "Private Oasis"; this track has it all, from clever lyrics to crunchy guitars to some nice piano fills (think The 88's "Hide Another Mistake"). "Asking Why" recalls The Raspberries, "Rewind" The Tories, and with its sprightly piano and quirky melody, "Head Over Heels" is straight out of the Jellyfish playbook.

Elsewhere, with its manic beat and sweet harmonies, "Say When" could be mistaken for solo Jason Falkner; "Perfectly Okay" adds sitars and snyths to the mix a la Fountains of Wayne, and "You'll Never Know" is a power ballad that pulls out all the stops (solo piano, strings, plaintive slide guitar solos) and builds to a satisfying crescendo that would make Rick Nielsen proud. The bottom line is that this disc features one killer track after another, and deserves to be right up there with other classics of the genre.

CD Baby | MySpace

(Not in digital distribution yet - another apparent victim of the CD Baby website changeover fiasco - so listen to the tracks on MySpace and get the CD itself)

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Three for Thursday, 8/6/09

The Offbeat-To the Rescue EP. The Year of the EP continues as another outstanding one comes down the pike, this time from the Brit popsters The Offbeat, whose self-titled debut last year was a real treat. If you liked that disc, then you'll love this EP as it serves up more of the same Merseyside, early Beatles pop without being too retro. "She Can Make the Sunshine" lives up to its name as glorious sunshine pop, "Someday Somehow" uses the "Bo Diddley" beat to nice effect, and "Blue Sky" is jangly goodness. I don't think there's any doubt this year I'm going to be doing at least a top 20 EP list at year's end rather than usual top 10.

CD Baby | Official Site | iTunes

The Offbeat EP

The Pundits-Echo Chamber. You won't be seeing these pundits on CNN, MSNBC or Fox News; these guys dispense with the hot air and instead just bring you straight ahead power pop and rock with some jazzy elements throw in. Coming across at times like a cross between Elvis Costello and The Replacements with a touch of the New Pornographers, this Minneapolis band delivers quality tunes with crunch. "In Books" demonstrates this aesthetic, while "Locate Me" adds a 70s sheen to their sound. Other standouts include the new-wavy "Surface Tension", the angular rock of "Gold Approach" and the classic sound of "Take Another Look at Your Man". Always nice to see a bit of a twist on the power pop/rock template.

CD Baby | MySpace | iTunes

David England-Little Death. We namechecked Elvis Costello as an influence in the review above, but he definitely comes more to mind here in the sound of this Indiana native's second album. England has a voice and a sound that could be described as the golden mean of Costello, Dave Edmunds and Graham Parker. Fans of those artists will love the Rockpile-like opener "You Don't Have To" as well as "Don't Go Back", which has a bit of a country touch a la Brinsley Schwarz. After those two fine opening tracks, the hits just keep on coming: "Catch Your Breath" sounds like King of America-era Costello, "Out of the Blue" sports a breezy pop melody, and "Not Today" introduces some jangle to the mix. It's a must-have for fans of this classic style of power pop.

CD Baby | MySpace | iTunes

Little Death by David England

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

CD of the Day, 8/4/09: The Shazam-Meteor

News like this doesn't get any better for a power pop fan. Not only is The Shazam back with a new disc, but it's the first new release on the Not Lame label in over two years (not counting the IPO comps which bear their imprint). Of course the wait has been longer for Shazam fans - Meteor is their first since 2002's Tomorrow the World. The Shazam is Power Pop with a capital "P" (or "PP"), and it's all here: crunchy guitars, power chords, hooky melodies, a touch of glam, and just enough attitude.

The disc opens with "So Awesome", which aside from serving as a two-word condensed version of this review, is the calling card to let you know that The Shazam is truly back. Frontman/Guitarist Hans Rotenberry (great name) pulls out all the rock-star moves on this killer track, and the sound behind the track can be traced all the way from T. Rex to Sloan. The midtempo "Don't Look Down" follows, a winner with its psychedelic flourishes and Beatlesque feel and "NFU" (which stands for "Not F----d Up - enough") rocks with the attitude its title implies. "Disco @ the Fairground" isn't quite what its title implies, but it's a refreshingly goofy glam number that recalls Queen in its mid-70s heyday.

"A Little Better" kicks off the midsection of the album, and its acoustic guitars and early 70s vibe make it sound like a lost classic rock tune from the bastard child of Led Zeppelin and The Move. "Always Tomorrow" features an easygoing melody in support of some rocking moves and recalls Big Star, and "Let it Fly" is the power pop equivalent of those quiet/loud tunes that the Pixies and Nirvana were well known for.

The final third of the disc sees them go in a Ramones-with-more-melody direction ("I Got the Bomb"), the glam rock theme for an imaginary superhero ("Latherman") and the double-entendre rock of "Time 4 Pie". All in all, it's the perfect return for a long-lost power pop staple and a long-lost power pop label. A definite year-end contender.

Not Lame | MySpace | iTunes

Meteor [album] by The Shazam