Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Midweek Roundup.

First IN Space-Greatest Hits Vol. III. Since we last left Ohio's First in Space with 2009's Geronimo, frontman Johnny Stanec released a couple of decent solo records which it appears I didn't review on the site but would still recommend. Now he's back with First in Space with the cheekily-titled Greatest Hits Vol. III, the band's third album. Whereas the band's first two albums were more in the vein on Gin Blossoms & R.E.M., Vol. III finds Stanec & Co. in a more rocking mood. The first three song titles ("Downtown War", "Kicking Through the Door", and "Drinking With Enemies") are indicative of their new-found tougher sound, more in line with The Replacements. The first two of these recall the gritty-rock-with-melodies of the 'Mats, while "Drinking With Enemies" has a mature pop-punk sound not unlike Green Day. The overall result is one tight rocker after another (no power ballads, thank you) until the mid-tempo closer "Moonlight Graham", a tribute to the obscure baseball player made famous in Field of Dreams, and which harkens back to the earlier First in Space sound. Maybe they should have titled this "Greatest Rockin' Hits Vol. III". Either way, it's a must for fans of Replacements-style rock.

CD Baby | iTunes

Sports Fan-Shallow Water EP. Sports Fan is the latest project from Aussie piano popper Dion Read, who gave us a couple of top-notch EPs in the latter half of the previous decade. The title track, featuring guest vocals from Jen Boyce, is a melodic gem that should be a big hit in a just universe, "Little White Lies" sounds like it should have come off the first Ben Folds Five album with its high energy and frat-boy byplay, and "Social Butterfly" is an epic-sounding ballad that's a nice complement to the two tracks before it. This is excellent piano pop, and you can name your price for it at Bandcamp.

Bandcamp | iTunes

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

New Valley Lodge video (and album on the way)

Dave Hill & company are back, set to release their third album as Valley Lodge. I've gone on record as stating their 2005 debut might be my favorite power pop album of all-time, and while 2009's Semester at Sea found them mostly turning to glam rock, it was still a fun album and some of the high points on that album rivaled the high points of the debut. They're releasing Use Your Weapons on September 3, and I'll have a review up around that time. (SPOILER ALERT: It's a return to the form - and sound - of the debut). To get you amped up, here's a typically amusing video from the boys (Hill's daytime job is professional funnyman) for "Go":

"Go" by Valley Lodge from KobiyoshiViewing on Vimeo.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Friday Roundup.

The Junior League-You Should Be Happy. Joe Adragna has had a bit of a musical identity crisis. After releasing two top-notch discs as The Junior League in the latter half of the last decade, Adragna re-released the Junior League material under his own name and then gave us 2010's fine Fall Back. He's even called himself Parlophony from time to time. But now he's dusted off The Junior League name for his latest collection of tunes, and the famous Shakespeare quote about roses and names comes to mind as You Should Be Happy continues Adragna's string of excellent releases. As on Fall Back he's assisted by Scott McCaughey, which dovetails perfectly with his Marshall Crenshaw-meets-R.E.M. sound and opener "Keep it Home" with its roots-pop sound and prominent harmonica is its exemplar. The jaunty piano-backed "Hey Misery" is both Brian Wilson-esque and Beatlesque, and the lovely, lightly-jangly "One Step Forward (Another Step Back)" finds Adragna just as home with more introspective numbers. And the legendary Susan Cowsill adds vocals on the raved-up title track and the gorgeous ballad "I Don't Think I'm Kidding (This Time)". So many of the artists I feature on this site are deserving of a much wider audience, but Adragna's songcraft and musicianship really ought to have him prominent in the adult-alternative/Austin City Limits circle of music today. I'll take him over Mumford or any of Mumford's sons.

CD Baby | iTunes

Bobby Emmett-Brighter Days (Mono Edition). Bobby Emmett came out of nowhere, wowing us with 2009's Learning Love, making my top 10 that year. Instead of making that Brendan Benson-meets-Big Star type of album again, Emmett has gone full retro on this one, releasing it in mono and making it sound like it came out in 1966. (The album is billed as the "mono edition", but I don't know if a stereo edition is in the cards or not). Brighter Days is full of mid 60-style reverb, British Invasion guitars and the like, and it's a groovy treat. "Poison Love" kicks things off with a bang - there's even a break where Emmett screams "Yeaaahhh!" - and immediately segues into "Stay All Night", which sounds like a lost early-Beatles track. Elsewhere, the Kinks-ian "Never Take Me Alive" is another standout, as is the Strawberry Alarm Clock-like title track. Brighter Days does such a good job of capturing the essence of 1960s rock that I almost hope there isn't a stereo edition.

iTunes | Listen at Spotify

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Tuesday Roundup.

Nick Capaldi-The Golden Summer EP. Nick Capaldi is a singer-songwriter from the south of England who had a quality full-length release in 2012 that I didn't get around to reviewing, but his new EP is too compelling to stay quiet about. The Golden Summer is four upbeat pop tracks in the spirit of its title. "In My Shoes" has a smooth and slinky melody that recalls Neil Finn had he been a 90s Britpopper, and "Dumb it All Up" is a catchy slice of midtempo pop that falls somewhere between Jellyfish and Michael Carpenter. Elsewhere, "The Right Time" is an atmospheric ballad with strings, and closer "First of the Runaways" is top-notch piano-based power pop with a Beatlesque flair. This is a slam-dunk top 5 EP of the year.

CD Baby | iTunes

Jeff Larson-Leaves EP. Like clockwork, every year or two finds a new Jeff Larson release and more of his laid-back, melodic mellow SoCal rock. The twist this time around is that the new EP is actually a collection of unreleased material. But such is the quality of Larson's output that this EP doesn't sound at all like an outtakes collection. "Good Good Morning" is a lovely piano-and-guitar ballad, and the plaintive "Frontier Village" sound like it could be the soundtrack to an indie movie. "Postcard from Here" builds to a swelling chorus, and "World I'm In" has a folksy charm with some fine harmonies. And "The Satellite Sky" is a catchy uptempo number that has a fine country-rock feel. Larson's at work on a new full-length record to be released next year, just like...clockwork.

CD Baby | iTunes