Friday, December 29, 2017

The Absolute Powerpop Top 100 of 2017, #1-50.

Here's the top half of the list, and since I never did formally review the album at #1 I'll say a few words about it below. 2017 was another pretty good year for pop, and I say "pop" instead of "power pop" as 2017 was a great year for softer pop, be it 70s AM Gold-style pop or Bacharachian pop or more baroque pop. Albums from Brent Cash, Bill DeMain, Rob Martinez and Kyle Vincent held down spots in my top 50 (Cash and DeMain in the top 10), while Almost Charlie, Dave Caruso, Paul Steel and Lewis Wilson were in yesterday's bottom half, plus tomorrow's EP list will feature an EP tiled AM Gold.

1. The Nines-Colour Radio (American Transistor)
The Nines have been a long-time staple of these lists, and have released albums in the autumn of each of the last three years. But the previous two were soundtracks, while this was their first proper album since their self-titled 2013 release and it's perhaps their best to date. Steve Eggers & company tried on a lot of pop styles and wore them all quite well, from the ELO-influenced "Crazy Little Girl" to rowdy piano pop of "On and On She Gets By" to the straight-up 70s R&B Stevie Wonder-influenced "You Can Get More Than This" and "Don't Be Losing Your Game". And as always Eggers shines on piano ballads such as "Guess I'm Crazy" and "I'm Lucky". This album really is like listening to an American transistor radio circa 1975, and that's as high a compliment as I can pay.

2. Pugwash-Silverlake
3. Liam Gallagher-As You Were
4. Corin Ashley-Broken Biscuits
5. Theo Katzman-Heartbreak Hits
6. Brent Cash-The New High
7. Bill DeMain-Transatlantic Romantic
8. Hornal-The Game Begins With the Lights Out
9. Plasticsoul-Therapy
10. Chris Lund-Great Event Syndrome
11. Derrick Anderson-A World of My Own
12. Terry Anderson-Jimmy's Arcade
13. Darryl Rahn-Everything is Fine
14. Brian Jay Cline-Hang Ups
15. Blitzen Trapper-Wild and Reckless
16. Scott Gagner-Pins & Needles
17. Wesley Fuller-Inner City Dream
18. Colman Gota-Fear the Summer
19. Eyelids-Or
20. Tommy Zamp-You Don't Know Me
21. Greg Ieronimo-Never Leaving California
22. Hemlock Pop-Crushing on What Might Be
23. Gospelbeach-Another Summer of Love
24. Koria Kitten Riot-Songs of Hope and Science
25. Rob Martinez-Today My Mind...Tomorrow the World
26. The Hangabouts-Kits & Cats & Saxon Wives
27. Trip Wire-Cold Gas Giants
28. The Safes-Tasty Waves
29. Matthew Sweet-Tomorrow Forever
30. The Lunar Laugh-Mama's Boy
31. Bret Bingham-The Well Curve
32. Dave Keegan-S/T
33. Marble Party-Sometimes a Great Ocean
34. Cotton Mather-Wild Kingdom
35. Kyle Vincent-Miles & an Ocean
36. Shane Nicholson-Love and Blood
37. Sitcom Neighbor-Shag
38. Paul Bertolino-Toy Box
39. Christopher Galen-The Master Plan
40. Ruby Free-Shades
41. Danny de la Matyr-Crybaby
42. Jesse Terry-Stargazer
43. The Rallies-Serve
44. Daisy-Ornament & Crime
45. John Rooney-Still Here
46. The Glad Machine-S/T
47. The Fisherman-Down
48. Dan Auerbach-Waiting on a Song
49. Rich McCulley-Out Along the Edges
50. Eric Harrison-Mercy Road

Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Absolute Powerpop Top 100 of 2017, #51-100.

Let the year-end listing begin, with the top half of the top 100, the top EPs, and my favorite Americana albums of 2017 to follow in the coming days.

51. The On and Ons-Welcome Aboard
52. Gregg Stewart-S/T
53. Shake Some Action!-Crash Through or Crash
54. Almost Charlie-A Different Kind of Here
55. NHD-And the Devil Went Up to Portland
56. Ron Sexsmith-The Last Rider
57. Bubble Gum Orchestra-Sixthoverture
58. Latvian Radio-Pick Your Poison, Pick Your Blues
59. Crime Scene-Alter Life
60. Dave Caruso-Buddha Pesto Manifesto
61. The Mike Benign Compulsion-Kid
62. The Sighs-Wait on Another Day
63. Third of Never-Austerity
64. Brian Lisik & The Unfortunates-We're Sorry...
65. The Stanleys-S/T
66. Fallon Cush-Morning
67. Brian Jay Cline-Writer's Block
68. Smisch-The Story of My Life
69. Gentle Brent-Just Dandy
70. Bread & Butter-S/T
71. Justin Currie-This is My Kingdom Now
72. First Base-Not That Bad
73. Ryan Hamilton & The Traitors-The Devil's in the Detail
74. The Fags-I'm With Her
75. The Obleeks-S/T
76. Andrew Taylor-From the Outside Looking In
77. Richard Turgeon-In Between the Spaces
78. Paul Steel-April & I: Carousel Kites
79. Wesley Stace-Wesley Stace's John Wesley Harding
80. Drew Beskin-Cha-Ching Machine
81. The New Pornographers-Whiteout Conditions
82. Jere Mendelsohn-Old Sins, Long Shadows
83. Fernando Perdomo-The Golden Hour
84. Captain Wilberforce-Black Sky Thinking
85. Lewis Wilson-Grandioso Pop
86. Fastball-Step into Light
87. James Maddock-Insanity vs Humanity
88. Chris Church-Limitations of Source Tape
89. Burgess Meredith-A Dimension of Sound
90. Static in Verona-Secrets Like Shadows
91. Timothy Monger-Amber Lantern
92. Party Battleship-Cake + Flames
93. Chris Price-Stop Talking
94. The Wellingtons-End of the Summer
95. The Successful Failures-Ichor of Nettle
96. Propeller-Don't Ever Let This Let You Down
97. Wiretree-Towards the Sky
98. Goodman-The Vicissitudes
99. Wade Jackson-Crown & Cathedral
100. Mothboxer-The Secret Art of Saying Nothing

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Tommy Zamp / Latvian Radio

A couple of new releases to feature before the year-end lists hit next week.

Tommy Zamp-You Don't Know Me. This is the solo debut album for NYC rocker Tommy Zamp (who was a guitarist in the bands Fixer and Circus Life) and it fits squarely into the Butch Walker/Cheap Trick wing of power pop, which emphasizes the "power" part of the genre. Opener "Pretty Girls" sets the tone with its loud guitars, sharp hooks, "la la" backing vocals and rockin' piano, while "Tattoos of Stars" sounds like a lost Walker track with its combination of swagger and melody. "Beautiful Losers" and the closing track "Goodbye NYC" show Zamp's facility with power ballads, while "Time" and "Calling Mother Mary" rock with abandon. Rock around the Christmas tree with this one.


Latvian Radio-Pick Your Poison, Pick Your Blues. Longtime AbPow favorites Latvian Radio return with their sixth album, and it's another collection of driving, buoyant pop that will get your toes tapping. Patric Westoo and company do mix things up a bit here - "Shake the Tree" is almost straight-up punk rock - but for the most part it's breezy, almost danceable pop in the vein of New Pornographers and (a more upbeat) The Shins with tracks like "Paranoia" and "Four Letter Word", while "Observations in a Major Key" has a laid-back 70s vibe.

iTunes | Kool Kat

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Singles galore!

A whole bunch of artists featured on the site have released singles over the past month or two, so it's time to catch up.

Reno Bo-Smile Across the Universe. Rather than release a new album, Reno Bo's released several singles this year, and his latest is another melodic gem, with the A-side backed with the anthemic "Be the Change" and a mono mix of the A-side.


The Zags-A World Away/Icy Red. Another two-sided single, this time from The Zags, who deliver their classic power pop in bite(or byte)-sized form this around.


Wiretree-You've Got Tonight. Kevin Peroni has been releasing EPs and albums since this site began in 2006, but this a rare non-album single release for him. It's a catchy, piano-based number that's of a piece with his full body of work.


Coke Belda-Operator (That's Not the Way it Feels). Fresh off an album covering the Bee Gees, Coke Belda mines the 70s once again with a power pop version of the Jim Croce folk/rock classic. Belda said when hearing the original it was a "clear power-pop song disguised as an acoustic piece" and he does a fine job of proving it.


The Shazam-It's Doomsday, Honey! I missed this when it came out this summer in honor of the total eclipse, but this is the first new music we've heard of Hans Rotenberry & company since 2009's Meteor so it definitely bears mentioning. It's apparently from an upcoming album called Doomsday Hotel that's been in the works for a while so hopefully we see that soon. Meanwhile, enjoy this track which compares well with their classic power pop output of the 2000s.


The Weeklings-Revolution Wonderland. In which these Beatles-loving popsters answering the question of what would a mashup of "Winter Wonderland" and "Revolution" sound like. So you get the Revolution guitar riffs backing the Winter Wonderland lyrics and melody and some Revolution 1 "shooby-dooby" backing vocals. Power popping holiday fun.


Thursday, November 30, 2017

Kevin Lee / Celsi, Bragg & Maitland

Kevin Lee & The Kings-Sticks and Stones. Let it be known that Kevin Lee is a believer in truth in advertising. His site promises "big hooks & chunky guitars", and once again Lee delivers on his promise with Sticks & Stones. "To Tell the Truth", "How it Feels" is that you'll be "On Top of the World" by picking up this album, so you have "Nothing to Lose" by giving this one a listen. All of these tracks comprising the previous sentence have a strong classic rock DNA to them ("To Tell the Truth" is what you get when you look up "power ballad" in the dictionary), and if it had a cool video and came out in 1983, "Alone" would have been a megahit. So roll down the windows, crank up the stereo and let loose with Kevin Lee & The Kings.


Celsi, Bragg & Maitland-The Road to Glasgow. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the "Summer of Love" Anny Celsi, Nelson Bragg & Duncan Maitland, three artists well-known to the power pop community, decided to combine forces to tour the UK and record a few tracks on the side and The Road to Glasgow is the result. Celsi dominates the proceedings here, with her charming "The Second Summer of Love" opening the album and an excellent cover of Bob Dylan's "She Belongs to Me" both standouts. Maitland, whose Lullabies for the 21st Century was #2 on my best-of 2010 list, chimes in with "Heavenly Day", a track from his days in the band Picturehouse (as well as "Insect Under the Stone" from Lullabies for the 21st Century) and Bragg covers Paul Kelly's folk/rock classic "To Her Door". It's a fun collection from three high-quality artists and worth your listening time.

CD Baby

Tuesday, November 21, 2017


Irish popster Thomas Walsh has been prolific over the last decade or so, releasing albums as Pugwash and cricket-inspired music with The Divine Comedy's Neil Hannon as The Duckworth Lewis Method (In fact, the Method's "Third Man" might be my favorite song of the decade to date). Walsh is back as Pugwash, but with a twist. Instead of his regular backing band he's opted instead to record with another power pop luminary, Jason Falkner, formerly of Jellyfish and having recorded with Paul McCartney among others. With Falkner on board, Silverlake is the best Pugwash album this decade and a breath of fresh pop air.

Someone (perhaps me just now) once said that a power pop record is only as good as its opening track, and Silverlake passes that test easily with "The Perfect Summer", its perfection only marred by a late autumn release instead of in June when it could have been summer's soundtrack with its irresistible chorus and handclaps in the verses. Falkner's presence is felt on the album's second single, "What Are You Like", with his backing vocals on the chorus and guitar solo in the bridge, as well as on "Why Do I", whose angular melody recalls some of Falkner's solo work. Elsewhere, "Without You" and "Everyone Knows That You're Mine" are the kind of top-notch power pop tunes which Walsh can make sound effortless but take great effort to dislodge from your brain, and "Sunshine True" recalls the pastoral balladry of XTC, whose Dave Gregory has worked with Walsh as well. And the album closer is a stunner as well - the dreamy ballad "Autarch" sounds like Jeff Lynne producing Brian Wilson.


Friday, November 17, 2017

Dave Caruso-Buddha Pesto Manifesto.

Dave Caruso returns to the (virtual) airwaves with the dad-joke-titled Buddha Pesto Manifesto, after having first caught my attention with his Elizabeth Parker EP back in 2009. Caruso has a slick pop sound informed by Elvis Costello, Squeeze, and of course The Beatles and he puts those influences to good use in "Boomer, Jenna & Lennie" (which also reminds me of Mark Bacino), "Hanging With You" (which could be a Beatles '65 outtake), and "God's Green Acre" (a lovely chamber-pop ballad). Elsewhere, Caruso's gift for Costello-like wordplay comes to the fore with "Punctuating Shatner", in which the verbal tics of Jeff Goldblum and William Shatner are a metaphor for lovers with communication issues. But Caruso's appeal on this album can be summed up by the title of one of its better tracks, "The Girl Who Checks All the Boxes", as he checks all the boxes when it comes to fans of smart, melodic adult pop.

CD Baby (preview all tracks)

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Rock'n'Roll Tuesday.

Today we feature a couple of albums that lean to the more rocking side of power pop.

Brian Lisik & The Unfortunates-We're Sorry... I've had this Akron band on my radar since Brian Lisik's solo album in 2012 and with We're Sorry... Lisik & The Unfortunates have released their most realized collection of tunes. In fact this album may be the Replacements record you've been waiting for since Pleased to Meet Me (or at least Don't Tell a Soul). From its title (which recalls Sorry Ma...) to its shambolic-but-melodic sound, 'Mats fans and fans of rocking power pop in general will enjoy this album. "Don't Like Nobody" captures the Westerbergian outlook on life, while the gender-bending "Bye Bi Love" might be the spiritual successor to "Androgynous". Elsewhere, "Heart a Hand" recalls Westerberg's gift for metaphor and wordplay and "Indescribable" is a smoky barroom ballad in the vein of "Here Comes a Regular". Now all they need is a drunken appearance on Saturday Night Live.


The Brixton Riot-Close Counts. The Brixton Riot are back with their first new album in 5 1/2 years, and it's like they never left as these Jersey rockers give us another slice of straight-up, no-chaser power pop. "Can't Stop Now" is an irresistible opener with a nifty guitar hook/riff, "Hector Quasar" is another powerful gem, and everyone's favorite ex-Beatle gets his lament on "The Ballad of Pete Best" (spoiler alert: it's not a ballad, musically). Other standouts include "Maybe Tomorrow", featuring some fine backing vocals from Alejandra Rodriguez and "Little Spark", a nostalgic look back at old ways of listening to music which middle-agers like myself should know better to resist but can't.


Tuesday, November 07, 2017

The Red Button-Now it's All This!

One of the best things to happen to power pop in the last 10 years was Seth Swirsky and Mike Ruekberg, both accomplished solo artists, joining forces to form The Red Button. Their 2007 debut, She's About to Cross My Mind, was a brilliant take on the Beatles and swinging 60's London that wasn't a shameless Rutles-like imitation. It topped my year-end list and several others, and although their 2011 followup, As Far as Yesterday Goes (which added a 70s singer-songwriter sensibility to the mix), wasn't quite as brilliant it was still one of the best records released that year.

10 years later, Swirsky and Ruekberg have decided to commemorate their partnership by releasing Now it's All This!*, a 2-disc compilation that consists of those two full-length albums on disc one, and a second disc that features an EP of 6 new songs and 4 additional "unplugged" (I use the quotation marks because they don't sound that unplugged) versions of tracks from the first two albums. Obviously of particular interest here are the six new tracks. "Can't Let Candy Go" opens things much as "Cruel Girl" and "Stuck in the Middle" opened the first two albums, a Ruekberg raver that draws on Hard Day's Night-era Beatles. His "Behind a Rainbow" follows with what might be the EP's best track, a tale of mismatched lovers with a buoyant melody and chorus. Swirsky's "Tell Me it's Over" is another gem, a midtempo number with Rickenbacker that would have fit in perfectly on the second album.

The second half of the EP commences with "Tracy's Party", 2:08 of early Beatles-inspired Ruekberg rocking followed by Swirsky's gorgeous "Solitude Saturday", a ballad that owes as much to Brian Wilson as it does the Fab Four. And as on the two albums the closer finds them harmonizing together, this time on the jangly title track. Obviously if you have the first two albums you should just go ahead and individually purchase the new tracks, unless of course you want their full output in one CD collection. And for those who have been under a rock the last 10 years or just started getting into power pop, this is a collection that's not optional.

*The title is cleverly an apparent reference to the aformentioned Rutles, specifically Ron Nasty's comment on the brouhaha that resulted from Nasty stating the Rutles were bigger than Jesus.


Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Bret Bingham-The Well Curve.

California's Bret Bingham has released a few singles over the last couple of years which I've enjoyed, but I don't normally review singles on this site, especially of artists I've never featured before. But now he's released The Well Curve, a full-length which builds on the promise of those singles and makes for an impressive proper debut. Bingham draws from The Beatles, Queen and Jellyfish, the latter a notable influence on the baroque, piano-based opener "Nothing". "Break You" is an enjoyable pop confection while "Goodbye to Everyone" is a languid, Lennon-esque number. Elsewhere, "Close to You" (not a Carpenters cover) is a pretty ballad with strings, "Scheme" features a power pop sound with a catchy melody, and Bingham saves the album's best track for the ninth position with "My Angel", a bright rocker with an earmworm chorus. The album closes with the stately piano ballad "Amen", and "amen" is what you'll be saying after giving this one a listen.


Monday, October 30, 2017

Chris Lund-Great Event Syndrome.

As 1/2 of Seattle's Lund Bros, Chris Lund along with brother Sean released several albums during the previous decade, the last of which (Songbook IV) was one of the 2008's best. After a long absence, Chris is back solo with what could be one of 2017's best. Lund wears his influences on his sleeve, as well as on his album cover which finds him posing in front of a Sgt. Pepper's poster. It's Big Star that's the touchstone on the rocking opener "Tell Me" and the catchy "700 MPH", but it's both the slightly trippy "The Path" and the jangly "Glimpse" which bear the influence of the Fab Four. Elsewhere, "Remember the Daze" channels early 80s Cheap Trick, and "What's Her Name" is another Beatlesque beauty. Lund's not afraid to change things up in the second half of the album - "Girl Done Wrong" is a regular blues, "Fall on Me Rain" has a prog rock feel to it, and "Fare Well" borders on punk rock and features some choice guitar work. With an album whose first 7-8 tracks are as good as anything released lately, Chris Lund's return is a Great Event.

iTunes | Kool Kat

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Brian Jay Cline-Hang Ups (& singles)

I like to think I keep on top of the latest in new power pop, religiously checking the daily releases from CD Baby, Bandcamp and elsewhere, and poring over lists of what's added to Spotify, etc. But I just haven't been able to keep up with Brian Jay Cline this year. Having already released Writer's Block around the new year (even though according to Amazon and iTunes it wasn't released until August), Cline has put out a series of singles this year and another full-length. And while I was searching for links to include moments before beginning this post, I came across still another single he released last month of which I was unaware. Since Writer's Block kicked this all off, I'm viewing that title as either being extremely ironic or something Cline has overcome in a big way.

Anyway, it's Hang Ups that I want to concentrate on here, as Cline's rootsy pop a la Marshall Crenshaw, Walter Clevenger and Bill Lloyd is in fine form again. Hang Ups plugs in to the stresses of life in 2017, with "Monday" and "21st Century Nervous Breakdown" appreciating how hard it is to just get out of bed and start the week these days. But the real highlight here is "Wall (You're Gonna Pay for It)", which takes one of the 2016 election's hoariest cliches and applies it as a metaphor for dealing with an ex. It's not only one of Cline's most clever lyrics, it's one of his catchiest tunes in a deep catalog of catchy. Other standouts include the country shuffle of "Ride" and the upbeat-despite-its-title "Low Winter Sun".

But wait - there's more. I referred to his various singles, and they're all pretty good. There's the rocking "I Get You"; the (possibly) autobiographical "Latch Key Kid"; "The Ballad of Rosetta Stone"; "Never Saw it Coming" (which does channel Crenshaw); and the one I just stumbled upon, "She Idles Wild", which on first listen seems a moody departure that almost recalls Chris Isaak. And there's probably one more that come out while I was composing this post.

Hang Ups on iTunes

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Successful Failures-Ichor of Nettle.

Wrap him for shroud in a petal. / Embalm him with ichor of nettle.

— Robert Frost, Departmental, 1936

With a name drawn from a Jack London short story and an album whose title refers to the Robert Frost passage above, New Jersey's The Successful Failures do have a literary bent. And on their latest, they manage to work up another collection of three-chord pop-and-roll that plays as well in intellectual circles as it does on the car radio with the top rolled down. For the higher-minded, you have the album title, and tracks such as "The Ballad of Julio Cuellar", which draws on this real-life story and a paean to legendary Texan Sam Houston. Then you have the philosophical musings of "When Did Everybody Grow Up?" and "The Shit That Weighs You Down", the former being a power popping rocker and the latter a rootsy stomp. And finally you have the regular guys from the Northeast who know there's "No Good Way" to travel from Boston to Philly so they can sing their "PA Fight Song". It's all here from power pop to classic rock to Americana to roots rock. They're The Successful Failures, and they'd have it no other way.


Thursday, October 19, 2017

Walty-Walty EP.

How long has it been since we've had new music from Johnny Walter a/k/a Walty? I'll just say the last time I featured him on this site, the link at the bottom of the post was to his MySpace page (and I was referencing what Bruce at Not Lame had to say about him*). For those who understandably don't remember Walty or missed him circa 2007, he has an agreeably pleasing singer/songwriter power pop sound and the new EP will not disappoint those who enjoyed him the first time around. The chunky rocker "I'm in Love With Everything" starts things off a bit goofy in the lyric department, and "Chinese Disco" (which actually has a disco beat) could have been a minor regional hit in 1978. Walty hits his stride with "Old Friend", a great tune steeped in classic power pop that might just be a bit meta considering how long it's been for him. Elsewhere, the midtempo "Only One" channels Neil Finn and closer "Underground" is a catchy straight-up rock track. An enjoyable EP where all the songs don't sound the same.


*Speaking of Bruce Brodeen, although he closed up Not Lame many moons ago he's continued to stay active in the power pop scene with Pop Geek Heaven. However, he's now finally retiring for good, and I'd just like to say that he was one of the inspirations for this site and for all of us who write about power pop and keep the flame alive. I'm not sure anybody's done more to bring contemporary power pop to more ears than Bruce, and I hope that whatever he does next is something Extremely Highly Recommended.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Mario Rojas-Lost Angelino.

Mario Rojas is an LA singer-songwriter who boasts of a "major in FM and a minor in AM" and Lost Angelino, his second album, is solid evidence that he graduated near the top of his class. Demonstrating a knack for rootsy melody, Rojas serves up 11 tracks that bring to mind artists like Elvis Costello, Ryan Adams and Bill Lloyd. The easygoing rockers "Temporary Crown" and "Face Down" set the tone off the bat, while "Beatle Boots" is a pop gem with some mild horn backing. Other standout tracks include "Blue Light Follow", the roots-poppin' "Everything's Right", and "Cryin'", which channels Adams to good measure.


Monday, October 16, 2017

First IN Space-A Different Animal.

Going to start trying something different here as I'm planning on doing one release at a time three or so times a week rather than 3-4 at one time every couple of weeks. (Also Johnny Stanec keeps emailing me asking when I'm going to review the new First in Space and I forgot to do so last roundup).

First IN Space returns with their fifth full-length album and first since 2014, although frontman Johnny Stanec during that time has released two solo albums in the similar style of the band's classic Midwestern power pop/rock, so it's like they never went away. So is the new album really A Different Animal? The chiming guitars in the minute-plus intro to opener "Living in the Dark" evoke U2 in a way, while the song itself doesn't stray too much from their sound. The uptempo "The Bitter End" is the catchiest track here, giving the Gin Blossoms a run for their money, while "Never Going Back Again" recalls Don't Tell a Soul-era Replacements. The rest of the album provides a steady diet of tuneful rockers worth your listen, but the "different animal" here is the closer "Enough". A moody, midtempo piece that builds up to an inspiring crescendo, it gives the collection an album "feel" rather than 10 random tracks. Stanec & Co. don't really break the mold here, but if ain't broke, don't fix it.


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Early October Roundup.

Scott Gagner-Pins & Needles. Scott Gagner is back with the followup to 2014's Rise & Shine, and he's brought the help - among the luminaries contributing here are The Posies' Ken Stringfellow (who helped out last time) and Pete Thomas, Elvis Costello's drummer in The Attractions. This is about as good as singer-songwriter rock gets, from the bright opener "Someone" to the Americana-ish "El Rancho Inn" to the psychedlic pop of "The Ghost of Me & You". There's also straight-up power pop ("You Don't Know"), a lovely piano ballad ("Place in This World") and the album closer, a wonderful version "America the Beautiful" that was originally recorded for his grandmother's funeral as she wished.


The Safes-Tasty Waves. I've always enjoyed these unreconstructed power poppers from Chicago, but their latest is a leap forward in songcraft and their best to date. Reminiscent of The Lolas and other similar early 2000s bands, they also draw on influences such as Rockpile and Guided by Voices to produce a bunch of quick-hitting melodic gems (no track here tops the 3-minute mark). They're all fun, but special marks go to "Hometown", "Crystal Ball", and "Mind of its Own".


Mozley-X. The most reclusive man (band?) in power pop serves up his (their?) 10th release, hence the title. I've been writing about Mozley on these pages for over 6 years and I'm still no closer to knowing anything about the artist than I was then, given the complete lack of an internet presence except for these releases that seem to drop every 6 months or a year. X is 8 more tracks of Replacements/Big Star-styled rock. Highlights here are the opener "Staying Home Tonight", "Roll the Dice" (which has become one of my favorite Mozley tracks) and the Westerbergian "Dopamine Machine". Long live Mozley, whoever the hell you are.


Jon Latham-Lifers. Regular readers will know that my second-favorite genre after power pop is Americana, and last year I had a top 20 Americana year-end list. Normally I don't review that genre here, but I feel compelled to give a mention on these pages to Jon Latham, who had my favorite Americana album of 2015 (Real Bad News) and follows that up with Lifers. Coming in somewhere between Steve Earle and Jason Isbell (before Isbell got all sober and respectable), Latham's tunes crackle with rootsy rock-n-twang and excellent songwriting. Just about every song has a story to tell, from the "Lifers" of the music scene to "Kimberly Met Billy", a 21st century "Jack & Diane" that drops so many 80s rock references that I couldn't stop smiling. And "Learning Now" is a melodic rock tune that will even catch the ear of power poppers. If your tastes run at all in the Americana field, Jon Latham is your new favorite artist.


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Back in the swing.

Thank you to everyone who wished well in the comments to my last post, and thank you all for sticking with the site while I got through the last month. Now it's time to get back in the swing and since I have a backlog of quite a few releases that I want to cover, this post and the next one or two to follow will be in a slightly different format - I will cover many more than the usual 3 releases but only write a few sentences on each. I know the priority for most of you reading this site is discovery of new music, not my purple prose, so here goes:

Ottopilot-Life After Love and War EP. California band with a "modern rock" sheen but accomplished in power pop ("Loaded Gun") and country rock ("Count on Me"). Radio-friendly (even with today's radio) stuff.


Richard Turgeon-In Between the Spaces. If you like your power pop with no frills, then Richard Turgeon's the man for you. Just 10, rockin', power-poppin' tracks that tackle Bigfoot, turning 30, frostbites and gravity. Uniformly hooky and tuneful. UPDATE: Now available in CD format on Kool Kat.

iTunes | Kool Kat

Shake Some Action!-Crash Through or Crash. James Hall, everyone's favorite jangle-rocker of the last 10 years, returns with his sixth album. The latest is 14 new tracks of what we've come to expect from Mr. Hall, which means no syrupy ballads, no weird electronic flourishes and no spoken-word interludes. Just guitars, guitars and more guitars. FYI: he also has just released a deluxe 10th anniversary edition of SSA's self-titled debut, chock full of bonus tracks and demos.


Bubble Gum Orchestra-Sixthoverture. Michael Hildebrandt returns with his sixth BGO album, and this one might be his best. Here he trades in his sometimes slavish (but always enjoyable) imitation of ELO for a sound instead more ELO-informed, and the result is liberating, from the joyous "A New Kind of Love Song" to the a tribute to the band that influenced ELO the most ("The Beatles Made Me") to the fine piano ballad "Elizabeth". Only available as a download from the BGO website.

Buy and listen to here

Static in Verona-Secrets Like Shadows. Yet another vet of the AbPow pages returns with a new one as Rob Merz' Static in Verona releases its fourth full-length. If there's such a thing as "ethereal power pop", Merz has invented it as tracks like "Madeline" and "Sleeping In (Dreams)" have an atmospheric quality without sacrificing melody or drive, and some can even approach the anthemic ("The Royal We"). Available as a "name your price" download on Bandcamp.


The Obleeks-The Obleeks. Fine debut from this Big Star-influenced Chicago band. After the opening 30-seconds of "Break Forth, O Beauteous Light", the drums and guitars kick in with "After the Sunrise" and the fab "Have You Thought About Me Lately?", making a great 1-2 (or 2-3) punch. Other standouts include "I'll Wait" and "Poisoned Well", with the latter featuring a insidious riff. Best part? All ten tracks clock in at 2:40 or less, making for a breezy listen.


Thursday, September 21, 2017

A personal note.

I know I only normally post 2-3 times a month, so this near one-month absence is not completely surprising, but I have not posted any reviews since then as shortly after my last post, my younger (and only) brother was suddenly hospitalized and barely a week later passed away. And no sooner did he pass than my family found ourselves squarely in the projected path of Hurricane Irma, forcing us to evacuate. Thankfully the brunt of Irma stayed to our east and the storm weakened spending more time over land than forecast, so my home came out unscathed. But we still lost power/cable/internet for most of last week and given the stress of all that's gone on, I haven't really been in the right head space to write about power pop these days.

But I'm getting there and there's been a lot of great new stuff that either came out just before or since, so I will be posting soon and am certainly not abandoning this blog. Thanks as always for reading, and thank you for your patience.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Late August Roundup.

Trip Wire-Cold Gas Giants. Trip Wire (not to be confused with beloved Seattle pub-rockers The Tripwires) is a San Francisco band/collective that has a couple of pretty good power pop albums under its belt (which you can listen to here), but on their third release they've taken a couple of big steps forward. First, their new album is being released on the imprint of one of the top power pop labels out there, Kool Kat. Second, they've added The Well Wishers' Jeff Shelton to the lineup, and not just to play bass. Of course original members Marty Schneider and Bill Hunt are no slouches either and their "Long Days Gone" is an insistent guitar pop tune with a nifty riff hook, while "Signs" is first-rate jangle pop. Shelton takes the mic for "I'm Not the Enemy", a hard-driving rocker that's of a piece with his Well Wishers output, and other standouts include the strings-and-12-string of "Winter Song", the Byrdsian "These Are the Days", and another Shelton-led raucous rocker, "Growing Old".

Kool Kat | iTunes

Darryl Rahn-Everything is Fine. About the highest compliment I can pay the latest album from Utica, NY singer-songwriter Darryl Rahn is that I've had it in rotation for over a month now and every time one of its songs pops up randomly I get a little smile on my face. Everything is Fine is highly melodic folk/pop/rock that fans of The Jayhawks, pre-Spain-move Josh Rouse and site favorite Shane Lamb would enjoy. The joyous, catchy leadoff track "Running Back" breaks through the line into the open field like a good running back, while "Even as a Ghost" and its "ooh-ooh-ooh" hook is an absolute earworm. Elsewhere, the midtempo "Worry" recalls the prime early days of Ryan Adams, "Souvenirs" is a lovely ballad, and "Look at Her Now" treads into power pop territory. One of the better albums of its kind I've heard lately.


The TimeWhy?s-Autumn of Love EP. The oddly-punctuated TimeWhy?s is a Pennsylvania band who unabashedly make 60s-inspired music, leaning to the Beatlesque. Their 4-track debut EP is a treat. "Paint Me Happy" is Herman's Hermits-meets-The Association, "Lying Through Your Lipstick" sounds like a mid-Beatles Lennon track, "I Said Hello" seems inspired by "Penny Lane" and "All I Know" draws from George Harrison via The Beach Boys. Definitely a year-end contender for the best EPs of 2017 list.


Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Early August Roundup.

Terry Anderson-Jimmy's Arcade. Everyone's favorite Southern pub-rocker Terry Anderson is back with his first album in six years, sans his backing band The Olympic Ass-Kickin' Team. Even without them, Anderson kicks plenty of ass with this collection of tunes interspersed with amusing fake commercials and skits. Jimmy's Arcade is a diverse collection of rock, power pop, and 60s/70s R&B with the common element being Anderson's no-shit-taking-yet-often-humorous delivery. Catching Anderson's fancy this time around is the internet ("Internettin"), a decadent weekend of partying on his girlfriend's dime ("Cash Dat Check"), and (fittingly given this week's "curvy woman" social media meme) a "Big Ol' Woman". And then there are my three favorite tracks on the album - the riff-driven rocker "Knock it Off", his humanist "I Love Everybody", and the gorgeous album closer "Carl Wilson", a tribute to the late Beach Boy legend. If you've been immune to Terry Anderson's charms to date, just think the Nick Lowe of the 70s growing up in the American South and take it from there.

iTunes | Kool Kat

Hemlock Pop-Crushing on What Might Be. Hemlock Pop is the nom de plume of Seattle's Ira Miller, who's played in several local bands including Super Deluxe and makes his solo debut. Miller's sound here is singer-songwriter (power) pop in the vein of Michael Penn, Aimee Mann, Elvis Costello and Michael Carpenter. Opening guitar rocker "Bleed You Out" is the prototypical woulda-been-a-hit-in-the-70s track with its smooth melody and hooky chorus, "Pigeon v. Statue" is both catchy and clever with its Costello-like wordplay, and "Something About Ruby" is a power ballad that deserves 10,000 uplifted lighters. There are plenty of other gems here too, including a cover of The Cure's "Charlotte Sometimes". Smart, sophisticated and tuneful, this is one of 2017's better debuts and better albums, period.


Daniel Christian-Coffee EP. It's been nine (9!) years since we last checked in on Daniel Christian, but now is a good a time as any since he's back with a fine new 7-track EP, Coffee. Christian's past releases have been more Americana-vibed, but this one veers much more in the direction of power pop as the opener "A Girl in the Band" with its "Getting Better"-influenced melody and crunchy guitars would indicate. Further confirmation of this shift comes from the upbeat ditty "It's Perfect" and the midtempo "You Don't Know Her" which show off Christian's pop chops. And the closer "Never Wrong" is 4 1/2 minutes of catchy bliss. A real contender for 2017 EP of the year.


Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Late July Roundup.

It's EPalooza this week with three fine EPs.

Randy Mantooth-Randy Mantooth EP. No, this isn't the musical debut of the guy who starred on Emergency! back in the 70s, nor is it another guy with the same name. Instead, it's the name of a 3-piece band out of Chicago featuring two former members of Otter Petter (which you may or may not be familiar with) which has released an excellent 4-track debut of crunchy power pop in the vein of Matthew Sweet and Tommy Keene. "Not Love" opens with a noirish feel while "Need It" is sunnier-sounding, and "Tick" and "Haunt" rock in a straightforward manner. Now someone just needs to start a band called Kevin Tighe and do a double bill with these guys.


The Buzz-Summer of '17 EP. Washington DC popper J. Forte returns with another Buzz EP and from its title and cover art, it's time to put the top down and cruise the highway with this EP cranking. While "Smithereens" isn't a tribute to the band of the same name, it's a driving guitar pop number that would make them proud, "Tell Me Now" is fine garage rock, "Electric Dreams" jangles on, and "Old Souls" channels Brian Wilson with the surf out.


Matthew Bryson-Recording in Progress. So what were you doing when you were 16? Probably stumbling through high school, tentatively engaging the opposite sex, and hoping to get a car (or at least getting to drive one of your parents' vehicles). One thing you probably didn't do, though, was write and record an excellent debut 4-song EP full of top-notch pop like Austin's Matthew Bryson has. With a classic sound going back well, well beyond his years, Bryson serves up 4 fine tracks that have a Beach Boys/Beatles influence; "Her" has an early-60s feel, "Down" is more late-60s sounding, and "Where" gives off a George Harrison vibe. Not bad for someone only five years older than this blog.


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Mid-July Roundup.

Andrew Taylor-From the Outside Looking In. Dropkick frontman Andrew Taylor has been accumulating a collection of songs over the last 15 years that he hadn't recorded with his band, and he decided to play and record them completely by himself. Interestingly enough though, the end result sounds a lot like Dropkick, which is a good thing. This means it's another fine collection of top-shelf jangle pop that Taylor and his mates have been known for over the years that's found the golden mean between Teenage Fanclub and Matthew Sweet. Standout tracks here include "I Saw Through You" (with it's "you-ooh-ooh" chorus), the more rocking "Someone", and the album's catchiest track, "Who We Really Are", which reminds me of pre-Hotel California Eagles. So it's Dropkick without the Dropkick, or something like that.


Various Artists-Songs, Bond Songs. Andrew Curry, the maestro of themed power pop compilations, is at it again. After his 70s lite rock opus that broke the rules against compilations and topped my 2013 list and 2014's followup covering the "second British invasion" of the 80s, his latest project features the songs of the James Bond movie franchise. As with the other two comps, Curry has enlisted a who's-who of indie power pop and the results are a blast. After Lannie Flowers gets you in the mood with the famous Bond theme, you're off an adventure that will leave you stirred, if not shaken. With such a variety of songs and artists involved (26 of each), everyone's bound to have their personal favorites, and mine here are Wyatt Funderburk's groovy take on "The Look of Love", Ryan Hamilton's "We Have All the Time in the World", Cirrone's "The Living Daylights" and Look Park (Chris Collingwood of Fountains of Wayne) with "The World is Not Enough". Make sure you take advantage of your license to listen below.


The Glad Machine-The Glad Machine. The Glad Machine hails from western Massachusetts, and their self-titled debut hits all the classic power pop sweet spots. Reminiscent of bands like The Shazam, The Tories and The Cautions, TGM starts things off with "Homecoming" where "it's 1985 here every day", and follows it with "Wake Up, Girl", more classic power pop with a killer chorus. Meanwhile, "I Wanna Drive" recalls Jellyfish in their less-baroque moments, "87 Highland Avenue" is a well-executed power ballad, and the melodic closer "Cake" is the icing on top, so to speak. Not a bad track in the lot, and it's a welcome return to what power pop sounded like in the 80s and 90s.


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Late June Roundup.

Plasticsoul-Therapy. It's been a long wait, and while there have been various new tracks included on compilations in the interim, Steven Eric Wilson - a/k/a Plasticsoul - has finally released the followup to 2009's Peacock Swagger, my #1 album of that year. It's a lot to live up to but thankfully Therapy is a worthy successor. Wilson produces a somewhat more sophisticated brand of power pop than the typical three-chords-and-a-hook band with influences in the vein of John Lennon, Michael Penn and Jon Brion. After opening with the lovely, languid "My Heavy Soul", the rocking title track kicks in, complete with an Elvis Costello-esque snarling vocal and a galloping melody. Speaking of Elvis C, "All Died Pretty" would have fit in nicely on Armed Forces, while "In Her Raincoat" recalls Cheap Trick in their more Beatlesque moments. Elsewhere, the album rocks more than previous Plasticsoul releases with the densely-produced "Come Down from Your Raincloud", the swirling psychedelia of "The King of Hash" and the revved-up "Monkey on a Stick". And the closer "Biff Bang Pow" sounds just as you'd expect, proving that good music really is the best Therapy.


Cliff Hillis-Many Happy Returns EP. Death, taxes, and a wonderfully melodic new release from Cliff Hillis are life's three certainties. After his last full-length a few years back Hillis has been going the EP route, with Many Happy Returns marking his third straight which is just fine by me, getting 5-6 new tracks every year rather than waiting 2-3 years for 10-12. The highlights this time are the straight-ahead power pop of "Time an Evangelist", the whimsical title track which could have come off a Seth Swirsky/Red Button album, and "With All the World", a fine midtempo number that sounds like music made by a real adult. But really, all six tracks are great; even the one titled "Superfluous" is anything but.


The Brigadier-Wash Away the Day. Another repeat artist to these pages is Matt Williams, known to us as The Brigadier. Wash Away the Day is his first new album in four years, and it's a welcome return to the Beach Boys-meets-XTC sunny British pop we've grown accustomed to from previous releases. The buoyant "I Know You're the One for Me Baby" fits that description to a T, and "Rainy Day Friend" throws in enough minor key curves to make it one of his all-time best tracks. Meanwhile, "Feels Like Something" rocks harder than your typical Brigadier number while the breezy "Keep Your Ego Down" will take you back to the 70s. This might be The Brigadier's best yet, and frankly I think he's overdue for a promotion to Major General.


Friday, June 09, 2017

Early June Roundup.

Marble Party-Sometimes a Great Ocean. San Francisco's Marble Party returns with the followup to the excellent Plush, which finished #11 on my 2014 year-end list. Aside from their strong pun game with the title, they back up the promise of Plush with another collection of diverse power pop. "Brooklyn Battles Winter" sounds like a slightly revved-up Shins song, "Shotgun Superman" starts off like a Ben Folds piano number only to morph into something off Wilco's Summerteeth, and "Coaster" incorporates horns and a bit of a 70s R&B feel. Elsewhere, "60 Cycle" channels The Beatles, complete with sitar, the 80s-rock-influenced "S.A.M." piles on the synths, and "Lilies of Coldwater" brings Jellyfish to mind. Another tour-de-force from these pop/rockers which should have another spot in my year-end top 20.


Stingy Brim-Stingy Brim EP. Stingy Brim is New Zealand's Andrew Thorne, and his debut EP is three tracks (plus a bonus) of classic Cheap Trick-styled power pop. "Gun Monkey" kicks things off in rocking fashion, "Made Up" is the most purely melodic track here and its little piano fill really makes it special, while "Rising Sun" takes a back seat to neither of the first two. I see why "Rolling Back" was added as a bonus track, as its psych-folk doesn't quite jibe with the others but it's an interesting track nonetheless. Hopefully Thorne won't be so "stingy" and will follow this up with a full-length.


The Loved-Back to Me EP. Portland's The Loved are back with another EP on the heels of last year's self-titled debut, and it's three more tracks of their signature "three chords and the truth" sound. The title track rocks with melody and abandon, the main riff in "Run Away" recalls classic Oasis/Blur-styled britpop, and "Cruelest Month of the Year" incorporates a "Bo Diddley"-style backbeat into a languid mid-tempo ballad.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Late May Roundup.

A quick look at some quality new releases:

Ruby Free-Shades. Maple Mars' Rick Hromdaka teams up again with Lisa Cavaliere (his wife) as Ruby Free, and the result is another wonderful laid-back album of 70s-inspired husband & wife pop. Highlights here are the guitar pop of "Take a Ride", the psychedelic shuffle of "Walking Along", the Paul-and-Linda inspired "Say Goodnight" and a note-perfect cover of The Carpenters' "Superstar". An album with great melodies - and charm. One of 2017's best.

iTunes | Kool Kat

The Mike Benign Compulsion-Kid. Our favorite Milwaukee power poppers are back again with a concept album of sorts about childhood and growing up, complete with the Let it Be-styled cover with photos of the band as youngsters. It's another collection of top-notch Squeeze-meets-Elvis Costello pop with standout tracks "Gadfly", "Kid" (with its memorable hook), and the rocking "The Best Years of Our Lives". And keep listening through - the 10th track, "Generations", might be the best here, sounding like a lost early-80s hit.


Pasadena 68/Dakota Shakedown-Good Night Air. Ex-High on Stress frontman Nick Leet's Pasadena 68 has once again teamed up with friend and former 90's bandmate Mike Hjelden's Dakota Shakedown for another split album. DS gets the first five tracks, and P68 the last five and despite being a split LP the bands' similar Replacements-rock sensibilities make for a seamless experience. DS' "Hurry Up and Wait", with its Westerbergian mix of yearning and fire, is their standout here, while P68's rootsy, laid-back "Peace Garden State" is a gem as well.


Party Battleship-Cake + Flames. The New Pornographers have a new album out, and as always it's worth picking up. However, if you want an American version of them there's another male/female-fronted supergroup of sorts which collects some of the best power poppers of Charlotte, NC. Shalini Morris (Kissyfish, Vinyl Devotion, Mitch Easter), Donnie Merritt (Lodestar, Mark Crozer and the Rels), John Morris (Tyre Fyre, Electrolux, Snagglepuss) and Adam Roth (Bellglide, The Catch Fire, Laburnum) join forces here for a rocking collection of driving pop tunes. The ones here to catch are their opening "Theme Song", "Almost Overton", and the Marshall Crenshaw-esque "The Fifth Season", but they're all pretty good. Party on!


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Quick singles update.

As I've noted on many occasions, I don't normally review singles. But as I've also done on others, when artists of note have singles out I'll make an exception.

Bryan Estepa-Rattled and Rolled. It's been over 10 years since Estepa had Michael Carpenter produced his outstanding debut album All the Bells and Whistles, and the two got together last month, jammed a bit and came up with this single in a day. It's an excellent midtempo tune that will appeal to both, and proceeds go to The Heart Foundation.


Lannie Flowers-Kiss a Memory b/w Everything a Man Could Want. We haven't gotten new music from Lannie Flowers in quite a while - his last release was 2012's New Songs Old Stories, but that itself consisted of full-length versions of several of the snippets that made up his 36-song Same Old Story medley. So it's great to hear these two new tracks, and they're vintage Flowers which means classic power pop melodies with a bit of a Texas twang.


Radio Days-I'm in Love With You, Haruka. Italy's Radio Days are heading out on their first Japanese tour, and in promotion of it they've released a 2-track single with the new title track and a cover of the Undertones' "Teenage Kicks". It's of a piece with their existing catalog so it has their typical 60s Merseyside sound.


Thursday, May 04, 2017

Early May Roundup.

The Hangabouts-Kits & Cats and Saxon Wives. The Hangabouts are back with their long-awaited followup to 2011's Illustrated Bird, and it's another delightful collection of 60s/Merseyside-influenced pop with a touch of psych and boy/girl harmonies (and with very fab cover art). The opening title track nails this sensibility with a mid-60s melody and noodling guitars, which is followed by the jangly and jaunty (and mostly instrumental) "Cricket Time". The clever and catchy "Evelyn Wood" is a real gem here, both in its sound (which is what Fountains of Wayne would sound like if their touchstone were the 60s instead of the 70s), and the lyrics, which use the titular speed-reading teacher as a metaphor for a woman who wants to go too fast in a relationship. Also worth particular mention are the Beatlesque "Selling Out", the twee and lovely "Twelve Songs" and the sunny pop of "Taking You to Leave Me". In the end, there's but one word to describe this album: groovy.


Colman Gota-Fear the Summer. This is the third album for this pop/rocker from Spain (not counting his work in Insanity Wave), but the first I've reviewed here and it's about damn time I got around to him. On his recent releases Gota was been working with genre legend Mitch Easter (who engineers here) and there's an element of his southern-fried power pop sound present here, with the crunchy guitars of the opening title track and the straightforward melodic rock of "What Goes on in My Head" (complete with cowbell). Elsewhere, the soaring melodies of "What You Want Me to Be", the piano-backed midtempo "For a Reason", and the classic power pop of "Call it Quits" are among the standouts here. All in all, it's a solid collection of Tom Petty-styled power pop which you shouldn't fear adding to your music collection this summer.


The Over Unders-Bet on Us EP. Wisconsin's The Over Unders are a literal band of brothers, led by Sam and Matthew Hellman and who have released two EPs the last two years with Bet on Us the followup to last year's self-titled debut. They remind me quite a bit of Fight Songs-era Old 97s, and the catchy opening track "Come On" wouldn't have sounded out of place of that album while "Won't Go Home" and "Out West" have a Gin Blossoms-meet-The Replacements vibe. Plus, the debut EP is of a piece with this one and is worth seeking out as well so there's essentially a fine full-length album here when you put them together.