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.