Although my individual reviews have gone on hiatus, I do plan on making the year-end lists. They'll probably appear between Christmas & New Year's.
Saturday, December 19, 2020
Although my individual reviews have gone on hiatus, I do plan on making the year-end lists. They'll probably appear between Christmas & New Year's.
Tuesday, September 22, 2020
Rick Hromadka-Better Days.
The former Maple Mars frontman is back with his second proper solo release after 2014's Trippin' Dinosaurs and it's a welcome return to form. Enlisting help from a wide variety of current-day power pop luminaries too many to mention (see his site for a full listing), Hromadka says "I'm Here to Entertain" and entertain he does with tracks such as that one which has a "McCartney goes to the circus" feel, "Better Days", which has the classic Maple Mars sound, and the heavy ELO-influenced pop of "Searchlight". Great stuff, and the best power pop album of the second half of 2020 so far.
Get it at his site. And listen to the whole thing below:
Friday, August 28, 2020
Late August Roundup.
J.P. Cregan-Twenty. We've waited even longer for a new J.P. Cregan full-length as it's been 8 years since Man Overboard, and it's also great to have him back. Twenty is a concept album (or to use today's preferred term, a "song cycle") about his 20 years of marriage but you don't need to follow the concept to enjoy his sweet pop confections. "History of Man" is a great opener with melody and drive, and "In California" sounds like a old folk song brought to life with its martial beat and harmonica. "Pay to Play" is the kind of upbeat power pop you get from Michael Carpenter and Cliff Hillis, and "The Belle of USC" recalls the skinny tie sound of the late 70s. And "Fern, Destroyer of Worlds!" could almost be a lost Guided by Voices track. There's not a bad track here (I'm not counting the interstitial bits).
Robby Miller-Robby Miller EP. I don't know much about this guy and I forgot how I stumbled on to this EP about six weeks ago, but it's good stuff and "Lovesick Again" is the kind of silly pop that gets stuck in your head for good. "Freya" and "Take a Smile" are classic guitar pop, and "This Guy" and "Perfect Form" are perfectly fine ballads, but the gooey pop of "Lovesick Again" and its 80s-sitcom theme song sound is something else. You'll be hearing "Can't go in to work/whole body hurts/guess who's lovesick again?" on repeat in your brain if you dare listen.
Friday, August 07, 2020
Early August Roundup.
The Lees of Memory-Moon Shot. Superdrag was one of the great power pop bands of all time, spanning the 90s through the mid-2000s. The creative force behind the band, John Davis, has had various projects solo and otherwise since that time but lately has teamed up with Brandon Fisher as The Lees of Memory over the last several years. While the Lees have had several singles, EPs and even a double album which have all been just fine, Moon Shot is the first Lees release that stands with the best of Superdrag. Hearing the crunchy guitars and melodies of "Lonely Everywhere" along with Davis's voice will bring you back to those days, as will the take-no-prisoners heavy pop of "Crocodile Tears". The spacey rock and indelible chorus of "Free & Easy" is a real triumph as is the loud-but-languid "No Floor No Ceiling". This Moon Shot is definitely more Apollo 11 than Apollo 13.
Nite Sobs-Do the Sob!. This Austin, Texas 3-piece has a real throwback sound and Do the Sob! is 13 tracks of catchy-as-hell pop which all clock in under 2:46. They bill themselves as "skinny ties and four eyes" (all 3 members are bespectacled) and that's just about enough to describe their sound given their debt to the likes of Buddy Holly and Marshall Crenshaw. Hooks and harmonies galore and all of these songs are excellent, but my two favorites are "I Need to Hear It" and "Vowelerie"; your mileage may vary. So ignore The Pretenders and start your Sobbing.
Monday, July 13, 2020
Dead Stars-Never Not Here. From the sleek sophisticated pop of Dolour we switch to the harder-edged, Replacements/Guided by Voices-style power pop of Brooklyn's Dead Stars. This is their fourth full-length but the first they've caught my ear and they marry melody to loud guitars in fine fashion. The opening duo "Dreams Don't Come True" and "Hold My Breath" will appeal to the Superdrag fan in you while "Cool Summer" is a classic grunge rocker, "February Ghost" does the quiet/loud Pixies/Nirvana thing well and "Story of Your Life" has a bit of "Come as You Are"'s DNA in it. Roll down the windows and crank it loud.
Jim Trainor-Glass Half Full EP. When you think about it, Glass Half Full is a great title for an EP because it describes how one might feel about a really good EP as opposed to a full-length album. And this is a really good EP of classic Beatlesque power pop. "The Only One" reminds me of George Harrison's poppier moments, "Claire" features a stacatto lead-in that's classic to the genre (think "Getting Better"), the midtempo "Sometimes" has a bit of Lennon in it, and closer "Dolly Rae" almost builds into a mini "Hey Jude". Good stuff, and not every day you get fresh power pop from Idaho.
Tuesday, June 23, 2020
Summer Singles Roundup.
Starbelly-Love Song 26 (feat. Roger Joseph Manning Jr.). And if a new Cliff Hillis single isn't enough, here he is with Starbelly and special guest Roger Joseph Manning Jr. "Love Song 26" is a classic Beatlesque mid-tempo number which features Manning on piano, backing vocals and orchestration.
The Top Boost-Tell Me That You're Mine/Early Morning Days. And as we continue to thematically link the current single to the one before it, this Vancouver duo had their 2019 EP produced by Roger Joseph Manning Jr. This time around, the guys trade in their classic pop stylings for Sweetheart of the Rodeo-era Byrds on "Tell Me That You're Mind" while "Early Morning Days" has a more lush countrypolitan sound. An interesting but welcome departure.
Dungeon of Skeletons-Valencia. Some of you may remember Justin Kline from earlier last decade. He's been quiet for a while but is back with his band Dungeon of Skeletons. Despite the death metal-sounding name, "Valencia" is more of the bright pop Kline was known for as a solo artist and it's a great summer track.
Empty City Squares-Parmenides/History Rhymes. Big Stir Records has been bringing us some great power pop singles the last few years and the latest from Empty City Squares, whose 337 was one of the pleasant surprises of 2019, is a double-sided single which is "thinking man's pop" as it's literally about a thinker, the philosopher Parmendies. But don't worry, these are catchy tunes, not ponderous navel-gazing.
Buy at Big Stir (scroll down)
Bryan Estepa-Weight in Gold/Subject to Change. Like Cliff Hillis above, Bryan Estepa has been one of most consistently excellent power pop artists of the past 15-20 years and fresh off his grabbing of the top spot in 2019's year-end list on this site he has two new tracks that are, uh, worth their weight in gold. "Weight in Gold" is a sweet, subdued track that gets by on charm and melody, while "Subject to Change" is more classic Estepa with its big, catchy chorus.
Ryan Allen-Hope and Control/Feeling Alright?. Ryan Allen is back with more of his heavy power pop (but without his Extra Arms this time) on a couple of new tunes. "Hope and Control" is classic Allen while "Feeling Alright?" has a glam sound. Proceeds from this single are going the Black Lives Matter Foundation, so check it out.
Monday, June 01, 2020
Early June Roundup.
The Breakup Society-Before the Intervention Ruined Everything. Power pop isn't always known for its sharp or clever lyrics, but Ed Masley and his band The Breakup Society have been giving us tunes with a twist for a while now. A search of my archives reveals that this is the first time I've written about them, an injustice I'm remedying now. Masley's lyrics are reminiscent of a less bitter, less acerbic Elvis Costello and the music is first-rate. Titles like "My Little Cautionary Tale", "Slow Day at the Outrage Factory", "Her Alpha Male" and "Don't Let the Hipsters Catch You Crying" speak for themselves and you'll have your share of "aha" moments while listening. And album closer "Strength Was Always Your Weakness" was co-written by kindred spirit Scott McCaughey, with his Minus 5 catalog being another touchstone for Masley & Co.
Tom Curless and the 46%-Almost Ready for the Future. Like Nick Piunti above, Tom Curless is an honorary member of what I call the Michigan power pop mafia, and also like Piunti he brings his backing band, the 46%, front and center on his latest solo release. This is his second under his own name; before that he had released several albums as Your Gracious Host. This one's a more rocking affair than his 2018 album Songs of Movement and you could put the album on a playlist with Piunti's and it would fit right in. "Always in Between" gives the album rocket fuel right out of the gate and following is probably the album's best track "House on Fire", which throws in some cheeky Cars-esque synths. "Just Wanna Talk" has a bit of a Beck vibe (without the white boy rap) while "Unexpected Knock" rocks hard. Whatever future you're almost ready for, it should include Curless's latest.
Tuesday, May 12, 2020
Kool Kat (pre-order on CD)
Andrew Weiss and Friends-The Golden Age of Love & Chemistry. New York's Andrew Weiss caught my ear in 2018 with his debut album The Honeymoon Suite but he's taken a big step up with his new one, a collection of what I like to call Popicana. His touchstones are Tom Petty and The Jayhawks and the opener "All the News Fit to Print" recalls the former while followup track "Homesick Blues" channels the latter. Elsewhere "The Morning After" is a mature and melodic mid-tempo number, the power ballad "Everybody Loves a Comeback" could have been a late 80s/early 90s hit, and "Diamond" could almost be a lost Bread classic. Impressive stuff.
Cupid's Carnival-Color-Blind. Cupid's Carnival returns with the followup to their 2016 debut Everything is Love and everything is love once again as this extremely Beatlesque London band follows up with a collection they say is for the Summer of Love 2020 (maybe make that the Summer of Isolation). "Working All Day" provides a Hard Day's Night/Help! vibe, "Yesterday's Gone" has a touch of "Penny Lane" without the horns, and "Looking for Rainbows" could be a Rubber Soul outtake. Falling somewhere between The Red Button and The Rutles, Cupid's Carnival lives in a world where it's always 1965 - and in some respects, that's not a bad thing.
Monday, April 27, 2020
Late April EPs & Singles Roundup.
Mitch Linker-I'll Take My Chances EP. Speaking of long absences, Hartford's Mitch Linker brings us his first new music in 13 years. Perhaps best known for the short-lived power pop band The Day Traders, Linker serves up a slick four-track EP that could be called adult contemporary in the vein of Josh Rouse or David Mead. "Given Everything" and "I'll Take My Chances" are the standouts here, mellow gold for a new decade.
The Explorers Club-Ruby/I Wonder What She's Doing Tonite. Like presidential elections and Summer Olympics (though maybe not this year), The Explorers Club has been releasing new much precisely every four years since 2008. This two-song single is a preview of the two albums they have coming out this summer, one consisting of originals and the other all covers. We get one of each here, with the original "Ruby" a great example of their glorious sunshine pop finding the mean between 60s California pop and Merseyside. "I Wonder What She's Doing Tonite", meanwhile, is a cover of the 1968 Boyce & Hart top 10 hit that's of a piece with band's sound. This is all making me eagerly await the full-length releases.
Creamer-Hideaway. Phillip Creamer's debut album was one of my favorites of 2018 as it perfectly captured the early 70s Big Star sound, and his new single is more of the same - a gentle ballad that builds to an operatic crescendo. Hoping this heralds a new album.
Bleu-I Wanna Write You a Symphony. Another artist from whom new music is always welcome is the irrepressible Bleu, and his new single is as a grandiose undertaking as its title implies with all of his trademark bells and whistles.
Salim Nourallah-Building a Case. The man who brought us my favorite album of 2012, Hit Parade, otherwise has released several albums I've enjoyed but haven't been over the moon about. But this catchy new single about his lover "building a case against our love" demonstrates his clever charm and wit and wouldn't have been out of place on Hit Parade, so I'm highly recommending it.
Tuesday, April 07, 2020
Early April Roundup.
High on Stress-Hold Me In. Like many, six years ago I was bummed to hear that Minneapolis rockers High on Stress broke up, and like many I'm thrilled that Nick Leet & company have reunited. Hold Me In sounds like they never went away, delivering a dozen tracks in the vein of The Replacements-meets-early Wilco. "Work Release" is a great opener, with "my heart's on work release" a metaphor worthy of some of Westerberg's best. "Dakota" features a country beat, "Never Got That Far" is a great folk-rocker with ex-Billy Pilgrim Andrew Hyra joining on vocals, and speaking of guest stars, Laurie Lindeen (of ZuZu's Petals and Westerberg's ex) duets with Leet on what's perhaps the album's best track, the yearning "Wish This Moment Gone". A return to form, if not an improvement on form.
Surrender Human-Surrender Human. The Chapel Hill NC music scene might not be what it was in the 90s, but three veterans of that era have teamed up in their best effort to bring them back. Matt McMichaels (vocals, guitar) of the late great Mayflies USA joins Ben Folds Five bassist Robert Sledge and drummer Tony Stiglitz (Jett Rink, Chris Stamey) as Surrender Human, and their debut disc finds them in fine form. It's a mix of 90s slacker-era indie rock with an older and wiser pop sound, and fans of any of the bands these guys played in or with will love it. The bright rocker "Boxcar Reel" lets you know what you're in for, the catchy "Let You Down" could have been a staple on college rock radio stations 25 years ago, and "Girls Not Talking" is some nifty power pop. Surrender to this one.
Saturday, March 21, 2020
Dave Kuchler-It's Pronounced... New Jersey's Dave Kuchler is an old school power popper, and when I say "old school" I'm talking about the fact that he's had these songs kicking around for 25-30 years as life got in the way before he could put them on a record. Also during this time Kuchler was in the overlooked band Soul Engines, and some of these were tracks written for the aborted followup to their classic album Closer Still. Thankfully these tunes have seen the light of day and fans of Marshall Crenshaw and Brian Jay Cline will enjoy the jangly roots pop of "If I Saw You" and "Better Things to Do", which fit in nicely with his cover of "When You Walk in the Room". Kuchler's also not averse to throwing in some horns and some R&B flourishes here and there and he'll take you back to a time when the Jersey shore meant Springsteen and Southside Johnny and not Snooki and The Situation.
VA-Garden of Earthly Delights: An XTC Celebration. Keith Klingensmith and Futureman Records have done it again with another lavish (49 tracks!) and comprehensive tribute project, this time taking on the legendary XTC. As you'd come to expect it has a star-studded lineup of indie power pop with nearly 2/3 of the acts present having been featured on this site over the years. So rather than single out individual tracks (there are a few "re-imaginings" but most are fairly faithful to the originals), I'll just go with a few of my general impressions. One, it's been a long time since I've listed to a lot of XTC as I did in the late 80s and early 90s and it's great to hear these tunes again. Another is that their songs (especially Andy Partridge's) are fairly idiosyncratic (often in their "Englishness" for lack of a better term). So whereas a lot of the covers on say, Futureman's Sloan tribute sounded like the cover artists making them their own, here no matter who's singing it's tough not to hear Partridge and Moulding. Still it's a great chance to hear some of your favorite artists tackle some pop classics.
Sunbourne Rd-Teenage Lyrics. It's great to hear power pop from around the world, and Italy's brought us some great acts like Radio Days and The Labradors. You can add Sunbourne Rd to the list with their Beatlesque full-length debut Teenage Lyrics. While the raved-up opener "Baby! Baby! Baby!" earns its exclamation marks, "Different Life" and "Fire from the Sun" are mid-tempo standouts with a hint of Lennon. And the wall of sound of "Scars" brings ELO to mind. They have a couple of prior EPs under their belt and I plan to check them out as you should too.
Bird Streets-Ghosts EP. John Brodeur's teamup with Jason Falkner brought us the brilliant 2018 Bird Streets album, one of the year's best. While this isn't the proper follow-up to the debut (not sure Falkner is even involved here), Brodeur has released four new tracks he's had kicking around for a while, and they're pretty good. The real highlight is the final track "Fallout", which is on par with the best of the full-length and "Round My Way" is a punchy classic rock-sounding track.
Travel Lanes-On. Frank Brown is back with his third Travel Lanes album, and it's a tight 8-song collection of quality rock that finds the mean between Tom Petty and Elvis Costello, or perhaps an American Graham Parker. Brown moves from the straight-ahead rock of "True and Tried" to rockabilly of "Answer My Prayers" to the Americana of "It's Time". And "Big Heart" comes right from the Elvis C ballad playbook. Sometimes it's good to stay in your Lanes.
Friday, February 28, 2020
Late February Roundup.
The Suitesixteen-Mine Would Be the Sun. The Suitesixteen is the brainchild of British Columbia's Rob Nesbitt, frontman of the early 90s power pop band Bum. He's been working on this album on and off for the last 16 years and its 16 tracks (sense a pattern here?) are a testament to the process. The songs here run from Green Day-like pop-punk ("Start at 13", "It's Not True") to the GbV-influenced ("Bob Greene", "My Wife, Doom, Singular, Fate") to Big Star-styled power pop ("A Very Well Known Secret", "Burn and Cool", "Taught Me a Lie"). Given its length of gestation and the variety of styles, it plays like a greatest hits album from an alternate universe and is an early Best of 2020 contender.
Hanemoon-Mammals. Back in the early-mid 2000s, there were a couple of similarly-named bands with similar-sounding albums called Seaside Stars and The Sealevel and they released some wonderful breezy jangle pop. The common denominator in those bands was Hans Forster and he's back under a new guise as Hanemoon with a brand new album. And yes if you liked those "sea" bands you'll like this one. Similar in sound to Dropkick and Teenage Fanclub, his songs such as "Bang the Wire" and "Where the Cars Collide" will have you feeling right at home, while "Sunset Alvarado" and "The Captain's Daughter" are also standouts.
Friday, February 07, 2020
Early February Roundup.
Dropkick-The Scenic Route. I could tell you that this is the album where Scottish mainstays Dropkick changes up their sound and incorporates some harder rock or reggae influence or some danceable beats, but I'd be lying. Nope, their 16th album is much like the 15 that came before it and The Scenic Route is one more data point to prove that the only things you can count on in life are death, taxes and Dropkick. But as long as they keep making album after album of top-notch jangle pop/folk in the vein of Teenage Fanclub and The Jayhawks I'm not gonna complain. The standouts here are the breezy opener "Feeling Never Goes Away", the lovely ballad "Disappearing" and "Tomorrow".
Tommy Ray!-First Hits Free. This is the debut solo album from the lead singer of The Cry! and you can tell from the exclamation points alone that you're in for some high-energy, fast-moving power pop with a pop-punk edge. If you partook of the recent couple of Cry albums you'll know what to expect, otherwise think The Clash in their poppier moments or The Exploding Hearts. It's all very infectious, from the 1978 vibes of "Life Goes On to "Hey Susanne" (which reminds me a bit of "I Fought the Law") to the 60s rock of "Coming Back". This is fun stuff, and I can see it ending up on Little Steven's Underground Garage.
Friday, January 17, 2020
New year, new music
Rob Martinez-Maybe Miss America. Albuquerque pop-rocker Rob Martinez is back with his third album on Adam Marsland's Karma Frog label and though I enjoyed his first two (one of which I had in a year-end list) I just realized I hadn't featured him on the site. Time to remedy this with Maybe Miss America, his most assured work to date. For the unfamiliar, Martinez is a purveyor of adult pop in the vein of Neil Finn and Cliff Hillis, and on this one he opens with the 1-2 punch of the mid-period Beatles-influenced "The Letter" and the poptastic "Summer of Love", a deft mix of Merseyside and Brian Wilson. Other highlights include the groovy "All I Ever Wanted", which wouldn't be out of place on a Red Button album; the McCartneyesque ballad "Genevieve Chasteau"; and the jangly title track. Suddenly now there are 99 spots left on my top 100 of 2020.
Brian Jay Cline-Songs for a Generation of X's EP. You just can't sleep on Brian Jay Cline. When I was compiling my year-end lists a couple of weeks ago I checked the link for his Critics Darling album I was including and discovered he had released another EP mid-year which I missed. And then on top of that, he released this new EP last week. So my advice is to bookmark his Bandcamp page and keep checking at least once a month. This latest EP again finds Cline doing what he does best - rootsy pop/rock a la Marshall Crenshaw and Bill Lloyd. "Two Left Feet" is a gem complete with harmonica, "Permanent Midnight" has an 80s feel to it with the rangy guitars and synths in the background and "High and Lonesome" is an earnest, building rocker. And Cline even tries out reggae with "Knockout" which succeeds in despite of itself. Keep 'em coming, Brian!
Rooftop Screamers-"Our Lucky Night" featuring Keith Slettedahl. Former Throwback Suburbia drummer and songwriter Mike Collins' Rooftop Screamers project continues apace with new music featuring various frontmen from the indie power pop community, and his latest for 2020 is "Our Lucky Night" which finds Keith Slettedahl, former lead singer of The 88, on vocals. The song has a great winding melody and with Slettedahl on board it can easily pass for a lost 88 track.
Thursday, January 02, 2020
The Absolute Powerpop Top 25 EPs of 2019.
2. Stag-Electric Mistress
3. David Woodard-Everything in Between
4. La Fleur Fatale-Bound to Nowhere
5. Joe Benoit-Greetings from Forest Hills NY
6. Brady Harris-Keep Your Cover
7. Project: Ghost Outfit-S/T
8. Taylor Davis-Moonlighter
9. Brian Jay Cline-Critics Darling
10. Breakfast in America-Side Hustle
11. Stefano Copabianco-Stefano & The Slightly Irregulars
12. The Top Boost-Dreaming
13. The Embroys-Singles Club Vol. 1
14. Wyatt Blair-For the First Time
15. Girl Recruiter-S/T
16. The Last Bees-S/T
17. Frank Brown-S/T
18. Defecting Grey-Run Silent
19. The Skullers-Freight Trains & Party Games
20. Oscar Tango-Choice Morsels
21. David Pollack-DP
23. City Rivals-S/T
24. The Buzz-Sparkle & Pop
25. Lost Ships-All of the Pieces