Saturday, November 22, 2014

Weekend Roundup.

First in Space-In the Red. Johnny Stanec and the boys from Youngstown are back with their fourth full-length, and it just might be their best, trading in the Replacements-style rock of the last album for a purer pop sound. Although you wouldn't tell from the driving opener "Letters from Hell", it becomes evident on tracks like the bouncy "Forward Progress" and the midtempo, Gin Blossoms-like "The Other Side", and "Now or Never" is straight-up power pop reminiscent of Cliff Hillis or Michael Carpenter. And you only have to in the red for $5 for a digital copy at Bandcamp.

CD Baby | iTunes



VA-Here Comes the Reign Again: The Second British Invasion. Andrew Curry has done it again. After last year's compilation of contemporary power poppers covering the lite rock classics of the late 70s, Curry has gotten another all-star cast together to tackle the next decade when all those British bands came out of nowhere thanks to the emergence of MTV. Now while last year's comp was my favorite album of the year, this one - while executed just as well - may not achieve those heights due to my own personal preference for those late-70s tracks versus some of the synth-heavy sounds of the early 80s. Still there's plenty here to enjoy (and even geek out over if you're a bigger fan of the era than I) and like on the last compilation, the best covers here are those that sound like natural extensions of the artists covering them. So the suburban milieu of "Life in a Northern Town" is a perfect fit for Fountains of Wayne's Chris Collingwood, and "Everytime You Go Away" sounds so much like a typical Linus of Hollywood track that I forgot it was a cover when listening to it alongside his most recent release. Also in this category are "Save a Prayer", which is in David Mead's ballad wheelhouse, and the pure midetempo pop of "Wouldn't it Be Good" in Cliff Hillis's hands. Then you have the reinterpretations, and the ones that work here best are Mike Viola slowing down "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" and Graham Alexander doing likewise with Tracey Ullman's "They Don't Know". This is another must for power pop fans.

CD Baby | iTunes

Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween roundup.

Latvian Radio-For Love & Spite. These New Yorkers return with their latest full-length, another collection of their joyous power pop that will appeal to fans of indie poppers like The Shins as well as traditional power poppers like Brendan Benson. There's plenty to love here, from the jangle pop of "To Find You There" and "On Display" to more reflective numbers like "North of the Keys" and "Stand Clear of the Closing Doors". And with the uptempo melodies of the title track and "Oh No", For Love & Spite is like an instant party you can attend whenever you put on the album. With autumn in full swing, this is perfect record to listen to while enduring the drudgery of raking leaves.

CD Baby | iTunes

The Well Wishers-A Shattering Sky. Consistency, even when at a high level, can sometimes be a curse. This comes to mind whenever it's time to review a new Well Wishers disc because Jeff Shelton is so good at what he does that it's hard to say anything that hasn't be said over the previous five albums and an EP he's released since I started this blog in 2006. And to a large extent A Shattering Sky, Shelton's latest, is "more of the same". But to paraphrase Animal Farm, some Well Wishers album are more equal than others, and I'd say this is his best release since 2005's Under the Arrows. What made that album my favorite of his were the slower, midtempo numbers like "Only Sky" and "Before the Race Was Run". While all of the WW albums in the interim had the top-notch, driving jangle pop tunes, A Shattering Sky stands out for me with the quality of the slower tracks like "The Last to Fall in Love" and "Right Here at Last". Of course there's plenty of the "full-bodied power pop" (as Shelton describes it) to go around here too, and those tunes are great as well, including the jangly "Bring it Back" and "Goodbye" and the rocking "I Believe". This is the Well Wishers album to get if you only have one (and you should have them all).

CD Baby | iTunes



Monday, October 20, 2014

Back in the saddle.

Back after an extended hospital stay but everything is fine now and I've recovered completely. Thanks for all the well wishes, and now back to the power pop:

Rick Hromadka-Trippin Dinosaurs. It's been several years since the last Maple Mars album, but frontman Rick Hromadka has kept busy. In 2012, he teamed up with his wife for the excellent Ruby Free album, and now he's completely solo (and I mean COMPLETELY solo as he played all the instruments on the album) with Trippin Dinosaurs. Like Ruby Free, this isn't a replication of his Maple Mars sound but a different type of genre exercise as he goes the psych-pop route with debts to Pink Floyd and The Move. Opener "Conversation" with its "I Am The Walrus"-type vibe sounds straight outta 1968, while Hromadka puts the "pop" in psych-pop with "It's All in Your Head" and "Dreams of a Hippy Summer", the latter which would have been right at home on the Ruby Free album. And "Twice a Sunny Day Tomorrow" will transport you in your head to coastal California. I can safely say that this album has done everything it can to bring back "groovy" as an adjective of favor.

CD Baby | iTunes | Listen at Spotify

The Rip Off Artists-The Intercontinental. Nick Pipitone and Peter Batchelder are back for the first time since 2008's Esque with another round of sophisticated pop. Befitting its title, The Intercontinental is a tale of billionaires' daughters, failed actors, tennis instructors, college professors on the make, and miserable commuters among others. The result is an Elvis Costello-meets-Fountains of Wayne sensibility. So we get "Commuter's Blues", a song to hum along to while stuck in traffic, "Inside the Actor's Studio Apartment" (great title), a (lack of) character study set to a power pop beat, the Beatlesque "Mr. Right and Mrs. Right", where Pipitone and Batchelder trade vocals a la John and Paul, and the bouncy "Bachelor of Arts", in which we meet our sleazy professor. And as we approach the holidays, even "Christmas Eve" isn't safe from their cynical gaze. Nevertheless, The Intercontinental is a breath of fresh air in the power pop genre with lyrics that go beyond the usual staples of girls and cars.

As best as I can tell, at the moment this is a digital-only release on Bandcamp at the bargain price of $5, money you'd otherwise blow on an overpriced cup of coffee.

Friday, October 03, 2014

On the sick list.

Currently hospitalized, having surgery shortly, so no new posts until late next week at the earliest. Nothing life-threatening.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Weekend Roundup.

The Tripwires-Get Young. It's been a long five years to wait since their last album, but The Tripwires are back. This Seattle "supergroup" (consisting of members and former members of The Model Rockets, The Minus 5, Screaming Trees and Mudhoney) is hands down one of my favorite power pop bands as they do what so few bands are doing these days - playing pre-80s-styled power pop/pub-rock a la Rockpile and NRBQ - and doing so with one hyper-catchy tune after another. The opening title track seems a nod to Big Star, with its "O My Soul"-styled guitar riff and opening line "spilling into the street", but quickly becomes their own kind of rave-up. There really isn't a bad track here with just about all of them clocking in between 2-3 minutes, a testament to how tight their sound is. But the ones more equal than others are "Be All End All" (which is angular-sounding enough that The Strokes could cover it), "Production Sedan" (someone call Terry Anderson), and the frenetic "Owner Operator" which is 2:01 of musical dynamite. Right now it's only available through the FOLC Records Bandcamp site, and still claims to be in "pre-order" even though the release date listed is September 15. Either way, enjoy the mp3s now and get the vinyl or CD later. This would even sound good on 8-track.

FOLC Bandcamp



The Deathray Saints-The Deathray Saints. Not to be confused with John Dufilho's The Deathray Davies, this San Francisco band has crafted an interesting debut album that's part indie rock, part melodic rock/pop. Other than that I can't tell you more about them as they don't seem to have a website or Facebook page, making them as mysterious as the infamous Mozley. And perhaps that's fitting as their sound, while melodic, has a mysterious feel to it. I was drawn in by opening track "East of Eden", which has a Smithereens' "Blood and Roses" feel to it and a sneaky hook. The acoustic guitar-based "Down" is another treat, reminiscent of Portland's Derby, another personal favorite band of mine. And the midtempo "The Stars Have Let You Down" sounds like a lost alternative classic from the 90s. One thing they don't do here is skimp on the tunes; there's 17 here in all and while I can't recommend every one I can say with confidence that 10-12 of them are quite good.

CD Baby | iTunes

Listen at Spotify

Friday, September 05, 2014

Friday Roundup.

Cliff Hillis-Song Machine EP. It's always a good year for power pop when Cliff Hillis decides to release new material, and his followup to 2012's Dream Good is this new 7-song EP which he crowd-funded. If you weren't among those who already supported the EP you won't want to waste any time adding this to your collection. Hillis is matched by only a handful in the power pop scene when it comes to pure songcraft, and the seven tunes here are confirmation from the pensive opener "Dashboard" (which builds to a great crescendo) to the would-have-been-an-AM-Radio-hit-in-the-70s "Just One More" to the jangly, Beatlesque "Tonight". And Hillis is good for one track that instantly grabs you as a favorite - on 2008's The Long Now it was "Elevator", on Dream Good it was "Keep the Blue Skies", and here it's "Turn on a Dime" with a melody both catchy and effortless. It's going to be a real Sophie's Choice to pick between this and the Peter Buzzelle I review in July for 2014's top EP.

Tallboy Records (CD) | iTunes



Eugene Benjamin-Photograph. This Maryland singer-songwriter's second album isn't precisely power pop, but it's a tuneful mix of pop/rock and Americana that owes a debt to Tom Petty, George Harrison and John Hiatt and will appeal to fans of artists we've featured here like Mike Barnett. The opener "Baby Blue Eyes" is a gem with a great guitar hook in the chorus, "Cindy" reminds me of a typical Petty song about a woman, "Over Me" rocks melodically, and "Good-Bye" is top-drawer jangle rock. Put this one on your music player of choice, and it will be all about the Benjamin.

CD Baby | iTunes

Friday, August 22, 2014

Friday Roundup.

Joe Sullivan-Schlock Star. 2014 has the year of Michigan power pop, with quality releases from The Legal Matters and their constituent members (Chris Richards, Andy Klingensmith). The latest in the pipeline might be the best yet, as Saginaw's Joe Sullivan (with major help from The Legal Matters' Andy Reed) gives us the highly catchy and highly infectious Schlock Star. Opening with the Beach Boys-influenced "Conspiracy Radio", Sullivan displays his pop chops right away, and the "ba-da-da" chorus of "Nurse Tracy" will stick in your head. Elsewhere, the bubblegum pop of "Okinawa Girl" stands side-by-side with the Paul Simon pop of "Sean Patric's Balloon" and the pensive "Look at Me Now", which reminds me of one of Reed's crafty compositions. Star Wars fanatics will enjoy the album closer, "Victims of the Sarlaac", but you don't need to know the difference between Jabba the Hutt or Pizza the Hutt to find it enjoyable. Right now, this is a Bandcamp-only release, but you can get the CD or the mp3s.

Bandcamp



Willodean-Willodean. One of my favorite discs of 2005, and really of the previous decade, was Randy & The Bloody Lovelies' Lift, which featured piano pop of the highest order with a sophistication not often seen in the genre. The "Randy" in question here was Randy Wooten, who also supplied the husky, pack-a-day vocals that added to the atmosphere. Wooten then dropped off the radar, and there was no followup to Lift. So I was quite pleased to see Wooten resurface with Willodean, teaming up with Eric Holden and Dan Barrett with the latter providing vocals in the same raspy manner as Wooten and the former on upright bass. The result is a soulful melange of pop and Americana with a bit less piano than Lift but a worthy listen nonetheless. From the laid-back vibe of "Pieces" to the late-night cabaret feel of "Ghost Town" to the pop-with-pedal steel of "Oh Darkness", there's a nice mix of sub-genres here. But the real fun to be had here is the catchy "Julie Drinks With Demons", which will have any Bloody Lovelies fan grinning from ear to ear.

CD Baby | iTunes