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.

iTunes

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.

iTunes



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".

iTunes



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.

iTunes



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.

iTunes


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.

iTunes



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.

iTunes



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.

iTunes



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.

Bandcamp




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.

iTunes



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.

iTunes

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.

iTunes



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.

iTunes



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.

iTunes



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.

iTunes



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.

iTunes