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.


Thursday, April 20, 2017

Mid April Roundup.

Greg Ieronimo-Never Leaving California. Greg Ieronimo, who wowed us with his 7-track debut EP in 2014, doubles our fun here with his followup 14-track full-length release Leaving California. Ieronimo is Power Pop with two capital Ps, as his way with both a hook and crunchy guitars recalls many of the classic artists of the genre. Whether its the Matthew-Sweet-circa-100%-Fun blast of the title track or the bouncy staccato beat of "You Love Me" or the shoulda-been-a-theme-song-for-a-modern-day-Monkees-reboot "Best Day of Our Life", Ieronimo's knack for melody and eagerness to rock shine through. Elsewhere, "Outta Sight" is a better Weezer song than Weezer has put out in recent years, and "Beautiful Disaster" would slip in nicely on a Cheap Trick album. Another outstanding release in what's already shaping up to be a great year for power pop.


Gregg Stewart-Gregg Stewart. Speaking of Greg(g)s, Gregg Stewart, the former frontman of Americana band Stewboss, brings us his self-titled solo debut that he says is inspired by the year 1978, his favorite year in music. And with his blonde hair and beard, he's got the Andrew Gold/Jay Ferguson look down as well. Leadoff track "R is for Rockstar" is an amusing look at how to act like a hotel-trashing, groupie-loving 70s rocker, "Let's Go Find a Night" channels solo Mick Jagger, and the driving, catchy "You're the One" practically begs you to roll down the car windows and sing along. Also worth cranking up are rockers "Stone Cold Fox" (which Stewart says is a tribute to Joan Jett) and the soulful "Give it All You Got". So party like it's 1978, and be glad you don't have to wait in a gas line while listening to these tunes.


Bread & Butter-Bread & Butter. And speaking of 1978, Seattle's Bread & Butter comes out of the blocks with an album full of songs that you would have likely heard on your local AOR station had they existed back then. Even though you've pretty much heard it before, they make it fresh - "Worst of Times" kicks off the proceedings with a sound that's big enough and with enough swagger to make you feel like they've re-invented the rock wheel. "Desperation" and "Keys to the City" distill Kiss and Cheap Trick, and "Shoot My Mouth Off" shows their way with a mid-tempo rocker. These guys just have the sound of something bigger, and if revivalists like Oasis, The Strokes and Jet can hit it big, there's no reason this crew can't. (Other the general fragmentation of the music biz and declining market share of rock in the last 15-20 years, but who's counting?)


Friday, April 07, 2017

Early April Roundup.

Corin Ashley-Broken Biscuits. Corin Ashley has been through a lot since we last heard from him in 2013 with the wonderful New Lion Terraces. In January 2016, he suffered a parietal lobe stroke which left him unable to move the fingers on his left hand and with a paralyzed vocal cord. After some hard work with a neurosurgeon who had experience with musicians recovering from brain injuries, Ashley re-learned how to sing and play the guitar and was back on stage by the end of the year, and he's also managed to release a new album which may actually be his best yet. While his previous releases were more chamber/baroque-pop oriented (one of his albums wasn't called Songs from the Brill Bedroom for nothing), this one has a more immediate appeal, as though Ashley is seizing his new lease on life. The fairly raucous opener "Little Crumbles" recalls McCartney in rock-and-roll mode, the delightful "Wind Up Boy" (with vocals from Tanya Donnelly) is another upbeat pop treat and "In Appropriate Fashion" is straight-up power pop. But fans of the old Ashley have no need to fret either - "Magpie over Citadel", "Junior Partner" and "Powder Your Face With Sunshine" are pristine chamber pop numbers. A triumphant return, and one of 2017's best to date.

CD Baby

Danny de la Matyr-Crybaby. You can be forgiven if Danny de la Matyr's name doesn't sound familiar, but if you're a long-time reader of this site you might recall his band called The Sheers, who put out the fine Goodbye World back in 2006/2007. We haven't heard much from him since, although he's worked with Rhett Miller, Jesse Malin and more recently Luther Russell, both solo and with Those Pretty Wrongs, Russell's project with Big Star's Jody Stephens. During all that time he was putting together his solo debut, and it was worth the time. After a couple of lovely, Elliott Smith-style tracks to open the album, things perk up with the slinky melody and staccato guitars of the title track, the power balladry of "How Can it Be?" and the chiming power pop of "Lines". Other standouts include the Beatlesque "Skeleton Key", the rocking "Misfire" and the anthemic piano pop of "Fade to Grey". A solid disc from start to finish.


Wiretree-Towards the Sky. Kevin Peroni has been releasing quality indie-rock/power pop albums as long as I've doing this blog, and on his fifth full-length the Austonian comes through again. From the understated opener "Let Me In" to the driving, ELO-like "J.F. Sebastian" (an homage to the Blade Runner character?) to the classic Wiretree sound of "Dive" to the trippy title track, Towards the Sky is a welcome addition to the Wiretree canon. And "Didn't Know Your Name" might be the album's best track, with its steady build toward a driving climax.


Friday, March 24, 2017

Late March Roundup.

The Tripwires-Fat City Let's Go! (EP). They're baaaaack! The Tripwires, everyone's favorite Seattle supergroup (consisting of members and former members of The Model Rockets, The Minus 5, Screaming Trees and Mudhoney) and who had this site's #1 album of 2014, return with a 6-track EP that will probably be my #1 EP of 2017. Nobody does pub-rock in the fashion of Rockpile and NRBQ better these days, and this EP delivers the goods with the chunky, bouncy title track as well as "Nothing of the Kind" (which adds a bit of Merseybeat to the mix), the raveup "New New New New New" (that's 5 "new"s, not 4 or 6) and the riotous "I Hear You Calling". John Ramberg & Co. have done it again.


Christopher Galen-The Master Plan. Christopher Galen (who also goes by the more anonymous-sounding Chris Smith) is a singer-songwriter from Colorado who's fashioned a fine album of mid-tempo pop/rock that should appeal to fans of Cliff Hillis, Rob Laufer and Bill Lloyd. The appropriately-titled "In the Beginning" kicks off the album with a driving and hypnotic guitar-keyboard riff and reminds me of solo McCartney. It's a bit long at 7:12 but I didn't mind. Other standouts include the Elliott Smith-meets-"Blood and Roses" Smithereens "Terms and Unconditions", the power-popping title track, the lovely, largely acoustic ballad "Too Late", and "Nothing Else", a fully-realized pop song that might be the album's best.


The Rallies-Serve. We return to Washington state with Tacoma's The Rallies, whose Serve is one heckuva debut album and answers the musical question "What if Tom Petty was part of Crowded House?". Mixing sweet melodies with jangly rock, they crank out one ear-friendly tune after another here, from the mostly acoustic opening "rally" "Don't Give Up" to excellent pop/rockers like "Whatever You Tonight" and "No One Knows", to the jangle pop of "So Right" and "These Are the Words". Serve's bright and shiny sound will serve as a perfect backdrop for the spring.



Thursday, March 02, 2017

Early March Roundup.

Hornal-The Game Begins With the Lights Out. Iain Hornal has been quite the prolific sideman over the last several years, playing with Jeff Lynne's ELO, 10cc and The Feeling among others. Now it's his turn to be in the spotlight as he releases his solo debut, and it's of a piece with the artists he's played with. "Staring at the Sky", with its spacey intro and light harmonies, recalls a Lynne ballad, while The Feeling's Paul Stewart and Ciaran Jerremiah with Billington & Quinn join Hornal on "Jennifer", which is bright and buoyant as much of that band's output. (They also join on the lovely ballad "Pictures of Past"). More friends help out here as well, with the legendary Graham Gouldman and Kevin Godley of 10cc providing vocals (and not a small bit of inspiration) to album closer "Say the Word", a wonderful slice of eccentric British pop complete with spoken word interlude from IT Crowd actor Matt Berry. But the top track here is one that doesn't have any flashy guests: the catchy "She Doesn't Have Anyone", yet another #1 single from an alternate universe. An early 2017 top 10 contender.


The Drywall Heels-The Drywall Heels EP. Power pop doesn't come more straightforward or more fun than this debut EP from Toronto's The Drywall Heels. "You Should Know"'s hooks reel you right in with its "oh-uh-oh-oh-oh" chorus and Raspberries-meet-Cheap Trick sound, "Richmond Hill" is a 1:31 blast of guitar pop, the ghost of Big Star haunts "Claudia" and "Lauren (Let Me In)" would make fellow countrymen Sloan smile. With all five tracks clocking in under 3 minutes each, it'll leave you wanting more. And the best part is that it's "name your price" at Bandcamp. (Technical note: this was released on December 23 but since it was so late in the year I'm counting it for 2017 list purposes)

Bandcamp (name your price)

The Lunar Laugh-Mama's Boy. Jared Lekites (featured here earlier as a solo artist) and Connor Anderson team up for their second album as The Lunar Laugh and like the first it splits the difference between power pop and folk/rock to fine effect. The title track is a rollicking pop tune that recalls the awkwardness and pain of growing up, while the midtempo "Sticks and Stones" wouldn't sound out of place on an Autumn Defense album. Elsewhere, Lekites shines on "Work in Progress", a great track reminiscent of Gary Louris's version of The Jayhawks and album closer "Nighthawks & Mona Lisa" (released earlier as a single) just might be their signature song with its warm mix of melody and harmony.

Bandcamp (digital, CD & Vinyl)