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.

iTunes



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.

iTunes




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?)

iTunes

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.

Bandcamp



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.

iTunes

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.

Bandcamp



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.

iTunes



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.

iTunes

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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.



iTunes


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)

Friday, February 17, 2017

Mid-February Roundup.

Theo Katzman-Heartbreak Hits. My most pleasant surprise to date of the new year, Theo Katzman's Heartbreak Hits is unlike most of what I review here as it's not truly power pop or roots rock, but pop with a capital "P" which has enough grounding in the classic sounds of the 70s and 80s that kind of reminds me of 10 years ago when the likes of Mika and the Scissor Sisters were at their peak. Katzman, better known as a guitarist and drummer with the LA funk band Vulfpeck, brings on the fun here with a variety of styles. Opener "Hard Work" might be the closest thing to traditional power pop here with its loud guitars but brings in some R&B elements. Speaking of R&B, "Break Up Together" is a slinky tune with a simple hook that could have been a mid-70s hit, and speaking of hooks, the chorus of the Prince-esque "My Heart is Dead" is a true earworm. And then Katzman pivots from Prince to pedal steel with "Good to Be Alone", a wonderful low-key country-tinged number that shows off his versatility. Elsewhere, there's the rave-up of "As the Romans Do", the pretty ballad "Love is a Beautiful Thing" and the rare bonus track that's a real bonus, the catchy "Pop Song" which Katzman had previously released as a single. In the end, Heartbreak Hits is a real breath of fresh air and one that you can probably listen to with your teenage kids.

iTunes



Room for Dream-A Little Taste. iTunes calls this a single while I'm calling it an EP, but the three-song release by San Francisco's Room for Dream is a fine debut however you categorize it. Songwriter and lead singer Nicholas Lyon-Wright has a knack for the Beatlesque here which becomes apparent right away on "Catch it for a Second", while the piano-backed "A Trace of You" boasts real charm along with some fine harmonies from Luna Fuentes and "Silly Dream" reminds me of Jellyfish in their less-frenetic moments. Lyon-Wright told me they'll have a full album later this year, so enjoy this "little taste" for now.

iTunes



The Fisherman-Down. Greece's Tony Panou is The Fisherman and he's been releasing his one-man bedroom recordings for a few years now (Down is his fourth album). I'm glad to have caught up with him because if Down is representative of his output, we've been missing out the last few years. His songs have a 60s-pop type of charm to them, McCartneyesque to be sure but also reminiscent of other artists of the era. The breezy title track exemplifies this, and "The Guitar or the Girl" sounds like a title that should have been used in that decade. Other standouts here include "Girl With the Blue Eyes (and the Long Blonde Hair)", which has 1965 written all over it, the jangly "Rain" and the piano pop of "Turn Off the Lights". Groovy stuff.

iTunes

Friday, February 03, 2017

Early February Roundup.

Brent Cash-The New High. Georgia's Brent Cash has made a name for himself over the past 10 years with a pair of smooth, sleek pop albums of superior craft. He's back with his third album, the first since 2011's How Strange it Seems, and The New High is a new high indeed, once again channeling the likes of Brian Wilson, Van Dyke Parks and Burt Bacharach in places. For openers the stately, mellow pop of the title track (reminiscent of Kyle Vincent) gives way to the glorious piano pop of "Out for Blood", a Brian Wilson-meets-Todd Rundgren melange. Meanwhile, "The Wrong Thing" wouldn't be out of place on a Seth Swirsky album, "Every Inflection" only needs a flugelhorn to quality as a lost Bacharach track and "The Way You Were" is McCartneyesque chamber pop. Fittingly the album concludes with a track titled "Perfection Comes Near", an apt description of the proceedings here if your tastes run toward soft pop.

iTunes



Thorcraft Cobra-The Distance. Despite the name, Thorcraft Cobra is not 80s-styled hair metal band but rather the LA duo of Billy Zimmer and Tammy Glover. Their album here is kind of a "tweener", somewhat power pop, somewhat classic rock, and somewhat roots rock, but all melodic goodness. Opener "Carolina" has an anthemic buildup in service of a 70s Laurel Canyon sound, "Uncoupling" brings Michael Penn and Aimee Mann to mind, and "Caught in Between" reminds me of Gary Louris' Jayhawks classic "Smile" and the album of the same name as a whole. A great example of an album made by adults and for adults.

iTunes



Smisch-The Story of My Life. Smisch is a singer-songwriter from Sweden, and his debut album The Story of My Life is kind of the "Swedish pop" version of a typical singer-songwriter album. The opening title track is a gem, recalling Neil Finn and "I Will Never" has its own breezy charm as well. Other standouts include "Together", which adds some piano to the mix and has an early solo McCartney feel, the sprightly "Summer Love", and "Break Yourself Free", a fine pop number that sounds like it could have come from Finn's band, Crowded House. At 15 tracks, there's something for everyone here in this quality debut.

iTunes

Friday, January 20, 2017

Mid-January Roundup.

Caper Clowns-The Buca Bus. It seems that my first reviews of a new year are of albums I missed from the previous one, and 2017 is no exception. Had I stumbled on this pop delight from Denmark sooner, it would have made my top 100. As it is, you don't its placement on a list to give it a listen, as these Danes channel pop sources like McCartney and ELO. Jingly (and jangly) opener "Pockets" will put a smile on your face, "A Tale of Romance and Magnetic Trains" brings vintage-era Squeeze to mind, and "The Significance of Tea Cups" is sheer pop brilliance and probably my favorite song of the moment. It's finds like these that keep me going with this site after nearly 11 years.

iTunes | Kool Kat



Michael Roberts-Suspended in This Space. This smooth 70s AM-inspired record did catch my attention before I made the year-end list, where it placed in the top half, but I wanted to make sure I gave it the attention it deserves. Welshman Roberts here recalls 70s songsmiths like Gilbert O'Sullivan and Gerry Rafferty as well as obvious touchstones such as McCartney, with the leadoff track "What You Say" yet another example of something that would have been a big hit 40 years ago, and "When You Shine" defies you not to sing along with it. Elsewhere, tracks like "See the Old Man" and "I Think You're Very Ooo" would win you over on sheer charm alone even if they weren't as melodic as they are. And "My Angel" with its slow but inexorable buildup, falsetto chorus vocals, and muted horns literally screams 1972 in its retro-pop goodness. Listen to and enjoy the YouTube playlist below.

iTunes



Tony Low-Rendezvousing. North Carolina's Tony Low returned again late in 2016 with Rendezvousing, another fine mashup of Mitch Easter-southern-styled power pop and Byrds-ian 60s jangle that's familiar to those who enjoyed his previous releases. This time around the standout tracks are "The Awful Dream" (which will turn your pants into bell bottoms while you listen), "Pictures of Your Son" (which has a Ray Davies slice-of-life feel), and "You" (which seriously brings the jangle). In fact, one could say Rendezvousing is an all-time Low, even if that doesn't sound like a compliment.

iTunes