Pop That Goes Crunch!

Seven Decades Of Melodic Rock & Roll

We Get More Records And The Hits Keep Coming

Today brings reviews of three more fine recent releases that found their way to our virtual desk.

PropellerPropeller, Fall Off The World: Propeller’s third long-player shows Greg Randall and Will Anderson to be masters of the pithy, hook-filled pop song set amid a wash of punchy guitars and non-stop boisterous rhythms. “Pithy” is an operative description here. The ten-song set clocks in at less than thirty-minutes, just enough time for the guys to say their peace.

And they say it quite well.

They get it started with “Can You Hear Us Now,” which sounds instantly recognizable. A couple of extra bass notes in the intro, and you’ve got Bram Tchikovsky’s “Girl Of My Dreams.” Is that a bad thing? Not if your are sound checking one of the great pop songs of the late-70s. Randall and Anderson only use “Girl” as fleeting template, before taking “Can You Hear Us Now” to a louder place and more than justifying the Husker Du tag on their Bandcamp page. The next track, “Mismatched Shoes,” sounds as though it was blasting from a local college radio station non-stop, all summer long back in ’86.

All of this, however, is just warm-up for the show-stopping, three minutes of pure pop goodness that is “Wish I Had Her Picture”:


The hits, though, keep coming at breakneck speed.

“She’s So Alive” jangles its way into your heart, mind and soul. The bopping “It’s Kinda Why I Like You” attests to the power of simplicity when employed by the right hands. “You Remind Me Of You,” which made one of my previous “Year End” lists, injects liberal doses of sugar into the basic rocking mix:


Fall Off The World concludes, quite fittingly, with “Turn On The Radio,” a lyrical and sonic paean to The Ramones and the power of rock ‘n’ roll radio. It gets in and gets out at 1:55 — a perfect ending to Propeller’s best longplayer to date.

You can get Fall Off The World, right here as a “name-your-price” download. Chip in some cash, though. You won’t regret it.

 

TrolleyTrolley, Caught In The Darkness:  The latest release by this venerable Milwaukee-based band time-travels effortlessly from the 60s to today, making the occasional pit stop at a number of places and times in-between. Trolley is usually characterized as purveyors of “psych-pop.” For the most part, though, Trolley’s brand of psychedelia is more of the 1966 variety, than of the trippier experiments of 1968, with its swirling keyboards complimented throughout by relentlessly pounding beats.

Those beats get the festivities underway, as a short drum roll announces the start of the title track, an exposition of a darkened heart playing off, in yin-yang fashion, against an exuberant, sunny soundtrack. The happy “Thursday Girl” has a thoroughly sunny disposition. The opposition of darkness and light returns on “Step Into The Clear,” whose soothingly sweet opening soon gives way to a more sinister feel. As tinkling bells struggle for supremacy against gloomy guitars, the singer notes in a bit of bored resignation that “I’m wasted/but such is life”:


The band’s penchant for mixing it all up is evident throughout Caught In The Darkness. Complex rhythms take the fuzzy keyboard-oriented “She Has It All” to unexpected places.  The British Invasion feel of “All The Way” is spiked with a more contemporary array of sounds. “She Helps Me Celebrate” is Power Pop, circa 1980. What I noted about the generally less “trippy” feel of Trolley’s overall approach is, however, thrown completely out the window on the closing track, “Take My Love,” a seven-and-a-half minute excursion into the dreamy unknown.

Caught In The Darkness is a album conceived from great ideas, and executed with great care. You can strap yourself in for the fantastic voyage right here.

 

The PulseThe Gordy Garris Group, The Pulse: The Gordy Garris Group hails from Saginaw, Michigan, and enlisted Andy Reed to record their second studio longplayer. The Pulse is, for the most part, a set of acoustic guitar-based indie rock about loneliness, heartbreak and self-realization.

Garris, who has already written more than 200 songs at age 2o, has a knack for penning tunes that sneak their way into the subconscious. I drove around town with The Pulse on the car stereo one day, only to find myself humming one of its tracks unknowingly a couple of days later. The track in question, “Energy,” is the standout in the collection, a rumination on romantic longing set against strummed guitars and a pounding beat:


Other tracks mine similar territory, but manage to remain fresh. “Night Fall” begins with ethereal harmonies, and is enlivened by subtle keyboards. A muted acoustic guitar and a nice string arrangement compliment Garris’ vocals perfectly on the winsome “You Got Me.” “Bad News” is driven by staccato rhythms. “Perfect” features gorgeous steel guitar playing.

Garris says his influences include Green Day and Coldplay. I hear a lot of Josh Rouse on The Pulse. That might just be me, but its a good thing in any event. You should stream and buy The Pulse right here.

 

The Sloan Tribute: It Sounds Great, Get It

Sloan TributeVarious Artists, If It Feels Good Do It — A Sloan Tribute: On-line searches for “tribute albums” will yield numerous rants bellyaching about the very concept of the “tribute album.” Its kind of cool to trash tribute albums, even if the music they impart is good, or even great. Snooze.

The good folks at Futureman Records have assembled a collection of thirty-one covers of some of the finest songs released by the Toronto-based quartet, Sloan, over the course of their two+ decades of releasing consistently tasty works of melodically based rock ‘n’ roll. Call it Power Pop, if you like. Indeed, many of the contributing artists to If It Feels Good will be quite well-known to visitors of this site. Many have placed high on my lists of the best songs, LPs and EPs over the past three years.

Undoubtedly, one approaches an album such as If It Feels Good from an inherently biased perspective based on one’s assessment of the source material. My personal collection counts more than 150 tracks by Sloan. I would be predisposed to enjoying If It Feels Good.

Never mind, though. Futureman has succeeded in releasing the finest tribute album I have heard. The collection is expertly curated and assembled, down to the artwork which is reproduced at the top of this post. The performances on If It Feels Good are, without a fault, first-rate. The interpretations of tracks from Sloan’s large catalog are thoughtful and remain, with one exception, generally “true” to the originals, even while the artists put their own spins on the soundscapes. The recording, production and mastering are superb throughout, and glue the collection together into a cohesive whole. If It Feels Good is more than worth your valuable time and money.

I could easily write about each of the thirty-one tracks on If It Feels Good. There is not a duffer in the bunch. I’ll focus, however, on some of my favorites.

Stereo Tiger, which grabbed the number 7 spot on my list of the best longplayers of 2015, kicks off the festivities with a nice version of “C’mon C’mon,” that is slightly brighter than Sloan’s original. The drums also kick in a bit stronger and the vocals, like most on the collection, shine throughout the track.

The Hangabouts, another top 10 finisher on my 2015 list, manage the seemingly impossible. They sweeten a Jay Ferguson track — the brilliant “The Answer Was You” — by adding acoustic guitars and smoothing the vocals relative to Ferguson’s naturally smooth style. You should hear this one right now:

Paul Melancon contributes a strong vocals in front of The New Insecurities on the bittersweet “It’s In Your Eyes.” Chris Richards handles the complex lead vocal on “Coax Me” with aplomb. It would be easy to mistake “Right Or Wrong” as a Nick Piunti original. The voice and sound are unmistakable, yet the final result is rooted firmly in the source material. The Well Wishers pull off a similar feat, to great effect, on “The Lines You Amend.”

Another standout is Pop 4’s expanded version of “Flying High Again” (the original clocks in at less that a minute-thirty). The male-female vocal and harmonizing lift the virtual supergroup’s version to the top of the collection:

“Misty’s Beside Herself” ranks as one of my favorite Sloan tracks. Paul Myers adds electronics to the track, and pulls it off brilliantly. Phil Ajjarapu contributes a nice version of “Set In Motion” to the collection. Head Futureman, Keith Klingensmith, shines brightly on “I Wanna Thank You.” A track from my Number 1 EP of 2015, Andy Reed’s version of “I Love A Long Goodbye,” also appears here, and is, of course, essential.

Will you find yourself firing up If If Feels Good, and listen to start to finish? Maybe, maybe not. At the very least, stick the thirty-one tracks into a big playlist, hit shuffle, and marvel at the great skill, care and love devoted to covering some of the finest songs released by one of the best bands of the past two decades.

You can get it right here.

The “Signature Sound” On Pop That Goes Crunch Radio

51Mo7M-Z1xLAt its new home, Pop That Goes Crunch Radio now has more than 2,600 tracks spinning in regular rotation. We are still adding them as fast as we can.

We have culled that mighty playlist into a 300+ track playblock that we call “The Signature Sound.” This playblock, featuring the hand selected “best of the best” from our library, will run every Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoon from 3 pm Pacific (6 pm Eastern) to 5 pm Pacific (8 pm Eastern).

The playblock features favorites by well-known artists such as Teenage Fanclub, Sloan, The Pernice Brothers, The Go-Betweens, Cotton Mather, The Jam, Blondie, Elvis Costello, Big Star, The Kinks and, of course, The Beatles, but also includes many tracks from artists that made our year-end “best of lists” over the past three years. The 2015 lists can be found here and here. If you have only two hours to devote to the radio in any given week, this is the place to spend them. Guaranteed.

Not convinced? Well, here is one of the finest tracks gracing the “Signature Sound” playblock:

Happy listening!

 

We Get Stacks And Stacks Of Records!

Well, digital files — and lots of them — but you get the idea.

Here’s the first of several round-ups of worthy new music that has recently crossed our virtual desk.

a2459102903_16Bertling Noise Laboratories, The Flehmen Response: Chicago-based multi-instrumentalist Nick Bertling “writes the songs, plays the instruments, sings the words, [and] records it.” He does all of those things quite well on his second solo outing.

Despite the monicker under which Bertling records, The Flehmen Response is not an exercise in noise pop. Instead, it fits squarely within the melodic rock idiom, alternating effortlessly between upbeat rockers, quieter acoustic expressions, and the occasional left-field sonic exploration.

These contrasts begin immediately on The Flehmen Response.  The opening track, fittingly titled “My Opening Remarks,” is a piano-based rumination on life lived previously, and the promise (and possible dread) of the unknowable future. “Radio” is sunny, slightly rocking pop song, the sort that once frequented the radio. The swaying, acoustic “Sea Shanty” is enlivened by occasionally soaring keyboards. “I Don’t Want To Rock” thumbs its nose at rock ‘n’ roll posturing, while rocking quite nicely indeed. The standout track, “You Won’t Know Me,” will have you singing along unconsciously, even as it takes you on unexpected twists and turns:

The Flehmen Response was released at the tail end of 2015. It’s a shoo-in, however, for my “best of” list for 2016. That is quite an achievement from the perspective of late-January.

a0371773716_16Coke Belda, Nummer Zwei: This is another late-2015 release destined for my year-end “best of” list. Nummer Zwei delivers hit-after-hit-after-hit. It is filled to overflowing with non-stop hooks, beautiful stacked vocal harmonies (supplied exclusively by Belda), and sharp, pointed musicianship that thrills repeatedly without becoming indulgent.

The bouncy “Rainbow” kicks off the festivities, with those layered harmonies on prominent display, and punctuated by synth lines ripped from the mid-70s. “You’re Not In Love” is the first of several “gentle” guitar-based rockers. Its combination of jangle and rhythm will have you bopping along within moments. “Hold Me Tight” explores similar sonic territory, until its vocal harmonies chime in and transport you to the early-60s. “Another  ****ing Song,” the second in a two-song mini-suite of tracks about songwriting, rocks quite nicely for two minutes, and then hits even harder with some of the finest high-register singing put to rockin’ pop music in quite some time:


The hits, though, don’t stop there. Not even close.

“Mustard Trees” is a jaunty, hook-laden pop rocker that walks generally in Beatle-y territory. If you listen carefully toward the end, however, you’ll detect a bit of guitar shredding at the bottom of the mix. Tasty slide guitar nicely compliments the somewhat winsome “Where I Am.” “It Shines For You” is a pounding rocker punctuated by the occasional shiny guitar.

Nummer Zwei is a big leap in quality over Belda’s first solo outing, which itself is quite good. You can get  both for one low price at Belda’s Bandcamp page. That could be the best music deal of the year.

*******

Several tracks from The Flehman Response and Nummer Zwei can be heard in regular rotation at Pop That Goes Crunch Radio, which has a new home and can be accessed directly from this page. Just click on the “Listen Live” headphone icon at the top of the sidebar to your right, and you will land on our player page. You can also click on the “Pop That Goes Crunch Radio” link above the title on this page for more information, and a link to the player page as well.

Happy listening!

 

Top 10 EPs of 2015

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Andy Reed is a perennial on this blog, whether as a solo artist, a producer, a sound engineer or as a member of The Legal Matters, who grabbed the top slot on my list of the best albums of 2014. It is therefore fitting that his 2015 EP, Relay Vol. 1 captures the top slot of my list of the finest EPs of 2015. Relay is five songs, perfectly conceived and executed, beautifully sung and played. There is no excuse at all not to get it.

The other nine EPs that made my 2015 list fit snugly within the rockin’ pop genre dissected throughout this blog. The Crush, The Persian Leaps and The Foreign Films return from my 2014 list. Yorktown Lads have the distinction of making my top EPs and top LP lists with a pair of fine late-2014 releases.

Links are provided for your sampling, streaming and purchasing pleasure.

1.  Andy Reed — Relay Vol. 1

2.  Jeff Litman — Primetime

3.  The Foreign Films — The Record Collector (Side 3)

4.  Yorktown Lads — $200 EP

5.  Chris Richards and the Subtractions — 3Peat -That Covers That (3)

6.  Persian Leaps — High & Vibrate

7.  The Crush — Someone For You

8.  Hidden PicturesCalifornia Plates

9.  Herb Eimerman — Five Dimensional Man

10. Jay GonzalezThe Bitter Suite

Top 40 Albums of 2015

Caddy -- The Better End

We’ve taken some time off lately. Unfortunately, real life occasionally interferes with what is really important.

Nevertheless, we’re back with a run-down of the top long-players of 2015. This year, the list is expanded from 20 to 40, and there will be no list of the top songs of the year.

The decision was made to focus on longer form works, and recognize more artists for releasing music that is engaging over the course of eight or more tracks. Each of the albums on the following list would be a worthy addition to the collection of any serious music listener. A couple of entries were released in late-2014, but were were much more a part of the previous twelve months than they were of 2014.

Caddy’s The Better End captures the number 1 spot on this year’s list. The August 30, 2015 review on this site noted that Thom Dahl spiced his long-player with “rather liberal doses of layered, often jangling and chiming guitars, entrancing mid-tempo rhythms, swirling harmonies, beguiling tempo shifts and sunny, relaxed vibes straight out of early-70s Southern California.” Run, don’t walk, to your nearest electronic portal and get this record immediately, either digitally, on CD or on vinyl. Its one of the finest releases in recent years.

Although each of the long-players on this year’s list fit within the broad spectrum of melodically-based rockin’ pop, there is substantial variation in the mix, including old-school rock, acoustic pop, baroque pop, Americana, punk rock, and much more. Links are provided for your sampling, streaming and, of course, purchasing.

1.  CaddyThe Better End

2.  PugwashPlay This Intimately (As If Among Friends)

3.  Nick PiuntiBeyond The Static

4.  William DukeThe Dark Beautiful Sun

5.  The New Trocaderos — Thrills & Chills

6.  Love AxeSouth Dakota

7.  Stereo TigerTwo Weeks

8.  The HangaboutsIllustrated Bird

9.  The Junior League Also Rans

10. Susan JamesSea Glass

11. Ryan Allen & His Extra ArmsHeart String Soul

12. Cleaners From VenusRose Of The Lanes

13. Daniel Wylie’s Cosmic Rough RidersChrome Cassettes

14. The TurnbackAre We There Yet?

15. Michael CarpenterThe Big Radio

16. Steve Robinson & Ed WoltilCycle

17. Mono In StereoLong For Yesterday

18. Kurt BakerPlay It Cool

19. The See SeeOnce, Forever & Again

20. The NinesNight Surfer and the Cassette Kids

21. Pop4 — Summer

22. Gordon WeissIts About Time

23. The PopgunsPop Fiction

24. Yorktown LadsSongs About Girls And Other Disasters

25. Gretchen’s WheelFragile State

26. Summer FictionHimalaya

27. Travel LanesLet’s Begin To Start Again

28. Joel BoyeaHere Again, And Lost

29. Three Hour TourAction And Heroes

30. DC CardwellPop Art

31. Trip WireGet In & Get Out

32. Dr. Cosmo’s Tape LabBeyond The Silver Sea

33. Brandon SchottCrayons & Angels

34. The Corner LaughersMatilda Effect

35. WattsFlash Of White Light

36. Nato Coles and The Blue Diamond BandPromises To Deliver

37. Jonathan RundmanLook Up

38. The WeaklingsThe Weeklings

39. Plastic MaccaSensation

40. The ConnectionLabor Of Love

Timeless Music From Kurt Baker and Cleaners From Venus

Kurt Baker, Play It Cool

Kurt Baker, Play It CoolKurt Baker is a hit machine. He has the uncanny ability to record song-after-song filled with hooks, sing-along choruses and memorable melodies. You can call it Power Pop, if you want. Back in the day, though, Baker’s sound was just called “rock ‘n’ roll.” Whatever the label, his new long-player, Play It Cool, hardly disappoints. It delivers twelve rockin’ pop nuggets that should keep you movin’ and groovin’ over the coming cold months of winter.

The festivities start with “Sends Me To Mars,” a riff rocking garage stomper. Then, “Enough’s Enough” finds itself in more familiar Baker territory, with big vocals, hooks galore and some tasty keyboard parts. It’s a chart-topper . . . somewhere:

The next track, the breakneck “I Got You” will get you boppin’ along like its 1979. “Just a Little Bit” slows things down, but just a little bit. The basic riff of “Can’t Say No” sound-checks Joe Jackson’s “I’m The Man” as it tells the tale of a busted relationship that just won’t go away:

Play It Cool remains throughout quite indebted to the history of the rock ‘n’ roll form, but without residing in lifeless suspension at some wax museum. “Talk Is Talk” is a cool mid-60s rockin’ pop song, complete with 12-string guitar and vintage electric piano. “Prime Targets” might have been playing on “new wave” radio back in ’82, with its space age analog synth parts taking center stage. “Back For Good” time travels further to the glory days of AM radio with sweet harmonies and an easy-going chorus. The LP comes to a close with “I Can’t Wait,” which is probably playing right now in a bar near you. This is timeless music for today’s people. 

Play It Cool is, well, just cool. It’s also one of the finest slices of rock ‘n’ roll released the year. Get it via Bandcamp, either digitally or on disc from those stellar purveyors of real rock ‘n’ roll at Rum Bar Records.

Cleaners From Venus, Rose Of The Lanes

Cleaners From Venus, Rose Of the Lanes: Martin Newell returns with another fabulous collection of low-key pop and psych tunes recorded entirely on a Tascam DP-006 Pocketstudio with the assistance of Audacity freeware. As noted by the folks at Soft Bodies Records, the company that released Rose of the Lanes, these are “songs of immense distinction.” They’re stripped down and seemingly effortless. They are, however, constructed with great care, and Newell’s writing continues to be marked by a keen attention to detail. These are songs that make you take notice immediately.

The title track sets the tone for the fourteen that follow. Its consisted largely of a simple strummed acoustic guitar, a muted lead guitar, and rather uncomplicated drumming and percussion. Its nothing fancy at all. Its melody, however, conveys a beautiful, swaying melancholy that doesn’t easily let go:

“Little French Blue” is more muscular, with a slightly fuzzy electric guitar sitting in the middle to  compliment Newell’s urgent vocals. “Isn’t She The Biz” practically defines simplicity. Its hook is so basic — “isn’t she the biz/isn’t she the buzz” — that it seems like its been done thousands of times previously. It hasn’t, though. Its pure Newell, and completely original:

“Queen Khartoum” adds a bit of exoticism and a slow, burning lead guitar to the mix. “Third Summer of Love” bounces around amid slashing 80’s “alt rock” guitars, while asking the question “what if those hippies had been right all along?” “Lazy Elaine” is positively “old timey.”

But its the more “pop” songs that ultimately carry the day on Rose of the Lanes. The jangling “Liverpool Judy” is another slice of pop perfection, with yet another simple chorus — “Liverpool Judy/Liverpool Jude/you were the only one for me” — that thoroughly resonates. The even more jangling “Billy Liar” plays homage to the novel and film of the same name. The brooding “Denmark Street” places the listener on the historic London street famous for its publishing houses, recording studios and music shops, but threatened by continuing “redevelopment.”

Rose of the Lanes is, simply, a wonderful record of rich textures and engaging melodies hiding behind a casual facade. It’s a thoughtful record that is rooted in the great pop craft of the best of the past fifty years of English rock, and a shoo-in for my “Best Of” list this year. Get it via Bandcamp.

Mark Helm’s Lost And Found Classic

Mark Helm -- everything;s ok

Mark Helm released his one solo album, everything’s ok, in 2001. Reviews were great. “Elegant…more hooks than a fly fisherman’s vest,” declared the Washington Post. An “orch-pop noir gem,” gushed Gary “Pig” Gold.

Years passed. The road of life took its unexpected twists and turns. Helm ultimately found his way to Nashville, and to a career as an English professor. Music seemed to be a part of the increasingly distant past.

Helm, however, dusted off everything’s ok in July 2015, and reissued the long-player on Bandcamp, along with a generous (and growing) collection of odds and ends. This is a work of broad eclecticism. Its sounds run the gamut from guitar-propelled Power Pop to quiet orchestration to acoustic folk to “alt rock” to baroque pop. Its themes capture life’s ups and downs, the good, the bad, the in-between and the indifferent. It is at once a deeply personal work, but it nevertheless conveys universal truths and familiar emotions. Its “handmade” quality is reminiscent of Cotton Mather’s Kontiki, in execution and in the way Helm expertly melds disparate pop and rock elements into a cohesive whole whose overall quality exceeds the combined virtues of its various parts.

everything’s ok begins with “So Faraway,” its spare instrumentation and harmonies imparting a hymnal quality to this brief tale of loss. Next, the rocking “Galaxy Of Cars” rips the hooks right off of that fly fisherman’s vest, and delivers a chorus that will unconsciously ring around in your head all day long:

“What Holds The World Together” emerges from a dream and sits in delicate suspension, broken only by a brief baroque interlude. “[T]his is a very obvious nod to ‘strawberry fields’/’penny lane,” Helm says in the notes that accompany the reissue. The acoustic “Haircut” would feel quite at home on Big Star’s Third. “Week Of Days” begins with a blast of distorted guitar. Then, a muscular sound takes over and nicely compliments the song’s themes of romantic ambiguity and mystery. “Airplanes and Radiosignals” is a quiet rumination about crossed signals and how, sometimes, its “hard to tell what’s real, what’s ridiculous.” That everything’s ok is an ambitious, challenging and ultimately quite stunning work is evidenced by the beautiful, orchestral piece, “Sweet Dreams Baby,” which appears about three-quarters of the way in:

The digital reissue of everything’s ok is rounded out by a collection of ten bonus tracks, including a nice, digital four-track acoustic recording of “God Only Knows,” and Helm’s covers of Gene Clark’s “American Dreamer” and ELO’s “Strange Magic,” both of which appeared originally on tribute LPs released by Not Lame Recordings.

everthing’s ok is a great “lost and found” record, rising unannounced to enliven the second half of the year. This is music that can be enjoyed equally on a dark and lonely night, or on the brightest and sunniest of days. Its also a steal — 26 tracks for a mere $5. Run, don’t walk, to Bandcamp and get it. Or, you can simply click right here.

Late Summer Roundup, Volume 3

The calendar, and the weather, says it’s still summer. So here’s the third installment of my roundup of some of the finest tuneage to find its way to my digital desk over the past few months. This time, the focus is on the more rocking end of the spectrum.

Mono In Stereo

Mono In Stereo, Long For Yesterday: Back in the summer of 1984, I combed the traffic-clogged streets of Los Angeles working as a car messenger. College radio was my constant companion. The Minutemen, Husker Du and The Replacements ruled the airwaves, and brought order to those mean streets.

Those days have long since left the rear-view mirror. However, Mono In Stereo, a four-piece band out of Rockford, Illinois, has managed to capture the Spirit of ’84, and has sprinkled it brilliantly over twelve quite fine tunes that run the gamut from blistering punk rock assaults, to pounding anthems that shout their way out of the speakers, to mid-tempo reflections on the past, the present and the future, to Americana-tinged Power Pop, and more. The band calls its approach “Midwest Punk,” and cites its influences as ranging from “Springsteen to Mould, Earle to Costello.” It’s an apt description.

The band lays its cards on the table in the opening track, the rousing “Late Night Confessor” which tips a hat to The Dead Boys’ “Sonic Reducer,” before veering off in its own direction. The pounding title track will have you yelling out its chorus in no time. “What We Sang” is a paean to doing what you love, knowing that others out there certainly feel the same way:

The mid-tempo, “Woke Up In Haight,” has the band showing off a more expansive sound aided, in part, by some sneaky piano supplied by the seemingly ubiquitous Kris “Fingers” Rogers. “Bakersfield” is an eminently catchy Power Pop romp with a country backbone. The closing track, “Another Man’s Time,” is a quiet rumination on crime, punishment, family and mistaken identity:

Long For Yesterday is overflowing with hook-filled, guitar-based rock ‘n’ roll that knows no real boundaries. That’s how the best did it back in ’84, and that’s how Mono In Stereo’s influences do it as well. You can get this timeless music via Bandcamp. You will be glad you did.

Travel Lanes

Travel Lanes, Let’s Begin To Start Again: This four-piece band out of Philadelphia also digs deep into the history of American rock ‘n’ roll, spiking its catchy tunes with liberal doses of R&B swagger, Americana and seeming bar band sloppiness. Travel Lanes, however, is no amateur act. Accomplished playing is instead the order of the day, lifting Let’s Begin toward the head of the class.

Low, crunching guitars and Frank Brown’s menacing vocals let the listener know immediately that the field trip at issue in the opening track, “Class Trip,” might not be the kind of happy event normally associated with elementary school. The next track, “In The World,” lightens the festivities considerably, with its memories of a “summer so sublime.” “Little Out Of Love” sports a mellow, melodic vibe with 70s’s country undertones. “100th I Told You So” is melodic rockin’ pop at its finest. It would climb the charts in alternate universe:

The band returns to darker themes on a couple of slower, largely acoustic Americana tracks,”The Year” — the one where “everything fell apart”– and on the “Death,” both of which are standouts. Hope is not entirely lost, however, as the band quickly serves up the sweet, upbeat “Cream Soda.”

If there are any bum notes, or boring filler, anywhere on Let’s Begin To Start Again, these ears were unable to detect them. Get this highly recommended longplayer from the good folks at Kool Kat Musik.

 

Late Summer Round-Up, Volume 2

This second edition of my late summer round-ups discusses two releases steeped in the Southern California sound of the past, but which are far from being mere retro projects.

William DukeWilliam Duke, The Dark Beautiful Sun: Duke’s second solo outing is aptly titled as it frequently combines, or moves effortlessly between, beauty and sadness, melancholy and joy and darkness and light over the course of eleven finely honed tracks. The overall sound evokes the Laurel Canyon scene of the late-60s and early 70s, with elements of country, folk, and psychedelia playing off against Duke’s higher register lead vocals and the gorgeous harmonies that wind their way through many of the songs. Identifying an artist’s actual influences is always a somewhat subjective endeavor but, undoubtedly, the work of at least some of the artists mentioned in the article linked above played a role in the creation and shaping of The Dark Beautiful Sun.

Duke begins the album with a two hook-filled tracks, both of which are marked by instantly catchy guitar riffs. The riff in the opener, “The Golden Ring,” veers back and forth in a manner that will stick in your head unconsciously for days. The title track takes a subtler approach, its basic riff giving way to a mellower vibe supported by endlessly creamy harmonies:

“Many Years Away” is, mostly, a mild, Western-tinged stomper about loss and regret, with its two pieces separated by a minute-long break featuring a rather pretty guitar solo. “Just Lookin’ For Some Sleep” jangles endlessly, and quite beautifully. Duke’s bright vocals give his cover of Gordon Lightfoot’s Vietnam-war era song, “Summer Side Of Life,” even more tension than the original as it contrasts “green fields” and “young girls everywhere” with “young men   . . . goin’ off to fight.” “Your Laughter Fills The Room” tackles the pain of still vivid memories as Duke sings in the chorus “there’s a storm that’s coming soon/as your laughter fills the room/and our dear friends they can’t seem turn away.” The album fades away with the quietly soaring instrumental, “1977.”

While the Dark Beautiful Sun is certainly rooted in particular place and time, it nevertheless feels quite contemporary. You can get this timeless collection of terrific pop songs either digitally, on CD or on vinyl via Bandcamp, and I highly recommend that you check it out immediately.

 

High Desert Fires

High Desert Fires, Light Is The Revelation. High Desert Fires is a six-piece band hailing from Topanga Canyon in Los Angeles County. Their debut EP, Light Is The Revelation, was recorded in mono and mixed to analog tape. Leader Chris Traynor describes the work as a “spiritual” inspired by the Southern California landscape, particularly the chaparral that dot its hillsides.

The lead track, Azrael, blows in (literally) with desert wind and imparts a comforting vibe over four-and-a-half minutes. The next track, “Fernwoods,” is an early-70’s-styled track, with strings, horns and pitch perfect male-female harmonies:

“High Desert Fires” starts as a quiet rumination. It ends as a mid-tempo R&B instrumental. “Shemahazi” exists suspended in a hazy, drifting dreamscape. “Metaphysical Fight Song” is marked by muscular choir-like vocals and a symphonic backing track. The final track, “Dead Sparrows,” grafts grand orchestration onto a pop song about the cycle of life.

Light Is The Revelation makes its case in barely twenty minutes, and succeeds over-and-over-again. That’s hardly enough, however. The EP leaves you wanting a whole lot “more,” which means that the band has done its job quite well. You can get it on iTunes.

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