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Seven Decades Of Melodic Rock & Roll

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Best LPs of 2016 — Part 2

a1972111786_16The countdown continues with a discussion of the “middle ten” on our list of the best longplayers of 2016.

20.  HurryGuided Meditation: This Philadelphia-based trio lets it fly with shimmering, jangly guitars, dreamy atmospherics and clean harmonies over nine spot-on tracks evoking the easy days of summer. Listen and buy here.

19.  Ray Paul Whimsicality: Paul hits all the right notes as he puts a slightly contemporary gloss on the basic British Invasion sound over seven original compositions, and three covers including the Manfred Mann classic, “Pretty Flamingo”.  Sample and buy here.

18. The ArmoiresIncidental Lightshow: The Amoires offer a kaleidoscope of sound over twelve tracks that touch upon baroque pop, psych pop, jangle pop and Power Pop, among other subgenres. The harmonies of Christina Bulbenko and Rex Broome, as well as the musicianship, are superb throughout. Sample and buy here.

17.  The Well WishersComes And Goes: Once again, Jeff Shelton releases hit-after-hit of timeless, crunchy, instantly recognizable — and quite comforting in these uncertain times — rockin’ pop. Listen and buy here.

16.  DropkickBalance The Light: This Scotland-based band releases some of the most consistently engaging takes on the peaceful and easy Southern California guitar rock of the late-60s and early-70s. Sit back and let this one calm frazzled nerves. Listen and buy here.

15.  The JunipersRed Bouquet Fair: The Junipers are purveyors of the most elegant pysch pop, and Red Bouquet Fair combines the psych and the pop masterfully over twelve transcendent tracks. Listen and buy here.

14.  Nada SurfYou Know Who You Are: The flowing, layered guitar strums supported by rhythms that alternate between the pounding and the deceptively restrained make this a top accompaniment for speeding down an open highway. Sample and buy here.

13.  Arvidson & Butterflies — S/T: This is pure pop for people in the know, as Arvidson and pals deliver twelve singalong excursions into all manner of 60s-influenced pop rock. Listen and buy here.

12.  Bertling Noise LaboratoriesThe Flehmen Response: This late-2015 release was my “go to” listen for the early part of 2016. Nick Berling writes perfect pop tunes tinged with more-than-occasional melancholy. Just listen to “Sea Shanty.” You’ll know exactly what we mean. Listen and buy here.

11. PropellerFall Off The World: Greg Randall and Will Anderson deliver ten hook-filled rockin’ pop nuggets that should be played loudly at your next party. Your guests will swoon over “Wish I Had Her Picture,” and wonder where they heard it back in the 70s. Listen and buy here.

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Best LPs Of 2016 — Part 1

a1483495219_16We decided to add context to out annual “best of” lists instead of simply providing long lists with no discussion. So, our look at the Best 30 LPs of 2016 will come in three installments.

Because good music does not necessarily hue to annual time periods, our list contains a couple of late-2015 releases that, in actuality, are 2016 LPs to us. By the same token, late-2016 releases will need to wait until next year.

As always, some of the distinctions here sit on a rather fine line. Each of the albums of our list, however, is highly recommended.

Without further adieu:

30.  Andy KlingensmithFantasy Island: On his first longplayer, Klingensmith applies contemporary rhythms to his basic psych-folk template to great effect. Listen and buy here.

29.  Colman GotaTape: Gota’s hook-filled adult guitar rock reminds us that the phrase “alt rock” did not always induce eye rolls. Sample and buy here.

28The WeeklingsStudio 2: The New Jersey-based band’s second stellar collection of Beatles-inspired rockin’ pop with spot-on harmonies, Rickenbacker guitars, sweet ballads and an ode to Chuck Berry. Sample and buy here.

27.  Butch YoungMercury Man: Young takes his inspiration from the later-period Beatles. The right doses of horns and orchestration add drama to his complex melodies. Sample and buy here.

26. Ed RyanRoadmap: Ryan’s old-school Power Pop never wears old or thin. These ten rockin’ pop tracks are guaranteed to put a smile on your face. Listen and buy here.

25. Gretchen’s WheelBehind The Curtain: Lindsay Murray’s second longplayer is more rocking than last year’s Fragile State, which also made our year-end list. Get this, though, for her voice, a beguiling mix of strength and fragility. Listen and buy here.

24.  Mimi BetinisMusic Sounds: This is one of more varied albums on our list, as Bitinis effortlessly mixes and matches classic pop and rock stylings over this thoroughly enjoyable eleven-song set. Sample and buy here.

23.  Steve IsonOn The Way Up: Ison’s sound is rooted in British singer-songwriters of the late-60s and early-70s, with indelible nods to Bowie and Donovan. There is not a bum track to be found. Listen and buy here.

22.  Cheap StarSongs For The Farrelly Brothers: This one sit in decidedly late-period Teenage Fanclub territory, with layered acoustic guitars and restrained harmonies. The version of the Lemonheads “Into Your Arms” found here might even top the original. Sample and buy here.

21.  Diamond Hands — S/T:  Not a single song on this eleven-track, hook-and-jangle-heavy romp through various 60’s rock styles reaches the three-minute mark. Is this retro? Hell yeah, and that’s a very good thing when laid down by the four capable hands that comprise this Los Angeles-based duo. Listen and buy here.

Best EPs of 2016

a0299150950_16We kick off our year-end “best of” lists with a discussion of the finest EPs we’ve heard over the past year.

The nature of an “EP” is subject to interpretation these days. However, for our present purposes, if it has between three and eight songs, its an EP. We will be discussing the finest LPs of the year in the coming days, and will conclude the year-end festivities by a look at distinguished works that do not quite fit either category — non-LP singles, multi-artist compilations, tributes, and the like. Call that one “odds and ends.”

Enough chit chat. Let’s get down to business.

10.  Baby ScreamLife’s A Trap: Juan Pablo Mazzola continues to revel humorously, and brilliantly, in the bitterly sardonic on this eight-track tale of regret, boredom, disappointment, disgust and (occasional) happiness. Life’s A Trap is somewhat laid back in comparison to Mazzola’s prior efforts, and is perhaps best played at the end of an evening that failed to live up to expectations. Listen and buy here.

9. Matti Jasu and the Loose TrainGone To The Dogs: Jasu populates this eight-track offering with peaceful easy feelings and pointed guitar work. This duality is best experienced on the yin-yang back-to-back duo of “Race You Down To The Ground,” with its swaying, early-70s Southern California vibe, and “Creature From The Past,” with is serious riffage. Listen and buy here.

8. The Persian LeapsYour City Underwater: These St. Paul-based noise pop aficionados make their third consecutive appearance on our year-end EP list, as they skillfully blend fuzz and sugar for thirteen minutes of powerful hooks. Listen and buy here.

7.  Merry WidowsPassword: “Sky And The Sea,” the second track on this five-song outing, may be the finest take on the sound of the The Go-Betweens we’ve ever heard. Password is simply a delight from start to finish, rooted firmly in the classiest guitar pop of the 80s. Listen and buy here.

6.  Fascinations Grand Chorus — S/T and Actor/Actress: On these two EPs, this Brooklyn-based duo whip up seven pop confections from some of the finest ingredients of the 60s. Dig the organs, the slinky surf guitar, the girl group vocalizing and a production style that would make Joe Meek quite proud. Listen and buy here.

5.  Animal DaydreamCitrus:  This Gothenburg, Sweden-based duo makes beautiful, sun-drenched West Coast psych pop with jangling guitars, soaring harmonies and the occasional sing-along melody. Listen and buy here.

4.  Stephen’s ShoreOcean Blue: This Stockholm, Sweden-based band makes beautiful, sun-drenched West Coast psych pop with jangling guitars, soaring harmonies and the occasional sing-along melody. Somehow, the story repeats itself. Ocean Blue, however, ranks higher than Citrus on the strength of the opening forty-five seconds of “If You,” during which you will be transported instantly to the deck of a boat sailing the sunny seas. Listen and buy here.

3.  Donny Brown — S/T: On this six-song EP, Brown finds himself in the finest singer-songwriter tradition of the 70s as he pens sharp, incisive lyrics against the backdrop of exquisite arrangements and expert musicianship. Listen and buy here.

2.  Cliff HillisLove Not War: Hillis is one of the finest contemporary American songwriters. This seven-song EP is everything we have come to expect from him: richly detailed slices of life and love set amid instantly compelling hooks and instrumentation. Sample and buy here.

1.   The AboveThere Is A Reason: This entire history of the British Invasion, and its immediate aftermath, is encapsulated in this six-song EP that ruled our personal airwaves for quite some time this year. The running twelve-string guitar on “Say You’re Cool” and the drama of the hook-laden “Just Can’t Forget About That Girl” deliver some of the finest rock moments of the past several years. Listen and buy here.

Stereo Tiger: More Great Rockin’ Pop From Michigan

Stereo Tiger - Two Weeks

I wrote recently that some of the very best music these days comes to us from the state of Michigan. Indeed, artists based in the state liberally populated my year-end “best of” lists for 2014, which you can peruse here, here and here.

This month brings yet another fine offering from the state in the form of Stereo Tiger’s debut long-player (they previously released a pair of EPs), Two Weeks. This will easily make my year-end list. In fact, it likely will make my Top 10 since it is hard to imagine that ten LPs will be released this year offering a better combination of songwriting, vocals, musicianship and production than Two Weeks.

Stereo Tiger is less than two-years old, having emerged from a series of impromptu jam sessions involving three of the four band members. Nevertheless, Two Weeks reveals a band with a great deal of self-assurance. Instead of starting the festivities with a rousing, upbeat number designed to hook the listener immediately, Two Weeks begins with the slow burn of “Magic Balloon,” whose soaring harmonies perfectly compliment its psych-rock underpinnings. Distinctly 70’s-styled keyboards announce the next track, “Perfect World,” a bit of (almost) lite rock that would be a massive hit in a more perfect world.

High-gear kicks in by the third track, “Open Up Your Eyes,” which is propelled by an instantly memorable guitar riff and pitch-perfect harmonizing. It nabbed the lead spot on the current installment of my semi-weekly podcast of rockin’ pop nuggets, The Big Show, which attests to its greatness:

“Open Up Your Eyes” is followed by the relentlessly pounding “Runaway,” whose chorus sounds like something blasting from dozens of car stereos one summer back in the day. That doesn’t make it retro. It is, as the band says in a different context on its website, “both familiar and fresh.” Coupled with “Open,” the two tracks deliver a rather potent back-to-back, six minutes of rockin’ pop:

The hits don’t, however, stop there. “Philly Girl” sways along brilliantly, and seemingly without effort. “Did You Ever Love Me” is a hook-laden rocker about romantic disappointment that will have you singing along immediately. Two Weeks closes with an aching ballad, “I Do I Don’t,” which underscores Stereo Tiger’s fluency with a broad range of sounds and textures.

The thirty-eight minutes of music on Two Weeks fly by in what feels like a couple of moments. Nowhere near a bum track is present in the eleven-song collection. Sonic kudos also are in order for Andy Reed and Glenn Brown, who recorded and mastered Two Weeks, respectively. Not only does Two Weeks sound great, but the music goes bang when it needs to go bang, and pulls back nicely when a more subtle attack is in order.

All I can say at this point is: Run as fast as you can and get Two Weeks now, either here or here.

Find A Place In Your Collection For The Real Rock ‘n Roll Of The Cry!

The Cry!

The Portland, Oregon band, The Cry! was kind enough to send a track from their soon-to-be released long-player, Dangerous Game, to the new streaming radio station as a pre-release “exclusive.” The track, “Shakin,'” is now playing in-rotation on Pop That Goes Crunch! Radio, along with some eight-hundred other melodically-driven rock ‘n roll songs spanning the past seven decades. Take the new station for a spin around the block, kick the tires, look under the hood for a while, and let me know what you think.

In the meantime, though, if you don’t yet know The Cry!, now is a great time to meet them. When I first heard the track “Modern Cinderella” from their self-titled debut record, I thought I was listening to a long-lost Power Pop band that released a couple of singles on the Titan label back in the late-70s. “Modern Cinderella” has everything that gives those songs such a timeless appeal — chiming guitars, pounding rhythms, non-stop hooks and a chorus that you’ll sing to yourself all day long:

Please girl please, stay with me
Tonight’s for lovers like us
And you don’t seem to love like me
So I’m heading home on the bus
Oh no I’m heading home on the bus

“Modern Cinderella” is also spinning in rotation on Pop That Goes Crunch! Radio, but you can also take a listen right here:

In advance of the release of Dangerous Game, the band just released a 10-track “name your price” digital download recorded live at the Banana Stand recording space in Southeast Portland. Among the tracks in this collection is “Discotheque,” the lead track on Dangerous Game. You can hear the live version right here:

As a bonus, and since we are talking “live,” check out the band doing a knock-down, kick out the jams version of The Records’ classic “Starry Eyes” at an International Pop Overthrow show in Seattle:

The Cry! deliver real rock ‘n roll steeped in the past but rooted in the present. Find a place in your collection for them.

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