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Power Pop Delights From Somerdale

maggieSomerdale’s Shake It Maggie is the “sleeper” of the year. You might consider it, upon an initial listen on two, to be serviceable, poppy rock ‘n’ roll inching its way slowly toward AM radio success circa 1978 only to be halted, like so many others in its day, by the steamroller of disco in its commercial heyday.

This assessment would only be half right, however. Shake It Maggie is poppy rock ‘n’ roll, by design. But listen it to it a few times. There is nothing at all serviceable about it. Instead, Shake It Maggie delivers ten stellar tracks, and a reprise of the opener, that will easily propel it into my year-end Top 10.

Somerdale announces its intentions immediately on said opening track, “Take It From The Top,” which is two minutes of lovingly constructed bubblegum about blowing a chance at radio success because they’re “shakin’ like power pop, so out of style its cool.” “Waiting For You,” the next track, probably was playing on AM radio, somewhere, back in ’78.

The band cites Sloan as an influence, and this is readily apparent. Check out, for example, the chorus of “The News,” and you’ll see what I mean:

 

“She’s Leaving California” might be dismissed by some as garden-variety “hard rock.” Listen carefully, however. It’s actually the kind of song Patrick Pentland has penned, and sung, many times to great effect in Sloan:

 

Whenever I hear “Bigger Than The Universe,” I picture kids busing it to the beach singing along at the top of their lungs in unison. “The Coolest Kid In The Room” is updated, old school Power Pop of the kind The Shazam used to do so brilliantly, filled as it is with exuberance and sharp vocals. It also has cool hand-claps:

 

The word that comes most to mind to describe Shake It Maggie is “delightful.” And I mean that in the best sense. It brings endless smiles, even on the more serious tracks. Sometimes, can you really ask for anything more?

Get it digitally from Bandcamp for a mere seven clams, or on disk from the fine folks at Kool Kat Musik.

 

 

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New Podcast: The Mixtape Show

mixtape“The Big Show” is our signature show now focusing on new (and “newish”) music. It airs every other week on Pop That Goes Crunch Radio.

We recently premiered a new weekly show, “The Mixtape Show,” whose premise is simple: 90 minutes of familiar favorites that sound great together with a single interruption at about the mid-point to flip the tape over and get you caught up on what you just heard. A description of each of the shows running on Pop That Goes Crunch Radio, including the times of broadcast, can be found here.

The inaugural episode is now up on Mixcloud. It can be heard by clicking below. The complete tracklist is found beneath the embed. Check back for new shows, weekly.

Tracklist:

1.  Cotton Mather — “My Before And After

2.  DM3 — “Foolish”

3.  Guided By Voices — “Motor Away”

4.  The Jayhawks — “Waiting For The Sun”

5.  Sloan — “Undewhelmed (Original Hear & Now version)”

6.  Jellyfish — “Too Much, Too Little, Too Late”

7.  And The Professors — “We Are”

8.  Lannie Flowers — “Come On Girl”

9.  Kurt Baker — “Emma Stone”

10. Myracle Brah — “Love Is”

11. The Grip Weeds — “Love’s Lost On You”

12. Pernice Brothers — “Subject Drop”

13. Golden Smog — “V”

14. Shoes — “She Satisfies”

15. The Jellybricks — “Not So Old”

16. Cliff Hillis — “Keep The Blue Skies”

17. The Posies — “Suddenly Mary (Demo Version)”

18. The Autumn Defense — “Canyon Arrow”

19. Material Issue — “A Very Good Idea”

20. Phil Ajjarapu — “Sing Along Until You Feel Better”

21. The Red Button — “Cruel Girl”

22. Old 97’s — “Driver 8”

23. Hoodoo Gurus — “I Want You Back”

24. Matthew Sweet — “Girlfriend”

25. Chris Richards and the Subtractions — “Don’t Do Anything Tonight”

25. The Greenberry Woods — “Smash-Up”

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.

The Big Show: Season 2, Show #4

The Big Show

Some of the best rockin’ pop emanates from the Detroit, Michigan area. So, fittingly, the fourth installment of the second season of The Big Show features several tracks by artists that performed at the International Pop Overthrow festival as it wound its way to Detroit.

Ryan Allen & His Extra Arms begin the festivities with the rocking “Angela ’97” from their recently-relased album Heart String Soul, which is a shoo-in for this year’s “Best of” list. Nick Piunti checked in with “Six Bands” from his brilliant Beyond The Static, which was said to be the one “to beat” this year. Another shoo-in for this year’s “Best Of” list is The Hangabouts’ Illustrated Bird, which was released too late for consideration last year. The band’s infectious “Love Nothing” is featured in Show #4. A recent discovery, John Holk & The Sequins, contributed the immediately catchy title track from their 2010 release, If You See Her. Rounding out the Detroit IPO-ers in Show #4 was Dave Caruso, whose song “Sticks Keys & Wires” can be found on his Cardboard Vegas Roundabout long-player, which came in at Number 6 on my list of the Top Albums of 2014.

A truckload of new music is featured in Show #4, including tracks by Tenterhooks, Caddy, Love Axe, Jared Lekites, Salim Nourallah, DC Cardwell, Dr. Cosmo’s Tape Lab and Evil Arrows. The complete tracklist appears below the embed.

Be sure to check out the main mix on Pop That Goes Crunch radio, streaming 24/7.

 

Tracklist:

1.  Ryan Allen & His Extra Arms, “Angela ’97”

2.  Tenterhooks, “Helpless”

3.  Sugarmen, “Dirt”

4.  Caddy, “Wherever You Go”

5.  Pseudonym, “Art School Lady”

6.  Love Axe, “Such A Waste Of Time”

7.  Nick Piunti, “Six Bands”

8.  Jared Lekites, “Five Separate Lives”

9.  The Davenports, “Five Steps ’15”

10. John Holk & The Sequins, “If You See Her”

11. The See See, “Over & Under”

12. The Weeklings, “Leave Me With My Pride”

13. Salim Nourallah/Treefort 5, “Terlingua”

14. Chase Hamblin & The Roustabouts, “Way Back”

15. DC Cardwell, “In The Cloud”

16. The Valkarys, “We Are The World”

17. Dr. Cosmo’s Tape Lab, “The Painted Birds”

18. Greater California, “Long Shadows”

19. Sloan, “Waterfalls”

20. Postcards From Jeff, “Suburban Girl”

21. Dave Caruso, “Sticks Keys & Wires”

22. PT Walkley, “Sanitarium”

23. Wilco, “She’s A Jar”

24. And The Professors, “We Are”

25. The Hangabouts, “Love Nothing”

26. Evil Arrows, “False Alarm”

27. Pernice Brothers, “Subject Drop”

 

The Big Show: Season 2, Show #3

The Big Show, Season 2, Show #3

The third installment of the second season of The Big Show included a truck load of new music, including new rockin’ pop by Daniel Wylie’s Cosmic Rough Riders, Nick Piunti, DC Cardwell, Lannie Flowers, The Weeklings, The See See, The Explorers Club (doing a live cover of The Zombies’ “Tell Her No), Tenterhooks and Watts.

Perennial favorites — XTC, Elvis Costello, Teenage Fanclub and Big Star — also were on tap, as was a bit of Alt-County via Lucinda Williams and Golden Smog.

The complete track list appears below the embed. Turn it up loud, and tune in frequently to Pop That Goes Crunch radio, spinning the finest slices of melodic rock ‘n roll released over the past seven decades.

 

Track list:

1.  Daniel Wylie’s Cosmic Rough Riders, “Another Wasted Day”

2.  Nick Piunti, “It’s A Trap”

3.  Ryan Allen & His Extra Arms, “Keep Me Around”

4.  DC Cardwell, “The Sun, The Moon, The Stars”

5.  XTC, “The World Is Full Of Angry Young Men”

6.  The Power Cords, “Luxetine Dreams”

7.  Chuck Oney, “Dear Miss Roberts”

8.  Elvis Costello & The Attractions, “Lip Service”

9.  Lannie Flowers, “Radio Sweetheart”

10. King Kartel, “Run”

11. The Turnback, “Beyond Belief”

12. The Slapbacks, “Looking For The Magic”

13. The Weeklings, “Breathing Underwater”

14. The See See, “The Rain & The Snow”

15. The Explorers Club, “Tell Her No”

16. Coke Belda, “Looking For”

17. Marjorie Cardwell, “When We Both Fell Down”

18. The Byrds, “Lady Friend”

19. Teenage Fanclub, “Nowhere”

20. Big Star, “You Get What You Deserve”

21. Gretchen’s Wheel, “Why Try”

22. Lucinda Williams, “Side Of The Road”

23. Golden Smog, “V”

24. Tenterhooks, “Lucy”

25. Watts, “Trick”

Top 20 Albums Of 2014

The Legal MattersI heard a whole lot of albums over the past twelve months. The following is my attempt to distill it all down to the very best of the year.

There is substantial overlap between the artists on this list, and the artists on my Top 30 songs list, which you can find here. That is to be expected. The best songs of the year typically are not “one-offs.” Most appeared on albums to which I found myself returning many times during the year.

The Legal Matters’ self-titled “debut” grabs the top spot on my list. Its combination of incisive songwriting, beautiful production, memorable melodies and the best vocals of the year (particularly, of course, those sublime harmonies) propelled it to the top of the class. My original review can be found hereAerial’s Why Don’t They Teach Heartbreak At School? came in at a close second with its clever and sometimes witty writing, and its brilliant melding of classic Power Pop and West Coast Pop sensibilities. My original review can be found here.

Each of these long-players on my list deserve a spot in any serious music collection. They fall squarely in the “indie pop” realm, but are nevertheless varied in approach and intent. The list includes the driving and fast-paced rocking pop of The Sugar Stems, the exquisitely crafted and personal melodic pop from Dave Caruso, the classic jangle pop of The Britannicas and The Carousels, the bright and shiny updated Power Pop of Ransom and the Subset and The Jellybricks, a walk through the Nuggets compilation with The Above, some early-80s-styled melodic rock from Edward O’Connell, and the quiet, almost chamber pop of Fauna Flora, among its mix.

Click on the links to listen and purchase — which you should. Quite happily.

1.  The Legal MattersThe Legal Matters

2.  AerialWhy Don’t They Teach Heartbreak At School?

3.  phonographphonograph Vol. 1

4.  Linus Of Hollywood Something Good

5.  The Paul & JohnInner Sunset

6.  Dave CarusoCardboard Vegas Roundabout

7.  MothboxerSand And The Rain

8.  DropkickHomeward

9.  Ransom and the SubsetNo Time To Lose

10. The Britannicas High Tea

11. The Well WishersA Shattering Sky

12. Edward O’ConnellVanishing Act

13. The CarouselsLove Changes Like The Seasons

14. The AboveWaterbury Street

15. The New MendicantsInto The Lime

16. Rick Hromadka Trippin’ Dinosaurs

17. Sugar StemsOnly Come Out At Night

18. The Jellybricks Youngstown Tune-Up

19. Joe SullivanSchlock Star

20. Fauna Flora — Fauna Flora

You can here tracks from these great albums, and many others, at the streaming Pop That Goes Crunch radio station, which you can reach right here.

Top 30 Songs Of 2014

Song MachineFor this year, I expanded my list of the best songs of the year to 30. I heard upwards of 2,000 songs released this year. Consequently, the 30 that made my list are truly the best of the best.

Following the list, is an embed of a podcast where I “count down” the Top 30, and add some commentary. Complete versions of each song can be heard in the countdown. Last year’s Top 20 can be found here.

This list is biased heavily toward songs released in the first ten months of the year. That does not mean that songs released since October are not worthy of being listed. Those songs, however, did not have sufficient time to percolate so that they could be assessed adequately against songs that I have been on my listening devices for many months. They will be eligible for inclusion in next year’s list.

I also decided not to include any covers or live versions of songs. Instead, the focus is on original music released over the past twelve months. Well, one track (“The Kids”) was released in the waning days of 2013, but is much more of a “2014 song” than a song of the prior year.

As always, it is difficult to make fine line distinctions between great songs, and your mileage may, of course, vary. Mine could also vary over time, but this is how I see it at the end of 2014.

1.  Cliff Hillis, “Dashboard” (Song Machine EP)

2.  Linus Of Hollywood, “Biography” (Something Good)

3.  The Legal Matters, “The Legend Of Walter Wright” (S/T)

4.  phonograph, “Don’t You Bring Me Down” (phonograph Vol. 1)

5.  The Paul & John, “Long Way Back” (Inner Sunset)

6.  Aerial, “Why Don’t They Teach Heartbreak At School” (Why Don’t They Teach Heartbreak At School)

7.  Dave Caruso, “The Art Of Erica” (Cardboard Vegas Roundabout)

8.  Nick Piunti, “Quicksand” (single)

9.  The Hazey Janes, “(I’m) Telescoping” (The Language Of Faint Theory)

10. Mothboxer, “In The Morning” (Sand And The Rain)

11. Dropkick, “Halfway Round Again” (Homeward)

12. Ransom and the Subset, “When Will I See You” (No Time To Lose)

13. The New Mendicants, “Cruel Annette” (Into The Lime)

14. The Carousels, “My Beating Heart” (Love Changes Like The Seasons)

15. The New Trocaderos, “The Kids” (single)

16. The Crush, “Around” (Future Blimps EP)

17. The Well Wishers, “I Believe” (A Shattering Sky)

18. The Persian Leaps, “Pretty Boy” (Drive Drive Delay EP)

19. The Above, “Do Your Have A Healthy Mind” (Waterbury Street)

20. Edward O’Connell, “The End Of The Line” (Vanishing Act)

21. Propeller, “You Remind Me Of You” (single)

22. Chris Richard & The Subtractions, “Call Me Out” (Decayed)

23. Greg Ieronimo, “Roller Coaster Ride” (Bipolar Love)

24. The Person & The People, “Vitamin C” (What A Drag)

25. The Bon Mots, “Gallahad” (Best Revenge)

26. Sugar Stems, “Haunted” (Only Come Out At Night)

27. Muscle Souls, “Mark On The World” (Mark On The World EP)

28. Rick Hromadka, “Dreams Of A Hippy Summer” (Trippin’ Dinosaurs)

29. The Britannicas, “Got A Hold On Me” (High Tea)

30. Gen Pop, “Warm Sun” (Waiting For Disaster)

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