Saturday, December 31, 2011

Dirty Wings - 30th Avenue Heartache (2011)

Any band that titles a song "Scott Walker, Motherfucker" is on my good side right from the get-go. That song, a grim pro-union anthem curdled in righteous anger amongst the recent Republican machinations in Wisconsin, grinds along with the earnestness of an old folk song powered by punk instrumentation. And really, the entire album has the same feel. It's like Springsteen without the arena rock aspirations, or the Gaslight Anthem minus the mall punk mannerisms, or like the Constantines with a slightly more populist sense of melody. Or, to call a spade a spade, it's the Harry Smith Folk Anthology run through a Marshall stack. There isn't a great deal of hooks, humor, or dynamic variation here, although if the band picks its political rallies wisely they'll be getting the intended audience singalongs regardless.

Dirty Wings on Amazon

Friday, December 30, 2011

Daniel Tashian - Arthur (2011)

Daniel Tashian is perhaps better known for his work with the Silver Seas, whose Chateau Revenge made my top 20 last year. Like that album, this solo joint is sleek modern pop, although considerably more mellow and self-reflective. The level of songcraft on display here is extremely high, with each song building to its chorus in a way that's always effective yet never obvious. A few reviews have deemed this '70s AM pop, which is accurate enough as long as you filter out the novelty tunes and unctuous, pandering pap from whichever '70s AM pop universe that description might suggest. Personally, I hope Tashian isn't finished with the Silver Seas, because I miss the uptempo energy the band brings to his compositions, but for what this album is (which seems to be some kind of unofficial companion piece to the movie of the same name) it works better than anything Christopher Cross might have imagined.

Ryan Allen - Ryan Allen and His Extra Arms (2011)

This is something of a one man band effort, with Ryan Allen playing most of the guitars, piano, and drums. The credits also include a small army of collaborators, however, so this isn't quite the insular, introspective affair one might initially fear when faced with that dreaded "one man band" phrase. So instead of Emitt Rhodes, this is more Devin Davis. And, like Devin Davis, Allen isn't afraid to rock while he's sitting by himself in a studio. In fact, a lot of this release conjures up what the Replacements might have sounded like if Tommy Stinson had been their main singer and songwriter: 3 minute (or less) constructs of melodic power pop shot through with a little punk buzz, fortified by a classic rock foundation, and topped off with witty, self-deprecating lyrics. "Heart String Soul" and "Headache Nights", in particular, are gonna spark up many future mixes. And not just mine.

Ryan Allen on bandcamp

Marvelous Darlings - Single Life (2011)

Guitarist Ben Cook takes a working holiday from his gig in Fucked Up, and the end result is this riotous collision of punk noise and pop hooks. Single Life collects a run of eight singles (A sides and B sides), adds a smattering of demos - 21 tracks in all - and might make more than a few people forget all about Cook's main band. Each song is such an over-amped, balls-to-the-wall blast of energy that it's almost exhausting to listen to the album in a single sitting. Imagine a rock encyclopedia's worth of guitar riffs duking it out with a snotty vocalist in some bad drug version of a '50s sock hop - now imagine that whole scenario again as produced by Iggy Pop while nodding off on the same skag that threatened to ruin the Raw Power sessions. It's an absolute mess, but it's the kind of deliriously fun mess that makes you ponder why the word "mess" ever got such negative connotations in the first place.

Marvelous Darlings on Amazon

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Barreracudas - Nocturnal Missions (2011)

As far as I know, these are the men of Gentlemen Jesse & His Men, and the years of honing Jesse's willful collision between Jesus of Cool-era Nick Lowe and Twin Tone-era Replacements have paid off with this adrenalized blast of punky power pop that gets over on its sheer abundance of energy and hooks. Sonically, there's not much here that will surprise anyone, other than just how awesome it is. The first track "Numbers" sounds kinda like Cheap Trick mated with the Dolls, and if that coupling sounds like heaven to you (and, really, how could it not?) then dig in - there's 11 more songs riding that same template. This album won't change the world, but the Barreracudas aren't trying to change the world - they're just making it a better place. Mission accomplished.

Barreracudas on Facebook

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Rationales - The Distance In Between (2011)

The Rationales singer/songwriter David Mirabella may be in a permanently depressed state, but fortunately he's managed to keep it a secret from his band, who prop up his introspective songs with the sturdy Americana of Tom Petty's Heartbreakers and the chiming jangle of early REM. The resulting hybrid - a rootsy, melancholic power pop - sounds so immediately familiar that it could be easy for some listeners to overlook if they don't take the time to appreciate the finer details in the band's arrangements. Whether it's a contrapuntal keyboard figure in opening track "Real Life" or the arpeggiated lead in the pop perfection of "Jaded", the Rationales aren't afraid to disrupt their own smooth surfaces by forcing the instruments to spar for attention, and it's exactly that aspect that sets this Boston band apart from so many like-minded ultra-melodic moody popsters, from the Gin Blossoms to patron saints Buffalo Tom. Give The Distance In Between some time to sink in, and you'll be rewarded with a magic beyond its obvious hooks - and hey, those hooks by themselves should be strong enough for an army of positive reviews, it's just that there's much more going on here than a casual first listen might suggest.  

The Rationales on Bandcamp
The Rationales on Amazon

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Van Buren Boys - Up All Night (2011)

Very much part of the power pop glam punk whatever-you-wanna-call-it resurgence that's going on out there right now, the Van Buren Boys hit the ground running with "Turn It Up Loud" and never bother to pause for breath. Throughout this album the Exploding Hearts sit like angels on the band's shoulders, probably nodding in encouragement as their cherished day-glo '77 punkophilia meets twangy '50s boogie in a supercharged rush. I probably shouldn't like this as much as I do, but I probably shouldn't drink so much or eat red meat either. But I will. And I do.

The Breakdowns - The Kids Don't Wanna Bop Anymore (2011)

The title track is a thoughtful, introspective elegy to the Ramones, and even though Joey, Johnny, Dee Dee, and Tommy lend a distinct influence to the proceedings this is a much sweeter proposition than one would expect after the armies of one dimensional pop punk bands that have buzzsawed their way to obscurity in the wake of the Brooklyn bruddahs. In the Breakdowns I hear a lot of late '70s power pop, specifically the Plimsouls, as well as occasional girl group harmonies and shards of modern punk, all mated to that timeless Ramones sense of bubblegum melody, and the end result is an album of surprising depth and staying power. In some alternate universe - a better universe, where the Ramones, the Dolls, and the Replacements are all living in luxury and Radiohead never happened - the Breakdowns are about to have thirteen awesome singles hit the top of the charts.

Breakdowns on Amazon

Meyerman - Who Do You Think You Are (2011)

I'm not sure exactly why the smart guys are attracted to power pop, but it's always seemed to be a haven for wise-ass skeptics with an uncontrollable urge to rock. The irony is that these bands are wise enough to be in on the joke right from the get-go: they know their brand of melodic guitar-based teenage-symphonies-to-god is commercially doomed - I mean, there's undeniable historical precedent here - and yet they can't help themselves. And Meyerman, god bless 'em, jump right into the tradition, melding witty lyrics to guitar jangle 'n' fuzz while offering a smart aleck wink to that very specific audience that lives for this stuff (count me in). So amid all the hooks and handclaps - and there's tons of hooks and handclaps - the songs themselves joyfully acknowledge the absurdity of the enterprise. Theo Meyer's vocals recall Nick Cope of the Candyskins, which is an appropriate touchstone if you remember the pre-Oasis brit-pop of the Candyskins, And, yeah, the fact that's such an obscure reference pretty much proves my original point about the commercial prospects for this kind of brainy pop. Therein lies the problem. And the glory.