Monday, January 2, 2017

Top 25 Power Pop Releases of 2016

2016. What an absolutely bizarre year!  Here's hoping that 2017 will make more sense all round.  Still there was lots of quality Power Pop produced in 2016.

1. Paul Steel - April & I: Carousel Kites
An end-of-year masterpiece by Paul Steel slips in under the wire.  Paul has been working on this epic during a difficult year for him, but you wouldn't know it.  Those who have followed Paul's past efforts won't be surprised by the Beach Boys and Jellyfish influences. The surprise hre is the trio of Steely Dan influenced tracks in the middle.   Wonderful melodies.  Sterling production.  The best Power Pop album of the year IMO.

2. Seth Swirsky - Circles & Squares
Seth is here with another cycle of new sunshine pop.    Though we've heard a few of these as demos on his web site, Seth has woven new versions together into a tuneful tapestry.  It's all puppy dogs and summer love.  Great album.

3. Cotton Mather - Death of the Cool
Robert Harrison releases the first set of songs from his 64 track "Songs from the I Ching" project and the album kicks like Cotton Mather album of old.   I played the hell out of this one.  It skyrockets right up with Cotton Mather albums of old.

4. The Dowling Poole - One Hyde Park
The second full length collaboration by Willie Dowling and Jon Poole.   This one check all the boxes.  Beautiful Jellyfish influenced ballads along snotty punk poppy rockers that sound like they could slot into a bid 90s Blur record.  Another great effort by the dynamic duo.

5. Starling Electric - Starling Electric Company
This Michigan band has two releases in my top 25 this year.  This one is the rocker of the two.  Channeling some of the cues from the shoegazers along side hooks influenced by the Beach Boys.  A great album though out.

6. David Brookings and the Average Lookings -  S/T
David Brookings produces his best effort in years and it rocks hard.  No other album invokes the rocking DNA of early Elvis Costello or early Candy Butchers like this.  I love David's new band.

7. Erik Voeks - So The Wind Won't Blow It All Away
After years of leaking out singles Erik finally puts out an entire album and it is a fabulous effort throughout.  Channeling a more careful take on the mid-west pop made famous by Tommy Keene.  This album takes up right where Erik's 1993 epic "Sandbox" leaves off.  Keep these coming please Erik!

8. The Legal Matters - Conrad
Another great album by the Michigan Power Pop "supergroup" of Andy Reed, Chris Richards and Keith Klingensmith.   I think that this one is actually even stronger than the first.

9. Look Park - S/T
OK,  so there aren't quite as many power hooks as Fountains of Wayne, but when Chris Collingwood sings highly tuneful songs, it sounds like FOW to me.   Some great tracks here on Chris's solo debut.

10. Nick Piunti - Trust Your Instincts
This power pop album may have the most "power" of any album in my top 25 this year.  It also includes the strongest set of tunes that Nick Piunti has produced to date.  Lots of fun to listen to in the car.

11. Bob Evans - Car Boot Sale
Yet another tuneful solo effort by Kevin Mitchel, the lead singer of Australian alternative band Jebediah.  This Bob Evans has more variety than efforts past and contains some absolutely sweet Power Pop songs. Recalls his prior epic "Suburban Songbook", a good thing indeed.

12. Peter Bruntnell - Nos Da Comrade
The English folk pop artist returns with his third effort that straddles folk, alternative and power pop.  As always its tuneful and worth listening throughout.  Peter Bruntnell is a criminally underrated and a favorite of mine.  

13. Honeydogs - Love & Cannibalism
I'll never miss an album by Adam Levy and his band-mates.   Though this one feels like a somewhat arbitrary collection of tunes, it still contains some of my favorite songs of the year.  Obviously this is a band effort not just another solo project by Adam.

14. Starling Electric - Castlevania
Perhaps the most personal effort on this list. Starling Electric lead singer Caleb Dillon has been sharing this masterpiece within a select inner circle.  He decided to release it for free on Bandcamp this fall so it's available to all of us.  Strong shades of Elliot Smith and the introspective side of Robert Pollard.  Not to be missed.

15. The Explorer's Club - Together
Beach boys scholars The Explorer's Club release their latest.  It's their best.  Full of songs that invoke the blissful days of summer.

16. Bent Van Looy - Pyjama Days
I'm a big Jason Falkner fan and every time I listen to Belgian rocker Ben Van Looy, I have to double check to see if I am actually listening to the great unreleased album by Jason.  It makes sense since this is the second album that Jason has produced for Bent.   Though, it doesn't say it, I would not be surprised if Jason had a hand in writing some of these songs.

17. Teenage Fanclub - Here
I always will celebrate a new album by Teenage Fanclub. "Here" is not their best its still a solid efforts with a stripped down take on the trademark Teenage Fanclub sound.

18. John Cunningham - Fell
Don't know why I didn't hear more about this return-to-form from British chamber pop artist John Cunningham.  This one ranks with anything he's done before.  Beautiful tunes.  Big Beach Boys influence.  Beautiful album.

19. Arvidson & Butterflies - S/T
The most "Swedish" of Power Pop albums comes from Gothenburg Sweden (as it should) this year and its very good indeed. Roger Arvidson delivers an album that sounds like it could have been released in Sweden in the 90s.  Rockin' songs with hooks galore.  So sweet it made my teeth hurt!

20. Sheloom - The Baron Of The Fjord
The second cross-continent collaboration by Blinker the Star singer Jordon Zadorozny, and Italian prog rocker Filippo Gaetani includes an important new member, chamber pop star Erik Matthews.  This a beautiful dense album that you should check out if you haven't heard it.  Spectacular.

21. Radio Days - Back in the Day
Italian rockers Radio Days alternate between mid period Beatles tributes and more updated punky Power Pop tunes.  Lots of great songs here.

22. Greg Pope - Guiding Star
The latest album by prolific artist Greg Pope cast a darker more alternative cast than albums past.  The hooks are here if you listen and stand up to repeated listening..

23. Cupid's Carnival - Everything is Love
I loved this John Lennon-esque collection of pop songs from the band formerly known as "Cherrystone".   Perhaps the most unabashedly late Beatles of anything on this last.

24. Cheap Trick - Bang Zoom Crazy…Hello
Another album by Power Pop dinosaurs Cheap Trick.  Does it matter?  YES is matters.  Some of the best three minute Power Pop songs of the year were on this album.  Great that these guys are still bringing it.

25. The Nines - Alejandro's Visions
This is a retro soundtrack concept by the Nines and it sometimes is a bit too fey for my tastes.   However, Steve Eggers is a force to be reckoned with and always brings us great songs.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Starling Electric - A Holiday "Re-gift"

It's that time of year - when I take stock of the year in Power Pop and remember some of my favorite moments from the year.  "Electric Company" by Starling Electric was certainly one of my favorite releases of the year.  The band plays power pop as if Robert Pollard from"Guided by Voices" had been listening to a steady stream of Beach Boys - without the attention deficit disorder disease.   "Electric Company" is a really wonderful album and it wasn't celebrated enough in my opinion.  If you haven't picked up a copy, then I'd suggest you head directly to Bandcamp and do so now.  One of the best releases of the year for sure.  Starling Electric deserves support for producing great tunes like this.

In addition to "Electric Company", Starling Electric lead singer Caleb Dillon has a gift for all pop fans.   He has posted an amazing solo record entitled "Castlevania" for free on Bandcamp. Caleb has been previewing this epic album to friends and family over the last album and it is simply superb.   Think Elliott Smith meets the shoegazer band Ride.   An introverted but drop dead gorgeous record that deserves its own place on my top 25 list for this year.

In addition, the group has posted a set of "free" set of demos on Bandcamp entitled." I Can't Believe I Hate The Whole Thing".  Lots of good stuff in there though its of varying fidelity.

Thanks for the gifts Caleb!  They are just what I wanted!

Castlevania

1 The Fog
2 Silver Lake
3 Death's Door
4 Those Eyes!
5 I Died
6 Let's Try To Keep It Out Of The Papers
7 No One Knows My Name
8 Dark Agez
9 Multiple Murder
10 Scarlet Fever
11 Missouri
12 I'm The Cop That Shot Mal Evans
13 Wear Your Love Like Heather

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Duncan Matiland and Robyn Gibson are Future Harmonies

Oncoming Classic Power Pop Alert!   I'm extremely excited about the new covers collaboration project between Duncan Maitland and Robyn Gibson, leader of the Junipers. Duncan Maitland, for those of you who don't know, is a well respected studio musician who is at the core of the Irish Power Pop scene.  He has featured prominently on all Pugwash releases and in 2010 released a phenomenal solo record "Lullabies For The 21st Century", a lovely purple vinyl version of which was recently released by Sugarbush.  If you haven't heard this great album, then you owe it to yourself to check it out ASAP.

Robyn Gibson is the leader and vocalist of the Leicester based psychedelic pop band the Junipers.  Their release "Red Bouquet Fair" is a lovely chamber pop epic, on track to be on my best of the year list.   Together Robyn and Duncan call themselves Future Harmonies and they are working on an all cover effort to be released later this year. They have been leaking out some tracks on SoundCloud that are truly beautiful.   I've combined those tracks so far with some alternative versions of songs from Duncan's 2010 masterpiece "Lullabies For The 21st Century" in this compilation.  Listen to this and get excited about the oncoming Future Harmonies album. Duncan rarities are hard to find.  If anyone has a copy of Duncan's rare "2006 Live Alien EP" can you let me know?   I've had one back-ordered on Amazon for months.

1 Two of a Kind - Syd Barrett cover by Duncan
2 All I Ever Wanted - Kirsty McCall cover by Future Harmonies
3 Lucky You - early version of "Lullabies For The 21st Century" track
4 Mary Anne With the Shaky Hand - Who cover by Future Harmonies
5 Handbirds - instrumental version of "Lullabies For The 21st Century" track
6 Funny How Love Can Be - Ivy League cover by Future Harmonies
7 Terry The Toad- early version of "Lullabies For The 21st Century" track
8 Cry Me To Sleep - solo version of "Lullabies For The 21st Century" track from "Declan Session"
9 Your Century- solo version of "Lullabies For The 21st Century" track from "Jungla Sonora"
10 Starman - Live Bowie cover by Duncan
11 Insect Under the Stone- solo version of "Lullabies For The 21st Century" track from "Jungla Sonora"
12 Two of Us - live Beatles cover by Future Harmonies
13 Baby's In Black- live Beatles cover by Future Harmonies

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Grant-Lee Phillips - Sunday's Best

Grant-Lee Phillips is a long time favorite of mine and though much of his output could be characterized as Americana, there are strong pop elements throughout his large catalog. His latest effort "The Narrows" is a solid  rocking album.  It alternates between strong roots rockers and Grant's trademark world-weary crooning ballads.

Today's post is a collection of rare non-album compilation, B-side and bonus tracks that emphasize Grant's pop sound. All of these rarities are from Grant's post Grant Lee Buffalo period.  (I'm currently looking for at least two tracks that know of  "The Goodnight Horse" and "Hold Me".   If anyone has these or any other Grant rarities, I'd appreciate letting me know).

Enjoy these great tracks.

1 Hugo's Theme - bonus track from "Mobilize"
2 Sunday's Best - bonus track from "Mobilize"
3 Smile - from "Gilmore Girls" soundtrack
4 Itchin' - from "Arctic Tales" soundtrack
5 Buckaroo - B-side of "Spring Released"
6 Sarah - from "Witchblade" soundtrack
7 Me and This City - compilation track from "The I-10 Chronicles"
8 Ashes to Ashes - Bowie cover with the Section String Quartet
9 Song of the North - from "Arctic Tales" soundtrack
10 Mother of Exiles - download single
11 Hit Parade - single
12 Here Comes The Sun - Beatles cover from compilation
13 Ballad of Catain - unreleased track from "Witchblade"
14 Winterglow - single
15 Snow Flakes - bonus track from "Ladie's Love Oracle"
16 We Three Kings - unreleased Christmas track

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Peter Holsapple - Back Blogging!

Thanks to Rob over at The dB's Repercussion blog for spreading the news that Peter Holsapple one of the two creative forces behind the dB's is back and blogging again.  In Peter's blog, he reports that he is recording for a new effort and I couldn't be happier.    As recently as a year ago it sounded like Peter had hung up his song writing pen, so that he is back in the studio is excellent news.   Long standing readers of Pop Fair know that Holsapple is one of my absolutely favorite singer songwriters, however its been a waiting game being his fan. There had been no new tracks from Peter since his days with the Continental Drifters until 2009 when Peter and Chris Stamey released the excellent duet record  "Here and Now".   This was followed in 2012 by "Falling Off the Sky" by the reformed dB's, a wonderful return to form for the legendary band.  Since that time only the odds and ends of tracks left off of the "Falling Off the Sky" were released and then...nothing.

So Peter might be "back" and writing again and that's great....but if past performance is a predictor, it may take a while until we get to hear new material.   To hold me over, I've been listening to my second compilation of Holsapple material "released" on the Radio Free Song Club blog.   That blog has gone dormant recently but for a while was releasing monthly compilations of alternative folk performances recorded live in studios around NYC.  Peter would regularly send in songs he recorded in his home in North Carolina.   in 2011, he briefly released a CD of the first batch of those songs.  That release appears to be out of print at present  I've been waiting, but I've seen no evidence of a second CD.   Until Peter releases a CD of this stuff, please enjoy the second batch of Holsapple tracks culled from the Radio Free Song Club.   Some great Holsapple material here served up with a very DIY aesthetic.  Can't wait for new material from Peter.

1 Goodness Gracious
2 All Hail
3 The Devil You Know
4 Real Tears
5 Cinderella Style
6 Game Day
7 Happy The Drunk
8 Morning Train
9 Didn't You Used to Be
10 Bluesy Mama
11 The Donkey Song
12 Don't Ever Leave

Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Milk and Honey Band

Summer brings to mind a number of great bands that helped defined those times and Brighton's excellent "The Milk and Honey Band" is such a band for me.   Lead by singer songwriter Robert White, the band put out 4 albums starting with 1994's Round the Sun.   Most of the band's output comes out after 2000 with 2001's Boy From the Moon,  2004's The Secret Life Of The Milk And Honey Band, 2009's Dog Eared Moonlight, 2010's In Colour.  The band has a sound that straddles a solid center line between Crowded House and XTC with occasional Beach Boys influences popping through.  Interesting that thier last last two albums were released on Andy Partiridge's Ape record label

I'd love to hear more by this fine band however they haven't put out any new material since 2010. There have been a couple of tunes released solo by Robert White (included here). I also included an acoustic live set to round out this compilation.  I am still looking for the tracks that were briefly released in 2006 on "Crumbs Parts 1 and 2" the digital download compilation if anyone has those tracks. For those who don't know The Milk and Honey band, you are in for a treat.

1 Flowers - acoustic live
2 Disappear - acoustic live
3 No World At All - acoustic live
4 Maryfaith Autumn - acoustic live
5 Just You - acoustic live
6 Cut The Line - acoustic live
7 Lilly White's Party - Robert White solo
8 Everything is Free - Robert White solo

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Tam Johnstone - The General Store

This month's post is dedicated to another classic album from a rarely heard artist - Tam Johnstone, the son of Elton John guitar player Davey Johnstone. Tam released his first album "Local Honey" under the moniker "The General Store" on Not Lame records in 2002 and to my ears it was an instant classic. The album contained a concentrated blast of Big Star/Badfinger ballads with beautiful playing and production.   In an alternate universe, this release would have rocketed him to instant stardom, but alas, things don't work out that way.

In 2008, he released another fine General Store album and began work as a videographer.   In 2011, he took on a concentrated video project called the "Song Explosion" releasing a new song and video every week for that year.  He culled an albums worth of material from that project to create "Fantastic Animals" his first solo record.   Though a fine record in its own right (and well worth picking up), a number of fine songs from the Song Explosion remain un-issued to this day.   I've collected my favorite in the compilation below.   It's fine listening.  I defy anyone to produce a better or more clever song than the second track "Complicated Girl".   One great song among many.

Since 2011, Tam has issued a newer collection of old timey torch songs but he has turned his energies to video production.   He is producing a documentary on the early days of Elton John. He is a real talent and I hope we haven't heard the last of Tam as song writer.

1 Somewhere Down the Highway
2 Complicated Girl
3 Back To You
4 Miss World
5 Beautiful Day
6 Alien Abroad
7 Homeward Bound
8 Polygraph
9 The Creeper
10 She's Not The One
11 Wake Up
12 Any Other
13 When The Sun Goes Down
14 Everything is Awesome
15 Unicorn Lady
16 Sway
17 The Reunion
18 Sgt. Factory
19 Paralyzed
20 You're So Beautiful