Pop Sunday

Dw Dunphy / Charm Offensive

Dw Dunphy

Charm Offensive (Introverse Media LTD. 2021)

For the past twenty-five years, Dw Dunphy has been actively engaged in music, both as a member of bands and as a solo act. Based in Red Bank, New Jersey, the singer, songwriter and multi-diversified instrumentalist has produced quite a hefty discography at this point, with Charm Offensive dialing in as his latest album.

Rich with freedom and vitality, Charm Offensive generates a genre-bending effect that succeeds at all angles. The first piece on the album, The False Clairvoyant, projects a hymn-like feel accented by angelic Association-styled harmonies, while the closing track, Ocean Floor, stands as the ultimate grand finale. Checking in at nearly ten minutes in length, the epic endeavor stages a compelling ballet of mood-altering movements. A lush and hypnotic arrangement gives way to urgent rhythms ticking with intensity, swelling into a space age symphony. Floating and flourishing with beauty, Ocean Floor delivers surprises at every crook and crevice.

Inbetween The False Clairvoyant and Ocean Floor, there’s the hooky hard rock of (I’m Not Here To Be) Your Conscience, the crushing metal-flavored Down In The Valley and Tonight (I Want To Be Wrong), a stark and strummy folk number. Framed of  shimmering threads and sweetened melodies, Things We Say exudes echoes of eighties synth pop, and Crime Scene Reporter is molded of a bare-boned folk format. A somber tenor envelopes the atmospheric applications of Newborn Orphan and What Trenton Breaks The River Takes is energized by a thudding mechanical groove.

Charm Offensive indeed presents an interesting selection of musical fashions. Covering folk, choral pop and the kind of experimental progressive rock sounds practiced by bands like Pink Floyd and Queensryche, the album weaves in and out with varied sonic visages.

On a lyrical level, Dw’s literate prose tends to lean towards the spiritual and philosophical side of the fence, but are decidedly open for translation. If you are not already a fan of Dw Dunphy, you surely will be after hearing this inspired effort. 


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Pop Sunday

The Armoires / Incognito

The Armoires

Incognito (Big Stir)

Oh, those sly rascals! Between October 2020 and April 2021, The Armoires released eight excellent singles under different pseudonyms. The reason the Burbank, California band staged such an exercise was to venture beyond their comfort zone and indulge in sonic promiscuity without apology.

All those songs have now been compiled onto a collection appropriately titled Incognito. While the core members of The Armoires are Big Stir founders Rex Broome on vocals and guitar and Christina Bulbenko on vocals and keyboards – along with bassist and vocalist Clifford Ulrich, violist Larysa Bulbenko and drummer John Borack – an assortment of loyal label mates also submit their talents to select cuts.  

Strands of paisley pop elegance tangles and wrangles with classical interludes on a swell cover of John Cale’s Paris 1919, where Bagfoot Run wheels in as a bluegrass-battered number, and the world-weary Homebound is a standard country ballad. Then there’s Awkward City Limits, which totters back and forth between tense moodiness, sweeping viola fills and thrashing rock rhythms.

Governed by grandiose and gloss, Ohma, Bring Your Light Into This Place mixes elements of church revival bliss with Broadway flash into a powerhouse production of dramatic dictation, mountain-sized melodies and goose-pimple inducing harmonies. A sashaying beat and clawing hooks brand the garage rocking  Walking Distance, and a rendition of Christie’s Yellow River remains relatively true to the original bubble-gummy swamp rock version. 

A dash of Brit pop, a touch of grunge and a splattering of wiggy psychedelic effects penetrate I Say We Take Off And Nuke The Site From Orbit, a copy of XTC’s Senses Working Overtime throbs and bobs with animated new wave perspectives, and Magento Moon keys in as an absolutely gorgeous slice of art pop. 

Modeled on the mercurial vision of The White Album and The Turtles Present The Battle Of The Bands, The Armoires move from one style to another with natural instinct. A fun and spontaneous feel fuels Incognito, letting you know a great time was had, cooking up these splendid songs. Slip on those headphones and enjoy!

Beverly Paterson

Pop Sunday

Singled Out: Mike Browning

Mike Browning

Another Bite At The Apple (Mike Drop Music 2021)

October 2020 saw the release of “Never Too Late,” an EP that introduced the world to Mike Browning. Drawing on the best and brightest pop rock sounds of mid-sixties AM radio, the  North Carolina based singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist revisited these influences with spot on precision while injecting his own notions into his superbly-scripted material. Refreshingly pure and moored with melodic perfection, “Never Too Late” registers as a modern day retro masterpiece.

Mike’s current effort, “Another Bite At The Apple” is a single that proceeds to pursue his passion for the music he so deeply loves. Leaning heavily on jogging surf styled rhythms, the springy sentiment owes further tribute to the genre in the form of Mike’s clear and concise vocals, backed by fluid harmonies. A bubblegummy carnival-like organ solo also courts the cut, as well as rolls of tightly-wired hooks and clicking guitar licks. 

Semi-autobiographical, “Another Bite At The Apple” mirrors the experience of Mike meeting and getting together with his wife, Janine, who he has been happily married to for nearly thirty-four years. Picture the Beach Boys mingling with Tommy Roe and Gary Lewis and the Playboys, and that pretty much rams the point home on this tasty slice of pop rock sure to steal your heart. 

Pop Sunday

Chris Church / Game Dirt

Chris Church 

Game Dirt

Big Stir Records 2021

Chris Church has been writing and playing a wide scope of sounds and styles for the past thirty years. Orbiting everywhere from pop to heavy metal to experimental art pieces, the Lenoir, North Carolina resident clearly possesses a voracious appetite for music in general. Here on his latest album – Game Dirt – the one-man band pursues a fetching form of progressive pop rock.

Equipped with a voice jointly recalling the grainy bite of Michael Stipe and the rootsy brogue of Adam Durwitz, Chris sings his imaginatively-engineered songs with passion and purpose. A crisp and crunchy tone floods Game Dirt, allowing the material to yield a live and lusty feel that sinks right into your ears and bones. 

Bursting with a jolly demeanor crafted of a foot-stomping beat, windy harmonies and a showing of smashing guitar licks, Learn has wisely been tapped as the first single from the album. Dominated by a penetrating pulse and a hard rocking swagger, Know kicks in as another not to be neglected number, as well as the Todd Rundgen flavored Fall, where pristine melodies collide with a punchy rhythm section to unified effects. 

An aggressive edge slinking with intensity, strengthened by a stabbing hook drives Down, the jumpy jubliance of Smile serves as a countrified power popping delight, and the blindingly beautiful Sunrise communicates a positive message while a flowering of celestial voices, swirling breaks and ringing riffs radiate warmth and security.

Although each song on Game Dirt conveys a different mood and color, they all hang nicely together. You certainly won’t get bored listening to this dynamic album, and will be amazed at the way Chris so effortlessly scales the varied angles and slopes found within his quirky yet catchy songs.

Beverly Paterson

Pop Sunday

Dolph Chaney / This Is Dolph Chaney

Dolph Chaney

This Is Dolph Chaney (Big Stir)!

Although Dolph Chaney has been making music since the late eighties, the Chicago-based singer, songwriter and guitarist didn’t receive widespread recognition until his album, Rebuilding Permit was released by the Big Stir label in 2020. Not only did the disc rope in rounds of raves from the public and music journalists, but led to Dolph winning the impressive seat as Woody Radio’s Artist Of The Year.

So now Dolph has returned to the spotlight with This Is Dolph Chaney, which offers remodelings of songs from the handful of albums he recorded prior to Rebuilding Permit. The thirteen track collection was produced by Nick Bertling, who also chips in on background vocals and instrumentation.

Powered by a jumpy beat and juicy melodies, Cuddle Party ranks as one of the many stand-out tracks on This Is Dolph Chaney, as well as the dizzying static of Now I Am A Man, which features guest vocals from Lindsay Murray of Gretchen’s Wheel. And then there’s the twangy tremors of Pleasant Under Glass, that includes the breezy harmonies of Kevin Robertson and Scott Robertson (of The Vapour Trails). 

Jazzy rhythms, seasoned with a shot of soul-styled six-string flourishes, are heard on the seductive Under The Overpass, where the springy I Wanted You pops and prances with digging hooks and breaks. A bare-bones arrangement, augmented by the haunting tenor of a Mellotron and sleepy but emotionally-charged vocals, shape Sideless World and Worship Song chimes brightly with tingling melodies and ear-pleasing licks.

Shooting and playing straight from the hip, Dolph keeps it real. There is nothing the least bit forced or pretentious about This Is Dolph Chaney, as raw talent and spontaneous energy ride his songs, not fussy and fancy technology. An honest and heartfelt affair, This Is Dolph Chaney is sure to catch fire and gather continual accolades for the Windy City musician.    

Pop-A-Looza TV

Terry Carolan / Fade

Singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Terry Carolan has been a stalwart of the independent pop rock community for an impressive forty-five years now. Toting a mile long resume starred with bands such as Just Boys, Pinups, True Hearts, New Movies, Blue Cartoon and Heirs of Fortune, Terry is indeed a respected figure amongst the scene.

 Terry also boasts an artistically rewarding solo career, and is currently in the process of putting together a new collection of songs. He has not yet decided if Fade will appear on the forthcoming effort, but after hearing this great song I am sure you will stand in agreement that it should be included in the package.

 Administered by Terry’s rich and powered vocals, Fade is initially dominated by the ringing chords of a piano. Bathed in beauty and light, the song gains momentum at a nice and casual clip before transpiring into a soaring finish of tuneful electric guitars and sweeping rhythms. Set to a smooth arrangement and exploding with grand melodies, Fade sounds a bit like Billy Joel partnering with Badfinger, which certainly spells high praise. 

Although Fade carries a sharp and sparkly exterior, the lyrics express a touch of melancholia. Saying goodbye to a way of life or a relationship is always difficult, but pleasant memories never die and perhaps brighter days are on the horizon. Teeming with all the essential attributes desired in a hit song, Fade is a solid  example of Terry’s exceptional wordsmith and musical skills. 


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Pop Sunday

The Craig Torso Show / Estonian Breakfast Strategies

The Craig Torso Show

Estonian Breakfast Strategies” (2021)

An odd band name, coupled with a curious looking album cover is sometimes reason enough to check out the content.

And that leads us to The Craig Torso Show, whose moniker is swiped from The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band’s “The Craig Torso Christmas Show.” The East Coast based band’s debut album, “Estonian Breakfast Strategies” features a sepia photograph of a rooster perched next to a little boy smoking a cigarette. Strange indeed, but as always it is the music that matters and there is definitely much to admire and appreciate here.

Comprised of vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Oliver Ignatius, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Joe Merklee, and drummers Steve Bartashev and Andrew Feyer, these four fellows practice a smart and snappy strain of pop rock that often references the sound and vision of bands like REM, Let’s Active and The Replacements.

But “Estonian Breakfast Strategies” filters these influences into a modern presentation, stressed by ripe energy and novel applications. An adventurous lot, The Craig Torso Show further cushions their material with a wide variety of musical gear, creating a homespun symphony of compelling effects. Aside from the typical guitar, bass, piano and drums played in a rock setting, unusual instruments such as a tanpura, rav vast, shahi baaja and bells are occasionally utilized, resulting in moments of exotic tuneage.

The first two tracks – “Living In Deep Space” and “Ellen Thompson’s Guide To Morality” – move with speed, precision and just the right amount of nerve-jangling tension to an exciting exhibition of jittery guitars, kicking breaks and driving rhythms. Braided with a squealing organ and probing hooks, “Virginia Dare” deftly bridges the gap between sixties styled garage rock and new wave quirkiness, a bare-bones arrangement anchors the raggedy folk fable of “I Gave Away That Kid” and The Go-Betweens are honored on a fine copy of the emotionally-electrifying “The Man Who Died In Rapture.”  Another cool reprise included on “Estonian Breakfast Strategies” is Bevis Frond’s “The Wind Blew All Around Me,” which twinkles and twirls with ringing riffs and smiley-face harmonies.  Sculpted of riveting chord changes and enterprising orchestration, “Zero-Gravity Sex” and “The Irish Chiropodist” post as additional potent pieces heard on the album.

 The Craig Torso Show has gotten off to a great start with “Estonian Breakfast Strategies.” The band’s edgy but appealing perspectives convey a sense of  uniqueness and originality in both the songwriting and performances. Hopefully, The Craig Torso Show isn’t a one shot deal, and they will continue to do what they do so well. 

Pop Sunday

Joel Bachrach & Friends / Airport Dreaming

Joel Bachrach & Friends

Airport Dreaming (2021)

When he is not making music with the New Jersey band damfino, singer, songwriter and multiple-instrumentalist Joel Bachrach performs in a side project called Joel Bachrach & Friends. The band consists of a core of local musicians, including singer, songwriter  and multi-instrumentalist Joe Merklee, bassist Alex Bachrach and drummer Chris McKinley from damfino.

Here on their latest album – Airport Dreaming – Joel Bachrach & Friends follow the lead of artists ranging from the early Kinks to The Velvet Underground to Big Star to the dBs. Economical songs, possessing a shrewd lyrical bent are the order of the day. A loose and relaxed mood lights Airport Dreaming, fostering the impression Joel Bachrach & Friends had a barrel of fun recording the album.

 Dictated by jaunty piano fills and magical melodies blinking with life, the title track of the album is a real showstopper. Delivered in a folksy voice, Airport Dreaming contains vivid verse capturing the feeling of hanging out in an airport waiting for your flight to arrive and also describes the sights and environment.

Playing football and pizza for lunch are all but a few childhood memories revisited on the jagged jangle of I Was Nine, a cool Lou Reed styled rap is featured on the brisk and bobbing She Said and Oh Marie steps in as a cute and charming cut of fuzzy guitar pop. Devised of strummy riffs and a repetitious rhythm, Blew It is another catchy offering, along with the needling harmonious vibe of Put Some Weight On, which spills the story of what it was like growing up as a skinny bones.

Bubbling with wiggy hooks, choppy instrumentation and a carefree attitude, Airport Dreaming is alternative pop at its best.  Joel Bachrach & Friends are in it simply because they love creating music, and this album is a nifty memento of their mission.