The Braam Brothers, Greg Lato & Nick Frater

The Braam Brothers

Swan Swan

https://braambrothers.bandcamp.com/

Chicago’s Braam Brothers have experienced a noticeable burst of activity lately. Their 2021 Lp, Landscapes, found its way onto this critic’s year-end-best list, standing stoic in contrast to the Midwest’s (and even their own) power pop traditions. Fans of the genre will remember them as the fine Swingset Police, once signed to Shoes’ famous Black Vinyl Records imprint.

These days, however, Scott and Tom Braam deliver a more moody and melancholy strain of pop. Fables Of The Reconstruction-era R.E.M. is an easy general comparison, but they’re definitely mining their own ground here. Indeed, Swan Swan sounds like Landscapes’ logical follow-up, as the brothers seems a bit more sure of themselves this time around.

Velvet Heart is a beautiful song about longing, in particular, longing for the company of parents that have departed this Earth. If you can get through this track without tearing up, your heart is stronger than mine. Still Missing You is similarly as somber, with thwacky drums giving it a haunting dirge-like vibe. My fave of the set, however, is Silent Joan, which sounds like a lost track from Matthew Sweet’s Altered Beast. Very Well done.

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Greg Lato

Adults These Days 

https://www.amazon.com/Adults-These-Days-Greg-Lato/dp/

Rhode Island’s Greg Lato is a bright star in the genre of family/children’s entertainment. I won’t bother to recount his numerous accolades, as they aren’t the reason that he should be on every parent’s radar. His wonderful songs are.

Lato must be listening to a lot of Fountains Of Wayne & The Cars lately, because their influence is all over these tunes. Indeed, New Lunch Box and My Birthday Party, are both full of enough synth hooks to make Greg Hawkes blush. To me, incidentally, that’s a very good thing. These days, songwriters who focus on the family market must take care in grabbing the ears of the big person driving the minivan, as well as the tiny passengers.

The previously mentioned New Lunch Box is a definite feel-good, even going so far as to remind me of the joy of choosing a new lunch box at the beginning of the school year when I was in grade school. The track Adults These Days takes a wistful look at remembering childhood as an adult, which many of us parents of a certain age find ourselves doing. Extra points awarded for name-checking Marty McFly. Highly recommended.

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Nick Frater

Aerodrome Motel

https://nickfrater.bandcamp.com/album/aerodrome-motel

Nick Frater’s latest is nothing short of an absolute pop masterclass. If they’re not referring to this dude as The Pride Of Croydon, his hometown, they damn-well ought to be. The ten tracks that make up Aerodrome Hotel are as close to pop perfection as one can achieve.

The bouncy goodness of The Pleasure Is Mine and Stuck In My Ways are strong enough to raise Glenn Tilbrook’s eyebrow, in a “Are those mine?” kind of way. Frater impeccably creates a vibe here that evokes the best of English pop, roughly 1977-1982. For goodness sake, the rollicking Rough & Tumble could be a Wings’ outtake, and not a weak outtake, an outstanding one.

It’s also worth noting that we’re barely a year away from Frater’s last release, the brilliant Earworms, and its baby brother, The Rebutles. Most singer-songwriters would be lucky to hit a high-water mark like this once in a lifetime, and Frater has done it two years in a row. Consider this gob officially smacked.

By Dan Pavelich

Nick Frater, Sting & The Harmonica Pocket

Nick Frater

Earworms (Big Stir)

https://bigstirrecords.bandcamp.com/album/earworms

Nick Frater’s beautiful Lp, Earworms, made every year-end-best list that I saw last year. And deservedly so. Although I hadn’t heard it at the time my list was published, it did get a mention for its cool cover art. For the vinyl edition, I knew I had to refuse a free review copy, and plunk down my own pocket money.

Frater has written a batch of tunes that manages to evoke early McCartney and Fleetwood Mac, and sounds as if it was recorded in a living room, albeit an acoustically-perfect living room. It’s All Rumours kicks things off, sounding like a possible Band On The Run outtake. What’s With Your Heavy Heart? has a similar feel. A lot of the pop of the early 1970’s had a strange ability to sound both buoyant and melancholy at the same time. Frater nails this aspect with perfection.

My fave of the set is the closer, How To Survive Somebody. It’s a sweet ballad that nicely showcases Frater’s soft vocals, which always sound warm and comfortable. Much like a favorite sweater on a chilly morning, Earworms is a record that I keep coming back to. I have no doubt that it will stay with me and survive the years.

Sting

The Bridge (A&M)

https://www.amazon.com/Bridge-Sting

Sting has made a couple of really nice pop albums in recent years, namely, 2016’s 57th & 9th, 2018’s 44/876 (Yes, I liked it!), and now, with The Bridge. Sting appears to have mellowed with age, and presenting complicated constructs has given way to a more-focused approach on likable melodies.

The opener, Rushing Water, stands among his best flagship singles. With a stripped-back verse leading to a soaring chorus, it has a similar pacing to Fortress Around Your Heart. It’s a song that you want to hear again, as soon as it ends. 

Other notables include the somber Harmony Road, an ode to a life in a neighborhood that is both loved for its history and loathed for its decay, and The Bridge, which unfolds with thoughts about the passage of a lifetime. There’s something oddly calming about knowing that Sting is having similar thoughts to the rest of us, as we age.

Harmonica Pocket

Sing Your Song (THP)

https://harmonicapocket.bandcamp.com/album/sing-your-song

Late last year, The Harmonica Pocket’s track, One Two I Love You, caught our ears, here at Pop-a-looza HQ. Since then, we’ve had the pleasure of listening to their entire full-length, Sing Your Song.

Brimming with happiness, it’s one the whole family can enjoy. Lead vocalist Keeth Monta Apgar has a warm, tuneful voice, that sounds both fresh and familiar. When he suggests that you sing your song, you feel like you just might be able to do it.

Other standouts include the cheery Apples On The Sun and a cover of Ben E. King’s Stand By Me, which is given a campfire treatment, with acoustic guitar and just a touch of percussion. Very well done, we’re looking forward to hearing more!

The Best Albums of 2021

As you may have previously seen, Ken Sharp’s Miniatures scored my pick for Album Of The Year. In my ears, it’s a baroque pop masterpiece that is equally as beautiful on the eyes. No indie pop Lp collection should be without this!

Following Ken Sharp’s Miniatures, are the ten Lp’s that got the most spins at my house. Don’t be offended if your release isn’t included here, chances are that I either didn’t hear it or it nearly missed making this top ten. Also, administrative duties for Pop-A-Looza kept me busier than I would have preferred, which has meant listening to and reviewing, far fewer releases in 2021 than the previous year.

These, in no particular order, are;

  1. Lindsay Munroe w/Raffi – Frogs and Birds
  2. Kevin Robertson – Sundown’s End
  3. The Legal Matters – Chapter Three
  4. Tambourina – Tambourina
  5. Kerry Spitzer – Swan Songs
  6. Bill Sammon – Story Songs
  7. Matthew Sweet – Cat’s Paw
  8. The Braam Brothers – Landscapes
  9. Sorrows – Love Too Late…The Real Album
  10. Deadlights – Deadlights

Nick Frater’s Earworms and Bill Lloyd’s reissue of his classic Feeling The Elephant, fall into their own weird category. While they tie for Best Cover Art Of 2021, they were also both on my Christmas wishlist, yet didn’t show up underneath the tree, Christmas morning. So, I will now be purchasing them as Nick & Bill are two artists whose work I always enjoy!

Best Tribute Record Of 2021, is easily won by Higher Than A Mountain, The Songs Of Andy Gibb, released by the Curry Cuts label. Gibb’s catalog is deeper than you’d think, and this swell comp proves it.

Lastly, the Best Holiday Release Of 2021, goes to The Yule Logs, a fantastic band from Chico, California, that only plays Christmas and holiday-themed music. Their latest, Fezziwig, is a real hoot!

I hope you’ll further seek out of these releases, as they’re all well-worth owning. Stream (if you must) to preview them, but please actually purchase CD’s, vinyl and downloads, which pay the artists the most for their hard work.

Happy listening,

Dan Pavelich

Nick Frater / Earworms

Nick Frater

Earworms (Big Stir)

https://bigstirrecords.bandcamp.com/album/earworms

Over the past several years, Nick Frater has assembled a gaggle of albums, EPs and singles that have collected gushing reviews from all those who have had the pleasure of experiencing these endeavors. Based in Croydon, England, the multi-diversified musician has always professed a penchant for seventies pop rock, but here on his latest album, Earworms, his love for the sounds of the decade is ramped up in full force. Although such influences are boldly expressed, Nick’s sharp-edged songwriting, combined with his industrious arranging and production techniques sit at the head of the class, preventing the material from coming off as mere mimicry.

 One of the first things that attracts listeners to a song is the singing. And Nick’s butter-melting vocals, which are squarely schooled in Beatlism, extending to the mannerisms of The Raspberries, Electric Light Orchestra, 10cc, Gerry Rafferty and Elvis Costello, certainly do give the songs on Earworms instant appeal. You couldn’t ask for a better frontman than Nick, who delivers these perfectly-tuned compositions with clarity and strength.

 A great choice as the opening number, It’s All Rumours, is a power pop marvel from the get-go. Ignited by slapping drums and stabbing riffs bleeding with distortion, the song is further engraved with twisty breaks and a fluttery falsetto. Jaunty piano chords jumpstart Lucky Strike, which transforms into a catchy vaudeville groove, while the rolling rhythms and punchy hooks of What’s With Your Heavy Heart? also features bluesy licks straight from the George Harrison playbook. 

A dreamy piano-driven ballad iced with a lightly-battered jazz flavor, Star-Crossed would have fit nicely on a Walter Egan album, where the absolutely infectious Buggin’ Out, beams brightly with twinkling guitars, spunky melodies and merry doo-wop harmonies.

In typical seventies fashion, Earworms concludes to a grand and majestic climax. Patterned after a glitzy Queen inspired presentation, How To Survive Somebody swells and soars to a chorus of melodramatic vocals, sweeping keyboards and thundering chords.

In a parallel dimension, the songs on Earworm would be parked neck to neck on the AM dial with chart-toppers  by Elton John, Paul McCartney and WingsThe Bay City Rollers, The Eagles and the Captain and Tennille. But good music is good music no matter what era it reflects, so there is no reason why Earworms  can’t be enjoyed now, and reward Nick Frater with the widespread success – both artistically and commercially – he so clearly commands. 

Big Stir Singles: The Ninth Wave

Various Artists

Big Stir Singles: The Ninth Wave (Big Stir Records 2021)

https://bigstirrecords.bandcamp.com/album/big-stir-singles-the-ninth-wave

 
Manned by Rex Broome and Christina Bulbenko – of the ace band The ArmoiresBig Stir Records is easily the hardest working label in the biz. For the past few years, the Burbank, California based roster has been releasing a weekly singles series, then compiles the songs onto collections, with Big Stir Singles: The Ninth Wave counting as the latest chapter in their never-ending sonic sojourn.

It is highly fitting DJ Mike Lidskin of Woody Radio has written the liner notes, because these tunes are so remarkably good that the disc truly  sounds like the greatest radio station imaginable. So not only is Big Stir impressively productive, but the quality of their fare is consistently cut of a top-grade fabric. 

The Brothers Steve’s Beat Generation Poet Turned Assassin races steadily along to a chipper punk pop pose, where Pink Floyd meets Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders From Mars on Athanor’s cosmic-coated Approximately Eternity. From Nick Frater, there’s the rapturous rush of the Hollies styled Let’s Hear It For Love, as well as a striking cover of Gilbert O’Sullivan’s sad and somber Alone Again Naturally, which is transpired into a dazzling production, driven by glistening piano chords and punctured with a searing guitar solo.

Jim Basnight signs on with the Rolling Stones flavored snarl and drawl of Best Lover In The World and the ambitiously-crafted Prince Jones Davies Suite, a medley of Prince, David Bowie and Kinks missives. The Viewers fuse stadium rock flash with keen pop sensibilities on the gripping Beautiful, and the bracing chime of Dolph Chaney’s  My Old Fart celebrates the joy of maturing with your sweetheart in a charming narrative revolving around cats, books and  Sunday crossword puzzles.

Irene Pena’s inspired reprise of Fountain of Wayne’s The Summer Place rings with intent to a sharp new-wavish angle, and  The First Song Of Summer by Blake Jones parents a cool art rock feel, pronounced by inventive keyboard moves and loping tempo changes. Blessed with a gorgeously-soulful set of pipes, Rosie Abbott turns in a spine-tingling performance on Hold On,” and Chamberlain from The Persian Leaps shimmers to an infectious clip of jangly licks, a flighty chorus and insistent drum drills. 

David Brookings checks in with the  chugging All I Love Is Rock And Roll, and the frisky acoustic-framed Livin’ Through The Plaque, which offers a cheeky commentary on dealing with virus crisis rules and regulations. Last but by no means least is Mike Daly & The Planets, whose Falling Out Of Love Song recites the drama of an on and off relationship to an inviting array of musical moods. Rich and melodic vocals, accompanied by powered and polished instrumentation, a punishing break and a crown of psychedelic riffs complete the epic track. The band further shines brightly on Star, an energetic burst of soaring hooks and harmonies, splashed with a showing of neat harmonica trills.

And speaking of such, every song here is a star. Trying to pick favorites is indeed a challenge, since each number contains its own divine spark. So switch the dial to Big Stir Singles: The Ninth Wave, and get ready for some serious ear-pampering! 

 

Categories
Got Any Singles?

Dan Pavelich’s 1st Annual Means-nothing Awards

Please note: These awards mean nothing beyond the fact that I like what the recipients did. There were tons of albums, songs and videos that I never heard or saw. 2020 was a shitty year in general, but an extraordinary one for great independent music. It would have been impossible to acknowledge or consume all of it.

DP

Coolest Release of the Year

Michael Slawter & The Pleased To Meet Me’s – Dear Bastards (Flexidisc)

Record of the Year

Marshall Holland – Paper Airplane

Song of the Year

The Vapour Trails – Lonely Man

Best Vinyl Releases (Tie)

Maurice & The Stiff Sisters – Welcome To Love

Gretchen’s Wheel – Such Open Sky

Best Cassette Release

Dw Dunphy – Test Test Test

Top Ten Singles of the Year  (In no particular order)

Ken Sharp – Girl

Ed Ryan – Even Time

Nick Frater – Let’s Hear It For Love

Tenderhooks – 20-20 Vision

More Animal – I Won’t Forgive You

The Empty Hearts – Coat-tailer

Katrina – Drive

Mike Daly & The Planets – This Is My Life

Coke Bela – Thank You, Paul

The Pretenders – The Buzz

Top Ten Long Players of the Year (In no particular order)

The Well Wishers – Shelf Life

Katrina – Hearts, Loves and Babys

honeychain – Pocketful of Good Luck

Tom Curless and The 46% – Almost Ready For The Future

Bill Lloyd – Don’t Kill The Messenger

It’s Karma It’s Kool – Woke Up In Hollywood

Nick Piunti and The Complicated Men – Downtime

Pop Co-Op – Factory Settings

Gary Ritchie – Head On Swivel

The Toms – The 1979 Sessions

Music Video of the Year

Tiny Bit Of Giant’s Blood – Girl Over Here

Best Children’s/Family Releases (In no particular order)

Lindsay Munroe – I Am Kind

Rena Strober & Friends – Imagine That

Red Yarn – Backyard Bop

Flor Bromley – Fiesta Global

Diana Panton – A Cheerful Little Earful

Congrats to all of the winners!

Categories
Pop Sunday

Big Stir Records / The Yuletide Wave

Various Artists

Big Stir Singles: The Yuletide Wave

(Big Stir Records 2020)

https://bigstirrecords.bandcamp.com/album/big-stir-singles-the-yuletide-wave-2

Nobody in their right mind has to be told 2020 has been a major downer. But the year is ending on a great note, because Big Stir Singles: The Yuletide Wave has arrived! Offering twenty-two holiday-related songs, the collection is primed to lift the spirits and restore hope and faith. It’s only fitting Big Stir Singles: The Yuletide Wave begins with a song addressing the situation we are currently experiencing. And that track is Nick Frater’s Wash Your Hands Of Christmas, which speaks of the lack of  lovely things we normally celebrate during the season. Despite the subject matter, the song sparkles and shines with beauty and bliss.

 Alison Faith Levy’s All I Want For Chanukah Is A Ukele strums and hums to the noggin-nodding burr of a ukele, and The Brother Steve’s I Love The Christmastime weighs in as a peppy piece of power pop perfection. Michael Simmons channels Frank Sinatra with impressive effects on the crooning Christmas Waltz and from Spygenius, there’s Revels Without A Claus that jumps and jerks to a wonky dance hall shuffle.

Wrapped in atmospheric attire, involving  jazzy horns and novel melodies, I Remember You At Christmas by Anthanor plugs in as a poignant paean to a former sweetheart, while The Decibels cleverly combine the traditional hymn, Angels We Have Heard On High with segments of the sixties garage rock nugget, Gloria with hard-hitting appeal.

The Stan Laurels crib a cue from the warm vocals and detailed construction of The Beach Boys on the shimmery Noche Buena, and Kai Danzberg & Scott McPherson’s frisky The Day Before Christmas vividly recalls the anticipation felt as a child waiting for the fat man on a sleigh to deliver wish list toys and games.

 Swinging and spinning with gripping chords and happy harmonies, Groovy Time Of The Year by The Bobbleheads is indeed groovy. Propelled by a bouncy beat and a sugar-coated bubblegummy chorus, the absolutely irresistible All I Want Is You For Christmas by Kimberely Rew and Lee Cave-Berry sounds like a joint effort between The Archies and Fountains Of Wayne, and Blake Jones & The Trike Shop’s String The Lights And Hold On pitches an ear-pleasing repertoire of choppy drumming, incisive licks and fetching hooks.

Excellent entries from Librarians With Hickeys, Irene Pena, The Forty Nineteens, Anton Barbeau, Dolph Chaney, The JAC, Addison Love, The Stillsouls and Kelly’s Heels with Steve Rinaldi further complete this prized package of sonic greetings.

Stuffed to the pores with catchy songs, Big Stir Singles: The Yuletide Wave can actually be enjoyed anytime of the year. You don’t have to practice a certain religion or believe in Santa Claus to appreciate these tasty treats. Every day is a holiday when it comes to a record flashing the Big Stir imprint, and here’s yet another production asserting their care, knowledge and recognition of quality music.

Big Stir Singles / The Seventh Wave

Various Artists

Big Stir Singles: The Seventh Wave (Big Stir Records 2020)

https://bigstirrecords.bandcamp.com/album/big-stir-singles-the-seventh-wave


Stationed in Burbank, California, Big Stir Records is not only impressively prolific, but the quality of the label’s output remains consistently high. Along with releasing a never-ending stream of great discs by bands and solo artists, the banner regularly produces Big Stir Singles compilations, which contain both the A and B sides of digital singles recorded by acts from nearly every nook and cranny of the world.


The imprint’s most recent collection – Big Stir Singles: The Seventh Wave – offers an extra treat, as a number of these songs have never been aired until now. You’ll also notice that much of the material relates to the confusing and chaotic times we are presently experiencing. 


Stacked with storming riffs, a driving backbeat and a punchy chorus, Far Away from The Incurables cuts a dashing power pop pose, and The Ex-Quaranteens sign in with We’ll All Drink Alone Together, a mid-tempo crooner-type ballad rimmed with country-laden pedal steel guitar gestures. From Broken Arrows, there’s the anthemic folk rock of Worst Of The Rest, which is wrapped in a bundle of ringing and jingling six-string sensations. Anton Barbeau and Kenny’s Land Of Economy spins and soars to a dizzy display of daring melodies and surrealistic lyrics that resemble a curious coupling of 10CC and Robyn Hitchcock. 


A double shot of penetrating garage rock is provided by The Forty Nineteens in the form of Crocodile Tears and Late Night Radio, the latter which features legendary Standells guitarist Tony Valentino. The Vapour Trails make good with the atmospheric bluster of A Bit More Fire, where Strange moves to a grittier gait projecting in an early seventies underground rock vibe pockmarked with bluesy harmonica fills.

 
The Corner Laughers step up to the plate and hit a home run with the jaunty Calculating Boy, and Nick Frater unveils a spine-tingling showing of his amazing vocal prowess on Intro. The fast and frantic If Romance Is Dead Then I Want To Be Dead Too from Carol Pacer & The Honey Shakers teams hillbilly aspirations with reckless punk rock energy to exciting effects, while the band deposits a completely different demeanor on Love Does, a sweet and tender acoustic-based ballad.
Contributions from Rick Hromadka  include the big and bright harmony popfest of Searchlight that should send fans of The Beach Boys and Todd Rundgren into orbit, and Dreams Of A Hippy Summer, which floats and flutters with flowery psychedelic frequencies. Kai Danzberg and Dear Stella’s Let Him Go lets loose a lashing of trippy space-age soundscapes, and The Empty City Squares check in with History Rhymes, a hook-heavy slab of hypnotic pop-rock grandeur. 


Bumper to bumper with catchy tunes, Big Stir Singles: The Seventh Wave is the yardstick which all albums of its kind should be measured. Nothing but top picks here, my friends.

Categories
Got Any Singles?

Got Any Singles? Nick Frater / Tenderhooks / More Animal / The Empty Hearts

Nick Frater

Let’s Hear It For Love 

https://bigstirrecords.com/big-stir-digital-singles

Nick Frater’s got a new full-length on the way, and this digital single is our first little glimpse. Let’s Hear It For Love is a buoyant power pop number, though there is an ethereal quality in the melody that sounds both happy and sad at the same time. Brilliant.

Tenderhooks

20-20 Vision

https://www.facebook.com/tenderhooks

Hailing from Brighton, England, Tenderhooks reveal an anthem for the horrible year that we all seem to be trapped in. 20-20 Vision is a slinky little rocker that pulls no punches (cool video, too), recalling the very best of Cracker and White Album-era Beatles. More, please.

More Animal

I Won’t Forgive You

https://moreanimal.bandcamp.com/album/post-millennium-breakdown

Recording under the moniker More Animal, multi-instrumentalist Bo Ledman has a real winner with his track I Won’t Forgive You. It’s a middle finger to The Orange Menace and his enablers, wrapped up in a grungy pop song that’s simply irresistible. It’s on repeat play here at Pop-A-Looza HQ, and we’re looking forward to a deep dive into the full-length that hatched it.

The Empty Hearts

Coat-Tailer

https://www.facebook.com/Theemptyheartsband

These guys are a power pop lover’s dream-come-true. Wally Palmar, Andy Babiuk, Clem Burke and Elliot Easton uncork another three-minute gem, played with the youthful exuberance of men half their age. Big snare and guitars, hooky chorus and harmonies, the stuff pop dreams are made of.

Dan Pavelich

Nick Frater / Fast & Loose

Nick Frater

Fast & Loose (Big Stir Records 2020)

https://www.nickfrater.com/

September 18 is a date to celebrate, because that is the day Nick Frater – who hails from Croydon, England – releases his fifth studio album, Fast & Loose. Those already acquainted with the multi-tasking musician need not be informed of his forte for siring ingenious songs bleeding with radio-friendly frequencies. Nick’s radiant vocals, rife with melody and movement, are custom fit for the type of songs he writes so well.

Operating at an arresting tempo, supported by cracking guitar licks and ringing organ chords, Luna produces memories of Paul McCartney and Wings, and although Cocaine Gurls mentions The Talking Heads, Stevie Nicks and Steely Dan, the song crosses a rocking Cheap Trick inspired bite with the wry wit of Elvis Costello

Locked and loaded with infectious breaks and divine harmonies, Let’s Hear It For Love is a bona fide power pop marvel, while the title track of the album is a blazing instrumental, pronounced by an inviting interplay of slick dance rhythms and ripping rock grooves. Switching the dial to the easy listening station, there’s finely-engineered ballads such as Moonstruck, That Ship Has Sailed and Endless Summertime Blues, which emphasize Nick’s appreciation for the moodier and more experimental side of The Beach Boys

Filled to the limit with top-floor sounds and expressions, Fast & Loose captures Nick’s golden gift for reprising classic pop rock styles into his own understanding of the current moment. Diligently-designed songs, matched by a consistently punctual delivery, provide the album with pint after pint of scrumptious sonic delights.

Ever the generous guy, Nick recruited a group of good pals to contribute their talents to Fast & Loose, including Spygenius, The Stan Laurels, Whelligan, Super 8, Emperor Penguin, Do Me Bad Things and Steve Lowe

Not one to remain idle, Nick is now hard at work on his next album. Until then, spin the heck out of Fast & Loose and have fun singing and swinging along with these great songs. No mask or social-distancing required!