Nick Piunti & The Complicated Men
From Downtime’s promo material; “Sometimes you hear new songs that sound like old songs. Somehow, you’ve heard these songs before – in a good way. They’ve been part of your rock lexicon for eons and you just don’t know how they got there, which radio station you first heard them on, or what year they first emitted from.”
I couldn’t agree more. From the opening chords of “Upper Hand,” I was immediately transported back to my high school years, when I was hearing and discovering hits by Bryan Adams, like “This Time” and “Cuts Like A Knife.” I was bombarded by images of strolling through Lakehurst Mall with my pals, hearing those tunes, and making my way to the music store to find out more about Adams. Picking up his Lp, way back when, I saw that he played a Rickenbacker, like my heroes, The Beatles, did. That Lp went home with me and made me a B.A. fan for life.
I hope I’m not offending Piunti and his mates with the comparison, because in my humble opinion, Adams has always been one of rock’s best songwriters, in fact, for decades now.
Downtime’s overall sound is one of warmth and simplicity of production, which serves the songs well. In a perfect world, “Every High”, “All Over Again,” hell, pretty much every song on this disc, would be riding the Billboard Charts. My fave of the set, however, is the quirky “Never Belonged To Me,” which has played repeatedly in my head since first listen.
The Complicated Men; Jeff Hupp (bass), Ron Vensko (drums), and Kevin Darnall (keys), aren’t in actuality, very complicated at all. They play exactly what each song needs, without getting in the way of Piunti’s gravelly lead vocals. Power pop fans and rock fans alike, are going to devour this like an aged, medium-rare porterhouse. I expect it will be on many year-end best lists, as it will be on mine.
This week, I’m taking another look at reviews I wrote of various Adam Schlesinger projects, when my Quick Spins column ran in The Kenosha News. Adam’s recent passing due to the pandemic has really impacted me, so I’d really like to be a part of people discovering what made him such a special guy.
Tinted Windows (S-curve)
Wow, did this album take me back. Tinted Windows‘ debut is a power pop feast that harkens back to the late seventies and early eighties. It’s no surprise then, to learn just who makes up this stellar group.
Tinted Windows are; Bun E. Carlos of Cheap Trick (drums), Adam Schlesinger of Fountains Of Wayne (bass), James Iha of Smashing Pumpkins (guitar)and Taylor Hanson of Hanson (lead vocals). Quite a line-up, to be sure.
“Kind Of A Girl” starts things off as one of the greatest singles I’ve heard in several years. With muscular guitars and drums propelling the ageless vocals of Taylor Hanson, it’s hard not to be suckered in.
You’ll find that most of these eleven tracks will blow by in what seems like seconds. They are catchy as all get out, especially the Latin-flavored “Cha Cha.” This is gonna sound great in the car this summer. Buy this. Now.
The staff here at Pop-A-Looza HQ just can’t stop watching Coke Belda’s video for his song, “Thank You, Paul,” from his latest record, Coke Belda 4.
The Vapour Trails
Lonely Man (Futureman)
It’s snowing and blowing here in Wisconsin, so nothing could be more welcome than a shiny dose of jangle pop from The Vapor Trails. “Lonely Man,” from The VT’s upcoming album, is equal parts Rembrandts and Herman’s Hermits, and features a chorus that is both somber and uplifting.
This three-song outing includes “See You In The Next World,” from The VT’s last release, remixed by the always-brilliant Nick Bertling. With a nifty bit of Ringo-influenced drumming and a sitar-laden bridge, it’s simply irresistible to my ears. A quality live cover of George Harrison’s “Something” rounds out the release with a smile and a sigh. Well done, gents.
Stephen “Spaz” Schnee know a lot about music, especially the genre of power pop. In the latest episode of his show “CD Junkie,” he gives us the skinny on the band Shoes, and their new box set.
Big Stir Singles: The Fifth Wave (Big Stir)
Way back in the prehistoric 1990’s, cool record labels used to distribute sampler CD’s of their artists to record stores. They were usually in a stack at the front of the store, with other freebies like stickers and band flyers. Cool indie labels like Sub Pop, Mammoth and Enigma, used this as a marketing tool, to expose the music-buying public to their roster. In a move that puts a smile on my face, Big Stir Records is reviving the tradition.
Volume five in this series boasts a whopping twenty-three tracks, almost guaranteeing something for everyone. The including bands are old school, in that these tunes were inspired by classic guitar bands ranging from The Beatles to ELO to Teenage Fanclub and back again.
The GoAllTherWays open in glorious jangle with “Silly Girl,” before Mod Hippie lets loose with “Saturday Show,” rooting in equal parts Matthew Sweet and The Monkees. How can you not be energized by that? The Tor Guides bring the California sunshine with the buoyant “Just A Smile,” and The Forty Nineteens set their hyper-pop sights atop a reworked Bo Diddley beat, that’ll make you wanna get up and dance.
The stunner of the collection is the beautiful “Summer Blue” by Lannie Flowers. With enough clever chord changes and soothing harmonies to make Collingwood & Schlesinger blush, it just may be the best song I’ve heard in a couple of years. Wait, scratch that “may be.” It is.
Blue In The Face b/w I Don’t Want Her (Anymore)
In the interest of transparency, I have to say that I love everything that Jamie Hoover does; solo, with The Spongetones, The Van DeLeki’s, Stepford Knives, etc. I’m such a big fan of this guy’s music that I signed him and released his “Happy Hoover Days” CD on my own Vandalay Records label. I’m already in the bag before hearing a note of this new vinyl single (also available as a download).
Here, he’s teamed with Otis Hughes of Animal Bag, who sings lead on the slightly-spooky “Blue In The face,” which wouldn’t sound out of place on “Beatles For Sale.” Floating on acoustic guitars, it’s got a very similar vibe to “No Reply,” which I absolutely love about it.
Jamie takes the lead on “I Don’t Want Her (Anymore),” which is three minutes of snappy pop perfection. Otis’s harmonies blend excellently with Jamie. Combined with a nifty melody line, if ever a track begged for “Double A-side” status, this is it.
Adding the icing on this delicious pop cake is the always-eye-catching artwork of artist Issa Ibrahim and the beautiful blue vinyl of the platter itself. I tried to take a picture of it on my phone, but a picture just doesn’t do it justice. Buy this record, or download it, TODAY.
The 1979 Sessions (Futureman)
When Tommy Marolda sequestered himself into his home studio one weekend in 1979, he probably didn’t realize that the Lp he was creating would come to be coveted by power pop vinyl collectors. As rare as that platter is, thankfully, our friends at Futureman Records have seen fit to reissue in on CD.
If bands like Shoes, The Knack and The Raspberries mean anything to you, this may just be your next favorite record. Boyish vocals top Beatlesque choruses, weaving through the Revolver-ish “Call The Surgeon (Part 2) to the Rutle-y “Guilty As A Killer Wave.” Marolda is a one-man band with rare aplomb, and these fourteen songs are an absolute joy to take in.
It would not be over-selling “The 1979 Sessions” to say that it is a pop masterpiece, because it most certainly is.
Update: I was incorrect in stating that these recordings and The Toms’ debut are one and the same. These are previously-unreleased recordings, that were tracked during the same whirlwind sessions as the debut. Thanks to Futureman’s Keith Klingensmith for setting the record straight, I’m even more impressed now!