Gavin Eimerman’s latest single is a nifty little bit of indie pop, with just enough rough edges. His passionate vocal drives the track, which seems to touch such varied influences as ’60’s psychedelia, and ’90’s wunderkind, Beck. It’s an interesting track, that sounds both old and new at the same time.
Memories is the lead-off track on Julian Daniell’s excellent e.p., Only Words. Here, he produces a real toe-tapper that sounds like a lost George Harrison track, complete with melancholy slide guitar accents. While Memories is indeed a stand-out track, the other four songs have the same, swell, organic sound and feel. Top-notch!
Chicago’s Kersene Stars have a real barn-burner in Don’t Pass Me By. While that title might instantly conjure up images of The Fab Four, you’d be mistaken….unless, that is, the fab four you’re thinking of is The Replacements. Truth be told, there is a bit of Mersey Beat in the mix, but with plenty of punky snarl. I’m looking forward to digging deeper with this band.
Hailing from The Motor City, All Over The Shop is a rock band that would sound at home opening huge arena shows in 1975. A big guitar sound and more-than-solid hooks propel Tongue-Tied, from their self-titled e.p. If you need to throw your hands in the air (like ya just don’t care) or flick your Bic with 30,000 friends, this is the tune that’ll get that done.
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;
Lindsay Munroe w/Raffi – Frogs and Birds
Kevin Robertson – Sundown’s End
The Legal Matters – Chapter Three
Tambourina – Tambourina
Kerry Spitzer – Swan Songs
Bill Sammon – Story Songs
Matthew Sweet – Cat’s Paw
The Braam Brothers – Landscapes
Sorrows – Love Too Late…The Real Album
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.
Every year, one record has stands out as being far-and-away my favorite. There is a combination of elements that each year’s favorite seems to have in common. First, the cover art pull me in, either through an interesting graphic or particularly emotive color. Secondly, the songs, one after another, draw me in to view the artist’s complete, long-play vision. Last year, that record was Marshall Holland’s extraordinary Lp, Paper Airplane. This year, that distinction is most happily given to Ken Sharp, for his Miniatures Lp.
While Sharp is well-known in pop circles (his name has a perfect pop ring to it) his music was unknown to me, until fairly recently. The artwork for his 2020 single, Girl b/w Forget That Girl, jumped out at me. “TWO Monkees’ covers?” I remember thinking, “you, sir, have my attention.” Both were high-quality turns, owing equal parts to The Pre-fab Four’s arrangements and instrumentation, and Sharp’s own excellent, retro expressions. I was officially a fan.
Next came Sharp’s brilliant Miniatures Lp. With a cover brimming with Rankin/Bass-inspired art, I knew I had to order up. While I’m often afforded promotional copies to do these reviews, I instinctively knew, that this release warranted me plunking down my own money on the vinyl. I would not be disappointed. When it arrived with a full-color insert and on transparent vinyl, I was thrilled!
Now, the music…
There are 32 tracks here, some that don’t even break the minute mark. That isn’t to say that these are unfinished bits yet to become something more, they exist as potent short sentences, instead of more lengthy paragraphs. In presenting his songs in this manner, the Lp plays like the listener is getting a peak into the inner dialog we all have with ourselves, 24/7, though here we are, in Sharp’s head.
Susannah Silently Shining has been heard on numerous radio shows, and it’s a good snapshot of the project as a whole. A fifty-two-second ode to pure, natural beauty, it’s sweetness flows like musical honey. Humble and to the point, as all these tracks are, it eases you toward the next daisy in the chain.
Lorelei reveals itself as a piano ballad in the classic tradition of McCartney’sFor No One, albeit with a bit more drive. Sharp keeps the instrumentation simple throughout, which certainly gives the whole project a Fab vibe, though, that influence never gets in the way of his own style. You’ll hear piano, acoustic guitar and accents of mellotron, even as everything sounds crisp, contemporary and vibrant.
One of my favorites on this disc is the peppy Something’s Happening, which unfolds like the theme song to a great lost sitcom by Sid and Marty Krofft, in the very best way. I would hazard a guess that Sharp grew up on shows like The Bugaloos and the trippy Lidsville. A lot of these tunes have a definite visual element to them, which I find to be to their benefit.
Please consider taking a Listen to Miniatures, which I’m more than happy to proclaim, my pick for Album Of The Year, 2021.
There’s nothing better in music than a song that lifts the spirits, and, boy, does this song do that. Written by head harmonica man Keeth Apgar and his son, it’s the musical equivalent of a big red balloon, or a sunny afternoon. Now that it’s carpool season again, we’re betting that this one will definitely start your family’s day off on a positive note.
Not only is this buoyant slab of power pop a real go-getter, it’s a charity single benefitting the California Community Foundation’s Wildlife Relief Fund. Considering the horrendous wildfires that have been consuming the western United States the past few years, it certainly is a worthwhile cause. Two tracks for $1.
Until we get around to doing a full-length review of Ken Sharp’s latest Lp, Miniatures, we highly recommend that you give this cool track a spin. Sharp strikes us as being from the Brill Building school of songwriting. In fact, you can almost hear this tune being sung by Davy Jones or The Ronettes. Top-notch stuff.
From Kalamazoo, Michigan, comes Tambourina, with Acknowledge You. From their Tambourine Dream Lp, it’s a really sublime piece of shoe gaze that will literally swallow you whole with repeated plays. Vocalist April Zimont turns everything she sings into an ear worm, in the best possible way.
I’m new to The Poppermost, a Merseybeat combo that nails the sound of that era’s best. Not merely a knock-off of The Beatles, as some other similar acts are, but a group that honestly manages to capture the pure excitement of their inspirations.
If you’ve got kids, or are just partial to music with heart, have a listen to Lindsay Munroe’s latest single, You Are My Sunshine. We’ve been ardent fans of her for quite awhile now, and love everything she does. This take on Sunshine exudes warmth and charm, and Munroe’s voice is in pitch-perfect harmony with the great Raffi. If you need a bit of sunshine in your life, this is a swell place to start.
Christabelle is a power pop lover’s dream-come-true, blending the aggressive guitars of skinny-tie pop with the nifty 1960’s-styled harmonies of bands like The Cyrkle and The Association. This is one of those tracks that, in another time and place, would lead you straight to the nearest record store to plunk down your lawn-mowing money on the 45. Top-shelf!
When it comes to these tribute compilations, nobody does it better than the Curry Cuts label. Indeed, their previous releases, Songs, Bond Songs, and Here Comes The Reign Again, are high-ranking favorites here at Pop-A-Looza HQ.
Higher Than A Mountain is a revelation, in that it serves to jog our collective conscience into recalling what may have been forgotten….that Andy Gibb had a very impressive, albeit short, career. Pop 4 opens the comp with (Love Is) Thicker Than Water, Gibb’s first Gold single. The vocals on this one are simply to die for.
The Corner Laughers follow with Shadow Dancing, which nearly bests the original. Lisa Mychols takes on (Our Love) Don’t Throw It All Away, complete with chill 70’s electric piano and breathy vocals. With remaining tracks provided by the likes of Coke Bela, Greg Pop, The Armoires, Irene Pena and Ken Sharp, this release is the perfect combination of reverence and nostalgia.
In the interest of full disclosure, the three guys that make up The Legal Matters are all friends of mine. I’ve been a Chris Richards fan since 2009’s Sad Sounds Of Summer, recorded with his excellent band, The Subtractions. Chris records for Keith Klingensmith’sFutureman Records, as do I. The third Legal Matter, Andy Reed, produces and engineers all parties mentioned here. Talk about yer nepotism.
Chapter Three is as comfortable as a favorite sweater, bathed in production techniques that recall Apple Records’ later output. If things like tea towels on toms and mellotron keys strike at the pleasure centers of your brain, you’ll love every second of this 41-minute long player.
Andy Reed’s The World Is Mine creeps along in sneering John Lennon fashion, while Chris Richards’ sweet That’s All floats with ethereal harmonies. The advance single from the album, the buoyant Light Up The Sky, still sounds as good as the first time I heard it. On the same level as the best of bands like Fountains Of Wayne or The Red Button, it’s an almost other-worldly good piece of music. Few bands have a song this strong, or the immaculate harmonies that Richards, Klingensmith and Reed have in combination. Top shelf.
Jenn Cleary’s latest, All Together Now!, “…offers children and families messages of connection, community, and caring for each other and our environment.” Considering what most of us have experienced in the last year and a half, that’s exactly what we could use more of. Love Right Now was suggested by Cleary’s mother, for that very same reason.
Continuing on in the same spirit, the pretty All Kinds Of Families acknowledges that families need not be made up of blood relatives exclusively. Considering that Cleary’s family includes an adopted daughter, this song is especially touching.
All of these songs are filled to the brim with warmth, and the hope that we may someday get to a place filled with kindness and compassion for others, as well as our natural world. That’s a sentiment that shouldn’t be hard for anyone to get on board with. Very well done.
After 1997’s Blue Sky On Mars, Matthew Sweet just kinda fell off my radar. Although I enjoyed the covers records he did with Susanna Hoffs, I lost touch with his solo work. After hearing rave reviews from friends regarding Catspaw, I thought it might be time to get reacquainted.
Sweet’s voice is in remarkable shape, belying the fact that his ground-breaking Girlfriend Lp is 30 years old. Here, Sweet is stripped back to that era, with in-your-face dry production, framing that evergreen voice. That isn’t the sole reminder of his biggest past success. The songs are really, seriously good.
The opener, Blown Away, is a chugging White Album rocker that blisters with rough guitar and McCartney-inspired bass, both played by Sweet. Opting to cover lead parts himself, Sweet succeeds in pulling off what amounts to an amalgam of all the guitarists who’ve been his sidemen over the years. Challenge The Gods and Stars Explode both get the blood pumping with similar aplomb, chorus hooks and those trademark, double-tracked Sweet harmony vocals.
Catspaw is a strong outing that surprisingly improves with each successive listen. Highly recommended.
For me, one of the joys of listening to and appreciating new music, is that you often get so much more than you originally anticipated. Such is the case with the latest by The Braam Brothers, Landscape.
The brothers were kind enough to send me a vinyl review copy, which is almost unheard of these days. Unpacking the Lp and peeling off the cellophane, I could already feel the anticipation growing. Coupled with a really nicely-designed cover, I hoped that the music inside would be equally as appealing. It would not disappoint.
As I went through the first listen, my mind seriously began to wander. Not because the songs or performances were lacking or uninteresting, but because the overall vibe of the production took me back to a very specific place and time.
In the early 90’s, my best friend lived in a loft in Chicago, with two of his fellow Second City performers. It was everything you’d imagine, from a manikin serving as a coatrack, to a beat-up motorcycle permanently installed in the freight elevator. My friend’s roommates were obsessed with R.E.M., and their first record seemed to be playing in that place, 24 hours a day. It almost had the feel of being on the set of a hip indie film, or stage production. For me, it was always a cool hang, whether we were scarfing down pizza as we took in an old monster movie, or making fun of the Johns nervously trying to pick up the girls that were always, literally, walking the streets below.
The Braam Brothers took me back there, to a place and time that I rarely ever think about these days. Those dusty memories were there in my head alright, though months, even years, go by without their remembrance. I can’t promise a similar experience for you, but I can promise that, at the very least, you’ll get to hear some top-notch music.
My picks to click on this are the stirring title track, and the haunting I Want Your Love, both of which will make this Lp a contender for any year-end best list. These are honest tunes, played with no filter, by real musicians.
Laurie Berkner has covered in the upper echelon of family music for years now. Her songs are always crisp, smart and tuneful, a trend that continues with her latest, Let’s Go!
The title track is a nifty bit of pop set to the hand-jive rhythm, which lists everything that needs to be accomplished before we leave the house. If you’ve got one of those kids that drags his or her feet getting ready for an outing, this one’s for you!
Got a kid that resists wearing a mask during these unique times? The Superhero Mask Song is here to save the day! Without fear or condescension, Berkner explains how every kid can contribute to making their world a better place. This is good, positive stuff! My fave of the set is When It’s Cold, a winter song about keeping warm that’s as fun as it is funky.
Taking in this release just on the strength of how it sounds, it’s expertly produced and lively. The musicianship is top-notch, too. Berkner’s also got a ringer in the band’s line-up, with Brady Rymer on bass guitar. Top-notch.
Another band bringing it strong with a teaser track is Michigan’s The Legal Matters. Light Up The Sky feels like the Midwestern version of The Red Button’sShe’s About To Cross My Mind, albeit with enough impossibly-thick harmonies to make Brian Wilson and his Wonderments blush.
Nobody’s better at atmospheric creation than Red Bank’s Dw Dunphy. Charm Offensive is his latest project, from which Crime Scene Reporter comes. Dunphy gets inside the head of the unfortunately-assigned journalist, leaving the listener feeling fortunate not to have that particular occupation.
I do have a feeling, though, that Dunphy might not literally be singing about the crime scene reporter, but anyone who feels helpless to stop a disaster after said disaster has already occurred. Well done.
That’ll Do It is one of seven swell songs from The Vapor Trails’ latest E.P., Underneath Tomorrow.
The follow-up to last year’s brilliant full-length Golden Sunshine, it’s brimming with enough hooks to legally label the whole darn thing as a legit ear worm.
That’ll Do It evokes a mid 1960’s Carnaby Street vibe, with a dash of Boyce and Hart for good measure. Beginning with a twist on the classic Paperback Writer riff, this one combines youthful lead vocals and harmonies that pull you in, sounding both fresh and familiar at the same time. A gritty, biting solo tempers the tasty pop leaning of the track, before the listener is lured into the last few bars with echoey harmonica. This is everything pop music should be.
A lot of musicians took the energy usually reserved for touring, and channeled it into the recording studio. Taylor Swift released Evermore last December, a more introspective, acoustic release, in contrast to the pop sounds of Lover.
Willow is a nifty single, and finds Swift exploring a folkish path that Mandy Moore and creative partner Mike Viola have been mining for several years now. I like the way that Swift switches gears here, and Willow is one of her best. With a slightly-Latin lilt and more than a couple of hooks, I can hear this track being covered by a variety of artists.
We’ve only got one so far, from Dolph Chaney’s upcoming This Is Dolph Chaney release on Big Stir, and it’s a dilly. Chaney channels prime Matthew Sweet on this selection, complete with the bone-crushing guitars of Sick Of Myself. Big drums propel the whole she-bang, leaving no doubt that power pop is not only alive and kicking, but still capable of a Chuck-Norris-style roundhouse.
Though this is the only track currently available, you can pre-order the full album for digital download or on compact disc. Que bueno!
From the instantly-likable Hearts, Loves & Babys, Holiday is a diamond among…well, other diamonds. This is an anthemic fist-pumper, which reminds me a bit of Slade’sRun Runaway. With a galloping rhythm that just makes you feel energized, it also shows that Ms. Leskanich hasn’t lost a bit of those famous pipes.
While Holiday has been ricocheting around in my brain this week, I’d be remiss if I didn’t try to get you to pull the trigger on the full Lp. I believe if you order a physical copy, she’s including an autographed 8×10 as well. Go.
I should start this by saying that Suburban Urchins will appeal to fans of The Kinks. This rough-and-tumble outfit from Tasmania isn’t about smooth edges, but bringing the goods in the form of an iron-fisted right cross.
4000 Miles Away begins with a wind-up, propelled by big drums and power chords. With literally energy for miles, it leads way to I Don’t Wanna Go, an isolation song that’s a real fist-pumper. Scott Riley’s vocals and guitar are perfectly supplemented by the keys of Ernie Oppenheimer, who deftly sprinkles synth and Farfisa throughout.
My fave of the set is the anthemic No More Black Dogs, which feels right out of The Davies’ Brothers playbook, in all the right ways.
Paul McCartney brings his own namesake trilogy to a close with McCartney III. With most of the world in lockdown mode in 2020, Macca split his time between days at his recording studio, and evenings with his daughter and grandkids.
I’m a big fan of the first two installments of the trilogy, the first producing Every Night and Maybe I’m Amazed, the latter, Coming Up and Waterfalls. Working by oneself can produce results far different that a full band effort, and I think McCartney flourishes in this setting.
The instrumentation, which relies predominantly on acoustic instruments, is the perfect stage for Sir Paul’s now-weathered vocals. Find My Way is a peppy number fuel by harpsichord and guitar riffs that mimmic horn stabs. Lavatory Lil and Slidin’ are a couple of top-notch rockers, and Winter Bird/When Winter Comes is a pretty acoustic musing, and one of McCartney’s best.
All around, this is a really pleasant listen. With vibes to spare and a lot of really strong songs, I can’t recommend McCartney III enough.
The undeniable sign of a great release? Repeat listens. I’ll bet that in the past two days, I’ve listened to this e.p. at least ten times. From the first verse of the opener, the rambling Let’s Pretend, to the fadeout of the pretty Alien Eyes, I was comfortably hooked.
Cliff Hillis sounds remarkably like Bill Lloyd, who you know I’m partial to. These six tracks are nestled somewhere between the feisty Americana of Cracker and the always-reliable Tom Petty, but without any Southern vocal affectation. Hillis’s friendly, warm voice is perfectly accompanied by the contrast of crisp acoustic guitars and rougher electrics. The production is absolutely on-point.
Life Gets Strange was released in 2020, and I sincerely regret not hearing it earlier. It certainly would have made my year-end-best list. Highly Recommended.