The Twilight Hours and Happiless

The Twilight Hours

The Twilight Hours “Black Beauty”

Minneapolis, MN musicians Matt Wilson and John Munson have a 20 year partnership. They started in the late ’80s with the psychedelic band Trip Shakespeare, which also featured Matt’s brother Dan (who went on to form Semisonic with John, charting a hit with the song “Closing Time”) and Elaine Harris. These veterans are back in The Twilight Hours, and Black Beauty really packs a melodic punch. 

The sound of the band is lushly produced classic pop that combines folk-roots guitars with early Beach Boys. Dan Wilson vocals are amazing as he opens with brilliant harmonies in the catchy “Help Me Find A Way,” and you’ll swear he’s part of that other Wilson family. It continues with the cascading “Maybe” a mellower tempo and the brilliant “Troublemaker” is an epic melody that adds heavy guitars for a perfect single. “Sound Waves” and “Flow” have a different structure, similar to Field Music with its sophisticated rhythm. The albums middle sags a bit, but remains compelling with folk ballads like “Rain,” and the big single “Sioux City Swinger” is a perfect summer song with layered arrangements and soaring harmonies. Highly Recommended.

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Happiless

Happiless “Happiless”

Mike Benign (Mike Benign Compulsion) teams up with Allen Keller to form Happiless, and the first song “Some People” explains the term. It’s for those who wait “for tragedy to strike. They want sympathy, they love to burst into flames and die.” The melody grows similar to “All You Need Is Love” but with a modern cynicism and misanthropy.

Several songs celebrate deep sadness with gorgeous melodies and Beatlesque arrangments. “Sleepyhead” is a fantastic ballad worthy of Badfinger and “Hopscotch Town” is a bouncy slice of pop confection. “Pill Called The Disaster” and “Stranger To Yourself” are more influenced by late ’80s Elvis Costello and Bob Mould, with its aggressive melodies. No real filler, as each track coaxes out the darkness like on “Anonymous Band” and “We Let Our Story Tell Itself.” A excellent debut from a talent pair and highly recommended.

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Seth Swirsky and The Kickstand Band

Seth Swirsky

The Seth Swirsky “Circles and Squares”

Pop Maestro Seth Swirsky is back with his third solo album Circles and Squares and right away on “Shine,” as we enter through a world of piano chords, Beach Boys harmonies and you are transported to musical bliss. The intro leads seamlessly into the title track “Circles and Squares” which is a swirling McCartneyesque melody that becomes a folk ballad midway through. “Far Away” is one of the best songs here, with an ELO-styled structure and its sweeping orchestration. “Trying To Keep It Simple” is the emotional heart of the album where he just intones “I’m trying to keep it simple. I don’t have to be a Beatle.” Indeed Seth just has to be himself to shine, as the majority of the songs are gentle romantic musings from “Belong” to the ballad “I Think Of Her.”

Strong Nilsson and McCartney vibes are visible in each composition with no filler here. “Let’s Move To Spain” has a intimate party atmosphere, and “Table” marries the Rickenbacker riffs to an easy going melody with a description of “his mess.” But as the song “I Don’t Have Anything (If I Don’t Have You”)” tells us, all his stuff (baseballs, gold records) means nothing without his love. Overall an adult soft pop triumph and a easy contender for best album of 2016. Don’t miss it.

Amazon | Seth.com | Kool Kat Musik

The Kickstand Band

The Kickstand Band “Summer Dream” EP

This third EP for the Detroit duo of Gordon Smith and Allison Young is one of the best this season. “Stay Inside” has a poppy bounce and strum that recalls Juice Newton, plus a great cover of The Sunrays “I Live For The Sun.” And “Fall Back” is a gorgeous tune where you can almost feel the leaves changing color in the melody. The harmonies are solid and the songs are short, catchy and memorable. Not a single dud — highly recommended. And best of all its a FREE download — so pick it up now!

Bandcamp | Amazon

Cotton Mather and Lazy Lies

Cotton Mather

Cotton Mather “The Death of Cool”

Cotton Mather’s Austin-based main man, Robert Harrison is back in a big way, converting his vision of the “I Ching” into a musical box set and The Death of Cool is his first volume in this highly anticipated release. Opening with “The Book of Too Late Changes” proves Harrison hasn’t lost a step in 15 years, with its crashing drums and sharp guitar riffs worthy of classic Who or The Raspberries. The tempo shifts with the somber country ballad “The Middle of Nowhere,” but the tone adjusts with the bouncy “Candy Lilac” full of irresistible musical touches and its sparse jangling rhythm.

One thing to note is that Harrison doesn’t stay with a certain style for long, but keeps the melodic content high for each tune. The jazz horns make the Lennonesque “Life of A Liar” erratic but very interesting. The impressive chamber pop of “The Land of Flowers” is a real gem with its gentle backing harmonies and “Waters Raging” is another highlight sounding a bit like Squeeze with its strong horns and psyche-pop flourishes. This is essential listening for power pop fans, and deserves repeat listens and stands right behind Kontiki, I look forward to the next chapter of Cotton Mather. Highly Recommended.

Amazon | Kool Kat Musik

 

Lazy Lies

Lazy Lies “Lazy Lies”

Thanks to Ray (Kool Kat) for this find. The Lazy Lies are a band from Barcelona, Spain with a sound straight out of the British Invasion circa 1965. The main vocalists are the duo of Montse Bernad and Roger Gascon and the opener “(Things Will Eventually) Backfire” is classic Beatlesque fun with a catchy Rickenbacker melody and clean harmonies. “Who’s That Sally” allows the duet to sing about a Beatle paramour who had songs written for her.

Another standout is the plinking piano of “Beautiful Morning,” a fresh, sunny chorus designed to put you in a good mood and “Feel The City Alive” is like finding a lost Monkees tune. When Montse sings alone her vocals are reminiscent of Dusty Springfield, as heard on “The Great Desire.” I feel the limitations of the period style hold this band back a bit. Still, if you are looking for a Fab Four fix, this will scratch your itch nicely.

Amazon | Ko0l Kat Musik

Ed Ryan and Porter Block

Ed Ryan

Ed Ryan “Roadmap”

Ed Ryan was songwriter/lead singer/lead guitarist for seminal late 70’s NYC power pop band The Rudies and was managed by Hilly Kristal in the late 80’s releasing an album on the CBGB label. Roadmap is a much needed re-introduction to Ryan’s brand of old school power pop.

“Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” is a great rocking theme that recalls the heyday of The Knack, full of hand claps and buzzsaw riffs throughout. “Heartbreak In Disguise” is part Procol Harum and part Stones; stylistically setting it apart from the other songs (in a good way.) “Bridges are Burning” is a standout gem that has a classic ‘60s songwriting style updated, brilliant harmonic accents reminded me of the Toms. Another standout “Elvis’ World” has some great lyric and character study about “What constitutes a weirdo?” with a dense chorus and atonal piano break. The title track is a confessional ballad that really delivers the emotion with each strum of the guitar that builds to epic proportions; with the addition of strings, and a burning solo worthy of Joe Walsh. Highly Recommended.

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Porter Block

Porter Block “Hard To See Beautiful”

This New York-based power-pop duo is Peter Block and Caleb Sherman, and their 10-track album was co-produced and co-written by Mike Viola (Candy Butcher.) The LP was recorded digitally in Nashville by Caleb and on analog in Los Angeles, by Sheldon Gomberg (Ben Harper, Warpaint, Joseph Arthur).

The band mixes influences from both British invasion bands and late ’70s folk rockers like The Eagles and Neil Young, but the crisp melodies and production recall The Honeydogs as the best comparison. “Heartbreak On My Stereo” has an easy going strum and some descriptive lyrics about “ a disapproving look has hard as stone.” Even more adventurous is the melody on “Chemical Family” with a strong rhythmic riff leading the charge. There are plenty of great tunes here like “Long Gone” with its a echoing reverb, the shimming dense chorus of both “Nothing Matters” and “It Happens Every Time. The quality of music is very consistent, so no wasted filler anywhere. The poignant “Party Dress” is an excellent ballad that finishes things, and it invites many repeat listens. Highly Recommended.

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Watts and Brain Circus

Watts

Watts “The Black Heart of Rock-N-Roll”

Watts is back again with The Black Heart of Rock-N-Roll, as lead vocalist John Blout and the band starts to resemble AC/DC on the title track. “She’s So Electric” is closer to Watt’s Stones-like origins, and its got a fantastic beat with a wicked guitar solo mid-way through. The riff attack that is “Strut (Like A Champ)” is a high powered and leads into a heavy rock chorus, very much a highlight. Then “Stage Fright” has a minor key change that has a late ’70s rocker feel, think Thin Lizzy with more layered guitar arpeggios.

The band seems even more comfortable and less rigid than their last LP, as both “Fast & Loose” and “The B Side” are both tight compositions with a relaxed easy going feel, and the latter is likely the best Watts song I’ve heard to date. Watts has definitely taken the next leap forward to greatness here, This is music meant to be cranked up to “11.” Super Highly Recommended.

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Brain Circus

Brain Circus “Brain Circus”

Virginian singer-songwriter Brian Curtis (The Oohs) delivers a wonderful solo album, and Brain Circus is a bit like The Turtles albums of the late sixties, these songs are carefully crafted pop symphonies. You’ll hear the familiar influences of Todd Rundgren’s Utopia, Beach Boys and Jellyfish. “Forget All About It” is pure ear candy, with a sophisticated structure and awesome chord shifts. The jangling melody on “If You Only Knew” is a bit like Klaatu with sweet woodwinds and layered harmonies throughout.

Like Dana Countryman, Brian has mastered glossy studio technique and sophisticated pop composition, as evidenced by “Try To Ignore Me” and the Wilsonesque “Keep My Hands To Yourself.” Even the jazzy “The Man Who Saw Tomorrow” has charms here. There is so much to absorb, and occasionally too much melodrama (“I Accept The Blame”) but when it hits the emotional mark (“Finally Found The One”) it’s a beautiful thing. Highly Recommended and it makes my top ten list.

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