EP reviews: Cartoon Spirits, The Kickstand Band and The James Rocket

Cartoon Spirits

Cartoon Spirits “Crustacean EP”

Cartoon Spirits are determined to bring power pop back to where it belongs: the Pacific Northwest. Gray skies and drizzle can only be battled with hooks, fuzzy guitars, and raspy harmonies. The Portland band has just released its debut recording, Crustacean EP.  Its hard to argue their point, as “Remake The Stalls” is a catchy bit of modern pop magic, with solid guitar riffs and a timely opening falsetto. The trio of Michael Faherty (guitar), Loredana Corallo (bass) and Jeff Davis(drums) are a tight unit on the follow up “Common Law,” with fine job shredding to the layered vocal harmonies. “Back to The Cult” is another catchy tune that reminded me of Squeeze a little. Overall this is a great great debut. Highly Recommended!

Amazon


Kickstand Band

The Kickstand Band “Cut’Em Loose” EP

Another modern power pop band with a great sound, The Kickstand Band is from Detroit, Michigan with a good back catalog of excellent music that deserves to be heard. “How It Feels” has a confident fuzz rhythm and layered guitar melodies.The leads, Gordon Smith and Allison Young give us some great harmonies on “Next To Me.” Young goes solo on “Regret You” and her sweetness shines through on the chorus. This “yet-to-be-discovered” band is making its music available at a “name-your-price” point, so take advantage of the musical goodness!


The James Rocket

The James Rocket “We Are Here For You b/w Derby Girl”

The James Rocket are a 5 piece from Brooklyn, NY delivering a sweet quick single sure to please, “We Are Here For You.” Lead singer James William Roy is reminiscent of They Might Be Giants with a little more alt. rock fuzz. And check out the bands 2012 debut, the first track “Paper Valentines” is free. Love the spunky guitar buzz melody! Highly recommended!

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Radio Days and Pezband

Radio Days

Radio Days “Back in The Day”

Italy’s Radio Days have paired themselves down to a trio and are going back to their roots on “Back In The Day.” In doing so the band moves away from the strict formulaic approach and decided to rock out, capturing an energy that is more like The Beatles on steroids with the opener “Why Don’t You Love Me Anymore?” The next several tracks are catchy and highly addictive, especially the double-time “You Won’t Fool Me Twice.” The title track follows a template closer to The Raspberries and makes its point, looking to the past for those tasty hooks.

The oddity here “Your Words” is a light pop tune with a reggae beat, but the band is quick to return to those chiming guitar chords and each track after is a solid gem. From the ballad ” You Bring Me Down” to the powerful backbeat of “Subway Station Girl,” Radio Days delivers the goods and never falls into a predicable rut, adding garage elements on “Smash This Party” and ending with another Beatlesque love song “Betta” which echoes a little of the Fab’s “Do You Want To Know A Secret?” My only pet peeve here is the compressed sound quality in the studio mix. Overall a great album that makes my top ten list for 2016. Ciao!

Bandcamp | CD Baby | Amazon


Pezband

Pezband “Women & Politics” EP

Chicago’s Pezband was one of the better known power pop bands in the late ’70s, following the path of their bretheren Cheap Trick and The Raspberries. But by 1980 after three albums and two live EPs, interest from their label vaporized and the group disbanded. The next year guitarist Mimi Betinis and drummer Mick Rain were energized and ready to to give Pezband another shot. Joined by original band member John Pazdan, the trio headed to Los Angeles to record “Women & Politics.” Unfortunately in the era of post-Knack backlash, the EP was shelved. Until now.

“Office Girl” has the angular guitars and beat that’s typical of the pre-new wave era. “Waiting In Line” is closer to a classic Pezband single, with its distinctive vocal interplay and jangling rhythm. “Fab Girlfriends” is another gem, with some excellent guitar shedding between the chorus and ending. “Russian Tanks” is a cold war era tune that compares well with The Clash and Public Image Limited. This is a vinyl release and a highly recommended one.

Frodis Records | Amazon

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Cliff Hillis and Dropkick

Cliff Hillis

Cliff Hillis “Love Not War” EP

Cliff is back! Another EP loaded with excellent songs. The catchy title track is finely crafted gem that works on several levels in the pristine production. The follow up “The Buddha’s Belly” has a little honky-tonk styling that just encourages spontaneous dancing. From there the styles shift from folk pop (“Don’t Drown The Wind”) to mid tempo power pop (“Mayor Of Midnight,”) each song a worthy gem that deserves repeat listens. Of course highly recommended, so pick it up!

Itunes

Dropkick

Dropkick “Balance The Light”

The prolific Scottish band formed by brothers Andrew and Alastair Taylor and friend Ian Grier continues to develop some of the best pop on its latest album. The bands influences include The Jayhawks, The Byrds, and Wilco with a West Coast easy going sensibility.  “Save Myself” is a slow mellow confessional that beautifully opens up mid-way through the song to an instrumental cacophony. The tempo stays the same on the excellent ballads “I’m Over It” and “I Wish I Knew.”

The album theme is a meditation on sadness after a breakup, “Where Do You Think I Went Wrong?” continues the relationship post-mortem. “Out Of Love Again” is a highlight with its jangling guitars and sharp harmonies. Another gem is “Homeward,” with its Neil Young-like melody, and the most upbeat song here “Slow Down” compares well with Teenage Fanclub. Despite it being a somber listen, the compositions are well written. Highly Recommended.

Amazon | Kool Kat Musik

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EP Reviews: The Foreign Films, Family Values, Skai, and The Harmalators

Bill Majoros (aka The Foreign Films) continues his journey through his “Record Collector” project. Each “side” is released one at a time, like scenes from a film that will eventually tell the entire story. And its available as a “name-your-price” download. This is volume 4 of 6 and it explores songwriting shaped by the late 1970s and early ’80s. You’ll definitely hear a lot of Bowie influence on this one, check out “Falling Like A Star” and the glam-ballad “Time Disappears.”

Check it out here.

Family Values have been in the studio together with the Norwegian power pop legend Tomas Dahl (Caddy) and the result is the band’s second EP “Time Stands Still”, inspired by bands such as Teenage Fanclub, Go Betweens and Big Star. If you like summery jangle, this EP does the trick. They will be touring with The Posies in Oslo, Norway this April.

Amazon


Skai “Diskaises” – Born in New York and raised in the suburbs of New Jersey, SKai is a new pop talent that seems to do everything from alternative rock to dance pop, and everything in-between. SKai’s main influences are Chris Daughtry, Bruno Mars, Jason Mraz and Train. While I wasn’t thrilled with everything here, “Heart Attack” had a power pop like swagger and a catchy chorus. Check it out.

Itunes


The Harmalators “Greater Things” – From Santa Rosa, California the twin brothers Marlon Kay (bass guitar) and Norman Kay (lead guitar, keyboards) have returned with a new import EP from Japan. The title track is punctuated by a big beat and trumpets in the chorus. The band still has classic pop influences (Beach Boys, America) as “Today, Tomorrow and Yesterday” has a nice chord structure. Unfortunately the production and mixing sounds more like a live recording than a studio take, but still give it a listen.

Thistime Records

 

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Brett Harris and Kerosene Stars

Brett Harris

Brett Harris “Up In The Air”

North Carolina pop auteur Brett Harris was part of the touring band for both Big Star and the dB’s and now he’s released his newest solo effort. “End of the Rope” is an inspirational theme with great supporting guitar riff that does recall The Beatles and Big Star at times. “Don’t Look Back” is an easy going mid-tempo song with a hint of sadness within its rich strums. “Lies” is a good example of how a slow dirge takes a whimsical jazz turn in the break before it continues, it’s a delicate balance of old and new influences.

“Out of The Blue” is another signature song with strong blues flourishes and orchestral sweep – its both a catchy and satisfying melody. Both “High Times” and “Rumor” have folk blues and soul elements that are perfectly arranged into the rock format. The title track is another standout, it has a 70’s California country guitar melody that’s part Nilsson and part Mike Nesmith. The song has the feel of the open road with the lyric “Why should I care whatever which way the wind is blowing ‘cause we make our home wherever our feet hit the ground.” Overall no duds here as each song shines, and its highly recommended.

Amazon

 

Kerosene Stars

Kerosene Stars “Don’t Believe in Miracles” EP

Chicago band Kerosene Stars are Scott Schaafsma (bass, vocals), Andy Seagram (guitar, backing vocals), Yoo Soo Kim (viola, keyboards), Jim Adair (drums), and Tom Sorich (percussion). The band excels creating simple, catchy melodies on top of a solid backbeat, Burn The Evidence is the first of 3 EPs for 2016.

“Don’t Believe in Miracles” starts with a solid jangle and classic chord shifts is bolstered by Scott’s strong vocal. “Burn The Evidence” has a European styled vibe with some new wave accents, shifting around never settling in predictability. After the bossa nova lounge style of ”Alice,” it settles into late 70’s styled pop with “Talk Talk” and its sweet guitar solo. This is a band that makes you take notice with both its musicianship and songwriting, so keep an eye on them!

Bandcamp

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