EP Reviews: Hemmingbirds and Nate Leavitt

Hemmingbirds

Hemmingbirds “Half A Second”

Chicago’s Hemmingbirds began as a solo project of singer/guitarist/violist Yoo Soo Kim, but has since emerged as truly talented band. On this latest EP, its blasts out of the gate on the title track a blend of indie rock and catchy power pop in the chorus. It grabs hold and doesn’t let go with subtle layers of instrumentation and balanced noise. “Mess of Things” follows with its tribal beat and rhythmic guitar riffs, in fact the album notes specify that it “isn’t necessarily a concept but more so a feeling. “

“Stay” has some dissonance and a repeating synth loop that reminded me of Tokyo Police Club a little, with a quiet break in between the frantic drums, and it ends with the solid ballad “Lover, You’re Out There” but even here the instrumentation drowns out the piano and lead vocals at some point. While way too short, this EP is highly recommended and worth repeat listens.

Amazon

Nate Leavitt

Nate Leavitt & The Elevation “Someone Send A Signal”

Not power pop, but solid alt. country and blues pop. Nate Leavitt and bandmates entered the studio at Studio A in Somerville, Mass and coaxed out the spirits of Neil Young, Wilco, Butch Walker and even Alex Chiton here. “Relieve Me” opens up a painful story with longing in each riff and organ chord. It builds in intensity with each verse, and Leavitt’s guitar work is exceptional here.

The ballad “When I Was With You” is a detailed love story where both people connect to the music and then separate. “Take Me Back” is a rousing layered guitar gem with a catchy chorus that hits the sweet spot. Unfortunately, that bit of optimism is followed by mid tempo wallowing in sadness and then on the title track, moving on after heartbreak. “I Can Breathe Again” is emotionally draining, but ultimately this themed album is a gorgeously produced and performed. Highly Recommended.

Amazon

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Dum Dog Run and Love In October

Edward Rogers

Dum Dog Run “DDR 2: Still Dum After All These Years”
A decade later the heavy rock band DDR is back. Lead singer Rick Altizer is back playing rock loud and proud, and this time they add some keyboards in the mix. The DDR sound is a bit like Judas Priest meets Van Halen with guitarist Jade Hanson making the most of the late 80’s style. Like the title, the music is light-hearted, macho and still a labor of love for the players involved.

Rick’s vocal’s are still perfection on the opener “Transmareo,” about a dream car mix of Trans Am and Camero. The biographic “David Lee Roth” drops all sorts of VH lyrics, riffs, solos and tributes through this fun song. Speaking of macho, they have a tune called “Machismo” which recalls Altizer’s power pop past. Rick does get a chance to rant on “Off The Hook,” taking on the critics in the music press – and its dissing of Kiss. “Get To The Chopper” is another impressive song that encourages air guitar playing. Despite a few artistic indulgences, this is a solid album that grows on you with repeat listens and deserves to be highly recommended.

CD Baby | Amazon


 

Love in October

Love in October “Love in October III” EP

Love in October is composed of brothers Erik and Kent Widman hailing from the northern mountains of Sweden, now residing in Stockholm, Sweden and Chicago, IL. Love in October III is their first release since 2011 and ends the band’s four-year hiatus. The EP is a bouncy, positive slice of modern pop than manages to to be catchy without the pretentious attitude of most pop bands.

“Teenage Evolution” is a pop single that’s both approachable and danceable. “Time Shifter” and “Date Night” are a bit more standard pop (yawn!), but thankfully “My Old Future” adds a sweet guitar rhythm and a melodic chorus similar to Weezer. In the lyrics he mentions “Han Solo’s ghost would be proud of me,” I would be quiet proud adding Love in October to my playlist this May.

Amazon

 

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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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