Freebie Friday: Travis Bretzer, Hector & The Leaves, Ricky Demetro

Edmonton indie pop songsmith Travis Bretzer is a jack of all trades musician, singer-songwriter who plays all of the instruments. The album’s first single “Are You Ever Gonna Change?” is a jangling power pop gem and the romantic “Peace, Love and Harmony” shows off his sunshine pop tendencies. “Up in Morning” is like a lost Mike Nesmith tune! One of the best FREE albums you’ll hear this year.  Time for me to investigate his back catalog. Also available in CD form on CDBaby.

Hector and The Leaves return with a bedroom pop treat. Tom Hector delivers the opener “Watching The World” in a hushed whisper. It stays quiet with acoustic guitar and his songwriting has improved tremendously from previous releases, “Call You Up” is a catchy gem that fans of Elliot Smith will eat up. Several songs sound like demos, but they are compelling. Music for those late nights with a mug of mint tea.

Way back at Power Popaholic Fest 3, Ricky Demetro was the lead singer in The Rhino House Band. Sadly, the band broke up and Ricky has the moved to Japan. Fortunately, he still likes to make music — this is more of a personal album, with no commercial aspirations as he does some experimental pop here. Oh yeah, and it’s a FREE download.

Charles Jenkins and The Death of Pop

Charles Jenkins

Charles Jenkins and the Zhivagos “The Last Polaroid”

Charles Jenkins is a veteran Melbourne songwriter/musician, who most people remember from his years as lead singer of the late ’90s power pop band Icecream Hands. Jenkins is a master of the slow building melody, and after years experimenting with different genres its good to hear him back in pure pop form.

The opener/title track evokes his past with banging keyboards and acoustic strums, as Jenkins warm vocal envelops the chorus and the big guitar riffs kick in. “Cartwheels” is another charmer, with a thick beat and catchy melody with horn accents. The descending chords of “Everyone Loves Me,” highlight a memorable rant by a conceited Vegas celebrity. Another gem is the catchy mid-tempo autobiographical “Walking On Air” about a “stay at home Troubadour.”

While not every song sticks with you, a majority do. The poignant “No Electronic Devices” waxes poetically about a time before we all spent our days staring at our phones. My favorite line here “And yeah I show my age/All through the day/ The rewinding of the cassette/ The 90-minute TDK.” Highly Recommended.

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The Death of Pop

The Death of Pop “Fed Up”

The name is a bit misleading, but the band establishes it’s own musical rules over pop as opposed to killing it. Quirky and masters at crafting dreamlike melodies it reminded me a little of the band Pretty & Nice. The angular guitar chords and undulating synths keys kept me listening.

“Pain Is Needless” is a synth-happy stretch of new wave pop with soft harmonies and jangle guitars comparable to XTC meeting OMD. The band’s skill in shifting sonic textures is commendable, but not always interesting like the dull “Breathing.” Luckily this is rare, as a strong melody is central to many songs like “Don’t Bother Me.” A big standout is “Busy With The Boys,” the song bends in and out of tune with an echoing vocal and warbling guitar hook that invites chaos. “Giving Up” and “If You Cared Less (We’d Be Dead)” has more of a psyche-pop flavor, very much in the mode of Olivia Tremor Control. The album’s second half isn’t as compelling but still interesting. Explore and you’ll find (power) pop isn’t quite dead yet (“I feel happy!”)

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The Bye Bye Blackbirds and Sven-Erik Olsen

The Bye Bye Blackbirds

The Bye Bye Blackbirds “Take Out The Poison”

Bradley Skaught, leader of The Bye Bye Blackbirds takes his traditional power pop band in a new direction with this album, and what you get is a combination of great melodic rock with other genre explorations. The band has several guests including KC Bowman, Brad Brooks and Khoi Huynh (Corner Laughers). “Earl Grey Kisses” is a bass-line led pop confection with a catchy chorus full of “do-do-dos.” The prominent horns added to “Let Your Hair Fall Down” make it a solid hit as well. It then takes a country pop detour with “Duet” as Bradley is joined by Lindsay Paige Garfield. The other pairings with female leads work well too, although the tunes feel like they belong on a different album.

The album’s diversity in rock stylings will appeal to fans of Robert Harrison (Cotton Mather) and Crowded House.  The best songs here are flowing with power pop energy, like “Wasted” with guitarist Brad Brooks, the brilliant “Alfred Starr Hamilton” and the Rockpile-like “Poison Love.” Overall, a welcome return for this highly recommended band.

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Sven-Erik Olsen

Sven-Erik Olsen “Sketchbook Traces”

Classically trained Sven-Erik Olsen’s debut album features acoustic-based pop that evokes a baroque style, as the opening track, “Pop Bottle Green Eyes” sounds like a lost single from The Left Banke or The Rain Parade. The title track is another harmonically inventive highlight, with influences that range from Brian Wilson to Game Theory.

The tempo slows as the album moves forward, “Lost and Losin’ It Fast” and “Distant Summer” have a sad, daydream-like quality. Fans of the latest Any Version of Me will also appreciate Sven-Erik Olsen for his echoing vocals and dense production style. The last two songs “Sunny Dream” and “Childhood Blur” are not as old school, but more of a textured ’80s style similar to Bauhaus or Joy Division with its heavy reverb jangle. Definitely, music that deserves to be heard.

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A Tribute: Bruce Brodeen

You know, there simply would not be a Power Popaholic blog without the existence of one man. That would be Bruce Brodeen, founder of Not Lame Recordings. When Not Lame started in the 90’s, I was instantly hooked on the music they were selling. Bruce developed a devoted and rabid following, and his mail order fanzine/catalog was always read cover to cover for the latest power pop. Luckily, the genre was also going through a huge renaissance during that time. Artists like Jellyfish, The Posies, and Matthew Sweet got on the radio airwaves, but fewer heard the joyous sounds of Myracle Brah, The Shazam or Martin Luther Lennon. Not Lame along with the Audities mailing list was one of the few resources you could count on to discover “new” bands that fit the power pop genre. Much later Bruce went online with his own site, Pop Geek Heaven.

Through Not Lame, I also met up with David Bash who ran the music festival International Pop Overthrow. It was the only time I met Bruce face-to-face, along with the band Blue Cartoon in a small bar in New York City. My brother and I got to the show early and we were lucky enough to talk about the IPO artists and I tried to pry out any information on upcoming acts. After a decade of buying music, going to shows, and being a general “fanboy” of the genre I decided to blog about it. Mr. Bash inspired me to follow his footsteps with Power Popaholic Fest, but that’s another story for another day.

I write today to wish Mr. Brodeen a glorious retirement at the end of this year. He has earned it and spawned a dedicated legion of power pop evangelists. There are still so many bands Bruce knows about that I haven’t explored, his Lost Treasures and Jangle Pop gems along with other rock bands that deserve to be heard. And the power pop community he helped cultivate will never be the same without him.  Best of luck Bruce, what ever you do next I’m sure it will be super, duper, highly recommended!

Propeller and Paul Bertolino

Propeller

Propeller “Don’t Ever Let This Let You Down”

Propeller (the duo of Greg Randall and Will Anderson) have been consistently producing an album each year since 2013. And each album gets measurably better, with Don’t Ever Let This Let You Down being the best one so far. The opening jangle and steady beat of “Summer Arrives” is matched by the duo’s understated harmonies. The compositions are influenced by Teenage Fanclub, The Replacements, REM and others. “Lose My Way” is another catchy tune with hand claps and a swaying guitar floating above the melody.

The songs are highly accessible, including the energetic “Girl Gone” with a distorted rhythmic riff chorus and strong hooks. No filler here, and certain tracks opt for a heavier Westerberg styled vocal with guitar flourishes, like on “Days Collide.” Even the 4-minute closer “Something Blue” manages to enthrall. Never boring and highly recommended.

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Paul Bertolino

Paul Bertolino “Toy Box”

It’s been a few years since we heard Mr. Bertolino but he’s back to kick ass on his latest 13 track album. Paul starts with a 70’s pop framework but isn’t bound by the period, layering different instruments and sounds when building each song. “Don’t Be So Sure” and “Inaccuweather” are distinctively Paul, with minor chords and rock guitar melody that suddenly shifts to a sad jazz saxophone at the end.

The melodic pop shifts are fast and require multiple listens to appreciate, like on “Super Sam” or “Thick As Thieves.” In a rare break, Paul rocks heavier on “Typical Girl,” but mostly keeps to dramatic pop like on “Sun House In Malibu” that showcases his vocal range and some light horns. While the narratives are soulful, they don’t always have a big hook. Some highlights include “Give Rest To My Mind” and “Face Among The Proud.” Definitely, give this album a look and you will find several favorites.

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