Major Label artists releases in 2015 – Part 2

The big stars of rock/indie (some with power pop leanings) have come out of the woodwork this year and here are mini-reviews of some that I follow. If you missed it check out Part 1 of this.

 

Ben Folds

Ben Folds “So There” – Ben has slowly made his journey from piano popster to orchestral composer. He addresses this change on the poignant “Not A Fan.” But he still can make thrilling pop music buried under all those strings. Some good songs, but he eventually he goes to the full Concerto. At least Danny Elfman did it on separate albums. Listen to: “Phone in A Pool”, “Yes Man” Get it here.

The Fratellis

The Fratellis “Eyes Wide, Tongue Tied” – Huge shift in sound for the band; if you’re looking for another “Chelsea Dagger” go elsewhere. The grander, more dramatic  “Me and The Devil” and “Baby Don’t Lie To Me” sound a little like Supergrass. “Thief” is another standout here, and the funk bass on the circus-like “Dogtown” keeps it interesting. Unfortunately, it doesn’t consistently hit the mark. A good album, but it needed editing to make it great. Get it here.

Bryan Adams

Bryan Adams “Get Up” – The amazing Jeff Lynne does for Adams what he did for Roy Orbison; making him relevant to audiences again. Adams gets the full Wilbury treatment here with great catchy singles like “Go Down Rockin” and “That’s Rock and Roll.” Plus amazing ballads like “We Did It All” takes advantage of Adams sandpaper-vocal delivery. Its easy to see why Absolute Power Pop blog added this to his top ten. Proof Lynne always has the magic touch (with other artists.) Get it here.

Sleater-Kinney

Sleater-Kinney “No Cities To Love” – Legendary punk all-girl band returns. It’s a little more structured, less grungy, a decent reunion that delivers plenty of radio friendly songs that will appeal to the indie pop crowd. Bitching about the state of affairs on “Price Tag”,”Surface Envy,” and the catchy “A New Wave” are highlights.  Old fans will note it doesn’t reach the highs of 2008’s The Woods, but that’s okay – it’s a great starting point for new fans.  Get it here.

Major Label artists releases in 2015 – Part 1

The big stars of rock/indie (with power pop leanings) have come out of the woodwork this year and although a rare few made my Top 25 list (Tommy Keene, Chris Stamey almost made it) most have been putting out exceptional music:

 

Wilco

Wilco “Star Wars” – The band continues to pave its own course (a free download!), mixing the influences from newer (Radiohead) and older (Lou Reed, Beatles) bands. Plays like a stripped down rehearsal in spots, with little studio gloss. Solid release stands nicely alongside its post-2008 albums. Listen to: “More”
Get it here.

Squeeze

Squeeze “Cradle to The Grave” – The Tilbrook-Difford songwriting partnership continues to dazzle. While not as good as the 1980-90’s era, its damn close. A welcome return to form, and some real sweet gems here. Listen to: “Nirvana”, “Happy Days”
Get it here.

Jeff Lynne

Jeff Lynne’s ELO “Alone In The Universe” – This was hyped up quite a bit and even though I love Jeff and the ELO sound, it just didn’t impress me. Maybe he shouldn’t have re-hashed “Showdown” into “Love & Rain,” it sounds like ELO on autopilot. Oh well. Listen to: “Dirty To The Bone”, “Ain’t It A Drag”
Get it here.

Joe Jackson

Joe Jackson “Fast Forward” – Leave it to Joe to deliver excellent musicianship and great songwriting that sounds like a mature artist. No this isn’t rock or the early ’80s and the brilliant title track makes it clear. While a bit long and with a few jazzy filler tunes, this is still a good album for JJ fans. Listen to: “If It Wasn’t For You”, “Junkie Diva” Get it here.

Paul McCartney “New”

Rarely do I review such mainstream stuff, but when it comes to Sir Paul I couldn’t help myself. I just wanted to know if he could still pull out some of that old Beatle magic. I wasn’t keen on his standards LP Kisses on the Bottom, so I was expecting something closer to my tastes.

With the stigma of ageism gone from rock n’ roll, the 71 year old Beatle works with four different producers (Mark Ronson, Ethan Johns, Paul Epworth and Giles Martin) in an effort to sound “new” but still tinted with sweet nostalgia. The title track certainly does this, a sing-along crowd pleaser with a Beach Boys coda. Paul’s melodic gift still holds up with nice bass guitar lines of “Alligator” and “On My Way To Work” which recalls his time with Wings. “Early Days” is a predictable look back and the ballad “Looking At Her” is another signature Macca love song.

One caveat is that his voice is really starting to show its age, like fellow septuagenarian Brian Wilson he needs a little help from his (studio technician) friends.  And for every polished gem like “Queenie Eye,” you get filler like “Appreciate” with its forced hip hop beat or the overly glossy production on “Save Us.” This isn’t going to stop fans from rushing out to grab this, and it’s nice to know that the old dog is trying some new tricks. The good stuff easily outnumbers the lame stuff, and my favorite here “Turned Out,” proves beyond a doubt that Paul is back. So enjoy him while he’s still here making music.

Amazon | Itunes

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More album favorites for 2012

This was an excellent year for melodic rock and indie-alternative pop. I didn’t have time to rank everything, but I did want to make another list for you, these are albums that I’ve enjoyed but I didn’t have time to review. More overlooked gems will be reviewed this week.

A message from Sunrise Highway musician who says “support indie artists!”

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Candlebox and Lightships

Candlebox “Love Stories & Other Musings”
Candlebox is a perfect example of popular rock band that doesn’t want to be hemmed into a single rock category. With a platinum-selling debut in 1993, they rode the Seattle grunge bandwagon but the wheels fell off in 2000 with numerous personnel changes. They reformed in 2008 and the band now sounds totally ready for a comeback. Opening with “Youth In Revolt” it’s got a loose feel, and like the Foo Fighters, blasts us with guitars and a heavy hook. My favorite here is next, “Sweet Summertime,” its a great power pop track about the difficulty of touring and being away from your family while on the road.

There are many great songs here from the hard melodic “Lifelike Song” to the sweet power ballad “Baby Love.” Lead singer Kevin Martin still has those trademark howls that work best with Peter Klett’s gritty riffs. They are no longer beholden to grunge, although a faithful re-recording of five past hits are included (in case you forgot them). After listening to the entire album those “hits” are the weakest songs here. If we evaluated the new tracks alone it would stand as the best Candlebox album ever. A great re-introduction to a band that plays genuine melodic rock n’ roll.

Lightships “Electric Cables”
Gerard Love’s (Teenage Fanclub) new solo outing is a shimmering poppy confection, opening with the lighter-than-air  “Two Lines” and the summery warmth of “Muddy Rivers,” it has more in common with Belle & Sebastian than his former band. Backed by Bob Kildea from Belle & Sebastian (surprise!), Tom Crossley from The Pastels, Dave McGowan and Brendan O’Hare from Teenage Fanclub, Love gets to indulge in sweet melodies and lush arrangements that echo and envelope the listener. There is no better example than “Sweetness In Her Spark” with its quivering rhythms and ethereal vocal. The precious centerpiece is “Silver And Gold” – and it’s got some groovy guitar fuzz to go with harmonies worthy of The Association.

While lovely, the thick atmosphere and flute of “The Warmth of The Sun” could also put you to sleep. But there are enough wonderful harmonies like on “Stretching Out” that prevent things from being a total snoozefest and fans of  gentle chamber pop and psychedelic daydreaming will find this a perfect album. Others may consider it the musical equivalent of Prozac.

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