John Brodeur "Get Through"

John Brodeur captured my ear with his album “Tiger Pop” in 2001. It was an impressive debut, and now the re-issue project is in progress. Well almost a decade later the sophomore album is here. The process turned into a journey for Brodeur who has been kicking this album around since 2004 with help from many musicians, Pete Donnelly (The Figgs, Candy Butchers) and Ryan Barnum (Strange Faces) among them. Opening with the uplifting “Making A Change” it is an excellent motivational song, lead by melody and solid guitar chords. The guitar crunch is turned up a notch for the driving “I’m Bad” where John reflects on life’s horrible choices, it’s a loud Superdrag styled melodic feast. “Security” is another fast paced gem that demands repeat plays, but the theme doesn’t change even though the styles do. The piano ballad “Silence, Please” about the bad experiences on the road, slowly builds to epic proportions like a Ben Folds song. “Fight” has a Nirvana-like structure, and a wicked guitar solo in the break that propels the chorus along. “Let’s Pretend” has a Magical Mystery Tour styled percussive composition, done slightly off kilter that tells you the lyric “Let’s Pretend We Are Happy” is a vow of disillusionment. This feeling continues with “Meltdown” and culminates with another stunner. “Get Through” is a delicately crafted wake up call, that life is worth living and “If it’s all that you can do, just get through.” This is a brilliant album that has finally gotten through to music fans last year. Don’t overlook it now that it’s here.

Gavin Guss "Mercury Mine"

Seattle’s Gavin Guss is pop veteran who’s played with Nada Surf, Jon Auer, Harvey Danger, Fountains of Wayne and his own band The Tycoons. Important to note, Gavin was also lead singer/songwriter with the short lived group Tubetop who produced a pure pop masterpiece in Three Minute Hercules. Given these facts you know what to expect and he really delivers with his solo album Mercury Mine. Starting with the gentle acoustic hook in “X” it leads to a glorious McCartney-like chorus, that builds to sticky goodness in the multi-track harmonic ending with ascending basslines. The title track “Mecury Mine” has echoes of Harry Nilsson and Squeeze with it’s tinkling piano lead. There are too many gems here to count, so I’ll just indulge in my favorites, “Oasis” rings with the piano melody that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Michael Carpenter album. “Lifeboat” is another musical metaphor of the creative process at “…the bottom of The Puget Sound.” The album’s middle slows down a bit, but it has wonderful ballads that resonate, like the poignant “Marie” and the weary “Jetlagged.” Fans of Teenage Fanclub will love the guitar melody “Bud” and although the album doesn’t approach the highs it starts with, nothing here is filler, as most tunes fit in under three minutes and it’s sure to be repeated on your ipod playlist. Pure ear candy that is not to be missed.

Plasticsoul "Peacock Swagger"

Ugh, Always late to the party. This one just got by me because I did my top ten list early this year, and but it gets special consideration — and I’d like to amend my list for it. Plasticsoul hails from L.A. and this album just blew me off my chair when I popped it in. Then Absolute Powerpop put this as his #1 album of the year. It’s hard to argue against this… it’s simply a work of genius. Opening with “Sentimental F**ks/ Life On Other Planets” is rich with Beatlesque guitar riffs, music hall piano and a drum break that Ringo would envy. The loud “Cock Rock 101” is exactly what you think it sounds like. The following tune “Champion Tragic Boy” channels a bit of Jellyfish, with it’s catchy mid tempo harpsichord melody. A sweet pastoral “Fishwife” full of sitar and bongos follows this, and then the tragic ballad “Cancer” which double tracks lead vocalist Steven Wilson and adds backwards guitar for further effect. The aching chorus of “Cut it out/ Please cut it out. Cancer is breaking me down.” is unforgettable. The album settles into a more laid back groove, with acoustics opening the next six songs, including “Shame” and the very Michael Penn like “New Town Different Day.” The orchestral sweep of “San Francisco” is another easy listening winner here. A duet with Wendy Wang on the countrified “You’re Not Free” has plenty of soul. The album’s mood shifts perfectly into psychedelic pop on “My Three Friends” which follows a rhythm similar to “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and then continues with the groovy “Rainy Season.” This is the most sophisticated power pop album I’ve heard this year. Don’t miss it.

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Paul Starling and Friendly Foes EP

Paul Starling “Aimed Arrows”

A few years ago Paul Starling gave us the sweet “Ghost Waltz” which was re-released as “Doors and Windows.” The aching vocals are still there with Beach Boys overtones and wall of sound production on the opener “Lay Down Your Weary Arms.” The banjo and lazy day rhythm of “The Mission” is another winner here. A rich contrast of orchestral flourishes and acoustic guitar are part of “Tired Of The Casual Goddess” makes for an echoing dreamscape. Things get a bit too echoey on “Yes I Know What Day It Is,” but the song is a well structured pop blues tune, and this is well worth the meager four bucks on Paul’s site. His blog also contains some free bonus music downloads, so you can get a few samples before you break the bank.

Friendly Foes “So Obscene”

The Detroit trio known as Friendly Foes are back and after last years “Born Radical” it’s great to get this holiday gift. With a bounce and the same raw guitars courtesy of Ryan Allen on “How It Works” with a relentless guitar attack. Then we get the excellent single “Keep Breathing” which gives you a power pop punk groove full of energy and enthusiasm. Lead singer Liz Wittman hits here stride here and does an amazing job. Both “Paint It Gold” and “Line Up” have plenty of enthusiasm and the crashing cymbals of drummer Sean Sommer. Fans of Cheap Trick, Sloan, and Garbage will flip for these hooks that come fast and hard. The acoustic ballad “A Million Scenes” doesn’t quite live up to the other songs, but after these first four shredding head banging tunes you’ll be playing air guitar in no time at all.

Best Power Pop EPs of 2009

Funny thing, I was so swamped with regular LPs this year, I honestly didn’t even review a full ten EPs. Partially due to the fact the majority of EPs I hear don’t come from the power pop genre, strictly speaking. However I feel these releases would stand as essential to your 2009 music collection.
  1. Greg Pope “Pete” EP
  2. Bryan Scary & The Shredding Tears “Mad Valentines” EP
  3. Josh Fix “This Town Is Starting To Make Me Angry” EP
  4. Syd “Upswing”
  5. Skoober “s/t”
  6. Michael Carpenter & The Cuban Heels “New Dog Old Tricks”
  7. The Offbeat “To The Rescue” EP
  8. The Friendly Foes “So Obscene” EP
  9. Paul Starling “Aimed Arrows” EP
  10. The Chemistry Set “Alchemy#101” EP
Reviews on these non-linked EPs are coming next, along with my favorite alternative rock albums from this year. Also another cool holiday link at A Good Day For Airplay is The Posies’ Jon Auer singing “Let it Snow” here.