The Perms and Mo Troper

The Perms

The Perms “Miracle”

On their 7th studio release, The Perms have hit their stride, concentrating on hook-filled rock and roll. “Julie” opens things up with a catchy chorus, and the bands punk roots show through on the anthemic “Be Alright,” with a positive attitude that flows through the song. But the big hit here is a grand mid-tempo love song “Lose Yourself” with a combination of fuzz guitar and bright synth rhythms. The songs are all short and sweet, with plenty stylistic variety. The band gradually delivers a harder rock sound on “Think Less,” “Wanted You To Know” and “Busy Izzy.” Fans of Cheap Trick will appreciate much of this.

The immediacy of the music is evident, and on “Now November” lead singer Shane Smith intones “I know it’s tough, I know we suffered, but life is short. What do we have to lose?” And this album embraces carpe diem throughout its nine tracks. And not a wasted note here, with even the jazzy acoustic ender “Gone.” This is a rare instance where I felt they could have added a few more songs. But quality is more important than quantity and musically this is damn good. Highly Recommended.

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Mo Troper

Mo Troper “Exposure & Response”

Portland songwriter Mo Troper is a skilled power pop musician with a real gift for catchy melody and biting emotive lyrics. Fans of both Superdrag and Wyatt Funderburk will find a lot here to love. Here the hooks are flying fast and stick in your head quickly. The album is a bundle of demoralizing frustrations and cynical solutions, starting with the choral harmonies of “Rock and Roll Will Change The World,” it’s hope is dashed by the next song “Your Brand.” A rich mantra, where marketing your tragedy is all part of being a musician.

The centerpiece here,“The Poet Laureate of Neverland” adds horns and strings to the mid-tempo guitar chorus that states the conceit that artists can’t grow up and “never have to reminisce if you never move on.” Some of these tunes are just too quick (under 2 minutes) but they still stick; “Tow Truck” is a quick gem, “Wedding” is a Beach Boys parody, “Jumbotron” sounds like a lost Teenage Fanclub demo and the self-critical “Clear Frames” is another fantastic ear-worm. Troper stated in an interview, “I want my songs to get stuck in people’s heads.” Mission Accomplished. Makes my top ten list this year.

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Wesley Fuller and The Successful Failures

Wesley Fuller

Wesley Fuller “Inner City Dream”

Wesley Fuller is an Australian singer/songwriter multi-instrumentalist and producer, who quickly received national attention with the release of his debut EP, Melvista. With a sound rooted in the late 70s and early 80s pop, this full-length debut is everything promised and more. Fuller reveals a growing maturity both technically and melodically, as you’ll hear influences from The Talking Heads, The Cars, The Bay City Rollers and Electric Light Orchestra.

The opening title track “Inner City Dream” is a glorious combo of T-Rex and Jeff Lynne. “Someone To Walk Around With” is another catchy gem lead by guitar riffs and tambourines, that reminds me of the hit that Jet scored with “Are You Gonna Be My Girl.” The 70’s cowbell and fuzz bass are joined by heavy synths in the equally amazing “Skyways,” but its honestly impossible to find any filler throughout the album. Another highlight is the infectious “#1 Song” about pop star dreams and “the chance of a lifetime.” Each song boasts a modern production sheen, with a finely crafted sense of pop songwriting – making the results pretty damn incredible. Overall the music varies in tone enough, with mid-tempo love songs reaching the album’s second half on “Wish You Would” and “Miranda Says” contrasting with the heavy anthemic and danceable first half. Makes my year-end top ten for 2017. Don’t miss it!

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 The Successful Failures

The Successful Failures “Ichor of Nettle”

The Successful Failures’ sixth LP, “Ichor of Nettle,” adds more roots rock influence to its power pop core. Fans of Tom Petty, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Gram Parsons, and Cheap Trick will appreciate the band’s sound. Opening with “The Ballad of Julio Cuellar,” a real-life tale of illegal immigration with a sympathetic Julio “left to die” by his smuggler.

The hard-charging riffs of “Misguiding Light” are more of what we expect from Mick Chorba’s band, and its a great tune. My favourite on this album is the folk hero story “Sam Houston,” who was a “…Southern Democrat who followed his own rules.” It’s a great combination of melody, grit and Americana. The bluegrass acoustic “Tennessee Boy” is a romantic gem with a standout mandolin solo and great blue-collar anthems “PA Fight Song” and “The Shit That Drags You Down” are also highlights. A few missteps, like the plodding “The Devil Took A Liking To Me” and “All Rise” but at best these songs just aren’t as compelling as the earlier songs on this album. Highly Recommended.

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Travis Bretzer and The Red Button

Travis Bretzer

Travis Bretzer “Bubble Gum”

Edmonton native Travis Bretzer created this infectious album of bedroom pop that grows on you faster than weeds in the sun. Bretzer’s approach is very simple melodies filled with little hooks and sparse arrangements, similar to Apples in Stereo or early Brendan Benson. The quirky “Heart and Soul” has a fast tempo and a smooth synth for its chorus of “away, away.” It then delivers a brilliant faux country gem “Up In The Morning,” reminding me of The Monkees with its simple lyric,”Up in the morning/not much to do.”

“Are You Ever Gonna Change?” introduces a little psyche-pop guitar to the melody, and the follow-up “Evergreen” gets even more trippy, with acoustic guitar and echoing harmonies, like a lost Beta Band single. The centrepiece here is the gorgeous ballad “Peace, Love and Harmony,”  and on the latter half, we get lots of false endings and the tempos slow with each song that follows. By the time we get to “Vamanos” we get more instrumental, and eventually “A Song For Rashy” is simply a lullaby to doze off to. Oh, yeah this is also a “name-your-price” download, so reward him generously. Highly Recommended.

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The Red Button

The Red Button “Now It’s All This!”

When Seth Swirsky teamed up with Mike Ruekberg in 2007, it’s hard to believe the massive impression they left on the power pop scene. Jem Records picked up the band retrospective —Now It’s All This! featuring a new 6-song EP, bonus “unplugged” rarities, and newly remastered versions of the first two Red Button albums on 2 CDs.

Firstly, let me say the list of artists that can correctly capture the pure pop spirit of The early Beatles is very short. While many can emulate the sound, few can compose original material that stands alongside McCartney and Lennon. I count The Weeklings and The Wonders. The Red Button can also generate the same excitement with its music.

The new material is absolutely consistent, “Can’t Let Candy Go” and “Tracy’s Party” has the Rickenbacker riffs, and hook-filled melodies that never get old. The gentle jangling ballad “Tell Me It’s Over” is a heartbreaker about waiting for expected rejection. Seth’s winsome “Solitude Saturday” has a rich orchestral approach, and the title track is a fitting finale. The unplugged tracks are very close to the originals, but “Genevieve” actually sounds much better without the studio mixing. We have already reviewed The Red Button’s She’s About To Cross My Mind, and As Far As Yesterday Goes and it goes without saying this talented duo is essential listening.

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Scott Gagner and The Favourites

Scott Gagner

Scott Gagner “Pins & Needles”

Singer/Songwriter Scott Gagner has gradually built up his solo sound over the past two albums, but his newest, Pins & Needles really has breakout potential. Working with Pete Thomas (Elvis Costello’s The Attractions, Matthew Sweet), and Ken Stringfellow (The Posies, Big Star) they give Scott’s sound a real richness and depth. Opening with “Someone” it’s a mid-tempo rocker that reminded me of the late great Tom Petty, and the creeping organ ups the soulful “Heart Attack” with some great lyrics about being “a victim of love, not heart disease.” And an alt-country style narrative plays through the gem “El Rancho Inn” describing the aftermath of a crime. The sound is comparable to Wilco or late-era Jayhawks.

But then “The Ghost of Me & You” bumps the whole production up a notch. The slow contrasting harmonies on “By The Waters of Minnetonka” and “Lazy Afternoon” paint a gorgeous sonic atmosphere. The music has more of a California style – fans of Brian Wilson, Amiee Mann and Roger McGuinn will find a lot to love here. It all comes together on “Strawberry Hill” with references to Fats Domino, creating a true classic. In fact, I could not find a single false note or ounce of filler. The album closes with a touching rendition of “America the Beautiful,” and you couldn’t make a more beautiful album. Highly Recommended and it makes my end of the year “best of” list.

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The Favourites

The Favourites “New Feeling”

Another piece of “lost” power pop history has been uncovered. Nottingham band, The Favourites arose from the ashes of the band Plummet Airlines and The GTs in late 1977, lead by vocalist Darryl Hunt and guitarist Duncan Kerr. They played many local gigs in those early months, showcased solid hooks and catchy melodies comparable to The Records and The Vapors. They released a few singles and only lasted two years. Early standouts include a cover of Abba’s “S.O.S.,” “Favourite Shoes/Go” and “Angelica.”

You actually hear the band’s sound change more to New Wave with songs like “Cold” and “One Of Those Dreams” reminding me of very early XTC. By 1979 the band was done. But we have a total of 14 tracks and its a perfect time capsule of late‘70s early ’80s UK power pop. Much has never been released or heard before so enjoy!

Kool Kat Musik (LP + CD)

Somerdale and Fernando Perdomo

Somerdale

Somerdale “Maggie Says It Again”

During our last Power Popaholic Fest, I was honored to have Somerdale play and I got to meet the band and Jem Records Marty Scott.  He credits a review brought his attention to Somerdale, where they are featured on Jem’s roster with a re-issued release of last year’s album. It was my #8 top album pick of 2016 and now long sold out.

The re-titled Maggie Says It Again is expanded to 15 tracks with “Say It Again,” “Don’t You Know,” and “Broken English” as the new songs. They fit in perfectly —  with “Say It Again” being the best of the new crop. Overall the album rocks with that 70’s pop-rock influence, thanks in part to Chuck Penza’s lead vocals and those driving riffs. Fans of Badfinger, The Raspberries, The Who and Cheap Trick should not hesitate to grab this one, as it remains super highly recommended. Plus, its got an exclusive Holiday bonus song – “Merry Christmas Time.” No excuses!

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Fernando Perdomo

Fernando Perdomo “The Golden Hour”

As one of the most accomplished writer-musician-producers in California, Fernando Perdomo releases his 4th and (so far) best solo album. It starts with a dramatic piano intro and then the smooth slide guitar of “Sleep” mixes its Beatlesque bass line and layered harmonies to great effect. The tempo picks up with “Spotlight Smile” and its Californian hook “Magical love is here, won’t you let it near to your heart?” making it a great tune.

Fernando is a bit like Todd Rundgren it comes to songwriting and opens up with the self-examination of “The Light” and “Fine.” The dense song structure is memorable and his guitar skills are exemplary. His deep voice lends itself to love ballads like the memorable “Sunset” with its cascading chord structures, reminding me of a Burt Baracharch-Brian Wilson hybrid. No filler here and the rich production deserves your best pair of headphones. Additionally, gems like “Love Loss Repeat” and “I Feel (Therefore I Am)” lays out Fernando’s honesty in a Neil Diamond kind of way. Super highly recommended and another addition to our growing list of nominees for best album of 2017.

 

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