I’ve been following the career of the great Michael Carpenter since his first LP “Baby” showed up in 1999 in the Not Lame Records Catalog. So it looks like he’s going to retire his solo career and “ride off into the sunset” aka produce other artists music. Please help contribute to Michael’s funding efforts as I know he’ll go out with a blast of harmonies and guitar riffs. Check out his video below…
Surf School Dropouts “Second Nature”
Unabashed Brian Wilson love is the whole reason Denmark’s Surf School Dropouts continue to churn out harmony-laden songs of sun, fun and summertime. They are also one of the few modern bands that can pull off the surf harmonies as good as this. All you need is a your woodie and a wave, for the opener “Destination Sunshine.” There are other influences too, as “Should Have Known Better” is a little closer to the sunshine of The Sundays or The Pearlfishers.
You have to give this Copenhagen quartet props as “Where Have You Gone” is lovingly composed and arranged. The soft ukulele ballad “Sarah” is dripping sweetness and “Wonderful Ride” has touch of Motown. The lead vocal changes from song to song, and some are better than others but you have to love the enthusiasm of bouncy tunes like “Coastline Crusin.” Some nice instrumental interludes preface a few songs, and the choral “Ebb & Flow” that ends the album is also very impressive. For Beach Boys fans this is manna from heaven.
Minky Starshine “Pop Jewelry”
Rob Anastasi’s band Minky Starshine has always done quality power pop, boasting one of my all time favorite songs (“Cinematic Mojo”) on his last record. Rob just loaded this new release with an all-star supporting cast: Ducky Carlisle (Bleu), Ken Stringfellow (Posies), Roger Joseph Manning Jr. (Jellyfish), Brian King (Oranjuly) and Corin Ashley – just to name drop a few. So expectations are high here.
While the production sparkles with great sound and instrumentation, the opener “Lady London” is a pretty subdued mid-tempo song. The next song lives up to the promise, as “Girl” is a classic hook filled gem with a catchy repeatable chorus and “Easier For Everyone” keeps the chiming harmonies front and center. The sound veers to more mainstream pop with “Drive” and the ballad “Wave Her On” feature Phil Aiken’s dreamy synths. “Miss American Girl,” a country flavored duet with Amber Casares is another standout. But I was disappointed that the rest of the album seemed to stay in adult commercial pop realm, without a riff heavy rocker to juice things up. Despite that, Anastasi does a great job here, “Believe” is a richly layered song with an impressive chorus. Worth exploring and sharing with your friends who aren’t power pop fanatics.
Ben Wilkins “All From Hello”
Canadian singer Wilkins melodic gift on his debut was certainly stunning, but his newest LP leans more on classical pop than anything else. Fans of George Michael will still find comparisons here on several glossy studio tracks like the opener “Breakfast at the Figaro.” But tracks like the “Doldrums” take too long to get to Wilkins strong tenor, and “That’s When I Know” is just too low key, like Stevie Wonder wannabe lite.
Some subtle goodies are buried here, like the whimsical “Make It Home Now” with its sparse carnival atmosphere and soaring ballad “Weathering Lines.” Fans of light lounge pop will find plenty to enjoy here, otherwise you may want to try something with more “punch.”
Gentlemen Rogues “A History So Repeating” EP
Punk pop band Gentlemen Rogues follows up 2013’s debut with more bright upbeat riffs and angst filled lyric (“I guess what doesn’t kill us takes more time”) on the opener “Your Armageddon.”
Sometimes the Green Day styled layering of drums, guitars and vocal is enough on the frantic “Thin As Thieves” and standout “Mocking Love Out Of Nothing At All.” Next, a creative cover of Erasure’s “A Little Respect,” won my respect. It showcases the band trying to stretch things and even though this didn’t make me forget the original, the raw melodic power of the tune kept me at attention and it should get your attention too.
Pop Boomerang Records “PB:100”
One of my favorite labels is Australia’s Pop Boomerang. For their 100th pop release, label head Scotty Thurling commissioned a collection of 32 previously unreleased songs from artists across the entire Pop Boomerang roster. The bands range from pure power pop (The Solicitors), roots rock (Livingstone Daisies) to jangle pop (Four Hours Sleep) and everything in between. Scotty’s even got his own theme done by the classic power pop band Kelly’s Heels. Celebrate this great label with this new compilation. Highlights include:
- The Killjoys “Marching Out Of Time”
- The Little Murders “Kings Cross”
- Four Hours Sleep “ I Don’t Know”
- Central Rain “What A Day”
- Tim Reid “In The Dark”
- D. Rogers “Don’t Smile Til Easter”
- Love Parade “Inside and Out”
- The Solicitors “His Robe”
- Grand Atlantic “Never Say Goodbye”
- Lazybirds “Slinky Skanky”
And if you want a small sampler of current releases, check out “Up to Our Eyeball In It” for 16 tracks promoting the various bands 2013/2014 output. And its a name-your-price download. It’s all solid gold from down under! Bandcamp only.
Fireking “Double Trouble”
Boston based Fireking rocks it old school, opening with some Led Zeppelin chords and just burning the amp up on the instrumental opener “Futura 2000.” Then “Built to Last” buzzes along, part Southern Culture on The Skids and part Cult with a driving riff that carries the song along and the definition of a kick-ass guitar break. “Just Like Sunday” is another amazing hook filled song with pounding drums. And the hits just keep on coming here on “A Sentimental Education,” another brilliant rocker with a frantic drum and guitar attack. And through it all lead singer Anthony Kaczynski, Smitt E. Smitty (ex-Figures on a Beach) and bassist Drew Morrison makes it sound so easy.
With 22 tracks on this double album, I wasn’t sure how long they could keep the quality of songs going. Like The Satisfactors, these guys are veterans that keep the party going all album long. “Contagious” is a dense rocker with little nods to The Clash and INXS. Included is a cover of Elvis Costello’s “Tokyo Storm Warning” (it was on the tribute LP). Eventually the band branches out with the epic power ballad “Look To The Sun” and the alt. country flavored “So You Lost Your Baby,” fans of Dave Edmunds are sure to love this one. There’s even a nice biographical tune “Power Pop Chords,” with references to Cheap Trick. Overall, an amazing album that puts “Power” in power pop. Makes my top ten for 2015, you’ve been warned!
Graham Czach “Star By Star” EP
Chicago based multi-instrumentalist has both a solid voice and melodic gift. Like a modern Howard Jones meets David Bowie, the haunting “Faint of Heart” boasts a soaring lead and a feedback drenched riff along a catchy chorus. “Fake It” adds a little Eastern rhythm and nice multi-tracking; this single will definitely grow on you.
The guitar chaos opening “Full Moon” dissipates almost into a Duncan Sheik-like verse, then the contrasting chorus keeps you attached. Czach is a musical artist of the first order, blending modern and progressive styles with pop hooks on “Out of The Dark.” If you are looking for something different and really good, I highly recommend giving Czach a spin in your music mix.