BMX Bandits and The Poster Boy

BMX Bandits

BMX Bandits “BMX Bandits Forever”

One of the longest running power pop bands is the BMX Bandits, started in 1985 and led by singer/guitarist Duglas T. Stewart with a rotating line-up of musicians. Former members went on to form Teenage Fanclub and The Soup Dragons. After a long period of inactivity, the band reformed with vocalist Rachel Mackenzie in 2006 and made a few more albums before hibernating again.

Now Stewart’s back and concentrating on sweet love songs with Stuart Kidd (Linden), David Scott (The Pearlfishers) and Joe Kane (Dr. Cosmo’s Tape Lab) for BMX Bandits Forever. Opening with the earnest and easy listening “My Girl Midge” it’s an intimate style of indie pop. Recalling the simple melodies of late era Beach Boys, Stewart’s laid-back approach works on “Mais Do Que Valsa (Just A Memory)” and “Save Our Smiles.” It does get playful, with the polka kiddie tune “Way of The Wolf,” and hummable “It’s Time.” Another highlight is the dark gem “Razorblades and Honey” with Anton Newcombe (The Brian Jonestown Massacre) supplying an infectious bass line.

Some of this doesn’t work – from a painful cover of West Side Story’s “Somewhere” to the forgettable “Love Me ’Til My Heart Stops” and The Beach Boys cover “Forever.” However, some of the best new music about romance is part of this album, so check it out.

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The Poster Boy

The Poster Boy “On the Count of Three”

Its been several years since we heard from Budapest power poppers Poster Boy. Sadly, the band broke up last May and they released this final album, which is more alternative pop oriented. The opener “Heartache” and “Pedestrian Street (Sucker Punch)” still features guitarist Noel R. Mayer and bassist Imre Poniklo, but the tone is much darker.

The solid “Karen” is a song about the late Karen Carpenter with a catchy chorus and steady beat “yearning for some divinity.” The band does make an attempt to lift the mood with the quick tempo desperation of “Smile” and the bouncy harmonies in “Birthday.” Worth checking out, but it’s a long way from the joyous innocence of their debut Melody.

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Ward White and Punch Punch Kick

Ward White

Ward White “As Consolation”

Ward White left the cozy confines of New York City to the sunny Paperchaser Studios in Los Angeles for his latest album As Consolation. Thematically the album deals with loss and moves to new experiences. White also has one of the most distinctive high tenors I’ve heard since Kevin Godley (10cc).

There is a laid back California feel to the album as a whole, with White working in subtle sonic cues as a compelling storyteller on the opener “Here’s What Happened With Heidi.” Next, “Crater” features a catchy chorus over a galloping rhythm. This is not immediate gratification, but after repeat listens it will stick with you. White’s more melancholic work like “Dude” and “Parking Lot” are also memorable.

The instrumentation is also exceptionally good, and standouts include “Spurs,” “Weekend Porche” and “The Crows” which states “Sadness will drive you insane…” with a warbling guitar flourish. Not everything here resonates, but enough does. Check it out!

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Punch Punch Kick

Punch Punch Kick “Punch Punch Kick”

Produced by favorite Linus of Hollywood, Punch Punch Kick have spent lots of time crafting lean hooks and youthful lyrics for their debut album. And these guys do it without pre-programmed beats or autotune. Each song has that burst of joyous guitars similar to early Weezer, Bowling For Soup or Jimmy Eat World.

“Licking My Wounds” starts with the rant about our fast-paced lifestyle “Where did all the time go?” sings vocalist/guitarist Phil McDonald. “What the Kids Don’t Know” is a great critique about mass marketing to kids today; “I don’t want to raise my hand in the air/because I care.” Each song is a gem here, even “When You Hang Around” references Cheap Trick. The band’s sound is very consistent, staying with similar tempo throughout – and that’s my only beef here. They could’ve added ballad or transitional tune to prevent this from sounding like a collection of singles. Highly Recommended.

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Matthew Sweet and Talk Show Host

Matthew Sweet

Matthew Sweet “Tomorrow Forever”

Matthew Sweet has endured as one of power pop’s elder statesmen, owning album charts for most of the 1990’s and infrequently surfacing over the past decade or so. But no longer tethered to a record label, Sweet decided to go the Kickstarter route and the result is a sprawling 17 track songfest that throws together everything we love (or not love) about his music.

Matthew has undergone many life changes since 2011’s Modern Art. Following the passing of his mother, he returned to his hometown in Omaha, Nebraska to live and finish this album. It opens with “Trick,” a familiar chiming guitar gem that is a return to his classic style. It’s the distinctively layered leads, and hook filled chorus that sticks with you. The formula does get tweaked as we continue listening, Sweet adds muscle to “Pretty Please,” and ups the psyche-pop elements on “Circle.”

The songs are more autobiographical here with “Off The Farm” and “Come Correct.” The excellent  “Haunted” and acoustic led “Country Girl” with Gary Louris (The Jayhawks) helping on harmonies are standout tracks. But the meandering jams “The Searcher” and “Finally” shows that his album could’ve used some editing. Despite the hopeful gem “Music for Love,” the last track “End Is Near” has a weariness to it and feels like the artist’s swan song. We hope not, as Matthew Sweet’s music has adopted a timeless quality, a perfect melding of melody and guitar. Highly Recommended.

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Talk Show Host

Talk Show Host “Not Here to Make Friends” EP

Toronto band Talk Show Host does a great job delivering punk-inspired power pop and opening with the fast riffs of “Dead Meat” it wouldn’t be out of place on a Green Day album. Then the band embraces a snarl with its melody on the excellent title track, as they reference office politics; “We’re not here to make friends/ we’re just here to win.” The next song “I Hate Men (I Hate All Men)” could be an anthem for angry women, but sung by a dude sounds like extreme self-loathing. Overall a solid EP with no filler, but without much variety either. Still, if you dig punk pop this is a great find.

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Cliff Hillis and Richard X Heyman

Cliff Hillis

Cliff Hillis “Many Happy Returns” EP

The reliable Cliff Hillis is back with his new EP, starting off with “Time An Evangelist,” a riff powered gem about the times we live in, where “a sad politician don’t know right from wrong/and every day he changes what side he’s on.” The catchy title track is another winner built from a steady rhythm, infectious melody, and smooth guitar solo at the break.

From there Cliff takes it down a notch to the understated blue-eyed soul on “Superfluous” and subtle pop of “With All The World” with its sweet horn section. The power pop comes back with “Never In A Million Years,” and while each song is perfectly fine, it doesn’t hit the highs of last years Make Love Not War. Still, an excellent EP worthy of purchase.

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Richard X Heyman

Richard X Heyman “Incognito”

One of power pop’s DIY pioneers Richard X Heyman continues his musical journey. At the same time Richard works with The Doughboys, his 11th solo album was being prepared. Unlike his semi-autobiographical double album Tiers, the musical focus here is primarily on short guitar melodies. The jangling psyche-pop opener “Incognito” is a mood piece with some nice layered rhythms. Next, “A Fool’s Errand” is a great Heyman original, very much like his past solo work.

Heyman doesn’t rush things, and his craftsmanship is what sets him apart from other indie musicians. A multitude of bouncy, interesting songs are standouts; “And Then” utilizes Heyman’s skillful harmonies and Motown-influenced “So What” has its playful horn flourishes. And when it comes to solid pop-rock check out “Her Garden Path,” “Lift” and “Terry Two-Timer”. Like many veteran artists, he thinks about aging (“Miss Shenandoah Martin”) and political dysfunction (“Everybody Get Wise”). Overall a good representative of Heyman’s work and highly recommended.

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The Return of Big Star

Big Star

Big Star “The Very Best of Big Star”

If you are a casual fan who only wants to know what all the big deal is over this early 1970s cult band, then start here. Although modern audiences rediscovered Big Star through the theme to That ’70s Show, the band’s short lifespan burned bright enough to earn the belated respect and influence generations of power pop artists.

From Memphis, Tennessee founders Chris Bell and Alex Chilton created a style that was part Beatlesque melody and part southern soul music, under the watchful eye of Ardent studio wizard John Fry. Most of the essential cuts are here, taken from all three studio albums fully re-mastered with liner notes authored by Robert Gordon. The perfect gift for your musically challenged friend when he asks you “What is Power Pop music?” Music snobs (you know who you are) should stick with the Keep An Eye On The Sky boxset.

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Roots of Big Star

Chris Bell and More “Looking Forward: The Roots Of Big Star”

We all know Alex Chilton was the leader of The Box Tops prior to Big Star, but less is known (or heard) about the origins of singer-songwriter Chris Bell. This album collects many of Bell’s “lost” recordings from his previous bands; Rock City, Icewater and The Wallabys. And for the hardcore Big Star aficionado, this is pure musical catnip.

Bell’s pre-Big Star output foreshadows what was to come  (“My Life Is Right” and “Try Again” were included in Big Star’s #1 Record).  Extensive liner notes interview Bell’s bandmates at the time, and a few nascent tracks like “Think It’s Time To Say Goodbye” and “All I See Is You” could’ve been Big Star hits. Mostly this is a fascinating collection, expertly produced by the folks at Omnivore Recordings. Highly recommended to Big Star fans.

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