Tuesday, 10 December 2019

The Rallies - Upside Down

We are back in more familiar territory with Washington State's The Rallies. Upside Down provides Wonderful Pop across these 10 songs. 2017's debut album, Serve is a fine album, but Upside Down takes this on a pace. There is nothing sophomore (that dreadful word!) about it.

The songs seem more focused, the craft honed and in vocalist Steve Davis, the band have a modern day. Neil Finn. The choruses are singalong, the jangle count is high and all the necessary prerequisites for a great Pop album are present.

Upside Down feels very Glasgow when it jangles, yet very 70's Pop Rock when it steps back. It will get lumped in with the McCartney Pop catch all, but that would denigrate the variety and song strength that shines through.

Brand New reminds me of the likes of The Vapour Trails, the moodier Merseybeat of In Everything works just as well, it is almost a torch song. All Of Us is as close to Badfinger as you'll get and All Over Town is in definite Teenage Fanclub land.

If You Do is the one real Power Pop song, everything else is wonderfully written Pop. The stand out song is It's Okay, it is an addictive joy that threatens to break out, but settles on a great guitar solo, all very Crowded House.

Don't expect to get your air guitar out for Upside Down, it's very much a sit down and sing out affair. It hasn't been a big year for stand out albums of this nature, this certainly is one of the best.

You can listen to and buy the album here.


The Greek Theatre - When Seasons Change

I think one thing that has become apparent about IDHAS throughout 2019 is that it is not a Power Pop Blog. My influences are welded by over 40 years of being involved in different scenes from the Glam Rock of my youth to the largely Indie Pop Rock that I listen to a lot now. If it is good I like it, no matter what the label is. I got a bit tired of receiving emails in 2018 starting with the line I know this isn't Power Pop but....... and that combined with the constant nonsense in Power Pop circles, led me to gently change the focus of I Don't Hear A Single.

Away from IDHAS, the real love of my life is a mixture of Prog and Psych, particularly Psych Pop and I get irritated by people thinking all Psych is hippy trippy backwards guitar monotony. Very much like Punk Pop, when people see the word Punk, they run. For anyone trying to convince sceptics that the Psych World can be joyous, The Greek Theatre are the band to choose.

The Swedish band offer up their third album and each has developed what they do. They specialise in gentle West Coast Psych. All of it is an easy listen and borders on Prog and artists as varied as The Byrds, Pink Floyd and the Alan Parsons Project. Indeed a song like The Streets You Hold is almost Fleetwood Mac until the jangle cuts in. Songs are beautifully arranged and played, it is like being invited into your own personal soundscape.

I'm reminded of Big Big Train at times, who I've always thought are far more than Prog. But don't think that the band have forgotten their roots. The Post-Factual Jam is top notch Psych of the highest order, wonderfully out of kilter with the rest of the album and the Guitar work is mind blowing. Compare that to The Cabooze which is built on some wonderful Guitar, Piano and Flute. Both songs are very different, but both just as rewarding.

A Different Place starts slowly but builds into a sort of Reelin' In The Years West Coast Rock Out. It's this West Coast feel that marks the distinction of The Greek Theatre compared to other challengers in the field. The album closer, Sail Away (Part 2) is a splendid moving five minutes, mixing a mellow Art Garfunkel like vocal with a film soundtrack type arrangement. However, the real killer song is Laurence Of Laurel Canyon with its jaunty Psych Pop arrangement matching an early Journey, Gregg Rolie style vocal.

The Greek Theatre are building up quite a reputation now. Three albums in, they are a mark of quality in what they do. Big Praise too to the continued success of Sugarbush Records. Label head, Markus Holler specialises in a wide range of releases, only releasing albums by artists that he loves. This reveals how much the taste the man has. It is refreshing to see a Vinyl label grow and grow when the majors have got their dollar heads on thinking up the latest pointless Super Deluxe Edition. There really is something galling about the major's marketing of albums as being the first time on vinyl.

You can buy the album directly from Sugarbush here. You should, you will not be disappointed.


Monday, 9 December 2019

Tuff Sunshine - Dig Deeper, Peanut

New York's Tuff Sunshine offer up a splendidly laid back affair. The feel is very Seventies, conjuring up images of Glam Rock, the fine Mid 70's Pop Rock UK groups and venturing into Funk and even New Wave. The whole album seems to grab you in a hypnotic way.

Dig Deeper, Peanut is very different to most of what I've heard this year. It's quaintly old fashioned, but surprisingly original. Arrangements are wonderfully surprising and unexpected, plus it is great to hear the drums up front. The drum sound is a constant complaint of mine over the past couple of years.

The title track is pure Shaft like funk, yet feels very Mungo Jerry. Yet, Mask Away is melancholic Southern Rock. There's also a splendid diversion when Ani Cordero takes over vocals on Buttercup, which is a great upbeat pop song.

Sleepwalking again is very 70's Movie Soundtrack funk, but the overall impression is 70's UK, bands such as Smokie at times. The stand out We Seal Every Deal With A Kiss is a great example of this. It is definitely the stand out song.

It's the mix of Glam and Funk that makes Dig Deeper, Peanut so special. It hits a vibe that stays through the whole 35 minutes. This is definitely an album to listen to start to finish. It will you Rock You, but gently. Tuff Sunshine provides comfort on dark evenings.

I've listened to albums that shout out at you for most of the year and so this is so welcome. It's like a comfortable blanket wrapping itself around you. This is a warm easy listen and for that reason, it will be a fine addition to your collection.

You can listen to and buy the album here.


Extra Arms - Up From Here

I've always loved what Detroit's Ryan Allen does. Initially, I looked upon him as a sort of noisy pretend son of Nick Piunti, As Extra Arms developed into a stand alone band, he got noisier, exhilaratingly so and last year's Headacher was in the IDHAS Top 100 Albums of 2018.

Now we have the follow up, Up From Here and it's a 22 minute, 8 song concept album about his marriage break up. But before you all run for the hills on hearing the word concept and thinking downer, because it is neither.

The sound is upbeat, the album just doesn't come up for air, so don't expect any ballads. There is anger in the lyrics, but this is tempered and Up From Here is more about dealing with the change and coming out the other side. Also, you wouldn't know this was a concept album unless I told you, you'd just notice the lyrics as the thread.

The album may be short, but it packs in an awful lot. I often read Power Pop artists wanting to gain a younger audience, well this is the sort of thing that will appeal to that younger audience. I've often said that the best albums coming out lately are from Punk Pop and EMO bands stretching out as they grow older and this sounds like one of those.

There are some wonderful arrangements and riffs, all done at a lightning pace. The title track is a stunning upbeat closer, but what goes before is a real up and at 'em joy. It is very in your face, but melodically so and will appeal to those who like their Pop to have balls, whilst keeping hold of the Superchunk brigade.

Comes In Waves borders on Garage Rock, No Enemies could be Cheap Trick and Hold Me (All The Time)  is right in Classic Rock Territory, it is a crackerjack of a song. The 22 minutes fly by, but I  guarantee that you'll be playing it three times in the hour. The whole album is wonderfully noisy or let's just settle on wonderful.

You can listen to and buy the album here.


Friday, 6 December 2019

Green Buzzard - Amidst The Clutter & Mess

Another debut album to delight you all as the year reaches its close. Also underlining a real comeback for Australian Pop Rock this year, Green Buzzard offers up a poptastic gem and proves the benefit of singalong choruses.

Green Buzzard is Sydney based Paddy Harrowsmith and he's caught a wave that's not been present since The Lightning Seeds had their heyday. Very much like those Ian Broudie albums, this feels more like a Greatest Hits than a new album. It is wall to wall hooks.

Whilst there is a definite reminder of the better Brit Pop bands, certainly those like Dodgy and The Bluetones who emphasised the songs rather than the haircut, the album certainly isn't stuck in that period. Far from it.

There's everything from C86 through Madchester , but it is really pointless to dwell on what Amidst The Clutter & Mess reminds of you of, because you'll miss the joy if you do. The album does what all great albums of the type do, it matched lyrics of lost love, broken hearts and despair to an optimistic, chipper sounding soundtrack.

Any of these 12 songs could be a single, but there's always a stand out and that is the wonderful, I Don't Want To Be Alone with its bang on chorus. But the real treat for such a Psych Pop fan as myself are the likes of Put Me Under and Suburban Dreaming. It just fuels my fire.

Nothing's Happening Here is a brooding late 80's Indie joy, Clutter & Mess is so Shoegaze and Country Life is synth duo 80's. But it is the pure pop that will grab most. Songs like To Be Like You, Forget You and Aches The Heart will soon have you singing at the top of your voice.

This is an outstanding album, astonishingly great. You can buy or listen to it by following one of the links here.


Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Various - Big Stir Singles - The Fourth Wave

Unless you've been living in a cave, you will know of my affinity and link to Big Stir. It's a community that I'm proud to be a part of and although that community seems to have been dragged in all directions this year, it is still home.

I delight in the development of Big Stir. I mentioned the community, because it still grows, but as with I Don't Hear A Single, I don't think Rex and Christina expected it to grow so quickly and become as known worldwide. Big Stir's influence is enormous and as well as being renowned as a mark of quality, artists now clamour to be on the label.

What started as a so called Power Pop home has never really been that, it is a much broader musical church, even more so now and its tentacles stretch far and wide. When the Weekly Singles idea surfaces, I thought Wow! How Cool!. Now 50 odd singles on, it still feels as exciting as ever and this is the fourth compilation. Each is very different, but woven together by the same heavy duty thread.

This will be a slightly different review in that the usual embedded songs will not appear in the review. Instead there is a Special IDHAS Audio Extravaganza coming up this week. So Special that is called an Audio Explosion. This was planned to appear side by side with the review. However delays due to me preparing for next month's Radio Show debut and Jim tied up further South means it will appear as soon as possible.

The Audio Explosion selects 22 A Sides from all Big Stir Singles to provide the soundtrack of your day and indeed month. It is either this or Christmas songs and I don't think I could stand the forced plastic jollity of 20 odd I Love Santa ditties.

The 13 artists present here consolidate Big Stir's reputation as the label of choice. It is like a Now Decent Music 4. Something for everyone. Michael Simmons's sparkle*jets take on Big Star, The Walker Brothers brand of Psych Pop excels, the return of Shplang and the Scottish jangling joy that is The Vapour Trails.

Those present include Welsh sensation, Armstrong, probably the best singer songwriter that you've never heard of and the heart warming Power Pop of The Reflectors. There's also one of my current faves, The Hangabouts and a favourite that I've had for more years than I care to remember in Joe Normal. Then there is the left field pop wonders that are Blake Jones And The Trike Shop.

Every A and B Side earns its place. All 25 songs add to The Fourth Wave's strength. All four Singles Collections wipe the floor with any compilation that you'd care to mention. This fourth volume underlines the strength of the label and I know there are many more surprises to come your way in 2020. I'm currently listening to one of the 2020 releases as we speak.

What's more, five dollars from every download or CD Purchase goes to the ED Asner Family Center. You can find out more about that project here. The Fourth Wave is Pop Rock Excellence. Now is chance for you to discover what all the fuss is about.

You can buy the CD, which includes the download free for the bargain price of 12 dollars here. Look out for the IDHAS Big Stir Audio Explosion later this week.


The Skullers - Freight Trains & Party Games

I don't half like surprises and this splendid six track EP from The Skullers is a delight. The New Jersey trio have released an absolute Pop Rock gem that just drips with melody. Jack Skuller's vocals are slightly Glenn Tilbrook like, a great start.

There's certainly a Squeeze like ring to Still Life, a three minute joy of a pop song, killer riff, singalong chorus, all of the requisites are present. Much will be made of the stand out single. She Denies Herself The Thing She Loves and rightly so,

She Denies Herself has an Oasis second album vibe, whilst at the same time having a Glam Rock bounce. It's a fine song, but the other four offerings are equally good. Convenient is late 60's UK Beat / Power Pop of the highest order. Out Of The Garden just melodically rattles along.

Brooklyn Girls is a great slice of Psych Pop and the EP is rounded off with a quaint version of She Denies Herself The Things She Loves recorded in The Third Man Record Booth. I can't wait to hear more from the band. This is a Top Notch Listen.

You can listen to the EP in all the obvious places including Soundcloud here.