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Friday, 31 July 2020

Kekker - Greatest Hits Volumes 1 And 2

It takes a fair amount of tongue in cheek to call your debut album, Greatest Hits Volumes 1 + 2, but Keith Matheson gathers together a host of Scottish Pop Rock royalty to make the case that this offering could be just as the title says.

From his time in Swiss Family Orbison, he grabs ex bandmates Gregor Philp and Dougie Vipond, both now with Deacon Blue. Also along for the ride are ex Danny Wilson cohort Ged Grimes, who is now with Simple Minds and Andrew Mitchell, whose excellent Andrew Wasylyk recordings are a joy. Andrew was also a member of The Hazy Janes, a real IDHAS favourite.

So if you are going to name your album so boldly, it better be great and this is. With the history, I expected something more twee and thankfully we have a full scale rock out. The album sounds much more American than Scottish. Plus it is recorded in the studio, a rare event these days.

The sound is big, the hooks are plentiful and the solos riveting. Indeed, this feels more AOR than Pop Rock and I keep thinking of Boston as I listen more. These 10 songs are definitely in that ballpark, but without the histrionics of Tom Scholz.

When Kekker move away from the melodic rock, they get even more interesting. Parachute borders on Radiohead and Mercy is almost 60's Toytown Psych Pop. Family Bird is close to Power Pop and the closer, Suppertime is a lullaby.

But the dominating sound is great singalong rock. Doveroverland is most notable, but both Uncommon Angel and Real World People are similarly anthemic. Greatest Hits Volumes 1 + 2 is a great feel good listen and highly recommended.

You can listen to and buy the album as a download or on Vinyl here. The CD is available from the home of Pop Rock, Kool Kat, here.


Thursday, 30 July 2020

The Click Beetles - Pop Fossil

It's been a while since we've heard from Dan Pavelich, six years or so since Wake Up To Music and he's been missed, particularly as great Pop Rock albums seem thin on the ground at the moment. Pop Fossil is just that and more.

There's a real 70's feel to the album, so much so that you can imagine it being an Arista release in 1976. From the wistfulness of Four Leaf Clover to the Bottom like backing of the Rock and Rolling  Alone. Rosanne even sounds like it could be a song on Miami Vice.

The album seems best when it jangles on the likes of Dreamland and Hey Renee and even the big opener, If Not Now Then When? jangles in the chorus in what is a real big beat affair. Don't You Call My Name is another real sing along. Four Leaf Clover even gets Spector-ish in the production.

This is a great second album from a very under rated talent. The big sound and big hooks dominate in what is yet another triumph for Keith Klingensmith's Futureman Records label. Get ready to tap your feet and sing along.

You can listen to and buy the album here.


Quincy - 35 Years On

Whilst listening to the new releases, I'm also trying to catch up with 2020 releases that I haven't covered on IDHAS yet. One such example of the latter is this excellent Kool Kat release from one of the great lost US bands.

Quincy signed a massive deal with Columbia in 1980 and were due to hit pay dirt. Only the debut album appeared under the name Quincy and after a lawsuit from Quincy Jones about the band name, a 1983 EP followed with a name change to Lulu Temple.

Those who know, know that Steve Butler and Wally Smith went on to form I Don't Hear A Single favourites, Smash Palace, so all was not lost. This reformation of Quincy, 35 years on really works. It is quite short but incredibly sweet.

I can generally take or, most often, leave Reunion albums, they are more for nostalgia and can usually never be as good as you remember when you were young and green. However this really really good. It is a melodic harmonic treat whilst being different to what the band were initially about.

Liberty Bell is a jangling joy, Something To Smile About is very much in the territory of The Cars and Innocuous borders on Rock And Roll, hints of Rockpile. The band also get to travel in the direction of The Kinks with A Get Well Card From The Devil.

Words Are Words and the superb, Stay are both fine examples of UK Stiff or Costello New Wave, even more interesting with the band being American. Quincy were CBGB's stalwarts and the last two tracks are live from a 1979 show at the venue. Always In The News is another New Wave romp, whilst Privileged Few has Dr Feelgood and early XTC overtones. Highly Recommended!

The CD is available on the Kool Kat label here and is also available on all the streaming sites.


Tuesday, 28 July 2020

Spygenius - Man On The Sea

Ian Rushbury reviews the new magnum opus from Spy Genius.

Diehard Beatle-Geeks agree on most, Beatle-related things. Stuff like: Phil Spector overcooked “Let it Be” a bit, Ringo was ace and “Revolver” is better than “Sgt Pepper’s…”, you know, that sort of thing. However, when it comes to “The White Album”, if you ask ten Beatles fans about it, you’ll get twenty opinions. Broadly, they tend to agree that it should have been a single record, but they can’t agree on what material they would jettison.

“Revolution 9” is a popular choice for the posthumous out-takes album, but after that, all bets are off. It’s surprising how heated (and violent) a debate about “The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill” can become. I’d love to think that in twenty years’ time, pubs full of aging Spygenius nerds will get all uppity about “Man On The Sea” and what should or shouldn’t be on it. Double albums can bring out the worst in people, especially the people who recorded them.

“Pacephale” was always going to be a hard act to follow, being a pretty much flawless masterclass in how to make a modern pop-rock record. For “Man on the Sea”, the band took the decision to ransack their cupboards, plunder stuff which had fallen down the backs of radiators and generally record every unreleased song of theirs that they could lay their hands on.

This means that for the next record, they’ll have to come up with 100% new material – no more relying on gems from principal songwriter Peter Watts’s expansive back catalogue. A brave, if slightly terrifying approach, I’m sure you’ll agree. This exhaustive trawl means that “Man on the Sea” has swollen to a double album, but the good news is, that it survives the inflation, but there is a little collateral damage.

Spygenius are all about the details. Whether it’s punning word play, baffling in-jokes or a plethora of pop-culture references. When you listen to a Spygenius record, you’ll need your wits about you and Wikipedia within easy reach. The album opens with a snatch of “La Marseillaise” (presumably, a tip of the hat to “All You Need is Love”), combined with the theme tune from “Steptoe and Son” – and that’s before the first tune starts. Fortunately, “Another True Story” will turn your bemusement into smiles, as it’s nearly five minutes of joyful, 12 string Jangle Pop. As opening statements go, it’s a bold one.

Don’t get too comfy dear listener, as track two; “Albion”, reeks of “Liege and Lief” era Fairport Convention, but with a more forceful rhythm section and a bit of cool jazz thrown in. It works really well, by the way… That folk influence pops up all over “Man on the Sea”, sometimes in Watts’ vocal delivery and sometimes in the Byrdsy ringing of the ubiquitous 12 string guitar. You’d expect a tune called “If You Go A-Roving” to be pretty folky though, wouldn’t you? Well it isn’t.

A handful of tracks sound a lot like they’re from the album REM would have made between “Reckoning” and “Fables…”, if they’d been from Canterbury and one of them was a woman. “Salaud Days”, “Watch Your Back” and “New Street” are grade-A, paisley-pop gems, which whiz past your ears in a delightful fashion, begging to be replayed. It’s these lean, all-killer-no-filler tunes which show up the band’s tendency to over-reach on some parts of “Man on the Sea.”

“Tomorrowland”, “Man Overboard” and “Dolphinarium 1986” would benefit from either a bit of judicious editing or being sequenced further apart on the record to avoid the dreaded “double album dip” which tends to occur on sides two and three of a two album set. I can’t decide if “Green Eyed Monster” is a brilliant mixture of prog rock and pop or just a repository for a handful of orphaned bits of tunes. This means it’ll probably end up being my favourite track.

There aren’t any bad things on “Man on the Sea”, there are just a few things which aren’t as good as some of the other things on the record. From the amiable, banjo-led plod of “Midnight Bandola” to the early eighties, agit-pop of “Spite” (sung beautifully by Ruth Rogers, whose basswork is also exemplary throughout the record), there’s a trailerful of goodness here. Watt’s lyrics are worth the purchase price on their own and if you hear a song this year with a better opening line than, “Don’t blame it on your mother / She can’t help being stupider than you”, I will be very surprised.

When you’ve had your fill of the Neil Innes inspired wordplay, you can have fun playing “spot the reference” – for example, check out the New Seekers-style harmonies on “Tomorrowland” and the tip of the hat to Morecambe and Wise on “Remember Me When I was Good.” There are others, but I can’t access Wikipedia at the moment.

“Man on the Sea” is an ambitious record that hits the vast majority of what it aims for. When it’s good, its damn-near brilliant. When it’s less than good, it’s only very slightly less than good. Maybe, if they had a cigar chewing manager with his eye on the clock and both hands on his wallet, some of the excesses may have been nipped in the bud. But as with all these multi-album sets, the point is most definitely moot. One thing is for sure…people should leave “The White Album” alone – it’s perfect as it is.

You can listen to and buy the album here or here. Ian's IDHAS interview with the band can be read here.


Spice - Spice

When you think of Ceremony, you think of great shouty US Punk and rightly so. However, Spice are an off shoot involving Front Man, Ross Farrar and Drummer, Jake Casarotti and the sound has more in common with a band that Bob Mould is involved in.

The band's self titled debut is in Indie Alt Rock territory and veers towards bands like The Cult and The Mission. The five piece even include Victoria Skudlarek, a violinist, who mixes her sound with driving rock rhythms.

This certainly isn't quiet, quite the reverse, but it is certainly melodic and in All My Best Shit, a riff heavy joy, the band approach Classic Rock. At times, there is more than a hint of The Replacements, particularly in the vocals and Murder could be early Green Day until it hits a Billy Duffy-esque riff.

The sheer pace of I Don't Wanna Die In New York is frantic, you can imagine it being a great show closer. Farrar even borders on Joe Strummer on Reward Trip. Is Spice is a complete surprise? Absolutely! But it is also a delight, if you can label something so wonderfully noisy thus.

You can listen to and buy the album here.


Sunday, 26 July 2020

The Successful Failures - Pack Up Your Shadows

I absolutely adore Trenton, New Jersey's The Successful Failures. In my review of 2017's Ichor Of Nettle, I tried to explain how varied they were. You can read that here. Pack Up Your Shadows was recorded remarkably quickly earlier this year and was initially planned to be an EP, but the quality oozed and so you have the nine songs.

Essentially, the band vary between Pop Rock and Americana and this can confuse people like me. I think my views on how one size fits all has all but killed Americana, but these four remind you of how great the genre can be. Particularly when it edges more towards Country than Bluegrass.

It also gets forgotten that Mick Chorba is a fine songwriter that is never afraid of surprising you with a turn of phrase or an unexpected musical turn. This album is largely half and half. Two Americana songs by followed four outstanding ventures into Pop and Rock and then bookended by another two Americana-ish affairs. Then adding a great Country cover of Clarence Williams's My Bucket's Got A Hole In.

Honeycomb is a campfire opener whilst On Down The Line is a hillbilly romp. Then it gets really interesting with probably the best song that you will hear this year and its a Murder Ballad. Murder 'Neath The Silver Moon is incredible and what a Guitar solo to close it.

This Girl could be Nick Piunti, it is a Power Pop delight and followed by a 50s Rock And Roll weepie in How Many Words. More Of The Same is even more interesting a sort of Rockpile Rock Out. Whiskey Song is a country ballad and Something Good has Chorba in Hank Williams mode.

Pack Up Your Shadows is a great great album. The Successful Failures may be accused of confusing listeners with their different song directions, but that would be pointless, why would you not want to hear such varied talent? One of the joys of listening to their albums is that variety. Highly Recommended!

You can listen to and buy the album here. The CD is on Ray's excellent Kool Kat label and what a year he is having with some top notch releases and more to come.


The Honeydrips - Here Comes The Sun

The Honeydrips may seems a strange choice for I Don't Hear A Single To review. Swede, Mikael Carlsson is more noted for Electronic Pop and The Honeydrips is his one man project. But, Fear Ye Not, Here Comes The Sun is a great Pop album.

Sleep The Day Away and Penny Dreadful may not change your mind. Both are very much Electronic, nevertheless enchanting. But look deeper and you can hear songs like Linda Says in which Carlsson comes across far more in Per Gessle Territory at times.

Fatima Says (Reprise) is hypnotic in a Made In Sheffield way and Loyal Alibi comes across all Laurel Canyon, even Bacharach like, Here Comes The Sun has two versions. The opener is great Sunshine Pop. That's balanced by the closing second version which is a beat driven Ibiza anthem.

This album won't be for everyone. I wouldn't expect it to be. But I feel that a listener's ears should be forever open. Everything popular with da kidz isn't tosh and I Don't Hear A Single left the Power Pop Reputation behind long ago.

You can listen to and buy the album here.