Thursday, 29 December 2016

I Don't Hear A Single Album Of The Year

2016 has been a strange old year. The deaths have been well covered elsewhere and here at ASH Towers, we've had an unusually chaotic second half of the year that has put our lives in perspective. After a quiet first half of the year music wise, the second half of the year exploded and coincidentally, the I Don't Hear A Single Blog was here to cover it after going public in July.

People who know me, know I don't do lists. Part of me doesn't see the point, but more relevantly, my favourite albums change weekly, daily, hourly, so any list would be a snapshot of that particular time of day.

I would say that anything that has appeared on here is worthy of anyone's record collection. We only review what we like and if it does appear on here it's because it's a great offering from the artist involved. The Blog isn't sycophantic, we just don't review what we don't like.

I've always made an effort to name my own album of the year and I give it great thought. This year has been the most difficult. due to the quality. The likes of Greg Pope and The Nines have produced stunning albums. Sugarbush Records has had an outstanding year and those vinyl releases have been a joy.

For the first time ever I couldn't decide between two albums and after much consideration, I've copped out and gone for joint albums of the year. I must emphasise though that anything on here was in serious contention and I urge you to browse through the archive to listen to the artists featured.

It has been the year of Michigan, fantastic albums from Ryan Allen, The Legal Matters and Nick Piunti have ensured that, but my joint album of the year has to be Nick Piunti's Trust Your Instincts. The third in a trilogy of albums that have threatened to breakthrough and bring Power Pop to the masses, Trust Your Instincts should finally achieve mainstream success for Piunti and appears to be doing so. It's an object lesson in how to write and perform great Power Pop.

You can read the review here.

The joint selection is because one other album grabbed these ears just as much as Nick's album. New Jersey's Somerdale released their third album and it's the kind of record that people seem not to make any more. Pop Rock from a bygone age that would stand up with any album from that mid 70's genre.

Shake It Maggie is getting lots of attention in the UK and Europe but deserves a much wider audience.

You can read the review here.

The great news is that there's far more great stuff to come. I'm so far behind on reviews, that there's plenty more great stuff to recommend.

Friday, 23 December 2016

The Ancient Order Of Froth Blowers - El Original Brew

Every once in a while you get one of those surprises that just lightens the mood. This is one such occasion.

Bill Hunt was a member of ELO on their first album, he left the band to form Wizzard with Roy Wood and appeared on the Wizzard Brew and Introducing Eddy And The Falcons albums as well as all the glorious singles in between. Incidentally, Wizzard Brew is one of my favourite albums ever. It's wonderfully chaotic and See My Baby Jive it isn't.

It's to those singles that we return. The debut Wizzard single, Ball Park Incident had a B Side written by Bill Hunt, the splendid The Carlsberg Special, a long time favourite of us Roy Wood fans. The fantastic news is that Bill has gathered the likes of Wizzard Sax player, Nick Pentelow and The Wonder Stuff's Miles Hunt, Bill's Nephew to record a follow up to The Carlsberg Special.

The result is El Original Brew and it's just great. Hints of the original, but plenty to recommend it in it's own right.

It's a Double B Side with The Kentish Town Song and it's 10538 Overture intro. The single can be bought here for the bargain price of £2, You can also buy it as a 7 Inch Single and there is also related merchandise on offer for your perusal.

When the first ELO album was being recorded, Roy Wood was also recording Boulders and The Move's finale, Message In The Country was being recorded, The Move promoted Message In The Country on German TV's Beat Club in 1971. Here's Bill Hunt doing his Jerry Lee Lewis impression on the B Side, Down On The Bay.

The John Sally Ride - Not Taking Credit / Didn't Know I Was Saying Goodbye

I was gonna post a large I Do Hear A Single and I may still do. However I thought it may get lost in the Christmas Mayhem, so I't may be best to pull a few out for a post of their own.

I've always liked the Indie Pop of New York's John Dunbar. It's great melodic pop , the sort we thrive upon. There's also big kudos from these parts for Sal Maida's part in Milk 'n' Cookies and yet more for his time in Big Beat era Sparks. He's also played Bass in Roxy Music and more recently was a part of Cracker.

My biggest connection is with drummer, Sal Nunziato. Sal is a great friend, former owner of New York's NYCD Record Store, writer and the man behind the Burning Wood Blog. Burning Wood was probably the main inspiration behind I Don't Hear A Single going public.

The three have combined to form The John Sally Ride and what a trio it is. I knew it'd be good with the trio involved, but I didn't expect it to be this good. An album, A New Set Of Downs is in the works. In the meantime, the first single is available as a Name Your Price on Bandcamp.

So you've nothing to lose by downloading the single now from here. You can listen to more of John's stuff here. Sal's excellent Burning Wood Blog is here.

Monday, 19 December 2016

The Anderson Council - Assorted Colours

The revival of Marty Scott's Jem Records is a great thing indeed. The label already has Nick Piunti's Trust Your Instincts vying for IDHAS's Album Of The Year and released The Legal Matters' debut album.

Add to that albums from The Bongos, Richard Barone and The Grip Weeds, plus the fact that our beloved Somerdale have signed for the label is enhancing the Power Pop reputaion to extremes. Then we have The Anderson Council, one of the great Psych Pop bands of the past decade and a half.

I say Psych Pop because they excel at that, but the band have hints of Merseybeat, Mod Pop and great late 70's UK New Wave. They certainly have more in common with the UK than their New Jersey roots would suggest.

Any of the band's previous three albums are recommended, but what you have here is a sampler, so you can hear how great they are. Three tracks from each of those albums are enhanced by four new songs and these new songs are just as ace as what's gone before. Never more proven than on Girl On The Northern Line.

Assorted Colours stands up as an album on it's own, the songs are timeless. Prepare yourself for a real melodic rock out. 13 songs of the highest quality that have you crying out for more. I can't praise the band highly enough.

You can listen to the album here. The album is available on the likes of  Amazon, iTunes and Google Play, You can find out more about the band here.

Various - Friends And Frenemies

Allen Clapp is largely known for the Magnificent Orange Peels. although his solo work matches anything from the band's great back catalogue.

Mystery Lawn Music was founded by Clapp in 2009 as a way of releasing The Orange Peels' crowd funded album 2020. After the album was released, other artists approached him to see if they could appear on the label.

At first it was mainly North Californian bands that were produced at Mystery Lawn Studios. Clapp realised that most bands could get their music ready for the world, but didn't know how to release it for general consumption.

Mystery Lawn Music has grown and grown and the initial half a dozen artists are now approaching 20. It has developed into a community of like minded musicians, far beyond that North Carolina base. The artists often play together, swap band members and ask each other for advice.

The 18 songs on offer are from a varied selection of artists. Some are well known to Power Pop fans, such as The Orange Peels, The Corner Laughers, Anton Barbeau, The Flywheels, Agony Aunts, Jim Ruiz and William Cleere. Others are less well known, but every bit as good.

11 of the 18 songs present are exclusive to the compilation, for many this is the premier. Of those 11 songs, Allen Clapp himself has included Friend Collector.

Mystery Lawn Music offers up a vast array of talent that enhances all's music collection and sphere of musical knowledge. It is available for the bargain price of 5 dollars here. It's also available from the likes of Amazon, iTunes and Spotify.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Mo Troper - Beloved

After Your Rival's end in 2015, Portland's Mo Troper set off recording his debut solo album. The result is lo-fi Power Pop of the highest order. The album has a lot in common with Superdrag and Weezer, but ventures off into Psych Pop and more sparse arrangements.

The First Monkey In Space is in Teenage Fanclub territory, yet the bitter Somebody Special is almost singing in the shower. Look At Me Now is great melodic fuzz with a killer riff, Eighteen could be on an Orgone Box album.

The album doesn't always work. The brooding The Biggest is too long at 8 minutes plus, but lo fi albums are never as easy to assess, what can seem half finished, is deliberately so. The album is described as graceful and brutal and it is and refreshingly so.

This is an incredibly accomplished debut album and the hope is that Mo strides on from here to reach for the stars. All the ingredients are there.

You can buy the album for a bargain 5 dollars here. There's also limited stocks on vinyl for the turntable lovers.

Dan Vapid - All Wound Up

Chicago's Dan Vapid has been part of the Pop Punk scene for many years, most notably in Screeching Weasel. His current line up with The Cheats is his most satisfying yet. I'm often banging on about the Pop Punk title, because most times I see little difference between this and Power Pop. Certainly, Vapid And The Cheats have far more in common with Power Pop.

 I'm also a sucker for these Family / Kids Educational Albums and have been since the likes of They Might Be Giants got involved. If the kids are gonna learn something and listen to a decent band at the same time, double win.

So away from the obvious messages, the language is toned down to exemplary, no naughty words here, the choruses are particularly memorable and the whole family can enjoy the album. All Wound Up is enjoyable, 26 minutes of great Power Pop, simplistic perhaps, but Power Pop for the masses not just us 40 plus men. It's certainly got me looking forward to the next Dan Vapid And The Cheats album.

You can buy the album here.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Somerdale - Merry Christmas Time

There's been a lot of great singles and EP's over the last month or so. I'm currently in the midst of compiling a big I Do Hear A Single post that may even stretch into two parts. People who know me, know that I'm not a great lover of Christmas singles, I find most unnecessary, bland tosh or rubbish covers.

However, I've pulled out and separated this for two reasons. Firstly, Somerdale have had a fantastic year. I delight in how the Shake It Maggie album is being received. It's one of the great albums of the year and you can read my thoughts here.

Secondly, this Christmas single is a hark back to the classic Glam Rock Christmas singles of the 70's.

Everything about it is totally charming. The arrangement is beautifully reminiscent of my teenage years. The guitar riff, the hand claps, the harmonies. Everything falls wonderfully into place. The first time I heard this, it brought a great big smile to my face, not an easy thing to do.

You can buy it for under a pound from Amazon or Apple.

Kurt Baker Combo - In Orbit

Kurt Baker has always been a master of the hook. For someone who hasn't yet hit 30, he's got a great reputation and an even greater back catalogue. The Leftovers hit the streets with 2003's Milton Street Special EP and in the following six years. they carved out a splendid body of work.

The band were more known as Pop Punk, but I fell for them because they sounded so UK New Wave, strange because Kurt's from Portland, Maine. You always felt they should be on the Stiff Label, such was their admiration for Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello.

Since 2010, Baker has released consistently good solo albums. Maybe it's the move to Madrid, but as time has elapsed these have become more and more beat driven power pop albums. His second solo album, Rockin' For A Living, released in 2011, remains one of THE great Power Pop albums.

He's not all hooks, In Orbit provides a varied mix of Power Pop's history, without ever sounding derivative or like someone else. The New Wave Mod Pop stomp of Rusty Nail is joyous. Yet All For You is organ driven Glam Rock that builds into a real rock out.

The Combo has been touring like crazy in Spain and this has honed the band into quite a unit. The result is that the four piece have mastered a groove that has resulted in a really fine album. The only nod to his past is the cover of Devo's Jerkin' Back And Forth.

Released on Little Steven's Wicked Cool label, this is hopefully the album that makes the world realise the joy of Power Pop and how Kurt Baker is playing his part in bringing it to the masses.

Power Pop at it's rawest and most essential, the album is available at the likes of Amazon and Apple and most good record stores.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

The Nines - Alejandro's Visions

Recent events have delayed me talking about the latest album from The Nines and so I'd better remedy that. It's also turning into a sort of Canada day here with Rush preceding this which is no problem at all.

A Nines album is never anything less than interesting and knowing that the excellent Bill Majoros was in on the act got me even more excited. The Foreign Films are one of my favourite bands of recent times and I sat and waited expecting a sort of Toronto Psych Pop fest. Steve Eggers's comparisons to Andy Partridge have always been more than apt and it appeared that he'd found his Dave Gregory.

The end result is nothing like you'd expect, but a lovingly crafted imaginary soundtrack.

Beachfront In New York is so classic McCartney, wonderfully harmonic. The soundtrack though goes further back to Doo Wop and even the classic show song territories of the likes of George Gershwin. I Have Found You is a 60's melodic ballad that is done so well by the likes of The Explorers Club, but this ba ba bums into Roy Orbison mode.

My Sweet Marie is pure Doo Wop, Escape From A Small Town is American Grafitti with a great Bill Majoros Rock and Roll Riff. I'm An Old Soul And You're Old Fashioned has that Gershwin sound. The Harmonies on When Our Love Was In Bloom remind me of The Legal Matters. Operator (Coming Home To You) is pure Phil Spector.

There's so much variance on the album. I'll admit it is a great surprise, I expected a real angular rock out. Instead we are given a beautifully thought out intelligent album that reveals many influences but sounds like none. The magnificent And Suddenly will grab every Jeff Lynne fan, it should be on an ELO album.

Steve Eggers continues to push the envelope and this album is his biggest departure yet. The closing finale duet with his daughter with his daughter Chantel could be a Disney song. The album does make it harder to define what The Nines are and this may confuse non fans further. That's not a criticism, because if an artist deserves success more than Eggers, I can't name them.

An outstanding album, completely unexpected and all the better for it. You should buy it now and can do so from here.

Rush - Time Stand Still

It's as though you don't choose Rush as your band, they choose you. For all my music collection and love of all different bands, my connection with Rush is unbreakable and I suspect most fans feel the same way, It's not a cult following, the audience is bigger and for most cult bands, you cannot understand why everyone doesn't like them, you know why everyone doesn't get Rush.

There's Geddy Lee's voice, the side long Prog epics that continually get mentioned, when they accounted for just 6 years of a 40 odd year career. It may also be that Rush fans don't do air guitar solos, they do air drum solos, such is Neil Peart's domination of the band.

So this commercial release of the Rush R40 Farewell Tour is a fan thing. It isn't a history, the 2010 documentary, Beyond The Lighted Stage does that and is acknowledged as one of the finest documentaries in the genre. It's about the band's relationship with the fans. There are some tour tales, particularly about supporting Kiss in the 70's, but this is largely about and for the fans.

It isn't faultless, some sections over do the fawning and although Geddy Lee acknowledges that Rush would not have been able to keep to their beliefs without the fan support, this hasn't always rung true commercially. They ignored the UK for a good while as they chased the buck and my biggest horror was when they started to do VIP Packages.

VIP Packages are everything that irritates me about live touring. They are akin to paying more at Theme Parks to jump the ride queue. Meeting the fans shouldn't be based on who pays the most. But the band have never compromised musically. They remain a progressive group who can write choruses and the quality, album wise, is exceptional.

The 80's, sound wise, are dated by Geddy Lee buying six new keyboards for every album, Lifeson wanting to be Andy Summers for too long and Neal Peart's Electronic Drum fascination, but the songs from those times remain stellar.

There haven't been too many turkeys either. Presto divides fans, but for me, the only album that I can't abide is Test For Echo, the one album that is Rush by numbers. With Neil Peart's personal tragedy after that album, I hoped it wouldn't end with that, fortunately it didn't.

So the touring has ended and there's no indication that the band will continue to record. But what is left is a fine body of work and the admiration of all Rush fans. The Rush albums take pride of place in my collection, vinyl and CD and although it can be heresy to criticise them, I reckon I've paid my dues and am qualified enough to put across a point of view.

This release won't garner any new fans, but it's just the ticket for those who have been on the journey and it'll make those fans cry, it certainly reduced me to tears, an emotion I'm unused to.

Others have looked to take on the Rush mantle, few have achieved this. Dream Theater wanted to show how technically proficient they were, if you can play, you don't need to demonstrate this, Coheed And Cambria are too comic book, Mew too twee. Perhaps the nearest were Porcupine Tree.

We won't see their like again because bands are not nurtured by record companies as they were in the 70's and album sales are killed by piracy and streaming. But I'm thankful that I was born at at a time to appreciate what a band can bring to your life.