Friday, August 21, 2015

20 Best Power Pop Songs (1972-1986)

These are songs that sound like a perfect mix of 60's British and American rock and pop music.

These are songs largely about adolescence, girls and good times.

These are songs with guitars that ring with clean riffs and warm fuzz, while jingling and jangling at the same time.

These songs are full of handclaps.

These are songs with combinations of chords that make you feel like smiling and driving with the windows down.

These are songs with perfectly blended vocals and harmonies.

These are songs that are cleverly crafted, but never take themselves too seriously.

These are songs that are less about pushing musical boundaries, and more about three minutes of perfectly executed fun and happiness.

These songs are from the best and most important period of time for one of my favourite genres of music.

Also, many of these songs are also on this Power Pop playlist on Rdio

20. Marshall Crenshaw - Mary Anne

19. Rick Springfield - We're Gonna Have A Good Time

18. 20/20 - Backyard Guys

17. The Romantics - When I Look In Your Eyes

16. Tommy Keene - Back To Zero Now

15. Bram Tchaikovsky - Girl Of My Dreams

14. The dB's - Big Brown Eyes

13. The Rubinoos - I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend

12. The Cars - Just What I Needed

11. Dwight Twilley Band - I'm On Fire

10. The Knack - I Want Ya

9. Flaming Groovies - Shake Some Action

8. Blue Ash - Abracadabra (Have You Seen Her?)

7. Shoes - Boys Don't Lie

6. Todd Rundgren - Couldn't I Just Tell You

5. Big Star - Back Of A Car

4. Raspberries - Go All The Way

3. The Records - Starry Eyes

2. Bad Finger - No Matter What

1. Cheap Trick - Come On, Come On

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Halftime Report: The 20 Best Albums of 2015 (so far)

There is so much new music released every week. Perhaps it is the exact same amount of music that was being released many years ago, and it is just that our access has increased exponentially. Either way, if you are a person who cares and takes an active interest in hearing as much of the new music out there as possible, it can be a pretty daunting task to make sense of it all. I took a few minutes to shine a light on 20 albums I have been able to spend some time with over that last six months. Albums that left some level of meaningful impression on these aging yet thirsty ears I use to obsesses over all manner of new music. 

So six months into 2015, and in no particular order, here are 20 albums I thought were the best so far this year.

Hot Chip - Why Make Sense?

Quite probably the most consistent musical act of the last 15 years. They have never made a bad album, and this one keeps that bold claim in tact. A bit of their old vibe with some new tricks thrown in. Fresh and perfect synth type pop, with some of the funkiest songs they have recorded to date.

Mikal Cronin - MCIII

This is the third album by this jangly fuzzed out California songwriter. This one adds string arrangements and even more maturity to his craft. Cronin makes special, genuine, familiar sounding music. So great to hear guitar pop made with this level of care and sincerity.

Dutch Uncles - O Shudder

Quirky, mathy art pop from Manchester. This is actually the fourth album from Dutch Uncles and it is another solid outing, that blends Hot Chip esque vocals with with choppy well executed playing, over wonderful pop hooks. One of my three favourite bands making music right now.

Yukon Blonde - On Blonde

The third full length album from this Vancouver band, sees them stepping up the synth quotient slightly to wonderful effect. All of their material is the stuff from which quality indie pop is made, and On Blonde might be their best yet. Perhaps the best young band working in Canada currently.

Bjork - Vulnicura

This wonderful little weirdo lost me sometime after 1997's Homogenic, but she has my attention again on this album. Impassioned and heartbreaking stuff, all backdropped with combinations of sounds no one else can do quite like Bjork.

The Charlatans - Modern Nature

I had all but relegated the Charlies to retired Madchester and Brit Pop royalty, somewhat past their prime. Bad call. This is one of the strongest collection of songs they have produced since their self titled fourth album in the mid 90's. This is the sound of a band who are really comfortable in their skin, and have no pressure to do anything but remind everyone how great they can be. Looks so good on them.

Ceremony - The L-Shaped Man

My sense is there are some fans of Ceremony who prefer when they sound like a more traditional hard core punk band. My personal preference is them making an album like this, that leans far more on traditional post-punk and goth type styles. Some reviewers have said this sounds like another Joy Division cover effort. It does not, and if it did, that would be completely fine with me as well. This is a super tightly executed album from these guys.


Apparently this project has been in the works for some time. A fascinating collaboration between new Brit art rockers Franz Ferdinand, and old school art farts, Sparks. This works on so many levels, with Sparks leading the charge somewhat. Sparks were a terrible blind spot for me prior to this record, which I am correcting with great haste by purchasing their whole back catalogue. You don't make a record like this to make money. This is 100% about making interesting music and writing wonderfully pretentious art school songs.


Toronto hardcore-post-punk darlings light it up on their sophomore album. The noise feels urgent rather than gratuitous, and none of the rage hear outpaces the subtle hooks. Three people should not be able to create this much legitimate noise and anxiety on a studio recording. This album stresses me out when I'm listening to it, in the best possible way.

Everything Everything - Get To Heaven

I love this band. If I have three favourite bands currently making new music, Everything Everything is one of them, and that only has a little bit to do with them being from Manchester. Third release from these cats sees them really hitting stride. Their debut was a wonderful math pop mess. The second album a bit more, but still hardly radio friendly. Get To Heaven finds them perfectly balanced. Hooks galore. Vocals that admittedly are not for everyone. Solid players, with a range of genre influences few bands can capture so seamlessly. Brilliant record.

Panda Bear - Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper

Another wonderful little weirdo, whose solo material I actually slightly prefer to his work with Animal Collective. Not sure this one quite hits the calibre of his solo debut, Person Pitch, but it's right there. This one feels super fluid and focused, for an artist whose thing seems to be having a lack of focus.

Tuxedo - Tuxedo

Unabashed 70s/80s influenced funk and disco fun. Perfectly executed with the highest calibre of organic dance music in mind. Sort of like where Chromeo started a number of years back, but playing to far fewer gimmicks and image based retro-ism. I dare anyone not to dance while Tuxedo is playing.

Local H - Hey, Killer

Admittedly, I have tended to be a singles and hits fan of Local H, despite having some close musical friends who are huge fans. I always categorized the band as unfairly under the radar compared to higher profile and less competent 90s alterna guitar stalwarts. What I was not expecting in 2015 was a Local H album that is without apology, very much akin to their hey day sound, but in a way that doesn't sound dated or trite like so much of that era can tend to at this point. This is a crunchy guitar rock record that works on just on just about every level.

Tanlines - Highlights

There had to be a fair amount of pressure on Tanlines after their Matador released debut album from 2012. These Brooklyn lads tapped into the quality side of all the electro/synth pop stuff that is cluttering the interwaves these days. This follow-up doesn't quite hit the same mark, but it is still a fabulous set of heartfelt pop songs from a couple dudes who clearly get it.

Dan Deacon - Gliss Riffer

This guy is bananas. Until this album, I wasn't completely onside with his absurd and patchy form of mixed sounds. This album feels more playful and jovial though, and I love the keyboard sounds he has put together. It feels like Deacon could be at the forefront of limit pushing electronic music, and this record seems like a deliberate step along that path.

Susanne Sundfor - Ten Love Songs

A friend recently introduced me to this Norwegian artist. Experimental electronic pop songs, with dense, textured production and lovely vocal arrangements. Maybe the best album of 2015 no one will hear.

Viet Cong - Viet Cong

The lead single from this album, "Silhouettes," could lead one to believe this is a really well put together post-punk record, with atmospheric synths and sparse vocal treatments. Rather, it's a really great record by a young Calgary band, with solid elements of post-punk, noise, and lo-fi pop throughout.

Errors - Lease of Life

These guys really seemed to come into their own three years ago on their fourth album, Have Some Faith In Magic. This new record finds them continuing to fire on all cylinders, while still pushing the limits of their lush and eclectic electronic pop songs.

Mew - + - 

Mew lost me somewhat on their last few albums, but this album could be their best in ten years. They continue to produce ambitious pop songs, which are almost rooted in prog sensibilities, without ever really venturing into self indulgent meandering. Another solid outing from these Danish veterans.

The Vaccines - English Graffiti

Comparisons to The Strokes continue to be a thing with these guys, but unlike their first couple of impassioned straight forward guitar records, they have added a bit more depth and shine to the mix on English Graffiti. This is the classic sound of a band on their third record, where they are completely confident enough to move the sticks around and throw in some of their new wave and glam influences.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

5 Best New Albums in February 2015

So far what I like most about the musical year of 2015 is how efficient the first couple months have been. New releases are trickling in, and I have not had to sift through a typically large amount of good to average new records in order to decide on my top fives. As a year it is shaping up to be a pretty high quality one in my opinion. Here are five I thought were tops last month in February.

Black Rivers - Black Rivers

Doves always seemed like one of those bands who were more popular than you might think, but never as popular as they should have been. Their current hiatus saw Jim Goodwin release a solo album last year, and now the other two Doves members, Andy and Jez Williams, have formed Black Rivers. Like with the Goodwin album, there is a familiarity with Jez's voice that will be unmistakable for fans of the Manchester trio. The songs here, are a bit more aligned with the Doves sound, whereas Goodwin stretched a bit more on his record (for better and worse). Most of the songs drift a bit in the best way here, and there seems to be a clear lack of pressure on the lads to produce hit style hooks on this outing. "The Ship" was released last year, well in advance of the full album. It typifies the lovely melancholy that runs through most of these songs. A very competent release from the Brit veterans, that sounds exactly like what a break away from your main band should sound like. Still, like many, I hope Doves plan on recording together again. It feels like they have unfinished business.

Humans - Noontide

I quite enjoyed the first album by Humans, but I remember thinking they had untapped potential and had not completely found their footing just yet. Noontide feels like them un-tapping that potential. At its opening, one could almost assume the record is more of a modern groove based indie pop record than an electro-pop type record. The truth is, it is both, and never to the detriment of the overall flow and feel. These two dudes from Vancouver even venture into some interesting dark synth territory in spots, like on "Over Again." I am not sure if there have been any comparisons made to Brooklyn's Bear in Heaven, but that was one of the first places my ears went, and that is a good thing. This is a really listenable record, without compromising certain song lengths in order to say what they need to. There is a good chance I will be seeing these cats on Saturday night here in Halifax. I will be curious to see how they translate this work to stage. Regardless, this is all class from a talented young Canadian band worth watching.

Gaz Coombes - Matador

I always quite liked Supergrass, but I am not sure I ever loved Supergrass. It always seemed like sometimes their playfulness made it confusing when they decided they wanted to write less playful and mature stuff. Fair or not, none of it matters, because on Matador, Coombes shines with all the real and perceived capability of a bonafide quality songwriter. This sounds like the record he has always wanted to make, and the stars aligned perfectly in every way. Some might suggest there are shades of Radiohead or more likely Thom Yorke's solo work on the album. Beyond their voices having similar tone, and some of the tracks feeling similarly sombre, I would suggest the parallels are strictly coincidental. The lead single, "Detroit" showcases everything I love about this record. Grown up melodies, soulfully blended background vocals, lush strings, and a carefree air that feels rooted in every track. I was not expecting this to be one of my favourite records in 2015, but with each listen it is shaping up as a possibility for just that.

Dutch Uncles - O Shudder

A couple years ago when Dutch Uncles released their third album, Out of Touch In The Wild (the first I had heard at the time), I recall wondering why more people were not raving about them. Well they are back, so clearly and thankfully someone else is listening. Another Manchester act, these kids are part of an ever growing small group of Brit fantastic art rock bands who are making accessible music that doesn't fit easily into standard playlist formatting. Initially, as they do again here on O Shudder, they remind me of an almost perfect blend of Hot Chip and Field Music. Super competent musicianship which is likely where some of the "math pop" labelling comes from. Eleven quirky and jaunty songs that make full use of the fun sound pallet. This record brims with confidence from a band that was already sounding mature beyond its years. Love these guys. Love this album.

Dan Deacon - Gliss Riffer

Previously I have never been able to completely warm up to Deacon's work. I respected his ambition and creativity, but everything just felt scattered. Not surprising then, that critics are describing Gliss Riffer as more pop focused, which would tend to put it much more in my wheel house. There is an amazing mix of old synths and layers of strange sounds that other electronic artists do not seem able to pull off in quite the same way. This is a tricky style to create a signature around, yet there are some extremely clever things happening on this record. A song like "Sheathed Wings" is about two steps away from being obnoxious and contrived, but manages to stay on the listenable path with admiral discipline. I think every track teeters on chaos perfectly, making you want to see where he plans on taking the weirdness. It is also a rare skill to use so much process and mechanism, yet still have your record sound largely organic and fluid. This is not a recording for everyone, but if you can suspend your perceived need for perfectly round circles and square boxes, Gliss Riffer  is a fascinating and rewarding listen.


Hilotrons - To Trip With Terpsichore
Peace - Happy People
The Mavericks - Mono

Monday, February 16, 2015

5 Best New Albums in January 2015

A brand new year brings another shot for me to try writing a little bit each month about five albums I thought were exceptional and noteworthy for whatever reason. Here we go 2015.

Bjork - Vulnicura

Bjork lost me a little bit over her last few albums. A friend introduced me to Homogenic some time after its release, and it became my favourite work of hers. I enjoyed Vespertine enough, and even everything that followed, but nothing captivated me as a listener the same as her first three albums from the 90's. Vulnicura, albeit a dark record, rooted in a personal relationship break-up, also feels like some sort of aggregation of the different things she has tried over the last 15-20 years. It is very much the album she needed to make at this point in her career, thematically and artistically. The songs take as much time as they need to tell their story, without ever seeming to meander even when they push eight to ten minutes. Many of the orchestral elements are reminiscent of Homogenic, but often less plush, they seem to flow much more from themes of anxiety and uncertainty. Vulnicura is not a quick fix album. It is enjoyable on a first listen, but also offers you the chance to grow into it and hear something new each time you spend time with it. This is a powerful and ambitious recording from one of the most important artists of the last twenty years.

Viet Cong - Viet Cong

I have been reading some reviews of this record, and more often than not, even on favourable reviews, it gets relegated to the nouveau post-punk bucket. No question, there is post-punk influence on Viet Cong, new and old, but there is so much more going on here. "Newspaper Spoons" opens the album with big crashing tom drums and chanty distorted vocals, but never shifts into the obligatory Joy Division meets Interpol hook fest (not that there's anything wrong with that of course). These cats have that combo in their bag of tricks, but it never feels like the over arching intent. There are times the record feels stylized, yet it is balanced perfectly with lo-fi without ever being gratuitously sloppy or noisy. The songs are listenable, but never slick. There is also some really nice muli-track vocal layering on songs "Pointless Experience" and "March of Progress" would make the  most hardcore dark synth jammers proud. Seven tight and eclectic songs from Calgary, Alberta. Nice work lads. 

Panda Bear - Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper

I was trying to recall if I have written about any of the other Panda Bear albums previously. If I have, it was likely about how I am an interested yet passive Animal Collective fan, and far more prefer the work Panda Bear produces on his solo records. This is Lennox's most focused work to date in my opinion. There are still dense layers of sound, but there seems to a much more conscious open-ness to engaging with the listener on these songs. "Boys Latin" for instance, is a pop song, plain and simple. He still uses repetition better than most, and the dreamy Pet Sounds-esque vocals never stray too far from what we are used to. This is a very confident sounding album, and like everything Panda has done on his own and with AC, most definitely not for everyone, but worth it if you are feeling especially weird and curious.

Ghost Culture - Ghost Culture

A friend introduced me to Ghost Culture in the first part of 2015. An early candidate for one of the best electronic albums we might expect this year. Some reviews have played up the album's eighties-ness. Any synth heavy recording is bound to draw Kraftwerk and Depeche comparisons I suppose, but this is a very 2000's collection of electro tracks. Most of the album is dance floor ready, yet there are none of the shiny trappings lately associated with songs that are clearly almost scientifically written to elicit certain dance behaviours and precise junctures within the song. This is a very organic sounding album that makes you bob your head because you want to, not because you are being manipulated into it by equal parts hype and algorithm. A sombre, dreamy and refreshing synth album.

Sleater-Kinney - No Cities To Love

I do not know all that many people who have waved the Sleater-Kinney flag endlessly and passionately over the last twenty years, but I also cannot say I know anyone who dislikes their music, or at a minimum does not respect what they represent or what they have been able to accomplish. I saw an online interview where a really old person described the band as "indie rock." There is a side semantics discussion one could have about music genres, but when I think of what indie rock is, was, or should be, I think of bands like Sleater-Kinney. Whatever that means, No Cities To Love feels like a quintessentially indie rock record. 

The band never ever lost their sense of urgency, but the layoff since their hiatus also did nothing to push them into complacency. These are ten compact passionate songs that burn along furiously for thirty two filler-less minutes. I always liked the balance between Carrie and Corin vocally, and it continues to work really well here. Janet is also still quite possibly the best drummer in rock music (there are some ridiculous monster fills and rolls on "New Wave"). You can hear the sound of mature contentment in these songs, without even an inkling of complacency or pandering. Sleater-Kinney are back and everything feels right. They are absolutely still the real deal. 


The Charlatans - Modern Nature
Belle and Sebastian - Girls in Peacetime Love to Dance

Monday, December 15, 2014

Top 100 Songs of 2014

Weird year for songs. 2014 felt like a solid year for well rounded and interesting albums, but less so for stand out on their own type tracks. At least more than last year perhaps.

That said, there were still some really fantastic songs written in 2014. I had planned to double or triple up on songs by certain artists, rather than having 100 songs by 100 different artists on this list, but opted for the latter after all.

Probably more songs over 5 minutes than I have had on here in any previous years, but let's not overthink that bit.

This list is also compiled as a playlist here for Rdio users.

99Hang UpPeter Murphy
96FeelThe Soft Moon
95AloneThe Foreign Resort
94Feel RealMovement
93CastlesGlass Towers
92Silly GamesTricky
91Two WeeksFKA Twigs
90Turn Me UpTwin Shadow
89Deep In My HeartThe Drums
88Shelter SongTemples
87WaterfallFear of Men
86Paper HeartChloe Howl
85TribeTheophilus London
84IllumeLust For LIfe
83You've Got A Lot On Your MindSloan
82Frozen BritainJames
81Pony RideNeil Finn
80You & I (Forever)Jessie Ware
79Frequent FlyerChromeo
78MikoThe Chain Gang of 1974
77Fall In LovePhantogram
76Every StoneManchester Orchestra
75Trainwreck 1979Death From Above 1979
73Left Hand Freealt-J
72Simple and SureThe Pains of Being Pure At Heart
71Figure It OutRoyal Blood
70Are You Gonna Be Someone?Knight
69LunaBombay Bicycle Club
68Coming Up For AirZoot Woman
67Dancehall DomineNew Pornographers
66Forever BeKelis
65D.R.E.A.M.Phraroahe Monch
64minipops 67Aphex Twin
63Coming DownClap Your Hands Say Yeah
62Garden GraysWIldcat! Wildact!
61Here So RainBlack Submarine
58Daddy's CarEno - Hyde
56This HazePatterns
55ParadiseWhite Hex
54After The DiscoBroken Bells
53West CoastLana Del Rey
52Land Of The BlindInformation Society
50Climb To MePattern is Movement
49ParisLittle Dragon
45Close Your Eyes (and Count To Fuck)Run The Jewels
44I Try To Talk To YouHercules & Love Affair
43Mess On A MissionLiars
42Love Stops HereThe Juan MacLean
41Uptight DowntownLa Roux
40Heavy Seas of LoveDamon Albarn
39Feels Like FireRyan Adams
38Boys In Her FanclubSweet Apple
37Don't WannaHowler
36DynamoJohnny Marr
35MilwaukeeThe Both
34WeightlessNeneh Cherry
33In InfancyMuseum of Love
32Do It AgainRoyksopp & Robyn
31Uptown FunkMark Ronson
30Dress UpSchool Of Language
29A Million VoicesEngineers
28Time BetweenBear In Heaven
27FaustI Love You But I've Chosen Darkness
26GougeEternal Summers
25fuckmylife666Against Me!
24GodivaEugene McGuinness
23I Don't Know You AnymoreBob Mould
22SprinklesWe Are Scientists
21Tough LuckEagulls
20Long HairDrowners
19Happy IdiotTV On The Radio
18Rimbaud EyesDum Dum Girls
17Do YouSpoon
16New York MorningElbow
15Digital WitnessSt. Vincent
14Can't Do Without YouCaribou
13It's Been So LongToy
12DrippingBlonde Redhead
11The Bullfighter DiesMorrissey
10DovesFuture Islands
8Broken Glass ParkSimple Minds
7Got Well SoonBreton
5Unkinder (A Tougher Love)Thumpers
4The MistakesArmy Navy
3A Simple Beautiful TruthWild Beasts
2Like An AnimalCymbals
1So Now You KnowThe Horrors

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Top 100 Albums of 2014

So I was only going to do a top 50 this year.

My list honestly started as a top 50 this year.

As with every year, the top 50 is really what was going to count this year.

People have been asking when I will be posting my top 100 this year.

I listened to a whole lot of cool new music again this year.

Looks like my list is a top 100 once again this year.


Nina PerrsonAnimal Heart
99Information Society_hello world
98MogwaiRave Tapes
97Pure XAngel
95BeckMorning Phase
94Sweet AppleThe Golden Age of Glitter
93The Pains of Being Pure At HeartDays of Abandon
92FKA TwigsLp1
91Hercules & Love AffairThe Feast Of The Broken Heart
90TrickyAdrian Thaws
89The New PornographersBrill Bruisers
88Neil FinnDizzy Heights
87Clap Your Hands Say YeahOnly Run
86Maximo ParkToo Much Information
85Pattern Is MovementPattern Is Movement
83Pharoahe MonchePTSD - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
82EMAThe Future's Void
81New BuildPour It On
80Bryan FerryAvonmore
76TemplesSun Structures
75Philip SelwayWeatherhouse
74Theophilus LondonVibes
73Alt-JThis Is All Yours
72MonomythSaturnalia Regalia!
71Young LiarsTidal Wave
70MerchandiseAfter The End
69Ryan AdamsRyan Adams
68Lust For YouthInternational
67Fear Of MenLoom
66I Break HorsesChiaroscuro
65Jessie WareTough Love
64White HexGold Nights
63The DrumsEncyclopedia
62Her Name Is CallaNavigator
61Lana Del ReyUltraviolence
60Zoot WomanStar Climbing
58Echo & The BunnymenMeteorites
57Blonde RedheadBarragan
56The War On DrugsLost In The Dream
55Run The JewelsRun The Jewels 2
52Todd TerjeIt's Album Time
51School Of LanguageOld Fears
50Johnny MarrPlayland
49AsgeirIn The Silence
47Little DragonNabuma Rubberband
46EngineersAlways Returning
45A Sunny Day In GlasgowSea When Absent
43LambBackspace Unwind
41Aphex TwinSyro
40ToyJoin The Dots
39RoyksoppThe Inevitable End
38Thom YorkeTomorrow's Modern Boxes
37TV On The RadioSeeds
36SpoonThey Want My Soul
35Wildcat! Wildcat!No Moon At All
34ElbowThe Take Off & Landing of Everything
32Bob MouldBeauty & Ruin
31Black SubmarineNew Shores
30The AcidLiminal
29Eugene McGuinnessChroma
28Damon AlbarnEveryday Robots
26ErasureThe Violet Flame
25The Juan MacleanIn A Dream
24Neneh CherryBlank Project
22Museum Of LoveMuseum Of Love
21St. VincentSt. Vincent
20I Love You But I've Chosen DarknessDust
19Against Me!Transgender Dysphoria Blues
17Simple MindsBig Music
16We Are ScientistsTv En Francais
15InterpolEl Pintor
14La RouxTrouble In Paradise
13CaribouOur Love
12Dum Dum GirlsToo True
11The HorrorsLuminous
10MorrisseyWorld Peace Is None of Your Business
9PatternsWaking Lines
7BretonWar Room Stories
6Future IslandsSingles
4CymbalsThe Age Of Fracture
3Bear In HeavenTime Is Over One Day Old
2Army NavyThe Wilderness Inside
1Wild BeastsPresent Tense