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ICYMI Quick Hits: Poppa’s Kitchen / Velcro Mary

December 14, 2015

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Poppa’s Kitchen is an old-fashioned pop band turning out songs in a variety of styles that are each impeccably classy and eminently singable. The duo’s Hopeful Song calls back to a (perhaps fictional?) time when it was totally normal to place the gravelly saloon swayer “Devil’s Playground,” the tragic story song ballad “Chinatown,” and a swingin’ tune like “Miner in a Cave In” on the same release, much less as tracks 2-4 on 12-song record. It’s okay that those tracks don’t establish a core sound or identity for Poppa’s Kitchen, because opener “Travis” does it perfectly.

“Travis” is a wonderful opening salvo, as it establishes the gentle acoustic-based arrangements, enthusiastic melodies,  and sense of humor that collectively drive the record. You’ll find yourself humming, snapping, and laughing along to “Travis,” and all are the right thing to do. Elsewhere on the record the small outfit goes minor key on “Ain’t 19,” get downright ’50s pop on “All You Love and All You Know,” and deliver a quiet lullaby/ballad to close out the record on the title track. Hopeful Song is just downright pleasant (and don’t you think that’s faint praise for a moment–how many albums can you just put on and kick back to in a good mood?). It doesn’t ask that much of you, but gives lots in return.

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Velcro Mary‘s Leave a Light On could have popped right out of 1996 rock radio: power-pop, pop-punk, and grunge are each represented and occasionally mashed up together here, creating a record that’s great for throwing on in a old car on the highway. Opener “Whatever Helps You Sleep at Night” hits the power-pop notes, tying muscly guitar distortion to an earnest, easygoing vocal line. “Fourth Quarter Funeral” gets a little more ominous with the vocals and the guitar strum, pushing more into punk territory. “Fifth of July” is vintage grunge arpeggiated guitar and angst: you know right now if you’re into that. The diversity of the record almost ensures that you’ll have a clutch of favorites off this 10-song record–there’s a lot to choose from.

Regardless if it’s noisy grunge or surprisingly chipper acoustic-driven power-pop (“Grow Up to Be Dead”), Jason Erb knows how to write and deliver a vocal melody that sticks. It all comes together in closer “Seasons to Sleep,” an evocative tune that draws from “Glycerine”-style grunge melancholy seasoned with the unassuming grace of modern indie ballads and Erb’s deeply affected vocals. It’s a beautiful, memorable tune.  Check out Leave a Light On if you’re looking for something diverse.

February Singles: Garage Rock and Such

March 12, 2015

Garage Rock and Such

1. “Away” – Heart Beach. Heart Beach is out-Pixie-ing the Pixies with this churning slice of plodding bass, washed-out guitar and yearning vocals. A+.

2. “Cavity” – Kuzin. Sometimes the vocal hook that seals it is in the verse, and so it goes with the yearning killer line of this track. You’ll be humming this one for a while.

3. “Gone Past” – Lore City. A lot of people want to invoke shoegaze, but few bands really inhabit the idea of the sound overwhelming a person in their entirety the way that Lore City does here. Slow movement, pounding drums, howling vocals, synth sheen over everything: this is how you create a wall of sound in 2015.

4. “He’s Not Real and He Ain’t Coming Back” – Twin River. The synth-laden, reverb-heavy soundscapes on this track recall the slow motion of the band’s titular geographical features. Let it wash over you.

5. “Wasting Time” – The Phantoms. The alt-rock drama of Anberlin meets Blur influences in vocal delivery for this high-contrast track.

6. “Dotted Line” – Bombay Harambee. Guitar rock with demonstrative, impassioned front men will always have a home. This particular brand makes me think of a slowed-down Arctic Monkeys.

7. “Fourth Quarter Funeral” – Velcro Mary. The thick, bassy guitars in this power-pop song fill up the track, but they never make the song feel leaden. Instead, the track moves sprightly along on a Foo Fighters backline and a snarly vocal line that never explodes.

8. “Universe” – Faith Healer. Some perky garage-rock with a mumbly female lead vocal creates a very cool vibe.

9. “Actual Alien” – American Culture. Scuzzy guitars; gated ’80s drums; distorted, nasally vocals. Sounds like a great entry into American garage rock culture to me.

10. “Time For Us to Move” – Full Trunk. We really should thank the Black Keys for re-popularizing blues rock. There are few ways to vibe harder than on a good blues-rock riff, like the one here.

Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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