The best pop music today is being made by moms and pops and sons and daughters who do it for the love and not the money (though they would be thrilled if you bought their stuff)
Here are some of the best releases we've enjoyed during the latter half of 2022
Richard Öhrn *****
Sounds In English
Big Stir Records
Guitarist for Swedish indie rockers In Deed steps out on his own with a tour de force display of his prodigious talent, writing and performing this immensely pleasing collection of songs all by his lonesome. The opening track grabs you with Öhrn's trademark Burns 12-string sound, evoking The Byrds channeled through the Church, but each song heralds a different stylistic approach without sounding like a grab bag of thrown together tracks. We detect elements of The Beatles, Love, Lou Reed and even Kevin Ayers.
Some of the English-as-a-second-language titles bring a smile. How do you "Seal Your Move," with "The Coolest Manners" and what is a "5th Month Announcement?" I don't know, but they are some of the best sounds in English I've heard all year.
Robyn Hitchcock *****
Tiny Ghost Records
Hitchcock's 2017 eponymous "comeback" record reestablished the indie veteran as the grandfather of surrealistic psych pop with his idiosyncratic wordplay and a revitalized urgency in the music. For all it's hooks and charms this longtime fan found it to be a little too slick in the production department as if Hitchcock had put himself in the hands of a hotshot producer and surrendered something of himself in the process.
Ironically, for Shufflemania! Hitchcock put his latest batch of tunes into literally dozens of hands, of old friends and and younger musicians he's inspired, to flesh out the basic songs he recorded solo at his kitchen table and the result is that Hitchcock's brilliance shines through more brightly than it has in decades. Shufflemania! released on Tiny Ghost Records, a label run by Hitchcock's wife singer Emma Swift, will ultimately rank as one of Hitchcock's finest albums.
From the foot stomping joy of "The Shuffleman" to the rising and falling dynamics of "The Feathery Serpent God" and the breathtaking beauty of "The Man Who Loved The Rain," Shufflemania! is an experience that begs to be repeated time and again.
Henning Ohlenbusch *****
The Dream Is To Dream
Rub Wrongways Records
Henning's second solo album he's released since the last album by his band Gentle Hen is a song cycle of sorts that seems inspired by early Pink Floyd and Alan Parsons Project records. It even begins with a compelling instrumental track ["Approach The Moment"] setting the stage for eleven thoughtful ruminations on how our lives are in the thrall of the limits and limitlessness of our own imaginations. With every release Henning cements his standing as America's greatest unknown songsmith.
Maple Mars ****
Someone's Got To Listen
Big Stir Records
The First album in a decade from the much loved LA based power pop quartet led by songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Rick Hromadka [say that three times fast] is well worth the wait. Maple Mars delivers a more aggressive updated version of the 70s prog-inflected pop of Starcastle and Ambrosia underpinned by the spirit of Badfinger. Standout Tracks include the anthem "Goodbye California" [get your lighters out], "Useless Information" an indictment of the social media age, "Someone Take The Wheel" and the Brian Wilson-y "Crooked Smile."
Drones Of The Prophet ***
Gare Du Nord/Bandcamp
Anton Barbeau continues to astound me with his endless fount of creativity. Even as he intermittently teases us with updates about his forthcoming major release Morgenmusik he has dropped two more albums that seemingly come from nowhere. Stranger contains fourteen brand new highly twistedly entertaining songs that showcase his quirky wordsmithery and his utter mastery of electronics and engineering.
The title track would have sat well on his 2020 opus Manbird as Barbeau, who divides his time between Berlin Germany and his northern California ancestral home sometimes feels out of place when he's visiting the latter." "Ant Lion" percolates like Kraftwerk at their poppiest. "Stone Of Fire" brings the drama and "Quick To The Basement" wryly has us scurrying for cover because "Jesus comin'."
Drones of the Prophet was released in November on Bandcamp as a digital only instrumental album, the epicenter of which is the nearly 16 minute dirge "Gorge Drone." The album synthesizes [no pun intended] the works of the great German masters of the genre, including Tangerine Dream, the late Klause Schulze and the aforementioned Kraftwerk. "Berlin School of Doubt" is pure Tangerine Dream at their mesmerizing best, while the brief "Darker Gold Sequence" leads into the electronics as nature drone "Whimper Flutes of Tragic Beauty." Drones of the prophet is excellent headphone music for drifting off into an afternoon nap.
Various Artists *****
We All Shine On
Celebrating The Music of 1970
Though I'm not terribly fond of being an old fart, I am grateful that I grew up in the age of Top 40 Radio because it exposed me to so many genres of music during my formative years. You could hear the best of pop, soul, rock and r&b over the course of an afternoon before the playlist repeated. You could get freaked out by hearing "Papa Was A Rollin' Stone" immediately followed by "Seasons In The Sun."
Of course, by high school, the snotty FM rock stations were in ascendance and, suddenly, disco sucked and The Temptations and Parliament Funkadelic were "black music." On early to mid 70's AM Top 40 [13Q, Pittsburgh was my lifeline] it was all just music. All that mattered was that people were calling into request it and the National Record Mart was reporting lots of 45s being shifted.
SpyderPop Records is celebrating this last egalitarian era of music with a sprawling 22-track tribute to the year that ended the 60s and kicked the 70s off, featuring some of the finest indie artists making music today. Highlights include Bill Lloyd's reading of "Three Dog Night's "Mama Told Me Not To Come," Darian sing Mark Lindsay's "Arizona," The Legal Matters performing George Harrison's "What Is Life," Let's Active's Mitch Easter blowing our minds with "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time) and Lannie Flowers take on "Walk A Mile In My Shoes."
This list only scratches the surface of the many delights of this beautifully packed CD. It's a wonderful trip back to a better time. Let's hope SpyderPop does one of these for every year up to 1979.
Eric Sandberg: My true opinion on everything is that it's splunge.