Here's eleven of my favorite new rock tunes for your early spring listening pleasure. Take your allergy medicine and enjoy the melodic sunshine, people.
"Eskimo Kiss" The Kooks Junk of the Heart (Astralwerks)
Not sure why my fellow critics insist on dropping the "sounds like The Strokes" tag on these Brits. And some scribes have whined they aren't "edgy" enough. So what. I hear more of The Kinks and The La's as reference points. And to me, that's much better company if you love more pop in your rock. Case in point, the infectious ear candy of "Eskimo Kiss," my pick hit from their latest long player (LP). Currently on tour in the U.S. of A.
"Stay At Home" Yellow Ostrich Strange Land (Barsuk)
Speaking of the Strokes...I hear more than a hint of their aggro-guitar pop rock in this very fine track from former Wisconsinite/current New Yorker Alex Schaaf. His newly expanded solo project into a trio even cops the "Lust for Life" big drum beat. Nice touch with a downshift in the bridge before guitars blaze back into action.
"The Moon Is Calling" Nada Surf The Stars Are Indifferent to Astronomy (Barsuk)
If there is a better pop-rock band in America, let me know. Okay, maybe The Shins. (Not.) Ten years in and no sign of lazy rock star bullshit, just plenty of great guitar riffs and chiming hooks and catchy-as-hell tunes. Really difficult to pick just one chestnut from this ten-song effort. Threw the proverbial dart and just posted this one. My album of the year, so far.
"New Friend Jesus" Craig Finn Clear Heart Full Eyes (Vagrant)
On hold from his Hold Steady gig, frontman Craig Finn mines the same lyrical narrative rock poetry vein as his critically lauded quintet. Recorded in Austin, and not as immediate as his Hold Steady bar-band rock, this work requires repeated listens for its sprawling roots-rock/Americana beauty to unfold. Not the case with this country two-steppin' gallopin' nugget featuring Billy White's blistering breakneck Telecaster solo that is pure Bakersfield.
"Coffee & Tea" Sheetah Et Les Weissmuller Evolution Francaise (Screaming Apple)
Yeah, Baby! Ringing Rickenbakers. Farfisas. Sitars. Tamborines. That crazy, groovy French garage rock beat can only mean one thing -- the return of Sheetah and his rowdy retro rockers. Chocked full o' riffs and party anthems, this is the business. Check out their trippy liquid light show video for "Acid Toxic" until they finish the video for their above-mentioned Austin Powers-friendly single. (Hope they can make it to New York this summer.) They're shagadelic.
"Surf Hell" Little Barrie King of the Waves (Tummy Touch)
Been a fan of this London trio since I first heard their 2005 debut We Are Little Barrie, and it's been five years since their second release. Things remain pretty straight-ahead Brit Pop/garage rock on their third LP, with plenty of tasty guitar licks from guitarist/vocalist Barrie Cadogan. Kudos to Edwyn Collins's in-yer-face production. On their lead single, the Gretsch guitar riff is big and nasty like The Cramps at their sleaziest. Music this good gotta be front and center.
"Good Lovin'" The Grateful Dead Europe '72, Vol. 2 (Rhino)
I'm not a Deadhead, but I loved the band. Got to see them more than a few times with Jerry in the '70s, '80s, and '90s. And I own most of their official recorded catalog. This sequel, produced by Dead archivist David Lemieux, grabs two and a half more hours of performances not heard on the original legendary spring tour Europe '72 triple LP. Jerry was a mutha of a guitarist and remains one of my all time favorite rock string-benders, while Ron "Pigpen" McKernan remains my favorite Dead keyboard/harpist as he brought a tough R&B vibe to the proceedings. Proof? This 12-plus minute Young Rascals' party anthem (written by Rudy Clark and Arthur Resnick) from Frankfurt (4/6/72) features plenty of Pigpen ad libs and Jerry's circular guitar solos while Bobby (guitar) and Keith (piano) vamp, and Bill (drums) and Phil (bass) keep things jumping with their percolating rhythm.
"Sweet Sour" Band of Skulls Sweet Sour (Vagrant)
Brit trio has some T.Rex juju working on this album-titled slab of riff-rock splendor. Haven't heard the entire disc yet, but this will do just fine in the interim. Their debut -- Baby Darling Doll Face Honey -- was pretty damn fierce, too. File under Black Keys, Jack White, and the Kills.
"Rambler" K Phillips American Girls (Rancho Azul)
Remember the classic roots-rock days of Leon Russell, J.J. Cale, early '70s Clapton? Well, this 27-year old West Texas singer/songwriter has distilled that music into his own intoxicating brew. Joe Walsh and Stones' saxman Bobby Keys even lend their chops to the proceedings. Tops for me is the raunchy blues-rock chugger "Rambler" that could have made the set of the legendary Delaney & Bonnie & Friends tour featuring the aforementioned Mr. Clapton.
"Before Your Birthday" The Hollyhocks Understories (Mystery Lawn)
If you're a fan of The New Pornographers, then you'll dig the debut from this Bay-area quartet. "Before Your Birthday" has a real early Go-Betweens vibe, a top-tier track albeit short (1:54). Street date on the CD is June 5th so I'm jumping the gun, but in the interim, check them out on their website.
"Comfortably Numb" Pink Floyd The Wall - Experience Version (Capitol)
Most music fans can live without the third CD of extras on this umpteenth release of Roger Waters' rock opera masterpiece. Best to stick with the two-CD remastered version from late 2011. The mix is sublime, really accentuating Bob Ezrin's tastefully bombastic production. This 1979 FM radio staple, co-written by David Gilmour, remains one of rock's most beloved and enduring ballads. And for good reason -- Mr. Gilmour's majestic guitar solo. Start saving you money for Mr. Waters' Wall summer tour. It's not to be missed.
Keep on rockin' me, baby.
Mr. Wright is the former editor-in-chief of Creem and Prince's New Power Generation magazines as well as a writer of films, fiction, and music. He is also a singer/songwriter who has released 4 solo CDs, and a member of the folk-rock quartet GIANTfingers. And before all of this he was a William Morris agent.