Reviews: Five New Power Pop (or Power Pop-adjacent) Titles

Emperor Penguin – Gentlemen Thieves
The hardest-rocking of these five new releases, Gentlemen Thieves folds in glam and other rock styles to create a memorable set of songs. A strong emphasis on melody nicely balances the crunch. There’s swagger without macho nonsense, and a strong pop sensibility means that middle eights are carefully crafted. Check out “What’s the Worst That Could Happen,” the album’s opener and a tidy distillation of everything that makes this London band something truly special. The band’s three vocalists are a wonderfully varied lot, and that may well be Emperor Penguin’s biggest of many assets, their secret-est weapon. ‘Tis a gem.

On the Runway – Tell Yourself It’s Pretty
Tell me you want me to hear a power pop band from Memphis and you’ve got my attention. The Bluff City has a proud tradition that includes Big Star, Prix, Van Duren and the Scruffs: great artists all. And while Dave Norris’ On the Run makes music that doesn’t ape the sounds of those greats, he clearly understands what makes a good song. He drinks from the same well that informed those who came before. There’s a breezy, melancholy-tinged vibe to tunes like “Loser of the Year” one that suggests what Jackson Browne might’ve sounded like if he, y’know, rocked.

Armchair Oracles – Nothingeveris
With a chiming-meets-crunchy musical character, Armchair Oracles make music that hits the heart. Creamy harmonies suggest Teenage Fanclub, but the thick guitar textures recall Cheap Trick. The often make their musical point in compact fashion: “Neurons” is over in under three minutes;, leaving the listener wanting more. Happily, there is more: Nothingeveris serves up as dozen instant classics. Though you won’t detect it in their sound, the group is from Norway, where they’ve been crafting top-flight material since 2008. Highlights here include “Addicted to the Ride,” “Undertow” and the plaintive ballad “Skyhigh,” but the whole disc is solid. Highly recommended.

Jordan Jones – And I, You
The piano that opens “Envelope of Skin” suggest Burt Bacharach or The Carpenters. The sweeping cellos that follow call to mind Ben Folds. Opening his seven-song EP in this way works in lovely fashion. From there, Jones’ brand of ork-pop unfolds to add his close-mic’d vocal. He’s a more rock-leaning modern-day artist in a Harry Nilsson mold. Sophisticated adult pop doesn’t get much better than this. He channels Carole King on “Love Song of J,” a track that (in another interview) he suggested might be the best thing he’s written. Listen to this EP and you’ll realize that’s saying something.

Wesley Fuller – All Fuller No Filler
Swooshing wind and pulsing synth introduce “Back to Square One,” the first cut on All Fuller No Filler. Those textures hint at a kind of Who’s Next vibe, but that’s a red herring. Instead we have tight guitar pop more in a Raspberries vein, with plenty of handclaps and analog synth lines that recall Sweet and other exuberant ‘70s rock-popsters. While the music is rooted in that era, there’s a timeless quality to the songs and arrangements. Flawlessly assembled, the album has that one-man-band feel (in the best way) that brings to mind Emitt Rhodes, Todd Rundgren and similar auteurs.