To be blunt, 2020 was a sh*tshow in so many ways, but at least there was a bright spot as far as music as concerned: the overall quality of melodically-charged releases was quite high indeed. Here are Power Pop Plus's top 20 albums from The Year the World Was Put on Pause, with a few extras tossed in at the end.
1. Joe Giddings – Better from Here
Power pop with real power. Well-crafted tunes delivered with panache and drenched in melody. Meaty guitar licks flying all over the place. This is music that deftly combines brains and balls.
2. Frankie Siragusa - Goodbye My Love: Lost Songs of the Beatles Covered and Rediscovered
Taking a break from his gig as drummer for the Posies, Siragusa dresses up tunes that the Beatles wrote for other artists but never officially released themselves. Roger Joseph Manning Jr. and Ken Stringfellow are among the co-conspirators and assist in seamlessly incorporating some modern-sounding instrumental touches into several of the songs.
3. The Overtures – OnceinAWorld
A relatively unassuming little collection that houses a dozen killer pop ditties that at various times recall the Byrds, Beatles, Searchers, solo McCartney, and others of their ilk. Chock full of melodies, harmonies, and ‘60s-influenced energy.
4. The Corner Laughers – Temescal Telegraph
Another wonderfully enticing triumph from these fizzy, dizzying Northern California indie popsters. All the trademarks of their signature sound are present and accounted for: Karla Kane’s sweet, unaffected vocalizing, playful melodies and whimsical lyrics, lovingly enveloped by the beyond-solid instrumental backing of Khoi Huynh, KC Bowman and Charlie Crabtree.
5. Nick Piunti & the Complicated Men – Downtime
Pure power poppin’ rock and roll, teeming with energy and filled with ten compact tunes that are catchier than (insert favorite cliché here). Certainly one of Piunti’s finest releases to date.
6. The Yum Yums – For Those About to Pop!
The fifth album from Norway’s Yum Yums continues in the grand tradition of their previous, uniformly excellent, releases: simple, speedy, satisfying power pop that comes off like the Archies and the Beach Boys collaborating with the Ramones in the late Greg Shaw’s basement.
7. Eugene Edwards – A Week of Sundays
A digital-only release from the enigmatic Eugene Edwards, this one snuck out with nary a word of warning and many folks no doubt remain unaware of its existence. The 14 tracks were apparently recorded several years ago as the planned follow up to Edwards’ awesome My Favorite Revolution disc and they follow a similar rockin’ pop path.
8. Reno Bo – You Can See it All From Here
Fans of well-crafted, thoughtful pop music should be raising their glasses in celebration that Bo’s latest has seen the light of day, as it's a marvelous collection of stylish, highly memorable songs.
9. Natalie Sweet - Oh By the Way...it's Natalie Sweet
At times Ms. Sweet emotes like a punked up, brattier Lesley Gore, the tunes all have hooks piled on top of hooks, and the entire thing just screams, "TURN IT UP!"
10. Chris Church – Backwards Compatible
A spiffy amalgamation of Church’s power pop roots and a newly displayed hard rock thrust, it’s a record that would have sounded great in 1983, but it sounded even better in 2020: the dozen tracks are packed with loud guitars that riff like mad, heavy melody, and Church’s urgent lead vocals, which sometimes recall Matthew Sweet.
11. The Explorers Club – To Sing and Be Born Again
Jason Brewer is something of a ‘60s sunshine pop mensch and he proves his mettle on this fine collection of period covers. Alternating between top 40 smashes and slightly more obscure selections, each of the ten tracks presented here is exquisitely executed and beautifully sung. Bonus points for excavating Danny Hutton’s “Roses and Rainbows.”
12. Diamond Hands – Diamond Hands III
Jon Flynn and Joel Wall build on the critical and artistic success of their first two efforts by loading this one up with another batch of varied, high quality garage-pop tunes that sound like they could have emanated from the 1960s, the 1970s or…the here and now.
13. Bill Lloyd – Don’t Kill the Messenger
A typically top-tier collection of pop tunes from Lloyd, some which go for a slight country-ish bent. "Baby's in the Mood" is at once catchier than hell and hilarious as all get out, as is "I'll Take it From Here" (which rhymes "egg foo young" with "bite your tongue"); the latter rocks out with a bit of reckless abandon.
14. Mo Troper – Natural Beauty
The delightfully off-kilter Mo Troper’s vocals range from a plaintive, everyman sweetness to a Beach Boys-influenced falsetto to an anguished wail as he runs through numbers such as “Your Boy” (a musical cousin to the La’s “There She Goes”), the nostalgic “In Love with Everyone,” and a big-time earworm called “Jas from Australia,” which lovingly details a long-distance relationship.
15. Cupid’s Carnival – Color-Blind
Color-Blind is loaded with Beatleisms that never stray too close to Rutle-like parody; Roland Skilton’s Lennon-like lead vocals may recall those halcyon days of yore, but the melodies are all Cupid’s Carnival’s.
16. Juniper – Juniper
15-year-old Juniper Shelley sings about teenage concerns—the kids on her corner, schoolgirl crushes, roller coasters and the like—on her wonderful debut album, aided and abetted by members of Fountains of Wayne, Yo La Tengo, The Smithereens, Los Straitjackets, the Rubinoos and the Muffs.
17. Brad Marino – False Alarm
Whether it's with the Connection or as a solo artist, Brad Marino has been involved with a string of releases of unwavering quality: nods to punk rock, Merseybeat and classic pop abound throughout Marino's catalog, and the eight-song False Alarm is more of the same.
18. Kyle Vincent – Whatever it Takes
The soft-pop guru offers up his strongest batch of tunes in quite some time, with ruminations dipped in melancholy and nostalgia sharing space with sugary bubblegum and a nifty little musical love letter titled “A Gilbert O’Sullivan Song.”
19. Nick Frater – Fast & Loose
UK pop dude Frater keeps churning out consistently excellent and inventive releases and this one (on the Big Stir Records imprint) is no exception.
20. Brian Bringelson/Gabe Dulek – Desperate Days
Bringelson brings his A-game to this one: it's stylistically diverse, refreshingly melodic and often disarmingly beautiful, with whiffs of the Beach Boys, '90s Britpop, and '60s sunshine pop permeating the musical landscape.
A half-dozen more excellent records deserving of a mention, in no particular order:
The Well Wishers – Shelf Life
Brad Brooks – God Save the City
Marshall Holland – Paper Airplane
Bye Bye Blackbirds – Boxer at Rest
The Speedways – Radio Sounds
The Reflectors – First Impression
Archival Release: Bruce Moody - Forever Fresh Originally recorded between 1979 and 1986, Forever Fresh is packed with choruses that stick, guitars that chime fervently, and Moody's boyish lead vocals. It’s the stuff power pop dreams are made of.
Box Set: Tom Petty - Wildflowers & All the Rest Greatness from top to bottom. Damn, is he ever missed.