Sunday, February 25, 2024

My Ten Favorite Power Pop Albums of the 21st Century

It's no secret that I really love power pop. Now "power pop" is a term that is open to considerable interpretation and sometimes fierce debate. I generally subscribe to a broad definition of power pop. If it's powerful, and it's pop, then it can be power pop in my book. I've left every single power pop group I've ever joined on Facebook due to my discontent with the overzealous gatekeepers and pontificating purists who suck all the fun out of celebrating this music so many of us love. I will never tell a self-described power pop band that they're not really power pop. Nor will I ever split hairs between power pop and pop-punk when sometimes the only difference is a band's choice of footwear. Because the way we all view music is so deeply personal, no two people will ever agree 100% on what power pop is and which bands best exemplify it. But I can write about bands that represent what power pop means to me. On that note, I thought it would be fun to feature my favorite ten power pop albums from this century — not the ten "greatest" or ten "most influential" but simply the ten I like the best. Just in case you've missed some of these titles, I've provided streaming links so you can hear for yourself! 

10. honeychain - CRUSHED (2017) 
This one remains an overlooked gem. Honeychain is a band fronted by Hillary Burton (The Pandoras), and Crushed was its full-length debut. I've had this CD in my car for years, and every so often I'll pop it into my car player and marvel at how great it is from start to finish. Burton's dear friend Kim Shattuck produced this album, and you can absolutely hear her influence. You can also hear Burton's extraordinary talent as a songwriter and singer. If classic power pop with a punk attitude and a '90s alternative rock feel sounds like your thing, you need to be on Bandcamp now purchasing a download of Crushed!

9. Natalie Sweet - Oh, By the Way... (2019) 
I remember hearing an advance of this album and absolutely losing my shit. I was a huge fan of Natalie Sweet from her band The Shanghais, and I consider Travis Ramin perhaps the single most important player in the modern power pop revival. The idea of these two collaborating on a record with Morten freaking Henriksen on lead guitar was a dream-come-true for power pop fans. The world never got a Shanghais full-length or a second Tina and the Total Babes album, but Oh, By the Way... was the next best thing.

8. The Yum Yums - For Those About To Pop! (2020)
The Yum Yums are one of those bands that are hard to pigeonhole. Some might put them more in the pop-punk category, but I've always thought of them as power pop with punk influences. The band's debut album Sweet As Candy was very influential on me as a young punk rocker discovering power pop. There is no such thing as a not-great Yum Yums album, but I think Morten really peaked with his most recent release, For Those About To Pop! That's not just a great album title — it's a mission statement!

7. The Dahlmanns-  All Dahled Up (2012) 
When it came to power pop in the 2010s, The Dahlmanns were the gold standard. Beluga Records has just released a super-sized re-issue of All Dahled Up with 13 extra tracks!

6. Kurt Baker - Brand New Beat (2012) 
Kurt Baker has always been a favorite of this blog. His albums have only gotten better over the years, but there's still something special about Brand New Beat for me. It defined a new era of power pop  — one that acknowledged the influence of pop-punk but was also heavily inspired by The Beatles and '60s pop in general. It influenced a lot of bands that have formed over the past decade, and it influenced the evolution of my own musical tastes.

5. Exploding Hearts - Guitar Romantic (2002)
There's just no denying how influential this record was. Prior to the release of Guitar Romantic, there was power pop, and there was punk rock. Then this album came out, and there were songs that sounded like first wave punk mixed in seamlessly with songs that sounded like 1979 power pop. And there were songs that were a little bit of both. And just like that, "powerpop/punk" was a real genre. But even if we remove the importance and impact of Guitar Romantic from the conversation, it's still an incredible record that stands the test of time. One can only imagine what this band could have become.

4. Mother's Children - That's Who! (2010)
This is the ultimate power pop "party album." It rocks your face off and begs to be played loud, yet it's still the epitome of melody-driven, super-catchy pop. If you like your power pop leaning towards the "power" side of the equation, you should immediately familiarize yourself with Mother's Children's full catalog.
3. The Speedways - Radio Sounds (2020) 
In my book, this is one of the greatest power pop albums of any era.

2. Tsar - self-titled (2000)
Tsar is still one of the most unlikely albums ever released on a major label. It was the turn of the century, and mainstream rock radio was the most unlistenable it has ever been in history. Almost anything that got airplay circa Y2K was dark and angst-ridden and utterly devoid of melody. All of the sudden, this debut album from Tsar was like an answered prayer for all those of who longed to make rock great again. Laden with massive, soaring hooks, it sounded like a greatest hits collection from some parallel universe where they still played radio hits on the radio. Of course the album flopped, but in my daydreams, "Calling All Destroyers" was a #1 smash on seven continents, and all these guys got to live in mansions.

1. Tina and the Total Babes - She's So Tuff (2001) 
She's So Tuff, the one and only release from turn of the century super group Tina and the Total Babes, remains my favorite album of the 21st century and one of my favorite power pop albums of all-time. Tina Lucchesi (The Bobbyteens, The Trashwomen) joined forces with Travis Ramin, producer to the stars, to create the greatest punk-influenced girl group power pop album of 1979 — in 2001! Of course the covers (such as the title track originally by The Demons and Holly & The Italians' "Tell That Girl To Shut Up") are great, but originals like "Christy" and "Tongue Tied" are classics in their own right. It's wild to consider that this album is now older than the records it emulated where when it was first released. The 2022 vinyl reissue is still available from the illustrious Surfin' Ki Records!

Honorable Mentions:
The Reflectors - First Impression (2020) 
The Whiffs - Another Whiff (2019)
Cheap Cassettes - Ever Since Ever Since (2022) 
The Cry! - self-titled (2011) 
Damone - From the Attic (2003) 
The Figgs - Sucking In Stereo (2000) 
First Base - Not That Bad (2017) 


Gooboy Quisp said...

Hey Josh, King Ralph here. Sorry I still have to use my old Blogger name to post comments sometimes. But man what a spot on Top Ten. I literally have EVERY one of your picks plus the honorable mentions LOL! We've always shared pretty much the same taste in music & are both fanboys at heart always searching for new tunes. Can't wait for your next Top Ten. I miss when you used to do those lists.

DiggityDawg said...

Love a lot of these records, but when I see TSAR in the #2 slot & Damone & The Whiffs in the Honorable Mentions it's no wonder I check this blog every day.

I love Damone's 2nd album just as much as "Attic" even though it's a different beast ( with a different main writer, so it makes sense ). And TSAR's debut is probably my favorite album of all time. The Whiffs are local to me - "Scratch 'N' Sniff" was tied with Grrrl Gang's "Spunky" for my favorite record last year.

Mark said...

Do a top10 poppunk albums! (one for each century!)

Drunk Ted said...