If John Mellencamp is entry-level Springsteen, then what to make of a storytelling songwriter who so slavishly emulates the former that you might think he’s a tribute performer with access to unreleased tracks? Nashville’s Will Hoge was barely making a living writing Mellencampish ditties about Jacks and Dianes for other acts until the Eli Young Band took his song “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” to the top of the charts. Hoge actually did have a shortlived rock group called Spoonful in the mid-’90s, though only one EP was released. Subsequent solo releases have shown an increasing tendency toward Mellencampiness, with his 2015 album Small Town Dream debuting at number 15 on the Top Country Albums chart. His just released full-length, Anchors, debuted at number 14 on the Independent Albums Chart, which translates to around 1900 copies sold during its first week. That momentum may help move a lot of tickets for his November 8 show at the Belly Up, where almost-famous former neighbor Dan Layus, best known from local overnight successes Augustana, will open. Ultimately a one-hit wonder with their top-ten platinum single “Boston,” that band lost their major-label deal with Epic and saw progressively lower record sales until frontman Layus released his debut solo album, Dangerous Things, late last year.
You might not expect Cleveland to be the birthplace of underground rockers Pere Ubu, whose French-sounding name and frequently off-the-wall music sounds more rooted in the European avant-garde and German prog than Cleveland rock. But singer David Thomas (whose hiccupping vocal style could be described as the blues sung through a coffee percolator) has been slinging his rotating band of performance art players around the world for the better part of 40 years, ever widening the reach of his frequently experimental brand of get-up-and-boogie. The newest Pere Ubu album, 20 Years in a Missile Silo, drops at the end of this month, giving you several weeks to check it out before they hit the Belly Up on December 8, where advance press promises a setlist mainly featuring “new songs, peppered with a couple of tracks from previous albums, and David Thomas’ infamous narratives in-between.” In other words, you won’t be getting a selection of greatest hits, but you will be treated to a four-piece backing band featuring all-analog syths and an onstage theremin, a bunch of brand new music, and a whole lotta chatter to chew on.
Every time you think new wave is finally dead and buried, along comes another Duran Duran reunion or ’80s retro-bill and suddenly it’s impossible to find old analog keyboards and electronic drums on eBay without taking out a second mortgage. So what do you get when a self-described “new wave supergroup” crosses FM faves No Doubt with horror-punk rockers AFI? Not much, judging from the lackluster sales of the eponymous album from Dreamcar, featuring straight-edge vegan icon Davey Havok of AFI backed by Stefani-less Doubters Tony Kanal, Tom Dumont, and Adrian Young. Released in May, three singles have so far failed to garner much radio play, but the buzz across the blogs was already achieving slow-but-steady momentum when Dreamcar was announced as one of the acts slated for Wrex the Halls at Valley View Casino Center on December 9, which also features the Lumineers, Vance Joy, the War on Drugs, and Arkells. Clearly the underdogs on this bill, with the least expected and the most to prove, the Dreamcar guys seem genuinely stoked to be road-testing their tracks, judging from several tour-teasers uploaded this month to YouTube. The annual 91X FM holiday party is the final of only a half dozen dates currently on their tour schedule, including both weekends of this year’s Austin City Limits Music Festival.
There’s something ephemeral about most dance music, making it harder to appreciate in its recorded incarnations than it is to move and groove with a live performance. The gap between stage and studio is fairly well bridged on the fourth full-length from Moving Units, Damage with Care, a booty-shaking slice of 21st-century disco punk that marks their first album in three years. Sole founding member Blake Miller has always been inclined toward indie and punk rock, going all the way back to the debut Units EP in 2002, but the hard edges didn’t always mesh with the soft electronica. This was more than evident at live shows often booked by promoters who were clueless as to whether to stage them with, say, Franz Ferdinand or Steve Aoki, resulting in sometimes fiery clashes with audience members unhappy to be challenged by a band serving both fish and fowl, as it were. It’ll be interesting to see who comes out to see them at the Casbah on December 16, with Miller having alienated many of the band’s original fans in 2012 by taking on the Moving Units name without approval from the other original members. That dispute was quickly resolved, but it’s more evidence of how far Miller has strayed since he first set out to make modern dance music for aging, and presumably maturing, ravers.
Canadian indie rockers Wolf Parade have only released three albums since 2005, all on the Sub Pop label, with a fourth due in October, Cry Cry Cry. Produced by John Goodmanson (Sleater-Kinney, Bikini Kill), the album’s lead single “Valley Boy” — said to have been written shortly after, and inspired by, the death of Leonard Cohen — includes an animated video streaming online. The band’s previous two full-lengths peaked at number 45 and then 48 on the U.S. album charts, followed by a nearly seven-year hiatus that many felt was likely permanent. Currently reunited and on tour with Arcade Fire, they’ll embark on a headline trek next year, including Observatory North Park on January 23. The bill includes Brooklyn power-pop quartet Charly Bliss, whose debut EP also spawned a three-part comic book and music-video trilogy. Currently plugging their full-length Guppy, released in April, expect to hear both that album’s lead single, “Glitter,” and their popular 2016 one-off “Turd,” released just after the election of Donald Trump, for whom the tune is named.