Growing up in the late '70s/ early '80s, I spent a lot of time in the car with my parents and the only radio station we could ever agree on was WRON in my hometown of Lewisburg, WV. The FM station was easy listening (way more horrible than the Lite FMs of today) and it's AM version which played the hits. And at the time, the hits were all pretty mellow. Barry Gibb was writing for everyone, the Doobie Brothers were huge, "You Light Up My Life" was unavoidable, and the Little River Band was the WV-approved version of Steely Dan.
Despite the path my musical taste has taken since, I still have a soft spot for soft rock. (Yes, I own England Dan & John Ford Coley's Nights Are Forever on vinyl.) And I like it when current bands manage to appropriate the better aspects of that time (strong melody and musicianship) into something a little less cheesy. Or even bands that embrace the cheese without irony. I've got three current examples, which is what magazines call a trend piece:
One of the best is Nashville's Silver Seas, the brainchild of Jason Dehming. The band take their sweet time making music, the upcoming Chateau Revenge is only the band's third album in their 10-year career, and their first since changing their name from The Bees in 2006. (If you haven't heard High Society, it's great.) Four years is a long time for a record, but one listen to Chateau Revenge and clearly it's worth the wait. The arrangements on this album are f-ing gorgeous, thick with harmonies and strings. A bit more rock – in an ELO kind of way — than their last but no less tuneful. A perfect summer record.
Chateau Revenge is out physically July 6 but you can buy it digitally right now from their website.
Then there's LA eccentric Ariel Pink, who has been making weirdo low-fi bedroom versions of soft rock and '80s cheese since 2004. (Lowfi '80s cheese is basically the chillwave blueprint.) Now signed to 4AD, his forthcoming album Before Today (June 8) goes even further towards yachtrock legitimacy, if not sonic fidelity, thanks to co-producer Rik Pekkonen, an industry veteran who has worked on records by Seals & Crofts, Bread and Kenny Loggins. Mind you, it still sounds like you're listening to a cassette — it just doesn't sound like it was recorded on one. The songs remain crazy catchy, and no less weird.
And finally we have Rob Smoughton who records under the name Grovesnor and who, if you are a regular follower of this blog might remember his song "Drive Your Car" from a Summer Fridays mix two years ago. More recently you might recognize him as Hot Chip's live drummer/pinch hitter. After a string of intermittent singles over the last few years, Grovesnor just dropped his debut album titled, appropriately enough, Soft Return, and it's nearly impossible to listen to it without conjuring images of Steely Dan, Rupert Holmes, the Doobie Brothers, etc. But listen further and there's a lot more going on here, the production is really nuanced and clever, especially rhythmically. (There's a lot of subtle hip hop / jungle / techno touches going on.) Anyone who's seen Hot Chip play in the last year know how versatile Smoughton is and it's clear he really loves this stuff. Soft Return sounds like a midnight drive through a a rainy neon city as filmed through a Vaseline smeared lens.