Tags: Chicago, Gurgles, High Llamas, Hookworms, Prefab Sprout, Robert Wyatt, Steely Dan
Back in the 70’s and 80’s when you were shopping for new stereo equipment, the go to disc for stereo salesmen was a Steely Dan or Chicago album to show off the hi-fi racks. I haven’t been into a stereo store in years, but I bet a few sales guys still reach for the Dan when showing off their wears. Well all you stereo salesmen I’ve got just the record to help sell loads more equipment in your shop.
Early last year, you might remember Bradford’s best Gurgles releasing their debut 7-inch single. Since the 7-inch single buying public has shrunk more than video rental market you might have let it pass you buy. No matter, Bradford’s best have returned with their debut album that they’ve christened Gurglefirst? It’s a big sounding and playful record that doesn’t sound too big or too playful. In other words, it’s just right. Their keyboard driven songs have elements of gospel, new age jazz and 80’s pop. You might ask how could a band that combines the syncopated jazz of Steely Dan, the gospel spells of Prefab Sprout and sudden swerves into into psychedelic Hawkwind territory succeed? I don’t know, but Gurgles do.
Both songs from last year’s single make welcome returns and are just as impressive a second time around. New songs like Eccleshill ring in with a tight chorus while the Fender Rhodes keyboard climbs the spires. Weakdays has a great bluesy riff while How Could I Tell adds some Krautrock elements into the mix while singer Augustine sounds like Paddy McAloon has temporarily taken him over. Ably recorded by MJ of Hookworms, Gurglefirst? is a record that begs to be blasted, but don’t worry if you don’t have one of those expensive hi-fi’s it sounds just as good bleeding into your ears from a pair of cheap ear buds.
Gurglefirs? is available on vinyl, CD and download from Gurgles’ bandcamp.
Coming back from the dead is easy. Staying alive after you’ve come back from the dead, now that’s the trick! So far, even after a huge 21st celebration the basementcast is still alive, and it doesn’t even need an ICU. So hook yourself up to a heart monitor and press play and see which of these 24 tracks makes your heart flutter the most.
Tags: Black Lodge, Cro-Mags, Dexy's Midnight Runners, Don Giovanni, Downtown Boys, Fucked Up, Hard Core, John Coletrane, Punk, Seattle
Downtown Boys at Black Lodge, Seattle | 7 July 2015
Providence, Rhode Island’s Downtown Boys rolled through town last night with their white hot dual saxophone hardcore. This band has a two pronged agenda and it is to bring their political message and to get down and make some noise. I’ll be honest, I’m not a huge hardcore fan. I was intrigued when Fucked Up covered twee pop songs and teenage me owned a Cro-Mags cassette, but that’s about it. Two things set Downtown Boys apart from rest of the hardcore masses. Two saxophones that recall Dexy’s Geno but sometimes feel like they could venture into Coletrane’s Meditations and front woman Victoria Ruiz who is both a teacher and a rager.
Live, each song has a prologue in which she passionately teaches and informs about social injustice, police brutality, misogyny and racism. Previously I had wondered why they covered Bruce Springsteen‘s Dancing In the Dark besides the obvious saxophone connection. Last night, in a matter of 60 seconds she redefined that song on her terms talking about how the word dark is equated to evil, bad and mal-intentioned in so much of today’s journalism and literature and how difficult it is to overcome those kinds of connotations of when you are dark skinned.
The room was packed and sweaty and Downtown Boys were on fire which of course increased the temperature of the room. The saxophone players Adrienne Berry and Emmett Fitzgerald stoked the fires continuously during the set. Both wielding their big tenor saxophones like weapons of peace and justice. Future Police raged bigger and louder than the recorded version and Monstro was anthemic, but the highlight of the set was Poder Eligir. Ruiz sang in Spanish while the band created a cacophony that surged and surged and continued to surge. It was fucking amazing! It was one of those out of body moments when you feel like the whole room is on the same existential plane and all is right with the world. And it was for one brief moment.
Downtown Boys debut album Full Communism is out now on Don Giovanni Records.
Tags: Beat Happening, K, Olympia, Sub Pop
Beat Happening probably didn’t invent indiepop and twee, but they may as well have. The landscape past and present is littered with references to this band from Olympia, Washington which says a lot about their long lasting influence. Looking at their songs, it’s kind of astounding how many bands have covered them named themselves after their songs, certainly more than those that have named themselves for Velvet Underground songs. Not bad for a band that confessed to writing songs mostly about sex and food. The band never officially broke up, but retired soon after the release of 1992’s opus You Turn Me On. Front guy Calvin still runs K Records and has found other outlets for his unique take on pop in Dub Narcotic, Halo Benders and solo albums. The band never released a best of album, so they seem ripe for a best of list. Here are my top 10 Beat Happening songs, and probably not what would show up on a best of list, but who knows?
10. Other Side (Black Candy 1989) – Beat Happening were a lot of things. They could rock out like the Cramps, be wayward mavericks a la Lee Hazlewood, and of course sound like 60’s beatniks. Other Side comes from Black Candy which is probably considered their weakest album, but they always started their records with a splash and this duet between Calvin and Heather is full of wistful beauty.
9. Tiger Trap (You Turn Me On 1992) – This song starts off Beat Happening’s final album You Turn Me On. Right from the start you know this record is going to be different than the others because they’d never started off a record with ballad and they’d never recorded a seven minute song (Godsend is nearly 10 minutes). Recorded by Stuart Moxham of Young Marble Giants the droning pastoral jangle of Tiger Trap hypnotizes and soothes you like a babbling brook through a meadow.
8. Not a Care In the World (Sassy Single 1992) – This one was also recorded by Moxham during the You Turn Me On sessions, but it didn’t make the cut and was relegated to a single released by Sassy Magazine (anyone remember their Cute Band Alert?). This one has Moxham’s fingerprints all over it, I would be surprised if he didn’t play guitar on this. Heather usually sang only a couple of songs per record, but they were always highlights and this would have been a great 10th song on Your Turn Me On and hints at what might have been if they had recorded a follow up to their final album.
7. Indian Summer (Jamboree 1988) – Indian Summer may be Beat Happening’s best known song thanks to Luna, REM and Ben Gibbard who have all covered it. This song demonstrates what Beat Happening did so well, it’s so minimal yet paints such a vivid picture. You only hear sparse guitar and drums accompany Calvin’s voice yet it evokes autumnal colors, long shadows and the end of something special.
6. Nancy Sin (Dreamy 1991) – Beat Happening weren’t all campfires and s’mores, Calvin sang about sex a lot and this song is dripping with it. This one has a noir feel to its lust. Probably because Nancy always made me think of Nancy Drew and Calvin wanting to get it on with here. And what red blooded adolescent kid wouldn’t want to get it on with Nancy Drew?
5. Our Secret (Beat Happening 1985) – This was Beat Happening’s first single. Often bands never do better than their first single and Beat Happening set the bar pretty high. They barely knew how to play at this point, but they knew what a great pop song should sound like. Ever the gentleman, Calvin is going to run away with a girl, but first he’s going to have dinner with her family, I assume to tell them of their plans. What a punk.
4. Fortune Cookie Prize (Dreamy 1991) – Heather sings this wistful song evoking the happenstance of love. Sometimes you find it when you least expect it, but the other half doesn’t quite know it. The best love song the band ever wrote.
3. Sleepy Head (You Turn Me On 1992) – You’ve been up for hours, but your partner likes to sleep in. Now the complication comes in. Is this song about letting your lover sleep in, or is it about anxiety and depression about not being able to sleep? Heather’s gentle voice keeps you guessing.
2. This Many Boyfriends Club (Jamboree 1985) – There are some amazing stories of when Beat Happening toured the west coast with Fugazi. Punks there to see Fugazi at the Los Angeles show just didn’t get Beat Happening. One story is of Calvin getting hit in the nose by someone throwing an ashtray at him. He didn’t miss a beat and quoted Darby Crash of the Germs back to the audience, “Somebody broke my nose. Dump the whole balcony.” I don’t know what song they played after that, but I like to think it was this one. All guitar squall and feedback with Calvin doing spoken word that sounds improvised. This Many Boyfriends Club demands your attention and keeps it until mic hits the floor with a thud and a girl screams at the top of her lungs. This is punk!
1. Tales of Brave Aphrodite (Beat Happening / Screaming Trees 1988) – Tales of Brave Aphrodite comes from the four song EP that Beat Happening recorded with Screaming Trees. Calvin went to grade school with Trees singer Mark Lannegan and Lannegan had helped record Jamboree. Beat Happening have said that they felt like Screaming Trees cast off songs were better than their best stuff. Aphrodite really soars thanks to the additional power of collaboration and a swirling organ riff. Even if they didn’t team up with the Trees, this song features some of Calvin’s best lyrics and one of his best melodies. “Silver Aphrodite in her chocolate nightie, Says she wants to try me, she won’t bite me”combines the food and sex theme of Beat Happening into a single line.
Tags: Diet Cig, Listen Lady, Small Factory, Sourpatch, Tiger Trap
Luckily you don’t read this music blog for timely updates or to get turned onto the newest records. Seattle’s Listen Lady released their debut single about six months ago. I think it’s been up on bandcamp even longer, but the trickle down effect of the internet has just brought it to my attention. Their five song 7″ is an all killer no filler indiepop get-down. If you dig Diet Cig and Sourpatch or remember Small Factory and Tiger Trap then this record is aching to be in your collection. Ater all, what’s six months in terms of classic sounding indiepop groups named for a Simpsons episode?
Stream and buy the 7-inch from Listen Lady’s bandcamp page.
Tags: Mexican Summer, No Joy, So Pitted, Sunset Tavern, Versing
No Joy, So Pitted and Versing at the Sunset, Seattle | 10 June 2015
There’s a fine line to getting the ratio of guitar squall to ethereal vocals in the shoegaze genre just right.Up to this point No Joy had struggled to do it. On their third record they seem to have finally got it. More Faithful is their best record. It was produced by Jorge Elbrecht who is the guy behind Violens, Lansing-Drieden and has worked with Ariel Pink (He also produced their previous album to lesser effect). His M.O. is slick, well produced records that verge on the sterile. Montreal’s No Joy on the other hand like to let it bleed in the sense of blistering guitars that feedback so much that you struggle to make out the melodies. More Faithful is just the right blend of guitar, voice and studio gadgetry. It allows you to hear that No Joy write some pretty good songs. On some songs they barely use distortion or loudness opting instead to go in more dreampop route. This new direction is a good route and puts them into Cocteau Twins, Curve and A Sunny Day In Glasgow territory.
The band really seem like they’ve emerged as confident and competent shoegazers, so I was excited to see them play expecting them bring the dreamier aspects of their sound out live. What I got was something else entirely. No Joy played a set of white noise that made me wonder if it was not an entirely different band that recorded More Faithful. Obviously the new album is a studio record that the band either haven’t figured out how to play live or don’t want to recreate live. Each song essentially sounded the same. They would hit a couple buttons on their playback contraption to start the synth-based backing track from the studio and then they would blast white noise guitar feedback over it while singer Laura Lloyd apparently sang. I watched her mouth the words but rarely could I actually hear her voice. I think I recognized one song, but it was like seeing it through blast goggles. A truly disappointing performance that provided no joy.
Thankfully the opening acts were better. Seattle’s So Pitted sound like part OC surf punks and part hard core post-holocaust survivors. They make loud primal blasts of sound that you can nod your head to. The drummer and guitarist switch instruments and vocal duties. Their final song featured a guitar freak out that took place under the cover of one of those foil survivor blankets as if he had just been melted by the raygun of some malevolent outer space being. Brilliant!
Opening the night were Versing who were new to me, but I instantly liked their Swell Maps and Wire (also Seam and Pavement) inspired songs. It was the right combination of dissonant chords and plaintive vocals. I’m looking forward to hearing more from these guys in the future. They said that they’ve just finished recording and EP, in the meantime they have a demo and a KEXP session up on their Soundcloud page.
Tags: MIA, Portland, Super Wild Horses, The Breeders, The Ghost Ease, Tunabunny
Some of you may remember that grunge music was a thing 20 years ago up here in the Pacific Northwest. You might recall flannel shirts, torn jeans, lamestains, and of course lots of swingin’ on the flippity-flop. It started in Seattle and even made it down to Portland and according to the Ghost Ease it’s still alive in some musty corners of that city. Tagging themselves as grunge they roll over you with some hefty guitar riffs on Canine, the opener to their four song 7-inch which they recently self-released. What I like about Ghost Ease is that they keep the melody at the front and don’t scream which seemed to be big grunge thing. They’re actually more like the Breeders in that they can crank up the noise but also coo in your ear at the same time. Bad Girls sees them marrying grunge with MIA style hip hop. Great stuff. Apparently they’ve recorded a full album with Steve Fisk which hopefully is as inventive and exciting as this single.
Tags: Cardinal, Cats on Fire, Eric Mathews, Finnmark!, Guided By Voices, Lucksmiths, Morrissey, Pelle Carlberg, Richard Davies, Wild Swans
The first thing I noticed about Finnmark! when listening to their debut album Things Always Change was how much the first song on the album Can’t Go On reminded me of Synchronized Sinking by the Lucksmiths. The second thing I noticed was how much better recorded it was than their EP from a couple of years ago. Then I noticed that beneath all their Scandanavian imagery the group are from Leeds in the UK. Apparently the band was started in a kitchen in Gothenburg. No information what they were cooking at the time.
The album has an austere wintry feel to it that feels a little bit like Cats on Fire and sometimes like Wild Swans. Singer Edward Forth has a friendly melodramatic baritone that brings the sparse arrangements to life. On upbeat songs like Transpennine Express and Cardigan Fields the guitars jangle enough to make you move your feet. On Losing My Style they even get a little rowdy and trash someone’s kitchen at a party. The songwriting is top quality throughout the record. The minimalist Northern Coastline is a favorite of mine. Forth is accompanied by an acoustic guitar on this ode to isolation and death that recalls Morrissey’s Everyday is Like Sunday. The only (slight) misstep was the inclusion of a cover of Guided By Voices’ Jar of Cardinals (from Vampire on Titus). It’s a good version in that it takes the lo-fi tape hiss of GBV and adds some organ to make it sound almost lush, but their originals are better in my opinion. If you are in the market for one of the best indiepop album of the years you should notice Finnmark! too!!
You can stream and buy the album at Beko’s Bandcamp page.
Tags: Go-betweens, Robert Forster
Last week I was reading a list of the top ten Stereolab songs that somebody put together for the Stereogum site. I disagreed with 90 percent of the choices. So I thought to myself, I should make a list that you can disagree with 90 percent of the selections. With the Go-Betweens you either lean towards Robert Forester or Grant McLennan. The younger me was a McLennan guy, the older me is most certainly a Forester disciple. Since McLennan’s untimely death Forster is all we’ve got. He’s reportedly working on his sixth solo album so what better reason to choose him for this first semi-irregular installment of Ten Best.
10. Make Her Day (Go-Betweens – Bright Yellow Bright Orange -2003)
This comes from one of the slighter Go-Betweens albums, their second reunion album. This song flew under my radar until I saw them play it live on what became their final tour of the US. It was at the Triple Door here in Seattle. Forster counted it off tapping his boot against the stage floor. The jangling warmness filled the room and this song just bloomed. This recorded version doesn’t quite reach those heights I experienced seeing it performed live that night, but it is close. A shame they buried at the end of Bright Yellow Bright Orange.
9. Warm Nights (Robert Forster – Warm Nights -1996)
I remember when Warm Nights came out and how disappointed many were about it. After all, it was a Robert Forster album produced by Edwyn Collins. It had to be good. I guess we were expecting something else. Hindsight provides some clarity thankfully. The slight country tinge is something Forster has explored a lot on his solo records and that is present here, but there is also Television-esque guitar that gives this song a different feel than much of his catalog. His previous record was an all covers album titled I Had a New York Girlfriend, but this is his most New York sounding song he ever wrote.
8. Dear Black Dream (Robert Forster – Danger In the Past -1990)
Dear Black Dream comes from Forster’s first solo album. After the breakup of the Go-Betweens he went to Germany and recorded it with Mick Harvey of the the Bad Seeds. It was well known that Forster was the one who often struggled with writers block while McLennan seems to have an endless supply of songs. So it was kind of surprising that Danger In the Past bettered McLennan’s Watershed. Dear Black Dream has a gospel feel to it, like he’s elated to have come out of the murk of being in the under appreciated Go-Betweens and the idea of wide open roads ahead brought excitement and hope to his song writing.
7. Surfing Magazines (Go-Betweens – Friends of Rachel Worth -2000)
This song comes from the Go-Betweens’s first album after reuniting after 12 years apart and four solo albums. Surfing Magazines successfully unites the whimsy of adolescent dreams of being a surf bum and dropping off of the grid with becoming an adult and the knowledge that those were just dreams. You get the feeling from the song’s poignancy that he thinks he should have really been a surfer, or at least still wonders what might have been.
6. Spring Rain (Go-Betweens – Liberty Belle And The Black Diamond Express -1986)
McLennan and Forester both had distinct styles, but every once in a while they would write a song that sounded like the other one. Spring Rain had a killer hook and beautiful guitar solo that gave you the feeling that the two were living closely together. This was written after they’d moved to London from Brisbane so they probably were.
5. The Circle (Robert Forster Calling from a Country Phone -1993)
Forster’s second album is his best one and unfortunately the only one that was never released in the US. Go figure, the curse of the Go-Betweens continues I guess. The Circle married the pop smarts of the Go-Betweens with country twang and charm. He seems like he’s having fun, like he did when he sang odes to Lee Remick and Karen.
4. People Say (Go-Betweens second 7″ single -1979)
In the liner notes of the Go-Betweens best of 1978-1990, Forster said that, “Sometimes I think this is the best song I’ve ever written.” I couldn’t agree more. It’s got a great old time organ throughout and the line “The clouds lie on their backs, rain on everyone, But you always stay dry, You got your own private own sun” which is a classic. Not bad for the second single out of the gate.
3. Darlinghurst Nights (Go-Betweens – Oceans Apart -2005)
If under duress and I had to pick a favorite Go-Betweens album, I might pick their final album Oceans Apart. That is due to the number of high quality Forster songs on it. The best one is Darlinghurst Nights, which is a tour through the past that begins with an acoustic guitar and Forster opening a notebook and progresses into a frenzy of horns while people and places streak by. It’s a glimpse of the past that like all great songs, provides more questions than answers.
2. Lee Remick (Go-Betweens first 7″ single -1978)
Forster wrote both sides of the first Go-Betweens single. This was the A-side. A Two and a half minute ode to a screen jem of the past. “She was in The Omen with Gregory Peck, She got killed, what the heck?!” Not taking himself too seriously, and not knowing that he had a written a classic song at his first go. The song that launched a thousand indiepop groups.
1. Draining The Pool For You (Go-Betweens – Spring Hill Fair -1984)
Forster as the pool boy. Not for long, because he knows that he’s too smart for this kind of gig. Of course it’s analogy for many of life’s unfair predicaments. Here Forster takes the mundane experience of pool cleaning and makes it into an ode of contempt. He’s draining the pool, but not the way you think. He’s got a chip on his shoulder, knowing that these Hollywood stars could just as easily be draining the pool for him.
At some point the basementcast got put on a shelf in a dark corner of the basement. It wasn’t a conscious decision to stop doing them, but it was a conscious one to start it back up. So for good or bad the basement cast has been reborn, salvaged, reawakened,and hopefully rediscovered. Like the ones of old, this one has new stuff, old stuff, odd stuff, and local stuff interspersed with me yapping. Give it a go, there may be something you like on it, and if not there’s always the fast forward button.
The Exploited – Sex & Violence (Secret)