As I said previously in my list of top Seattle albums of the year, my favorite three records came out of Seattle this year. Because of that, this list begins at number four. Judging from the number of contenders I cut from this list, it was a pretty good year for the album. They may not be selling like they use to, but more people are making them than ever before. Here’s to a year in which it was truly a task to keep up.
Album number two from Australia’s Crayon Fields tripped the light fantastic not tripped since the Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle. Watery guitars and feathery strings mixed with precious vocals to make a record that I handled with care so as not to damage its frail pop songs. That’s an exaggeration of course, but these songs will have you floating like a feather in the breeze. Everything on this record is in it’s right place. The Crayon Fields have attempted and intricate balancing act and gracefully succeeded.
The cup definitely spilled over with C-86 inspired girl groups this year, but the Brilliant Colors were my favorite of the lot. Instead of going for the twee-er side of things, they leaned more towards the punks with their Raincoats, Slits who were precursors to the whole C-86 movement. Every song on Introducing adheres to strict punk rock rules of two minutes, super catchy, and blistering.
mp3: Absolutely Anything
Not since the Trembling Blue Stars’ Her Handwriting has their been a breakup album this raw, this heart-wrenching, this desolate, or this beautiful. If you are Montgolfier Brothers fan, then Robert Quigly’s warm, melancholic voice will not be new to you. If you are unfamiliar, then you will be enveloped by this record. It has elements of Babybird, early Spiritualized, Simon Raymond’s unheralded solo album Blame Someone Else and some Blue Nile. Before You Left is a slow burner, that will burn brightest on those lonely nights when you are all alone. Sometimes sad albums are the best things to listen to when you are sad.
One part Hot Snakes, one part Edsel, one part killer rhythm section. This album rocked like elder statesmen giving the kids a lesson in how to actually rock. It’s primal enough to get your blood pumping, but complex enough to keep your interest (all year long as is the case since this came out way back in March). In a year where tons of bands were at the beach making laid back sun in your face tunes, the Obits were kicking sand in everyone’s faces mixing Gang of Four funk with Dick Dale guitars. Yow!
mp3: Two-Headed Coin
It’s kind of funny, the amount of attention that this record’s cover has gotten. It must be a real threat to a would-be punk’s sense of punk mentality to like a record who’s cover looks like it was designed by Nick Park. To my mind post-punk was always a ton more interesting than anything punk ever wrought, and Tyvek are decidedly post-punk, pulling influences from disparate places to make a tour de force. From the Joy Division like instrumental interludes to the Gang of Four-like guitars, or the way Kevin Boyer shouts out the address in the song Hey Una reminding me of Grant Hart’s 2541, or the two part Building Burning bringing back memories of early Fall. Tyvek are the best parts of geek, intellectual, punk, and they have a sense of humor.
mp3: Summer Things
If anyone has captured the essence and spirit of the Chills (besides Martin Phillips himself of course) it’s Thomas Sanders. Sanders’ other band Pete & the Pirates were a top pick last year and I’m looking forward to their new album in the coming year, but Tap Tap nearly made me forget about his other band. Tap Tap doesn’t sound a whole lot different from Pete & Pirates, except that it’s a little more moody and introverted with quiet vocals and slithering guitars. On My Way will literally sneak right up on you and wrap itself around you. Compared to this, the first Tap Tap record sounded like half finished demos. Thomas Sanders really hitting his stride as songwriter.
mp3: El Gusano
Cerys Matthews, the former Catatonia singer has been quietly putting out solo albums since her band called it a day back in 2001. Don’t Look Down is her fourth album and it’s really the first one I’ve taken note of since her Catatonia days. She recorded two versions of the record with slightly different running orders and a few different songs on each one. One versionis sung in her native Welsh and and another in the more familiar English. No matter the language you choose to hear Don’t Look Down in, it’s a delight as Matthews goes from lush orchestral songs, to ones that sound like some long lost show tune, to more straightforward pop numbers. The album sometimes walks a fine line between sugary sweet pop and the vapid kind that seems to dominate the charts in the UK. To my ears, it’s the former, and I can’t seem to get some of these songs out of my head.
On the surface, Florida’s Jacuzzi Boys appear to be just another garage tinged rock band, but upon further examination you start to realize that it’s a little bit more complex than that. For starters this album was recorded at the Living Room, not a garage. No Seasons has a distinct Feelies vibe. Like the Feelies, Jacuzzi Boys like to whip their songs up into a maelstrom and they also seem to dig the Velvet Underground, Television and the Byrds. Just listen to Komi Caricoles and tell me I’m wrong. But they also have a love of the 13th Floor Elevators that gives the record a more wild and unpredictable feel to it.
mp3: Komi Caricoles
Technically this is a compilation or reissue, but really it’s the first many of us ever heard of Brian Kelly’s one man band So Cow. Tic Tac Totally cherry picked the best tracks from Kelly’s self-released CDr’s and put them down on a slab of vinyl. So Cow songs are short blasts of DIY pop, parts Television Personalities, Beat Happening and Pastels These 18 songs may grab, jar or caress you and sometimes all three at once.
It’s the little things that makes some things so special. Little things like the guitars in the song Rue de la Paix sounding like Felt, the packaging with Japanese obi strip, or the crisp, yet simple production of this record. Attention to detail is the bookish Pants Yell! forte. They’ve simplified their sound a little, (gone are the horns of last year’s Allison Statton) stripping down to guitar, bass, drums and Andrew Churchman’s smooth croon. A near perfect little record. I don’t even mind it when Churchman sings “I never trusted Toby, or his long hair”.
mp3: Frank And Sandy
You would think that with the number of times I’ve seen some new band get compared to the Clean that their latest album would have gotten more accolades, especially when Mister Pop is arguably the best album the band has made (remember that Compilation is just that, a compilation). Mister Pop is the Clean at their most sanguine with all three members contributing top notch songs. Asleep in the Tunnel could be one of my favorite Robert Scott songs ever, David Kilgour gives us the beautiful In the Dreamlife You Need a Rubber Soul and Are You Really on Drugs, while his brother Hamish contributes one his best in years Back In the Day. Every song leads into the next, there are no non-sequiter instrumentals (Moon Jumper is perfect and integral) or throw-away half songs. It’s a concise well thought out album that floats along putting you into a dream-like warm euphoric state. At least it does me.
This has to be one of the best surprises of the year. Victoria Bergsman had left the Concretes a few years back to go solo with her Taken By Trees project. Album number one had many thinking (myself included) that although she had a great voice, she missed the songwriting of her former band. No such doubts on album number two. A complete rethink with Bergsman traveling to Pakistan to record East of Eden, and taking on an entirely different feel to anything she’s done previously. Her child-like, angelic voice is still here, but this album of songs has a earthy eastern feel to it that doesn’t feel forced at all. Her songs easily meld in with the eastern influences and at times are completely immersed, coming out all the better for it.
16. The Horrors – Primary Colors (XL)
I nearly didn’t pay this record any mind, because their debut was a non-melodic record with a bad a Birthday Party fixation. Primary Colors is like the Radiohead’s the Bends, a sophomore album that leaves the debut in the dust. The Horrors have moved on to more melodic territory, mining the rich vein of Chameleons, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, The Sound and the Comsat Angels, straddling the line of stadium rock, goth, and pop. Not only do they get the feel right, they do it with great songs.
mp3: Who Can Say
This New Jersey band’s debut came off sounding like a long lost David Kilgour album (Sugarmouth or A Feather In the Engine anyone?). I don’t know where exactly in New Jersey Real Estate is from, but my guess would be somewhere along the shore where you can kick back around a bonfire on the beach after the sun has just set with the fire crackling and the constant rhythm of waves crashing to the sand.
mp3: Beach Comber
18. The Spires – A Way of Seeing (Bee House)
If you’ve hung out at this blog for any amount of time you’ve probably figured out that the Chills are one of my favorite bands. With this album, the Spires pretty much made up for the MIA Chills. It’s uncanny how much singer Jason Bays sounds like Martin Phillips and how the music takes on this jangly sing-song thing that Chills did so well. A Way of Seeing is such an accomplished record that it’s hard to believe it was self-released. Thank god for DIY!
mp3: The Afterlife
19. Girls – Album (True Panther/Fantasy Trashcan)
This record has a distinct 50’s vibe mostly due to Christopher Owens’ emotive voice. He reminds me of Danny Zuko, this big masculine, leather jacket wearing guy with a voice that betrays his sensitive side. Musically, it hops around a little more from Beach Boys to My Bloody Valentine and places in between. The style doesn’t really matter though, because every song is packed with memorable hooks, the best of which is the epic centerpiece Hellhole Ratrace. A real beauty.
mp3: Hellhole Ratrace
20. Mannequin Men – Lose Your Illusion, Too (Flameshovel)
About ten years ago a band like the Mannequin Men would have been hailed as potential saviors of rock n’ roll. Since rock doesn’t need saving these days, they flew under the radar. The Mannequin Men like the Strokes before them and the Replacements before them can’t decide if they want to be snotty or sensitive. The album cover and songs like Rathole and WTF LOL argue for the former, but Exquisite Corpse and Judy go for the latter. That’s what makes the Mannequin Men so essential, they can do both.
With each new Clientele record, the vocal reverb gets turned down further and the smooth pop thrills get turned up. I remember back in the day, you would have to strain to understand Alasdair MacLean’s lyrics because of the echo on his voice was so great. The Clientele are the perfect example of a band that have developed into accomplished and confident musicians along the road of their career. This is the fourth proper album, and I don’t know if I could say it is the best one, but it’s as good as any that came before which is saying something. It has an autumnal sound and feel to it, but turning it up as loud as you can will enhance your ability to soak in the sounds and pleasures that Bonfires on the Heath serves out listen after listen.
mp3: I Wonder Who We Are
One of my biggest musical regrets of this year was that I missed Summer Cats when they played in Seattle this summer. It was a house party, and I can only imagine how they shook the joint with their energetic, anthemic indiepop. This was the year that we finally got a full album from these feline Australians after many singles and eps. Songs for Tuesdays plucked the best songs from their previous releases and injected some new songs as well as styles into the mix. The ace Stereolab-ish singles Let’s Go and Lonely Planet are included, but there were new favorites to be found like the lovely duet In June, the Triffids-like Maybe Pile and St. Tropez. A record that is perfect any day of the week or year for that matter.
mp3: In June
These guys seem to get pegged as Fall fans, mostly because of Wesley Patrick Gonzalez’s off kilter, slightly tone-deaf vocals, but Let’s Wrestle are a whole lot goofier than the Fall ever were. In the Court of the Wrestling Let’s is a strangely titled record, but it gives you an idea of this bands slanted and enchanted take on life. Decidedly lo-fi, lo-budget, but spot on. Gonzalez has tons of bon mots, but the line No matter How many records I buy, I can’t fill this void could be the best lyric to describe record collector geek types ever.
mp3: I Won’t Lie To You