What Is There To Smile About?

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Scotland’s Close Lobsters never quite fit in with any scene. Sure, they were on the C-86 compilation put out by the New Musical Express, and they recorded their records at indiepop central Leamington Spa with John A. Rivers. I suppose all of those references might give you an idea of what they might sound like. Their guitars certainly jangle and they sound earnest, but I would never suggest that they’re indiepop or C-86 (whatever that is). Their records have an uplifting brightness to them and dare I say it they even rock out a bit. That juxtaposition sets them apart in my mind.

The band stopped being a band back in the late 80’s after the release of their second LP Headache Rhetoric. Fast forward 20 or so years, sometime after appearing at 2013’s New York City Popfest the band decided to start making records again. Eventually two 7-inch singles containing new songs appeared, one in 2014 and another in 2016. Now finally, a third album was released in February. The title is a mouthful, Post Neo Anti: Arte Povera In the Forest of Symbols. The cover might give the impression that they’re a metal band and the title suggests that they’re into prog rock. Neither is the case. In fact, the album picks up right where Headache Rhetoric left off. Songs like All Compasses Go Wild, Now Time, and New York City In Space sound like older and wiser brothers of classics like My days are Numbered, Nature Thing, and Foxheads. The band have John Rivers back in the producer’s chair and the album generally feels like they never broke up. I always thought that The Close Lobsters sounded timeless because they never really adhered to any scene or sound. They continue that streak and stick to their unique sunshine drenched jangle while stretching and bending it ever so slightly to keep it interesting.

Everyday I Get Up and Pray to Jah

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Working from home the past few weeks has allowed me the luxury of lying awake in bed after the clock radio goes off listening to whatever KEXP is playing that day. This morning I awoke from a deep slumber to the last 30 seconds of You’re Not Always On My Mind by Hobart, Australia’s Quivers. I didn’t realize I liked it at first as it was only 30 seconds of chiming guitars. The next song was Camper Van Beethoven’s Take the Skinheads Bowling so I actually started my day with “have big lanes, have big lanes” in my head. Later in the morning I pulled up the Quivers off the internet and discovered that this band had been missing from my life and if not for the virus enforced slowdown of my life I could have gone days, months years without them.

You’re Not Always on My Mind probably isn’t a dig at Willie Nelson’s You Were Always On My Mind, but it made me think of old Willie too. Quivers offer pop that is closer to the Catchers and the Go-Betweens. Jangling guitars, swell bass, and a contradictory chorus that is hard to forget. The song came out as single on Seattle’s Turntable Kitchen at the end of last year and is promised to be on an upcoming sophomore album. The single also contains a cover of REM’s Me In Honey which is also a preview of the band’s rendition of REM’s 1991 Out of Time LP due sometime soon as well.

Best Albums of 2019

Beating my self-imposed deadline by weeks, here is the Finest Kiss top 30 albums of last year. The list has been set for weeks, but the pesky writing part always causes a bit of delay. I don’t know, do you prefer a straight up list, or do you like a little reasoning and argument as to why a certain album is in solidly at number 12? Personally, I like lists that have a little bit of writing. Anyone can slap together a list of stuff, but when you actually have to write something about it inspires some more consideration. Ok, I know, boring music blogger talk. Please proceed.

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1. Kiwi Jr – Football Money (Mint)

Football Money grew and grew on me throughout the year. This young Toronto band deftly combined the pure pop of the Kinks, Zombies and the Smiths with the more askew angular ideas of Pavement and Parquet Courts and ably added in off the wall humor inspired by Jonathan Richman.  Songs like Salary Man and Football Money grab you with their immediate urgency and then roll you over and rub your belly with their innate pop sensibilities. These guys are sneaky and I love it. They can get you pumping your fist in the air with their rockers like Leslie and then cool it down with brilliant balladry of Swimming Pool, a song that references the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones and sounds like a better psychedelic cousin to Green Day’s Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).  Kiwi Jr’s debut album is nearly perfect. No pressure on the follow up fellas.

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2. Purple Mountains – Purple Mountains (Drag City)

It had been over ten years since David Berman ended his previous band the Silver Jews.  Most folks were aware of his mental health struggles and it was never certain that he would make another record. Well, he persevered, “spending a decade playing chicken with oblivion” to give us Purple Mountains, delivering the album a mere month before losing his game of chicken. The album is musically understated (his band is Woods’ Jeremy Earl, Jarvis Taveniere and Aaron Neveu) giving Berman’s lyrics the spotlight. He has a way with a rhyme and an uncanny ability to make the absurd and mundane beautiful and interesting.  Snow Falling on Manhattan  will be a future winter classic while Storyline Fever and All My Happiness is Gone are beautiful, brilliant, humorous, sad and ever so poignant given the circumstances. They don’t make many like Berman and his star shined brilliantly, but not long enough.
 

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3. Holiday Ghosts – West Bay Playroom (PNKSLM)

Any band that can combine the Velvet Underground, Modern Lovers, Bats and the Pastels into a record that makes its influences known but not overwrought deserves some acclaim. Album number two from Falmouth’s Holiday Ghosts is a delight. It’s packed full of black turtleneck wearing, clove cigarette smoking, toe-tapping surf-garage rock numbers that are so well done, you’ll be calling your friends and inviting them over for a hootenanny.

frenchvan
4. French Vanilla – How Am I Not Myself? (Danger Collective)

French Vanilla are a Los Angeles band that sound inspired by 80’s bands like Romeo Void, Waitresses, and Oingo Boingo. Funny how 80’s inspired music and movies have not gone out of style. I wonder if it registers with the kids when a movie like Spiderman loosely apes John Hughes’ teen movies like Ferris Bueller and Pretty In Pink in theme and soundtrack? Wasn’t Weird Science a super hero movie after all? Instead of the English Beat, Oingo Boing or Romeo Void, movie soundtrack folks might consider any song from How Am I Not Myself to fill out the soundtrack for the next teen inspired comedy super hero film. Danny Elfman, if you’re listening…

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5. Jeanines – Jeanines (Slumberland)

I’ve never been very good at predicting the future, but who doesn’t like to prognosticate? I hope I’m wrong, but this record has lost classic written all over it. Twenty years from now, old bearded millennials will be scavenging used bins for the Jeanines’ album for its autumnal jangle and frosty melodies that drip down on a sunny spring day melting the winter cold from the trees. Duo Alicia Jeanine and Jed Smith are firmly planted in the lore of Veronica Falls, Dum Dum Girls and the Shop Assistants and smartly possess the economical mindfulness of Guided By Voices. Don’t miss this classic.

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6. Capitol – Dream Noise (Meritorio/Kingfisher Bluez)

Hamilton, Ontario’s Capitol are very adept at generating moody post-punk noir that takes flight. File them under the Cure, Adorable, the Sound and Chameleons. Dream Noise is an appropriate title and it is filled with great pop songs full of cascading guitars and motorik-based beats.

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7. Dry Cleaning – Sweet Princess/Boundary Road Snacks and Drinks (It’s OK)

What do you do if you release two killer EP’s in a year? You put them together onto an LP is what. That is exactly the smart move that London’s Dry Cleaning (who remind me a little of Salad’s shrouded pop with the bouncy rhythms of Trash Kit) did here to create one great record from two. Singer Florence Shaw kind of sings/talks over angular backgrounds, can create atmosphere with her delivery alone, and knows how to use a curse word.

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8. Metronomy – Metronomy Forever (Because)
I can be hot and cold with Metronomy. Sometimes they deliver a record that’s packed with great stuff, and sometimes they miss. Metronomy Forever might be not contain any misses. It’s full of sugar coated synth pop with a sense of space and a knack for staying with you like an everlasting gobstopper.

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9. Robert Forster – Inferno (Tapete)

If ever there was an example to illustrate quality over quantity it would be Robert Forster’s album output since the death of his Go-Betweens partner Grant McLennan in 2006. Inferno is only his third album since then, but it may be his best. He teams up with producer Victor Von Vugt who also produced his first solo album Danger In the Past 29 years ago. The former Go-Between still has a knack for writing a song. No Fame and Inferno are pure brilliance and Life Has Turned a Page ranks up there with Darlinghurst Nights as one of his better nostalgia tinged semi-autobigraphical ramblers.

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10. Big Quiet – Interesting Times (Unblinking Ear)

When I first I heard this record, I thought that Mitch Easter must have come out of semi-retirement and teamed up with Susanna Hoffs to make a record. I was half right, Mitch Easter is indeed behind the production board here for Big Quiet’s debut LP. The band though are responsible for classic paisley jangle that evokes everything from the Bangles, REM, and Let’s Active. It ain’t pastiche though, it’s a corker that belongs right up there with those greats.

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11. Sneaks – Highway Hypnosis (Merge)

Eva Moolchan AKA Sneaks, finally delivers on the promise of here previous two albums. Where those records had promise, they never brought it home. Whether it was due to the brevity of the songs or being held back by fear of not being punk enough. Sneaks, finally says fuck it, and delivers a great batch of songs inspired by the likes Young Marble Giants, MIA and Bratmobile.

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12. Durand Jones & the Indications – American Love Call (Dead Oceans)

No retro soul album could ever be considered groundbreaking, but then when did the last groundbreaking record come out? American Love Call does one thing and it does it very well. Album number two is a little more toned down and smoother sounding than the debut. It’s Heavy on the strings and sounds as smooth as silk.

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13. Le Superhomard – Meadow Lane Park (Elefant)

This year has seen no shortage of records influenced by Stereolab and Broadcast which is fine by me. Le Superhomard lean more towards the Stereolab side of the teeter-totter with their ping-pong synths and bouncy melodies. They have a keen pop sensibility, with Scandinavian influences like Abba and the Cardigans elbowing in on the Stereolabisms to make this a very delightful affair.

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14. Jamie Branch – Fly or Die II (International Anthem)

Chicago label International Anthem has been on a run of late, putting out some of the most exciting sounding albums in any genre. They focus on jazz and avant garde, and Jamie Branch’s second album is a little of both. Branch plays the trumpet, and even takes the vocal mic on this record. Prayer for a Amerikkka pt. 1 & 2 sees her push A Love Supreme from the gospel to the political over a menacing grove interspersed with blasts of horn. Elsewhere she get’s playful like on Simple Silver Surfer with its latin influence. This record keeps you on your toes and makes jazz accessible for those who might normally steer away from a jazz record.

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15. Woolen Men – Human to Human (Eggy)

Down in Portland, Oregon Woolen Men keep on keeping on and releasing quality album after quality album. Human to Human is their latest and grooviest. The rhythm section has always been an important element of this post punk band but on Human to Human it is front and center. The songs are tight and confident (Mexico City Blues and Ecstasy of an Ant are two of their best songs) and the band are so locked into it that they even do an instrumental workout to flex their collective muscles. Could this be peak Woolen Men?

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16. Ride – This Is Not a Safe Place (Wichita)

Ride reunited in 2014 and then released their comeback album Weather Diaries in 2017 which was promising as far as comebacks go. Their second post reformation LP though, really validates the band’s reformation. It uses the band’s shoegaze/dreampop sound as a launching point into new areas of sonic revelry and features some of the best songs the band has written in Clouds of Saint Marie, Repetition and Future Love.

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17. Automatic – Signal (Stones Throw)

This Los Angeles trio make snyth pop sound dangerous. With no guitars in sight, their debut album calls on influences like Tones on Tail (Kevin Haskin’s daughter Lola Dompé is the drummer), Suicide, Gary Numan and Delta 5 (they cover Mind Your Own Business) and features attitude and atmosphere in spades.

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18. The Reds Pinks and Purples – Anxiety Art (Pretty Olivia)

Glenn Donaldson bands have made regular appearances in this blog’s year end album lists. That Art Museums is still a favorite and the last Skygreen Leopards was a doozy. He’s back with The Reds Pinks and Purples and it features a little something for fans of the Art Museums and Skygreen Leopards. Donaldson has voice that evokes nostalgia and sadness. Combined with 12 string jangling guitars and general lo-fi sensibility the record isn’t meant to impress on the first listen, but rather slowly attach itself to you.

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19. Cate Le Bon – Reward (Mexican Summer)

Cate Le Bon had a busy year, producing a Deerhunter LP, collaborating on another one with Bradford Cox, and this album her latest masterpiece of avant-pop. She’s an explorer, taking us along with her in endless endeavor to keep the pop song interesting. Where some of her recent work could be described as difficult, Reward is nothing of the sort. It’s never obvious or straightforward, but the edges have been softened making this an enjoyably, slightly experimental experience.

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20. Vanishing Twin – The Age of Immunology (Fire)

Fire records, Vanishing Twin’s record label has got a lock on Broadcast inspired bands with this, Death & Vanilla and Jane Weaver. The Age of Immunology mines similar territory to my favorite Broadcast album The Noise Made By People. Yes, points off for not being original, but they add enough nuance to it to make it easy to ignore where it came from and just appreciate where it is.

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21. The Young Sinclairs – Out of the Box (Requiem Pour Un Twister)

Quite a few bands get points taken off their score due to their songs sounding too much alike. Roanoke’s Young Sinclairs do not have that problem. Their creative juices flow from spacey drones reminiscent of Spiritualized, paisley jangle of the Church, folky harmonies of Buffalo Springfield, downbeat synths evoking New Order and Sam Cook inspired soul and that’s only half the record. Out of the Box is exciting because you never get bored and are surprised with every turn they take. What can’t this band do and do well?

dumb
22. Dumb Things – Time Again (Coolin’ By Sound)

This low-key Australian band hailing from Brisbane, the hometown of the Go-Betweens and possibly named after a Paul Kelly song, Dumb Things push all the right buttons. Their sophomore LP was released late last year with little publicity. It maintains the high quality standards set by their first album and sits comfortably beside your Dick Diver, Twerps and Chook Race records.

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23. Zebra Hunt – Trade Desire (Tenorio Cotobade)

On their third record, Seattle’s Zebra Hunt continue their janglepop mastery and add a handful of new classics to their repertoire like Two States, See Through You and Coral Scenery. They also make a Fresh & Only’s song sound like they wrote it and stretch out on the nearly seven minute Don’t Say Anything. At only eight songs, Trade Desire is economically minded record with no filler or fluff.

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24. Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society – Mandatory Reality (Eremite)

I think this record is considered jazz or experimental tonal jazz or some other mumbo jumbo. To me, it is hypnotic, trance inducing music that you shouldn’t listen to while operating heavy machinery. A warning sticker on the cover about the dangers of listening to it and ending up somewhere and not knowing how you got there should be placed on it. Better than drugs.

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25. The Intelligence – Un-Psychedelic in Peavey City (Vapid Moonlighting)

I have no idea what the title to the Intelligence’s latest album alludes to. This former Seattle band relocated to the fake surfing environs of So-Cal a few years back to continue their warped Ventures inspired glue sniffing weirdness. Main brain Lars Finberg, appears to be on the wagon, but there is no discernible drop off in quality here. Perhaps this is really what he’s like?

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26. Blue Jeans – Adult Hits (Bobo Integral)

This Ann Arbor, Michigan band is made up a veritable who’s who of the indiepop underground and the AllMusic writers bullpen. Tim Sendra of Veronica Lake, Fred Thomas of Saturday Looks Good To Me and Failed Flowers and Heather Phares who’s name I see quite a bit (along with Tim’s and Fred’s) on the AllMusic site. Adult Hits has a 90’s feel to it and a solid sense of humor. Opener Goodbye Forever has a Swirlies guitar buzz. We Hate Summer may be the best pro-winter anthem ever, “direct sunlight makes me wanna cry,” and “gimme gimme long sleeves” never fail to make me smile and the choruses on this song and many others will easily make their marks in your pop conscious.

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27. Flying Fish Cove – At Moonset (Help Yourself)

At Moonset is a tropical indiepop paradise. It’s soggy and warm with an innocent brand of pop that has touches of Elephant 6 psychedelics, pastoral folkiness akin to Essex Green, and DIY P.U.N.K. reminiscent of Heavenly. The songs range from ramshackle to swooning synth-tinged odes, all delivered with a confidence and professionalism that belies the indiepop aesthetic.

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28. BV’s – Cartography (Kleine Untergrund Schallplatten)

This English-German duo excel at moody, atmospheric pop that may remind more than a few folks of one or two bands on Sarah records or even the Durutti Column. Some might call it dreampop, but these guys are too darn moody for a tag like that. Cartography has couple immediate songs and some that meander and others that will take a few listens to really appreciate.

neutrals
29. Neutrals – Kebab Disco (Emotional Response)

Yank a Scottish guy out of Scotland and plop him down in the sun warped California bay area near a Kebab shop that doubles as a disco and you get this Swiss loving, CHiPs loving, slacker love record. Parts Art Brut, Ballboy and Television Personalities, Neutrals know a good joke, a top tune and great riff when they hear one.

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30. The Divine Comedy – Office Politics (Divine Comedy Records)
I went through a Divine Comedy phase back in the 90’s around the time of the Liberation, Promenade and Cassanova albums. Fell off the wagon around Regeneration and picked up Office Politics this year on a whim. Happy to report that Neil Hannon is still a curious fellow doing his own thing with a sharp ear for a melody and weird streak in him that really keeps things interesting. Office Politics is a concept album about the office, but for the life of me I can’t figure out how songs like the Synthesizer Service Center and Philip And Steve’s Furniture Removal Company fit into the concept and I don’t really care. Hannon is still following his comic muse.

Honorable Mentions
-Small Crush – Small Crush (Asian Man)
-Comet Gain – Fireraisers Forever! (Tapete)
-Daisies – What Are You Waiting For (K/Perennial)
-Marble Arch – Children of the Slump (Géographie)
-Piroshka – Brickbat (4AD)
-Edwyn Collins – Badbea (AED)
-J. McFarlane’s Reality Guest – TA DA (Hobbies Galore/Night School)
-Amyl & the Sniffers – Amyl & the Sniffers (ATO)
-Detox Twins – Dead Horse Ghost (Polytchnic Youth)
-Girl Ray – Girl (Moshi Moshi)
-Pernice Brothers – Spread the Feeling (Ashmont)

2019 Singles of the Year

singles
There hasn’t been much music blogging going on around here lately, but that doesn’t mean that music fandom has gone to bed. I guess this blog is part of a seemingly larger trend of the slow disappearance of the music blog. I guess a person can only sustain rabid fandom for so long. Nonetheless, the 7-inch single is still a thing and so is TFK year end singles list.
melanas
1. Melenas – Ya No Me Importa (Elsa/El Nebula)

This Spanish group who just signed with Trouble In Mind in the US follow up their ace debut LP from a couple years back with this 7-inch. It has a manic jangle that evoke the Dum Dum Girls and Shop Assistants. Spain lately has been carrying the indiepop flame for the rest of the world and these ladies are lead torchbearers.

2. Ducks Unlimited – Get Bleak (Bobo Integral)

Per capita, Canada have better quality indie bands than its wayward neighbor to the south. Toronto’s Ducks Unlimited are a fine example of a band taking 80′ UK jangle of the like of Azetec Camera and the Bluebelles adding their own twist and making it sound fresh and new.

3. Constant Mongrel – Experts In Skin (Upset! the Rhythm)

Australian post-punkers come up with a Chameleons – Comsat Angels inspired dark raging beauty of a song. In the post punk hey-day of the early 80’s the fear was of nuclear holocaust. Fast forward to today where we not only have that worry, but add to it global warming, and general anarchy. Experts in Skin’s dark dour groove will at least get you on the dance floor as the world burns.

4. Den Baron – Bonving (Cloudberry)

Apparently there is a little-known sport called Bonving where you throw shoes across a field into an opponent’s waste bin. It was invented by the Swedish band Eggstone and never really took off, except in certain circles in Germany. That’s where Den Baron come in singing this ode to the sport. Judging by the jangly sprightliness of this song they really love Bonving.

5. Automatic – Calling It (Stones Throw)

You won’t find a single guitar in songs by this LA band, just sharp Tubeway Army synths, slithery grooves and icy cool vocals. Calling it packs an intense wallop while the b-side synthesizes the Delta 5 classic Mind Your own Business.

6. Bananagun – Do Yeah (Anti Fade)

Bananagun’s Do Yeah channels  some sunny Donovan into the garage and comes up with a trippy garage rock  number that evokes daisies and Cameros. Not bad for a first single from a bunch of Melbourne youngsters.

7. Failed Flowers – Faces (Slumberland)

This single sees Fred Thomas and Anna Burch getting the band back together. Side A is Anna and the B-side is Fred. Can’t decide which is better, but I have definitely decided I need to hear more of this!

8. A Certain Smile – Cherry Bomb (Jigsaw)

Portland’s A Certain Smile return with a blistering single that buzzes from the turntable vibrating the room with warm poppy vibes. B-side Original Replacement sounds like an ode to the Replacements in not only name, but also its similarity to Hear Comes a Regular.

9. All We Are & Alex Kapranos – Heart Attack (Speedy Wunderground)

The arch duke Alex Kapranos turns in an impressive impression of Ian Dury on This single. Heart Attack gets you moving with a funky disco groove and provides many reasons to be cheerful despite singing about a life threatening situation.

10. Makthaverskan – Demands (Run for Cover)

It’s been a few years since it seemed like there was a new great Swedish band every other week. Gothenburg’s Mathavershakan jangle and rock sounding like a band that grew up in 80’s Los Angeles and moved to UK in the 90’s and then ended up in Sweden in the 00’s. Classic sounding pop that cuts straight to the chase.

11. Mr Ben & the Bens – Nova Scotia (Bingo)

Great Gorky’s! A UK band with a delightfully disarming ode to the Pop Explosion music festival that took place back in the 90’s in Halifax. Great big guitars blast out and give way to meandering synths to make this quirky hit.

12. The Proctors – Letters To the Girl (Shelflife)

The Procotors have been around since the mid-90’s. Letters to the Girl may be the pinnacle of their existence. It’s a soaring song with jangling guitars an airy melody and a earworm of a chorus.

13. Ex-Void – Only One (Prefect)

Former Joanna Gruesome members form a new band that sort of sounds like their old one,but also nods at 90’s indie trio Small Factory. Only One sounds like they caught lightening in a jar. Hope there’s more where that came from.

14. Current Affairs – Buckle Up (dotx3)

Buzzing Wire like guitars and possibly some Chameleons dark urgency ringing In there along with plucky vocals reminiscent of Siouxsie Sioux make for quite a ride back to the 80’s and some riding through territory as the Constant Mongrel single above.

15. Eggy – Billy (Spoilsport)

More slightly askew, garage-y Melbourne goodness courtesy of Eggy. Four songs here, the highlight being Bar Fred which drives itself into your personal comfort bubble and makes it more comfortable.

16. Tiña – I Feel Fine (Speedy Wunderground)

The Speedy Wunderground label has a strong 7-inch singles game. They don’t adhere to a narrow aesthetic except quality pop. Tiña provide a Camper Van Beethoven style riff and mix in some Wonder Stuff to come up with a slice of pop magic.

17. eGGS – A Certain Smile (Howlin Banana)

(Not the DC/Northern Virginia/TeenBeat Eggs) Parisian eGGSindie rockers follow up their 10″ from last year with two more jangly numbers inspired by Flying Nun bands like the Clean and the Bats. A Certain Smile blends in some early Church sounds as well for winning combination, and the b-side Picture Book lays down some drone-y driving vibes to complete a darn good single.

18. Tight Knit – Too Hot (Not Unloved)

Tight Knit’s lo-fi pop will have you guessing 90’s Olympia, Washington. Nope. Melbourne, Australia 2019. Too Hot has an endearing demo sound quality that makes it sound like you’re in the same room as the band. Add in some jangling guitar and catchy melody and you’ve got indiepop gold.

19. Wild Honey – Naive Castle (Slumberland)

Wild Honey’s contribution to the Slumberland singles club sees them pulling inspiration from Heaven or Las Vegas era Cocteau Twins. They’ve shed some of their shoegaze haze and replaced it with chiming pop hooks. It feels like a logical progression to the bands evolving sound and west coast relocation.

20. Le SuperHomard – Domino (Elefant)

Le Superhomard could have take the rest of the year off after releasing their excellent LP Meadow Lane Park, but instead chose to team-up with Tahiti 80’s Xavier Boyer. Both songs feature Boyer on vocals and effortlessly mesh Le Superhomard’s swirling synth pop with Tahiti 80’s lounge pop.

21. Penelope Isles – Chlorine (Bella Union)

Chlorine is a slice of UK guitar pop wormed its way into my favorite songs despite the inane lyrics and no actual chorus. “Chlorine you itch my feet,
You make me clean, Or so it seems, You make me smell a certain way sings Jack Wolter. Ah, the joys of learning how to do your own wash.

22. Vital Idles – Break (Upset! the Rhythm)

Break A as well as the other three songs here are exercises in restrain and patience. I keep expecting each song to explode into a giant freak out, but Glasgow’s Vital Idles are experts in holding back and yet somehow make each song compelling and interesting.

23. Cabin Essence – For Your Love (Good Land)

With a name like Cabin Essence you’ve gotta assume a heavy Beach Boys vibe, right? Landlocked in Milwaukee, they must store up the sunshine in barrels and funnel it into songs like For Your Love which they can play through the cold winter months to keep themselves going.

24. Tyvek – Changing Patters of Protective Coating (Self-released)

Detroit punks still going after all these years. This four song single keeps to the band’s pointy pop punk formula sandwiching two instrumentals with two of Kevin Boyer’s better songs.

25. Sex Sucks – Safe Pain (Croq/Mac)

French band seemingly inspired by Australian group the Triffids offer up this wide screen dramatic pop platter. All three songs conjure up vibrant drama painted with bits of organ, guitar and memorable choruses.

26. Group Photos – Safety (Box Bedroom Rebels)

Hailing from the inland empire down in southern California, this dreampop band effortlessly create atmospheric pop that glides off the turntable. This being a Box Bedroom Rebels release, you get seven songs on the vinyl and additional 3 on the download and still it’s not enough.

27. Rubber Blanket – New Garbage Truck (Space Case)

Wounded Lion’s Brad Eberhart and Lars Finberg of the Intelligence team up to make this slightly silly little ditty. An ode to the cleanest garbage truck in town may not be for everyone, but then if it was you wouldn’t be here.

28. Working Mens Club – Bad Blood (Melodic)

Bad Blood is a bit of Franz Ferdinand inspired pop from this young group withthe potential to get young folks off their phones and onto the dance floor. The b-side is a more in the Joseph K – Orange Juice vein and slightly more interesting because of it.

29. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever – In the Capital (Sub Pop)

In the Capital features a chorus that evokes classic stuff written by Grant McClennan. It breezes over you, and at first you don’t quite notice it, but then it faintly tugs at you and soon you want to hear it again and again.

30. Cozy Slippers – A Million Pieces (Kleine Untergrund Schallplatten)

This cozy Seattle group channel early 10,000 Maniacs on the guitar driven a-side and the Bangles on the b-side. A perfect match.

31. Carla Dal Forno – So Much Better (Kallista)

So Much Better sort of reminds me of Robyn Hitchcock’s Raymond Chandler Evening with its noir-ish and eerie feel. “The Pavement is beneath me and a sense of pending doom” sings Dal Frono and you know it ain’t good. Is it a murder that hasn’t happened yet?

32. Lake Ruth – Extended Leave (Slumberland)

New York City’s Lake Ruth subscribe to the same channels as Stereolab, Broadcast, Vanishing Twin and Le Superhommard of swirling synths, icy vocals and looping rhythms. Extended Leave is a autumnal tune that whooshes by in a huff, and pulls you along towards the light.

33. RVG – Alexandra (Our Golden Friend)

RVG finally follow up their jaw-dropping debut with this single. It’s good, but doesn’t quite reach the highs of A Quality of Mercy. Still, Alexandra is good, mostly due to band leader Rommy Vager dramatic singing and her ability to just about any old thing to life.

34. Euromilliard – Élève Modèle (Polly Maggoo)

Euromilliard are like a French version of Australia’s Eddy Current Supression Ring. They make a groove based post punk racket with a singer that has a delivery somewhere between singing, talking and yelling. Élève modèle is a ragging song and nearly worth the €666.66 it costs to download it.

35. The Cool Greenhouse – Landlords (Drunken Sailor)

The Cool Greenhouse are like an absurdist version of the Fall. With Landlords you know it was inspired by that Manchester band, but they take it to such an extreme that it goes beyond the influence into something that is entirely itself which is minimalist programmed beats and blips with a guy talking about seemingly random stuff. I can’t get enough of it.

Nearly Half Past Half Past

This list of mid year notable albums was supposed to done a month ago, but things move slowly when you’re slow. Here are a bunch of records I like from the fist half of this year in no particular order. Not a definitive list but more of a sign post so I can look back and see where I was in the middle of 2019.

daisies
Daisies – Daisies (Perennial Death)
When you think Olympia, Washington you think the Capitol of Washington state, or K records and DIY indie rock. I would wager that St. Etienne and Shortwave Set don’t immediately come to mind. Thanks to the CCFX-CC DUST-TransFX folks this left field beauty that melds psychedelia and dancy synths into something unexpected.

jeanines
Jeanines- Jeanines (Slumberland)
Some folks would call this a quintessential and classic Slumberland record. Some would scratch their heads and wonder what that even means. Translation, autumnal jangle pop that is as economical as Guided By Voices and hauntingly bittersweet as the Mama’s and the Papas.

holidayghosts
Holiday Ghosts – West Bay Playroom (PNK SLM)
Album number two from these Modern Lovers meets Pastels beatniks sees them still flying under the radar. Not sure how accurate internet radar is for this sort of thing these days, but I love rollicking ramshackle rock and roll like this.

joshua
Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society – Mandatory Reality (Eremite)
This is considered jazz or experimental tonal jazz or some other mumbo jumbo. This is hypnotic, trance inducing music that you shouldn’t listen to while operating heavy machinery. There should be a warning sticker on the cover about the dangers of listening to it and ending up somewhere and not knowing how you got there. Better than drugs.

patio
Patio – Essentials (Fire Talk)
Every time a song from Essentials pops up on shuffle play I think it’s a 90’s indie rock like Helium or Scrawl. This Brooklyn trio nods to the 90’s with their angular hooks and minimal pop but adds an airy sophistication to the update that sound for the new millennium.

trade desires
Zebra Hunt – Trade Desire (Tenorio Cotobade)
Seattle’s Zebra Hunt keep going as the world swirls around them, releasing a solid LP ever few years. The fact that their label is in Spain and they’ve toured that country more extensively than their own speaks volumes about the discerning tastes of the record buying public on the Iberian peninsula and how too many hometown folks don’t appreciate what’s in their own back yard.

vanishingtwin
Vanishing Twin – The Age of Immunology (Fire)
Fire records, Vanishing Twin’s record label has got a lock on Broadcast inspired bands with this, Death & Vanilla and Jane Weaver. This mines similar territory to my favorite Broadcast album The Noise Made By People. Yes, points off for not being original, but they add enough nuance to it to make it easy to ignore where it came from and just appreciate where it is.

mcfarlin
J. McFarlane’s Reality Guest – Ta Da (Hobbies Galore)
Unbeknownst to me, the Twerps were a band with an amorous couple at its core and that couple decided to call it quits thus dissolving one of my favorite Australian bands of the past five years. Martin Frawley and Julia McFarlane have both released albums this year, but McFarlane’s is the one that wormed its quirky head into my list of favorites. Minimalist and quirky, this not what you would probably expect from one half of the Twerps, but welcome nonetheless.

bvs
The BV’s – Cartography (Kleine Untergrund Schallplatten)
This English-German duo excell at moody, atmospheric pop that may remind more than a few folks of one or two bands on Sarah records or even the Durutti Column. Some might call it dreampop, but these guys are too darn moody for a tag like that. Cartography has couple immediate songs and some that meander and others that will take a few listens to really appreciate. This one grows on you and peels away its layers on repeated listening. Worth it!

intelligence
The Intelligence – Un-Psychedelic In Peavey City (Vapid Moonlighting)
I have no idea what the title to the Intelligence’s latest album alludes to. This former Seattle relocated to the fake surfing environs of So-Cal a few years back to continue their warped Ventures inspired glue sniffing weirdness. Hive minded Lars Finberg appears to be on the wagon, but there is no discernible drop off in quality here. Perhaps this is really what he’s like? I hope so.

sacred
Sacred Paws – Run Around the Sun (Merge)
Golden Grrls offshoot/continuation second album is brighter and richer sounding to my ears than their debut. Rachel Aggs’ (also of Shopping & Trash Kit) guitar playing is a perfect mix of indie jangle and afro-pop rhythm. The vocal interplay between her and Eilidh Rodgers is life-affirming. Add in some horn parts and you’ve got this really exiting record.

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Phillipi & Rodrigo – Paciencia (DeeWee)
If you recall and appreciate the excellent Bungalow Record label that was based out of Berlin in late 90’s and early 2000’s and their penchant for quirky electronic based pop like Czerkisky, Le Hammond Inferno and Ladytron, then DeeWee is a label you should follow. Phillipi & Rodrigo are a Brazillian duo that would have fit in perfectly on Bungalow with their soundtrack inspired dance music.

french
French Vanilla – How Am I Not Myself? (Danger Collective)
Funny how 80’s inspired music and movies have not gone out of style. I wonder if it registers with the young ones when movies like Spiderman loosely ape John Hughes’ teen movies like Ferris Bueller and Pretty In Pink in theme and soundtrack? Weird Science was a super hero movie after all, wasn’t it? Instead of Oingo Boing or Romeo Void, movie soundtrack folks might consider Los Angeles’s French Vanilla to fill out the soundtrack for the next teen inspired comedy super hero film. Danny Elfman, if you’re listening…

olden
Olden Yolk – Living Theatre (Trouble In Mind)
Living Theatre is album number two from the former Quilt guy Shane Butler. and continues to mine the rich pastoral inspired folky motorik vein of the their debut. It’s a sweet spot that is often better described as psychedelic folk music. This album is like an herbal soothing of the Free Design and Stereolab blended with the swirling pastoral vibes of a band like the Essex Green. Lovely stuff.

catele
Cate Le Bon – Reward (Mexican Summer)
Cate Le Bon’s DRINKS collaboration with Tim Presley has the minimal with a disregard for pop hooks. She seems to have taken that DRINKS minimal and inserted the missing pop hooks for fifth album. Reward rewards with minimalist pop perfection.

winona
Winona Forever – Feelgood (Kingfisher Bluez)
Feelgood is the second album by these Canadian coastal transfers (Vancouver to Montreal) with a soft spot for ill-considered tatoos and yacht rock. The warbly, jazz-influenced guitars remind me a little of Mac Demarco, Crystal Skulls and Mild High Club, but they have smooth pop intuition that smooths over any quirky edges.

cowgirl
Cowgirl In Sweden – S/T (Courtesan Music)
A Mysterious record that seems like it just wasn’t made for these times. It’s title is a wink and nod to the great Lee Hazlewood. With an eye to the past and the obscure, these misty eyed songs that are steeped in nostalgia right down to the limited pressing of 300 and no digital version to be had.

neutrals
The Neutrals – Kebab Disco (Emotional Response)
2017’s Motorcycle Cop put this San Francisco band on my radar. Their debut keeps them firmly planted in my sights. like Art Brute and This Many Boyfriends, Scotish transplant Allan McNaughton has an infectious fandom for indie rock and music culture and a sense of humor to go along with it.

weyes
Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising (Sub Pop)
The United States is so far removed from the hyperinflation, gasoline lines and presidential impeachment of the 1970’s that it is surprising that an album like this could be so popular. I think that previous sentence contained a little too much irony, sorry. Titanic Rising is a fantastical record that is parts Elton John, Carpenters and Joni Mitchel. Natalie Mering has conjured up quite a record with her melodramatic vocals that crescendo on nearly ever song. Dramatic stuff that feels like a child of the 70’s looking for her divorced parents.

rozi
Rozi Plain – What a Boost (Memphis Industries)
Spare and spatiatous songs swirl and intertwin themselves into you consious, like a minimalist Juana Molina. Rozi Plain blends folk with electronic sounds that sounds like Sea and Cake deconstruced bossa nova post rock. What a Boost is her second album and the perfect soundtrack for a gray and overcast day.

piroshka
Piroshka – Brickbat (4AD)
Piroshka seemed to garner a lot of attention for being a band that counted as members folks formerly of Lush, Moose, Modern English and Elastica. Sure Berenyi’s voice is hard not to associate with Lush, and you may recognize a Moose guitar flourish here and there but right from the album’s start you realize this group aren’t looking toward the past.

concerns
The Concerns – County Blue (War Hen)
Eternal Summers drummer Daniel Cundiff strikes out on his own for an album with some helpf from the Young Sinclairs’ Sam Lunsford and John Thompson. It’s steeped in 80’s alternative like REM, the Railway Children and a touch of Prefab Sprout. Cundiff doesn’t have a domineering voice, but he can deliver a hushed hook and with the jangly guitars, flourishes of synthesizers, and a few well placed horns makes County Blue an understaded winner.

edwynn
Edwyn Collins – Badbea (AED)
This is his best record since he had the stroke. Opener It’s All About You has the energy and spite of Georgeous George opener the Campaign for Real Rock. Hell, the entire album has that driving northern soul element that most of Collins best records always had. The guy sounds like he’s rejuvinated and ready to keep making more beauties like this.

forster
Robert Forster – Inferno (Tapete)
Robert Forster albums aren’t quite as rare as the return of the Locusts, and I look forward to them more than a swarm of insects. Inferno follows 2015’s Songs to Play which is only fours years and a short spell. Inferno teams him with producer Victor Von Vugt who also produced his first solo album Danger In the Past 29 years ago. The former Go-Between still has a knack for putting a song together. No Fame is pure Go-Betweens brilliance and Life Has Turned a Page ranks up there with Darlinghurst Nights as one of his better nostalgia tinged semi-autobigraphical ramblers.

kiwi
Kiwi Jr – Football Money (Mint)
More great Canadian pop in the mid-year list. Toronto’s Kiwi Jr fit somewhere between Sloan, Pavement, Beuhlah and Parquet Courts and seem cool with being uncool. By uncool, I mean cool in certain circles that are uncool from the outside looking in. They march to their own beat, sing odes to Burt Bacharach and Brian Jones and are more fun than 90% of the records in my house.

durant
Durand Jones and the Indications – American Love Call (Colemine)
No retro soul album could ever be considered groundbreaking, but then when did the last groundbreaking record come out. American Love Call one thing and it does it very well. The retro soul on album number two is a little more toned down and smoother sounding than the debut. It’s Heavy on the strings and romancing and sounds as smooth as silk.

lesuper
Le Superhommard – Meadow Lane Park (Elefant)
This year has seen no shortage of records influenced by Stereolab and Broadcast which is fine by me. Le Superhommard lean more towards the Stereolab side of the teeter-totter with their ping-pong synths and bouncy melodies. Meadow Lane Park is not just one or two good songs and rest filler, it’s packed full of beauties.

marblearch
Marble Arch – Children of the Slump (Géographie)
The second album from this Parisian band is more of a full band affair but keeps some of its predecessor’s bedroom pop ideas, just fleshes them out with a fuller sound. Children of the Slump with its driving bass, flourishes of synthesizers and gangling guitars is dreamy, atmospheric and aching. Old folks will think Low-Life era New Order, younger ones might think Craft Spells or Wild Nothing.

dumbthings
Dumb Things – S/T (Bobo Integral)
This record was digitally released in 2018, but got a vinyl release early this year so slips in on the technicality that I missed it the first time around. Hailing from Brisbane, the hometown of the Go-Betweens and possibly named after a Paul Kelly song gets my attention. Kindred spirits of the Twerps, Feelies and Zebra Hunt their self-titled debut is a worthy and good company of all of the above.

specials
The Specials – Encore (Island)
The name the Specials carries a lot of weight in certain circles and it’s a questionable call naming this a Specials album (They could have gone with Fun Boy Three), but this is probably as close to a real Specials reunion album we’re ever going to get and I’ll take it. With Terry Hall in the fold it would be hard to go wrong, add in some quality Lynval Golding songs and you’ve got pretty good record.

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Here are a few more notables, that didn’t quite make the first cut, but worth checking into.

rose
Rose Elinor Dougall – A New Illusion (Vermilion)

sleaford
Sleaford Mods – Eton Alive (Extreme Eating)

stroppies
The Stroppies – Whoosh (Tough Love)

uranium
Uranium Club – The Cosmo Cleaners(Static Shock/Fashionable Idiots)

homecurrent
The Home Current – Civilian Leather (Castles In Space)

gunn
Steve Gunn – The Unseen In Between (Matador)

hobbies
Possible Humans – Everybody Split (Hobbies Galore)

patience
Patience – Dizzy Spells (Winona)

tacocat
Tacocat – This Mess Is a Place (Sub Pop)

ffc
Flying Fish Cove – At Moonset (Help Yourself)

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Pip Blom – Boat (Heavenly)

Le Jardin de Flying Fish Cove

ffc

Another dispatch from Seattle. This time we catch up with indiepop up and comers Flying Fish Cove. Their debut album At Moonset came out on Help Yourself Records a little over a month ago. They are anchored by the songwriting couple Dena Zilber and Jake Jones and write an innocent brand of pop that has touches of Elephant 6 psychedelics, pastoral folkiness akin to Essex Green, and DIY P.U.N.K. reminiscent of Heavenly.

The album’s cover evokes a tropical paradise where cheetah cubs and friendly lizards hang out underneath double rainbows and twin crescent moons. The album conjures a make believe in light of harsh reality which seems to tips its hat to recent covers of like-minded Seattle bands like Mommy Long Legs and Tacocat. It wouldn’t be out of place on K or Magic Marker, packed full of immediate songs that range from ramshackle to swooning synth-tinged odes. Zilber has a sweet voice that gives you the impression she speaks from experience, while the lone Jones vocal on Cammy the Camry has a Jim Ruiz lounge style to it.

Just when I was giving up on the Seattle scene’s ability to generate new bands , Flying Fish Cove appear and deliver this beguiling beauty. Cheers!

Trouble In This Town: Zebra Hunt’s Trade Desires

trade desires

Living in Seattle at present requires one to be economical, especially if you’re trying to hold it down with the influx of tech usurpers. Folks used to move here for aesthetic reasons, but now that just comes with the package. It’s taken for granted, or just a bonus. You can tell by the shift from quirky and slightly run down shop fronts and houses to sleek, new and mundane shop fronts and townhouses and the tall buildings that keep edging out further and further from downtown. For a few years, it seemed like anyone with an artistic bent was packing up and heading out of town. That left Seattle tipping into a somewhat unenviable circumstance of being like every other fucking city.

Thankfully a few have stayed around and stuck it out. If i were an optimist I might even tell you that things are looking up, at least on the band front. Zebra Hunt have been a light in the darkness these last five or so years and their beacon continues to shine on their third album Trade Desires. At eight songs, it is economical. The band packs its punches and doesn’t waste time on any feints or diversions. Zebra Hunt continue their janglepop mastery and add a handful of new classics like Two States, See Through You and Coral Scenery to their cannon. They also make a Fresh & Only’s song sound like they wrote it and stretch out on the nearly seven minute Don’t Say Anything.

Every time a new Zebra Hunt album comes out, I count myself lucky that I live here. The PNW is known for its snow capped volcanoes, soggy grey days, hoppy beer, and if Zebra Hunt has anything to say about it, jangle pop.