Albums of 2017

The year 2017 will go on record as the first year I bought more downloads of albums than CD’s. I guess I’ve finally succumbed to the idea that a digital download is just as good as the compact disc. All things being equal, I prefer a complimentary copy of the vinyl with my purchase of the download. So, without any further digressions, here are my top 40 albums of 2017 with streaming links if I could find one.

rvg
1. RVG – A Quality of Mercy (Our Golden Friend)
This Australian band’s debut album grew slowly on me. It’s initial pressing sold out before anyone outside their circle even heard about them. Rooted in some of the best Australian bands like the Triffids and the Go-Betweens. Soaring guitars and lyrics filled with the bleakness of real life fueled songs that got better and better with each listen.

fazerdaze
2. Fazerdaze – Morningside (Flying Nun)
I was surprised not to see this album on more year end lists. Blissed out bedroom pop that is in the same realm as the better-known Jay Som. For my money though, Fazerdaze has a better hit ratio.

bedouine
3. Bedouine – S/T (Spacebomb)
This record came out of nowhere and sounded like nothing else this year. Part Carpenters, Jim Sullivan and Leonard Cohen. Syrian-born Azniv Korkejian who goes by Bedouine posses a smooth and soothing voice and made the comfort record of the year.

cableties
4. Cable Ties – S/T (Poison City)
The debut LP from this Australian trio was full of piss and vinegar. The songs were based on great grooves the reminded me of Eddy Current Suppression Ring and the angst-ridden vocals of Jenny McKechnie flashed with hints of Sleater Kinney. A band to be reckoned with!

melenas
5. Malenas – S/T (El Nébula)
Melenas from Pamplona, Spain take their Flying Nun records and translate them into toe tapping Spanish jangle. Who new that Jangle pop was a lingua franca? If world peace ever happens, expect Melenas to be featured on the soundtrack.

baxter-dury
6. Baxter Dury – Prince of Tears (Heavenly)
On his fourth album, Ian Dury’s kid delivers a brilliant set of songs. From the sleaze of the opener Miami to the filth laden vocals of guest Rose Elinor Dougall to the surprisingly clean cameo of Sleaford Mod’s Jason Williamson this record keeps you on your toes.

UVTV
7. UV-TV – Glass (Deranged)
The debut record from this Florida trio had the sugar-coated blitzkrieg pop reminiscent of the Primitives combined with Spacemen 3 druggy drone. The louder you turned it up the better it gets on this brilliant record.

girlray
8. Girl Ray – Earl Grey (Moshi Moshi)
This trio of teens from Wales deliver bouncy, breathless pop that sounds like part bucolic beauty and part wild overgrown garden. Elements of Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and Kevin Ayres lend excitement to Earl Grey and make them a band I’m excited to see what comes next for them.

lars
9. Lars Finberg – Moonlight Over Bakersfield (In the Red)
Striking out on his own, or retreating back to his hometown of Bakersfield, California? A little bit of both as the Intelligence front man and founder teams up with Ty Segall to make a solo record that sounds like an Intelligence record. I love the circuitousness of it all and truth be told, Lars could make a record of him blowing into beer bottles and I’d probably love it.

zebra
10. Zebra Hunt – In Phrases (Tenorio Cotobade)
I chose not to make a separate list of Seattle albums this year due to the issue of the seemingly disappearing Seattle scene. Thankfully the city still has these fellows who make Feelies-Flying Nun styled jangly pop that is second to none. Album number two from Zebra Hunt sees the band maintaining the insanely high level of quality of their debut.

groupd
11. Group Doueh & Cheveu – Dakhla Sahara Session (Born Bad)
This seemed to be an odd team-up, but it worked. The two bands, one from the Sahara, the other from France met in the desert to meld their styles and come up with avant desert grooves that shake rattle and roll like rock and roll is supposed to do.

feature
12. Feature – Banishing Ritual (Upset! the Rhythm
Make a record. Break up. Release the record. This trio of women seemed to have it somewhat backwards, but their Wire inspired pop that scratches, rubs and soothes sometimes all at once makes for a winning record.

star
13. Star Tropics – Lost World (Shelflife)
Chicago’s Star Tropics blend of indiepop jangle, Sarah records, For Against and New Order won’t win them any awards for originality, but the quality of their songs and the atmosphere they create is no rip-off either.

owens
14. Kelly Lee Owens – S/T (Smalltown Supersound)
For fans of Kate Bush, Bjork and the Cocteau Twins Kelly Lee Owens is a godsend. You hear elements of all the aforementioned, but nothing obvious due to Owens skipping off down her own path of ethereal pop bliss.

blacksprings
15. Black Springs – When We Were Great (Oven Material)
Instead of calling this an album, Black Springs chose to call When We Were Great a compilation of songs from their past giving you the idea that the band are no longer together. Mystery aside, this record has elements of dreampop, shoegaze and jangle and a confidence that has me pulling for them to make another record.

alvvays
16. Alvvays – Antisocialites (Polyvinyl)
I nearly wrote this Canadian band’s sophomore effort off, until Lollipop came up on shuffle one day. That song reminded me how effortlessly easy this band makes great pop songs. After Lollipop, Plimsoull Punks hit me, and after that Not My Baby and I was a believer again.

destroyer
17. Destroyer – Ken (Merge)
With Ken, Dan Bejar has fully stepped into the Scottish rain soaked landscapes of the Blue Nile. The sound is majestic and the outlook is dreary and sad, but with Bejar you get laughs with your tears. It was unfortunate that he decided to forgo appearing on the latest New Pornographers LP this year, but that means this album is all top shelf stuff.

bboys
18. B Boys – Dada (Captured Tracks)
I loved how Dada seemed to be both punk and post-punk at once. Or maybe it was the goth sound made me think of Christian Death and the Chameleons. Who knows, but it was loud and fun. I also loved how there ain’t a clunker in the bunch.

clap
19. Clap! Clap! – A Thousand Skies (Black Acre)
After teaming up with Paul Simon last year, Cristiano Crisci returns with album number two of dark world inspired rhythms. A Thousand Skies is cut from the same cloth of tribal rhythms and slithering melodies that veer towards drum and bass, but he adds some guest vocalists this time around.

Priests
20. Priests – Nothing Feels Natural (Sister Polygon)
Washington, DC’s Priests ably carry on the politically informed pop/punk that was championed by a litany of bands from the nation’s capital. Nothing Feels Natural Feels urgent and agitated and under attack. Priests kick back and write songs worth rallying around, which is much needed in this day and age of moral drift.


21. Flat Worms – S/T (Castle Face)
Flat Worms which features former members of Dream Boys, Sic Alps and Thee Oh Sees hit the ground running on this pummelingly great record. Lead off song Motorbike sets the scene of this menacing record. They’re sound like a biker gang that digs Suicide, but thinks synths are for poseurs. Big and bad!

shabazz2
shabazz1
22. Shabazz Palaces – Quazarz: Born On A Gangster Star &
Quazarz Vs. The Jealous Machines(Sub Pop)

I guess the two Shabazz Palaces LP’s from this year are considered a rap album, but it’s so out there in terms of mainstream rap that I don’t consider it as such. This is sci-fi fantasy that transcends musical boundaries. You like the Peter Thomas Orchestra? How about Can? That Clap! Clap! record? And a thousand other things. You can probably come at these two records from a hundred different directions and still dig them both.

motroper
23. Mo Troper – Exposure & Response (Good Cheer)
Mo Troper’s second album may not change the world, but it’s pristine orchestral pop will restore your faith in it. This is wide-eyed, wide-screen beautiful stuff likely influenced by albums by Jellyfish, Jeremy Egnik and Kay Kay and his Weathered Underground.

holiday
24. Holiday Ghosts – S/T (PNKSLM)
Manchester’s Holiday Ghosts self-titled debut is a bouillabaisse of low-key, unpolished pop. The group have a lot in common with bands like the Pastels, Comet Gain and the Envelopes. The vocals are shared between band members giving the album the feel of a vaudeville variety, but they keep the plot tight and the songs sweet.

sleaford
25. Sleaford Mods – English Tapas (Rough Trade)
You would think that after high rate of release this duo keeps up that they’d run out of ideas, but English Tapas sees no let up and in fact may their best one since Austerity Dogs. Mop Top even sees them introduce a melody and chorus, and gasp, no swearing. Are they aiming for the charts?

world
26. The World – First World Record (Upset! The Rhythm)
Take a tiny bit of Banarama, and add in some Specials and Selector and you get a sort of idea of what the Bay Area’s the World are going after. Steeped in 80’s punk and ska and sporting pop an astute pop sensibility First World Record is a sax laden tour de fun.

novella
27. Novella – Change of State (Sinderlyn)
Change of State sees Novella continuing on the same trajectory of their debut from 2015. Motorik beats, icy, layered vocals and clean sounding guitar riffs. This batch of songs is stronger and they approach the same quality that Broadcast reached on Tender Buttons.

proto
28. Protomartyr – Relatives In Descent (Domino)
Protomartyr’s fourth album is a towering achievement. It simultaneously comments on the sorry state of society, shares its rage and does so with songs that make you want to raise your fist and shout the chorus. Up the Tower, Don’t Go To Anacita and Male Plague are among the band’s best. My only complaint about this album is that the best stuff is hidden on side two, but that is minor.

slowdive
29. Slowdive – S/T (Dead Oceans)
It’s weird to think that Slowdive were scoffed at by the British press during their first incarnation in the 1990’s. That press is long gone, out of business. Slowdive are still with us and making brilliant music. Their self-titled comeback is packed full of dreampop featuring both Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell’s ethereal vocals. Slowdive can still conjure it.

business
30. Business of Dreams – S/T (Kocliko Records)
Corey Cunningham of the Terry Malts strikes out on his own into the world of 80’s inspired synth-pop. Inspired by the death of his father, Cunningham made a record that is personal in nature but its pop hooks combination of synthesizers and guitar riffs make it more than palatable to general populous.

spinning
31. Spinning Coin – Permo (Domino)
After a handful of singles, Glasgow’s Spinning Coin finally deliver the goods in their debut long player. As you might expect it’s a combination of ramshackle Pastels like pop and good natured Teenage Fanclub guitar pop.
https://spinningcoin.bandcamp.com/

jana
32. Juana Molina – Halo (Crammed Discs)
Juana Molina has been making records for a while now. Halo is her seventh album. Her formula hasn’t changed too much over the years, creating loops and building them up into a bricolage. In the past it could get busy, but Halo sees her cleaning things up a bit and delivering more straightforward earworms.


33. Oh Sees – Orc (Castle Face)
At this point, a jaded listener might think Oh Sees records are delivered off a conveyor belt, one that changes its name after each new model. Dropping the Thee, John Dwyer’s group sees no creative letdown despite fewer letters. In fact, Orc delivers classic sounding rippers interspersed with Eno style ambience.

stevens
34. The Stevens – Good (Chapter Music)
Album number two from the center of the Melbourne indie scene, didn’t seem to get the attention of their debut. Too bad, because this batch of songs is high quality. At 18 tracks, Good has that uncanny quality that Guided by Voices had in that run in the Bee Thousand to Under the Bushes era.

last
35. Last Leaves – Other Towns Than Ours (Lost & Lonesome/Matinee)
Marty Donald, who was the chief songwriter in the Lucksmiths took a long break after that band called it quits. It’s great to hear him again, this time doing the singing as well as playing guitar. He’s got most of his former band along with him as well. Last Leaves of course will remind you of the Lucksmiths, but this band is something different in that they look more to classic rock than indiepop or at least infuse their pop with some sharper edges and more serious topics. They call it older and wiser.

faith
36. Faith Healer – Try ;-) (Mint)
Jessica Jalbert was a member of the Edmonton punks Tee-Tahs .That is in the past and this is her second album as Faith Healer. Try ;-) lives on the same planet of the Brewis brother’s Field Music. Combine Jallbert’s croon and her ability to write a good pop hook you have something special.


37. Kelley Stoltz – Que Aura (Castle Face)
Kelley Stoltz may have peaked commercially on his Sub Pop debut Below the Branches when his song Birdies Singing was being used in commercials. I haven’t heard him in any commercials since, but honestly the guy keeps releasing great albums. Solid through and through and Que Aura is no different from the previous four in that regard.

corridor
38. Corridor – Supermercado (Requiem Pour Un Twister)
Supermercado is Spanish for grocery store. Corridor is French for angular pop. Supermercado is the second album from Montreal’s Corridor and it is a brilliant melange of pop and sharp jabs and lots of hooks.

rays
39. Rays – S/T (Trouble In Mind)
Rays do great Modern Lovers style rock. The songs feel like they could fall apart at any moment, but they end up making it through each one without the doors flying off the speeding dilapidated vehicle.

trementina
40. Trementina – 810 (Burger)
On their second album, Chile’s Trementina forego the obvious shoegaze effects and travel down a far more interesting path of warped dream pop that only the Swirlies have dared to go before.

Zebra Hunt Phasing Into the Sunset

Zebra Hunt, Unlikely Friends & Seacats at the Sunset Tavern, Seattle | 2 June 2017

Over the last five years it seems like many of my favorite Seattle bands have either broken up or left town. A few new ones have come up to replace them, but it seems like we’re in a slight lean period compared to the previous bounties we’ve experienced. Friday night at the Sunset in Ballard three Seattle bands provided some much needed rain on the parched fields of the Seattle music scene. Zebra Hunt, keepers of the Seattle pop flame, were celebrating their second album seeing the light of day courtesy of Spanish record label Tenorio Cotobade.

If you haven’t heard, Zebra Hunt are Seattle’s answer to the classic Flying Nun jangle of the 80’s and the current day jangling explosion of bands from Australia. If you’re old and dig the Clean and the Chills or young and love the Twerps and Chook Race, then Zebra Hunt will fit nicely into your wheelhouse. Having employed Jack Endino to record it, their sophomore effort improves on sound quality and sees no let up in song quality.

Focusing mostly on the new record the band played a great set for the home crowd and provided after show cupcakes decorated with their album cover. Since the last record Zebra Hunt have added a fourth member to the band to help flesh out their sound. The additional guitar and keyboard combined with their already stellar rhythm section increases the impact of the Zebra Hunt experience.

Singer and songwriter Robert Mercer writes about ordinary life but supplies an element of mystery to to his songs by being economical with the details. He is of the Raymond Carver school of writing. You get stories of house hunting, evening walks, listening to records in the kitchen and Foxhill Drive in 2005 with clues to what happened but no answers. I Wont’ Blame You house hunting backdrop sounds partly inspired by Courtney Barnett’s Depreston which was inspired by Paul Kelly’s To Her Door, which was inspired by Carver’s short stories. The lineage is impeccable.  With the release of In Phases, the band now have a larger trove of treasures to pull from for their live shows with a virtual guarantee never to disappoint.

Unlikely Friends were coerced out of their sabbatical to provide support. A BOAT and Math and Physics Club team-up, the group features the um, unlikely combination of both band’s singers, except on this night D. Crane had lost his voice . Probably due to the previous weekend’s BOAT reunion show or some rogue virus, the voiceless Crane  replaced his voice with a message he wrote on a series of notebook pages that littered the stage. The band was in triage mode with Charles Bert of MAPC taking over most of the vocals but letting the drummer Chris have some leads as well. They persevered and kept their sense of humor about them. Look for a second album and hopefully more shows from these underdogs when they’re restored to full power sometime in the not too distant future.

Opening the night were Seacats. Formerly of Kelso-Longview, but now apparently based in Seattle. The two singles I have of theirs give the impression that their a silly, happy-go-lucky sort of band, but as I walked in it was in the middle of their heavy stuff. I think it was their nuclear bomb song. Then they switched singers and pulled off a sublime psych-pop number and I was thoroughly confused. I wasn’t sure what to make of it all, but at least it was interesting!

Feature

feature Photo by Owen Richards

Wouldn’t ya know it, one of the better records of the year comes out by a band that’s already broken up. Punk trio Feature released their debut LP Banishing Ritual last month, but have already moved on.  Too bad, because, this group has attitude and style combining elements of Brilliant Colors and early Lush and the Ramones into and undeniable punk melange. The lead off track Psalms grabs your attention immediately with its Lush meets Ramones riff and harmonies. The highlight of the record is Schedules Align which starts with a killer riff and features a monotone melody made infamous by OG punks Wire. Like most great records, Feature’s debuts molds its influences into something that sounds at once familiar and new and exciting.

I wonder if anyone could convince Sauna Youth‘s Jen Calleja, Slow Coaches‘ Heather Perkins and Liv Willars to get back together and make another record? Maybe selling a couple hundred thousand of their debut long player would do it. I bought one so the rest of you 199,000 get on it and do your duty.

Vinyl available from Upset the Rhythm and download/stream from bandcamp.

Lake Serene

lake

Some groups sound so damn polite, like they would take you in if you showed up on their doorstep shivering in the freezing rain and give you some dry clothes, a seat by the fire and a warm drink. Lake are one such group. Some of their songs sound downright churchly. The Free Design always gave me the same impression, dealing in lush, bucolic pop paintings that could only offend if you find politeness offensive.

On their new album Forever or Never they leave the Olympia, K Records stable for the pastures of Hamburg, Germany’s Tapete records. The band are still based around the Puget Sound, now calling Whidbey Island their home. Label change aside, the band continue down their garden path into summer’s cauldron with everything in full bloom. Songs like Christian Comedians with its lush string parts takes some cues from Seeds of Love era Tears for Fears and XTC‘s Skylarking. You can almost see the pollen floating in the air. Other tracks hint at light 70’s funk akin to Hall and Oats, while many are fine with just being their unique brand of childlike wonder juxtaposed with smooth rock vibes.

Lake sound like real pros dealing in stealthy psychedelia. Everything is proper, fully enunciated and always polite. Come in out of the rain and warm up to Forever or Never.

Stream / Buy Lake – Forever or Never.

UV-TV

uvtv

Gainsville, Florida’s UV-TV obviously have great taste. Side one of their debut LP Glass bounds from Shop Assistants to Primitives and Black Tambourine. It doesn’t let up from the gas pedal once forcing its blissed-out sonic assault down your throat. Singer Rose Vastola has a saccharine sweet voice that easily breaks through the shards of noise put down by guitarist Ian Bernacett. Every song is a heart attack.

Side two stretches their pallet beyond the saccharine noise pop of side one. The songs are longer, more brooding and go for a different pop jugular. The Chameleons, Spacemen 3 and the Gun Club all pop into the frame of reference. No matter how you like getting your pop fetish tickled, I highly recommend tuning into this record!

Glass is out on Deranged Records, the same label that released Wildhoney‘s Sleep Through It.

No Cruise Required to Appreciate These Glaciers

glaciersHere’s to the folks who scour the internet for hidden beauties like this album from Melbourne, Australia’s Glaciers! Living Right is a fine piece of jangly goodness that deserves a wider audience. It came out last year on bandcamp, but has recently been released on vinyl by new Spanish label Meritorio Records.

The eleven songs on Living Right evoke the Railway Children and early records by their fellow countrymen the Church. The songs have an easy, mellow vibe that is slightly melancholy but brilliant and breezy. With only one record, these youngsters have plunked themselves right into the long lineage of shimmering jangle pop bands, many of which are long forgotten by most folks. Thankfully there are bands in far off corners of the world who still make this beautifully sublime kind of thing and others who feel it necessary to press it onto vinyl.

Buy a download or record of the Glaciers’ Living Right from Meritorio Records.

Heading Down Main Street with Talbot Adams

talbotI have been a bad blogger lately, neglecting this page even more than usual. I got the new Talbot Adams album sometime last year, played it a bunch, loved it, and then buried beneath a bunch of other records. In my attempt to organize, I was filing records this weekend and was reminded of my remiss when Community/Recession Era popped up from behind a stack of LP’s sitting on the floor. I immediately pulled out the orange disc and played it.

The album is a low key affair, consisting of Adams and his guitar (mostly acoustic with a handful of electric ones), but it has this subtle psychedelic quality to it that gives you something to keep coming back. It’s a little Doug Tuttle, Bert Jansch and Richard Davies.  Adams’s songs provide a grounded perspective to life in general and seem like an open book into his tender soul. In the hands of a lesser artist it could become a mundane trudge, but Talbot Adams is a tower of song that demands to be heard.

Community/Recession Era came out on German label Secret Identity Records, but you can pick up a copy in the US on Space Case.