For some unexplained reason the indie scene in Oxnard,California is an embarrassment of riches. How good is it you ask? It’s so good it has people in Los Angeles begging the bands to move down the coast to LA. Southern California has never really been known as a hotbed of indie pop activity but with the Matinee label in Santa Barbara and now the burgeoning scene in Oxnard, things are quickly changing. At the center of the Oxnard scene is Yay! a label that is devoutly DIY. They only put out records on old school 7″ vinyl, no mp3’s, no cd’s and no 8-tracks! Last year Yay! put out only two records one by the Tartans and one by Catwalk, but both were amazing and made my list of best singles of the year.
Coming out of the gates early and strong, Yay! are just about to release their first single of 2009. It’s the debut slab of wax by another Oxnard band the Sea Lions and from what I’ve heard it will very likely appear on my 2009 list of singles. The Sea Lions have a sound that is part surf, part garage and part indiepop. Adrian Pillado’s voice has deepness to it that reminds me a little of Calvin Johnson, but his phrasing sometimes makes me think of Kevin Seconds. The music is revved up garage rock that jangles and twangs in all the right places. It’s got elements of Heavenly, and the Clean, but also contemporaries the Crystal Stilts. This single is so good, I find it hard to believe it’s their first! You can listen to a couple songs from it, one is posted on Yay!’s MySpace and another is up on Yay!’s website, both will have you plunking down your hard earned cash for this slab of wax.
Have a listen to Good Feelings from the upcoming single here, or Beautiful Day over at Yay!’s MySpace.
This year seemed to be the year in which the 7″ single returned to prominence. It’s not like it ever really went away, but this year bands and labels were putting them out left a right. Vinyl in general, is making a resurgence with the prevalence of file downloading a cd is just a lousy digital copy that takes up too much space, whereas a slab of vinyl is more like a work of art with it being big enough to actually appreciate the cover art. It also comes in many shades, with colored vinyl showing up almost as much as the standard black even though its sound quality is supposedly inferior to good old black. Records these days have a one of kind feel to them or at least one of limited run, making you feel like you really buying something besides just the music. I probably haven’t bought this many records since the indie heyday of the early 90’s. It was fun again to hang out by the record player and change the record every three minutes, and I did this quite a bit, nearly spending all my listening time at home doing just that. In celebration of it’s return, I’m compiling my favorite 7″ singles of the year, my only requirements are that it had to be put out this year on a 7″ and I had to actually buy it. So here is what got the most spins in my house, you will have to take my word for it since my turntable doesn’t keep track of play counts. Now go out and buy some records!
1. Summer Cats – Lonely Planet (Cloudberry)
This number one was a no-brainer for me. With it’s pulsing keyboards and killer guitar riff, this was on my turntable nearly every evening for a good month. I’ve heard through the grapevine that Australia’s Summer Cats are working on a full length. It will easily one of my most anticipated records of next year. Or instead they could just put out singles like this all next year and I would completely happy.
2. Catwalk – Past Afar (Yay!)
Apparently Oxnard, California has a killer scene at the moment and Yay! records has signed every single band in the scene. Catwalk’s second single for the label is a sad, energetic beauty that has elements of the Close Lobsters as well as Blueboy. How can you get any closer to heaven than that?
3. Liechtenstein – Apathy/Security by Design (Fraction)
Ennio Morricon moved to Sweden and got a sex change? No Liechtentein, three women from Goteborg, Sweden put out an amazing record. Their second single had everyone excited who heard it, and how could you not be excited? That’s the beauty of the single, you put your best foot forward. It’s like Security by Design, two killer songs and a whole lotta mystery just like all those great girl groups from yesteryear, they need not release anything more to be cemented into music history.
4. Nodzzz – I Don’t Wanna (Make a Mess)
The Nodzzz couldn’t keep this record in print and it’s easy to see why, when you hear its raw bass line and punk rock chorus. It’s only a minute and a half, so you’ll be picking up the needle and putting it back at the start to play it again quite frequently.
5. Muslims – Parasites (I Hate Rock n Roll)
San Diego’s Muslims are no more, they’ve gone and changed their name to the Soft Pack for reasons only they know. Listening to this harks back to the day when the band were irreverent, in your face, snot nosed punks. I’m not sure what they are now, but this single will have you on your knees praying that the name is the only thing they’re changing. Killer cover of Spacemen 3’s Walking With Jesus gets best cover of the year without a doubt.
6. The Tartans – Cats of Camerford (Yay!)
Horns, horns, horns! It’s easy to forget how much a great horn line in a song can just put it over the top. This ranks up there with Brideshead’s Real Art as a killer pop song with a more killer horn hook.
7. Je Suis Animal – Painted In my Face (Cloudberry)
French name, Norwegian band, singing in English, swirling Broadcast/Stereolab sound, and an a-side to die for. The Scandinavians never cease to amaze me with their uncanny ability to arrive fully formed with style and songs that seems like they should take years to develop.
8. Boat – Topps (Magic Marker)
Boat are one of my favorite bands in Seattle and they really outdid themselves with this record. It was named after the baseball card company and came with a deck of hand drawn trading cards that included the band’s favorite baseball players as well themselves sporting baseball caps, cool badges with the band in their baesball getup and of course a stick of gum. Topps is just that, with it’s shakey keyboards, economical guitar riff and hyper Boat-esque chorus, it’s got it all, a wife, a job, a record store that knows it’s name and friend in every town.
9. Wake the President – You Can’t Change that Boy/Kingfishers – Make Me Sad (Electric Honey/Aufgeladen Und Bereit)
First of all the Kingfishers doing a cover of Vic Godard’s Make Me Sad would for some, be worth the price of admission, but Glassgow’s Wake the President are more than happy to steal the show with their original slice of Godard/Orange Juice pop. It’s one of those songs that make you want to bounce around on the furniture. I’ve been reprimanded a couple times for doing just that while listening to this.
10. Black Mountain – Lucy Brown (Sub Pop)
For its 20th anniversary this past summer Sub Pop started its third incarnation of its singles club. I joined figuring it would be kinda cool getting a surprise in the mailbox every month. November’s edition was the best surprise yet. I have kinda ignored Black Mountain up until this single, but Lucy Brown has bitten me with it’s scuzzy bass and bluesy vibe. This rocks so hard it was more than worth the price of joining this club.
11. Sexy Kids – Sisters are Forever (Slumberland)
Jeeze, with Slumberland putting out a slew of killer albums and singles this year, I was both surprised and amazed when a few weeks ago that the label announced it was putting out a couple more singles. Sisters are Forever, one of those singles, is a perfect pop rush. Tie a double knot and don’t forget to buy this.
13. Bears – Making Something(Impose)
A record player, a sunny summer afternoon and a Bears record go along way to a blissful existence. I don’t think I need to really say anything else about this sublime record, I really can’t think of a better way to spend two minutes.
14. Twig – Ciao Ciao Bomb (Cloudberry)
Earlier in the year I wrote about how there seemed to be this Orange Juice resurgence happening. Twig singer Henrik Linden could be Edwynn Collins’ long lost cousin and Ciao Ciao Bomb could be an unearthed OJ song. Twig are no cover band though, their originals are classics in their own rite and this single as well as their album Life After Ridge on Plastilina is proof positive.
15. Vivian Girls – Wild Eyes/My Baby Wants Me Dead(Plays With Dolls)
It wasn’t the a-side that did if for me it was the rocking jam of a b-side that got me. Crashing guitars and then silence followed by the eerie singing of ‘My baby wants me dead, he wants to put a knife in my head’. It’s downright spooky.
17. Moscow Olympics – Still (Fraction)
This was the first official release from the mysterious Phillipeans’ Moscow Olympics and what an introduction. Dreampop at its most dreamy.
18. Box Elders – Hole in my Head(Grotto)
Omaha, Nebraska’s Box Elders are like a diamond in the rough, there surely cannot be a kiwi scene in the nation’s midsection can there? This record just does not get old with me, it even sounds like it was recorded 20 years ago with a decidedly lo-fi feel that you just can’t fake.
19. Surefire Broadcast – When I Need Someone/Some Seek While Some Find (self-released)
This is kind of a cheat, since I don’t actually own this 7″, only a cd-r of it. But it exists and it was recorded by Dustin Reske of Rocketship. Surefire Broadcast are easily one of my favorite bands of the moment and this record is the perfect evidence, with it’s almost grungy guitar juxtaposed with boy-girl vocals that swirl around each other into undeniable pop sunshine.
20. Times New Viking – Stay Awake (Matador)
If you’ve made it this far, you may need to be jarred out of your complicity and Times New Viking are the perfect thing for that. Discordant noise has never sounded better, at least to these ears.
If you live in Seattle, and even if you don’t, this week has been Sub Pop overload. It seems like everywhere you turn there’s something being written about the label in the newspaper, magazine, blogs, or something on the radio, or TV. Hell, they’ve even taken over the Space Needle with a Sub Pop flag and had it painted like a record. Will they not stop? Probably they will, but it won’t be at least until this weekend is over. The grand finale to Sub Pop’s 20th birthday party is a two day music fest extravaganza over in Redmond at Marymoor Park. If you haven’t heard, (you haven’t heard?!?) it’s two days of music with a lineup that includes the reunited Vaselines, Beachwood Sparks, Green River Les Thugs and Eric’s Trip as well as current label powerhouses Fleet Foxes, Foals, Wolf Parade and No Age.
I was not one that really started off loving a lot of the music Sub Pop put out, but I always had respect for the label. They put out records of bands they liked, and as the label grew, the diversity of it’s roster also grew. Both Jonathan Poneman and Bruce Pavitt were rabid music fans and it definitely shows through in their label’s catalog with everything from Combustible Edison to the Fastbacks to Mudhoney to Iron and Wine to Foals. It seems like I was more of a fan of their more left field releases, at least early on. Some of my favorites include:
Pernice Brothers – Overcome by Happiness
Eric Mathews – It’s Heavy in Here
The Spinanes – Manos
Velocity Girl – Simpatico
Zumpano – Look What the Rookie Did
Fastbacks – Zucker
One of the coolest things the label ever did was start a singles club where you paid up front and got records mailed to you each month. They just recently announced they were starting up the club again. Records start shipping in August, you can sign up here, but better do it quickly, each release is limited to 1500. To tempt you into signing up and to celebrate the label’s 20 years, here are few singles from the Sub Pop catalog that are now out of print. Happy birthday, and see ya at SP20!
sp295 mp3: Tindersticks – Here (Pavement cover)
The McTells were a UK band that released most of their music on slabs of 7″ vinyl. Vinyl Japan compiled a whole bunch of those records onto a CD called What Happens Next and the band actually did release two albums titled Cut Up and Smash Up. This single came out at, or near the end or the band’s career back in 1994. Of all their records, I think that this was my favorite. It was just the right amount of McTells, four songs, 2 on each side. They were as catchy as the band had ever wrote and it did what a single is supposed to do, leave you wanting more. The needle on my record player usually stayed on side A of this single with the one-two punch of Clearly and C without I ringing out in my bedroom as long as I had the energy to get up and put the needle back to the beginning.
Half the stuff in my collection I can barely remember where I got it, but this single was purchased on a trip to Boston at Newbury Comics in Cambridge. It got a lot of play from me and a few others on my grad school college radio station, WCDB, Albany. Sorry about the scratches, but that’s the way it goes. It seems like most of the singles that came out on back in the 90’s were on low grade wax, plus when you try to fit two songs on a side, the sound quality tends to go down as well. This was also released on cd single, so someone out there likely has a better copy of this stuff.
There’s a bit more info about the new Lucksmiths record, which is a compilation of non-album tracks that will fill the holes in your Lucksmiths collection. It contains no less than 45 songs and totally raids the vaults. It has everything including the kitchen sink on it, check out the track list over at their new Australian label, Lost and Lonesome. There are tracks from out of print 7″ singles, excellent cover songs, some unreleased stuff, radio sessions, remixes…my god what doesn’t it have? Here are a couple songs that will be making their first appearance on cd. These were ripped from my 7″ collection, so the sound is a bit crackly but I like to think that it was the way they were meant to be heard. They both are from the Macintyre 7″ that was limited to 500 copies and was a co-release by Candle Records and Thirsty Arab Records back in 1996. Are Are You Having A Good Time?!?! is a riot of a song that you have to check out, and I bet will make you want to buy this double cd! Both songs will be on Spring A Leak which is out in September on Lost & Lonesome in Australia and Matinee in the US.
…And if you live in the States, the band will be over touring the country. They’re not here that often so if they’re close, go see ’em. Here are the dates:
Fri Sept 21 — Los Angeles, CA – Venue TBC #
Sat Sept 22 — Santa Barbara, CA – Red’s Espresso Cafe #
Sun Sept 23 — San Francisco, CA -12 Galaxies
Mon Sept 24 — Seattle, WA – Crocodile Café #
Tues Sept 25— Portland, OR – Holocene
Wed Sept 26 — Chicago, IL – Venue TBC
Thurs Sept 27 — Cambridge, MA – TT The Bear’s ^
Fri Sept 28 — New York, NY – Knitting Factory ^
Sat Sept 29 — Brooklyn, NY – Europa ^
Sun Sept 30 — Washington, DC – DC9 ^
Mon Oct 1 — Durham, NC – Duke Coffeehouse ^
Tues Oct 2 — Athens, GA – Caledonia Lounge ^
Wed Oct 3 — New Orleans, LA – Venue TBC
Thurs Oct 4 — Austin, TX – Emo’s
# with The Math & Physics Club
^ with The Ladybug Transistor
It’s always with a lot of shock that I read the news about pop stars dying, especially those whose music has made a lasting impression on me. Late this afternoon I read how Keith Girdler of Blueboy died of cancer on 15 May. It immediately brought back the feelings of exasperation and disbelief, that I remember feeling when I heard that Grant McClennan of the Go-Betweens had died last year at this time. People this young are not supposed to die, well maybe they are, but it makes me realize what a tenuous hold we have on this mortal coil.
Blueboy was the band Gridler was best known for, he was the singer and wrote the songs along with Paul Stewart. He and Stewart released three full length albums and a number of singles on the now defunct Sarah and dormant Shinkansen labels. Their first record, If Wishes Were Horses has long been out of print but is, in my opinion, their best record. Girdler shared vocal duties with Gemma Townlet on Horses. Although it has been derided by some as twee, it did a masterful job at melding indie pop, chamber music and bossa nova.
They turned up their guitars a bit a shed some of their preciousness for the Dirty Mags single and their final album Bank of England. In fact the Dirty Mags single is a bit of an anomaly in their catalog, sounding a little like the Wedding Present with it’s pounding bass line and feedback.
After that Girdler continued to work with Stewart in Beaumont, Arabesque, and Lovejoy. He also collaborated with Pam Berry in the Snowdrops. I still can’t believe that he’s gone.
Coming out of Sacramento by way of Iowa and the excellent Bus Stop label, Rocketship put out a string of singles and the excellent full length A Certain Smile, A Certain Sadness. The one constant throughout was Dustin Reske, who wrote and sang most of the songs. The first Rocketship single came with the super catchy Hey Hey Girl as well as an ode to Galaxy 500. It was a slice of pop in the vein of Stereolab, but also had a lot in common with the Apples in Stereo and the Lilys from around that time. As good of debut single as any band could ask for.
The next 7″ Honey I Need You, came out on Bus Stop after A Certain Smile was released on Slumberland, it wasn’t as immediate, but was made from the same ingredients as their earlier stuff. It was the next single that appeared on the Jigsaw label that was somewhat of a departure. The a-side, Get on the Floor (and move it) was a bit more funky, a bit more nerdy, and then it all just dissolved into one big drone, which continued on to the b-side All the Pleasures.
Dustin still records under the name Rocketship and has a proper web page as well as my space.