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.

Trouble In This Town: Zebra Hunt’s Trade Desires

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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.

Catching Chook Race While They’re Around the USA

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Taking on America with an extensive 25 date tour is ambitious for any band, but when you’re Chook Race, a little known three piece jangle pop band from Melbourne, Australia it’s downright impressive (and maybe a little insane). The band made its way into Seattle Wednesday night to play the Victory Lounge, a bar with no stage in East Lake. This is one band I thought I would never see in Seattle, but after self-releasing their first album, Chicago label Trouble in Mind signed them making their second LP widely available in the United States as well as this tour a reality.

Singer and guitarist Matthew Liveriadis has a slight monotone delivery, but drummer Carolyn Hawkins provides a beautiful juxtaposition with her backing harmonies. The trio played an energized and jangly set inspired by the Bats and Close Lobsters mixing soon to be jangle pop classics from their first LP with ones of a slightly more classic pop sound from their new second album Around the House. In their short existence the band already have a stash of A-list songs and they didn’t leave any of them out including jangly diamonds like Dentist, Time, Sometimes and Hard to Clean and Older. The band’s tight sound and laid back attitude easily won over the likely already won over folks in attendance and made us all appreciate the long trip they had made to get here.

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Like minded Seattlites Zebra Hunt opened for Chook Race with a set that consisted almost entirely of new songs (Half Right was the only old one). Apparently the new album is nearly ready and based on this evidence I would agree. One song really stood out with its Feelies-like crazy rhythm, even slowing down and then rebuilding itself into something quite raucous. Zebra Hunt has still got it!

In the Pink

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Northern Ireland doesn’t have a west coast, so I can only imagine that Sea Pinks are left to conjure sunny wide open California scenes through their music. Top Pink, Neil Brogan was originally the drummer in Girls Names but left that band to concentrate on his band Sea Pinks. For good reason, as he seems to have an endless supply of lush, jangle filled songs in his head. Sea Pinks’ music has an affinity with the US west coast due to Brogan’s smooth tenor which evokes the lugubriousness of the Beach Boys, combined with the guitars cracking with the dusty jangle of the Byrds.

Brogan’s boyish tenor could make him an honorary Beach Boy. It’s smooth and easy on the ears, lending a sense of melancholy to these otherwise upbeat songs. The new album Dream Tracks, their fourth, is not drastically different from the previous three, but in little ways you can tell that Brogan is stretching out as a songwriter and open to incorporating a more varied pallet of sounds onto his records. The inclusion of cello on songs like Dream Happening and Invisible Lines provides more depth to the sound, while Meat and Drink employs a undulating Stereolab-like bass which adds something new to the jangly Sea Pinks cannon. These additional embellishments mesh easily with Brogans top songwriting talent to produce what may be the best Sea Pinks album yet.

stream and purchase: Sea Pinks – Dreaming Tracks

Expert Alterations’ Finely Tailored Jangle

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You can only buy so many reissues of the Monochrome Set, Close Lobsters and Josef K, until you feel like you’ve been cheated. Actually no one has ever seen fit to reissue a Close Lobsters album. What the heck? Obscure and influential, these bands seem to generate a lot of interest from record collectors, but there are very few current bands that I could link to any of those bands.  That was up until a few weeks ago when I read this @poolhoneys tweet, and now thanks to Baltimore, Maryland’s Expert Alterations I no longer have that problem.

Playful bass lines percolate to your ears while moody vocals and jangly guitars abound on their self-released cassette/bandcamp EP that deserves to be more than just a cassette/bandcamp EP.The EP is five songs. The first two tracks Venetian Blinds and A Bell display some superb Scottish influenced power jangle, while Midnight Gardens could be a distant relative of the Monochrome Set’s He’s Frank.

This trio also released a split cassette with the equally excellent Wildhoney for the this year’s Baltimore Popfest. Between these two acts alone,  Baltimore has an indie pop scene to envy!

stream: Expert Alterations – A Bell (from their self-titled Cassette)

Candydiosis

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You might remember back in the mid 1980’s Pop Will Eat Itself asked What’s so fuckin’ good about candy? Nearly 30 years later Chicago’s Slushy make you forget about the Mary Chain with their own ode to Candy. Well you sort of forget. It’s jangly and sparse like that Scottish band’s acoustic ballads but has a muscle edge to it that also reminds you a little of the Ramones. Honestly how can you go wrong with a set of credentials like that. Flip the record to its B-side Pocket and they mine a more overt powerpop vein. Remember how the Ramones put leather jackets on the Beach Boys’ surf and sand and then the Mary Chain put a storm cloud of feedback on top of that? Slushy put a cherry on top.

stream: Slushy – Candy (7-inch single out on Randy Records)

Paisley Boys Go for the Velocity Girl

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Los Angeles’ Dream Boys remind me of time not long ago when the first Tyde album came out. I was surprised how a band from Los Angles were able to sound like direct descendants of Felt. Back then when record stores were the only place you could buy music there was what’s called an import section and a certain American record buyers would search that section out because that was where all the best jangly pop stuff came from.

I doubt that Dream Boys peruse the import section of their local record store. Is there a record store these days that even has an import section? In fact you could argue that they don’t need an import section for their influences. Their own back yard is overflowing with potential inspirations. The Paisley Underground scene of the 80’s and of course the ground zero of everything that is jangle the Byrds. Dream Boys have two songwriters one favoring the UK flavor, the other seems to prefer the LA flavor. So you get the best of both worlds here.

Whether you dig the sounds of the Tyde, Bif Bang Pow, Long Ryders, the Bluebells, Close Lobsters, Felt, the Three O’clock or the Byrds there is something for you on this album. It will remind you of any of the above, or it may make you search out some of those bands to find out how Dream Boys got here. No matter the direction of your approach, this exceptional album will satisfy. Guaranteed!

stream: Dream Boys – Sworn (from the self-titled album out on Art Fag)
You can stream the entire album at Art Fag’s soundcloud page and check out the video for the song Born Yesterday below.

The Spires’ Wide Open Jangle

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Ventura, California’s Spires know how to create space in the midst of jangle. Their latest album Eternal Yeahs is a unique melange of Byrds mixed with some Television, some Church, Tyde and a healthy dose of Flying Nun’s patented Dunedin sound. It’s a something uniquely influenced by the dust of the Southern California desert and the pacific rim. Wide open dusty spaces juxtaposed with the undulating horizon of the Pacific ocean.

A lot of jangly bands give a feeling of claustrophobia with their sound, but The Spires brand of jangle inspires feelings of wide openness. One song is a mouthful of dust from the desert and the next has you walking off of the desert sand into the ocean break. I think it must be related living on the pacific rim and having wide open spaces at one’s doorstep.

They kind of remind of Seattle’s Purrs. A west coast band that continues to put out quality albums and stay fairly close to home. They also similarly possess unquestionable knowledge of their musical roots combined with impeccable taste with the know how to employ an expert pace and sprinkle quality throughout a long player. s. Eternal Yeahs doesn’t blow iit all in its first three. It sustains over the course of of 40 unforgettable minutes and keeps a lasting glow.

You can get a digital download or order a CD of the new album via the Spires’ bandcamp page. If you’re into vinyl, I hear their is a petroleum version of the album on the way soon.

stream: The Spires – Live At The Ghost Park

Messis On the Go

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A few of you probably remember the Pop Art Toasters, the one-off project where Martin Phillips and David Kilgour made an EP that showcased the brilliance of the DoversWest Coast Experimental Pop Art Band, the Who and the Squires. Paul Messis is an obvious fan of these bands, but instead of doing covers, he’s creating his own future classics.

Mr. Messis hails from Billingshurst, West Sussex, 2013 but he sounds like he’s from some time-warped 60’s town. Back then guitars jangled more brightly, harmonies mattered and a turntable was in every home. Case Closed is Messis’ s second solo album. He’s also a member of the Higher State, has released a slew of other singles, collaborated with the Sufis as the Market Squares and has a single he released with Jessica Winter. The guy is prolific with his 12 string jangliness, but the quality of Case Closed doesn’t lead you to believe he’s spreading himself too thinly.

Not only does the guy write tons of songs, but he has his own label as well. It’s called Market Square Records. The excellent Market Squares 7-inch was the label’s first release earlier this year and their next release is a 7-inch by Roanoke, Virgina’s Young Sinclairs who are every bit as jangly and Who-loving as Mr. Messis himself.

stream: Paul Messis – Cased Closed (available from Paul’s bandcamp page)

 

[youtube http://youtu.be/falUZa85Ygc]

Boning Up On Austin’s Literature

Jangle-pop could be my Achilles’ heel, and Austin, Texas band Literature‘s new album is like an arrow to my foot.  You may remember their Cincinnati 7-inch single from 2010 which was three songs of the jangly stuff.  Arab Spring is their first full length and they are obviously up to the task of keeping your attention for the length of an album. Every one of its 10 songs is an adrenalin rush with pop hook. There are so many good ones, I’m partial to the hyper manic Push Up Bra and Criminal Kids and the slightly more restrained title track and Grifted.

They have some similarities with Voxtrot, another jangle-pop band from Austin from a few years ago, but I like Literature more because they’re less Morrissey and Belle & Sebastian and more McTells, Bluebells and Cause Co-motion. If you are a fan of records on Captured Tracks or Slumberland these days, definitively check out Literature. Their album is up as free download at their Bandcamp site. Expect a vinyl release of it in February on Square of Opposition/Austin Town Hall Records.

mp3: Literature – Arab Spring

More Literature: The video for It’s Cruel which appeared on the Cincinnati 7-inch is an homage to one of the best actors of our generation.

[youtube http://youtu.be/EpaphDzxwok]