Paris by way of Biarritz, France group La Femme released one of my favorite records of last year. Psycho Tropical Berlin was a mix of electronic metronomic underground, cold wave surfy twang and punky ye-ye. It’s sly, fun, and playful. Listening to the album you it’s readily apparent that La Femme know how to have a good time. This impression was confirmed Wednesday night at the Vera Project.
The group knows how to throw a party, even in a sterile all ages venue where the nearest alcohol is blocks away (or in the flask you snuck in). Indie music is full of inanimate objects on stage so it was refreshing to see all six members of La Femme know how to entertain. Three keyboards buttressed the stage, but that did not stop them from coming into the crowd and dancing with each other. Singer Clémence Quélennec was constantly dancing, displaying some cool robotic 80’s Valley Girl moves, while her co-keyboard MC Marlon Magnée danced and pranced about the stage. It was infectious, fun to watch and provoked the entire audience into dancing too.
A couple highlights of the set were the manic Antitaxi with its lengthy synth introduction building anticipation that exploded in a twangy surf guitar riff to everyone’s elated satisfaction. The epic It’s Time to Wake Up in showcased guitarist and Theremin maestro Sacha Got playing some tiny wooden leaf shaped gypsy guitar from which he coaxed huge washes of sitar like hallucinogenic sounds.
I’m sure touring and playing the same songs night after night gets old for a band, but La Femme genuinely seemed to be having a great time. They are a band in search of a party and if there isn’t one nearby they are fully capable of starting it themselves. Like a French B-52’s.
Blouse at the Vera Project, Seattle | 17 September 2013
The big news about Blouse‘s second album Imperium is that Portland band has ditched their synths and gone for the guitar, bass and drum (and cello) approach on this new batch of songs. While this isn’t exactly a controversial approach, it is different and so sets them up for the possibility of fans being upset about their new direction. One thing Blouse proved on their debut album was that they could write a decent pop song. So the real question is can they still write a descent pop song? The next question is do the new songs sound as good with the new approach? Yes, and yes. In fact, Imperium has better songs that make a bigger impression on the listener.
Their self-titled debut had some good songs but its synth based sound caused the record to float by like a plastic band in the wind. Easy to take notice of, but not leaving a lasting impression. Imperium has no such problem. There are remnants of their stylized sythesizers, but they are replaced with a cello. This record deals in guitars, rumbly bass and Charlie Hilton’s ethereal vocals. The closest comparison would be to Broadcast‘s The Noise Made by People. There is a folk-based 60 sound to Hilton’s vocals similar to Wendy & Bonnie and the Free Design combined with comet scar guitars and other interstellar stardust that floats out of the speakers when you play this record.
Last night at the Vera Project they really let loose. The guitars were turned up and the keyboard was in the corner as they glided through the best of the new album putting new wings on songs like Arrested, 1000 Years and Trust Me. In photo’s Blouse appear as a trio, but they’ve added a second guitar player who plays a beautiful lavender Jazzmaster. This additional power made the songs crackle and spark. The band appeared loose and it seemed like the songs felt new to them making it fun for everyone. They dolled out Cure-like baselines, shards of shoegaze noise pop while Charlie’s voice seemed to float on top of it all. The twin guitar attack of Arrested was easily the highlight of the show. It suspended time and place and created a nebulous cloud of euphoria in the room. One of the best shows I’ve seen this year.
Here are the remaining dates of their West Coast tour:
9/20 Portland, OR – Star Theater
9/21 San Francisco, CA – Bottom of the Hill
9/22 Los Angeles, CA – The Echo
9/25 San Diego, CA – The Void
9/26 Costa Mesa, CA – Detroit Bar
Craft Spells, The Soft Moon and Witch Gardens at Vera Project, Seattle | 3 April 2011
I was ready to title this with some reference to OMD‘s Architecture and Morality or New Order‘s Power Corruption and Lies. Hell, just look at the cover to Craft Spells album Idle Labor and you get the feeling that it’s an unabashed homage to New Order. Listen to it and your suspicions are confirmed. It’s full of synthesizers and electronic new wave dance beats. So my expectations were temporarily dashed when I saw the stage devoid of any keyboards, laptops, or knobs. Was this the right band?
As Craft Spells came on stage for their record release show a boy with a flower in his hat yelled “Cutest band in Seattle.” They were kind of cute in a cuddly teddy bear way. Singer and songwriter Justin Vallesteros looked especially cuddly with his pegged jeans, madras shirt and cardigan. The band breezed through a short eight songs set in front of their new hometown (Vallesteros recently relocated the band from Stockton, California).
To tell the truth, it was a bold move to rethink their sound and it worked for the most part. There were a few bum notes from the lead guitarist playing a hollow body Epiphone, but they didn’t distract too much from the young band’s new funkier and juicier sound. Nobody else seemed to mind the change either as the songs were all still very danceable. They steered away from playing some of Idle Labor’s moodier numbers keeping things lite and lively. The audience was enthusiastic and there much dancing ensued. Vallesteros and his band got a work out too as was evidenced in his breathless between song banter. Going back and listening to the record and singles after seeing them live there is a definite Orange Juice inspiration on songs like After the Moment and Party Talk. Stripping away the synths, that inspiration was brought to prominence.
For San Francisco’s the Soft Moon who are label mates of Craft Spells, there were no surprises in store. They stuck with their dark wave / gothic sound. With the lights out (what self-respecting goth band would have the lights on?) and a big screen video projector behind them providing movement they stormed through their set. One guy was stationed behind a control console twisting knobs juxtaposed by a live bass player. The rest was left up to front guy Luis Vasquez with his own knobs, a keyboard and a guitar. Some of the vocals were shouted like a Nitzer Ebb song while others whispered. The guitars whirred by sounding like futuristic magnetic repulsion cars evoking many a Clan of Xymox song. The Soft Moon created a highly stylzed racket, but they could do with a few more memorable songs like Tiny Spiders to go with it.
Seattle DIYr’s Witch Gardens opened the show with their take on pacific northwest style indiepop which included an autoharp. Made up of a trio of ladies and a boy playing guitar, they were good ramshackle fun. My favorite song of their set was Lifeguard Chick which they introduced as being for people who like to have fun. There is a recorded version of it on their MySpace, but it doesn’t do it justice you’ve gotta see them live.
Here are the upcoming Craft Spells tour dates, all of which (except for 4/09) are with their labelmates Beach Fossils:
04/07 Stony Brook, NY – University Cafe (Stony Brook University)
04/08 Brooklyn, NY – Music Hall of Williamsburg
04/09 Brooklyn, NY – Glassands (w/ Cloud Nothings, Sundelles)
04/13 Baltimore, MD – Ottobar
04/14 Washington, DC – DC9
04/16 Philadelphia, PA – Johnny Brendas
04/18 Winooski, VT – The Monkey House
04/19 Montreal, QC – La Sala Rossa
04/20 Toronto, ON – Parts & Labour
04/21 Chicago, IL – Empty Bottle
04/22 Louisville, KY – Zanzabar
04/24 Cleveland, OH – Happy Dog
04/25 State College, PA – Chronic Town
04/27 Allston, MA – Great Scott
05/01 Tucson, AZ – Club Congress
05/02 San Diego, CA – Soda Bar
05/03 Los Angeles, CA – Echo
05/04 Visalia, CA – The Cellar Door
05/05 San Francisco, CA – Slims
05/06 Portland, OR – Star Theater
05/07 Seattle, WA – Chop Suey
05/08 Vancouver, BC – Media Club
Wild Nothing, Abe Vigoda, M Women at Vera Project, Seattle | 27 February 2011
Wild Nothing are in the midst of their inaugural west coast tour and made a stop in Seattle Sunday night. Their slightly melancholy, windswept love-torn, world weary pop was a perfect companion to the cold and rainy night Seattle seems to dish out on a nightly basis this time of year. The show was originally booked for Capital Hill’s tiny Cairo and looking out over the nearly full house it was probably a good thing that they moved the show to the all-ages Vera Project or quite a few people would have missed out on seeing them.
On record Wild Nothing are Jack Tatum on his own writing and recording, live they are a four piece with Tatum playing rhythm guitar and borrowed bassist Dane Chadwick who’s main gig is the drummer in opening band Abe Vigoda. Tatum and his Wild Nothing crew seemed laid back and competent as they set about recreating the cerulean songs from their album Gemini and EP Golden Haze. Tatum sang the songs in a noticeably lower key and I sort of missed the higher-pitched vocals, but it didn’t really make them less enjoyable, because the band delivered the Wild Nothing sound with ablomb. Tatum and his lead guitarist seemed well-practiced and in synch and the sublime guitars easily won the night with their chiming riffs. Chadwick with his over-sized vertical striped shirt and his bass were fun to watch as well. He evoked the Stone Roses’ Mani not only in his garb, but the way he played. He stayed low on the neck and swung the thing around as he danced coming close to knocking out a few of the audience close to the stage.
I remember last summer reading a playlist put together by Tatum for some web site that escapes me now, but it included old Sarah records bands like the Sea Urchins, and Field Mice, stuff by Postcard stalwarts the Go-Betweens and Orange Juice as well as obscure gems from the Servants, Felt and Wake and I couldn’t help but think that Jack Tatum was a 45 year old twee/indiepop music geek in a 25 year old’s body. I kept trying to get a closer look to see if he really was an old dude that had just aged well. I saw nothing to dispel that, he’s just on old indiepop soul that channels his fandom and influences into his own songs
Here’s some video I recorded for the opening song Your Rabbit Feet:
Abe Vigoda opened and were the best I’ve seen them. I really liked their album Crush from last year that seemed to delve deeper into the 80’s synth wormhole. Last night they seemed undecided as to which direction they are headed. Half the songs took the dense, cacophonous and boisterous route while the other half were of the more spacious, synth oriented way. I prefer the latter as this seems to be their strong suite, though I wonder if a 14 year old Animal Collective fan would argue that point?
I missed most of Seattle’s M Women‘s set, but Juan of Abe Vigoda gave them props from stage asking to get a copy of one of the songs which reminded him Lush. Hmm, I guess I should have showed up earlier…
Eddy Current Suppression Ring at the Vera Project, Seattle | 27 June 2010
Last night at the Vera Project was the second Eddy Current Suppression Ring gig in as many days here in Seattle. Saturday night’s one at the Funhouse with Partman Parthorse and A Frames opening would have been my preferred show, but last night was the one I was able to attend, and I was put through the ringer by a couple hardcore bands that played first (I missed the Unnatural Helpers super early set). I’m a punk rock fan, but I never really got into hardcore. It comes off as too forced, contrived and you can’t dance to it. You can stage dive, but since all the bands last night set up on the floor that wasn’t a possibility (Q: Why does the Vera Project have a stage? A: Uh, I’m not sure). I guess you could also slam to it, but no one was doing that, it was a crowd full of head bobbers for both Iron Lung and the Slices. I couldn’t even bob my head, I just kind of endured it.
After the pummeling, polite gentlemen punks Eddy Current Suppression Ring was much needed relief. I don’t even think I would go so far as to call The Melbourn, Australia band punks. Their songs, may be informed by punk, but many of them extend into these shuddering-inducing Spacemen 3/Can-like jams that many punks would disavow. In a kind of immaculate conception, the band were born at a record pressing plant (Corduroy Records) where they use to work, and not an electrical substation as their name would suggest. As the band set up and plugged in, singer Brendan warmed up with leg stretches the way a runner would, and then tightened his belt and put on his gloves transforming him from mild mannered dude to the maniac that stalks the stage like he is part avian, part dementia victim.
Instead of overwhelming our ears with relentless forced intensity though, Eddy Current Suppression Ring coaxed and cajoled it out of their songs. Tuning Out began unassumingly with the raw chords of Mickey’s guitar, then bass and drums and finally Brendan’s vocals. Each verse seemed to build on the next with the band feeding off each other, forming it into a turned-out groove. The highlight of the night had to be I Admit My Faults which also started out slow and minimal, then built to a peak somewhere in the middle, and then somewhere after that Mickey’s guitar dropped out revealing a rhythm section that literally put shivers down my spine. The entire room seemed to lock into the groove, the space time continuum slowed, I blinked and everyone was dancing and smiling, and I think I saw Lars Finberg of the Intelligence on the floor hanging onto Mickey’s leg. That song last night was like a drug literally, altering minds and making people go nuts. It wasn’t all long songs and jams, the band played stuff from all three of their albums including some under three minute highlights like Walked Into a Corner, Anxiety, Memory Lane, and It’s All Square, but it was the ones they stretched out that won the night.
Sonny & the Sunsets at Vera Project, Seattle | 22 January 2010
There is little evidence from listening to Sonny & the Sunsets‘ Tomorrow Is Alright album that would clue you into them being a band that wants to rock. Tomorrow is a mellow, lazy record that floats in and out of your conscious while it’s playing. It’s a record that mixes parts Everly Brothers and Syd Barret with an alluring haze of warm reverb. It’s pleasant understated with a fine sense of humor that you might not get the first time listening to it, but if you give it a chance it will likely worm it’s way into your brain like one of those pesky alien races in so many Star Trek episodes.
So I went to the Vera Project on Friday night expecting a somewhat mellow, but fun set of songs from Sonny and the Sunsets in their opening slot for the Fruit Bats. What I got was a rocking energy filled set that totally blew the recorded versions of his songs out of the water. Sonny Smith is obviously a fan of Jack Lee, Paul Collins, and Peter Case, because live the Sunsets came off as a latter day version of the Nerves, the seminal band that got it’s start in the same bay area that Smith and his band call home.
The power pop versions of these Sunsets songs had the band working up a sweat. Sporting a well worn hollow body guitar, Smith was a wise cracking jovial front man, asking for a stick of gum because he thought his breath was smelling bad and then later some deodorant. He got multiple offers of gum, but no one had any deodorant he could borrow. I don’t know if it was intentional to make the songs totally different than the record, or if it was just the way his band made them sound, but it was definitely a good thing. On record Smith gets help from some notable friends including Kelley Stoltz, and Shayde Sartin and Tim Cohen of the Fresh & Onlys. Not surprisingly none of those guys were in his band, but the Sunsets Sonny had in hand are no slouches. The bass player was my favorite, laying down riffs that were part beat, part melody. Smith’s playing was inspired too, verging on rock-a-billy at times. This gig was one of those that totally takes you by surprise and makes you see a band and album in a new light. It was so good, I wish he’d go back an re-record the entire record in this style.
I tried to hang for all of the Fruit Bats, but they weren’t really my thing. That was not the general consensus in the room as it was packed and included (not surprisingly) some Sub Pop intelligentsia.
The Seattle based web site Three Imaginary Girls is 5 years old, and they threw a couple parties to celebrate the occasion. If you’re wondering what or who the TIG’s are, then you should mosey on over and check them out. It is your one stop shop for all things indie-pop-cool in our fair city. The first party was at the Crocodile on Friday and would have been the one I would have gone to (only because they had beer), but for a nagging summer cold. Turns out, I’m kinda glad I ended up at the all ages bash over at the Vera Project last night. It was the first time I had been to the new Vera space in the Seattle Center, and it was pretty cool in a high school cafeteria all dressed up for a big dance kinda way.
Boat have a new record out in case you hadn’t heard. It’s their second and it’s called Let’s Drag Our Feet. These past few days it’s been pretty hard to escape hearing about the band, what with their Spin band of the day, Pitchfork review (pretty much glowing in case you wondered), their afternoon live at KEXP set on Friday and then these two Imaginary Girls Birthday shows. I’ll either be in Boat withdrawal or have OD’d by Monday morning, I’m not sure. Their set leaned heavily on the new record, which is not a bad thing at all. It’s a bit more restrained/mature(?), than Songs that You Might Not Like, but no less captivating and quirky. The They Might Be Giants comparisons don’t seem to apply anymore, and I was watching them it hit me that they have a lot of similarities to Eggs, especially on The Ferocious Sounds of Lobsters and Snakes. You get the feeling that under the surface they’re really not trying to be funny, but that their songs are heart on the sleeve, earnest and genuine. Live, their timing is tight, with the stops, starts and quick changes all there, just like on the record. They even throw in a few alarm bells, wobbly vocal thingies, and other weird sounds into the mix to keep things interesting.
Most of the kids seemed to be there for local hero’s Boat, but they should have stayed for Portland’s Shakey Hands, because these guys left nothing on the stage. I’ve listen to their record a handful of times and liked it, but it certainly didn’t prepare me for seeing them live. At first glance, you might mistake them for hippies, but their intense set that melded parts Camper Van Beethoven and Elephant Six was nothing short of a pop dream. The songs just popped so much more than their record, I don’t know if it was the additional percussion or having the bass turned up a little more in the mix, but damn if these guys didn’t just amaze! It was one of those shows that made me want to go back and listen to the record again, because obviously I had missed something. Front man, Nick Delffs has a bit of a possessed persona on stage that makes you feel like you could be at a revival meeting, but his slightly warbly voice reminds me a bit of David Lowery, and the band’s ability to incorporate a groove into a pop song made for a lively fun set. I hope we don’t have to wait for the Three Imaginary Girls to turn six until they return to Seattle. H.B. TIG, thanks for the party!