Tags: Minutemen, REM, The Clean, Wire, Woodsist, Woolen Men
You might remember San Francisco band Pow!‘s album Hi-Tech Boom from two years ago. It was a punk filled diatribe against zombie tech workers taking over their city. In the two years since, the zombie tech worker cancer has moved up the coast to Portland (and Seattle). The nouveau riche are clogging up the city’s’ arteries, causing the cost of everything to go up, encouraging developers to come into neighborhoods and level older cheaper housing to build shiny new, and more expensive housing. Neighborhoods that once were quirky, weird and cool become bland and boring. Where once there was a record store now stands a bank. where there was a fun dive bar or DIY space now stand condominiums and high end furniture stores with on the ground floor.
Like their bay area brethern Portland’s Woolen Men aren’t going take it sitting down. Their new album Temporary Monument is about the experience of their city changing into something that they no longer recognize and don’t much like. On the album’s opening song Clean Dreams they’re choked by the dust of high-rise pits being dug, crowded out and feeling alienated in a city they see changing for the bad before their eyes. The feeling of alienation in their hometown continues on songs Alien City, Life in Hell, Hard Revision and the title track.
Musically, Woolen Men continue on the same trajectory of jangly and jagged guitar riffs inspired by the Clean, the Minutemen, dB’s and Wire. All three members write, sing and play guitar which lends a diversity to the album. Mostly the songs veer toward high energy rage, but they can dial it back and sound pretty like on Walking Out and After the Flood which is so introspective and sad it sounds like it could have been REM‘s Automatic for the People.
If this were just a record railing against the mallification of urban cores it might grate at your nerves over a full album, but Woolen Men take you through the full seven step grieving process with a deftness and ingenuity that could if directed in the right way could create an insulated pocket of creative utopia.
Woolen Men’s Temporary Monument is out now on Woodsist.
Tags: Comet Gain, Courtney Barnett, Fortuna Pop, Hefner, Lucksmiths, Mammoth Penguins, Standard Fare
You may remember Emma Kupa from Standard Fare who released two fine albums of polite indiepop and called it a day two years ago. Since then, Kupa has switched from bass to guitar, found some new band mates and started a new band called Mammoth Penguins. Their first album is called Hide and Seek. Of course it has similarities with Standard Fare and if you aren’t the inside baseball type of indiepop fan you could be forgiven for thinking it’s a new Standard Fare record.
For you inside baseball folks, Mammoth Penguins excel more in fuzzy and rawkus guitar licks than their forebearers and they also seem like they’re having more fun. Heck they’re even game for throwing in some 60’s girl group style ooh-ooh’s except it’s they boys doing it. Some of the reviews I’ve read lament the fact that Mammoth Penguins sound a little less polished, but I like things a little unhinged in places. And not to worry, everything is held down by Kuppa’s easy voice and her great lyrics. She has a way of making fractured relationships and social anxiety sound fun and romantic. She also has a keen sense of what it’s like to be in your late 20’s having an early mid-life crisis. The record has elements of Courtney Barnett, the Lucksmiths and Comet Gain easily switching between sweet and sublime to shouting and rocking the while keeping you on the edge of you seat with the lyrics. I’m not sure why they’re called Mammoth Penguins and you’re sure to get an odd look if you recommend them to friend. Hopefully your friends won’t be put off by a few over sized penguins.
Mammoth Penguins’ album Hide and Seek is out now on Fortuna Pop!
Tags: Bee Gees, Boolteans, Carpet People, Jigsaw Records, Ladybug Transister, Liechtenstein, Moon Types, Park Hotell, Pelle Carlberg, Popundret, Rough Bunnies, Shout Out Louds, Wannadies
Take a little bit of Ladybug Transistor and some Pelle Carlberg and the Bee Gees and you get an idea of what Stockholm, Sweden’s Moon Types are up to on their debut single. Moon Types remind me of a time not long ago when every week featured a new band from Sweden. It’s cooled down a little since those days, I suppose all of those bands like Park Hotell, Popundret, Boolteans, Carpet People, Liechtenstein, Wannadies, Rough Bunnies and Shout Out Louds have all hung up the rock and roll spandex to settle into lives out of the indiepop spotlight.
Know the Reason features a wonderful trumpet and a jangly riff that could thaw the iciest of hearts. Nothing’s Holy and Do It All Over Again have a slight country tinge to them, but it’s Swedish country so they kick up a different sort of dust. It’s nice to see there’s a new band from Sweden pick up the indiepop torch again.
You can stream and buy Moon Types’ single from their record label Jigsaw Records.
Tags: Courtney Barnett, Dick Diver, Downtown Boys, Eternal Summers, Faith Healer, Finnmark!, Fireworks, Flesh World, Frankie and the Witch Fingers, Frida & Ale, H Hawkline, Jessica Pratt, Joanna Gruesome, Male Gaze, Menace Beach, Nic Hessler, No Joy, Outfit, Rozi Plain, Saun & Starr, Sauna Youth, The Shifters, Thee Oh Sees, TheeSatisfaction, Twerps, Unlikely Friends, Viet Cong, Wildhoney, Young Guv, Zebra Hunt
This was supposed to be a mid-year list. Actually it still is, but it’s month late. What does that make it? I’m still calling it a mid year list since I saw mid year lists in May. It’s also not as diverse as I was hoping it would be as you will likely notice that the letter F is over-represented here. Hopefully some of the other letters will get a little more attention in the year end list. Hope you find something you might have missed and it’s in reverse alphabetical order for your convenience!
Zebra Hunt – City Sighs (Tenorio Cotobade)
It just so happens that doing this list in reverse alphabetical order puts my favorite album of the year so far at the top of the list. How’s that for coincidence? Hopefully you already know and own this record. If not, you need it in your life because who doesn’t need a little kiwi flavored jangle served up by this Seattle trio?
Young Guv – Ripe 4 Luv (Slumberland)
Fucked Up guitarist Ben Cook will through you for a loop if you’re expecting hard core here. This is Cheap Trick style power pop mixed in with blue eyed soul and 80’s top 40 that is undeniably great.
Wildhoney – Sleep Through It (Deranged)
Sleep Through It is full of shimmering anthems in the classic pop mold. Wildhoney’s debut album easily places them at the top of the heap of the shoegaze revival.
Viet Cong – Viet Cong (Jagjaguwar)
An album of bleak post punk that sounds like it could have been made during the age of Reaganomics and the nuclear arms race. It’s like twisted a time warp back to the era of the Comsat Angels and the Sound.
Unlikely Friends – Solid Gold Cowboys (Jigsaw)
Indiepop supergroup debut album that softens the edges of BOAT and adds some teeth to Math & Physics Club. The perfect Seattle elixir.
Twerps – Range Anxiety (Merge)
Melbourne’s Twerps deliver the Flying Nun influenced jangly goods on their second LP. Fans of the Go-Betweens, Feelies and the Bats take note.
TheeSatisfaction – Earthee (Sup Pop)
The otherworldly second album from the interstellar Seattle hip hop duo is spiritual and strange at once. If psychedelic hip hop were a genre this would be at the top.
Thee Oh Sees – Mutilator Defeated At Last (Castle Face)
Finally an Oh Sees LP that marries John Dwyers more experimental solo outing material with his band’s freak outs.
The Shifters – ST (Comfort 35)
Sure, the Fall put out a new record this year, but for my money Australia’s Shifters do it better in 2015. Full of bile, but they have a playfulness to them that is missing from the band that undoubtedly inspired them.
Sauna Youth – Distractions (Upset the Rhythm)
Taught, anxiety filled post punk jams from this London band are designed for those who prefer their music played with sharp jabs and shouted choruses.
Saun & Starr – Look Closer (Daptone)
Sharon Jones backup singers Saundra Williams and Starr Duncan Lowe finally come to the front of the stage to take the spotlight and give us a smooth soul classic.
Jessica Pratt – On Your Own Love Again (Drag City)
If you didn’t know better, you would assume that this album is 50 years old and was produced by Joe Boyd. Out of time and otherworldly.
Rozi Plain – Friend (Lost Map)
For her third LP Rozi Plain paints from a bucolic pallet to give us music of rolling hills and wandering brooks.
Outfit – Slowness (Memphis Industries)
Second album from Liverpool quintet evokes the greatness of Talk Talk and the Blue Nile.
No Joy – More Faithful (Mexican Summer)
With the help of Jorge Elbrecht this Montreal dreampop have produced an intricate studio creation that is a marvel to he ears.
Menace Beach – Ratworld (Memphis Industries)
Want to relive those 90’s indie rock glory days, Menace Beach are here to help. Their debut album is super charged with great riffs and choruses.
Male Gaze – Gale Maze (Castle Face)
Male Gaze have an intensity about them that puts them into the same league with A-Frames. Their debut album is steeped in post-apocalyptic paranoia that never goes out of style.
Joanna Gruesome – Peanut Butter (Slumberland)
Album number two from Cardiff’s Joanna Gruesome is as high quality as their debut. It continues the uncanny mixture of sweet choruses, mad freak-outs and made freak-outs and sweet choruses.
Nic Hessler – Soft Connections (Captured Tracks)
I feel like Nic Hessler’s debut album would have gotten more attention if he would have stayed with his Catwalk moniker. Marketing aside, Soft Connections is beautiful record of accomplished pop that is as good as anything Aztec Camera ever did.
H Hawkline – In the Pink Condition (Heavenly)
Welsh musician H Hawkline, also known as Huw Gwynfryn Evans fits right in with some of his more famous psychedelic countrymen like Gruff Rhys, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and Cate Le Bon who also produced the album.
Former Rough Bunnie Frida teams up with Ale of Le Man Avec Les Lunettes to create a wonderful little folk record retains the same innocent playfulness of Rough Bunnies.
Frankie & the Witch Fingers – ST (Permanent)
Los Angeles garage maestros by way Bloomington, Indiana have put out the best garage rock record of the year. Yeah, I know it’s only August, but I sincerely doubt anything will surpass this white hot record.
Flesh World – The Wild Animals In My Life (Iron Lung)
An intense and textured debut from former this bay area band lead by Jess Scott formerly of Brilliant Colors. Tons of guitars create a dense o wall of sound and makes this record beg to be played at maximum volume.
Fireworks – Switch Me On (Shelflife)
Switch Me On is packed full of adrenaline fueled pop songs. Fuzz pop blasts that outfuzz all other fuzz pop.
Finnmark! – Things Always Change (Beko)
Singer Edward Forth has a deep baritone that reminds you of Edwynn Collins on one of the most understated and pleasure inducing indiepop record of the year.
Faith Healer – Cosmic Troubles (Mint)
Jessica Jalbert aka Faith Healer is also a member of Edmonton garage rockers Tee-Tahs who put out one of my favorite albums of last year. Faith Healer is an entirely different thing, but no less good. Cosmic Troubles is full of easy psychedelic jams in the vein of Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and Cate Le Bon. I wonder if she’s got some Welsh in her?
Eternal Summers – Gold and Stone (Kanine)
Eternal Summers’ fourth LP is their best one yet. It’s full of buzz and jangle with just right amounts of polish and tarnish.
Downtown Boys – Full Communism (Don Giovani)
Downtown Boys debut LP rages against the machine of of capitalism, sexism, racism, queerphobia, fascism, and boredom to the unstoppable sound of a twin sax tsunami. Hardcore never sounded this inviting and inclusive.
Dick Diver – Melbourne, Florida (Trouble In Mind)
Dick Diver have many similarities with their fellow Australians Twerps. They jangle, sound a little like the Go-Betweens but Dick Diver aren’t afraid to get a little weird and experiment a little more on their records. Melboure, Florida is their third LP and though not as immediate as 2013’s Calendar Days, it sticks to the bones.
Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit (Mom & Pop)
Courtney Barnett’s stream of conscious lyrics are endlessly interesting to interpret and decipher and you have ample opportunity because the songs are so good on her debut LP that they beg to be played again and again.
Tags: Chicago, Gurgles, High Llamas, Hookworms, Prefab Sprout, Robert Wyatt, Steely Dan
Back in the 70’s and 80’s when you were shopping for new stereo equipment, the go to disc for stereo salesmen was a Steely Dan or Chicago album to show off the hi-fi racks. I haven’t been into a stereo store in years, but I bet a few sales guys still reach for the Dan when showing off their wears. Well all you stereo salesmen I’ve got just the record to help sell loads more equipment in your shop.
Early last year, you might remember Bradford’s best Gurgles releasing their debut 7-inch single. Since the 7-inch single buying public has shrunk more than video rental market you might have let it pass you buy. No matter, Bradford’s best have returned with their debut album that they’ve christened Gurglefirst? It’s a big sounding and playful record that doesn’t sound too big or too playful. In other words, it’s just right. Their keyboard driven songs have elements of gospel, new age jazz and 80’s pop. You might ask how could a band that combines the syncopated jazz of Steely Dan, the gospel spells of Prefab Sprout and sudden swerves into into psychedelic Hawkwind territory succeed? I don’t know, but Gurgles do.
Both songs from last year’s single make welcome returns and are just as impressive a second time around. New songs like Eccleshill ring in with a tight chorus while the Fender Rhodes keyboard climbs the spires. Weakdays has a great bluesy riff while How Could I Tell adds some Krautrock elements into the mix while singer Augustine sounds like Paddy McAloon has temporarily taken him over. Ably recorded by MJ of Hookworms, Gurglefirst? is a record that begs to be blasted, but don’t worry if you don’t have one of those expensive hi-fi’s it sounds just as good bleeding into your ears from a pair of cheap ear buds.
Gurglefirs? is available on vinyl, CD and download from Gurgles’ bandcamp.
Coming back from the dead is easy. Staying alive after you’ve come back from the dead, now that’s the trick! So far, even after a huge 21st celebration the basementcast is still alive, and it doesn’t even need an ICU. So hook yourself up to a heart monitor and press play and see which of these 24 tracks makes your heart flutter the most.
Tags: Black Lodge, Cro-Mags, Dexy's Midnight Runners, Don Giovanni, Downtown Boys, Fucked Up, Hard Core, John Coletrane, Punk, Seattle
Downtown Boys at Black Lodge, Seattle | 7 July 2015
Providence, Rhode Island’s Downtown Boys rolled through town last night with their white hot dual saxophone hardcore. This band has a two pronged agenda and it is to bring their political message and to get down and make some noise. I’ll be honest, I’m not a huge hardcore fan. I was intrigued when Fucked Up covered twee pop songs and teenage me owned a Cro-Mags cassette, but that’s about it. Two things set Downtown Boys apart from rest of the hardcore masses. Two saxophones that recall Dexy’s Geno but sometimes feel like they could venture into Coletrane’s Meditations and front woman Victoria Ruiz who is both a teacher and a rager.
Live, each song has a prologue in which she passionately teaches and informs about social injustice, police brutality, misogyny and racism. Previously I had wondered why they covered Bruce Springsteen‘s Dancing In the Dark besides the obvious saxophone connection. Last night, in a matter of 60 seconds she redefined that song on her terms talking about how the word dark is equated to evil, bad and mal-intentioned in so much of today’s journalism and literature and how difficult it is to overcome those kinds of connotations of when you are dark skinned.
The room was packed and sweaty and Downtown Boys were on fire which of course increased the temperature of the room. The saxophone players Adrienne Berry and Emmett Fitzgerald stoked the fires continuously during the set. Both wielding their big tenor saxophones like weapons of peace and justice. Future Police raged bigger and louder than the recorded version and Monstro was anthemic, but the highlight of the set was Poder Eligir. Ruiz sang in Spanish while the band created a cacophony that surged and surged and continued to surge. It was fucking amazing! It was one of those out of body moments when you feel like the whole room is on the same existential plane and all is right with the world. And it was for one brief moment.
Downtown Boys debut album Full Communism is out now on Don Giovanni Records.
Tags: Beat Happening, K, Olympia, Sub Pop
Beat Happening probably didn’t invent indiepop and twee, but they may as well have. The landscape past and present is littered with references to this band from Olympia, Washington which says a lot about their long lasting influence. Looking at their songs, it’s kind of astounding how many bands have covered them named themselves after their songs, certainly more than those that have named themselves for Velvet Underground songs. Not bad for a band that confessed to writing songs mostly about sex and food. The band never officially broke up, but retired soon after the release of 1992’s opus You Turn Me On. Front guy Calvin still runs K Records and has found other outlets for his unique take on pop in Dub Narcotic, Halo Benders and solo albums. The band never released a best of album, so they seem ripe for a best of list. Here are my top 10 Beat Happening songs, and probably not what would show up on a best of list, but who knows?
10. Other Side (Black Candy 1989) – Beat Happening were a lot of things. They could rock out like the Cramps, be wayward mavericks a la Lee Hazlewood, and of course sound like 60’s beatniks. Other Side comes from Black Candy which is probably considered their weakest album, but they always started their records with a splash and this duet between Calvin and Heather is full of wistful beauty.
9. Tiger Trap (You Turn Me On 1992) – This song starts off Beat Happening’s final album You Turn Me On. Right from the start you know this record is going to be different than the others because they’d never started off a record with ballad and they’d never recorded a seven minute song (Godsend is nearly 10 minutes). Recorded by Stuart Moxham of Young Marble Giants the droning pastoral jangle of Tiger Trap hypnotizes and soothes you like a babbling brook through a meadow.
8. Not a Care In the World (Sassy Single 1992) – This one was also recorded by Moxham during the You Turn Me On sessions, but it didn’t make the cut and was relegated to a single released by Sassy Magazine (anyone remember their Cute Band Alert?). This one has Moxham’s fingerprints all over it, I would be surprised if he didn’t play guitar on this. Heather usually sang only a couple of songs per record, but they were always highlights and this would have been a great 10th song on Your Turn Me On and hints at what might have been if they had recorded a follow up to their final album.
7. Indian Summer (Jamboree 1988) – Indian Summer may be Beat Happening’s best known song thanks to Luna, REM and Ben Gibbard who have all covered it. This song demonstrates what Beat Happening did so well, it’s so minimal yet paints such a vivid picture. You only hear sparse guitar and drums accompany Calvin’s voice yet it evokes autumnal colors, long shadows and the end of something special.
6. Nancy Sin (Dreamy 1991) – Beat Happening weren’t all campfires and s’mores, Calvin sang about sex a lot and this song is dripping with it. This one has a noir feel to its lust. Probably because Nancy always made me think of Nancy Drew and Calvin wanting to get it on with here. And what red blooded adolescent kid wouldn’t want to get it on with Nancy Drew?
5. Our Secret (Beat Happening 1985) – This was Beat Happening’s first single. Often bands never do better than their first single and Beat Happening set the bar pretty high. They barely knew how to play at this point, but they knew what a great pop song should sound like. Ever the gentleman, Calvin is going to run away with a girl, but first he’s going to have dinner with her family, I assume to tell them of their plans. What a punk.
4. Fortune Cookie Prize (Dreamy 1991) – Heather sings this wistful song evoking the happenstance of love. Sometimes you find it when you least expect it, but the other half doesn’t quite know it. The best love song the band ever wrote.
3. Sleepy Head (You Turn Me On 1992) – You’ve been up for hours, but your partner likes to sleep in. Now the complication comes in. Is this song about letting your lover sleep in, or is it about anxiety and depression about not being able to sleep? Heather’s gentle voice keeps you guessing.
2. This Many Boyfriends Club (Jamboree 1985) – There are some amazing stories of when Beat Happening toured the west coast with Fugazi. Punks there to see Fugazi at the Los Angeles show just didn’t get Beat Happening. One story is of Calvin getting hit in the nose by someone throwing an ashtray at him. He didn’t miss a beat and quoted Darby Crash of the Germs back to the audience, “Somebody broke my nose. Dump the whole balcony.” I don’t know what song they played after that, but I like to think it was this one. All guitar squall and feedback with Calvin doing spoken word that sounds improvised. This Many Boyfriends Club demands your attention and keeps it until mic hits the floor with a thud and a girl screams at the top of her lungs. This is punk!
1. Tales of Brave Aphrodite (Beat Happening / Screaming Trees 1988) – Tales of Brave Aphrodite comes from the four song EP that Beat Happening recorded with Screaming Trees. Calvin went to grade school with Trees singer Mark Lannegan and Lannegan had helped record Jamboree. Beat Happening have said that they felt like Screaming Trees cast off songs were better than their best stuff. Aphrodite really soars thanks to the additional power of collaboration and a swirling organ riff. Even if they didn’t team up with the Trees, this song features some of Calvin’s best lyrics and one of his best melodies. “Silver Aphrodite in her chocolate nightie, Says she wants to try me, she won’t bite me”combines the food and sex theme of Beat Happening into a single line.
Tags: Diet Cig, Listen Lady, Small Factory, Sourpatch, Tiger Trap
Luckily you don’t read this music blog for timely updates or to get turned onto the newest records. Seattle’s Listen Lady released their debut single about six months ago. I think it’s been up on bandcamp even longer, but the trickle down effect of the internet has just brought it to my attention. Their five song 7″ is an all killer no filler indiepop get-down. If you dig Diet Cig and Sourpatch or remember Small Factory and Tiger Trap then this record is aching to be in your collection. Ater all, what’s six months in terms of classic sounding indiepop groups named for a Simpsons episode?
Stream and buy the 7-inch from Listen Lady’s bandcamp page.
Tags: Mexican Summer, No Joy, So Pitted, Sunset Tavern, Versing
No Joy, So Pitted and Versing at the Sunset, Seattle | 10 June 2015
There’s a fine line to getting the ratio of guitar squall to ethereal vocals in the shoegaze genre just right.Up to this point No Joy had struggled to do it. On their third record they seem to have finally got it. More Faithful is their best record. It was produced by Jorge Elbrecht who is the guy behind Violens, Lansing-Drieden and has worked with Ariel Pink (He also produced their previous album to lesser effect). His M.O. is slick, well produced records that verge on the sterile. Montreal’s No Joy on the other hand like to let it bleed in the sense of blistering guitars that feedback so much that you struggle to make out the melodies. More Faithful is just the right blend of guitar, voice and studio gadgetry. It allows you to hear that No Joy write some pretty good songs. On some songs they barely use distortion or loudness opting instead to go in more dreampop route. This new direction is a good route and puts them into Cocteau Twins, Curve and A Sunny Day In Glasgow territory.
The band really seem like they’ve emerged as confident and competent shoegazers, so I was excited to see them play expecting them bring the dreamier aspects of their sound out live. What I got was something else entirely. No Joy played a set of white noise that made me wonder if it was not an entirely different band that recorded More Faithful. Obviously the new album is a studio record that the band either haven’t figured out how to play live or don’t want to recreate live. Each song essentially sounded the same. They would hit a couple buttons on their playback contraption to start the synth-based backing track from the studio and then they would blast white noise guitar feedback over it while singer Laura Lloyd apparently sang. I watched her mouth the words but rarely could I actually hear her voice. I think I recognized one song, but it was like seeing it through blast goggles. A truly disappointing performance that provided no joy.
Thankfully the opening acts were better. Seattle’s So Pitted sound like part OC surf punks and part hard core post-holocaust survivors. They make loud primal blasts of sound that you can nod your head to. The drummer and guitarist switch instruments and vocal duties. Their final song featured a guitar freak out that took place under the cover of one of those foil survivor blankets as if he had just been melted by the raygun of some malevolent outer space being. Brilliant!
Opening the night were Versing who were new to me, but I instantly liked their Swell Maps and Wire (also Seam and Pavement) inspired songs. It was the right combination of dissonant chords and plaintive vocals. I’m looking forward to hearing more from these guys in the future. They said that they’ve just finished recording and EP, in the meantime they have a demo and a KEXP session up on their Soundcloud page.