I must admit, I’ve been distracted of late. I’m sure you all have been as well to some extent. Sometimes you just can’t bring yourself to write about this great new song you’ve heard, because you realize how unimportant it is in the grand scheme of things. That doesn’t mean I don’t save them up, and it doesn’t mean that I have stopped listening to music. If anything I’ve listened to more music lately. It’s a distraction and provides escape, hope and pleasure. So here are a couple handfuls of records that have gotten me through the first month of 2017.
In the it came out in December, who releases a record in December category.
Minneapolis smart ass punks released album number two at the end of 2016. Minutemen/Firehose genius combined with Devo hyperactive geekiness. Too weird to be cool for some but right up my alley.
In the I totally missed it category
Quantic & Flowering Inferno ft Hollie Cook
Hollie Cook has album number three on the docket for this year, but at the tail end of last year the brogues hipped me to this little number she did with Quantic & Flowering Inferno. So good!
The album In My Head by this Berlin duo was on a few best of lists and for good reason. Great indie pop that reminds me a little of the Blake Babies and the Breeders.
In the 7-inch single is not dead and they even sell out category Field Route
We are only one month in and Field Route have already released one of the best 7″ singles. Bring it on!
Another classic sounding 7″. Yeah I know the 45 is on its deathbed, but quality over quantity is the rule of the day. I think both of these records are sold out, but each can be purchased as a download.
In the who releases a record this good in January category
Rose Elinor Dougall – Stellular
Former Pipette took six years to follow up her solo debut, but it is worth the wait. It’s swirling blend of the Horrors, Goldfrapp and Siouxsie and the Banshees. Rose doesn’t look very goth, but she certainly leans in that direction ever so slightly.
Priests – Nothing Feels Natural
This record has two personas. The A-side is funk-punk that is a cross of Pylon and the Big Boys, the B-side is the post punk cool down that gets moody and melodic. Thankfully the band put an Interlude to divide things up for those of us who can’t always be in front of our turntables.
Proper Ornaments – Foxhole
Album number two from this trippy Velvet/Chills loving band. Not sure they’ve ever surpassed that first EP, but I love to hear them keep trying.
In the genre bending category
Group Doeh & Cheveu – Dakhla Sahara Session
French punk weirdos Cheveu team up with Western Sahara guitarslingers Group Doueh in an unlikely match. It’s crazy and out there and one of the best records I’ve heard this year.
In the buried treasure gets reissued category
Animals that Swim
Back in the day when you had to read about records and decode whether or not it was something you might want to spend money, I read a review of Animals That Swim debut album and decided to take a leap. I instantly fell in love with their quirky little songs that painted imaculate pictures in my head about the downtrodden, mundane and odd things in life. Pink Carnations, Madam Yvonde, How to Make a Chandalier are all essential. With this reissue you get the original album as well as genius b-sides and unreleased tracks to boot.
I think they might have finally broken the US as you can buy a copy of this reissue from Target, though I’m not sure I’d recommend it.
City Yelps a three piece band from Leeds have just released an album called Half Hour. It’s rough around the edges, but like all good punk records its white hot delivery overshadows sound quality. In fact, the band seem to revel in their lo-fi. The liner notes state “City Yelps think they’re these DIY puritans but let me tell you now, you are being conned if you buy this record because they’re just lazy bums and nothing more.”
It’s noisy and rambunctious like Swell Maps and the Beatnick Filmstars, but has a literacy and outsider style that reminds me of Animals that Swim. They make the mundane sound interesting like on We Like the Hours which is about a girl who works nights in a bakery, and 11.99 about going to a theatre and having to sit down to watch a band. Another highlight, Music for Adverts takes some shots at bands that make advert ready music…”making people wish they were dead.” You can hear the spite and spit into the microphone. City Yelps’ Half Hour is the real shit with no polish!
I discovered Animals That Swim after reading the 1994 year end issue of the NME where they ranked their top 50 albums of the year. Their debut album Workshy came in at a cool number 15. I don’t remember what was written about the album but it was enough for me to put it on a list of must get records. I was going to school in Albany, NY at the time and on my next trip down to New York I found the record at Kims Underground as well as the Pink Carnations single. I snatched them both up and was swept away in their tales of smashed car windows made into chandeliers, silent films, Roy Orbison, blood spattered sheets, and the photographer Madam Yvonde. It was a dingy, dirty riot of colors that Animals that Swim created with eccentrics and weirdos as their song protagonists, and always with an eye for melody even though the lyrics were half spoken.
Their next album I was the King, I Really was the King was even better. Great stories, great songs with even better melodies. They even had a semi-hit from it with Faded Glamour. Then record label problems reared their ugly head with their label Elemental being bought by One Little Indian. They eventually resurfaced five years later on the independent Snowstorm with their third album, the more understated but no less engaging Happiness From a Distant Star. It was a quick fade out after that and everyone figured that they had heard the last of these old English eccentrics.
A little more than a month ago the fade in to the sequel to Animals that Swim began. There had been whispers that they had been recording but now they had a web site that stated that the first single would be released via iTunes in April and that they had at least the song titles for an entire record. I was excited about the whole prospect so got in touch with the band who agreed to answer a few questions. A huge thanks to Hugh Barker, Hank Starrs and Al Barker for answering my questions. It really is good to hear some new songs from them after such a long while. After reading the interview, you can head over to the Spill to sample the two new songs. Both of which should be available in iTunes any day now.
First off, welcome back. It’s been 10 years since the third and what most of us figured was the final Animals That Swim album came out. What made you guys decide to get back together and start playing again?
HB: We always had it in the backs of our minds as a possibility. About a year ago I recorded some acoustic guitar for Hank (for a film) at Boomtown, a small studio in Acton – I left feeling that we could record Animals that Swim songs in the same minimal way there. Then Hank needed a song for the end credits of another short film and we thought we might as well give a try and see if we were happy to release the results as ATS material.
Secondly, it seems like a moment in time when it is pretty easy to record songs and let people know about them without bothering with record companies and all that palaver. There is no way I would have the patience to start traipsing round music business offices trying to “get a deal”. But since we can control it and do it how we want, it seems like a fun thing to do.
Finally, it’s nice that people like you have kept on saying good things about us on the internet. That makes us think that there really are at least some people out there who will want to hear new songs, rather than it feeling like a self-indulgent thing to do.
Can you give some background on the two new songs (Silver Rays & Tiny Lucifer) that will be available on iTunes any day now. What are they about? How did you guys record them?
HB: They were recorded at Boomtown in a day using mainly acoustic instruments. Silver Rays was probably the song that made me want to go into a studio in the first place. It’s about finding my daughter’s pink and orange bike abandoned in the middle of our street, but also about one of those moments of epiphany or disintegration that can come over you anywhere. Tiny Lucifer is a true story about a real toy bear.
Is it the same line-up? I didn’t hear any horns in either of the two new songs, is Del still around?
Hank, Al and Hugh played on these recordings, with Hank’s friend Madeleine helping out with some cello. Terry is in America, so we don’t really have a bassist unless she happens to come on holiday. Del will hopefully play on future songs – the schedule just didn’t work out for him this time.
According to your web site it looks like you’ve have enough songs for an album. Are you sort of testing the waters with the first two songs are being released as download only single? What are your plans, is an album in the offing?
HB: The plan is to see how it goes, but I’d like to record more, and would ideally like to do all those songs listed as potential album tracks. It will take a while though as we all have limited time. We will probably keep it download only for simplicity.
You guys have all moved on to different careers after the band (film, writing, website stuff). How have your careers affected your ability to get together and play as a band again? And after such a long time off has the dynamic changed any now that you’re no longer ‘poor musicians’?
HB: Obviously time is an issue, and we certainly won’t be spending weeks at a time in studios or on tour. In terms of the dynamics, it probably makes it a bit more enjoyable as there is no great pressure and as soon as we stop having fun we can stop.
AB: Playing together as a band seemed hardly different at all. If anything, we laughed a lot more this time round.
Did you guys (Hugh, Al and Hank are brothers) grow up in a musical family ? What got all three of you into playing music and were the three of you ever in a band together when you were teenagers?
Yes it was quite a musical household. Our mother was a music teacher and liked to get us to sing songs from the Weavers songbook (she was American) around the piano, our dad was a decent pianist, who played old jazz standards and Scott Joplin rags very nicely, and we all grew up learning instruments from an early age. I think we maybe played together once at a school concert but we never really played as a band until we were older.
Animals that Swim have been quiet musically for roughly the past 10 years, but Hank was on Art Brut’s Direct Hit. How did that come about? Is Eddie Argos a fan?
HS: Dan Swift, who used to play drums for us live occasionally, was producing the Art Brut Album. It turned out Eddie is a big ATS fan so Dan suggested a “Duet.” I was duly invited and sang on Direct Hit. I was nervous but Eddie was a lovely man and it was good fun.
Animals that Swim frequently get called underrated and/or underachievers, but it seems like you guys succeeded in making some great records. I remember when I heard the news about the third album I was surprised because I thought that you had called it quits. What was the general attitude and expectations of the band when Happiness From a Distant Star came out?
Things kind of faded out for us in the late 1990s as our stupid record company kept making us do more demos to persuade them to let us do another album. By 2000 we’d pretty much given up on the whole thing – so when Snowstorm gave us a little bit of money to make Happiness From a Distant Star it was just a bit of a relief to be able to draw that period to a close with a record of some of the songs we had been playing. We didn’t have any great expectations of sales or reviews etc, luckily enough.
You guys always came across as very well read, and many of your songs were like short stories out of a Raymond Carver book. How autobiographical are these songs or are they fiction? What inspired them?
HB: I’d say a lot of our songs were rooted in the city and the people around us, and some were vaguely autobiographical, but we were never that hung up on autobiographical veracity or personal authenticity. It was more important for it to be a good story and/or to have the right kind of texture and feel.
The mid 90’s were grunge and Britpop infested and it was hard to get noticed if you were something else which you guys were. This from All Music: “Animals That Swim were slightly too weird for mass consumption, but their oddball, half-beatnik/half-psychedelic pop was a refreshing response to the early days of Brit-pop”. You seemed to do ok in the UK, but the US only saw the release of Workshy and that didn’t get much attention over here. Did you guys see yourselves as too odd for the mainstream?
HB: We didn’t sell that much in the UK either, even when we were getting good reviews. I see the oddness more clearly in retrospect, though I wouldn’t have had it any other way. I just thought we were just writing pop music, from our particular point of view.
There’s an episode of the UK sitcom Black Books where Bernard and Manny try to write a brilliant children’s book. Bernard wants it to be about a lens grinder from Omsk who is going through an existential crisis, but Manny persuades him it should just be about “an elephant who loses his balloon”. I suspect we’d have been more successful if someone had persuaded us to write songs about an elephant losing a balloon, rather than car crashes, embittered ghosts, proto-feminist photographers, deep-seated urban decay and so on.
AB: Don’t forget that in the end Bernard and Manny drunkenly burn the book because they decide its success would ruin their lives…
What other bands or singers did you see as your contemporaries from that period? Was there anyone that inspired or pushed you when you heard their records or saw them live?
HB: I’d say the bands that inspired me personally came from either just before us (Go-Betweens, Feelies, early REM, Throwing Muses, June Brides, My Bloody Valentine, Madness, Pixies) or from much earlier (VU, Can, Randy Newman, Gram Parsons, Kinks…)
I probably saw bands that were around at the same time as us slightly differently (through a glass darkly). Of the Britpop lot, I have a grudging respect for Blur, especially Graham, and a genuine fondness for Pulp. Even though I like those bands, I think Britpop wasn’t good for us, first because it raised expectations at record labels who started to expect indie bands to have instant chart hits, and also because it revolved around a slightly cartoonish or advertising-cliché version of Britishness, which made our version seem weirder.
I could ask way too many questions about specific songs or lyrics, but I’ll limit myselft to one. I live in the Pacific Northwest so I have to ask, have you ever been to the Oregon State Fair and what is it you have against jugglers (both in this lyric and the liner notes to Faded Glamour)?
HS: I lived in Binghamton, NY for a couple of years in the 80’s (in a touring covers band) I went to the NY state fair. Frank Zappa played and there were a lot of annoying hippies around. My friend Chris went to Oregon state fair and we were drunk in Islington one night talking about how we hate jugglers. Why juggle? It sucks. I don’t like any acrobatic/circus based nonsense. It reminds me of the middle ages and jesters, when there was no dentistry or Codeine. Performing budgies are OK though.
(HB = Hugh Barker, HS = Hank Starrs, AB = Al Barker)
Here’s some old Animals that Swim to tide you over (or introduce you):
This started out as a post about a couple new surf inspired songs. I was going to write about the new Bombon tape and Surf City’s upcoming album, but for some reason my mind wondered and this turned into something else. By no means a definitive list of surfing songs. One or two have a tenuous claim to be called surfing songs, but in my stream of conscious they all shoot the curl.
The song Vic by Animals that Swim is about going to see Vic Chestnut, getting drunk and yelling out Surfin’ USA when Chestnut asks for requests. Chestnut’s response: Yeah, like I’m going to do a surfing song. mp3: Animals That Swim – Vic (from Workshy)
Dick Dale is considered by many to be the originator of the surf guitar sound. Bombon who hail from the Minutemen’s hometown of San Pedro, California have been sharing the beach with the kahuna of surf guitar. These three ladies drop in on Dale’s scene and shred. mp3: Bombon – Bouncy (from El Part Con Cassette on Burger)
Surf City may or may not be surfers. The got their name from the Jesus and Mary Chain who definitely did not surf. Being from New Zealand the probability of the band owning boards is somewhat high. I can picture them coming in after a good set with water still in their ears, plugging in their guitars and blasting it. mp3: Surf City – Crazy Rulers of the World (from the upcoming Kudos album. Mp3 snagged from Microphone Memory Emotion)
Plunging the depths of the surf genre in the 80’s were the Surf Punks. They combined Surfer Joe with snotty punk aesthetics. They were the ultimate locals, ruling the beach, hating the valleys and spoiled brats from Malibu. Their first album is considered a cult classic in the right circles. mp3: Surf Punks – My Wave (from My Beach)
The Fizzbombs were from Edinburgh, Scotland. Apparently on cold days in December these girls would put on wetsuits and surf the North Sea. Now that’s either dedication or just plane crazy. mp3: Fizzbombs – Surfaround (from the Surfin’ Winter EP)
If you haven’t heard the Surfaris‘ Surfer Joe, then that needs to rectified. Surfer Joe was a released as a single by the Surfaris. The flip contained Wipe Out, definitely the best surf 45 record ever released. mp3: Surfaris – Surfer Joe (from Wipeout)
We end with the sunset. Jack Nitzsche’s Lonely Surfer is kind of atypical of the surf genre sounding more Peter Thomas than Beach Boys, but it is so good at evoking the dude on his board waiting for the last good set of the day as the sun sinks below the horizon. mp3: Jack Nitzsche – The Lonely Surfer (from The Jack Nitzsche Story)
I was going to do a list of my favorite records of the 00’s, but as I was getting my list together I started to realize it was kind of boring. Really, how many music blogs do you need to tell you the same thing? That’s when I began thinking about the records that came out over last 10 years that I thought were criminally ignored, or just didn’t seem to get a fair shake. So what I’ve got for you is a list of my most underrated albums of the decade. Every one of these records shoulda been a hit, but because the world is a cruel, cruel place they never were.
Putting this list together was a lot of fun, because it allowed me to make amends for some records that I missed the year they came out. There is not a year that goes by that I don’t discover my favorite album from the previous year in March of the next year. And so it goes….you’ll find a lot albums on this list that never made one of my year end lists from the past ten years. I can assure you though, that everyone of these would make my top 100 albums of the aughts. I just thought focusing on the underdogs would be a little more interesting than seeing some list with the same records as every other list out there. Hope that I have half-succeeded. Oh, and yeah, I know that the decade is officially over at the end of 2010, but I start counting at zero.
This was one of those buys where I was in a record store flipping through CD’s and saw a cover that caught my eye. I remember opening it up and seeing that Dan Treacy of Television Personalities had written the liner notes and thinking, that it’s got to be good. Unheard, I bought this at some overpriced record shop in Paris (I’m so cosmopolitan) and it soon thereafter became my favorite record for months on end. It’s got elements of Mazzy Star and shoegaze, but seems to carve out it’s own space making it kind of unclassifiable and kinda special. They would put out three more albums in the decade, but none came as close to perfection as Lank Haired Girl. To this day, I have no idea which one is Jo and which one is Danny.
It’s just like Mark E Smith to come back from near disaster with an amazing album. After being arrested for assault of his then girlfriend Julia Nagel in New York and having his long time band quit on him Smith returned with an entire new band and the Unutterable. He’d done it before, releasing Extricate after Brix left him, so there is some sort of precedence. It’s amazing how the Fall can still sound vital some 30 years into it, but they do, and this is example number one for the aughts (see also Heads Roll and Country on the Click).
Moose never officially broke up, so I still hold out hope. High Ball Me was their fourth and last album. All three previous records were criminally ignored, so why should this one be any different. The perennial underdogs, Moose made such great albums to the delight of those lucky enough to hear them. High Ball Me is no different except that this one got released not only in the UK but in the US, a first for the band. There was no slide in quality on High Ball Me. Incorporating Nilson, Buckly, Hazlewood and House of Love into an intricate wall of sound that Phil Spector would envy. It’s downright lush!
Before Broadcast became a laptop band, they were actually a real band and The Noise Made By People was the culmination of their autumnal space-age pop. It had an icy cold and unfeeling demeanor like Nico, but there was a glow to it like the Mamas and the Papas and a fiery intensity like Jefferson Airplane. You get the picture, it has a definite 60’s feel to it, but it has it without sounding too derivative. I remember seeing them at the Knitting Factory in LA for their tour to promote the album, and Broadcast as a full band in a live setting so greatly surpassed what they had put down on tape. Trish Keenan’s voice, the retro light show, the noise created by the keyboards, but mostly the guitars filled the room with a hazy shade of winter. Take note chillwave/laptop groups, you need a band, otherwise it’s just watching a guy clicking a mouse.
Some of the sounds on Goldfrapp’s debut album are otherworldly. It’s all strings and computers, but it sounds like it came from outer space. Outer space circa circa 1960, something akin to Peter Thomas’s soundtrack to Raumpatrouille. Alisson Goldfrapp looks like she could have been a Bond girl and has a voice to match. Before making Felt Mountain with Will Gregory, she had appeared on albums by Tricky and Orbital, so this record and its cinematic trip hop didn’t come out of nowhere, but the yodeling kind of did.
You know what I do with this album? I probably shouldn’t say this, but I only listen to the Amy Linton songs. No offense to Wyatt Cusak (he sings 3 of the 14 songs on the album), but I’m a sucker for that girl group sound augmented with a big wall of guitars and that is what Linton specializes in. The Aislers Set are kind of the Rosetta Stone of Slumberland, the linchpin of the label that links the seminal Black Tambourine to the current crop of bands like Lichtenstein, Brilliant Colors, Grass Widow, and Frankie Rose. If there was a song that came out in the year 2000 that is better than the lead off track The Way To Market Station, I have yet to hear it.
Admittedly Happiness from a Distant Star is not the best Animals that Swim album, that honor would got to I was the King, I Really Was the King, but Animals that Swim are so good that their third best album (they only made three) is better than anything someone like Sufijan Stevens could ever, ever come up with in his wildest dreams. Singer Hank Stars is like the UK version of Silver Jews’ Dave Berman. He paints vivid pictures of the down on their luck and downtrodden characters and does it with such an eye for melody and melancholy that you find yourself swept up in stories about Uncle Mackie, aliens and letter writing.
Up until Know By Heart, American Analog Set were background music to me, but with this record they seemed to grow some teeth and develop a pulse. It’s still mellow, but there is a welcome tension to their songs. The band create a hypnotic swirling sound that is so crisp and clean you could eat off of it. Although the playing is at the forefront (the drumming is lovely), front guy Andrew Kenny comes to bat with some really strong pop songs. The Postman is pretty unforgettable and Aaron & Maria is the poppiest thing that AmAnSet have ever laid to tape.
Back in 2001 I wrote that the Tyde answer the question: What if Felt were from Southern California? Darren Rademaker is an obvious fan that Birmingham, UK band, but you can also tell he knows his local history, showing an appreciation of the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield. When this record came out in 2001 I was living down in San Diego, the perfect place to hear it. Once was meant for the beach, surfing, getting good and high and eating at Swami’s Natural Food Cafe on a sunny Encinitas day.
Japanese pop alchemist Cornelius is a master of precision and layering on texture after texture onto the frame of a pop song. A song might start with a water drop, become a trickling stream and end up a waterfall. Each part taken by itself seems so basic and simple, but as they layer upon one another the complexity in it all becomes apparent. Cornelius has this uncanny ability to create these engineering marvels and still make them sound vibrant, catchy and exiting. If you ever have the chance to see him live jump at it, you will not regret it. A true master builder at work.
Lesser Matters has not lost a spec of goodness since I first heard it back in 2003. I never get tired of Johan Duncanson’s sleepy singing over top of the band’s over-modulated drums and feedback tinged guitars. I hesitate to call it Swedish shoegaze, but they do seem to worship at the alter of the Mary Chain, albeit with synthesizers and cheap drum machines. Later on in the decade Sophia Copula would put their music into movies and they would become somewhat more well known, but the band still seem to be a secret.
Any one of the A-Frames records could be on this list. The Seattle goth-punks birthed three albums in the early aughts and every single one of them was worthy. Their paranoid, doom-laden, angular take on punk rock comes off as it was made in A Brave New World. Everything is sterile, there is no emotion, and the skies are gray with nuclear fall-0ut. Their second album, intuitively titled 2 has just enough pop juxtaposed with dread to make it a winner. The band would go on to sign with Sub Pop for their third album, before drummer Lars Finberg would leave to concentrate on his other band the Intelligence. The A Frames are what so-Cal punks DI would have been if they lived in the Pacific Northwest deprived of sun, surf and girls. Feel the angst!
Blur. Bleh. Blah. Kind of sums up my opinion of Blur as their career progressed. I just kind of lost interest. Blur guitarist Graham Coxon always seemed like he was the conflicted member of the group, not really embracing their super-stardom, keeping his foot in the lo-fi with his solo albums. After he left the band, his records moved away from the feedback drenched jams to became a lot more structured and pop focused and Happiness in Magazines is easily his best record. He drafted Blur producer Stephen Street to twiddle the knobs and he showed up with his grade A songs. There’s the straightforward pop of Spectacular and Freakin Out, but he delves into the blues on Girl Done Gone and is downright funny on Bottom Bunk. I think with Happiness In Magazines Coxon reaches a level of comfortable with who he is and it shows.
Katerine– Robots Après Tout (2005: Rosebud/Barclay)
When this came out, I called it a freak-show in a jewel case. I stand by those words, but I mean them in the best possible way. Just by glancing at the cover you might get the idea that this is not your normal album. Yeah, Katerine is French, so maybe it was cool to walk around in pink silk turtlenecks and women’s underwear back in 2005 somewhere in France, but I kind of doubt it. Philippe Katerine’s records seemed to be getting stranger and stranger and this is the wacked out amazing culmination. I think I like the really over the top songs the best. The club-y strangeness of Borderline, the disco of 100% VIP and the funky Cornelius-like Qu’Est-Ce Qu’Il A Dit ? No matter what shade of strangeness you gravitate to, you will undoubtedly find it on this record and probably end up dancing to it.
Rough Bunnies – Rough Bunnies Saved My Life (2005: Self-released)
Frida and Anna are the Rough Bunnies. They’ve also been The Flame and Inside Riot, but Rough Bunnies is their favorite band. They’re kind of Riot Grrl, they’re kind of Moldy Peaches, but mostly they’re Swedish punks releasing cd-r’s. The songs are immediate and the Bunnies greatest concern seems to be to get it on tape before they forget it. So everything has a ramshackle, but endearing feel to it. The Bunnies are prolific as they are obscure, popping out CD-r’s like, umm rabbits. They nearly signed to Alan McGee’s Poptones and Fine Arts Showcase did an entire album of Rough Bunnies covers. Where do you start? Rough Bunnies Saved My Life might be their best album, and if you like it there’s a treasure trove waiting for you.
Ahh, the jangling 80’s. You know the saying, they don’t make ’em like they use to. Human Television take it to heart and conjure the ghosts of the Rain Parade, Dumptruck, the Feelies and Let’s Active. They write melancholy sounding songs punctuated by bright chiming and jangling guitars. It’s a tried and true juxtaposition, and Human Television do it so well that they are excused for not bringing something new to the table. Each and every one of these songs will make you shake your head in wonder at how good it is. How good? To paraphrase the album: sunshine on your face, room spinning round your head good.
2000 marked the release of the first Go-Between album in 12 years, Friends of Rachel Worth, and 2005 marked the release of this, the final Go-Betweens album because of Grant McClennan’s sudden death in 2006. On Oceans Apart, McClennan was ever-present with his classic wistful pop songs as always. He always seemed to be able to reel off perfect pop without even trying and Boundary Rider and Finding You are among his best. But, on Oceans Apart it was Robert Forster that put this record on the map as my favorite Go-Betweens album. His frantic opener Here Comes a City, historical reminiscing rampage of Darlinghurst Nights and beautiful Lavender put this Go-Betweens album in the hallowed company of 16 Lovers Lane.
I can’t help but think that if this album was released two or three years later it would have been much bigger. Of course I’m usually wrong about things like this, but singles like Nothing But Green Lights and A Little Word In Your Ear mine similar veins as what James Murphy gets called a genius for. Vek was in his early 20’s when he made We Have Sound, writing and playing everything. It was such a stellar debut, and the future looked so bright the guy was wearing shades. That was 2005, oh Tom where have you disappeared to?
The number one album of 2006, well at least here at the Finest Kiss. Obviously the band were nonplussed about the dubious honor, deciding to break up in early 2007. Verboten Fruchte is probably the German band’s most fleshed out record with lots of keyboards and even strings and horns. Like Love circa Forever Changes they’ve thrown off their garage rock roots and blossomed into a more nuanced and textured way of doing things. All of that fancy stuff can’t mask the garage rock origins of the band, it just shows their restlessness, and wanting to stretching out and trying new things. If you’re like me, this record will have you reaching for your German-English dictionary, so you know what exactly you’re singing along to.
There is one group of people who I know loves this record. Advertisers and marketing dickies have latched onto Below the Branches and won’t let go. You can’t turn on the TV these days without hearing a song from it. Kelley Stoltz can sell other people’s products with his music, but has trouble selling his own records. Below the Branches is chock full of classic pop, one listen and you’ll want to start a marketing company.
Holland – The Paris Hilton Mujahideen (2006: Teenbeat)
Almost coming off like a Guided By Voices record with short songs that are so catchy you can’t believe he only made them a minute and a half long. Shards of guitar crash down on echo-y bass and keyboards as one man band Trevor Kampman croons with an icy disconnectedness. The production is so clear, yet the songs are so jarring and choppy that they literally reach out and grab and shake you. Kampan is jaded, and down about the state of the world. Paris Hilton Mujahideen is good illustration of the world back in 2006. Not much has changed.
BOAT– Songs That You Might Not Like (2006: Magic Marker)
Seattle bands that love power pop and have a sense of humor, may sound like an oxymoron, but BOAT picked up the torch that was passed to them from a rich lineage that includes the Young Fresh Fellows, The President of the United States of America, Harvey Danger and even Mudhoney. Songs That You Might Not Like wasted no time in firing salvo after salvo of funny, sad, heart-on-the-sleeve power pop. How could you not like a bunch of guys that drink too much soda, cruise in minivans, destroy noise rock bands, get called reptile boy, have ninjas sitting on their couch at home, and use skeleton keys? This was their first record, and they would only get better.
At first I was perplexed by Pants Yell! naming their record after the Young Marble Giants singer and not sounding anything like them. Then I thought, I named my blog after a Boo Radleys song and never write about that song or the band. I won’t deny it, Pants Yell! are twee, but it’s twee with melancholy and attitude. They actually sound equal parts Housemartins and Lucksmiths. Singer Andrew Churchman has an instantly memorable voice and this record equals any album from either of those two previously mentioned bands. The only problem with Alison Statton is getting passed the first song More Purple, it’s so damn good you’ll find yourself hitting rewind and never get to the rest of it.
Pelle Carlberg is a clever fellow. He’s got nothing but bad luck, a wonky wheel on his shopping cart, a crap career as a pop singer, and a broken clock. Carlberg got an ace up his sleeve though, his ability to make his mundane life seem so interesting. He’s funny, self-deprecating, has a better command of English than most native speakers, and has a pocket full of pop songs that will make your ears prick up. In a Nutshell was his second solo album after his band Edson broke up and it’s the one where he put all the pieces together to come up with something that people like Morrissey and Billy Bragg have long since stopped making.
One of the great disappointments of 2007 for me was Electrelane. After making what I would argue is their best album they went and quit. No Shouts No Calls was the Brighton, England band at their most melodic and immediate. The production is raw with the drums nice and in your face, they way Albini made the Wedding Present sound on Seamonsters. The songs contain elements of twee-pop and Kraut-rock combining to form melody driven grooves. They can be gentle and understated like on Cut and Run or lay it all out on songs like Tram 21 and To The East. I hold on to the hope that they really meant it when they said that they were going on indefinite hiatus, and not really actually quitting.
Up until Deuteronomy the Intelligence were decidedly lo-fi, but in 2007 the band’s mastermind Lars Finberg decided to turn up the bass and make a record that didn’t sound like the treble button was stuck at 11. There are elements of darkness that his former band the A Frames excelled in, but the genius of Deuternomy is it’s skewed take on pop that he would later take to another level on this year’s Fake Surfers. Intelligence records are like trip into the head of Finberg, and his world is a weird, wild, funny place place. Weird like the Residents, wacked like Brainiac but catchy as Devo.
Jesse Smith’s likely heros include Nick Lowe, Paul Collins, Elvis Costello and Paul Weller. These names certainly command respect, but the style of power pop that they are so well known for is decidedly out of style these days, and the likely reason that this album got no traction when it came out last year. That’s the only reason I can think of because back in the old days when a record like this came out, it was blasting out of dorm rooms and cars everywhere. Nowadays it’s all about headphone music and records that need to be heard blasting at full volume into the open air suffer.