When we last caught up with Portland, Oregon’s Mo Troper it was 2017 and his very good album Exposure and Response. He’s still writing top quality pop songs on album number three which is called Natural Beauty. Where Exposure employed the services of Richard Manning of Jellyfish fame for the horn and string arrangements, this album sees Troper handling most of them himself with now obvious quality degradation.
Natural Beauty is a solid batch of songs (Almost Full Control, Come and Get Me, and Jaz from Australia are all standouts). The obvious standout song here (and one of his best songs yet) is Your Boy. It’s two minutes of sheer pop brilliance in the vein of the La’s There She Goes. Maybe it’s the similarity the two songs share in their choruses (“There she goes” vs “There goes your boy”), or it could be the jangly guitar intro, or perhaps it’s the fleeting brevity of the song. Whatever the case, it was the reason the repeat button was created. I wouldn’t be surprised if I didn’t start hearing it used in many upcoming romantic comedy movies. Get it below before it’s discovered and killed by corporate America.
Mississippi’s Talbot Adams quickly follows up last year’s self-titled album with a new single on Market Square Records. Green Girl is strummed psychedelic bliss over a melodic bass line that swirls into your being like a warm summer breeze. The flip side I Love You So has a Phil Specter wall of sound that gently leans into you with its sha-la-la’s and Adams’ easy southern tenor. Pretty pop for your turntable.
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.
The Proper Ornaments have finally released a proper debut album. After last summer’s download only download only release on Lo which compiled their previous EP on No Pain in Pop,their debut single on Make a Mess, and some odds and ends the duo of James Hoare and Max Claps have employed Slumberland Records to issue their album Wooden Head. James Hoare who’s main band is Veronica Falls and also moonlights in the Ultimate Painting is a busy guy these days. For the Proper Ornaments he’s teamed up with Argentinian and one-time Andrew Loog Oldham protege Max Claps.
The duo met in a shop that Hoare was working at while Claps’s girlfriend attempted to steal a pair of boots. It’s amazing what a shared love of the Velvet Underground can overcome. Named after a Free Deign Song, they get a lot of comparisons to the Beach Boys, the Left Banke and Love. But if you ask my I think they sound like the Chills.
Wooden Head is nearly as good as their No Pain In Pop EP, but I don’t know if I think that because the EP had five astonishingly good good with no filler. It was easy to take in while Wooden Head is bigger and requires more time to consume. The record is astonishingly good, it just requires more time to your head around. Hoare and Claps sing in unison on nearly every song. Their melancholy, sparse psychedelic songs have a sing-song quality that makes them both comfortable and haunting at once. Each unassuming song buzzes into your ears to create endorphin rushes, but music being like a drug it takes more to recreate that initial high each time.
Sometimes an album cover will make you take notice of a band that you may have previously ignored. I’m not sure why I’ve never listened to a Lake album, but I had not until the cover of The World Is Real caught my eye. There is something aesthetically pleasing to the cover, like a vintage postcard or a faded photograph found in a shoebox in your grandparents’ closet that made me want to take this record home and give it a try.
A leap of faith? Maybe, but now I’m a Lake believer. The World Is Real is full of sophisticated sounding pop that fans of Sea and Cake, No Kids and Jim Ruiz are well acquainted with. Leading off the album is Do You Recall with its slight Sea and Cake vibe mixed with Seeds of Love era Tears for Fears. It’s full technicolor with a kaleidoscope of sounds anchored by bounding bass. The next song Parallel Lines features trippy guitars and vocals from Ashley Eriksson that are part Trish Keenan and part Free Design. Next up is Combat Culture with bouncy Beach Boys rhythm, ba-ba’s, and horns. Surely the songs will knock off in quality at some point, right? Wrong. This record keeps you on your toes to the end and is a joy to listen to, especially at really loud volumes so all of the sounds jab, dive and loop in front of your very eyes. Amazing that this Olympia band has been right under my nose all of the years. I’ve got some catching up to do.
You can stream The World is Real in its entirety at Lake’s bandcamp page. Catch them live on the east coast:
Fri 10/4 PURCHASE, NY SUNY Purchase
Sat 10/5 BROOKLYN, NY Shea Stadium
Sun 10/6 PHILADELPHIA, PA WKM
Mon 10/7 BALTIMORE, MD The Metro Gallery
Tue 10/8 CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA Tea Bazaar
Wed 10/9 DURHAM, NC Pinhook
Thu 10/10 KNOXVILLE, TN The Pilot Light
Fri 10/11 ATHENS, GA The World Famous
Sat 10/12 JACKSONVILLE, FL Burro Bar
Love is All | Vivian Girls | Nodzzz at Nectar, Seattle – 23 November 2008
The Nodzzz with their Clean sound that harks back to 80’s New Zealand, the Vivian Girls who have a lot in common with C-86 UK scene and Love is All with their 80’s John Hugh’s revival sound made for a night of reliving the alternative sounds of the 1980’s
Starting off the night night to a few curious onlookers, the Bay Area’s Nodzzz started their set by hurling insults at the sound guy, complaining that they couldn’t drink on stage (this was a recurring theme throughout the night) and attempting to play a bass that was out of tune. It was a recipe for disaster, but the trio dumped the bass and picked up another guitar and promptly began their noisy bone-ratteling set of kiwi pop influenced garage rock. Both guitarists trading vocals back and forth on thier short catchy songs made for a super fun set that won me over after the first song. I’m glad there are so many bands that are carrying the torch of Flying Nun these days with likes of the Box Elders, Surf City and the Nodzz it seems that finally the influence of that little scene from the 80’s is finally starting to get some attention! The band have just released their first album, vinyl only that is well worth picking up.
Back in May of this year the Vivian Girls played to a handful of punters at the Funhouse here in Seattle. That night, the Girls seemed a bit nervous as they waited on stage as the sound guy fiddled with the reverb. The songs were played really fast with Katie and then drummer Frankie switching instruments mid set. It was over nearly as soon as it began. What a difference a few months make. The Vivian Girls are darlings of the press, beguiling people with their combined love of punk rock , Shangri-Las fatalism and C-86 aesthetics. By the time Vivian Girls hit the stage the place was full with everyone anxiously waiting to see if they would live up to the hype. With the reverb and sound stuff worked out in advance this time, the Vivian Girls started their set to the smell of watermelon bubblegum. Apparently the sound guy that the Nodzzz were berating likes to chew watermelon gum and the smell was overpowering. Someone next to me offered the girls a piece but they confessed to not being able to chew gum and sing at the same time. I heard someone say “I like them already”. Me too I thought, but more because they’ve put out a great album and a slew of really good singles. The pace of the songs was more measured last night. This allowed Cassie’s guitar solos to really shined through. The band’s original drummer Frankie left to join the Crystal Stilts a few month back and her harmonies were missed a little, but new drummer Ali didn’t miss a beat and bassist Katie took over the harmonies that Frankie provided last time around. My only complaint about the set was that they left out a couple of my favourite songs. The excellent Where Do You Run and the equally good My Baby Wants Me Dead didn’t get played. We did get a couple new ones though, both from their new single (just released) one of which was a cover of the Beach Boys’ Girl Don’t Tell Me. It reminded me of the Heartworms (Archie Moore of Velocity Girl) doing the same song on their Space Escapade album back in 1995. Good songs which the Vivian Girls have in spades don’t go out of style.
With all the exitement of the Nodzzz and Vivian Girls it was easy to forget that Sweden’s Love is All were actually the headliners last night. I’ve said this before about certain 80’s revivalists, I have a hard time getting into bands resurrecting the sounds of marginal bands from that time period. When it comes to Love is All I can’t get Oingo Boingo and Altered Images out of my head. There seem to be sounds that never go out of style, at least to me, as is evidenced in me liking the Nodzzz and Vivian Girls, but Love is All have this hyper spastic thing going that seems to be derrived from the (English) Beat’s March of the Swivleheads. It’s fun and you can dance to it, but it starts to sound the same and becomes a bit much after a while. Singer Josephine Olausson was a ball of energy and funny too. At one point she wanted to see if the mic chord could reach off stage so that she could have a drink (since you can’t drink on stage in puritan Seattle). She was successfull much to the delight of her bandmates and the audience. Their cover of Flock of Seagulls’ I Ran was, how shall I say it, a bit much though. They were also selling a 12″ that contained that Flock of Seagulls song as well as 4 other covers including Prince’s Darling Nikki. Love is All were fun, but not really my thing.