I Am Your Density

Cold Beat and Childbirth at Cairo, Seattle | 9 November 2013


Everything about the neighborhood in Capitol Hill where Cairo the tiny clothing store, art space and music venue is nestled screams density. Try to park a your car near the place and you will likely be driving in circles for a while. Try to get a good spot in the back room of the of the space in the shop where bands play and you’ll either be on your tip toes trying to sneak a peak of the band or resign yourself to just hearing them play.
Cold Beat packed them in like sardines to the back room at Cairo last night. Lucky for me I’m tall, so I was able to sneak peaks of the San Francisco band while doing ballet moves.

Cold Beat are led by Grass Widow bassist Hannah Lew. Lew, taking a respite from Grass Widow, is exploring the darker regions of post punk that Grass Widow seems to be veering  more on the trajectory of their last album and the Milo Minute single where they covered both Wire and Portland’s Neo Boys. With Cold Beat she takes a slightly more colder synth approach, employing influences like Fad Gadget and the Normal with some current day Blank Dogs and Total Control.

The set included both Worms and Year 5772 from band’s debut EP just out now on Lew’s own Crime on the Moon label as well as bunch more similar sounding speed induced and harmony drenched rushes or adrenaline. Sitting on top of one of the amps behind Cold Beat there was a box that was labeled goth. I don’t think they let the goth out of the box, but the speedy dark harmony laced songs threatened it at every turn.
stream: Cold Beat – Worms (from the Cold Beat 12″)

Seattle’s self-described super-group Childbirth capped off the evening. Childbirth are the illegitimate offspring of Chastity Belt, Tacocat and Pony Time. They’re sort of a punky joke band. Actually that’s exactly what they are. Looking like they just snuck out of Swedish Hospital, they played with hospital gowns on and had songs like I only fucked you as a joke and Breast Coast.

stream: Childbirth – I Only Fucked You as Joke

I missed the first band of the night Display because I was driving around looking for parking. You can read an interview that Hannah Lew did with the SF Bay Guardian about Cold Beat here.

Blank Dogs At the Lo-Fi

Blank Dogs, Cosmetics, and Grave Babies at Lo-Fi, Seattle | 17 April 2010

With bands that release as many records as Blank Dogs do, you kind of feel like you see them grow up right before you eyes. They are the kind of band that do not sit around mulling over whether or not to release something.  My guess is that if they record it, they release it.  Early songs saw Blank Dogs firmly in the difficult, dissonant category.  Their songs tended to be un-melodic, poorly recorded affairs that only a mother could love.  Since those early days the band, or at least top Dog Mike Sniper, has continued to evolve and refine its sound.  Last year’s double album Under the Under had a decidedly friendlier sheen to it with some of the rougher edges smoothed and melodies coming to the forefront.

Blank Dogs continue to evolve, their newest 12″ Phrases sees them going for an early 80’s Mute and Factory sound and for the most part succeeding.  I wondered how serious they were about this somewhat new direction.  Was it a one off thing or the general progression of the band?  If last night’s gig at the Lo-Fi is any indicator, they seem committed to sounding like early Depeche Mode and Movement era New Order, but on their own terms.  The three piece set up contained a rig of wires and nobs controlled by Craig Mileski, Pamela Garavano-Coolbaugha on keyboard and second guitar and Sniper on guitar and vocals.  Last year, they played the Funhouse with a full guitar-bass-drums set up and I came away disappointed.  Last night I was fully prepared to be disappointed again when I saw the lack of drummer and bassist, but I ended up coming away more than a little bit impressed.  The songs stood out, and the strong pre-recorded beats provided the scaffolding on which Sniper and Garavano could overlay their Bernard Sumner style guitars.  Sniper’s vocals have come a way to being more captivating.  He can still at times sound monotonic, but last night he came through loud and clear delivering the goods more often than not with minimal vocal distortion.  Sniper and his Blank Dogs will probably be taking their licks for this new more synthy direction, but I like it, and the bobbing heads at the Lo-Fi appeared to dig it as well.

mp3: Blank Dogs – Heart and Depression (from the Phrases EP)

Order up a copy of the Phrases EP over at Captured Tracks.

Locals Grave Babies opened with their dark, reverb-heavy goth and an annoying guy in a trench coat dancing on stage. Kind of like Fields Of The Nephilim with a Bez. Vancouver’s Cosmetics, also on Sniper’s Captured Tracks label were ok, but I wasn’t really feeling their neo-goth thing.  Granted, they were plagued by bad sound that forced the singer to stand off stage to hear here vocals.

Still the Champ: Uncle Bob!

If you’ve been paying attention this year, you probably know that in 2009 it’s not about quality it’s quantity.  Bands are no longer satisfied to put out an album and maybe a single or an ep and then call it a year.  This year it has been all about inundating you with as many releases as they could fit onto the calendar.  It seemed like every time I turned around Thee Oh Sees were putting out another 7 inch,  or Robert Pollard had a new record.  Pollard is the king of proliferation. The guy is not human.   I’m sure he must know he puts out more records than people can consume, his publishing company is called Need More Songs.  He’s like the Scott Skiles of indie rock.  He may not look like a player, but they guy can rack up the points.

Pollard has been going like this for years, but this year he had some competition.  John Dyer and Dan Melchior both gave a valiant effort to put out more songs and wrest the title from Bob, but in the end both of them didn’t even come close.  Only if they could have combined their efforts they could have won, but only by a little. Yes, Ty Segall, The Fresh and Onlys, Dan Melchior and Thee Oh Sees all had more physical releases than pollard, but none of them came close to him in song total.

This is, of course is very unscientific, and probably does not include all the stuff all these guys have put out, but it’s close.  I feel pretty safe writing this at this point in the year.  What I mean, is I don’t think any of them have anything else slated to come out before the end of the year.  Although, today I did find out that both the Fresh & Onlys and Ty Segall have records coming out before Christmas (both included in the tally). So who knows, tomorrow Dan Melchior could announce a triple album with 40 songs on it.  For the time being this is how it stands: with 23 days left in the match, Pollard is so far ahead nobody will ever catch him. I wish I had some kind of trophy to give the guy.

For those of you keeping score at home, live albums don’t count,  songs on compilations albums count as a half release, while a split EP or 7 inch counts as full release.  The detailed scoring follows.

Robert Pollard
The Crawling Distance (GBV Inc) – 10 tracks
Elephant Jokes (GBV Inc) – 22 tracks
Tug Of War At The Faithful Center (Happy Jack Rock) – 19 tracks
Circus Devils – Gringo (Happy Jack Rock) – 16 tracks
Boston Spaceships – The Planets Are Blasted (GBV Inc) – 14 tracks
Boston Spaceships – Zero to 99 (GBV Inc) – 16 tracks
Cosmos – Jar of Jam Ton of Bricks (Happy Jack Rock) – 14 tracks

Thee Oh Sees
Help (In The Red) – 12 tracks
Zork’s Tape Bruise (Kill Shaman Records) – 31 tracks
Dog Poison (Captured Tracks) – 10 tracks
Tidal Wave (Woodsist) – 2 tracks
Split w/ Jay Reatard (Shattered) – 2 tracks
Split w/ Ty Segall Split (Castle-Face) – 1 track
In the Shadow of the Giant (Sub Pop) – 3 tracks
Blood In Your Ear (Rock Is Hell) – 2 tracks
Split w/ Paul Cary (Stankhouse) – 2 tracks
The World’s Lousy With Ideas Volume 8 – 1 track

Dan Melchior
Thankyou Very Much 2LP (SS) – 16 tracks
Obscured by Fuzz (Topplers) – 14 tracks
Dan Melchior’s Broke Revue – o clouds unfold – 2LP (Hook or Crook) – 23 tracks
Mr Oblivion (Columbus Discount) – 2 tracks
The Post Office Line (Columbus Discount) 2 tracks
Split 45 w/ Fresh & Onlys (Volar) – 2 tracks
It’s a terrible shame (Dull Knife) – 2 tracks
Dim Are the Lights (Convulsive)  – 2 tracks
Skulls Without Borders (Siltbreez) -1 track

Ty Segall
Horn the Unicorn (HBSP-2X) – 19 tracks
Lemons (Goner) – 12 tracks
Reverse Shark Attack w/Mikal Cronin (Kill Shaman) – 10 tracks

Split w/ Black Time (Telephone Explosion) – 7 tracks

Cents (Goner) – 3 tracks
Ty Segall and Mikal Cronin – Pop Song (Goodbye Boozy Records) – 3 tracks
Split w Thee Oh Sees (Castle-Face) – 1 track
Universal Momma (True Panther) – 2 tracks
Ty Segall – My Sunshine (Trouble In Mind) – 3 tracks

The Fresh & Onlys
Grey-Eyed Girls (Woodsist)  – 12 tracks
The Fresh & Onlys (Castle Face) – 14 tracks

I’ll Tell You Everything & I Saw You Seeing Me (Dirty Knobby) – 3 tracks
The Fresh & Onlys (Chuffed) – 4 traks
Laughter is Contagious (Trouble In Mind) – 2 tracks
Split w/Dan Melchior (Volar) – 2 tracks
Second One to Know/Hated or Loved (Woodsist) – 2 tracks

Bomb Wombs (Fuck It Tapes) – 10 tracks

Kurt Vile
God Is Saying This To You (Mexican Summer) – 12 tracks
Childish Prodigy (Matador) – 9 tracks

The Hunchback EP (Richie) – 6 tracks

Fall Demons (Skulltones) – 5 tracks
He’s All Right (Matador) – 3 tracks

Meet the Philly Elite (K-RAA-K) – 1 track

The Intelligence
Fake Surfers (In the Red) – 12 tracks
Crepuscule with Pacman  (Born Bad) – 12 tracks

Reading and Writing About Partying (Raw Deluxe Records) – 2 tracks
Split w/ Crash Normal (Compost Modern Art) – 1 track
Split w/ Unnatural Helpers (Dirty Knobby) – 3 tracks

The World’s Lousy With Ideas Volume 8 – 1 track

Blank Dogs
Under the Under 2LP (In the Red) – 20 tracks

Seconds (Captured Tracks) – 4 tracks

In Here (Down In the Ground) – 2 tracks
Slow Room / Anywhere (Captured Tracks) – 2 tracks
Waiting (In the Red) – 2 tracks

The World’s Lousy With Ideas Volume 8 – 1 track

Ganglians (Woodsist) – 8 tracks
Monster Head Room (Weird Forest) – 11 tracks

Split w/ Eat Skull (Dulcitone) – 1 track
Blood On the Sand (Capured Tracks) – 2 tracks

Blank Dogs at the Funhouse

Blank Dogs, Naked on the Vague, Love Tan, Idle Times at the Funhouse, Seattle | 2 April 2009
blank dogs funhouse seattle

This was easily the most packed I’ve ever seen the Funhouse.  I arrived around 10 o’clock for the last part of Idle Times opening set and there was already a crowd around the stage.  The combination of two really good Seattle bands as openers and highly prolific and getting better with each release Blank Dogs from Brooklyn as headliners was a pretty good reason to be at the Funhouse on Thursday night.  I saw Idle Times back in December at the Sunset and liked them, but they sounded much better this night.  The guitars sounded bigger and they just seemed more confident as a band.  The live version of Idle Times is bigger than the recorded one.  Instead of  just Brian Idle you get a full band which means the songs just sound bigger.  The guitar riffs become more accented, giving them a more Dinosaur Jr. feel.

Love Tan are the project of the Lights’ Craig Chambers and former Intelligence drummer Matthew Ford.  Armed with the ever popular combination of guitar and drums, on paper these guys may seem like minimalists, but they are fully capable of rocking. Their stage personas come off as kind of smart-ass with Ford renaming all their songs to include skull in their titles and Chambers with a mischievous look  that reminds me of the bully Scott Farkus in A Christmas Story.  These guys clearly are playing without a rock rule book.   Their knob twiddling jam Dissolve where Chambers screechy, piercing sounds without actually playing his guitar was killer and the highlight of the set for me with their most pop-like song This Land is No Good coming in a close second.

mp3: Love Tan – Ex (from Misc. Night Feelings, buy it)

Blank Dogs were on tour with Naked on the Vague who are from Australia.  I had checked out the Vague’s myspace a couple days before the gig and thought they sounded like industrial music, literally.  Not the Sisters of Mercy, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry gothic style that Blank Dogs are fond of, but the clanging, and pounding dissonance of a factory.  Live, they were no different deconstructing songs to their most basic noise elements.  To quote Bob and Doug McKenzie from Strange Brew, Beauty sound, but not my style of music.  Blank Dogs, with a few minor quips,  did not disappoint.  Mike Sniper, who is Blank Dogs on record brought along a full band including a keyboard setup that looked like medical machine in an intensive care unit with knobs and wires sticking out everywhere.  The band were in no need of life support ripping through a ten song set with hardly a pause.  Sniper’s vocals were pretty much indecipherable, partly because there was so much reverb and partly because the everything else was so loud.  He left most of the lead guitar work to  the other guitarist who’s leads seemed to pierce through the industrial haze of the rest of the band.  My two complaints were that one song didn’t sound much different from the next, and that you could barely hear the drums.  On record Sniper seems to be stretching out a bit with his latest Captured Tracks EP putting a emphasis on more clarity and melody.  Live, he hasn’t quite gotten there yet, though his band does pack quite a wallop.

mp3: Blank Dogs – The Tied (from Seconds, buy it)


how to make a record
Back in the early 90’s Simple Machines put a pamphlet that they called the Mechanic’s Guide. It was a how-to guide for putting out a record and starting a record label.  The guide outlined the steps it takes to put out a 7 inch record, cassette and compact disc and covered all the bases from designing the sleeve, to getting the tracks mastered and finally how to sell them.  Back in the day, you used to have to write them to order a copy, now you can click a link and read it for free.  It’s still relevant, and I would bet it still gets read and used as a resource for people starting out.

In the last few years, out of thin air, or more likely sweat and hard work, a bunch of labels have been materializing with a fetish for vinyl and a similar aesthetic for noisy, treble heavy bands that are decidedly lo-fi.  These labels seem to be championing bands that creating a garage revival except the these are bands without garages.  I don’t know if any of the labels have read the Mechanic’s Guide, but their grass roots efforts and limited editions have much in common with what Simple Machines did in their time.  There are a handful of labels at the core of this scene, and it is certainly a scene because these bands and labels seem to switch between each other for releases and even team-up in some cases to make new bands.  There are a number of well established labels that have been putting out records that fit this description like In the Red, Goner and Castle Face, but it seems like a few newer labels have really caught the imagination of a lot of people of late (or at least mine).  At the center of the scene I’m talking about, are HoZac in Chicago, and Woodsist and Captured Tracks in Brooklyn.  A little bit on the periphery are Art Fag and Zoo Music out in San Diego.  Like so many indie labels of the past (Merge, Teenbeat, Dischord, Matador, Creation, Simple Machines to name a few) Woodsist, Captured Tracks and Art Fag are run by music obsessed guys who are also on bands.

Woodsist is handled by Jeremy Earl who is also in bands Woods and Meneguar while Captured Tracks is run by Mike Sniper who records under the Blank Dogs moniker.  Earl’s Woodsist label has grown out of his Fuck It Tapes label which only releases tapes (of course).  Woodsist started back in 2006 and not only release vinyl, but they’re not afraid of putting out a cd either.  The label’s track record is already stellar with released by by Sic Alps, Crystal Stilts, Vivian Girls.  He also put out last year’s Wavves record, a Blank Dogs ep, and just released the first 7 inch from Seattle’s Idle Times.  Up next for Woodsist are new albums from the Woods and Meth Teeth, a Psychedelic Horseshit 12 inch from Columbus, Ohio pot-smoking noise rockers and a full length from New Jersey band Real Estate.  Sniper’s Captured Tracks label is much newer, brand new in fact, with release number one and two having just hit the streets.  They’re both four song 12 inch eps, one by Sniper’s own Blank Dogs who get a lot of Joy Division comparisons, but I think they sound a lot more like a warped Tubeway Army,  and the other buy Dum Dum Girls, who are a one woman band based out of Los Angeles sounding a lot the Vivian Girls but with less controversy.  Coming up on Captured Tracks is a single by the Mayfair Set which is a Blank Dogs – Dum Dum Girls team-up and from what I’ve heard of it is definitely more than the sum of it’s parts!  Also look out of singles from the Woods, and San Francisco’s Brilliant Colors.  The Brilliant colors are an all girl three piece that sound a bit 80’s New Zealand and a bit like Life Without Buildings currently have a 7 inch out on Make a Mess a label  run by Nodzzz drummer Eric Butterworth who put out last year’s excellent Nodzzz’ I Don’t Wanna single) .

Moving out of Brooklyn and out to Chicago where HoZac was born out of the Horizontal Action zine that Todd Novak  and Brett Crossout wrote until 2005.   The duo reformatted and resurrected the name into a record label a little over two years ago.  Their label specializes in limited releases of 7 inch records which includes the afore mentioned Blank Dogs as well as Nobunny, France Has the Bomb and the Dutchess and the Duke among many, many others. There limited runs go out of print pretty fast so you gotta jump fast when one hits the street.  The big news earlier this year from HoZac was that they were going to do a singles club which promised records from many of the bands I’ve already mentioned like Idle Times and Dum Dum Girls  as well as Teeth (a Blank Dogs side project) and Box Elders.  The singles club 500 subscriptions is sold out, but you should keep your eyes peeled for the first LP from the Dum Dum Girls and Medication from Connecticut who sound like the Mama’s and the Papas trapped in a cave.

It’s almost overwhelming, the number of releases that these bands and labels have put out and are planning to release, and I haven’t even mentioned a couple new San Diego labels, Art Fag and  Zoo Music.  Zoo Music was the first out of the gate this year with a cd-r ep from the Dum Dum Girls and a killer Jesus and Mary Chain-esque single from San Diego’s and former Plot to Blow Up the Eiffel Tower,  the CrocodilesArt Fag is run by the Crocodiles, but they won’t be allowing themselves to put out their own album.  They’ll be entrusting Fat Possum to do that on 28 April.  Instead, they will be releasing a mighty fine split 7 inch featuring the Pens, Crocodiles, Graffiti Island and Dum Dum Girls as well as a full length from Philadelphia’s Ye Olde Maids. With all of this action going on down here in the underground, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn about a few more labels this year taking the initiative and doing it themselves, economy be damned.
mp3: France Has the Bomb – Invisible Angle (buy it from HoZac)

mp3: Nobunny – Motorhead with Me (buy if from HoZac)

mp3: Mayfair Set – Desert Fun (comming out on Captured Tracks)

mp3: Blank Dogs – Calling Over (buy it from Captured Tracks)

mp3: Wavves – Teenage Super Party (buy it from Woodsist)

mp3: Idle Times – Driving You Sad (buy it from Woodsist)

mp3: The Woods – The Dark (buy it from Captured Tracks)

mp3: Dum Dum Girls – Ship of Love (currently out of print, from Zoo Music, but you can buy her 12″ from Captured Tracks)

mp3: Crocodiles – Neon Jesus (buy it from Zoo Music)

If you live in Seattle, Blank Dogs will be at the Funhouse along with Idle Times and Love Tan on 2 April, and Wavves will be at the same place a few days later on 9 April.