Albums 2020

You probably wondered (if you wondered at all) if this blog is still alive. Did it get some sort of respiratory disease and reside? Nope, if anything it’s fallen out of its owner’s purview due to the internet being taken over by corporations and this blog’s inability to prompt you to look at it more (can I interest you in push notifications?). Nonetheless, if not more for me than you, here are 35 of my favorite records of 2020. Here’s to hoping we have something in common as well as some differences!

cover
1. Coriky – S/T (Discord)
Ian MacKay and Amy Farina’s two albums as the Evens were ok, but they were lacking a certain something. Turns out it was MacKay’s former Fugazi bandmate bassist Joe Lally. Pop and politics is back on the menu here akin to early Fugazi and Mackay’s one-off Egg Hunt single he did with Minor Threat bandmate Jeff Nelson. The coolest thing about it all is way they incorporate 60’s pop like the Byrds and the Kinks into their punk pedigree to create something fresh yet familiar, providing something for dads, grads, and streamers. This album is prime evidence (see Clean Kill, Last Thing, and Have a Cup of Tea) demonstrating that there’s more left in the tank for aging punks everywhere to fight the power.

cover Melenas - Dias Raros
2. Melenas – Dias Raros (Trouble In Mind)
On their second album the Melenas continue to progress and come up with a winning combination of bright indie pop juxtaposed with moody drone. The Pamplona group sing in Spanish, but speak in the indie lingua franca sporting elements of the Bats, Electrelane and the Pastels. Dias Raros exudes a new confidence and added muscle that wasn’t evident on their debut. 3 Segundos is a ripper of a song and  Ciencia Fiction pops off with a wild abandon that would have made Witman blush. This record is a flagship for the vibrant Spanish indie scene and worthy of your hard earned cash.

apartments
3. The Apartments – In and Out of the Light (Talitres)
The Apartments lead by Peter Milton Walsh have been around since the mid 1980’s, but In and Out of the Light is only their second album of the 2000’s. Besides the fact that Apartments albums are rare, it really surprised me. I wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I do. It’s got a dark yet hopeful quality to it that reminds me of the Blue Nile and At Swim Two Birds. Walsh’s voice carries the weight of the world with it and evokes landscapes and emotions with his slightly raspy delivery and sparse instrumentation. A well placed horn parts and minor keys abound encouraging you to put another log on the fire and look out at the falling snow.

toughage
4. Tough Age – Which Way Am I? (Mint)
Album number four from this Canadian band is full of jangly Flying Nun inspired songs. One, called Penny Current Suppression Ring sung by bassist  Penny Clark is about getting a demo rejected by Flying Nun. So they take your Flying Nun and raise it an Eddy Current Suppression Ring? Good songs, sense of humor, take my money.

cover
5. Peel Dream Magazine – Agitprop Alterna (Slumberland)
Peel Dream Magazine songs ping-pong between My Bloody Valentine and Stereolab inspirations. Every song creates a warm cocoon of buzzy vibrations, droning keyboards and sighing vocals that wrap around each other creating a sweet spot as each song worms its way to the inner ear.

cover
6. Destroyer – Have We Met (Merge)
Dan Bejar has a formula that he has loosely stuck to since Destroyer’s Kaputt in 2011. This album stays in the same synthesizer romance lane as Roxy Music and the Blue Nile. This batch of songs are some his best in a while and they are also replete with Bejar’s idiosyncratic humor.

Web
7. RVG – Feral (Fire)
For their second album, RVG hire a producer Victor Van Vugt to perhaps emphasize their grimier side. To my ears there isn’t much difference which is fine since this band really doesn’t need much help sounding great. The songs feature soaring guitar riffs reminiscent of 80’s postpunk greats like Echo & the Bunnymen and the Triffids.

fleur
8. Fleur – S/T (Bickerton)
Dutch singer Floor Elman goes by Fleur. She teams up with guys from and instrumental group Les Robots to make a French ye-ye pop record that sounds like it was born in a garage and then taken for a walk on the beach. Authentic and fun.

bdrm
9. Bdrmm – Bedroom (Sonic Cathedral)
Just when you thought shoegaze was dead, Hull’s Bdrmm come along and revive it. Their debut album balances a gray sky moodiness with a few bright sun breaks of ringing guitars that the Chameleons and the Cure were always so adept at.

GH 1192-12JktTemplate.indd
10. Jack Cades – Perfect View (Bickerton/Beluga)
The Jack Cades specialize in 60’s inspired garage rock. Their second album is quite good. Just the right amount of reverb, an eye for a good hook and a perfect amount of psych rock influence. So good, it might get you double checking the track list of the Nuggets box set to see if it’s OG.

mattberry
11. Matt Berry – Phantom Birds (Acid Jazz)
Matt Berry is an actor, comedian and musician. He’s made a lot of records, Phantom Birds is his 8th and based on its quality he’s not running out of ideas. It’s got a 60’s country feel in the vein of the Flying Burrito Brothers, the Byrds Sweetheart of the Rodeo, and Dylan’s Nashville Skyline with a little bit of kitschy funkiness thrown in to make sure it’s not a paint by numbers sort of think.

popfilter
12. Pop Filter – Banksia (Bobo Integral)
Melbourne, Australia’s Ocean Part rebrand themselves as Pop Filter and remove any self-imposed rules to make their debut album. A motoric groove here, an acoustic number there, some synth-laden janglers sprinkled in for good measure all while adhering to that Melbourne indie aesthetic that seems to keep going and going. (Note: The band released a second LP this month that I’ve yet to hear.)

snogs
13. The Snogs – Boyfriend’s Dead (Paisley Shirt)
San Francisco’s Paisley Shirt splashed onto the scene this year with some great finds. Santa Cruz, California’s Snogs sound like they’re from Olympia, Washington. The baritone vocals will definitely remind you of a certain flagship K records band. Even if they don’t, you’ll still dig the DIY sound, youthful enthusiasm and infectious songs.

ringo
14. Ringo Deathstarr – S/T (Reverberation Appreciation Society)
Austin, Texas shoegazers had been quiet for a bit, but return with quite a statement. They are masters at creating noisy sound collages that can sooth and blister and this record has some of their best of both.

tapeworms
15. Tapeworms – Funtastic (Howlin’ Banana)
This French group sound like a bunch of mad scientists. I could imagine that they’ve got a few Elephant 6 records, some Swirlies and Lilys to go along with their MBV. Funtastic is exactly that, innocent sounding buzzing pop ditties and the sound of band having a blast.

cover
16. Pictish Trail – Thumb World (Fire)
Pictish Trail is Johnny Lynch who also runs the Lost Map record label which is quite excellent in its own right. Thumb World is the best Pictich Trail album yet. It’s got a DIY electronic feel which has never been a huge deal in rock and roll, but I’m a sucker for that everything and the kitchen sink mentality where he’s not trying as much to get kids on dance floor, but more for the satisfaction of just getting you nodding along, tapping your toes and opening up the window.

galore
17. Galore – S/T (Rocks In Your Head)
The bay area has a bit of history of generating groups inspired by Flying Nun records. Galore, like Brilliant Colors before them make jangly pops songs in the vein of Look Blue Go Purple. It’s a low key, sort of ramshackle brilliance that Galore excel at.

kellylee
18. Kelly Lee Owens – Inner Song (Smalltown Supersound)
On her second album, Owens covers Radiohead and duets with John Cale, but it’s still her show. The combination the of bloops and bleeps with her ethereal vocals give you the feeling of being under, gliding on a wind gust and breaking through the atmosphere into low orbit.

cover-12
19. Bananagun – The True Story of Bananagun (Full Time Hobby)
Combining the Byrds with Os Mutantes, Melbourne’s Bananagun create a tropical psychedelic rock record of extreme interest. It’s got cool wah-wah riffs and slinky beats and spacey ideas. Everything old is new again if you wait long enough and Bananagun deliver their take on this sound at a time when nobody was expecting it.

cover
20. Porridge Radio – Every Bird (Polyvinyl)
Abrasive pop in the vein of Protomartyr, Shame and PJ Harvey. Singer Dana Margolin can shout and scream with the best of them, but she includes just enough sweetness in her choruses that kept me coming back to this album.

cover
21. Aoife Nessa Frances – Land of No Junction (Basin Rock)
She didn’t seem to get as much attention as Aldous Harding or Cate LeBon, but her talent is at that level and this album rivals anything either has done. These psychedelic tinged folk songs may require several listens before they hit home, but with little but time on my hands I was happy to let it happen. This could be the low key sleeper album of the year.

tara
22. Tara Clerkin Trio – S/T (Laura Lies In)
The seven tracks on the debut album by the Tara Clerkin Trio are not exactly verse-chorus-verse songs. They allude to those kinds of songs which is what initially catches your attention, but once they get your attention they take you to places you weren’t expecting to be taken. Which, when I come to think of it, is the reason I listen to music in the first place.

cover
23. Boat – Tread Lightly (Magic Marker)
Seattle’s Boat took a hiatus six years ago, and returned this year with Tread Lightly. Singer Dave Crane got the guys back together and they picked up right where they left off. Longer in the tooth and slightly more grey in the beard, but no less precise in their idiosyncratic pop sensibilities. Tread Lightly could be the best Boat album, but I think that with every new Boat album.

inspiration
24. Roy – Peace and Love and Outer Space (Idée Fixe)
Sometimes it’s ok to judge a book or a record by its cover. Toronto prog-pop collective Roy give exactly the right impression with the cover of Peace and Love and Outer Space. Super fury space jams that are perfect for surfing on a rocket among other things. Step in, step on. Seatbelts are optional.

cindy
25. Cindy – Free Advice (Paisley Shirt/Mt St Mtn/Tough Love)
This year SF band Cindy were plucked from obscurity into internet cult fandom with their second album, but it may as well have been their first since they were so under the radar. Free Advice is a record that is made for these times. Super chill, nearly hushed vocals accompanied by glacial guitars and some nice synthesized sounds. Galaxie 500 fans take note and snatch it up before it goes out of print (again).

reds
26. The Reds, Pinks and Purples – You Might Be Happy (Tough Love)
Glen Donaldson who’s been in a few of notable groups like Art Museums and Skygreen Leopards now uses The Reds, Pinks and Purples to gift us with his pop magic. You Might Be Happy has a sadness permeating from it, but it’s not a downer. It’s more of a nostalgic feeling that it gives off. I’ve seen a lot of Sarah records comparisons which isn’t far off. It’s post-post Sarah too, inheriting from the likes of Trembling Blue Stars and running with it.

cover-4
27. The Cowboys – Room of Clons (Feel It)
Bloomington, Indian’s Cowboys do smart(ass) post punk in the vein of Devo and Uranium Club, but they do straightforward pop too. On Wise Guy Algorithm (a nominee for song of the year) The singer sorta sounds like Feargal Sharkey until he hands the mic to one of his band mates for some of the other songs like the Kinks-Apples in Stereo inspired and kazoo laden Days. Recommended to folks who like curve balls served up in their rock ‘n roll.

cover
28. Lake – Roundelay (Off Tempo)
Lake have been a Pacific Northwest treasure for going on 15 years now. Roundelay sees them at the peak of their powers. Clearly influenced by likes of the Carpenters, Stereolab, Free Design and Jim O’Rourke, but operating outside of any trends or indie zeitgeist. Singers Eli Moore and Ashley Eriksson’s sound like they grew up singing in an Olympia church choir and then went home and played K records on their turntables. Smooth rock never sounded so smooth and exciting at once.

sweepingpromises
29. Sweeping Promises – Hunger For a Way Out (Feel It)
Boston’s Sweeping Promises have gotten compared to 80’s post punk girl groups like Lilliput, Girls at Our Best! and Delta 5. Their minimalist and angular sound certainly merits it. I really like how they avoid any glossiness to their sound, going instead with a demo like quality to the recording which adds to the energy and allure of the album.

snails
30. Snails – Hard-Wired (Glass Modern)
On their follow up to 2016 debut album, Bristol’s Snails sound just as good and deliver higher quality set of songs. Hard-Wired is full of pastoral melodies and bucolic harmonies. It puts a smile on your face like when the sun peaks over the hillside in the early morning, the dew glistens on the grass and the birds start to sing.

elrichman
31. Elrichman – Heaven’s Mayor (Bobo Integral)
Paul Elrichman is from Toronto, but this record seems to have a Scottish indie flare to it. His warm tenor and impressive studio creations are reminiscent of the Bluebells, Aztec Camera and Orange Juice. Each song seems to start out with catchy riff and vocal drawing you immediately in and his instrumental wizardry is fully capable of making you think he’s hired a string section and a horn line.

cover
32. The Cool Greenhouse – S/T (Melodic)
The Cool Greenhouse are into 4CHAN and Harry Potter and I bet the Cool Greenhouse are into CB too. I had my ears on (good buddy) for this record based on the rad-ness of their Cardboard Pet 10″ and London and Landlords singles and it didn’t disappoint. Minimalist repetition along with humorous erudite lyrics keep it endlessly interesting and fun.

cover-9
33. Shopping – All or Nothing (Fat Cat)
The final show I saw in 2020 was Shopping at the Sunset Tavern in Ballard. It was March just before everything shutdown for COVID. It was packed and the band thanked everyone for risking it to come out. The UK trio were in synch that night as they are on All or Nothing. They effortlessly build riffs into anthems in an 80’s post-punk dance style that keep the politics of dancing on message and feeling good.

lavendar
34. Lavender Blush – The Garden of Inescapable Pleasure (Shelflife)
Another San Francisco band in this year’s list (what’s going on down there?). If you dig the BV’s then Lavender Blush are gonna be a pleasure. They like big guitars and seem a bit moody and are obviously influenced by UK indie bands that lean toward the Sarah records catalog. Their pop sensibilities and dour attitude are a combination really works.

marker
35. Marker Starling – High January (Tin Angel)
Marker Starling’s style of pop is light and slightly funky. The Aluminum Group come to mind, but he’s definitely a Steely Dan fan and very likely into Prefab Sprout. Do I really need to say more to convince you? Ok, Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier provides her cool vocals on two songs too. Now, is Marker the captain of your heart? I hope so.

25 More records that I really liked:
Islet – Eyelet (Fire)
The Stroppies – Look Alive! (Tough Love)
Thibault – Or Not Thibault (Chapter Music)
Cloth – S/T (Last Night From Glasgow)
Flat Worms – Antarctica (Drag City)
The Bats – Foothills (Flying Nun)
Shabaka & the Ancestors – We Are Sent Here By History (Impulse)
Cmon – Mix of Nations (Mexican Summer)
A Girl Called Eddy – Been Around (Elefant)
Anna Högberg Attack – Lena (Omlott)
Slum of Legs – S/T (Spurge)
Jet Stream Pony – S/T (Shelflife)
Double Date With Death – L’au-Dela (Howlin Banana)
Mo Troper – Natural Beauty (Tender Loveinf Empire)
Jeff Parker & the New Breed – Suite for Max Brown (International Anthem)
Kelley Stoltz – “Ah! (etc​)​” (Agitated)
Gil Scott-Heron – We’re New Again: A Re-imagining by Makaya McCraven (XL)
Lars Finberg – Tinnitus Tonight (Mt St Mtn)
Sault – Untitled (Rise) & Untitled (Black Is)
Green Seagull – Cloud Cover (Mega Dodo)
Protomartyr – Ultimate Success Today (Domino)
The Beths – Jump Rope Gazers (Carpark)
Tidiane Thiam – Siftorde (Sahel Sounds)
Alabaster DePlume – To Cy & Lee: Instrumentals Vol. 1 (International Anthem)
Luke Haines & Peter Buck – Beat Poetry for Survivalists (Cherry Red)

BOAT Call It a Comeback

boat

You probably don’t know this, but I was a member of BOAT for a very brief time. I showed up for one of their album release shows, I think it was for the Dress Like Your Idols album at the Tractor. To my surprise the show was sold out. D Crane spotted me in line and I told him I didn’t have a ticket. Immediately he grabbed M McKenzie, got his wristband and gave it to me and gave his own wristband to my buddy who was also without a ticket.  A little apprehensive about impersonating members of BOAT, D Crane told me not to worry because the opening band had about 12 members and there was no way the door guy would know if we were really in the band or not.It’s a great example of how down to earth this band is and how they don’t take themselves too seriously (Their Instagram is called Sloppypopstagram and they still book shows using their fictitious manager H. Fozzleberry).

It’s been seven years since BOAT put themselves into storage. In the meantime they’ve collaborated with Math & Physics Club as Unlikely Friends for three albums and some shows. When a band with a low-profile like BOAT reforms, it doesn’t really bring with it the massive expectations concocted by fans and the media. This seems to have played in the band’s favor as D Crane and J Long traded demos back and forth. The songs for album came together in secret and with zero expectations from anyone except from the band themselves.

So what do we get with the new BOAT LP in 2020 as the band enter their 40’s (their golden years)? Believe it or not, we get the best BOAT LP yet. It’s not a concept record per se, but you could argue that it’s their mid-life crisis. Most folks have panic attacks and nervous breakdowns, BOAT writes a bunch of hits about it, infusing self-effacing humor, drum loops, bleeps and bloops, killer guitar riffs and chest thumping choruses. Metabolism, In the Water, the title track, So Many Reasons Your Turns Gray, I believe In the Principle, Loneliness Kills and the Ballad of Gaz Coombes all deserve to be considered as some of the best songs the band has written.  The guys are obviously rejuvenated and at the peak of their pop powers and make a good argument that older guys can still bring it.

 

The Big Takeover has D Crane giving a play by play for each track on Tread Lightly worth checking out.

Unlikely Friends Strike Gold

unlikelyfriends

With Boat on somewhat of a hiatus and Math and Physics Club in the middle of their standard four or so years between albums what is a guy to do in the green and mossy Pacific Northwest? Well, in the case of Boat’s Dave Crane you round up a new bunch of friends, call yourselves Unlikely Friends and cook up a new batch of killer pop pop songs. You will undoubtedly recognize the voice of Charles “Chaz” Bert from Math & Physics Club and you may know Chris Mac (the Indiepop King of Seattle) who runs the Jigsaw record label and mail order and is at least in three bands around town at any given time.

Solid Gold Cowboys will be easy to like if you are already a Boat fan because Crane’s voice and his penchant for writing hooky pop songs. The gunslinger in this game is Bert who usually keeps things pretty mellow when singing in MAPC, but really lets loose on many of these songs adding an quantifiable effervescence into them.

The album is a combination of precise pop hooks akin to Guided By Voices and the sunny sweet bubblegum psychedelia of the Apples in Stereo. Soft Reputation and Satellite Station are the best of examples of this great combination, but that doesn’t really cover it. Ride Off Into the Sunset chugs along like Love and Rockets, Gold Hills Theme nods to the dusty spaghetti western soundtrack music of Ennio Morricone and Gold Coast Marauders has the delicacy of a Left Banke song. Crane usually takes the lead vocal with Bert coming in on the chorus to put the song into the stratosphere.

Considering the backgrounds of these three (Un)likely friends it’s not surprising that they got together to make a record. The unlikely part is that the peanut butter and chocolate combination of the heart on your sleeve style of Boat juxtaposed with the sweetness of Math and Physics Club is satisfying winner.

Cassette version is available from Mirror Universe Tapes
Compact Disc version is available from Jigsaw Records

If you are in Seattle, you won’t want to miss Unlikely Friends record release show at the Rendezvous in Belltown, Saturday, February 21 with Ruler and Oh! Pears.

Best of 2013: Seattle Records

The older I get the more I think that there should be a new music moratorium every January so that you can catch up on all of the stuff that you missed from the previous year. Yeah, I know that ain’t gonna happen. So here we are. It’s not quite mid-January, and here I am hoisting upon you dear readers one more 2013 list. I promise that this is the last one. It’s kind of a special one because it is my favorite records from my adopted hometown. If I didn’t live in Seattle some of these records would have been in my best albums of the year. Also, if I didn’t live here I probably would have missed some of these since you actually have to live in a local scene to hear the local scene. Here is the best stuff that I discovered through osmosis, going to shows, and reading local blogs and papers. Picking a favorite record from my fair city is like picking a favorite child. I love them all the same, at least that’s what I tell them.
universepeople

Universe People – Go To the Sun (Little Black Cloud)

Universe People incorporate the sweetness of Dolly Mixture, the arty obtuseness of Wire, the irreverence of the Fall and humor of the Intelligence onto their debut album. This, in my book, is the perfect elixir.

stream: Universe People – Druids

SeanNelson
Sean Nelson – Make Good Choices (Really Records)

In a year where major web sites seemed to publish Morrissey’s every move, former Harvey Danger Sean Nelson released his debut solo album that was as literate, sharp and self-deprecating as anything the Mozzer has done in the last 20 years. Throw in some cocktail jazz and some Zombies psychedelia and you have a pretty darn good album.

stream: Sean Nelson – Creative Differences

dreamsalon
Dreamsalon – Thirteen Nights (Captcha)

Formerly known as Evening Meetings, the rechristened Dreamsalon tighten things up a little on Thirteen nights and aren’t afraid to let the hooks fly. Post-punk dourness that is part moody Echo and the Bunnymen and part piss and vinegar of the Fall through the lens of Seattle punk cognoscenti.

stream: Dreamsalon – In the Air

Trevor
Trevor Dickson – Summer Legs (Swoon)

One of only two EP’s in this list of records, but well worth checking out. Trevor Dickson is in the Nightgowns, but here he takes a dash of Sinatra, some Joao Gilberto and some northwest ingenuity to come up with Summer Legs, one of the best songs I heard this year.

stream: Trevor Dickson – Summer Legs

laluz
La Luz – It’s Alive (Hardly Art)

Four girls from a city with barely a hint of sunshine and marginal wave action d make a timeless glassy sounding surf record. They sound like they’ve been doing this for ages. The guitars shoot the curl and the harmonies flash off the water like rays of sun in your ears.

stream: La Luz – Big Big Blood

Wimps
Wimps – Repeat (End of Time)

The debut album from Wimps gives me the impression that they’re punk classicists. Repeat is the classic punk formula of guitar, bass and drum and a healthy sense of humor courtesy of Rachel Ratner’s knack for being able to make life’s disappointments still sound disappointing, but with in an irreverent humorous slant.

stream: Wimps – Slept in Late

boat
Boat – Pretend To Be Brave (Magic Marker)

Sometimes when a band consistently releases great albums filled with hooky pop people start taking them for granted. Pretend To Be Brave is their fifth album of slightly fractured, eternally hopeful indiepop. BOAT continue to capture my imagination, I wish more people would allow themselves to be swept up into their brightly colored superhero world.

stream: BOAT – Interstellar Helen Keller

Purrs
Purrs – The Boy With Astronaut Eyes (Fin)

The Purrs deliver again with another hallucinogenic masterpiece. Guitars swoop and dive  in and out while singer and bassist Jima takes you on a ride in a derailed monorail to some seedy interstellar locale. The perfect soundtrack to navigating globular clusters.

stream: Purrs – Over and Out

MAPC
Math and Physics Club – Our Hearts Beat Out Loud (Matinée)

Math and Physics Club have certainly been called twee, but on their third album they veer more towards soft rock and that is no bad thing. Kids these days have a penchant for Paul Simon and Cat Stevens records, and MAPC with their sweet and tender songs evoke those fellows while still keeping their indiepop/twee roots intact.

stream: Math & Physics Club – We Won’t Keep Secrets

ChastityBelt
Chastity Belt – No Regerts (Help Yourself)

Chastity Belt shocked the internet with their band photo that featured singer Julia Shapiro wearing a steak locked over her crotch. Based on last year’s Ponytail single, we already knew that they could be insolent and funny, but could they deliver a full album that sustained that brashness? Chastity Belt seem to not give a shit about anything except making good record,s and they’ve succeeded at that. Fuck everything else.

stream: Chastity Belt – James Dean

jetmanjetteam

Jetman Jet Team – We Will Live The Space Age (Saint Marie)

Erik Blood better watch out, because Jetman Jet Team are coming up fast in his rear view mirror to try and usurp his shoegaze king of Seattle crown.  Heavy MBVisms abound, but they also incorporate some of the whiteout techniques of Flying Saucer Attack and even some of that smoke and mirrors hypnotism employed often in 1970’s Germany. This is mind-expanding,tremelo bending, psychotropic miasma.

stream: Jetman Jet Team – Deep Space

neighbors
Neighbors – I Love Neighbors (Self-released)

Poor Neighbors. This was scheduled to come out as a 10″ EP on Manic Pop Records, but the release date unfortunately coincided with the implosion of their record label. Left to their own devices, the band released this as bandcamp virtual record. That’s unfortunate because my record player would have gotten a real thrill playing this record which takes Pavement, REM, Camper Van Beethoven and the Wedding Present throws it into a blender and comes up with best smoothie I ever had.

stream: Neighbors – What You See In Me

We-Are-Loud-Whispers

We Are Loud Whispers – Suchness (Hardly Art)

Sonya Wescott who you may remember as half of Arthur and Yu made a trans-Pacific album with Ayumu Haitani who resides in Japan. While the obvious parallel is the Postal Service and the electronic blips reinforce that parallel, We Are Loud Whispers are more ear tickling and anthemic.  I get the feeling that they’ve got a few Field Mice and St. Etienne records on top of owning everything that Morr records has ever released. Subtle and sublime.

stream: We Are Loud Whispers – Western Town

Midway and Buried in Records- Part 1

This week we are featuring some of the best records of the first half of 2013. I don’t think I’ve done a mid-year roundup before, but this year is not typical. It’s on a trajectory to overwhelm any attempt at a year end list so I’m splitting it up. Some of the albums I’ve mentioned on these pages, others I’ve been keeping to myself. Everyday this week I’m going to feature seven records that deserve your or someone else’s attention. Here are the first seven.
hookworms

Hookworms – Pearl Mystic (Gringo)
What do you get when you combine the 13th floor elevators with the Spacemen 3. I’m sure many bands have tried this approach, but none have ever succeeded as wildly. At this point Hookworms are sitting on top of the best record of the year.

stream: Hookworms – Since We Have Changed

boat
BOAT – Pretend To Be Brave (Magic Marker)

When D Crane sings in the song Problem Solvers “We’re just another average America band” with such earnestness that you wonder if he’s thinking about throwing in the towel. Think about it, what if Boat were average? The masses would like them and they’d be rich. I like to think of them as standing on the top the belle curve fighting off the hordes with their indelible pop and unbridled charisma.

stream: BOAT – Problem Solvers

mantles
The Mantles – Long Enough to Leave (Slumberland)

The Mantles hark back to a to the 60’s and the Byrds. They are like the Greene and Greene of current day rock and roll. Architects of a back to basics approach that adorns with earthly tones to create a thing of beauty. When I heard that the  album was to be produced by Kelley Stoltz, I had it pegged as a winner from the start and yet somehow it still exceeded my expectations.

stream: The Mantles – Hello

bleached
Bleached – Ride Your Heart (Dead Oceans)

“After that last Best Coast album, you probably thought the SoCal girl group beach thing was played out. I did, but then along come former Mika Miko sisters Jessie and Jennifer Calvin with their new band Bleached. Just to get past your initial eye-roll they need to be pretty good. They would have be a little different and bring something new to the game, right? I think Bleached realize this and they justify their sound by infusing it with some twang and dust. Like they’ve lived the seedier side of L.A. and maybe even been to Bakersfield more than a few times.”

stream: Bleached – Looking For a Fight

lovefromlondon
Robyn Hitchcock – Love From London (Yep Roc)

“If you would have said to 20 year old me that I would someday think that a record made by a 60 year old guy was was one of the best records of the year I would have scoffed at you and said disdainfully that I don’t do old guy rock.”  I was an idiot when I was 20.

Stream: Robyn Hitchcock – Be Still

songs
Songs – Malabar (Popfrenzy)

A band named Songs is questionable, but luckily I didn’t let their poorly chosen name stop me from listening to to this fine psychedelic pop album. Parts of it remind me of Game Theory, but being Australian they probably have been influenced by the Go-Betweens and the Triffids. This is their second album and it drips confidence and probably would have been a hit back in the major label heyday garnering a US deal and tons of play on college radio in a college town near you.

stream: Songs – Boy/Girl

sleaze
The Sleaze – Tecktonik Girlz & Other Hits (Floridas Dying)
You often hear the argument that punk rock is played out, or worse dead (shudder). Usually I don’t argue, because it isn’t often that I hear a new punk band that isn’t. The Sleaze are here to tell you that ain’t the case and renew your faith in the underbelly of rock n’ roll. The Minneapolis band’s output has been sporadic since unleashing their killer debut single Smokin’ Fuckin’ Cigs back in 2008, but the Total Punk label has corralled these foul mouthed, snot nosed adolescents and gotten them to put out an 8 song 12 inch.

stream: The Sleaze – Tektonix Girls

Repricussing from Woolen Men

WoolenMen
Last night was the second time I had the pleasure of seeing Portland’s Woolen Men here in Seattle. I didn’t realize until they mentioned it, that I was two for two with them. This being only the second time they’ve made the trip up the Five to play here. The last time being at the Josephine in January of last year with Orca Team and their Australian brethren the Woolen Kits.

I remember remarking at that show how they seemed to have a stash of dB’s records and an innate ability of making killer noisy skewed pop. Those special powers have not been lost in the year and a half since I last saw them. In fact they have been enhanced, they’ve signed with Woodsist,  released their ‘debut’ record, and self-released a pre-Woodsist greatest hits record.

Last night at the Comet opening for BOAT, they played a short set that left me wanting much more. Their songs can sound like early REM, Wire, the Clean and the unheralded west coast obscurity 100 Flowers (if unfamiliar seek out this year’s reissue on Superior Viaduct). Woolen Men are only a three piece, but they pack the power of four or five. All three members sing which leads me to believe they all write songs, but they’re all well versed in the same school of rock. You feel like you are in the south in the mid-80’s with Mitch Easter in a garage or in Dunedin in early 80’s with one of the Kilgour brothers by your side. Go see them if they decided to come to your town, there are few bands that pack this kind of power and prowess in one guitar, one bass and drums.

stream: Woolen Men – Head On the Ground (from their self-titled album on Woodsist)

BOAT were fun as usual. I thought that Forever In Armitron was the best BOAT song, but Lately sounded pretty killer last night and they threw in a cover of Lou Reed’s Satellite of Love just for fun. Who knows when they’ll play again as their drummer is moving to New York. I doubt it will keep them down long though. D. Krane tells me that there are plans afoot to release the first two BOAT albums on vinyl and he’s working on something totally new with Charles Bert from Math and Physics Club. The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.

Two Left Turns To Get Home

boat

It’s hard to believe that Seattle’s BOAT have just released their fifth album. I can remember like yesterday when Songs That You Might Not Like came out. In the early days, they wrote songs about centipedes, lobsters and donkeys and had tons of confetti and giant bagels coming out of toasters at their shows. It was fun and a little bit silly. As the years have progressed and the band has evolved they have started to mature a little. Don’t let the “M” word scare you off because Boat still know how write a hook and they haven’t lost their odd sense of humor. Album number five, Pretending To Be Brave is a slightly more subtle affair. Well, the sense of humor is subtle, the hooks are still very big and grab you by the collar.

Life themes, life changes, growing older and wiser. God, it sounds so boring, but BOAT take it all on with their sense awe and wonder. They pull you into their obtuse and seemingly weird world and let you see it all swirling around you like you are at the center of the vortex making you realize that weird and obtuse is not just you, not just them, but everyone everyday.

Sharpshooters opens the album and is a heartfelt ode to companionship and approaching lifelong partnerships with optimism of persevering with your partner. The backing vocals courtesy of Shelly Short reinforce the theme of the song and it’s nice to hear a female voice on a BOAT album. There’s also a surprise guest appearance on The Big, the Bright from Scott McCaughey of the Young Fresh Fellows which solidifies my hunch that BOAT are disciples of the seminal, unsung and unheralded Fellows. Interstellar Helen Keller may be my favorite song on the album, rivaling Forever In Armitron as my favorite BOAT song. it has more vocals from Short and some excellent guitar leads from Josh Goodman. Goodman has emerged as their secret weapon. His leads are amazing throughout the album and really put the exclamation mark on Cranes melodies.

BOAT have this ability to bring the everyday into their songs and make anthems out of them. They have been called twee, emo, and powerpop. We’re all aching to make sense of it all . Even the metal guy has a little bit of twee in him, though he probably would never admit it. BOAT are growing up and taking you with them.

You can buy BOAT’s new album Pretend to be Brave from Magic Marker.

If you are in Seattle, BOAT play the Columbia Theatre this Friday, March 29th.

stream: BOAT – Interstellar Helen Keller

stream: BOAT – Sharpshooters

Oh Seattle, So Much To Answer For (Favorite Seattle Records of 2011)

I took a year off from doing a favorite Seattle records list due to lazyitis (sorry Seattle). Here’s my top ten records from my fair city for 2011 (sorry Seattle).


1. Seapony – Go With Me (Hardly Art)
Twee is alive and well in Seattle. Seapony kind of came out of nowhere late last year. They put their debut album out on local label Hardly Art, played countless shows around town and generally put the Northwest back on the map when it comes to indiepop.
mp3: Dreaming


2. Charles Leo Gebhardt IV – Begin Again (GGNZLA)
Leo Gebhardt plays guitar in a few Seattle bands, but it’s his solo stuff that really shines. Begin Again was his second release for the enigmatic Seattle label GGNZLA. Begin Again is full of rollicking and playful, Kinks inspired narratives.
mp3: Chapel of Roses


3. BOAT – Dress Like Your Idols (Magic Marker)
BOAT keep delivering hook laden albums sparked with humor and conviction. Like the Young Fresh Fellows before them, these industrious fellows create unforgettable pop right under the city’s collective noses. Dress Like You Idols contains some of the band’s best songs yet.
mp3Forever in Armitron


4. Cute Lepers – Adveture Time (1-2-3-4 Go!)
Adventure Time is Cute Lepers’ third (and best) album. It’s  full of glammy punk rock similar to the Rezillos. Songs full of high fructose corn syrup, actually, no they’re probably full of maple sugar, because they’re sweet and good for you. Hell, just eat them out of the box with a spoon.
mp3Misdirected


5. Emuul – The Drawing of the Line (Digitalis)
This record kind of popped up on my radar from nowhere, or maybe it condensed from a passing cloud. Emuul is the latest moniker of Kyle Iman and The Drawing of the Line is hypnotic music that will put you in a dreamlike state.  Don’t let that fool you, there are pop songs under the gauze of this instrumental electronica.
mp3Expectations


6. Webelos – Shadow Seasons (self-released)
Shadow Seasons sounds like it could have come out on Teen Beat back in the early 90’s. It’s a quirky little fellow with propulsive bass driven songs. Think Unrest, Eggs and the Monochrom Set.
mp3: If You Choose To Stay


7. Craft Spells – Idle Labor (Captured Tracks)
This record was made in a bedroom in Stockton, California, but by the time it came out Justin Vallesteros had relocated Craft Spells to Seattle.  Idle Labor is heavily influenced by the romantic synthpop of the 80’s. Bouncy, longing pop songs that could make you forget what year it was.
mp3: After the Moment


8. Witch Gardens – Alice, Agatha, Branch, & Christ (self-released)
If ever there was a band meant to be on K records, Witch Gardens is it. This is pure ramshackle pop fun by a band seemingly making it up as they go. I love what they’ve come up with so far which is primarily this cassette.
mp3: Softball Chick


9. Gold Leaves – The Ornament (Hardly Art)
I loved Arthur & You’s In Camera. Sadly, that band seems to be no more, but Grant Olson of the duo returned as Gold Leaves this year and it kind of picks up where Arthur & Yu left off. The Ornament is rich and velvety bringing to mind the cinematic records of Lee Hazelwood.
mp3: The Ornament


10. Kay Kay and His Weathered Underground – Introducing (Suburban Home)
Even living in Seattle, you might not have heard about the second album from Kay Kay & His Weathered Underground. Maybe it was the odd choice of a title for album number two. Whatever the case, there was little pomp around its release especially compared to the first one, and I’ve yet to see it in a record store in town. Too bad, because it’s nearly as good as their debut and goes to the same tin pan alley, psychedelia, kaleidoscopic pop well.
mp3: Oh Lord, I Hate You California

Honorable Mentions:

Pony Time – Pony Time (Per Se) | Shabazz Palaces – Black Up (Sub Pop) | Night Beats -Night Beats (Trouble In Mind) | Erik Blood – Music From the Film Center of Gravity (Self-Released) | Consignment – New Low (GGNZLA) | Telekinesis – 12 Desperate Straight Lines (Merge) | Green Pajamas – Green Pajama Country (Green Monkey)

Singles of the Year Countdown: 30-21

The 7-inch single has been around since 1949. That’s 62 years and counting! In my humble opinion the 7-inch single is still the essence, pinnacle and acme of pop perfection. Optimally, it’s one song, one side (Some try to squeeze on more). That’s no room for screwing up. You always hear that releasing a 7-inch is a money losing proposition, but that thankfully, doesn’t keep pop geeks from doing it. In honor of true blue pop geek vinyl junkies out there, here is the second installment of the annual Finest Kiss top 40 7-inch singles countdown.


21. Basemint – No Retro (K)
A huge sounding garage stomp from the depths of a damp Tacoma, Washington basemint, I mean basement. I bet the Sonics probably use to practice in the same depths.
mp3: Basemint – No Retro


22. Electricity In Our Homes – Aching, Breaking, Shaking For You (OGenesis)
Fractured and angular pop that is stripped down to the bone. Aching rattles you with its off kilter and quivering chorus like the singer has been hit in the gut and kicked in the head.
mp3Electricity In Our Homes – Aching, Breaking, Shaking For You

23. Art Museums – S.H.O.P.P.I.N.G (dulc-i-tone)
The Art Museums broke up this year but left us with two great singles to remember them by. The song S.H.O.P.P.I.N.G has been hanging around the internet for over a year, but things always sound better when they spin at 45 RPM. This song should be on repeat while you wait in the return line, “It’s too late to change your mind, so be happy with what you find.”  It would be at my store.
mp3Art Museums – S.H.O.P.P.I.N.G

24. BOAT – (I’ll Beat My Chest Like) King Kong (Magic Marker)
BOAT write hooks as big as King Kong. ‘Nuff said! They also know that the single version of a song should be slightly different than the album version. Here, you get a slightly longer King Kong sample. It’s the little things. You know?
mp3: BOAT – (I’ll Beat My Chest Like) King Kong

25. Bleached – Searching Through the Past (Suicide Squeeze)
Bleached are sisters Jennifer and Jessica Clavin. Jennifer was in Mia Miko, but that doesn’t prepare you for the straight ahead pop that goes for jugular the way the Nerves did 40 years ago.  It is very, very difficult to not get this one stuck in your head.
mp3Bleached – Searching Through the Past

26. Monnone Alone – Pink Earings (Lost & Lonesome)
It was kind of surprising that the first Lucksmith to release a record after their breakup was bassist Mark Mannone. I figured it would Marty or Tali, but when you’re sitting on song like Pink Earings then you gotta go first. Sublimely understated pop that will make you grin.
mp3Monnone Alone – Pink Earings

27. Afternoon Naps – Summer Gang (HHBTM)
This record get’s best sleeve of the year (The water folds out in 3D). They don’t make them like this anymore and I don’t just mean the sleeve. The Afternoon Naps may be from dreary Cleveland, but they make sunny pop that some might call twee. I just call it good.
mp3:  Afternoon Naps – Summer Gang

28. The Mantles – Raspberry Thighs (SDZ)
The Mantles have yet surpassed their amazing song Lily Never Married, but Raspberry Thighs comes close. In fact it probably could be considered Lily’s kid sister of a song, and that is no slight.
mp3The Mantles – Raspberry Thighs


29. Dunes – Tied Together (Teenage Teardrops)
Another Mika Miko related band, Dunes mine the gothic and ethereal vein of pop that Siouxsie and the Banshees are well known for. Tied Together paints wide swaths and is much, much bigger than the tiny 7-inch that it comes on.
mp3Dunes – Tied Together


30. Trailer Trash Tracys – You Wish You Were Red (Domino)
This one is kind of a repeat as You Wish You Were Red was the B-side to the Trailer Trash Tracys’ first single Candy Girl which was #40 in the 2009 countdown. No matter, as this is an entirely re-recorded version of that song that keeps the eerie David Lynch parts but smooths out the edges to make it just right.
mp3Trailer Trash Tracys – You Wish You Were Red

Dressed For Success

BOAT, Pickwick, Concours D’elegance at the Tractor, Seattle | 25 March 2011


Some bands wear their influences on their sleeves, Seattle’s BOAT choose to put them on the cover of their record.  Album number four, just released last week, Dress Like Your Idols contains D. Crane’s renditions of some of the band’s favorite records.  Before you even hit play you know where they’re coming from, and that is a slightly odd corner of indie rock nestled up here in the upper left hand corner of the US. A place where a band like Boat can exist with a lack of light, an overabundance of diet coke and lots of pizza. That’s the fuel for the engine, what comes out are slightly idiosyncratic sometimes emotive songs that are immediately catchy and almost always containg big choruses  If any band in Seattle could be called the direct descendants of the Young Fresh Fellows Boat are it.  Like YFF, Boat nimbly walk the line of humor and emotion in their songs.

On record and live Boat come across as guys having a blast at what they are doing.  Enthusiasm and a good time is the rule of the day. On record you can hear their enthusiasm and good nature, live you actually experience it. Friday’s show at the Tractor was their record release party, and a sold out one at that. I’ve been to a lot of Boat shows but I don’t ever remember one selling out.  Late Friday afternoon when I heard that the Tractor had sold out, my first thought was: impossible. My second thought after confirming it was: Oh shit I don’t have a ticket. I headed down to the tractor hoping that there would be someone at the door who had an extra ticket. Hanging out in by the door hoping for an extra ticket was beginning to look fruitless when I spotted D. Crane of Boat. Soon thereafter some fortuitous Boat magic occurred, my friend Jonathon and I were temporaily members of a soul band and somehow transported inside the Tractor for the show.

The band had made a banner at the back of the stage that read BOAT: Poppy Slop All-Stars with a big picture of Ringo Starr in the middle of it.  Starr along with Pollard, Smith, Reed, Vedder, Moore, Spenser Malkmus and Marsh are the patron saints and the band and Boat delivered a set to make them proud. The new record was on display front and center and as their writing gets better and better I wasn’t disappointed with the focus. They did step back a couple times, once for Greased Hariclip form their first album and another for I’m a Donkey for Your Love from their second.  Crane dedicated the short and sweet L-O-V-E to his mom and they hit all of the highlights of the new record including Forever In Armitron, Classically Trained, King Kong and Landlocked. The last one they had to do without the Help of the Long Winters‘ John Roderick who guests on the recorded version. They did get some help from audience members inviting them up for another song.

This being their first ever sold out show, the band were kind of surprised and joke about how it must be because the Police were playing after. There were no cops but Pickwick who opened seem to have quite a following themselves with their Commitments brand of soul.  Singer Galen Disston kind of looks like like a spectacled version Epstein from Welcome Back Kotter and a voice that is guaranteed to make women weak in the knees.  The folk band turned soul have three singles out to date and the next time they play they probably won’t be opening.

With Dress Like Your Idols Boat continues their move towards higher fidelity that they began on Setting the Paces and the new record contains a batch of their best songs yet.  You get the feeling that they are firmly in the lead (after previously setting the paces). It has elements of a concept album starting with Changing of the Guard, and continuing the theme of taking over for their old masters by the records sheer quality. They may not be eclipsing their idols in record sales, but their songs and live show are continuing  on a trajectory that for me equals many of their idols.


mp3: BOAT – Forever in Armitron (order Dress Like Your Idols on vinyl or CD)

Set List: Kinda Scared of Love Affairs | Greasedip Hairclip | L-O-V-E | Forever In Armitron | Friends Since 1989 | Bite My Lips | The Name Tossers | (I’m A) Donkey for Your Love | Frank Black Says | We Want It! We Want It! | Classically Trained | Landlocked |  Lately | Dress Like Your Idols | King Kong| Encore: Children of the Revolution (T. Rex)

Upcoming BOAT Tour Dates (Look out east coast and Chicago):

4/01 PILAM – PHILADELPHIA, PA
4/02 ROCK SHOP – BROOKLYN, NY
4/03 DANIEL ST. CLUB – MILFORD, CT
4/07 DOUBLE DOOR – CHICAGO, IL
4/09 MERCURY LOUNGE – NEW YORK, NY (Early show)