Blouse at the Vera Project, Seattle | 17 September 2013
The big news about Blouse‘s second album Imperium is that Portland band has ditched their synths and gone for the guitar, bass and drum (and cello) approach on this new batch of songs. While this isn’t exactly a controversial approach, it is different and so sets them up for the possibility of fans being upset about their new direction. One thing Blouse proved on their debut album was that they could write a decent pop song. So the real question is can they still write a descent pop song? The next question is do the new songs sound as good with the new approach? Yes, and yes. In fact, Imperium has better songs that make a bigger impression on the listener.
Their self-titled debut had some good songs but its synth based sound caused the record to float by like a plastic band in the wind. Easy to take notice of, but not leaving a lasting impression. Imperium has no such problem. There are remnants of their stylized sythesizers, but they are replaced with a cello. This record deals in guitars, rumbly bass and Charlie Hilton’s ethereal vocals. The closest comparison would be to Broadcast‘s The Noise Made by People. There is a folk-based 60 sound to Hilton’s vocals similar to Wendy & Bonnie and the Free Design combined with comet scar guitars and other interstellar stardust that floats out of the speakers when you play this record.
Last night at the Vera Project they really let loose. The guitars were turned up and the keyboard was in the corner as they glided through the best of the new album putting new wings on songs like Arrested, 1000 Years and Trust Me. In photo’s Blouse appear as a trio, but they’ve added a second guitar player who plays a beautiful lavender Jazzmaster. This additional power made the songs crackle and spark. The band appeared loose and it seemed like the songs felt new to them making it fun for everyone. They dolled out Cure-like baselines, shards of shoegaze noise pop while Charlie’s voice seemed to float on top of it all. The twin guitar attack of Arrested was easily the highlight of the show. It suspended time and place and created a nebulous cloud of euphoria in the room. One of the best shows I’ve seen this year.
Here are the remaining dates of their West Coast tour:
9/20 Portland, OR – Star Theater
9/21 San Francisco, CA – Bottom of the Hill
9/22 Los Angeles, CA – The Echo
9/25 San Diego, CA – The Void
9/26 Costa Mesa, CA – Detroit Bar
Frankie Rose & Dive at Neumo’s, Seattle | 25 April 2012
Many of the reviews of Frankie Rose‘s second album Interstellar have been about how it was a huge leap from her lo-fi roots. Previously when I saw Frankie Rose a few years ago at SXSW just prior to her releasing her debut album Frankie Rose and the Outs, she was mostly still feedback and distortion. Live she may still have been reveling in reverb, but on record she had already begun to shed a lot of her Shit Storm-Vivian Girls-Crystal Stilts past. On Interstellar she continues on that same trajectory, employing the services of dance producer Le Chev to push her even further into new realms. Interstellar is steeped in 80’s Cure records and current day Swedish pop which itself is heavily influenced by those same Cure records.
Wednesday night at Neumo’s Frankie appeared wearing a black puffy pirate shirt that could have been borrowed from one of Prince‘s Purple Rain entourage. She brought with her a solid band who had no problem recreating the icy sounding pop from Interstellar and slightly transforming the songs from her first album into shimmering celestial bodies similar to their Interstellar brethren. She seemed much more at ease as the frontperson compared to when I saw her a few years ago, talking about inane things like the rain and threatening a Sister of Mercy cover between songs, but doing it in a very likeable way. She’s an expressive singer, you can tell that she believes in her songs and delivers them with an excitement and intensity that is engaging to watch. She had a bunch of reverb on her vocals, but I don’t think it was there to hide anything, just to make her voice sound bigger which it did quite well. Her encore of Pair of Wings may have been my favorite song of the night. Songs like Know Me and Had We Had It are the ones that grabbed my attention from listening to the record at home, but Pair of Wings which was written by her former Shit Storm band mate Wu Li Leung, transcended those 80’s Cure records and delved into Abba-esque stratospheres and left me with an entirely new perspective on her already stellar Interstellar.
Dive who are fronted by Beach Fossils guitarist, Kurt Cobain doppleganger and oversized sweater wearing Cole Smith are on tour with Frankie Rose serving as designated openers. On record so far, Dive sound very similar to Beach Fossils, but live they veer more towards instrumental guitar jams that remind me a little of Mogwai. Smith sings, but it wasn’t the focus. Live, Dive are all about the guitars. The twin attack was good for a few songs, but it seemed like every song went for the same trick which after a few songs, wasn’t so much of surprise. They’ve got something good to build on and I’ve liked their singles to date. It will be interesting to see if their album due in June on Captured Tracks can sustain the excitement generated from their initial singles.
I have been amassing a ton information that has come to the tipping point where I have to let it out. Some of this may have been tweeted, but who remembers anything they read on Twitter? You possibly have heard half of it, but then maybe you haven’t. Here’s the mid-summer digest of the finest kiss music news.
Allo Darlin’ set to release new single
Last week Allo Darlin’ announced the release of a brand new single due in August. You can hear it and pre-order it over at their bandcamp. It’s a picture disc and contains one song about former Hefner frontman Darren Hayman and one song about the Wu Tang Clan which is a cover of another Hayman band the French. How’s that for confusing?
Art Museums Break Up
After a short but fruitful run San Francisco’s Art Museums have said their splitting up. According to their Facebook page, they just couldn’t handle it anymore. They had recently released two 7 inch singles one on Slumberland and another on Yakamashi. I don’t know about you, but I could have handled a few more records from them. So long Art Museums. See you in the funny papers.
I stopped by the Crocodile the other night to see Blouse. So far the Portland new wavers have released singles on Captured Tracks and Sub Pop with an album due this fall on CT. Their singer was totally going for the 80’s vibe with her poofy feathered hair and white pleated slacks. Their short set (25 minutes) much better than their fashion sense, playing light airy sounds accented with muscular Cure-like bass lines.
Chicago band has a Brain Idea, Sound Like the Clean, Name Their EP after CCR
I’m kind of possessed this week by the new EP from Brain Idea on Mexican Summer. It’s part Clean, part Kraut, of course the Clean always have had a Kraut element to their sound so maybe it’s all Clean. Whatever, it’s good. I just ordered their first album that came out on Permanent last year.
Castle Face the San Francisco label part-run by Thee Oh Sees’ John Dwyer have just unleashed a book of flexis. Bare Wires, Blasted Canyons, Thee Ohs Sees, The Fresh & Onlys and Ty Segall & Mikal Cronin each contribute a song spread across Five 7 inch flexis discs. It comes packaged in a ringed notebook and it ain’t cheap at $30. I thought flexies were supposed to be cheap. They use to come stapled inside of magazines and sounded like crap on your turntable. I’m assuming the quality of these is slightly better.
Another band on Twitter hips me to another new cool band. Seattle’s TacocaT tweeted the other night how Detroit’s Deadbeat Beat are their new favorite band. A couple clicks later, they’re mine too.
Felt: Gone But Not Yet Forgotten
Felt have been defunct for 22 years now, but way down in the depths of the internet they never went away. A couple years ago the San Francisco band Girlsinterviewed Lawrence for Magicrpm and just recently the Charlatans‘ Tim Burgess was interviewed over at The Quietus about them. I didn’t know that Burgess was such a superfan. He drops a few debatable nuggets like the idea that She Lives By The Castle was written about St. Etienne‘s Sarah Cracknell. If you are a Felt superfan you probably already know about the book written by JC Brouchard called Felt : Ballad of the Fan.
Fine Arts Showcase’s Gustaf Kjellvander Dies
Sad news from Sweden a few weeks ago, when Gustaf Kjellvander died unexpectedly in his sleep. He was only 31 years old. Kjellvander lived in Seattle until he was 15 when his family moved back to Sweden. He made some great albums as the Fine Arts Showcase. My two favorites were Radiola and his Rough Bunnies covers album Sings Rough Bunnies.
Green Pajamas Go To Green Pajama Country
Seattle’s Green Pajamas are back with album number…I lost count. No matter, this time they claim to have gone country. The first song from the record, Pass Me Another Whiskey doesn’t sound particularly country. It just sounds good.
Hausu Continue the Northwest’s Flirtation With British New Wave
Led by former Seattleite and underage organizer Ben Funkhouser and his Edwyn Collins-esque croon, Portland band Hausu‘s ringing guitars and smart sound bring to mind Collin’s former band. They also claim to be influenced by Bruce Springsteen, but what red-blooded Amercian isn’t (whether you want to be or not)?
Australian Record Label Presents Two New Records From Two Old-Timers
Lost and Lonesome has just put out two records, one by former Lucksmith Mark Monnone who is going by the moniker Monnone Alone called Pink Earrings. Not surprisingly it sounds kinda like the Lucksmiths, expect Monnnone sings. While you’re checking that out, be sure to consider the latest from Bart and Friends. Bart Cummings of Cat’s Miaow and the Shapiros ended his long silence last year with Make You Blush is back again with a 10 inch EP called Stories With the Endings Changed.
Get Your Medical Records
Much has been written about Medical Records here in Seattle, but I’m not sure if the word has gotten out beyond Seattle and in the know circles of “classic synth, cosmic disco, wave (cold/new), and future music” aficionados. So far, the Seattle label specializing in reissuing nearly forgotten synth records, has released eight albums by Guyer’s Connection, OGI, Der Plan, Chrisma, Deutsche Wertarbeit, and Alexander Robotnick. All the records are limited to around 500 copies, and come in some very pretty shades of vinyl. Many are already sold out so head on over, have a listen and see what’s left.
Geoffrey O’Connor Comes Out of the Crayon Fields
Crayon Fields frontman Geoffrey O’Connor takes a break from his band to cut loose and get icy cold and synthy. The first song is a study in cool, suave and sophisticated. Can’t wait to hear the whole album. It’s called Vanity Is Forever and is out in September.
The Capitol Hill Block Party is this weekend in Seattle. It’s three days beginning this Friday. I’m heading up on Friday for sure, and may go Saturday (the afore mentioned Hausu play Saturday) as well depending on my ability to tolerate large festivals. A festival more my size is the third annual Pizza Festwhich takes place Funhouse August 4-6. The line-up is pretty sweet if you’re into garage, punk and fun. Not sure if they’re having a pizza eating contest like last year, but I’m sure you’ll be able to get a slice along with a Rainier and some ringing ears.
Servants Are Served Up Again
Captured Tracks has a pretty relentless release schedule so keeping up can be a chore. Glad to see the label doing god’s work in releasing long lost gems from years ago in addition to the many new bands they release. The Servants ran with the C-86 crowd and actually were on that now legendary cassette. The band’s Cherry Red compilation has been long out of print, so Captured Tracks has picked up the slack and just released a record that collects the majority of their recorded output. It’s called Youth Club Disco.
Michigan’s Swimsuit have just released their debut album. Besides having my favorite cover of any record this year, it contains some pretty good songs as well. Yeah, reverb heavy surf inspired music is kinda played out, but give them a break, you can only surf on a great lake if there’s a big storm.
Tiny Microphone Finally Gets a Non-Cassette Release. Still Wait For Vinyl
You may remember Tiny Microphone from a few years ago when we did the One Last Kiss redo. Tiny Microphone is Kristine Capua (also of Very Truly Yours). Tiny Microphone are like twee-shoegaze and I mean that in the best way. Up until now you could only get her Home album on cassette from Italian label Best Kept Secret, but now Japanese label Happy Prince has released it on CD. Expect a vinyl version to come along in another three years…
Craft Spells, The Soft Moon and Witch Gardens at Vera Project, Seattle | 3 April 2011
I was ready to title this with some reference to OMD‘s Architecture and Morality or New Order‘s Power Corruption and Lies. Hell, just look at the cover to Craft Spells album Idle Labor and you get the feeling that it’s an unabashed homage to New Order. Listen to it and your suspicions are confirmed. It’s full of synthesizers and electronic new wave dance beats. So my expectations were temporarily dashed when I saw the stage devoid of any keyboards, laptops, or knobs. Was this the right band?
As Craft Spells came on stage for their record release show a boy with a flower in his hat yelled “Cutest band in Seattle.” They were kind of cute in a cuddly teddy bear way. Singer and songwriter Justin Vallesteros looked especially cuddly with his pegged jeans, madras shirt and cardigan. The band breezed through a short eight songs set in front of their new hometown (Vallesteros recently relocated the band from Stockton, California).
To tell the truth, it was a bold move to rethink their sound and it worked for the most part. There were a few bum notes from the lead guitarist playing a hollow body Epiphone, but they didn’t distract too much from the young band’s new funkier and juicier sound. Nobody else seemed to mind the change either as the songs were all still very danceable. They steered away from playing some of Idle Labor’s moodier numbers keeping things lite and lively. The audience was enthusiastic and there much dancing ensued. Vallesteros and his band got a work out too as was evidenced in his breathless between song banter. Going back and listening to the record and singles after seeing them live there is a definite Orange Juice inspiration on songs like After the Moment and Party Talk. Stripping away the synths, that inspiration was brought to prominence.
For San Francisco’s the Soft Moon who are label mates of Craft Spells, there were no surprises in store. They stuck with their dark wave / gothic sound. With the lights out (what self-respecting goth band would have the lights on?) and a big screen video projector behind them providing movement they stormed through their set. One guy was stationed behind a control console twisting knobs juxtaposed by a live bass player. The rest was left up to front guy Luis Vasquez with his own knobs, a keyboard and a guitar. Some of the vocals were shouted like a Nitzer Ebb song while others whispered. The guitars whirred by sounding like futuristic magnetic repulsion cars evoking many a Clan of Xymox song. The Soft Moon created a highly stylzed racket, but they could do with a few more memorable songs like Tiny Spiders to go with it.
Seattle DIYr’s Witch Gardens opened the show with their take on pacific northwest style indiepop which included an autoharp. Made up of a trio of ladies and a boy playing guitar, they were good ramshackle fun. My favorite song of their set was Lifeguard Chick which they introduced as being for people who like to have fun. There is a recorded version of it on their MySpace, but it doesn’t do it justice you’ve gotta see them live.
Here are the upcoming Craft Spells tour dates, all of which (except for 4/09) are with their labelmates Beach Fossils:
04/07 Stony Brook, NY – University Cafe (Stony Brook University)
04/08 Brooklyn, NY – Music Hall of Williamsburg
04/09 Brooklyn, NY – Glassands (w/ Cloud Nothings, Sundelles)
04/13 Baltimore, MD – Ottobar
04/14 Washington, DC – DC9
04/16 Philadelphia, PA – Johnny Brendas
04/18 Winooski, VT – The Monkey House
04/19 Montreal, QC – La Sala Rossa
04/20 Toronto, ON – Parts & Labour
04/21 Chicago, IL – Empty Bottle
04/22 Louisville, KY – Zanzabar
04/24 Cleveland, OH – Happy Dog
04/25 State College, PA – Chronic Town
04/27 Allston, MA – Great Scott
05/01 Tucson, AZ – Club Congress
05/02 San Diego, CA – Soda Bar
05/03 Los Angeles, CA – Echo
05/04 Visalia, CA – The Cellar Door
05/05 San Francisco, CA – Slims
05/06 Portland, OR – Star Theater
05/07 Seattle, WA – Chop Suey
05/08 Vancouver, BC – Media Club
Wild Nothing, Abe Vigoda, M Women at Vera Project, Seattle | 27 February 2011
Wild Nothing are in the midst of their inaugural west coast tour and made a stop in Seattle Sunday night. Their slightly melancholy, windswept love-torn, world weary pop was a perfect companion to the cold and rainy night Seattle seems to dish out on a nightly basis this time of year. The show was originally booked for Capital Hill’s tiny Cairo and looking out over the nearly full house it was probably a good thing that they moved the show to the all-ages Vera Project or quite a few people would have missed out on seeing them.
On record Wild Nothing are Jack Tatum on his own writing and recording, live they are a four piece with Tatum playing rhythm guitar and borrowed bassist Dane Chadwick who’s main gig is the drummer in opening band Abe Vigoda. Tatum and his Wild Nothing crew seemed laid back and competent as they set about recreating the cerulean songs from their album Gemini and EP Golden Haze. Tatum sang the songs in a noticeably lower key and I sort of missed the higher-pitched vocals, but it didn’t really make them less enjoyable, because the band delivered the Wild Nothing sound with ablomb. Tatum and his lead guitarist seemed well-practiced and in synch and the sublime guitars easily won the night with their chiming riffs. Chadwick with his over-sized vertical striped shirt and his bass were fun to watch as well. He evoked the Stone Roses’ Mani not only in his garb, but the way he played. He stayed low on the neck and swung the thing around as he danced coming close to knocking out a few of the audience close to the stage.
I remember last summer reading a playlist put together by Tatum for some web site that escapes me now, but it included old Sarah records bands like the Sea Urchins, and Field Mice, stuff by Postcard stalwarts the Go-Betweens and Orange Juice as well as obscure gems from the Servants, Felt and Wake and I couldn’t help but think that Jack Tatum was a 45 year old twee/indiepop music geek in a 25 year old’s body. I kept trying to get a closer look to see if he really was an old dude that had just aged well. I saw nothing to dispel that, he’s just on old indiepop soul that channels his fandom and influences into his own songs
Here’s some video I recorded for the opening song Your Rabbit Feet:
Abe Vigoda opened and were the best I’ve seen them. I really liked their album Crush from last year that seemed to delve deeper into the 80’s synth wormhole. Last night they seemed undecided as to which direction they are headed. Half the songs took the dense, cacophonous and boisterous route while the other half were of the more spacious, synth oriented way. I prefer the latter as this seems to be their strong suite, though I wonder if a 14 year old Animal Collective fan would argue that point?
I missed most of Seattle’s M Women‘s set, but Juan of Abe Vigoda gave them props from stage asking to get a copy of one of the songs which reminded him Lush. Hmm, I guess I should have showed up earlier…
The Beets, German Measles & Coconut Coolouts at the Funhouse, Seattle | 30 April 2010
New York’s ramshackle, frumpy party scene visited the Funhouse on Friday night for some debauchery, good times and music. Seattle’s Coconut Coolouts played hosts, opening the night with their version Pacific Northwest garage party rock. The Coolouts have boiled party rock down to a science of two stand-up drummers, Bruno Kirby on keyboards, a primal stomp and some well chosen covers. It seems like every time I see them, they pull a new obscure jem out of their back pockets, this night it was Comander Cody’s Two Triple Cheese, Side Order of Fries.
German Measles are another punk rock party band, but of the east coast kind. They seem to enjoy getting drunk, stumbling around on stage while trying to play their songs. Their song Wild Weekend kind of sums up the band’s modus operandi: C’mon baby and party with me, take some drugs and party with me…We’re gonna drink as much as we can! The band contains Arno and Alex formerly of the defunct Cause Co-Motion! who seem to be the mellow half. The crazy drunk half consists of members of Nik Curtin and Serge Pinsky who also are in the Beachniks with JB from Crystal Stilts. Their EP on Captured Tracks and Color Vibration single (Color Vibration kind of reminds me of a lo-fi version of Alternative TV’sAction Time Vision) on Wild World are well worth getting, but I’m not sure I can give the same endorsement for their live show. When they act like sloppy drunks, pouring beer on their heads, and drinking out of the cans thrown on stage it’s probably funny to their friends, but it doesn’t go very far in winning new fans. They were kind of lovable and fun, but I say that only because I was already a fan based on their records. Bassist Serge Pinsky was a monster, playing it like a guitar. I was just hoping for a bit more. Maybe when they get older and tired of partying?
German Measles didn’t stop partying after their set, they were front and center for their friends the Beets, falling over each other, and throwing their shirts on stage. The Beets seemed to take their antics for granted and the four piece ripped through a birthday fueled set. It was bassist Jose Garcia’s birthday, so the band did a special birthday set complete with birthday song which had the audience singing the refrain Joooseee, and Batman Piñata. Beets records are more lo-fi than most and that’s saying something these days. They sound like they were recorded down a drain with the vocals coming up from a few leagues beneath that. Live, they appeared lo-fi with singer and guitarist Juan Wauters’ guitar looking like something he salvaged from a second hand store. It had wires coming out of it from all directions, scribbles all over it and pick-up duck taped to it. Appearances were deceiving though, with Wauters bounding about on stage with his pogo jumps, while playing with aplomb. He was a maelstrom in a bottle, while their piccolo player sat crossed legged at the back of the stage. I don’t know if the Beets brought their fans from Queens or not, (I do know they brought one of the Vivian Girls with them, I spotted Kickball Katy rocking out a side of the stage) but the audience seemed to know quite a few of the songs, singing the choruses. When they brought the Piñata out, the German Measles were wrestling with each other on the floor and I half expected it to explode with airplane bottles of liquor, but it was just candy. It was probably a good thing, I don’t think anyone there need another ounce of alcohol.
Seven inch records always take a lot of hits for being inferior in sound to the almighty 12″, but at my house, on my turntable they rule the roost. Who’s got time to listen to an entire 12″ these days? For me it’s a hell of a lot more fun to throw on a new one every three minutes or so, and a few have been lighting up my turntable this past weekend.
Ganglians – Blood on the Sand on Captured Tracks: This latest batch of records from Captured Tracks could their best yet with the Christmas Island, German Measles and Spectrals singles all winning time on the old record player, but my favorite of the litter is Ganglians 7 inch. Don’t tell anyone, but one of the guitar riffs on the a-side reminds me of Hershey, Pennsylvania’s Ocean Blue. Don’t worry the Ganglians haven’t gone all navel-gazing Brit-pop, but this is the most immediate thing this Sacramento, California have come up with yet. Guitars seem to swoop in from all directions, the bass rumbles like it was stolen from a goth band, drums crash and it all ends in a cacophonous mess. Wow!
White Wires – Pretty Girl on Trouble in Mind: The beginning guitar riff sounds kinda like Boat‘s Prince of Tacoma, but Ottawa’s White Wires take the a route similar to one the Fresh & Onlys have been down, but White Wires do it in a more straightforward and immediate way. Trouble in Mind is a new label out of Chicago which is batting a 1000. That may be a bit much, but they are three for three with this, the Fresh & Onlys and CoCoComa singles and the future looks pretty bright too with singles on the way from Cave Weddings, Ty Segal and Wheels on Fire. Yay, new killer label! Boo, more money out the door.
Lofty Heights – Eye Contact on Unit Rad – Is this guy a long lost member of Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci? No, but Lofty Heights’ Greg Griffin could be Euros Childs‘ American doppelganger. A Californian living in the UK with a sense of history both pop and otherwise. The A-side starts with a Beach Boys falsetto intro and then goes on to discuss the sun setting on the American Empire. Has it really been all down hill for the US since Pet Sounds? No matter, the downfall of an empire has never sounded so good.
A few months ago I wrote about this do it yourself ethos that has begun to flourish in the indie underground over here in the US. Record Labels popping up like dandelions in the spring and bands jumping from label to label with a 7 inch here, an album there and a cassette on another one. Back in March when I wrote that post it didn’t seem like there was a similar thing happening over in the UK. Fast forward to now and those dandelion seeds have blown across the Atlantic and are sprouting. Within the last two months I’ve heard so much good stuff originating from the UK that it nearly feels like the early 90’s again. The only drawback to this nascent UK scene is that a 7 inch single in the UK costs nearly twice what costs in the US, and that’s before you add in shipping. It’s not the man keeping me down it’s rock n’ roll.
This UK DIY scene is slowly making it’s way over to the States, with records, tours and more records starting to happen. Coming up later this month, San Diego’s Crocodiles are bringing their UK friends the Pens and Graffiti Island with them on a west coast tour. The Pens are an all girl three piece outfit from London who as far as I can tell, have yet to release a record that isn’t a split 7 inch. They’ve done singles with Male Bonding, Graffiti Island, and have a four way split coming on Art Fag that they share with the Crocodiles, Graffiti Island (again) and Dum Dum Girls. They’ll abandon the split singles (at least for one release) when their album appears on De Stijl next month. It’s called Hey Friend What Are You Doing and promises to be a shambolic, ramshackle affair with lots of noise to bury the melodies. Pens tour mates Graffiti Island could best be described as cave rock. The vocals are full of reverb and they like to sing about wolf men, and other primitive stuff. They’ve also had their share of songs on the old 7 inch medium, the latest being the Head Hunters single on House Anxiety. They have a bunch more on the way including the afore mentioned Art Fag split single, one on Sex Is Disgusting and 12 inch on Capture Tracks later this year.
Speaking of Sex Is Disgusting (the label), they’ve just released a limited edition (250) by Mazes, a band that answers the question what if the Woods’ Jeremy Earl had fronted Guided by Voices. Based on the a-side to their single it would have been very good indeed. Their mySpace is pretty funny, on it they state: “We wanna do rad things like back Mark E Smith and tour with Jonathan Richman… email us if you can facilitate stuff like that.” Mazes apparently have an album in the can, that they “wanna put out”, meanwhile look out for an upcoming split 7 inch with the Pens.
One of the more pretty sounding lo-fi bands of the current crop is Internet Forever who remind me of very underrated It’s Jo and Danny. Their songs are precious sounding but they keep the fidelity at the low end as not to sound to precious. Their cover of Beat Happening’s Bewitched is a prime example of just that. No records yet from this three piece, but that won’t be the case for long with releases lined up on Art Fag and Twenty Years of Boredom.
The Spectrals could be the UK doppelgangers of the Crystal Stilts except that their a bit more girl-group loving than the darker exploits of their Brooklyn brethren. The song Leave Me Be which I’ve pretty much killed has been floating around the internet for a good month. No physical releases yet from this one man band, but he’s promising a single and full album sometime in the near future on Captured Tracks. The Spectrals and Graffiti Island aren’t the only UK bands that Captured Tracks has signed up. Veronica Falls have promised a 12 inch record to the label, so I’m assuming that they have more than one great song that has been up on their MySpace for the last month all by itself, but it’s so hauntingly good that I’ve been going back quite often in hopes of some more. Veronica Falls are made up of former members of the Royal We, so I’m not too worried about them only having one good song.
Another London band (they’re all from London except for Mazes) is the duo Swanton Bombs who put out their Mammoth Skull ep at the very beginning of this year. They also made an album of demos that is available for free over at their MySpace. They seem to get compared to the White Stripes mostly by people who don’t know what they’re talking about. Yeah, they’re duo playing guitar and drums but piano plays a large part in their sound. It’s all very basic and some of the songs remind me of early Billy Bragg, but they also have these little prog-like parts in some of their songs that remind me of what the Mystery Jets were doing on their first record. They’re kind of a breath of fresh air if you are geting tired of the lo-fi distorted guitar sound that most of the other bands in this post specialize in.
Last but not least and hot off just signing with Sup Pop is Male Bonding who have done split 7 inches with the likes of Graffiti Island, Pens, Cold Pumas and Eat Skull. Based on all that, they may be the poster children of the entire scene. If the Spectrals are the bastard sons of Crystal Stilts then Male Bonding are the illegitimate child of No Age and Abe Vigoda. Abandoned by their parents they were raised by their grandparents Husker Du, or something like that. The split 7 inch with Eat Skull just came out and is pretty hot, expect an album sometime early next year on Sub Pop.
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 Crocodiles. Art 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)