You may remember Emma Kupa from Standard Fare who released two fine albums of polite indiepop and called it a day two years ago. Since then, Kupa has switched from bass to guitar, found some new band mates and started a new band called Mammoth Penguins. Their first album is called Hide and Seek. Of course it has similarities with Standard Fare and if you aren’t the inside baseball type of indiepop fan you could be forgiven for thinking it’s a new Standard Fare record.
For you inside baseball folks, Mammoth Penguins excel more in fuzzy and rawkus guitar licks than their forebearers and they also seem like they’re having more fun. Heck they’re even game for throwing in some 60’s girl group style ooh-ooh’s except it’s they boys doing it. Some of the reviews I’ve read lament the fact that Mammoth Penguins sound a little less polished, but I like things a little unhinged in places. And not to worry, everything is held down by Kuppa’s easy voice and her great lyrics. She has a way of making fractured relationships and social anxiety sound fun and romantic. She also has a keen sense of what it’s like to be in your late 20’s having an early mid-life crisis. The record has elements of Courtney Barnett, the Lucksmiths and Comet Gain easily switching between sweet and sublime to shouting and rocking the while keeping you on the edge of you seat with the lyrics. I’m not sure why they’re called Mammoth Penguins and you’re sure to get an odd look if you recommend them to friend. Hopefully your friends won’t be put off by a few over sized penguins.
Mammoth Penguins’ album Hide and Seek is out now on Fortuna Pop!
The Pale Lights debut album Before There Were Pictures was recorded by at Marlborough Farms by Ladybug Transistor’s Gary Olson. Head Pale Light Philip Sutton who has been in Comet Gain and more recently the Soft City, employs the help of Crystal Stilts bassist Andrew Adler to play guitar and solicits the talents of the Stilts Kyle Forester for some keyboard flourishes. Come to think of it, is is nearly a Cinema Red and Blue reunion minus Comet Gain’s David Feck.
Sutton who was also the Cinema Red and Blue drummer gets out from behind the drums and is front and center with his jangly guitar and friendly croon. The album picks up where their four song self-titled EP from 2012 left off. The album breezes into the room like a long forgotten friend. The elegant maudlin pop that the band excels at evokes bygone classics like Felt, Brilliant Corners, Lloyd Cole and Biff Bang Pow! Like an old friend, you feel like you already know these songs and you kind of do if you are a fan of these other bands. If you don’t it’s time to make a new friend. Say hello to the Pale Lights!
A year end albums list is kind of a strange thing, especially when it’s one person compiling it. Since this blog is a committe of one, it can become quite capricious. In all likelyhood I wrote about some records this past year that I was overtly enthusiastic about at the time. Now the end of the year rolls around and some of those records are not on the list. “What gives?” you might ask. It’s hard to remember which label flew me to Tahiti and which one comp’d my CMJ this year, so I may have forgotten to include a few records that I thought at the time were great. These are the records that left an impression on me over the course of the last 12 months, paylola or not…
1. Destroyer – Kaputt (Merge)
Was this record flying in the face of fashion or swimming in it? These days I can never tell. Dan Bejar controls the vision of Destroyer and I have been following his erratic course for years, but nothing has ever grabbed hold of me like Kaputt did. Up until this point the minimalist keyboard focused Your Blues had been my favorite Destroyer album. That album from 2004 subtly evoked Prefab Sprout, Blue Nile, Microdisney, and Felt, but Kaputt goes hook line and sinker for that sound and comes up with the huge treasure of the “big music”. Do not be afraid of the saxophone (the Waterboys weren’t)! This record evokes a time in music when highly stylized, heart on the sleeve pop was de rigor in some parts of the world. Even if you’re old enough to remember it, Destroyer do it in an entirely new and fresh way. mp3: A Savage Night At the Opera
2. Total Control – Henge Beat (Iron Lung)
Total Control march to the beat of a different tune, one that will floor you. At least it did me. Eddy Current Suppression Ring’s Mikey Young and Daniel Stewart of UV Race combine to fabricate Tubeway Army, the Fall and Neu! If you dare listen to this record it will totally control your life. mp3: See More Glass
3. Sweet Bulbs – Sweet Bulbs (Blackburn)
Sweet Bulbs can bend a guitar with the best of them. They sound like they’re torturing their guitars the way the Swirlies, the Lilies and of course My Bloody Valentine. Like all great bands, they broke up after making their first album. This is it, but don’t fret, they are now called Heaven’s Gate. So the magic is still happening, only under a different name. mp3: Kissing Clouds
4. Veronica Falls – Veronica Falls (Slumberland)
Was a time when a record like this would have been on a major label. Pop songs that are so immediate and infectious that labels would have been falling over themselves to sign them. The world turned upside down a few years ago and bands like Veronica Falls sign to indies like Slumberland. If you dig the Bats and Wedding Present jangle of yesteryear, then I guarantee you will not be able to say no to this maelstrom of a record. mp3: Bad Feeling
5. Wild Swans – The Coldest Winter For A Hundred Years (Kitten Charmer)
Wild Swans in their initial incarnation released one seminal single and then disbanded. In their second incarnation they released two so-so albums. You might think that after one reformation that the next one might be worth sitting out, but they don’t say the third time is a charm for nothing. The Coldest Winter For A Hundred Years is full of bitterness and pining for a better idealized past. A quest to return to those days is vividly chronicled here and makes a Wild Swans that far outshines anything from their past. mp3: Chloroform
6. Sea Pinks – Dead Seas (CF)
This jangly record with simple songs that cut to the quick seemed to keep popping up on my turntable and on my headphones. Girls Names drummer Neil Brogan got his band-mates to back him up on Dead Seas, and in my opinion surpass their other band. That of course is a matter of opinion, Girls Names are no band to be sneezed at. Sea Pinks songs subtly evoke the Smiths while sounding nothing like them. A seemingly simple and understated album that peels like an onion. mp3: Heir Apparent
7. Big Troubles – Romantic Comedy (Slumberland)
When I first heard that Mitch Easter was producing Big Troubles second album, the first thing that popped into my head was Moose. Moose started out as a shoegaze band, but hired Easter to produce their first album and their sound changed from My Bloody Valentine to Tim Buckly and Fred Neil. Big Troubles following a similar path went from their first album, a noisy affair to nuance of psychedelic sounds of the paisley underground. I don’t give Easter all the credit for the metamorphosis, but I’m sure he definitely helped. mp3: Misery
8. Useless Eaters – Daily Commute (Tic Tac Totally)
Yeah, Iceage got a lot of press for their album New Brigade, but Useless Eaters’ Daily Commute was my favorite art punk album of the year. Sure it sounds like it was recorded on a boombox in the kitchen, but you can’t keep a great songwriter down. Simply put, this record rips, and if it would have had better production you would be reading about it on sites much more popular than this one. mp3: Daily Commute
9. A Classic Education – Call It Blazing (Lefse)
Bologna, Italy’s A Classic Education debut album is a melancholic charmer. Call It Blazing holds songs like sunken treasure in its depths. Luckily it doesn’t take a submarine to get to its yearning, oceanic pop that recalls the genius of the Chills and the Shins. mp3: Can You Feel The Backwash
10. Twerps – Twerps (UnderwaterPeoples)
I was somewhat intrigued by Twerps’s handful of singles, but not smitten. Smart kids that they are, they used the singles as building blocks, kind of feeling their way about until they got to a place that they were writing songs that they felt were worthy of a long player. This record is wise beyond it’s years. It echoes back so much of the amazing history of Australian pop like the Church, Paul Kelly, and the Go-Betweens. They’ve set quite a high bar for their follow-up. mp3: Dreaming
11. Eleanor Friedberger – Last Summer (Merge)
Eleanor Friedberger is one half of the brother-sister duo the Fiery Furnaces. She’s not old enough to remember the late 60’s and 70’s, but she’s made a record that sounds like she is. It has this strange Jackson Browne or Jim Croce feel to it. It’s kind of a folk record, but it has a weird soulfullness to it that pulls it out of the folk genre. Nothing else sounded remotely similar to Last Summer. A unique record from a unique voice. mp3: Roosevelt Island
12. Mind Spiders – Mind Spiders (Dirtnap)
Mind Spiders deftly jumps from Jay Retard, to T Rex to Love and Rockets and then back again. It’s like being lost in the funhouse. You can’t find your way out, but you kind of don’t want to get off either. mp3: Go!
13. Crystal Stilts – In Love With Oblivion (Slumberland)
The Crystal Stilts are not a live band, but give them a studio and they will kick your ass. In Love With Oblivion dredges the ghosts of the Thirteenth Floor Elevators, Bo Diddly, and Felt from unmarked graves and breathes new life into them. mp3: Sycamore Tree
14. Ringo DeathStarr – Colour Trip (Club AC30)
I have to admit. I was hot and cold on this record. First I was hot because it’s infectious shoegaze is pretty hard not to like if you already lean in that direction. Then I saw them live and was convinced that they used Auto-Tune on the album, because they couldn’t carry a tune to save their lives. Then I said fuck it, the songs are great and the record is amazing, who cares if they really can’t sing, they know how to use a studio. It never stopped me from loving the Stone Roses. mp3: So High
15. Indian Wars – Walk Around the Park (Bachelor)
Seems like in a year when Kurt Vile and the War on Drugs got their props, critics would have dug a little deeper to find something that hadn’t been polluted with the whiff of success. Vancouver, BC’s Indian Wars bust through saloon doors and shoot up the bar the way the Long Ryders and Gun Club did in the past. Bands like this worry me. Why? Because they’re so damn good and nobody knows it. Too good to last? Hope not. mp3: Tuscaloosa Bar
16. German Measles – A German Joke is No Laughing Matter (Krazy Punx)
Funny how everyone bumming out over the fact that Art Brut are no longer funny missed this record. The German Measles did the prudent thing for any ‘funny band.’ They broke up after making their first album. It’s not belly laughs and punch lines, it’s just spot on observations about everyday life and raw spartan punk rock that sticks to your bones like oatmeal. mp3: Totally Mild
17. Top Sound – Top Sound (Ça Ira)
Sweden’s Top Sound took their time getting their debut album together but it was well worth the wait. It grabs from the High Llamas, Stereolab, Style Council, and the Aluminum Group to create a bright sounding, highly stylized (erm) top sound. This is toe-tapping and finger-snapping good. Those may not be the sweaty and bloody rock n’ roll terms you’re looking for in a rock album, but it ain’t all chicks and whiskey. mp3: A Matter of Precision
18. Charles Bradley – No Time For Dreaming (Daptone)
In a time when there seems to be old soul compilations coming out every other week, 62 year old Charles Bradley burst on the scene with his brand new old soul. He was the singer in a James Brown cover band before being discovered by Daptone Records. Bradley has a gritty, working man’s soul voice that makes the songs feel current even though he’s firmly rooted in the past. This, amazingly is his debut album. mp3: Lovin’ You, Baby
19. Cat’s Eyes – Cat’s Eyes (Downtown)
Soprano Rachel Zeffira teamed up with the Horrors singer Faris Badwan to make an moody record that stalks will stalk your stereo. The two apparently bonded over a mutual appreciation of 60’s girl groups. That affectation permeates the record, but it’s not like any Ronettes album you’ve heard. It’s dark and eerie and teams with both Zeffira’s high notes matched with Badwan’s low ones. An otherworldly record. mp3: The Best Person I Know
20. People’s Temple- Sons of Stone (Hozac)
Play Sons of Stone for someone who hasn’t heard it and you could pass it off for a lost psych record from the 60’s that was left off of Nuggets. Hell, People’s Temple kept coming up on shuffle and I kept getting fooled myself. This Lansing, Michigan band are named after Jim Jones’ cult that committed mass suicide in the 1970’s. Instead of spending your hard earned cash on another Rolling Stones reissue, drink the juice and joion the People’s Temple. mp3: Where You Gonna Go?
21. Cave – Neverendless (Drag City)
I love this album because it seems to conjure the lost art of the motoric. Mostly instrumental jams that bring Neu! to mind, but by way of Chicago. Perhaps the windy city has given up on the artery clogging deep dish pizza and gone for the heart healthy Kraut! mp3: W U J
22. Comet Gain – The Howl of the Lonely Crowd (What’s Your Rupture?)
One thing about being a music blogger, you can keep putting records by perennially ignored bands on your list. Comet Gain have been around forever putting out difficult and rewarding albums. This one is no different. They are in my imaginary R&R hall of fame along with the likes of the Fall, the Mekons and the Pastels. mp3: An Arcade From The Warm Rain That Falls
23. Wax Idols – No Future (Hozac)
Former Punx Heather Fortune goes it alone and inserts sex, fear, goth and serial killers into her brand of punk rock. It’s not all sex and death, you get the rough with the smooch, as she’s got a soft side too and a voice that can go from sensitive to tough in an instant. No Future has got depth and Wax Idols have a future. mp3: Hitman
24. Walls – Coracle (Kompact)
Walls’ second album oscillates wildly between kraut, shoegaze and electronica. This could be a gateway album from stepping from one of those genres into another or the perfect music for stepping into that nebula on the cover. mp3: Heat Haze
25. The Dirtbombs – Party Store (In the Red)
You wouldn’t believe how many albums have been shuffled in and out of slot number 25 this year. It was a brutal fight, but the Dirtbombs persevered with their double Detroit muscle. Double because this the Dirtbombs tribute to their hometown. Techno classics from techno ground zero are covered with aplomb in this garage meets techno groove fest that is weird, infectious and above all danceable. mp3: Sharevari
UK Band Evans the Death (Named after the undertaker in Dylan Thomas’s Milk Wood) sound like the bionic version of the Primitives: bigger, stronger, faster. Their debut single came out last month on Fortna POP! It’s a double A-Side, something that usually leaves me scratching my head because nine times out of ten one of the songs is clearly B-Side material. No such problem with this record. Threads has a deadpan vocal from singer Katherine Whitaker over a taught and twisting guitar. Whitaker sings, “You put the fear of God in me, Why did I watch that documentary?” Reminds me of when I was a kid and I stayed up late with my friends at a sleep over and watched Faces of Death. The other A-side I’m So Unclean starts off with rattling bass and crashing guitars is slightly less intense (if you can believe that) but just as good. When Whitaker sings, “When I’m watching the shopping channel, I will think of you.” Evans the Death evoke the Smiths. This is a great debut single and worthy of its double A-side status and the gold that it’s pressed on. Looking forward to a full length.
stream: Evans the Death – Threads (head over to Fortuna POP! to download and purchase the single)
In other Fortuna POP! news, you may have heard that Comet Gain have a new album out called Howl of the Lonely Crowd. It’s been out over in the UK courtesy of Fortuna POP! for a couple months and will get released next month in the US by What’s Your Rupture so keep your eyes peeled. Howl was produced by Edwyn Collins and is an instant classic. If you are a Comet Gain fan you will likely want to snatch up the 7-inch single for An Arcade From The Warm Rain That Falls. It’s limited to 500 copies and contains two exclusive B-sides, a cover of Carla Thomas’s northern soul classic I Take It To My Baby and album outtake You’re Just Lonely.
The tension builds…I bought way too many seven inch singles this year. I’m not trying to brag. It’s a problem really. The seven inch is like crack to the record geek, a fleeting moment of pop perfection and then it’s off to either flip the record or put on another one. This was a daunting task this year and I feel like I left out a lot of stuff, but a top 60 would have been too much and limiting it to 40 makes you have to really decide, what were your favorite singles of the year. Here are numbers 20-11.
I think we all knew how good Crystal Stilts were, but Shake the Shackles ups the ante. It lets tiny rays of brightness peak into their dark gloomy sound without any integrity compromise. The addition of the organ provides a new dimension and Brad Hargett almost sounds like he hasn’t lost all hope for mankind.
There’s just something about a Rickenbacker and the way it hum and buzzes, and when you add into the mix a killer song, the combination is undeniable. Caroline’s Radio takes you back to another time when all three Kennedys were still alive and when you lived for the radio, and would lie in bed with the transistor to your head and of course Roger McGinn’s 12 string Rickenbacker. Of course it’s not 1964 anymore and the Jesus and Mary Chain came along at some point, and then there was Bubblegum Lemonade.
Found Love In a Graveyard has been floating around since 2009, but didn’t get slapped onto a seven inch until this year. That it’s still in this year’s top 40 is a testament to its longevity. Judging by its title you might think it’s good old fashioned goth stomp, but instead it’s a classic bone rattler with jangling guitars and boy-girl vocals that I’m always a sucker for. It’s 2010 now and Veronica Falls have a song Right Side of My Brain floating around, look for it in next year’s top 40.
Sometimes you find the best things in your own back yard. That was the case with Seapony who started as a Trasmittens side project, but with all the attention that Seapony are getting I bet it’s no longer a side project. Dreaming is decidedly Twee, with a sugar vein so deep and wide that it is pretty much guaranteed to induce a rush, or at least a smile.
Sometimes the sum is more than the parts, and that is the case with the Babies. Cassie from Vivian Girls and Kevin from Woods combine to form babies (not real ones, a band) and their two singles from this year were easy favorites. Meet Me in the City is a rollicking good time that sounds like it was recorded down in some remote holler in Queens.
Another Eddy Current Suppression Ring related band (they’re hard to avoid around here), this one featuring guitarist Mikey Young and quite a departure from what you might expect from ECSR. Paranoid races down the autobahn, darting in and out of lanes, cutting you off, and flashing it’s high beams at you to get out of the way. Motorik!
The Weed Hounds present another case of the B-side usurping the single’s A-side. Beach Bummed is pleasant enough, but the band start scaling great heights on Skating Away From the Cops. I’m talking heights not reached since the Pale Saints.
18. The Tartans – West of La Brea (Yay!)
What’s west of La Bbrea? West Hollywood? Beverly Hills? The 405? The Pacific Ocean? A job? The Tartans turn all suave and sophisticated for their third single and come up smelling like roses. I’d go West of La Brea for this, not even knowing what is there.
19. Wounded Lion – Pointed Sticks (Trouble In Mind)
Wounded Lion doctorin up their best Gary Glitter impersonation. Scuzzy guitars, handclaps and muppet babies on the b-side? There are far too many ‘serious’ bands around these days and Wounded Lion are definitely not one of them.
20. Comet Gain – I Never Happened (What’s Your Rupture)
Comet Gain seem to ebb and flow. their hasn’t been an album since 2005′ s City of Fallen Leaves, but singles compilations and side projects seem to appear from nowhere at unpredictable times to lighten up my turntable. I Never happened is a sad introspective song that sees David Feck’s love unrequited and rendering him nonexistent. Heavy.
This kind of came out of nowhere, though there was a gig at the Cake Shop in New York last year that Bill mentioned. Cinema Red and Blue are mostly made up members from Comet Gain (David Fek sings all the songs) and Crystal Stilts. The makeshift band also employs the services of Amy Linton, Hamish Kilgour and Gary Olson. When you daydream about all star lineups, no doubt a few of these names enter into your imagination. Throw in some covers by the likes of the Chills, Julian Cope and Vic Godard and you won’t want to wake up.
There’s an album due on 28 September on What’s Your Rupture. In the meantime here is the cover of Vic Godard’s Same Mistakes that appeared on his album The End Of The Surrey People back in 1993 which was produced by one Edwyn Collins. I digress, Cinema Red and Blue was recorded at Olson’s Marlborough Farms studio.
You may have heard (especially if you’ve been listening to the Finest Kiss Basementcasts) that Comet Gain have just released a cd that compiles singles, radio sessions and other ‘stray dogs’ from the past ten ears onto one of those new fangled compact discs. It’s been a while since the last Comet Gain album, 2005’s City Fallen Leaves, so it seems like a lot of people are rediscovering or just discovering their ramshackle magic. The new Broken Record Prayers compilation is a perfect introduction to band, treading that fine line between elegant beauty reminiscent of the Go-Betweens to ramshackle rock n’ roll akin to the Mekons. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s their best record, but it certainly has some of their best songs including the lovely You Can Hide Your Love Forever and the bouncy Love Without Lies.
Comet Gain are one of those bands that are hard to keep up with, constantly sprinkling in a 7 inch single here and ep there, and since they’re English getting those singles and eps can be a little difficult and expensive. So Broken Record Prayers brings you up to speed. Of course just as you think that you’re up to date with Comet Gain, they go and put out a new single, kind of letting you know that they’re not sitting still. I guess you could always wait another ten years for the next compilation to hear the new single. Nah, I didn’t think so, neither could I. It’s a good hot and cold single with the a-side a vitriol filled ode to Beat-hobo Herbert Huncke that sounds a little Rolling Stones and a little Blue Aeroplanes. The b-side No Spotlight On Sometimes is something of a cool down, showing off the more mellow melodic side of the band. There’s something about the 7 inch format that just doesn’t get old for me and this single definitely keeps it fresh.
Comet Gain are going to be coming over to the US in April for a handful of dates on the east coast, so you lucky people in New York, Philadelphia and Washington, DC should make the effort to catch a rare appearance of one of the UK’s most under-appreciated bands. I’ll just sulk out here in Seattle, wishing they were making the jump across the country, because I think I like Comet Gain more now than ever before. Here are the precious few dates which by the way are all with the excellent Crystal Stilts:
8 April – Black Cat – Washington, D.C.
9 April – Kung Fu Necktie – Philadelphia, PA
12 April – Music hall of Williamsburg – Brooklyn, NY