Erik Blood at the High Dive, Seattle | 30 April 2016
Way back in 2008 two notable Seattle bands broke up. After four albums the Turn-Ons who were a top notch shoegaze band well ahead of the shoegaze revival released their final album Curse. The other band, the Hungry Pines released their only album that same year. It had some great guitar drenched songs and tons of potential. Erik Blood was a member of the Turn-Ons and he went on to release the under-appreciated and under-heard the Way We Live the following year. Irene Barber of Hungry Pines formed a new band XVII Eyes. Then in 2013 they both sang on Vox Mod‘s SYN-ÆSTHETIC and the following year Barber again contributed vocals to follow up The Great Oscillator. The results were astounding as you can hear on the track Flight of Fancy.
Erik Blood’s new album Lost In Slow Motion picks up where Flight of Fancy left off. It is an Erik Blood album, but Barber is so woven into the grooves of this album they could call themselves a duo. With Barber in the fold Blood has taken the shoegaze of his earlier records and added even more ethereal elements that are reminiscent of 1980’s 4AD to create his most fully realized album yet. Similar to one of those French producer geniuses like Bertrand Brugalat or Hector Zazou, Blood lets his collaborators take the spotlight. Ishmael Butler of Shabazz Palaces and OCnotes provide vocals on a track each and Barber is featured throughout.
Saturday night at the High Dive in Fremont was the record release show for Lost In Slow Motion. On the album cover Blood is dressed in a black coat, hat and mask and Barber has the top half of her face painted red and the bottom white. Taking wardrobe inspiration from V for Vendetta, Seattle’s Ohnonos and Reykjavik’s Bjork, the duo emerged onto the stage dressed identically to the album cover. It was a stunning entrance as they were joined by OCNotes who sings the album closer and highlight Out This Way. Blood painted a Prince symbol on the projection screen at the back of the stage and then played the entire record with the exception of the Butler track. It was choreographed with a laptop as their backing band, but it didn’t take a way from the performance. Though Barber and Blood were eye catching and even their dance moves were tight, it was the music that was the most gripping. The guazy bed of strings and electronic sounds provided lush support for their guitars. The performance was more evidence of the Blood’s newfound well of ideas and felt like a natural extension of both the music and art of the brilliant Lost In Slow Motion album.
You may have noticed that I’ve been struggling to keep up around here: fewer and fewer posts, overflowing in box, long beard and unclipped nails. In an effort to get back on track and clean myself up I’m going to try and start doing a top ten list for each month of things that I’ve neglected to post about in the past month. Well, I’m already behind seeing as it’s October and I’m doing a top ten for September. Before it gets any later, here are ten things from the last month that merit some recognition.
1. The Aislers Set at Neumos
The Aislers Set breifly reunited for the Chickfactor 20th anniversary shows back in 2012. I saw that show and it was good, but seeing them a couple weeks ago in Seattle was even better. This was a brief West coast tour celebrating the reissue of all three of their LP’s from the 90’s (Slumberland & Suicide Squeeze). Linton and company were in top form this night performing their glistening pop that never got old.
2. The Intelligence at Lo-Fi
Sadly the Intelligence are no longer based in Seattle, so the opportunities to see them live have greatly decreased since Lars Finberg’s migration to L.A. Other things have changed as well, This is not your kid brother’s Intelligence. Although this was a release party for reissue of their first LP Boredom and Terror (In the Red), they played a bunch of new songs that featured a powerful rhythm section and meaty jam sections to them. A far cry from the bedroom tape hiss of that first record. No, they haven’t turned into Phish, but they’ve evolved into something even more formidable than before. Can’t wait to hear the new album!
3. Fresh Hop Beer
It’s harvest time and up here in the pacific NW, and that means hops. Fresh hop beer is made with hops just picked off the vine and when it’s done right, it’s a fruity mouthful of flavorful beer. You have to be quick though, because it’s made in limited quantities and it goes fast. Recommended ones that I’ve tasted this year include Fremont’s Cowiche Canyon, Fort George Fresh IPA and Schooner Exact’s Amarillo Fresh Hop. Still hoping to get a taste of Bale Breaker’s Piled High!
4. Erik Blood – Cannons Vol. 1 Erik Blood, the guy that made a shoegaze record about porn has switched gears slightly into electronics and motorik beats. His new four song EP (free to download at his bandcamp) features Mahogany’s Andrew Prinz and Shabazz Palaces’ Ishmael Butler.
5. Fat White Family – I Am Mark E Smith
I was nonplussed over Fat White Family’s debut album last year, but this new single has got my attention. They may be claiming to be the Fall front man, but they sound like they’ve been hanging out with David J and Daniel Ash.
6. Primitives – Spin-o-Rama 7″
The Primitives have a perfect pop single in Spin-o-Rama. It’s Bright and sunny. It’s got hand claps. It’s under three minutes and leaves you wanting more. You hear it once and you can immediately sing it. I defy you to to find a more immediately infectious song that’s come out this year.
7. Go-Betweens Box Set – G Stands for Go-Betweens (Domino)
Just the other day I was pining for someone to reissue the Go-Betweens catalog on vinyl, since I never see them in the used bins. I should have been more specific in my wishing and added that they be individually released and affordable. Domino announced last week that they are planning a box set containing the first four Go-Be’s LP’s and four CD’s of rare stuff. It’s due to be released in January of 2015 and it’s only $160. Looks like I’ll still be scouring the used bins. Oh well.
8. Tacocat – Bridge To Hawaii (Hardly Art)
In between listening to and singing songs from Frozen my daughter will sing or play Tacocat’s Bridge to Hawaii. The first time this happened I did a double take and couldn’t figure out where she heard it. I like to think she heard it from me, but with kids these day’s you don’t want to ruin it for them by letting them know you like it too.
9. Butter the Children – True Crime
When Brooklyn’s Sweet Bulbs split up after releasing one stellar self-titled LP, two bands immediately emerged from their ashes. The Butter the Children sect (Heaven’s Gate is the other sect) continue the warbly, spazzed-out guitar attack of Sweet Bulbs and feature Sweet Bulbs singer Inna but she’s more forward in the mix which I think makes for a unique and better combination. The band put up their album on bandcamp as a free download. I don’t know if this means they gave up trying to get it released by a label, broke up, or are simply a benevolent noise pop band.
10. Flowers – Do What You Want To, It’s What You Should Do (Kanine)
I wasn’t sure after the first few listens to Flowers‘ debut album. They seemed to have toned down the noise for something more subtle. Recording with former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler the London trio won me over with their minimalist approach that evokes the sparseness of Young Marble Giants, the smart intensity of the Spinnanes and the melancholy melodies of Everything But the Girl.
Could this have been the year that Seattle went pop? Sure, there have been bands here and there with pop leanings, but this was the year that Seattle finally shed it’s flannel, got out of the garage, and didn’t feel like it had to be wooly, bearded and mechanical all the time. Look out old Seattle, the kids don’t care about your hang-ups! Here are my favorite 15 records (album, ep’s and singles) from the Emerald City and environs.
It was pretty cool to see much of Seattle’s music press unanimously agree that Erik Blood’s Touch Screens was a brilliant record. He took his shoegaze leanings, added some electronics, a motorik beat or two and came up with a concept album about pornography. Too bad that recognition seemed to stop at the city limits. Dear rest of the world, you may have missed one of the finest records put out this year. The Lonesome Death of Henry Paris:
stream: Touch Screens
Part soul, interstellar hip-hop, and trip-hop, the duo Stasia Irons and Catherine Harris-White combined to create a record that sounded like little else in Seattle and anywhere else for that matter. It didn’t get as much gushing attention as the Shabazz Palaces album did last year. It should have because it’s a better record. QueenS:
Neighbors’ deft songwriting seemed to effortlessly take their REM and Pavement influences and create a record that could rattle as well as soothe. John in Babeland came out cassette way back in February, luckily I got a download of it because as much as I’ve played it, the cassette wound up all scrunched in a tape deck by now. All United Grocery:
Dark clouds, dark allies, dark dark. Evening Meetings wouldn’t, no couldn’t take place in the light of day nor in any other place. Claustrophobia induced by low pressure and heavy dark clouds and dusk that sets in around 3pm. This time of year in Seattle it’s dark most of the time and in some weird strange way this record turns on the bright lights every time I listen to it. Shimmer Street:
Half Right is the best song to come out of Seattle this year. If I didn’t know any better I would have guessed they moved here from New Zealand and started a PNW Flying Nun shop right here in our midst. Seattle, rejoice! There is a pop band in our midst that breathes kiwi air.
Have you ever been to the beach in Washington? You can actually drive right onto it with your car because nobody’s there. It’s flat, cold and windy no matter when you go, winter, spring, summer or fall. La Luz don’t belong in this surfer’s nightmare. Their surfer’s paradise of an EP had to have been born in warmer climes, but being from Seattle, perhaps long winter day’s indoors, hanging with the ghosts of the Ventures and dreaming of an endless summer did it. Sure As Spring:
The basic sound of Orca Team record hasn’t changed much over their short career. Their bass-driven 50’s surf pop jangle consistently pleases. They’re random output of singles, cassettes and CDr’s has been scattershot. Finally the band has seemed to focus and that concentration makes Restraint feel like a proper record. Its concise songs make quick long lasting impressions.
Posse’s self-titled debut is brazen with amazing pop songs. They have the gritty boy-girl back and forth in their songs and slashing guitar solos that aren’t over the top but just right. You older folk will appreciate their affinity towards Versus. Back in the 90’s during that post Nirvana signing frenzy Posse undoubtedly would have been sitting on piles of cash and big record deal. Oh how times have changed.
Tea Cozies re-materialized after three years in the wilderness with this killer five song EP. It has an air of confidence about it and flare that will have fans of both 90’s Britpop and college rock hopefully reaching for their pocketbooks as well as old albums by the Tuscadero, Blake Babies and Sleeper. Silhouette In A Suitcase: stream: Bang Up
You thought I was kidding about the pop capitol of the world,didn’t you. I wasn’t and Chastity Belt are here to back me up. Their Pony Tail single had the audacity to tell the general NPR listening, latte drinking, Game of Thrones playing male populace of Seattle to cut off their ponytails. What a bunch of punks!
Blooper do saccharin powerpop so well that any cuts inflicted by their killer songs will bleed cherry syrup. Look out for a new 7-inch single from these Ballard popsters early in the new year on Manic Pop! Records.
Tacoma’s Nightgowns, similar to Tea Cozies have been slumbering for a few years, but this EP sees them wide awake and in good form. Slightly bombastic and theatrical, but only slightly, Bonita sounds like that bubble the Flaming Lips use, but instead of it being in a sea of confetti, they are bounding across the high desert, down the cascades and into the Sound.
The Purrs are like the elder statesmen of nothing. They’ve been around for years putting out great records to little recognition. Perennially writing killer songs that are left rotting on the vine so to speak. If anyone ever asks you, yes they do make them use to. Seattle’s Fin records have given the Purrs a new home and this beauty is a taste of their album due next year.
Funny how Seapony’s second album is better than their first and yet last year they were number one in my Seattle albums and now they’re number 14. It might be because Falling was more of the same only better or it might be because I’m capricious. They may have slightly fallen out of fashion, but this record will be considered a Sarah-esque classic in a few years. Too bad it takes obscurity for some people to really appreciate things.
Stephanie sound like they could have been on Factory records back in the early 80’s. They employed Erik Blood to record One Glove, but it sounds like they got Martin Hannett from the grave instead. Stephanie employ sparse, jaggedy steely guitars that are part Magazine and part Durutti Column and a singer that some might say is an acquired taste but they make it work quite well.
How do you follow up a great debut album? Well I suppose there are many ways. Maybe a soundtrack? Erik Blood choose to make a concept album about pornography. Don’t let the porn scare you off. It isn’t porn, it’s about porn. Touch Screens employs the same heightened pop sensibilities and collection of guitar pedals that were omnipresent in 2009’s The Way We Live while adding some new sounds to his arsenal.
Evidenced by the final song Better Days on The Way We Live that nimbly combined soul music with shoegaze, you knew that Blood was capable of transcending any tags one might place on his music. Touch Screens confirms that assumption, employing krautrock rhythms, industrial klang, power pop riffage and even some violins and violas to create a new shoegaze erotica. The records starts with a bit of foreplay in Phenomenal Pornography. A sad sounding viola that turns into a post-punk sounding guitar which rev’s and rev’s and then crashes into the beautiful strings of The Lonesome Death of Henry Paris. Those strings are quickly enveloped by a motorik pulse. Henry Paris aka Radley Metzger is known for his stylish ertotic films in the 1970’s…and so we dive into the golden age of pornography with Blood as our guide and soundtrack provider. Each songs is like a breadcrumb into the golden age of pornography. Constance and Casey will have you googling the movie Boys in the Sand and it will also allay your fears that Blood has eschewed shoegaze with its ear-bursting guitars.
The power pop riff of Shame Spots may be my favorite part of the record. If finds Blood in the video shop choosing the night’s entertainment, but eventually falling back to an old reliable VHS. It’s quickly followed by Today’s Lover which uses an industrial beat to emphasize the mechanical and coldness of current day porn and how engineered it is. There is probably some correlation you could draw between the pornography and music industries of the past and present. The coldness and isolation of accessing entertainment alone in zeroes and ones. Not so long ago you actually had to got to a theatre to watch porn, just ask Paul Reubens.
Touch Screens is an ode to pornography of a bygone era, but if you listened to it without looking at its cover you might never know it, which is a tribute to Blood’s artistry. It’s a concept album, but more importantly it’s a pop record that does not hold back – a barrage of undeniable hooks that come fast and hard and then come again. You nearly have to suspend belief, like it’s one of the movies that Blood is singing about.
A couple years ago Erik Blood, former member of Seattle’s Turn-Ons, released his first solo album The Way We Live that deftly combined elements of shoegaze and soul music. The Way We Live was one of my favorite albums of 2009. If you missed it head over to Blood’s bandcamp page to rectify that oversight.
It’s been two years since that record, in the meantime Blood has been busy in the production/recording chair doing records with the Moondoggies and Shabbaz Palaces. He has now turned his golden ear back to his own music, writing the music for a Brazilian movie called Center of Gravity. Now that we are all connected by tiny chips behind our ears, an album that is mostly unknown in its own hometown can make its way down to Brazil to a film director. That director Steven Richter can hear it and think, damn,this guy’s music would be great for my film.
The music for the soundtrack has a predominantly ambient feel which permeates much of this mostly instrumental album. Seven of the ten tracks are instrumentals and each one is overwhelming evidence that Blood is up to the task of doing a soundtrack. Some of the tracks are sound landscapes that wouldn’t be out of place on a Cocteau Twins or Blue Nile album, while others like Shut the Fuck Up create a ruckus similar to Radiohead‘s The National Anthem. A couple even have a Henri Mancini feel to them with their lush playful strings. The songs where Blood lends his voice are bound to be the ones that most will gravitate to first (and likely leaving you wanting more). Or Am I Wrong and So Many Things up the romance level of the album significantly. Making this record the equivalent to having an aphrodisiac in your stereo, and a perfect one to fit into your arsenal of romance records right beside those Cocteau Twins and Blue Nile records.
For those wondering what’s next for Mr. Blood, he’s promising a new non-soundtrack album for early next year.
Something that has never happened in my life happened this year. I have never lived anywhere where I can honestly say that my top three favorite records of the year came out of the city in which I reside. It’s been an honor, and a delight to live in Seattle this year because I have had the opportunity to see the Intelligence, BOAT and Erik Blood more times than I can count. Usually, if you’re lucky you might get one chance to see your favorite band come through your town for a gig. I have had that opportunity time after time and have tried to take advantage as many times as possible. Every one of those shows was blast, and as good, if not better than their respective records.
There were so many good records that were put out by bands from the Pacific Northwest that it really was an embarrassment of riches. It was tough narrowing this list down to ten, and any of the the honorable mentions at the end of the list were likely on this list at some point during the year. So thanks Seattle and thanks to all these records for making this year pretty darn amazing.
1. Intelligence – Fake Surfers(In the Red)
Smart guy Lars Finberg must be a tortured soul. He can write as good a song as anybody else, but he likes to sabotage his creations with strangeness. Listening to an Intelligence record, you immediately realize all is not right, and that is exactly what makes this band and this album so great. The record is packed with weird sounds, weird songs and inside jokes. That’s probably not a good way to describe my favorite record of the year, but you’ve got to work a little to enjoy it. The Intelligence don’t make records for people who like the obvious. Fake Surfers has just enough of the obvious to draw you in, but it was the strangeness of it that kept me in. A good example of this is the song Warm Tranfers, which sounds like a drunk Dean Martin singing while tied down a couple leagues somewhere in Lake Union. Besides releasing Fake Surfers, this year we got two albums from the Intelligence. I know dyed in the wool lo-fi purists preferred the other album Crepuscule Avec Pacman, which was essentially Finberg by himself at his claustrophobic best, but I thought the wider, more spacious and thought out Fake Surfers was a huge leap forward for the band.
2. BOAT – Setting the Paces (Magic Marker)
Of BOAT’s three albums Setting the Paces is the funnest. It’s like super-sized BOAT containing the same ingredients of the first two records, but just more of it. Add in better songs and better production and you’ve got busting out of their underachiever cocoon. They’re still singing about seemingly strange things like Giant Centipedes, tractor beams, drinking diet cola and sleeping in pajamas that are too small, but the songs and production are so much improved that the record just pops out of your stereo. The choruses are so big and undeniable, I’ve found myself in the car by myself belting them out. Setting the Paces is BOAT, no longer content with the underachiever moniker, laying all out, going for it, and totally succeeding.
3. Erik Blood – The Way We Live (Self-released)
This was nearly my number one for last year, but since it was not officially released until this year I sat on it. The Way We Live definitely has staying power, it has been in constant rotation around here all year and nothing on it has gotten old. Erik Blood was in the Turn-Ons who seem to be on an indefinite hiatus. He always contributed a song or two to each Turn-Ons album, but nothing that really prepared me for this tour de force. Blood is obviously is a fan of a lot of the shoegaze bands that were all the rage in the early 90’s, but he seems to effortlessly add a touch of soul to his songs that put them on some other plane. The final song on the record does something I have never heard before, combining shoegaze with soul into to something that sounds so natural and right. It’s an amazing song and leaves me with shivers up my spine every time I hear it. When was the last time a record did that to you?
4. Charles Leo Gebhardt IV – Unfaithful (GGNZLA)
Charles Leo Gebhardt plays in the Unnatural Helpers, Idle Times and probably a few other bands I don’t know about. He also has a solo gig and Unfaithful was the first fruits of that endeavor. It’s only five songs but every one of them is so good that he makes an impression in a very short amount of time. Unfaithful is pretty straightforward minimalist, low key guitar pop, but the songs have an antique feel to them in a similar vein of Girls that will make you swear you’ve heard them somewhere before.
5. Tea Cozies – Hot Probs (So Hard)
The Tea Cozies are a Seattle band with UK pop sensibilities. The pop charms of Kenickie, Sleeper and Elastica are not lost on this lot. Hot Probs comes smoking out the gate with songs that will have you checking to see where the heck this record was made. Oh, Erik Blood is producing. Heard of him. For a name that is so cute sounding, the Tea Cozies have attitude in spades and the songs to back it up. These ladies (and one guy) rock!
6. Visqueen – Message to Garcia (Local 638)
Speaking of Girls that rock, Rachel Flotard is pretty much synonymous with the term. She has had her band Visqueen boxed away in bubble wrap for the last few years while she took care of her ailing father. The bubble wrap is off and Visqueen are back with an album that doesn’t take it’s foot off the accelerator. Even the songs with violin, cello and horns rock like nobody’s business. Back in the 70’s girls screamed for Robin Zander and Cheap Trick. Here in Seattle in the 00’s boys are screaming for Rachel Flotard and Visqueen, or at least they should be.
7. Nightgowns – Sing Something (Self-released)
The Nightgowns who were formerly known as the Elephants sound like they could be on Morr, the German label known for dreamy, electronic pop that you can kind of dance too. Sing Something is chock full of songs that have buzzing, humming, blipping and squelching synthesizers over top of them. More importantly it contains some excellent pop songs done in damp, grey, melodramatic, maudlin fashion. Sing Something will keep you on your toes throughout with it’s slightly sad and slightly punchy songs.
8. Purrs – Amused Confused and More Bad News (Self-released)
I like to think of the Purr’s as Seattle’s resident spaced-out cowboys. Their songs sound part gunslinger blues and part spacey guitar jams. The twin effects-laden guitar attack topped off with Jima’s cool disaffected voice make everything the Purrs do sound drop dead cool. Amused Confused and More Bad News was less immediate than their previous outings, revealing it’s charms only after repeated listens, but in the end it was just as worthy.
9. Dutchess & the Duke – Sunset/Sunrise (Hardly Art)
This record was kind of like the Purrs record for me. It wasn’t as immediate as their first album, but after repeated listens the onion started to peel. Where She’s the Dutchess took a punk attitude to 60’s folk and re-formed it into something familiar yet foreign, Sunset/Sunrise continues along that trajectory, but delves deeper, embracing it without irony. The songs are slower, but no less engaging, they just take a little longer to get to know. Many bands are mining the 60’s motherload for inspiration, or just plane ripping it off, but the Dutchess and the Duke have taken that same inspiration, run with it, and turned it into something uniquely their own.
10. Naomi Punk – S/T (Self-Released)
Mysterious band, mysterious record. Full of Oh Sees style riffs, but slowed down which gives them a slightly euphoric feel. This is truly blissed out cave stomp rock and roll. Back in the 60’s every Pacific Northwest garage band that was worth its salt did a version of Louie Louie. I would love to hear Naomi Punk’s version. It would likely be slowed way down, like listening to a 45 at 33 rpm. The vocals would be buried so low in the song that you would barely be able to make out the melody and it would sound so huge that it would make your eardrums burst.
Other Seattle/PNW records that got a lot of my attention this year: Black Whales – Origins | Desolation Wilderness – New Universe | Eat Skull – Wild and Inside | Grand Archives – Keep In Mind Frankenstein | Green Pajamas – Poison In The Russian Room | Hotels – Where Hearts Go Broke | Intelligence – Crepuscule Avec Pacman | Karl Blau – Zebra | Ragedy Anns – ST | Say Hi – Oohs & Aahs | Scraps – ST | Sea Navy – Memory Matches | Spits – IV | Young Fresh Fellows – I Think This Is
Ok, I wasn’t going to write anything about this show, because I’ve gone onmore thanenough about how good Erik Blood‘s record is. I have certainly seen him enough and written about him enough to point where I don’t have anything new to say, but the gig last night was easily his best yet. Maybe it was the fact that he finally played somewhere that has a decent sound system. Maybe it was the fact that legendary Crocodile Cafe sound guy Jim Anderson was manning the sound board making the songs really crack. Maybe it was continuous perfect sound of the three guitar maelstrom, that filled the room. Maybe it was the three part harmonies on Too Early and Too Late. Maybe it was the fact that his jaw dropping The Way We Live album is finally getting released, and this was the gig to celebrate it. Maybe it was that he played the album highlight Better Days which deftly mixes northern soul and shoegaze for the first time ever and totally nailed it. Maybe it was the hilarious new song Jet Inside You which I can only assume is from his aborted concept album about pornography. Maybe it was the fact that the songs from this album just don’t get old with me. Maybe it was the earnestness in which gay rights anthem To Leave America was played, transcending the words, letting the music convey the message all by itself. Maybe it was all of the above, yes of course it was. Maybe you should buy the record.