Living in Seattle at present requires one to be economical, especially if you’re trying to hold it down with the influx of tech usurpers. Folks used to move here for aesthetic reasons, but now that just comes with the package. It’s taken for granted, or just a bonus. You can tell by the shift from quirky and slightly run down shop fronts and houses to sleek, new and mundane shop fronts and townhouses and the tall buildings that keep edging out further and further from downtown. For a few years, it seemed like anyone with an artistic bent was packing up and heading out of town. That left Seattle tipping into a somewhat unenviable circumstance of being like every other fucking city.
Thankfully a few have stayed around and stuck it out. If i were an optimist I might even tell you that things are looking up, at least on the band front. Zebra Hunt have been a light in the darkness these last five or so years and their beacon continues to shine on their third album Trade Desires. At eight songs, it is economical. The band packs its punches and doesn’t waste time on any feints or diversions. Zebra Hunt continue their janglepop mastery and add a handful of new classics like Two States, See Through You and Coral Scenery to their cannon. They also make a Fresh & Only’s song sound like they wrote it and stretch out on the nearly seven minute Don’t Say Anything.
Every time a new Zebra Hunt album comes out, I count myself lucky that I live here. The PNW is known for its snow capped volcanoes, soggy grey days, hoppy beer, and if Zebra Hunt has anything to say about it, jangle pop.
Looking at the lists from the indie cognoscenti this year my eyes tend to get heavy and it becomes hard to stay awake. I’m beginning to see why my grandfather wasn’t able to stay awake when he watched the Dukes of Hazzard with me when I was a kid. I’m not quite to that point yet, as I was able to keep myself lucid long enough to compile my top 25 albums of the year. Have at it.
1. Eddy Current Suppression Ring – Rush To Relax (Goner)
Some long-time fans have quipped that Rush To Relax isn’t as good as its predecessor Primary Colors, but for me this was the year of Eddy Current Suppression Ring. Finding Rush to Relax in the used bin for 99 cents was the start. Next Anxiety whacked me on the head with its brute force, then their longer jams like Turning Out and Second Guessing bowled me over, and if that wasn’t enough they beguiled with the heartfelt politeness of I Can Be a Jerk and Gentleman. Finally their status was cemented by their live show at Vera Project. In a dry house following two hardcore punk bands, the band put on a clinic on how to rock out with their solid rhythm section, slicing guitars and unique gloved front man. Nobody came close to Eddy Current Suppression Ring this year.
2. Intelligence – Males (In The Red)
Well, the Intelligence came kinda close. Lars and company pumped up the fidelity on record number six and came out all the better for it. For the first time ever this was a full band and the claustrophobic weirdness that permeates all previous Intelligence records was stretched, torn and punctured to create new sounds. Fidelity aside, this batch of songs with the likes of Tuned to Puke, Like Like Like…, The Beetles and Estate Sales may be the strongest yet.
3. Edwyn Collins – Losing Sleep (Heavenly)
After suffering a stroke, Edwyn Collins may not have his guitar playing skills back yet, but his songwriting and singing skills are have returned fully intact. Losing Sleep sees Collins enlisting the help of friends like Johnny Marr, The Cribs, Franz Ferdinand, Roddy Frame, Drums to name a few. At first it was kind of a surprise to hear Collins duet with so many of his guests, but the album’s sound is so cohesive it doesn’t distract because you can tell that Ryan Jarmin, Alex Kapranos, Romeo Stodart and Jonathon Pierce are such Collins fans.
4. Les Cox Sportifs – Scheiss Mit Reis (Sea)
Les Cox Sportifs caught my imagination, and no it wasn’t their name that did it. Their sparsly played rhythmic songs and odd lyrics put them defiantly in the weird corner and that’s a corner I gravitate to. Their combining of Bo Diddly, the Fall, Modern Lovers, Yummy Fur and Country Dick Montana was a soup that I kept lapping up all year long.
5. Kellies – Kellies (Rastrillo/Crang)
The self-titled third album from this Argentinian all girl band was part post punk, part art school, and should have come with a warning label because every song contains a deadly hook. Why have you not heard of these ladies you may ask. That’s a damn good question, and if you’ve been around these parts much, you probably have.
6. Eternal Summers – Silver (Kanine)
Roanoak, Virginia’s Eternal Summers are the simple combination of guitar and drums, but are most certainly more than the sum of their parts and a good reason for that is Nicole Yun’s big confident voice. First single Pogo was big and catchy and the immediacy of Disciplinarian and the moodiness and beauty of songs like Salty and Bully In Disguise keep you firmly planted.
7. Race Horses – Goodbye Falkenburg (FantasticPlastic)
Formerly known as Radio Luxembourg, Race Horses broke out of the gate this year with their first album Goodbye Faulkenberg. Being from Wales you might guess they have a psychedelic leaning the same as Super Furry Animals and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and you would be right but they carve out their own niche of strange beguiling pop too. Actually it’s more like a wide swath that ranges from Love, Dexy’s, Can, Mahler, Gilber & Sullivan, Scott Walker and Os Mutantes to name a few of the records they list on the inner sleeve as influences on this album.
8. Kelley Stoltz – To Dreamers (Sub Pop)
Seems like every year Kelley Stoltz puts out a record it ends up as one of my favorites. I write something about how he conjours the past with songs that evoke the likes of the Kinks, Harry Nilson and Fred Neil. With To Dreamers Stoltz does it again with seeming ease, but he incorporates more lush orchestration this time, does a little krautrock, and includes a cover of Big Boy Pete’s 1965 lost classic Baby I Got News for You even doing some sleuthing to pull in Pete Miller to play on it. I keep expecting the well to run dry for Stoltz, but it looks like he’s in no danger of that.
9. Sourpatch – Crushin’ (Happy Happy Birthday To Me)
San Jose’s Sourpatch probably at some point have made a pilgrimage to Sacramento to pay tribute to Tiger Trap and Rocketship. After doing so they came back home and made this record. Their ability to conjure that sound from that time might be called nostalgic by some but these kids are way too young to hold any nostalgia for the 90’s. Crushin’ is just some kids from San Jose making beautiful twee racket.
10. Weekend – Sports (Slumberland)
Sports begins with an unassuming jangle. Soon an eerie howl is heard in the distance and then it becomes more prominent. At about a minute and a half in, the jangle turns into a buzz-saw and the howl to piercing growl. Weekend don’t lift their collective boot from your neck over the next 45 minutes. Sports pummels but like someone that doesn’t know what’s good for them I keep coming back for more.
11. Wounded Lion – Wounded Lion (In the Red)
Wounded Lion are probably a little too weird to ever go mainstream, that’s why they’re on this list. Jokes aside, Wounded Lion killer modern day Modern Lovers fueled rock brings it. No filler here: The one-two punch of Hungry? and Creatures In the Cave is hard to resist. Degobah System must have been unjustly cut from Star Wars Episode IV and Pony People (having been on a now out of print S-S seven inch) Those are only a few reasons I love this record.
12. Young Sinclairs – Chimeys (Chimney Sweep)
The Young Sinclairs are the vehicle of Sam Lunsford who over the last four years has self-released loads of cd-r’s and tapes. Last year Kindercore put out an LP that cherry picked the best tracks from those releases giving them a little larger audience. Finally the band endeavored to release and album on the Chimney Sweep label on vinyl this year. Chimey’s is psychedelia done so well it will make you think of so many bands like them that have gone before. It will also have you searching through your closet for those paisley shirts you hope you never threw out.
13. Frankie Rose & the Outs – Frankie Rose And The Outs (Slumberland)
I must say that after seeing Frankie Rose and the Outs at SXSW this year I wasn’t really looking forward to her album. Everything was drenched in reverb to the point of barely being able to make out the songs. There is no such problem with this album. It is a sublime record that eschews the ramshackle garage sound of her former band and goes for a more classic sound and totally succeeds.
14. Boston Spaceships – Our Cubehouse Still Rocks (GBVI)
Funny how my interest in Robert Pollard ebbs and flows. There was a high point in the 90’s and then it dipped in 00’s. Now that we’re in the 10’s Pollard is back in my good graces and Our Cubehouse Still Rocks is a prime example as to why. While everyone was running around talking about the Guided By Voices reunion, this album was released and criminally ignored. It rivals and surpasses the last five GBV albums.
15. Cinema Red & Blue – Cinema Red & Blue (What’s Your Rupture)
I hesitate to call this a supergroup, but it’s a pretty damn good one. David Feck of Comet Gain, comes over to New York and gets some Crystal Stilts, Ladybug Transistors and one Amy Linton to help out on this album. Apparently it was recorded in a week, but it has warmth and familiarity like these old friends have been playing together for years.
16. Allow Darlin’ – Allo Darlin’ (Fortuna Pop)
Allo Darlin’ sealed the deal with their rousing show at the Jewelbox Theatre in Seattle this fall. Their slightly twee, slightly country ukulele driven songs have a sweet niavty to them that makes you want them to take them under your wing and give them a good home. My copy has found one on my stereo and it’s even muscled out a few lesser records from the cd player.
17. Standard Fare – Noyelle Beat (Melodic/Bar None)
This and Allo Darlin were like sister records for me this year. I couldn’t think about one without the other popping into my head. Standard Fare packed a little more muscle, but it was coming from the same place. Well maybe not the exact same place when you consider their song 15 is about falling for a teenager. Not your typical indiepop.
18. Art Museums – Rough Frame (Woodsist)
This record was a pleasant surprise, evoking the Television Personalities and early Creation records. It’s short at only nine songs, but it left a lasting impression on me. The songs are done in low key, lo-fi way. The steely guitars and programmed drums provide a synthetic psychedelic feel. The vocals strain to reach the high notes, but the songs are warm, fuzzy and earnest which makes these part-time punks’ debut hard not to like.
19. Fresh & Onlys – Play It Strange (In the Red)
The Fresh & Onlys are still way too prolific for their own good. I feel like we’ve seen them grow up before our eyes. Where some bands hold back releasing songs, choosing to keep a stash in case of writer’s block, the Fresh & Onlys lay it all on the line putting everything out for better of for worse. After two diluted albums last year, the band chose to only release one album this year and are the better for it. Every song is autumnal intoxication and their secret weapon guitarist Wymond Miles astounds throughout with his leads.
20. The Lights – Failed Graves (Wantage)
The Lights have been trolling around the seedy side Seattle for quite a while. Ten years on and Failed Graves is only the band’s third album but my favorite so far. There were more than a couple times this year when I was standing either in the Funhouse or the Sunset watching them storm through a set thinking that they were the best live band going in Seattle right now. Craig Chambers in a suit looking like a huckster that plays a mean guitar, Jeff Albertson firecly clutching his well worn bass while PJ Rogalski wailed on the drums. The intensity on Failed Graves nearly replicates their live show. Dissonant guitars, pummeling rhythm section come at you through the speakers and the needle threatens to fly from the record.
21. Gigi – Maintenant (Tomlab)
After this album I am convinced that Nick Krgovich of No Kids is a pop maestro. How else could he write and orchestrate an album like this. The songs have a 60’s Phil Spector feel crossed with Cole Porter, putting him in a league with Stephen Merrit’s Sixths albums. There are too many highlights to list here, but the Rose Melberg sung Alone At the Pier, Karl Blau doing The Old Graveyard and Zac Pennington’s Dreams of Romance are already classics in my house.
22. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest (4AD)
4AD does not carry the cache that it once did, but Earthquake the first song on Halcyon Digest totally evokes that label’s heyday, sounding like Dif Juz, Cocteau Twins and This Mortal Coil all at once. Bradford Cox is up to his old shoegaze tricks on Halcyon digest, but it’s Locket Pundt’s songs that lifted this album to the top of the stack this time. Desire Lines and Fountain Stairs offer hazy bursts of sunshine to Cox’s Halcyon gauze.
23. The Limiñanas – The Limiñanas (Trouble In Mind)
Je Ne Puis Pas Trés Drogué. Well I am after this record. The Limiñanas is full of hallucinogens, twelve doses to be precise. I hope their record label doesn’t get arrested for sending these things via the US Postal Service. It could be a real scandal. I can see the headlines now: American Label implicated in French drug trafficking. Giant hits of acid found in the form of 33 rpm records. I ordered 10 copies.
24. Super Wild Horses – Fifteen (Hozac)
At first glance you might say Australia’s Super Wild Horses take their cue from the riot grrrl movement of the early 90’s, but their sound and style goes a little further harking back to that movement’s predecessors like the Breeders and Scrawl. The grrrl duo switch off between minimal drums and minimal guitar to deliver short sharp shocks trading off vocals and harmonizing on songs that transcend their primal beginnings. Not sure how much Mikey Young of Eddy Current Suppression Ring who twiddled the knobs on this record had to do with the magic that Fifteen conjures, but if I were a betting man I would say not very much.
25. Ty Segall – Melted (Goner)
Like the Fresh & Onlys, Ty Segall came of age in 2010, albeit at a much younger age. Melted is where Segall got off the garage bus and tripped onto the magic buss. Don’t get me wrong, he still rocks out, but it’s in full technicolor instead of the previous black and white. Songs like Bees are meaty beaty big and bouncy and Sad Fuzz rains down on you like he’s finally gotten to the point of being able to incorporate those top shelf influences into his songs. Listening to Melted you can see that Segall freed his mind and the possibilities are endless.
Honorable Mentions: Magic Bullets – Magic Bullets (Mon Amie) / Lawrence Arabia – Chant Darling (Bella Union) / Wild Nothing – Gemini (Captured Tracks) / Rose Elinor Dougall – Whithout Why (Scarlett) / Idle Times – Idle Times (Hozac) / Radio Dept. – Clinging To a Scheme (Labrador) / Seinking Ships – Museum Quality Capture (S-curve) / Dum Dum Girls – I Will Be (Sub Pop) / Splinters – Kick (Double Negative) / Math and Physics Club – I Shouldn’t Look As Good As I Do (Matinee) / Katerine – Phillippe Katerine (Barclay) / The Fall – Your Future Our Clutter (Domino) / White Wires – WWII (Dirtnap) / Dead Ghosts – Dead Ghosts (Florida’s Dying) / Harlem – Hippies (Matador) / Vic Godard – & Subway Sect – We Come As Aliens (Overground)
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 30-21.
Sadly this will be the last time the Cave Wedding appear in the countdown. Prior to releasing this single they called it quits and wiped their MySpace page from existence. Fortunately we have this single and last year’s Hozac one to remember them. Powerpop is rarely done this well and Never Never Know ranks up there with Nerves and the Beat.
I’m not sure why this Dum Dum Girls single won out over Bang Bang I’m a Burnout or Jail La La, because surely both of those singles are worthy. Maybe I’m capricious. Maybe I just like being a contrarian. Maybe it was because the melody cut like ice. Maybe it was the overt reference to the Stiff Little Fingers…
Those Eddy Current guys are busy dudes and side projects seem to pop up from the Supression Ring like dandelions in green grass. If not for the like-minded blog the Creative Intersection I would have most certainly missed this record. Bright Idea doesn’t tread too far from ECSR, but on the B-Side the Boomgates get their Comet Gain on. Jeez, they had me at the A-side.
Everyone has their guilty pleasures and the Knocks’ Make It Better is mine. Otherwise known as the rump shaker in this year’s list. Yes, my ears have been ruined over the years with too much shoegaze and garage, but they’re not totally gone and this song makes them prick up whenever it comes up on shuffle or on some playlist I’ve made. Bust out the disco ball.
As I kid I always was sending off for stuff from the advertisements in the backs of comic books. I got a pair of x-ray specs that didn’t work, and some invisible ointment that was a bust. If the Fresh and Onlys would provide an address I would send off for this Vanishing Cream of which they speak, as it is I just send them money for records.
So it finally happened, Times New Viking turned down the distortion and let us hear the melody. Did they get tired of their bleeding in the red sound? Is this just a dalliance? Will they be playing their drums with brushes and using a ukulele in the future? Only time will tell, but for now there is this tender Beth sung A-side.
I love how the cover of this single evokes some kind of nerdy rockabilly goth image in my head. Worlds Destroyed with its watery Morricone intro quickly transitions to a punk rock ballad for punks that wear eyeliner and go to rodeos. I’m not in that category, but could easily be swayed.
No countdown is worth its salt without a Spacemen 3 inspired single on it. Lucky for us the Electric Bunnies chose that style for their only outing this year. Buzzing, hissing guitars plunge the depths of the earth. These guys may not be from Caerbannog, but they are killer bunnies nonetheless.
So this is what it’s come to, eh? Bands naming themselves after the internet. I haven’t looked lately, is there a band named Hootie and the Wikis yet? Internet Forever’s Break Bones is good enough to overcome their unfortunate band name. This song has been floating around on the afore mentioned internet since sometime last year, and fortunately Art Fag saw fit to put it on a slab of wax. I said back in August of 2009 that they evoke the beauty of the much underrated It’s Jo and Danny. I hope they don’t wallow in obscurity like Jo and Danny. A few more singles of this quality and maybe they won’t.
I can’t remember a previous January where there has been this much new music coming out, but I’m old and my synapses don’t connect they way the use to. I do remember maybe a few releases trickling out at the end of January and then not much happening until March or April. Well, it’s a new decade and we’ve hit the ground running, out with the old, etc. The last few weeks have been total pop overload, and to give you an idea of the crazy amounts of good to great music that has made itself known in this very short year, I’m attempting this schizophrenic post. If any of you follow my wild and crazy finest kiss twitter feed some of this may be redundant. Twitter being what it is, you most likely forgot whatever it was I tweeted six seconds after you read it, so a rehash is in order to burn this stuff into your long term memories and to possibly give you same feeling of being overwhelmed by way too much good music.
I’ll start of this laundry list with the perfect song to start off a list of bands. The Felt Letters are a three piece form from DC with Brendan Canty of Fugazi on drums. They sound like another DC band, Girls Against Boys. The way Ian Svenonius slithers his dilivery makes you think at first your are hearing some long lost GvsB single. The similarities to Scott McCloud are uncanny, but Svenonius is a hell of a lot funnier: 600,000 bands: 50,000 sound like Can, 50,000 sound like Manfred Man. I’m startin’ one like Cool and the Gang…The bass sound gotta be fixed. It sounds a little like Robert Fripp.
The Radio Dept. have been teasing us with EP’s every 11 months or so, but they’re finally threatening to release their 3rd album. The album is called Clinging To A Scheme and will be out in March. This teaser was posted on the Radio Dept. site last week. Cue salivation.
Portland’s Eat Skull, besides putting out the formidable Wilde and Inside last year on Siltbreez, have just unleashed a 7″ single on the venerable Woodsist. From what I’ve read they’ve actually signed to Woodsist, whatever that means these days.
Speaking of Woodsist, the Fresh & Onlys have a new 7″ out on the label as well. To this point I’ve been luke-warm about the band. Each release, and there have been many, has a few good songs but they get drowned out by the other ones. I have to say that this new Woodsist single may be their best release yet. Yeah, I know these songs come from a previously released tape.
I know nothing about French Kissing except what I read on the Weekly Tape Deck, which is very little except to say they have a very limited single upcoming on Sleep All Day Records. Oh, and they’re from London and the A-Side to the single totally rules.
Has it really been five years since the last Lali Puna album? No, Faking the books came out back in 2004 so it’s been six. Wow, I missed them, and this song emphasizes that. I remember Faking the Books was kind of a let-down after the near-brilliance of Scary World Theory. What will the new album Our Inventions be like? If Remember is any indication, quite good.
Along a similar trajectory as Lali Puna, Pikelet‘s Weakest Link has me looking forward to this Austraian’s second album. Pikelet is Evelyn Morris, and she seems to have good grasp of what sounds good. Album number two is entitled Stem and it’s due in February on Chapter Music, home of the Crayon Fields and the Twerps. Thanks to Rose Quartz for the heads up.
Last week I got friended on mySpace by London-based Yuck. At first I thought eww, but then I listened to their Lily’s / Medicine song Georgia, and then I listened to the moody Automatic and I was smitten. No hard copy releases yet, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.
It’s been a few years since the watershed Andorra was released by Caribou. And a few more since they had their run-in with Handsome Dick Manitoba and had to change their name from Manitoba to Caribou. Dan Snaith (leader of the pack) is back after a couple years absence with the first fruits of his forthcoming album Swim. This has to be the most overtly dancy thing Caribou has ever attempted, and it’s pretty much a full on success.
I have to admit that I haven’t really paid much attention to Horowitz, but the song that Cloudberry has made available from their upcoming single has me wondering why that is the case. Two and a half minutes of fuzzed out pop bliss never goes out of style.
One more from Cloudberry, the latest from Sweden’s Sad Day For Puppets. If you haven’t heard their album Unknown Colors or the preceding EP Just Like a Ghost, then this just might be the perfect introduction.