Color Me Impressed

If I had done a best reissues of 2014 this long overdue reissue of Crayon‘s Brick Factory would have been near the top of it. Formed in the early 90’s in the sleepy college town of Bellingham, Washington, Crayon were equally influenced by the punk inspired grunge of Seattle and the punk inspired indiepop of Olympia. Bellingham is about 80 miles north of Seattle and 150 mile north of Olympia, but Crayon sounded like they were about right in the middle of both of those city’s well known aesthetics at the time.

The two styles juxtaposed with each other in the form of Crayon’s two singers. Guitarist Brad Roberts’ songs were the raw punk ones that sounded like a wounded Husker Du or Sebadoh (Brick Factory was one of Lou Barlow’s favorites records of 1994 as told to Spin). The other half of the songs were written and sung by bassist Sean Tollefson had a more twee feel that nodded to Beat Happening.

Most people lean to either Robert’s punk scrawl or Tollefson’s embryonic twee, but the accidental genius of Crayon was that they had the guts to combine them into one band and one album. Tollefson went on to form Tullycraft along with Crayon drummer Jeff Fell. Robertson seemed to disappear from the music universe along with the CD only release of Brick Factory that went out of print shortly after its release. Now for the first time ever Happy Happy Birthday To Me have reissued the album on vinyl. It comes with a bonus download of the band’s other 7-inch singles, compilations tracks, demos and live cuts. Twenty years later it still sounds unique and great.

Brick Factory is available from HHBTM mail order.


Stroking Out To Eureka California

These days there is no dearth  of garage rock inspired by 90’s bands like Guided By Voices, Dinosaur Jr and Superchunk. That gets you in the door, but it doesn’t mean you get to stay.  Hell, would you want them to stay assuming you already have Propeller, Bee Thousand, You’re Living All Over Me, Bug, No Pocky For Kitty and On the Mouth?

The quizzically named Eureka California who hail from Athens, Georgia are making the case for you to add one more fuzzy, slightly psychedelic,  nuggets-inspired record to your collection.  Does their debut long player which they have christened Big Cats Can Swim merit your hard earned dough? Does it merely ape their idols or is it inspired by them? Do they have what it takes to sustain your interest for an entire album?

I say invite this trio into your house for tea, crumpets and tallboys and hope to god they accept your invitation and stay a while. Their album crackles and pops with great songs that retain the vital and immediateness that you would have experienced if you would have been in their garage when they were recording them. With titles like My Life as a Smokestack, My Kind of Battery and My Boy Black Metal, you get the feeling they copped Pollard’s notebook of song titles. Unlike GBV, many Eureka California songs go longer than a minute  thirty. They have a lot of good ideas about crunchy pop songs and infuse a playfulness in them that many bands often forget. This batch of songs will initially make you think of the 90’s and it’s bands, but this record pull from too many different places to be pegged as merely a 90’s throwback. Infusing the Kinks, Big Star and various Nuggets bands into the stew. That’s a good meal, especially after all of those crumpets and tallboys.

mp3: Eureka California – My Life as a Smokestack (from Big Cats Can Swim)

Sourpatch & Joyride at Black Lodge

On my way into Black Lodge Saturday night I glanced at the newspaper box that displayed the latest issue of  CityArts magazine and saw Calvin Johnson on the cover. The chances of seeing Calvin on the cover of a magazine 20 years ago are slim, but that cover photo of Beat Happening from 1992 definitley takes me back. I didn’t live in the northwest then, I was in Morgantown, West Virginia going to college and spending most of my free time hanging out at my college radio station. Back then the pacific northwest and K records were a continent away and things I only read about. I remember trying to imagine what it must be like out here in this remote outpost.

Walking into the Black Lodge Saturday night, it could have been Saturday night any-year. The DIY space was hot and the stagnant air was filled with the scent of sweaty kids. It reminded me of the Dry House, the all-ages venue in Morgantown that I spent many an underage night at when I first arrived at university.  Probably not much different from what a DIY show looked and smelled like in Seattle two decades ago.

Sourpatch aren’t from Olympia or Seattle, but if this San Jose, California band existed in the early 90’s they could have easily  put out a record on Olympia’s K Records (they also remind me a little of the Blake Babies and could have been on Mammoth records, but Boston doesn’t really fit into this narrative). Those of you up on your history already know that another northern California band with a similar sound, Tiger Trap were on K at the time.  E = mc2 and all that, but just to make my time travel experience a little more palpable, as Sourpatch began their set, I glanced around the room and spotted Rose Melberg front and center. Sherman, set the WABAC machine for 1993.

It seems like I’m always bringing up the past when I write about Sourpatch. I don’t mean anything bad by it, in fact it’s a total compliment. Some bands try for an early 90’s indie sound and miss the mark. I think Sourpatch don’t even try, it just is what it is. They’re authentic and their sound is timeless at least to my ears. It jangles and rushes and couldn’t care less if it was 1992 or 2012.  Their second album Stagger and Fade is stronger than their debut and shows more diversity in their sound. Its songs stand out from one another but retain fuzzy and jangly friendliness.  It’s not a groundbreaking thing, but the smiles all around the room were an indication kids today don’t need groundbreaking, they need good songs and unbridled enthusiasm and Sourpatch delivered just that, switching instruments, harmonizing and generally having a good time.  Today, just like back then, for a kid out there in this big wide world there is always the hope and escape of a pop song and Sourpatch delivered exactly that to the hot sweaty room.

mp3: Soupatch – Stare at the Sun (from Stagger and Fade – LP cover by Tae Won Yu of Kikcing Giant)

Joyride who played right before Sourpatch are from San Francisco and obviously kindred spirits with Sourpatch. Sounding a-like, but coming from a slightly more power pop angle, but decidedly cute power pop.
stream: Joyride – Person Place or Thing

Tunabunny Not Faking It

Weird, they did it again. I’ve listened to the new Tunabunny album probably 10 times, but it wasn’t until tonight that it clicked with me.  This happened on their last album, but I thought I had them figured out and would immediately dig their second one, but there is something about this band from Athens, Georgia that keeps catches you off guard. Minima Moralia was recorded in apartments and houses and sounds lo-fi, but doesn’t subscribe to current trendy lo-fi aesthetic.  The band are hunkered down ignoring the world, flying in the face of fashion and making records on their own terms.

Tunabunny like their guitars sounding raw and they like you to hear the singing bleeding into the red on the recording console, making it sound like they’re in YOUR basement when you play this record loud. They use violin and keyboards economically in their songs, sometime to increase the dissonance and sometimes to reign you in from the noise. This summer’s brilliant single Solar Sister reappears, but everything else is new.  Songs like Fake It Faker are tense and taught. Perfect Time, Every Time is strangely funky, and then Cross Wire Technique is pure white noise and tin can funk, the kind fellow Athenians Pylon did in the 80’s. The record hums like an engine and blows out like a car crash at the same time.

Anything you read about Seattle grunge in the 90’s mentions how bands were making it up as they went along. Left to thrive in a vacuum far away from the rest of the world and its influence they came up with their own sound. That doesn’t happen much anymore because you are only isolated if you actively try to be isolated.  Tunabunny aren’t grunge, but seem to be working in their own self-imposed vacuum down in Athens, Georgia and Minima Morilia is like a thesis on how to do it on your own, in isolation and very well indeed.

mp3: Tunabunny – Perfect Time, Every Time  (Minima Moralia is out on HHBTM)

Tunabunny’s Heat Up (and Cool Down)

Tunabunny are back with with a big slice of summer pop for you. Their new single which just came out on HHBTM has a hot and cool side, as all quality summer singles should have. The hot side  contains (Song for My) Solar Sister, possibly the most straightforward pop song the band has recorded to date. It starts with a riff that immediately gets your attention and then adds haunting vocals and some nice bass that reminds me of both Pod era Breeders and early Helium singles. The B-side cools things down. Airport is droning groove number that hums along. It’s all melody, bass and weird theremin-like keyboard. It may not be a good indicator, but I have always found myself judging bands on the quality of their B-sides. Bands that use them to try new things, push the envelope, or just slap an amazing song on the back side because they can always have ranked as some of my favorite bands. With this new single Tunnabunny are edging themselves into my favorites category. Look for album number two this fall.

mp3: Tunabunny – (Song for My) Solar Sister (Order the single from HHBTM)

Painting the World in Analog

Athens, Georgia’s Happy Happy Birthday To Me seems to keep quietly releasing stellar music and the latest batch of singles is no different. Here’s the evidence:

Cleveland’s Afternoon Naps will get you ready for summer with a double A-side (there’s no B-side on this record, both songs are on one side so you don’t have to flip). Jangling guitars, swirling organ and pastoral melodies abound. The sounds are so smooth and sugary sweet you forget that this is coming from the rust belt. I think I’m partial to Short Sleeves and it’s nod to the Free Design and its mysterious refrain of ‘short sleeves they are mocking me.’ Are her arms so undeniable, or is it because she can wear them in the winter sun?
mp3: Afternoon Naps – Short Sleeves (get the single from HHBTM)

Orca Team are from Portland, Oregon, but play Seattle more than most Seattle bands. Their self-released album from last year had many highlights but my favorite was Vancouver, BC a song where they scoff at Seattle for being not that great. Go figure. Pacific Northwest rivalries aside, they’ve plucked Vancouver, BC and slapped it onto a 7-inch giving it  rightful single status. The two b-sides were recorded live, Take My Hand being a new one. One of my favorite bands in Pacific NW right now.
mp3: Orca Team – Vancouver, BC (get the single from HHBTM)

Eureka California hail from Athens, Georgia, but have named themselves after a town in California. This trio look to the currently popular 90’s indie rock scene for inspiration and sprinkle their hooks with a little supergrass and pixie dust. I kind of wasn’t sure about this record at first but its nerdy grittiness has endeared it to me.
mp3: Eureka California – Modern Times (get the single from HHBTM)

Hoping For Cold Weather

In his review of the new Sweater Girls single the Heaven is Above Your Head blog brought up how the drums in their songs could possible be the worst ever in the recorded history of pop.  For some reason that made me laugh.  I wouldn’t go so far as to say that they are the worst ever maybe a bit monochromatic but I think that adds to their charm. They’re kind of fluffy and fuzzy like a frayed polyester sweater of the vintage type.  Probably found in some junk shop having been thrown out  after being found in someone’s attic and rescued by the Sweater Girls.

Los Angeles’ Sweater Girls evoke that time in our not so distant history when girls were breaking out of the sterile confines of the 50’s and recording technology wasn’t so great so I can forgive them for the drums.  Their understated melodies and charming guitars also go a long way in making me overlook the rudimentary recording.  As with the first single, Athens, Georgia label Happy Happy Birthday To Me are doing the honors for their second single.  It’s another three songs that easily rival their first single.

mp3: Sweater Girls – Return Address (order up a hard copy of the new single from HHBTM)

Tunabunny: Swimming, No Hopping In the Face of Fashion

Portrait by Julia Kay

Being an old curmudgeon, if I don’t like a band’s name I won’t give them a chance.  After all musical taste is all about aesthetics and if I don’t like the name, chances are I’m not going to like the music. There are tons of bands that reinforce that rule:  Crash Test Dummys, Vampire Weekend, Hoobastank, Deathcab for Cutie, Gay Dad, Dogs Die In Hot Cars, and the Cherry Poppin’ Daddys to name but a few.  Of course there are exceptions to the rule like Cats On Fire, Weedhounds, Prefab Sprout, and The The.  I would like to propose adding Tunabunny to my list of exceptions.

The Athens, Georgia band have just recently released their first album on their hometown label Happy Happy Birthday To Me. At first listen it was a dissonant and difficult record, but like the grumpy old guy in the movies, after you get know him, he turns out to be a sweetheart, well a sweetheart with thorns and burrs hidden about him.  What I’m trying to say is that it’s a grower.  Once you get used to the treble overload the songs begin to seep in.   Sometimes they kind of sound like hometown heroes Pylon at their most raunchy, or tender and scary like a Helium song, or freaked out in distortion like Boyracer, or just plane weird like little known LA pop freaks Charles Brown Superstar. It’s never obvious and you won’t immediately be in rapture, but if you give it a chance, the onion will peel which could result in stinging tears, something tasty, or both.

mp3: Tunabunny – Gasmasks

Order up a copy of the album on vinyl or cassette (what is this 1982 again?) from Happy Happy Birthday To Me.

Sweaters By the Pound

Athens, Georgia label Happy Happy Birthday To Me reaches across the continent to pluck the Sweater Girls from sunny warm Los Angeles, California.  Having lived in SoCal, I know that you don’t really need many sweaters living there.  Although after living there for a while, the body acclimatizes, the blood thins and you end up thinking you’re cold when it’s 75 degrees because you’re used to 80.  That five degree difference is bone-chilling and a sweater can be just the thing.

Being that it’s summer you probably don’t need a sweater even in SoCal, but the Sweater Girls have put out a single that you do need.  The three song single that sold out of its initial pressing reminds me of the  Softies and the Cat’s Miaow.  They tread the fine line of too cute and passive aggressive which from an indiepop point of view is the sweet spot.  As luck would have it (actually thanks to Happy Happy Birthday To Me) I’ve got an extra copy of the Sweater Girls single up for grabs.  To put your hat (or sweater) in the ring send me an email  (finestkiss[@] with Sweater Girls 7″ in the subject line.  I’ll do some kind of random pick on Friday for the winner.

mp3: Sweater Girls – Haven’t Got a Clue (from the HHBTM single)

Sourpatch and the Space-Time Continuum

Emmett Brown did it using a Dolorean, a flux capacitor and 1.21 gigawatts of electricity. I read in this month’s CityArts magazine that University of  Washington professor John Cramer is trying to do it using photon lasers and crystals. Einstein even had a theory about it.  No question about it, physicists, Sci-Fi nuts and the general public are kind of obsessed with time travel. So, it’s pretty amazing that no attention has been paid to a little band from San Jose, California who have figured out how to do it with a record.

If you put on Sourpatch‘s record Crushin’ you will immediately be swept back in a whirlwind of fuzzy guitars, smile inducing choruses, and the general bliss of those heady days of the early 90’s when SpinArt, Slumberland, K, Pop Narcotic, Simple Machines, et al. ruled your stereo.  For those of you too young to have memories of that time, or not born yet, give it a try, it’s guaranteed to work for even you.  Who would have thought time travel would be so simple and cheap.  For the price of a record you can have a go.

Sourpatch are currently on tour and bringing their spring-time charm to the Pacific Northwest this week, they play Seattle on Thursday at 20-20 Cycles.  Check the dates below for a venue near you where the band will send you back in time:

Apr 5   Blast-O-Mat House (2935 w.7th ave.)  –   Denver, CO
Apr 6   Salt Lake City House Party! (1963 Evergreen avenue)  –   Salt Lake City, UT
Apr 7   The Office (5320 emerald)  –  Boise, ID
Apr 8   20/20 CYCLE (2020 East Union) – Seattle, WA
Apr 9   Vajay street house (1602 Vajay Street)  –  Bellingham, WA
Apr 10  Punk All – Olympia, WA
Apr 11  Portland – Portland, OR

mp3: Sourpatch – Crushin’

Order up your own personal copy of the time defying Sourpatch record from their label, Happy Happy Birthday To Me.