Chris Rollen of Les Cox Sportifs infamy goes by Pea Sea when he hangs out with the Brewis Brothers. He has apparently been hanging out with them quite a bit because there is a Pea Sea album called The Debatable Land that Rollen recorded with Field Music as his backing band.
It features a couple of Les Cox stand-out songs Dead Beat Formula and Mixing Up the Cordite re-recorded by Pea Sea. It’s nice to hear different less bombastic versions of those songs, but the new songs are really the meat in this pea soup. Rollen was influenced by Silver Jews and Smog. Unlike David Berman and Bill Callahan Rollen’s voice is not a baritone or a monotone, but he can write a lyric that will stop you in your tracks. I still am partial to “I’m gonna turn to jazz and turn into my dad” from Dead Beat Formula, but he gives Berman a run for his money in Pinocchio Nose a story song about the dangers of smoking (The dangers aren’t what you think). He also can do pretty quite well. Come Over is a beauty with it’s acoustic guitar and sad string arrangement.
You can hear the Field Music influence in the songs as well. The sparse clean sound that you are familiar with if you are a fan of Field Music, The Week that Was and School of Language is present and makes the album an aural delight. The Debatable Land is a solid record that tempers the eccentricities of Les Cox Sportifs and adds a little (but not too much) folksiness both of which contribute to its long-lasting likability.
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)
Les Cox (Sportifs) don’t sound like they just released an album last week. They sound like they could have been born in the late 70’s post punk scene. Their dissident noise accented by choppy rhythms, minimal crunchy guitar and Christopher Rollen’s heavy accent makes me believe that they are the rightful heirs to the stolen chalice of arty lo-fi art school pop that Yummy Fur snagged from the Fall, Fire Engines and the first Modern Lovers record.
Scheiß Mit Reis is the first full length album from the Newcastle, UK band. It follows an eight song ep that came out two years ago on Stop Looking and a 7″ single last year on Clunk Click. Each release has seen the band progress. Last year’s Total Straightness single was ace, especially the A-side The Hand and the Heep and Scheiß Mit Reis sees the band continuing with a full head of steam. The Cox (can I say that?) can get downright silly with songs like God Vor Domma and the title track. The former sees them employ Adam Sandler accents to somewhat amusing effect while the latter ends with the punch line: But I don’t like rice!. Then there is the song C.O.A.S.T.A.L.M.O.T.H.E.R.F.U.C.K.E.R which in some alternate reality is the hit of the summer with kids blasting it out of their parent’s minivans as they wait for the red light to change as Les Cox spell it out.
It isn’t all shits and giggles with these smarmy art school boys. John E Millais is a story song about the English painter reminiscent of Johnny Horton and Dead Beat Formula deconstructs, dismantles, and kills rock n’ roll and then realizes that all that isn’t quite necessary as Bo Diddley shows them the light. Mixing Up the Cordite is an anti-war and anti-establisment song commenting on the current and past geopolitical ignorance of the masses that enable governments to wage wars in far off places to general apathy with lines like Well I hear there’s a war on in a country I don’t know, and Well, I couldn’t care less who wins the war. The songs are played in a rudimentary minimalistic way and if you don’t pay close attention you could easily assume that it’s one goofy art school joke after the next, but scratch the surface and it becomes much more. It’s only the middle of the year, but I can safely say Scheiß Mit Reis will be in my year end top ten.