Thursday started with the Austin Town Hall show at the Ghost Room. This turned out to be a brilliant decision, they had free breakfast tacos, coffee and beer. I consumed in that order. As for music, Australia’s Crayon Fields were the first on the menu. I love both their records on Chapter Music and they were a great start to the day with their Zombies-esque songs.
Let’s Wrestle who played next, upped the energy a little bit with their geeky-punk rock. They seemed to be a bit groggy, but their set didn’t really suffer from it.
From the Ghost Room we headed over to the east side, first for tacos, of the lunch type, and then to Club Pimo’s for a trip down memory lane and the Blue Aeroplanes. The band pulled out a few classics like Jacket Hangs, Bury Your Love Like Treasure, and Yr Own World which sounded especially good. They still have a three guitar attack but there was no Wojtek, the dancer they use to have on stage with them. Fun set anyway, as the sun beat down on the back yard of Primo’s
Next up was Wave Pictures and Slow Club at the Red House Pizzaria. We would later encounter both of these bands for a second time. To empasize how random the entire SxSW thing is, Wave Pictures were merely ok this time and Slow Club were a blast. That would be the opposite the next we saw them on Saturday.
We make our way back to downtown Austin with SxSW in full swing reminds me of the part in Back to the Future II where Biff has stolen the gambling book from the future and turned idyllic Hill Valley into a paradise of debauchery. At this point I made an attempt to see Lawrence Arabia at some sports bar, which turned out to be a mistake since unbeknown to me Mr. Arabia was stuck back in the UK sans visa. A quick adjustment and it was off to the Galaxy Room to the Sub Pop-Hardly Art showcase. Maybe part of laziness or part because of the mostly quality line-up, here is where I would remain for the rest of the night. I got there as Happy Birthday was conjuring the early 90’s indie-rock ghost back from the dead. Jay Mascis was there to witness it, or maybe he got conjured too. HB come off much, erm…grungier than they are on record, but good nonetheless. There were two stages set up, one indoor and the other larger one outdoor. The remainder of the night would be spent ping-ponging between the two. Male Bonding from the UK were joined on stage by their former tour-mates the Vivian Girls for a song. LA’s Avi Buffalo started out as evoking fairies &butterflies and ended in barbaric yawp of guitar freak-out.
I caught a few songs from the Moondoggies, Le Loup and Dutchesse & the Duke at the indoor Hardly Art stage, but the next band I was looking forward to was Dum Dum Girls. Everything about them breathes style which may or may not be your thing. To me it was ok, but maybe a little bit too contrived. No matter, they looked good all dressed up like dark goth goddesses. If I were a 14 year old boy I definitely would have been turned on. Who am I kidding, I was turned on too. They sounded good. I appreciated the real drums provided by Frankie Rose as opposed to the Jesus & Mary Chain Automatic era ones that pervade the album, and their Sears Silvertone guitars stayed pretty much in tune.
Final band of the night was Golden Triangle who were fun, if your idea of fun is the Fall, or the B-52’s without the services of Fred Schnieder. That’s my idea of fun, and their finale which had both singers writhing on the floor as the rest of the band freaked out on their instruments was impressively insane.
As I said previously in my list of top Seattle albums of the year, my favorite three records came out of Seattle this year. Because of that, this list begins at number four. Judging from the number of contenders I cut from this list, it was a pretty good year for the album. They may not be selling like they use to, but more people are making them than ever before. Here’s to a year in which it was truly a task to keep up.
Album number two from Australia’s Crayon Fields tripped the light fantastic not tripped since the Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle. Watery guitars and feathery strings mixed with precious vocals to make a record that I handled with care so as not to damage its frail pop songs. That’s an exaggeration of course, but these songs will have you floating like a feather in the breeze. Everything on this record is in it’s right place. The Crayon Fields have attempted and intricate balancing act and gracefully succeeded.
The cup definitely spilled over with C-86 inspired girl groups this year, but the Brilliant Colors were my favorite of the lot. Instead of going for the twee-er side of things, they leaned more towards the punks with their Raincoats, Slits who were precursors to the whole C-86 movement. Every song on Introducing adheres to strict punk rock rules of two minutes, super catchy, and blistering.
Not since the Trembling Blue Stars’ Her Handwriting has their been a breakup album this raw, this heart-wrenching, this desolate, or this beautiful. If you are Montgolfier Brothers fan, then Robert Quigly’s warm, melancholic voice will not be new to you. If you are unfamiliar, then you will be enveloped by this record. It has elements of Babybird, early Spiritualized, Simon Raymond’s unheralded solo album Blame Someone Else and some Blue Nile. Before You Left is a slow burner, that will burn brightest on those lonely nights when you are all alone. Sometimes sad albums are the best things to listen to when you are sad.
One part Hot Snakes, one part Edsel, one part killer rhythm section. This album rocked like elder statesmen giving the kids a lesson in how to actually rock. It’s primal enough to get your blood pumping, but complex enough to keep your interest (all year long as is the case since this came out way back in March). In a year where tons of bands were at the beach making laid back sun in your face tunes, the Obits were kicking sand in everyone’s faces mixing Gang of Four funk with Dick Dale guitars. Yow!
It’s kind of funny, the amount of attention that this record’s cover has gotten. It must be a real threat to a would-be punk’s sense of punk mentality to like a record who’s cover looks like it was designed by Nick Park. To my mind post-punk was always a ton more interesting than anything punk ever wrought, and Tyvek are decidedly post-punk, pulling influences from disparate places to make a tour de force. From the Joy Division like instrumental interludes to the Gang of Four-like guitars, or the way Kevin Boyer shouts out the address in the song Hey Una reminding me of Grant Hart’s 2541, or the two part Building Burning bringing back memories of early Fall. Tyvek are the best parts of geek, intellectual, punk, and they have a sense of humor.
If anyone has captured the essence and spirit of the Chills (besides Martin Phillips himself of course) it’s Thomas Sanders. Sanders’ other band Pete & the Pirates were a top pick last year and I’m looking forward to their new album in the coming year, but Tap Tap nearly made me forget about his other band. Tap Tap doesn’t sound a whole lot different from Pete & Pirates, except that it’s a little more moody and introverted with quiet vocals and slithering guitars. On My Way will literally sneak right up on you and wrap itself around you. Compared to this, the first Tap Tap record sounded like half finished demos. Thomas Sanders really hitting his stride as songwriter.
Cerys Matthews, the former Catatonia singer has been quietly putting out solo albums since her band called it a day back in 2001. Don’t Look Down is her fourth album and it’s really the first one I’ve taken note of since her Catatonia days. She recorded two versions of the record with slightly different running orders and a few different songs on each one. One versionis sung in her native Welsh and and another in the more familiar English. No matter the language you choose to hear Don’t Look Down in, it’s a delight as Matthews goes from lush orchestral songs, to ones that sound like some long lost show tune, to more straightforward pop numbers. The album sometimes walks a fine line between sugary sweet pop and the vapid kind that seems to dominate the charts in the UK. To my ears, it’s the former, and I can’t seem to get some of these songs out of my head.
On the surface, Florida’s Jacuzzi Boys appear to be just another garage tinged rock band, but upon further examination you start to realize that it’s a little bit more complex than that. For starters this album was recorded at the Living Room, not a garage. No Seasons has a distinct Feelies vibe. Like the Feelies, Jacuzzi Boys like to whip their songs up into a maelstrom and they also seem to dig the Velvet Underground, Television and the Byrds. Just listen to Komi Caricoles and tell me I’m wrong. But they also have a love of the 13th Floor Elevators that gives the record a more wild and unpredictable feel to it.
Technically this is a compilation or reissue, but really it’s the first many of us ever heard of Brian Kelly’s one man band So Cow. Tic Tac Totally cherry picked the best tracks from Kelly’s self-released CDr’s and put them down on a slab of vinyl. So Cow songs are short blasts of DIY pop, parts Television Personalities, Beat Happening and Pastels These 18 songs may grab, jar or caress you and sometimes all three at once.
It’s the little things that makes some things so special. Little things like the guitars in the song Rue de la Paix sounding like Felt, the packaging with Japanese obi strip, or the crisp, yet simple production of this record. Attention to detail is the bookish Pants Yell! forte. They’ve simplified their sound a little, (gone are the horns of last year’s Allison Statton) stripping down to guitar, bass, drums and Andrew Churchman’s smooth croon. A near perfect little record. I don’t even mind it when Churchman sings “I never trusted Toby, or his long hair”.
You would think that with the number of times I’ve seen some new band get compared to the Clean that their latest album would have gotten more accolades, especially when Mister Pop is arguably the best album the band has made (remember that Compilation is just that, a compilation). Mister Pop is the Clean at their most sanguine with all three members contributing top notch songs. Asleep in the Tunnel could be one of my favorite Robert Scott songs ever, David Kilgour gives us the beautiful In the Dreamlife You Need a Rubber Soul and Are You Really on Drugs, while his brother Hamish contributes one his best in years Back In the Day. Every song leads into the next, there are no non-sequiter instrumentals (Moon Jumper is perfect and integral) or throw-away half songs. It’s a concise well thought out album that floats along putting you into a dream-like warm euphoric state. At least it does me.
This has to be one of the best surprises of the year. Victoria Bergsman had left the Concretes a few years back to go solo with her Taken By Trees project. Album number one had many thinking (myself included) that although she had a great voice, she missed the songwriting of her former band. No such doubts on album number two. A complete rethink with Bergsman traveling to Pakistan to record East of Eden, and taking on an entirely different feel to anything she’s done previously. Her child-like, angelic voice is still here, but this album of songs has a earthy eastern feel to it that doesn’t feel forced at all. Her songs easily meld in with the eastern influences and at times are completely immersed, coming out all the better for it.
16. The Horrors – Primary Colors (XL)
I nearly didn’t pay this record any mind, because their debut was a non-melodic record with a bad a Birthday Party fixation. Primary Colors is like the Radiohead’s the Bends, a sophomore album that leaves the debut in the dust. The Horrors have moved on to more melodic territory, mining the rich vein of Chameleons, Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, The Sound and the Comsat Angels, straddling the line of stadium rock, goth, and pop. Not only do they get the feel right, they do it with great songs.
This New Jersey band’s debut came off sounding like a long lost David Kilgour album (Sugarmouth or A Feather In the Engine anyone?). I don’t know where exactly in New Jersey Real Estate is from, but my guess would be somewhere along the shore where you can kick back around a bonfire on the beach after the sun has just set with the fire crackling and the constant rhythm of waves crashing to the sand.
18. The Spires – A Way of Seeing (Bee House)
If you’ve hung out at this blog for any amount of time you’ve probably figured out that the Chills are one of my favorite bands. With this album, the Spires pretty much made up for the MIA Chills. It’s uncanny how much singer Jason Bays sounds like Martin Phillips and how the music takes on this jangly sing-song thing that Chills did so well. A Way of Seeing is such an accomplished record that it’s hard to believe it was self-released. Thank god for DIY!
19. Girls – Album (True Panther/Fantasy Trashcan)
This record has a distinct 50’s vibe mostly due to Christopher Owens’ emotive voice. He reminds me of Danny Zuko, this big masculine, leather jacket wearing guy with a voice that betrays his sensitive side. Musically, it hops around a little more from Beach Boys to My Bloody Valentine and places in between. The style doesn’t really matter though, because every song is packed with memorable hooks, the best of which is the epic centerpiece Hellhole Ratrace. A real beauty.
20. Mannequin Men – Lose Your Illusion, Too (Flameshovel)
About ten years ago a band like the Mannequin Men would have been hailed as potential saviors of rock n’ roll. Since rock doesn’t need saving these days, they flew under the radar. The Mannequin Men like the Strokes before them and the Replacements before them can’t decide if they want to be snotty or sensitive. The album cover and songs like Rathole and WTF LOL argue for the former, but Exquisite Corpse and Judy go for the latter. That’s what makes the Mannequin Men so essential, they can do both.
With each new Clientele record, the vocal reverb gets turned down further and the smooth pop thrills get turned up. I remember back in the day, you would have to strain to understand Alasdair MacLean’s lyrics because of the echo on his voice was so great. The Clientele are the perfect example of a band that have developed into accomplished and confident musicians along the road of their career. This is the fourth proper album, and I don’t know if I could say it is the best one, but it’s as good as any that came before which is saying something. It has an autumnal sound and feel to it, but turning it up as loud as you can will enhance your ability to soak in the sounds and pleasures that Bonfires on the Heath serves out listen after listen.
One of my biggest musical regrets of this year was that I missed Summer Cats when they played in Seattle this summer. It was a house party, and I can only imagine how they shook the joint with their energetic, anthemic indiepop. This was the year that we finally got a full album from these feline Australians after many singles and eps. Songs for Tuesdays plucked the best songs from their previous releases and injected some new songs as well as styles into the mix. The ace Stereolab-ish singles Let’s Go and Lonely Planet are included, but there were new favorites to be found like the lovely duet In June, the Triffids-like Maybe Pile and St. Tropez. A record that is perfect any day of the week or year for that matter.
These guys seem to get pegged as Fall fans, mostly because of Wesley Patrick Gonzalez’s off kilter, slightly tone-deaf vocals, but Let’s Wrestle are a whole lot goofier than the Fall ever were. In the Court of the Wrestling Let’s is a strangely titled record, but it gives you an idea of this bands slanted and enchanted take on life. Decidedly lo-fi, lo-budget, but spot on. Gonzalez has tons of bon mots, but the line No matter How many records I buy, I can’t fill this void could be the best lyric to describe record collector geek types ever.
It was a beautiful 85 degree day Saturday and 90 and sunny today in Seattle, so what does one do on such a perfect weekend? If you’re me, you paint your basement. Yeah, I’m an idiot. So in order to finish the painting, I had to move all of my cd’s out of the space they usually occupy. For most people this wouldn’t be a problem, but for me and I’m sure most music obsessed people it can be an endeavor. I got my son to help me out, and he was totally into grabbing stacks of plastic jewel cases out of shelves from one side of the basement and putting them in piles on the other side. In the midst of moving all this plastic, it was funny to hear his thoughts. Things like:
Dad, you have a lot of cd’s.
Dad, you have a thousand cds.
Dad, how many cd’s do you have?
Dad, you have too many cd’s.
Dad, you’ve gotta quit buying cd’s.
My wife came to the conclusion of those last two many years ago. I admit it, I am an obsessed collector, and I love sitting down there, with music going, just going through them, and remembering back to where I was and what I was doing when I bought or was totally into a certain album. The only time I hate the cds is when I have to actually move them. That’s when I see the absurdity of it all. What in the hell am I doing with all of these, and what exactly is the point in having all of this music. So right now in the corner of my basement there is a cube of cd’s sitting there looking pretty absurd, but once the painting is done and the move is over that silly nonsense of questioning myself goes away and I’m back to my obsession. Ahhh, I can’t wait until the relief of that, right now I’m feeling a bit uncomfortable wondering if I should get help for my problem.