Inside Mammoth Penguins

mampeng

You may remember Emma Kupa from Standard Fare who released two fine albums of polite indiepop and called it a day two years ago. Since then, Kupa has switched from bass to guitar, found some new band mates and started a new band called Mammoth Penguins. Their first album is called Hide and Seek. Of course it has similarities with Standard Fare and if you aren’t the inside baseball type of indiepop fan you could be forgiven for thinking it’s a new Standard Fare record.

For you inside baseball folks, Mammoth Penguins excel more in fuzzy and rawkus guitar licks than their forebearers and they also seem like they’re having more fun. Heck they’re even game for throwing in some 60’s girl group style ooh-ooh’s except it’s they boys doing it.  Some of the reviews I’ve read lament the fact that Mammoth Penguins sound a little less polished, but I like things a little unhinged in places. And not to worry, everything is held down by Kuppa’s easy voice and her great lyrics. She has a way of making fractured relationships and social anxiety sound fun and romantic. She also has a keen sense of what it’s like to be in your late 20’s having an early mid-life crisis. The record has elements of Courtney Barnett, the Lucksmiths and Comet Gain easily switching between sweet and sublime to shouting and rocking the while keeping you on the edge of you seat with the lyrics.  I’m not sure why they’re called Mammoth Penguins and you’re sure to get an odd look if you recommend them to friend. Hopefully your friends won’t be put off by a few over sized penguins.

Mammoth Penguins’ album Hide and Seek is out now on Fortuna Pop!

Finnmark! Or I Saw the Northern Light

finnmark!

The first thing I noticed about Finnmark! when listening to their debut album Things Always Change was how much the first song on the album Can’t Go On reminded me of Synchronized Sinking by the Lucksmiths. The second thing I noticed was how much better recorded it was than their EP from a couple of years ago. Then I noticed that beneath all their Scandanavian imagery the group are from Leeds in the UK. Apparently the band was started in a kitchen in Gothenburg. No information what they were cooking at the time.

The album has an austere wintry feel to it that feels a little bit like Cats on Fire and sometimes like Wild Swans. Singer Edward Forth has a friendly melodramatic baritone that brings the sparse arrangements to life. On upbeat songs like Transpennine Express and Cardigan Fields the guitars jangle enough to make you move your feet. On Losing My Style they even get a little rowdy and trash someone’s kitchen at a party.  The songwriting is top quality throughout the record. The minimalist Northern Coastline is a favorite of mine. Forth is accompanied by an acoustic guitar on this ode to isolation and death that recalls Morrissey’s Everyday is Like Sunday.  The only (slight) misstep was the inclusion of a cover of Guided By Voices’ Jar of Cardinals (from Vampire on Titus). It’s a good version in that it takes the lo-fi tape hiss of GBV and adds some organ to make it sound almost lush, but their originals are better in my opinion. If you are in the market for one of the best indiepop album of the years you should notice Finnmark! too!!

You can stream and buy the album at Beko’s Bandcamp page.

Get Comfortable with Math and Physics Club

Tae Won Yu's Cover for Math and Physics Club

Math and Physics Club have just released their third album on Matinee records. Recorded in the Dub Narcotic studio in the heart of (K)Olympia, Our Hearts Beat Out Loud sees the Seattle-Olympia band incorporating a more varied set of influences while still adhering to their sweet and tender indiepop aesthetic.  The band seems to have gotten their feet back under them after something of a lackluster sophomore album. It’s not that their rocking out now, to be sure Math and Physics Club have one speed – slow and easy.

Slow and easy and maybe a little subversive. Many famous crooners had dark sides to their lily-white public personalities and singer Charles Bert with his sweet tenor sings about getting drunk on cherry wine,  Ok maybe he doesn’t have a dark side like Bing Crosby, but hey, he’s singing about getting drunk.

The band paint the ten songs on this album using various brushstrokes. The album’s first song We Won’t Keep Secrets features a wonderful guitar lead that sounds like it was lifted straight from Paul Simon‘s Graceland. Though its title evokes the Smiths, I Know It’s Over starts off with a blast of harmonica that immediately brings to mind the Housemartins. The wonderful country-tinged story song Thank God I Met You is good enough to have been on Billy Bragg‘s Don’t Try This at Home. The most upbeat song on the record Long Drag was rightfully released as a 7-inch single earlier in the year. With its hand claps and spitefully delivered lyrics, it is the standout song on the album. The band even employ an anthemic quality to That’s What Love Is. In another band’s hands it might become U2-esque, but Math and Physics Club keep it in the armchair. Math and Physic club continue to deftly operate in their understated, slow and easy way and in Our Hearts Beat Out Loud have made a comfortable record with a few subtle surprises.

stream: Math and Physics Club – That’s What Love Is (from their third album Our Hearts Beat Out Loud)

Boomgates Do It Naturally


There is something about certain Australian bands and records: The Go-Betweens‘ 16 Lovers Lane, Paul Kelly and Coloured Girls‘ Gossip, the Triffids’ Born Sandy Devotional, the Church‘s Of Skins and Heart, the Lucksmiths‘ Warmer Corners, the Saints‘ I’m Stranded, Twerps‘ debut, Eddy Current Suppression Ring‘s Rush to Relax. A diverse set of albums, but all them have something about them that sets them apart and makes them distinctly Australian. They have a sense of  urgency and isolation, a poetry about them and a way of sounding laid-back while singing about intense and decidedly unlaid-back  topics in their songs.  Yes, you could argue that the Saints and ECR don’t sound laid back, but the Saints brand of punk had a sense of space and playfulness about it (especially on their second album) that set it apart from your typical punk band of the day.

The Boomgates debut album released earlier this month on Bedroom Suck deserves to be included in this list of great Australian records.It’s a ray of sunshine, a faded photo, a favorite tattered shirt, a perfect companion and a kick in the pants. So good, I had to go track by track to review it.

Flood Plain – could be about a relationship, the downfall of our civilization or simply about how some people inexplicably build their houses in flood plains. The take-away of course is don’t think it can’t happen to you because the next 100 year flood is right around the corner.

Layman’s Terms – This gets a dust off from last year’s 7-inch, but even I, who listened to this song way too many times on a 7-inch have not grown tired of this beauty that harkens back to the Go-Betweens beauty.

Cows Come Home – This one reminds me a little of a Bats or Magic Heads song (“Hold all the butter till the cows come home” anyone?). Steph Hughes voice is so sweet on this, Huntly’s spoken word part lends some gravity, and the line “Because I’m a hundred years old” lends a sense that this was written by an old soul

Natural Progression – The guitar riff sounds like a super slowed down ECR song. “I got stuck in a lift went down”. Huntly and Hughes sing the entire song together and there are parts where it sounds like he’s dominating and parts where she does. There are some great harmonies that remind me a little of Free Design and Veronica Falls. Self-doubt ensues, “I’m making mountains out of mole hills”

Cartons and Cans – A song about recycling? No, of course not.  “There are so many things I should do that should have already done.” The whistling is flawlessly done. Any band that can incorporate a whistling part and not make you cringe is operating at higher level.

Whispering and Singing – Side two kicks off with a freight train through the bedroom.  Huntly sing’s “Don’t know when you’re leaving” and it sounds like a train whistle while the rhythm section chugs along. Firehose wrote a song called Whisperin’ and Hollerin’. Whispering and Singing probably has nothing to do with Firehose, but it reminds me of them and this is a good thing. Boomgates are ragin’ full-on here.

Hold Me Now – Not the Thompson Twins song. This is a nice one, but it’s kind of a break from the full-on, no let up that this record has been to this point. Even a lesser song by the Boomgates sounds pretty good. Expertly sequenced to allow for a rest, and quite a nice siesta it is.

Hanging Rock – Jangly into. “I gave it all with my genuine leather, you gave me more with your 100% cotton blend.” Friends become lovers, pull their socks up to picknick at a Hanging Rock and then fall apart. Infatuation and those first moments. Newness and the constant search for that initial feeling. Fleeting. That’s why it’s so great. Anything that good and intense will never last. Well maybe it will if you pull your socks up and keep listening.

Everything – “All the dishes keep piling in the sink”, reminds me of my college days. Living with five other guys and no one would do their dishes. Man, it made me feel like dying old. The drums keep building and building while the guitars get more intense. Finally either someone dies or does the dishes. I’d like to think that he did the dishes before he died.

Any Excuse – Every album needs a great closing song. Actually does it? Does anyone listen to a record all the way through in a sitting. I do, and I appreciate it when a band has the sense to put a song at the end that sounds like it should go at the end. The guitar sounds like it was directly lifted from the Velvet Underground which is no bad thing. It also has a little bit of a honky-tonk feel to it.  Huntly ends up in a two minute refrain about turning the soil, watering your garden, giving it love, and watching it grow.  Amen!

The Boomgates album is out in Australia. If you live there hit up Bedroom Suck. In the States head to Goner or Amazon if you’re looking for mp3’s.

Lucksmiths: Not Camera Shy; Make a Movie


I remember the first time I saw the Lucksmiths live.  I was living in Washington, DC and the band was over playing their first ever DC  show.  It was at the Galaxy Hut in Arlington, a tiny bar where they clear  away a few tables to allow bands to play when they have bands.  It was around the time of  A Good Kind of Nervous, their third album and the first one to be released here.  I also remember they had a new single they were selling too, their first single for Matinée, the Untidy Towns 7″.
Not sure what to expect, I had dragged my girlfriend, my sister and her boyfriend along to the show anyway. I don’t remember if the place was packed, but it was pretty full, and with people who may or may not have been fans of the band. The Lucksmiths proved to be charming fellows as I recall and their jovial infectious songs and personalities easily engulfed the tiny room. Tali sang and played drums standing up and with brushes!? Marty played his guitar like he was in the Wedding Present and Mark’s bass playing had a groove and adroitness to it that belied their twee songs. Marty was the main songwriter and he had a clever way with words that could bring the mundane to life. I hopped aboard the Lucksmiths train that night and never got off.
I had the opportunity to see them play and few more times over the years but I was still kind of bummed they never made it back to the States for a farewell tour after announcing that they were calling it a day. As a farewell to everyone that couldn’t make it to their farewell shows the band have released a DVD of their final show at the Corner Hotel in Melbourne. It features a cover painted by Mark Monnone, 30 plus songs few special guests and top quality sound. The DVD also contains a short film that follows the band on their run-up to their last shows and final recording session. So if you missed those final shows, or have been a fan but never had the opportunity to see them live, it is your good fortune that the Lucksmiths are not camera shy.  So, darling roll the window down, come round if you’re not too busy and get your copy today from Matinée here in the States or Lost and Lonesome in Australia.


The Lucksmiths Are Back With First Frost

The Lucksmiths are back with their first new album since 2005’s sublime Warmer Corners.  It’s not like they’ve been away that long though.  Last year they opened the vaults with a career spanning double cd called Spring a Leak that was one of the best stop gap releases in the history of such things.  The band  even made the trek over here to the states for a tour last fall.  So they haven’t exactly been missing in action, but it has been some time since their last album of all new material.  The new record which has been christened First Frost was apparently recorded in a run down shack in Tasmania, where they had to fight with mice to get all of the songs recorded.   You can read all about their recording adventures down in Tasmania from Marty Donald’s recording diary.  Chris Townend, who has worked with Portishead and former label mate Darren Hanlon, is did the honors of producing the album.  So what does it sound like?  The band have put up a trio of songs from the new record on their MySpace page.  The whole thing hits the streets at the end of this month.

Order: First Frost (in the US | in Austrialia | in the UK)
mp3: The Lucksmiths – Good Light (originally on Matinee Hit Parade, also the second track on First Frost)

Erin Go Bragh!

It’s noon somewhere
What is St. Patrick’s day, but an excuse to tie one on? Being that we are repressed, puritanical Americans we need an excuse to drink, because if you just drink because it makes you feel good, well then you have a problem. Me, I don’t save up my drinking for Erin Go Bragh, I prefer to spread it out all year. As for these songs, I have been saving them up for just this occasion! You may notice the absence of any Pogues songs, it just seemed way too obvious.

Salad – Drink the Elixir – I’m not sure what exactly the elixir is that Marijne van der Vlugt is refering to, but I like to think it’s some kind of blue kamikaze concoction that you’ll be regretting the next morning. (from Drink Me)

Lucksmiths – Beer Nut – Out drinking with your friends, getting booted out of the pub, and then trying to get home. A typical night out put to music by the incomparable Lucksmiths. (from Happy Secret)

Los Lobos – I Got Loaded – Only if it were always like this, getting loaded and then the next morning feeling all right. Yeah, right. (from How Will the Wolf Survive?)

60ft Dolls – No. 1 Pure Alcohol – That would be grain, though not pure it’s the closest you can get without killing yourself. (from The Big Three)

Rosco Gordon – Let’s Get High – Getting drunk with your significant other, this may or may not be a good idea, but back in the 50’s I guess it was de rigueur. (from Sun Records Collection)

Camper Van Beethoven – Wasted – Punks, Surfers, Skaters, Hippies, etc. everyone does it. The Camper’s take on this Black Flag song is classic funny from Lowery’s dude-like vocals to the Jonathon Segal drunk violin. (from Telephone Free Landslide Victory


Gene – Sick Sober and Sorry – Don’t you hate it when someone tells you that you’ve had enough? Poor Gene got a raw deal because they sounded like the Smiths a little too much. Who cares when you write good songs like this, one of my favorite Gene songs and one of my favorite drinking songs for that matter. (from To See the Lights)

Jack – I was Drunk in the Underworld – This songs gives me the feeling of wondering the streets after I’ve had a few too many, when everything feels just a little weird. (from Wintercomesummer)

The Triffids – Once a Day – This cover of the Bill Anderson classic is the highlight of the Triffids’ In the Pines. I guess you don’t have a problem if you only drink once a day. (from In the Pines)

Jazz Butcher – D.R.I.N.K. -Aahhhh, Max Eider can really play the guitar, and he’s a pretty darn good singer as well. This cocktail jazzy number makes you want to umm…. drink. (from Draining the Glass)

Divine Comedy – a Drinking Song – Neil Hannon’s early records were minimalist baroque bliss. This song is perfect for any drinking occasion, and will give it a little class. (from Promenade)

Mathew Sweet – The Alcohol Talking – With excellent guitar from Richard Lloyd, this song is about the ugly drunk. I didn’t want to give you the impression that getting loaded is always fun and glam. (from Earth)

Frank Sinatra – Drinking Again – There are so many reasons to drink, and of course the best reason is when you’re feeling sorry for yourself because some dame has left you. (from The Reprise Collection)

Tom Waits – The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me) – When you’re drunk it’s always someone else’s fault, and there’s always someone that’s had more than you. I always thought it was a bit odd that this song was played at the end of the Jennifer Jason Leigh film Georgia. (from Small Change)

The Fall – White Lightning – This Big Bopper classic needs no introduction. I can totally see Mark E Smith runnin’ moonshine. (from Shift-Work)