Zebra Hunt, Unlikely Friends & Seacats at the Sunset Tavern, Seattle | 2 June 2017
Over the last five years it seems like many of my favorite Seattle bands have either broken up or left town. A few new ones have come up to replace them, but it seems like we’re in a slight lean period compared to the previous bounties we’ve experienced. Friday night at the Sunset in Ballard three Seattle bands provided some much needed rain on the parched fields of the Seattle music scene. Zebra Hunt, keepers of the Seattle pop flame, were celebrating their second album seeing the light of day courtesy of Spanish record label Tenorio Cotobade.
If you haven’t heard, Zebra Hunt are Seattle’s answer to the classic Flying Nun jangle of the 80’s and the current day jangling explosion of bands from Australia. If you’re old and dig the Clean and the Chills or young and love the Twerps and Chook Race, then Zebra Hunt will fit nicely into your wheelhouse. Having employed Jack Endino to record it, their sophomore effort improves on sound quality and sees no let up in song quality.
Focusing mostly on the new record the band played a great set for the home crowd and provided after show cupcakes decorated with their album cover. Since the last record Zebra Hunt have added a fourth member to the band to help flesh out their sound. The additional guitar and keyboard combined with their already stellar rhythm section increases the impact of the Zebra Hunt experience.
Singer and songwriter Robert Mercer writes about ordinary life but supplies an element of mystery to to his songs by being economical with the details. He is of the Raymond Carver school of writing. You get stories of house hunting, evening walks, listening to records in the kitchen and Foxhill Drive in 2005 with clues to what happened but no answers. I Wont’ Blame You house hunting backdrop sounds partly inspired by Courtney Barnett’s Depreston which was inspired by Paul Kelly’s To Her Door, which was inspired by Carver’s short stories. The lineage is impeccable. With the release of In Phases, the band now have a larger trove of treasures to pull from for their live shows with a virtual guarantee never to disappoint.
Unlikely Friends were coerced out of their sabbatical to provide support. A BOAT and Math and Physics Club team-up, the group features the um, unlikely combination of both band’s singers, except on this night D. Crane had lost his voice . Probably due to the previous weekend’s BOAT reunion show or some rogue virus, the voiceless Crane replaced his voice with a message he wrote on a series of notebook pages that littered the stage. The band was in triage mode with Charles Bert of MAPC taking over most of the vocals but letting the drummer Chris have some leads as well. They persevered and kept their sense of humor about them. Look for a second album and hopefully more shows from these underdogs when they’re restored to full power sometime in the not too distant future.
Opening the night were Seacats. Formerly of Kelso-Longview, but now apparently based in Seattle. The two singles I have of theirs give the impression that their a silly, happy-go-lucky sort of band, but as I walked in it was in the middle of their heavy stuff. I think it was their nuclear bomb song. Then they switched singers and pulled off a sublime psych-pop number and I was thoroughly confused. I wasn’t sure what to make of it all, but at least it was interesting!
The older I get the more I think that there should be a new music moratorium every January so that you can catch up on all of the stuff that you missed from the previous year. Yeah, I know that ain’t gonna happen. So here we are. It’s not quite mid-January, and here I am hoisting upon you dear readers one more 2013 list. I promise that this is the last one. It’s kind of a special one because it is my favorite records from my adopted hometown. If I didn’t live in Seattle some of these records would have been in my best albums of the year. Also, if I didn’t live here I probably would have missed some of these since you actually have to live in a local scene to hear the local scene. Here is the best stuff that I discovered through osmosis, going to shows, and reading local blogs and papers. Picking a favorite record from my fair city is like picking a favorite child. I love them all the same, at least that’s what I tell them.
Universe People incorporate the sweetness of Dolly Mixture, the arty obtuseness of Wire, the irreverence of the Fall and humor of the Intelligence onto their debut album. This, in my book, is the perfect elixir.
In a year where major web sites seemed to publish Morrissey’s every move, former Harvey Danger Sean Nelson released his debut solo album that was as literate, sharp and self-deprecating as anything the Mozzer has done in the last 20 years. Throw in some cocktail jazz and some Zombies psychedelia and you have a pretty darn good album.
Formerly known as Evening Meetings, the rechristened Dreamsalon tighten things up a little on Thirteen nights and aren’t afraid to let the hooks fly. Post-punk dourness that is part moody Echo and the Bunnymen and part piss and vinegar of the Fall through the lens of Seattle punk cognoscenti.
One of only two EP’s in this list of records, but well worth checking out. Trevor Dickson is in the Nightgowns, but here he takes a dash of Sinatra, some Joao Gilberto and some northwest ingenuity to come up with Summer Legs, one of the best songs I heard this year.
Four girls from a city with barely a hint of sunshine and marginal wave action d make a timeless glassy sounding surf record. They sound like they’ve been doing this for ages. The guitars shoot the curl and the harmonies flash off the water like rays of sun in your ears.
The debut album from Wimps gives me the impression that they’re punk classicists. Repeat is the classic punk formula of guitar, bass and drum and a healthy sense of humor courtesy of Rachel Ratner’s knack for being able to make life’s disappointments still sound disappointing, but with in an irreverent humorous slant.
Sometimes when a band consistently releases great albums filled with hooky pop people start taking them for granted. Pretend To Be Brave is their fifth album of slightly fractured, eternally hopeful indiepop. BOAT continue to capture my imagination, I wish more people would allow themselves to be swept up into their brightly colored superhero world.
The Purrs deliver again with another hallucinogenic masterpiece. Guitars swoop and dive in and out while singer and bassist Jima takes you on a ride in a derailed monorail to some seedy interstellar locale. The perfect soundtrack to navigating globular clusters.
stream: Purrs – Over and Out
Math and Physics Club – Our Hearts Beat Out Loud (Matinée)
Math and Physics Club have certainly been called twee, but on their third album they veer more towards soft rock and that is no bad thing. Kids these days have a penchant for Paul Simon and Cat Stevens records, and MAPC with their sweet and tender songs evoke those fellows while still keeping their indiepop/twee roots intact.
stream: Math & Physics Club – We Won’t Keep Secrets
Chastity Belt shocked the internet with their band photo that featured singer Julia Shapiro wearing a steak locked over her crotch. Based on last year’s Ponytail single, we already knew that they could be insolent and funny, but could they deliver a full album that sustained that brashness? Chastity Belt seem to not give a shit about anything except making good record,s and they’ve succeeded at that. Fuck everything else.
stream: Chastity Belt – James Dean
Jetman Jet Team – We Will Live The Space Age (Saint Marie)
Erik Blood better watch out, because Jetman Jet Team are coming up fast in his rear view mirror to try and usurp his shoegaze king of Seattle crown. Heavy MBVisms abound, but they also incorporate some of the whiteout techniques of Flying Saucer Attack and even some of that smoke and mirrors hypnotism employed often in 1970’s Germany. This is mind-expanding,tremelo bending, psychotropic miasma.
Poor Neighbors. This was scheduled to come out as a 10″ EP on Manic Pop Records, but the release date unfortunately coincided with the implosion of their record label. Left to their own devices, the band released this as bandcamp virtual record. That’s unfortunate because my record player would have gotten a real thrill playing this record which takes Pavement, REM, Camper Van Beethoven and the Wedding Present throws it into a blender and comes up with best smoothie I ever had.
stream: Neighbors – What You See In Me
We Are Loud Whispers – Suchness (Hardly Art)
Sonya Wescott who you may remember as half of Arthur and Yu made a trans-Pacific album with Ayumu Haitani who resides in Japan. While the obvious parallel is the Postal Service and the electronic blips reinforce that parallel, We Are Loud Whispers are more ear tickling and anthemic. I get the feeling that they’ve got a few Field Mice and St. Etienne records on top of owning everything that Morr records has ever released. Subtle and sublime.
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.
Even when you are on vacation the cogs of the city continue to grind. The music may slow down a bit in the hazy shade of the summer months, but it doesn’t stop. Seattle radio station to the world KEXP has a summer concert series at the Mural Amphitheatre at the Seattle Center and this Friday’s show is an indiepop lover’s wet dream. Seapony, Math & Physics Club and Arthur & Yu offshoot Gold Leaves will take the stage this Friday afternoon starting at 6pm. It’s free and there’s a beer garden. Music is free, beer is not.
Another free summer show I’m looking forward to is Cairo’s strangely named Vibrations Festival. With a name like that you would be forgiven for assuming it’s a reggae festival. At least it’s not called the Positive Vibrations Festival. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s all indierawk man. It all goes down at Veteran’s Park on Saturday, 20 August. You can climb the stairs to the water stand pipe and walk through the conservatory between sets from Grass Widow, Charles Leo Gebhardt, Purple & Green, Flexions, Metal Chocolates, Stephanie, Witch Gardens, and Seapony (again).
All of the above is well and good if you live around here. If you don’t, just know that Seattleites think summer is when the temperature reaches 70 degrees Fahrenheit and the sun makes an appearance for at least 15 minutes in a 24 hour period. What do you do besides suffer from Seasonal Effective Dissorder year round? Listen to music I guess.
The Glasses are about to release their third album and in the absence of Tullycraft they are taking over the crown of the Emerald City’s writers of undeniable, saccharine-twee songs. Their new record is called Love Is Queer and they play a record release show down in Georgetown on Friday, 26 August. Grab the album for free over at their bandcamp page.
It’s not often that a new label is birthed around here so we should all give thanks for Fin Records which has a bunch of 7-inch singles available for your consumption. My favorite so far is the Seacats single. Both songs are plucked from the band’s Metal Music album that came out a few months back, but sometimes it’s nice to have the best songs on a slab of wax and that is what Fin Records has done. Seacats evoke a bunch of NW bands. Long Winters, Boat, Modest Mouse and Young Fresh Fellows all come to mind. What are you waiting for?
The Dutchess and the Duke have ceased to be, but as you may have heard, the Duke Jesse Lortz has a new thing he’s calling Case Studies. It’s not a far cry from his previous band. The album is about to be released on Sacred Bones. It was recorded in the rain shadow of Sequim (pronounced Skwim) over on the Olympic Peninsula with the help of some Crystal Stilts.
Supposedly Arthur and Yu are still a thing, but Grant Olson has put that band on ice for the time being and donned the moniker Gold Leaves. The Seattle Weekly wrote a nice piece on the album where Olson describes the record as his R & B, doo-wop, country record. If you appreciate obscurities like Fred Neil, Moose, Jack Nitzsche, and Jim Sullivan then this record is meant to be in your house.
Not quite Seattle (though I hear they’re trying to trade up to Seattle from Portland), Orca Team have a cassette release on Seattle label GGNZLA. Kissing Cousins is more of their uncanny 50’s zombie sock hop vibe. Not only are they good, but apparently they are prolific as well.
When making a mix tape I always liked to put a mellow song at the end. For this post Seattle’s Emuul provide that effect. Emuul is the moniker that Kyle Iman goes by. His new EP The Drawing of the Line isan excercise in how to be sublime. It will pick you up and set you on a pillowy cloud, massage your temples and put you in a dreamlike state.
I need to take a break from this list making business. What better way to do that than with some mulled wine. Since you can’t download spirits, how about some holiday music? Matinée records down in Southtown (ie. Santa Barbara) have gotten into the festivities. After decorating their coastal live oaks, and hanging their wet suits out to dry they’ve put together a five song holiday ep containing original Christmas songs by the likes of Math and Physics Club, Northern Portrait, Champagne Riot, Bubblegum Lemonade and Strawberry Whiplash. New traditions are always a good thing, so why not try out these brand new holiday songs?
If the eggnog isn’t doing it for you and one mp3 isn’t enough to help you shed the holiday blues, then here are a few extra holiday songs of the cover variety to help you through. Math & Physics Club have offered up their version of Marshmallow World. Up here in Seattle, it hardly ever snows so we have to invent ways of making it a white Christmas by OD’ing on sugar.
Moving a little ways down the coast to Oxnard, Catwalk are busy getting ready for the holidays with their best Alvin and the Chipmunks impersonation. Wonder if there’s a way to play and mp3 at 45 rpm to really make it sound like the Chipmunks?
Seattleites have been blessed with quite a lot of good record stores, and most of them thankfully are still in business. Our luck in having so many outlets in the city to spend money on records may be tenuous at best, but as they say carpe diem. That is exactly what Chris Mac has done by starting up a new record store / mail order. The store is called Jigsaw Records, and is due to open it’s doors here in Seattle this Saturday. As I said, Seattle has more than its fair share of record stores, but up to now it did not have one that focuses on indiepop. Jigsaw promises to do just that. The store will sell records from small to tiny labels from around the globe, and it promises to be all things “indiepop, power pop, indie rock, lo-fi pop, twee, and pretty much any other kind of fun pop music that we fancy”. So, if you’re looking for a pop record from Europa, Peru, the Philippines, or Swaziland, Jigsaw is the new place to stop on your treasure hunt . Not sure if there are any indiepop bands in Swaziland, but if there are I bet you’ll be able to pick up their 7″ single at Jigsaw.
The store opens this Saturday morning at 11am, with the grand opening festivities starting 7pm that night with Math & Physics Club making their return (has it really been two years since they last played) and D. Crane from BOAT playing. The store is located in Ballard in the upstairs part of Resolution Audio and Video at 5459 Leary Ave NW, probably right next to Dissonant Plane another record store in the same space that specializes in drone, noise and death metal. So while you’re filling up on sugar coated pop, you can also get your allowance of death metal all in the same stop. Talk about convenience.
If you’re interested to read more about the state of Seattle record stores, the Stranger interviews a handful of the city’s proprietors for an article in this week’s issue. One of the questions they ask the group is would you open a record store now? The article doesn’t talk about Jigsaw, but it would have been interesting to get the perspective someone doing just that.