Taking after Gang of Four, Joy Division, Dead Kennedys and more recently Viet Cong, Savak stir up the pot right from the get go by naming themselves for the Iranian secret police under the Shah of Iran. They probably won’t be invited to play at Oberlin College in Ohio, but I doubt they care. Featuring members of Obits, Nation of Ulysses, the Cops,Holy Fuck, Edsel, et al, these punk rock veterans know what they’re doing and will not be dissuaded or deterred.
Former Obits guitarist and Edsel front guy Sohrab Habibion and former Cops front guy, Mt Fuji records proprietor and Seattleite Michael Jaworski share vocal duties throughout. Their styles mesh well and lend themselves well to the earnest and tempestuous songs. You can hear the old DC punk influence of the Dischord sect mixed in with some good old fashioned That Petrol Emotion acerbic energy on Alive In Shadows, Drop the Pieces, Call It a Night and Early Western Traders. Traders also features some great skronky saxophone that makes it an easy highlight of the record. Elsewhere you can hear some REM influence on Reaction and Burned by a Fever which should keep listeners with fainter hearts engaged. Best of Luck In Future Endeavors is a solid record with something on it for old punks, new punks and punks in training.
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.
Obits | Lights | Unnatural Helpers at Neumo’s | 16 May 2009
Neumo’s felt like a greenhouse Saturday night, partly from the 75 degree day we had and partly from the blistering sets from all three bands which kept the temperature quite tropical throughout the night. I arrived mid-way through Unnatural Helpers‘ sweaty opening set. The band just singed to Sub Pop spin-off label Hardly Art but have released an album and single on Seattle label Dirty Knobby. The band do post punk/hard core that reminds me of bands like Holy Rollers and Candy Machine from back in the 90’s DC/Baltimore scene. Guitarists Leo Gebhardt and Brian Standeford do time in Idle Times and bassist Kimberly Morrison has another gig in the Dutchess and the Duke, leaving drummer/singer Dean Whitmore the defacto head helper.
The Lights were very good, so good, I wondered as they steamed through Victims of the Pleasure of the Sense of Hearing from their first album if the Obits could match the intensity of these Seattle angular noise-nicks. The Lights played mostly all new songs, with a few old favorites thrown in to string us along. The old songs weren’t really necessary to keep me interested, but everyone, myself included certainly appreciated hearing the afore mentioned Victims, probably their most straightforward pop song. I shouldn’t have really doubted the Obits’ ability to rock. Their pedigree for rocking is unmistakable considering Rick Froberg’s former face blistering bands Drive Like Jehu and Hot Snakes. I mentioned how it was hot, well at least hot for Seattle. During the Lights’ set there was a woman at the front with a hand fan that she waved the entire set. The Lights played faster, she danced and waved the fan faster. I don’t think it was doing much good, and she was probably making herself hotter as fast as she was waving it. I lost track of her during the Obits set, but I’m guessing she may have passed out sometime during their ripping, heat inducing set. The Obits started off a bit wobbly with the first two songs not really hitting on all cylinders, but they owned the room by third song. Oddly it was the only one in which former Edsel front-man Sohrab Habibion sings lead. Something seemed to click with the band at this point, whether it as them just taking a couple songs to get warmed up, or if it was the first song in which Froberg and Habibion combine not only guitar but voices as well for the chorus. From then on the band were on it with lightening hot Pine On, the tense eeriness of Light Sweet Crude, and the just plane fun Back and Forth. Now that the album has been out for a few months I had a better familiarity with the songs that I was missing last summer at SP20 and earlier this year down in the ID. My familiarity also made the way Froberg’s and Habibion’s intertwined guitar riffs play off each other become much more apparent. Their styles are different, Froeberg delivers his surf-punk licks juxtaposed with Habibion’s post-punk, but they combine to create a tense wallop. The other half of the band are no slouches either, bassist Greg Simpson drummer Scott Gursky laid down some pretty amazing riffs as well, the best being the intro to Two-headed Coin which starts with Simpson’s bouncing bass line over Gursky’s shaker’s and drums. The way these guys play together you can tell that they’re totally digging and exploring their sound, It seems like a simple straightforward formula, but the Obits add an experienced complexity to it that is easy to miss because they make it look so easy. It’s almost as if they rock without even trying.
Here are the rest of the Obits’ west coast dates with the Lights:
May 19 – Blue Lamp, Sacramento CA w/ The Lights
May 20 – Bottom of the Hill, San Francisco CA w/ The Lights
May 21 – Cellar Door (CA), Visalia CA w/ The Lights
May 22 – Spaceland, Los Angeles CA w/ The Lights
May 23 – Casbah, San Diego CA w/ The Lights
Here ya go, something for the weekend. It’s the March installment of the the Finest Kiss Basementcast. If this is going to become a regular thing, I guess I should get a theme song and some back ground music for the talking parts. A real microphone might be nice too, one of those big foamy ones would be perfect. Maybe I should get some advertisers too. Naah, I kind of like the furnace as my background noise, at least until I sell out.
Obits – Two Headed Coin
France Has the Bomb – Invisible Angle
Coconut Coolouts – The Spinaround
Lime spiders – Just one Solution
Vic Godard – Vertical Integration
Wake the President – Professor
Comet Gain – You Can Hide Your Love Forever
Rakes – Muller’s Ratchet
Intelligence – 16&17
A Frames – Death Train
Dead Mellotron – Dress Rehearsal
Crocodiles – Neon Jesus
Kay Kay & His Weathered Underground – Diggin
Camera Obscura – My Maudlin Career
Pale Sunday – The White Tambourine
Mayfair Set – Desert Fun
Liechtenstein – Everything’s for Sale
Jane Wiedlin – Cool Places
Smittens – the Interstate
Blue Jungle – I’m a Ninja
Rose Eleanor Dougall – Another Version of a Pop Song
Crystals – Then He Kissed Me
Richard Hawley – Rockabilly Radio
Johnny Kidd and the Pirates – Shakin All Over
Pete & the Pirates – Blood Gets Thin
Apparently the Obits were in town strategicating with their label about the upcoming release of their debut long player due on 24 March on Sub Pop. They must have been really itching to play because they took over a half-constructed restaurant dubbed Fen’s Party Palace in the ID and threw what to amounted to a big house party. There was no cover, no stage, no bar (bring your own beverage), a single dangling light bulb for light and a fiery, take no prisoners set from the band. Fen’s was very full, especially considering the circumstances of a Monday night, no promotion and vague location details. I’m guessing when they return for their May 16th date at Neumo’s, it will be packed.
Probably the most recognizable thing about the Obits is Rick Froberg’s angst ridden, screaming drawl. Froberg’s former bands, though never insanely popular, each of them (Pitchfork, Drive Like Jehu and Hot Snakes) definitely garnered rabid cult followings with their complex and aggressive sounds. In all of his former bands Froberg’s foil was guitarist John Reis (who also fronted Rocket From the Crypt and now is in the Night Marchers). In the Obits, Froberg’s foil is Sohrab Habibion formerly of Washington, DC band Edsel. Back when I used to live in the nation’s capitol, Edsel were one of my favorite DC bands. They never really fit in with the Slumberland, Teenbeat, Dischord or Simple Machines scenes, don’t get me wrong, they were rooted in the DC scene, but their taste for UK post punk made them stand out from the hard core or indie pop scenes and set them apart in my mind. Edsel was fronted by Sohrab Habibian and Steve Raskin, they both sang and played guitar. The guitars and voices played off of one another whirling it all into tight tense songs.
Going back and listening to both Hot Snakes and Edsel you can really hear the similarities in how the guitars play off of one another. Dueling guitars seemed to dominate in both bands so it’s pretty damn cool that these two guys are in a band together. Last night the PA was non existent so Froberg’s voice was difficult to make out and on the song Habibion sang it was doubly so, but it didn’t really matter, the Obits were lighting up the room with their playing. Froberg’s guitar played the straight man most of the night, while Habibion’s danced around at odd obtuse angles. The Obits’ guitar interplay relies heavily on its super tight rhythm section. Greg Simpson looks like he owns the bass, even when it’s not his own and drummer Scott Gursky exuded power and control even while drumming with a maraca. The set got off to a dubious start when Simpson broke a string during the first song, the Unnatural Helpers (naturally) offered up their bass to set things right again. As I said, the vocals were low in the ‘mix’, but the songs jumped out at you. So much so that they could have all been instrumentals and the set still would have killed. They did both songs from the currently sold out Stint 7 inch which are both excellent, but they weren’t even the highlights of the set. Definitely looking ahead to 24 March when the full length hits the streets!