Tags: Animals That Swim, Cheveu, Creation Factory, Field Route, Group Doeh, Gurr, Hollie Cook, Priests, Proper Ornaments, Rose Elinor Dougall, Uranium Club
I must admit, I’ve been distracted of late. I’m sure you all have been as well to some extent. Sometimes you just can’t bring yourself to write about this great new song you’ve heard, because you realize how unimportant it is in the grand scheme of things. That doesn’t mean I don’t save them up, and it doesn’t mean that I have stopped listening to music. If anything I’ve listened to more music lately. It’s a distraction and provides escape, hope and pleasure. So here are a couple handfuls of records that have gotten me through the first month of 2017.
In the it came out in December, who releases a record in December category.
Minneapolis smart ass punks released album number two at the end of 2016. Minutemen/Firehose genius combined with Devo hyperactive geekiness. Too weird to be cool for some but right up my alley.
In the I totally missed it category
Quantic & Flowering Inferno ft Hollie Cook
Hollie Cook has album number three on the docket for this year, but at the tail end of last year the brogues hipped me to this little number she did with Quantic & Flowering Inferno. So good!
The album In My Head by this Berlin duo was on a few best of lists and for good reason. Great indie pop that reminds me a little of the Blake Babies and the Breeders.
In the 7-inch single is not dead and they even sell out category
We are only one month in and Field Route have already released one of the best 7″ singles. Bring it on!
Another classic sounding 7″. Yeah I know the 45 is on its deathbed, but quality over quantity is the rule of the day. I think both of these records are sold out, but each can be purchased as a download.
In the who releases a record this good in January category
Rose Elinor Dougall – Stellular
Former Pipette took six years to follow up her solo debut, but it is worth the wait. It’s swirling blend of the Horrors, Goldfrapp and Siouxsie and the Banshees. Rose doesn’t look very goth, but she certainly leans in that direction ever so slightly.
Priests – Nothing Feels Natural
This record has two personas. The A-side is funk-punk that is a cross of Pylon and the Big Boys, the B-side is the post punk cool down that gets moody and melodic. Thankfully the band put an Interlude to divide things up for those of us who can’t always be in front of our turntables.
Proper Ornaments – Foxhole
Album number two from this trippy Velvet/Chills loving band. Not sure they’ve ever surpassed that first EP, but I love to hear them keep trying.
In the genre bending category
Group Doeh & Cheveu – Dakhla Sahara Session
French punk weirdos Cheveu team up with Western Sahara guitarslingers Group Doueh in an unlikely match. It’s crazy and out there and one of the best records I’ve heard this year.
In the buried treasure gets reissued category
Animals that Swim
Back in the day when you had to read about records and decode whether or not it was something you might want to spend money, I read a review of Animals That Swim debut album and decided to take a leap. I instantly fell in love with their quirky little songs that painted imaculate pictures in my head about the downtrodden, mundane and odd things in life. Pink Carnations, Madam Yvonde, How to Make a Chandalier are all essential. With this reissue you get the original album as well as genius b-sides and unreleased tracks to boot.
I think they might have finally broken the US as you can buy a copy of this reissue from Target, though I’m not sure I’d recommend it.
Tags: Buffalo Springfield, Chop Suey, Dragnet Records, Grateful Dead, Mazes, Proper Ornaments, Seattle, Trouble In Mind, Ultimate Painting, Universe People, Velvet Underground, Veronica Falls
Remember when Ride lost the plot after Going Blank Again and tried to morph their sound into some neo-psychedlic 60s blend of the Byrds, Velvet Underground and Buffalo Springfield but ended up sounding like the Black Crowes? Tuesday night at Chop Suey the UK’s Ultimate Painting demonstrated the tangent that Ride should have taken. Their set brimmed with paisley tinged psychedelia that trod the fine line of subtle melodic turns, buzzy droning and all out jams.
The group’s self-titled album came out last year on Chicago’s Trouble in Mind. The record has a subdued sound to that features major nods to the Velvet Underground’s prettier side, but live they crank up the danger levels into White Light / White Heat territory. Talking Central Park Blues was a great example of this, with Jack Cooper taking the lead on this New York narrative that is their sister Ray making it sound a lot more energized than the recorded version. Cooper also plays in Mazes. In Ultimate Painting he shares guitar and vocal duties with James Hoar from Veronica Falls and Proper Ornaments. It seems like a true collaboration, with both contributing to the songs. Cooper may take a lead vocal, while Hoar takes the lead guitar part, and both contributing harmonies to the other’s vocals.
They also included a couple new songs from an album that they said would be coming out in August. One of them showcased the influence of the Grateful Dead (Casey Jones) that I hadn’t noticed before, but is fairly obvious given the group’s twitter icon. The set closed with with Ten Street which they turned into an extended jam. The rhythm section provided a great stage for Cooper and Hoar to get a little crazy playing off of one another, going into a few rabbit holes of guitar goodness. It lasted for about 10 minutes but it could have gone on for 20 and no one would have complained. Live Ultimate Painting seem to have an innate sense of when to head off on a tangent extending their solid album into something better and much more interesting.
Ultimate Painting’s self-titled album is out on Trouble In Mind.
Seattle’s Universe People opened the show playing songs from their two albums as well as new one. They were solid as usual. They’re jerky angular songs keep you on your toes. The Modern Girl, Chemistry, Druids and Vampire Prison were all present in their set and demonstrated how great this band is.
Tags: A Sunny Day In Glasgow, Alpaca Sports, Alvvays, Butter the Children, Chook Race, Clap! Clap!, Cold Beat, Ex Hex, Flowers, Gotobeds, Gwenno, Hollie Cook, Hookworms, Lauras, Nun, Omi Palone, Paperhead, Peter Escott, Pheromoans, Pow!, Primitives, Proper Ornaments, Protomartyr, Quilt, Ramona Lisa, Rat Columns, Sea Pinks, Skygreen Leopards, Sleaford Mods, Small Reactions, Soundcarriers, Sugar Stems, Talbot Adams, Tee-Tahs, Total Control, Ty Segall, Ultimate Painting, Univers, Vertical Scratchers, Vic Goddard, Woodentops
Here are the non-Seattle albums that spun the most in my rabbit hole over the past 12 months. The countdown starts with number 40, so you will have to scroll all the way down to find number one. For the first time I think, it contains some albums that did not see a physical release. With more and more music being exclusively released to air conditioned server farms I wonder if we’ll see a day when the minority of the list is made of records that had the privilege of getting a physical release? Most folks with all of their fancy means of consuming streams of music call that progress. Me, I just try to roll with it.
40. Cold Beat – Over Me (Crime On the Moon)
Truth be told, I like Cold Beat more than Hanna Lew’s previous band Grass Widow. The post-punk vibes on Over Me are just the right mix of early Dum Dum and Vivian Girls melodies and the spiky, jangly playfulness of Wire and Tubeway Army. High points like the stellar Mirror hit the ungodly sweet spot of driving beat, dissonance, and melody.
39. Hookworms – The Hum (Domino)
My main complaint with the Hum is that it’s nearly a carbon copy of last year’s number one album Pearl Mystic. The same interludes that have roman numerals for titles and it even contains last year’s number one single Radio Tokyo. That complaint is also why I still love this album. It’s nothing new, but it’s totally solid.
38. Skygreen Leopards – Family Crimes (Woodsist)
It’s hard to believe that Skygreen Leopards have been a band since 2001 and that this is their eighth album. The band have been quietly churning out wonderful psychedelic beauties inspired by Buffalo Springfield, the Byrds and the Television Personalities for quite a long whild. This may be their most accomplished record to date, and if you like this, there is a treasure trove of Skygreen Leopards to discover.
37. Small Reactions – Similar Phantoms (Self-released)
Another self-released record in this year’s count down. I have a feeling in another year of two the list will be a majority of self-releases. Atlanta’s Small Reactions conjure krautrock from the below the Mason Dixon line. Influenced by Can, Stereolab and probably the Wedding Present, which makes them strangers in a strange land. Similar Phantoms is the real deal with some amazing bass playing (I’m still in awe that it’s not machine). Tons of pulses and killer grooves that will vibrate and rattle your too comfortable existence.
36. Pheromoans – Hearts of Gold (Upset the Rhythm)
If you were to judge this album by its cover you might think that Pheromoans are an odd lot who are into druids, fantasy game-play and general weirdness. You would be mostly right. This equally prolific and obscure band have released their most consistently entertaining album yet, knowing how to keep things interesting with just the right amount of weirdness and melody.
35. Ramona Lisa – Arcadia (Terrible)
Ramona Lisa is solo nom de guerre of Caroline Polachek of Chairlift. Obviously influenced by Kate Bush, Cocteau Twins and Goldfrappe, but still able to make esoteric synthetic sounds in a mold all of her own. This record seemed to get written off as just a minor solo excursion by most, but it delighted me throughout the year and I have a feeling it will continue to do so for a long time to come.
34. Vertical Scratchers – Daughter of Everything (Merge)
You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve seen this record in the used bins around time. Every time I see it I fight the urge to buy it again and gift it to someone. John Schmersal was in Brainac and Enon and you can hear those bands in Vertical Scratchers, but it’s the organic feel to it that harks back to the Elephant Six collective of the 90’s that really makes it endearing.
33. Rat Columns – Leaf (RIP Society)
Rat columns achieve a zen like balance of murky depths and pristine shimmery pop. Guitars glisten with rays of light over a cold dark expanse. Rat king David West likes to straddle the extremes the way that the Church and the Cure always did. Recorded with the help of Kelley Stoltz, Leaf is just the right elixir of light and dark.
32. Alpaca Sports – Sealed With a Kiss (Luxury)
Sweden’s Alpaca Sports is most definitely twee, but their brand of twee is almost subversive. So cute and cuddly that you know that they have a dark side. They probably hide their death metal records when friends come over. Sealed With a Kiss is a record that could melt a cold dark heart with its sweet sugar charms. You can always hide it when your metal friends come over to visit.
31. The Lauras – The Lauras (Self-released)
There’s something both so right and so wrong about giving away an album this good for free. Wrong, because there was a time when bands this good could sell records. Right, because well, music this good for free is like free beer. You can’t believe your luck. Halifax, Nova Scotia’s Laura’s would not have been out of place on the One Last Kiss compilation that came out on SpinArt in 1992. Their swirling guitars and ethereal vocals remind me of the Lilys and the Swirlies with a bit of bossa nova thrown in for good measure.
30. Ty Segall – Manipulator (Drag City)
My main complaint about der wunderkind Ty Segall has been his inability to be consistent. He seems to have conquered this weakness on his double LP Manipulator. Taking a T-Rex blueprint and running with it he strings together 17 songs that maintain consistency throughout. The kid may have finally done it.
29. Pow! – High Tech Boom (Castle Face)
Hi Tech Boom is a commentary on the current state of affairs in certain desirable cities. Techie nerds with their high salaries and bad taste are infiltrating the system and making it nearly impossible to eke out a living. No one knows that better than Pow! who come from the San Francisco bay area. Their post-apocalyptic vibes are akin of Devo the A-Frames and the Intelligence. And you thought Logan’s Run was just a movie.
28. Flowers – Do What You Want To, It’s What You Should Do (Kanine)
Recorded with former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler this London trio won me over with their minimalist approach that evokes the sparseness of Young Marble Giants, the smart intensity of the Spinnanes and the melancholy melodies of Everything But the Girl.
27. Talbot Adams – Talbot Adams (Spacecase)
For all intents and purposes, this was Talbot Adams’ debut album. Last year’s download only album was made up mostly of acoustic self-produced home recordings was a self released download only record. Now he has a proper band and has delivered an electric powerpop record with a psychedelic streak to it.
26. Univers – L’estat Natural (Famelic)
Barcelona based moody rockers Univers live in the sun, but sound like the moody cellar dwelling southern cousins of Girls Names, early Cure and Big Country. L’estate Natural is sung in their native Catalan, adding a bit of mystery to its onslaught of soaring and darting guitars.
25. Ex Hex – Rips (Merge)
Mary Timony has been in her share of good bands. She could proudly retire with her resume of Autoclave, Helium, the Spells, and Wild Flag. Thankfully she’s not ready to hang up her axe. Ex Hex is in different league from all of those bands. Slick pop inspired by Cheap Trick and the Pretenders that is all killer and absolutely no filler.
24. Sugarstems – Only Come Out at Night (Dirtnap)
Sugar Stems singer Betsy Heibler has an amazingly strong voice. It easily cuts through her band’s twin guitar powerpop attack. Containing a great mix of Cheap Trick, the Bangles, the Nerves, this is easily one of the best powerpop records of the past few years.
23. Vic Goddard – 1979 Now! (AED)
Somehow Vic Goddard has been hoarding this treasure trove of northern soul since 1979. The guy can really keep a secret. A few have leaked out here and there like Holiday Hymn, but the majority are brand new to nearly everyone. Classic stuff 35 years later from the postman who thankfully rings twice!
22. Paperhead – Africa Avenue (Trouble In Mind)
The third album from Nashville’s Paperhead has a definite antique glow to it. Africa sees the band maturing quickly and features their best songs yet. In the garage-psych realm of things (Face to Face era Kinks and Rubber Soul Beatles) it don’t get much better than this.
21. Butter the Children – True Crime (Self-released)
Former members of Brooklyn’s Sweet Bulbs follow up their 2012 self-titled EP with a stormy noisepop beauty that features the siren-like vocals of Inna Mkrtycheva. This album is too good to be a free download, but that’s what it is. Everyone count your chickens!
20. Sea Pinks – Dreaming Tracks (CF)
On the fourth Sea Pinks album former Girls Names drummer Neil Brogan continues his west coast jangling affectations only this time he adds a cello into the mix with superb results. The cello adds a melancholy element to his airy songs making for the best Sea Pinks album yet.
19. Proper Ornaments – Wooden Head (Slumberland) / Ultimate Painting – Ultimate Painting (Trouble In Mind)
Veronica Falls guitarist James Hoare was a busy guy this year and there wasn’t even a new Veronica Falls album. He was at the center of two excellent records this year nonetheless, both of which shared an affinity with the Velvet Underground. For the first act, he teamed up with the Argentinian Max Claps in Proper Ornaments for a haunting set of songs that added in some Left Banke for good measure. Act two was Ultimate Painting, his collaboration with the Mazes’ Jack Cooper. This one was more straightforward Velvets stuff, but great songwriting refurbished a tried and true model.
18. Quilt – Held In Splendor (Mexican Summer)
The Boston band’s second album surpasses their good debut with a batch of psychedelic circle dances that sparkle and shimmer, effortlessly creating their own brand of psych with one foot in the past and other in the next star system.
17. Omi Palone – Ome Palone (Faux Discx)
The singer of Omi Palone has a baritone voice that makes you wonder what Calvin Johnson is up to these days. It’s a little more polished than that Olympia band’s oeuvre, but contains many of the same unique melodic twists and turns. This London band have quietly released a concise and economical (it’s only 8 songs) of blistering jangle reminiscent of Beat Happening, Butterglory and the Clean.
16. Nun – Nun (Aarght!/Avanti)
Melbourne’s Nun play dark, piercing, icy coldwave inspired music. Their debut album sounds so cold and detached that you’ll need to bundle up and experience it with friends to withstand its isolation inducing aura.
15. Soundcarriers – Entropicalia (Ghost Box)
I love how Nottingham’s Soundcarriers use their Free Design influence as inspiration. At times sounding as innocent as that late 60’s / early 70’s cult band and others they can sound sinister and mysterious. They even enlist the help of Elijah Wood on a 12 minute trippy soliloquy to add to the surrealism of the entire endeavor.
14. Chook Race – About Time (Self-released)
About Time was only released in December, but the debut record from this Melbourne trio is so immediate it easily climbed into the upper reaches of my top 40. The album is filled with boy-girl harmonies and jangling guitars that have similarities with the Bats and early REM.
13. Sleaford Mods – Divide and Exit (Harbinger Sound)
This was the year that Sleaford Mods blew up. Well, at least in certain internet circles. They are certainly better known than they’ve ever been. Their distinctly British style of rap is not for the faint of heart, as this duo rages against the ruling class machine and mainstream bullshit over spare and ragged beats. No one else this year sounded this angry nor delivered their angst in such a manic and entertaining way.
12. A Sunny Day in Glasgow – Sea When Absent (Lefse)
A Sunny Day in Glasgow turned a major page on Sea When Absent. Previously they were a mild mannered shoegaze band that kind of floated through you with little effect. They’ve kept their shoegaze roots, but morphed into a bigger life affirming pop band that demands attention with their new form of shoegaze gospel.
11. Peter Escott – The Long O (Bedroom Suck)
Peter Escott is also the singer of the Native Cats from Tasmania. On the Long Glow Escott wrote, played and rececorded everything. He sticks to piano and other keyboard oriented sounds that evoke an understated psychedelic tone that warms the sole and fits comfortably next to Frank Tovey, the Cleaners from Venus and Robyn Hitchcock.
10. Woodentops – Granular Tales (Cherry Red)
After reuniting to play some shows the Woodentops finally decided to record a follow up to their 1988 album Wooden Foot Cops on the Highway. You know it’s the Woodentops as soon as you hit play, though the band don’t come off as hyper as they did 25 years ago which wouldn’t make sense since it’s been so long. It’s decidedly darker but still danceable and utterly delightful.
8. Gwenno – Y Dydd Olaf (Peski)
Former Pippette Gwenno’s first solo album is a strictly Welsh affair. Inspired by Welsh sci-fi writer Owain Owain and sung in Welsh, Y Dydd Olaf is a sublime affair with rubbery beats, ethereal vocals and spacey vibes in the vein of Broadcast and Stereolab.
7. Total Control – Typical System (Iron Lung)
On the follow-up to 2011’s Henge Beat Total Control dial up a slightly more sedate and accomplished collage of synth-based pop. Lead by Australian garage rock luminary Mickey Young, the band delve into Ideal Copy era Wire, New Order and Depeche Mode territory while keeping their punk rock urgency and attitude intact which is truly a feat.
9. Alvvays – Alvvays (Polyvinyl)
This year’s countdown contains five self-released albums. There’s a ton of great records out there, only there aren’t enough labels to release them. Apparently this record came out as a self-released cassette over a year ago because they couldn’t find a label to release it. Polyvinyl finally came through to make this dreampop beauty available to the world at large.
6. Clap! Clap! – Tayi Bebba (Black Acre)
Tayi Bebba is something of a concept album where Italian maestro Cristiano Crisci takes you on a megatransecto of an island’s micro climates, villages, pastures and other not so physical planes. He uses a palette of sounds culled from field recordings, tribal rhythms, creek crossings, big beats, jungle vibes and trade winds to paint quite an adventure of a record.
5. Gotobeds – Poor People Are Revolting (12xU)
Pittsburgh’s Gotobeds like a good double entendre peppered with a tight jagged riff. Their debut album, is an elixir inspired by Pavement, the Fall and Wire (obviously) and packed full of adolescent energy, anger, spite and most importantly fun.
4. Primitives – Spin-O-Rama (elefant)
A couple years ago Coventry’s Primitives reunited and released a covers album to mixed reviews. It turns out that it was just a warm up to the real goods. Spin-O-Rama surpasses all of their early work. It’s slightly more understated, but more long-lasting. They still deal in autumnal and sprightly 60’s inspired pop but the production is more sedated and the hooks are longer lasting this time.
3. Hollie Cook – Twice (Mr. Bongo)
Hollie Cook’s second album is more tropical pop from the daughter of Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook. Her collaboration with Prince Fatty continues to produce sensual reggae infused pop, filled with strings and Cook’s easy croon. Twice is great batch of songs including her ode to her former bandmate Slits singer Ari Up.
2. Tee-Tahs – Buzzkill (self-released)
I don’t know what the legal limit of fun is in Edmunton, Alberta is, but Tee-Tahs have undoubtedly exceeded it on their debut album. This band doles out kinetic, irreverent fun. They’ve got an ear for a good chorus and can role phrases that are guaranteed to rile certain segments of the population. On Fun Forever they sing, “Kicking cans and breaking stuff, Fucking guys in parking lots, I don’t really give a fuck, I just wanna have fun forever.” It’s the Undertones’ Teenage Kicks updated by a bunch of Rat Babes for the millennial bunch.
1. Protomartyr – Under Color of Official Right (Hardly Art)
Earlier this year Protomartyr frontman Joe Casey wrote a review of the latest Interpol album because apparently a lot of people think his band sound like them. For the record, Casey doesn’t think they sound like Interpol and neither do I. They definitely have some post-punk roots, though more along the lines of the Chameleons (think Return of the Roughnecks), but there’s more, so much more here! Casey is one of today’s best lyricists who talks more than sings over his always solid and inventive band. They cook their Detroit roots into each of the tracks on Under Color of Official Right. The name of the album, the legal term for extortion, was inspired by the corruption trial of former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. There are few albums these days that make you actually think. Protomartyr do what the best punk and and postpunk records from the past have done, grab you with their hooks and then send you to the library to do some research.
Tags: Aias, For Ex-Lovers Only, Fungi Girls, Heavy Times, Math & Physics Club, Mirah, Proper Ornaments, Sourpatch, Talbot Adams, Yuck
I bought way too many seven inch singles this year. I’m not trying to brag. It’s a problem really. The seven inch is like crack to the record geek, a fleeting moment of pop perfection and then it’s off to either flip the record or put on another one. This was a daunting task this year and I feel like I left out a lot of stuff, but a top 60 would have been too much and limiting it to 40 makes you have to really decide, what were your favorite singles of the year. Here are numbers 40-31.
I admit that I hadn’t paid much attention to Mirah in recent years, but I do pay quite a lot of attention to Mississippi Records, so that led me to buying this record. The song Don’t appeared on the compilation The Old Days Feeling in a different version, but that version didn’t prepare me for this Patsy Cline inspired beauty. It has a warmth that you might not have thought that records could have any more and the b-side The Tears That Fall with its strings and horns is no slouch either. This record makes me pray that she’s planning a whole album in this style.
San Jose’s Sourpatch owned my record player for a good part of the year and just as I had properly killed their album Crushin’ they go and release this single to take over my record player again. They called the sides to the single This side and Other side, but I call them Tiger Trap side and Small Factory Side. In my little corner of the basement where the record player sits that is as close to perfection as it gets.
mp3: Deli Dream
Every band should have a self-titled theme song and Barcelona’s Aias do just that with their horn laden song Aias. These ladies put a twist on the girl group, C-86 phenomenon by singing in Catalan. Note to old people who always say it’s a lovely tune but I can’t understand what their saying: Uh, yeah.
More 90’s sounds in this year’s countdown, you will quickly figure out that this is a recurring theme. Georgia first appeared on the split record Yuck did with Cleveland’s Herzog on the Transparent label. Fat Possum new a good thing when they heard it and smartly released it as an A-side themselves. The guitars remind me of Teenage Fanclub from their Bandwagonesque heyday, but Teenage Fanclub never had the secret weapon of girl harmonies.
This Orlando, Florida band lay down a slab of white noise in Coffin. A melody carefully buried underneath six feet of squalling guitars that does their namesakes proud. I wonder if the Magic Kingdom has a Black Tambourine ride yet?
For a second I thought BOAT picked up and moved back to Chicago. No, it seems that Heavy Times just mine the same vein of sloppy, but friendly sounding pop. Like BOAT, Heavy Times’ sound is steeped in the 90’s and these two songs will make you nostalgic for Hale Bopp, Boris Yeltsin, the Wonderbra and umm, Grunge.
mp3: No Planes
Guided By Voices with Beach Boys Ooohh’s is probably all that needs to be said about this former Black and Whites front man who became a dad and turned down the volume and intensity. What he left out in those two areas, he more than made up for in pop hooks. This single contains four songs all under the two minute mark. It’s like a cliffs notes for pop songs. Who said taking the shortcut never paid off?
Math & Physics Club don’t get out much but when they do they make the most of it. Jimmy Had a Polaroid was the first single from the band’s second album and not a huge departure from their previous output, but when you’ve got a timeless sound and the ability to evoke bygone nostalgia that makes you ache for those days of really awful photos that faded to nothing a week later, then why mess with a good thing.
mp3: Jimmy Had a Polaroid
Sometimes it’s not the A-side of a single that grabs you, hell the Smiths’ How Soon Is Now? was a b-side. Doldrums tucked away on the flip side of Turquoise Hotel has this great little riff that gets stuck in your head like glue. These youngsters from Cleburne, Texas have quickly learned the art of seduction and Doldrums is prime evidence. Looking forward to full swoon when album number two comes sometime next year.
Named after a Free Design song, the Proper Ornaments make warm, plaintive and fuzzy psychedelia. The Ornaments are two dudes who are no strangers to the seven inch single having been in the Sexy Kids and currently also in Veronica Falls. This is quiet and seductive music that is like a warm blanket on a cold night.