Welcome to the annual singles countdown here at the Finest Kiss music blog (is blog still the right term?). If you’re new here, we’ve been doing these singles countdowns since 2008. The basic rule is that it had to be released on a 7″ single to qualify, which as the years go by really limits the field. Also, it’s gotta be something I like, which narrows the field even more. Here are 30 records that I bought and loved in 2020.
1. Quivers – You’re Not Always On My Mind (Turntable Kitchen)
This song was bubbling around last year, got played a bunch on local Seattle radio station KEXP and finally got a 7″ release at the very tail end of 2019. So technically it’s a 2019 single, but this is my blog and my countdown and shipping from Australia during Covid takes longer than usual so You’re Not Always On My Mind didn’t arrive at Finest Kiss headquarters until early 2020. Quivers style of pop is close to the Catchers and the Go-Betweens with their gangling guitars, swell bass, and a contradictory chorus that is hard to forget. You’re Not Always On My Mind could have been single of the year in most years but thankfully it found me in a year when great pop songs were constant lifesavers and this one brought up my spirits on many occasions. Note, the band just released an album that covers REM’s 1991 Out of Time LP on Seattle label Turntable Kitchen that is well worth hearing as well.
I would like to thank Vicky Tafoya for bring back full circle in my love of girl group pop. I remember going through a phase of digging noisy feedback drenched lo-fi indie rock influenced by the Crystals and Shangri-Las. The Vivian Girls song Where Do You Run To is a prime example of this. Now that I’m older and wis…well I’m just older, I don’t necessarily need the difficult feedback to appreciate 60’s girl group pop. A perfect example of my evolution is this Vicky Tafoya single. Tafoya has been around a while, but hasn’t recorded much so I hope Forever isn’t a one-off single and that she’s just getting re-started.
3. The Cool Greenhouse – Alexa! (Melodic)
The Cool Greenhouse know comedy gold when they see it. Alexa! very humorously mocks those smart spearkers that folks can’t seem to live without. Alexa, email my credit card details to my contacts list. Alexa, open the pod bay doors. You get the idea. Cortana makes a guest appearance and the Cool Greenhouse continue to employ repetition (They are repeatedly making great records) to their advantage.
Powerpop never made anyone rich except for maybe Cheap Trick, but don’t tell Melbourne’s Romero. Honey is a brilliant debut single. A threadbare song that sounds like it was made in 70’s with a riff written with a four neck guitar in mind. It’s about something that mysteriously went down at the discotheque with killer chorus featuring vocals that bleed just a little into the red giving it a mysterious hazy urgency.
5. The Shifters – Left Bereft (Captured Tracks)
Left Bereft sounds like it could be set in a post apocalyptic world or today. According to the band it’s “an overly simplified rabble-rouser that people who maybe use English as a second or third language can understand and maybe feel a bit of solidarity. I like to imagine drunk students in France listening to it whilst wrestling on the kitchen table.” Their Fall-ism’s abound here, but it’s so good (and Mark’s gone) that I’m just happy there’s band doing similar stuff at such a top level quality while putting their own stamp on it.
6. The Radio Dept. – You’re Lookin’ At My Guy (Just So!)
By now, the Radio Dept. can do whatever they want and I’ll probably buy without even listening first. The A-side is a cover of the Tri-Lites 1964 single. The cover brings to light a 60’s soul influence that I hadn’t really noticed before now. It’s done in their own unique style. They seem to reach deep and go for throwback to Lesser Matters with more blown out guitars that gives it a more raw and lo-fi feeling. Even when they decide to pull a deep cut from the 60’s, this group continues to keep it fresh
7. The Umbrellas – Maritime E.P. (Syncro System)
This is what I always hope for when a band releases killer songs as download only or a cassette…that someone will see fit press it to vinyl. That is what happened with the Umbrella’s Maritime EP. Released as a cassette in 2019 and then straight to vinyl in 2020! The SF band push the right indiepop buttons, taking some raw Beat Happening and adding some Small Factory and Versus. And it ain’t just the right influences they’ve got songs too, four of ’em that’ll have you wishing for more.
8. Jeanines – Things Change (Where It’s At Is Where You Are)
Last year’s Slumberland debut LP was quite something and the band didn’t waste anytime following it up with this single. It continues their brilliant Siddeleys (they covered that band’s Falling Off My Feet Again) and Mama’s & the Papas (no cover yet) inspired pop. These four songs are a little more acoustic based, but still autumnal and jangle filled to the brim.
9. Ribbon Stage – My Favorite Shrine (K)
It’s easy to forget about stuff that’s up here in the Pacific Northwest. K Records down in Olympia have been keeping the International Pop Underground going since the 1980’s. Their release schedule has slowed, but quality singles like this Ribbon Stage 7″ continue to validate their importance. My Favorite Shrine easily falls into the Dolly Mixture – Vivian Girls – Black Tambourine category of lo-fi guitar pop with melancoly vocals buried in the mix to perfect effect.
10. The Altons – When You Go (Penrose)
Daptone started up their Penrose offshoot label this year to showcase the new soul in So-Cal (Soul-Cal?) and they didn’t hold back. Vicky Tafoya is up there at number two and here are the Altons at a solid number 10. The sweet soul falsetto will slow your life down and put you in an enviable state of mind where the rat race fades away, the sun is setting, the waves are lightly massaging the sand and you are reclined with your favorite drink taking it all in. This record really will take you there.
11. Fleur – Petit Homme De Papier (Bickerton)
Cool submarine bass-line, skronky horns (or are they kazoos), and a riff that transports you into a pair of flares strutting down a sunny Marseille boulevard circa 1967. It’s amazing what a analog record can still do in digital age. Fleur isn’t French and isn’t old enough to remember the 60’s (neither am I) but it’s so good that being fooled is half the pleasure.
12. Capitol – Weathered (Kingfisher Bluez)
Ontario, Canada’s Capitol (is Toronto) take a big step forward with this single. It’s moody, soaring, hopeful and blistering. It reminds me when I heard Interpol which reminded me of when I first heard the Chameleons which reminded me of how much I love sort of thing. Weathered has a great guitar lead, a circular melody and backing vocals courtesy of Charlotte Grace Victoria(ELIO) that takes this single to the next level.
13. Doug Shorts – Money (Daptone)
Chicago’s Doug Shorts has been flying under my radar for years. Daptone smartly snapped him up and has put out a handful of his singles over the past few years. This one is steeped in 80’s Rockwell vibes. The electronic flourished beats akin to Space Invaders fuels the greatness here because Shorts has a sincere delivery with no detectable note of irony. How good is Money? I have been known to be in the kitchen belting out “I’m about that money” on repeat while flipping pancakes on the griddle.
14. Love, Burns – Gate and the Ghost (Kleine Untergrund Schallplatte)
Pale Lights’ Phil Sutton steps out and starts another band with some of the usual suspects (Kyle Forester & Gary Olson) for this breezy single. Gate and the Ghost is pretty and brilliant with a Belle & Sebastian acoustic strum and Bluebells pop sensibility.
This four song single has lots going for it. Manic pop thrills along with slightly askew vibes that recall Pylon, Gang of Four and the Talking Heads. It’s hard to pick a favorite because they’re all great, but Mi Mi Mi Mascota with its twangy angular jabs applies its post-punk acupuncture to my tender spots.
16. The Tubs – I Don’t Know How It Works (Perfect)
Ex-Joana Gruesome folks go all in on the strummy jangle popularized by the Chills and the Bats in the early Flying Nun days. Both sides of this single are top notch. I Don’t Know How It Works is a plaintive strummy number while the flip Silver Moon with its keyboard bit has a strong Chills pedigree.
17. Shadow Show – What Again Is Real? (Hypnotic Bridge)
This Detroit trio released their debut album on the now defunct Burger Records. It was pretty solid but not flashy. This follow up heavy psychedelic single is great. It drips with garage cavewoman vibes and creates a green haze that fills your mind with weird hallucinations. B-side is a cover of the Feminine Complex song Is This a Dream? replacing the organ with dense guitars and essentially making it their own.
18. Astrel K – You Could If You Can (Duophonic)
Astrel K is Rhys Edwards of Ulrika Spacek. Where Ulrika Spacek do prog-psycchelic rock, Astrel K is more playful and terrestrial, exhibiting some Gorky’s Zygotic Mnyci-like eccentrics that make it a fun three minute and thirty second ride.
19. Typical Girls – Typical Girls EP (Happiest Place)
This Gothenburg, Sweden trio continue the long line of great indie pop from that country that seemed to peak at the end of the previous decade with that whistling song. The standout song on this three song single is Girl Like You which definitely has some similarities in its approach with the Concretes and Peter Bjorn and John. I for one am glad pop like this is still a thing.
20. Neutrals – Personal Computing (Slumberland)
The bay area band with a Scottish accent have a similar sense of humor to the Cool Greenhouse (see Alexa above). Personal Computing is Neutrals’ ode to old tech. The song is full of funny one liners for the over 40 crowd and 20 something computer geeks about the bad old days of personal computer when programs were delivered to memory from a cassette tape. The only thing missing here is the dial up modem sound.
21. The Reds, Pinks and Purples – I Should Have Helped You (I Dischi Del Barone)
22. Archers of Loaf – Raleigh Days (Merge)
23. CB Radio Gorgeous – Mid Fit (Thrilling Living)
24. Mt. Mountain – Tassels (Six Tonnes De Chair)
25. Vanishing Twin – In Piscina! (Fire)
26. Native Cats – Two Creation Myths (Rough Skies)
27. Ghost Power – Asteroid Witch (Duophonic)
28. Tommy and the Commies – Hurtin’ 4 Certain (Slovenly)
29. Tomorrow Syndicate – Populous (Polytechnic Youth)
30. The Nix – The Highest (Moshi Moshi)
1. Bentcousin – Bentcousin (Team Love)
I was genuinely surprised this record did not get more recognition, but maybe the world no longer pines for wonderful pop records? The Orange Juice meets St. Etienne album had it all, including a dynamite Dino Jr cover.
2. Chook Race – Around the House (Tenth Court/Trouble In Mind)
A lot of people still worship at the alter of Flying Nun. If you are one of those folk then I’m sure you were bowing down to this record all year. Best jangle pop album since the Bats’ Fear of God.
3. Whyte Horses – Pop Or Not (CRC)
Another record that seems to have flown under the mass media radar. Shame, because it is classic sounding stuff that shares a love of Stone Roses, Broadcast and Free Design.
4. The City Yelps – Half Hour (Odd Box / Emotional Response)
A noisy little thing full of piss and vinegar that had the lo-fi sensibilities of a Boyracer album and great story telling of Animials that Swim.
5. Field Music – Commontime (Memphis Industries)
The Brewis brothers released their best record yet, heck even Prince liked it.
6. Terry Malts – Lost at the Party (Slumberland)
The Bay area’s Terry Malts struck pop-punk gold on album number three where they combine old school punk like 7 Seconds with post punk wonder of the Chameleons. Every song is a killer sing-along anthem.
7. Woods – City Sun Eater In the River of Light (Woodsist)
Sometimes you lose track of a band after they release LP after LP of similar sounding music. On Sun City Eater the band incorporate African influences to brighten their sound and make a stand out record.
8. The Goon Sax – Up To Anything (Chapter)
Brisbane teen band who count Louis Forster the son of the Go-Betweens’ Robert Forster as a member got a lot of attention for that mere fact. Due to the album contained top quality indie pop akin to Beat Happening and the Pastels the attention kept coming all year.
9. Cold Pumas – The Hanging Valley (Faux Discx)
Moody post-punk that was a perfect soundtrack to this year of the winter of our lives.
10. Monomyth – Happy Pop Family (Mint)
Velvet Underground, the Byrds and fellow countrymen Sloan all figure into the recipe for this sublime and understated album.
11. Kikagaku Moyo – House in the Tall Grass (Guruguru Brain)
These Japanese renaissance men paint from a pallet of folk, psych and prog that meanders into dark fantastic places and then blasts out them into dry canyons on the California coast.
12. Lithics – Borrowed Floors (Water Wing)
This Portland band’s tightly wound, minimalist songs on Borrowed Floors always find their groove and then shatter floor.
13. Witching Waves – Crystal Cafe (Soft Power/HHBTM)
The sophomore album is chock full of swirling, jagged songs with ambient interludes. A perfect combination of rough and smooch.
14. The Pooches – The Pooches (Lame-O)
I love bands that write songs about obsessing about records and the Pooches Heart Attack is perfect in that regard. Combine that with a lazy southern jangle that reminded me of REM and you have a great album.
15. The Finks – Middling (Milk)
If you combine the easy going erudite nature of the Lucksmiths with the down home comfort of label mate Courtney Barnett you have this wonderful record from Melbourne’s Minks.
16. Real Numbers – Wordless Wonder (Slumberland)
Minneapolis’ Real Numbers finally release a full length album and their Television Personalities meets Buddy Holly inspired DIY pop is more then enough to fill two sides.
17. Terry – Terry HQ (Upset the Rhythm)
Terry and the Shifters (they shared a split cassette release a few years ago) carry the Fall torch down under. Terry are the hippy-Pavement side of the coin and dial up just the right amount of dissonant yawp on their debut LP.
18. Lion’s Den – Lion’s Den (Lazy Octopus)
Lion’s Den take their innate Swedish pop sensibilities and dirty them up with their brand of idiosyncratic garage rock, sounding sort of like the Intelligence meets Neil Armstrong.
19. As Ondas – Mares (Jigsaw)
Shopping spin off band mine some early New Order veins and insert some Young Marble Giants to create a beautifully understated record.
20. Snails – Safe in Silence (Self-Released)
I’m not going out on a limb by drawing a family tree that shows Snails at the tip of the Beatles, Kinks, Kevin Ayers, Kate Le Bon family tree.
21. Radio Dept. – Running Out of Love (Labrador)
These guys work at a slow pace so every record feels like an event. With barely a guitar in the mix this event was their mellowest outing to date, but no less arousing or compelling.
22. Proto Idiot – For Dummies (Bad Paintings)
I’m a sucker for any Television Personalities influenced band and these guys had me plunking down some cash for their smart UK garage punk.
23. Omni – Delux (Trouble In Mind)
Delux caught me off guard with its tightly wound and spiraling guitars that reminded me of Joseph K and Magazine, yet there is a slick 80’s quality to their sound that also evokes mainstream bands like Flock of Seagulls and Thomas Dolby.
24. His Clancyness – Isolation Culture (Maple Death)
A Classic Education’s Jonathan Clancy other band is a tour into a darker side of things. Book-ended by two excellent motorik tracks and stuffed with exquisite downtrodden pop reminiscent of East River Pipe and the Shins.
25. Tyvek – Origin of What (In the Red)
Origin of What is not quite the tour de force that 2012’s On Tripple Beams was, but Kevin Boyer and crew still deliver. The scope is broader and their social consious punk rock addresses wider topics beyond their native Detroit. Extra points for including Tyvek Chant because every band should have their own chant.
26. Rebel Kind – Just For Fools (Urinal Cake)
Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti group excels at jangly harmony filled wonder on their second album, combining influences like the Softies and Look Blue Go Purple.
27. Verner Pantons – First Album (Curly)
The Paisely Underground is long gone, but its influence is lasting as evidenced in Portland’s Verner Pantons. Dusty psychedlia with a slight country tinge will remind many of the Syd Griffin and the Long Ryders.
28. Kate Jackson – British Road Movie (Hoo Ha)
Former singer of the Long Blonds, Kate Jackson made this album years ago with ex-Suede guitarist Bernard Butler and there it sat until this year. Lucky for us that Kate decided to finish it. Jackson has a great voice and Butler’s guitar is a perfect compliment.
29. Savak – Best of Luck In Future Endeavors (Comedy Minus One)
Once a punk always a punk and these punk veterans made one of the best politically aware records of the year. A soundtrack for taking to the streets!
30. Lawrence Arabia – Absolute Truth (Flying Nun)
James Milne infuses his Harry Nilsson highly stylized pop with some dance beats and makes his best album yet.
31. Ural Thomas & the Pain – Ural Thomas & the Pain (Mississippi)
Ural Thomas has been a fixture in the underground PNW soul scene going back to the 1950’s. This record hasn’t received the attention that Charles Bradley’s Changes has but it’s just as good if not better.
32. Martha – Blisters In the Pit of Your Heart (Dirtnap)
UK sucre popsters deal in high fructose pop like Joanna Gruesome and Los Campesinos! It sounds better the louder you make it with power chords slapping you to attention and choruses that will make your head explode.
33. Honey Radar – Blank Cartoon (What’s Your Rupture)
If you prefer your pristine pop savaged by distortion and difficulty then Blank Cartoon will put the cobwebs into your clarity.
34. Puberty – Puberty (Born Bad)
Intelligence side project that sat in moth balls for a couple years. More tongue and cheek than the Intelligence with a decided nod to Tones on Tail, it may never have been said before, but this Puberty is fun.
35. Hooton Tennis Club – Big Box of Chocolates (Heavenly)
Produced by Edwyn Collins, the sophomore LP from Hooton Tennis Club takes the good parts of Britpop and adds their laid back style for a winning volley that sustains itself into extra sets.
36. Quilt – Plaza (Mexican Summer)
Quilt continue to hone their psych-pop on their third album and come up with their most consistent and satisfying record yet.
37. Flyying Colours – Mindfullness (AC30)
Australian shoegazerrs who like extra letters also like extra tremelo. A classic sounding record that sits comfortably next to MBV, Chapterhouse and Slowdive.
38. The Jangle Band – Edge of a Dream (Pretty Olivia)
Appropriately named Australians descending from the Rainyard and the Palisades, Edge of a Dream is a record you immediately feel comfortable with. Like an old friend you haven’t seen in years, but the conversation picks up like you saw each other yesterday.
39. The Prophet Hens – the Wonderful Shapes of Back Door Keys (Fishrider)
Wonderful Shapes was not as immediate as the Prophet Hens’ debut, but it has a lasting power to it. More complex and varied, it continued to delight and surprise me throughout the year.
40. Lake Ruth – Actual Entity (The Great Pop Supplement)
New York City’s Lake Ruth have an elegant baroque sound that feels a little bit like Broadcast meets Left Banke. Actual Entity was their debut album, yet it sounds like they’ve been at since the 60’s. A timeless sounding record with memorable songs.
Radio Dept. and Young Prisms at the Crocodile, Seattle | 12 February 2011
As the Radio Dept. left the stage after their main set, I wondered did we really need the band here? They had left the stage, but crackling and frayed recorded backing was still blasting from the PA. The song continued to Ebb and flow without the band even there. A minute passed and it peaked and then faded out, and I thought to myself, wow that sounded amazing and it was just a tape. We were left standing there hoping that the trio would come back out for another song because even with their pre-recorded drums and sounds, the Radio Dept. had just finished a solid set that put to rest any lingering questions I had about them not being able to do the live thing without a drummer. They had effortlessly created the early shoegaze of Lesser Matters, the cinematic sounds of Pet Grief and their newer jazz and Ibiza era New Order influenced songs and had left me and the rest of the Crocodile wanting more.
Apparently the band played Seattle back in 2003 at Chop Suey, as singer Johan Duncanson mentioned that he ran into someone that was at the show. That was after their first album Lesser Matters had come out here on Shelflife. I’ve got to imagine that it was quite a different show than the one at the sold out Crocodile last night. I doubt it had girls on their boyfriend’s shoulders looking like they were ready to throw undergarments on stage yelling for them and I doubt it had guys waving lighters above their heads during songs. Obviously Radio Dept are on the cusp of leaving, or have completely shed their cult status.
They pulled heavily from last year’s Clinging To a Scheme, but left out one of my favorites from the record, the noisy Memory Loss which sounds like it could have come off of Lesser Matters. A minor quibble really, and I’m sure everyone there could have easily named another five songs they wished they would have played, but they pulled highlights from all three records and some b-sided to try and satisfy on this rare trip over to the U.S. The set may have lulled a little in the middle, but when Heaven’s On Fire kicked in everyone perked up and they didn’t lose our attention for the rest of set. Duncanson and Martin Carlberg are both really good guitarists (Carlberg picked up his Gibson Bass for a few songs, but played it like a guitar) and Duncanson’s sleepy cool voice is no fake, sounding exactly like it does on record. I had heard reports that they come across as a bit reserved live and had heard some complaints about them being drummer-less, but the sound did the talking and more than made up for any Nordic stoicism the band may have. A lot of their music is fabricated from electronics on record , so it wasn’t as if they were faking it live. The opposite in fact, it felt as real as any show I’ve been to in the last year and hearing songs like David, 1995, Heaven’s On Fire and Ewan live was something I thought I’d never have the chance to do as this notoriously reclusive band rarely tour.
Set List (from memory so it may not be 100%): Freddie and the Trojan Horse | This Time Around | The New Improved Hypocrisy | David | I Wanted You To Feel The Same |The Worst Taste in Music | Messy Enough | Ewan | You Stopped Making Sense | Domestic Scene | Heaven’s On Fire | Never Follow Suit |Closing Scene | Encore: 1995
San Francisco’s Young Prisms opened and were way better than the impression they made on me with their EP on Mexican Summer and their recent album Friends For Now on Kanine. The came across as confident and competent in the art of shoegaze as well as garage. On record it sounds like it’s mostly a guy singing but live Stefanie Hodapp is the obvious singer and the band are much better for it. She reminded me more than a little like Rachel Goswell from her Slowdive days. They only played about 30 minutes, but it was more than enough to make me want to give their record another spin.
I’m sure there will come a day when we are all scrounging around for some semblance of a new good song to listen to and coming up dry. Well , that day ain’t here yet. Once again the mp3’s are piling up in my head, so here’s another Pop Overload to clear it out. Like the ones before, the Pop Overload is about both quantity and quality…and the bonanza continues…
Don’t have to call it a comeback, but Brideshead are. Germany’s Brideshead return with a four song 10″ after a long hiatus. Indiepop aficionados undoubtedly remember these guys for their two albums Some People Have All The Fun and In and Out of Love. It’s bright bouncy fun that isn’t afraid to let the sunshine flood in.
Outdoor Miners seem to be victims of geography. If they were from Denton or Brooklyn or LA everyone would be going all verbal on these guys. As it is they’re holed up Edmonton, Alberta probably frozen in some snowbank by now. This is their second single on Pop Echo. Both are limited to 300 copies and inexplicably still available. These should’ve sold out long time ago.
You’re probably saying to yourself, hey wasn’t Idle Times on the last pop overload? I can’t help it, the more I hear from their upcoming album on Hozac the more I can’t wait. Seattleites, don’t miss their next gig, September 30 at the High Dive with Coasting.
Seems the Crystal Stilts have come out of hiding with a new single and it could be the least unhappy (notice I didn’t say happy) singer Brad Hargett has ever sounded. It’s definitely late 80’s British in style, I hear the Railway Children. On the b-side they sound like they’ve been getting drunk and listening to country music. Weird, I think I may like their drunk country better than their 80’s Brit.
stream: Crystal Stilts – Shake the Shackles (on the way from Slumberland)
Alex Kemp (Small Factory) is back with Rat d’Hotel part deux in his three part series. Heart Goes Boom is understated and slyly danceable that will make you weak in your knees. Just as good as Rat d’Hotel part one, only this time with more rats.
The new Flight song from the upcoming Lead Riders EP is my favorite Flight since his Sweet Rot debut. It keeps the dark blown out Blank Dogs feel, but adds a slithery melody that snakes into your brain.
Philadelphia’s Reading Rainbow give us a teaser from album number two due from Hozac in November. It’s a big sounding song. They sound like they got a whole bunch of their friends to help belt out the song. Infectiously happy sounding and pretty much guaranteed to put a smile on your face while your wasting time.
Hypocrisy Is the Greatest Luxury, and Radio Dept. know it. This song hit the ether this week in advance of Sweden’s election. It’s a fair guess to say Sweden’s current right wing government is not the band’s preferred one.
I can’t remember a previous January where there has been this much new music coming out, but I’m old and my synapses don’t connect they way the use to. I do remember maybe a few releases trickling out at the end of January and then not much happening until March or April. Well, it’s a new decade and we’ve hit the ground running, out with the old, etc. The last few weeks have been total pop overload, and to give you an idea of the crazy amounts of good to great music that has made itself known in this very short year, I’m attempting this schizophrenic post. If any of you follow my wild and crazy finest kiss twitter feed some of this may be redundant. Twitter being what it is, you most likely forgot whatever it was I tweeted six seconds after you read it, so a rehash is in order to burn this stuff into your long term memories and to possibly give you same feeling of being overwhelmed by way too much good music.
I’ll start of this laundry list with the perfect song to start off a list of bands. The Felt Letters are a three piece form from DC with Brendan Canty of Fugazi on drums. They sound like another DC band, Girls Against Boys. The way Ian Svenonius slithers his dilivery makes you think at first your are hearing some long lost GvsB single. The similarities to Scott McCloud are uncanny, but Svenonius is a hell of a lot funnier: 600,000 bands: 50,000 sound like Can, 50,000 sound like Manfred Man. I’m startin’ one like Cool and the Gang…The bass sound gotta be fixed. It sounds a little like Robert Fripp.
The Radio Dept. have been teasing us with EP’s every 11 months or so, but they’re finally threatening to release their 3rd album. The album is called Clinging To A Scheme and will be out in March. This teaser was posted on the Radio Dept. site last week. Cue salivation.
Portland’s Eat Skull, besides putting out the formidable Wilde and Inside last year on Siltbreez, have just unleashed a 7″ single on the venerable Woodsist. From what I’ve read they’ve actually signed to Woodsist, whatever that means these days.
Speaking of Woodsist, the Fresh & Onlys have a new 7″ out on the label as well. To this point I’ve been luke-warm about the band. Each release, and there have been many, has a few good songs but they get drowned out by the other ones. I have to say that this new Woodsist single may be their best release yet. Yeah, I know these songs come from a previously released tape.
I know nothing about French Kissing except what I read on the Weekly Tape Deck, which is very little except to say they have a very limited single upcoming on Sleep All Day Records. Oh, and they’re from London and the A-Side to the single totally rules.
Has it really been five years since the last Lali Puna album? No, Faking the books came out back in 2004 so it’s been six. Wow, I missed them, and this song emphasizes that. I remember Faking the Books was kind of a let-down after the near-brilliance of Scary World Theory. What will the new album Our Inventions be like? If Remember is any indication, quite good.
Along a similar trajectory as Lali Puna, Pikelet‘s Weakest Link has me looking forward to this Austraian’s second album. Pikelet is Evelyn Morris, and she seems to have good grasp of what sounds good. Album number two is entitled Stem and it’s due in February on Chapter Music, home of the Crayon Fields and the Twerps. Thanks to Rose Quartz for the heads up.
Last week I got friended on mySpace by London-based Yuck. At first I thought eww, but then I listened to their Lily’s / Medicine song Georgia, and then I listened to the moody Automatic and I was smitten. No hard copy releases yet, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time.
It’s been a few years since the watershed Andorra was released by Caribou. And a few more since they had their run-in with Handsome Dick Manitoba and had to change their name from Manitoba to Caribou. Dan Snaith (leader of the pack) is back after a couple years absence with the first fruits of his forthcoming album Swim. This has to be the most overtly dancy thing Caribou has ever attempted, and it’s pretty much a full on success.
I have to admit that I haven’t really paid much attention to Horowitz, but the song that Cloudberry has made available from their upcoming single has me wondering why that is the case. Two and a half minutes of fuzzed out pop bliss never goes out of style.
One more from Cloudberry, the latest from Sweden’s Sad Day For Puppets. If you haven’t heard their album Unknown Colors or the preceding EP Just Like a Ghost, then this just might be the perfect introduction.
I was going to do a list of my favorite records of the 00’s, but as I was getting my list together I started to realize it was kind of boring. Really, how many music blogs do you need to tell you the same thing? That’s when I began thinking about the records that came out over last 10 years that I thought were criminally ignored, or just didn’t seem to get a fair shake. So what I’ve got for you is a list of my most underrated albums of the decade. Every one of these records shoulda been a hit, but because the world is a cruel, cruel place they never were.
Putting this list together was a lot of fun, because it allowed me to make amends for some records that I missed the year they came out. There is not a year that goes by that I don’t discover my favorite album from the previous year in March of the next year. And so it goes….you’ll find a lot albums on this list that never made one of my year end lists from the past ten years. I can assure you though, that everyone of these would make my top 100 albums of the aughts. I just thought focusing on the underdogs would be a little more interesting than seeing some list with the same records as every other list out there. Hope that I have half-succeeded. Oh, and yeah, I know that the decade is officially over at the end of 2010, but I start counting at zero.
This was one of those buys where I was in a record store flipping through CD’s and saw a cover that caught my eye. I remember opening it up and seeing that Dan Treacy of Television Personalities had written the liner notes and thinking, that it’s got to be good. Unheard, I bought this at some overpriced record shop in Paris (I’m so cosmopolitan) and it soon thereafter became my favorite record for months on end. It’s got elements of Mazzy Star and shoegaze, but seems to carve out it’s own space making it kind of unclassifiable and kinda special. They would put out three more albums in the decade, but none came as close to perfection as Lank Haired Girl. To this day, I have no idea which one is Jo and which one is Danny.
It’s just like Mark E Smith to come back from near disaster with an amazing album. After being arrested for assault of his then girlfriend Julia Nagel in New York and having his long time band quit on him Smith returned with an entire new band and the Unutterable. He’d done it before, releasing Extricate after Brix left him, so there is some sort of precedence. It’s amazing how the Fall can still sound vital some 30 years into it, but they do, and this is example number one for the aughts (see also Heads Roll and Country on the Click).
Moose never officially broke up, so I still hold out hope. High Ball Me was their fourth and last album. All three previous records were criminally ignored, so why should this one be any different. The perennial underdogs, Moose made such great albums to the delight of those lucky enough to hear them. High Ball Me is no different except that this one got released not only in the UK but in the US, a first for the band. There was no slide in quality on High Ball Me. Incorporating Nilson, Buckly, Hazlewood and House of Love into an intricate wall of sound that Phil Spector would envy. It’s downright lush!
Before Broadcast became a laptop band, they were actually a real band and The Noise Made By People was the culmination of their autumnal space-age pop. It had an icy cold and unfeeling demeanor like Nico, but there was a glow to it like the Mamas and the Papas and a fiery intensity like Jefferson Airplane. You get the picture, it has a definite 60’s feel to it, but it has it without sounding too derivative. I remember seeing them at the Knitting Factory in LA for their tour to promote the album, and Broadcast as a full band in a live setting so greatly surpassed what they had put down on tape. Trish Keenan’s voice, the retro light show, the noise created by the keyboards, but mostly the guitars filled the room with a hazy shade of winter. Take note chillwave/laptop groups, you need a band, otherwise it’s just watching a guy clicking a mouse.
Some of the sounds on Goldfrapp’s debut album are otherworldly. It’s all strings and computers, but it sounds like it came from outer space. Outer space circa circa 1960, something akin to Peter Thomas’s soundtrack to Raumpatrouille. Alisson Goldfrapp looks like she could have been a Bond girl and has a voice to match. Before making Felt Mountain with Will Gregory, she had appeared on albums by Tricky and Orbital, so this record and its cinematic trip hop didn’t come out of nowhere, but the yodeling kind of did.
You know what I do with this album? I probably shouldn’t say this, but I only listen to the Amy Linton songs. No offense to Wyatt Cusak (he sings 3 of the 14 songs on the album), but I’m a sucker for that girl group sound augmented with a big wall of guitars and that is what Linton specializes in. The Aislers Set are kind of the Rosetta Stone of Slumberland, the linchpin of the label that links the seminal Black Tambourine to the current crop of bands like Lichtenstein, Brilliant Colors, Grass Widow, and Frankie Rose. If there was a song that came out in the year 2000 that is better than the lead off track The Way To Market Station, I have yet to hear it.
Admittedly Happiness from a Distant Star is not the best Animals that Swim album, that honor would got to I was the King, I Really Was the King, but Animals that Swim are so good that their third best album (they only made three) is better than anything someone like Sufijan Stevens could ever, ever come up with in his wildest dreams. Singer Hank Stars is like the UK version of Silver Jews’ Dave Berman. He paints vivid pictures of the down on their luck and downtrodden characters and does it with such an eye for melody and melancholy that you find yourself swept up in stories about Uncle Mackie, aliens and letter writing.
Up until Know By Heart, American Analog Set were background music to me, but with this record they seemed to grow some teeth and develop a pulse. It’s still mellow, but there is a welcome tension to their songs. The band create a hypnotic swirling sound that is so crisp and clean you could eat off of it. Although the playing is at the forefront (the drumming is lovely), front guy Andrew Kenny comes to bat with some really strong pop songs. The Postman is pretty unforgettable and Aaron & Maria is the poppiest thing that AmAnSet have ever laid to tape.
Back in 2001 I wrote that the Tyde answer the question: What if Felt were from Southern California? Darren Rademaker is an obvious fan that Birmingham, UK band, but you can also tell he knows his local history, showing an appreciation of the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield. When this record came out in 2001 I was living down in San Diego, the perfect place to hear it. Once was meant for the beach, surfing, getting good and high and eating at Swami’s Natural Food Cafe on a sunny Encinitas day.
Japanese pop alchemist Cornelius is a master of precision and layering on texture after texture onto the frame of a pop song. A song might start with a water drop, become a trickling stream and end up a waterfall. Each part taken by itself seems so basic and simple, but as they layer upon one another the complexity in it all becomes apparent. Cornelius has this uncanny ability to create these engineering marvels and still make them sound vibrant, catchy and exiting. If you ever have the chance to see him live jump at it, you will not regret it. A true master builder at work.
Lesser Matters has not lost a spec of goodness since I first heard it back in 2003. I never get tired of Johan Duncanson’s sleepy singing over top of the band’s over-modulated drums and feedback tinged guitars. I hesitate to call it Swedish shoegaze, but they do seem to worship at the alter of the Mary Chain, albeit with synthesizers and cheap drum machines. Later on in the decade Sophia Copula would put their music into movies and they would become somewhat more well known, but the band still seem to be a secret.
Any one of the A-Frames records could be on this list. The Seattle goth-punks birthed three albums in the early aughts and every single one of them was worthy. Their paranoid, doom-laden, angular take on punk rock comes off as it was made in A Brave New World. Everything is sterile, there is no emotion, and the skies are gray with nuclear fall-0ut. Their second album, intuitively titled 2 has just enough pop juxtaposed with dread to make it a winner. The band would go on to sign with Sub Pop for their third album, before drummer Lars Finberg would leave to concentrate on his other band the Intelligence. The A Frames are what so-Cal punks DI would have been if they lived in the Pacific Northwest deprived of sun, surf and girls. Feel the angst!
Blur. Bleh. Blah. Kind of sums up my opinion of Blur as their career progressed. I just kind of lost interest. Blur guitarist Graham Coxon always seemed like he was the conflicted member of the group, not really embracing their super-stardom, keeping his foot in the lo-fi with his solo albums. After he left the band, his records moved away from the feedback drenched jams to became a lot more structured and pop focused and Happiness in Magazines is easily his best record. He drafted Blur producer Stephen Street to twiddle the knobs and he showed up with his grade A songs. There’s the straightforward pop of Spectacular and Freakin Out, but he delves into the blues on Girl Done Gone and is downright funny on Bottom Bunk. I think with Happiness In Magazines Coxon reaches a level of comfortable with who he is and it shows.
Katerine– Robots Après Tout (2005: Rosebud/Barclay)
When this came out, I called it a freak-show in a jewel case. I stand by those words, but I mean them in the best possible way. Just by glancing at the cover you might get the idea that this is not your normal album. Yeah, Katerine is French, so maybe it was cool to walk around in pink silk turtlenecks and women’s underwear back in 2005 somewhere in France, but I kind of doubt it. Philippe Katerine’s records seemed to be getting stranger and stranger and this is the wacked out amazing culmination. I think I like the really over the top songs the best. The club-y strangeness of Borderline, the disco of 100% VIP and the funky Cornelius-like Qu’Est-Ce Qu’Il A Dit ? No matter what shade of strangeness you gravitate to, you will undoubtedly find it on this record and probably end up dancing to it.
Rough Bunnies – Rough Bunnies Saved My Life (2005: Self-released)
Frida and Anna are the Rough Bunnies. They’ve also been The Flame and Inside Riot, but Rough Bunnies is their favorite band. They’re kind of Riot Grrl, they’re kind of Moldy Peaches, but mostly they’re Swedish punks releasing cd-r’s. The songs are immediate and the Bunnies greatest concern seems to be to get it on tape before they forget it. So everything has a ramshackle, but endearing feel to it. The Bunnies are prolific as they are obscure, popping out CD-r’s like, umm rabbits. They nearly signed to Alan McGee’s Poptones and Fine Arts Showcase did an entire album of Rough Bunnies covers. Where do you start? Rough Bunnies Saved My Life might be their best album, and if you like it there’s a treasure trove waiting for you.
Ahh, the jangling 80’s. You know the saying, they don’t make ’em like they use to. Human Television take it to heart and conjure the ghosts of the Rain Parade, Dumptruck, the Feelies and Let’s Active. They write melancholy sounding songs punctuated by bright chiming and jangling guitars. It’s a tried and true juxtaposition, and Human Television do it so well that they are excused for not bringing something new to the table. Each and every one of these songs will make you shake your head in wonder at how good it is. How good? To paraphrase the album: sunshine on your face, room spinning round your head good.
2000 marked the release of the first Go-Between album in 12 years, Friends of Rachel Worth, and 2005 marked the release of this, the final Go-Betweens album because of Grant McClennan’s sudden death in 2006. On Oceans Apart, McClennan was ever-present with his classic wistful pop songs as always. He always seemed to be able to reel off perfect pop without even trying and Boundary Rider and Finding You are among his best. But, on Oceans Apart it was Robert Forster that put this record on the map as my favorite Go-Betweens album. His frantic opener Here Comes a City, historical reminiscing rampage of Darlinghurst Nights and beautiful Lavender put this Go-Betweens album in the hallowed company of 16 Lovers Lane.
I can’t help but think that if this album was released two or three years later it would have been much bigger. Of course I’m usually wrong about things like this, but singles like Nothing But Green Lights and A Little Word In Your Ear mine similar veins as what James Murphy gets called a genius for. Vek was in his early 20’s when he made We Have Sound, writing and playing everything. It was such a stellar debut, and the future looked so bright the guy was wearing shades. That was 2005, oh Tom where have you disappeared to?
The number one album of 2006, well at least here at the Finest Kiss. Obviously the band were nonplussed about the dubious honor, deciding to break up in early 2007. Verboten Fruchte is probably the German band’s most fleshed out record with lots of keyboards and even strings and horns. Like Love circa Forever Changes they’ve thrown off their garage rock roots and blossomed into a more nuanced and textured way of doing things. All of that fancy stuff can’t mask the garage rock origins of the band, it just shows their restlessness, and wanting to stretching out and trying new things. If you’re like me, this record will have you reaching for your German-English dictionary, so you know what exactly you’re singing along to.
There is one group of people who I know loves this record. Advertisers and marketing dickies have latched onto Below the Branches and won’t let go. You can’t turn on the TV these days without hearing a song from it. Kelley Stoltz can sell other people’s products with his music, but has trouble selling his own records. Below the Branches is chock full of classic pop, one listen and you’ll want to start a marketing company.
Holland – The Paris Hilton Mujahideen (2006: Teenbeat)
Almost coming off like a Guided By Voices record with short songs that are so catchy you can’t believe he only made them a minute and a half long. Shards of guitar crash down on echo-y bass and keyboards as one man band Trevor Kampman croons with an icy disconnectedness. The production is so clear, yet the songs are so jarring and choppy that they literally reach out and grab and shake you. Kampan is jaded, and down about the state of the world. Paris Hilton Mujahideen is good illustration of the world back in 2006. Not much has changed.
BOAT– Songs That You Might Not Like (2006: Magic Marker)
Seattle bands that love power pop and have a sense of humor, may sound like an oxymoron, but BOAT picked up the torch that was passed to them from a rich lineage that includes the Young Fresh Fellows, The President of the United States of America, Harvey Danger and even Mudhoney. Songs That You Might Not Like wasted no time in firing salvo after salvo of funny, sad, heart-on-the-sleeve power pop. How could you not like a bunch of guys that drink too much soda, cruise in minivans, destroy noise rock bands, get called reptile boy, have ninjas sitting on their couch at home, and use skeleton keys? This was their first record, and they would only get better.
At first I was perplexed by Pants Yell! naming their record after the Young Marble Giants singer and not sounding anything like them. Then I thought, I named my blog after a Boo Radleys song and never write about that song or the band. I won’t deny it, Pants Yell! are twee, but it’s twee with melancholy and attitude. They actually sound equal parts Housemartins and Lucksmiths. Singer Andrew Churchman has an instantly memorable voice and this record equals any album from either of those two previously mentioned bands. The only problem with Alison Statton is getting passed the first song More Purple, it’s so damn good you’ll find yourself hitting rewind and never get to the rest of it.
Pelle Carlberg is a clever fellow. He’s got nothing but bad luck, a wonky wheel on his shopping cart, a crap career as a pop singer, and a broken clock. Carlberg got an ace up his sleeve though, his ability to make his mundane life seem so interesting. He’s funny, self-deprecating, has a better command of English than most native speakers, and has a pocket full of pop songs that will make your ears prick up. In a Nutshell was his second solo album after his band Edson broke up and it’s the one where he put all the pieces together to come up with something that people like Morrissey and Billy Bragg have long since stopped making.
One of the great disappointments of 2007 for me was Electrelane. After making what I would argue is their best album they went and quit. No Shouts No Calls was the Brighton, England band at their most melodic and immediate. The production is raw with the drums nice and in your face, they way Albini made the Wedding Present sound on Seamonsters. The songs contain elements of twee-pop and Kraut-rock combining to form melody driven grooves. They can be gentle and understated like on Cut and Run or lay it all out on songs like Tram 21 and To The East. I hold on to the hope that they really meant it when they said that they were going on indefinite hiatus, and not really actually quitting.
Up until Deuteronomy the Intelligence were decidedly lo-fi, but in 2007 the band’s mastermind Lars Finberg decided to turn up the bass and make a record that didn’t sound like the treble button was stuck at 11. There are elements of darkness that his former band the A Frames excelled in, but the genius of Deuternomy is it’s skewed take on pop that he would later take to another level on this year’s Fake Surfers. Intelligence records are like trip into the head of Finberg, and his world is a weird, wild, funny place place. Weird like the Residents, wacked like Brainiac but catchy as Devo.
Jesse Smith’s likely heros include Nick Lowe, Paul Collins, Elvis Costello and Paul Weller. These names certainly command respect, but the style of power pop that they are so well known for is decidedly out of style these days, and the likely reason that this album got no traction when it came out last year. That’s the only reason I can think of because back in the old days when a record like this came out, it was blasting out of dorm rooms and cars everywhere. Nowadays it’s all about headphone music and records that need to be heard blasting at full volume into the open air suffer.
There’s something about the aftermath of a hot summer day and the Radio Dept. that go together. It’s like perfect come down music to the hot sun. The chill sounds of the new Radio Dept. single Freddie and the Trojan Horse with the icy guitar and the sleepy vocals have been getting a lot of play tonight. Today was just about perfect here in Seattle with 88 degrees Fahrenheit on the thermometer and on a Saturday to boot! Things are finally cooling down a little and the Radio Dept seem to be the perfect thing right about now. The new single isn’t much of a departure for the band but it does remind me more of their first album rather than the soundtrack-like second one. They even throw in a nice Talk Talk synthesized guitar in the middle just to keep you on your toes. But really, if you’ve spent the entire day in the sun like me this will take the edge off kind of like a popsicle in the shade.