There was a shoegazing dilemma this past Sunday night in Seattle for those of us with a penchant for music made using loads of guitar effects pedals. Option A was for the hot and cool brand of noisy tremolo pop of Austin’s Ringo Deathstarr at El Corazon, and the B option was London based grungy flannel clad gaze of Cheatahs over at the Tractor? Having already seen Ringo Deathstarr a few times I went for option B.
Cheatahs come from London, but the four guys in the band are from Canada, Germany, the US and the UK. Their debut self-titled album is just out on Witchita and follows up the Extended Plays record from last year that compiled their first couple EP’s. There are obvious similarities to Swervedriver in the same way that back in the 90’s Gene looked to the Smiths for inspiration. Like was the case with Gene, I’m sure that Cheatahs have their detractors for sounding too derivative, but when you’ve got the songs to back up your boast of sound it goes a long way in quieting any detractors. As loud as they are with their feet on the pedals they drown out the babble anyway. Beyond Swervedriver and some Dinosaur Jr, you can hear Teenage Fanclub and early Buffalo Tom. I’m not going to kid you, these guys are full on 90’s revivalists, but they make it fun and throw in some switch-ups to keep it interesting.
The show itself was a blast. It felt like I was at a Dino Jr or Swervedriver show 20 years ago. The two guitar players Nathan Hewitt and James Wignall slashed and dove around on stage and dialed up nebulous waves of feedback on every song. Fall may have been the highlight of the night with its My Bloody Valentine-like guitar refrain, but really every song was blisteringly good. Northern Exposure, Cut the Grass and Mission Creep were nothing to sneeze at either. All the songs revved at optimal RPM and at one point I pinched myself to make sure it was real. Realness was confirmed as I walked out of the Tractor with my ears ringing.
stream: Cheatahs – Fall (from Cheatahs out now on Witchita)
These are the remaining US tour dates for Cheatahs:
27 Feb, Los Angeles Echo
01 Mar, San Francisco Brick & Mortar Music Hall
01 Mar, San Francisco Amoeba Records
04 Mar, Brooklyn, NY Baby’s All Right
05 Mar, Philadelphia Boot & Saddle
06 Mar, Washington U Street Music Hall
Why did Melbourne shoey-dreampoppers Day Ravies name themselves after the Kinks’ Ray Davies? Because Dave Davies wouldn’t have worked.Day Ravies as a name works, although every time I see the name the old man in me reverse the letters back to Ray Davies. What also works is the rayviedayvies debut album Tussle. Some songs are dreamy, some songs are shoey, some are jangley and some just plain ol’ pop.
As indicated by its kaleidoscopic cover, Tussle is a cornucopia of sound, a feast of aural pleasures. It overruns the cup with great songs that are influenced by Slowdive, Ringo Deathstarr, and the Boo Radleys to name a few. The band have three songwriters and singers, which provide a diversity to their sound, yet all three like loud guitars, space and Galaxy 500. Best shoegaze-dreampop record of the year honors goes to the Kinks, I mean Day Ravies!
Ringo Deathstarr at the Comet, Seattle | 23 September 2012
One of these days I’m going to see a good Ringo Deathstarr show. Unfortunately last night was not it. On record I love this Austin band’s poppy take on shoegaze. Their second album Mauve which comes out this week is just as good if not better than their debut Colour Trip. These guys write melodies to accompany their guitar miasma, making their songs into more than just the comet trail of My Bloody Valentine. At times they even exceeding their prime influence in the ability to marry god pop with head splitting noise.
So what about Ringo Deathstarr live? I’ve heard reports that they can be good, but the previous time I’d seen them here in Seattle I was underwhelmed. Last night’s show started off on interstellar overdrive. The band sounded great with the right mix of crazy candy coated guitars, fuzzy bass and crashing drums, even the vocal interplay between guitarist Elliott Frazier and bassist Alex Gehring was sounding great. The band blasted through a couple new songs from Mauve and highlights from Colour Trip and guitar induced pop bliss was descending down on the Comet. Then Gehring’s bass amp died and oncoming pop bliss flew out of the window like a balloon that had been untied. From that point Murphy’s Law went into full effect. A new bass amp was procured, but Frazier had turned off one of his guitar amps so that Gehring could use it for her bass, but forgot to turn it back on when they got a real bass amp. This left them sounding like they had lost 60% of their guitars. Then Drummer Daniel Coborn’s bass drum kick pedal broke which brought another break while he MacGyver’d his pedal with some chewing gum and a stapler. Eventually they got back on track but the damage had been done.
In all fairness, last night was beyond their control, and they handled it quite well. Never did they lose their sense of humor or their perseverance. The glimpses of greatness at the beginning and end of the set when everything was working were evidence that they are up to the task of recreating the sonic amazingness of their records live. Hopefully they don’t think that they’re jinxed in Seattle and will return soon.
A year end albums list is kind of a strange thing, especially when it’s one person compiling it. Since this blog is a committe of one, it can become quite capricious. In all likelyhood I wrote about some records this past year that I was overtly enthusiastic about at the time. Now the end of the year rolls around and some of those records are not on the list. “What gives?” you might ask. It’s hard to remember which label flew me to Tahiti and which one comp’d my CMJ this year, so I may have forgotten to include a few records that I thought at the time were great. These are the records that left an impression on me over the course of the last 12 months, paylola or not…
1. Destroyer – Kaputt (Merge)
Was this record flying in the face of fashion or swimming in it? These days I can never tell. Dan Bejar controls the vision of Destroyer and I have been following his erratic course for years, but nothing has ever grabbed hold of me like Kaputt did. Up until this point the minimalist keyboard focused Your Blues had been my favorite Destroyer album. That album from 2004 subtly evoked Prefab Sprout, Blue Nile, Microdisney, and Felt, but Kaputt goes hook line and sinker for that sound and comes up with the huge treasure of the “big music”. Do not be afraid of the saxophone (the Waterboys weren’t)! This record evokes a time in music when highly stylized, heart on the sleeve pop was de rigor in some parts of the world. Even if you’re old enough to remember it, Destroyer do it in an entirely new and fresh way. mp3: A Savage Night At the Opera
2. Total Control – Henge Beat (Iron Lung)
Total Control march to the beat of a different tune, one that will floor you. At least it did me. Eddy Current Suppression Ring’s Mikey Young and Daniel Stewart of UV Race combine to fabricate Tubeway Army, the Fall and Neu! If you dare listen to this record it will totally control your life. mp3: See More Glass
3. Sweet Bulbs – Sweet Bulbs (Blackburn)
Sweet Bulbs can bend a guitar with the best of them. They sound like they’re torturing their guitars the way the Swirlies, the Lilies and of course My Bloody Valentine. Like all great bands, they broke up after making their first album. This is it, but don’t fret, they are now called Heaven’s Gate. So the magic is still happening, only under a different name. mp3: Kissing Clouds
4. Veronica Falls – Veronica Falls (Slumberland)
Was a time when a record like this would have been on a major label. Pop songs that are so immediate and infectious that labels would have been falling over themselves to sign them. The world turned upside down a few years ago and bands like Veronica Falls sign to indies like Slumberland. If you dig the Bats and Wedding Present jangle of yesteryear, then I guarantee you will not be able to say no to this maelstrom of a record. mp3: Bad Feeling
5. Wild Swans – The Coldest Winter For A Hundred Years (Kitten Charmer)
Wild Swans in their initial incarnation released one seminal single and then disbanded. In their second incarnation they released two so-so albums. You might think that after one reformation that the next one might be worth sitting out, but they don’t say the third time is a charm for nothing. The Coldest Winter For A Hundred Years is full of bitterness and pining for a better idealized past. A quest to return to those days is vividly chronicled here and makes a Wild Swans that far outshines anything from their past. mp3: Chloroform
6. Sea Pinks – Dead Seas (CF)
This jangly record with simple songs that cut to the quick seemed to keep popping up on my turntable and on my headphones. Girls Names drummer Neil Brogan got his band-mates to back him up on Dead Seas, and in my opinion surpass their other band. That of course is a matter of opinion, Girls Names are no band to be sneezed at. Sea Pinks songs subtly evoke the Smiths while sounding nothing like them. A seemingly simple and understated album that peels like an onion. mp3: Heir Apparent
7. Big Troubles – Romantic Comedy (Slumberland)
When I first heard that Mitch Easter was producing Big Troubles second album, the first thing that popped into my head was Moose. Moose started out as a shoegaze band, but hired Easter to produce their first album and their sound changed from My Bloody Valentine to Tim Buckly and Fred Neil. Big Troubles following a similar path went from their first album, a noisy affair to nuance of psychedelic sounds of the paisley underground. I don’t give Easter all the credit for the metamorphosis, but I’m sure he definitely helped. mp3: Misery
8. Useless Eaters – Daily Commute (Tic Tac Totally)
Yeah, Iceage got a lot of press for their album New Brigade, but Useless Eaters’ Daily Commute was my favorite art punk album of the year. Sure it sounds like it was recorded on a boombox in the kitchen, but you can’t keep a great songwriter down. Simply put, this record rips, and if it would have had better production you would be reading about it on sites much more popular than this one. mp3: Daily Commute
9. A Classic Education – Call It Blazing (Lefse)
Bologna, Italy’s A Classic Education debut album is a melancholic charmer. Call It Blazing holds songs like sunken treasure in its depths. Luckily it doesn’t take a submarine to get to its yearning, oceanic pop that recalls the genius of the Chills and the Shins. mp3: Can You Feel The Backwash
10. Twerps – Twerps (UnderwaterPeoples)
I was somewhat intrigued by Twerps’s handful of singles, but not smitten. Smart kids that they are, they used the singles as building blocks, kind of feeling their way about until they got to a place that they were writing songs that they felt were worthy of a long player. This record is wise beyond it’s years. It echoes back so much of the amazing history of Australian pop like the Church, Paul Kelly, and the Go-Betweens. They’ve set quite a high bar for their follow-up. mp3: Dreaming
11. Eleanor Friedberger – Last Summer (Merge)
Eleanor Friedberger is one half of the brother-sister duo the Fiery Furnaces. She’s not old enough to remember the late 60’s and 70’s, but she’s made a record that sounds like she is. It has this strange Jackson Browne or Jim Croce feel to it. It’s kind of a folk record, but it has a weird soulfullness to it that pulls it out of the folk genre. Nothing else sounded remotely similar to Last Summer. A unique record from a unique voice. mp3: Roosevelt Island
12. Mind Spiders – Mind Spiders (Dirtnap)
Mind Spiders deftly jumps from Jay Retard, to T Rex to Love and Rockets and then back again. It’s like being lost in the funhouse. You can’t find your way out, but you kind of don’t want to get off either. mp3: Go!
13. Crystal Stilts – In Love With Oblivion (Slumberland)
The Crystal Stilts are not a live band, but give them a studio and they will kick your ass. In Love With Oblivion dredges the ghosts of the Thirteenth Floor Elevators, Bo Diddly, and Felt from unmarked graves and breathes new life into them. mp3: Sycamore Tree
14. Ringo DeathStarr – Colour Trip (Club AC30)
I have to admit. I was hot and cold on this record. First I was hot because it’s infectious shoegaze is pretty hard not to like if you already lean in that direction. Then I saw them live and was convinced that they used Auto-Tune on the album, because they couldn’t carry a tune to save their lives. Then I said fuck it, the songs are great and the record is amazing, who cares if they really can’t sing, they know how to use a studio. It never stopped me from loving the Stone Roses. mp3: So High
15. Indian Wars – Walk Around the Park (Bachelor)
Seems like in a year when Kurt Vile and the War on Drugs got their props, critics would have dug a little deeper to find something that hadn’t been polluted with the whiff of success. Vancouver, BC’s Indian Wars bust through saloon doors and shoot up the bar the way the Long Ryders and Gun Club did in the past. Bands like this worry me. Why? Because they’re so damn good and nobody knows it. Too good to last? Hope not. mp3: Tuscaloosa Bar
16. German Measles – A German Joke is No Laughing Matter (Krazy Punx)
Funny how everyone bumming out over the fact that Art Brut are no longer funny missed this record. The German Measles did the prudent thing for any ‘funny band.’ They broke up after making their first album. It’s not belly laughs and punch lines, it’s just spot on observations about everyday life and raw spartan punk rock that sticks to your bones like oatmeal. mp3: Totally Mild
17. Top Sound – Top Sound (Ça Ira)
Sweden’s Top Sound took their time getting their debut album together but it was well worth the wait. It grabs from the High Llamas, Stereolab, Style Council, and the Aluminum Group to create a bright sounding, highly stylized (erm) top sound. This is toe-tapping and finger-snapping good. Those may not be the sweaty and bloody rock n’ roll terms you’re looking for in a rock album, but it ain’t all chicks and whiskey. mp3: A Matter of Precision
18. Charles Bradley – No Time For Dreaming (Daptone)
In a time when there seems to be old soul compilations coming out every other week, 62 year old Charles Bradley burst on the scene with his brand new old soul. He was the singer in a James Brown cover band before being discovered by Daptone Records. Bradley has a gritty, working man’s soul voice that makes the songs feel current even though he’s firmly rooted in the past. This, amazingly is his debut album. mp3: Lovin’ You, Baby
19. Cat’s Eyes – Cat’s Eyes (Downtown)
Soprano Rachel Zeffira teamed up with the Horrors singer Faris Badwan to make an moody record that stalks will stalk your stereo. The two apparently bonded over a mutual appreciation of 60’s girl groups. That affectation permeates the record, but it’s not like any Ronettes album you’ve heard. It’s dark and eerie and teams with both Zeffira’s high notes matched with Badwan’s low ones. An otherworldly record. mp3: The Best Person I Know
20. People’s Temple- Sons of Stone (Hozac)
Play Sons of Stone for someone who hasn’t heard it and you could pass it off for a lost psych record from the 60’s that was left off of Nuggets. Hell, People’s Temple kept coming up on shuffle and I kept getting fooled myself. This Lansing, Michigan band are named after Jim Jones’ cult that committed mass suicide in the 1970’s. Instead of spending your hard earned cash on another Rolling Stones reissue, drink the juice and joion the People’s Temple. mp3: Where You Gonna Go?
21. Cave – Neverendless (Drag City)
I love this album because it seems to conjure the lost art of the motoric. Mostly instrumental jams that bring Neu! to mind, but by way of Chicago. Perhaps the windy city has given up on the artery clogging deep dish pizza and gone for the heart healthy Kraut! mp3: W U J
22. Comet Gain – The Howl of the Lonely Crowd (What’s Your Rupture?)
One thing about being a music blogger, you can keep putting records by perennially ignored bands on your list. Comet Gain have been around forever putting out difficult and rewarding albums. This one is no different. They are in my imaginary R&R hall of fame along with the likes of the Fall, the Mekons and the Pastels. mp3: An Arcade From The Warm Rain That Falls
23. Wax Idols – No Future (Hozac)
Former Punx Heather Fortune goes it alone and inserts sex, fear, goth and serial killers into her brand of punk rock. It’s not all sex and death, you get the rough with the smooch, as she’s got a soft side too and a voice that can go from sensitive to tough in an instant. No Future has got depth and Wax Idols have a future. mp3: Hitman
24. Walls – Coracle (Kompact)
Walls’ second album oscillates wildly between kraut, shoegaze and electronica. This could be a gateway album from stepping from one of those genres into another or the perfect music for stepping into that nebula on the cover. mp3: Heat Haze
25. The Dirtbombs – Party Store (In the Red)
You wouldn’t believe how many albums have been shuffled in and out of slot number 25 this year. It was a brutal fight, but the Dirtbombs persevered with their double Detroit muscle. Double because this the Dirtbombs tribute to their hometown. Techno classics from techno ground zero are covered with aplomb in this garage meets techno groove fest that is weird, infectious and above all danceable. mp3: Sharevari
There was time not long ago that everything was not available at the click of button and if you lived in some far of place away from a city with a cool record store you would make these trips to go record shopping or you’d allow for extra time when you were road-triping for a show to hit the local stores for some record shopping. In the early 90’s I was big into shoegaze, which back then was used a derogatory term. Any time I was in Pittsburgh, DC, or Cleveland I made time to hit up Eides, Wax Stax, Olsons or Smash! to look for the latest EP from the likes of Swervedriver, Sweet Jesus, Catherine Wheel, Boo Radleys, Ride, Revolver, Telescopes, Adorable, Pale Saints, Kitchens of Distinction or Chapterhouse, essentially any band that had been spawned by My Bloody Valentine and the Jesus and Mary Chain. That was the shoegaze heyday. There were singles and eps coming fast and heavy and a lot of it was crazy good but near impossible to get your hands on, so finding an new ep from any of these bands was always always a rush and something to bring back home as booty and laud over your friends.
Of course eventually the scene faded and fell out of favor with the British music weeklies and believe it or not even I got tired of it for a while. Maybe it was my formative age, but that was a great time and one of the last movements that really had a lasting impact on music. Look around today and there are still bands making records with effect pedals and the tremolo bar prominently featured. The thing is, it rarely if ever gets done as good as it was done originally back then. Enter Ringo Deathstarr, a band with an obvious sense of humor and a way with the tremelo bar and a melody like none I’ve heard since that 90’s heyday. Singles and EP’s have trickeled out from the Austin band for a few years that are nearly as hard to find as those afore mentioned EP’s (Most of them were compiled on the Japanese release Sparkler). The band finally have an album set to unleash on an unsuspecting public. Colour Trip is so jaw-dropping good it will make you check the packaging date. Delving into the shoegaze genre a band is sure to get called derivative, and trainspotters may pick apart Colour Trip for obvious references like opening track Imagine Hearts sounding like Soon, or Elliot Frazier’s baritone kind of sounding like William Reed and I will admit that you can place some things and pinpoint them to MBV, Jesus and Mary Chain, etc. but for the most part Ringo Deathstarr are taking the ball and running down their own rabbit hole.
Who cares if My Bloody Valentine ever release another record. The next generation has arrived and the one after that for that matter and Ringo Deathstar ain’t looking back. They’re not ringing their hands about whether or not the tremelo bar was tweaked at precisely a 20 degree angle or if the vocals sound exactly like fish swimming through 60 degree water. Listening to Colour Trip, you know they know it’s right and it totally instinctive. The sounds are earsplitting, and euphoric. The buzz saw guitars, butterfly tremelo, the boy-girl vocals and melodies all combine to make a shoegaze record that can stand toe to toe with Nowhere, Whirlpool, Mezcal Head or Loveless.
I got my flu shot today, so I’m feeling pretty invincible. The only thing that could infect me would be the following five songs which have been on repeat in this order throughout my day. Not sure how this short play list came to fruition. I just live in the moment and don’t question higher powers.
Seattle’s Brent Amaker and the Rodeo have make a good case for doing an entire album of Kraftwerk covers with their version of Pocket Calculator. This song is not on their new album Please Stand By that comes out next week,but they might play it at the Crocodile next Thursday for their record release party. The only thing better than listening to this cover on my computer with headphones would be listening to this cover at the Crocodile while scantily clad girls wearing pasties dancing around on stage with Mr. Amaker and the Rodeo, which I’m sure is bound to happen.
Hailing from somewhere up in the great white northern Canadian province of Alberta, Myelin Sheaths finally answer Mudhoney‘s Touch Me I’m Sick with a blast of rock that is part Cave Weddings and part White Wires. What is their answer? “I’m not afraid of getting sick!” The boy-girl vocals are totally contagious. I think I’m sick.
I won’t go into how Weekend are from San Francisco and have named their album Sports, but I will say that End Times which first appeared on a split single with like-minded Frisconians Young Prisms on the Transparent label is a blissed out wall of sound that reminds me of Slumberland veterans Lorelei. Well, what do ya know, Weekend’s debut album is due on Slumberland next month!
When I saw Tyvek a few weeks back here in Seattle I remarked to myself how much they reminded me of Wire. The teaser song from their In The Red debut does absolutely nothing to dispute that assertion. What we have here is ex-lion tamers hoisting the pink flag and succeeding.
Many have attempted to ape the My Bloody Valentine sound, but few can get it right and write a pop song at the same time. Austin’s Ringo Deathstarr may have done just that. The first song from their debut record which isn’t due until early next year sounds like it was directly influenced by Isn’t Anything. While you wait for next year, you can listen to Imagine Hearts and you can track down Sparkler the Japanese only CD that compiles most of there EP’s and singles to date. You won’t be disappointed doing one or both.