Zebra Hunt Phasing Into the Sunset

Zebra Hunt, Unlikely Friends & Seacats at the Sunset Tavern, Seattle | 2 June 2017

Over the last five years it seems like many of my favorite Seattle bands have either broken up or left town. A few new ones have come up to replace them, but it seems like we’re in a slight lean period compared to the previous bounties we’ve experienced. Friday night at the Sunset in Ballard three Seattle bands provided some much needed rain on the parched fields of the Seattle music scene. Zebra Hunt, keepers of the Seattle pop flame, were celebrating their second album seeing the light of day courtesy of Spanish record label Tenorio Cotobade.

If you haven’t heard, Zebra Hunt are Seattle’s answer to the classic Flying Nun jangle of the 80’s and the current day jangling explosion of bands from Australia. If you’re old and dig the Clean and the Chills or young and love the Twerps and Chook Race, then Zebra Hunt will fit nicely into your wheelhouse. Having employed Jack Endino to record it, their sophomore effort improves on sound quality and sees no let up in song quality.

Focusing mostly on the new record the band played a great set for the home crowd and provided after show cupcakes decorated with their album cover. Since the last record Zebra Hunt have added a fourth member to the band to help flesh out their sound. The additional guitar and keyboard combined with their already stellar rhythm section increases the impact of the Zebra Hunt experience.

Singer and songwriter Robert Mercer writes about ordinary life but supplies an element of mystery to to his songs by being economical with the details. He is of the Raymond Carver school of writing. You get stories of house hunting, evening walks, listening to records in the kitchen and Foxhill Drive in 2005 with clues to what happened but no answers. I Wont’ Blame You house hunting backdrop sounds partly inspired by Courtney Barnett’s Depreston which was inspired by Paul Kelly’s To Her Door, which was inspired by Carver’s short stories. The lineage is impeccable.  With the release of In Phases, the band now have a larger trove of treasures to pull from for their live shows with a virtual guarantee never to disappoint.

Unlikely Friends were coerced out of their sabbatical to provide support. A BOAT and Math and Physics Club team-up, the group features the um, unlikely combination of both band’s singers, except on this night D. Crane had lost his voice . Probably due to the previous weekend’s BOAT reunion show or some rogue virus, the voiceless Crane  replaced his voice with a message he wrote on a series of notebook pages that littered the stage. The band was in triage mode with Charles Bert of MAPC taking over most of the vocals but letting the drummer Chris have some leads as well. They persevered and kept their sense of humor about them. Look for a second album and hopefully more shows from these underdogs when they’re restored to full power sometime in the not too distant future.

Opening the night were Seacats. Formerly of Kelso-Longview, but now apparently based in Seattle. The two singles I have of theirs give the impression that their a silly, happy-go-lucky sort of band, but as I walked in it was in the middle of their heavy stuff. I think it was their nuclear bomb song. Then they switched singers and pulled off a sublime psych-pop number and I was thoroughly confused. I wasn’t sure what to make of it all, but at least it was interesting!

Rolling Coastal Blacking Out or Something Like That

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One thing about Melbourne, Australia’s Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever is that I can never seem to get their name right. It doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, you know. How many bands have four word names these days? People are lucky enough to be able to remember two word band names. It seems that their US label Sub Pop realizes this, shortening the band’s name for their US debut to Rolling Blackouts C.F. I don’t know if this is better though. It isn’t a whole lot easier to remember, and it gives the impression that there is already a band named Coastal Blackouts and these Blackouts are from some country with the initials C.F.

Another thing about Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever is that they jangle. You hear the likely suspects (Bats, Clean, & Feelies) in their sound, but their jangle comes from a more classic rock corner of the universe. Their sound can best be described by the Close Lobsters‘ cover of Neil Young‘s Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black). They sound like they’ve done their time on the bar circuit, and taken their lumps winning over hard drinking, blue collar fellows in dungarees.

One more thing about Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, they’re show this past Tuesday at Barboza here in Seattle was a lot of fun. The five piece band featured three guitarists and singers, but their secret weapon, which all great bands will attest to, was their rhythm section. Every song was anchored by some great bass riffs which was really apparent live. That firm mooring allowed the guitarists to really go into their hyper-manic-riff mode trading licks and often vocal spots. This band seems to be very well oiled machine.

One final thing about Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, they do a mighty fine cover of the Orange Juice classic Blueboy!

Seattle’s designated openers for all Australian jangly type bands, Zebra Hunt did just that. On this night I found out:

    • In Australia, zebra is pronounced with a short ‘e’.
    • Zebra Hunt’s second LP is coming out May 19.
    • The band now seems to be a permanent four piece.
    • They have got a brand new set of songs that rivals the ones the made me fan in the first place.
    • They just keep getting better!
    • They might actually be Australian judging from their ace cover of the Go-Betweens‘ Was There Anything I Could Do?

Catching Chook Race While They’re Around the USA

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Taking on America with an extensive 25 date tour is ambitious for any band, but when you’re Chook Race, a little known three piece jangle pop band from Melbourne, Australia it’s downright impressive (and maybe a little insane). The band made its way into Seattle Wednesday night to play the Victory Lounge, a bar with no stage in East Lake. This is one band I thought I would never see in Seattle, but after self-releasing their first album, Chicago label Trouble in Mind signed them making their second LP widely available in the United States as well as this tour a reality.

Singer and guitarist Matthew Liveriadis has a slight monotone delivery, but drummer Carolyn Hawkins provides a beautiful juxtaposition with her backing harmonies. The trio played an energized and jangly set inspired by the Bats and Close Lobsters mixing soon to be jangle pop classics from their first LP with ones of a slightly more classic pop sound from their new second album Around the House. In their short existence the band already have a stash of A-list songs and they didn’t leave any of them out including jangly diamonds like Dentist, Time, Sometimes and Hard to Clean and Older. The band’s tight sound and laid back attitude easily won over the likely already won over folks in attendance and made us all appreciate the long trip they had made to get here.

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Like minded Seattlites Zebra Hunt opened for Chook Race with a set that consisted almost entirely of new songs (Half Right was the only old one). Apparently the new album is nearly ready and based on this evidence I would agree. One song really stood out with its Feelies-like crazy rhythm, even slowing down and then rebuilding itself into something quite raucous. Zebra Hunt has still got it!

So Much Water So Close To Home

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After a couple singles, Zebra Hunt, the Pacific Northwest’s foremost purveyors of the Dunnedin sound have released an album. City Sighs has obviously been influenced by the classic Flying Nun sound of the early 80’s made famous by the Clean, the Verlaines and the Chills, but it also incorporates some distinctly American sounds to create a fresh variation on a well worn style.

City Sighs seems to be an album full of jangle, longing and discovery. It’s full of pop songs that are instantly likable and easy to remember. Deleware starts the record and opines for a lost friend who’s up and moved back to the first state in the Union. Singer Robert Mercer sings just enough (and leaves even more unsaid) to get you wondering why this person left. It has an air of mystery to it like a Raymond Carver story. The American influences aren’t just literary. Call It Off is a dusty rocker that has Long Ryders feel to it and Isle of Song and Always both owe a little something to Galaxy 500. The band also rightfully resurrect Half Right and Beaches of LA, two of their best songs that originally appeared on their first single that came out on the now defunct Manic Pop label.

The last song Haze Of Youth may be my favorite song on the album. Starting out as pop and then transitioning into a long jam, it out real estates Real Estate. City Sighs is being released by the tiny Tenorio Cotobade label in Madrid, Spain, so you probably won’t see this record at your local shop unless you live in Seattle, but it deserves as much exposure and recognition as like minded records (on much larger labels) by the Twerps and Real Estate.

Vinyl & Download available from Tenorio Cotobade.
Download available from Zebra Hunt’s bandcamp.

If you’re near Seattle this weekend, don’t miss Zebra Hunt Saturday at Hilliard’s in Ballard.

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The Good Earth of the Ginnels

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After last year’s Plumes compilation caught us up on what the Ginnels had been up to over the course of their previous three albums, they are back with album number four, A Country Life. Plumes was a sublimely excellent collection of songs separating the wheat from the chaff. A Country Life is a richly stalked silo of brand new songs that leads me to believe there never was any chaff in the Ginnels catalog. 

A Country Life paints a bucolic scene with its psychedelic, hazy, jangling songs. Previously Ginnels records were mostly Mark Chester solo affairs, but on A Country life he’s got some help on drums and guitar making this more of a band effort. To tell the truth it isn’t vastly different from before, which is ok since before was quite good. Songs like Woodlands and Car’s Parked and Honestly and Not What You Think are upbeat jangling affairs that are inviting and fun. The quieter, gentler ones like  the Great Escape and Settle Down and Ashton Memorial are perfect for kicking up your feet after a long day in fields, or in front of the computer. 

The Ginnels fourth album is pretty little thing. Recommended to fans of Elliot Smith, Apples in Stereo, early Divine Comedy, the Feelies and Teenage Fanclub with a good appreciation for tricks of the light and other subtleties of the countryside.

stream: The Ginnels – Woodlands (from A Country Life out on Tenorio Cotobade)

 

Zebra Hunt Go To Spain

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Seattle’s kiwi loving popsters Zebra Hunt return from the ashes of the crash and burn of their former label with a brand new record. Luckily the Spanish upstart label Tenorio Cotobade has bellied up to the Zebra Hunt bar for another round of killer pop. So all you have to do is scour the internet for a buy link to put this pretty thing into your hands. And why would you want to pay exorbitant overseas shipping for a piece of plastic you ask? Because when you hear the A-side Only Way Out with its rubbery guitar lead and catchy chorus you will be helplessly reaching for your credit card. B-side Get Along is a rawer bar room romp that sees these big game hunters going for the jugular with a single shot.

Zebra Hunt are two for two in the record game. Could an album to solidify their unsung greatness be in the offing in the not too distant future? I’ll take that, or more singles like this one to feed the hungry pop beast inside me.

stream: Zebra Hunt – Only Way Out (order the 7-inch from Tenorio Cotobade)

Plumage of the Ginnels

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Mark Chester may be one of the most prolific fellows you’ve never heard of. He’s released three albums in past three years under his solo moniker the Dublin, Ireland based Ginnels (Ginnels, according to my Merriam-Webster is a narrow passage way between two buildings). His last album was the sprawling 20 song Crowns which Chester said was inspired by records like 69 Love Songs, Sandinista and Bee Thousand. The problem was that all of the releases were digital only with the exception of one which was also released as a cassette. If you release a record into the ether does anyone hear it?  Sure, a few people do but is it taken seriously? Can you truly love a digital download?

Chester no  longer has to worry about questions like those because the Spanish label Tenorio Cotobade has just released Plumes on vinyl. Plumes collects songs from all three of Ginnels albums and slaps them onto a big piece of plastic so you can consummate your love these songs which have much in common with the likes of the Apples in Stereo, Salako, Neutral Milk Hotel, The Bats, and the Clean. Chester seems to be a bottomless well of them too. It’s like Like some mad scientist injected him with a serum that produces highly melodic, introspective, jangly compositions. Chester though adds a touch of weariness to this formula that makes them hold more weight than your standard caffeinated New Zealand loving indie band of today.

stream: The Ginnels – Plumes (Plumes is out now on Tenorio Cotobade)