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?
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.
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!
The Prophet Hens‘ Popular People Do Popular People was a near perfect first record. It was immediate and inviting. You heard it once and stashed it in your favorites bin along with the Chills, the Clean and the Bats. So what do you do after releasing a brilliant first album and how do you avoid the notorious sophomore slump for record number two?
Perhaps you intentionally rethink your brilliance into something slightly different. Or perhaps you roll with changes that life throws at your band. Get a new rhythm section and give Penelope Esplin a greater roll in the vocals department, let loose a little and embrace a less delicate approach to you general sound.
It may not be as as immediate and it wasn’t for me at first, but as it percolates it begins to surpass what you thought at first was unsurpassable. The Wonderful Shapes of Back Door Keys leaves bedroom and sheds the moodiness of the first record, and embraces more driving rhythms sometimes even bleeding into motorik territory (see closer Modal). I’m not sure if it’s a better record than the debut, but it’s more confident and fun and certainly it’s no slump!
I remember seeing the Lucksmiths eight or nine years ago at the Sunset in Ballard and getting into a conversation with someone at the show about how strange it was for a band to travel half way around the world just to play this tiny bygone place in Ballard where the bar was right in front of the stage. A lot has changed in Ballard since then, including the Sunset. It has recently been remodeled so that there is a front room called Betty’s Room that is open to non-ticket holders and then there is a separate back room where you need to pay a cover to get in to see the bands. It’s very similar to places like Piano’s and the Mercury Lounge in Manhattan. They may moved the bar away from the stage, but they left the giant support beam that cuts across the stage make a substantial obstacle for tall bass players who like to jump around. I guess you could say it adds some character to the place. All things considered the remodel is a major improvement.
Now it feels like a destination for bands traveling half way around the world, like the Twerps from Melbourne, Australia. Three years ago when they were in Seattle, they played at Chop Suey to a score of people. This time it was sold out. The Twerps at their core are Marty Frawley and Julia McFarlane, both sing and play guitar. Helping them out this tour is the rhythm section from the Stevens who also share a record label, Chapter Music in Australia. The Twerps new album Range Anxiety features much better production than their debut and quite a few fairly obvious nods to the Go-Betweens. Live the band seemed loose and in good spirits despite a late night drive to make it to Seattle in time for a session at KEXP earlier that day. Marty has a cheeky sense of humor, at one point in the set declaring his preference for Portland over Seattle. He seemed to relish playing to a full room. A couple highlights from the set for me included Jules’s Raft from the Underlay EP. This song doesn’t really sound like a Twerps song, but was pretty great nonetheless sounding part Bats and part Lovelife era Lush. Another highlight was Simple Feelings which really took an Feelies vibe with its swirling guitar and manic beat. The set was packed full of gems like like Dreamin’, Work It Out, I Don’t Mind and Back to You. With two albums and a handful of EP’s the band had bounty of riches to choose from and they chose wisely, making it a jangly good time for everyone.
Zebra Hunt who opened for the Twerps at Chop Suey three years ago also opened Saturday evening. I can’t think of a better match of bands for a bill. If you haven’t checked out Zebra Hunt’s album yet and dig the Twerps, I can guarantee that you will love it.
Earlier this week construction workers were digging a big hole for a new building in the South Lake Union neighborhood of Seattle and discovered the eight foot tusk of a 2,000 to 60,000 thousand year old mammoth. The giant tusk was excavated and is now safely at the Burke Museum here in town, but many questions are still left unanswered. What was this creature doing in Seattle 50,000 years ago? What was the music scene like? Was there any indiepop? Is the tusk real, or was it perhaps, a trick mammoth?
I don’t know if there have been any recent mammoth bone discoveries in New Zealand, but they’ve got a pretty good Trick Mammothdown there. From Dunedin and certainly not prehistoric this trio sounds like they know their history. Taking inspiration from the Bats, Pastels, Beat Happening and Heavenly these indiepop archaeologists piece it together quite nicely. Their debut album just out on Fishrider in New Zealand and Occultation in the UK is full of dainty delights that brush away the dirt. I especially like the way vocalists Adrian Ng and Mille Lovelock blend together like butterfly wings fossilized in ancient sediments. This records is a beauty that is well worth preserving.
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.
Wild Nothing‘s Nowhere single from last year was an obvious tribute to the Go-Betweens. Australia’s Dick Diver have done one better. An entire album that could be construed as a tribute to that great band. The Melbourne quartet is the primary band of Rupert Edwards and Al McKay. They get help from the moonlighting Steph Hughs (Boomgates) and Al Montfort (Lower Plenty, The UV Race, Total Control and Straightjacket Nation). All four members contribute songs to the record which provides some variety, but for the most part they are all on the same chapter in the same book. Calendar Days their second album, came out in March to a quiet reception over hear in the US mostly because they don’t have a record label here.
They have been described by some as Australian strummy music. I’m not sure if it was meant as a compliment or not but it captures their sound in a nutshell. Doesn’t everyone love a good strum once in a while? What does strummy actually mean? In the case of Dick Diver: blue, laid-back, playful and breezy. They will make your heart ache. In fact, they could have put a sticker on the cover stating: Warning. May cause slight bouts of melancholia. There is nothing wrong with being blue though. Sometimes you need a little dose of the blues to make you appreciate the better times and this record seems to tug you into reflection with its easy melodies. Many bands worry about a sophomore slump, but Dick Diver sound like they really know what they’re doing the second time around.
stream: Dick Diver – Lime Green Shirt (from Calendar Days out on Chapter Music in Australia)
The first time I listened to Half Right by Zebra Hunt I kept thinking that there was no way that the song could not be that good. It started out with guitar jangle reminiscent of the Verlaines, I thought OK this sounds cool, but kept expecting it to go downhill from there (at heart I’m a pessimist). Next the singer starts to sing “I’m only half right with you” sounding like he’s related to both Graeme Downes and David Kilgour. At this point any lingering pessimism has flown out the window and I am now a super fan of Zebra Hunt. The next song The Only Way Out has me seriously considering cashing in my kid’s college fund to start a record label with the sole purpose of putting Zebra Hunt records. Thankfully the glassy pacific feel of the final song of the EP The City Sighs allows me to momentarily come to my senses enough to realize that maybe starting a record label may not be in my best financial interest.
Seattle continues to produce some of the best (and unsung) bands this year and Zebra Hunt add to this city’s pop arsenal. The Zebra Hunt EP is available for free download from their bandcamp page and you can catch them live opening for Eternal Summers and Bleeding Rainbow September 8, at the Sunset Tavern in Ballard.
I had no idea the Proper Ornaments had a new five song EP out until reading about it over at the Austin Town Hall blog. Their 7″ from last year was good, but this new EP is pretty near brilliant. The band who take their name from a Free Design song share a member in James Hoare with Veronica Falls. Veronica Falls have an affection for the jangly side of the seminal Flying Nun label from New Zealand Flying Nun label. Proper Ornaments do too, but tend toward the more psychedelic side of things. The Bats come to mind, as does the moodier side of the Chills and even some non-New Zealand blood in the stylish pop of the Eric Mathews/Richard Davies collaboration Cardinal. The songs have an elegant translucent quality that floats them into your conscious quickly but they have long-acting mechanisms that keep them in your system. Since hearing this EP, I seem to go into withdrawal if I don’t play it every half hour. I think I may be addicted.
Minisnap’s appropriately titled Bounce Around album is another one of those records that has been neglected on these pages this year, but certainly not on my stereo. I meant to write about it in March when I bought it from Rough Trade, but again I profess a lack of time and my slow writing skills as pathetic excuses. Back in March and even now I couldn’t believe that Kaye Woodward had been holding back so many great songs over the years. Especially when you consider that during the 10 year break that the Bats took from 1995 to 2005. I figured, like everyone else, that we would never hear from her or the Bats again. I guess I should back up a bit for those of you wondering what I’m rambling on about. Minisnap is essentially the Batswithout Robert Scott, and replacing him with Marcus Winstanley on guitar. The Bats are considered by many, myself included, a seminal New Zealand band that put out many great records on Flying Nun beginning in the late 80’s on into the mid 90’s. Bat’s front man Robert Scott was also in the Clean, the band that really put the New Zealand indie scene on the map so many years ago. So the Bats without Scott may seem like a non-starter, but as you hear the first notes of New Broom you realize that Robert Scott is actually only one fourth of the Bats.
In the Bats, Kaye Woodward sang lots of harmonies and maybe lead on an occasional song, but it was always Scott that seemed to be leading the charge. This is not the case with Minisnap, Woodward has written 12 songs that easily rival anything in the Bats catalog. The band employ that trademark jangle that was so familiar on the classic early Bats albums like Daddy’s Highway, Law of Things and Fear of God and which they seemed to so easily resurrect on 2005’s comeback At the National Grid.
Minisnap, though sounding like a Scott-less Bats, do stretch out in different directions. For starters, Woodward casts a more upbeat sunnier disposition with her bright voice, and the band come across a bit more laid back using brushes on the drums and even employing a ukulele-like charango on opener New Broom. But don’t let me kid you, if you like the Bats, Minisnap will do quite nicely. Not to worry either if you thought this marked the end of the Bats, they are just about to release a new album next month. For those of you not as impatient as me, Portland’s Magic Marker has put out Minisnap’s Bounce Around in the US, so you can order it directly from them for a much more reasonable price than I paid, and they’ll probably even through in a badge for you in the process.
And if one Minisnap album isn’t enough for you, you’re in luck because Cloudberry has just released a new Minisnap 7″ with two brand new songs. Whew! How’s that for a dose of New Zealand jangle!?