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!

Prophet Hens Come In Through The Back Door

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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!

The Wonderful Shapes of Back Door Keys is out now on Fishrider Records.

Best of Something

I hope you looking for a few more records to buy before the wave of 2016 releases hits I didn’t count them and they’re in no particular order but each album won in its own unique category. I don’t have any small statuettes to hand out, but I gave each of my favorite albums an award.

placestohide
Places To Hide – Strange Lyfe (Irrelevant)
Best Posthumous Album: This Atlanta band broke up before releasing their second album. Great punk and post punk anthems in the vein of X, Versus and Seam.

intelligence
The Intelligence – Vintage Future (In the Red)
Best Album by an Ex-Seattle Band: I say this about every Intelligence album, but it was their best record yet.

kingcyst
King Cyst – King of New York (Underwater Peoples)
Best Canterbury Scene Influenced Album: The Brooklyn group’s second album had me checking the release date on this whimsical beauty.

protomartyr
Protomartyr – The Agent Intellect (Hardly Art)
Best Post-Punk Rust Belt Album: The third LP by this Detroit band continues the upward trajectory initialized by last year’s Under Color of Official Right.

wildhoney
Wildhoney – Sleep Through It (Topshelf)
Best Shoegaze Album: Shoegaze has officially become a genre of music, but so few bands in the genre understand that you still need to write great songs to accompany the tremelo bar and effects pedals. That’s not a problem for Wildhoney.

chills
The Chills – Silver Bullets (Fire)
Best Comeback Album: After years of personal struggles, Martin Phillips finally reinitialized the Chills and created masterpiece that sounds like he hadn’t been out of the game over 20 years.

helen
Helen – The Original Faces (Kranky)
Best Album That Sounds Like It Was Mastered from a Cassette: Liz Harris aka Grouper goes down the Black Tambourine / Vivian Girls rabbit hole and emerges from a mountain top.

shopping
Shopping – Why Choose (FatCat)
Best ESG-Gang of Four Inspired Album: The London band’s second album is not vastly different from their debut except that the songs are bigger, better more tightly wound.

FPOP189_LP_OUTER_v6_TTO
Mammoth Penguins – Hide and Seek (Fortuna Pop!)
Best Album by Large Flightless Birds: Standard Fare’s Emma Kupa switched from bass to guitar in her new band and comes up with a more rawkus but no less poignant record.

coldbeat
Cold Beat – Into the Air (Crime On the Moon)
Best Polar Ice Cap Melting Album: Former Grass Widow bassist Hannah Lew immerses her band into an 1980’s inspired synth pop sound that on the surface sounds cold, but has a warmth and playfullness on its underbelly that could be blamed for contributing to global warming.

courtneybarnett
Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit (Mom + Pop)
Best Stream of Conscious Album: I was surprised at how polarizing this record was, it seemed like you either loved it or hated it. I was a fan of how Courtney Barnett innately was able to make her stream of conscious lyrics make sense over some incredible hooks.

dieverboten
Die Verboten – Die Verboten 2007 (Deewee)
Best Album from 2007: Recorded eight years ago, the Belgian Krautrock influenced collective finally got around to releasing their debut this year. As you might have guessed it sounds timeless.

downtownboys
Downtown Boys – Full Communism (Don Giovanni)
Best Timely Punk Album: It seemed like this Providence, Rhode Island band hit on all the top issues in America (Police Killings, Black Lives, and the 1% to name a few) on Full Communism. Add in a twin saxophone bed of chaos and you have the best pure punk record I’ve heard in a long time.

finnmark
Finnmark! – Things Always Change (Beko)
Best Indiepop Album by English People Masquerading as Scandinavians: Part Cats on Fire and part Lucksmiths this erudite record caught my indiepop fancy.

girlsnames
Girls Names – Arms Around a Vision (Tough Love)
Best Album by a Former Slumberland and Captured Tracks Band: Girls Names slightly reinvent themselves on their third LP. It’s darker, colder bleaker and better than anything they’ve ever done.

hooton-tennis-club
Hooton Tennis Club – Highest Point In Cliff Town (Heavenly)
Best Album of Shambolic Anthems: Hooton Tennis Club sound like they’ve got a Pavement attitude and the pop licks of Teenage Fanclub. Formidable attributes that they employ to precise effect.

eternalsummers
Eternal Summers – Gold and Stone (Kanine)
Best Comeback Album by a Band the Never Went Away: Roanoke, Virginia’s Eternal Summers never went away, in fact they’ve been consistently putting out records. Gold and Stone sees them taking a great leap in consistency and quality to make their best album since their debut.

grubs
Grubs – It Must Be Grubs (Tuff Enuff)
Best Album by a Joanna Gruesome Spin-off: Grubs also get an award for the shortest album of the year. These 11 songs fly by in about 20 minutes but leave a lasting impression thanks to singer Roxy Brennan sweet voice.

hierophants
Hierophants – Parallax Error (Goner)
Best Devo Inspired Album: Australia’s Hierophants debut channels Chuck Berry, Beach Boys but mostly Devo to jarring effect. Disconcerting, discombobulated and disgreat.

robertforster
Robert Forster – Songs to Play (Tapete)
Best Album that References Twitter: When artists incorporate references to the internet I usually cringe, but Robert Forster does it in smile inducing way on Let Me Imagine You. It was good to have one of the masters back.

NicHessler
Nick Hessler – Soft Connections (Captured Tracks)
Best Album by a Yay! Records Alumni: Formerly playing under the Catwalk moniker Nick Hessler decided to ‘solo’ on his debut LP. Soft Connections is a brilliant slice of Aztec Camera inspired pop.

bestfriends
Best Friends – Hot. Reckless. Totally Insane. (FatCat)
Best Garage Rock Inspired by Orange Juice: Best Friends’ debut isn’t groundbreaking, earth shattering or revolutionary. It’s just plain fun.

nicolewillis
Nicole Willis & the Soul Investigators – Happiness In Every Style (Timmion)
Best Helsinki Soul Album: Brooklyn born Willis and her Finish Soul Investigators made one of my favorite soul revival records of the year.

DayRavies
Day Ravies – Liminal Zones (Sonic Masala)
Best Album by a Fake Kinks Revival Band: On their second LP, Sydny’s Day Ravies shed any hint of shoegaze and go for a raw psychedelic sound and prove that they’re good at that too.

expalt
Expert Alterations – You Can’t Always Be Right (Kanine)
Best Jangle Pop Album: You can’t always be right, but at least you can sound good even if you favor sonically dissonant pop. If this is album is wrong, I don’t want to be right

outfit
Outfit – Slowness (Memphis Industries)
Best Mark Hollis Revival Album: The sophomore album from Liverpool’s Outfit was entrancing. It contained no obvious hits, but it was a record that easily commanded my interest listen after listen.

knifepleats
Knife Pleats – Hat Bark Beach (Lost Sound)
Best West Coast 90’s Indiepop Album: Rose Melberg finally decides to revisit her Tiger Trap and Go Sailor roots with her new band and proceeds to satisfy the soul.
fireworks
The Fireworks – Switch Me On (Shelflife)
Best Buzzy Noise Pop Album: An intensely energetic debut based on a Jesus & Mary Chain, Shop Assistants and the Razorcuts. This one was right in my wheelhouse!

saunayouth
Sauna Youth – Distractions (Upset the Rhythm)
Best Album by a band With an Alter Ego: No their not Sonic Youth’s alter ego, Sauna Youth moonlight as Monotony. Distractions was tour de force of frantic noisy anthems influenced by the Fall and Wire.

primitiveparts
Primitive Parts – Primitive Parts (Trouble In Mind)
Best Blur Album This Year: Male Bounding and Sauna Youth members team up for a straightforward maelstrom of sharp guitar focused punkish pop.

valet
Valet – Nature (Kranky)
Best Cocteau Twins Impersonation: This Portland group start anew on Nature and thanks to Honey Owens ethereal voice aim for the stars.

traams
Traams – Modern Dancing (FatCat)
Best Krauty-Shouty Album: I really liked Traams’ debut album, but Traams fine tuned their sound into controlled chaos to take Modern Dancing to the next level.

kitchensfloor
Kitchen’s Floor – Battle of Brisbane (Bruit Direct)
Best Dissonant Brutalist Album: Battle of Brisbane has topical similarities with Woolen Men’s Temporary Monument, but Matt Kennedy’s Kitchen’s Floor sounds angrier and ready for a fight.

Terrible Truths 2015 LP cover PRINT READY
Terrible Truths – Terrible Truths (Bedroom Suck)
Best Intensely Laid-back Album: This album had some similarities with the Shopping LP, but Terrible Truths somehow accomplish the trick of sounding tightly wound and laid back at once.

woolenmen
Woolen Men – Temporary Monument (Woodsist)
Best Monument to the Have Nots: Portland’s Woolen Men combine elements of Wire, the Wipers and  REM to create a passionate document berating the new rich and lingering recession.

saunandstarr
Saun & Starr – Look Closer (Daptone)
Best Surprise Album by Back-up Singers: Starr Duncan Lowe and Saundra Williams  were backup singers for Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings. I think they will have their own permanent gig after this stellar debut.

jessicapratt
Jessica Pratt – On Your Own Love Again (Drag City)
Best Album to Listen to Under a Pink Moon: If you didn’t know better, you would assume that this album is 50 years old and was produced by Joe Boyd. Out of time and otherworldly.

twerps
Twerps – Range Anxiety (Merge)
Best Australian Album to Sound like It’s from New Zealand: No sophomore slump problems from this Melbourne band, in fact they appear to be a bottomless well of pop goodness.

vietcong
Viet Cong – Viet Cong (JagJaguwar)
Best Ballsy album by a band with no Balls: This Canadian band take their sound from many brave sounding bans like Gang of Four, the Comsat Angels and the Chameleons. Too bad they’re waffling under pressure to change their name.

frankieandwitchfingers
Frankie & the Witch Fingers – Frankie & the Witch Fingers (Permanent)
Best Garage Rock Album: This album made me appreciate the saturated garage rock genre again.

theeohsees
Thee Oh Sees – Mutilator Defeated At Last (Castle Face)
Best John Dwyer Album of the Year: The most varied and consistent album yet from this perennial favorite.

sheeragony
Sheer Agony – Masterpiece (Couple Skate)
Smartest Canadian Rock Album With an Old Guy on the Cover: How smart?  How about combining mod era Lilys with the skewed pop of the Shins to come up with an endlessly interesting and engaging LP. This Montreal group seem to already have mastered everything on their debut.

willieweird
Willie Weird – The Scuzzy Inputs Of Willie Weird (Stroll On)
Best Album to Go Off the Deep End: Kelley Stolz’s alter ego comes up with a fractured pop gem

joannagruesome
Joanna Gruesome – Peanut Butter (Slumberland)
Best Album to Supply a Vegetarian Source of Protein: The second album of jarring pop from this Cardiff group really sticks to your ribs.

tamvantage
Tam Vantage – Life in High Definition (Lost and Lonesome)
Best Album by a Pop Single: The debut solo album from former Pop Singles front man is a complex and accomplished record.

shifters3
The Shifters – The Shifters (Comfort 35)
Best Hex Enduction Album: This was the first time I can ever remember not buying the new Fall album. I smartly spent my money on the Shifters’ cassette instead.

Bittersweet Pocket Symphonies

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The Proper Ornaments have finally released a proper debut album. After last summer’s download only download only release on Lo which compiled their previous EP on No Pain in Pop,their debut single on Make a Mess, and some odds and ends the duo of James Hoare and Max Claps have employed Slumberland Records to issue their album Wooden Head. James Hoare who’s main band is Veronica Falls and also moonlights in the Ultimate Painting is a busy guy these days. For the Proper Ornaments he’s teamed up with Argentinian and one-time Andrew Loog Oldham protege Max Claps.

The duo met in a shop that Hoare was working at while Claps’s girlfriend attempted to steal a pair of boots.  It’s amazing what a shared love of the Velvet Underground can overcome. Named after a Free Deign Song, they get a lot of comparisons to the  Beach Boys, the Left Banke and Love. But if you ask my I think they sound like the Chills.

Wooden Head is nearly as good as their No Pain In Pop EP, but I don’t know if I think that because the EP had five astonishingly good good with no filler. It was easy to take in while Wooden Head is bigger and requires more time to consume.  The record is astonishingly good, it just  requires more time to your head around. Hoare and Claps sing in unison on nearly every song. Their melancholy, sparse psychedelic songs have a sing-song quality that makes them both comfortable and haunting at once. Each unassuming song buzzes into your ears to create endorphin rushes, but music being like a drug it takes more to recreate that initial high each time.

stream: The Proper Ornaments – Magazine (Wooden Head is out on Slumberland Records)

Talbot Adams and His Fifty Thousand Watt Kaleidoscope

talbotadams

Everyone’s in a band these days. Even solo acts give themselves a band name to give you the impression that they’re a gang of cool kids. I suppose it isn’t very punk rock or cool to be a solo artist. Are there any Elvis Costello’s, Leonard Cohen’s, Nick Lowe’s, Kate Bush’s or David Bowie’s these days. Yeah, I know those guys are actually still alive. What I mean, is there anyone new putting his or her name up on the marquee of that caliber? Very few people come to mind. Cate Le Bon, Ty Segall and Mac DeMarco are all I can think off the top of my head. One more you can add to that very short list is Talbot Adams. Adams was in a band called the Black & Whites who put an album out on Douchemaster in 2008 and then broke up in 2011. Now he is solo and not using a faux band name to masquerade his solo career. He doesn’t need to, as is evident on his newly released self-titled solo album.

For all intents and purposes, this self-titled album is his debut LP. Last year’s download only album was made up mostly of acoustic self-produced home recordings. Now he has a band and it’s electric. Drummer Beau Bourgeois and bassist Matt Patton to complete the power trio. The record is sort of powerpop with a psychedelic streak to it. Adams sings with an intensity the way Elvis Costello did when he was an angry young man but he tempers it with a smooth sophistication that was often present in Nick Lowe’s albums. He also employs some gentle psych touches that bring to mind bands like the Chills and the Moles. This record has all the ingredients to destine it to pop classic status, at least in realm of cult classics, and in my book there is no higher honor.

You can stream the entire record at Talbot Adams’ bandcamp page.
You can order a vinyl copy from Spacecase Records.

No More Waiting for the Proper Ornaments

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In Seattle, waiting for the summer can be excruciating. Some locals say it starts the day after independence day. Others say it doesn’t get here until Bastille Day. Some years you look forward to it for so long and then it arrives for three or four weeks and then is gone. Fleeting, as they say.

I have been patiently waiting for next Proper Ornaments record since their supremely satisfying EP that came out on No Fear In Pop back in 2011. Unlike summer the day of its release is firmly set as 21 June, the summer solstice. The proper start of summer.

Proper Ornaments are the duo James Hoare of Veronica Falls and Max Claps. The single is called appropriately enough Waiting for Summer and it is a sparse and shimmering little number that may remind you of the Clientele, the Chills or Hopkirk & Lee.  It will very likely you coat you in a thin layer of warmth as the northern hemisphere slowly tilts towards the sun.

Look out for a full length Proper Ornaments album sometime later this summer.

stream: The Proper Ornaments – Waiting For the Summer (from single on Lo Recordings)

Proper!

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.

The record is available from No Pain In Pop.

stream: The Proper Ornaments – Who Thought

 

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