The Stevens Moving Into the Fast Lane

Even Stevens

Pop lovers who love melodic dissonance (aka jangle-pop) on vinyl rejoice. The fine folks at the Melbourne based Chapter Music are set to release the Stevens eponymous six song EP. In case you missed last year’s Finest-Kiss-Melbourne-Extravaganza, the Stevens are pure pop brilliance smack dab in the middle of that current brilliant Melbourne pop scene.

The band self-released the EP last year on on homemade cassettes, CD’s and downloads, but now it’s about to get released as a seven-inch single. That’s not all, the band are putting the finishing touches on an album they are recording with the ubiquitous Mickey Young which they hope to have out before the end of the year.

If you’re a Stevens freak (like I am) be sure to pick up  a copy of the the Vacant Valley compilation Rough End of the Stick which contains an additional Stevens song Turpin Falls.

Stream: The Stevens – I Look Back (The EP is available now from bandcamp and in April on vinyl from Chapter Music)

Boomgates Do It Naturally


There is something about certain Australian bands and records: The Go-Betweens‘ 16 Lovers Lane, Paul Kelly and Coloured Girls‘ Gossip, the Triffids’ Born Sandy Devotional, the Church‘s Of Skins and Heart, the Lucksmiths‘ Warmer Corners, the Saints‘ I’m Stranded, Twerps‘ debut, Eddy Current Suppression Ring‘s Rush to Relax. A diverse set of albums, but all them have something about them that sets them apart and makes them distinctly Australian. They have a sense of  urgency and isolation, a poetry about them and a way of sounding laid-back while singing about intense and decidedly unlaid-back  topics in their songs.  Yes, you could argue that the Saints and ECR don’t sound laid back, but the Saints brand of punk had a sense of space and playfulness about it (especially on their second album) that set it apart from your typical punk band of the day.

The Boomgates debut album released earlier this month on Bedroom Suck deserves to be included in this list of great Australian records.It’s a ray of sunshine, a faded photo, a favorite tattered shirt, a perfect companion and a kick in the pants. So good, I had to go track by track to review it.

Flood Plain – could be about a relationship, the downfall of our civilization or simply about how some people inexplicably build their houses in flood plains. The take-away of course is don’t think it can’t happen to you because the next 100 year flood is right around the corner.

Layman’s Terms – This gets a dust off from last year’s 7-inch, but even I, who listened to this song way too many times on a 7-inch have not grown tired of this beauty that harkens back to the Go-Betweens beauty.

Cows Come Home – This one reminds me a little of a Bats or Magic Heads song (“Hold all the butter till the cows come home” anyone?). Steph Hughes voice is so sweet on this, Huntly’s spoken word part lends some gravity, and the line “Because I’m a hundred years old” lends a sense that this was written by an old soul

Natural Progression – The guitar riff sounds like a super slowed down ECR song. “I got stuck in a lift went down”. Huntly and Hughes sing the entire song together and there are parts where it sounds like he’s dominating and parts where she does. There are some great harmonies that remind me a little of Free Design and Veronica Falls. Self-doubt ensues, “I’m making mountains out of mole hills”

Cartons and Cans – A song about recycling? No, of course not.  “There are so many things I should do that should have already done.” The whistling is flawlessly done. Any band that can incorporate a whistling part and not make you cringe is operating at higher level.

Whispering and Singing – Side two kicks off with a freight train through the bedroom.  Huntly sing’s “Don’t know when you’re leaving” and it sounds like a train whistle while the rhythm section chugs along. Firehose wrote a song called Whisperin’ and Hollerin’. Whispering and Singing probably has nothing to do with Firehose, but it reminds me of them and this is a good thing. Boomgates are ragin’ full-on here.

Hold Me Now – Not the Thompson Twins song. This is a nice one, but it’s kind of a break from the full-on, no let up that this record has been to this point. Even a lesser song by the Boomgates sounds pretty good. Expertly sequenced to allow for a rest, and quite a nice siesta it is.

Hanging Rock – Jangly into. “I gave it all with my genuine leather, you gave me more with your 100% cotton blend.” Friends become lovers, pull their socks up to picknick at a Hanging Rock and then fall apart. Infatuation and those first moments. Newness and the constant search for that initial feeling. Fleeting. That’s why it’s so great. Anything that good and intense will never last. Well maybe it will if you pull your socks up and keep listening.

Everything – “All the dishes keep piling in the sink”, reminds me of my college days. Living with five other guys and no one would do their dishes. Man, it made me feel like dying old. The drums keep building and building while the guitars get more intense. Finally either someone dies or does the dishes. I’d like to think that he did the dishes before he died.

Any Excuse – Every album needs a great closing song. Actually does it? Does anyone listen to a record all the way through in a sitting. I do, and I appreciate it when a band has the sense to put a song at the end that sounds like it should go at the end. The guitar sounds like it was directly lifted from the Velvet Underground which is no bad thing. It also has a little bit of a honky-tonk feel to it.  Huntly ends up in a two minute refrain about turning the soil, watering your garden, giving it love, and watching it grow.  Amen!

The Boomgates album is out in Australia. If you live there hit up Bedroom Suck. In the States head to Goner or Amazon if you’re looking for mp3’s.

Crushed Stars, Rattlesnakes and the Apple Boutique

Crushed Stars‘ album In the Bright Rain has been haunting me for past two months. Based on the music and the photo on the inner sleeve Todd Gautreau is a dour fellow, but he does dour with class.  Gautreau who is 90% of Crushed Stars has created a low-key masterpiece that combines the melancholy bookishness of Lloyd Cole, the cascading guitars of Felt and the refined elegance of the Blue Nile.

He writes, sings and plays most everything except for drums where he employs the help Jeff Ryan of War on Drugs and St. Vincent. Using Ryan as the drummer makes this album sound less of a bedroom sad- fest and more like a wind swept, rain in your face travail. Every song is a slow gauzy veil that drapes itself over you as you listen. You try to doff each one  but, they stay with you, their sadness and their delicate beauty.

Crushed Stars have been around for over 10 years (this is their 5th album) and Gautreau also records as Sonogram. In the Bright Rain is the acme of Gautreau’s career thus far. I have a few favorite songs on the record, but they change depending on my mood. Rays of them pass through and they glisten a little differently on every listen. It’s a record who’s stunning melancholy weaves its way into your conscious resulting in a sublime pleasure.

mp3: Crushed Stars – Brighter Now (from In the Bright Rain on Simulacra)
[audio http://home.comcast.net/~finestkiss2/chansons/CrushedStars-BrighterNow.mp3]

A big thanks to the fine folks at Austin Town Hall for writing about Crushed Stars a few months ago.