Beating my Chinese New Year deadline by nearly two months, here is my list of favorite records of the past 12 months. Was it this year that the music blog officially died? It seems like more are going dark, and fewer are starting up. I shall endeavor to do better this year. This year also saw the really bad idea of labels not including downloads with copies of vinyl records. If you are one of those labels, please reconsider. I love the download card! My record player does not travel well and I hate buying stuff twice.
1. Lime Crush – Sub Divide (Fettkakao)
Finally, an LP to follow up this Austrian band’s ace 2015 7”. Sharp, punky numbers full of spite, humor and a little sax. All three songs from that single smartly resurface here and a surprise vocal from Calvin Johnson at the end ties the it all together.
2. Spirit of the Beehive – Hypnic Jerks (Tiny Engines)
Hypnic Jerks (I love that title) is the third LP from this Philly band. It has elements of Deerhunter, Lilys, Brainiac, Swirlies and many other unsung, underground darlings in my record collection.
3. Dumb – Seeing Green (Mint)
Most would file Dumb under Pavement/Parquet Courts, but I dig way these Vancouver underground rockers’ punky songs evoke Big Boys, sport an offbeat sense of the absurd and (probably) make an unintentional nod to Stewart Copeland’s alter ego Klark Kent.
4. Shopping – the Official Body (Fatcat)
For album number three (why does nobody call the third album their junior effort) Shopping rip it up and start again. Not exactly, but they employed Edwyn Collins to produce the record. Their brand of dancy post-punk benefits from an infusion of Orange Juice to make it their most accessible record yet.
5. Jonathan Fitoussi & Clemens Hourriere – Espaces Timbres (Versatile)
This duo employ vintage modular synthesizers to create ambient landscapes that share topographical similarities with Kraftwork’s Radioactivity and Eno’s ambient stuff. Rarely does ambient music feel so powerful, but this record is juiced with the ability to make one feel they are floating into other realms.
6. Free Love – Luxury Hits (Full Ashram)
The Glasgow duo formerly known as Happy Meals smartly change their name to Free Love for their debut LP. Luxury Hits is 80’s style synthpop made with updated tech and the song Playing as Punks may be my favorite song of both 1988 and 2018.
7. Sons of Kemet – Your Queen Is a Reptile (Impulse)
I didn’t even know that the Impulse label still existed as a label that put out new stuff. This is the group’s third album and its tuba, trombone, sax, clarinet attack spans Mingus, Jamaican ska/reggae, Coltrane and Sun Ra. Remarkable, even for non-jazz aficionados like myself.
8. Shannon Shaw- In Nashville (Easy Eye Sound)
Is it ok to say that I like this better than any Shannon & the Clams albums? The Shaw – Auerbach collaboration reminds me a little of accomplished pop-psych that came out of the Del Shannon – Andrew Loog Oldham collaboration.
9. Flasher – Constant Image (Domino)
I love how this DC band blend Hometown influences like Unrest and Holland with Three O’clock style paisley underground into a brilliant record that goes against the current grain. If this came out 25 years ago it woulda been on Teenbeat fer sure!
10. Gwenno – Le Kov (Heavenly)
For her sophomore album Gwenno has switched from singing in Welsh to singing in Cornish, a minor detail probably for most of us who speak neither. Whatever language she sings in, Gwenno excels at the lingua franca of krautrock-psychedelic-soundtrack strain of rock.
The older I get the more I think that there should be a new music moratorium every January so that you can catch up on all of the stuff that you missed from the previous year. Yeah, I know that ain’t gonna happen. So here we are. It’s not quite mid-January, and here I am hoisting upon you dear readers one more 2013 list. I promise that this is the last one. It’s kind of a special one because it is my favorite records from my adopted hometown. If I didn’t live in Seattle some of these records would have been in my best albums of the year. Also, if I didn’t live here I probably would have missed some of these since you actually have to live in a local scene to hear the local scene. Here is the best stuff that I discovered through osmosis, going to shows, and reading local blogs and papers. Picking a favorite record from my fair city is like picking a favorite child. I love them all the same, at least that’s what I tell them.
Universe People incorporate the sweetness of Dolly Mixture, the arty obtuseness of Wire, the irreverence of the Fall and humor of the Intelligence onto their debut album. This, in my book, is the perfect elixir.
In a year where major web sites seemed to publish Morrissey’s every move, former Harvey Danger Sean Nelson released his debut solo album that was as literate, sharp and self-deprecating as anything the Mozzer has done in the last 20 years. Throw in some cocktail jazz and some Zombies psychedelia and you have a pretty darn good album.
Formerly known as Evening Meetings, the rechristened Dreamsalon tighten things up a little on Thirteen nights and aren’t afraid to let the hooks fly. Post-punk dourness that is part moody Echo and the Bunnymen and part piss and vinegar of the Fall through the lens of Seattle punk cognoscenti.
One of only two EP’s in this list of records, but well worth checking out. Trevor Dickson is in the Nightgowns, but here he takes a dash of Sinatra, some Joao Gilberto and some northwest ingenuity to come up with Summer Legs, one of the best songs I heard this year.
Four girls from a city with barely a hint of sunshine and marginal wave action d make a timeless glassy sounding surf record. They sound like they’ve been doing this for ages. The guitars shoot the curl and the harmonies flash off the water like rays of sun in your ears.
The debut album from Wimps gives me the impression that they’re punk classicists. Repeat is the classic punk formula of guitar, bass and drum and a healthy sense of humor courtesy of Rachel Ratner’s knack for being able to make life’s disappointments still sound disappointing, but with in an irreverent humorous slant.
Sometimes when a band consistently releases great albums filled with hooky pop people start taking them for granted. Pretend To Be Brave is their fifth album of slightly fractured, eternally hopeful indiepop. BOAT continue to capture my imagination, I wish more people would allow themselves to be swept up into their brightly colored superhero world.
The Purrs deliver again with another hallucinogenic masterpiece. Guitars swoop and dive in and out while singer and bassist Jima takes you on a ride in a derailed monorail to some seedy interstellar locale. The perfect soundtrack to navigating globular clusters.
stream: Purrs – Over and Out
Math and Physics Club – Our Hearts Beat Out Loud (Matinée)
Math and Physics Club have certainly been called twee, but on their third album they veer more towards soft rock and that is no bad thing. Kids these days have a penchant for Paul Simon and Cat Stevens records, and MAPC with their sweet and tender songs evoke those fellows while still keeping their indiepop/twee roots intact.
stream: Math & Physics Club – We Won’t Keep Secrets
Chastity Belt shocked the internet with their band photo that featured singer Julia Shapiro wearing a steak locked over her crotch. Based on last year’s Ponytail single, we already knew that they could be insolent and funny, but could they deliver a full album that sustained that brashness? Chastity Belt seem to not give a shit about anything except making good record,s and they’ve succeeded at that. Fuck everything else.
stream: Chastity Belt – James Dean
Jetman Jet Team – We Will Live The Space Age (Saint Marie)
Erik Blood better watch out, because Jetman Jet Team are coming up fast in his rear view mirror to try and usurp his shoegaze king of Seattle crown. Heavy MBVisms abound, but they also incorporate some of the whiteout techniques of Flying Saucer Attack and even some of that smoke and mirrors hypnotism employed often in 1970’s Germany. This is mind-expanding,tremelo bending, psychotropic miasma.
Poor Neighbors. This was scheduled to come out as a 10″ EP on Manic Pop Records, but the release date unfortunately coincided with the implosion of their record label. Left to their own devices, the band released this as bandcamp virtual record. That’s unfortunate because my record player would have gotten a real thrill playing this record which takes Pavement, REM, Camper Van Beethoven and the Wedding Present throws it into a blender and comes up with best smoothie I ever had.
stream: Neighbors – What You See In Me
We Are Loud Whispers – Suchness (Hardly Art)
Sonya Wescott who you may remember as half of Arthur and Yu made a trans-Pacific album with Ayumu Haitani who resides in Japan. While the obvious parallel is the Postal Service and the electronic blips reinforce that parallel, We Are Loud Whispers are more ear tickling and anthemic. I get the feeling that they’ve got a few Field Mice and St. Etienne records on top of owning everything that Morr records has ever released. Subtle and sublime.
The pile is getting a little lighter, but I’m still buried. Welcome to part three of the first ever mid-year round-up of 2013’s best records. La Femme – Psycho Tropical Berlin (Born Bad)
“La Femme are dark wave surfers from Paris that ride waves of synths and guitars into a globally warmed tropical Berlin.This groop has read their share of le Carré spy novels, had their fill of Ventures records, probably have an original pressing of Les Visiteurs Du Soir by Mathématiques Modernes, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they listened to the Intelligence since they share a label with them in La France.”
The Courtneys debut album is snotty, adolescent fun that reminds me of Tuscadero, Tacocat and Bratmobile. The record is full of super melodic and slightly shambolic songs. It’s nothing new under the sun, but it is so consistently good which is something that is somewhat rare under the sun.
“The Boy With Astronaut Eyes is the Purrs’ sixth (or seventh) album and it may be their best since The Chemistry That Keeps Us Together. Bassist and songwriter Jima has come up with a great batch of songs that rivals Chemistry’s top shelf stuff. The songs are dusty, gritty, cosmic and road-ready. They feel like futuristic wild west space tales.”
Oakland band Legs have a melancholy 60’s vibe and they add in an 80’s indie jangle to come up with a winning combination. I have no idea what Pass the Ringo refers to. If it means pass a plate of food that looks like what’s on the cover, no thanks. If it means putting on this record and kranking it up then yes please. Bonus points for writing the companion piece to the Tyde’s Go Ask Yer Dad in their song Go Ask Your Mother.
“Mark Monnone’s first solo album stays firmly in Lucksmiths territory, good songs, some slightly silly lyrics, a few serious lyrics and a general good time. He also finds some new inspiration and stretches out a bit to ensure that it doesn’t sound like a total retread.”
We knew that Mathew Melton was capable of pop goodness from his previous band Bare Wires, but Warm Soda sees him honing his powers to killer effect. Some For You is like the Raspberries mixed with Teenage Fanclub and King Tuff. The hits keep coming and coming on this record.
stream: Warm Soda – Jeannie Loves Pop
Big Deal – June Gloom (Mute)
The boy girl duo Big Deal know how to do big pop hooks the same way the boy girl duo Joy Zipper use to do. Crunchy hooks draped with all of the accoutrements of big production that is reminiscent of early 90’s and the work of Butch Vig. Big sounding production more often than not is a mistake, but Big Deal writes songs that beg to sound big.
You know what I like about the Purrs? Among their many charms, they have cars in their songs. Cars to take you to the place where everything’s going down and cars to escape after you’ve had enough. Out here in the wide open west, contrary to the current political winds, you need a car. It’s big out here and things ain’t getting any closer together. If you want to feel connected you’ve gotta get in the car and drive. If you want to disconnect from everything, you also need a one, and the Purrs understand that. They know when to cruise and they know when to put the pedal to the floor.
The Boy With Astronaut Eyes is the Purrs’ sixth album and it may be their best since The Chemistry That Keeps Us Together. Bassist and songwriter Jima has come up with a great batch of songs that rivals Chemistry’s top shelf stuff. The songs are dusty, gritty, cosmic and road-ready. They feel like futuristic wild west space tales. Jason Milne’s interstellar guitar solos propel the songs into the nether realms. New rhythm guitarist Liz Herrin provides some angelic backing vocals to counter Jima’s road-worn ones, while drummer Craig Keller is the designated driver that keeps the songs on the road or at least on a trajectory to intersect with the next outpost.
This batch of Purrs songs are doused in gasoline and then lit up with guitars. Cemetery Johnny is a blast of feedback over a killer bass groove that feels like Love and Rockets gone bad. They also can take you on strung out road trips down lonely west coast highways with acid rain pelting the windshield and if there is a bar on the roadside you can be sure that they are stopping. Fade Away may be thee strung out power drive to end all trips. Both sides of their single from last year re-appear here as well, which if you already have it may come as a disappointment instead of something else, but both Rotting On the Vine and You the Medicine and Me are more than worthy if you don’t do singles.
So the question is: Is this new Purrs album worth the road trip? The first time I heard the Purrs I was in a car. It wasn’t a wide open road. I wasn’t driving to nowhere and there wasn’t a trail of dust in my wake, but when that song came on the radio, I felt like like I could bypass the grocery store and speed off towards the horizon. This record will have you reaching for the keys.
The Purrs play this Thursday, May 30th at the Comet Tavern. They’re currently in the studio with Erik Blood recording their next record that’s bound to be killer.
Man I love the kind of psych that Seattle’s Purrs deal in. Their strung-out deep vein vibes are the good stuff that will break apart any coagulation in your overly tense stressed out body. The problem though is that they’ve been hard to hook up with lately to get a fix of new Purrs songs. It’s been over two years since their last EP. Consequently I’ve been tensing up more, my blood pressure has been rising and I fear there may be some deep vein thrombosis setting in.
Just in time, the Purrs are back with a new 7-inch single that serves as a cocktail for their upcoming album. I already feel the blood flow being helped along by the medicine delivered via this two song single. Rotting on the Vine injects itself quite nicely. It’s a boost of pop with cool vocals and soaring guitars. B-side You, the Medicine and Me is more the slow release kind of med. It trickles into your being like ice in the veins. God, I feel so much better now. Thank you Dr. Purrs!
The Purrs kick off their latest EP with a Red Lorry Yellow Lorry Cover. Only Dreaming which comes from the Lorry’s album Nothing Wrong was kind of a plodding dirge from the UK quasi goths. The Purrs on the other hand make the song soar. Guitars come diving in from multiple directions and Jima out disaffects the Lorry’s Chris Reed with his dead-pan vocal. The Purrs vastly improve on the Lorry’s source code, altering it to the point of making it their own.
Tearing Down Paisley Garden seems to be a kind of a stop gap between albums where the band hone their spaced-out paisley rock. It allows them to stretch out and clear the closet of old favorites that they never gave enough attention to, do a couple cover songs, and fit in a couple new ones that didn’t quite fit onto last year’s Amused Confused and More Bad News. Live favorites Just A Little More and It Could Be So Wonderful finally get laid down to tape, and there’s another cover in Lee Hazlewood’s I Move Around. The Purrs have been going for ten years with no signs of slowing. Tearing Down Paisley Garden continues the Church, Luna and contrary to the its title, Paisley Underground direction. The band seem to have the uncanny ability to toss off laid back spacey vibrations without raising their heart rates. Here’s to their continued good health and the next ten years.
Something that has never happened in my life happened this year. I have never lived anywhere where I can honestly say that my top three favorite records of the year came out of the city in which I reside. It’s been an honor, and a delight to live in Seattle this year because I have had the opportunity to see the Intelligence, BOAT and Erik Blood more times than I can count. Usually, if you’re lucky you might get one chance to see your favorite band come through your town for a gig. I have had that opportunity time after time and have tried to take advantage as many times as possible. Every one of those shows was blast, and as good, if not better than their respective records.
There were so many good records that were put out by bands from the Pacific Northwest that it really was an embarrassment of riches. It was tough narrowing this list down to ten, and any of the the honorable mentions at the end of the list were likely on this list at some point during the year. So thanks Seattle and thanks to all these records for making this year pretty darn amazing.
1. Intelligence – Fake Surfers(In the Red)
Smart guy Lars Finberg must be a tortured soul. He can write as good a song as anybody else, but he likes to sabotage his creations with strangeness. Listening to an Intelligence record, you immediately realize all is not right, and that is exactly what makes this band and this album so great. The record is packed with weird sounds, weird songs and inside jokes. That’s probably not a good way to describe my favorite record of the year, but you’ve got to work a little to enjoy it. The Intelligence don’t make records for people who like the obvious. Fake Surfers has just enough of the obvious to draw you in, but it was the strangeness of it that kept me in. A good example of this is the song Warm Tranfers, which sounds like a drunk Dean Martin singing while tied down a couple leagues somewhere in Lake Union. Besides releasing Fake Surfers, this year we got two albums from the Intelligence. I know dyed in the wool lo-fi purists preferred the other album Crepuscule Avec Pacman, which was essentially Finberg by himself at his claustrophobic best, but I thought the wider, more spacious and thought out Fake Surfers was a huge leap forward for the band.
2. BOAT – Setting the Paces (Magic Marker)
Of BOAT’s three albums Setting the Paces is the funnest. It’s like super-sized BOAT containing the same ingredients of the first two records, but just more of it. Add in better songs and better production and you’ve got busting out of their underachiever cocoon. They’re still singing about seemingly strange things like Giant Centipedes, tractor beams, drinking diet cola and sleeping in pajamas that are too small, but the songs and production are so much improved that the record just pops out of your stereo. The choruses are so big and undeniable, I’ve found myself in the car by myself belting them out. Setting the Paces is BOAT, no longer content with the underachiever moniker, laying all out, going for it, and totally succeeding.
3. Erik Blood – The Way We Live (Self-released)
This was nearly my number one for last year, but since it was not officially released until this year I sat on it. The Way We Live definitely has staying power, it has been in constant rotation around here all year and nothing on it has gotten old. Erik Blood was in the Turn-Ons who seem to be on an indefinite hiatus. He always contributed a song or two to each Turn-Ons album, but nothing that really prepared me for this tour de force. Blood is obviously is a fan of a lot of the shoegaze bands that were all the rage in the early 90’s, but he seems to effortlessly add a touch of soul to his songs that put them on some other plane. The final song on the record does something I have never heard before, combining shoegaze with soul into to something that sounds so natural and right. It’s an amazing song and leaves me with shivers up my spine every time I hear it. When was the last time a record did that to you?
4. Charles Leo Gebhardt IV – Unfaithful (GGNZLA)
Charles Leo Gebhardt plays in the Unnatural Helpers, Idle Times and probably a few other bands I don’t know about. He also has a solo gig and Unfaithful was the first fruits of that endeavor. It’s only five songs but every one of them is so good that he makes an impression in a very short amount of time. Unfaithful is pretty straightforward minimalist, low key guitar pop, but the songs have an antique feel to them in a similar vein of Girls that will make you swear you’ve heard them somewhere before.
5. Tea Cozies – Hot Probs (So Hard)
The Tea Cozies are a Seattle band with UK pop sensibilities. The pop charms of Kenickie, Sleeper and Elastica are not lost on this lot. Hot Probs comes smoking out the gate with songs that will have you checking to see where the heck this record was made. Oh, Erik Blood is producing. Heard of him. For a name that is so cute sounding, the Tea Cozies have attitude in spades and the songs to back it up. These ladies (and one guy) rock!
6. Visqueen – Message to Garcia (Local 638)
Speaking of Girls that rock, Rachel Flotard is pretty much synonymous with the term. She has had her band Visqueen boxed away in bubble wrap for the last few years while she took care of her ailing father. The bubble wrap is off and Visqueen are back with an album that doesn’t take it’s foot off the accelerator. Even the songs with violin, cello and horns rock like nobody’s business. Back in the 70’s girls screamed for Robin Zander and Cheap Trick. Here in Seattle in the 00’s boys are screaming for Rachel Flotard and Visqueen, or at least they should be.
7. Nightgowns – Sing Something (Self-released)
The Nightgowns who were formerly known as the Elephants sound like they could be on Morr, the German label known for dreamy, electronic pop that you can kind of dance too. Sing Something is chock full of songs that have buzzing, humming, blipping and squelching synthesizers over top of them. More importantly it contains some excellent pop songs done in damp, grey, melodramatic, maudlin fashion. Sing Something will keep you on your toes throughout with it’s slightly sad and slightly punchy songs.
8. Purrs – Amused Confused and More Bad News (Self-released)
I like to think of the Purr’s as Seattle’s resident spaced-out cowboys. Their songs sound part gunslinger blues and part spacey guitar jams. The twin effects-laden guitar attack topped off with Jima’s cool disaffected voice make everything the Purrs do sound drop dead cool. Amused Confused and More Bad News was less immediate than their previous outings, revealing it’s charms only after repeated listens, but in the end it was just as worthy.
9. Dutchess & the Duke – Sunset/Sunrise (Hardly Art)
This record was kind of like the Purrs record for me. It wasn’t as immediate as their first album, but after repeated listens the onion started to peel. Where She’s the Dutchess took a punk attitude to 60’s folk and re-formed it into something familiar yet foreign, Sunset/Sunrise continues along that trajectory, but delves deeper, embracing it without irony. The songs are slower, but no less engaging, they just take a little longer to get to know. Many bands are mining the 60’s motherload for inspiration, or just plane ripping it off, but the Dutchess and the Duke have taken that same inspiration, run with it, and turned it into something uniquely their own.
10. Naomi Punk – S/T (Self-Released)
Mysterious band, mysterious record. Full of Oh Sees style riffs, but slowed down which gives them a slightly euphoric feel. This is truly blissed out cave stomp rock and roll. Back in the 60’s every Pacific Northwest garage band that was worth its salt did a version of Louie Louie. I would love to hear Naomi Punk’s version. It would likely be slowed way down, like listening to a 45 at 33 rpm. The vocals would be buried so low in the song that you would barely be able to make out the melody and it would sound so huge that it would make your eardrums burst.
Other Seattle/PNW records that got a lot of my attention this year: Black Whales – Origins | Desolation Wilderness – New Universe | Eat Skull – Wild and Inside | Grand Archives – Keep In Mind Frankenstein | Green Pajamas – Poison In The Russian Room | Hotels – Where Hearts Go Broke | Intelligence – Crepuscule Avec Pacman | Karl Blau – Zebra | Ragedy Anns – ST | Say Hi – Oohs & Aahs | Scraps – ST | Sea Navy – Memory Matches | Spits – IV | Young Fresh Fellows – I Think This Is