It was a three day holiday weekend here in the U.S. and that means one more day of doing whatever it is you prefer occupying your time with on a regular weekend. In my case you might be surprised to hear that it wasn’t listening to records, because frankly who has the time to sit and listen to vinyl during the waning days of summer? I was listening to music though. Being an American raised in the rural hinterlands of the Midwest my preferred method of listening to music is in the car with the windows down and the sun shining if possible. So here is my past weekend of highlights in the car. Admittedly this post would have been much better if I would have thought to snap photos at random points from the driver’s side, but that kind of thing is illegal and a might bit dangerous. So better off safe and boring from the photo perspective. It’s all I can do to remember a turn signal sometimes when a good song is turned up loud on the car stereo.
I had listened to the new Tyde record (nice Scott Walker reference on the cover!) a few times sitting at a desk doing work and it didn’t really connect except for the single The Curse In Reverse in which Tyde main guy Darren Rademaker is aided by former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler to startling good results. But as I crossed the Ballard Bridge with the sun hitting me through the windshield Nice To Know You blasted out of my windows and I immediately got it. This record is not supposed be listened to in an office or a basement. It needs sunshine, wind and at least 35 miles per hour. I was doing an errand, but I passed my turn on purpose to keep listening. Luckily the record only has seven songs on it so I didn’t waste too much petrol.
Later that night I had to run to grocery store to gather some food for the grill. It takes about two songs to get to the store which is just about perfect for a 7-inch single. Often when I’m heading to the store I’ll pick something that I’ve just put onto my phone. In this instance it was the new Hozac single from Soft Candy. The Chicago band sound like LA Paisley Underground and must be fans of the Rain Parade. The rolling psychedelia of Bixarre Luv Pyramids had me in such a daze that I almost rolled through a red light. I screeched to a halt (I was only going about 10 mph) in time to allow an elderly couple to cross Market Street. I Waited for the light to turn green and as it did the wonderful Kinks like piano of Song for Ellie Mae percolated from the speakers and carried me into the parking lot of the store. Damn I forgot my shopping list!
Late morning on our way to a trail head for a hike in the Cascades we are driving east on the I-90. It’s turning into a good day as the sun begins to burn off the clouds. Of course I’m starting to feel guilty about all of this driving. If I lived on a ranch, I’d take a horse and a Bluetooth speaker, but Seattle doesn’t have any ranches so here I am behind the wheel again listening to Portland’s Verner Pantons who continue the Paisley Underground theme of the prior evening’s trip to the grocery store only they subscribe more to the Long Ryders’ slant of psychedelia. It’s sort of dusty sounding and it makes me wonder if cowboys carry Bluetooth speakers with them on their horses these days, because I can’t think of a better way to listen to this record than on a horse somewhere around Winchester, Washington. As it is, songs like Little Boat, Melancholy Girl and Sarah Saturday get us to the hike much faster than NPR’s Weekend Edition could ever hope to.
A long weekend always has a comedown and needs a soundtrack and by this time I had been in the car way too much but it’s the last hurrah of summer and who wants to be inside? Not me. Earlier in the spring I had trimmed the apple tree in my back yard and there was a pile of wood waiting for just the right night. As I said earlier I don’t own a horse, but I do own a Bluetooth speaker and it was in my back yard as the cool nigh air was kept at bay by the snap and crack of the fire pit. What better soundtrack to fire, stars and general serenity than the new Mild High Club LP Skiptracing? This group of Los Angeles followers of Steely Dan and High Llamas know how to relax, or at least put their listeners into a state of relaxation. How good? So good I could barely bring myself to put another log on the fire as the soothing sounds of Chapel Perilous floated through the air. Luckily I have a kid or two to do the heavy labor and the repeat button close at hand.
Los Angeles’ Dream Boys remind me of time not long ago when the first Tyde album came out. I was surprised how a band from Los Angles were able to sound like direct descendants of Felt. Back then when record stores were the only place you could buy music there was what’s called an import section and a certain American record buyers would search that section out because that was where all the best jangly pop stuff came from.
I doubt that Dream Boys peruse the import section of their local record store. Is there a record store these days that even has an import section? In fact you could argue that they don’t need an import section for their influences. Their own back yard is overflowing with potential inspirations. The Paisley Underground scene of the 80’s and of course the ground zero of everything that is jangle the Byrds. Dream Boys have two songwriters one favoring the UK flavor, the other seems to prefer the LA flavor. So you get the best of both worlds here.
Whether you dig the sounds of the Tyde, Bif Bang Pow, Long Ryders, the Bluebells, Close Lobsters, Felt, the Three O’clock or the Byrds there is something for you on this album. It will remind you of any of the above, or it may make you search out some of those bands to find out how Dream Boys got here. No matter the direction of your approach, this exceptional album will satisfy. Guaranteed!
Ventura, California’s Spires know how to create space in the midst of jangle. Their latest album Eternal Yeahs is a unique melange of Byrds mixed with some Television, some Church, Tyde and a healthy dose of Flying Nun’s patented Dunedin sound. It’s a something uniquely influenced by the dust of the Southern California desert and the pacific rim. Wide open dusty spaces juxtaposed with the undulating horizon of the Pacific ocean.
A lot of jangly bands give a feeling of claustrophobia with their sound, but The Spires brand of jangle inspires feelings of wide openness. One song is a mouthful of dust from the desert and the next has you walking off of the desert sand into the ocean break. I think it must be related living on the pacific rim and having wide open spaces at one’s doorstep.
They kind of remind of Seattle’s Purrs. A west coast band that continues to put out quality albums and stay fairly close to home. They also similarly possess unquestionable knowledge of their musical roots combined with impeccable taste with the know how to employ an expert pace and sprinkle quality throughout a long player. s. Eternal Yeahs doesn’t blow iit all in its first three. It sustains over the course of of 40 unforgettable minutes and keeps a lasting glow.
You can get a digital download or order a CD of the new album via the Spires’ bandcamp page. If you’re into vinyl, I hear their is a petroleum version of the album on the way soon.
I was going to do a list of my favorite records of the 00’s, but as I was getting my list together I started to realize it was kind of boring. Really, how many music blogs do you need to tell you the same thing? That’s when I began thinking about the records that came out over last 10 years that I thought were criminally ignored, or just didn’t seem to get a fair shake. So what I’ve got for you is a list of my most underrated albums of the decade. Every one of these records shoulda been a hit, but because the world is a cruel, cruel place they never were.
Putting this list together was a lot of fun, because it allowed me to make amends for some records that I missed the year they came out. There is not a year that goes by that I don’t discover my favorite album from the previous year in March of the next year. And so it goes….you’ll find a lot albums on this list that never made one of my year end lists from the past ten years. I can assure you though, that everyone of these would make my top 100 albums of the aughts. I just thought focusing on the underdogs would be a little more interesting than seeing some list with the same records as every other list out there. Hope that I have half-succeeded. Oh, and yeah, I know that the decade is officially over at the end of 2010, but I start counting at zero.
This was one of those buys where I was in a record store flipping through CD’s and saw a cover that caught my eye. I remember opening it up and seeing that Dan Treacy of Television Personalities had written the liner notes and thinking, that it’s got to be good. Unheard, I bought this at some overpriced record shop in Paris (I’m so cosmopolitan) and it soon thereafter became my favorite record for months on end. It’s got elements of Mazzy Star and shoegaze, but seems to carve out it’s own space making it kind of unclassifiable and kinda special. They would put out three more albums in the decade, but none came as close to perfection as Lank Haired Girl. To this day, I have no idea which one is Jo and which one is Danny.
It’s just like Mark E Smith to come back from near disaster with an amazing album. After being arrested for assault of his then girlfriend Julia Nagel in New York and having his long time band quit on him Smith returned with an entire new band and the Unutterable. He’d done it before, releasing Extricate after Brix left him, so there is some sort of precedence. It’s amazing how the Fall can still sound vital some 30 years into it, but they do, and this is example number one for the aughts (see also Heads Roll and Country on the Click).
Moose never officially broke up, so I still hold out hope. High Ball Me was their fourth and last album. All three previous records were criminally ignored, so why should this one be any different. The perennial underdogs, Moose made such great albums to the delight of those lucky enough to hear them. High Ball Me is no different except that this one got released not only in the UK but in the US, a first for the band. There was no slide in quality on High Ball Me. Incorporating Nilson, Buckly, Hazlewood and House of Love into an intricate wall of sound that Phil Spector would envy. It’s downright lush!
Before Broadcast became a laptop band, they were actually a real band and The Noise Made By People was the culmination of their autumnal space-age pop. It had an icy cold and unfeeling demeanor like Nico, but there was a glow to it like the Mamas and the Papas and a fiery intensity like Jefferson Airplane. You get the picture, it has a definite 60’s feel to it, but it has it without sounding too derivative. I remember seeing them at the Knitting Factory in LA for their tour to promote the album, and Broadcast as a full band in a live setting so greatly surpassed what they had put down on tape. Trish Keenan’s voice, the retro light show, the noise created by the keyboards, but mostly the guitars filled the room with a hazy shade of winter. Take note chillwave/laptop groups, you need a band, otherwise it’s just watching a guy clicking a mouse.
Some of the sounds on Goldfrapp’s debut album are otherworldly. It’s all strings and computers, but it sounds like it came from outer space. Outer space circa circa 1960, something akin to Peter Thomas’s soundtrack to Raumpatrouille. Alisson Goldfrapp looks like she could have been a Bond girl and has a voice to match. Before making Felt Mountain with Will Gregory, she had appeared on albums by Tricky and Orbital, so this record and its cinematic trip hop didn’t come out of nowhere, but the yodeling kind of did.
You know what I do with this album? I probably shouldn’t say this, but I only listen to the Amy Linton songs. No offense to Wyatt Cusak (he sings 3 of the 14 songs on the album), but I’m a sucker for that girl group sound augmented with a big wall of guitars and that is what Linton specializes in. The Aislers Set are kind of the Rosetta Stone of Slumberland, the linchpin of the label that links the seminal Black Tambourine to the current crop of bands like Lichtenstein, Brilliant Colors, Grass Widow, and Frankie Rose. If there was a song that came out in the year 2000 that is better than the lead off track The Way To Market Station, I have yet to hear it.
Admittedly Happiness from a Distant Star is not the best Animals that Swim album, that honor would got to I was the King, I Really Was the King, but Animals that Swim are so good that their third best album (they only made three) is better than anything someone like Sufijan Stevens could ever, ever come up with in his wildest dreams. Singer Hank Stars is like the UK version of Silver Jews’ Dave Berman. He paints vivid pictures of the down on their luck and downtrodden characters and does it with such an eye for melody and melancholy that you find yourself swept up in stories about Uncle Mackie, aliens and letter writing.
Up until Know By Heart, American Analog Set were background music to me, but with this record they seemed to grow some teeth and develop a pulse. It’s still mellow, but there is a welcome tension to their songs. The band create a hypnotic swirling sound that is so crisp and clean you could eat off of it. Although the playing is at the forefront (the drumming is lovely), front guy Andrew Kenny comes to bat with some really strong pop songs. The Postman is pretty unforgettable and Aaron & Maria is the poppiest thing that AmAnSet have ever laid to tape.
Back in 2001 I wrote that the Tyde answer the question: What if Felt were from Southern California? Darren Rademaker is an obvious fan that Birmingham, UK band, but you can also tell he knows his local history, showing an appreciation of the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield. When this record came out in 2001 I was living down in San Diego, the perfect place to hear it. Once was meant for the beach, surfing, getting good and high and eating at Swami’s Natural Food Cafe on a sunny Encinitas day.
Japanese pop alchemist Cornelius is a master of precision and layering on texture after texture onto the frame of a pop song. A song might start with a water drop, become a trickling stream and end up a waterfall. Each part taken by itself seems so basic and simple, but as they layer upon one another the complexity in it all becomes apparent. Cornelius has this uncanny ability to create these engineering marvels and still make them sound vibrant, catchy and exiting. If you ever have the chance to see him live jump at it, you will not regret it. A true master builder at work.
Lesser Matters has not lost a spec of goodness since I first heard it back in 2003. I never get tired of Johan Duncanson’s sleepy singing over top of the band’s over-modulated drums and feedback tinged guitars. I hesitate to call it Swedish shoegaze, but they do seem to worship at the alter of the Mary Chain, albeit with synthesizers and cheap drum machines. Later on in the decade Sophia Copula would put their music into movies and they would become somewhat more well known, but the band still seem to be a secret.
Any one of the A-Frames records could be on this list. The Seattle goth-punks birthed three albums in the early aughts and every single one of them was worthy. Their paranoid, doom-laden, angular take on punk rock comes off as it was made in A Brave New World. Everything is sterile, there is no emotion, and the skies are gray with nuclear fall-0ut. Their second album, intuitively titled 2 has just enough pop juxtaposed with dread to make it a winner. The band would go on to sign with Sub Pop for their third album, before drummer Lars Finberg would leave to concentrate on his other band the Intelligence. The A Frames are what so-Cal punks DI would have been if they lived in the Pacific Northwest deprived of sun, surf and girls. Feel the angst!
Blur. Bleh. Blah. Kind of sums up my opinion of Blur as their career progressed. I just kind of lost interest. Blur guitarist Graham Coxon always seemed like he was the conflicted member of the group, not really embracing their super-stardom, keeping his foot in the lo-fi with his solo albums. After he left the band, his records moved away from the feedback drenched jams to became a lot more structured and pop focused and Happiness in Magazines is easily his best record. He drafted Blur producer Stephen Street to twiddle the knobs and he showed up with his grade A songs. There’s the straightforward pop of Spectacular and Freakin Out, but he delves into the blues on Girl Done Gone and is downright funny on Bottom Bunk. I think with Happiness In Magazines Coxon reaches a level of comfortable with who he is and it shows.
Katerine– Robots Après Tout (2005: Rosebud/Barclay)
When this came out, I called it a freak-show in a jewel case. I stand by those words, but I mean them in the best possible way. Just by glancing at the cover you might get the idea that this is not your normal album. Yeah, Katerine is French, so maybe it was cool to walk around in pink silk turtlenecks and women’s underwear back in 2005 somewhere in France, but I kind of doubt it. Philippe Katerine’s records seemed to be getting stranger and stranger and this is the wacked out amazing culmination. I think I like the really over the top songs the best. The club-y strangeness of Borderline, the disco of 100% VIP and the funky Cornelius-like Qu’Est-Ce Qu’Il A Dit ? No matter what shade of strangeness you gravitate to, you will undoubtedly find it on this record and probably end up dancing to it.
Rough Bunnies – Rough Bunnies Saved My Life (2005: Self-released)
Frida and Anna are the Rough Bunnies. They’ve also been The Flame and Inside Riot, but Rough Bunnies is their favorite band. They’re kind of Riot Grrl, they’re kind of Moldy Peaches, but mostly they’re Swedish punks releasing cd-r’s. The songs are immediate and the Bunnies greatest concern seems to be to get it on tape before they forget it. So everything has a ramshackle, but endearing feel to it. The Bunnies are prolific as they are obscure, popping out CD-r’s like, umm rabbits. They nearly signed to Alan McGee’s Poptones and Fine Arts Showcase did an entire album of Rough Bunnies covers. Where do you start? Rough Bunnies Saved My Life might be their best album, and if you like it there’s a treasure trove waiting for you.
Ahh, the jangling 80’s. You know the saying, they don’t make ’em like they use to. Human Television take it to heart and conjure the ghosts of the Rain Parade, Dumptruck, the Feelies and Let’s Active. They write melancholy sounding songs punctuated by bright chiming and jangling guitars. It’s a tried and true juxtaposition, and Human Television do it so well that they are excused for not bringing something new to the table. Each and every one of these songs will make you shake your head in wonder at how good it is. How good? To paraphrase the album: sunshine on your face, room spinning round your head good.
2000 marked the release of the first Go-Between album in 12 years, Friends of Rachel Worth, and 2005 marked the release of this, the final Go-Betweens album because of Grant McClennan’s sudden death in 2006. On Oceans Apart, McClennan was ever-present with his classic wistful pop songs as always. He always seemed to be able to reel off perfect pop without even trying and Boundary Rider and Finding You are among his best. But, on Oceans Apart it was Robert Forster that put this record on the map as my favorite Go-Betweens album. His frantic opener Here Comes a City, historical reminiscing rampage of Darlinghurst Nights and beautiful Lavender put this Go-Betweens album in the hallowed company of 16 Lovers Lane.
I can’t help but think that if this album was released two or three years later it would have been much bigger. Of course I’m usually wrong about things like this, but singles like Nothing But Green Lights and A Little Word In Your Ear mine similar veins as what James Murphy gets called a genius for. Vek was in his early 20’s when he made We Have Sound, writing and playing everything. It was such a stellar debut, and the future looked so bright the guy was wearing shades. That was 2005, oh Tom where have you disappeared to?
The number one album of 2006, well at least here at the Finest Kiss. Obviously the band were nonplussed about the dubious honor, deciding to break up in early 2007. Verboten Fruchte is probably the German band’s most fleshed out record with lots of keyboards and even strings and horns. Like Love circa Forever Changes they’ve thrown off their garage rock roots and blossomed into a more nuanced and textured way of doing things. All of that fancy stuff can’t mask the garage rock origins of the band, it just shows their restlessness, and wanting to stretching out and trying new things. If you’re like me, this record will have you reaching for your German-English dictionary, so you know what exactly you’re singing along to.
There is one group of people who I know loves this record. Advertisers and marketing dickies have latched onto Below the Branches and won’t let go. You can’t turn on the TV these days without hearing a song from it. Kelley Stoltz can sell other people’s products with his music, but has trouble selling his own records. Below the Branches is chock full of classic pop, one listen and you’ll want to start a marketing company.
Holland – The Paris Hilton Mujahideen (2006: Teenbeat)
Almost coming off like a Guided By Voices record with short songs that are so catchy you can’t believe he only made them a minute and a half long. Shards of guitar crash down on echo-y bass and keyboards as one man band Trevor Kampman croons with an icy disconnectedness. The production is so clear, yet the songs are so jarring and choppy that they literally reach out and grab and shake you. Kampan is jaded, and down about the state of the world. Paris Hilton Mujahideen is good illustration of the world back in 2006. Not much has changed.
BOAT– Songs That You Might Not Like (2006: Magic Marker)
Seattle bands that love power pop and have a sense of humor, may sound like an oxymoron, but BOAT picked up the torch that was passed to them from a rich lineage that includes the Young Fresh Fellows, The President of the United States of America, Harvey Danger and even Mudhoney. Songs That You Might Not Like wasted no time in firing salvo after salvo of funny, sad, heart-on-the-sleeve power pop. How could you not like a bunch of guys that drink too much soda, cruise in minivans, destroy noise rock bands, get called reptile boy, have ninjas sitting on their couch at home, and use skeleton keys? This was their first record, and they would only get better.
At first I was perplexed by Pants Yell! naming their record after the Young Marble Giants singer and not sounding anything like them. Then I thought, I named my blog after a Boo Radleys song and never write about that song or the band. I won’t deny it, Pants Yell! are twee, but it’s twee with melancholy and attitude. They actually sound equal parts Housemartins and Lucksmiths. Singer Andrew Churchman has an instantly memorable voice and this record equals any album from either of those two previously mentioned bands. The only problem with Alison Statton is getting passed the first song More Purple, it’s so damn good you’ll find yourself hitting rewind and never get to the rest of it.
Pelle Carlberg is a clever fellow. He’s got nothing but bad luck, a wonky wheel on his shopping cart, a crap career as a pop singer, and a broken clock. Carlberg got an ace up his sleeve though, his ability to make his mundane life seem so interesting. He’s funny, self-deprecating, has a better command of English than most native speakers, and has a pocket full of pop songs that will make your ears prick up. In a Nutshell was his second solo album after his band Edson broke up and it’s the one where he put all the pieces together to come up with something that people like Morrissey and Billy Bragg have long since stopped making.
One of the great disappointments of 2007 for me was Electrelane. After making what I would argue is their best album they went and quit. No Shouts No Calls was the Brighton, England band at their most melodic and immediate. The production is raw with the drums nice and in your face, they way Albini made the Wedding Present sound on Seamonsters. The songs contain elements of twee-pop and Kraut-rock combining to form melody driven grooves. They can be gentle and understated like on Cut and Run or lay it all out on songs like Tram 21 and To The East. I hold on to the hope that they really meant it when they said that they were going on indefinite hiatus, and not really actually quitting.
Up until Deuteronomy the Intelligence were decidedly lo-fi, but in 2007 the band’s mastermind Lars Finberg decided to turn up the bass and make a record that didn’t sound like the treble button was stuck at 11. There are elements of darkness that his former band the A Frames excelled in, but the genius of Deuternomy is it’s skewed take on pop that he would later take to another level on this year’s Fake Surfers. Intelligence records are like trip into the head of Finberg, and his world is a weird, wild, funny place place. Weird like the Residents, wacked like Brainiac but catchy as Devo.
Jesse Smith’s likely heros include Nick Lowe, Paul Collins, Elvis Costello and Paul Weller. These names certainly command respect, but the style of power pop that they are so well known for is decidedly out of style these days, and the likely reason that this album got no traction when it came out last year. That’s the only reason I can think of because back in the old days when a record like this came out, it was blasting out of dorm rooms and cars everywhere. Nowadays it’s all about headphone music and records that need to be heard blasting at full volume into the open air suffer.