Some of you may remember that grunge music was a thing 20 years ago up here in the Pacific Northwest. You might recall flannel shirts, torn jeans, lamestains, and of course lots of swingin’ on the flippity-flop. It started in Seattle and even made it down to Portland and according to the Ghost Ease it’s still alive in some musty corners of that city. Tagging themselves as grunge they roll over you with some hefty guitar riffs on Canine, the opener to their four song 7-inch which they recently self-released. What I like about Ghost Ease is that they keep the melody at the front and don’t scream which seemed to be big grunge thing. They’re actually more like the Breeders in that they can crank up the noise but also coo in your ear at the same time. Bad Girls sees them marrying grunge with MIA style hip hop. Great stuff. Apparently they’ve recorded a full album with Steve Fisk which hopefully is as inventive and exciting as this single.
I did a mid-year round up of my favorite records last year, so I guess I started precedent. Suffering from lazyitis, there are many records this year that I really like that I’ve somehow neglected tor write about on this blog. So without further ado, here is part one of the second annual Finest Kiss mid-year round-up. Hee-haw!
Pheromoans – Hearts Of Gold (Upset the Rhythm)
Hearts of Gold is the Pheromoans sixth album and oddly enough the first time I’ve really taken notice of this UK band. This is certainly not straightforward rock. It’s more like maze rock. They combine the eccentricities of Syd Barrett, Chris Knox, and the Fall to come up with their own weird blend of greatness.
stream: Pheromoans – Hearts of Gold
Tacocat – NVM (Hardly Art)
Sadly all of the original Ramones are now in the CBGB’s in the sky, but don’t be too sad. The original punk aesthetic is alive in well in Seattle. Tacocat’s second album is all basic riffs and simple melodies that are immediate and unforgettable.
stream: Tacocat – Crimson Wave
Gold-Bears – Dalliance (Slumberland)
Atlanta’s Gold-Bears write big crunchy emotional indierock and on their second album they’ve perfected the formula that puts them at the same level of their forebearers like the Wedding Present, Boyracer and Superchunk.
stream: Gold-Bears – Yeah, Tonight
Protomartyr – Under Color of Official Light (Hardly Art)
Endlessly inventive guitars combined with Joe Casey’s half spoken half sung narratives give this record pretty good odds of being my favorite record of the year come December. These Detroit dudes make big sounding anthems that sound like they salvaged from the gutter.
stream: Protomartyr – Tarpeian Rock
Fear of Men – Loom (Kanine)
Fear of Men debut has an aloofness to it that might strike some as too cold and studied, but singer Jessica Weiss has a effortlessly cool delivery that is like a lifeline into another world. Loom is a dreampop record that more often uses space instead of guitars for chilling effect.
stream: Fear of Men – Waterfall
Eat Lights Become Lights – Into Forever (Great Pop Supplement)
This is in the more of the same but slightly different category. Last years Modular Living was excellent krautrock inspired electronics that could easily hypnotise you. Into Forever continues this feat and is even more consistent filling out the peaks and troughs from Modular Living.
stream: Eat Lights Become Lights – Time Enough
Haunted Hearts – Initiation (Zoo)
It strange how Dum Dum Girls and Crocodiles don’t really do it for me, but when Dee Dee and Brandon who are husband and wife in real life get together on record they surpass both of their primary bands. This is a concept album about S&M, but you don’t have to go through any pain to get this pleasure.
stream: Haunted Hearts – Johnny Jupiter
Tunnabunny – Kingdom Technology (HHBTM)
As Elvis Costello once and, “accidents will happen” Athens, Georgia’s Tunabunny found a synthesizer in the garbage heap and infused their indierock with some art school blips and bleeps and came up with one of the catchiest, funnest sounding records of the year.
stream: Tunabunny – Save It Up
Univers – L’estat Natural (Famèlic)
I may not know what Catalan crooners Univers are singing about, but their brand of fuzzy, cascading guitars and moody vocals is so infectious I’ve found myself singing write along. I have know idea what I’m singing, but then I never know what the Crystal Stilts are singing about either.
stream: Univers – Estàtua En Moviment
Rat Columns – Leaf (RIP Society)
Nothing really prepared me for how bright and shimmering Rat Columns second album would be. The Australian by way of San Francisco band. Leaf is part Wire 154 and part Of Skins and Heart by the Church which in my book is a delicious recipe.
stream: Rat Columns – Another Day
You never know what someone is going to throw away. Not everyone can be bothered to put their junk up for sale on Ebay. Athens, Georgia band Tunabunny recovered a “sound input device” from the garbage heap. Now a sound input device could be anything, right? In Tunabunny’s case it appears to be electronic in nature that has the ability to create synthetic sounds: loops, dots, blips, and other various and sundry glitchy sounding things. So the band are finally diving into a vast new kingdom of technology by accident.
Of course, some of the greatest things ever discovered by man were by accident, right? Peanut butter and jelly, velcro, viagra, and now Tunabunny’s re-imagine themselves on their fourth album. The previous three records were strictly guitar bass drums but now that they fished their very own “Echo” out a dumpster they sound like they’ve been re-energized with new possibilities and song structures. Save It Up sounds like Black Box Recorder while Power Breaks reminds me of something from Peter Gutteridge‘s Pure cassette. The band do restrain themselves and don’t let their new device totally take over the ship. Coming For You is vintage Tunabunny with the just the right amount of pop smarts and noise. Kingdom Technology is the most fun Tunabunny have sounded yet.
stream: Tunabunny – Save It Up (from the Kingdom Technology album on HHBTM)
The 7-inch single has been around since 1949. That’s 62 years and counting! In my humble opinion the 7-inch single is still the essence, pinnacle and acme of pop perfection. Optimally, it’s one song, one side (Some try to squeeze on more). That’s no room for screwing up. You always hear that releasing a 7-inch is a money losing proposition, but that thankfully, doesn’t keep pop geeks from doing it. In honor of true blue pop geek vinyl junkies out there, here is the first installment of the annual Finest Kiss top 40 7-inch singles countdown.
31. Games – Don’t Look For Her (Robs House)
At first I thought this sounded like the Super Fury Animals, but then I got to thinking that they both just have a thing for the acid tinged side of the Kinks and a Rasperries fetish.
mp3: Games – Don’t Look For Her
32. Tunabunny – (Song For My) Solar Sister (HHBTM)
Lo-fi to the core, but writing songs that transcend any recording fidelity. Half of me thinks they should get Steve Albini to record their next record, but the other half thinks they don’t need Albini. Albini needs them.
mp3: Tunnabunny – (Song For My) Solar Sister
33. Lenz – Leaving (The 21st Century) (SS Records)
The Bay area’s Lenz is just one of Andy Jordan’s bands that looks to the 80’s for inspiration. Leaving sounds like it could have been on The Sound’s From the Lion’s Mouth. It’s that good.
mp3: Lenz – Leaving (the 21st Century)
34. Fidlar – Wake Bake Skate (White Iris)
Whenever I have a day off this song is the soundtrack to my day. You can find me at one of a number Seattle’s skate parks with this on a cassette blasting out of my boombox. Is it 1985 again? Damn!
mp3: Fidlar – Wake Bake Skate
35. Fear of Men – Ritual Confession (Italian Beach Babes)
Fear of Men first caught my attention with their cover of the Chills’ Pink Frost, but this, their debut single kept it. Their dreampop reminds me of Lovelife era Lush after they had shed their shoegaze origins.
mp3: Fear of Men Ritural Confession
36. Seacats – We Don’t Sleep (Fin)
There’s a bridge in Longview, Washington called the Nutty Narrows Squirrel Bridge. Apparently it’s there to help squirrels cross a busy downtown street. Kelso is just across the Cowitz River from Longview which is where the Seacats are from. No songs about quirky squirrel bridges here, just saccharine power pop. The band pluck two of the finest tracks from their internet album Metal Music and quickly join the ranks of Northwest’s top tier power pop bands.
mp3: Seacats – We Don’t Sleep
37. McDonalds – Name Names (State Capital)
Does Brooklyn have drive-thru’s? You know, to get your e’s. If they do McDonalds can probably give you directions. This one’s for all the 24 Hour Party People that were born 20 years too late.
mp3: McDonalds – Name Names
38. Ice Choir – Two Rings ( Shelflife)
Pains of Being Pure at Heart drummer Kurt Feldman’s latest band are one big ode to the 80’s. Scritti Politti and Prefab Sprout to be exact. Destoyer should get them for their opening band.
mp3: Ice Choir – Two Rings
39. Caucus – Wandering Ones (Cloudberry)
This kind of sounds like the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, but Japan’s Caucus aren’t aping them, they just have the same set of influences as that more well known band and implement them in slightly different way (The B-side is a cover of Rocketship’s I Love You Like the Way That I Used To Do).
mp3: Caucus – Wandering Ones
40. UV Race – Acid Trip / Speed Freak (Sweet Rot)
Australia’s UV Race sound like Brix era Fall on this druggy single. Both Acid Trip and Speed Freak sound exactly as you would expect, that is trippy and freaky. Wonderful and frightening.
mp3: UV Race – Speed Freak
Weird, they did it again. I’ve listened to the new Tunabunny album probably 10 times, but it wasn’t until tonight that it clicked with me. This happened on their last album, but I thought I had them figured out and would immediately dig their second one, but there is something about this band from Athens, Georgia that keeps catches you off guard. Minima Moralia was recorded in apartments and houses and sounds lo-fi, but doesn’t subscribe to current trendy lo-fi aesthetic. The band are hunkered down ignoring the world, flying in the face of fashion and making records on their own terms.
Tunabunny like their guitars sounding raw and they like you to hear the singing bleeding into the red on the recording console, making it sound like they’re in YOUR basement when you play this record loud. They use violin and keyboards economically in their songs, sometime to increase the dissonance and sometimes to reign you in from the noise. This summer’s brilliant single Solar Sister reappears, but everything else is new. Songs like Fake It Faker are tense and taught. Perfect Time, Every Time is strangely funky, and then Cross Wire Technique is pure white noise and tin can funk, the kind fellow Athenians Pylon did in the 80’s. The record hums like an engine and blows out like a car crash at the same time.
Anything you read about Seattle grunge in the 90’s mentions how bands were making it up as they went along. Left to thrive in a vacuum far away from the rest of the world and its influence they came up with their own sound. That doesn’t happen much anymore because you are only isolated if you actively try to be isolated. Tunabunny aren’t grunge, but seem to be working in their own self-imposed vacuum down in Athens, Georgia and Minima Morilia is like a thesis on how to do it on your own, in isolation and very well indeed.
Tunabunny are back with with a big slice of summer pop for you. Their new single which just came out on HHBTM has a hot and cool side, as all quality summer singles should have. The hot side contains (Song for My) Solar Sister, possibly the most straightforward pop song the band has recorded to date. It starts with a riff that immediately gets your attention and then adds haunting vocals and some nice bass that reminds me of both Pod era Breeders and early Helium singles. The B-side cools things down. Airport is droning groove number that hums along. It’s all melody, bass and weird theremin-like keyboard. It may not be a good indicator, but I have always found myself judging bands on the quality of their B-sides. Bands that use them to try new things, push the envelope, or just slap an amazing song on the back side because they can always have ranked as some of my favorite bands. With this new single Tunnabunny are edging themselves into my favorites category. Look for album number two this fall.
Portrait by Julia Kay
Being an old curmudgeon, if I don’t like a band’s name I won’t give them a chance. After all musical taste is all about aesthetics and if I don’t like the name, chances are I’m not going to like the music. There are tons of bands that reinforce that rule: Crash Test Dummys, Vampire Weekend, Hoobastank, Deathcab for Cutie, Gay Dad, Dogs Die In Hot Cars, and the Cherry Poppin’ Daddys to name but a few. Of course there are exceptions to the rule like Cats On Fire, Weedhounds, Prefab Sprout, and The The. I would like to propose adding Tunabunny to my list of exceptions.
The Athens, Georgia band have just recently released their first album on their hometown label Happy Happy Birthday To Me. At first listen it was a dissonant and difficult record, but like the grumpy old guy in the movies, after you get know him, he turns out to be a sweetheart, well a sweetheart with thorns and burrs hidden about him. What I’m trying to say is that it’s a grower. Once you get used to the treble overload the songs begin to seep in. Sometimes they kind of sound like hometown heroes Pylon at their most raunchy, or tender and scary like a Helium song, or freaked out in distortion like Boyracer, or just plane weird like little known LA pop freaks Charles Brown Superstar. It’s never obvious and you won’t immediately be in rapture, but if you give it a chance, the onion will peel which could result in stinging tears, something tasty, or both.
mp3: Tunabunny – Gasmasks
Order up a copy of the album on vinyl or cassette (what is this 1982 again?) from Happy Happy Birthday To Me.