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!

Some Good Albums from Seattle This Year

The moss has grown another layer over the past year here in the upper left corner of the U.S. and my stack of records from this Pacific Northwest outpost has grown as well. Luckily I have a cool dry place to store them. Here are my favorite records from Seattle for 2015, center justified for your reading comfort.

zebrahunt

Zebra Hunt – City Sighs (Tenorio Cotobade)
Buy | Listen

My favorite album of the year from Seattle or anywhere. If you’ve been reading along this year you probably could have easily guessed that.

theesatisfaction
TheeSatisfaction – Earthee (Sub Pop)
Buy | Listen

Unclassifiable soul, hip hop, space age record that is part throwback, part social commentary and part bravely looking into the dark distant future.

childbirth
Childbirth – Women’s Rights (Suicide Squeeze)
Buy | Listen

The best feminist punk rock manifesto with a since of humor since forever.

unlikelyfriends
Unlikely Friends – Solid Gold Cowboys (Jigsaw)
Buy | Listen

With the rise of Unlikely Friends, fans of Boat and Math and Physics Club can’t be too sad that neither of those bands released a record this year. I wasn’t.

telekinesis
Telekinesis – Ad Infinitum (Merge)
Buy | Listen

Michael Lerner eschewed his guitars and started collecting vintage synths to create a record inspired by OMD, Postal Service and Blue Nile.

laluz
La Luz – Weirdo Shrine (Hardly Art)
Buy | Listen

Enlisting Ty Segall to record their sophomore record La Luz continue to shoot the curl with another great set of surf rock.

wimps
Wimps – Suitcase (Kill Rock Stars)
Buy | Listen

Wimps dial up another batch of killer slacker punk rock anthems (if there is such a thing). Their sophomore LP Suitcase sees them getting higher marks in all categories which, given their M.O. is probably exactly the opposite of what they were going for.

gracelove
Grace Love and the True Loves – Grace Love and the True Loves (Self-Released)
Buy | Listen

The great soul revival of 2015 even reached such remote outposts as Seattle and Grace Love and the True Loves debut album was one of the best soul records of the year from any city.

DetectiveAgency
Detective Agency – Now (Discos de Kirlian)
Buy | Listen

I’m not sure if Detective Agency would appreciate being called indiepop, but I call ’em like I see ’em and this is some very fine indiepop!

car seat headrest
Car Seat Headrest –  Teens of Style (Matador)
Buy | Listen

The career of Will Toledo of Car Seat Headrest reminds me of Steven Jones of Babybird. Make a bunch of songs in your bedroom and release them and then find a band to re-record the best ones and voila, instant good record rooted in lo-fi but with some new bright corners.

ponytime

Ponytime – Rumours 2: The Rumours Are True (S-S)
Buy | Listen

Apparently Fleetwood Mac has permeated the garage rock scene of Seattle. I doubt there are any complicated love quadrangles in this band since they’re a duo. They’re more focused on just delivering a bunch of killer jams.
chastitybelt

Chastity Belt – Time To Go Home (Hardly Art)
Buy | Listen

Chastity Belt got serious on album  album number two. Their first LP No Regerts was middle school lo-brow humor compared to Time To Go Home’s more mature and measured sound that is a unique combination of drone and some of that heavier rock from the 90’s for which Seattle is well known.

Best Ones of the Year So Far

This was supposed to be a mid-year list. Actually it still is, but it’s month late. What does that make it? I’m still calling it a mid year list since I saw mid year lists in May. It’s also not as diverse as I was hoping it would be as you will likely notice that the letter F is over-represented here. Hopefully some of the other letters will get a little more attention in the year end list.   Hope you find something you might have missed and it’s in reverse alphabetical order for your convenience!

zebrahunt

Zebra Hunt – City Sighs (Tenorio Cotobade)

It just so happens that doing this list in reverse alphabetical order puts my favorite album of the year so far at the top of the list. How’s that for coincidence? Hopefully you already know and own this record. If not, you need it in your life because who doesn’t need a little kiwi flavored jangle served up by this Seattle trio?

Stream

youngguv
Young Guv – Ripe 4 Luv (Slumberland)

Fucked Up guitarist Ben Cook  will through you for a loop if you’re expecting hard core here. This is Cheap Trick style power pop mixed in with blue eyed soul and 80’s top 40 that is undeniably great.

wildhoney
Wildhoney – Sleep Through It (Deranged)

Sleep Through It is full of shimmering anthems in the classic pop mold. Wildhoney’s debut album easily places them at the top of the heap of the shoegaze revival.

Stream

vietcong
Viet Cong – Viet Cong (Jagjaguwar)

An album of bleak post punk that sounds like it could have been made during the age of Reaganomics and the nuclear arms race. It’s like twisted a time warp back to the era of the Comsat Angels and the Sound.

unlikelyfriends
Unlikely Friends – Solid Gold Cowboys (Jigsaw)

Indiepop supergroup debut album that softens the edges of BOAT and adds some teeth to Math & Physics Club. The perfect Seattle elixir.

Stream

twerps
Twerps – Range Anxiety (Merge)

Melbourne’s Twerps deliver the Flying Nun influenced jangly goods on their second LP. Fans of the Go-Betweens, Feelies and the Bats take note.

Stream

theesatisfaction
TheeSatisfaction – Earthee (Sup Pop)

The otherworldly second album from the interstellar Seattle hip hop duo is spiritual and strange at once. If psychedelic hip hop were a genre this would be at the top.

Stream

theeohsees
Thee Oh Sees – Mutilator Defeated At Last (Castle Face)

Finally an Oh Sees LP that marries John Dwyers more experimental solo outing material with his band’s freak outs.

shifters3
The Shifters – ST (Comfort 35)

Sure, the Fall put out a new record this year, but for my money Australia’s Shifters do it better in 2015. Full of bile, but they have a playfulness to them that is missing from the band that undoubtedly inspired them.

Stream

saunayouth
Sauna Youth – Distractions (Upset the Rhythm)

Taught, anxiety filled post punk jams from this London band are designed for those who prefer their music played with sharp jabs and shouted choruses.

Stream

saunandstarr
Saun & Starr – Look Closer (Daptone)

Sharon Jones backup singers Saundra Williams and Starr Duncan Lowe finally come to the front of the stage to take the spotlight and give us a smooth soul classic.

Stream

jessicapratt
Jessica Pratt – On Your Own Love Again (Drag City)

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.

roziplain
Rozi Plain – Friend (Lost Map)

For her third LP Rozi Plain paints from a bucolic pallet to give us music of rolling hills and wandering brooks.

Stream

outfit
Outfit – Slowness (Memphis Industries)

Second album from Liverpool quintet evokes the greatness of Talk Talk and the Blue Nile.

NoJoy
No Joy – More Faithful (Mexican Summer)

With the help of Jorge Elbrecht this Montreal dreampop have produced an intricate studio creation that is a marvel to he ears.

menacebeach
Menace Beach – Ratworld (Memphis Industries)

Want to relive those 90’s indie rock glory days, Menace Beach are here to help. Their debut album is super charged with great riffs and choruses.

Stream

malegaze
Male Gaze – Gale Maze (Castle Face)

Male Gaze have an intensity about them that puts them into the same league with A-Frames. Their debut album is steeped in post-apocalyptic paranoia that never goes out of style.

joannagruesome
Joanna Gruesome – Peanut Butter (Slumberland)

Album number two from Cardiff’s Joanna Gruesome is as high quality as their debut. It continues the uncanny mixture of sweet choruses, mad freak-outs and made freak-outs and sweet choruses.

NicHessler
Nic Hessler – Soft Connections (Captured Tracks)

I feel like Nic Hessler’s debut album would have gotten more attention if he would have stayed with his Catwalk moniker. Marketing aside, Soft Connections is beautiful record of accomplished pop that is as good as anything Aztec Camera ever did.

hhawkline
H Hawkline – In the Pink Condition (Heavenly)

Welsh musician H Hawkline, also known as Huw Gwynfryn Evans fits right in with some of his more famous psychedelic countrymen like Gruff Rhys, Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and Cate Le Bon who also produced the album.

Stream

friedaandale
Frida & Ale – I don’t like to see others having fun (WWNBB)

Former Rough Bunnie Frida teams up with Ale of Le Man Avec Les Lunettes to create a wonderful little folk record retains the same innocent playfulness of  Rough Bunnies.

Stream

frankieandwitchfingers
Frankie & the Witch Fingers – ST (Permanent)

Los Angeles garage maestros by way Bloomington, Indiana have put out the best garage rock record of the year. Yeah, I know it’s only August, but I sincerely doubt anything will surpass this white hot record.

fleshworld
Flesh World – The Wild Animals In My Life (Iron Lung)

An intense and textured debut from former this bay area band lead by Jess Scott formerly of Brilliant Colors.  Tons of guitars create a dense o wall of sound and makes this record beg to be played at maximum volume.

Stream

fireworks
Fireworks – Switch Me On (Shelflife)

Switch Me On is packed full of adrenaline fueled pop songs. Fuzz pop blasts that outfuzz all other fuzz pop.

Stream

finnmark
Finnmark! – Things Always Change (Beko)

Singer Edward Forth has a deep baritone that reminds you of Edwynn Collins on one of the most understated and pleasure inducing indiepop record of the year.

Stream

faithhealer
Faith Healer – Cosmic Troubles (Mint)

Jessica Jalbert aka Faith Healer is also a member of Edmonton garage rockers Tee-Tahs who put out one of my favorite albums of last year. Faith Healer is an entirely different thing, but no less good. Cosmic Troubles is full of easy psychedelic jams in the vein of Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci and Cate Le Bon. I wonder if she’s got some Welsh in her?

Stream

eternalsummers
Eternal Summers – Gold and Stone (Kanine)

Eternal Summers’ fourth LP is their best one yet. It’s full of buzz and jangle with just right amounts of polish and tarnish.

Stream

downtownboys
Downtown Boys – Full Communism (Don Giovani)

Downtown Boys debut LP rages against the machine of of capitalism, sexism, racism, queerphobia, fascism, and boredom to the unstoppable sound of a twin sax tsunami. Hardcore never sounded this inviting and inclusive.

Stream

DickDiver
Dick Diver – Melbourne, Florida (Trouble In Mind)

Dick Diver have many similarities with their fellow Australians Twerps. They jangle, sound a little like the Go-Betweens but Dick Diver aren’t afraid to get a little weird and experiment a little more on their records. Melboure, Florida is their third LP and though not as immediate as 2013’s Calendar Days, it sticks to the bones.

Stream

courtneybarnett
Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit (Mom & Pop)

Courtney Barnett’s stream of conscious lyrics are endlessly interesting to interpret and decipher and you have ample opportunity because the songs are so good on her debut LP that they beg to be played again and again.

Stream

Unlikely Friends Strike Gold

unlikelyfriends

With Boat on somewhat of a hiatus and Math and Physics Club in the middle of their standard four or so years between albums what is a guy to do in the green and mossy Pacific Northwest? Well, in the case of Boat’s Dave Crane you round up a new bunch of friends, call yourselves Unlikely Friends and cook up a new batch of killer pop pop songs. You will undoubtedly recognize the voice of Charles “Chaz” Bert from Math & Physics Club and you may know Chris Mac (the Indiepop King of Seattle) who runs the Jigsaw record label and mail order and is at least in three bands around town at any given time.

Solid Gold Cowboys will be easy to like if you are already a Boat fan because Crane’s voice and his penchant for writing hooky pop songs. The gunslinger in this game is Bert who usually keeps things pretty mellow when singing in MAPC, but really lets loose on many of these songs adding an quantifiable effervescence into them.

The album is a combination of precise pop hooks akin to Guided By Voices and the sunny sweet bubblegum psychedelia of the Apples in Stereo. Soft Reputation and Satellite Station are the best of examples of this great combination, but that doesn’t really cover it. Ride Off Into the Sunset chugs along like Love and Rockets, Gold Hills Theme nods to the dusty spaghetti western soundtrack music of Ennio Morricone and Gold Coast Marauders has the delicacy of a Left Banke song. Crane usually takes the lead vocal with Bert coming in on the chorus to put the song into the stratosphere.

Considering the backgrounds of these three (Un)likely friends it’s not surprising that they got together to make a record. The unlikely part is that the peanut butter and chocolate combination of the heart on your sleeve style of Boat juxtaposed with the sweetness of Math and Physics Club is satisfying winner.

Cassette version is available from Mirror Universe Tapes
Compact Disc version is available from Jigsaw Records

If you are in Seattle, you won’t want to miss Unlikely Friends record release show at the Rendezvous in Belltown, Saturday, February 21 with Ruler and Oh! Pears.

December Top 10

1. Hookworms


The Hookworms have gone upwards at 45 degrees into double vegetation on their new album Hum. Smart move including last year’s excellent single Radio Tokyo on the album. The Leeds band keep on keeping on with their brand or crazy psych rants, only this time it’s crazier, psycier and rantier.

2. Dreamsalon

Seattle’s Dreamsalon recently unleashed their second album on the populous and as far as I can tell the world is all the more gloomier and paranoid for it. From the northern England by way of Seattle school post punk, their mix of the Fall, Bunnymen and Gang of Four is a concoction few have gotten right, but this band excels at.

3. Weak Boys

Sydney Australia’s Weak Boys do something that I wasn’t sure was possible. They’ve successfully combined the garage aesthetics of Eddy Current Suppression Ring, the pop smarts of Smudge and the clever lyrical bent of the Lucksmiths into their debut album Weekdays/Weekens. Not weak at all!

4. Fat Creeps

Must Be Nice the debut album from Fat Creeps came out this summer, but I didn’t finally discovered it until last month. A kid today would probably say they are similar to Bleached, No Joy and the Vivian Girls. An older fellow might compare them to Throwing muses, Breeders and Scrawl. All of those bands work as a jumping off point, but Fat Creeps take their influences and weave their own narrative.

5. Small Reactions

Atlanta’s Small Reactions write motorik pop songs without the use of computers or other futuristic machines. They use the classic guitar, bass and drums combination to create their propelling rhythmic pop. Their self-released debut album could be the brother of the Hookworms’ Hum, and deserves more attention than it’s received so far. Damn it’s a crowded world!

6. Unlikely Friends

The first fruits of  Unlikely Friends the collaboration between BOAT’s D. Drane and Math & Physics Club’s Charles Bert has finally arrived and it’s a 10 pound 3 ounce bundle of joy. Can’t wait to hear the siblings!

7. Ariel Pink


I’m not sure about Ariel Pink, not because of his alleged misogynistic comments related to Madonna, but because of his kitchen sink approach. His new album is all over the place. Put You Number In My Phone is brilliant understated pop, but don’t think for a moment that the album is full more of them. There are goth numbers, industrial numbers, circus numbers, commercial jingles, you name it. I get that it’s his act, but it makes for a disconcerted record, but at least it’s not boring. If you missed the 90’s and Denim then Pom Pom is Denim on Ice for your generation.

8. Be Forest at the Josephine, Seattle
be forest at the Josephine
The show that nearly didn’t happen. Italian dreampoppers Be Forest were in Seattle without a show to play, but the fine folks at the Josephine accommodated them and their tour mates Tennis System on late notice. A quartet on record, Be Forest were touring as a trio. They overcame a few sound problems to play an ethereal set that featured some nice guitar playing reminiscent of the style Julian Swales of the Kitchens of Distinction used to do, making it sound like there were two or three guitarists instead of just his one.

9. Thigh Master

Hailing from Brisbane, Thigh Master must have some knowledge of a certain band from that same city because there are similarities they have that certain band that are hard to ignore. The band’s first 7″ is three songs of bouncy, jangly, and slightly garagey pop that are bound to not just to excite fans of Suzanne Somers but of the Go-Betweens as well.

10. Lists
cobain
Tis the season for lists. Best records, worst records, most mediocre records, best album covers, worst album covers, best reviews, best comments, best shows, you name it there is a list for it. Does anyone do a list of the best lists? Probably not, that would be kinda excruciating, not to mention redundant.