Anyone out there remember Slum of Legs? They released a couple really good 7-inch singles back in 2014 and 2015, so you could be forgiven for scratching your head in wonder. The Brighton, UK band’s perseverance is our fortune, because they now have a shiny new self-titled debut album. In case you need a reminder, they come from the Velvet Underground, the Fall, and Comet Gain school of jangly drone that breaks any melodic rules you may have concocted for that sort of music. Featuring a violin prominently, the group play by a different set of rules. They can do anthem type rockers, but love to devolve into full-on raging cacophony.
Benetint & Malevolence starts the record, alluding to a Scottish highlands atmospheric feel and that slowly builds and builds until you find yourelf in the middle of a good old midwestern thunderguster. The band also smartly bring back their eponymous theme song that originally appeared on their first cassette, and get playful sounding on I Dream of Valves Exploding. I appreciate the breadth of topics that the group tackles, eschewing the overdone typical love song thing. A good example of this is the song Baader-Meinhof Always Look So Good In Photos. Pop terrorists taking on real life terrorists. It rightly gives the listener the impression that she really needs to be on her toes if she’s committing to this band. Who said pop music wasn’t dangerous?
With climate change you gotta wonder if there some Laurel Canyons blooming with succulents and bougainvillea up there in the formerly great whit north. For record number two Halifax, Nova Scotia’s Monomyth swap out their rhythm section, keep the psychedelic pop hooks and come up sporting their best paisley. The songwriting duo of Seamus Dalton and Josh Saltzer continue to split the vocal duties and their admiration of local heroes like Sloan, Superfriendz and Thrush Hermit while adding from Teenage Fanclub harmonies and the erudite pop sensibilities of the Weather Prophets.
Happy Pop Family is a wonderful tour de force and one of the best pure pop records of the year. The cool and beautiful Palpitations features a pristine melody interrupted by grungy heart attack chords. Aloha with its airy Teenage Fanclub harmony that kicks off the record isn’t even the best song here. That honor goes to the infinitely catchy Re:lease life (Place 2 Go) which plays like a travel log and has an off the cuff feel to it that reminds me of the Go-Betweens’ Darlinghurst Nights. Did I overdo it there? No, it’s that good!
SmartGuy records, the ones who brought you singles by Total Control, the Boomgates and Rat Columns have a new single. Leon Stackpole of Ooga Booga‘s fame using just plain old Leon has just released a four song 7-inch.
The Ooga Booga’s were some weird combination of garage, kraut and disco, but here Leon strikes out down a more pastoral introspective road. Where the Ooga Booga’s sounded like a party band, Leon’s new four song EP is like the comedown. He gets some help on guitar from Ooga Booga’s cohort Mickey Young. All four songs have a Velvet Underground feel to them. Angry Again is dissonant VU, Sentimental Stranger is the sleepy Sunday morning country VU and Eat Sleep and Spy is the pop single buried in the rough. Quality stuff!
Remember when Ride lost the plot after Going Blank Again and tried to morph their sound into some neo-psychedlic 60s blend of the Byrds, Velvet Underground and Buffalo Springfield but ended up sounding like the Black Crowes? Tuesday night at Chop Suey the UK’s Ultimate Painting demonstrated the tangent that Ride should have taken. Their set brimmed with paisley tinged psychedelia that trod the fine line of subtle melodic turns, buzzy droning and all out jams.
The group’s self-titled album came out last year on Chicago’s Trouble in Mind. The record has a subdued sound to that features major nods to the Velvet Underground’s prettier side, but live they crank up the danger levels into White Light / White Heat territory. Talking Central Park Blues was a great example of this, with Jack Cooper taking the lead on this New York narrative that is their sister Ray making it sound a lot more energized than the recorded version. Cooper also plays in Mazes. In Ultimate Painting he shares guitar and vocal duties with James Hoar from Veronica Falls and Proper Ornaments. It seems like a true collaboration, with both contributing to the songs. Cooper may take a lead vocal, while Hoar takes the lead guitar part, and both contributing harmonies to the other’s vocals.
They also included a couple new songs from an album that they said would be coming out in August. One of them showcased the influence of the Grateful Dead (Casey Jones) that I hadn’t noticed before, but is fairly obvious given the group’s twitter icon. The set closed with with Ten Street which they turned into an extended jam. The rhythm section provided a great stage for Cooper and Hoar to get a little crazy playing off of one another, going into a few rabbit holes of guitar goodness. It lasted for about 10 minutes but it could have gone on for 20 and no one would have complained. Live Ultimate Painting seem to have an innate sense of when to head off on a tangent extending their solid album into something better and much more interesting.
Seattle’s Universe People opened the show playing songs from their two albums as well as new one. They were solid as usual. They’re jerky angular songs keep you on your toes. The Modern Girl, Chemistry, Druids and Vampire Prison were all present in their set and demonstrated how great this band is.
You may remember Brighton’s Slum of Legs from their demo last year. I certainly do! The six piece avant indiepop group have just released their first single on Tuff Enuff records. The record has elements of the Velvet Underground’s Lady Godiva’s Operation and the Fall’s Sing Harpy. Like both of those bands, Slum of Legs ably combine dissonance and melody into a delicious stew. I especially love how they feature the violin in both songs. It gives a cathartic tension and melancholy not often found in strictly guitar, bass and drum bands. Begin to Dissolve slithers and stabs at once. It’s downright Hitchcockian in the way it builds up tension that culminates in a bloodbath of noise at the end. The flip side Razorblade the Tape starts with a warm jangle that morphs into a near-anthem with the huge refrain of the band chanting “I won’t let you get away!” Don’t let this single get away!
The Proper Ornaments have finally released a proper debut album. After last summer’s download only download only release on Lo which compiled their previous EP on No Pain in Pop,their debut single on Make a Mess, and some odds and ends the duo of James Hoare and Max Claps have employed Slumberland Records to issue their album Wooden Head. James Hoare who’s main band is Veronica Falls and also moonlights in the Ultimate Painting is a busy guy these days. For the Proper Ornaments he’s teamed up with Argentinian and one-time Andrew Loog Oldham protege Max Claps.
The duo met in a shop that Hoare was working at while Claps’s girlfriend attempted to steal a pair of boots. It’s amazing what a shared love of the Velvet Underground can overcome. Named after a Free Deign Song, they get a lot of comparisons to the Beach Boys, the Left Banke and Love. But if you ask my I think they sound like the Chills.
Wooden Head is nearly as good as their No Pain In Pop EP, but I don’t know if I think that because the EP had five astonishingly good good with no filler. It was easy to take in while Wooden Head is bigger and requires more time to consume. The record is astonishingly good, it just requires more time to your head around. Hoare and Claps sing in unison on nearly every song. Their melancholy, sparse psychedelic songs have a sing-song quality that makes them both comfortable and haunting at once. Each unassuming song buzzes into your ears to create endorphin rushes, but music being like a drug it takes more to recreate that initial high each time.
In French, the ground floor of a building is not the first floor it’s the rez-de-chaussée. The first floor is the second floor and so on.So if you’re on the third floor in France, you’d be on the fourth floor in the US. The Limiñanas have just released their third album. It really is their third album, the French don’t count albums like the floors of buildings.
The Limiñanas are not quite classic french pop. More like classic french pop through a haze of hashish wafting from a dark room filled with strange characters smoking from hookahs. Walk out for a breather and the brightness temporarily blinds you as you squint to adjust to the undulation of the sea breaking on the beach. The Limiñanas record in their Mediterranean cocoon and take in the unique sights and sounds of their surroundings and mix them better known quantities like Velvet Underground,Serge Gainsbourg and Ravi Shankar to make records that sound partly like the place they live and partly of some made up world that only exists in their imaginations. Costa Blanka is an album with a unique sense of place. Put it on and be transported to that place, rez-de-chaussée…premier étage…étage supérieur.
Crystal Stilts at Barboza, Seattle | 15 October 2013
Crystal Stilts played to a dark room with blurry images projected onto a white sheet at the back of the stage last Tuesday night at Barboza. They seem like a band of recluses and would probably prefer to perform in complete darkness. Front man Brad Hargett still seems a bit awkward as the center of attention and guitarist JB Townsend still likes to lurk in the shadows, but there was just enough darkness and just enough light in their performance to make it great one.
They lunged into their set with Spirit in Front of Me the first song on their new album Nature Noir. It owes more than a little to Velvet Undergrounds‘s I’ll Be Your Mirror and All Tomorrow’s Parties. In fact, Crystal Stilts sound one Nico short of becoming the VU. I doubt Hargett would take it as a compliment, but his monotone is closer than I thought to Nico’s , so maybe all they need is banana.
The new album doesn’t have any obvious singles, but it is their most accomplished and varied record yet. It sees them deftly using strings on a few songs making it reminiscent of the Bunnymen‘s Ocean Rain in parts which is new for them. Of course they didn’t have a string section this night being so far away from home, but they didn’t really need one. The band were in a zone. With the lights off and the focus on the music, the band were shadows on the stage and they liked it that way. The set mixed favorites like Crippled Croon, Sycamore Tree, and Love is Wave in with the new slower more confident sounding songs like Star Crawl, Future Folklore and Worlds Gone Weird. This night was by far the best I have ever seen the Stilts play.
The band still come off as tenuously comfortable on stage, but this time the awkward tension was softened by the dark and intimate confines of the venue. Some bands wither with age the Crystal Stilts continue to lurch into new dark psych corners and scramble new cloudy nebulous heights both on record and in person.
I’ve always heard that writers should write what they know about. If I followed that rule, I would never write. Up until a few weeks ago I had heard of Cleveland band Mirrors, but I don’t think I had ever heard them. That’s probably pretty lame considering I grew up just outside of Cleveland, Ohio. Granted, the band’s heyday, if you could call it that, was from 1971 to 1976. I was alive, but had not yet begun to form lasting memories, and it was way before the start my musical obsession years. Sure, I was exposed to a lot of what was happening in Cleveland. We would get the Plain Dealer newspaper, could pick up all the Cleveland radio and television stations and we’d make the drive up for various things like visiting relatives, the zoo, the lake, or some random sporting event. When I got the point where I could actually tune a radio, it was usually at 100.7, WMMS. WMMS played what today would be considered classic rock, but in their early days they went a bit deeper and didn’t just play the ‘hits’. It was considered the ‘cool’ radio station back then, but you could listen all day and you would never hear any of the pre-punk bands that Cleveland seem to produce like steel back in the 70’s. If the local radio station didn’t recognize the uncut diamonds in its own backyard, it’s not too surprising then that the city’s rich history of bands that pushed the musical envelope in the mid to late 70’s, never seemed to get much recognition anywhere else either. The City was littered with bands like Rocket from the Tombs, Dead Boys, Pere Ubu, Electric Eels, Pagans and Mirrors. Some of these bands never even made it into a recording studio (Rocket from the Tombs) while others only ever put out a few singles like Electric Eels and Mirrors.Of course Pere Ubu did gain some fame, but little fortune and the Dead Boys only really gained infamy. Unfortunately, most of these bands from that time period are relegated to the dusty stacks of record collectors and music critics.
I’m not about to attempt to give you a history of the Cleveland pre-punk scene, you can read Rock ‘n Roll and the Cleveland Connection by Deanna Adams for that. What I will do is tell you that for the first time ever in one place and on vinyl are nearly all of Mirror’s recordings from the 70’s, including the A and B side (Shirley b/w She Smiled Wild) to their first single put on Dave Thomas’ (Pere Ubu) Hearthen label. Violet Times has gotten all of the recordings from 74-75 remastered and pressed to vinyl in a limited run of 700 copies. A few years back ROIR put out a compilation of Mirrors songs called Another Nail in the Coffin, but these were re-recordings of the songs by the 80’s incarnation of the band. There’s an old anecdote about the Velvet Underground selling a very small number of their debut record back in 1967, but everyone that bought a copy was inspired to start a band. Mirrors like their contemporaries the Modern Lovers over in Boston definitely fall into that category. Apparenlty the band would include in their live set a song called Sweet Sister Ray described by Mirrors front man Jamie Klimek as a 40 minute noise jam, that was intended to be the sequel to the VU’s Sister Ray. The songs on this reissue display a certain VU quality, and although they were recorded over 30 years ago, sound like they could have been made today. Yeah, I know you hear people say that kind of stuff all the time, but the way the band probably recorded the songs adhere to the lo-fi aesthetics of so many bands putting records out on labels like Hozac, Siltbreeze, Woodsist or Captured Tracks today. Time may have passed Mirrors by, but thanks to Violet Times putting out Something That Would Never Do, we can finally catch up with them.