Frankie Rose & Dive at Neumo’s, Seattle | 25 April 2012
Many of the reviews of Frankie Rose‘s second album Interstellar have been about how it was a huge leap from her lo-fi roots. Previously when I saw Frankie Rose a few years ago at SXSW just prior to her releasing her debut album Frankie Rose and the Outs, she was mostly still feedback and distortion. Live she may still have been reveling in reverb, but on record she had already begun to shed a lot of her Shit Storm-Vivian Girls-Crystal Stilts past. On Interstellar she continues on that same trajectory, employing the services of dance producer Le Chev to push her even further into new realms. Interstellar is steeped in 80’s Cure records and current day Swedish pop which itself is heavily influenced by those same Cure records.
Wednesday night at Neumo’s Frankie appeared wearing a black puffy pirate shirt that could have been borrowed from one of Prince‘s Purple Rain entourage. She brought with her a solid band who had no problem recreating the icy sounding pop from Interstellar and slightly transforming the songs from her first album into shimmering celestial bodies similar to their Interstellar brethren. She seemed much more at ease as the frontperson compared to when I saw her a few years ago, talking about inane things like the rain and threatening a Sister of Mercy cover between songs, but doing it in a very likeable way. She’s an expressive singer, you can tell that she believes in her songs and delivers them with an excitement and intensity that is engaging to watch. She had a bunch of reverb on her vocals, but I don’t think it was there to hide anything, just to make her voice sound bigger which it did quite well. Her encore of Pair of Wings may have been my favorite song of the night. Songs like Know Me and Had We Had It are the ones that grabbed my attention from listening to the record at home, but Pair of Wings which was written by her former Shit Storm band mate Wu Li Leung, transcended those 80’s Cure records and delved into Abba-esque stratospheres and left me with an entirely new perspective on her already stellar Interstellar.
Dive who are fronted by Beach Fossils guitarist, Kurt Cobain doppleganger and oversized sweater wearing Cole Smith are on tour with Frankie Rose serving as designated openers. On record so far, Dive sound very similar to Beach Fossils, but live they veer more towards instrumental guitar jams that remind me a little of Mogwai. Smith sings, but it wasn’t the focus. Live, Dive are all about the guitars. The twin attack was good for a few songs, but it seemed like every song went for the same trick which after a few songs, wasn’t so much of surprise. They’ve got something good to build on and I’ve liked their singles to date. It will be interesting to see if their album due in June on Captured Tracks can sustain the excitement generated from their initial singles.
The Babies played last night at the Black Lodge in Seattle to little fanfare, or at least not mine. I wish I could have gone, but alas the rest of my life got in the way. The Babies are Cassie Ramone of the Vivian Girls and Kevin Morby of Woods. The band have released two surprisingly great singles to date. One on Make a Mess and the other on Vivian Girls’ label Wild World. The band are on a West coast swing as we speak and I’m guessing that they won’t be back any time soon. So if you get the chance go see them. I wish I could have last night.
May 15 – Black Lodge – Seattle, WA
May 16 – Pheonix House – Olympia, WA
May 18 – The Hub – Sacremento, CA
May 19 – House Show W/ The Mantles, Young Prisms – Oakland, CA
May 20 – Li Po Cocktail Lounge – San Francisco, CA
May 21 – Harold’s Place – San Pedro, CA
May 22 – Echo Curio (Early Show 6-8PM) – Los Angeles, CA
May 22 – The Dig Warehouse – Los Angeles, CA
May 23 – Day Time Barbeque – Los Angeles, CA
Vivian Girls, Best Coast & TacocaT at the High Dive, Seattle | 13 February 2010
It feels like every time I click a link three’s a new lo-fi girl group that I’m smitten with. It all started back in 2008 with the Vivian Girls and their reverb-laden harmonies that brought back memories of the Shop Assistants and Black Tambourine. The Dum Dum Girls soon followed and grabbed everyone’s attention last year with their version of Phil Spector girl group who has a thing for the Jesus and Mary Chain. Just to prove that things move pretty fast these days, Best Coast appeared late last year firing off three quality 7 inch records that are good enough to almost make you forget about Vivans and Dum Dums.
What makes Best Coast so good? There are the songs themselves with their aching hallucinogenic quality that seem to conjure sun bleached images of days gone by, but it’s Bethany Cosentino’s voice that carries it all home. She uses reverb like everybody else these days, but she doesn’t need it. Borrowing Vivian Girls drummer Ali Koehler Best Coast hit all the high points, and there are quite a few, of their four singles, they also played a few new songs from their upcoming album. One of them was called Crazy, or some variation, and as Cosentino repeated the chorus, I couldn’t help but think of Patsy Cline. Not because it sounded country or had twinkling piano in it, but because Cosentino’s voice sounded so good, transcending the lo-fi aesthetic that she’s chosen to drape the songs in for the time being. Cosentino’s foil in Best Coast is Bobb Bruno who plays a baritone guitar which they thought was stolen the night before in Vancouver, but later found after the gig. The band seemed quite bummed out by the loss of Bruno’s guitar and apologized more than once for not being able to deliver the full Best Coast sound. Bruno tried to replicate on his riff’s on a borrowed bass guitar form Katie of the Vivian Girls, doing his best Peter Hook imitation. He mostly persevered, but sometimes had to resort to playing tambourine. It really didn’t matter, Cosentino’s voice and songs were more than worthy of taking center stage and no apology was necessary.
After Best Coast, the Vivian Girls had their work cut out for them. The two bands are cut from the same cloth, but where Best Coast’s melodies prevail, the Vivian Girls bury theirs beneath heavy bass and guitar. Sometimes I don’t even think that there is a melody to be buried. That wasn’t always the case. I think their first album could be considered a classic, but the set they played focused mostly on their newer material which is a bit more difficult. A lot of the songs seemed to blend into one another, with Katie’s bass dominating everything. We got a break from the drone when they put down their instruments and did their a capella cover of the Chantals‘ He’s Gone. It was a break, but not a very good one, especially when you compare it to the original. The set wasn’t a total bust, Lakehouse, Can’t Get Over You and Tell The World stood out, but it wasn’t their best. I worry that the band are struggling to come up with songs that match the magic of their debut and by focusing on their newer material it made that fact all the more painfully obvious.
TacaocaT started the night off with their updated, more humorous version of riot grrrl, sprinkled with a little bit of Young Fresh Fellows. They played some new songs as well as old favorites Leotard, Dry Land Is a Myth (the Kevin Costner song), Volcano and Basement, an ode to their ‘condo’. Great fun even if they didn’t play Peeps, which Katie from Vivian Girls kept shouting for. If you haven’t heard their album Shame Spiral, do yourself a favor and get on over to their label Don’t Stop Believin’ and order yourself up a copy.
This year seemed to be the year in which the 7″ single returned to prominence. It’s not like it ever really went away, but this year bands and labels were putting them out left a right. Vinyl in general, is making a resurgence with the prevalence of file downloading a cd is just a lousy digital copy that takes up too much space, whereas a slab of vinyl is more like a work of art with it being big enough to actually appreciate the cover art. It also comes in many shades, with colored vinyl showing up almost as much as the standard black even though its sound quality is supposedly inferior to good old black. Records these days have a one of kind feel to them or at least one of limited run, making you feel like you really buying something besides just the music. I probably haven’t bought this many records since the indie heyday of the early 90’s. It was fun again to hang out by the record player and change the record every three minutes, and I did this quite a bit, nearly spending all my listening time at home doing just that. In celebration of it’s return, I’m compiling my favorite 7″ singles of the year, my only requirements are that it had to be put out this year on a 7″ and I had to actually buy it. So here is what got the most spins in my house, you will have to take my word for it since my turntable doesn’t keep track of play counts. Now go out and buy some records!
1. Summer Cats – Lonely Planet (Cloudberry)
This number one was a no-brainer for me. With it’s pulsing keyboards and killer guitar riff, this was on my turntable nearly every evening for a good month. I’ve heard through the grapevine that Australia’s Summer Cats are working on a full length. It will easily one of my most anticipated records of next year. Or instead they could just put out singles like this all next year and I would completely happy.
2. Catwalk – Past Afar (Yay!)
Apparently Oxnard, California has a killer scene at the moment and Yay! records has signed every single band in the scene. Catwalk’s second single for the label is a sad, energetic beauty that has elements of the Close Lobsters as well as Blueboy. How can you get any closer to heaven than that?
3. Liechtenstein – Apathy/Security by Design (Fraction)
Ennio Morricon moved to Sweden and got a sex change? No Liechtentein, three women from Goteborg, Sweden put out an amazing record. Their second single had everyone excited who heard it, and how could you not be excited? That’s the beauty of the single, you put your best foot forward. It’s like Security by Design, two killer songs and a whole lotta mystery just like all those great girl groups from yesteryear, they need not release anything more to be cemented into music history.
4. Nodzzz – I Don’t Wanna (Make a Mess)
The Nodzzz couldn’t keep this record in print and it’s easy to see why, when you hear its raw bass line and punk rock chorus. It’s only a minute and a half, so you’ll be picking up the needle and putting it back at the start to play it again quite frequently.
5. Muslims – Parasites (I Hate Rock n Roll)
San Diego’s Muslims are no more, they’ve gone and changed their name to the Soft Pack for reasons only they know. Listening to this harks back to the day when the band were irreverent, in your face, snot nosed punks. I’m not sure what they are now, but this single will have you on your knees praying that the name is the only thing they’re changing. Killer cover of Spacemen 3’s Walking With Jesus gets best cover of the year without a doubt.
6. The Tartans – Cats of Camerford (Yay!)
Horns, horns, horns! It’s easy to forget how much a great horn line in a song can just put it over the top. This ranks up there with Brideshead’s Real Art as a killer pop song with a more killer horn hook.
7. Je Suis Animal – Painted In my Face (Cloudberry)
French name, Norwegian band, singing in English, swirling Broadcast/Stereolab sound, and an a-side to die for. The Scandinavians never cease to amaze me with their uncanny ability to arrive fully formed with style and songs that seems like they should take years to develop.
8. Boat – Topps (Magic Marker)
Boat are one of my favorite bands in Seattle and they really outdid themselves with this record. It was named after the baseball card company and came with a deck of hand drawn trading cards that included the band’s favorite baseball players as well themselves sporting baseball caps, cool badges with the band in their baesball getup and of course a stick of gum. Topps is just that, with it’s shakey keyboards, economical guitar riff and hyper Boat-esque chorus, it’s got it all, a wife, a job, a record store that knows it’s name and friend in every town.
9. Wake the President – You Can’t Change that Boy/Kingfishers – Make Me Sad (Electric Honey/Aufgeladen Und Bereit)
First of all the Kingfishers doing a cover of Vic Godard’s Make Me Sad would for some, be worth the price of admission, but Glassgow’s Wake the President are more than happy to steal the show with their original slice of Godard/Orange Juice pop. It’s one of those songs that make you want to bounce around on the furniture. I’ve been reprimanded a couple times for doing just that while listening to this.
10. Black Mountain – Lucy Brown (Sub Pop)
For its 20th anniversary this past summer Sub Pop started its third incarnation of its singles club. I joined figuring it would be kinda cool getting a surprise in the mailbox every month. November’s edition was the best surprise yet. I have kinda ignored Black Mountain up until this single, but Lucy Brown has bitten me with it’s scuzzy bass and bluesy vibe. This rocks so hard it was more than worth the price of joining this club.
11. Sexy Kids – Sisters are Forever (Slumberland)
Jeeze, with Slumberland putting out a slew of killer albums and singles this year, I was both surprised and amazed when a few weeks ago that the label announced it was putting out a couple more singles. Sisters are Forever, one of those singles, is a perfect pop rush. Tie a double knot and don’t forget to buy this.
13. Bears – Making Something(Impose)
A record player, a sunny summer afternoon and a Bears record go along way to a blissful existence. I don’t think I need to really say anything else about this sublime record, I really can’t think of a better way to spend two minutes.
14. Twig – Ciao Ciao Bomb (Cloudberry)
Earlier in the year I wrote about how there seemed to be this Orange Juice resurgence happening. Twig singer Henrik Linden could be Edwynn Collins’ long lost cousin and Ciao Ciao Bomb could be an unearthed OJ song. Twig are no cover band though, their originals are classics in their own rite and this single as well as their album Life After Ridge on Plastilina is proof positive.
15. Vivian Girls – Wild Eyes/My Baby Wants Me Dead(Plays With Dolls)
It wasn’t the a-side that did if for me it was the rocking jam of a b-side that got me. Crashing guitars and then silence followed by the eerie singing of ‘My baby wants me dead, he wants to put a knife in my head’. It’s downright spooky.
17. Moscow Olympics – Still (Fraction)
This was the first official release from the mysterious Phillipeans’ Moscow Olympics and what an introduction. Dreampop at its most dreamy.
18. Box Elders – Hole in my Head(Grotto)
Omaha, Nebraska’s Box Elders are like a diamond in the rough, there surely cannot be a kiwi scene in the nation’s midsection can there? This record just does not get old with me, it even sounds like it was recorded 20 years ago with a decidedly lo-fi feel that you just can’t fake.
19. Surefire Broadcast – When I Need Someone/Some Seek While Some Find (self-released)
This is kind of a cheat, since I don’t actually own this 7″, only a cd-r of it. But it exists and it was recorded by Dustin Reske of Rocketship. Surefire Broadcast are easily one of my favorite bands of the moment and this record is the perfect evidence, with it’s almost grungy guitar juxtaposed with boy-girl vocals that swirl around each other into undeniable pop sunshine.
20. Times New Viking – Stay Awake (Matador)
If you’ve made it this far, you may need to be jarred out of your complicity and Times New Viking are the perfect thing for that. Discordant noise has never sounded better, at least to these ears.
Love is All | Vivian Girls | Nodzzz at Nectar, Seattle – 23 November 2008
The Nodzzz with their Clean sound that harks back to 80’s New Zealand, the Vivian Girls who have a lot in common with C-86 UK scene and Love is All with their 80’s John Hugh’s revival sound made for a night of reliving the alternative sounds of the 1980’s
Starting off the night night to a few curious onlookers, the Bay Area’s Nodzzz started their set by hurling insults at the sound guy, complaining that they couldn’t drink on stage (this was a recurring theme throughout the night) and attempting to play a bass that was out of tune. It was a recipe for disaster, but the trio dumped the bass and picked up another guitar and promptly began their noisy bone-ratteling set of kiwi pop influenced garage rock. Both guitarists trading vocals back and forth on thier short catchy songs made for a super fun set that won me over after the first song. I’m glad there are so many bands that are carrying the torch of Flying Nun these days with likes of the Box Elders, Surf City and the Nodzz it seems that finally the influence of that little scene from the 80’s is finally starting to get some attention! The band have just released their first album, vinyl only that is well worth picking up.
Back in May of this year the Vivian Girls played to a handful of punters at the Funhouse here in Seattle. That night, the Girls seemed a bit nervous as they waited on stage as the sound guy fiddled with the reverb. The songs were played really fast with Katie and then drummer Frankie switching instruments mid set. It was over nearly as soon as it began. What a difference a few months make. The Vivian Girls are darlings of the press, beguiling people with their combined love of punk rock , Shangri-Las fatalism and C-86 aesthetics. By the time Vivian Girls hit the stage the place was full with everyone anxiously waiting to see if they would live up to the hype. With the reverb and sound stuff worked out in advance this time, the Vivian Girls started their set to the smell of watermelon bubblegum. Apparently the sound guy that the Nodzzz were berating likes to chew watermelon gum and the smell was overpowering. Someone next to me offered the girls a piece but they confessed to not being able to chew gum and sing at the same time. I heard someone say “I like them already”. Me too I thought, but more because they’ve put out a great album and a slew of really good singles. The pace of the songs was more measured last night. This allowed Cassie’s guitar solos to really shined through. The band’s original drummer Frankie left to join the Crystal Stilts a few month back and her harmonies were missed a little, but new drummer Ali didn’t miss a beat and bassist Katie took over the harmonies that Frankie provided last time around. My only complaint about the set was that they left out a couple of my favourite songs. The excellent Where Do You Run and the equally good My Baby Wants Me Dead didn’t get played. We did get a couple new ones though, both from their new single (just released) one of which was a cover of the Beach Boys’ Girl Don’t Tell Me. It reminded me of the Heartworms (Archie Moore of Velocity Girl) doing the same song on their Space Escapade album back in 1995. Good songs which the Vivian Girls have in spades don’t go out of style.
With all the exitement of the Nodzzz and Vivian Girls it was easy to forget that Sweden’s Love is All were actually the headliners last night. I’ve said this before about certain 80’s revivalists, I have a hard time getting into bands resurrecting the sounds of marginal bands from that time period. When it comes to Love is All I can’t get Oingo Boingo and Altered Images out of my head. There seem to be sounds that never go out of style, at least to me, as is evidenced in me liking the Nodzzz and Vivian Girls, but Love is All have this hyper spastic thing going that seems to be derrived from the (English) Beat’s March of the Swivleheads. It’s fun and you can dance to it, but it starts to sound the same and becomes a bit much after a while. Singer Josephine Olausson was a ball of energy and funny too. At one point she wanted to see if the mic chord could reach off stage so that she could have a drink (since you can’t drink on stage in puritan Seattle). She was successfull much to the delight of her bandmates and the audience. Their cover of Flock of Seagulls’ I Ran was, how shall I say it, a bit much though. They were also selling a 12″ that contained that Flock of Seagulls song as well as 4 other covers including Prince’s Darling Nikki. Love is All were fun, but not really my thing.
Black Tambourine was, in hindsight a kind of indiepop super group. At the time they existed they were just a bunch of anonymous kids in Washington, DC. The band counted as members Archie Moore and Brian Nelson who both went on to Velocity Girl, Pam Berry who went on to be in the Belmondo, Gloworm, Shapiros, Castaway Stones, and the Pines (wow, she’s been in a lot of bands). She also co-founded Chickfactor magazine with Gail O’Hara, and she had the honor of having a Shins song named after here. Mike Shulman, the drummer went on to play in Whorl and found Slumberland records. The band are credited with being one of the first to employ a combination of C-86 and British dream pop in their sound that so many other American indie bands would mine as well. They managed to be influential without actually releasing an album. All of their output is compiled in one place and still available on a Slumberland cd called Complete Recordings.
The Vivian Girls sound like they are direct descendants of Black Tambourine channeling the sounds of the Shop Assistants and holding dear the Motown girl groups and the Phil Spector wall of sound. Currently they seem to be one of the it bands residing in the New York City environs. They are at the center of a scene that includes like minded NYC bands the Crystal Stilts and The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. Being an it band, doesn’t mean they’re huge, but they have created a buzz among music geeks. Mention the Vivian Girls to your mom and she’ll look at you cross eyed. It’s not like telling her about the Fleet Foxes, who’s she’s probably heard of, at least if your mom lives in Seattle. So the Vivian Girls have a lot of buzz an album that’s currently out of print and a few singles.. Their out of print album will be reissued on vinyl and compact disc this fall courtesy of In the Red. In the meantime you can buy some of their singles over at their myspace.
Sept 2 Brooklyn, NY – Death by Audio
Sept 6 New York, NY – South Street Seaport
Sept 12 Swarthmore, PA – Swarthmore College
Sept 19 New York, NY – Cake Shop
Sept 20 Princeton, NJ – Terrace Club
Sept 21 Philadelphia, PA – Danger Danger Gallery
Sept 24 Nashville, TN – Exit/In
Sept 26 Memphis, TN – Hi-Tone (Goner Fest)
Sept 29 Knoxville, TN – Pilot Light
Oct 1 Baltimore, MD – Ottobar
Oct 3 New York, NY – Rocks Off Concert Cruise
Oct 12 Boston, MA – Great Scott
Oct 13 Danbury, CT – Heirloom Arts Theatre
Oct 15 New York, NY – Bowery Ballroom
Oct 16 Brooklyn, NY – Market Hotel
Oct 17 Baltimore, MD – Sonar
Oct 18 Philadelphia, PA – The Barbary
Oct 19 Washington, DC – Rock and Roll Hotel
Nov 8 New York, NY – Bowery Ballroom
Nov 10 Boston, MA – Paradise
Dec 2 London, England – Brixton Windmill
Dec 3 London, England – Old Blue Last
Dec 4 Nottingham, England – The Social
Dec 5 Liverpool, England – Club Evol
Dec 6 Glasgow, Scotland – Captain’s Rest
Dec 7 Leeds, England – Cockpit
Dec 8 Coventry, England – Colosseum
Dec 9 London, England – Madame Jojo’s – White Heat
Dec 10 Manchester, England – The Deaf Institute
Dec 12 London, England – Vice Kills Proud Galleries
Dec 13 Bristol, England – Club Kute at Cooler
Vivian Girls at the Funhouse, Seattle | 31 May 2008
I’m not sure what’s going on over in Brooklyn these days, but with the Crystal Stilts,the Vivian Girls and Pains of Being Pure at Heart it seems like a full on C-86 revival over there in New Amsterdam. The Vivian Girls who seem like the perfect combination of Shop Assistants indie pop, Lush attitude and guitar chops, and Undertones pop sensibilities brought their brand of blissed out pop to Seattle on Sunday night. The Vivian Girls have caught my fancy with a punk ethos, cool name (Go rent In the Realms of the Unreal) and even better songs, so I had been looking forward to this show for quite a while. With a couple seven inch singles and a sold out debut album under their belts, they seem to gaining momentum and following. Not to worry for those of us late to the party, that sold out album will get reissued this fall on In The Red on both vinyl and cd. Mark your calendars.
Even though the album is sold out (only 500 pressed), these girls are pretty much unknown at this point. They seem like an unassuming bunch and kept a positive outlook when the sound guy was having a little trouble getting the reverb just right on the vocals, so the trio stood around on stage made nervous small talk while the sound guy looked for the right button. With the reverb finally worked out they dove into their quick and too short eight song set. They seemed a bit nervous and in a hurry, but it was completely unwarranted. Their sharp harmonies and and catchy melodies won me and everyone else over with ease. The lead vocals were all handled by Cassie who also plays guitar, with most of the harmonies sung by drummer Frankie though Katy (bassist) did get her share as well. Eight songs in about 20 minutes, it was short but really, really good. Hopefully they’ll be back again once the album gets reissued, and play a little longer.