Beating my Chinese New Year deadline by nearly two months, here is my list of favorite records of the past 12 months. Was it this year that the music blog officially died? It seems like more are going dark, and fewer are starting up. I shall endeavor to do better this year. This year also saw the really bad idea of labels not including downloads with copies of vinyl records. If you are one of those labels, please reconsider. I love the download card! My record player does not travel well and I hate buying stuff twice.
1. Lime Crush – Sub Divide (Fettkakao)
Finally, an LP to follow up this Austrian band’s ace 2015 7”. Sharp, punky numbers full of spite, humor and a little sax. All three songs from that single smartly resurface here and a surprise vocal from Calvin Johnson at the end ties the it all together.
2. Spirit of the Beehive – Hypnic Jerks (Tiny Engines)
Hypnic Jerks (I love that title) is the third LP from this Philly band. It has elements of Deerhunter, Lilys, Brainiac, Swirlies and many other unsung, underground darlings in my record collection.
3. Dumb – Seeing Green (Mint)
Most would file Dumb under Pavement/Parquet Courts, but I dig way these Vancouver underground rockers’ punky songs evoke Big Boys, sport an offbeat sense of the absurd and (probably) make an unintentional nod to Stewart Copeland’s alter ego Klark Kent.
4. Shopping – the Official Body (Fatcat)
For album number three (why does nobody call the third album their junior effort) Shopping rip it up and start again. Not exactly, but they employed Edwyn Collins to produce the record. Their brand of dancy post-punk benefits from an infusion of Orange Juice to make it their most accessible record yet.
5. Jonathan Fitoussi & Clemens Hourriere – Espaces Timbres (Versatile)
This duo employ vintage modular synthesizers to create ambient landscapes that share topographical similarities with Kraftwork’s Radioactivity and Eno’s ambient stuff. Rarely does ambient music feel so powerful, but this record is juiced with the ability to make one feel they are floating into other realms.
6. Free Love – Luxury Hits (Full Ashram)
The Glasgow duo formerly known as Happy Meals smartly change their name to Free Love for their debut LP. Luxury Hits is 80’s style synthpop made with updated tech and the song Playing as Punks may be my favorite song of both 1988 and 2018.
7. Sons of Kemet – Your Queen Is a Reptile (Impulse)
I didn’t even know that the Impulse label still existed as a label that put out new stuff. This is the group’s third album and its tuba, trombone, sax, clarinet attack spans Mingus, Jamaican ska/reggae, Coltrane and Sun Ra. Remarkable, even for non-jazz aficionados like myself.
8. Shannon Shaw- In Nashville (Easy Eye Sound)
Is it ok to say that I like this better than any Shannon & the Clams albums? The Shaw – Auerbach collaboration reminds me a little of accomplished pop-psych that came out of the Del Shannon – Andrew Loog Oldham collaboration.
9. Flasher – Constant Image (Domino)
I love how this DC band blend Hometown influences like Unrest and Holland with Three O’clock style paisley underground into a brilliant record that goes against the current grain. If this came out 25 years ago it woulda been on Teenbeat fer sure!
10. Gwenno – Le Kov (Heavenly)
For her sophomore album Gwenno has switched from singing in Welsh to singing in Cornish, a minor detail probably for most of us who speak neither. Whatever language she sings in, Gwenno excels at the lingua franca of krautrock-psychedelic-soundtrack strain of rock.
I never thought I would hear a band that combined the spazzy pop bliss of Neil Armstrong with the primal pop eccentricities of the Intelligence. Where would I actually look for something like this? The internet of course. Sweden’s Lion’s Den could more succinctly be described as garage pop but that’s too easy. The songs on the trio’s self-titled debut LP seem to have a dry take on the mundane and acidic world (“Waking up is the bitter side of life” and “Denial is my therapy”), but they’re so darn catchy that they still make you feel like a 100 bucks.
It’s got some surfy sounding bits, some rockin’ ones, a few eccentricities and lots of adrenaline. And at ten songs in about 20 minutes it’s a perfect record for these anxiety laden and distraction filled times. Put it on and let it take you for a spin. You’ll be back in 20 minutes, in time for whatever is you didn’t really need to do.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 – 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 – 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.
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.
If they keep putting them out, I’ll keep buying them and counting them down. Here’s my take on the 2014 singles scene. You don’t need eharmony to find a great single, just peruse this list.
1. Wildhoney – Sixteen Forever (Photobooth)
Baltimore band’s second single is even better than their first. Effortlessly great shoegaze. Look out for their debut LP early in 2015.
2. Charles Bradly & LaRose Jackson – Luv Jones (Daptone)
This one came out of nowhere and flew under most everyone’s radar. Charles Bradly and LaRose Jackson sound great together and the flip side has him sounding a bit like the Specials. A certified classic.
3. Primetime – Tied Down (La Vida Es Un Mus Discos)
UK group influenced by Wire and Elastica, only they don’t steal riffs. Solid debut single that indicates greatness.
4. Primitives – Spin-O-Rama (Elefant)
Classic 60’s inspired, sunny psychedelic single.The Primitives stormed back on the scene with this record.
5. Giorgio Murderer – Primitive World (Goner)
Buck Biloxi’s alter ego obsessed with Star Trek. Insanely insane.
The older I get the more I think that there should be a new music moratorium every January so that you can catch up on all of the stuff that you missed from the previous year. Yeah, I know that ain’t gonna happen. So here we are. It’s not quite mid-January, and here I am hoisting upon you dear readers one more 2013 list. I promise that this is the last one. It’s kind of a special one because it is my favorite records from my adopted hometown. If I didn’t live in Seattle some of these records would have been in my best albums of the year. Also, if I didn’t live here I probably would have missed some of these since you actually have to live in a local scene to hear the local scene. Here is the best stuff that I discovered through osmosis, going to shows, and reading local blogs and papers. Picking a favorite record from my fair city is like picking a favorite child. I love them all the same, at least that’s what I tell them.
Universe People incorporate the sweetness of Dolly Mixture, the arty obtuseness of Wire, the irreverence of the Fall and humor of the Intelligence onto their debut album. This, in my book, is the perfect elixir.
In a year where major web sites seemed to publish Morrissey’s every move, former Harvey Danger Sean Nelson released his debut solo album that was as literate, sharp and self-deprecating as anything the Mozzer has done in the last 20 years. Throw in some cocktail jazz and some Zombies psychedelia and you have a pretty darn good album.
Formerly known as Evening Meetings, the rechristened Dreamsalon tighten things up a little on Thirteen nights and aren’t afraid to let the hooks fly. Post-punk dourness that is part moody Echo and the Bunnymen and part piss and vinegar of the Fall through the lens of Seattle punk cognoscenti.
One of only two EP’s in this list of records, but well worth checking out. Trevor Dickson is in the Nightgowns, but here he takes a dash of Sinatra, some Joao Gilberto and some northwest ingenuity to come up with Summer Legs, one of the best songs I heard this year.
Four girls from a city with barely a hint of sunshine and marginal wave action d make a timeless glassy sounding surf record. They sound like they’ve been doing this for ages. The guitars shoot the curl and the harmonies flash off the water like rays of sun in your ears.
The debut album from Wimps gives me the impression that they’re punk classicists. Repeat is the classic punk formula of guitar, bass and drum and a healthy sense of humor courtesy of Rachel Ratner’s knack for being able to make life’s disappointments still sound disappointing, but with in an irreverent humorous slant.
Sometimes when a band consistently releases great albums filled with hooky pop people start taking them for granted. Pretend To Be Brave is their fifth album of slightly fractured, eternally hopeful indiepop. BOAT continue to capture my imagination, I wish more people would allow themselves to be swept up into their brightly colored superhero world.
The Purrs deliver again with another hallucinogenic masterpiece. Guitars swoop and dive in and out while singer and bassist Jima takes you on a ride in a derailed monorail to some seedy interstellar locale. The perfect soundtrack to navigating globular clusters.
stream: Purrs – Over and Out
Math and Physics Club – Our Hearts Beat Out Loud (Matinée)
Math and Physics Club have certainly been called twee, but on their third album they veer more towards soft rock and that is no bad thing. Kids these days have a penchant for Paul Simon and Cat Stevens records, and MAPC with their sweet and tender songs evoke those fellows while still keeping their indiepop/twee roots intact.
stream: Math & Physics Club – We Won’t Keep Secrets
Chastity Belt shocked the internet with their band photo that featured singer Julia Shapiro wearing a steak locked over her crotch. Based on last year’s Ponytail single, we already knew that they could be insolent and funny, but could they deliver a full album that sustained that brashness? Chastity Belt seem to not give a shit about anything except making good record,s and they’ve succeeded at that. Fuck everything else.
stream: Chastity Belt – James Dean
Jetman Jet Team – We Will Live The Space Age (Saint Marie)
Erik Blood better watch out, because Jetman Jet Team are coming up fast in his rear view mirror to try and usurp his shoegaze king of Seattle crown. Heavy MBVisms abound, but they also incorporate some of the whiteout techniques of Flying Saucer Attack and even some of that smoke and mirrors hypnotism employed often in 1970’s Germany. This is mind-expanding,tremelo bending, psychotropic miasma.
Poor Neighbors. This was scheduled to come out as a 10″ EP on Manic Pop Records, but the release date unfortunately coincided with the implosion of their record label. Left to their own devices, the band released this as bandcamp virtual record. That’s unfortunate because my record player would have gotten a real thrill playing this record which takes Pavement, REM, Camper Van Beethoven and the Wedding Present throws it into a blender and comes up with best smoothie I ever had.
stream: Neighbors – What You See In Me
We Are Loud Whispers – Suchness (Hardly Art)
Sonya Wescott who you may remember as half of Arthur and Yu made a trans-Pacific album with Ayumu Haitani who resides in Japan. While the obvious parallel is the Postal Service and the electronic blips reinforce that parallel, We Are Loud Whispers are more ear tickling and anthemic. I get the feeling that they’ve got a few Field Mice and St. Etienne records on top of owning everything that Morr records has ever released. Subtle and sublime.
Part five of five of the mid 2013 album round-up is finally here. A little late as the this year’s National IPA day took precedence yesterday to actually putting this final installment online. Rest assured though, I was of very sober mind when considering all of these records.
“Blue, laid-back, playful and breezy. They will make your heart ache. In fact, they could have put a sticker on the cover stating: Warning. May cause slight bouts of melancholia.” Feeling this bad never felt so good.
The Shivas can stretch from Thee Oh Sees style romps to shimmering surf rides to Freakwater style country numbers. Whiteout is a wonderfully varied and accomplished album from a group of young Pacific Northwest punks.
Every now and then I like to put on a record that makes me feel like I am floating in space. Ladies and gentlemen, this record creates zero gravity with its motorik grooves that you will put it on repeat to avoid re-entry.
Seth Sutton finally decides to stop recording into a boombox and the results are more than satisfying. It’s not just sound quality, he’s also upped his songwriting. Hypertension a huge leap in quality and already a classic punk record in my book.
Portland’s Woolen Men are only a three piece, but they pack the power of four or five. All three members sing which leads me to believe they all write songs, but they’re all well versed in the same school of rock. Their songs can sound like earlyREM, Wire, the Clean and dB’s.
“Wimps songs adhere to the three chords and a cloud of dust rule. They’re raw, immediate, self-deprecating and fun. And who doesn’t need humorous odes to naps, intoxication, bad jobs, and the general banality of life to crank up when you need to forget about your sucky life?”
The punk orders a beer. The slacker, this being Washington, lights up a spliff. Wimps order a pizza, get on the bar, do a big shoe dance and then on their way out knock over the row of Harley’s outside. All is fine and nobody gets their lights punched out because even though they call themselves Wimps their kinda tough in a not so tough kind of way. They’ve also got some street cred having hung out with the Intelligence, Partman Parthorse and Meth Teeth to name just a few who have their backs.
Brand spanking new Seattle record label End of Time also has their backs. The label has just released Wimps debut long player Repeat. It’s full of short sharp shocks and two letters short of Repeater. Wimps songs adhere to the three chords and a cloud of dust rule. They’re raw, immediate, self-deprecating and fun. And who doesn’t need humorous odes to naps, intoxication, bad jobs, and the general banality of life to crank up when you need to forget about your sucky life?