Albums of 2016

1. Bentcousin – Bentcousin (Team Love)
I was genuinely surprised this record did not get more recognition, but maybe the world no longer pines for wonderful pop records? The Orange Juice meets St. Etienne album had it all, including a dynamite Dino Jr cover.

2. Chook Race – Around the House (Tenth Court/Trouble In Mind)
A lot of people still worship at the alter of Flying Nun. If you are one of those folk then I’m sure you were bowing down to this record all year. Best jangle pop album since the Bats’ Fear of God.

3. Whyte Horses – Pop Or Not (CRC)
Another record that seems to have flown under the mass media radar. Shame, because it is classic sounding stuff that shares a love of Stone Roses, Broadcast and Free Design.

4. The City Yelps – Half Hour (Odd Box / Emotional Response)
A noisy little thing full of piss and vinegar that had the lo-fi sensibilities of a Boyracer album and great story telling of Animials that Swim.

5. Field Music – Commontime (Memphis Industries)
The Brewis brothers released their best record yet, heck even Prince liked it.

6. Terry Malts – Lost at the Party (Slumberland)
The Bay area’s Terry Malts struck pop-punk gold on album number three where they combine old school punk like 7 Seconds with post punk wonder of the Chameleons. Every song is a killer sing-along anthem.

7. Woods – City Sun Eater In the River of Light (Woodsist)
Sometimes you lose track of a band after they release LP after LP of similar sounding music. On Sun City Eater the band incorporate African influences to brighten their sound and make a stand out record.

8. The Goon Sax – Up To Anything (Chapter)
Brisbane teen band who count Louis Forster the son of the Go-Betweens’ Robert Forster as a member got a lot of attention for that mere fact. Due to the album contained top quality indie pop akin to Beat Happening and the Pastels the attention kept coming all year.

9. Cold Pumas – The Hanging Valley (Faux Discx)
Moody post-punk that was a perfect soundtrack to this year of the winter of our lives.

10. Monomyth – Happy Pop Family (Mint)
Velvet Underground, the Byrds and fellow countrymen Sloan all figure into the recipe for this sublime and understated album.

11. Kikagaku Moyo – House in the Tall Grass (Guruguru Brain)
These Japanese renaissance men paint from a pallet of folk, psych and prog that meanders into dark fantastic places and then blasts out them into dry canyons on the California coast.

12. Lithics – Borrowed Floors (Water Wing)
This Portland band’s tightly wound, minimalist songs on Borrowed Floors always find their groove and then shatter floor.

13. Witching Waves – Crystal Cafe (Soft Power/HHBTM)
The sophomore album is chock full of swirling, jagged songs with ambient interludes. A perfect combination of rough and smooch.

14. The Pooches – The Pooches (Lame-O)
I love bands that write songs about obsessing about records and the Pooches Heart Attack is perfect in that regard. Combine that with a lazy southern jangle that reminded me of REM and you have a great album.

15. The Finks – Middling (Milk)
If you combine the easy going erudite nature of the Lucksmiths with the down home comfort of label mate Courtney Barnett you have this wonderful record from Melbourne’s Minks.

16. Real Numbers – Wordless Wonder (Slumberland)
Minneapolis’ Real Numbers finally release a full length album and their Television Personalities meets Buddy Holly inspired DIY pop is more then enough to fill two sides.

17. Terry – Terry HQ (Upset the Rhythm)
Terry and the Shifters (they shared a split cassette release a few years ago) carry the Fall torch down under. Terry are the hippy-Pavement side of the coin and dial up just the right amount of dissonant yawp on their debut LP.

18. Lion’s Den – Lion’s Den (Lazy Octopus)
Lion’s Den take their innate Swedish pop sensibilities and dirty them up with their brand of idiosyncratic garage rock, sounding sort of like the Intelligence meets Neil Armstrong.

19. As Ondas – Mares (Jigsaw)
Shopping spin off band mine some early New Order veins and insert some Young Marble Giants to create a beautifully understated record.

20. Snails – Safe in Silence (Self-Released)
I’m not going out on a limb by drawing a family tree that shows Snails at the tip of the Beatles, Kinks, Kevin Ayers, Kate Le Bon family tree.

21. Radio Dept. – Running Out of Love (Labrador)
These guys work at a slow pace so every record feels like an event. With barely a guitar in the mix this event was their mellowest outing to date, but no less arousing or compelling.

22. Proto Idiot – For Dummies (Bad Paintings)
I’m a sucker for any Television Personalities influenced band and these guys had me plunking down some cash for their smart UK garage punk.

23. Omni – Delux (Trouble In Mind)
Delux caught me off guard with its tightly wound and spiraling guitars that reminded me of Joseph K and Magazine, yet there is a slick 80’s quality to their sound that also evokes mainstream bands like Flock of Seagulls and Thomas Dolby.

24. His Clancyness – Isolation Culture (Maple Death)
A Classic Education’s Jonathan Clancy other band is a tour into a darker side of things. Book-ended by two excellent motorik tracks and stuffed with exquisite downtrodden pop reminiscent of East River Pipe and the Shins.

25. Tyvek – Origin of What (In the Red)
Origin of What is not quite the tour de force that 2012’s On Tripple Beams was, but Kevin Boyer and crew still deliver. The scope is broader and their social consious punk rock addresses wider topics beyond their native Detroit. Extra points for including Tyvek Chant because every band should have their own chant.

26. Rebel Kind – Just For Fools (Urinal Cake)
Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti group excels at jangly harmony filled wonder on their second album, combining influences like the Softies and Look Blue Go Purple.

27. Verner Pantons – First Album (Curly)
The Paisely Underground is long gone, but its influence is lasting as evidenced in Portland’s Verner Pantons. Dusty psychedlia with a slight country tinge will remind many of the Syd Griffin and the Long Ryders.

28. Kate Jackson – British Road Movie (Hoo Ha)
Former singer of the Long Blonds, Kate Jackson made this album years ago with ex-Suede guitarist Bernard Butler and there it sat until this year. Lucky for us that Kate decided to finish it. Jackson has a great voice and Butler’s guitar is a perfect compliment.

29. Savak – Best of Luck In Future Endeavors (Comedy Minus One)
Once a punk always a punk and these punk veterans made one of the best politically aware records of the year. A soundtrack for taking to the streets!

30. Lawrence Arabia – Absolute Truth (Flying Nun)
James Milne infuses his Harry Nilsson highly stylized pop with some dance beats and makes his best album yet.

31. Ural Thomas & the Pain – Ural Thomas & the Pain (Mississippi)
Ural Thomas has been a fixture in the underground PNW soul scene going back to the 1950’s. This record hasn’t received the attention that Charles Bradley’s Changes has but it’s just as good if not better.

32. Martha – Blisters In the Pit of Your Heart (Dirtnap)
UK sucre popsters deal in high fructose pop like Joanna Gruesome and Los Campesinos! It sounds better the louder you make it with power chords slapping you to attention and choruses that will make your head explode.

33. Honey Radar – Blank Cartoon (What’s Your Rupture)
If you prefer your pristine pop savaged by distortion and difficulty then Blank Cartoon will put the cobwebs into your clarity.

34. Puberty – Puberty (Born Bad)
Intelligence side project that sat in moth balls for a couple years. More tongue and cheek than the Intelligence with a decided nod to Tones on Tail, it may never have been said before, but this Puberty is fun.

35. Hooton Tennis Club – Big Box of Chocolates (Heavenly)
Produced by Edwyn Collins, the sophomore LP from Hooton Tennis Club takes the good parts of Britpop and adds their laid back style for a winning volley that sustains itself into extra sets.

36. Quilt – Plaza (Mexican Summer)
Quilt continue to hone their psych-pop on their third album and come up with their most consistent and satisfying record yet.

37. Flyying Colours – Mindfullness (AC30)
Australian shoegazerrs who like extra letters also like extra tremelo. A classic sounding record that sits comfortably next to MBV, Chapterhouse and Slowdive.

38. The Jangle Band – Edge of a Dream (Pretty Olivia)
Appropriately named Australians descending from the Rainyard and the Palisades, Edge of a Dream is a record you immediately feel comfortable with. Like an old friend you haven’t seen in years, but the conversation picks up like you saw each other yesterday.

39. The Prophet Hens – the Wonderful Shapes of Back Door Keys (Fishrider)
Wonderful Shapes was not as immediate as the Prophet Hens’ debut, but it has a lasting power to it. More complex and varied, it continued to delight and surprise me throughout the year.

40. Lake Ruth – Actual Entity (The Great Pop Supplement)
New York City’s Lake Ruth have an elegant baroque sound that feels a little bit like Broadcast meets Left Banke. Actual Entity was their debut album, yet it sounds like they’ve been at since the 60’s. A timeless sounding record with memorable songs.

Babies, I Missed You

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

mp3: Babies –  Meet Me In The City (Order a physical copy of this song from Make a Mess)

mp3: Babies – All Things Come To Pass (Order your own personal copy at Wild World)

SxSW: Day Four

Saturday, the final day of SxSW, brought about a big surprise: the weather. What had been perfect sunny skies and 70 degree weather turned gray, windy and cold.  Frigid in fact, people were walking around in winter jackets and avoiding outside shows like the plague. Starting to feel the fatigue, we got a late start, opting to check out the record and poster fair at the convention center before seeing any music.  The record fair was pretty much a bust, but it was cool to see the myriad of posters and it was warm in the convention center.

We made our way over to Trailer Space Records for Wounded Lion, arriving a little early to a packed store for Zola Jesus.  With no stage in the shop, it was hard to see tiny singer Nika Danilova.  She rectified the situation by climbing the walls as she sang.  The mood at Trailer Space was loose with free Colt 45’s flowing, I think someone could have walked out with an arm full of 45’s and no one would have been the wiser.  Wounded Lion wasted little time setting up after Zola Jesus and were off and running, blasting into Belt of Orion.  I mentioned earlier how the Blue Aeroplanes were missing their dancer Wojtek, they could have borrowed the guy from Wounded Lion who played a bit of bass, but mostly just danced.  More bands need to revive the Bez/Wojtek dancer guy, it’s instant karma and energy.  As for sound, the band are a combination of Modern Lovers, Velvet Underground and Echo & the Bunnymen, but obviously don’t take themselves too seriously.   Their upcoming record on In The Red is the best thing I’ve heard this year and this performance only made me like them more.

Next stop, Beerland, possibly the darkest bar in the world.  It took my eyes about 10 minutes to adjust, so I bumped my way to the front of the stage to await Memphis, Tennessee’s Magic Kids.  To date they’ve got one single that’s pretty great.  Live they’re a bit goofy, reminding me of a garage version of Roman Holiday minus the sailor caps.  The singer, who is about 6′ 5″ liked to get out into the crowd  as well as get on top of equipment to sing, this took some coordination with his lanky frame and limited space inside the packed Beerland.

Leaving Beerland with dilated pupils we headed over to Max’s Wine Dive where you can eat hamburgers, fried chicken and hot dogs paired with you favorite wine.  We headed into the basement for the Black Iris show.  Abe Vigoda was playing as we descended the stairs.  I’m a fan of their more ambient songs like last year’s Reviver, and less a fan of their more cacophonous stuff.  Their set was a mix of the two, and kept me in a love-hate relationship with them.

The basement noticeably filled up as the time neared for Best Coast to play.  The Vivian Girls were in the house, this may have been the second or third time we had been at the same show, though I’m sure they weren’t wondering who the geeky looking guy with the camera was since that was just about everyone at every show.  After having Seen both Dum Dum Girls and Frankie and the Outs this week it was a pleasure and a surprise to hear singer Beth Constantino belt out her songs without any noticeable reverb on her vocals. I hope they record the album with her voice front and center.

The plan from here was to head over to Red 7 for the Wooodsist show, but Bill got us to detour to check out the Uninhabitable Mansions at Latitude 30 aka the British Music Embassy.  That’s term fits loosely since Uninhabitable Mansions are from Brooklyn and contain members of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Au Revoir Simone.  Their set of bright shiny pop was a nice surprise and I ended up buying their CD.

I rushed out of Latitude 30 to make it in time to see Fergus & Geronimo.  I’m a fan of this Denton, Texas band’s handfull of singles and was looking forward to seeing them live.  They were kind of a let down though.  The more soulful songs sounded great like Powerful Lovin’ and Blind Muslim Girl, but songs like those were few and far between with the rest of them sounding like generic garage rock.  I’m hoping it was just an off night.

We stuck around for Moon Duo, who are indeed a duo. Erik Johnson of Wooden Shijps on guitar and Sanae Yamada twiddling knobs, they’re like mountain man and woman doing Loop/Spacemen 3 without the hooks.  I have no doubt they would have been really good in altered state, but my mostly sober self got a little bored.

Like with Abe Vigoda, I’m a half fan of Woods.  I like their pop songs, while I don’t really get their jam songs.  I also don’t really get what the guy who was hunched over on his knees on the stage did to contribute to their sound.  He seemed to be singing into a pair of headphones and at one point was blowing a trumpet into them to no audible difference.

At this point our group collectively had our fill of jams, so we decided to forgo Real Estate and the Fresh & Only’s and head back to the British Music Embassy to take in some Wave Pictures.  You could argue that Wave Pictures have the potential to jam, but they reigned in the temptation tonight and blew their Thursday afternoon selves out of the water.  It’s no fluke what an enthusiastic crowd can do for a band, and Latitude 30 was certainly on their side, whooping, hollering and singing along to most every song.  Everyone got a good laugh too, when drummer Jonny Helm came out from behind his kit sporting cowboy boots with pant-legs tucked inside to sing God Bless The Reverand Gary Davies.  He looked kinda funny, but sounded sincere.

We stuck around for about half of Slow Club’s set, but the band seemed fatigued and just going through the motions.  So was I by this point, so we headed home for bed and an early 8 am flight back to Seattle.


how to make a record
Back in the early 90’s Simple Machines put a pamphlet that they called the Mechanic’s Guide. It was a how-to guide for putting out a record and starting a record label.  The guide outlined the steps it takes to put out a 7 inch record, cassette and compact disc and covered all the bases from designing the sleeve, to getting the tracks mastered and finally how to sell them.  Back in the day, you used to have to write them to order a copy, now you can click a link and read it for free.  It’s still relevant, and I would bet it still gets read and used as a resource for people starting out.

In the last few years, out of thin air, or more likely sweat and hard work, a bunch of labels have been materializing with a fetish for vinyl and a similar aesthetic for noisy, treble heavy bands that are decidedly lo-fi.  These labels seem to be championing bands that creating a garage revival except the these are bands without garages.  I don’t know if any of the labels have read the Mechanic’s Guide, but their grass roots efforts and limited editions have much in common with what Simple Machines did in their time.  There are a handful of labels at the core of this scene, and it is certainly a scene because these bands and labels seem to switch between each other for releases and even team-up in some cases to make new bands.  There are a number of well established labels that have been putting out records that fit this description like In the Red, Goner and Castle Face, but it seems like a few newer labels have really caught the imagination of a lot of people of late (or at least mine).  At the center of the scene I’m talking about, are HoZac in Chicago, and Woodsist and Captured Tracks in Brooklyn.  A little bit on the periphery are Art Fag and Zoo Music out in San Diego.  Like so many indie labels of the past (Merge, Teenbeat, Dischord, Matador, Creation, Simple Machines to name a few) Woodsist, Captured Tracks and Art Fag are run by music obsessed guys who are also on bands.

Woodsist is handled by Jeremy Earl who is also in bands Woods and Meneguar while Captured Tracks is run by Mike Sniper who records under the Blank Dogs moniker.  Earl’s Woodsist label has grown out of his Fuck It Tapes label which only releases tapes (of course).  Woodsist started back in 2006 and not only release vinyl, but they’re not afraid of putting out a cd either.  The label’s track record is already stellar with released by by Sic Alps, Crystal Stilts, Vivian Girls.  He also put out last year’s Wavves record, a Blank Dogs ep, and just released the first 7 inch from Seattle’s Idle Times.  Up next for Woodsist are new albums from the Woods and Meth Teeth, a Psychedelic Horseshit 12 inch from Columbus, Ohio pot-smoking noise rockers and a full length from New Jersey band Real Estate.  Sniper’s Captured Tracks label is much newer, brand new in fact, with release number one and two having just hit the streets.  They’re both four song 12 inch eps, one by Sniper’s own Blank Dogs who get a lot of Joy Division comparisons, but I think they sound a lot more like a warped Tubeway Army,  and the other buy Dum Dum Girls, who are a one woman band based out of Los Angeles sounding a lot the Vivian Girls but with less controversy.  Coming up on Captured Tracks is a single by the Mayfair Set which is a Blank Dogs – Dum Dum Girls team-up and from what I’ve heard of it is definitely more than the sum of it’s parts!  Also look out of singles from the Woods, and San Francisco’s Brilliant Colors.  The Brilliant colors are an all girl three piece that sound a bit 80’s New Zealand and a bit like Life Without Buildings currently have a 7 inch out on Make a Mess a label  run by Nodzzz drummer Eric Butterworth who put out last year’s excellent Nodzzz’ I Don’t Wanna single) .

Moving out of Brooklyn and out to Chicago where HoZac was born out of the Horizontal Action zine that Todd Novak  and Brett Crossout wrote until 2005.   The duo reformatted and resurrected the name into a record label a little over two years ago.  Their label specializes in limited releases of 7 inch records which includes the afore mentioned Blank Dogs as well as Nobunny, France Has the Bomb and the Dutchess and the Duke among many, many others. There limited runs go out of print pretty fast so you gotta jump fast when one hits the street.  The big news earlier this year from HoZac was that they were going to do a singles club which promised records from many of the bands I’ve already mentioned like Idle Times and Dum Dum Girls  as well as Teeth (a Blank Dogs side project) and Box Elders.  The singles club 500 subscriptions is sold out, but you should keep your eyes peeled for the first LP from the Dum Dum Girls and Medication from Connecticut who sound like the Mama’s and the Papas trapped in a cave.

It’s almost overwhelming, the number of releases that these bands and labels have put out and are planning to release, and I haven’t even mentioned a couple new San Diego labels, Art Fag and  Zoo Music.  Zoo Music was the first out of the gate this year with a cd-r ep from the Dum Dum Girls and a killer Jesus and Mary Chain-esque single from San Diego’s and former Plot to Blow Up the Eiffel Tower,  the CrocodilesArt Fag is run by the Crocodiles, but they won’t be allowing themselves to put out their own album.  They’ll be entrusting Fat Possum to do that on 28 April.  Instead, they will be releasing a mighty fine split 7 inch featuring the Pens, Crocodiles, Graffiti Island and Dum Dum Girls as well as a full length from Philadelphia’s Ye Olde Maids. With all of this action going on down here in the underground, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn about a few more labels this year taking the initiative and doing it themselves, economy be damned.
mp3: France Has the Bomb – Invisible Angle (buy it from HoZac)

mp3: Nobunny – Motorhead with Me (buy if from HoZac)

mp3: Mayfair Set – Desert Fun (comming out on Captured Tracks)

mp3: Blank Dogs – Calling Over (buy it from Captured Tracks)

mp3: Wavves – Teenage Super Party (buy it from Woodsist)

mp3: Idle Times – Driving You Sad (buy it from Woodsist)

mp3: The Woods – The Dark (buy it from Captured Tracks)

mp3: Dum Dum Girls – Ship of Love (currently out of print, from Zoo Music, but you can buy her 12″ from Captured Tracks)

mp3: Crocodiles – Neon Jesus (buy it from Zoo Music)

If you live in Seattle, Blank Dogs will be at the Funhouse along with Idle Times and Love Tan on 2 April, and Wavves will be at the same place a few days later on 9 April.