If You Build It They Will Come

Woolen Men

You might remember San Francisco band Pow!‘s album Hi-Tech Boom from two years ago. It was a punk filled diatribe against zombie tech workers taking over their city.  In the two years since, the zombie tech worker cancer has moved up the coast to Portland (and Seattle). The nouveau riche are clogging up the city’s’ arteries, causing the cost of everything to go up, encouraging developers to come into neighborhoods and level older cheaper housing to build shiny new, and more expensive housing. Neighborhoods that once were quirky, weird and cool become bland and boring. Where once there was a record store now stands a bank. where there was a fun dive bar or DIY space now stand condominiums and high end furniture stores with on the ground floor.

Like their bay area brethern Portland’s Woolen Men aren’t going take it sitting down. Their new album Temporary Monument is about the experience of their city changing into something that they no longer recognize and don’t much like. On the album’s opening song Clean Dreams they’re choked by the dust of high-rise pits being dug, crowded out and feeling alienated in a city they see changing for the bad before their eyes. The feeling of alienation in their hometown continues on songs Alien City, Life in Hell, Hard Revision and the title track.

Musically, Woolen Men continue on the same trajectory of jangly and jagged guitar riffs inspired by the Clean, the Minutemen, dB’s and Wire. All three members write, sing and play guitar which lends a diversity to the album. Mostly the songs veer toward high energy rage, but they can dial it back and sound pretty like on Walking Out and After the Flood which is so introspective and sad it sounds like it could have been REM‘s Automatic for the People.

If this were just a record railing against the mallification of urban cores it might grate at your nerves over a full album, but Woolen Men take you through the full seven step grieving process with a deftness and ingenuity that could if directed in the right way could create an insulated pocket of creative utopia.

Woolen Men’s Temporary Monument is out now on Woodsist.

Midway and Buried in Records – Part 5

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.

Dick Diver – Calendar Days (Chapter Music)

“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.

stream: Dick Diver – Calendar Days

The Shivas – Whiteout (K)

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.

stream: The Shivas – Thrill Yr Idols

Eat Lights Become Lights – Modular Living (Great Pop Supplement/Rocket Girl)

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.

stream: Eat Lights Become Lights – Modular Living

Useless Eaters – Hypertension (Jeffery Drag)

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.

stream: Useless Eaters – Hypertension

Woolen Men – Woolen Men (Woodsist)

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 early REM, Wire, the Clean and dB’s.

stream: Woolen Men – Mayonnaise


Paul Messis – Case Closed (State)

Paul Messis is an obvious fan of the Dovers, West Coast Experimental Pop Art Band, the Who and the Squires, but instead of doing covers, he’s creating his own future classics.

stream: Paul Messis – Nickels And Dimes

Wimps – Repeat (End of Time)

“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?”

stream: Wimps – Slept In Late

Wild Flag At the High Dive

Wild Flag and Royal Baths at the High Dive, Seattle | 12 November 2010

You’ve likely already heard about how Wild Flag are two parts Sleater-Kinney (Carrie Brownstein & Janet Weiss), one part Helium (Mary Timony) and one part Minders (Rebecca Cole); how they’ve signed with Merge to put out their record and how up until this weekend no one knew what they sounded like.  Much ado has been made about this indie rock supergroup and the band has contributed to the mystery with  references to dolphins, avalanches and hot dogs in lieu of providing any sonic evidence.  The veteran women know how to create anticipation in today’s connected world by not putting any of their songs up on the internet. Sure they’ve got a Myspace, Facebook and Twitter, but not a song to be heard on any of them.  I think we all had a pretty good guess about what they would sound like, and if you’d ever heard Brownstein and Timony’s collaboration project the Spells from ten years ago you probably had a better guess.

First and foremost Wild Flag are a guitar band.  They have two great guitarists in Brownstein and Timony and even though the songs were new and they were still kind of feeling their way around (Timony had chords written on pieces of paper on the stage) they both were comfortable enough with the songs by this their third show for Brownstein to be doing high kicks and Timony handling her axe by the neck as if she were wringing its final notes.  Brownstein even joked a few times how they had only heard these new songs a couple more times than we had. Timony’s and Brownstein’s styles are different, but they compliment each other. Brownstein is more flamboyant in her style and Timony a little more understated, sashaying to Bronwstein’s high kicks. They split the vocal duties about evenly and shared them on a few songs.  Drummer Janet Weiss and keyboardist Rebecca Cole provided the backing vocals and Weiss even took the lead on a cover of the Velvet Underground’s She’s My Best Friend reminding me a little of Yo La Tengo.

As for the Wild Flag songs? They were all quality, and many were immediately catchy making it easy  for the crowd to get into it.  I read reviews from their Olympia show that the band sounded garage, but I heard lots of mod, post punk and psychedelia in the songs, but first and foremost pop. Playing to type, Brownstien’s songs tended to be more muscular and Timony’s were more subtle.  Most of the songs were the three minute kind, but the band rocked out on the Brownstein sung Race Horse which turned into both guitarist riffing off of one another while Wiess and Cole controlled the pace for a good six minutes.

They played four covers to fill out the set including Dirty Water and  Beast of Burden but the best of the night was saved for the last.  Their version of Patty Smith’s Ask the Angels was inspired and full of punky raw energy Smith would have been proud of .  Brownstein set her guitar aside and grabbed the mic and channeled her inner Smith, which I’m guessing isn’t too much of a reach, while Timony unleashed white hot riffs while bouncing around the stage.  It was an appropriate raw wild ending to the show.  The next time Wild Flag come through town, they’ll likely have a record, be much more polished, and be playing a much larger venue but it was pretty cool to see them at this nascent stage as the songs have just been formed and they’re  emerging from their chrysalis.

The Royal Baths opened and if I had not already known they were from San Francisco, I would have guessed they were the house band for an opium den down the street. Their songs were dark, psychedelic odes to the Velvet Underground except there was no Lou Reed, it was all John Cale. It was good stuff, but I don’t know how many people there were paying much attention. Their album Litanies came out on Woodsist last month is worth a look.

Getting Lucky With the Art Museums

When I bought the Art Museums‘ Rough Frame that came out on Woodsist a few weeks ago, the record store clerk asked me what it sounded like.  I gave her a blank stare, a shrug and told her I had no idea.  The record had caught my attention with it’s cover art.  I plucked it from the bin and  then saw that their name was the Art Museums and that it was on Woodsist.  The stars had seemingly aligned for a purchase of something I had never heard before.

I brought it home, plopped it on the turntable and was aghast at my good luck.  A band that seemed immersed in the Flying Nun and Creation catalogs from the early 80’s, some Television Personalities and the psych rock jems Tobin Sprout use to pepper Guided by Voices albums.  This album was evidently designed specifically to make a nostalgia obsessed old guy like myself happy and content to know that they still can make records like they use to.

After doing a little research I found out that this record just didn’t appear out of nowhere.  The duo Josh Alper (Whysp) and Glenn Donaldson (Skygreen Leopards, Blithe Sons, Teenage Panzerkorps) got together last year in San Francisco and recorded it using vintage 80’s analog equipment to keep the vibe totally authentic.  The album is a short nine songs, but there are another two songs to come in the form of a 7″ single due on Woodsist later this year. Here’s to my good luck, I’m off to buy a lottery ticket.

mp3: Art Museums – Sculpture Gardens

Order up your copy of Rough Frame over at Woodsist, and get a preview of the upcoming single in the form of this video.

Location, Location, Location

Real Estate at the Funhouse, Seattle | 18 November 2009

New Jersey band Real Estate, the latest Pitchfork lottery winners, garnering a well deserved best new music ribbon on their debut self-titled album that came out this week on Woodsist were in town on Wednesday night for their debut Seattle gig. The record is often described as conjuring a surf, beach, and bonfires at sunset king of vibe.  It’s not a Beach Boys, southern California vibe, but a down under, New Zealand kink of vibe.  Think the Clean (yes, them again) and you’re half way there.  Throw in a little Byrds, Grateful Dead and Durutti Column and you’re nearly there.

It was a rainy night in Seattle, what night isn’t this time of year, but the sun was setting and the waves were crashing inside the Funhouse. Real Estate are four unassuming guys that look like they could have been a band in the college rock heyday of the 80’s.  Looking at them, they reminded me of bands like Game Theory, Galaxy 500, and Dumptruck who all had a look where if you saw them on the street you would’ve had no idea of their ability to plaster a sunset on the wall with their guitars.  Live, Real Estate don’t really have the same watery effects on their guitars that they do on record, but the interplay between singer Martin Courtney in his thrift shop cardigan and Mathew Mondanile (also of Ducktails) sporting a big ol’ anorak was every bit as effective and engaging.  Bolstered by the grooving Alex Bleeker (also of Alex Bleeker and the Freaks) on bass, and the best sound I’ve ever witnessed at the Funhouse the band created a hazy mellow good-time vibe the almost made me forget that I live in Seattle and it’s November.  Please come back soon.

mp3: Real Estate – Beach Comber (from their self titled debut, buy it from Woodsist)

mp3: Real Estate – Old Folks (from their OOP 7 inch single on Underwater Peoples)

Here’s some video I shot of the last song of their set, Beach Comber.


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.