Saturday Music Review: Skatterbrain’s October Mix

It’s a dark and stormy morning, coffee is brewing and music is pouring out of my beloved combo record player/tape deck/CD player with an ipod line-out & the ability to burn any of this to digital, all in a snazzy dark wood exterior that would feel right at home in a 1940’s living room – were it not for the small indigo digital screen.  I’ve nicknamed it “The Cigar Box”, since it kind of looks a bit like one with the top propped open & cigar boxes are what I use to store my most important memories: photos, clippings, tickets, mementos etc.

And what is music but that place where memory meets hope and mixes them both into some infectious conglomeration that is not dissipated as it is consumed?  Where the past becomes canonized or understood and the future presents a hypothetical glimpse, rife with possibility & it’s funneled all into one perfect moment of now, where the sound pulses through you like a shock; like an electrical charge, thoughtless & thoughtful, full of purpose & meaning but also mere chance.  In short, it’s a reflection of the totality of life & where you are at in life when it really hits you and undergoes that alchemical process of turning sound into feeling.

So, Cigar Box.  That was a bit indulgent; here’s a pic of it to break all that up:

Anyhow, I decided to take a break from doing new (sometimes just “new to me”) 7” reviews and write a little bit about a compilation to that I’m giving a listen to for the first time this morning: Skatterbrain’s October Mix .

If you haven’t heard of Skatterbrain, I’m just gonna say that he’s the best thing to happen to the internet.  Apparently, he’s this guy From Philadelphia who writes about indie pop/shoegaze/post-punk/twee with awesome links and then puts out a compilation mix tape every month. Love *Love* LOVE his work!

1.   Fudge “Drive”

Something very 90s about this; makes me think it belongs on 120 Minutes after a Ned’s Atomic Dustbin video.  Rough around the edges, upbeat and happy; the perfect companion to this cup of coffee from Spielman that I finally got dialed in.  It’s still a bit muddy; I suspect that’s just the bean, but that’s ok and perfect for this song, with some muddy noise and a nice clean breakdown in the middle, that’s sorta like the fruity, blueberry note that initially presents before the murkiness sets in.  This is exactly what I think of when I think of 90’s era “college music”.  Makes sense; looking them up, they’re an early 90’s Caroline Records band.

2.   Jane Pow “Morningside”

A quirky opening that almost feels like opening a spring-loaded box of confetti.  A jangly intro to the verse that then explodes into buzzsaw guitar noise.  I’m jumping up and down!  I’m ready for the day, ready for awesome!  With a name like Jane Pow I was expecting a female voice, but instead it’s a punchy male tenor that comes out.  Somehow I’m picturing people skating an empty backyard pool, wearing bright colors with flannels and sweaters tied around their waists.  (Yeah, in case you’re wondering, I will admit –only somewhat reluctantly- to having done all of those things)  Our hair is a lot longer than may be flattering, but are smiles are far brighter than warranted or expected, so it’s all coming out in the wash.

3.   Gaze “He Makes All the Girls Smile (With His Smile)”

Nice jangly opening.  Feels like something Tiger Trap could do, but with a rawer, less angelic voice than Rose’s, which is not to take anything from it.  On the contrary, I feel like I’m lying on my belly, elbows propping me up on some red shag carpet in a basement room listening to these ladies play right in front of me.  Maybe we’ll walk to the coffee shop, humming our favorite tunes and making each other laugh with tame little jokes about the people we know, and drink mochas with real whipped cream & smoke cloves. I love this feeling.  I love feeling so close to the music.  So I look this band up & the drummer is Rose fuckin’ Melberg! Love!

4.   Grass Widow “Tattoo”

A driving twee tune with some edge to it.  Great harmonies, a tiny, surfy undercurrent to this song gives it real pop (in every sense of that word, apparently!)  This warms my heart to hear, because I saw Grass Widow open up for The Fresh & Onlys (who were great!  They didn’t look at all indie pop, what with thick, unmanaged beards & trucker hats & carabineer keys on jeans etc., but sonically what came out was pure jangly bliss!) and I was a bit bummed out, because they didn’t sound very good at all.  I could tell that the song writing was there, but things just seemed off.  I felt bad because I really wanted to like this 3-piece of ladies, but the harmonies were off-key and the sound (which is so top notch at Mississippi Studios that it just *couldn’t* be that) seemed to be wrong somehow.

So I happened to run into Brett from M’lady’s Records (& picked up a Golden Awesome record. So. Good.) & he confirmed the sneaking suspicion that I had, but didn’t want to give voice to: that the sound was shite & the ladies couldn’t hear each other in the monitors at all & were just generally having a rough go of it.  I suspect that what might have thrown the sound person off must have been the band that went on first: The Terry Malts (and who I was there to see.  Great guys!  I was joking with them throughout the whole show & they gave me a cassette tape of their album for free afterwards.  Not gonna lie: I felt pretty damn cool.) and their very Ramones-esque take on indie/noise pop.  The Terry Malts were definitely painting with a different color palate than Grass Widow.

I can’t wait to see these ladies perform again; hopefully under far more suitable conditions to their unique sound.

5.   Jessica Bailiff “Shine”

Initially, this track didn’t jump out at me, seemed a bit like it wasn’t going anywhere, but it was just shy and beautiful and decided to move along at its own pace.  It simultaneously drones and shimmers & it grew so much on me, it may be my favorite of what I’ve heard so far (& in case you can’t tell, I *luuuurve* what I’ve heard so far!)  It’s a really sweet song about longing that seems full of desire in a really healthy way.  Having just finished listening to the whole album, the closing song seems to be so off-balanced & “this love will make me right” instead of “hey, I’m awesome & you’re awesome: let’s go be awesome together?”  However, this song by Jessica Bailiff just seems so full of delicately articulated beauty, so full of the right kind of longing that I keep coming back to it.

6.   Minisnap “It Won’t Be The Same”

Odd, almost Polynesian-sounding opening gives way to a guitar-driven jangle that almost sounds like it could be off of Blonde on Blonde, then a sweet-sounding woman’s voice comes hovering in.  Just the right balance of a country timbre without any of the off-putting (to me, at least) twang.

7.   The Radio Dept. “The City Limit”

I must be a child of the 90’s, because in the intro, after the nocturnal-sounding keyboard intro-wash that’s simultaneously evocative of ocean waves and late night car traffic gives way into the drumbeat and the singer starts softly crooning, I catch myself humming Radiohead’s “Creep”.  I notice this and try to chase it away & focus on the Radio Dept. instead, only to find myself humming the Cranberries “Linger”.  Besides these odd personal hangups, the song itself, (after bring myself back a 2nd time) is moody in the right kind of way, with a great 80’s feel to it.  It seems that 2nd only to the Aussies, the Swedes seem to win at indie pop, as bands like this, happydeadmen, Loveninjas, Jens Lenkman, and the misleadingly named I’m From Barcelona among others, can all attest to.  Can I also confess to being such a damn city kid that the sound of late night traffic is so wonderfully evocative of the best parts of my childhood? Those silent, late-night waking dreams, imagining what my life is going to look like; all the great things in store.  This song takes me there when I clear off the cobwebs of the songs it reminds me of.

8.   Mazzy Star “Flowers In December”

Love this band, love this song. Heard it so many times before that I’m not sure that I’ve anything new to say about it, other than it fits in very, very well with the overall feel of the mix.  What more could you ask for?

9.   Ruby Falls “Pennies”

In the early 90’s I lumped this kind of music in erroneously with grunge, because this was the exact kind of music that I wanted to be listening to, to be seeing live and to be playing, and since it was new and indie and had a raw edge, despite the absence of distortion (for the most part).  Saving pennies for the bar; who hasn’t been there?  Well, I did go to a school where the local pub was selling cans of PBR for a buck (SHUTUP! IT WASN’T THAT LONG AGO! It’s Portland so everything was really cheap.  Ok, so it was 10 years ago.  Still…), so bringing pennies to the bar happened on occasion, with the same frequency with which we argued over our various readings of Foucault & Marx so: ALL THE DAMN TIME. To our credit, we always managed to muster tip as well, because if you can’t afford to tip, you can’t afford to go out.

10.  Red Dye No. 5 “Green Ranch”

Also doing that nice 90’s dynamic of starting out slow & jangly before crunching right into the distorted noise.  I really like how the chorus takes it back to that clean, reverb-y guitar without losing any intensity.  Just a really great 90’s indie song, with such generous pop accessibility on its sleeve.  The woman’s voice is really great; I love this stuff so much.  I didn’t think I was going to be having such a run in with nostalgia on these tracks I’ve never heard before.

11.  Seam “Sky City”

Opens with an explosion of distortion that feels like the aftermath of a bomb having gone off, as the smoke clouds begin to clear and the damage becomes clear and visible.  Vocals low in the mix.  Melodic and shoegaze-y at the same time.

12.  Poastal “Dizzy”

Fast paced, pop-punky with a real raw edge to it, blissfully free of any of what the OC, Warped Tour and skateboarding did to associations of that genre: this is a band that would never find its way onto a Fat Wreck Chords or an Epitaph compilation, (Thank the Universe) but the pop elements are SO STRONG, especially in the sweetly sung chorus. Also, the punk elements are SO STONG as well, with good speed and distortion through the verses.  I could listen to this kind of thing forever.  Note to self: Indie Pop Punk is VASTLY different from Pop Punk.  Long live Indie Pop Punk!

13.  Polvo “Leaf”

A bit math-meets-drone-y, a bit Pavement-y with that stumbling swagger & a bit of slack-jawed not really trying.  This is perhaps a bit more conventionally rock-y (damn do I really like my –y endings today!) than I find myself in the mood for, it’s pretty damn good.

14.  The Ropers “Sweet Lord I Know”

Back to a bit more conventional of an indie/dream pop sound, with jangly guitar playing and low-key male vocals.  A tambourine is shaken in the background, yet it somehow stays free of any ‘60s associations in my head.  Feels like the kind of band that a bunch of good friends could start up and sound like one day on a whim & therein lies the deceptive brilliance of this sound: it’s so informal that it seems like it could be easily replicated, but there’s a polish underneath that makes such a conceit that I’ve just imagined truly impossible.

15.  The Popguns “Someone To Dream Of”

A sweet sounding song, with the vocals very clear and forward in the mix for the style, but as I mentioned earlier, I find parts of the lyrics to be a bit off-putting in their desperation.  The song comes off a bit maudlin in that cheesy 80’s way as a result of that & the building, dramatic structure. “Say you love me though I know your head is full of people and adventure…come inside and take my life, I won’t resist a moment, why should I even try?…someone to dream of, when I was empty shallow and small; someone to live for.”  It seems like the sort of thing that could maybe be overcome if the production and scope of the song didn’t make the vocals & consequently the lyrics so important and unavoidable.  It’s an understandable place for someone to be in, but lately, with songs that I’ve been listening to where the lyrics are so present, I’ve really only wanted to surround myself with songs that speak to me in some way about where I want to go, or at least are innocuous.  This song just makes me feel so sad for the singer (even though the whole thing could just be some made-up scenario for the sake of song) that it steals a bit of joy from me.  Honestly, the only weak song on an otherwise completely stellar mix.

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