So, I’m taking the pretension down a notch– they’ll be no suggested drink pairings on this mix, nor will there be any quasi-poetic dream narrative annotations– instead I’ll just submit the tracks with perhaps a few brief thoughts…hey, I said I was taking the pretension down a notch; I didn’t say I’d be leaving it behind altogether! As you can imagine, this playlist is heavily influenced and inspired by a historical event called THE BEST TIME EVER, though you lot may know it as the NYC Popfest.
1- “Sensitive” Field Mice
This is to let the listener know EXACTLY what they are in for. Perhaps the most emblematic song of the beloved Sarah Records catalog with a 7″ cover for the ages. This is the longest one on the mix, and it’s a testament to the songwriting of the Field Mice that it seems to just race away like wild horses over the hills1 rather than plod along as your average 5 minute long song seems to do. These lyrics are a litmus test of sorts: if they speak to your heart and fill it with great comfort at having found another soul that has experienced something at least similar to your own, congrats: you’re a popkid.
“We all need to feel safe/Then that’s taken away/Sometimes I want to return/Return to before/The trouble began/That time of no fear
By showing you I’m/Sensitive/You do risk/Being crucified/Crucified by/Those you are unlike
My feelings are hurt so easily/That is the price that I I pay/The price that I do pay/To appreciate/The beauty they’re killing/The beauty they’re busy killing
If the sun going down/Can make me cry/Why should I not/Like the way I am?”
This all brings me back to StarTropics and their stellar set the Sunday of the NYC Popfest, wherein your humble narrator had elected to wear his Field Mice shirt & whose wild-eyed elation was comically visible to everyone in the room. To their credit, StarTropics executed an inspired cover2 of the song.
2- “Doldrums” Fear of Men
Along with the next band on the playlist, Flowers, this group is easily one of the most exciting bands to emerge recently on the indiepop scene. This light-yet-haunting melody is both evocative of the listless horse latitude of ennui, yet fills that space with a gentle desire; one that makes a purgatory with the right person better than heaven with the wrong one. What I wouldn’t give to be a ne’r-do-well on a do-nothing afternoon underneath Casablanca fans, sweat from our gin & tonics sliding slowly down our glasses as we lie recumbent on some afterthought of a couch, idly listing off all the places we’d rather be, but knowing this moment to secretly be divine. This song takes me to that place and I don’t want to leave.
3- “Cut and Run” Flowers
From that jump-crack tam/snare opening it feels like we’re thrust into a crash-pop playground of drenching noisy sound, with Rachel Kenedy’s voice hovering and beckoning above it all resulting in that perfect indiepop combination of the crashpop noise with the sweetness. Like Evans The Death, with their compact epic “I’m So Unclean” I’m just amazed at how many different worlds– how many separate sonic spaces a song can inhabit in such a brief time. If you, dear reader, should ever feel that your sense of concentration is waning, be sure to put on “Stuck” from their recent Fortuna Pop! 45. There could not be a more perfect name for this song, as you’ll be stuck paying attention to this spellbinding song at the expense of anything else, so DON’T LISTEN TO THIS WHILE DRIVING. OR WHILE FLYING AN AIRPLANE. OR WALKING A TIGHTROPE ACROSS THE GRAND CANYON. Most other times are probably pretty ok, though. Seriously: Flowers– remember that name. Might as well, since it’ll be impossible to forget the music once you hear it.
4- “If You Ever Walk Out Of My Life” Comet Gain
Such a brilliant and classic opening guitar line (that Roger McGuinn would kill to have played) majestically opens this paean to a certain kind of love. The chorus seems to suggest that it is a love that is at the apex of feeling, and the triumphant notes the chords sound echo that, but lines buried in the verses seem to suggest otherwise. Lines such as “My red wine memories of you/I loved that flat so much/I wish you’d just sometimes come home” seem to suggest that this is a love that has moved on into something else, and that the narrator is hoping that some kind of interaction can be salvaged, while still remembering some of the grand moments. “You say you still care for me/A voice so full of pity/You underestimate/This feeling is loving, it’s not hate/Your eyes seem sad on you/Remember, never forget”. Comet Gain have so many unique and transcendent songs, but this to me may be their greatest, if not necessarily their most emblematic (which would probably be “Jack Nance Hair” or “Mainlining Mystery”). The handclaps punctuating the chorus provide a strange kind of kickier punch to the song, more in the way that handclaps work in an electronica paradigm, rather than the down-home feel that they seem to create in an analog instrumentation setting, and the longing in Rachael Evan’s voice is so palpable & compelling. SRSLY, Comet Gain, If You Ever Walk Out Of My Life, They’ll Be Teardrops And Heartaches.
5- “Like One” Silkies
This noisey gem comes from Boston’s Silkies (who opened the Saturday show at Spike Hill; a show I sadly missed due to some chronic enfuculation from the weekend train schedule). From the huge echoey test sounds that open the track, to where the drums pop off an intro, this band is somehow evocative of the 60’s girl group sound, but with a heavy garage vibe & an enthusiasm that is just overwhelmingly contagious. Give this song a chance–a chance– a chance–, but hide your heart if you do, it’ll steal it quicker than the mythical Irish Silkies are purported to be able to do.
6- “Apathy” Liechtenstein
An austere jangle provides the opening to this haunting little number from Sweden’s Liechtenstein, a far more brooding version of indiepop than many other Swedish bands, such as Acid House Kings, Speedmarket Avenue, Alpaca Sports, Burning Hearts, The Garlands, Sambassadeur or any of the other bands from that country that marry the Sweet with Musical Polish & seem to have been magically constructed ex nihlo when a radiant sunbeam hit a big fluffy cloud. In short, they all sound like Ray Kimura paintings look: light, airy, beautiful yet unique and instantly recognizable. However, Liechtenstein doesn’t comfortably fit into that category; there’s a French moodiness that seems to permeate their sound, which while still sweet and polished, also feels like there should be a smoldering Gauloises sitting on an outdoor table next to a half-finished cup of coffee & a copy of Les Fleurs du Mal or Being and Nothingness. In short, there’s just the slightest bit of angst and/or ennui that I find utterly irresistible. I’ve got a lot of feelings about this band but *apathy* isn’t one of them.
7- “Wasted Rain” The Rainyard
This wonderful bit of moody jangle is courtesy of short-lived 80’s Australian band The Rainyard, who put out just one 7″ on Summershine records before dissolving into various other endeavors. A collection of all 14 songs that the Perth quartet had managed to record was put out (digital only) in 2012. This particular song jumps out at me for the sultry minor, yet upbeat peppy jangle, that sounds as if Johnny Marr decided to start writing indiepop with Crowded House. Hey now, I don’t have to dream; I’ll never get over the Rainyard.
8- “The One You Love” The Hobbes Fanclub
Honestly if you don’t think this is the greatest song you’ve ever heard, I frankly don’t know how much I have in common with you. All of the longing, drowned in noise and beauty. Mournful, aching and brilliant. Haven’t we all just wanted to be the one that the right person loved? And that moment, however fleeting it may be when it is true? How can so much sound come from just three musicians? If you could send the one you love any one thing, how could it not be this?
9- “Always Knew It Couldn’t Stay” Pet Milk
Pet Milk describe themselves as being a pop band from Philadelphia formed in early 2010 that are “proponents of punklife and kitchen-sink romance.” I must confess to being something of a fan of both punklife & the clever twist on kitchen-sink drama/realism–I don’t know which opposition I find more charming: romance with drama (it it possible for one to exist without the other? I guess if you do it right…) or romance with realism. That all said, kitchen sink realism is a genre of film I’m a dear devotee of, with the stellar “Look Back in Anger”, “Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner” and “Billy Liar” all being excellent places to start for those unfamiliar with the genre and curious about learning more. Pet Milk are another one of those great indiepop bands with visible punk roots that Philadelphia seems to have a great knack for producing. They also have a song called “Husker Dudes”, which is the best name for any song ever. With “Always Knew It Couldn’t Stay”, Noise meets Jangle with a sprinkling of Sweet over Longing. In short: a recipe for AWESOME.
10- “I Would Die To Be” Ski Lodge
Ski Lodge from New York here tread some of the same lyrical ground that the Hobbes Fanclub are claiming with “The One You Love”, but in a decidedly less-broody, more upbeat summer East Coast dreampop sound. I’ve written about seeing them live before in cursory fashion elsewhere on this site & will indubitably include reflections on their set in my forthcoming write-up of the NYC Popfest. What I will say here is that I don’t know if it is born of that sweltering sensation of rubber soles melting on hard asphalt that is July in the City or the sweet sigh of relaxation that is the sound of ice clinking against a rocks glass after a day of wading through the humid smoggy haze, but somehow the ironically-named Ski Lodge have managed to capture in song the very spirit of summer like a firefly in a jar.
11- “Searching Through The Past” Bleached
It’s no secret how big a fan I am of the Clavin sisters’ body of work, going all the way back to Mika Miko. I was lucky enough to catch them in town recently, as some…um, “long time” readers may note. Here the punky energy is beset with a pop hook so viciously ensnaring that both The Misfits and The Ramones would turn green with envy. The song may be asking a boy to come home, but you’ll *never* have to ask this song to come back, since that hook is so catchy it’ll never leave. Like a drop-in by the best kind of friends, instead of being an unwelcome intrusion (like some earworms are), you’ll find yourself glad for the company.
12- “Teenage Clothes” Heathers
You don’t know Heathers? What’s your damage? This LA band has that what-a-cruel-world-let’s-toss-ourselves-in-the-abyss type ambiance. Well, that’s actually the movie. What Heathers the band has is a raw, noisy and infectious jangle, with the right sense of urgency and reflection. “There’s no easy way” to say how great this band is; consistently strong songwriting and great vocal layering from the creative force behind Ghost Animal and the head of the awesome label Death Party Records (who take their name from that great Gun Club song). Keep your ears on this one; great things are in the works. PS: catch the Sarah Records allusion in the first line? Here’s a hint, “You Should All Be Murdered” if you didn’t 😉
13- “Climbing Walls” Nixon
Changing gears a bit, here is the unapologetic and boldly twee sound of Roger Gunnarsson. He’s played in Free Loan Investments, The Happy Birthdays, Cloetta Paris and most recently written songs with The Garlands, but this track, from his long-time solo project Nixon, is demonstrative of why there is a Last FM Group called “Roger Gunnarsson is a fucking hero”. His ability to craft delicate little pop songs that are fragile wonders which seem as if they were created only just for you is uncanny. Here, he makes that all-too-familiar sentiment of liking someone that doesn’t feel the same way seem tame and manageable, like it was worth a try, but it didn’t work out, so it will all just magically float away somehow. If only that is how that feeling worked, right?
14- “Sea Horses” The Gentle Isolation
This loving cover of a Blueboy classic (and I think *the* quintessential Blueboy song, though one might be inclined to rebut with “Boys Don’t Matter”), by the Filipino band The Gentle Isolation is a testimony to the fact that Southeast Asian Indiepop is alive and kicking! On the Manila-based label Lilystars this Bulacan group is one to keep an eye out for!
15- “Throw Away This Day” The Garlands
This stellar example of SwindiepopTM on one of my very favorite (and Portland-based!) labels, Shelflife, has Roger Gunnarsson of the aforementioned Nixon on co-songwriting duties with lead singer Christin Wolderth, although not appearing on the album or live. Your humble narrator was lucky enough to see this band live on Saturday at the 100 Club at this most recent London Popfest, (the night of Standard Fare’s last ever show), and can tell you that they most certainly did not disappoint! If throwing away a day sounds like this, it makes me want to throw them all away! And really, what is summer for, but knowing when and how to throw away a day most deserving of such treatment? That’s it, I’m gonna take a pocketknife and a PB & J, tie ’em up in a handkerchief & tie that on the end of a stick & walk down to the river to go meet up with Huck.
16- “Huckeleberry” Cocoanut Groove
Speaking of Huckleberry, here’s another band in that Swedish (Swindiepop? Swee-86?) style of gentle blissful polish, this song is a loveletter to many things from the mid ’60s. With an opening guitar line that calls to mind “Ticket To Ride” but better (yeah, I said it! The Beatles are *way* Oh-ver-ray-ted) and a bit of Dylan and/or the Byrds covering Dylan thrown in, sonically we’re transported to 1965. The opening lyrics also call to mind Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence”, but whereas the “Sounds of Silence” seems initially dour (“Hello Darkness my old friend…) and “Huckleberry” appears joyous, a more careful line reading shows the inverse to be true; that the protagonist in “Huckleberry” is haunted by the memory of someone who he had spent an unforgettable summer with. “The first time that you brought me home/Felt like the sky had a strange glow,/And river waves were hummin’ our favorite songs./And I still dream about it now,/I see your face in every cloud,/Guess that summer stayed with me somehow.” It’s implied that this person is somehow gone for whatever reason, since one cannot be haunted by what is present. With the “Sounds of Silence”, however, what initially seems dark and absent, is actually hopeful. That while the vision the narrator has of silence seems initially alarming, it is the narrator who is slow to understand, and is actually the fool he’s accusing the ten thousand people (maybe more) of being, since the “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls and whispered in the sounds of silence”. I realize this is a contentious interpretation, and is altered if one considers the use of “prophets” as being a sardonic one, instead of a sincere one suggesting that “herein is where the wisdom lies” or some overwrought nonsense like that. To the point, “Huckleberry” isn’t just the very best berry ever made, it’s also the best Cocoanut Groove song.
17- “Not Just Anyone” Cassolette
Easily my favorite thing *ever* to come from Florida (Key Lime Pie is a not-too-close runner-up). Know that feeling of not having too much time, but wanting to spend it all with the right person? Yeah, that. That like WHOA. Cassolette are a real “feel good” story in that the core of the band are wife and husband duo Ciera Galbraith-Coleman and Jesse Coleman, who have recently had a child, which they’ve taken on tour with them. You could see the cute lil tyke sleeping from the side of the stage at the NYC Popfest! But while you might just expect the sweetest of rainbows and jump-ropes from the group, like my favorite indiepop bands, they’ve also got an edge to them, which really comes across live, with crashy guitar lines snaking through such sweetly formed pop songs. Their very name is a testament to this fact, in that while it ostensibly sounds like something involving French cooking, it’s actually a veiled reference to a “certain type of natural perfume” as per a passage from the illustrated 1970’s how-to-sex tome “The Joy Of Sex”. One band member explained that “Ciera liked the name because it transcends vulgarity and innocence.”3 A truly perfect way to describe the band.
18- “The End of the World Is Bigger Than Love” Jens Lekman
I’ve often heard Jens referred to as “The Swedish Morrissey”, and although enough wit certainly is there to sustain such a comparison, I’ve always thought that Burt Bacharach was a more fitting analogy, since Lekman seems to so effortlessly create these epic, catchy hooks. It’s as if the mere activity of him stooping over to tie a loose shoelace (which is the sort of mundane and human irritant that would happen to him, since his songs seem peppered with mildly unfortunate events that would bother anyone not gifted with Jens’ buoyancy– unlike Morrissey who would never have the gall to abide the company of footwear daft enough to be in such open and outlandish rebellion to his will) would necessarily launch a flurry of trumpets and doves and rainbows and silk flowing scarves. There is something so decidedly larger-than-life about Jens and his music, so it makes perfect sense that he’d be writing about things like love and the end of the world, though I think you’d be right to be suspicious of his claim that the latter is larger than the former. Knowing him, I’d suspect that he himself doesn’t even believe it. His sound is so sprawlingly orchestral, when I saw him live and noticed that there were only four other musicians on stage, I openly wondered, “where the hell are the other twenty?”. It was then that I realized his *label* was Secretly Canadian, he himself wasn’t. (cf. “To Be A Canadian Band You Need At Least Twenty Members”. 1998) Jens has the answer to “What if 70’s Soft Rock didn’t suck?” It’d sound just like this.
19- “Stay” The Cat’s Miaow
Australia’s The Cat’s Miaow is precisely that & they write songs that may last less in duration than a “miaow”, yet contain so much more content. It is truly an awe-inspiring (as opposed to awwwwr inspiring) facet of indiepop that songs can say so very much in such little time. Makes a lot of other kinds of music seem vastly over-wrought in comparison.
20- “My Life Is Wrong” Pains of Being Pure at Heart
I love this band, this song and the original all so very much, and have elaborated on the significance of this song elsewhere on these pages. Still, I couldn’t resist putting it on this summer’s mix. This East River Pipe song (from the B-Side of their 7” cover of The Magnetic Fields’ “Jeremy”) is a total tear-jerker, even ratcheted up to the manic crashpop speed that PoBPaH give it. The song starts out seeming like a broken-hearted love song, begging some unseen force “Let me wake up right…let me wake up right, because I know my life is wrong, you told me so.” Crushing, right? Then the last lines appear, “Daddy, daddy, please don’t go” and you realize it’s perhaps a child begging a father to stay around after a divorce or some kind of abandonment, but the child imagining that some minor transgression is the cause, like “daddy’s leaving and never coming back because I accidentally threw a baseball through the front window & I’ll never ever ever touch a baseball again, just please come back.” If that doesn’t crush your heart just thinking about…then I don’t think I have very much in common with you. But what if it was all so easy? What if one day you could just “wake up right” in the same way that sometimes you just “wake up wrong”? Tragedy and hope in less than 3 minutes; the vast range of human experience distilled into an indiepop song. PoBPaH know their history & yet know how to add onto it all and make it unique. I must stop here, else I should never shut up about how much this song and this band mean to me.
21- “Something to Think About” Gold-Bears
Stunning crashpop from the originators of the term (one of my favorites, as you can clearly see) and the keepers of the indiepop flame in Atlanta GA. This track is from the Cloudberry 7″; they also have a 7″ on Portland-based Magic Marker records and an LP on the peerless Slumberland. This song just tumbles out the gate with such cheerful and manic energy. How is it possible that being told “you’re alone” could sound so sad and exhilarating? I’m not sure, but I know it’s *something to think about*.
22- “Tender Age” The Holiday Crowd
Somehow, Robert Smith took The Cure to Canada and married them to The Marvelettes with a dose of late 80’s new wave, and a touch of non-dancey New Order and this brilliant song from the Shelflife Records band is the result. There’s something about this song that would make it feel strangely at home on The Breakfast Club soundtrack; whether you feel compelled to “describe the ruckus”4 is up to you.
23- “Stop Me If You’ve Think You’ve Heard This One Before” The Rest
A stunning and memorable Smiths cover from Ontario’s The Rest. Go ahead and stop me if you think you’ve heard this song before; I’ll bet you haven’t heard it like this, though. There’s something about the trembling tenor in the singers’ voice that cuts a more desperate timbre than Mozzers more breathy and playful delivery on the original. I know it’s blasphemy, but I rather prefer this to the original. Can we just all agree here though that The Dum Dum Girls have the best cover of anything ever? I hear you knocking, Jeff Buckley and yeah, your cover is devastating, but nothing can touch the flawless noisy energy, the sweeping, powerful longing in The Dum Dum Girls version of the best Smiths song ever.
24- “I Don’t Want To Call You Baby…Baby” Kids on a Crime Spree
This is the opening cut on their Slumberland LP “We Love You So Bad”, brought to you courtesy of the hyper-prolific musical mind of Mario Hernandez (of Ciao Bella & From Bubblegum To Sky) who wrote near a hundred songs for the album and culled it down to the eight that made it. One might be tempted to read the album as a love letter to Phil Spector production, but this power pop explosion jumps out to me as the most shining track on a strong album.
25- “Drive On” La Sera
Katy Goodman’s La Sera provides us with some late night West Coast dreampop to drive lonely streets to, past the neon glare of building facades and long-cast streetlights, haunting shadows and onto new-yet-familiar roads. Late night music at it’s finest. It’s the middle cut on the second side of their second album, “Sees the Light” from the “Hardly Art” imprint, but there’s something so final-seeming about that track that it would close out this very mix were it not for…
26- “I Just Do” Go Sailor
Since we opened with a true indiepop classic, I figured that we should close with one as well: the peerless Rose Melberg and Go Sailor. I swear, they couldn’t make a mistake in my eyes.
1: You thought I was gonna link to the Bukowski book, didn’t you? It’s his best (read: saddest) book of poetry, but yeah, pretty indefensible to re-read all that misogyny when there are so many poets out there making great art without the senseless hatred.
2: This isn’t from NYCPopfest, but is a pretty good indication of how awesome it was. They had a drummer at Popfest.
3: From Candy Twist issue #1.
4: Watching this scene again, for the first time in a long time, I’m seeing a what is clearly a sexual assault getting played for laughs (where Judd Nelson gropes Molly Ringwald under the desk). How deeply frustrating, yet unsurprising is it to go back and see the media that you grew up on and thought was harmless is in fact full of the most problematic messages of rape culture. I will do my part to not forget about this.