Author Archives: Michael Feck

About Michael Feck

Music. Coffee. Words. I wear my heart on my sleeve. The only thing I love more than telling a good story is hearing one: what's yours?

NYC Popfest: Day 1 (and events leading up to it)

Is there any U.S. festival more exciting for Popkids than the NYC Popfest? Only the UK’s Indietracks is as heralded the popworld, and rightly so. The chance to see indiepop’s biggest bands amidst the backdrop of America’s biggest city is an adventure, especially for those of us who don’t live in that city. Whereas Indietracks is a festival that everyone takes a sort of “vacation” to get to, and is almost in an idyllic “Indiepop Dreamscape1” of classic trains and bucolic station-facing main stages and secular popchurch and even acoustic sets on the train, the NYC Popfest is scattered at venues throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn, making the city of New York the backdrop to it all and thus a meaningful part of the experience.

Popfest isn’t just the bands and shows: it’s taking the Subway from the day show at the Cake Shop to the night show at Baby’s All Right; it’s going for a slice and seeing indiepop power couple Elizabeth Morris and Ola Innset (from Allo Darlin’ and Making Marks respectively) walk by; it’s colossal bear hugs from dear friends that you unfortunately only see at Popfests because everyone lives somewhere else; it’s walking to the afterparty to hear Fortuna Pop‘s Sean Price DJ and encountering a widely diverse series of New Yorkers out at night for whatever their weekend will bring and laughing in a large group, ready to dance till you can’t feel your feet any more; It’s running to whatever omnipresent corner deli is nearest for a veggie sandwich with Elia of Scotland Yard Gospel Choir; or drinking good NYC beer and talking indiepop between sets with Lio Kanine; it’s late nights at a Williamsburg AirBnB around a bottle of whiskey or porch cigarettes with newly-made friends who just happened to be outside. It’s the wild rush of life moving at its frantic city pace, as those of us on indiepop vacation get to experience the gentle voyeurism of the traveler, while also contributing to the experience of the city.

I think there is some truth to the Tom Wolfe quote of “One belongs to New York instantly; one belongs to it as much in five minutes as in five years.” And that wonderful sensation one has in New York where it feels like every night is a Saturday night, and that we are all walking on history at the same time as we are making it, past buildings that would lean in and say, “Hey Bub, lemme tell you a story”, if only we would listen, but feverish with excitement we all run past things that could enrapture us for hours, had any of us only had the sense of stillness to listen, and if the gentle popkids don’t have time for it right at this moment, then who ever will? But unbeknownst to us from elsewhere, for every unaware footstep, there is also a self-appointed street historian taking note of who went where and why. And this is similar to your humble narrator’s mission here: to provide some some armchair history of this great DIY pop event that has came and went.

Popfest began for me a day early2, but was a series of odd near-misses and confusion due to my own haste. Had train trouble, and missed Alpaca Sports (backed by Lisle and Kristine from Tiny Fireflies), who strangely went on first(!), but at least I got to CBTweeB’s in time for Matt Harnish from Bunnygrunt’s set (who are playing the newly resurrected Athens Popfest, curated by the peerless Mike Turner of Happy Happy Birthday To Me Records),


I then left for Alphaville to try and catch Bill Botting (from Allo Darlin’) and the Two Drink Minimums, and Pale Lights but missed them and caught the end of Kyle Forester‘s very competent 70’s style soft rock act that I just wasn’t feeling, though due to no fault on his end. Didn’t realize he was in Crystal Stilts and Ladybug Transistor, since this was a pretty large stylistic departure from the reverby garage pop of The Crystal Stilts and the sunshine dreaminess of Ladybug Transistor. I called it a night precociously, saving as much energy as I could for the busy weekend ahead. 

The first venue for the actual first night of Popfest was Le Poisson Rouge (and there was a red fish in the tank hanging above the stairway precariously from a chain…or maybe it was a Goldfish). This was easily the largest Thursday night venue and crowd that I can remember, since I’ve been going to Popfest, at least. 

I just missed the ironically-named, local Brooklyn power trio “Big Quiet”, unfortunately (more train chaos. I finally just quit and started cabbing it after that), but all the reviews from sage popheads like Chris Mac and Michael Zakes were super positive. One of their songs has the best name I’ve heard for a song in a minute: “Punk Floyd” (though the actual song has a “jangle ska” feel through most of the song). Check out the highly infectious and energetic “Maura and Dana” if you’re looking for an entry point into this band.

Next up were Philly’s “Free Cake For Every Creature” who are normally a quartet, but tonight were a two-piece (lead singer and guitarist Katie Bennett told the crowd that the drummer just graduated from SVA and was “out getting drunk somewhere”). IMG_1019

The songs consisted of very understated vocals over Katie’s guitar3, reminiscent of what a sincere version of Kimya Dawson might sound like if stripped of the twang or the sometimes painfully-forced whimsy. The earnestness of the performance was a welcome relief, since, based on the name alone, I had feared that we were in for something cloyingly precious to the point of insincerity, like The Smittens. Instead, these songs were wonderfully direct and heartfelt, with the effect of somehow turning that giant stage and the crowd gathered in front of it, into something as intimate as a living room performance. It was like seeing Chan Marshall only playing her quieter songs, but without the drama or volatility4, but with all of that immense talent.  Katie was backed by a member of her band on backing vocals, and I was struck by the boldness of what it must feel like to be on stage as a two-piece, and only singing occasionally, without the benefit of an instrument to “hide” behind. If this was nerve-wracking or daunting, neither let on, though it was clear that both felt honored to be on this stage.  Katie told the crowd, “4 years ago we started with the dream of playing Popfest and here we are”.

Up next were Mel Whittle’s Hermit Crabs, from Glasgow, Scotland with Jeremy Jensen of Idaho indiepop stalwarts “The Very Most”  sitting in on guitar (and occasionally keyboards). The band set up is that of a 5-piece, with singer Mel on an acoustic guitar, and also backed by Jeremy on a telecaster (and a magic one at that! More on that later) , a gentleman on keys, another on bass and a drummer.


Despite the folk-tinged indiepop style of The Hermit Crabs, the drummer is wearing a Motorhead shirt, which is one of the many great things about indiepop; yes, there is a certain style that is decidedly indiepop (cardigans, solid color Peter-Pan collared dresses from the late 50’s and early 60’s, horned-rim glasses, Oxfords or Chelsea boots, striped shirts, bowlies and anoraks, etc.,) but it is far from being a uniform, and the scene is inclusive of all kinds of styles, be they musical or otherwise (Sometimes to the detriment of people like Roque and myself who want to hear *actual* indiepop DJed on indiepop nights, instead of hip-hop or something else modern being played with an ironic wink, in between all the usual suspects).

At some point, someone in the band took notice of the shirt and mentioned that “This next one is for Lemmy“, before launching into “Correspondence Course” on the Matinée CDEP of the same name. After the show, Jeremy was telling me that the drummer felt a bit apprehensive about wearing the shirt, but everyone reassured him, “This is indiepop! Wear whatever you like or feel comfortable in;  no one will mind!”


Jeremy was getting a really sweet, bright, and bubbly tone from the telecaster he was borrowing from Andreas (I think?) from Alpaca Sports. I’ve never heard a sound so warm from a telecaster before, and he played such wonderfully delicate and fitting additions to each song, in addition to jumping on the keys for a song! Jeremy really is like the indiepop Dave Grohl, because it seems like he can masterfully play any instrument you put in front of him and always seems ready and able to sit in with any talented band that asks him to, like when he sat in on vocals at a moment’s notice on “Darling Please Come Home” when Charles with The Math and Physics Club lost his voice at a Popfest a few years ago. He got a great response from the crowd when introduced, to the point that someone in the crowd started a “Jeremy! Jeremy!” chant, to which Jeremy replied, “That guy! That guy!” while pointing at the person who started it, in a move indicative of his typical magnanimity.

Mel opens the song “Should I Drop You Off” from their most recent album “In My Flat”, by calling it “a country song”. It made me think that all indiepop is “country music”; it’s just that the “country” is Scotland.

Since both Jeremy and Mel play in the Eardrums Pop-facilitated supergroup Baffin Island, so-named by being the halfway point in Canada between Mel’s Glasgow, Scotland and Jeremy’s Boise, Idaho. In light of that, I was hoping to hear my favorite song that either had been a part of, the perfectly wistful You Make Two Weeks Two Days, but for whatever reason, that wasn’t in the cards.

I was joking with Jeremy later that it almost seemed as if the night was a EardrumsPop night, since that label featured releases by The Very Most, The Hermit Crabs and the next band due on stage,  London’s brilliant duo Young Romance, featuring Claire on (standup!) drums and vocals and Paolo on that scorching, effect-heavy guitar.

I first became aware of Young Romance from the aforementioned EardrumsPop label (who I really can’t say enough good things about) and their cover of Lulu and the Lampshades’ “Rose Tint” for one of that label’s featured co-releases with Oddbox Records. I was lucky enough to see them at the opening night of the London Popfest in 2013, where they kicked off the festivities on a Friday night at Brixton’s Grosvenor (RIP to a wonderful and historic venue).


Their set that night was much more sedate, in comparison to the rowdy and energetic NYCPopfest performance. This was a bit of a surprise, and almost like seeing two different bands, but a pleasant one. It’s close, but I liked this heavier style a bit more than the more delicate and restrained version.

I think of recordings like the aforementioned “Rose Tint” or “Twenty Five” from the stellar Nobody’s Business comp put out by beloved Dutch zine/record label Candy Twist that showcase their more deliberate side compared to songs like “Follow on Your Own” which show hints of that noisy edge, but were also tempered by a bit of polish and the sweetness of Claire’s vocals, that are both strong and gentle/delicate in that magic indiepop way, as does “Break My Heart by Morning”, which has a bit more of a skip in that drumbeat, but still is a pretty clean and poppy-sounding endeavor (which later appeared on the B-side of their “Pale” 7″). Live at Popfest, these last two songs really opened up into raw and wildly exciting noise.


As is unfortunately the case in this heteronormative and patriarchal society, inevitably any time there is a male and female musical duo, questions and assumptions will inevitably arise about their romantic involvement, in a way that wouldn’t if the pair were of the same sex. These questions tend to be exacerbated when the band name is as provocative as “Young Romance” is. However, the pair are best mates, of the sort that often finish each other’s sentences. The band name comes from a 1915 silent movie they found themselves enamored with.

I always find it strangely compelling to see a stand-up drummer using what’s known as a “cocktail kit” . You see it in bands like The Jesus and Mary Chain, Velvet Underground, The Raveonettes, Violent Femmes, Low and Jellyfish, but I find it the most compelling in indiepop. As far as I know, only Tali from The Lucksmiths and Claire from Young Romance also tackle lead singing duties while drumming, which seems like a real challenge, despite the both of them making it look so natural and easy. I really enjoy the setup, because it seems to create for a more egalitarian stage setting. You see the Lucksmiths live, and they are all equals in a line, instead of drums being relegated to the back, or as is sometimes the case, to the back and on a riser. The stage set for Young Romance places Claire stage left and Paolo on the right, creating a dramatic binary between the two. Claire is necessarily stationary, belting out vocals with one of the strongest voices in indiepop, on a level nearly approaching Emma from Standard Fare/Mammoth Penguins (who, to myself and many others, is the powerhouse, um..standard — if you’ll forgive the pun, by which all others are judged in indiepop, and honestly, elsewhere as well

Although  Young Romance was easily the rowdiest band of the night and the crowd reacted accordingly (well as rowdy as indiepop gets, anyway) to Paolo’s effects and calculated feedback-heavy guitar playing and Claire’s aforementioned powerhouse vocals (and were the band I responded to most favorably on a night of consistently great music throughout), especially among the younger set, the excitement brewing for the headliner was very palpable. The Trash Can Sinatras humbly took the stage with little fanfare on their part.


068 Trashcan
The band introduced the opener, “Easy Read”, by saying something to the effect of “this is a song about disco dancing,”, which is the sort of understatement that verges on being self-effacing, that is typical of this incredibly clever band.

Next song they played, “Best Days On Earth”, was from the new record, “Wild Pendulum”. Predictably, about 5 of the 16 songs they played were from the new album, as can be expected for a band touring in support of a new project. Surprisingly, for a band as venerated and long-standing as The Trash Can Sinatras, all the new songs held up as well as the old ones, especially the aforementioned second song, but also the funky-for-indiepop “All Night” and the crooner “What’s Inside The Box?” which both also found their way into the set. It seemed to me these new songs were as well-received by the crowd as the old favorites.  The Sinatras have this hyper-melodic way of writing songs so infectious that they sound instantly familiar, as if you could sing along right away, but without reminding you of an antecedent. With flawlessly executed harmonies and clever and intricate lyrics, often in some narrative persona, such as “Hay Fever” from 1993’s “I’ve Seen Everything” that they played somewhere in the middle of the set.

Some of the other high points from their set was the title track from “I’ve Seen Everything” as well as the two songs “Only Tongue Will Tell” and the crowd-pleasing encore “Obscurity Knocks” they played from their debut album, 1990’s “Cake”.

067 Trashcan

A satisfying end to the night, and I think we were all secretly grateful that there was nothing else organized that night for Popfest, since we’d all need all the energy we could muster for the three very full days remaining ahead of us.

Stay tuned for Day 2 and beyond, coming to these “pages” soon.


1: No, not these guys, though they were there at Popfest! Some of them, at least. 

2: A few days before and a few days after are always a great time to be in the area for any city-based festival, since bands traveling from far away (especially those who rarely travel) are often willing and eager to play shows with different bills, and often at venues more intimate than the festival itself, which may surprise Popfest goers, since many of the venues aren’t exactly arenas.  To give away a secret, showing up early is also one of the best ways to do some crate digging before the other popkids, and that’s how I was able to secure these two rare beautiesIMG_0985

That’s the first Jesus & Mary Chain 7″ (US release on Rough Trade) and the first Josef K 7″ that Postcard put out.

But there are many other reasons to hear out early or stick around late than mere record shopping. I’m thinking in particular about 2014’s The Aussie Hangover at Otto’s Shrunken Head (a great little Tiki bar that never charges a cover and has cheap-for-Manhattan prices on some wild drinks in crazy mugs that you can either keep and bring home, or return and get $6 back; the place is rundown and ramshackle in all the right ways) where all of us leftover traveling popkids, and the Popfest locals gathered to see Monnone Alone, Bart & Friends, The Zebras, Mid-State Orange, Nina Rene, and Olson, Rydholm, & Forester of Ladybug Transistor. 

Or the next day, seeing Gold-Bears at Shea Stadium (no, not the former baseball field in Queens for the Mets that is now a parking lot for the grossly-named corporate City Field, but the awesome Brooklyn DIY band venue) in a sweltering upstairs room that necessitated set-break emergency scrambles out onto the balcony, but jumping once more headlong unto the breach indoors as Gold-Bears picked up their instruments, because having seen them just a few days ago, I knew how unmissable even one song is from them.

Or seeing The Spook School and Heathers a few days later at Bar Matchless and hugging Niall from The Spookies when he was happy to see me wearing my Team Ireland jersey (because it was the lightest and most breathable thing I owned and it was bloody well hot!) and joyfully discovering that we were both Irish, or talking with Cloudberry‘s Roque — the man who is single-handedly keeping the true spirit of Matt and Claire’s label alive with his heartfelt praise & Proselytism, be it by blog or by Sarah-esque missives on the inserts of 45s, not to mention his daring willingness to be refreshingly candid about his displeasure when warranted (consequently, is there any feeling as good as earning his praise since you are absolutely certain it is sincere?) — about bands we like and DJing.  Later, talking outside among the smokers to the highly esteemed Michael Grace Jr., — the eminently-quotable Oscar-Wilde-meets-Hieronymus-Bosch of indiepop, and keeper of the Gloominati flame — about ritual and  The Velvet Underground, and then there’s the photo that’s floating about somewhere of Papa Death Party and I showing our mutual fawning admiration for Evans-The-Dan Moss.

The point? It’s always worth it, if one can swing it, to find a way to spend a few days before or after a festival, especially the NYC Popfest.

3: a rarely-seen-in-indiepop Fender Strat

4: or that slight meow-y yarl in her voice, which is wonderful when Chan does it, but would just seem like a plagiaristic affectation from anyone else.

Cannanes, Knife Pleats and The World Record at Bunk Bar 8/27/15

Tonight’s show was a mostly international indiepop treat, supplied by Australia’s long-running Cannanes, Vancouver B.C.’s Knife Pleats and Los Angeles’ The World Record

The World Record has hooky songs somewhat reminiscent of Michael Penn‘s electric stuff and is more straight-ahead pop-tinged rock than indiepop. A little bit of a less edgy Replacements feel at times, but each song offers catchy pop hook after hook, unlike some of the Replacements more forgettable efforts (I’m looking at you, “Lay It Down Clown” ). Live, The World Record has a charismatic bar-band feel, loose but not sloppy. Fourth or fifth song in, they take an unexpected turn, as the song opens with a tiki-vibe drum sample but when the band kicks in it heads to a different direction. Angular with 80’s style vocoder breaks. Next songs starts up like a 70s rock song minus the gross false machismo.

The World Record
I’m a bit in awe of that Rickenbacker bass the two front people have been trading off on. Maybe it’s the last holdover from my metal pre-adolescence where Cliff Burton was the bassist by which all others were judged by and he played Rics exclusively? At least that’s the embarrassing lens through which I view those beautiful and expensive things.

Next song has a slower darker 90’s vibe like if Toad the Wet Sprocket bothered to write a song you actually liked, and I’m not ashamed to admit that I like this, even though it falls well outside of my favored genre ranges.

Good harmonies between the guitarist and the bassist, though those terms are interchangeable due to their onstage switches, which is always something I enjoy seeing in a band.

After the switch they open into a bluesy and otherwise banal 50’s tinged rock song were it not for the understated charisma of the musicians who seem as unpretentious as possible, which is quite a feat for anyone from LA.

Knife Pleats

So the opener was pleasant and of course the The Cannanes are amazing and a foundation of the DIY pop scene from the 80’s but it’s really Rose Melberg’s Knife Pleats that I’m here to see. For starters, what an ideal indiepop name, coupling that punk edge with the sweetness of DIY pop that band names like Strawberry Switchblade, Bunnygrunt, Burnt Palms, Cassolette, Daylight Robbery, The Cudgels, The Gentle Isolation, Panda Riot, Happydeadmen, Joanna Gruesome, Papercuts, Bleeding Rainbow, and  Honeyblood all conjure; that oh-so-perfectly encapsulate the punk roots of indiepop, by contrasting the rough or abrasive with the innocent, much like Mike Schulman’s edgy guitar pairs with the crystalline sweetness of Pam Berry’s voice in Black Tambourine. Of course a “knife pleat” refers to a particular type of stitched fold popular in skirt design, but can you hear that name and not conceptualize the kinetic violence of a knife? This to me is exactly what the best DIY pop does: it channels the rough-hewn sharpness of noise and fuzz and melds it with the sweetest, most dulcet of pop sensibilities. And honestly, what in the universe is sweeter than Rose Melberg’s voice?

This show really is a who’s who of the DIY Pop crowd in the Pac NW.: I see ex-Softies bandmate Jen Sbrangia in the crowd and witness a happy reunion between her and Rose before her band goes on. Lost Sound Tapes head Jon Manning is here in the crowd as well. The highly-esteemed Gail O’Hara of Chickfactor notoriety is hanging out behind the merch table as well as longtime Olympia poplister, writer and and community fixture Courtney Klossner. Erica from the very excellent “Expressway to Yr Skull” blog is here, too.

It looks like Rose is playing a red Gretch-type hollow body guitar and Kaity McWhinney (the other guitarist, who, along with bassist Tracey Vath, are both also of ace band Love Cuts who put out this excellent split with Burnt Palms) has a what looks to be a Les Paul in a beautiful green finish that I’ve not seen before on those kinds of guitars. I’m expecting something of a “big” sound based on the instrumentation alone. I’ve not yet heard the band so I’m walking in with fresh ears, eagerly, since Rose has never disappointed in any of her many musical endeavors.

The first song, “Monocularly Blind” opens with an infectious descending riff and the chorus which takes a cool, Tiger Trap-like turn, features great harmonies with bassist Tracey Vath. It’s a high energy opener.

Next up was, “Learn to Swim”, which has a real driving feel to it.

The third song, “Chiming of Bells”, begins with a tom-heavy beat and a minor arpeggio on the Paul. Really great syncopated beats throughout. Drummer Gregor Phillips has a snare stick that he uses on some songs that has tambourine chines on it which add a cool drum texture.

The next song had the misleading title of “Terrible” but was anything but, featuring a minor, two-chord verse that sets up a sense of urgency which is then resolved by the hooky chorus in a very satisfying way.

“One Step Too Far” continues the bubble gum pop with a sharp edge.

The most infectious song of the night might be the snaky-riffed “Distant Ships”, which goes in some unexpected but natural-feeling directions the way the best songs do, that sound like nothing familiar the first time you hear them, but by the end they sound as if it is something you have always known. The true mark of artistic greatness to me is when a work is its own reference point, in the way that something like Primal Scream‘s “Velocity Girl”1 is.

The following song, “Things I Hold” has a nice minor tinge that runs through the course of the song, in a way that recalls raga-like melody lines. I think this song may be my favorite of the night.

“The Mouse” starts with a riff that could almost be rockabilly until it changes right away unexpectedly and goes in a very different direction. The chorus pulls the rug under you by altering the tempo to a suddenly dream-like quality, before the chorus kicks in again and brings things to a frantic-yet-calm space.

The aptly-named “Wonderful” has a feel of a 70’s soft rock gem funneled through a noise-pop filter that puts an easy smile on your face; the way that Ben Folds Five‘s “Battle of Who Could Care Less” does to me, against my better angels. I feel no guilty pleasure listening to “Wonderful”, however– it’s all just pleasure.

Next up is “Borders”, the unapologetically poppiest song in the set, and the closer.

The new album is due out on Sept 29 which is Rose’s birthday. This band seems to be the “rockingest” for lack of a better descriptive of any of Rose’s bands, on a level with the sweet bite of Tiger Trap, and I hold this band in similar esteem.

Next up are Australia’s venerated Cannanes. I’m curious as to what the stage is going to look like since there are so many members and the Bunk stage is a decidedly small one. Not surprisingly, at times some members of the band wind up playing from the side of the stage.

It looks like they are using one of the bar chairs as a keyboard chair. This is nothing short of charming, and captures the makeshift nature of being on the road with a small budget thousands of miles from home.

The first song is preceded by a joking intro about slagging an Aussie band and how they’re not mentioning the name; it’s the only song I don’t recognize and according to the setlist is called “Magic Bell”. It begins with just the guitarist and singer on stage, who takes a long, hose-like object with an open mouth and swings it above her head to catch the air and make a curious sound which really imbues the song with a unique, off-the-cuff feel that will pervade the rest of the set.

Cannanes opener

After the opening song, the full band take the stage and ease into “Countryside” from 2013’s “Howling at all Hours” album.

Next up is “Hit the Wall”, the most recently-released song of the set, from the October 2013 7″ of the same name on Stu Anderson’s and Jen Turrell’s excellent Emotional Response label.

This leads in to the pleasantly melancholic “Strange Memories” on 1994’s “Short Poppy Syndrome”. This song comfortably features two types of trumpets, which blend somewhat seamlessly into the music, which is no small feat for a band playing music in any kind of rock paradigm.

Their song, “America” (from the excellent and long out-of-print tape “Your Cassette Pet” — no relation to the Bow Wow Wow ep of the same name — on Stu Boyracer’s excellent 555 Recordings label) had a big sweeping build reminiscent of the vast plains of the flyover parts of the country that the song is named for.

The introduction to the next song  was wonderfully self-effacing. “This next one is about playing in a band. It’s called “It’s Hopeless”. The song is from the semi ominously-titled “Trouble Seemed So Far Away” they did with Explosion Robinson in 2002. A flute and an electronic keyboard element meld together to somehow create a result that somehow sounds more Brit Pop-meets-Stereolab than New Agey; the latter being a rational fear any person should have when faced with the possibility of those instruments being used in a song together. So a song that could be a wreck winds up instead being one of the highlights of this excellent set.

They follow this up with “Population of Two” on 2000’s “Living the Dream”. This might be the most interesting Cannanes song, since it seems to cover so much ground in such little time. The song fluctuates from moody and accusatory to gently triumphant; hopeful and mournful all at the same time, without resorting to drama or exaggeration to make conflicted emotional points. It’s a mature sound, without being either boring or maudlin.

From the same album, “Fuzzy at the Tip” is what they launch into next, picking up the pace a bit. This song also brings the flute back for a brief-but-welcome appearance.

Next up was “You Name It” from that “Trouble Seemed So Far Away” with Explosion Robinson album. This track kicks off with an almost hip-hop beat that is joined by a brooding synth line. It’s a toss up as to which Cannanes song is is my favorite: this one or the one that followed: the set closer “Melting Moments” from “Howling At All Hours”. This is just really good, punchy pop, with a slightly dark edge that heightens the contrast of the sweet vocals and harmonies.

Their onstage dialog is glib and fun, poking like fun at the crowd at times (i.e., pointing to one side of the room and saying, “this is the hipster side” and waving to them).


It was a great night for indiepop at Bunk Bar; an all-too-rare occurrence cherished in good company.



1: The exemplar track on the C-86 cassette that gave the genre its title, the song begins with a fluttering chord strike that feels akin to Piccasso’s Rimbaud where the sharpening on paper of the pencil in order to get the correct point for the drawing is worked into the work itself. This solitary thin and trembling chord is a fitting overture, parallel in its brevity to the fleeting nature of the song itself, thrust into the world with a tender yet urgent, slightly askew jangle, building to a crescendo of a chorus that soars so high it can not be brought back to earth by a second verse, but must expend itself in the process of coming into being — it is a mayfly, a firecracker, a Rimbaud, a Lautréamont, a Thomas Chatterton, Anne Sexton, Plath; a fragile and short-lived articulation in a genre united in its dedication to celebrating the ephemeral, (as evinced by Sarah Records’ “A Day For Destroying Things” advert) and emblematic of the genre, it is a song that is essentially its own reference point, even if the constituent parts all have a historical antecedent.

Best Albums of 2014

12: -Alvvays – “Alvvays”:
So much more than just “Archie, Marry Me”, though a listener should be forgiven for an inability to get beyond that song, which is just *the* perfect pop song of 2014. I know they’re supposed to be pronounced “always” but feel free to go ahead and pronounce them like they’re spelled (and sound like Bela Lugosi in the process). Just solid and effortless-sounding pop from this Toronto 5 piece.

11: -Beach Slang – two eps: “Cheap Thrills On A Dead End Street” (Sept.) and “Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken?” (May)
The best Replacements cover band that don’t even bother to play a Replacements song. They capture that wild, just-barely-duct-taped-together feel of the Replacements, with comparable hooks, but without the occasional-but-inevitable train wrecks (and worse dull songs) that the Replacements had (I’m looking at you, “Lay It Down, Clown”). Their bandcamp page comes complete with a header that’s a mini-manifesto.  The sort of thing I would write on my wall while still in high school. The sort of thing I might pretend to be embarrassed of later, when I grew up, but would still secretly believe with all my heart:

There are days when you feel so alive your teeth get electric.
When that happens, play this. And play it loud. That thing that’s burning your guts, scream it out. That junk that bullies your jaw, punch it off.
We were never going to be okay.
All of this much is the good stuff. That stuff that steadies your spine. Fuck being accepted.  You already belong.
Go to a basement show and sweat out songs with kids fighting the same good fight.
Stay up. Stay young. And makeout.
You’ll write about all of this some day. And it’ll crack your lips crooked.
The louder the speakers, the brighter the hearts.
And we are shining.

This band just *is* what Parquet Courts is trying so hard to be, (and I like Parquet Courts, despite the vocals) Wearing your influences on your sleeve is never a bad thing as long as you create from that wellspring instead of merely ape it, and this band just gets it right. Would honestly be higher if there were more songs.

10: -Cayteana “Nervous Like Me”
Rough and raw pop from three amazingly talented women from Philadelphia who write songs about those important moments that sneak in and you become aware of, little details like how a switch in cigarettes types somehow mean something bigger, in songs like “Dirty Laundry” that like the best things in life are over before you realized how much they meant. The songs are full of lyrics that mourn and glorify all the urgent mistakes of youth, like:
“Well I switched back from the yellow to the orange pack
And you shaved your beard, just to sit and watch it grow back
It’s funny the things we find comfort in
It’s funny the things that make us feel again
I still want you in a bad way
I wanna see you on your bad days
Oh I want you in the worst ways
I want you in the worst ways, yeah
I’ll lay here with my endless guilt
And you’ll force photos of the life you built
Enough to make you feel better
It’s not enough to make you feel better”
“I came here alone
And I plan to leave that way
But I find comfort in
All of the things you say
My heart unthawed
And my brain unstalled…
And we’re both prone to misery
But you still get drunk
And wanna hang out with me
And I’m at my best
When I’m sleeping alone
It’s funny how time stops
And starts on its own
I came here alone
And I plan to leave that way.”

Aching pop with a hard edge forcefully played by powerful women. That pretty much checks off everything I’m looking for in a song.

9: -Dum Dum Girls “Too True”
The Dum Dum Girls always had a mild flirtation with the gothic, but it was always tempered by other influences, like indiepop and punk (check out their radical reinvention of The Misfits’ “Last Caress” on their Slumberland 7” “Bhang Bhang, I’m a Burnout” or their somewhat more faithful cover of “Throw Aggie From The Bridge”, complete with that ethereal distance in the guitar sound that Black Tambourine mastered, or consider their cover of Strawberry Switchblade’s “Trees and Flowers”, which seems like a band that Dum Dum Girls were created to cover). On this album, Dee Dee Penny embraces it fully, with danceable beats and darkly pop hooks reminiscent of Siouxie and the Banshee’s best work. I knew right off the bat that this was gonna be an album that I was gonna take to when I found out there was a song comparing a would-be lover’s eyes to Rimbaud (although she butchers his name, pronouncing it “Rim-bo” instead of like the Sly Stallone character forged to life from the wet dream of a dementia-ridden Ronald Regan—who was probably saner in his late stages than he ever was in his post-broadcasting political life).

8: -Katie The Pest “Other Cities, Other Girls”
This band skates in on a technicality, as these songs were recorded in 2007 but remastered and released in 2014, but the heart of these wonderful songs from this Long Beach noisepop band lie firmly in the mid 90’s. “Spit It Out” is the real standout on this release, with its full tubey-distortion opening into its jangly-distorted verse and earworm of a chorus, “If you knew what you had, then you wouldn’t be spitting it out”. This is a song that Velocity Girl at their fuzzy best would have given anything to have written. This entire album (and its predecessor “This Giant Will Kill You”, with easily a top 10 all-time dessert island song “Golden”) just reminds me of everything I loved about mid-90s indie music, back when that meant “Band That You Found Out About From A Zine” instead of “Pitchfork Gave This Band On A Major Label An 8.2”.

7: -Eagulls “Eagulls”:
Once again, here’s another band that you have to first be willing to get behind the puke-inducing cutesy/clever name. Once you do, you’ll find nothing either cutesy or clever, just straight-forward high energy post-punk. Yes, the lyrics are cringe-worthy reading from the high school “everyone’s a phony” Holden Caufield/punk-rock cred playbook with lines like “THINK UP YOUR COUNTERFEIT MIND AND KEEP BOTH OF YOUR EYES PEELED UP FOR NOTHING IN DEPTH”, but the intensity and songwriting are so present that it’s easy to forgive the utter banality of the lyrics. And let’s be honest, if you’re into hardcore or post-punk for the lyrics 98% of the time you’re gonna walk away disappointed if you can read above a 9th grade reading level. This is the band that Palma Violets could be if they stopped checking their own reflections in the mirror long enough to really just let loose. This is heavy, forget-yourself-in-the-storms-of-youth music, which is a thing I will never tire of when done right. Besides that terrible name, they get it right.

6: -Literature “Chorus”
Here’s where it really starts getting tough to assign a number rank. Numbers 6-2 could all easily swap places with each other, since the songwriting and the execution are just top notch from these following releases. I put the work from this high-energy Philly powerpop at #6 mostly in the attempt to feign some sort of journalistic integrity, since my band opened up for them at a Portland tour stop this year. Upbeat jangly guitar weaves its way around clever lyrical turns of phrase that linger pleasantly like aftertaste notes on a high end bourbon. Easily the best-looking release this year, with a purple splatter on the Slumberland vinyl. Even if you just picked up this record just to see this visual, it’d be worth it, but the songs are so good that you’d be wise to prepare for that album to camp out on your turntable space like a broke college kid at a coffee house.

5: -PoBPaH “Days of Abandon”
Great artists do not merely recreate their past successes with only slight variation—they reinvent themselves. This album is a reinvention from a reinvented band and that might frustrate some people who want to hear again the loveletter to MBV, Ride, Black Tambourine and Sarah bands like The Field Mice and Another Sunny Day that the perfect first, self-titled, album of fuzzy goodness and Moz-level wordplay was. This newest direction is a more delicate, and sunny turn after sophomore effort “Belong”s foray into a heavier, Butch Vig-era Pumpkin’s sound. Firmly in place are the lyrical strengths Kip is famous for: that impossibly rare combination of allusive and clever while still being heartfelt. With a new lineup, enhanced by the stellar backup (and sometimes lead) singing of Jen Goma (from “A Sunny Day In Glasgow”) and the able backing of Able Body this release shines with songs like “Kelly”, “Until the Sun Explodes” and the track Hershey’s used to score a commercial “Simple and Sure”. The real gem on the album is the Greek myth transposed onto a failed relationship that is “Eurydice” with its brightly building chorus against a backdrop of a buzzsaw MBV-esque guitar that crescendos into pure pop bliss. This necessarily makes the narrator Orpheus, and after hearing that song, I’m not so sure what Simonides wrote about was mere myth.

4: -Gold-Bears “Dalliance”
In a nod to the closing song on their debut album “Are You Falling In Love?”, this follow-up on Slumberland begins with a song also called “Yeah, Tonight”, but what completely different songs! Although they tread somewhat similar lyrical ground, both dealing with a failed relationship, that’s really where similarities end. The former begins somehow simultaneously wistful and mournful, with an acoustic guitar an initially hopeful, reverby plea of “Yeah, tonight we’ll fall in love and love again”, implying that the couple have fallen out of love, and weaves a series of invocations to possibilities. This could be a tender song by itself, clocking in at around three minutes, but instead of gently slipping away, singer Jeremy Underwood smashes the fourth wall, telling us “…and then the drums come in.” and the song explodes in a noisy powerpop crescendo, that both resolves everything and yet still leaves them ambiguous. Is the musical explosion the realization of the hope and a magic reconciliation? Is it the dissolution of relationship in a fireball of beauty? Either way it’s perfectly fitting. Whereas the “Yeah, Right” on Dalliances shoots out of the gate like a Roman Candle, with Jeremy trading vocals and then harmonizing with Emma from Standard Fare/Without Feathers/Mammoth Penguins. It’s a testament to how compelling Jeremy is as a songwriter and as a singer that he’s able to craft such a song and then keep perfect pace with the person who in my never-humble estimation has the most powerful voice in indiepop (I’d say Rachel from Flowers has the most delicately enchanting voice in indiepop, and I’d give next to anything to see these two share a stage together, in much the same way that I’m firmly convinced that the sounds of heaven are not Handel’s “Messiah” or angels playing a harp, but Juliana Hatfield and Harriet Wheeler harmonizing together). While many of these songs clock in at a bit over two minutes, Gold-Bears are one of the few bands that write songs that can hold my unflagging attention for five minutes when they decide to go that long as they do on the jangly “Hey Sophie”:.

Crashpop is the perfect term to describe this band, because these songs tumble around the room, knocking things around. These are songs to sing arm-in-arm stumbling down the street at night after a few too many, when you’ve drank enough to believe the best in people, even when you know the worst. Yeah, these are full of poppy hooks, but they’re hooks because they cut into you and make you bleed. There is far more instrumentation than the standard guitar, bass drums, but none of it ever presents itself as obtrusive or gimmicky, only another tool in service of the song. This is punk without the bs machismo and noise without the interminable length or the impermeableness. Most of all these are songs, meaning you hear them, they stay with you and you want to sing them yourself. As great as the first release was, this is just more.

3: -Flowers “Do What You Want To; It’s What you Should Do”

On their label’s website (The stellar Kanine Records) the claim that “the reception at live shows has been nothing less than rapturous” may sound like hyperbole; having seen them perform both at the 2013 London Popfest and the 2013 NYC Popfest, I can assure you it’s no exaggeration. From the heartbeat-doing-a-waltz opening drum beats of “Young” till the final note on the single-stringed bass at the end of the utterly mesmerizing “Stuck”, Flowers delicately enchant with musicianship that is elegantly understated, yet complete. Truly a perfect name for this band because, very much like how flora cannot be improved upon with artifice since they are already perfect on their own (hence the phrase “gilding the lily”), these songs are as marked by their restraint as they are by the talent of the musicians involved. This is stop-you-in-your-tracks, silence-a-boisterous-crowd music that commands you to stop, take note and leaves you in awe at what you have just experienced. If you have not fallen in love with Flowers yet, it is merely because you have not yet heard them. So what are you waiting for?

2: -Martha “Courting Strong”
An absolute firecracker of a debut album from this vegan, straight-edge, Anarchist, queer-positive group of North England powerpopsters on the verge of punk. Super high-energy, shout-along music with snaky and jangling guitar lines. The songs will “break your heart and your double helix” but the harmonies will sew them back together for you. I challenge you. Listen to “1967, I Miss You I’m Lonely” and try to get it out of your head. I double dog dare you. Crack open a bottle of Irn Bru and do it. Clever lyrics shout-sang in an unmistakable and charismatic brogue. Easily one of the best live acts I’ve seen, as well. Truly kinetic, in the sense that seeing them will fill you with more energy than chugging a 32oz of cold brew coffee from Heart would.

1: -Hobbes Fanclub “Up At Lagrange”
Like I said, #6-2 were painfully hard to pick the order of, but #1 was easy. This debut album from Bradford, England’s trio was so hotly anticipated by me, and yet it was one of those rare moments in life where excited buildup actually paid off instead of disappointed. 36 all-too-brief minutes of achingly heartfelt effects-heavy guitar creating hooks that push dreaminess into edginess. This is the album you always wanted Ride to make, the one where the songwriting caught up to the clever level of effects. Or maybe it’s the album you always wanted the “Frosting On The Beater”-era Posies to make, where the wall-of-sound would be as daydreamy as the songwriting. 2012’s Shelflife single “Your Doubting Heart” makes a redone appearance, as does the lead song off of Cloudberry’s self-titled ep “The Boy From Outer Space”, but these beloved gateway drugs into the band’s music give way to the harder stull that the last three songs comprise: “Why You Should Tell The Truth”, the eponymous “Up At Lagrange” and the breathtaking closer “Sometimes”. The only problem I have with this album is that I want more of it. A lot more.

Honorable Mentions:

-The Luxembourg Signal- “The Luxembourg Signal”
If Shelflife Records was a baseball player, you’d have to walk them not to get hurt, because they never swing and miss. Every release is a hit. When you realize the pedigree of the people in this amazing band, it’ll make perfect sense. This would definitely make the list had I spent enough time with this album; I just haven’t since I haven’t scooped it on vinyl yet and suspect it’s long gone.

-September Girls – “Veneer”.
If this wasn’t an EP, this would have definitely cracked the list.

-The Hotelier – “Home, Like Noplace Is There”
What emo once was, not what you think of now and cringe.

-Fear of Men – “Loom”
I slept on picking this up on vinyl (to my great discredit) and this is certain to be my first purchase of the new year. I just haven’t had the chance to give it a close listen, but just based on that first cursory digital pass-through, I’m certain it should rate.

-Tape Waves – “Let You Go”
How can music this good come from just two people? One of the highlights of this year’s NYCPopfest. South Carolina dreampop.

-Honeyblood – “Honeyblood”
Good pop with an edge. Wish I spent more time with this one.

-Taylor Swift – “1989”. You know you love it. It’s ok. Everything will be alright in the end.

2014 Fall Mix Tape

Expect a bit more noise on this site in the next few days, starting with a write up of the songs included here. Till then, enjoy this track listing of fall-sounding songs from then and now. If you’re in Portland, ask me for a hard copy. I’ll have about 12 to give away at tonight’s Allo Darlin’ show!

Fall 2014 Mix Tape

1: “Shadow”  –  Wild Nothing

2: Heart Drops  –  Phantom Lights

3: Don’t Cry No Tears (Neil Young Cover)  –  The Wedding Present

4: Can The Haves Use Their Brains  –  McCarthy

5: Let’s Make The Best Out Of Our Lives  –  Nixon

6: By the Way (Built to Spill Cover)  –  Heavenly

7: Chester  –  Tiger Trap

8: Back To The Tricks  –  Brilliant Colors

9: Kurt Cobain’s Cardigan  –  The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart

10: Anti Parent Cowboy Killers  –  Joanna Gruesome

11: Port Of Shadows  –  Pale Lights

12: Ghost Postage  –  Franklin Bruno

13: Hollow Inside (The Cat’s Miaow Cover)  –  Fireflies

14: Talking  –  September Girls

15: Call Me in the Day  –  La Luz

16: Your Woman (White Town Cover)  –  Cats On Fire

17: Can You Ever Trust A Man Who Thinks Matt Damon’s Really Cool?  –  The Spook School

18: Chapel Hill  –  StarTropics

19: You Invited Me  –  Baffin Island

20: Husker Dudes  –  Pet Milk

21: Why I Try To Look So Bad  –  Comet Gain

22: Into The Night  –  The Hobbes Fanclub

23: Zombie Haze  –  Burnt Palms

24: Falling In love  –  Sambassadeur

25: Your Name  –  Oh! Custer

26: All the Umbrellas in London  –  The Magnetic Fields

Spring 2014 Mix Tape

I’ll have a write up to follow soon, but I wanted to at least get the track list up for those of you who already have the CD. If you don’t and you’re at POPFEST, come by, say “hi” and get one from me!

1:  “The Absolute Magnitude of Negative Five” – Poastal
2:  “The 189” – Skeletal Shakes
3:  “Today It Is Even Better” – The Very Most
4:  “Arab Spring” – Literature
5:  “Propped Up By Affection” – Mammoth Penguins
6:  “I Close My Eyes To Think Of God” – Comet Gain
7:  “Wildfire” – StarTropics
8:  “Agnes Martin” – Fear of Men
9:  “Never See This Place Again” – Flowers
10: “Line Up on the Solstice” -Space Daze
11: “Sure As Spring” – La Luz
12: “Judy Is A Punk” – Horowitz
13: “Fear” – Heathers
14: “My Very Own You” – Little Big League
15: “Working Class Jacket” – My Favorite
16: “Hollow Body” – Pity Sex
17: “Hope Is Still On Your Side” – Scotland Yard Gospel Choir
18: “Cockroach girlfriend” – Secret Beach
19: “Sometimes” – This Many Boyfriends
20: “Rose Tint” – Young Romance
21: “No. 21 (demo)” – Hearts & Tigers
22: “Eden” – Astro Children
23: “Wealth of Nations” – Tortilla
24: “I Don’t Believe In The Sun” – Rose Melberg
25: “Home” – Fake Nails
26: “Alice, Sweet Alice” – Fine Pets
27: “On The Short Side” – TeenSpot
28: “Piggyback” – Week of Wonders
29: “Endless Summer” – SUN+FUN
30: “Hey You, Get Off My Moon” – Velocity Girl
31: “Notarized and Signed” – Imaginary Pants
Secret Track

Fine Pets, Landlines and Memory Boys at Valentines AND The Rotties, Boy Funk and Havania Whaal at Tube, July 24, 2013

A warm night out in Portland, the day1 after the full moon, and with the heat upon us, the nightlife has been LIVELY, even on otherwise dullish early-in-the-week weekdays.  Among other things, the Rigsketball 2nd round/ 8 band show was happening at Holocene this evening.  While I like the bands playing (especially Wooden Indian Burial Ground, who you’ve perhaps heard1 me talk1 about elsewhere in these pages) there was just too much going on this night for me to make it there to see those larger bands.

I began the night at Habesha2, where a promising line-up of four bands I never heard of before awaited me. There was a large crowd– as big of one as I’ve seen at Habesha– amassed outside on the spacious rooftop patio that one must walk by to enter.  A can of Ribbon later & it was close to 10 and the first band was still just setting up.  I was curious and wanted to stick around, but after missing Haste the previous night3, I wasn’t willing to take any chances, and headed over to Valentine’s, my favorite venue in Portland, planing to bounce between there and the good ol’ Tube, since there were some bands playing that I was legitimately excited about.

First up at Velentine’s was Memory Boys, a 3 piece, with a guy on an SG, another on the trap kit & and a gal alternating between keys/fiddle in addition to some vocals. Her synth is a tiny Casio propped up on a stand that seems artificially grandiose in comparison to the wee keyboard.
Memory Boys
Songs are low key but build up to janky crescendos, reminiscent of Pavement’s more shambling moments (& I mean that complimentary; I think Pavement’s finest moments are their most shambolic– hell, my favorite genre of music is often called “Shambling”). Perhaps it’s the looseness of the guitar or the trashcan-y-ness of the cymbal, but this group evokes a lo-fi charisma that I find appealing, even if one or two of the songs do go on a bit longer than necessary.

Next, across the street to Tube to catch Havania Whaal, a 3 piece playing poppy post-punk. The drummer is also the lead singer of a dark-tinged new wave band called Smoke Rings, that flirts with some of the best parts of Goth while avoiding all of the worst. Very energetic live show. Actually, I could be speaking about either Smoke Rings or Havania Whaal with that last description. Havania Whaal is more noisey and more poppy without being explicitly NoisePop.
Havania Whaal
Good, solid songwriting executed well, with great use of effects without devolving into hiding behind them. Really, this band is everything I want in a garage power pop band– though I’m curious as if my state of mind plays any part in thinking that, as I seem to have gotten a contact high from walking all of two blocks, past all the street kids smoking weed & the acrid smell of bacon cooking as VooDoo Donuts cook up some of their signature offerings (Yo, seriously, Blue Star Donuts like WHOA. VD is greasy kid stuff. Bourbon Basil Blueberry? Sign me up NOW.) No, it’s not the contact high; Havania Whaal are just that good.

Back to Valentine’s and next up is Landlines, a traditional 3 piece with a Tele, bass & drum kit, set up like a 1950s jazz kit. There’s no jazz here, but a lot of high energy old-style garage.
Not too big on effects, just straight ahead proto-garage power pop & I’m loving it. Second-to-last song had a cool kind of Neil Young guitar counter rhythm thing that I really enjoyed. Last song opened with a big bass line that stole the song in a pretty rad way. One could tell that they are all strong musicians with various little playing flourishes, yet they displayed that rarest of musical qualities: restraint, since all of the flair was in service of the song, rather than a vehicle for showmanship. A very solid set.

The next act at the Tube was Boy Funk, a queer hip-hop artist, that was putting all of hir heart into some rhymes about getting high. Even though I frankly wasn’t in the mood for hip-hop (and it’s rare that I am, lately) I could still appreciate what Boy Funk was doing. The artist was very unique, all the way from beats to flow down to the wonderfully outlandish get-up, standing well over 6 & a half feet tall, w/ some Frankenstein platform boots & a Speedo. It’s always exciting to see someone stand genre tropes on their head, especially in as socially constrictive of a genre as hip-hop– although the manifold sung praises to weed did share some space with mainstream rap. It was a good and supportive crowd, too, which was really nice to see, especially in a part of downtown that has a reputation for being a destination for a rather closed-minded suburban set. But the Tube is often a breath of fresh air from the downtown bronados. You might say with Dixie & Dirty and The Barrel Room all a stone’s throw, Tube is the artsy eye of the Broicane.

Back to Valentine’s for the last band there: Fine Pets, a 4 piece with a guy on a hollow body Gretch-type, another gent on an SG & a gal on bass & a hard hitting drummer to round it all out.
Fine Pets
Raw and super noisey, great effects with a layer of jangle underneath, I heard a bit of Sonic Youth & Sebadoh meets Boyracer, with noise, heaviness and pop sensability all at once with occasional forrays into drone. Best band of the night, (though Havania Whaal is a close second) and completely reinvigorated me. The third-to-last song was really THE HIGHLIGHT of a really great set; a song called “Come Amphibious”. It had a bit of a Cure feel to it meets the very best and scary part of Exit, with strong basslines that built to an explosive crescendo. Really, this was a very exciting band to hear & I’m quite glad I caught them.

Last band at Tube is a four piece, The Rotties, who offer a dark power-pop meets punk with a bit of 1970s Stoner Metal thrown in as well.
The Rotties
Solid playing from the guitarist/backing vocalist, whose Telecaster playing both created the fullness of the songs and added nuance; rhythm and lead all at once.  The bassist had some frantic, intricate yet grooving lines & the drummer was a whirl of energy, but it was really all about the lead singer, whose forceful voice reminiscent of Cherie Currie coupled with a wildy charismatic stage presence, brought a bit of a stadium feel to the small room.  With tambourine playing so forceful, it almost felt like a weapon instead of an instrument.

A heavier-than-expected capstone to a long evening of good local music.

-Michael Feck



1: “Day” when meaning night, “heard” when trying to communicate “read”, “talk” when being on about “write”; I swear, this weather has just broken me. Never had a bad winter, never had a good summer. I really do need to feck off to Ireland or the UK. One day I bloody well will.

2: A pretty surprising place for a venue, since it’s an Ethiopian restaurant that makes near no mention of the fact that it hosts shows, and in a layout that’s far from naturally suited to such a thing. Some of the best small shows take place at this venue, as well as the Langano Lounge underneath Jarra’s Ethiopian restaurant. Seriously, what is it with Ethiopian restaurants and awesome music events in this city? Not sure, but I love it!

3: I thought they were headlining and shows usually do get started at Valentines later than most shows in Portland– yet another thing endearing that venue to me. T’was a very quick night that night. 3 acts, all done by 11:30. Very glad I got to catch Nora something-or-other. Never got her last name, but enjoyed her set rather immensely. A singer/songwriting writing solo noise-fuzz songs on her Gibson, with a lovely voice containing all of the best parts of Joanna Newsome’s voice without any of the worst. Her airy voice really served as a nice foil for the rougher fuzz textures & made for a wonderfully raw yet sedate moment amid the backdrop of the bustling downtown alleyway.

Summer 2013 Mix Tape

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.

-M. Feck

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.

Youth Lagoon and Swahili at Wonder Ballroom 5/22/13

A dark and rainy Wednesday, full of the frustrated expectations of many a Portlander who had thought that Nature had relented precociously and yielded to the bluster of summer, hot on the heels of several 80 degree+ days in early May,  No, to the great dismay of most (and to the secret joy of your humble narrator, who prefers to listen to his Dufflecoat Records in Dufflecoat Weather), it was the constant downpour– large enough to be audible on my roof while in my bed at night– that provided the backdrop to this eventful day when Youth Lagoon also played the Wonder Ballroom.

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The show began with Swahili1. A very cool and poised opener, with a big sound. This five piece explores a churning psychedelia with a decided pop refinement that belies the reverby rawness found in their recordings, which alternate from sedate psychey musings to hyper-rhythmic drum-lead whirlpools of sonic tumult, suggesting ego-death and subsumption into some sort of collective expression of movement.

In short, the perfect soundtrack for a first year Anthro student to read Durkheim to.  A good opener for Youth Lagoon as well, setting the stage for the experience of the polished-yet-unfamiliar.

The lights of the stage turn a dreamy shade of indigo, affecting the feel of the moon at midnight viewed from behind the shimmering prism of a waterfall.  Trevor leads his group onstage to the cheers of a crowd whose enthusiasm is triple the size of their number, which is not actually a bad one, considering the wonderfully dreary weather outside and the fact that the show is on a Wednesday. The intensity of the lighting, the excitement in the room and the otherworldly feel of the music all conspire to create that feeling like a drug coming on.  I suspect that for many in the room, my analogy is no mere rhetorical exercise.

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It must be mentioned that Trevor affects the energy of a Jim Henson creation. He kinda has a puppet-y voice as well, which just lends itself naturally to the kind of ethereal space the music inhabits (I typoed “inHobbits”). It’s as if these songs are meant to be heard outdoors, surrounded by tall trees next to a sparkling body of water, like say a river…or stream. A brook? (Ok, fine. I’ll stop.) Don’t ya just love it, though when a band is just perfectly named? I mean some bands tell you nothing about what they are like in the name. (“The Smiths”, anyone?) And then others will just out-and-out lie to you, which is why I was dreadfully afraid to give a band called Acid House Kings a chance, until something awoke the slumbering summer in me and I discovered that they’re only about the BEST THING EVER IN THE HISTORY OF EVER, and have *nothing* at all to do with “Acid House” (which is also a genre I’ve warmed to).

Then there are other bands, like “Black Sabbath” or “Slayer”; I mean even if you just got evicted from underneath that rock you’d been receiving your mail at (SHIT I TOLD THAT FECKIN’ BANK TO ONLY SEND ME E-MAIL STATEMENTS. Srsly, planet’s not gonna save itself.) you’d still know exactly what these bands sounded like. Pearl Jam, though? You’d think it’s by hippies for hippies. And a band named Pavement should sound like the Jesus Lizard, or at least be on Touch & Go records. But Save Ferris? Sounds kinda like you imagine a 90s ska band named after a John Hughes movie should. Tricky?  Yes, well he is, isn’t he? Five For Fighting? NO! With a name like that, he should bloody well sound like Gang Green, not Jack bleedin’ Johnson.  (and *no one* should ever sound like Jack Johnson, even– & especially– Jack Johnson) But Beach Fossils? Yup: surf pop with some kind of sonic relic. Tennis? Yes. Sunny Day Real Estate? Yeah, but only because of irony. Tool?  Too perfectly named. Shit, that’s a fun exercise for another post: breaking down bands by what you expect them to sound like & what they actually do.  Any suggestions? Get at me in the comments.

Back to the show, Youth Lagoon drift pretty comfortably from quietly dripping crystalline reflections, to upbeat and nearly Polka-y jaunts across Eastern Europe on Molly. Ably backed by the drums, bass & a guy on a strat, the energy is all with Trevor, as he alternates between a forward facing synth, and two synths stacked on top of each other facing stage right, the lowest of which he occasionally kneels to reach and coax more feel from. Some of these songs veer into more indie rock directions, but are coaxed back from the more angular edges by dreampop smoothness.  Many of the later songs dip into quieter territory, nearly abutting the synth ballad, but always with a fantastical edge to it, as if this were music drawn by a hypothetical non-creepy Boris Vallejo were he to be more interested with fantasy natural scenes with flora and fauna instead of Heavy Metal-esque nudes and Conan the Barbarian stuff.

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What’s really exciting about Youth Lagoon is the way that these plinky and trembling slow dream sounds build up a head of steam like a tiny pebble that is rolled down a snowy hill in a Bugs Bunny cartoon that then becomes a giant snow boulder.  Both the song that they closed the set with and the encore (which I think was “Dropla”) really transformed from humble beginnings into booming crescendos, fit for a benediction, as if to say “now, run out joyfully into the world with this delicate and beautiful knowledge, hold it firmly enough not to lose yet loose enough to grow.  Let your growth be strange, and the strange will surprise you as it transforms in front of your very eyes into beauty.”

Ok, maybe I got a contact high.  Whatever it was, something beautiful happens when you let yourself go at a Youth Lagoon show and just give over to the curious suggestions of the music, and allow yourself to feel as if you’re a 5-year-old kid exploring a cave of fluorescent and incandescent multi-colored crystals.  The rain that came that night was unrelenting, but the dreams were beyond description.

-Michael Feck



1:  I won’t lie, the name (as you can probably imagine) is a little worrisome to me, seeing as it reeks of misappropriation and fetishisation.  That Swahilil is a go-to language that people employ when trying to explain impermeable otherness doesn’t make that any less problematic; in fact it is precisely these tropes that are so cliched they stand-in as shortcuts for actual thought that we must examine the closest, since they are seemingly the most invisible.

Bleached, Ex-Cops, Big Eyes and Guantanamo Baywatch at The Star Theater, 5/3/13

Ever have one of those nights that just starts out good and just keeps getting better till somewhere along the line something makes you take a step back?  You catch yourself looking around the room, taking in where you are and suddenly realize that you’re grinning wildly;  something makes you realize that somehow the night went from “good” to “great” and all without fanfare; without a single particular incident crystallizing it, but just everything conspiring together to make something awesome; to make the night into that thing that makes it memorable. It seems like you never quite know why, but you’ve got some good ideas.

Or maybe you do know why.  Like tonight.  Seriously, “Bleached” is all I need to say to know that I’m in for something truly amazing. Four bands total, and it started off *feckin’ awesome* and only got better from there.  But there’s something beyond the music, something ineffable that elevated this night into that rare space. Maybe the “why” will reveal itself in the details…

First show I’ve been to at the Star in a very long time1.  It actually started off a bit oddly, since I thought that the lads in beloved group Week of Wonders2 were playing tonight. Apparently, I had mistaken this eve with a previous one in Seattle, so I wasn’t on the list.  Fine.  Bleached are so damn awesome, I’ve got no problem at all shelling out some green to see ’em.  Just means the night started out a little unexpected.  There is always an element of the unexpected to those great nights…but that’s not what it is that made this one great.

I feel like a bit of a rubbish Portlander, since this is actually the first time I’ve seen the seemingly omnipresent Guantanamo Baywatch live. I’ve got tapes of theirs, (well, one tape) but not till now have I seen ’em. A standard three piece, playing surf-pop-punk-party music fit for dreaming about a beachside “Toxic Avenger” screening/kegger while stuck in class. Makes me wanna thumb my nose at my math teacher after drawing a sloppy comic panel on my half-finished HW & go ditch 3rd period to go smoke while calling things “boss” or “kookie”. Their stage presence is verbally reserved, but they explode into frantic movement with their set. The couple of times they do speak up (just the singer/guitarist, actually) it’s quite hilarious.

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“Hey, we’re just the 1st band, what does it matter? Were not even that drunk yet.” Perfect band for a zombie prom, they write tight yet technically-proficient upbeat ditties that never stick around too long to wear out their welcome. There’s something vaguely 1950s comic book about them, or maybe even 1980’s re-imagining of what a 1950s comic book would be like, a trait they share with all-around PDX fun time band Mean Jeans.

Next band up is another three-piece, Big Eyes, from Seattle & they put the power in power pop.  The singer/guitarist is in possession of such a strong voice that it seemed to anchor the music just as much as the drums.  Instantly catchy and memorable upon first listen.

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Big Eyes with big hooks, making music that’s dirty, raw and catchy. A bad recipe for sushi, but a brilliant one for rock.

Next up are Ex Cops from Brooklyn, although the keyboard player, Amalie Bruun (formerly of Captured Tracks band, “Minks“) is from Denmark. I didn’t find this last bit of information out until a few songs in & it was both surprising & not-at-all surprising. Surprising, because she spoke without any super-discernible accent; not-surprising in that Ex Cops have a very decidedly Scandinavian indiepop sound for a NY band (unlike the Real Estate or Beach House kind of sound that pops into my head when you say “East Coast indiepop”).

Led by the songwriting of Bruun and Brian Harding (of Hymns), they really showcase that characteristically Nordic sweet & super-polished dreampop in performance, yet without being glitzy or premeditated, in a way that’s brilliantly demonstrated by Acid House Kings or Burning Hearts or The Garlands or the band that is my pick for the blockbuster indiepop band of summer 2013: Alpaca Sports. I mean, the Scandinavian sound is just so earnestly sweet & yet so effortlessly together, the songs sound as if they have existed forever, and were mined like diamonds from the recesses of the earth, instead of written by humans.  Really, Swedish indiepop could run a marathon without breaking a sweat or ever looking like they were trying too hard & still win.  For their amazingly polished-but-present sound, Ex Cops should get honorary lifetime membership to the Swedish indiepop club.

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It was sorta strange how the room just cleared out entirely in between each band’s set, but makes sense, I guess with the first grips of the really warm season being precociously upon us here in Portland, and how those wild summer nights spent outdoors with a cold drink and warm company are the shining moments to remember and the reward for enduring the sweat-soaked vicissitudes of the day and its many demands.  That crisp breeze from out of nowhere, cutting the still, summer air; the crackle of the log on the firepit; the bright, cold taste lingering on your tongue from the bubbly IPA and laughter as effortless as the smoke rising from your friends’ fingertips: these are the moments to be kept and carried from those easy summer nights, where everything seems blissfully transitory, and for a moment, no interaction has any weight.

After two rowdy, fun-time party bands, the room didn’t initially know what to make of this more reserved and deliberate bedroom pop fivepiece and their clean, refined sound.  As the band went on, people continued to wander back in as Ex Cops launched into their set. There was a bit of head nodding, but this wasn’t music to spazz-out to with wild abandon, like the first two bands were.  For a few moments, there was actually a bit of head-scratching.  And this may have been the unexpected highlight of the night for me: to have watched a band work to win over a crowd, and to watch a crowd learn and respond in grand fashion.  They had me about 6 seconds in to the first song, but you all know how I wear my indiepop heart on my sleeve.  This crowd was a lot punkier (as testified by everyone in the crowd enthusiastically singing along to Bleached’s cover of The Misfits’ “Hatebreeders” later in the set), but by two songs in, a few were moving pretty visibly & at five in, the entire room was dancing in earnest.  It’s been a little bit since I’ve seen a band just out-and-out win over a crowd that clearly hadn’t heard them before.

They dedicated a song that talks about birthdays to Shannon, who is Bleached’s tour manager. There was also a pretty funny bit when Brian looked at a drink on the floor of the venerable and beaten-up stage, “Hey, someone get a coaster for this super swank wood.” A few minutes later, someone in the crowd walked up to the stage with a rather histrionically sheepish look and grabbed the drink, shoulder shrugged an apology and returned to the back.  It was such a charmingly comic reaction that I was left wondering if she was playing it up “in character” for laughs or if she actually felt a bit embarrassed.

As moody and sedate as some of their songs were, you could see them power through the two harder ones…especially the closer, which had a real lift and drive to it. They picked a good one to end on, and really showed a diversity of sound that has me very curious to see what comes next from this very talented group.

I’d seen Bleached a mere year ago at the Doug Fir, at a relatively sparsely attended show, opening for Veronica Falls.  What a difference a year makes! Veronica Falls, played the same room to a capacity crowd this March, and now Bleached is here filling out the rather spacious Star Theater, with a real buzz all their own, instead of some of the residual ash of high regard from their near-legendary previous incarnation as noise punk group Mika Miko

Before Bleached went on, after all the gear was set up & soundchecked, you could hear everyone singing happy birthday to Shannon, in the outside backstage patio area before the show. The band took the stage, all comfortable smiles and energy.  The drummer had broken his foot earlier on the tour (Vegas, I think he mentioned?) and was only a few days out of his cast, but you’d never know it from how the drums sounded.  Jennifer was pretty conversational as they opened with “Waiting By The Telephone” off of the “Ride Your Heart” album they’re touring on, prefacing things with a palpable expression of joy.  “Hey, so we all just got the best surprise: our very best friend from LA is here.  Black Chris!  I can’t tell you how glad we are to see him.” The crowd caught the infectious enthusiasm from the Clavins et al and started up a chant of “Black Chris, Black Chris”3 to Chris and the band’s visible pleasure.

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Things really kicked into an extra gear when “Searching Through The Past” showed up 4 songs into the set, followed up by a frenetic “Think of You” from their Carter 7″.  Jennifer invited the crowd to join her at Sassy’s after the gig, after telling us she got kicked out of Magic Gardens last time she was in town, but demurred on recounting the events that led to it. Then they brought out Chris to help them sing a cover of the Misfits “Hatebreeders”, which made me realize that I like the Misfits better when Bleached are playing them and I *love* the Misfits.

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The energy the band brought was palpable. “Thanks so much for dancing!  You all are dancing!” Jennifer offered incredulously.  Pretty big because crowds just don’t dance at shows in Portland, unless they are specifically dance shows and sometimes even then…no.  But everyone in the room was swept up in that bouncy feeling of joy you get when that last bell in June rings, and you run out the door, throwing the dull textbook in the trash on your way out to the parking lot, where all your friends are smoking and the car doors are all slung wide open; right there where the strains of Bleached are pouring out of those car speakers, right there where life is happening too fast to pay attention to fully, and you’re having too much fun to care, right there in that place; the intersection of Where You Want To Be and Where You Are Now, and you don’t stop to notice because you don’t care, you just want the wind in your hair and whatever it is that comes next.

Somewhere in the night “good” became “great”. Bleached really are the kind of band that will do that to you. Their pop hooks are cut with such power, with lyrics full of freedom and longing all at the same time, delivered in a way that is somehow both badass and vulnerable, like the way film geeks talk about Brando in “The Wild One”. Bleached are that gin and tonic you take your first sip of and all your friends take note of your peculiar grin, point and laugh, saying “you’re drunk!” even though it’s your first sip. I’ll gladly have another.

-Michael Feck




1: Caught Hazel & Moon Duo there & just missed PoBPaH (though caught them earlier in the day at a surprise show at the Doug.  Got to catch up with Kip, too, which was great because I hadn’t really seen him since a critical theory class we had together freshman year. I feel like I’ve lived a thousand lives since that time. I’ll bet he’s lived even more.)

2: Keep your eyes peeled to these pages for a long forthcoming review of this dearly beloved group of incredibly talented musicians. I think so highly of these lads and that insanely-catchy type of manic poly-rhythmic beach pop that sounds like Dr. Who showed up at Orca Team’s house with a bag of Molly & then threw everyone into the Tardis to take them to Cancun circa 1962, that I get a bit tongue tied when trying to translate these feelings into words. Soon enough, though; either a much need break in work responsibilities or a late night with a whiskey window ought to give me some time to get caught up there.

3: I’ll not lie, it made me very uncomfortable to hear a crowd of mostly white Portlanders chanting “Black Chris”. People do get to decide whatever it is they want to be calledA and I’m sure there are a lot of people named Chris; that said, there’s something that doesn’t sit well with me about using race as a means of differentiation, as if to imply that blackness is somehow aberrant from the “default” status or is odd in some way (e.g., “Chris” vs. “Black Chris”).B

A: Even though sometimes these things get decided by other people; for example, people often call me by my real last name and I detest it greatly, but it’s just too much effort to get people to stop & I don’t want to ruin the tone of an evening by going out of my way to correct someone every time they refer to me by my last name, and that’s with something that’s not even weighed down by concerns that are made more complex because of race. You might say that I am responsible for what people call me, and that’s true, but to pretend that there is not a social order that one risks upsetting for results that may occasionally be murky seems hard to ignore.

B: I just put a footnote inside of a footnote…how bloody pretentious is that?

7″ Review…

Ok, so there’s a ton to get caught up with o’er here at HTWC, but I wanted to get this long-belated note out there before it gets buried down the list along with the many other things sitting around in draft form someplace or other, waiting to be attended to, some of which may not actually wind up seeing light of day,, computer screen.

Veronica Falls are like a cherry tree in early spring blossom while all the other trees are empty branches in the midst of an old cemetery on a wonderfully dreary March1 day.  This is not just because funereal material runs through their body of work, be it explicit, in the form of such songs like “Found Love In A Graveyard” or a bit more subtly alluded to in lines like, “Everything I fear is haunting me” from “The Fountain”2.

Somehow, they manage to walk the line between bleakness and a hopeful sound– or is it that they indulge in both whole-heartedly, yet in equal measure? I’m not sure, but whatever it is, they do it in vibrant fashion. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the new single from their Slumberland sophomore effort (though decidedly far from sophomoric– or soporific for that matter) “Waiting For Something To Happen”

Filled with the most tender sort of innocent longing in a world where friends nod their tacit understanding3 at two who have shown up separately & then somehow leave holding each other’s hands.  You can almost imagine the couple waving goodbye to different groups while *not* looking at the strangely-comfortable-yet-awkward place where their palms meet, as if it weren’t even happening, pretending so hard for this to all be so matter-of-fact.  It conjures that truly teenage combination of simultaneous shyness and bravado.

This longing seems rarefied into this expression of innocence: being dropped off at home, music on the car radio, names carved into trees and holding hands.  It seems so straightforward and bittersweet, but like all great art there’s far more below the surface than what appears in the initial glance.  The song at first seems like a hypothetical answer to the question, “what if the scenario in ‘There is a Light that Never Goes Out’ had a happy ending for all involved?”.

But it’s darker than that.

Somewhere late in the song, where the song turns slightly and everything suddenly seems past curfew, as Roxanne coaxes a reluctant sounding “It’s alright”, you realize, that this isn’t the innocent vision of teens experiencing these innocent longings, there’s something more at play here.

What is that thing?  Is is that even though all action is in the future tense, there’s still something backwards-looking about it, as if written from safely beyond the wall of years, like the end of that Tears For Fears4 video?  But I think that’s still inference & is not what is so beguiling and alarming about this song, beyond that heartaching jangle, that’s so intimately  triumphant and mournful all at the same time.  It’s sorta like being in a room with a bunch of friends and hearing a music box play & having to turn away for a moment so no one sees that you’re crying.  You’re not sad, but those aren’t exactly tears of joy.  Instead it’s something living in that space where the tender pangs of melancholy meet the exuberance of existing, of being really, truly alive.  It’s seeing your ex walk hand-in-hand with their new squeeze, and feeling both genuinely happy for them, while also wondering what if things were different.  It’s seeing your dead grandparents’ eyes looking back at you in the eyes of your child. It’s the sympathetic laughter received from your friends at the retelling of how you got that scar.  It’s the ache inside you that reminds you you’re still alive and that everything you experience is rife with meaning, even if it doesn’t tie away neatly.

“Everything’s alright.” But it’s not.  The music has turned, slowed and become mournful, as if trying to make everything ok by saying that it’s ok. “It’s alright” is actually that *last* bloody thing in the world that it is.

Upon closer examination of the lyrics5 it’s not just an innocent tale of teenage longing, the image of which (among other things) had moved me to tears, when seeing them at the Doug Fir6 and thinking about all of the simple joys of holding the hand of your crush, or driving late at night together and listening to music on the car stereo.  Those perfect moments made all-the-more magical by their actual accessibility– these unexceptional instances of love made manifest, made plausible by their banality, and made transcendent by their plausibility.  But the trick is these things all exist in the future tense in this song.  They are being dreamed aloud.  They are being hoped for, wished for & actively created in the articulation.

They are, in short, a dream.  The most torturous dream: the one you’re not sure if it actually happened or not upon awaking.  The inevitable exile from Eden either way: be it memory or reverie, it is still a departure, a removal.  The future tense is a magician’s trick– a way of making that which is desired seem inevitable, instead of inherently and infinitely out of reach.  Everything is *not* ok, because this evasion from a cynical reality didn’t actually happen.  It’s only just wishful thinking.

But then, this is a pop song, and it *did* happen. That unrequited and impossible longing makes it whole, despite its inherent absence.

They never go on that car ride.  But the song has the car ride in it, so even though it never happens, it happens.  The cake is had and eaten, too, yet neither are enough.

If it is as Orsino suggests, that “music be the food of love,” It is no use but to “play on; Give me excess of it, that surfeiting, the appetite may sicken and so die.”

Of course, it does no such thing.  It commands only a listening, a re-listening.  A glimpse into a garden that was never actually occupied, not until the hearing of the song.

Can you want something with all your heart that you’ve never actually had?

I think so. Do we ever want anything more than we want that thing we’ve an inkling of but never yet actually experienced?

Well, yes.  But we still want it in a different way.

But I could be wrong.  Maybe it actually *will* happen, and that turn, where we’re told “it’s alright” is just the expression of frustration at the distance between this desired moment and the current reality.  It’s a sigh of impatient frustration, not the acknowledgement of impossibility.  It’s being unexpectedly cut off in traffic & losing focus for a moment, when you know you’ll still make it home anyway.  It’s saying, “You say it’s gonna happen now; well, when exactly do you mean?”  The answer is just as clear, which is to say not at all.  All possibilities are open. When thought of in that light, is there anything more hopeful? This longing is actually a refracted optimism. And maybe it’s a return to a well-loved place instead of a venturing-forth into novelty?

I don’t know.  I just know I love this song so much.

So, if while driving late at night, you’ll deign to let me listen to the music I like: it will be this.  It will be Veronica Falls, high on Alex Chilton, transcending Big Star and those bigger pop hooks.

Love is like this.  It is big, overwhelming, taking all the air out of you so you can’t breathe, o’erfilling you, flooding you instantaneously, and then just as suddenly gone.  Love is a pop song.  Love is *this* pop song.  The best you’ve ever felt.  The crash. The silence.

It’s alright.

-Michael Feck

1: March really is the perfect month for VF, since, (especially this year in Portland) contrasting weather patterns of intense bright sun with ferocious downpour alternating with such mercurial speed to the point where it seems like it’s happening at the same time. I feel like this more often than not.

2: Which I Initially understood to be saying “Everything I feel is haunting me.” which I found equally ominous and relevant, and yet doesn’t alter the fact that a moment’s reflection on the lyrics to this song will reduce me to tears more quickly than a Scrooge McDuck’s vault-sized room of cut onions. It’s austere and beautiful– completely unlike that image I just painted.

3:  Or lack thereof, depending on your line reading.  I hear “Your friends, will they understand, when I leave holding your hand?” but I’ve also seen it written “Your friends wouldn’t understand, when I leave holding your hand” from a wiki-style lyrics site, so…

4: You know, the library video? Except without the odd cultural misappropriation pastiched throughout and the enforcement of gender stereotypes.  Really?  To show that they are together, she brings him a cup of tea to his desk instead of say, seeing them both sitting on a couch holding hands or something that doesn’t place her in a servile position? Because of that (and the current lack of availability of it on youtube) I submit this somewhat surprising & enjoyable cover in lieu.

5: Which I didn’t actually do until I sat down to write this review, since I don’t hear lyrics so well unless I have them written out for me.

6: Yet another review in the queue: Veronica Falls, Brilliant Colors and Golden Grrrls at the Doug Fir 3/23/13