Tag Archives: indiepop

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).

Cannanes

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

-Feck

 

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.

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.

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,..er, 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

Winter 2013 Mix Tape…

So, I’m debating the ethics right now of offering this “tape” (1) for download.

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What seems most intuitive to me is to contact each band in some fashion and ask for permission.  Anything else seems presumptuous in a way that I am just uncomfortable with, personally.  That’s not to say others are wrong in saying, “please contact me if you want anything taken down” and offering downloads till that point.  I know I have most certainly discovered music that was downloaded off of an internet site where I didn’t do the due diligence to make sure that the artist had given permission, but then went out after being blown away and bought some vinyl direct from the artist.  But personally, I feel the most comfortable on my own site with insuring consent every step of the way.

tl;dr?  I think I’m just going to offer a track listing and hopefully inspire you to go out and track down these gems yourself.  Of course, if I’m feeling particularly ambitious & find myself with some of the most scarce resource known to humanity: free time, then I may actually send out some e-mails and see what I can do.  However, this setlist just feels so damn perfect for this winter, that I submit it to you here, this strange vision of a winter’s day in hopes you will grab these songs yourself.

Of course, I find it impossible *not* to offer my pretentious-but-heartfelt quasi-poetic annotations. The story that this imagined day is; the story in between the songs, because of the songs, yet having nothing really to do with the songs..

Due to A) my utter ridiculousness & B) my Joycean infatuation, I submit this to you with suggested drink pairings (I warned you it’d be pretentious!), and time of day where each song falls in my imagination (plus some occasional anachrony where one is reflecting back on a time past or in the future.)

Here’s the drink pairing list and letter code:

C = Coava Coffee Roaster’s Girasoles from Costa Rica (a pleasantly intricate yet easy-to-drink & buttery cup to wake up with!)

L = Homemade Lemonade with Meyer lemons (all sweet, no sour, sorta like the pop songs they go along with) and Pomegranate juice to add a bit of winter into that traditional summer potable.

T = Foxfire Earl Grey with honey and some milk instead of cream, as the Irish take it (dreamy and comforting, yet agitates ever-so-slightly, like a lovers’ arms waking you up as they squeeze you tighter in their sleep; waking you up but making you feel safe all over at the same time.)

B = Blanton’s single-barrel bourbon (vanilla sweetness giving way to late rye spice; bite with sophistication. Rowdy and civilized all at the same time.)

E = Stumptown’s Guatemalan Finca El Injerto Bourbon espresso, balancing chocolate with citrusy brightness and a hint of sweet spice as a finish.  (A great middle of the day pick-me-up: sorta like these corresponding songs)

-Drink Pairing
#Track Number
“Song Name”
^Song Duration 
+Time of Day 
Band Name

-C #01: “Springtime” ^2:53 +7:06 AM The Torn ACLs
Waking up with hope in your heart, knowing that if you keep doing the right thing, that good things are gonna happen. Ready for work, but shaking off the drudgery; looking for the little bit of daylight to catch on your fingertip before the inevitable rains begin anew, and loving them both.

-C #02: “My Heart Is A Drummer” ^3:17 +9:23AM Allo Darlin’
As the day continues to move from a slow but bright-eyed start into that full and real feeling of being awake, thoughts are turning to love & that sense of being both giddy with excitement, yet strong and secure, absent-mindedly toying with a phone cord, giving yourself over to love, but never forgetting or losing yourself…I never liked Graceland, but I *love* the metaphoric Graceland & actually want to go out and get the album just for what it represents. There’s a Graceland inside us all, in that place where the things that you love make you happiest: in that place where your heart is a drummer…(and we’re talking Keith Moon, here)

-C #03: “Please Do Not Lie” ^4:30 +10:03 AM Boa Constrictor vs. Honeydrips
The day has really begun in earnest. You’re aware of where you are raw and where you are polished. You are unafraid and ready to go. Handclaps could be cheering choruses for the lilt in your heart. Things aren’t perfect, but they are good, and this makes them real and sustainable; it makes them great.

-L #04: “Summertime” ^3:13 +11:24 Pocketbooks
It’s the dead of winter, but this song is the memory of a summer breeze in the midst of a sweltering August, without romanticization.  Enjoying the warmth of your cardigan, remembering laughs and the sweet smoke from corn stalks on the BBQ as you all stood on the grass somewhere unforgettable.

-L #05: “Your Way, Mr. Leary” ^1:55 +12:17 PM The Rainyard
Lunch is lively conversation with old friends and some new ones, too. There is talk of the night’s forthcoming adventures.  A catchy hook falls into your ear, whispered like an infectious secret, but then is gone just as quickly.

-C #06: “Philadelphia” ^3:36 +12:31 PM Standard Fare
Some seemingly innocuous glimpse of something unrelated brings your mind back to your beloved and the temporary distance between you. You’ll see that person after work, today…why is work taking *forever*? It bloody well feels like a year!

-L #07: “Fine Day For Sailing” ^2:26 +12:49 PM Go Sailor
That’s it, you’ve decided to cast off the hardships of the day with a breezy smile. Laugh it off with a dance somewhere inside of yourself.  Forgive everything ever done to you with a laugh, but never forget, all the while staying too busy dancing to worry about a damn thing else. Or maybe you’re not there yet, but that’s where you want to be.

-L #08: “This Love Is Not Wrong” ^3:22 +1:05 PM The Field Mice
Let the crowd say whatever they want about you. This feeling you have in your heart, this furnace you carry with you, keeping you warm and causing you to look up with a smile when everyone else is looking down with a bothered sneer, it is a love that is shared, a silent bond that will never ask for nor need the approval of anyone else.

-B #09: “Original Arrogance” ^1:37 +9:40 PM Comet Gain
Finding yourself someplace where you were left, realizing that somehow you’ve gotten over everything that used to hold you back, and burning all those bad memories with the fire of urgency. Onward brazenly to this next new phase with all of the self-assurance you’ve ever needed to do anything you want to do. You’re ready to create, and in big strokes with fast movement. Thinking forward into the night, and that moment where the hope for it meets with what it really is. Some threshold has been crossed, but you’re not yet sure what.

-B #10: “I’m So Unclean” ^2:18 +3:15 PM Evans The Death
Urgency gives way to reverie. You pine for your beloved as you enter your last big push to finish work for the day, having endured and conquered being beset by the (after)noontime demon: Ennui.

-T #11: “Green Eyed” ^2:54 +8:02 PM September Girls
Thinking on the night beginning in earnest and thoughts that echo in your head: moments of cherished time alone, thoughts of being lost in a crowd, thoughts of being alone with your beloved. The future and where that turns from ideal form into what it really is. Pleasant surprises and otherwise. Again, returning to the echo of your thoughts. The night is young, and still, so are you…there is hope in the silent spaces between the noise.

-B #12: “Rip” ^2:27 +7:30 PM Ringo Deathstarr
Somehow, and you’re not sure how or why, things have taken a turn for the strange.  You retreat into comforting thoughts.  You’re not sure if you are lucid dreaming or if reality has taken on a strange shimmer.  You are not worried, but things are not as they were.  You’re not sure if they ever will be again.  Your simple and quietly beautiful life of work and home is transformed into something you don’t recognize…you stride forward into it anyway, casting not a backwards glance.

-B #13: “Do You Think It’ll Snow Tonight?” ^1:28 +6:39 PM The Cat’s Miaow
A quiet wish, noisily uttered? A noise-y wish, quietly uttered? From the flurry inside to the possible one out…maybe tonight is best spent by the fireplace.

-E #14: “You Make Two Weeks Two Days” ^2:47 +5:30 PM Baffin Island
Thinking forward to the commute home. Warm thoughts of returning to your beloved. How can time escape so quickly when life is so glorious now? How did it trudge along like an ancient horse on a tenderfoot’s trail-ride when times were sour? The comfort of the company is enough to sustain the irrevocable velocity of wonderful moments rendered perfect by their second glance. Toiling in the diamond mine of memory never works up a sweat.

-E #15: “Your New Boyfriend” ^1:49 +4:43 PM Rocketship
Back to where you are. The darkest times are rendered manageable by the sonic-honey rimming the medicine cup of hardship’s medicine. Yesterday’s scars give today’s hugs meaning and perspective.  You love like you used to.  You love like new.

-E #16: “Folded In Half” ^3:36 +5:15 PM The Bank Holidays
Harmony steps into your life as you put your day away and prepare for what comes next. Your thoughts escape up the spiral staircase until you are on top of the bus, watching the world from a newly-caught perspective. On your way home, only to leave it again, only to return. Love is the anchor that still lets the boat keep moving, but never too far from what matters.

-L #17: “Infatuation Street” ^3:17 +2:45 PM Sweater Girls
Loveletters written on paper folded and burned as a floating wish into the sky, hoping only to be forgotten as they turn to ash.  The weather on your face as the leaves have turned, the comforting scratch of wool against your skin.

-L #18: “Sea Horses” ^2:55 +5:01 PM Blueboy
Life is more beautiful and more complicated than anyone had imagined.

-B #19: “Your Doubting Heart” ^3:15 +10:15 PM The Hobbes Fanclub
You want to cry. Your beloved is lost.  You know not where or how. Your memories are all dreams; your dreams are all memories. Jonas had an easier go of it than this sudden nightmare you have woken into. Everything has changed. Only Lethe notes register in your unbelieving ears.  The music pulls you forward when you find your will lacking.

-B #20: “You Can Hide Your Love Forever” ^3:43 +10:15 AM Comet Gain
Back to the morning; those burned wishes are not forgotten; they mature into these feelings that are as mundane yet comforting as your morning Orange Juice. Your desires will carry you when nothing else will. Dreams of a France or Scotland you’ve never seen, the friends in literature you’ve made, those words that have never been said that you always wanted…the home in that person’s eyes. You can find the song when you can’t find the words.

-B #21: “English Cities” ^2:04 +10:44 PM Brilliant Colors
Pushing over smokestacks, past thoughtlessly brilliant interactions to the place where everyone is gathered. Stumbling through, you would rue your current state, wide awake fearing all is lost, were it not for the chaos of noise you have somehow scrolled above, to where you can see the pattern from a distance. You know not where your beloved is, but you enter the room where all your new friends are. Nightmares are raindrops that fall off of your slicker into puddles in the street you do not stop to consider.

-B #22: “You’re Beautiful” ^1:06 +11:09 PM The Faintest Ideas
Running up the flights of stairs into the room where they all are; you throw open the door, boldly declaring what you know, the beauty that’s pushing its way out of your chest, effortlessly, as if from someone else, but it is *you*, it is the essence of you, but you don’t wait for a reaction, you’ve turned around and are bounding out the door, down the steps before anyone’s had a word.  You don’t care what they think; that’s for them to decide.  You wanted only for them to know.

-B #23: “For Ex-Lovers Only” ^2:35 +12:58 AM Black Tambourine
Wandering rocks. The reaction that could have been, instead of the Scylla & Charybdis you have chosen . The fear at the end of the night. The wrong “what if” suddenly become real for a moment. A nightmare Baudelaire prose poem. A Berlioz vision of paregoric delusion. Your beloved warps before you, turning into a manifestation of all of one’s own insecurities, pointing a silent accusatory finger, questioning your own capacity to be loved. You slam the door on the fears, letting everyone else be who they are.  Let anyone walk away without a second thought, even if it does cost a tear.

-T #24: “Poor Students Dream of Marx” ^3:12 +7:01 PM Cats on Fire
The world shudders awake with the slam of that door. You are in your own skin, seeing the world as it really is.  The myths flee from your mind like smoke from a chimney.  Seemingly impoverished by materialism, you’ve actually made the grade. You are alone, having put all of those insecurities to bed. Others show up, ask you questions. You glibly dismiss them.  You will not be distracted again.

-T #25: “You Can Have What You Want” ^2:52 +1:10 AM Papercuts
From tears, alone, you’ve found something in yourself again. You’ve discovered everything you need, and have chased the real and fake images that have hounded you. You are alone.  You wouldn’t mind some company, but you are fine and happy by yourself. There is nothing bittersweet about this peace, but there is contemplation.

-T #26: “Rats Blossom Into Boys” ^3:52 +1:33 AM Kookooo Kitchen
You walk into the last room of the night. Things are happening for others.  Talk.  Drinks.  Other things you don’t want to look too closely at. You have no desire now for any of the former pastimes that once beguiled you.  You’ve made it somehow to the other end of the night.  You’re not yet sure what you have learned but you are certain of what to do. Leave

-T #27: “The City Limit” ^5:53 +2:31 AM The Radio Dept.
Streetlights cast their long rays, glimmering in the brisk dark night, pulsating rhythmically as you move past them, your bed calling to you. Feeling that familiar sense of being alone, you find yourself longing again, wistful, but not needing. Mildly happy with who you are and where you are, but wanting more. The shadows in the car give way to the streetlight drumbeat, like a strobe light in slow motion, to reveal your beloved nearly asleep in the passenger seat. How? Why has this all happened? Your loved one tells you that you have grown as you’ve needed to.  You’ve dream-lived your fears and fantasies, and have come to the other side.  Safe. While you were preoccupied, they had done the same. Paths have separated, crossed, split and then reunited in one giant thoroughfare, leading home; leading to a place that stands still as it runs and anchors only when it changes. Your hand is warm in your beloved’s hand. A sigh, on the verge of sleep. Where it’s at is where you are now; where you will always be as long as you desire it.

-Feck

1:In a typically Fecked-up state of affairs, I call my mixes “tapes”, which I burn onto CDs made to look like vinyl records, which are usually burned to mp3s and played on ipods/iphones.  I think the only thing that would make the circle complete is if the iphone had an 8-track case

The Ghost Ease, Younger Shoulder, Hugo Berlin and Tender Age at the Boom Bap, January 13

Holy hell, Portland, I am in *love*. Head over heels, smitten, twitterpated, gonzo, head-on-the -wheel, arrow-through-the-heart & the object of my affection is called The Boom Bap. It’s an auto body garage converted into an art gallery/music venue, yet you can almost still feel the exhaust in the air & see the oil on the ground. The only distinguishing feature on the outside is a small frame A-sign.  The entry is through the former business office, which serves as the ante-room to the garage/venue where various canvases of inspiring beauty are hung. Once past that and inside to the large garage space, tented aside to create a venue, I arrive to find the first act, a solitary artist performing under the moniker of Hugo Berlin, already on stage, playing in front of a a screen that’s manipulating her image to hypnotic effect, without being overtly 60’s psychedelic. It took me all of 20 seconds to decide that this is now my favorite music venue in town, edging out the still wonderfully beloved Valentine’s (where I wound up later that night, after the show).

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Hugo Berlin’s songs are melodic guitar meanderings that are still focused and tuneful over her live-looped guitar, but with a light and shimmering quality instead of the drone that you might imagine coming along with looping. Just as the screen is offering us various double images of the performer right in front of us, splitting the reality of her presence in front of the larger simulacra, so does her live playing over the just-recently played live-looping. (Baudrillard would have a field day thinking on it!)

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As she finishes her last song, she looks up with a sheepish smile that is also full of confidence & rightfully so. She had just played an amazing set & knew it. We all did.

The next act is The Ghost Ease. I had to see it in writing to get it, because spoken it sounded like “The Ghosties”, which I then realized could also be “The Ghost Tease” & now I’m picturing a character from a Veronica Falls song being flirtatious in a Vaudevillian manner (maybe inside a Victorian manor?). I then realized these puns were probably EXACTLY what they were going for, so: good one!

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As I hope my questionable-at-best photo skills demonstrate, this group is a two-piece that write songs with extreme &  forceful dynamics, from loud, tubey reverb Crazy Horse bombast to such tender & delicate poise, hovering with patience, letting the song develop. Her voice is somewhat reminiscent of Cat Power – while still being wholly unique – when she sings in her lower register (which is most of the time) & there are timbres of PJ Harvey in her intense and rousing falsetto. The drummer is also highly tuned-in to these sonic fluctuations, creating the dynamic that makes this band so appealing.  She is able to hit as hard as anyone during the open crescendos, yet is so cautiously attentive of the tender nuance the quiet parts so longingly call out for. She answers with a world-wise grin & an effortless rhythm that make this group just spellbinding to behold.

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The second song begins a bit more swimmingly than the first, which seems to be ballet dancing on broken glass, barefoot & feeling no pain.

“There’s an intensity knob on this” the singer says, in between songs, surprised by a double-entendre on the PA unit. Someone in the crowd cries out, “Turn it up!”.  There’s no need: this band has the musical intensity ratcheted-up to redline.

3rd song opens with big distorted sound, which gives way to a sweetly picked broken chord verse, before delving into a meandering power surge, nearly mathy towards the end, then returning to the sweet & shimmering, dripping spring rain sound of that verse.

After the singer decides to toss a rose she had crocheted earlier in the day, with an effortlessly charismatic plea for crowd-sourced suggestions as to its non-matrimonial significance (won’t lie: TOTALLY wished I would have caught it, to bring home some souvenir of the eve, in lieu of the lack of availability of any tape or vinyl I awkwardly inquired after in that laughable unintentionally-brusque-due-to-being over-caffeinated manner that seems to mark all of my interactions as of late.  I blame this for coming in the mail recently, making it IMPOSSIBLE to stop at just one cup. Holy hell 49th Parallel Coffee Roasters, you are The Bee’s Knees. Though, since it’s cold up in Canada, maybe cool beans is the oh-so-peachy-keen turn of phrase I’m looking for?), the last song opens with a picked, & angular start. It’s just the calm before the storm…really gives in to mathier tendencies while still keeping the dreampop vibe.

The band ends without any fanfare, informing us of their next show, which is Jan 19 at the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center (never heard of it! Looks like real Portland artsy fun!) at Killingsworth & Interstate w/ Genders – a band I’ve been wanting to see for quite some time now, ever since I heard they had come into existence, rising from the ashes of the recently departed & much enjoyed band Youth. I’ve been “near missing” their shoes due to some obligation or other for a few months now.

Happy to see so many anoraks in the crowd (I’m speaking literally of the jacket…if you don’t know what that is – & don’t feel bad if that’s the case: I didn’t until I started knowing what the difference was between a Bosco & a Bruno – picture Han Solo on Hoth). I do think it’s by chance rather than necessarily by design affiliation to a scene, because this doesn’t seem scene-based at all, just friends and friends of friends, dedicated to art and to music.

One thing that really pleasantly jumps out at me is how wonderfully diverse this crowd is, which is unfortunate that’s still a novel thing that stands out in this city rather than being a mere matter-of-fact of life here. The diversity, the novelty of the location, the calm artistic sophistication of the crowd: this may be the most Brooklyn-feeling experience I’ve had in Portland, yet all-the-while still being uniquely Portland.  How is this not happening on a rooftop?

Next up is the touring act from Seattle, just a lone gentleman named Jacob Jaffe, going by the name “Younger Shoulder”.  He plays acoustic-style songs on a clean electric, sold mostly by his humble and irrefutable charm, sung with a tender and plaintive voice that is blissfully free from any pretense.  He is enchantingly self-effacing as evidenced by his claim that “in the other room there will be tapes & a poster of me wearing a nightgown…so…I’ll leave it at that.” It was really in the delivery. I would have picked up both a tape and a poster were it not for the post show-haste I found myself in to get to Valentine’s to catch more music & entertain a friend who had decided to join me.

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The last song he plays is by a local musician friend of his named Cole & it’s a sweet song about just being good to other people & feeling compassion & honestly it feels like a well-needed dose of medicine to me, since it can be easy at times to forget to focus on making that the most important thing, though on a night like this, at a place like this, with a crowd like this it seems wholly impossible to feel anything other than a pervasive sense of joy at being a part of the whole “being a human” thing & it seems impossible to feel anything but compassion and good will.

Wild Nothing’s Gemini album is the set change music & as you can imagine I’m loving the everliving hell outta that.

Tender Age is the last band, comprised of 4 members: keyboards/guitar, guitar/vox, drums & bass. The guitar in front of the keyboard (gent w/ the Elmer Fudd-style hat on…there must be a name for that sort of chapeau, isn’t there?) is ODing on reverb in the soundcheck. As you can guess I LOVE THIS!

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Tender Age look indiepop as all get-out & with the handclapped beginning of the first song, I realize I’m really in for a Twee-t! That opener has a great, surfy feel to it, nice echoey reverb vocals. I love seeing a standup drummer; it gives such a different feel to a performance, takes it away from that tired rock paradigm & brings it in to something more enthusiastic & freeform, somehow.  3rd or 4th song in has a really great bass run, mimicking the guitar line, yet unique painting around it. Steals the song. 4th or 5th song in, things took a turn for the darker/shoegazier with almost a bit of a Cure-being-played-by-Beach-House kind of vibe. Favorite song so far.

Next song is back to a more upbeat beach-at-night feel. 7th or 8th song has this Western guitar line driving across the song like a howling gale over a wind-swept mountain range in the Montana night.

The crowd is lively without ever being rowdy, & is deeply respectful while the bands are playing. It’s all ages & BYO. A few have solitary bottles of micros. It feels like wine would be wildly appropriate at this venue, yet I see none. I was told the venue was all ages, though I only see one under person who looks under 25: a cute little kid of maybe 5 (I’m no good at telling kids’ ages) who toddles her way through the crowd after the 1st set. One person in the crowd noticeably reeks a bit of weed smoke, but no one smokes anything inside, although you almost wouldn’t notice. This is a restrained yet aware crowd, literate, artistic & respectful. I guess it’s partially that sort of urbane balance that brings me rightly-or-wrongly to the aforementioned association with Brooklyn, from my long-ago-lived years there: mostly fulfilling job by day, artistic endeavors every night & a leisurely-sipped glass of wine or a solitary hit from a shared joint mixed European-style with some flavored tobacco. In other words, moderate & sustainable use of inspiration, be it media or intoxicant (or intoxicating media), steady dedication to art and relaxation, mixed with responsibility, curiosity and a sense of community. There is nothing truly “punk” about “punk rock excess”. “Getting wasted” time is exactly that: wasted time. We only get so much time to create what we want out of life. I only want just enough of a thing, be it drink, art, music what-have-you to COME ALIVE, not “get wasted”. (I hate myself more than a little for linking to that band, but the song is perfectly fitting my point). There are so many crowds for so many shows where beer is spilled and words are shouted & everything is done to forget what the day has done to us, the week, the month…This show isn’t like that, and this crowd isn’t like that, but neither is it stuffy or uncomfortable. In short, if I could dream up a crowd, if I could dream up some music to be played there: this would be it.  It’s experiences like this that are exactly why I choose to make Portland my home. See, I *told* you I was in love.  Boom Bap, I’m writing your initials on my notebook & drawing a heart around them!

Mr. F.

Best of 2012….Best Singles/Songs

Best of 2012 Day 2: Top 12 Singles/songs

Ok, so “Singles of the Year”, lists tend to go to 10, but since I like Top 6 lists instead of Top 5, I’ll just double my “Top 6” list to 12.

WARNING!  Ahead lies not just indiepop, but actual “Pop”, pop. Proceed at the peril of your own indie cred! (and if that gag bummed you out, you can cry yourself to sleep at night on this.)

12: “Wacky Past Is Now” – Troubled Sleep.
What’s not to love about a band that takes its name from a Sartre play? When I first heard this leading off a comp album, (before you can ask, yes, *of course* it was from the peerless Skatterbrain.  I’m not gonna say it’s the best site on the web…no, wait, I’m gonna say EXACTLY that.)(1) I was so instantly smitten I ran out to order the 7” & have had it in constant rotation since. Loud, raw, urgent & quick: kinda like the best Sushi restaurant ever (from memory, back when I used to eat fish…if you think there’s a chance that the link was NOT to a Smiths song from an album by the same name…um: this).

11: “Blow Me (One Last Kiss)” – Pink
It’s kinda hard not to like Pink. This bubble gum declaration of independence has teeth, but they are puppy teeth & kinda cause you to go “awww” even as the bites cut a bit. We’ve all been there & I think she handles the expression of these emotions with the right balance of vulnerability, determination and panache.

10: “A Team” – Ed Sheeran
(Don’t click on the link if you’re afraid of having a bit of a cry; this video just might do that to you)

It is a real surprise to me that this song is getting serious airtime on popular music stations. I guess I should say “half a surprise” because the song is just that good. Yes, the desire to amaze and captivate with little more than just a guitar and some words is the same one that launched every unpleasant experience you’ve ever had while listening to someone make their earnest plea for your attention at an open mic night, but that doesn’t diminish the power when someone pulls it off successfully. Let me put it this way, Ed Sheeran is opening for Taylor Swift this summer at the Rose Garden & I’m going. (Yes, of course I’m not paying for it, but still: yes. I’m gonna see this.) I hope how high this praise is shall not be lost on you, dear reader. Also, if you want to feel woefully lacking accomplishment in your own life, I’ll point out the lad is only a mere 21 years old. My crafty rebuttal? “Oh yeah? I’ll bet I drank more beers than you at that age.” Bravo, Michael Feck. Bravo. Also, at the risk of redundancy: don’t watch the video unless you’ve taken enough preemptive happy pills. Heavy stuff.

9: “Someone That I Used To Know” – Gotye
I admit, I used to hate on this song. I hated on it something fierce. It was, I suspect, because I wanted to believe something along the lines of “my emotions are unique and refined; they are complicated beyond the mere histrionic emotings of a pop song instantly beloved by the rabble.” Well, the rabble do not exist, or else we are all rabble & I’ll be damned (like my name was Dave Vanian. Yes! Still punk…) if I think I’m better or worse than anyone else or that this song doesn’t tap into a ubiquitous experience where someone you used to love now pretends that you don’t even exist. We have ALL been there. There’s two sorts of people: those who love this song and liars. Pick your team! Also, let’s not lose sight of the fact that, yeah, it’s just a well-crafted pop song. If you brush your teeth regularly, you can enjoy sweets without guilt!

8: “Bad Religion” – Frank Ocean
Seriously, the kind of longing, futility and acceptance in this song seems to out-Smiths the Smiths: from Moz’s “How can they see the love in our eyes and still they don’t believe us? And if they don’t believe us now, will they ever? (2) to “If it brings me to my knees, it’s a bad religion.(3) Unrequited love is nothing but a one-man cult.” from Frank Ocean, the need for recognition from without and the attendant denial is so damn powerful, especially in light of the much publicized coming-out story. We are living in better times & it gets better every day. Also, this. If you wanna hand Frank the keys to the kingdom, Thom & let him front that band of yours for a spell, that’d be like, cool or whatever.

7: “Bitch Bad” Lupe Fiasco
If there’s anyone out there that can bring me back to caring about hip-hop, it’s Chi-town’s own Lupe Fiasco, & his helping to further the awareness of conscious hip-hop to the mainstream. Don’t let the title fool you; this song is about the pernicious effects of misogynist language in hip hop & why it has to stop. He makes a real case for it, instead of a well-intentioned but throwaway verse from MCA circa 1994. (RIP, Yauch. Yr sorely missed, homie.) I’m not speaking ill (no pun intended) of MCA, I’m just saying “Yo, knock it off” is a really different argument than, “here is the way that these things we don’t generally spend too much time considering radically alter our social fabric in a really bad way.”

Also, in the “Act III” section of the video, the reasoning Lupe lays out for even putting away reappropriative/reclaimed usage of the B-word:
“Just like that, you see the fruit of the confusion
He caught in a reality, she caught in an illusion
Bad mean good to her, she really nice and smart
But bad mean bad to him, bitch don’t play a part
But bitch still bad to her if you say it the wrong way
But she think she a bitch, what a double entendre”

also applies well to the same-intentioned use (or ANY use) of the N-word. This is the sort of song that could reasonably inspire a masters’ thesis, so I’ll just leave off by pointing out that I find it sophisticated without being overtly preachy like an ispy song (again, not hatin’: I loved ispy, – & how can you not after seeing that video? They were just kinda preachy, is all. I know I didn’t give a great example, because I linked to a clip I really liked, but trust me: they got kinda preachy at times) and is just really the height of what a pop song can do: entertain and get you to think all in the same 3 minute burst.

6: “Green Eyed” September Girls
What’s up with the Irish being the masters of shoegaze? Yeah, I’ma let you finish Ride & Slowdive, & The Fleeting Joys & Ringo Deathstarr but MBV, Girls’ Names, The Butterfly Explosion & most of all September Girls have this game on lock. On lock! From those first echoey bell-like lines, you’ll just surrender like a Cheap Trick song.

5:  “We Are Young” Fun. (Featuring Janelle Monae) I’ve lived the lyrics to this song. I imagine most of us boozy barhounds here in Portland have. You know: those emotional moments of clarity in the midst of some frantic gathering or other where it’s hot outside but snowing in the bathroom & you’re trying to juggle the bit of trouble you know with that much bigger bit of trouble you wish you knew better & the idea of just trying to take care of each other the best we can & do the least damage somehow seems heroic in the middle of all the thoughtless decadence. This cheesy little song has both caught my widest grins & inspired more tears than I’d care to admit. It’s so good that I’ve even included the obnoxious punctuation (though, after giving it a moment of thought, I just realized that the period makes it self-effacing, which makes it ever-so-much-less obnoxious to me).

4: “Ho Hey” The Lumineers
This is the very very closest I can get to that whole “indie folk” thing that the nation seems to be awakening from its dogmatic slumber about (Yo, surf pop & garage power pop are like reading Hume. I Kant believe I just said that. ONLY REEDIES UNDERSTAND ME…and even they don’t understand me. 3 philosophers referenced in one mere parenthetical aside! Yr welcome. Also, DIAF, Mumford & Sons. No, I really don’t mean that & it’s not clever at all to say such things; I just mean: please don’t let your music be within earshot of me. Please?). This song is the height of “simple lyrics, complex ideas”. In perfect pop fashion it’s over before it really began. The rest of the songs on this album are hit & miss, but this one hits & stings like the best ones do.

3:  “Your Doubting Heart” The Hobbes Fanclub
Speaking of Hume, you’ll have no need to be skeptical or doubt how crushingly infatuating the indiepop is from this English trio. So infectious, but penicillin won’t return your phone calls; it’s too busy pouring this earworm shots & making it popcorn while the wee viral bastard warms itself by the fire. Damn you, Hobbes Fanclub, for making whining about an overprotective significant other sound so wonderfully tuneful. With a hook this big, they could catch a Great White Shark if they wanted to.

2: “My Life Is Wrong” – Pains of Being Pure at Heart. This East River Pipe cover (actually it’s the B-Side to their 7” cover of The Magnetic Fields’ “Jeremy”) is a 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 a child begging a father to stay around & 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 thinking about…then I don’t think I have very much in common with you.

1: “It’s Always A Good Time” Owl City & Carly Rae Jepson.

I KNOW.  IKNOWIKNOWIKNOW. (yo, that album cover is one of the most disconcertingly beautiful, scary & dreamy things I’ve ever seen, BT Dubs. Yes, I own it on vinyl; what of it?)

I KNOW! Say horrible things. Go ahead. You wanna know what’s revolutionary? Having a good time. Being comfortable in your own skin. Not feeling like every smile is a lie, hiding the true and unpleasant nihilistic experience of existence. Being happy is *not* necessarily being shallow. Just because conflict lies at the heart of Occidental conceptions of narrative doesn’t mean that sadness, anger and strife make existence more real or art that captures that suffering somehow more meritorious. The unpleasant things in life will race towards you with full haste and no mercy so why run headlong into them in return?

There is joy in this song, an unbridled joy that is as certain that it is ok to have a good time as it is in actually having a good time. Tolstoy was wrong: every happy family is *not* the same & nuance is as manifold to varieties of bliss as it is to the catalogs of depravity.

In short, yes, there *is* a “right side of the bed”, and waking up on it is in fact worthy of celebration. The music perfectly captures this experience with just the lightest tiny feather’s touch of gravitas, which differentiates it from falling over that hair’s threshold into saccharine Rebecca Black (4) territory. I am wholly comfortable declaring this track the “Best Song of 2012” & am totally unconcerned with what you might think of me as a result. Dare to be happy.

Honorable Mention(5) to:
Icona Pop“I Love It”
DIIV’s – “Geist”,
Purity Ring’s – “Obedear”,
Bat For Lashes’ out-Tori-ing of Tori Amos on “Laura”,
Beach House’s “Myth” (that song really turned me around on them, and set them apart from Real Estate and Tennis for me…but not by very much) and
Jessie Ware’s – “Wildest Moments” which answers the question of “What if ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ wasn’t maudlin bombast and actually achieved the emotional impact it so ambitiously strive for?”. Also, Grimes is awesome, but you already know this.

Mr. F.

1: Also, WHY DID NO ONE TELL ME THERE’S A NEW TULLYCRAFT ALBUM COMING OUT & THAT THE NEW SINGLE IS ALREADY STREAMABLE?!?! What the hell, Seattle people? Did you get so high that you forgot to keep your lil’ Feckin’ buddy living down south along the I-5 in the loop?

2: I know I said “Moz’s”, but I figured if you were brave enough to click on the link, even knowing exactly what it’s gonna be, then you deserve the pleasant surprise that awaits. And if it’s not a pleasant surprise: glad you found us here by accident; pull up a chair & stay for a spot of tea, won’t you? The band from the aforementioned link weren’t a love at first sight scenario for me, but more like the weird kid in the 1st grade who you used to make mudpies in the sandbox with & never thought twice about, but sometimes said things that made you laugh & grew into themselves in a unique way that you never really took any kind of notice of, until one day junior year, they said something funny in class & you looked over & your eyes for just a slight bit longer than you might expect as you shared the laugh & you found yourself thinking of this person as you walked home past all the turning and falling leaves & a week later you were surprised to find yourself writing their initials & yours absent-mindedly in your notebook inside a heart & then a month later all the leaves are gone & you’re walking hand-in-hand down to a cafe for coffee, a slice of pie & a bit of ignored homework, silently wondering how a careless mudpie could wind up tasting so unexpectedly sweet as the years continue to wrap surprises up in bows for you. The discovery you come late to may be the best one to awaken to…or next to, should friendship strangely and effortlessly turn to love.

3: No, not that one.  Go back to your dissertation in the discipline of evolutionary biology, Mr…no, excuse me, Dr. Graffin & back to running Epitaph records, Mr. Gurewitz.

4: OF COURSE I’m linking to the Black Metal version.

5:  I left Capricornia (indietracks festival version in link!) off, because I don’t want this blog to devolve into the unapologetic loveletter to Slumberland Records (especially Allo Darlin’) that it might otherwise become if left to my own devices, but seriously: the words to that song bring me to tears if I look at them on a page, yet make me want to dance if I heard them sung.  I just can’t think of anything else that even remotely inspires a similar response. Evans The Death’s “I’m So Unclean” (also indietracks!) could have hit the top spot too, were it not released on the back side of Threads in 2011.

Best of 2012…Best Albums!

Best of 2012, Day 1 – Top 6 Albums of the Year:

Ok, for those of you expecting to find Grizzly Bear, Frank Ocean, The Men, Japandroids, Beach House or any one of the thousands of new albums Ty Segall released this year on this list, look elsewhere. Mad impressed with all those albums (& I’ll throw How To Dress Well’s “Total Loss” on there as well), I just haven’t been living & dying with them the way I have with these 2012 releases.

6: Ringo Deathstarr – Mauve
Beyond wearing the title of “Most Awesomely Puntastic Star Wars Bandname Ever” – well, besides “Lando Calrisque-Ian” which is an all-burlesque band covering the work of Minor Threat & Fugazi…OK FINE I JUST MADE THAT ALL UP, but you know that would be terrifyingly brilliant…OK, fine, I just wanted to be able to say Lando Calrisque-Ian, is that so wrong? That pun *is* why Ian is doing this – Ringo Deathstarr make some of the most exciting shoegaze around, almost as if My Bloody Valentine got back together and were making a new album (HOLY SHIT! YOU GUYS? MBV *IS* GETTING BACK TOGETHER AND MAKING A NEW ALBUM!…What do you mean that’s old news? NO, *you’re* old news, then). So if you’re feeling like Dublin by way of Austin, the noise, effects pedals and harmonies of Mauve should make you feel as if you’ve taken a Slowdive into a Ride of Lush Shoegaze.

5: Tie: La Sera – Sees the Light AND Seapony – Falling

La Sera is Katy from Vivian Girls’ solo project, and alternates between up-tempo noise-pop-y numbers a la Dum Dum Girls (as in “Break My Heart” or “Be My Third Eye” ) and mournful heartbreak dream pop songs to sigh over in the solitude of your bedroom that are wistful without being dreary (most of the rest of the album) in addition to songs like “Drive On” which has got to be featured prominently on ANY list of songs to drive through a city alone to late at night. Seapony hits a lot of the same kinds of notes in their Falling LP, with “Prove to Me” shining as the rarest of earworms, in that it crawls in on first listen and yet, when it disappears for a flickering moment, you find that you desperately want it to return again right away in all of its bright-eyed and brooding glory.

These are winter songs to sit alone to, in a scratchy sweater while savoring a hot beverage of some sort & reflecting on the warmth of absent company amid the bright dreamy fuzz-pop as frigid precipitation flutters slowly outside the window.

4: Wild Nothing – Nocturne

The bedroom pop project of Jack Tatum from Virginia. He writes late night songs that sparkle with a safe wistful urgency, as if the familiar whisper of a lover calling your name softly in the midst of a dream, this music is quietly reflective yet dancey. It’s very easy to lose yourself into this album.

3: Jens Lekman – I Know What Love Isn’t

Holy hell, if Jens Lekman isn’t the most clever and cheerful bastard ever to emerge word-slinging & singing from the wilds of Sweden, then I should be flung into the sun by a catapult gun whilst being stung by ten thousand maladjusted hornets having a bad day. See, the thing about Jens is if he were around for that catapult trip, he’d be able to tell you some kind of story about how the hornet journey into the heart of the sun really wasn’t so bad & then work that around to an introduction to one of his songs, (probably “The End of the World is Bigger Than Love”, I’m guessing) which somehow convinced you that he was right. What could be maudlin & trite in the hands of a less gifted artist becomes wry and inspired with his witty twists on ground that might otherwise seem trod-to-death. Think there’s nothing new to say about love, heartbreak and recovery? So did I until I listened to this album. He’s been called “The Swedish answer to Morrissey”, but instead of Moz asking you to have a cry with him, Jens wants you to have a laugh as he croons over orchestral pop music in a fairly thick Swedish accent.

2: Evans The Death – S/T

Powerful & noisy crash pop that is still somehow refined, perhaps by how highly literate it is. It’s music that says “What, you don’t name YOUR band after a character in a Dylan Thomas play? How utterly pedestrian of you.” but then offers the most heartwarmingly sincere smile and asks if you want to go splash into rain puddles & run about in the muck for a bit, till you can no longer even bring yourself to take umbrage at its feigned arrogance because you’re too busy getting mud on your galoshes. “I’m So Unclean” is the most perfect crash pop song ever recorded, because it blisters out the gate with ragged fury and breakneck speed, high-lit by Katherine Whitaker’s nearly operatic voice. Then, a minute into the song, the band pulls the rug out from under the listener’s feet and we are left with a sparse percussive breakdown and Katherine’s wistful reflections of all the mundane places where she will be when thinking of her beloved. Never, ever has there been a more urgent song written about “staring at the cat for hours”. Somehow all of this transformation manages to take place in under 2 & a half minutes! And getting all excited about this song as I am is hiding the fact that “Telling Lies” might be the hookiest song released this year, save for a track by The Hobbes Fanclub that is just instant earcandy. This Slumberland release would easily be my number one were it not for labelmates:

1: Allo Darlin’ – Europe

Simply the best damn thing I’ve heard all year. Upbeat, yet melancholy at times, but always with a bright and unyielding sense of hope, beauty and celebration that ring out through the entire record. From sedate songs like “Some People Say” which are only anchored by Elisabeth’s ukulele and sheer force of personality to whole-band barn-burners like “Still Young”, (which attains heights I can only describe as the indiepop answer to a gospel choir crescendo) the album threads together a contagious eagerness. Lyrical attempts to seemingly undercut that only actually serve to enhance the sensation. “I’m wondering if I’ve already heard all the songs that’ll mean something,” instantly proves itself to not be true, since it’s in a song that instantly means something upon first listen. That leads nicely into the next line of “And I’m wondering if I’ve already met all the people that’ll mean something,” and the implied, “Of course not!”

Somehow, Elisabeth’s tender Australian delivery can imbue lines like “Could you ever understand how you ended up here, any friend you’ve ever had has disappeared” or “You say the things you love are the things you never had, and when you hold them they pass through your hands like sand” with this blinding sense of hope and ebullience that might seem wholly absent if merely read on a page. Listening to this album is quite simply like the best wine buzz of all time. You might not always be in the mood for wine, but there is no feeling of intoxication that is better than it. Unlike wine, however, I am *always* in the mood for Allo Darlin’ on my turntable. If the sense of hope were a movie, this album would be its soundtrack.

Oh yeah, Honorable Mentions go to Sweater Girls’ “Sweater Girls Were Here” and The Garlands’ S/T release on Shelflife. Pure bubble gum flavored bubble gum!

Dignan Porch, Twerps, & Memories: Bunk Bar. October 31 (Part 1)

I didn’t have time before the show to look up any of the music, so I was just going by the Mercury’s wee lil blurb (which is actually now gone), which made local garage rock act Memories out to be the headliners, with a passing shout out to Twerps but no mention of whatever Dignan Porch is. (Only the Best. Damn. Part. of the night, that’s all.)

There was mention of shambling indie pop in the article & with the addition of the key variable factor, we get this math formula: (Shambling + Indie Pop) x Australia + me = TRUE LOVE FOREVER! Cf. the work of various esteemed mathematicians such as Lucksmiths , The Cat’s Miaow , Allo Darlin’ (Ok, I know that only Elizabeth is from Australia & the band is based out of London, but this is the Best. Video. Ever. & my 2nd favorite song of theirs & I frankly don’t give a toss what you lot think on this, I’m calling it Aussie indiepop because it’s my favorite & I say so), Summer Cats (Ok, not their most emblematic song, nor my favorite of theirs, which is actually a song I love FAR too much to ever even be willing to LISTEN TO around anyone else, much less ever post; some things you just gotta keep for yourself, y’know? – this song hits me in a way that’s both wry and affecting. The vocalist isn’t the one who sings on a majority of the tracks, and his winking delivery lends a humorous timber to the song’s already light touch.), The Rainyard , Even As We Speak (eat your heart out, Frente…oh, who am I kidding? You know I adore both versions of this just as much, albeit in a pretty vastly different way than the original), The Bank Holidays and others I could mention. Or so I thought…

I get to the bar , & make my way past the light, yet (somewhat) stylistically diverse crowd. A few are dressed up in the spirit of the holiday, including a pretty committed and convincing Duffman . Almost made me wish I cared about the Simpsons or that it was 10 years ago and my friends who once cared still do. I take a seat at the bar, order my drink & take out my notebook to try and get caught up with some notes from another show. The crowd thickens a bit, turns a bit odder than I imagined it might be for this show – a bit more Columbia gear & North Face, which while ubiquitous in Portland, somehow shows of this sort usually seem absent of this type. No judgment, of course; just saying we put out (*snicker*) with our appearance what we’d like to be a part of. Love you mad bastards huddled out by the campfire or ascending some grand trail, but my druthers & me would rather be in a bar with a band or in a tea nook with a book or acting haughty drinking specialty coffee. The sound of a car’s wheels down a slick and empty street at night hold far more appeal for me than wearing polar fleece & getting my boots muddy (*snicker*…I know, I don’t know why that sounds, um, dirty; it just DOES, ok?)

Anyhow, I wasn’t really paying close attention because I had a fair amount to catch up on from previous shows I had only made shambling notes of. I was surprised when I actually did get caught up, but then I took note of the time; it’s 10:00. The first band was supposed to go on at 9 & with 3 on the bill on a school night, they tend to stay pretty true to that.

I asked about for what was going on (does my grammar clue you that I’ve been spending too much time with the Brit Kids ?); it turns out that Memories thought they were the headliner, too, but still had showed up too late for even the headlining set’s soundcheck & they didn’t bring any gear, because apparently they thought they were going to use the openers? Twerps, being from Australia, only had plans to use other bands’ equipment & Dignan Porch were thinking the same, being from South London and having Kickstartered the tour or some such thing (ok, “WeFund”, whatever that is) in order to get here.

Kind words were not spoken about the local act, but everyone I spoke to felt bad for the touring bands. Twerps were already gone, so I went over to Dignan Porch, chatted w/ the lads & lasses for a bit & picked up some vinyl without any guilt, because even though I hadn’t heard them before, I’d be recouping my door (I don’t like to milk comps to these tiny shows, even when I am as broke as I currently am; hard enough to be in a band as it is, innit?).

I was pleasantly surprised to find out later that Dignan Porch have A LOT of that great jangly indie pop sound that I’m looking for, with a bit of a rural medieval feel to a few songs, as if Robin Hood and Maid Marian might be singing these songs to each other in some forested glen in Sherwood. I was quite taken with them very quickly. However, for the first time in a long time, an Aussie band I took a chance on, disappointed a tad when I pulled them up on the ol’ compy at home. Actually, I found them really, really enjoyable listening to them again with fresh ears, but it wasn’t one of those “true love at first chord” kind of things that bands like The Lucksmiths and Veronica Falls seem to pull off so effortlessly. (OMG was I *destroyed* after first hearing that Veronica Falls Found Love In A Graveyard track! Completely & totally head-over-heels smitten & enraptured) Long story short, my disappointment was more about my wildly and irrationally high expectations and not due to any musical failing on their part. If you show up at the dance expecting to fall in love, count on going home alone without a song in your heart and without being struck by the thunderbolt .

The mostly-written Part 2 is coming soon, wherein there’s further discussion of the awesomeness of both Dignan Porch and Twerps, an attempt to salvage the remains of the eve at the Ash Street to see Pierced Arrows, which inspire some Dead Moon reminiscences & then crowd observations cause a meandering examination of some of the shared ancestry of punk & indiepop, some significant places where these roads diverge & some thoughts about the ways the punk community has often failed to give anything beyond lip-service to the concerns of race, class, gender and the adverse effects of hetero-normativity & the resulting effect of this on the scene.  Whoo-hoo!  Anyhow, till now & then, some more show reviews.  If I can pull it out before the coffeehouse closes, might be minutes away from a review of last night’s How To Dress Well, Beacons, & Hustle & Drone show last night at the Doug.