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.
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.
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.
After the opening song, the full band take the stage and ease into “Countryside” from 2013’s “Howling at all Hours” album.
Next up is “Hit the Wall”, the most recently-released song of the set, from the October 2013 7″ of the same name on Stu Anderson’s and Jen Turrell’s excellent Emotional Response label.
This leads in to the pleasantly melancholic “Strange Memories” on 1994’s “Short Poppy Syndrome”. This song comfortably features two types of trumpets, which blend somewhat seamlessly into the music, which is no small feat for a band playing music in any kind of rock paradigm.
Their song, “America” (from the excellent and long out-of-print tape “Your Cassette Pet” — no relation to the Bow Wow Wow ep of the same name — on Stu Boyracer’s excellent 555 Recordings label) had a big sweeping build reminiscent of the vast plains of the flyover parts of the country that the song is named for.
The introduction to the next song was wonderfully self-effacing. “This next one is about playing in a band. It’s called “It’s Hopeless”. The song is from the semi ominously-titled “Trouble Seemed So Far Away” they did with Explosion Robinson in 2002. A flute and an electronic keyboard element meld together to somehow create a result that somehow sounds more Brit Pop-meets-Stereolab than New Agey; the latter being a rational fear any person should have when faced with the possibility of those instruments being used in a song together. So a song that could be a wreck winds up instead being one of the highlights of this excellent set.
They follow this up with “Population of Two” on 2000’s “Living the Dream”. This might be the most interesting Cannanes song, since it seems to cover so much ground in such little time. The song fluctuates from moody and accusatory to gently triumphant; hopeful and mournful all at the same time, without resorting to drama or exaggeration to make conflicted emotional points. It’s a mature sound, without being either boring or maudlin.
From the same album, “Fuzzy at the Tip” is what they launch into next, picking up the pace a bit. This song also brings the flute back for a brief-but-welcome appearance.
Next up was “You Name It” from that “Trouble Seemed So Far Away” with Explosion Robinson album. This track kicks off with an almost hip-hop beat that is joined by a brooding synth line. It’s a toss up as to which Cannanes song is is my favorite: this one or the one that followed: the set closer “Melting Moments” from “Howling At All Hours”. This is just really good, punchy pop, with a slightly dark edge that heightens the contrast of the sweet vocals and harmonies.
Their onstage dialog is glib and fun, poking like fun at the crowd at times (i.e., pointing to one side of the room and saying, “this is the hipster side” and waving to them).
It was a great night for indiepop at Bunk Bar; an all-too-rare occurrence cherished in good company.
1: The exemplar track on the C-86 cassette that gave the genre its title, the song begins with a fluttering chord strike that feels akin to Piccasso’s Rimbaud where the sharpening on paper of the pencil in order to get the correct point for the drawing is worked into the work itself. This solitary thin and trembling chord is a fitting overture, parallel in its brevity to the fleeting nature of the song itself, thrust into the world with a tender yet urgent, slightly askew jangle, building to a crescendo of a chorus that soars so high it can not be brought back to earth by a second verse, but must expend itself in the process of coming into being — it is a mayfly, a firecracker, a Rimbaud, a Lautréamont, a Thomas Chatterton, Anne Sexton, Plath; a fragile and short-lived articulation in a genre united in its dedication to celebrating the ephemeral, (as evinced by Sarah Records’ “A Day For Destroying Things” advert) and emblematic of the genre, it is a song that is essentially its own reference point, even if the constituent parts all have a historical antecedent.