January 28, 2015
>> Lefse Records has unveiled a real blinder from Vancouver three-piece Weed in the form of "Thousand Pounds," the first single taken from the band's forthcoming sophomore set Running Back. "Thousand Pounds" bursts open with a two-chord curtain composed of distorted guitar and white-out cymbal crashes, which enshrouds a relatively serene, slap-backed vocal from fronter Will Anderson that ultimately leads the song to an uneasy, clanging denouement. The flipside, a tune called "Turret," is a "super old b-side" taken from the band's first-ever studio session. For context, Weed issued its debut long-player Deserve in September 2013 on Couple Skate, and also has an EP and another single under its collective belt. Lefse will release "Thousand Pounds" b/w "Turret" as a vinyl 7" and digital download Feb. 24, and pre-orders are being taken right here. Running Back is a 10-song set slated for release April 7, with a limited run of vinyl being pressed to bright pink media. These LPs will come packaged with a lyric sheet and large newsprint poster, and -- magically -- they, too, are also available for pre-order. Stream "Thousand Pounds" via the Soundcloud embed below. Weed embark on a brief West Coast tour Feb. 5 -- its first since 2013 -- and all the dates are listed at the act's Bandcamp right here.
>> The original inspiration for Clicky Clicky's sorta neglected Regolith songwriting challenge feature, Samira Winter, is back at it, hammering away at a song-a-week project that is producing terrific results. Ms. Winter's latest entry, the eleventh in the present series, is the hazy dream-pop gem "She Said No." The tune is a collaboration with a producer/engineer named Scott Barber, and its power is in its simplicity: while it is of average length, the entire thing feels like one long, affecting chorus. The actual chorus is a knockout, pairing a rich, descending guitar melody with Winter's arresting voice -- backed, presumably, by Mr. Barber's -- insistently repeating "all because she said no." Ms. Winter recently soft-announced the sophomore set from her full-band project Winter -- the first recorded with her more recent left-coast lineup -- which will be called Supreme Blue Dream. The set will be issued by LA's Lolipop Records, according to this article in LA Weekly, but there is no official word yet on formats or a release date (although our recollection is Lolipop favors cassette releases). We've heard the record and expect fans will be very pleased to hear what is coming. The band Winter has been gigging very regularly since relocating to California about a year ago; it is on a hot bill next week supporting Dead Meadow at the Continental Room in Fullerton. We previously wrote about Samira Winter's first song-a-day thing right here in September 2013, and have a written a bunch of other stuff, like this piece about Winter's "Alligator" single here, and we premiered the video for "Bedroom Philosophies" right here. Considering how strikingly strong the material from the current songwriting challenge is, we would be very surprised if some of it didn't end up on a forthcoming Winter record, especially as -- although we don't want to give too much away -- certain tunes from her first songwriting challenge will appear on Supreme Blue Dream. All of that, of course, remains to be seen. But we highly recommend "She Said No," which you can stream and download via the embed below, to your attention.
>> From the same fertile scene that brought the indie rock world What Moon Things comes the fresh new indie punk duo Diet Cig. Fronter Alex Luciano and drummer Noah Bowman ably conjure the sort of scruffy charm that made Tiger Trap records so listenable, oh, a 100 years ago. Which, if you don't know from Tiger Trap, means strong pop fundamentals, substantial vim and appealing rough edges, with occasional inbursts of classic girl group reverie ("Scene Sick"). It's a sound that places Diet Cig in the good company of contemporary acts like Swearin' and Radiator Hospital. Diet Cig are debuting with an almost absurdly strong five-song EP called Over Easy, which will be released by Father/Daughter on cassette and as a digital download Feb. 24. The short set is already drawing raves, and it is easy to hear why: we've listened to the thing on repeat for hours at a time and Over Easy has yet to feel stale. Stream the scathing rocker "Harvard," with its defiant chorus "fuck your Ivy League sweater," and the aforementioned, concise and more introspective (but similarly fuck-filled, radio programmers be warned) ballad "Scene Sick" via the embeds below. Pre-order Over Easy from Father/Daughter right here, it's the right thing to do and the tasty way to do it.
January 23, 2015
>> Few bands have enticed this reviewer in his hometown of Portland, Oregon as much as emergent, dreamy rock act Sister Palace. Comiing along in the wake of its mid-2014, sold out The Purple Tape EP is the act’s towering first full-length, Count Yr Blessings. The set will be self-released Feb. 1, at the conclusion of a West Coast tour that kicked off Friday night in San Francisco. The new set has taken much of the scene by surprise, as few local acts have as ably harnessed the sounds of well-aged '90s indie touchstones and channeled that inspiration into something as pristine and powerful as Count Yr Blessings’ lead single "Corporeality." The tune opens with a simple, picked refrain and the lead singer's straightforward, soft vocals. And then there's that thing -- you’ll hear it: a mighty, powerful wordless chorus that not only calls to mind the finer aspects of those Steve Albini-recorded Breeders records, but also packs a melody so honest and serene that listeners will be able to do nothing but listen and nod along in abject pleasure. Maybe it's the great harmony that haunts the passage, or maybe it's the clear, open production capturing Mac Pogue’s drumming, but there’s a timelessness to the tune that suggests great things for this young band’s future. Add to that a creeping harmonic bridge that recalls guitar-band greats like Helium, Come, and the aforementioned Breeders, and you have a recipe for success that also adds something special and original to the Northwestern DIY rock scene. We would be remiss if we did not report that the balance of Count Yr Blessings is equally strong, and that we expect listeners will be hitting repeat on the mesmerizing ballad "Sister Vincent" as well as the understatedly brilliant "Fuck The Nation," which brings back the effective, simple vocal harmonies of "Corporeality." Oh, there's also a surprise '90s alt.rock cover tagged to the end of the set, which is nicely done, and puts a twee spin on something you've heard a million times before. But we don't wanna say too much. Pre-order Count Yr Blessings right here, or grab one from Sister Palace at one of the stops on its present tour -- we’ve listed the remaining dates below along with the album embed, which we highly recommend to your attention. -- Edward Charlton
01/24 -- Santa Cruz, CA -- SubRosa w/ Burnt Palms
01/25 -- Santa Barbara, CA -- Funzone w/ Spring, Waxer
01/28 -- Los Angeles, CA -- Redwoods w/ Badlands
01/29 -- San Luis Obispo, CA -- TBA
01/30 -- Oakland, CA -- TBA w/ Watercolor Paintings
01/31 -- Cottage Grove, OR -- Axe & Fiddle
02/01 -- Portland, OR -- The Know w/ Lubec
>> It's no surprise, Merge Records having a winner on its hands, as that is sort of their "thing" (have you seen its spring release schedule?). But we feel like the forthcoming sophomore LP from Aussie indie pop act Twerps is getting a bit lost in the shuffle, and, well, it shouldn't, as it has all the makings of a classic album (and the band is already influencing a new wave of English outfits, to boot). The Melbourne-based foursome's new set is titled Range Anxiety; it was preceded by a self-titled debut in 2011 and the Merge-issued 2014 EP Underlay. Range Anxiety is replete with inexhaustible melodies, jangly guitars and a beguiling blend of pep and melancholy that recalls the finest work of notable antipodean acts such as The Go-Betweens. Indeed, Range Anxiety nearly comes across as a hits collection, its track listing is so strong. The uptempo strummer "Simple Feelings" recasts The Feelies' mellow and resigned "Only Life" as a jittery pop gem, while the preview track "I Don't Mind" plays it cool from within a quiet cloud of, uh, something? Is that feedback? Backwards masked ride cymbal? Whatever it is, it's nifty, and plays well against the chorus's clean jangle and the tremeloed leads in the verse. Deep album cut "Cheap Education" goes back to the Feelies well again for its firmly cycled three-chord verse, but thrums with a caffeinated intensity that points relentlessly forward. Merge will release Range Anxiety Tuesday, and you can purchase it right here. Stream the aforementioned "I Don't Mind" and the entirely charming weirdo "Shoulders" (which reminds us of a more hi-fi take on the Glo-worm sound) via the Soundcloud embeds below.
January 20, 2015
If anything, Mr. Finucane’s syrupy, meandering enunciations present a worthy foil to the uneasy tension established by the trio’s deft, imaginative playing. Swings' songs routinely fall in and out of rhythm, an approach that on the surface comports with the mopey preoccupation ascribed to like-minded bands. However, over multiple listens, the haphazard cadences prove well-calculated, perhaps cribbed from jazz or influenced by the late DJ Rashad. And so Swings' ability to sound equal parts improbably loose and delightfully concise emerges as a key element of the band's aesthetic.
Detergent Hymns commences with "Pale Trinity," a composition cast from slow, plodding guitar lines that establish a narcotic pacem albeit one spangled by jazz-y drum fills that materialize seemingly at random. Musically, the vibe suggests a maniacal reimagining of the palpable haze sonic forebears Galaxie 500 conjured with its LP On Fire. It's also a thoughtful extension of the tone set by last year's "Champagne" single. It's worth noting here that Swings was once an entirely different, and -- as the group would likely admit -- more pedestrian project oeprating under the moniker Anchor 3. With that context, Detergent Hymns represents a complete rebirth. The transition certainly bodes well for the young group, considering the boundless possibilities seemingly afforded by the fresh direction.
The graceful, pulsating "Heavy Manner," as well as the record's closing statement "Calling It," were pushed as preview tracks, but the highlight of Detergent Hymns may well be "Phlegm." The tune's uninviting title does little to detract from its winsome, rise-and-fall, dynamic appeal. That said, it's difficult to single out specific tracks, as the entire record is strong, and works well as a cohesive piece. Swings wrapped a short strand of live dates Saturday in Harrisonburg, VA, and -- as noted on its social media platforms -- the trio already has another record in the proverbial bag and ready for mixing. We feel comfortable opining that if the planned successor set maintains the beguiling personality of Detergent Hymns, we foresee yet more success for Swings. Detergent Hymns is out now on cassette via Quiet Year Records in an apparent limited edition of 65 pieces, and we're given to understand that few remain in stock; try and grab one here. Or, grab a digital copy direct from the band right here. -- Dillon Riley
Swings: Bandcamp | Facebook
January 17, 2015
>> Austin-based shoegaze heroes Ringo Deathstarr yesterday unveiled "Big Bopper," the cracking first new song from a planned third full-length. The tune, as older fans may know, takes its name from the tragic Texas proto-rocker Jiles Perry Richardson, Jr., whose nickname was The Big Bopper. Mr. Richardson perished in the same plane crash that took the life of legends Ritchie Valens and Buddy Holly, all of which was memorialized by that loathesome Don McLean song, you know the one. But enough of the history lesson. Ringo Deathstarr's "Big Bopper" is an MBV-indebted mind-scrambler that blasts distorted guitars through a rich reverb and over a danceable beat, to which fronter Elliot Frazier applies a cyclical chant that may or may not have to do with losing a bet and boarding a doomed aircraft. The song was posted to the Soundcloud of the Deathstarr's Japanese label, Tokyo-based Vinyl Junkie Recordings, which suggests to us that the new record will certainly be released in Japan, and perhaps released to that market first, as was the case with Ringo Deathstarr's last EP, God's Dream. Based on this Facebook post from fewer than three weeks ago, we're guessing the bulk of the new record has yet to be recorded, and of course there is as yet no album title or release information. But it makes us feel good knowing that there is new Deathstarr in the offing for 2015. God's Dream was released in March 2014, and we reviewed it right here. Stream "Big Bopper" via the Soundcloud embed below.
>> London indie pop foursome Seeds Of Doubt Monday will issue a terrifically titled new EP, its third, Audible Human Repellent. The short stack, despite the moniker, is actually quite listenable, and contains four songs that were apparently recorded in a single day in November. The undeniable highlight of the short set is the peppy tune "Shelf Life," whose agile, Feelies-styled jangle supports light lead guitar work that punctuates a pretty, ascending melody in the chorus. Here fronter Chris Hopkins pleads, memorably, "help me help myself, because I don't want to end up on the shelf." Lead track "Know Your Limits" proffers a more subdued attack punctuated by a somewhat adenoidal vocal, but the song really leaves the ground around the midpoint when nimble lead guitar guides the song through a tense bridge and into a ripping guitar solo. The band earlier this week loosed to the wilds of the Internet this concise, cat-filled video for the slack yet agitated second track, "Others Pay," whose chorus repeatedly warns "others pay for our leisure." We last spoke with Seeds Of Doubt here in May, around the time of the release of its DCP EP. Audible Human Repellent is being issued by London imprint Life Dunk International on limited-run cassette or digital download (both of which purportedly come with a b-side alternately described as a "special luxury surprise" and "magnificently decadent;" the mind reels at the possibilities). Stream the collection via the Bandcamp embed below, and click through to purchase now, ahead of the release Monday.
>> Formerly Boston-based rock trio Boom Said Thunder, which now reps the 718, at long last figuratively returns Monday with a strongly vibing new digital single that boasts the threesome's best -- and longest -- songs to date, "Summer Twin" b/w "Carnivore". The latter track clocks in at more than six minutes, during which the act conjures a cloud of fuzz from persistently applied crash cymbal (or a ride bashed like a crash) and distorted bass, establishing a dark firmament into which fronter Abby Bickel casts an ominous, reverbed incantation. Taken all together, the number suggests the mystical atmospherics of early Jane's Addiction. "Summer Twin" touts a brighter melody and a more fluid groove utilizing the act's characteristic recipe of bass, drums and voice. While John Magnifico's bass burbles and pulses, Ms. Bickel's vocal -- which here echoes somewhat the strong alto of Sinead O'Connor -- remains calm and centered well into the fourth minute, which adds to the song's mesmerizing affect. Although the vibe steadily intensifies and Bickel's voice ultimately soars, its most poignant and dramatic moment is the repetition of the simple, chilling lyric "I grow old, you stay the same." The brace of tunes was recorded in Brooklyn this fall during sessions underwritten by a popular footwear brand, and later mastered by local good guy Richard Marr, who also recently mastered Pile's forthcoming You're Better Than This. Boom Said Thunder play a relatively rare local date Friday at Great Scott, on a bill that also features Velah and Burial Sound. We expect hearing these new tunes performed live will really be something special. Clicky Clicky last wrote about the trio here in March 2013, around the time of the release of its debut LP Exist. Stream and download "Summer Twin" and "Carnivore" via the embed below.
January 14, 2015
>> Oh, hey, we're back. We missed you, too. How's your mom? Are you working the same place? Your hair got long...
>> Happy new year, and happy new Pile. Stereofork got the nod yesterday for an exclusive on the Boston grunge titans' terrific new track "#2 Hit Single" -- taken from the forthcoming set You're Better Than This (let's just let that title hang there meaningfully for a second... maybe a second more...) -- and in doing so perpetuated the irritating trend of large music publications being more about firsties than journalism. Had Pantsgum bothered to do 10 minutes of research (we get it, music writing is hard, guys), it could have told you that the reason the preview tune is called "#2 Hit Single" is because the title "Number One Hit Single" was already used. Indeed, that tune appeared on Pile's wonderful 2010 LP Magic Isn't Real; you can hear it right here or at the embed below. "#2 Hit Single" -- also embedded below -- echoes the slashing rhythm of the earlier tune's opening guitar riff, but inverts the melodic elements as it introduces a call-and-response between fronter Rick Maguire's vocal and the annihilating instrumentation of the verse. The aggressive jam abruptly ends after 145 seconds, and then is gone into the proverbial night like a deranged mugger. Pile's new record You're Better Than This will be issued March 3 as part of a Exploding In Sound's exceptionally strong first quarter release schedule, which also includes bugcore heroes Krill's powerful A Distant Fist Unclenching. Pile's newest was recorded in Omaha and features electrifying and hyper-roomy production that recalls the biting sound of early Jon Spencer Blues Explosion records, and we think Clicky Clicky readers are going to find a lot to like on it, particularly the wild, rootsier sound of tunes like "Fuck The Police" and the ambitious, awe-inspiring closer "Appendicitis." Pre-order You're Better Than This on vinyl, CD or cassette via Pile's Bandcamp wigwam right here.
>> December seems like a bad time to promote an album. Not only is there an endless round of "Best of 2014" lists and year-end nostalgia, but nearly everyone is on vacation and not listening to some great new indie rock. In jeopardy of being lost in the late-year shuffle were certain late-season singles from Brooklyn four-piece guitar poppers Leapling, whose album Vacant Page is seeing a February 10th vinyl co-release via Inflated Records and the mighty, aforementioned Exploding In Sound. Big news, right? The second single "Silent Stone," released around the holidays, is a stone-cold killer cut of spacey, free-jazz guitar rock. "What have I been told? / Leave me in the cold" sings guitarist Dan Arnes in a soft, plain-spoken, everyman voice that brings to mind Death Cab For Cutie, albeit sans the excessive verbiage. That confused sense of resolution wraps itself around the song, guiding what are at first surfy guitar lines that mutate into bum-note guitar solos and pick scrapes that dance around tight, trained hi-hat work. Best of all is a breakdown at the two-minute mark, where the bassist has a chance to shine with oblong chops. The lead guitar channels Wilco's avant string mangling circa A Ghost Is Born, while the complex, steady chords ground the exposition. Perhaps best of all, Leapling is a hard band to define, and that’s what makes them special. Consider the act a crucial addition to EIS' stable. The first 150 copies of the vinyl edition of Vacant Page come on colored splatter vinyl, so don't sleep on this promising album. Pre-order the set from Inflated Records right here. -- Edward Charlton
>> Man, how this writer digs indie rock ambition. Take, for instance, the recent inbox find of France's Odessey & Oracle, a baroque-pop unit whose namesake is The Zombies' 1968 masterwork (the misspelled "odyssey" is also an homage, to the poor grammar of The Zombies' original album art artist). The French outfit's latest album Odessey & Oracle and the Casiotone Orchestra is a lofty, lo-fi love letter to the over achieving '60s pop scene, one that (thankfully) pays tribute without the wholesale recycling of old sounds. Out on vinyl and CD via Carton Records, the album is a technicolor trip that highlights the arrangement genius of those original bands while guiding the sound somewhere new. "I'll be floating far into dreams" they sing on opener "2016," which shapes ukulele strums into a progressive dream-pop track. While the cheesy-sounding synths may startle at first, they ultimately add to a pleasant home-grown vibe -- inadvertently recalling the playful, Casiotone genius of The Unicorns in the process. Album cut "Esprit Du Ciel" applies the band's native tongue to lush male vocal harmonies, while "Alphabet" and "Fixing The World" tone things down via gentle female that defuse the more complex and classical analog synth work of tracks including "Invention #7." Wide-eyed, accomplished, orchestrated and in love with an era that deserves the attention, Odessey & Oracle and the Casiotone Orchestra is not only a fun addition to the baroque-pop canon, but a great reminder of what made that scene so special. Order the album right here. -- Edward Charlton
December 30, 2014
[PHOTO: Quinn Banford] This was the first year I can remember in which the sheer volume of incredible music actually overwhelmed me. This is not a complaint, mind you, 'cause you know, there are things far worse than falling behind on the hype cycle merry-go-round. But it certainly made reassessing the highs a more trying process. In all honesty, 100 tracks might not be enough to fully detail how deep this year's roster of shit-hot tracks was, but the 10 below perhaps shine brightest.
Note that a concerted effort was made in compiling my list to exclude tracks that will be represented among my top albums, barring one (slight) exception. This limitation was imposed with an aim to both challenge myself and expose (or re-expose) you, dear reader, to as wide a universe of music as possible. I'd like also to highlight four tracks that just missed the cut and that warrant mention. Those are, in no particular order, Whirr's towering nü-gaze specimen "Ease," Kal Marks' queasy, existential stomper "It Was A Very Hard Year," Soft Fangs' buzzing lo-fi stunner "You're The Best," and Playlounge's powerful emo-gaze anthem "Zero." Thanks again to Jay and Eddie for making my writing look so good by association, and to all of you for reading. Here's to next year's list being even harder to concoct than this one.
1. Ovlov -- "The Great Crocodile" -- Little Big League/Ovlov Split EP [buy]
In our review of this split, we mused about this track potentially becoming Ovlov's defining statement. It's now safe to say it's the year's defining statement as well. A ridiculous 6-minute scorcher, "Crocodile" often feels like an HD scan of one's favorite Dinosaur Jr. tune circa You're Living All Over Me, but fronter Steve Hartlett’s high-register yearnings are crystal clear and as a result perhaps even more emotionally potent than Mr. Mascis' mumble. Plus, the bass is turned up far louder than J would ever allow.
"...it's in your way to walk around beneath your sound."
2. Beach Slang – "Get Lost" -- Why Would You Ever Want Anything So Broken? EP [buy]
In our most humble opinion, no band dealt in wide-eyed nostalgia better than Philly's Beach Slang in 2014, and "Get Lost" is perhaps their high watermark thus far [arguably -- Ed.]. Retelling stories of nights spent at basement shows with a figurative voice heavy on descriptors but light on specifics, the song does an unbelievably good job of replicating that time in an indie kid's life where every chord change feels crucial. It's a situation certain of the CC staff still lives out on a weekly basis.
"...who called the cops?"
3. Charly Bliss – "Urge To Purge" – Soft Serve EP [buy]
We've had our ears tuned into NYC power-pop concern Charly Bliss for a bit now; we're like two degrees separated, in a sense. And we reckon it won't be long before everyone is tuned in, 'cause they have all the proverbial goods. The three-song sampler the act issued this year was a winning combo of sweetly-sung melodies and crunch-y, exacting guitars. It's precisely the kind of a thing that demands repeated listens, especially this second tune, which features some nifty boy-girl harmonies and a killer fuzz-bassline that bounces around like a Super Ball.
"...I cannot help you/I never wanted to..."
4. Krill – "Unbounded Nameless Future" – Steve Hear Pile in Malden and Bursts Into Tears EP [buy]
Jay’s albums list poured plenty of praise on Krill's interpretation and usage of academia within their churning, post-punk attack, so let's instead unpack the sonics that made Steve Hears [review] such a vital release. Namely, the completely bonkers drum work the now-departed and Brunched Luke Pyenson unleashed at the tail end of this, the EP's penultimate track. Beginning around 3:30 Pysenson delivers easily the most stunning drum fill of the calendar year, a backwards roll across the kit that kicks the song's pained final chorus in the ass, hard. The new dude they got is pretty damn good, too, incidentally.
"...I only got two months in..."
5. Ava Luna – “Sears Roebuck M&Ms” – Electric Balloon [buy]
Speaking of Jay's list, he also ripped/riffed on the misnomer that is art-funk, which I'm inclined to agree with. Either way, Ava Luna's Electric Balloon [review] was an absolute stunner of a record, capable of interpolating seemingly divergent styles of music with ease and grace. The thing could also rock out, as evidenced by "Sears Roebuck M&Ms," a track that rests some utterly bat-shit stream of consciousness lyricism on a restless, body-heaving groove that refuses to quit. The tune is a live staple that we were lucky enough to take in more than once this year, including a particularly memorable iteration in a house in JP some months back.
"...Everybody says we’re talking about the new sweet thing WOOOO."
6. Chumped – “Hot 97 Summer Jam” – Teenage Retirement [buy]
We were a little late to the party vis a vis this Brooklyn quartet, having missed out on some previous EPs. But buzz towards the end of the year surrounding the release of Teenage Retirement piqued our interest, and it was "Hot 97 Summer Jam" that solidified Chumped's need-to-know status. A perfect approximation of everything great and fun about pop-punk, and done right, the song presents two-and-a-half minutes of unmitigated fuzz-rock hooks. The longing, hummed-out backed vocals on that chorus get lodged in your skull almost immediately.
"...I would wait for you all summer."
7. Cayetana – “Hot Dad Calendar” – Nervous Like Me [buy]
This year saw a number of insanely satisfying debut records, but perhaps none were more satisfying than Cayetana's. The Philly trio do the punky pop thing damn good, regularly packing hook after tuneful hook into three-minute bursts of charm. "Hot Dad Calendar" rocks hard, with its relatively clean guitar strums and hi-hat skitter setting the backdrop for what is ostensibly a self-actualizing anthem.
"...Kid you'll be ok/you’ll get better with age..."
8. IAN – "I Don’t Care" – IAN EP [buy]
Formerly local trio IAN’s self-titled EP was easily our favorite release of the year from local party-starters BUFU Records. A full-band interpretation of the lo-fi downers Berklee kid Jillian Medford started putting out late last year, the EP takes those folky asides and jolts them forward with abandon. Ms. Medford's jangly tone and idiosyncratic vocal squeaks steal the show, especially on "I Don't Care," the EP's centerpiece.
9. Dæphne – "Driving Down A Country Highway Blasting Weezer" – Family Vacation demo [buy]
Dæphne are somewhat of an unknown quantity even around Boston thus far. As far as we know, few of the reputable local publications picked up on the short, mystical Family Vacation demo the act issued earlier in the year, perhaps due to the fact that its physical release was handled by Texas-based Funeral Sounds. No matter, the demo, and the tune "Driving Down A Country Highway Blasting Weezer" in particular, is an excellent slice of lo-fi dream-pop. That it delivers the kind of math-y and sharp dynamic twists and turns characteristic of contemporary emo only sweetens the deal.
10. Coaches – "amisarewaswere" – digital single [buy]
The imminent sound of something very important, this is. Recently minted Boston shoegaze collective Coaches had a relatively quiet 2014, only loosing to the indiesphere a two-sided digital single, with one of said sides being an instrumental. However, "amisarewaswere" is a gargantuan tune, one capable of establishing a formidable reputation. Boston lost two of its great noisy compatriots this year in Soccer Mom and Young Adults, but Coaches appear poised to step into those large, empty sets of 'gazey shoes.
"...Massachusetts summer nights..."
December 24, 2014
It can feel anti-climactic, writing the intro blurb to the year-end list. The choices are made, the listening, the re-listening, the consideration all put to bed. But here's the thing: just listen again and the records spring to life -- and particularly these records: their greatness is re-greatened, just add water, and volume, the more the better. We revealed our top songs of the year here last week, and that list certainly was a strong indicator of what you'll find below. Namely: the best of the best, our favorite 10 records of 2014. Every year with a new Johnny Foreigner release is a great year, our position on that has been clear for the better part of the last decade. But there were plenty of things that were revelatory when we first heard them this year. We expected the Lubec record to be great, but did anyone expect it to overachieve so much? Certain street-level Ava Luna or Perfect Pussy fans might have expected those records to rule as hard as they did, but we were blown away. Ditto for Cookies, Literature and the mighty, mighty shoegaze concern She Sir, whose LP Go Guitars probably logged the most spins on our turntable this year of any new release. So below we break it all down (and maybe you already heard us talk it out with KoomDogg during one of the last three episodes of the Completely Conspicuous podcast). Our default position on indie rock and electronic music and the various permutations of same that we champion is decidedly optimistic. 2014 only strengthened that belief, and so we are totally stoked for 2015, which already looks like it will be brilliant based on the early notices of forthcoming LPs from Pile, Krill, Speedy Ortiz and Colleen (and maybe even The Replacements), as well as possible reissues from Lilys. Bet you can't eat just one. We humbly thank you for reading the blog in 2014.
1. Johnny Foreigner -- You Can Do Better -- Alcopop!/Lame-O
The Birmingham, England-based noise pop titans are not only amazingly prolific, but also remarkably consistent. Pessimists can sit around prognosticating a slump, but Johnny Foreigner gives no indication of obliging, even in the wake of releasing a sprawling masterwork, its third LP Johnny Foreigner vs. Everything. As we summed up here in March, the successor album "You Can Do Better is a powerful, diabolically catchy set, a compact firecracker of a record that ably and convincingly delivers the band's intelligent brand of bash and pop. The music is as dramatic and as emotionally vital as ever. The Brummies have stared down the challenge of its own album title." The lean and mean record touts potent ballads and brawlers and somehow, remarkably, was as strong as any prior release from the act. Johnny Foreigner will mark its official 10th anniversary next year, and we know fronter Alexei Berrow has already set to work on new songs for the next LP, and we couldn't be more stoked about what comes next whenever it gets here. Stream the set via the embed below, and buy it from Lame-O right here.
2. Lubec -- The Thrall -- Like Young
Oh how we waited and waited, but when Lubec's proper-ish full-length debut The Thrall finally arrived, it surpassed every expectation. The Portland dreampop unit's debut is like an ideal mate, both really smart and super pretty/handsome, and while the set didn't necessarily breach the overground, the magnificent guitar pop speaks for itself. As we said here in our review in September, "The Thrall is, simply put, a revelation, a fully realized and kaleidoscopic guitar-pop masterpiece that presents the band's striking songcraft and bright optimism within a shifting aural landscape that brilliantly balances clean, jagged leads, crystalline reverbs and thunderous percussion and fuzz." The band has already been writing new material and has studio time booked early next year, so there is more where that came from. Still, one could understand if Lubec rested on its laurels just a bit more, given the remarkable accomplishment this LP represents. Stream the set via the embed below, and buy it on cassette from Like Young right here.
3. Cookies -- Music For Touching -- Self-Released
Cookies' terrific full-length debut was preceded by a series of four 10" EPs packed with immaculate pop tracks, but even so Music For Touching was surprisingly excellent. The set synthesizes fronter Ben Sterling's affinity for contemporary pop and yen for engaging experimentalism, and the album's tracks hit the mark across the board, from the boundless groove of "Go Back" to the electrified euphoria of "1,000 Breakfasts With You." While the icy cool in meditative closer "The Dream" echoes certain tunes from Mr. Sterling's increasingly remote former life as part of the dynamite act Mobius Band, the path forward for Mr. Sterling's present project feels extremely ripe for exploration. Hopefully a new record isn't as long in coming as this one was; we reviewed Music For Touching here. Stream it via the embed below, and buy the set from the band right here.
4. Krill -- Steve Hears Pile In Malden And Bursts Into Tears -- Exploding In Sound
The smartest, most intellectually challenging act in contemporary indie rock this year scored big with an EP highlighted by a song in which the fronter imagines he is a literal piece of shit. Indeed, the tension between Krill's academic, "high art" idea/ls and visceral everyman narratives is perhaps the act's most potent calling card, but the band's very relatable humor and inclination toward rock songs that rock make Krill's work connect no matter the level at which the listener (or reviewer) chooses to engage. Steve Hears Pile In Malden And Bursts Into Tears was a triumph, and we are expecting big things from the band's next LP, A Distant Fist Unclenching, as well. The forthcoming collection is slated for release in February; buy Steve from Exploding In Sound right here.
5. Perfect Pussy -- Say Yes To Love -- Captured Tracks
The meteoric rise of Perfect Pussy in 2014 created a platform for the band's fiery, progressive politics, and set the stage for a planned 2015 solo set from brilliant fronter Meredith Graves. But, more importantly for us, the Syracuse noise-punk quintet's dynamite Say Yes To Love placed hardcore-influenced music center stage -- at least in the underground, which as we all know is the only 'ground that matters. The exhilarating record is arguably the best melodic hardcore collection since Fucked Up's David Comes To Life. We spent a lot of time listening to straightedge hardcore at the turn of the '90s, so Perfect Pussy's ferocious collection felt a bit like coming home, and a bit like sticking one's head out the window of a car at 60 miles per hour. The future feels bright for the act, and we're hopeful that its pronounced stances on social issues might also spur a revival of the liberal politics of two decades ago in independent rock music. Dillon Riley reviewed Say Yes To Love for Clicky Clicky right here in March. Buy the record from Captured Tracks right here.
6. She Sir -- Go Guitars -- Shelflife
Oh how we waited and waited and waited for this one, too. After all, She Sir's triumphant preceding set Who Can't Say Yes was released seven years -- an Internet lifetime -- ago. What we finally got in 2014 was the year's most lush and pristine dream-pop record. As strong as label Shelflife's roster is, and as focused as its aesthetic is, we were still overjoyed when the Portland-based enterprise announced it had signed the Austin quartet, as the pairing seemed ideal. Senior Writer Edward Charlton deemed Go Guitars, which he reviewed here in February, a "tour de force of sunny, spectral and shimmering rock" music. The Clicky Clicky Brain Trust expected it would be one of the year's best, and the Clicky Clicky Brain Trust was right. Buy Go Guitars from Shelflife right here, and stream it via the embed below.
7. Ava Luna -- Electric Balloon -- Western Vinyl
Something about the phrase "art-funk" really bothers us -- it's the built-in presumption that there isn't any art there unless you make sure to tag it on the front end (same deal with the phrase "art-pop"). Our personal hang-ups aside, the aforementioned descriptor is perfectly fitting for Ava Luna's ridiculously smart and tight LP Electric Balloon. We've seen the band live a couple times over the last couple years and their shows are mesmerizing. But the music on the LP is somehow even tighter, slightly frenetic, and rich and soulful despite a claustrophobic punk edge. We suppose it's that edge that translates more directly on the record as opposed to the stage. But, either way, it's a curious party record with a head on its shoulders. And it's one of the best records of the year. Stream Electric Balloon via the embed below, and purchase the set from Western Vinyl right here.
8. Literature -- Chorus -- Slumberland
Big, fizzing melodies and fuzzy guitars are a hallmark of the Slumberland sound, and Literature's diabolically catchy LP Chorus delivered perfectly on the Bay area label's pleasing proposition. We were surprised to learn Literature was operating out of Philadelphia, as we like to think we have a good idea of what is going on back in our former hometown. But it was a most welcome surprise, of course, and this record in particular did us a lot of good during some long and grueling stretches of work. We recall at least a couple days during which we listened to Chorus on repeat for a good five or six hours -- it's just that good, and what more could you want from a guitar-pop record? Like an ideal piece of chewing gum, the set stays fresh and flavorful for hours on end, and we look forward to hearing more from these pop savants. Buy Chorus from Slumberland right here.
9. Soccer Mom -- Soccer Mom -- 100m
Dark, beautiful and majestic, Soccer Mom's long-anticipated self-titled debut arrived and burned brightly, but the combustion was apparently too much for the act, which by the end of the summer had already announced that it was decommissioning the battle station and going into mothballs. Five-year-old Soccer Mom's record reigned in the band's overwhelming live sound, and in doing so illuminated the elegance, passion and pathos that make its songs so powerful. We highly recommend picking up the vinyl of this one, as finally hearing it on a proper turntable after listening to digital files and early mixes for about a year revealed a low-end punch we had not previously appreciated. Soccer Mom is a huge record, and sadly, is also now a monumental reminder. Will Scales and Dan Parlin recently announced they have formed a new act called Gold Muse with Young Adults' Chris Villon, Earthquake Party!'s Justin Lally and musical journeywoman Deb Warfield, and we are very excited about the possibilities there. Buy Soccer Mom -- which we premiered here in April -- from 100m Records right here.
10. Radiator Hospital -- Torch Songs -- Salinas
Sam Cook-Parrott's facility crafting catchy indie pop approaches awe-inspiring, and -- as good as Radiator Hospital's sophomore LP Torch Songs was -- there were signs that his estimable talents were seeping into more experimental territory. But his proverbial bread and butter, hook-laden power-pop anthems and poignant downer ballads, were still well-represented. The prolific songwriter's scrappy, fizzing anthems brim with emotion on this distinctly summery record. Staff Writer Dillon Riley reviewed Radiator Hospital's Torch Songs here in July. Stream the set via the embed below, and purchase it from Salinas right here.