April 27, 2013

Today's Hotness: Tullycraft, Fridge Poetry, Mutes

Tullycraft 2013m(detail)

>> The fact that we haven't bought a Tullycraft record since the release of 1999's singles compilation (fittingly titled The Singles) is more a sign of poor decision making than of a lack of enthusiasm for the delightful indie pop institution. We can still remember the excitement in college back in the dark ages when those first singles were arriving at the radio station, a time when people still somewhat suspiciously referred to Seattle-based Tullycraft as the "new thing from the Crayon guy." Fronted by Sean Tollefson, whose naive, adenoidal vocals were the template for a surprisingly widespread strain of twee pop in the mid-'90s, Tullycraft and its upbeat indie pop would seem to have influenced countless acts that came in its wake, from Belle & Sebastian to Weezer. Tullycraft is now, somewhat startlingly, in its eighteenth year of existence. The band's latest collection, its sixth, is titled Lost In Light Rotation, and it is filled chock-a-block with sweet, concise and pure pop gems. From the fizzing opener "Agincourt" with its addictive bomp and self-effacing pre-chorus ("...I used to be clever but it didn't last...") about staying up late and buying records, to the moderately paced album highlight "Westchester Turnabouts" with its more subdued vocal and pretty harmonies, Lost In Light Rotation is proof positive that Tollefson and company are turning out the strongest material of its career. Which makes it all seem oddly anachronistic in a way: in the world of Tullycraft, it is constantly 1995, love is perpetually innocent, cardigans and thick nerd specs de riguer. The fact Tullycraft is able to do this almost 20 years into its career is a testament to the timeless appeal of undeniable pop hooks, which the quintet conjures with embarrassing ease (or borrows, as is the case of "From Wichita With Love," which appropriates Bobby Freeman's oft-covered 1958 pop classic "Do You Want To Dance?"). Magic Marker released Lost In Light Rotation on blue vinyl April 23; a CD version was issued by Fortuna Pop and a cassette is available via Fika. In addition, Fortuna released the title track "Lost In Light Rotation" as a single (with a cover of Yaz's amazing "Bad Connection" as the flip), and the entire record is embedded for streaming below. No matter what format you prefer, your spring will not be complete without hearing Lost In Light Rotation, so buy it here, here or here.

>> Well it's been eight months in the offing, but Fridge Poetry -- the bedroom pop project of Johnny Foreigner drummer Junior Laidley -- has finally delivered on its long-promised EP Soweto Slo Mo, which will be available via Bandcamp Monday. As we wrote here last August, the project's name is apt, as Mr. Laidley -- in the spirit of Dntel and The 6ths -- produces the music and then invites vocalists in to complete the tracks. Earlier this week Fridge Poetry unveiled a second tune from the four-song EP, titled "I'll See." The song features crushingly sad vocals from Evan Bernard of Philadelphia-based indie acts Dangerous Ponies, The Weaks and seemingly a thousand others. Mr. Bernard's high and lonesome vocal blooms over top of a poignant piano ballad augmented with electronic beats and is digitally delayed and smeared, resulting in a powerful downer that falls somewhere between The Postal Service's "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight" and American Football's "Never Meant." Which we think you'll agree is a very good place to be. Last August Fridge Poetry revealed its debut track "Crash Down," which is also included on Soweto Slo Mo along with two additional numbers, "The Circles" (which, like "Crash Down," features vocal contributions from longtime Johnny Foreigner associate Thomas Sherwood Nicholls) and "First Word" (which actually has four words, all written by Laidley). At the moment two of the songs from Soweto Slo Mo are streaming in full and two are merely short teasers, so make sure to click over Monday to get the entire thing. In the meantime, however, here is the terrifically affecting "I'll See" embedded below. In related news, Laidley and his bandmates in Birmingham, England-based noise pop juggernaut Johnny Foreigner embark on a European tour with loud, strummy pals Playlounge beginning June 7 in Berlin and wrapping two weeks later at a city and venue TBD (the final confirmed date is June 19 in Utrecht).

>> And yet we are not done mentioning Johnny Foreigner. It seems that the band's guitar tech, who we only know by the first name James, has a bedroom pop project of his own called Mutes. The project has just borne fruit in the form of an impressive digital EP titled, well, EP. Mutes jokingly describes itself as "proper B-Town lad-rock grit-pop lash-monster" at YouTube, one of the two places the EP is streaming, but in truth the collection spans pastoral, Flying Saucer Attack-styled shoegaze, spacey acoustic reveries and more straightforward electropop sounds. The highlight of the collection is the curiously titled "M.P.D.G.," a title that reveals little. But the song takes the tambourine-spangled free jangle of The Feelies' "When Company Companies" and tones it down, making it more mysterious and inviting at the same time, like the sound of a far-off, late-night beach party that you can't get close to no matter how long you walk toward it. "M.P.D.G." is trailed by an even quieter and more mysterious (yet mildly psychedelic) number called "Port Sunlight," with inscrutable, echoed vocals and softly bending guitar lines tugging the listener along a beautiful melody buffeted by a light drone in the background. Closer "Smother" is a more uptempo pop number that proves Mutes has more than an admirable skill for crafting quiet psych balladry; instead "Smother" builds a firmament of percolating guitar loops into a colorful cloud while a danceable beat pushes layered vocals and simple, pretty harmonies. This debut collection from Mutes is remarkable, and we hope that EP is but a small taste of what the project has in store; it's certainly one of the best surprises we've encountered yet in 2013. Stream it below.

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