Posts Tagged ‘vinyl district’

Crayon at Vinyl District

Such is not the case with the ’94 album from Bellingham, WA’s Crayon, Brick Factory given a long overdue reissue for the first time on LP this year by Happy Happy Birthday To Me. One of thousands of bands to emerge during the ‘90s indie boom, Crayon specialized in and at times nearly perfected a blend of twee pop and punk raucousness that was too powerful to ever be huge, but certainly should’ve been bigger, both then and hence.

Purchase of the vinyl adds a download of 21 stray cuts, but the meat of the matter is the original release, which hits a spot betwixt the sophisticated SpinART/Chickfactor-scene and the power boot of Kill Rock Stars.

[Link]

The Safe Distance at Vinyl District

Run by husband and wife team of Stewart Anderson and Jen Turrell, The Flagstaff, AZ-based label Emotional Response flies the flag of punkish indie pop and specializes in the tried-and-true format of the 7-inch EP, with much of the focus on the projects of the operators including Hulaboy and Boyracer. Of particular interest is “Songs” by The Safe Distance, a group featuring Anderson in tandem with Crayola of the UK band Sarandon and David Nichols of Australia’s Cannanes.

Whether it spins at 45 or 33 1/3 RPM, comes enclosed in a designed sleeve or one made of plain paper, or has a large or small hole drilled in its center, there’s nothing quite like the charge inspired by a worthwhile 7-inch. ‘twas once the dominant vessel for chart hits, countless misses and a surfeit of regional obscurities, but even after the advent of the compact disc, subscriber-based singles clubs flourished, as did a few labels specifically devoted to the short form.

The trend continues with Emotional Response, a 7-inch enterprise (though a flexi-disc does lurk in its background) co-managed by a guy who as the sole constant member of Boyracer played no small role in the ‘90s singles boom, his band releasing platters through the auspices of such esteemed imprints as Slumberland and Sarah plus his own Red Square and 555 Recordings.

While certainly connected to Anderson’s prior achievements, Emotional Response doth waft a distinct aroma, combining varying degrees of punk weightiness and humor with indie pop invention and a smart approach to the combination of physical product and technological advancement; over half the discography contains supplementary downloadable material.

Along with Turrell, Anderson’s partner in life and labeldom on bass, Boyracer’s most recent lineup flaunts the return of Sarah-period guitarist Matt Green. Thusly, Boyracer’s participation in Emotional Response’s roster isn’t a bit surprising, and for that matter, neither is the appearance of Hulaboy, Anderson’s long-running collab with Eric Stoess of Hula Hoop.

“He’s Making Violent Love to Me, Mother” is Hulaboy’s 3-song 7-inch/10-song download, its title culled from the dialogue of a film inextricably linked to the Christmas season (no, I shan’t spoil it), a gesture indicating recurring referentiality; opener “Exes and Enemies” names Facebook, “The Kid Asked” cites the records of The Jesus and Mary Chain and movies by Lars Von Trier, Michael Haneke and Mike Nichols, the raucous “Kids Under Stars” speaks of hearing Phil Ochs on the radio, and a pair of track titles allude to Mark E. Smith and Crispin Glover.

“Hey!” even opens with the titular sample-clip from said seasonal flick. Differing from this tendency however is Hulaboy’s briefest and best tune, “Napalm Heart.” “…ripping off the Postcard and Flying Nun back catalogue”: that’s a self-deprecating snippet from Emotional Response’s promo text, and while not necessarily off-target, “Napalm Heart” hits upon a catchy and sharp vibe reminiscent of a release by Stiff or maybe even Small Wonder. Altogether, ER 09 is a satisfying half hour.

ER 10 is Boyracer’s “Pete Shelley,” the 4-song 7-inch/6-song download pointing to a carryover of Hulaboy’s inclination for name-checking. But the comparison doesn’t really extend beyond the title-track, as surfacing instead is Anderson’s knack for lean and loud melodiousness; a highly fertile musician credited with 800 tunes (a quick glance at Discogs bears this out), the results here connect as the byproduct of an aggressive and un-fussed-over spontaneity.

Click through for the rest!

[Link]

Primitives at Vinyl District

For a US lad of the late-‘80s, the indie pop of The Primitives was a welcome pleasure. Most folks know them for ’88’s Lovely and its accompanying hit single “Crash,” but after breaking up in the early-‘90s the band reformed roughly half a decade back. The group’s latest LP Spin-O-Rama is out this week via the Elefantlabel; if it doesn’t reach the heights of their best material it also doesn’t fall short by much, the record’s 11 tracks continuing to vindicate the rekindling of the whole endeavor.

Naturally the point is arguable, but of all the ‘80s indie pop acts to have missed the original cut for the New Musical Express’ genre-defining C86 compilation, The Primitives are a very likely candidate as most deserving of inclusion. As evidence, earlier in 2014 the Cherry Red label assembled a 3CD expansion of that release, and three tunes into the second disc one can find The Primitives’ nugget “Lazy” standing proud.

Not that one needs to buy the set to hear it. The group’s pre-RCA period as self-documented on Lazy Records has been collected and reissued numerous times and is currently in print through, wouldn’t you know it, Cherry Red. And for this writer’s money, the Lazy stuff, which contains the dandy singles “Thru the Flowers,” “Really Stupid,” “Stop Killing Me,” and a bunch more (a double CDs worth, including demos and an ‘87 live show from London’s ICA) is their strongest work.

But I will readily declare that Lovely is a fine LP in a style/scene where excellent long-playing records are, if not exactly rare, then far from common (the concept of the indie pop compilation as a spotlight for a succession of individual highpoints has endured up to the nonce). Plus, the band’s classique thrust once Aussie Tracy Tracy (born Tracy Cattell) was fully established as lead singer (replacing Keiron McDermott) made them palatable to US listeners, particularly those with an undying jones for prime-era Blondie.

“Crash” might not have cracked the US Top 40, but it did make it to #5 on the Modern Rock sales/airplay chart, an obsolete gauge basically signifying that The Primitives received an ass-ton of exposure on Music Television. And like a select few indie pop cohorts, the majority of their initial spate of recording has aged very well.

Lovely’s ’89 follow-up Pure, while not quite as successful, reinforced the group as having a solid songwriting foundation delivered through a focused sound. But derived from a handful of plays, I recall ‘91’s Galore, their third album, to be a disappointment, though that was admittedly a long time ago; I really should reinvestigate.

Perhaps one day I will, but at the moment there’s Spin-O-Rama to consider. It’s not The Primitives’ post-comeback debut, for in 2012 a swell all-covers disc Echoes and Rhymes was issued, the choices generally so under the radar that many have and will persist in perceiving it as a standard release. However, Spin-O-Rama is their first full-length of all originals since recommencing in ‘09; “Never Kill a Secret,” a 4-song EP split between band compositions and covers, surfaced back in ‘11.

Their newest presents them in trim form, the LP opening with the title track, pristine and sprightly before quickly landing squarely in a familiar zone of ‘60s-inspired fuzz-infused melodicism. Tracy’s singing is as robust and sassy as ever, and as the cut’s tidiness progresses it deftly alternates Ramonesian punch with chiming brio.

While surely catchy, “Hidden in the Shadows” resides on the heavier side of The Primitives’ guitar pop spectrum, its sharp riff mingling well with Tracy’s undiminished prowess. From there “Wednesday World” introduces a strumming acoustic as guitarist Paul Court steps up to sing lead. Throughout, Tracy gives her tambourine an emphatic shaking.

The mid-tempo gallop of “Follow the Sun Down” brings a productive switch, illuminating the rhythm section of drummer Tig Williams and bassist Raph Moore (who replaced Steve Dullaghan; the founding bass player’s untimely passing in ’09 directly preceded The Primitives’ return to activity for live gigs), with Tracy’s singing detectably outside of the D. Harry-esque feel offered on the disc’s first two selections.

“Purifying Tone” retains the pace, Court picking up the mic again for a concise slab of pop-rock brandishing hints of neo-psych. It’s pleasant and built upon a sturdy base, but frankly the speedier, more raucous “Lose the Reason” is the meat of The Primitives’ matter. Featuring trade-off/tandem vocals, lively bass, mucho handclaps and a cascading organ sounding as if it was surgically removed from an early-‘80s power pop radio smash, it strongly underscores the outfit’s enduring relevance.

It’s followed by “Petals,” a stripped-down yet fully-formed hunk of ‘80s-style indie pop with rock-level amp-gust channeling the ‘60s via the Ramones, though Court also tosses off a nice Chuck Berry via The Saints micro-solo. And Tracy manages a vibrant youthfulness here, coming off a bit like a young Juliana Hatfield. Next, Court’s voice reminds me a tad of the Television Personalities’ Dan Treacy on the jangled-up and fuzzed-out ode to being unfit for labor “Working Isn’t Working” (seemingly a recurring theme for them).

Combining a constant flow of sha-na-na-na-na’s with an equally incessant riff descended (if well-disguised) from “Sweet Jane,” the leisurely this-could-go-on-for-hours aura of “Velvet Valley” is a sort of how-to manual for budding pop-rockers, effectively accentuating the lasting appeal of The Primitives’ modesty of scale as they slather it with low-mixed but plentiful string burn.

And it segues pretty well into the vigorous catchiness of “Dandelion Seed,” distortion rippling forth as Tracy emotes with unfussy verve, though the crucial component in this example comes through the crisp rhythmic propulsion of Williams and Moore. It sets up the ear for closer “‘Let’s Go ‘Round Again.” A reprise/adjustment of the album’s opener, the brief track provides a fitting finale to the appropriately succinct (less than 30 minutes) old-school flavor of Spin-O-Rama.

Beside a couple of mildly slighter songs, my only real quibbles with the record are minor, essentially personal wishes for a few more uptempo numbers and less democracy in the vocal department (though when Tracy’s and Court’s voices combine on a tune the results are worthwhile). Also, it’s not as if they’ve over-polished this baby, and the writing remains up to snuff.

Additionally, there’s nary a hint of going through the motions on display; not as special as Lovely and approximately comparable in quality to Pure, it still feels like The Primitives are in it for the fun rather than the retirement fund. Not that I have a problem with late-life security, but picking up Spin-O-Rama is happily far from an act of charity.

[Link]

Primitives at The Vinyl District

For a US lad of the late-‘80s, the indie pop of The Primitives was a welcome pleasure. Most folks know them for ’88’s Lovely and its accompanying hit single “Crash,” but after breaking up in the early-‘90s the band reformed roughly half a decade back. The group’s latest LP Spin-O-Rama is out this week via the Elefantlabel; if it doesn’t reach the heights of their best material it also doesn’t fall short by much, the record’s 11 tracks continuing to vindicate the rekindling of the whole endeavor.

Naturally the point is arguable, but of all the ‘80s indie pop acts to have missed the original cut for the New Musical Express’ genre-defining C86 compilation, The Primitives are a very likely candidate as most deserving of inclusion. As evidence, earlier in 2014 the Cherry Red label assembled a 3CD expansion of that release, and three tunes into the second disc one can find The Primitives’ nugget “Lazy” standing proud.

Not that one needs to buy the set to hear it. The group’s pre-RCA period as self-documented on Lazy Records has been collected and reissued numerous times and is currently in print through, wouldn’t you know it, Cherry Red. And for this writer’s money, the Lazy stuff, which contains the dandy singles “Thru the Flowers,” “Really Stupid,” “Stop Killing Me,” and a bunch more (a double CDs worth, including demos and an ‘87 live show from London’s ICA) is their strongest work.

But I will readily declare that Lovely is a fine LP in a style/scene where excellent long-playing records are, if not exactly rare, then far from common (the concept of the indie pop compilation as a spotlight for a succession of individual highpoints has endured up to the nonce). Plus, the band’s classique thrust once Aussie Tracy Tracy (born Tracy Cattell) was fully established as lead singer (replacing Keiron McDermott) made them palatable to US listeners, particularly those with an undying jones for prime-era Blondie.

“Crash” might not have cracked the US Top 40, but it did make it to #5 on the Modern Rock sales/airplay chart, an obsolete gauge basically signifying that The Primitives received an ass-ton of exposure on Music Television. And like a select few indie pop cohorts, the majority of their initial spate of recording has aged very well.

Lovely’s ’89 follow-up Pure, while not quite as successful, reinforced the group as having a solid songwriting foundation delivered through a focused sound. But derived from a handful of plays, I recall ‘91’s Galore, their third album, to be a disappointment, though that was admittedly a long time ago; I really should reinvestigate.

Perhaps one day I will, but at the moment there’s Spin-O-Rama to consider. It’s not The Primitives’ post-comeback debut, for in 2012 a swell all-covers disc Echoes and Rhymes was issued, the choices generally so under the radar that many have and will persist in perceiving it as a standard release. However, Spin-O-Rama is their first full-length of all originals since recommencing in ‘09; “Never Kill a Secret,” a 4-song EP split between band compositions and covers, surfaced back in ‘11.

Their newest presents them in trim form, the LP opening with the title track, pristine and sprightly before quickly landing squarely in a familiar zone of ‘60s-inspired fuzz-infused melodicism. Tracy’s singing is as robust and sassy as ever, and as the cut’s tidiness progresses it deftly alternates Ramonesian punch with chiming brio.

While surely catchy, “Hidden in the Shadows” resides on the heavier side of The Primitives’ guitar pop spectrum, its sharp riff mingling well with Tracy’s undiminished prowess. From there “Wednesday World” introduces a strumming acoustic as guitarist Paul Court steps up to sing lead. Throughout, Tracy gives her tambourine an emphatic shaking.

The mid-tempo gallop of “Follow the Sun Down” brings a productive switch, illuminating the rhythm section of drummer Tig Williams and bassist Raph Moore (who replaced Steve Dullaghan; the founding bass player’s untimely passing in ’09 directly preceded The Primitives’ return to activity for live gigs), with Tracy’s singing detectably outside of the D. Harry-esque feel offered on the disc’s first two selections.

“Purifying Tone” retains the pace, Court picking up the mic again for a concise slab of pop-rock brandishing hints of neo-psych. It’s pleasant and built upon a sturdy base, but frankly the speedier, more raucous “Lose the Reason” is the meat of The Primitives’ matter. Featuring trade-off/tandem vocals, lively bass, mucho handclaps and a cascading organ sounding as if it was surgically removed from an early-‘80s power pop radio smash, it strongly underscores the outfit’s enduring relevance.

It’s followed by “Petals,” a stripped-down yet fully-formed hunk of ‘80s-style indie pop with rock-level amp-gust channeling the ‘60s via the Ramones, though Court also tosses off a nice Chuck Berry via The Saints micro-solo. And Tracy manages a vibrant youthfulness here, coming off a bit like a young Juliana Hatfield. Next, Court’s voice reminds me a tad of the Television Personalities’ Dan Treacy on the jangled-up and fuzzed-out ode to being unfit for labor “Working Isn’t Working” (seemingly a recurring theme for them).

Combining a constant flow of sha-na-na-na-na’s with an equally incessant riff descended (if well-disguised) from “Sweet Jane,” the leisurely this-could-go-on-for-hours aura of “Velvet Valley” is a sort of how-to manual for budding pop-rockers, effectively accentuating the lasting appeal of The Primitives’ modesty of scale as they slather it with low-mixed but plentiful string burn.

And it segues pretty well into the vigorous catchiness of “Dandelion Seed,” distortion rippling forth as Tracy emotes with unfussy verve, though the crucial component in this example comes through the crisp rhythmic propulsion of Williams and Moore. It sets up the ear for closer “‘Let’s Go ‘Round Again.” A reprise/adjustment of the album’s opener, the brief track provides a fitting finale to the appropriately succinct (less than 30 minutes) old-school flavor of Spin-O-Rama.

Beside a couple of mildly slighter songs, my only real quibbles with the record are minor, essentially personal wishes for a few more uptempo numbers and less democracy in the vocal department (though when Tracy’s and Court’s voices combine on a tune the results are worthwhile). Also, it’s not as if they’ve over-polished this baby, and the writing remains up to snuff.

Additionally, there’s nary a hint of going through the motions on display; not as special as Lovely and approximately comparable in quality to Pure, it still feels like The Primitives are in it for the fun rather than the retirement fund. Not that I have a problem with late-life security, but picking up Spin-O-Rama is happily far from an act of charity.

[Link]

Joe Jack Talcum at Vinyl District

For anybody coming of age in late-‘80s USA that harbored curiosity into left of center sounds, making the acquaintance of The Dead Milkmen was basically inevitable. Popular with skate rats, lovers of college-rock, scores of MTV junkies, the surly backpack/trench coat brigade and even the occasional metalhead, they were truly a boundary-crossing outfit.

In general, the Milkmen achieved this circumstance through a punk-derived disdain for seriousness that engaged but didn’t overplay the snotty. Specifically, they delivered sarcastic, sophomoric and low-brow humor, and if there’s a crowd reliably resistant to their charms it’s those with a low tolerance for the zany.

I don’t really belong to that group but also can’t deny that most humor-based music simply fails to move me. However, I’ll openly fess up to a personal Milkmen phase, in part due to the aforementioned ubiquity. And to put a finer point on it, they’re a band with a built in audience; teenagers. As a member of this demographic I was a fan, considering their thing to be refreshingly unstuffy and flippant. Time passed and then one day, the appeal had essentially abated.

So I’m far from any kind of expert on their oeuvre, but the record I recall with some fondness is ‘87’s Bucky Fellini; possessing currents of social commentary amongst the zingers and irreverence, it also flaunted a cover of Daniel Johnston’s “Rocket Ship,” the existence of said tune providing a nice doorway into their guitarist/co-vocalist’s less celebrated endeavors.

Back in ‘84 a stream of cassettes began surfacing from the man born Joseph Genaro, a few under the pseudonyms Butterfly Fairweather, Butterfly Joe and Jasper Thread but most carrying the familiar handle Joe Jack Talcum. In ‘04 selections from those releases were issued by Valiant Death Records on the CD Home Recordings 1984-1987; in ‘11 Happy Happy Birthday To Me culled from that disc and put out an LP with additional tracks procured from the first seven years.

Home Recordings 1984-1990 is a welcome document essaying Talcum as an early practitioner of Lo-fi, an aesthetic that didn’t bloom into a full-fledged movement until the following decade. This makes him a legit contemporary of Johnston, a connection HHBTM hasn’t neglected in the promotion of his material. But while fitful stylistic similarities exist, the comparison shouldn’t be overstated.

Talcum is a talented writer, and the examples gathered on 1984-1990 do include a handful of gems, but he also doesn’t reach Johnston’s mastery of pop craft. What they do share, along with left-field but endearing vocal styles, is a bare-bones recording approach, a potential liability transformed into a decided advantage, though even at an early stage Talcum plainly desired broadening the one human being and a tape deck paradigm. With this said 1984-1990’s modest success idles at the intersection of mood and technique.

In this case the decision to accentuate but not abandon the chronological angle of the CD is a smart one, for it allows easy insight into Talcum’s growth; laughs are rare though not completely absent across both LPs, but Home Recordings 1993-1999 reveals compositional prospering and maturation of the lo-fi strategy, Talcum successfully employing a 4-track (captured in an illustration on the sleeve) as he fine-tunes his artistic personality.

This is immediately apparent on “One False Move,” a down-tempo opener built upon strummed acoustic and vocals that fits quite snuggly into the year of its original issue, 1993. Again, the audio clarity isn’t particularly muddy or hissy; in fact, it reminds my ear of (and slightly foresees) the more folky moments on Beck’sMellow Gold, and it’s not until the cheapo keyboard comes in toward the close that the ultimate conventionality of the songwriting is fully revealed. Finessed into a smoother arrangement, “One False Move” could’ve been a candidate for ‘90s Alt-radio.

“Talk” is also largely acoustic driven, though layered and accented with amplification through multi-tracking. Still mildly stripped-down and folkish, the result is a more pronounced and relaxed pop sensibility that infrequently and pleasingly resurfaces throughout the record to underscore Talcum’s increased confidence. The sheer simplicity of its chorus is worthy of note.

It’s the arrival of “Madonna’s Weep” that first exudes the fragile air and emotional arc of music one might’ve purchased from a mid-‘90s K Records mail-order catalog. As the song unwinds hiss is palpable but stays securely in the background. The nature of the fidelity becomes a deeper component in the dirge-like strains of the keyboard-situated (piano and organ) and bent guitar-spiked “Go.”

Returning approximately to the K corral and unraveling so slowly it positively aches is “Call Me a Fool,” and its most interesting aspect is an eruption of effects not easily comparable to Talcum’s ‘90s peers, though it does hit me a little bit like a more bluntly aggressive predecessor to the musique concrète underbelly found in Neutral Milk Hotel’s “Communist Daughter.”

From there 1993-1999 shifts into a milieu recognizably rock as Talcum receives the assistance of a drummer, but those anticipating a drive through the Milkmen’s route will end up hanging in a different neighborhood. Indeed, even as it opens with a joke, the title of the simultaneously shambling and riff-laden “Sense of Humor” is a red herring, and “Sweet and Sour” is a full blown instrumental.

Both numbers attain the solid but aren’t exceptional; if widening its range they derail the album’s focused momentum a bit. “Another Time” gets back into solo mode, though as Talcum goes it alone and stretches beyond five minutes (and with a liberal dose of keyboard residue in its midsection) he doesn’t necessarily radiate the vibe of a loner.

And while maintaining a comfortable middle ground in terms of sound quality, the title of “The Sun Shines out of My Asshole” does highlight the tendency of home recording artists to eschew self-editing. It’s not bad, but the impact is lesser than most of what precedes it on 1993-1999, and deceptive; the song’s not especially snide as it lands between twee and quirk.

“Cup of Tea,” which finds scrappy unpolished drumming reentering its disheveled manner, hints at the ramshackle ambiance of certain ‘80s UK DIY outfits, and “Be My Property” stands as an oddball punk ditty wielding an attack remaining distinct from the Milkmen. “Forever Expanding Dream” then scales and slows things down as threads of experimentation enhance the atmosphere, and “I’m Not Here” inaugurates a reentry to a band setting; it’s rather melodic and unperturbed with an eccentric finale.

“Another Disgusting Pop Punk Song” ends the record on a surprising note of satire, the jab at the debasement of a genre further dating the LP’s environs without being tangibly injurious to the whole. Home Recordings 1993-1999 is a likeably industrious affair, but while stronger than the prior volume it ultimately falls short of amazing. The 14 cuts will be of interest to adventurous partisans of Talcum’s main gig and should stir the attention of listeners into outsider/non-pro album construction.

[Link]

Hobbes Fanclub at Vinyl District

The scoop is that The Hobbes Fanclub began in 2008 as a project of a single man, specifically guitarist-songwriter Leon Carroll. Before morphing into a triangular orientation with bassist Louise Phelan and drummer Adam Theakston, the Fanclub underwent a long-distance duo collab phase with Sao Paulo Brazil native Fabiana Karpinski.

Surprisingly successful (Carroll and Karpinski reportedly never met in person), the pair managed to produce two split CDRs, the first in July ’10 for Cloudberry Records with outfit Young Michelin and the second the following February, this time as the inaugural entry on the Dufflecoat label with counterparts Leach Me Lemonade.

That partnership ended shortly thereafter, Carroll drafting his current bandmates and wasting no time getting down to work, the three playing their first gig in Bradford in November of ’11 and performing at the Glasgow Popfest a few weeks later. Amongst further live action the studio was not neglected, and by August of the next year a 7-inch was issued by the Portland, OR/San Francisco imprint Shelflife.

Searching out the music from those CDRs provided a pleasurable result, but to be frank the 45 did offer a substantial step forward. The Hobbes Fanclub benefits from at least the simulation of membership crafting songs in the same room simultaneously; the band dynamic tangibly increases the accumulated heft of the new LP.

But don’t misunderstand me; it’s not as if they’re the next AC/DC. Opener “Into the Night” is non-twee indie pop with a palpable but not overwrought sense of melancholy and a focus on guitars sporting a thread of shoegaze. It establishes an approximate template The Hobbes Fanclub adhere to pretty faithfully acrossUp at Lagrange, the generous running-time far from wearing out its welcome on the turntable.

Faithfully but not slavishly the Fanclub’s next track “Stay Gold” attains a succinctly catchy blend of guitar-pop classicism, rock ambiance and achingly anthemic emotional release (yet appropriately well-mannered in the Brit-post-punk/C86tradition). There are many obvious sources for “Stay Gold,” but the well-worn vibrancy in the writing, the sturdiness of the execution and the relative brevity of the whole remind me just a bit of a less lo-fi Robert Pollard grown increasingly obsessed with his footwear.

In a not always advisable maneuver, the briskly paced “Your Doubting Heart” is reprised from the A-side of the 2012 short-player, and happily in a bolder recording. Not only is the production livelier on this occasion, but a clearly detectable rise in instrumental confidence (which shuns the slick fervor that often accompanies over-familiarity with a tune) helps to rescue this version from the potential victimization of redundancy.

The Britishness is frankly undeniable, but it ain’t exactly thick as London fog. The directness and modesty of scale apparent during much of Up at Lagrange is also reminiscent of the numerous ‘90s US acolytes of the aforementioned UK indie pop emergence; if some sly bird tried to pass off “The Boy from Outer Space” as an unheralded 45 issued by the Slumberland or Pop Narcotic labels, the only snafu in the hoodwinking might be the timbre of those Hobbesian accents.

And short of halfway in, it becomes plain the Fanclub has a real knack for knocking out forceful melodies possessing qualities of euphoric lushness; it can feel like an instant mainline rush of welcome if bittersweet memories. This insures a certain level of success through consistency of craft, but the danger lays in providing a momentary surge that leads directly to a remembrance and/or discovery of other records; ultimately, nobody wants to be cast aside.

By tackling a trim sound that harbors a fairly wide base of appeal, “I Knew You’d Understand” tilts the situation firmly in the trio’s favor. It’s adequately heavy so to not alienate the rockers (the guitar solo could even sway a few Dinosaur Jr fans) as its tunefulness is built to deliver swell strokes to members of the International Pop Underground, and that shoegazey aura works both as an adhesive and a defining characteristic.

“Run into the Sea” maybe overplays that hand a smidge to actually flirt with succumbing to sheer calculation (the hugeness of the opening bass line positively screams “I love the ‘90s!”). But then again, the vaguely Spector-esque drum beat and Jesus and Mary Chain-like string distortion/echo-laden vocal combo clarifies them as being fond of other eras; the ‘60’s-ish Ba-Ba-Bas toward the end head right into another nice, if too brief, guitar break.

It should be added that The Hobbes Fanclub are not just a cohesive unit, they also steer clear of flashiness. In turn, “How Could You Leave Me Like This” strikes my ear as a little Galaxie 500-ish from around the point of This is Our Music but shorn of the post-Velvets string virtuosity (not to infer that Dean Wareham’s a showboat); it’s a lack replaced with an ample helping of unabashed indie rock gush a la partial namesake Teenage Fanclub and a sprinkling of Flying Nun (Straightjacket Fits, anyone?) mixed in for good measure.

Kicking the tempo back up is “Outside Myself,” the cut transcending the predictable by bearing down on the strings and delivering some soaring leads, and while they once more revel in the anthemic (the song could effortlessly spurt forth at the denouement of abundant indie-tinged coming-of-age movies) it’s far from the only car in their garage.

From there, the dual-gender vox in “Why Should You Tell the Truth” scored a pleasant surprise and brought additional satisfying thoughts of Sub Pop-era Velocity Girl. Surely originality is not the forte of The Hobbes Fanclub, but they are broad enough in their assorted gleanings to effectively curtail getting diminished as derivative.

To elaborate, the beginning of the title track had me fleetingly thinking of the Blake Babies’ killer early single “Cesspool” except a tad more shoegaze situated. It proceeds to introduce one of the disc’s heavier numbers, and yes a somewhat expected late-album outcome. But as informed once by a greeting card well-sent, it’s really the little things that matter. Ah, the memories.

Up at Lagrange falls short of masterpiece level but it’s still a very strong showing for a first LP, even as the group doesn’t seem to be in a particular hurry. And closer “Sometimes” definitely bodes well for the future, smartly focusing upon the creation of a weighty instrumental weave; when the vocals do kick in, the impact is significantly increased.

In the end, Up at Lagrange is best recommended for aficionados of the style, though it’s admittedly a spacious field, and bestowing gratification to genre-lovers is by no means the simple fate of The Hobbes Fanclub.

[Link]

Lunchbox at The Vinyl District

Dating all the way back to 1994, Berkeley, CA’s Lunchbox is the work of two constant participants, guitarist-songwriter Tim Brown and bassist Donna McKean (they share vocal duties); after overcoming obstacles and reclaiming their original name, Lunchbox Loves You serves as their return. Those expecting a simple recapitulation of past glories should be pleasantly surprised by the growth Brown and McKean display on this LP’s tidy ten songs.

For folks unfamiliar with Lunchbox, the cover of their new release includes a few handy visual cues into the nature of the sound. For starters there’s the cake, the heart-shaped and clearly homemade dessert representing the sincerity of their occasionally sugary sweetness as it drives home the record’s titular message.

But that formidable blade, an instrument frankly overqualified for the task seemingly at hand, signifies the edge Lunchbox’s music frequently exhibits. While it’s not really accurate to describe them as heavy, throughout their history they’ve conjured reliable currents of intensity enhanced quite nicely at times by stabs of rawness.

And repeating a gesture from breakout ’99 effort The Magic of Sound, Lunchbox Loves You presents its entire track-listing smack dab on the front. This may not seem like an action of any major consequence, but it’s a design choice reflective of the 1960s, and in making it Brown and McKean underscore musical ties to the decade.

Ties but not debts; as a later entry in the US indie pop reaction/surge, Lunchbox is a ‘90s proposition from top to bottom, though one that progressed from punkish origins to a place drawing comparisons to Elephant 6 and even Stereolab; in fact, 2002’s Evolver adjoined the two as techno additives made it fitfully connect like Apples (in Stereo) cutting a record for Warp or collaborating with The Third Eye Foundation.

Between Evolver and Lunchbox Loves You, Brown and McKean worked under the moniker Birds of California, eventually completing an album that took four years to come out; One and Only finally landed in ‘13 on Jigsaw. And Lunchbox has also gigged recently, plucking a “classic lineup” from their numerous permutations, but the latest LP has been described by Brown as almost completely the work of the principal pair, a reality that shows in its vibrancy and tightened focus.

Plus, it seems to deliver a partial restatement of purpose, with excellent opener “Everybody Knows” harkening back to early days in the combination of catchiness and distortion. Along the way they brandish a sturdy handle on melody and a wise preference for brevity as classique harmonies enhance a spirited morsel of indie-edged pop-punk (think Amelia Fletcher and a hint of Buzzcocks).

Follow-up “Tom, What’s Wrong?” extends a little, the first evidence of Robert Schneider-esque jangle-psych rising to the surface as Brown and McKean explore a mixture of mid-‘60s Beach Boys and the same era’s unadulterated bubblegum style, the tune accented with woozy synth/keyboard and featuring an incessantly shaking tambourine, that particular percussive device a recurring aspect in Lunchbox Loves You’s sonic whole.

As the vocals switch gender, the Elephant 6 similarities are deepened and complicated simultaneously. Although still manifesting elements of sunshine-psych, an ample amount of this LP’s succinct running time also inspects an overlapping angle aptly tagged as ‘60’s metropolitan pop, particularly in the chiming instrumental break of “Will You Be True?” and the cadence of its horns during the progress to fadeout.

Next, “What You Don’t Know Won’t Hurt You” promotes an agenda of jangling anemic/adenoidal melodiousness bordering on the hyperactive, somewhat akin to Schneider’s work in The Marbles; there is strumming and handclaps galore as the mood gets deftly reinforced with a bold and methodically raucous outburst of guitar.

“Die Trying” ends side one with a hunk of exquisite pop-craft, the singing swapping back to McKean on a number blending baroque production flourishes and thick yet dexterous instrumentation, its flag confidently planted between the zones of scrappy jangle and rainy-day ache. Strands remindful of Fun Trick Noisemakerunwind near its conclusion, and to this point “Die Trying” is easilyLunchbox Loves You’s strongest track.

Utilizing an oft employed tactic, “It Feels Good to Lose” matches McKean’s voicing of downtrodden lyrics with fairly lively guitar-pop execution, and while it doesn’t necessarily bring anything new to the table, they do acquit themselves well through the maneuver, inspiring brief thoughts of Camera Obscura. “Another Dance Floor” is mildly comparable strategically, finding Brown starting out in the land of the awkward only to meticulously blossom into extroverted territory via increased tempo and a brighter dynamic.

With “I Go Mad” Lunchbox’s sugar-coated psych pill is engulfed by the undeniably tony/modish aura of ‘60’s AM-radio studio pop, indeed this time unabashedly light and also elaborate, with its tasteful bursts of horn, innocuous flute lilting and McKean’s backing vocals getting spiked by Brown’s lead voice distinctively mingling the pouty and the hopeful.

“Give a Little Love” initially examines the intersection of bubblegum and psych-pop, though in the final minute it freefalls into a featherbed of cascading strings and softly euphoric emotional release; on first play I half expected to be transported to a public square where a woman looking suspiciously like Mary Tyler Moore was in the process of throwing her hat to the heavens.

On that note, I’ll admit to desiring a tad more glistening steel and a bit less confectionery, but Lunchbox Loves You’s “Tonight is Out of Sight” delivers an uproarious finale of Ramones-descended writing basking in fuzzy psych-pop ambiance. Furthermore, Birds of California was at moments a more forceful affair, though upon consideration ‘twas a lesser experience than this LP (Brown’s measured dissatisfaction with One and Only is borne out by the superiority of “Another Dance Floor” to its predecessor on the ’13 record “Minute on the Dancefloor”).

Likewise, I find it impossible to deny the quality of the tunes, the cohesiveness of performance and the smarts of their presentation, the disc flaunting trim, symmetrical sequencing (again, it begins with a bang and culminates in a power move) and just enough heft to keep it all from floating off into the ozone or becoming too precious.

Lunchbox Loves You ultimately registers not as a comeback hindered by premeditation in hopes of rekindled glory but instead as a significant adjustment to an uninterrupted if intermittently strained flow of activity. It’s easily Lunchbox’s best. Listeners taking a shine to the inevitable upswing of indie-derived retro-‘90s sounds might consider investigating this platter; not a well-intentioned facsimile, herein is the real deal.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
A-

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Eureka California at The Vinyl District

Eureka California, an outfit formed in 2007 by guitarist-vocalist Jake Ward, resides not in the West Coast municipality of their moniker but in the Peach State town of Athens, GA, a college berg long-noted as a locale where folks ditch class and even drop out to make music. The records Ward and drummer Marie A. Uhler create there imbue tangibly punkish spirit with spurts of ‘90s indie rock; their very solid new album Crunch trumps stagnation by raising the energy and paring down the sound to bare essentials.

Eureka California is unlikely to win awards for originality, though it’s clear that deliberately striving for uniqueness isn’t high on Jake Ward’s list of artistic goals. However, this isn’t to suggest the songs he conjures with longtime cohort Marie Uhler are lacking in personality or beholden/inferior to the music that shaped them.

A group with numerous former third members and currently a fully-functional duo of Ward and Uhler, Eureka California does a nice job avoiding the elements of any one particular stylistic predecessor. Frequently cited influences such as Pavement and Guided by Voices are thankfully implicit instead of blatantly telegraphed; in fact, some may not hear them at all. That’s the case between this writer and the oft mentioned impact on Eureka California from The Replacements.

I’ll add that both of these lobes are familiar with the vast majority of Ward and Uhler’s oeuvre. The story begins in 2011 with a likeable 4-song 7-inch “Modern Times,” but a greater splash was made via Big Cats Can Swim, that LP issued the following year alongside a split cassette with NJ/NY band Lame Drivers. Then in ’13 arrived a single shared with Liverpudlians Good Grief featuring different versions of two tracks from the tape.

And now here’s proper second album Crunch, an effort again released by dependable neighborhood label Happy Happy Birthday To Me. This newfound two-piece configuration presents immediate differences, though as Eureka California are a duo out of necessity rather than conception (nothing here is comparable to the hard rock power-boot of twosomes White Stripes, Black Keys, or Wolfmother) the changes aren’t a break with what came before. Interestingly, as membership has decreased the volume level has gone up. In turn Ward, already an emotive vocalist, has gotten even throatier.

Eureka California’s prior output detailed a melodic sensibility remindful of ‘60s pop; in combination with their distorted qualities it occasionally earned them the description of lo-fi. That’s not off target, but Ward and Uhler regularly seem aptly assessed as a non-trite pop-punk exercise, and with Crunch this circumstance is more apparent than ever. For some, getting introduced to the outfit through this LP will be a deal breaker, specifically due to Ward’s aggressive shout-sing approach. Things don’t really settle down to a sustained contemplative environment until the end of each side of the record.

On the other hand both “#1 in the State” and “How Long Till the Medicine Takes” come quickly; Crunch is a very succinct disc brandishing tracks of (mostly) equal concision, though that’s not a radical departure from Big Cats Can Swim. Opener “Edith (One Day You’ll Live in a Bunker)” chalks up less than 90 seconds in length, but that’s ample time to establish punky atmosphere through Ward’s impassioned versifying and trim, gruff guitar.

The track is exceptionally catchy, strings emphatically strumming, and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if it was written on an acoustic. The nearly as brief “No Mas” retains the melodicism but marries it to a noticeably chunkier structure, riffs flailing as Uhler smacks the kit hard and precise, her work on the cymbals one of the song’s strongest traits.

“No Mas” is just as vocally intense, though Ward wastes no time in eschewing the monochromatic. He starts the lengthier cut “There’s No Looking Back” in an agitated conversational manner before swiftly erupting into full-on belting, his pipes up to the task. And due to the return of the slightly off-kilter strum (and a nifty solo later in the tune), it’s the first of Crunch’s moments to heavily underscore those ‘90s indie references stated above.

At the 50 second mark the pop-punk also asserts itself, with the ragged edges sufficient to escape this sub-genre’s overly formulaic norm. In terms of ‘90s comparisons, the latest album finds Eureka California spitting out shards of din fleetingly reminiscent of another duo, namely Kicking Giant. This is detectable on “I Bet You Like Julian Cope,” even as the pop-punk attributes bring it closer to the Lookout label roster than the more “avant-garde”-leaning Kill Rock Stars stable.

As the song titles here illuminate (to say nothing of the cover photo), like certain other entities on the Happy Happy Birthday To Me imprint, Eureka California evince a humorous side. But if not excessively serious or downright angsty, Crunch also isn’t a yuk-fest; far from lightweight in the lyrical department, the words provide a rewarding endeavor, and the manner in which Ward sings them on “Sneaky Robby” and especially “#1 in the State” reminds me (maybe coincidentally) of Doug Martsch.

“Sneaky Robby” does flirt with being just an exceedingly worked-out amalgamation of absorbed ideas, in this instance briefly bringing ‘90s Merge Records band Guv’ner to mind. But it’s also crisp (and yes short) enough that the similarities never grow into a major fault. In blossoming to nearly three minutes, the unabashedly popish aura of “#1 in the State” connects like a legit plug end of a prospective single.

Perhaps “This Ain’t No A-Side,” the readymade shout-along that begins Crunch’s flip, could serve as “#1 in the State”’s backing. It and “Twin Cities” continue to reinforce the pop-punk architecture, the latter cut as riff-laden as anything on the record. “Happy Again” lessens the tunefulness for a lean slice of late-‘70s Cali punk pummel wielding crafty touches (e.g. the distant opening guitar bit).

This leads into “Art is Hard,” one of Crunch’s stronger numbers and at nearly four minutes the lengthiest on the album. As on Big Cats Can Swim, Eureka California places the longest song in the penultimate position, a maneuver that works mainly through shrewdness of construction and delivery. It easily sidesteps predictability.

Furthermore, there’s a spot exactly halfway through “How Long Till the Medicine Takes” where Ward and Uhler, had they so chose, could’ve kicked the song into high gear. Smartly, since the tune’s not a natural ripsnorter they decided against the possibility; tearing into its fiber wouldn’t have been a flagrant miscalculation, but the distinct ambiance that unfolds to close the LP is appreciated.

Eureka California has moves, a few of them used with regularity somewhat reducing their music’s overall impact, but they also possess astuteness that results in an appealingly consistent listen. Crunch documents the growth of a stimulating contemporary act. It should be very interesting hearing where they head next.

 

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Close Lobsters at The Vinyl District

Those carrying an eternal torch for the epochal C86 compilation are certainly familiar with Close Lobsters. That Scottish band emerged from estimable company with a pair of full-lengths and even made some late-‘80s ripples in the US market before breaking up around the turn of the ‘90s. In 2012 they announced a reunion, and Shelflife Records’ issue of the sturdy, unfussy, and highly enjoyable 7-inch EP “Kunstwerk in Spacetime” offers the first new music from this rekindling of activity.

More than an anthology, C86, a cassette originally offered by the weekly UK periodical New Musical Express, gave a name to an entire post-punk/indie pop movement. As its recent compact disc reissue underscores, this circumstance is long and well documented, though the Cherry Red label’s expansion of the initial 22 selections to three CDs and a whopping 72 cuts (some unreleased) intensifies the spotlight to the absolute hilt; its track-listing reads as exhaustive, possibly even exhausting.

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Tunabunny at Vinyl District

The release of Kingdom Technology documents a huge leap forward for Tunabunny, a very likeable Athens, GA outfit that up to this point has been pretty easy to pigeonhole. Continuing to play it safe could’ve resulted in additional quality music, and some of it perhaps might’ve ended up great, but it wouldn’t likely carry the same weight as these 14 uneven but highly stimulating songs.

I’ll admit to salvaging a few nifty things from trash cans or discard piles over the years. My haul’s included boxes of records (naturally), a lamp (still works), a bowling ball with bag (high game 246) and a swank velvet painting of a Doberman pinscher. Never have I partaken in purloining from a dumpster though, and mostly for reasons that should be as plain as the nose on one’s noggin; the desperation of hunger aside, without knowing that an item of value happens to be in one of those frequently malodorous metal receptacles, why would one venture inside?

Artists are notorious for displaying eccentric behavior, but I’m guessing Ted Kuhn of Athens, GA realized something was up, or maybe better said that he knew something was in there, before undertaking his dumpster dive. The scoop here, to quote label Happy Happy Birthday To Me’s press notes, is that Tunabunny’s fourth album Kingdom Technology was “recorded in the band’s living rooms by drummer Jesse Stinnard on a slightly-damaged $2500 sound input device fished out of a University of Georgia dumpster by local artist Ted Kuhn.”

This wouldn’t be more than an amusing anecdote except for the massive change on display in Tunabunny’s sound. 2013’s Genius Fatigue saw guitarist/vocalists Mary Jane Hassell and Brigette Herron, bassist Scott Creney and newcomer Stinnard considerably raising the bar on their ‘80s post-punk/’90s indie rock gush, an achievement secured through consistency.Kingdom Technology finds them undergoing a startling progression, brandishing peaks and valleys of worth that are nonetheless reliably fascinating.

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