Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Indie is In!*10

as the answer to life’s great quest.

the portastylistic

* * * * * * * *

Just Jack - All Night Cinema (2009)

*I Proud To Recommended!!!*

"Refreshing Perfect!"

Just Jack, along with fellow Brits Lily Allen, Jamie T and The Streets, brought us music which gave us a cheeky and witty insight into everyday life in the UK. "All night cinema" is Just Jack's third CD, and features a vast array of musical styles, from the musically adventurous opening cut (and lead-off single) "Embers" (with jumping violins and hand claps) to the bouncy accordion-peppered "253", everything on the disc thrills.

The next song deals with darker fare; the laid back "The day I died" is an acoustic Streets-style spoken/sung telling us "The day I died was the best day of my life", a humorous look at the fictional last day of his life with a twist at the end of the tale. "Doctor doctor" is an upbeat Dance song with spoken (spit-fire) lyrics and an incredibly catchy chorus, while "So wrong" has an even clubbier feel.

Next is "Blood", a melodramatic narrative about juvenile delinquents and the effect on their families:"I still love you/blood is always thicker than water/I still love you forever forever whatever you do". A truly stirring piece.

Title track "All night cinema" is a chilled downbeat song with gently skittery beats and dreamy "Oooooooh" harmonies and nice electronic flourishes. "Astronaut" is bouncy clap-filled Pop with a chorus that is so Jason Mraz. Ambulance siren sounds announce the full on Electro club song "Goth in the disco" (All Pet Shop Boys-like with a reverb-filled chorus), "Lo and behold" is a guitar-driven ballad and a (fitting) droll performance, while closing is the pulsing guitar-driven instrumantal "Basement" (with nice dramatic strings).

Vintage Just Jack, but even more interesting musically!

(Genre Electronic/Pop/Dance)


Velocity Girl's ¡Simpatico! (2004)

*I Proud To Recommended!!!*

"it’s something fantastic!"


Our occasional series "Secret History" features profiles of classic D.C. albums as a way of looking back at the District's contributions to music over time. In this installment, we revisit Velocity Girl's ¡Simpatico! (Sub Pop, 1994).

Coalescing at the University of Maryland in the late '80s, Velocity Girl specialized in winningly sharp indie pop steeped in resonant major chord melodies and spry, agile rhythms, with a solid grounding in the unabashedly catchy style of bands associated with the UK's Postcard and New Zealand's Flying Nun labels, the semi-psychedelic nostalgia of Paisley Underground groups like the Rain Parade and Dream Syndicate, and the exhilarating pop perfection of the best New Wave acts. Focused and concise, the best Velocity Girl is some of the best indie rock D.C. – or any other city – can claim to have produced in the last 20 years.

Velocity Girl’s approach set them apart from the heavy, hard-charging, politicized postpunk common to D.C. in the '90s. Says guitarist Brian Nelson, “We found things like tunefulness, texture, and simple songcraft to be almost exotic because of their regional absence. We wanted to hear hollow body guitars feeding back open major chords through Fender amps.” Guitarist and vocalist Archie Moore adds, “There was almost no American pop-song oriented indie stuff to speak of [in D.C. at the time], so I'm pretty sure a lot of local rock bands and fans had no context for us, and regarded us early on as this goofy, cheery, sloppy group, and later as crassly commercial alternative wannabes.”

“I have an anecdote that sums up how I think the D.C. punk scene regarded us,” Moore continues. “It's from my friend Mike, who's in the metal band Darkest Hour. Before I met him, his band bought from [College Park music shop] Atomic Music a bass cabinet that had once belonged to Velocity Girl; the name was stenciled on the back. When they wanted to sell the cabinet back to Atomic, Atomic offered them $100. Mike joked, ‘But dude, this belonged to Velocity Girl.’ The Atomic dude joked back, ‘Okay, $50.’”

Stories like that one aside, Nelson thinks D.C.’s rich musical landscape allowed Velocity Girl space to fit in. “[Labels like] Slumberland, Simple Machines, Teenbeat, and DeSoto were all putting out records along side Dischord. That worked to everyone's benefit. Being in any city where there's such a strong interest in music, even if it's not stylistically the same as where we were coming from, is a plus.”

Initially emerging as a noisy, shoegazer-ish outfit cranking out what Moore describes as a “murky noise rock, a sorta half-assed Sonic Youth sound,” Velocity Girl promptly turned their attention to the sunnier side of the street, cleaning up their approach and emphasizing tunefulness over distortion. While the Bob Weston-produced debut LP, Copacetic, is an impressive opening gambit, it’s the follow-up, 1994’s ¡Simpatico!, that best displays Velocity Girl’s powers, 12 tracks of unerringly impressive indie pop packed into just under 35 minutes.

Like Copacetic, ¡Simpatico! was released on Sub Pop, a label then associated most closely with the very un-Velocity Girl grunge sound.

Being with Sub Pop "was good for us, because we could exhale and not worry about money so much. Up until this time we were all pretty broke,” said drummer Jim Spellman. Adds Moore: “We had never considered Velocity Girl to be anything but a hobby until we unexpectedly started getting noticed by a few labels. Until then, we had always assumed that we would eventually record one band-financed album for Slumberland, and that would be it.”

"I do think Sub Pop may have changed our outlook on what was possible," says Nelson. "With a bigger label I think we started to feel like this might be something we could keep doing and even earn some sort of living at, while also being a safe place for us to grow and develop.” Adds bassist Kelly Young, “I'm sure we taught the folks at Sub Pop a lesson about throwing away money on people like us.”

Signing to Sub Pop meant that the band could spend more time and energy in the studio honing their technique, working with producers they felt would bring out their best. For ¡Simpatico!, Velocity Girl chose John Porter, a veteran musician and producer who had worked on, among other things, the Smiths’ eponymous debut. “Working with John Porter was an amazing experience,” says Moore. “He regaled us with stories about Roxy Music, the Smiths, and the Jam. Paul Weller got him fired from the BBC Maida Vale studios for smoking pot.”

Remembers Nelson, “We definitely drilled [Porter] on some of the Smiths recording tricks he used. More interesting to me was the degree he took on the classic role of producer in talking about our songs themselves. Guitar parts that he suggested, some of which he played, really helped add some sparkle to the songs; in no way comparing it to the level of the Smiths, but from where we were coming from it did add some similar intricacy to the guitar work.”

“[Porter] was, for me anyways, a harsh task master,” says Young. “Lot's of ‘do it again’ type things. Probably because I was such a crap musician.”

“I remember on New Year’s Eve we took a break from recording to go to a big New Year’s Eve party in Mt. Pleasant,” says Spellman. “Everyone was dressed in their best vintage thrift store suits and dresses. We brought Porter, who didn’t have a suit, so he was just wearing an old jean jacket. He got pretty wasted, and some partygoers thought he was a homeless guy who had wandered in and they kicked him out. Thankfully we retrieved him and everything worked out OK. I still laugh at that.”

Recording ¡Simpatico! at Cue Studios in Falls Church in December 1993 and January 1994, Velocity Girl set out to craft “the best record possible,” according to Spellman. “At the time there was a lot of bands that were into a sort of ‘exaltation of the amateur,’ but at that point we weren’t interested in that at all. We wanted to make a record that would stand up to all the great records in our record collections.”

Sometimes that meant a painstaking level of analog engineering nearly unheard of in an era of recording programs like ProTools. Discussing the drum track on “There’s Only One Thing Left to Say,” for instance, Spellman says, “That tune is basically a rip off of the Smiths’ ‘This Charming Man’ and it has a sort of double shuffle beat that always eluded me. I recall toying with the idea of getting one of my pals like Adam Wade or Nick Pellicciotto over to play the drum part on it, but [engineer] Joe [McGrath] ended up splicing together 19 pieces of tape to form one take. It was hair-raising watching him take razor blade to the fat 2” tape, but he did a great job. I can’t hear the edits and it swings pretty good.”

The attention to detail shows: ¡Simpatico! is pure pop pleasure, with clean sonic lines and a bracing directness that allows the songs to shine through in all their unencumbered, grin-inducing glory. On tracks like “Sorry Again,” “I Can’t Stop Smiling,” “The All Consumer,” and “Drug Girls,” the band bashes out the notes will infectious joy as Sarah Shannon and Archie Moore trade lines tinged with just the right shades of melancholy and longing, the vocal harmonies adding layers of complexity and nuance to the album. The guitars are trebly and bright, the drums and bass the definition of punchy, the instruments blending together in an intoxicating sonic cocktail. “Labrador” and “”Hey You, Get Off My Moon” reveal a dreamier, gauzier influence while retaining a rock-solid melodic core.

Listening to the record now, Young feels that
¡Simpatico! was a high point for Velocity Girl. “It is the best record we did, hitting the sweet spot between shambolic local pop band and the rock band that wasn't.” Other members of the band agree.

“For myself, I wanted [¡Simpatico!] to sound better than Copacetic,” says Nelson. “I think we may have gone in to it thinking it would still be a bit more noisy than it ended up. I know some critics and fans were disappointed that it sounded so much more polished than the first record, but in the end that didn't bother me at all. I always loved the way it sounded.”

“I think in retrospect it could have used a dose of the reckless abandon on our earlier singles,” says Spellman, “but that wasn’t where we were at that moment. People seemed to like it…. Always in Velocity Girl we wanted to make records that we would be proud of in 20 years and I am certainly proud of ¡Simpatico!.”

¡Simpatico! was the record where we pretty much abandoned the ragged, crumbly guitar sound and let the vocals shine through,” says Moore. “I remember worrying that we had given up our musical identity. It wasn't until well after we broke up that ¡Simpatico! became my favorite Velocity Girl record, the only one I can imagine ever putting on.”




“One Good Summer EP” (2002) & “Close To the Ocean” (2007)

*I Proud To Recommended!!!*

“One Good Summer EP” (2002)
01 The Only One That Matters
02 Summer Avenues
03 Out Of Time
04 Snow In The Summer
05 Lovestrange

David Skirving started California Snow Story in 2001 after leaving Camera Obscura. David was a founding member of Camera Obscura, playing lead guitar and writing a few songs on their early releases.

“Close To the Ocean” (2007)
01 Begin Again
02 My Life Is Only A Daydream
03 Future Perfect
04 Suddenly Everything Happens
05 Consolation Song 06 Brook Lune
07 A New Light To Guide You
08 Wishing Well
09 You Set The Scene
10 Once An Ocean

California Snow Story are a Scottish-based band, formed in 2002 by David Skirving. David was a founder member of Glasgow band CAMERA OBSCURA. He wrote several songs and played lead guitar on their first three releases (Park and Ride, Your Sound and Rare UK Bird). He also wrote guitar parts for the 'Biggest Bluest Hi-Fi' album and played several shows with Camera Obscura between 1997 and 1999, including the legendary Bowlie Weekender festival.

California Snow Story first released music on the much-loved Shelflife label in 2002 and have had a rather fluid line up. After a lengthy break, David began recording again in 2005 and was joined in 2006 by singer Sandra Belda Martínez. Sandra was previously the vocalist in the highly rated Valencia-based duo Superété. Superété recorded music in Spain in 2001/2002 and played frequently in Valencia and Barcelona in 2003 and 2004. With help from Madoka Fukushima on keyboards and Alan Skirving on drums, California Snow Story have recorded their first full-length release 'Close to the Ocean'.



Grovesnor - Soft Return (2010)

*I Proud To Recommended!!!*

"Stuff too much!"

Lo Recordings will release the debut album by Grovesnor, Soft Return, on May 3.

The self-style “troubadour who looks like a teacher but singes like Usher” was the drummer for Hot Chip in their early days, and has recently has joined their ranks again for live duties. Soft Return was produced with the assistance of the ‘Chip’s Felix Martin and Al Doyle.

“The music is not pastiche,” says Grovesnor, who is often – understandably – accused of taking the piss. “I love that stuff too much. Lyrically there’s another thing going on. You can write a novel from another person’s perspective but when you write a song and use the words ‘I’ and ‘you’ then there’s often an assumption it’s personal. The ambiguity of ‘is he for real’ is where Grovesnor comes in. He’s more of an anti-hero, and often makes mistakes or chooses the wrong path at pivotal moments. If there’s comedy in these songs then that’s just the tragedy amplified to comic proportions.”-Factmag

(Electronica,Soul,Pop,Ex-Hot Chip)


Pin Me Down - Pin Me Down (2010)

Meshing influences from the 80s with a futuristic soundscape, Pin Me Down make dance music for rock kids, or “apocalyptic pop” as singer/songwriter/guitarist Milena Mepris likes to describe it.

Pin Me Down began in 2006 when British guitarist Russell Lissack (of the band Bloc Party) met Milena Mepris in New York City, when Mepris’s former band Black Moustache supported Bloc Party at the legendary Knitting Factory. The two shared guitar equipment at the show and instantly became friends, bonding over guitar playing, Twin Peaks (television show), as well as the bands they loved like Weezer, Smashing Pumpkins, and 80’s guilty pop pleasures like Cyndi Lauper and Madonna. Armed with identical laptops and protools music programs, the two began sending songs they had each written back and forth over the Internet. Lissack had many song ideas, in addition to those he worked on with Bloc Party, many revealed a more sensitive side, while some featured his signature guitar delay textures and blistering riffs. Mepris, an accomplished songwriter and singer who often writes for others with a back catalog of over 300 songs, played Lissack some tunes she’d written for herself.

It was only a matter of time before the pair began to assemble songs together. Whenever their busy schedules would permit, they recorded demos together in whatever city was convenient, until they felt ready to take the next step and flesh out their songs properly in the studio.

(Genre Indie/Electronic/Alternative)


Utada - This Is The One (2009)

That’s right, first it was the delay of the physical album and now there’s more. Or at least, it sure does look like it.

But this time around, the change isn’t as dramatic as the first one. Amazon (here) had a change in the tracklist. Actually, it’s more like they shuffled some tracks around, so no tracks added or removed. Here’s what it looks like:

  1. Come Back To Me
  2. Me Muero
  3. Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence – FYI
  4. Apple And Cinnamon
  5. Taking My Money Back
  6. This One (Crying Like A Child)
  7. Automatic Part II
  8. Dirty Desire
  9. Poppin’
  10. On And On

I personally liked “On And On” as an opening song, kinda reminded me of “Fight the Blues” with the fast yet dreamy melody. Though I agree putting “Come Back To Me” earlier in the album (read earlier, not as the first song), it’s a bit too early for my taste. I also think “Me Muero” was a nice ending song, leaving you with this odd and strange feeling when listening to it. Sure hope they’re not going to use this as the actual tracklist, because ”On And On” was a very good opener while ”Me Muero” was the best ending track they had. But the release isn’t till May (at least not the physical) , so plenty of time to change it back.

(Genre J-Pop/Dance/Electronic)


Night Shall Eat These Girls And Boys - Yes Week-End [EP] (2010)

*I Proud To Recommended!!!*

"Funky Funny!"

“It’s funky, it’s fun and it’s eminently danceable.”
-Winston Roache at Winston’s Zen
“The subtle sophistications of this warm and fuzzy music collective is at once celebratory and cerebral, and somehow, at times, also danceable. Already with a masterful sensibility for beautiful bob-and-weave dance beats jubilantly bouncing under burning guitars, a cool careening hit-the-floor vibe tempered with more somber, sweet solemnities of unique nocturnal cricket-orchestras with synth and drum machines under soft stream of conscious lyrics, poignant and whirled.”

(Genre Indie/Experimental/Electro-Pop)


Rat Vs Possum - Daughter Of Sunshine (2010)

*I Proud To Recommended!!!*

"A band on the rise!"

…joyously experimental, infectious and unique.” - Tom Hawking, Inpress

“Rat Vs Possum seized the stage quite unlike any act we’ve seen at the seasonal Triple R showcases and offered themselves up as one of the acts to catch in 2010.” Sam McDougall, Triple R

“Rat Vs Possum are a band on the rise.” – Dan Watt, Beat

“You almost want to keep them as a private secret, yet also feel a civic duty to graffiti their name across town because Melbourne needs to know how good this band is.” - Annabel BB, Faster Louder

“…absolutely inspired neo-tribal bliss and shambolic, shouty freak outs.” - Lawson Fletcher, Mess and Noise

“…a joyous, harmonious atmosphere amongst the audience that you kind of feel that instead of playing their whacked-out, tom-heavy psychedelic anthems, these four misfits are actually the good witches of Brunswick casting blissful spells on us all, intent on converting the world to their doctrine of love for heroic apes, glitter, and communal fruit.” - Sean Walshe, Deformative

“Dan Kelly wished he was 21 and living on acid and baked beans again at the Rat Vs Possum gig.” - Dan Kelly’s rad facebook status



Trembling Blue Stars - Lips That Taste of Tears (1998)

*I Proud To Recommended!!!*

"Makes for great art!"


"Though Trembling Blue Stars' second record, Lips That Taste of Tears, makes some progress toward healing the wrenching heartbreak of Robert Wratton (as documented in great detail on Her Handwriting), the record is basically another monumentally sad and forlorn artifact of one man's despair. As mentioned above, there are some beams of light that shine through the blinds, namely the reappearance of Wratton's former lover (and cause of his despair/inspiration), Anne Mari Davies, who provides vocals on the choral opener, "All I Never Said," the storming house-influenced "Tailspin," the incongruously happy dance-pop tune "The Rainbow," the almost funky trip-hop song "Cecilia in Black and White" (which borrows much from engineer Ian Catt's main gig as Saint Etienne's sound guru). There isn't enough wattage in a light bulb factory to brighten Wratton's mood though as he mopes and moans his way through heartsick ballad after heartsick ballad like "Never Loved You More" (with its refrain of "I'm so far from being over you"), "I'm Tired, I Tried," "You've Done Nothing Wrong Really" ("Sometimes I want to scream/Why did you abandon me?"), and "Farewell to Forever." It could be enough to drive even the happiest camper to thoughts of homicide if it weren't for the flawless balance of wrenching sadness and musical beauty and grace. As on Her Handwriting, Wratton and Catt have again crafted a brilliant-sounding record built on cheap electronics and perfectly utilized guitars and percussion. They are equally skilled at capturing intimate moments of introspection, blissful dance grooves ("The Rainbow"), and soaring indie pop mini-epics ("Made for Each Other"). In fact, the only time their knack fails them is on the repetitive and bland techno instrumental "Old Photographs." Lips That Taste of Tears is an emotionally harrowing and musically near-perfect record, proof that Robert Wratton's heartbreak and misery makes for great art."




Hjaltalin - Terminal (2010)

*I Proud To Recommended!!!*

"Makes for great art!"

The band Hjaltalín began as a one-act thing in the music scene of MH, a Reykjavík gymnasium that is renowned for harboring musicians. Things have evolved since then, personnel changed, and the band has actually changed course regarding musical styles in the meantime, although the band is certainly hard to categorize with influences ranging from modern indie rock to 60’s pop music to classical music.


Background Radiation - Moot Point [EP] (2010)

*I Proud To Recommended!!!*

"both on different sides of the world!"

Background Radiation, is folktronic pop. Tim Dwyer and Ludo Maas, both on different sides of the world, collaborate in a Postal Service like fashion through the internet. Moot Point is the ironically named follow-up to their ironically named debut, “False Start”. Much like the first EP, these songs, layer acoustic tinkerings and mesh them with slow, electronic rhythm sections. “False Memories Take You By Surprise” is a short instrumental intro as if the opening credits to a film. Themes of film, space, and love come and go over the course of album from the folksy number “Give Me Light” to the ambient pop of “Double Negative”. You’ll hear lots of different influences in the EP from the almost National sounding “Motion Trees” to the David Sylvain-esque “Need The Constant”


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