Posts Tagged ‘Indie Pop’

Mixtape: Frank Infatuation – Jangle Pop Heirs to the ’80s Underground

It seems only fitting that this latest mixtape should grace the site on the same day that the Strum & Thrum review posts. The compilation and its focus on overlooked jangle-pop provided a seed of inspiration, alongside other notables like Sarah roundups Shadow Factory and Temple Road, Take The Subway To The Suburbs and, naturally, the C86 comp. I figured if we’re going to round some of the gems of our current era up later on, might as well have a good starting point. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that this does not have the geographic specificity inherent in some of those. While it rounds up a particular sound of jangle / indie pop, the bands here swing from the U.S. to Australia and New Zealand, with stops in the UK. Though someday, someone will have a wealth of opportunity rounding up the sounds of San Francisco in the Aughts/Teens and it will be well worth a listen. For now, this one should find a bit of a crack in the clouds and give you an hour’s worth of bittersweet sunshine.

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Real Numbers – “Brighter Then”

Been a couple of years since I’ve heard from Minneapolis’ Real Numbers, 2017’s “Frank Infatuation” single, if I’m not misatken, but I could have missed something in there. The new single precedes an EP for the band on Slumberland and its as tender as the band has ever sounded, sanding down their jangle with a soft breeze and dressing it up with a homemade video that’s quietly comforting when we need it the most. They’ve always had a bit of a DIY edge, but this is some straight Sarah Recs love here, dipping into Brighter and East River Pipe waters. The song is breezy and bittersweet, a ray of sunshine through the leaves built on strums and sighs and just a little swell of keys. The EP is out in January from Slumberland.

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The Chills – Soft Bomb

Now if ever there was a shining star in The Chills’ catalog, their sophomore LP Submarine Bells is just that. The record was the band’s major label debut and it’s one of those records I honestly wish I would have found earlier in my life, having come to it quite a few years after its 1990 release. The band’s early edges were softened and their songwriting was hammered into pop perfection. While it achieved the kind of critical praise that will forever let this one swim to the surface if R.E.M. fans and Kiwipop lovers dig deeper into the bench of major label offerings from this time period, its follow-up remains slightly more elusive. I’m sad to say that as much of a fan as I am of the early singles that populate Kaleidoscope World, on into Brave Words, and Submarine Bells it took these much needed reissues of later Chills works by Fire to really let Soft Bomb spend some time on the speakers.

By 1992 The Chills as they’d existed were really gone. The rest of the band left but Martin Philipps remained as did the support of the label he’d signed to. So, in the fashion of songwriters who are hitting outside of the league they’re assigned, he embarked on an ambitious album that stands alongside quite a few other sprawling gems of the era. While albums like Game Theory’s Lolita and Hüsker Dü’s Zen Arcade come to mind, this finds some similarities closer to home with the clever wordplay of Able Tasmans’ A Cuppa Tea And A Lie Down. Though perhaps more than any of those, Philipps sought quite actively to make this album into something greater than he’d reached for, employing Van Dyke Parks and ex dB’s Peter Holsapple to help him shape this album into a cycle of songs that fold in and out of one another with a velvet pop touch. Sometimes, though effort leaves its mark quite noticeably, also distancing it from those others.

That soft touch in Philipps’ songs may have ultimately been the album’s undoing, given that it arrived in 1992, a year known more for its embrace of abrasive indie riding the grunge wave than any tender-hearted lost souls. So would end a chapter for The Chills with Phillips writing one of his most ambitious albums, even if it occasionally got away from him a bit. There are plenty of pop moments, and its clear that while Parks only actively contributes to one track here, his inclusive approach to songwriting is felt as a guiding light. That can give Soft Bomb a bit of sea sickness switching moods from one track to the next, especially with the focused sweep of Submarine Bells still fresh in mind. Yet there are also so many true gems interspersed throughout the album that the ends justify his ambitions and in hindsight this is still prime Chills — melding the serious with the sublime. It’s nice to have both of these albums back on the shelves and hopefully now that time and distance have let the dust settle on the angst of 1992, a greater appreciation of Soft Bomb can blossom.



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Razorcuts – Storyteller (Deluxe)

It was a hectic summer and I hope you’ll forgive this one slipping beneath the waves for a bit, especially since there wasn’t a lot of dust kicked up about it Stateside. Optic Nerve has done the world a huge favor in reissuing both of Razorcuts essential LPs along with extended bonus discs that cull some key singles into the mix. The band, fronted by Gregory Webster and Tim Vass alongside a rotating cast of contemporaries, exemplified the C86 jangle-pop sound that has smitten so many, yet they’re often left shy of fame in hindsight. The band issued singles on Subway Orginization, Flying Nun UK, Sha La La, Caff Corporation, and Lamia and quite a few of these bits make it onto the second LP on offer here, making this a bit of an indispensable look at the band. Included are the band’s key singles “Sorry To Embarrass You” and “Big Pink Cake” along with harder to dig up splits with The Wolfhounds and covers of The Band.

As for Storyteller itself, the album finds the band in thrall with their own sound — wistful, tender, breezy – a bit of a beacon of light in 1988. The band had worked out their kinks by this point and, while the early singles have an immediacy on display, the lineup for Storyteller finds a thread through Webster and Vass’ influences, tying up sunshine pop, ‘60s jangle from The Byrds to the Beau Brummels, and a big indie heart that places them easily in the Creation roster while never skewing twee. I’ve always been a fan of the band’s follow-up, which acted as my entry point to Razorcuts and the label has also issued this along with a second disc that scoops up the rest of the EP tracks and compilation bits that don’t make it onto the early extras here. I’d recommend them as a pair, even for the casually curious jangle-pop fan. Both records are an absolute delight and the expansion packs here make put a wealth of previously harder to nab material back on vinyl all in one place. Sadly after Mile High Towers the band would crumble and crack. Vass would go on to play with Red Chair Fadeaway, and Webster would start up The Carousel and Saturn V. Notably, though they reunited under the name Forever People in 1992 for a one-off single on Sarah Records, making their indie-pop label trip complete.



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Order of the Toad

Always happy to see some familiar names pop up together in collaboration and this eccentric pop nugget from Order of the Toad brings together The Wharves’ Gemma Fleet and Robert Sotelo, who released a gem of an album for Upset The Rhythm last year. Their combined talents pick at a few fun pockets of sound — mixing psych-pop and the occasional dip into propulsive disco swing with a grandiose, Baroque approach that positions them as the Left Banke or Ultimate Spinach of indie pop. Every band today dreams of the Ultimate Spinach name drop, no? Strums and jangles trade their place with ceremonial stabs of organ. The vocals swap swiftly between Fleet and Sotelo with the former reaching for the higher registers that stretch for a heighten pop excess that’s picking up the English folk fascination of the ‘70s and threading it through the glam-wrapped excess of the following decade’s decadence.

Plenty are treading in the waters of psych-pop, but these days there’s something of a slickness that infects quite a few or a retread element that feels like paying homage to an almost exacting degree. Like their fellow UK psych exports Wax Machine, this one feels like its made by voracious devourers of the past who weave the ends of their obsessions together into new strains of psych sickness that continue the traditions of generations past rather than just look to scan and print a reasonable facsimile. Though they don’t let the occasional foray into the lysergic pool drown them in the genre. The tone shifts and the trappings skitter between aesthetic poles, but that only makes the album all the more dizzying and delightful. This one gets under the skin nicely.



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The Reds, Pinks and Purples

If you’ve spent time around the halls of Raven, then Glenn Donaldson’s bands are a familiar sight and his current fixtures The Reds, Pinks and Purples and Telephone Numbers have been a particular comfort in the past couple of years. RPP embody some of the same space that The Art Museums once occupied, albeit with a much heavier heart and a bleary-eyed autumn air floating about them. Tough Love has put together a mini-LP that rounds up more of the singles that Glenn’s been workshopping through Bandcamp over the past year and the picture that fits together on You Might Be Happy Someday fits the pieces together into a brief, but affecting record that’s hung up on lonely souls, impermanent living conditions, the small details that haunt the memory, and the sunset stains at the end of relationships.

Though he’s wandered through noise and folk quite often, The RPPs pick at the scars of a particular side of jangle-pop that knits together the quiet crouching of The Wake and more often, that of Brighter and St. Christopher from their Sarah years. Mix in some of the college rock fallout form the US around the same time, say The Springfields or The Suncharms and the record begins to take shape. Once under the gaze of Donaldson all these bits swim together into a melancholy melt — the body thrown to a sea of jangles, the mind grasping at the gauzy vocals that billow with a heavy heart and a halo of pink haze around them. This is just a precursor to an LP out soon in The States, but even though this might count as somewhat of a singles collection, it feels like a singular sigh. Those hooked on the early CapTracks era of Wild Nothing and Beach Fossils would do well to turn their ears towards wheat Glenn’s working up. Those were kids with newfound crushes, The Reds, Pinks and Purples have spent their years with the ‘80s sitting in their soul, ably transferring the anguish of the past into today’s heartache.




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Kelley Stoltz – “The Quiet Ones”

For those of us who’ve found the entryway into Stoltz’ disorienting alternate history of pop, each new record is a tumble down a new unseen corridor in his secret world. The last record pulled on a crooked tie and a cocked smile for a power pop pub crawl that came and went with only the lucky to nab it for their shelves and the rest to pine. Stoltz is a wily one, though, and he’s not through with 2020 just yet. Another LP looms, with the SF songwriter returning this time to his roots at Agitated Records, stewards of his ’01 kicker Antique Glow. The first taste of Ah-etc packs the power pop back in the suitcase and returns to the lacquered Formica lilt of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Tiptoeing a guitar slink through hallways of chromed keys, the song turns up the voyeurism and eavesdrops on the neighbors, lurking with a queasy charm. Stoltz, ever the Echo & The Bunnymen fan, spent time as a touring member and his bandmate Will Sergeant returns the favor and lends guitar to “The Quiet Ones.” There’s something of a lost afternoon feeling to the track, swirling around the listener and feeding the internal monologue that turns neighbors into puzzles that populate the mind. The loneliness is palpable and the fluorescent flicker just seeps into those synths harder on each listen. The LP is out November 20th from Agitated.

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Pearl Charles – “What I Need”

There was an inkling of change that snuck into the subtle EP that slipped out from Pearl Charles earlier this summer. The reworking of “Night Tides” from a disco romp into a country cool down was an unexpected treat this year. Charles’ new LP for Kanine follows suit in the best ways, trading off the ‘70s sweat of a dancefloor hangover for a quiet twilight in the bungalow alone, spinning the euphoria of the night into a melancholy melt that tugs at the suede center of the soul. Hung on a slouched organ line and sundown slides, the first single “What I Need” sums up the album nicely — a lone saunter down the strip with a chill in the air, smoke and sweat escaping into the atmosphere. The buzz of the night is coursing through the veins right up until the moment when a bittersweet lump forms in the throat. While it’s quite naturally about how this feeling might arise in the end of a relationship, the analogy works the same as any whirlwind night. There’s a knowing feeling that washes over you, an ache that enters, knowing that its over before you hit the sheets, stuck between bliss and the emptiness of a lonesome morning. Her last album waded into several pop waters, but this one dives into the deep end with a confidence that’s hard to shake. The record arrives January 15th on Kanine.



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Special Moves – “Our Summer”

One more blast of good vibes today, on this Bandcamp No Fee Friday. The good folks over at Jigsaw are a beacon for indie pop, both on their label and in their well-curated shop. This short shot of fuzz comes from Special Moves, and while it’s over before you know it, the song buzzes with an indie pop aura that’s perfect for the waning days of summer. The cut opens up the band’s proper debut for the label and the Olympia group operates more like a collection of friends than a hard-nosed band, per se. Fans of Boyracer and the progeny of Sarah gone pop will find quite a bit to love on the band’s LP Little Help which is out as of last week on Jigsaw.


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Tracy Bryant – “Between Us”

L.A. songwriter Tracy Bryant released his third studio album just about a year ago and the first follow-up comes in the form of a limited single split between RSTB faves Six Tonnes de Chair (France) and Third Eye Stimuli (Aus). “Between Us” was cut during the sessions for Hush but Bryant notes that it didn’t fit with the album, and I’d agree. The melancholy tone of Hush isn’t as present in the sun-streaked pop bounce of “Between Us.” Instead there’s a sense of motion and crisp air. The song’s not jubilant, but its trading wistful for winking which seems like a natural fit for Bryant. Despite its studio sheen, the simple setup feels like it shares a bit of DNA with Cronin and Segall around their humble Trouble In Mind days. Bryant hangs the song on the strength of a hummable acoustic hook, sweater-hugged harmonies, and a the kind of natural saunter that endears a song almost immediately. With a lyrical smirk at someone’s know-it-all hijinks, the song is pretty relatable too. The single hits digital outlets on Wednesday, but you can preview it below in the meantime.




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