Saturday, December 28, 2013

Top 40 of 2013 - #35 to #30

The countdown continues…


The Cannanes
Small Batch EP

I know that I never consciously thought this, but I was pretty sure that I would never be buying a Cannanes collection again.  I have so many random 7” singles from them from the early 90s, along with (all that’s left anyway) their amazing Caveat Emptor CD that features the amazing “Broken Bottles.”  They were always all over the map, both musically, and literally all over the map with releases coming from every corner of the globe on the tiniest of labels and in various formats.  It was impossible to keep up with them – not to mention that much of what they would record would be released years after the fact, so there was no way to gauge their actual genuine progression as a band.  Eventually, I gave up and they eventually disappeared.  Yet, here we are, twenty years after the last record I purchased from them and with no idea what they’ve been up to.  Whatever the case, somehow I learned of new music of theirs last spring and liked what I heard.  This Small Batch EP is made up of a surprisingly groovy group of six songs.  I say surprisingly, because what I remember from them is lo-fi ramshackle, pretty and amateurish true indie pop.  They made the kind of music that was straight from the heart, with little regard to consistent tempos through songs, or ability to actually play their instruments proficiently.  When they happened upon a great idea, this approach was amazing and heartwarming or wrenching, depending on the message of the lyrics.  They also have always had the very unique and wonderful voice of Frances Gibson.  It’s Frances Gibson and her sweet vocals along with the only other original member Stephen O’Neil who guide us through this new direction.  The opening “Bumper” has a jaunty beat, a steady repetitive bass line and some really cool trumpet fills and a jazzy keyboard improv toward the end, as Gibson sings “Is it worth another try? My friends don’t think so.”  Could she be referring to her own band?  Next up is the crawling “Crawler” – which opens with the line “let’s break bottles / let’s jump off chairs / I’ll do that much to show I care” as Gibson details a fractured relationship over some yearning guitar plucking.  This is a beautiful song that reminds most of what I remember from a long time ago – aside from the strong musicianship that is.  Then, “Basics” returns to the steady beat of “Bumper” and provides another winning track, as does the more straightforward indie feel of “Tiny Compartment.”  Meanwhile, “Molecule” hits with a huge deep bass drum throb, a grinding bass line and some quiet trumpet.  Aside from a barely there conversation, this is a dubby dance mix.  Lastly, “Zone” opens with trumpets blaring just before a trip hop beat bursts in – giving off a “Step On” Happy Mondays vibe and the repeated lyric “you’re confusing me.”  I agree, because I’m confused, though completely impressed.  I love the new directions, and that they have kept their songs in bite sized nuggets – none of these surpass three and a half minutes.  This is a great small batch of songs! 

The band also released their first full length in about 11 years, but I have not yet tracked that down.  It seems as though (with a new single out as well) they are back in full force with their crazy release schedule. 


“I Wake Up Screaming” 7”
(Artificial Head)

The Wedding Present
“Two Bridges” 7”

Nothing makes sense anymore.  There’s a new Cinerama single and it’s on a tiny Texas label.  The Wedding Present have been touring relentlessly for the better part of the last two years in support of their winning 2012 album Valentina and various anniversaries of their older material.  And yet, here we are with new material under Gedge’s other band, Cinerama.  Cinerama came about at the end of the 90s when Gedge changed his musical direction quite drastically and started recording more orchestral baroque pop style songs with his then girlfriend Sally Murrell.  Over the course of three albums, several line-up changes and about six years, they were starting to sound like the Wedding Present again, so that seemed to be the end.  There are generally Cinerama songs performed at their shows, but now we got this new one and it sounds pretty much exactly like a less loud Wedding Present song.  It’s just all so confusing.  Having said that, “I Wake Up Screaming” is vintage Gedge, as he builds up an overwhelming jealousy in his dreams only to realize that what he’s been overlooking all the time.  In other words, it all goes poorly as usual.  The B-side is a live version of “Unzip” from their 2000 Disco Volante album and it’s oddly a hushed version for a live one.  A very good recording, however.
Meanwhile, the new (mostly) tour only available Wedding Present 7” comes along soon after.  This new song picks up right where Valentina left off, with some classic buzzing and quick strumming work before transitioning into the angular tempo changes that were all over that last album.  Despite the shifting moments and at least 45 full seconds of feedback at the end, this is as catchy and memorable as ever – handclaps and all.  The B-side is a cover of Wreckless Eric’s “Whole Wide World” (a famous 1977 new wave/punk era classic ballad) and sounds like an outtake from late 80s Wedding Present full speed ahead and so good to hear that unbelievably fast electric strum again.


Defiance, Ohio
The Calling EP
(No Idea)

It’s been a few years since I’ve heard from this Midwestern folk-punk collective (their fourth album Midwestern Minutes was my #10 pick of 2010 seen here).  I know very little about them other than their music, but that’s pretty much what matters, right?  I first encountered their second album, 2006’s The Great Depression, and instantly fell for their heartfelt array of personal/political tunes performed with mostly acoustic instruments (including great violin and piano) and a fun collaborative feel where every member adds vocals and I’m guessing lyrics.  This strength gives them a wonderful variety without losing their cohesiveness.  This new EP, which apparently was released via free downloads on their website some time ago, appeared late this last summer and I was excited to truck down to 2nd Avenue Records and pick up the vinyl.  That mission alone always leads me back to my younger days of buying multiple punk 45s from there based on label, or cover art or “I think I heard these guys were cool” or from the various compilations that used to add to my shopping list and maybe that’s what I kind of like about this band.  I love their passion and desire to truly find answers to social and political problems.  They have that energy that idealism that I far too often I have lost with age.  The opening song, “The Calling” even addresses this – the progression into soul sucking routine: “Monday morning drag your feet again / can you feel it? That’s the crawling of your skin,” which they valiantly fight against and hopefully encourage us all to do the same (“This is the part where I dig my heels in my heels / dig my own rut”).  Next up is the helpless feeling protest song “I’m Against the Government” whose obvious title cuts at itself.  It’s not offering any solutions by throwing up their hands with the question “what do you do with a council full of charlatans?” before concluding with the painfully obvious and silly line “I might not ever be the president.”  Side one closes with “Call it a Comeback,” which reminds so much of their work on the last two albums.  There are many tempo changes and moments of quiet reflection housed with a weeping violin, before exploding into a rousing chorus.  Side two opens with the strong “Horizon Lines, Volume and Infinity” – a song that is musically complex (though I could do without the orchestral Beatles style break during the final verse), and lyrically brilliant.  What makes their messages so perfectly relatable is how they house them in songs filled with personal imagery and they never preach.  This song is about friendship and memories and realizing their own limitations (“At times I’d like a map to what I cannot comprehend – but infinite cartographer, your trusted magic pen can only ink against the edge of understanding”).  Finally, the brief acoustic “Bad Ideas” builds into a nice little sing-a-long ditty, while the closing song “I’m Just Going to Leave Now” is a re-recording of one of their earliest songs in honor of their 10th anniversary as a band and it shows how good they’ve been all along.  This stuff should be heard by more people.  Check them out, please.


Ex Cops
True Hallucinations
(Other Music)

The first LP from NYC’s is a brief foray into all kinds of sounds and directions and I was initially drawn in by their two minute chiming guitar burner “You Are a Lion, I Am a Lamb.”  The twin breathy vocals of songwriter Brian Harding and Amelie Bruun lift this song up to fantastic heights.  The first half of the album is full of these short moments of pure pop that land somewhere between the modern revivalist Raveonettes and the UK dream pop heroes Pale Saints.  This is a good thing.  Aside from the menacing instrumental that opens the album, the next five songs are all different ways to achieve this pure pop bliss.  “James” has Harding sounding a lot like the Pale Saints’ Ian Masters during the heavy beat and dreamy echo-laden guitars of the verses, while the chorus explodes in hyper driven “woo woos” on top of a Lacquer-era Popsicle bed of noise.  While “James” and “Spring Break (Birthday Song)” pull out moments of harmonies born from the Beach Boys and place them easily into the modern age.  It isn’t until the second half of this collection that the band expands their sound a little more freely.  “Jazz & Information” is a slow builder with bluesy guitars that shifts into a really strong catchy tune along the lines of Spiritualized which includes some killer saxophone guiding it home.  Things start to lose focus as the collection continues.  The hazy “The Millionaire” wallows in the clouds with obscured vocals and a promising melody, but it’s not enough to break from the fog, meanwhile the fun closing number “Broken Chinese Chairz” contains similarly altered vocals, but instead this one zips along with an excited energy.  “Separator” is the mid tempo gem that is the secret weapon of this album.  It is hummable, has a nice guitar hook, a Kim Deal-like bass line and a dreamy and glowing chorus.  I can never figure out why I don’t hear music like this on the radio.  Oh yeah, I gave up on radio a long long time ago.  This is a varied, promising, and inspired debut that could only be boosted by a bigger sound.  If they can find the incredible Hugh Jones to produce their next album, we may be treated to something extra special.


British Sea Power
Machineries of Joy
(Rough Trade)

British Sea Power’s fifth album is another perplexing collection.  I am coming to realize more and more that they are probably an acquired taste and one that I was sort of born with.  In other words, I like them, but I’m not sure that they will ever really find anything outside of their rabid small audience.  They are simply too obscure, despite their big arena rock type moments (especially seen on 2008’s Do You Like Rock Music?), or my favorite, the focused pop moments of 2005’s Open Season.  With 2011’s epic and chaotic Valhalla Dancehall (my #21 pick seen here), I think they simply embraced their eccentricities and went nuts with it.  This is probably a good thing, but no less inconsistent and confusing.  Luckily, Machineries of Joy has some of their best songs to date and some of the most subdued.  Plus this collection is thankfully much more concise.  Now that the string work from Abi Fry has officially joined the band, there is an added cinematic quality to their sound that adds warmth and comfort (no wonder they’ve been tapped for two soundtracks so far).  The opening title track is absolutely excellent.  It sputters and builds slowly and never fully crescendos, but rather floats us into a trance inducing bliss.  “K-Hole” continues their long history of short bursts of chant along shout outs, as does “Monsters of Sunderland.”  It’s amazing how they can get one to sing happily along with a catchy chorus from a song full of obscure historical and scientific references, but they do.  Notice the “Radio Goddard” title is not referencing the legendary film director Jean-Luc Godard, but rather likely the physicist, and inventor of the first liquid fueled rocket, Robert Goddard. But it’s still a song with a nice sentiment and it’s educational too, because I cannot help but look up some of their mentions and allusions.  Another favorite is the quiet “A Light Above Descending,” which is probably too cleverly wordy, but still somehow finds its way into the consciousness long after listening.  Unfortunately, there are three musical duds here.  “Hail Holy Queen,” “Spring Has Sprung,” and the closing “When a Warm Wind Blows Through the Grass” all have the components – beautiful soundscapes, and poetic lyrics, but they don’t seem to add up to memorable songs.  Despite this, it is the high points here that win out and will keep me coming back for more from this intriguing and perplexing band.

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