Last night, I celebrated Cayetana at the band’s penultimate show in Brooklyn. Now, bands come and go. It’s the natural cycle of things. I’ve seen many beloved bands hang ‘em up during my ample years as a music fan. Today, though, I find myself reflecting upon the loss of this particular band more than I normally would, and I thought I would put some words to why that might be. Two things have meant everything to me throughout my life: love and music. (Yes, we can give sports a nod here as well, but that means nothing in the face of the other two.)
I have played the role of the truly hopeless romantic for my entire life, and have been fortunate enough to know real love. Anyone who knows me at all knows I joined one of the world’s shittiest clubs in 2014, when I became a widower in my 30s. In the four horrible years that led to that moment, there was no room for anything else in my life. Keeping her alive against the odds was all-consuming. When she died, I was left with a limitless void in my life. I mean…obviously. It somehow went deeper than the self-evident loss, though. Since there had been no room for anything else for so long, there was really nothing left.
This is not to say I had stopped being a music fan or record collector. Somewhere along the way, though, I had completely lost the ability to find new bands. It hadn’t started with the illness, but that had rendered impossible any chance of getting it back. In reality, it had set in at some point in the preceding several years overseas – somewhere in the 2006 range. It happens to almost everyone – you finish college and suddenly have no idea how to find new music. But ME?!? Inconceivable! I was the obsessive collector! The guy cranking out mix tapes for people stuffed with bands they never would have heard of otherwise! How did this happen?
So in 2014, as I was relearning how to put one mental foot in front of the other, cringing each day at the newfound deafening silence in my house, I made the conscious decision to get it back. I started digging around for current best-of lists and found a few things that grabbed me, none more so than Cayetana’s “Hot Dad Calendar”. I watched that video a few times and immediately bought their Nervous Like Me record, which had been out for a month or two (yes, of course I bought all of the variants…). I listened to that album to death. I probably put on “Dirty Laundry” 15 times in a row at one point, behavior I hadn’t exhibited with any song in well over a decade. (Actually, I remember what the previous one was – it was “For the Win” by The Reputation.)
What was special about this? Well, it was honest. Real, open, heartfelt. Each instrument stood out on its own. And, of course, it was catchy as hell. I am a sucker for honest indie rock with an up-tempo guitar edge. Most listeners can tell the difference between honest songs and affect, unless the band is made up of really phenomenal actors. When it’s real, it grabs me. This grabbed me.
In January of 2015, a group of some of my oldest and closest friends decided I needed a break, so they took some time out and took me to New York for a weekend. They were right – I needed it. One friend said he had looked and hadn’t seen any shows I would want to go to that weekend, but thought I should take a look on my own. Oh shit, look at that – Cayetana’s playing in Brooklyn. Done. They slayed Baby’s All Right that night – their performance was everything I wanted it to be. I hadn’t realized that the Brooklyn show was basically a Philly indie rock showcase, so that opened me up to a bunch of other bands.
I saw them a bunch of times in the subsequent months and years. August 2015 was notable – I caught a great show of theirs at St. Stephens Church in DC, and then, two weeks later, they were playing again in Baltimore. I had planned to go, but did not. Why? Well, 1) I had seen them two weeks prior, 2) getting to Baltimore from DC for a weeknight show was a pain in the ass, and 3) I wanted to not be a zombie for a date I had the next night. Who knows how this would have gone otherwise, but I am glad I was fresh the next day, as the date went rather well – I somehow found real love again and married her a year later. What I didn’t realize was that Chumped played that night as well, and I didn’t know them yet, but got fully hooked on them later, and that turned out to be the only time I would have seen them play. Unfortunate, but I’d say it was an acceptable trade-off, all told.
Anyway, I guess this is all to say that Cayetana has been intertwined with my personal rebirth for almost five years. In that time, I found love again and rediscovered my ability to dig deep and find great new bands, and this band was there at all of the pivotal moments in my journey back from a dark place. And I guess that’s why it is more difficult than normal to say goodbye. But I must say goodbye, and I also say thank you, Cayetana. I do not know you personally; I have only even met one of you once – Augusta once at one of her solo performances. But the honest, poignant music you have put out into the world will forever hold extra meaning for me, as a symbol of my musical reawakening.
I’m not sure why every Best of 2018 list I see finds it necessary to represent every genre equally. The lone exception I have seen is Brooklyn Vegan, which started publishing genre-specific best-of lists along with their overall Top 50. In general, though, everyone seems to feel the need to be all things to everyone, and that just results in the same 5-10 records from each genre appearing in some shuffled order, which gives us a remarkably uninteresting degree of homogeneity. When I read year-end articles, I want to find things I would not have found on my own.
If you have read anything I have ever written about music, you know what you’re getting here: independent guitar rock, with at least a 90% chance of it having female vocals. This is both a personal preference, as women’s voices just appeal to me more than men’s, and the state of the genre…let’s face it – women are crushing guitar rock right now. And it’s all from indie labels. I don’t write music off because it is not independent, but I have heard so little of interest out of the major label world in many years that I spend most of my time looking elsewhere and digging deeper. So with that, let’s see what commanded my attention in 2018. I stopped ranking these a couple of years ago because there was little point…people get way too hung up on rankings.
Best of 2018 Playlist
I’ll make this easy and lead with my 2018 playlist.
Shattered World Radio
And if you like these songs, many of them are featured on my internet radio station, Shattered World Radio:
Remember Sports – Slow Buzz
This record slays. I’m having a hard time not just ending my review with that, but life is difficult, so I persist. I will give you my negatives up front: two tracks were released on last year’s split 7″ with Plush, meaning I can’t use them on my 2018 playlist, and one other is a reworking of one of their older tracks, so only 9 of 12 tracks were new to me. That’s it. Those are the only bad things I can say. This album is great. From the very start, before they changed their name from SPORTS, the band has shown a tremendous talent for nailing catchy-as-hell guitar riffs, with emotive vocals and clever lyrics. Slow Buzz shows continued improvement on all of those fronts. This is a phenomenal album, out on the always-reliable Father/Daughter records (from San Francisco, my newly adopted city!). The opening track, Otherwise, has a slow intro. Focus inward and harness what is left of your attention span for a minute and wait for it to kick in. That drum beat has been finding its way to my fingertips several times a day since about June. The first pressing was 500 copies on baby blue vinyl and 500 on Grimace purple and bone color-in-color, and both are somehow still available, which is criminal. Get on that. Highlights: Otherwise, Up from Below, Calling Out, Pull Through.
Katie Ellen – Still Life EP
I got fully hooked on Katie Ellen’s debut full-length late last year. That record led me backward to Chumped…still not sure how I missed them when they were a band. Actually, it turns out that I was one small decision away from seeing them open for Cayetana a couple of years ago. I ended up bailing because a) I had seen Cayetana two weeks prior, b) it was on a Wednesday in Baltimore, and I was not, and c) I had a date the next night, and decided I should not be completely exhausted for that. On the one hand, I missed out on seeing Chumped. On the other hand, I met my wife on the date, so…I’ll take the hit on that one. Anyway, all of this is to say I have fully reached the point at which I am all in on any music Anika Pyle creates. She has a brilliant mastery of conveying emotion through powerful music and brutally honest vocals (always a winning combination in my book). Katie Ellen put out an EP this year on Lauren Records, and it is excellent. Adaptation of Para Todos is my favorite song of the year. There were 200 copies on orange vinyl and 300 on lavender – both have etched b-sides and both are still available. Highlights: Adaptation of Para Todos, Still Life.
The Sonder Bombs – MODERN FEMALE ROCKSTAR The Sonder Bombs EP (2017)
This band caught me off guard. I now have no idea where I first heard them. It actually might have been a Spotify playlist. I’m including both their 2017 EP and 2018 album here because I just can’t overlook the song End of My Daze, from the EP, which is just about perfect. This band knocks out catchy indie-punk songs with powerful female vocals and a ukulele. It works, and it’s awesome. Lead singer/ukulele shredder Willow Hawks has a big voice, and uses a slight overprojecting style that reminds me of early No Doubt, Save Ferris, or even Tilt. None of those bands ever really did it for me, but the Sonder Bombs do. The lyrics are powerful and not subtle – there is no mistaking Hawks’ feelings about…well, anything. U(ke) Ain’t Enough is my favorite track on the full length. Ms. Hawks clearly has a chip on her shoulder about everyone who has told her she couldn’t have a punk band with a ukulele, and this song is a giant finger in their direction. And it’s fantastic. The music has perfect punk rock urgency, and how can you not love something with the line, “So you can kick my ukulele punk-rockin’ ass”? Listen to the final track on the album straight through – it contains one of the more brutal gut-punch moments I’ve heard in a while. Anyway, I highly recommend everything they have put out so far. No vinyl as of yet – CDs and cassettes. Highlights: End of My Daze (from the EP), U(ke) Ain’t Enough, Pot & Kettle, Twinkle Lights.
Skating Polly – The Make It All Show
I gave this record its own full write-up a couple of months ago. As I said in that one, I think people get hung up on how young the members of Skating Polly are, and it unfairly limits how good the band can be in their minds. It’s time to stop saying, “Wow, that’s great for their age,” instead of just, “Wow, that’s great.” The Make It All Show is a killer rock record. There are some intense, shredding songs on here with evil, menacing bass lines and brutal vocals. Go listen to They’re Cheap (I’m Free) and Camelot right now. Then go see Skating Polly live. I had been dying to see some of the songs from this album in person since it came out, and finally did this past month. They’re Cheap (I’m Free) matched the intensity of the recorded version. Camelot somehow blew the recorded version away – it was a half-step faster and just leveled the room. Hollywood Factory is another good one – that one is more of a great pop song. Little Girl Blue and the Battle Envy is a fabulous rock epic. The whole record is worth your time. The first pressing was on pink vinyl with red splatter. Highlights: They’re Cheap (I’m Free), Camelot, Hollywood Factory, Little Girl Blue and the Battle Envy.
The Beths – Future Me Hates Me
This is the one record on this list you are likely to find on many others. I read a lot of reviews of Future Me Hates Me that were some form of “nothing groundbreaking here, but it’s still great.” Initially, I agreed. I enjoyed my first pass through the record, but my main reaction was, “Solid indie pop songs.” Then, a few hours later, my brain said, “Hey…you know that album you just listened to? Do that again.” As an obedient slave to my impulses, I complied. Then I did it again. Suddenly, I found myself listening to The Beths more than anything else over the last couple of months of 2018. So what is it about New Zealand’s indie pop masters that gets me? Great hooks? Check. Great vocals? Yup. Fun, rolling drum beats? Sure. Building intensity throughout songs? Definitely. All of these things are elements that typically catch my attention. I think the thing that really stands out for The Beths above other indie bands is lead singer Elizabeth Stokes’ ability to convey her inner monologue through her lyrics. These songs are riddled with clever ways to describe the things that are going through her head. A simple, “You make me feel three glasses in,” from Little Death, demonstrates more romantic unease than most whole songs. The title track, Future Me Hates Me, which has been in heavy rotation on SiriusXM’s XMU station, has been stuck in my head for at least the last two months. That one is a brilliant journey through Stokes’ decision to let her guard down. In rapid succession, it goes from her putting her foot down with, “It won’t happen again,” right into, “It probably won’t happen again,” and then makes its way into the supremely catchy chorus, in which she admits that the subject of the song makes her want to risk going through all of the hell that can accompany relationships. The album is out on Carpark Records. The first and second pressings of the record were on “tangy yellow” vinyl, and, as far as I can tell, are indistinguishable. The third pressing was on a clear aqua vinyl, and we’re now onto the fourth, which is a clear emerald color. They can’t keep it on the shelves. Highlights: Little Death, Future Me Hates Me, River Run: Lvl 1
The Joy Formidable – AAARTH
Every Joy Formidable album that comes out takes me some time to process. I wonder if this is true for most people, and perhaps contributes to their recent commercial success not quite measuring up to that of their breakthrough album, The Big Roar. This band doesn’t fully fit anywhere right now. They still have the 90s-style big guitar sound that made them catch on with the masses for a time. They are no longer supported by a major label, which hurts their exposure a bit. They haven’t released a radio-ready song in several albums now, either. However, everything they’ve put out remains really good. It does take some time to absorb, though, and in a limited-attention-span world, that is probably the thing working against them most. AAARTH, their latest effort, should mostly be enjoyed as a whole. Again, it took me several listens before individual tracks started to grab me…but then, they did. What For is my favorite by a substantial margin – that song excels in delivering rock n’ roll urgency. AAARTH was released in several vinyl forms: the most elaborate was a box set, containing a red vinyl version of the album (limited to 300 copies), along with an exclusive 7″ picture disc, a handful of other items, and a subscription, with which the band sends you 10 additional exclusive tracks (one per month). It also came out on yellow vinyl (limited to 300, Rough Trade exclusive), Clear With Yellow and Magenta Splatter vinyl (indie retail exclusive), and black vinyl. The band still draws a great crowd and still shreds – I recommend seeing them, if you have not already. Highlights: What For, Go Loving, The Better Me.
Bad Moves – Tell No One
I first caught Bad Moves live opening for Tacocat in DC in 2016, and anxiously awaited the release of their album for much of the two years that followed. Since that Tacocat show, it has become clear that they have assumed the mantle of the next great DC indie band – they seem to open for most bands I care about whenever those bands tour through DC. Great energy. Tell No One is a really solid debut album, full of infectious indie pop songs. Spirit FM is the biggest standout for me on the record (and the video is pretty great). The album came out on Don Giovanni Records, on black vinyl. Highlights: Spirit FM, Cool Generator, Missing You.
Long Neck – Will This Do?
I came across this one late in the year – great album from Lily Mastrodimos of Jawbreaker Reunion. Now, let’s see…how to classify it. You know what? I can’t. It has some tracks with classic indie rock song structure, but then it has others that fall under the singer/songwriter heading. But wait, there’s more…others break out elements of folk and even Irish folk. The only thread that stays consistent through all songs is the vocals (and the lyrical references to northern New Jersey). It all works together well, and should be enjoyed as a complete album. Love Letters and Lichen are the songs that grab me most – they have a bit of extra intensity at certain moments. “I keep telling God I don’t care what he does, but I wish he’d send me to Jersey.” Released as a cassette on Tiny Engines. Highlights: Love Letters, Lichen, Milky Way.
Empath – Liberating Guilt and Fear
Empath is an interesting one – indie rock with a whole lot of noise. They put out Liberating Guilt and Fear, a cassette EP, along with two 7″s in 2018 (both called Environments, which makes my OCD hurt). Every Empath release has had at least one truly great track on it. Each one also has several moments in which it devolves into harsh noise. They tend to lose me in those moments, but the other parts make those worthwhile. The song The Eye is freakin’ excellent, and is my favorite song of theirs hands down. Check it out. All of their stuff is on Get Better Records.
It turns out working full time while going to grad school, planning/executing a cross country move, and filming a documentary (more on that later) doesn’t leave a ton of time for other things. Who knew? Well, I have finished some of those activities, and can now turn some of my attention back to my website updates, and that means it is time to catch up on 2018 record reviews. First up: Skating Polly’s latest full-length, The Make It All Show. This one was released back in May. I do not think it has gotten nearly the attention it deserves. This is an excellent record, and the best they have released to date.
I think people have long gotten hung up on how young the members of Skating Polly are. Focusing on that automatically caps how good you think the music can be. It becomes, “Wow, that’s great for their age,” instead of just, “Wow, that’s great.” It’s time to drop the qualifiers, folks. The Make It All Show is a killer rock record. Starting some time in 2017, if I recall correctly, Skating Polly went from a two-piece, to a three-piece, adding their brother, Kurt, to the lineup on drums (mostly). I love what this move did for the band – the musical depth that an extra member added was immediately obvious.
The first (and only, so far) pressing of The Make It All Show was on a really cool pink and red splatter vinyl, released on El Camino Media:
This record took an unexpected turn for me. I thought I had established a good idea of what to expect from Skating Polly musically. I’ve loved their energy since I first happened upon them at Riot Fest in 2015. Their harsher material best captures that energy and draws you in, but I have found that the tracks of theirs that keep me coming back have been the less-brutal, more-pop-influenced tracks. This has been true for their last three releases: “Dead Friends” and “A Little Late” on 2014’s Fuzz Steilacoom, “Pretective Boy” on 2016’s The Big Fit, “Black Sky” and “Louder in Outer Space” on last year’s New Trick EP…
Those types of tracks are great on The Make It All Show as well. Their louder songs, however, have made the leap. The grand standout on the album is “They’re Cheap (I’m Free)”. This song’s vicious auditory assault tore a path of destruction through my living room. Once I sifted through the wreckage, I played it again. The track begins with a perfectly evil, menacing bassline and clear calm-before-the-storm vocals. The intensity builds and explodes into a chorus of savage badassery. It’s freakin’ great. Check it out:
Next up: “Camelot”. This one has a similarly vicious intensity level. It’s a full-speed, shredding rock beast, with another killer bassline. The last couple of lines could easily be the chorus of another song. Here’s the official video:
I’ll wrap up with my favorite of the less-noisy tracks: Hollywood Factory. I don’t have a ton of insights on this one…it’s just a great pop song and ends up stuck in my head with great regularity. Here, again, is the official video (they make a lot of those):
Great record, start to finish. Highly recommended.
14 Soda Punx LP
Top Drawer Records
Available January 19th
It’s 2018. Sicko is doing a reunion show. I’m flying out for it. Top Drawer Records is active again. I can’t really handle this combination of events. The Sicko performance is part of the two-day Seattle Pop Punk Festival, January 19th and 20th at Highline. You should do this. You still have time. I was a bit late to the party with Sicko (a friend introduced me in 1997), so I never got to see them play the first time around. Time to rectify that.
If that weren’t enough, though, Top Drawer decided to take it one step further, reviving the (tragically) lost art form of the compilation. In conjunction with the festival, they are releasing the 14 Soda Punx record, limited to 500 copies on red vinyl (pre-order here). This is a 23-year-later sequel to the classic Top Drawer 13 Soda Punx compilation.
Top Drawer and Sicko have always excelled at promoting the frequently overlooked Seattle pop punk scene, which has always existed – it shared space with the ’90s grunge boom era, and never achieved the fanfare. The Fastbacks managed to keep one foot in both worlds, but they were mostly alone in that – other bands were seemingly either in one camp or the other, and there was little overlap. Top Drawer planted the pop punk flag and flew it proudly while everyone else was perfecting their power chord/feedback balance.
So here we are. There is still pop punk in Seattle, and Top Drawer has come out of retirement to once again, with a small army of punk bands, to stake its claim to that segment of the Seattle music scene. And it’s good. 14 Soda Punx is a fascinating walk through a variety of pop punk styles. Parts of the record are like walking through a mid-90s Warped Tour lineup…you can hear influences all over the place from the bands of that time.
Since Top Drawer has brought back the compilation with authority, I am going to revive yet another lost art form: describing tracks on a comp by drawing comparisons with other bands. There are highlights all over the place, but one real standout for me is the opener. The record kicks off with a strong entry from Success called “Kurt Bloch,” a not-super-subtle musical love letter to the Fastbacks. It’s got Weston/Armchair Martian-style guitar work and vocals, which equates directly with happiness. It’s scientific fact. Really catchy and solid. Ramona’s “Token” follows, which is also fun – this one kind of sounds like one of the early Rancid tracks sung by Matt. Or something by Tilt. Or both together.
Shadow Cats bring us “Paranoia,” which sounds like a Fastbacks love child. Fantastic hooks and Hi-Fives-like vocal progression. Head-bobbing and infectious. Burn Burn Burn’s “What Doing” takes us on a detour from 14 Soda Punx and lands us in a ’90s Fat Wreck comp. Great energy. A couple of tracks later, after we find our way back from Fat Music for Top Drawer People, we crash into something straight out of Husker Du – the Botherations track “Amor Perdido.” I love the emotional intensity of this song. Intensity – whether in music or obvious in vocals – is a feature I am realizing more and more matters to me in new music.
At this point, we reach the brightest highlight for me on 14 Soda Punx. I will say that Top Drawer did its best to avoid making this record/festival a celebration of Sicko and its members’ new bands. I knew Denny’s new band was on here, but I did not know which band it was when I listened to it. When the Drolls’ song “Getting Old” kicks in, it takes all the guesswork out of the equation. This song brings me back to vintage Sicko. Great stuff. Ean’s new band, Date Night with Brian, follows with the characteristically catchy pop song, “Get It In.” The song is excellent, and it is a good follow up to their debut EP that came out in 2017 (which you should go check out from Top Drawer. It’s on Spotify, too). 14 Soda Punx closes with Dead Bars, probably the best-known of the bands on the record. They contribute the hysterical “Krist Novoselic’s New Band,” which…well, just go listen.
Top Drawer has returned with a vengeance, and it’s what we need in 2018.
Have you noticed that all the “best of” lists from “independent” publications all kind of look the same this year? In past years, I’ve been able to find at least one or two that have contained decent overlap with my favorites. This year, they all seem to reflect what in the past would have been a Billboard end of year chart. Sorry, folks, I’m just not looking for you to tell me that Lorde or Kendrick Lamar had the best record of the year…I want something based on more than sales figures. I’ve also noticed that the big lists are very careful to cover ever genre. You won’t find any of that here.
Instead, first and foremost, you get a list of all of the albums that had me going back for repeated listens this year. There were a good number in 2017. I have included one release that came out late in 2016, because 1) I didn’t hear it until 2017 and 2) if one thing has been clear this year, it’s that there are no rules anymore. I’ve also kind of stopped ranking albums. Does it matter if something is #1 or #3 on my list? Not really. It’s kind of arbitrary and adds little value. We can say I listened the top tier ones a lot more often than the “other notable” records. That’s as much as I am going to break it down. Enjoy. There’s a lot of great stuff happening in the indie music world. I’m eager to hear your comments (and feel free to suggest other bands I’ve missed!).
Diet Cig – Swear I’m Good at This
It was a toss-up whether I anticipated this album or the new Afghan Whigs more when the year got started. I would have thought it impossible for this record to live up to the level of hype the machine in my head was cranking out…and yet, it did. It’s a fantastic album – catchy, energetic, brutally honest songs from guitarist/singer Alex Luciano’s adventures/missteps in early adulthood. Great hooks, fantastic energy. I can say with certainty that I listened to this record more times than any other in the first half of the year (and most likely more than any other all year). “Maid of the Mist” is a damn-near-perfect indie rock song, and it contains a delightfully vicious opening line: “I want to hold a seance for every heart I’ve broken, put them all in a room and say, ‘Get over it.'”. Other highlights: Bite Back, Blob Zombie. I’m really looking forward to seeing their songs performed with a full band in the spring (they have been a two-piece band to this point).
Katie Ellen – Cowgirl Blues
OK, let’s get this out of the way: first, Katie Ellen is a band name, not a person. Second, Cowgirl Blues is not a country album. I freakin’ love this record. Diet Cig dominated the first half of my year, but Katie Ellen took over the second. This record is full of excellent, infectious, heartfelt, and yes, brutally honest indie rock songs (sensing a pattern?). I know I said I wasn’t ranking things, but “Sad Girls Club” is my song of the year. I have listened to the full album many times over, and still cannot listen straight through without repeating that track a couple of times. It’s just a perfect, infectious song, and not just because it has the lyrical cadence of Nirvana’s “Drain You.” The chorus — “You have known for quite a while that I am not so well, sad girls don’t make good wives” — is even more biting when you see the lyric sheet, which contains quotes…i.e. ‘You have “known for quite a while that I am not so well’, sad girls don’t make good wives,” meaning this was probably something that was actually said to singer/guitarist Anika Pyle during a breakup. Rough. Anyway, fantastic record start to finish. Highly recommended. Highlights: “Sad Girls Club”, “Drawing Room”, “Houses into Homes”
Allison Crutchfield – Tourist in This Town
The curse of a January album release…by December, everyone forgets it came out this year. I gave Allison Crutchfield’s record a ton of my time in 2017 as well. It is packed with stellar indie pop songs with extensive earworm qualities. I had only listened to it once when she was touring through here, and I opted not to go, and I now regret it terribly. She spent most of the rest of the year touring with her sister as Waxahatchee (also a solid 2017 album), and now, it seems as though her focus may be shifting back toward the reunion of her previous band, Swearin’. That’s all good, but I was really hoping to hear some of this material live. I was also shocked to discover that an album I have had in my library for many years, the Ackleys, included 15-year old Allison and Katie Crutchfield. Blew my mind. Anyway…my favorite tracks: Expatriate, Dean’s Room, Mile Away
The Afghan Whigs – In Spades
It would take a lot for Greg Dulli to put out a record without it making my best of list. This is the second Whigs album since they reformed, and I can’t help but compare it to the last one. I would say that In Spades has a consistent quality to it, while Do to the Beast had more ups and downs. However, while I thought two tracks from Do to the Beast measured up to any of the best of Dulli’s extensive catalogue (These Sticks and Lost in the Woods), I did not feel that any on In Spades quite reached those heights (though I Got Lost gets close). There’s a quality in my favorite Afghan Whigs or Twilight Singers songs that gives me chills and stabs me squarely in the emotion vault. Only I Got Lost and Birdland do anything like that for me on the new record. I realize this is starting to read like a negative review…it’s not. In Spades is a great album, and I — at the very least — like every song on it. After almost 30 years (!) of transcendent music, though, my Dulli bar is set REALLY high. Highlights: I Got Lost, Birdland, Light as a Feather
Cherry Glazerr – Apocalipstick
Apocalipstick caught me off guard. I had formulated an opinion on Cherry Glazerr after their last record and singles, and felt fully comfortable in my “solid at times, but nothing that needed to be in the rotation” stance. Oops. I kept reading so many good things about their new record that I gave it a try a few weeks ago. The first two songs meshed well with my idea of the band’s sound. Same assessment: fine. Then, the third track, Moon Dust, hit, and knocked me on my ass. This is a badass, powerful rock song that thoroughly blew me away. It totally derailed my day, as I had to stop what I was doing and really give it a good listen. As I listened, more and more of it won me over. A later track on the album, Sip O’ Poison, bowled me over even more than Moon Dust had. This is one hell of an album, full of captivating songs with delightfully harsh and/or menacing guitar lines. Even the tracks that had me on the fence upon first listen have since grabbed me. Fully worth your time. Highlights: Moon Dust, Sip O’ Poison, Nurse Ratched
Charly Bliss – Guppy
I will be honest…the first time I listened to this record, early in the year, it didn’t resonate with me and I couldn’t get over the sound of the vocals. However, I read at least three different reviews as the year went on that said the same thing: something along the lines of, “the vocals turned me off at first, but then I couldn’t get the supremely catchy songs out of my head and now I love them.” I decided to give it another try, and I am really glad I did. Count me among those now on the Charly Bliss train. Now, I can’t figure out how I gave them a pass earlier in the year, especially since the album takes no time to get going; the guitar line in the opening track, Percolator, just crushes. I have listened to everything they have released kind of incessantly throughout the fall. Guppy is packed with addictive indie rock songs full of savage self-reflection and occasional shredding guitar lines. I love it. I got to see them a few weeks back and they did not disappoint. Interestingly, some of my favorites of theirs are the one-off mp3s and singles they have put out separately. In addition to the Guppy album, Don’t sleep on those: Turd, Clean, Special, Love Me are all fantastic. Highlights from Guppy: Percolator, DQ, Ruby.
THICK – It’s Always Something… EP (2016)
I heard THICK on the fabulous playlist assembled by the NY Times as part of their Rock’s Not Dead, It’s Ruled By Women article that came out in September (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/01/arts/music/rock-bands-women.html – well worth one of your ten free articles this month). Both the article and the playlist are phenomenal. The playlist fully validated what I have been listening to in recent years, as 90% of the new bands that have hooked me in the past five years were featured. THICK doesn’t have much material out yet, but I like what I’ve heard. There’s a ton of potential in their handful of songs, which swing between indie and full-on riot grrrl. It’s Always Something… is a four-song cassette EP and all songs are good. You can already see the growth in songwriting from the other tracks that they have on Bandcamp, and I can’t wait to hear what’s next. Highlights: Puke’s Diner, Anymore
Skating Polly – New Trick EP
I’ve mentioned Skating Polly before on my best of lists. I continue to be intrigued with their rapid development as musicians. They drew me in with Babes in Toyland-esque noise, and kept me coming back with their less-thrashy, more harmonic material. this year, they went into the studio with Louise Post and Nina Gordon of Veruca Salt and cranked out a three-song 12″ EP, and it’s excellent. All good. They also added their brother to their touring lineup to make it a three-piece, and it had a great effect. Highlights: Louder in Outer Space, Black Sky
Other Notable Records of 2017
Cayetana – New Kind of Normal
I’m still trying to figure out what to do with Cayetana’s second full-length album. It’s really good. And I rarely listen to it. Why? Well…it’s a tough album. It’s actually the perfect musical embodiment of depression. I don’t mean that in an, “I’m sad today and I’m going to turn out the lights, light a candle, and listen to _ to stew in it” kind of way (I left in blank because everyone has their personal preferences for this). No, this is not that type of album. This is a no-holds-barred, bleak portrayal of what it is like to wrestle with crippling depression. It’s not that it isn’t heartfelt…it’s just got that energy that someone has when they are just going through the motions of daily life as they battle all-encompassing depression. It’s brilliantly constructed, but, honestly, tough to put on with any regularity. There are a couple of standout tracks, like Phonics Failed Me, that break free from the bleak overall feel to strike at some more emotion; those do keep me coming back. However, there aren’t any songs on this record like a handful of the ones on the last album, like Dirty Laundry, that I may or may not have listened to 15 times in a row. Highlights: Phonics Failed Me, Am I Dead Yet
Date Night with Brian – S/T EP I’m just happy that there are new songs from Ean Hernandez of Sicko. A solid EP of exactly what one would expect from him: poppy indie-punk songs. Highlights: Summertime, Anywhere
Greensleep – Cheap Headphones
Greensleep was one of my favorite bands of the ’90s. They were pretty unknown, especially outside of New York, but cranked out song after song of heartbreaking indie-punk during that time. I was really excited to hear that they were reuniting. Naturally, they are not the same band that they were then; a solid chunk of life has passed since the ’90s. In reforming, though, they added a fourth member, who now does the majority of the singing, and it has completely changed the dynamic of the band. Cheap Headphones is their first full-length album since reuniting. The main singer/guitarist from the original band only sings four of the eleven tracks on the album. Those four songs would make a fantastic EP; those songs somehow retain the angsty, early-twenties energy that the band had in the ’90s. The ones sung by the later addition to the band don’t have the same energy. Some are good songs, but the feeling is off. Highlights: 2nd Avenue, Restrepo, Armchair Revolutions.
Here’s a rare one (for me)…an in-depth study of someone’s discography that contains almost no vinyl. The third wave ska scene featured something that I have not seen to my satisfaction since: truly fantastic instrumental ska albums. While paying homage to the 1st wave with lots of covers, the 2Tone era broke fully from instrumental ska. The 3rd wave went in several directions – punk ska (aka “punk with horns”), more traditional sounding ska with vocals, and then, the really traditional instrumental ska. It was a particularly unique time in ska history, as a good number of the original Jamaican masters were still alive and touring, their influence obvious in every instrumental release. One of these was the late Rico Rodriguez. Rico was wonderful, and a trombone master. Which brings us to today’s task: tackling the very confusing discography of Jazz Jamaica, the wonderful Rico Rodriguez band of the era. “Oh, that’s easy,” you say. “It was just two CDs, right?” (Okay, I know you aren’t saying that. Work with me.) It turns out there were several albums that were only released in Japan, several others released under different band names, and even two using the name that were really by a different band. It took me forever to get straight.
Total aside: I tried like hell to see Jazz Jamaica and/or Rico play before he died. The world conspired against me. Jazz Jamaica actually flew to the States for one show in the late 90’s – a free performance in Central Park. My car was stuck in the shop longer than expected and I couldn’t afford the bus ticket to New York at that point. I’m still kicking myself – I even had a friend who really had no interest go as a surrogate. Then…years later, I lived in Switzerland, and I was supposed to drive to see Rico (in Lucerne, if memory serves), but he cancelled at the last minute due to illness. Of course, the car I was driving might not have made it anyway. Tragic.
At any rate, let’s take a dive into Jazz Jamaica. First, the ground rules: what counts as Jazz Jamaica? Here’s how I am defining the band: 1. Must contain Rico. 2. Must contain a representative sampling (half) of the eight band members who released the albums under the Jazz Jamaica name. This will become clearer in a moment.
1. Skaravan CD – 1993/1996
Readily available U.S. CD. Easy, right? Negative. This one originally came out in Japan and the UK in 1993, then later in the U.S. in 1996. Each had a completely different cover. That’s not too bad. But wait, there’s more…the Japanese version contained three additional tracks. And they’re GOOD: “Dr. Kildare,” “Rasta,” and “Confucious” (a significantly different version from the one that later came out on the Double Barrel album). There are some wonderful recordings on this album, including my all-time favorite version of “Peanut Vendor.” All in all, a fantastic album. It stands out above the other early ones. If you listen to all three of the Japanese releases, it is fairly obvious why this is the one that got the subsequent U.S. release.
2. The Jamaican Beat: Blue Note Blue Beat Vol. 1 CD – 1994
This was a Japan-only CD. Usually fairly easy to track down, as long as you are willing to pay for shipping from Japan. This one…I don’t know. Parts are good and others fall flat. It opens with a rendition of “Three Blind Mice.” I mean…it’s certainly the best rendition of it I have heard, but it’s still “Three Blind Mice,” and they opened the album with it. It’s…an odd choice. They do a version of “Watermelon Man” on here, which is one of my all-time favorite instrumentals. I have always thought that this should be a high-energy song, though, and the Jazz Jamaica version is a bit more chill, with a wandering bass line. It’s good, but then I listen to the Jump with Joey or Baba Brooks version, and feel that those are far superior.
One weird thing is that there were a couple of tracks on the disc with vocals, which was pretty abnormal for Jazz Jamaica. Hmm…I feel as though this is coming off as too negative. It is actually a very good album. The second half of the disc, in particular, is really strong – “Sidewinder” and “Song for My Father” are really good. There is also a pretty badass version of “Take Five” on here (which Rico later did for the fabulous late-’90s Ska Island compilation as well). This song, with its aggressive horn line, is the type of track that really showed off Rico’s trombone ability.
3. Rico & His Band – You Must Be Crazy CD/LP – 1994
The first curve ball (aside from the Japan-only releases, of course). This is a live album, recorded in 1994, released in Germany. It’s not officially Jazz Jamaica, but it meets the spirit of the exercise and the sound of the band. Rico, along with Eddie “Tantan” Thornton, Michael “Bammie” Rose, and Tony Uter play on this one. The rest of the band is different from the Jazz Jamaica releases. It’s a very solid live recording.
This one was an absolute beast to find. Since I found out that a green vinyl version of this record existed, I have been looking for one. It took me five years to track one down. I’ve updated the Pette Discographies entry to include scans of it, along with a discussion of the sort-of-bootleg of the eMpTy version that came out in 2000.
No, seriously. A very…let’s say “detail-oriented”…personality such as my own cannot handle trying to research Jamaican records. I am working on a little Skatalites project right now, which I will premier a few months from now, depending on where my research takes me and whether I retain my sanity. I was sorting out the tracks that appear on the old Studio 1 Best of the Ska-talites album, starting with the track “Air Raid Shelter.” My LP is in fairly rough shape, so in digitizing it, I ended up with really crackly recordings. I happen to have the 7″ of that song, so I figured I would just record the 7″ and be done with it. Simple, right? Negative, Ghost Rider. The song on the 7″ didn’t match the one on the album. I checked over on Discogs, which told me that the tracks on the record were all out of order. Crap. That album was my only source for about 8 of the tracks on there. After researching the matrix codes on the 7″, I determined that it was mislabeled, and was actually “Addis Ababa.” Cool. Let’s double check that with the version of that one that I have on the Foundation Ska CD – that ought to be accurate, right? D’oh…that’s an entirely different song, and was actually “Fidel Castro.” Cross-referencing with YouTube, I sorted it all out, and “Air Raid Shelter” was actually labeled correctly on the LP. So let’s recap…the Best of the Ska-Talites LP track listing on the sleeve does not match the one on the labels, neither of which match the actual track listing. However, the tracks on my copy are not out of order in the same way that is documented on Discogs. The “Air Raid Shelter” 7″ is actually “Addis Ababa,” and “Addis Ababa” on the Foundation Ska CD is actually “Fidel Castro.” Got it.
‘Tis time. My annual music review has been something I have put together for several years, but I have generally limited it to a personal Facebook post. That seems a little silly, considering these vast tools at my disposal to reach at least 5-10 additional people who might care. So, I’m expanding the reach this year. Here we go: my favorite albums of 2016 (and late 2015, if I did not get to it by 2015, but it counts because I make the rules). The first few entries here are interchangeable in my rankings – they are all albums I have listened to incessantly since I discovered them.
1. Tacocat – Lost Time
I was way late to the game on Tacocat. Then, I was listening to extensively curated female-singer-indie-rock channel on Pandora, and Pandora and I had a discussion, which essentially amounted to Pandora saying, “Um, you like Tacocat, dumbass. No, really. Get on that,” and me saying, “Mmhm.” We had that conversation about three times before I paid attention. Pandora was correct, and I have remedied the problem. I am now caught up. The good news is this happened at the perfect time: about a month before the release of a new Tacocat album, followed by not one, but two rare DC tour appearances. It’s true: I Tacocat and you should, too. Their newest album, Lost Time, covers all kinds of fun topics, but I will leave that to you to work through.
2. S P O R T S – All of Something (2015)
Heartfelt, energetic, solid indie rock with a distinct hint of a midwestern sound. This album grabbed me immediately…I just didn’t hear it until early 2016. I read a review of All of Something shortly after I heard it that made it sound as though this band had all the makings of one that was not long for this world (some members – but not all – graduated from college and moved from Ohio to Philly). It hasn’t done them in yet.
3. Bloodboy – Best of Bloodboy EP
No, Bloodboy is not a hardcore or metal band (at least not yet) – just solo singer/songwriter Lexie Papilion. I am still trying to figure out how I found my way to this EP. It contains sounds one would normally expect to find exclusively in ’80s songs (and for those of you saying, “I love ’80s songs!” I did not mean that as a positive). It works, though. It really works. These are phenomenal songs. Intense, biting, and infectious – I have been listening to this EP repeatedly for the past couple of months. If only there were a physical product so that I could give her money for her music… Anyway, this EP is a stellar debut and I look forward to what is to come.
Oh, just listen to the whole thing. It’s all good. The last track doesn’t hold my attention quite as much as the first five, but it’s still good.
4. Blowout – No Beer, No Dad
Blowout sounds like early Lemuria…I mean they REALLY remind me of early Lemuria. This is a fantastic development – I miss early Lemuria. It’s catchy indie-punk songs at their finest. This is their first full length, and it has also been occupying my stereo with great regularity in the latter part of this year.
Well, check that out: I went and made a Pette Discogs blog. This format should make it easier for me to post about some of the individual records I have researched in recent years. I have replaced the blog-ish part of the main site with this one and am loading all of my old posts from that site on here so that they are archived better.