Category Archives: review

Bow To Your New Sensation

To my ears, 2015 was the best year for music in a long time. Though these ears are certainly biased, as they hadn’t been this tuned into new music since… well, 2002. At least, that’s last time I felt compelled to compile a top albums roundup.

The biggest thrill for me this year was finding so many amazing new bands, such that only one old favorite wedged its way into my top 10 albums. Not even a former Go-Between could quite compete. (Sorry, Robert Forster!)

I know it’s rather old-fashioned to think in terms of albums, especially as I’m a bit of a singles girl at heart, but that’s why it’s so special when a full set of songs from a single artist can bring so much pleasure. Here are just over 10 that hit my musical sweet spots, plus a handful of others that have been in my regular rotation.

nstop’s Top 10 LP’s of 2015

  1. Protomartyr – The Agent Intellect (Bandcamp)
    All Dogs – Kicking Every Day (Bandcamp)

    Starting with a tie, because enough last-weeks-of-the-year listening to Protomartyr caused them to muscle into my top 10. Yet they couldn’t quite kick those dogs out.

    As a child of the indie rock 90s, I fell instantly for the sunny, slightly grit-encrusted guitar pop of All Dogs. They may hail from Columbus, OH, but their croon and crunch brings me back to the rock clubs of my native Boston in the early 90s. “Sunday Morning” is the kind of laconic jangler that I’d have slapped on a mix tape right next to Fuzzy or the Blake Babies. One of the few bands on this list I haven’t seen live, which I plan to rectify in March when they come back to Seattle.

    Would it be weird to say that the Protomartyr LP is my latest running jam? Well, it is. Something about this Detroit foursome’s third album is both propulsive and mesmerizing in a way that suits my steady-on — with occasional bursts of speed — pace. Joe Casey’s vocal delivery is wry and well-suited to the Chameleons-esque dark, glistening tunes. And did I change my flight to Australia just to ensure I could see them live in March? Well, yes I did.

  2. Viet Cong – Viet Cong (Bandcamp)

    Doomy postpunk mixed with mildly psychedelic guitar soundscapes, this debut LP from Canadian art-punks Viet Cong is turns blistering and smoke-shrouded (in the case of their live shows, quite literally). “Bunker Buster” leading into “Continental Shelf” provides a 1-2 punch of frenzy and release midway through, the highlight of the album.

  3. Cheatahs – Mythologies (Spotify)

    Like a walk through a sunshower, Cheatahs’ bright sound hits you with a nearly tactile shimmer, as distorted guitars and electronics swirl and percolate and envelop. While it’s clear these guys have more than a few mid-90s Creation label releases in their record collections, slapping on the shoegaze label would be as wrong as gluing a price sticker on a matte record album cover. Because it’s the stellar songcraft over the course of all 13 tracks that distinguish this as something that can stand on its own as a fuzz-pop beauty.

  4. Tigercats – Mysteries (Spotify)

    Yet another entry from the animal kingdom, London’s Tigercats craft surprisingly intricate melodies and rhythms that belie their surface tweeness. But the nasal male vocals of singer Duncan align with the sweet counterpoint of keyboardist Laura’s warble in way that, while perhaps an acquired taste for those who wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a Pastels badge, make perfect sense for these lovely vignettes-in-song. Something like “Sleeping in the Back Seat”, with its refrain “lay your head next to mine,” could be treacly in the wrong hands, but here it’s simply sweet.

  5. Twerps – Range Anxiety (Bandcamp)

    The leading export of Melbourne, Australia’s thriving (and incestuous) guitar-pop scene, Twerps have winning songs and attitudes, like a Down Under Feelies on antidepressants. In fact, “Simple Feelings” opens just like that New Jersey band’s “Only Life” until… the exuberant second guitar comes in to spring it into territory beyond their antecedents’ cool equanimity. Music to make you want to dance and bob your head in time, things I couldn’t help but do myself at their stellar show this past April in Seattle.

  6. The Chills – Silver Bullets (Bandcamp)

    Along with the Go-Betweens, New Zealand’s The Chills have been my most beloved purveyors of complex, heartfelt pop since my teenage years. Yet they’ve been largely absent for the past 20 years, with small releases, much of it demos or archival material, to fill the gap. So I thrilled to each trickle from this new LP as the release date crept near: the sparkling melody of “Molten Gold” and the rat-a-tat-tat “America Says Hello.” And Silver Bullets, I’m happy to report, is the comeback album that Chills fans have been waiting for. Martin Phillips is at his best when putting his hushed romanticism on full display, as on the aforementioned “Molten Gold” and “Warm Waveform,” which gently bobs along in a saltwater pool, the music mirroring the comforting embrace of a lover described within. And true to its title, “When the Poor Can Reach the Moon” soars upwards with one of those effortless-seeming, cranial-lodging singalong melodies that Phillips at his best can do like few others.

  7. Dick Diver – Melbourne, Florida (Bandcamp)

    Some albums blow you over on first listen; others creep up on you steadily, until you find yourself humming fragments of song while waiting at the bus stop. And its fewer bands yet that can induce you to do so when the lyric is “There’s sick on your lapel, daddy-o.” As the couplet concludes: that’s confidence. And Melbourne (Australia) band Dick Diver are full of it, in a relaxed, low-key, unshowy way. The product of four distinct songwriters in the band, this album swings in a gloriously idiosyncratic fashion, from loping laments to the effervescent pop of “Waste the Alphabet,” which positively vibrates with possibility.

  8. Zebra Hunt – City Sighs (Bandcamp)

    A band I saw more than any other in 2015 (nine times!), Seattle’s own Zebra Hunt took their impeccable influences and synthesized them into original indiepop gems on this, their debut album. While some of what’s been written about Zebra Hunt have focused on their Antipodean musical forebears — who rank just as high in my personal canon — what I love about this record is unmistakably American: a sunny and shimmery, cool and laid-back west coast vibe. They know how to do everything from danceably jittery frustration (“Half Right”) to sweet love songs (“Always”) to epic pop soundscapes (“Haze of Youth”). As the band was in the studio near the end of 2015, I’m very much looking forward to more from Zebra Hunt in 2016.

  9. The Moonlight – The Moonlight (Bandcamp)

    Tense, dark guitar pop from Auckland, NZ, The Moonlight were also the dark horse in my album picks. Tipped to this band by Ben @didnotchart, I was shocked by the pleasure of hearing something so different from my other guitar pop or postpunk faves. It’s something about the mood and tone that is set, for this band delivers on their name: music for dusk and darkness pierced by silvery bright melody that pushes out between the clouds. Songs with spare arrangements, minor chord plaints providing brooding meditations on a theme, the power of spidery guitar lines compounding through repetition. And an underlying tension throughout that frequent fails to resolve, as if suspending the listener on the edge of a cliff, head tossed back over the crevasse. The Moonlight provided a sound I didn’t realize I was missing, and that’s a rare feat indeed.

  10. Salad Boys – Metalmania (Bandcamp)

    Another New Zealand band, another debut, this one just barely edged out The Moonlight for my top spot. Luring you in with the lovely, lilting melody of opener “Here’s No Use,” you’ll find this is simply the wind-up for the gut punch of pop perfection that follows: “Dream Date.” The chugging guitar intro is the fuse on a rocket, shooting sparks in every direction and never failing to induce a dopey grin on my face as I get set for the pop clangor to follow. And perhaps my delight is also because the memory of their live performance of this song — indeed, their entire set — last year at the Highline is indelibly seared into my musical pleasure receptors. A jangle both drawling and fierce, and more than a little reminiscent of the 80s heyday of certain NZ south islanders (why yes, I will drop the F word now: Flying Nun), Salad Boys’ music is yet still fresh and original and of consistently high quality.

    Also notable:

    Dianas – Dianas (Bandcamp)
    Jay Som – Untitled (Bandcamp)
    Day Ravies – Liminal Zones (Bandcamp)
    Young Guv – Ripe 4 Luv (Spotify
    Cool Sounds – Healing Crystals (Bandcamp)
    Skylar Spence – Prom King (Spotify)
    The Orange Peels – Begin the Begone (Bandcamp)

Indie Antipodes

I recently did something that my teenage self would be thrilled about: I booked a trip to Australia and New Zealand. Though she’d probably yell at me, too: why did you take so goddamn long?!

See, at age 15 I first discovered The Church (via local “alternative” radio station WFNX), quickly followed by the Go-Betweens (thanks, MTV’s 120 Minutes!). My love of those two bands put Australia firmly on my musical radar.

Then a short year later, based on a rave review by Mike A in his zine Writer’s Block, I took a chance on buying a rather expensive import CD at the Newbury Comics store in Harvard Square. The disc was Flying Nun label comp In Love With These Times, and from the kickoff track—”Rain” by The Chills—I was hooked. So much amazing music from this one label in New Zealand! I started scouring local record stores for any and all releases by my favorite bands on that comp: the Chills, the Verlaines, the Bats, Look Blue Go Purple and Able Tasmans.

Throughout the years I’ve followed my favorites throughout their careers, buying countless additional records and considering myself lucky to have seen most of these bands live at one time or another. And I’ve occasionally added a band here and there to my list of Aussie and NZ faves.

But it’s only recently that I’ve started paying much closer attention to some of the newer indie bands from that part of the world. And it turns out that now is a pretty fantastic time to be listening. Because many different cities have been brewing up not just great bands, but thriving music scenes, with members swapping and recombining themselves with results that keep me clicking the “Buy now” link on a dizzying array of Bandcamps.

So I want to share with you my favorite recent music from Australia and New Zealand, a whopping 38 bands in total. All songs are from the past couple of years (2013-2015), though most have been released this past year. I featured a number of these bands in my summer 2015 new music mix, so in those instances I’ve chosen different tracks here.

And pssst, bands: play lots of shows in March! Together! And pleaseohpleaseohplease don’t break up! At least not before my boyfriend and I are able to arrive in your town to catch as many of you live as we can.

On to the music…

Indie Antipodes

A current Australia/New Zealand music mix

(I did make a SoundCloud playlist with the 32 tracks available on that service. But you really wanna listen to every last song—links to all 38 below.)

  1. Tempura Nights – Studville (Soundcloud)
    A short and sassy tumble tangle-jangle.
    (Brisbane, AUS – September 2015)
  2. Salad Boys – Dream Date (Bandcamp)
    Crunchy, catchy, kinetic pop and spiky guitar.
    (Christchurch, NZ – August 2015)
  3. Miners – Wrings (Bandcamp)
    Bopping back and forth and staring at your shoes (fuzz-guitar break).
    (Wollongong, AUS – October 2015)
  4. Dianas – Of A Time (Bandcamp)
    Delicate and spare, lovely lilting harmonies over a pulsing beat.
    (Perth, AUS – September 2015)
  5. Terry – Talk About Terry (Soundcloud)
    Finger-snap-cracking, speak-and-singing shambling pop.
    (Melbourne, AUS – August 2015)
  6. X-Ray Charles – Field Recordings of Animal Noises (Bandcamp)
    A ripping frantic strum and drum.
    (Christchurch, NZ – May 2013)
  7. Thigh Master – Head of the Witch (Bandcamp)
    Drawling whine and crashing guitar bliss.
    (Brisbane, AUS – July 2014)
  8. The Ancients – Hey Now (Bandcamp)
    A cloud of mildly psychedelic fuzz-pop perfection.
    (Melbourne, AUS – October 2013)
  9. Day Ravies – Fake Beach (Bandcamp)
    Hazy and breathy, with a-go-go organ and guitar growl.
    (Sydney, AUS – July 2015)
  10. Beaches – Send Them Away (Bandcamp)
    A lovely la-la wash and crash.
    (Melbourne, AUS – April 2013)
  11. Dick Diver – Tearing the Posters Down (Bandcamp)
    Sparkling, chugging, harmonizing together.
    (Melbourne, AUS – March 2015)
  12. The Moonlight – Into the Water (Bandcamp)
    Tense and intense stutter-guitar and croon.
    (Auckland, NZ – October 2015)
  13. Blank Realm – Palace of Love (Bandcamp)
    Carousel of jangle and snarl.
    (Brisbane, AUS – September 2015)
  14. The Chills – Warm Waveform (SoundCloud)
    A hushed pulse of glowing jewel tones.
    (Dunedin, NZ – October 2015)
  15. The Goon Sax – Sometimes Accidentally (Bandcamp)
    A charming and chiming sideways lament.
    (Brisbane, AUS – September 2015)
  16. Kitchen’s Floor – Doomed (Bandcamp)
    Buzzing, sing-songy drone-beat.
    (Brisbane, AUS – September 2015)
  17. Filthy Teens – OCD Lovers (Bandcamp)
    Nasal guitar shimmy and spritz.
    (Sydney, AUS – June 2014)
  18. Rat Columns – New Honey (Bandcamp)
    Laconic guitar noodle and melody.
    (Perth, AUS – July 2015)
  19. Center Negative – (secretly he’s a racist) (Bandcamp)
    Farfisa-fueled, rollicking lo-fi ramble.
    (Auckland, NZ – August 2015)
  20. Caroline – Ten Yr Olds Shouldn’t Sell Tape Decks (Bandcamp)
    90s-style indie rock slang and rumble.
    (Brisbane, AUS – March 2015)
  21. Terrible Truths – See Straight (Bandcamp)
    Jagged rhythms, open spaces, attitude.
    (Adelaide, AUS – October 2015)
  22. The Cathys – Rebble (Bandcamp)
    Percolating post-punk-pop. dryly delivered.
    (Sydney, AUS – June 2015)
  23. Ciggie Witch – Long Weekend (Bandcamp)
    Caffeinated dolewave sliding from hook to hook.
    (Melbourne, AUS – April 2014)
  24. Transistors – Confidence Man (Bandcamp)
    Guys in the garage, bashing it out.
    (Christchurch, NZ – September 2015)
  25. Bunnies On Ponies – Nothing (Bandcamp)
    A whirling gallop of psych-pop.
    (Wellington, NZ – July 2014)
  26. Community Radio – Real Transformation (Bandcamp)
    Gently head-expanding pop confection.
    (Sydney, AUS – June 2014)
  27. Cool Sounds – Night Line (Bandcamp)
    Swelling and atmospheric, plaintive minor key.
    (Melbourne, AUS – January 2015)
  28. The Good Morrows – Wake Up (This Isn’t Your Dream) (Bandcamp)
    Velvet-y guitar groove and woo-hoo.
    (Melbourne, AUS – July 2015)
  29. I, A Man – Cold Feet Warmed (Bandcamp)
    Expansive and shimmery echo.
    (Melbourne, AUS – April 2014)
  30. Jen Cloher – Mount Beauty (Bandcamp)
    Stomp and swing with tiny piano and a generous dose of twang.
    (Melbourne, AUS – May 2013)
  31. The Shifting Sands – Waiting For the Sun (Bandcamp)
    Loping guitar buzz and fuzz.
    (Dunedin, NZ – October 2014)
  32. T54 – Life Is Swell (Bandcamp)
    Laid-back strum into portent of melodic maelstrom.
    (Christchurch, NZ – November 2013)
  33. Twerps – Simple Feelings (Bandcamp)
    Hypnotically pulsating, unsimple guitar chime giving me the feelies.
    (Melbourne, AUS – January 2015)
  34. The Ocean Party – Guess Work (Bandcamp)
    Slowly unfolding, multi-dimensional twinkle.
    (Melbourne, AUS – September 2015)
  35. Tam Vantage – Do You Remember (Bandcamp)
    Languorous and longing.
    (Melbourne, AUS – October 2015)
  36. Hikikomori – Mega Ogre (Bandcamp)
    Helium-filled synth chamber pop.
    (Brisbane, AUS – November 2014)
  37. Sunbeam Sound Machine – Getting Young (Bandcamp)
    Space-pop for now people.
    (Melbourne, AUS – September 2015)
  38. Flyying Colours – In the End (YouTube)
    Sweetly Kaleidoscopic guitar swirl and coo.
    (Melbourne, AUS – June 2014)