My list won’t have The New Pornographers, Grinderman, Spoon, Teenage Fanclub, Kanye West, Janelle Monae, Sharon Jones, Phosphorescent, Wild Nothing, Joanna Newsom, OFF!, or Blood Feathers. All those folks put out terrific music in 2010, and I greatly enjoyed their respective outputs. For whatever reason, there were 20 bits of music that just clicked better with me personally than what those folks put out, so there it is. Enough folks with excellent taste will tell you how good those discs are, and they’re right, and I mention them because I don’t want anyone to think me not including them means I don’t think any of those folks put out the best music of 2010…they probably did…
….but this is my list, so it’ll be subject to my own biases, prejudices, and tastes. It is what it is.
20. The Granite Shore, “Flood Of Fortune” 7-inch (also “Tomorrow Morning, 3 AM” 7-inch).
Lots of years I seem to have an EP that I slot in at 20, not ready to give it full credit as an album but still. This year I went even smaller. The entire recorded output of The Granite Shore–who hail from “The Southwest UK”, Exeter perhaps?–consists of four songs released on two expensively detailed, meticulously, beautifully packaged 7″ vinyl singles (they do digital, too). The band, the vehicle of a fellow named Nick Halliwell, frequently consists of folks from the Wild Swans, as well as Phil Wilson who was once the leader of an incredible 1980′s band called The June Brides. And I’m writing more about The Granite Shore than anything else pretty much in the bottom half of my top 20 for the year because on these four songs Halliwell and his mates have recorded some of the most striking orchestral pop music I’ve heard in…like ever. Let’s just be clear: if you can imagine a band that combines the best bits of The Left Banke, Belle & Sebastian, and then stir in the most inventive moments from the first Decemberists album, you’ll get in the ballpark with The Granite Shore. The “Flood Of Fortune” single (backed with “Highway Code”) consists of a 56-piece string section, for instance. I cheated a bit here: the glorious “Tomorrow Morning, 3AM” single (backed with perhaps the best song in the Granite Shore catalog, “Workhouse”) is actually from 2009…but that sucker’s worth grabbing too. According to Phil Wilson, Halliwell has enough material to record and release an album proper. Let’s hope that happens in 2011. In the meantime, you Decemberist fans get all the hell over this, please?
Their Myspace page, where you can hear “Tomorrow, 3AM” and “Workhouse” in their magnificent glory. That page also has a link to their website where you can buy the songs as mp3′s or get the beautifully packaged vinyl or CD singles.
19. Nushu, Hula
At their best, Nushu (which is LA scene vets Lisa Mychols and Hillary Burton) sounds like the great followup album The Breeders never recorded. There are songs here that kind of fall flat (and the second half of the record rather lags a bit as a result), but there’s no denying the greatness of “Another Rainy Weekend” or “So Long (Maybe)” or “Your Girl”.
18. Dragoon, The Offending Party
The first album from the collaboration between the rhythm section of the legendary indie scuzz rockers The Grifters and Trusty frontman Bobby Matthews has been in the works for years, finally seeing light of day here in 2010. Lo-Fi as grungy as hell and hearkening back to the Crappin You Negative days of The Grifts, I suppose slotting this in at 18 is something of a disappointment. Turns out the songs that Dragoon released for consumption a few years ago (“Impress Me” which opens with the memorable line “We can do this with or without your snide-ass attitude”, “I Can Relate” and the sublime “Golden Hips”) were the best ones in the arsenal, and there are a few songs that just don’t work as well as they could. I also docked them 5 spots for leaving “Impatient” off this disc; that song had an epic feel that seems missing from some of the other songs that did make the cut. Still, you get a chance to hear Stanley Gallimore and Tripp Lamkins rock out and you need to grab it.
17. The Brought Low, Third Record
These Brooklyn-ites have always brought it heavy…but never quite this southern. In fact when the group throws itself into a groove, guitarist/vocalist Benjamin Howard Smith sounds not a little bit like a long-lost Van Zant brother. The record is a little uneven, but even the lesser parts are made up for by incredible songs like “A Thousand Miles Away”, “Last Man Alive” (which is so beautifully Skynyrd it could be a studio outtake), and the epic “The Kelly Rose”.
16. The Cyanide Pills, S/T
There are maybe a hundred bands on this planet right now doing a retro-punk thing that recalls the sounds of The Undertones, Stiff Little Fingers, or The Buzzcocks. The Cyanide Pills are probably the second best of all of them. For one thing, these blokes don’t have to affect fake British accents, as they hail from Leeds in the UK. The Cyanide Pills were a band I completely dismissed the first time I heard them…and then realized that I had “Break It Up” and “Shallow” riffing like crazy through my head. And so what these folks do sounds like it oughta be easy, but I’m not sure it is. They know from a killer hook, and like their obvious influences they strew them all over their 2-minute songs (this, their debut album features 19 songs…and a 40-minute run time.) So yeah, maybe the Cyanide Pills are painting by numbers here…but they’re doing it damn near better than anyone else on the planet, and there’s plenty of reason to think that they might just continue to evolve and have an even more monstrous record in them in the future. For now, turn this up and get to air-guitaring and pogo-ing!
Last week I knew I was going to need some music for a thing, and that said music should be fairly obscure, hopefully fairly good, and finally sort of have a certain mass appeal-ishness to it. I also regret having a whole ton of music that I’ve been listening to over the last 8-12 months that I’ve not at least given a mild shout out to, so that was also a motivating factor.
The thing of it is, while I try to have some sort of over-arching theme to the mixes I do, the theme for this mix has changed about five or six times since I started it. Originally I was going to call it “Two Good Songs”, in deference to my ol’ Euclid Records compatriot Steve. (Back in the day you’d ask Steve if he’d heard a new record, and inevitably, regardless of the album, you were 75% likely to get the response “Yeah…two good songs.” It became something of his trademark for a while.) That idea was to collect really terrific songs from albums made up of songs not quite to the standard of the one on the mix. Then the theme was summer. And then it wasn’t, because it’s too bloody hot as it is. Then the theme was “Excuses to put Deanne Iovan’s “Everything” into a mix.” Then it was “People you might know from other stuff doing new stuff”.
I guess for now the theme is just “This is a mix of songs that I think I have done a haphazard job of representing how good they are.” Everything in the mix is of very recent vintage, like 2008 or later. I think these songs are really, really good. I hope you enjoy this mix, and it brings you as much enjoyment as it’s brought me to both make and listen to.
Without further introduction, here we go:
(right click and “save as”…one large mp3 file as usual.)1. “Artificial Fanfare (Music In My Head)” Happy Chichester 2. “Pizza-Eater” The Leeds 3. “Olympic Gardens” The Mystery Numbers 4. “Queen Of Moods” Jeffrey Novak 5. “Saturday” The Music Lovers 6. “Cherry Blossom” Sad Day For Puppets 7. “Everything” Deanne Iovan 8. “Those Were The Days” Elvyn 9. “The Kids” The Bomb 10.”Chemicals” The Comfies 11.”When I’m With You” Best Coast 12.”Begging You” Graham Day & The Gaolers 13.”The Kelly Rose” The Brought Low 14.”Soul School” Cornershop 15.”Alice Marble Gray” Califone 16.”Go Jetsetter” The Postmarks 17.”So Long (Maybe)” Nushu 18.”Golden Hips” Dragoon 19.”These Are the Days” Grand Atlantic
20.”Kaleidoscope Eyes” Painted Hills
First off, don’t read too much into the title I picked here–I just used a lyric from the Music Lovers song because the timeframe for these songs was right; I’ve been fairly in my mind (and certainly not with the cool, sordid tale the dude in Music Lovers has!) over the last two years. I guess this mix is sort of like me compiling some odds and ends short stories from the past two years or so.
So who are these people?
Happy Chichester might be familiar to you. He was the bassist, backing vocalist, and one of the main creative forces behind The Royal Crescent Mob back in the day. Then they broke up and he had his own band, Howlin’ Maggie. This song is from his 2008 solo disc, which is really good (see also the cool video for “A Man Needs An Airplane” on youtube.)
The Leeds are a band that seems to be a collision of Anglo (singer Pandora Burgess) and Franc0 (the rest of the excellent, Rain Parade-y sounding band). This song is just totally aces, but the entire Leeds album is fantastic. This is one expensive-sounding production, so it baffles me that this disc is impossible to find outside of France. Ah well. Here’s a taste.
The Mystery Numbers is the new act for The Weather Machines’ (who are no more) frontman Jason Ward. He’s decamped from Portland back to Rapids City, SD, and making some truly genius music. Check out this site, where he’s got demos posted from the past few months; these are all very good and worth throwing the guy a few bucks to hear.
Jeffrey Novak is the leader of Cheap Time, a band that at one time also had his then-girlfriend, Jemina Pearl of the late and lamented Be Your Own Pet on bass. No word on a new Cheap Time album, or a new solo disc; I have a feeling the death of Jay Reatard earlier this year has hit the folks in this scene pretty hard.
If I ever manage to finish the top 20 list of greatest records of 2009, rest assured that The Music Lovers’ amazing album Masculin Feminine is going to be very high in the top ten. In the meantime, this disc has felt like my little secret, and I can’t contain how great a song “Saturday” is anymore. Best song about rehab and redemption ever? Oh, and you have GOT to see the incredible video for this song!
Sad Day For Puppets wins the award for “Worst Band Name In This Mix”, but boy did they put out a great album a year or so ago. They’re from Sweden, and manage to occasionally out-Pain the Pains Of Being Pure At Heart. Think C86, think Lush, think Flatmates, and bliss out.
Of all the tracks on this mix, I think Deanne Iovan’s “Everything” might be the one that gets me the most. I think it’ll get you too, if you happen to have a heart. Deanne is the former singer of Detroit’s legendary garage-soul genius band The Come Ons, but this is a total departure of the music she made in that group. This will just tear your soul to pieces and put it back together again. Deanne has a really cool blog, too, where right now she’s endeavoring to cover (and upload in mp3 form) every song from The White Album, doing a new song every 9 days (and sort of learning new instruments on the fly). It’s an incredibly neat undertaking, and worth checking out.
I’ve no idea who Elvyn is, but they’ve cooked up the best rewrite of Teenage Fanclub’s “God Knows It’s True” of all time, so good in fact that, along with the lyrical sentiment that “these are actually the good ol’ days”, (and yes, these are; if your life motto isn’t being in love with these times I feel kinda sorry for you.) I can’t hardly resist it.
You might not know who The Bomb are when the song “The Kids” starts up, but as soon as the vocals come in you’re gonna start figuring it out (and if the “whoooaaaah’s” on the chorus don’t do it, you didn’t listen to enough Chicago punk growing up.) Yep, The Bomb is Jeff Pezzati–Naked Raygun, Pegboy–on vocals, and a crew of Chicago punk mainstays filling out the band. If you dig the old school postpunk punk, The Bomb is, well, the bomb.
Dunno who The Comfies are, but they’ve got a couple of EP’s out that scratch that “remember when Spoon was interesting?” itch.
Best Coast is a boy-girl duo featuring a former actress doing songs that sound like odes to 1960′s girl-pop culture. Sound familiar? Yeah, but unlike Miss Deschanel’s project, Best Coast has a great fizzy, shoegazy sound and Bethany Cosentino doesn’t rely so much on autotuning here, preferring to let her earnest vocals sit buried in an echo-chamber mix that totally works. Here’s a story from ABC News (no, not kidding) on the group that recently aired.
Graham Day is to the UK what Greg Cartwright/Oblivian is to the US: an underground icon who shouldn’t be unknown, a guy who writes ingenious songs and who can out-sing damn near anyone you’ll hear on the radio. Graham is an old school member of the Medway Sound (think Billy Childish and all his gajillion bands) that seems newly resurgent with him, The Len Price 3, and The Stabilisers carrying the flag forward. The Gaolers are a bit of a trans-atlantic partnership, with the other members of the band being legendary Georgia garage band The Woggles.
The Brought Low deserve to be household names among all those who hold hard-rocking southern FM radio from the 70′s in high esteem. Sounding like nothing so much as Molly Hatchet with a Van Zant brother on lead vocals, this Florida three-piece just totally brings it. Oh, and just to be clear, their whole album from this year, 3 is utterly excellent.
Speaking of excellent, I’m gonna guess that if you’re reading this, you know who Cornershop is. I’m also gonna guess that a lot of folks reading this know “Brimful Of Asha” and not a whole lot else. The new Cornershop album, Judy Sucks A Lemon For Breakfast is a little uneven, but when it gets it right (like on “Soul School”) it sure sounds aces.
…and probably guessing that if you know me, you’re at least familiar with my Califone obsession. It might seem like the band has been in hibernation for a while, but not true: last year they recorded a bunch of songs for a film project called All My Friends Are Funeral Singers and the album that resulted by the same title is pretty awesome; it definitely is the most “song oriented” record Califone’s done, as you can hear by this song.
I haven’t much info on the band The Postmarks, other than I believe them to be from the UK. What I do know is that their album Memoirs At The End Of The World has one or two songs that just don’t work…and then about 5 or 6 tunes that sound like Ennio Morricone or Henry Mancini wrote them for films in the 1960′s. Totally worth checking out for those songs (especially “No One Said This Would Be Easy”, which sounds like what you’d get if Morricone did a Bond theme).
Nushu is a SoCal two piece consisting of Lisa Mychols and Hillary Burton, who write and perform everything here including handling all the instrumental chores. Their new album, Hula is one of the best discs of 2010, folks, and absolutely worth seeking out. The band veer from ’90′s indie chick pop (there are a lot of songs that sound like something Veruca Salt would’ve killed for), but also a lot of nods to some very classic wall of Spector 1960′s production and songwriting.
Dragoon probably needs little introduction to a lot of my friends: this is Tripp and Stanley from The Grifters, along with Bobby Matthews (DC hardcore legend of Trusty fame) on guitars and vocals. What’s fascinating here is that Dragoon sounds a LOT like The Grifters. In fact, the Dragoon record suggests to me that it came out of some alternate dimension that took that band down a different path after the Eureka IV ep than the one they actually took.
Grand Atlantic hail from Australia, and they’re a favorite of mine; their debut made my top 20 of 2006. This is a tune from their new record, which doesn’t hit quite the highs of the debut, but which still is worth checking out.
The Painted Hills feature folks from Beechwood Sparks and The Tyde. This, one of the first albums to appear on Ric Menck’s new Bird Songs label, sounds less Gram Parsons and more Paisley Underground than the band’s roots.
This is the band Panic At! The Disco (girls, did I put the exclamation point in the right spot there?):
If that picture doesn’t say “This band are awful, and in a grab-you-by-the-collar-and-yell-AWFUL-in your-face-way-awful” then I don’t know what does. Holy crap. It’s like emo exploded all over the damn place.
And so now, that hilariously crap picture burnt into your memory, I want you to hold it in mind while I mention that PATD (that’s how the kool kidz and 14-year-old girls refer to them) probably broke up last year (oh no–what’s a girl to listen to on her way to see Twilight at the cinema for the 15th time?) when leader Ryan Ross and second guitarist Jon Walker left the band to start their own group.
For this new group, they recruited some friends, including the sorry snot who produced the last PATD album, as well as poor old/young Alex Greenwald, singer of another teenage heartthrob band gone defunct, Phantom Planet. Now then, I want you to imagine how terrible, how supremely awful and beyond the limits of bad such a band might sound.
Now click this link to hear them. (Click advisory: reading the comments after clicking will likely result in geometrically high numbers of your own personal brain cells suiciding in protest).
Uh so yeah. If you would’ve given me 10 million probable reference points for a band spun off of Panic At Th!e Disco, “Early Zumpano or The Kinks or perhaps even Phil Spector” would be right around not on that list because seriously.
And sure, go ahead, dismiss this band–The Young Veins, they’re called, and yes, I seem to have buried that inadvertently by being snarky further up–as simply doing some weird homage-by-numbers. But I think you’d be incorrect to do so. Listen to the way the chorus in the first song I linked goes nowhere you’d expect it to, and carries off a rather unexpected and sort of difficult note progression very nicely. Check out the way the second song I linked “Cape Town” does the same thing and then does the AC Newman thing (yeah, AC Newman of The New Pornographers) of putting so many meters in that chorus that the thing should collapse but doesn’t.
There’s some serious craftsmanship going on here, and this debut record is–if not earth-shaking in any way, shape, or form–really, really fun and interesting and enjoyable to listen to.
Ok, let’s talk Hindi Rock.
I’m sort of kidding, but that’s what Montreal multi-instrumentalist Rishi Dhir occasionally jokingly refers to his music as. Rishi first came to my attention playing sitar, guitar, bass, and keys in The High Dials, a band I’ve made no secret about being a total fanboy of.
His new band is called The Elephant Stone. They’re absolutely fan-damn-tastic. Here, let’s start off with a song that just screams sunny Sunday afternoons:
I mean, if you were going to teach guitar-pop theory, you could just use that song as exhibit A on how to do everything right.
That song is on the new Elephant Stone EP, called “Glass Box” and along with “Yesterday’s Gurl” (which has an amazingly sneaky hook in the chorus) is totally worth investigating.
And if you dig that, you oughta check out The Elephant Stone’s 2009 album, The Seven Seas, which goes from straight-ahead Mancunian-sounding guitar jangle through a steady progression of adding more and more interesting ideas as each song goes by. Here’s the cliff’s notes on that progression:
“Bombs Bomb Away” (What a glorious, awesome, shimmery cool song, especially when they do the key change the last time through the chorus)
After “Bombs”, the album gets more layered….and here’s the title track, the fourth song in:
“Seven Seas” (Ok, sure, it nicks “Across The Universe”, but still, here comes the sitar baby!)
And here’s the album closer. Go grab a bong, we’ll wait. Ready?
“Don’t You Know”. That right there is seven and one-half minutes of pure unadulterated awesomeness.
Best of all, you can listen to both the full lp from last year and this year’s new ep right here:
I seem to be posting a lot about very, very poppish stuff, so if this is overkill I can only beg forgiveness for now…
…but if you happen to love absolutely gloriously executed pop-rock craftsmanship and brilliant songwriting, let me tell you about an Ozzie named Adrian Whitehead. Far too many singers who can do a fey vocal quaver and saccharine harmony get a free pass from critics and fans who buy into it and wonder why the marginally talented slobs they’re championing never get any recognition. I’m guessing they also wonder why albums by such non-talents become forgettable so fast.
It’s all about the songs. A lot of people can sing like Brendan Benson, maybe…but very few can write a hook like “Cold Hands Warm Heart” or “I’m Easy”.
Which brings me back to Adrian Whitehead. No idea who the bloke is. No idea where he cobbled together a recording budget to put his debut album “One Small Stepping Man” together with either, but the production here is stellar (strings, a variety of keys, and even a sax). No idea where he learned to write and arrange and sing songs like these either…but what a stunning record he’s made.
My favorite tracks are the first two, “Caitlin’s ’60′s Pop Song” and “Saving Caroline”. The former song he says he wrote to entertain his 8-year old niece to make her smile after a funeral for their great-grandfather. How sweet is that? The latter song starts off sounding like vintage Styx(!), but again finds a groove that belongs solely to Adrian Whitehead. I also dig “You Are The Sun” and “Ways Of Man” a lot. “Elle” is five minutes of exquisitely gorgeous piano (best one-note piano song in a while) and strings, and “Better Man” has the most gobsmacking hook on the whole disc. What you’ll notice about all the songs is that they never go just where you think they’re going; Whitehead knows exactly what he’s doing, and half the joy of this disc is listening along to hear just exactly what unexpected turn he’s going to take his melody line, and where he’s going to extract a hook from playing the “wrong” chord or notes.
This has been in my heavy rotation now for over a week. Give it a shot, lemme know what you think.
You know what band just rules? Novillero. Novillero absolutely kicks all ass. They write brilliantly melodic songs that don’t scrimp on soulfulness, and they belt them out with a barely-controlled fury that still erupts into Yardbirdian raveups (“The Art Of Carrying On” in particularly threatens to knock over household furniture if you crank it loud enough). I love Novillero so much that I put them at #1 on my year-end best-of list for 2006. Crazy thing is, I’ve been listening to that 2006 album Aim Right For the Holes In Their Lives in heavy rotation since 2006. I’d wager a week hasn’t gone by in the last two years that I haven’t cranked up “Habit Over Heart” or “Hypothesist” or “Morally Deficient Business” and just rocked out like crazy.
Last month brought the big news that Novillero was finally releasing a followup to Aim, their third album overall to be called A Little Tradition. Awesome, right?
So why am I whining? Well, let’s just say that I do *not* get marketing as it exists (or doesn’t) for so many bands outside the mainstream of late. I come at this from an old-school marketing perspective. In the olden days of Nevermind and Pearl Jam’s Ten, us marketing flunkies did it the hard way: the record company printed up a bunch of “flats” (album cover-sized thin cardboard full-color promo shots that usually looked like the CD cover blown up), posters, stand-ups, fliers, and other crap that had to be toted around to record stores where you’d have to make the display yourself with a lot of tape and staples. It was a time-consuming and not inexpensive process, in other words. A lot of times you’d get promo CD’s to flog to radio stations and record store employees, too, and that meant having to go into “sell” mode on a one-on-one basis, knowing full well that the odds were long that they’d ever even break the shrinkwrap on the CD you were giving away for free.
So let me get back to current (lack) of marketing and promotion here after that mini “You kids get off my lawn” rant. Things are different nowadays. There’s this internet thing with the tubes and whatnot. It makes the barest modicum of marketing and promotion E-A-S-Y. You put up a Myspace page and a handful of your songs. People basically “subscribe” to your page by the friending process. From there, any time you add or change songs on your page, any time you blog about something to flog a tour or just one-off show, it goes out to a network of people who already are predisposed to liking you. CD release coming up? Post a bulletin and it goes to everyone on your list as well.
And so I’m moaning a little bit about the lack of promotion or marketing on this new Novillero disc. Right now (Wednesday night, September 3rd) if you go to the band’s myspace site, you won’t see a single new song from a new CD that will be released in five days. They’ve managed to get a few announcements up and a track list and tourdates, so at least there’s that…but man, you look at other myspace sites for bands who have either released or are about to release a new record and there’s a lot more good old fashioned hype than you’ll see with Novillero, and that’s a shame. I won’t knock the band themselves around for this; hey, I get that very few bands out there can actively make a living just on their music, so getting a record out there and then being able to do a mini-tour to support it probably means having to work real-world jobs extra hard for a few weeks to get ducks in a row so you can leave and do a tour for a bit. But…shouldn’t there be someone who stands to maybe make a little money if a new album sells decently doing the hyping for them?
It gets worse, though. Novillero records for a Canadian indie label called Mint. Mint may not have the deepest pockets in the world, but then again I’m not sure they’re paupers either. They have or had Canadian rights to folks like Neko Case, The New Pornographers, Mr T. Experience, The Sadies, and cub, all of which are artists that move a few units. You go to the Mint records site and you expect to see them pumping info for the first release in 30 months for a band who got almost across-the-board stellar reviews for a 2006 disc….and there’s almost nothing. The newest info there was posted on July 31st. The only evidence of a new Novillero album to be found there is a single track, the title track from the forthcoming album available as an mp3 (we’ll get to that once I get done bellyaching). You have to click on the artist page to actually get the information that, Boy Howdy, there’s a new album coming out soon. (Compare the Mint site to what Merge records does with their site, and realize that it’s not just their roster that contributes to Mac selling a lot of records).
I dunno. I guess it just bums me out because any time I’m playing a Novillero song at a party or something, invariably people want to know who the heck it is they’re listening to, and where they can get more of it. I really do think they’re one of the best 2 or 3 bands on the planet right now; in fact, if I were to imagine the perfect band that I’d want to be in, in my mind’s ear that band would sound an awful lot like Novillero, and I just wish they’d get a little bigger push of promotion, especially from folks who stand to either recoup or make money on their investment in them.
So. If the band’s label won’t promote ‘em, I will. Based on the evidence of the single track we’ve been given so far, this disc sounds like a great continuation of everything they’ve done before. Here’s the song, “A Little Tradition”, obviously the title track from the new disc. Along with The High Dials and Cobra Verde, this is one of the albums I’m most looking forward to in the coming weeks.
In 2005 the Montreal band The High Dials released a pretty great album called War Of The Wakening Phantoms. It was a disc that opened strong with two great songs (“Holy Ground” and “Strandhill Sands”) and sealed the deal with a song that defies easy description, a 5-minute epic called “Our Time Is Coming Soon”.
I’ve written about “Our Time Is Coming Soon” here a few times over the years, but screw it, I’m gonna do it again. “Our Time Is Coming Soon” is absolutely, hands-down my favorite song of the 2000′s so far. The opening two chord riff sets the stage, like gale force winds presaging a hurricane. They go unconventional after the first chorus and head straight to a bridge before the second verse, and Rishi Dhir plays one of the most kick-ass sitar solos of all time there (I actually kind of hate the sitar; to my taste it sorta is Asia’s answer to Scotland’s bagpipes as far as “instruments that make me want to run away” go…so saying a sitar solo is “kick ass” is no faint praise.) By the time they get to the final vocal bridge the song is in full blazing glory, and you wonder how they’re going to end this cyclone–almost always when a song gets as epic as “Our Time Is Coming Soon” gets, the creative juice runs out on the conclusion and things go out perfunctorily at best, if you’re lucky. Not so on here, though: “Our Time Is Coming Soon” ends like a supernova; the snare fill that starts martial and ends up galloping just as a descending guitar figure drops in gets your pulse racing, and then the drums turn into Keith Moon and the sound goes maelstrom and when they finally take their feet off the gas and let the song end, you realize The High Dials have managed a song unlike almost anything else anyone has even attempted in the post-Nirvana rock years.
The High Dials got a lot of deserved good press for War Of The Wakening Phantoms, but I’m not sure that translated into moving units. After what seemed like a hectic and gruelling year of touring in the States and through Europe, the Dials seemed rather emotionally spent. They lost their secret weapon when Rishi Dhir decided to opt out of the group. 2006 and 2007 went by without hearing much from the group. Their website went dark. Rainbow Quartz, their US label, has updated their site about twice since last October. Reading tour diaries/blogs from guitarist/singer/songwriter Trevor Anderson–who seems a great guy, but also seemed mentally exhausted by the time Dhir had left the group–I figured I’d heard the last from this once-promising band.
Not so! Back in May, the Dials promised to start posting songs from a new album on their Myspace page. The new record–which will be a double album–is called Moon Country. They’ve got 6 songs up at Myspace, and hoo-boy…if these six songs are representative of what’s to come on the full album, we may have us a contender for album of the year here. The High Dials seemed to respond to losing a musical element like Dhir by opening up their sound and letting their talent run wild. The band’s debut album, A New Devotion is pretty nifty, but it has an almost claustrophobic retro psychedelic sound that induces a little too much listener fatigue if taken in large doses. Phantoms, the second album, shows them opening things up a bit, with nods to more modern dreampop sounds like Kitchens Of Distinction or Ride.
Moon Country, at least based on the evidence of these six songs, takes that hinted-at direction of Phantoms and runs with it. “Do The Memory Lapse” could be vintage For Against or less blippy New Order. “These Days Mean Nothing To Me” manages to be both psychedelic and still manage a Kitchens influence while walking a fine line between light and darkness (the airy harmony on the chorus that gives way to the angry guitar chug right after is wonderful!) “Cartoon Breakup” opens with wheezy Melon Collie synths and then manages to give you four glorious minutes of spectacular, timeless loveliness. “Open Up The Gates” is a nod to their lysergic side, but far more interesting than you’d ever expect a song that could be described as a psychedelic pop song to be.
The real stunner here though is a song called “Killer Of Dragons”, which sounds like nothing else The High Dials have ever done. It is a gorgeous, beautiful track that delivers on every promise and all the potential this band has ever shown. If there were any justice in the world, “Killer Of Dragons” would become the massive top ten hit it richly deserves to be, but probably won’t because it won’t get the push to radio and retail it deserves. Ah well.
In any event, Moon Country I think is still slated for a September release, at least in Canada. I can’t wait to hear the whole thing, either. Over their past two records, when people talk about The High Dials, they talk about who they sound like; on these new songs, the greatest accomplishment on display is that the Dials sound like no one else but themselves. Keep a sharp eye out for this’n.