The Transmissionary Six, Songs 2002-2012 (Skok)
One of my favorite bands ever, The Transmissionary Six, has roots in The Walkabouts (which both TM6 founders Terry Moeller and Paul Austin have played in by now), and recording and live connections to all the best kept secrets in Seattle: Graig Markel, Head Like A Kite, and others. But they easily stand alone as one of the most gorgeous songcrafting teams from the Pacific NW. Seattle-raised Terri was a drummer from The Walkabouts back in the day, Paul played with Willard Grant Conspiracy on the East Coast, collectively having played to thousands in Europe and to a loyal following here. They started something with Transmissionary Six neither had quite tried before, but they excelled at immediately: bringing to life heart-trembling Noir Rock, as steeped in mystery as it was in hooks. Like the movie House Of Games, or Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son, or an album like Marianne Faithful's Broken English, it was all about blissful times and twisted times, and their stories and melodies were immortal. This is an excellent collection of their work, featuring essentials like "Black Tin Rocket" (the superbly cinematic opener to early album Get Down), "Top Of Your Lungs" (a lady-like take on a "Positively 4th Street" character study / piss off), and the very groovy "Edison Stare." I wish "I Want To Deprogram You" was here, but that just means if you love this go out and buy Cosmonautical, the album it's on and still available. Hell, buy 'em all!
The Great UM, What The People Want
We're absolutely freaking lucky we live in a city that constantly brings people in who in some other world have cannily created and crafted some new trick out of the mined-gold and heart-jank of the pop song. Artists move to Seattle to be part of an almost parochial (closely regionalized) music scene with connections elsewhere, intimate enough to build a following, but still breathing second-hand smoke from a cosmo-world. Okay, I'm fronting. I have no idea who these guys are and I think they're from somewhere else, otherwise why hadn't I been involved before? How'd they slip by me into here? Were they always here, what is happening – ?! Oops, sorry. I want to know more! The Great UM make me bounce like it's Friday near midnight at my favorite sloppy pub and forgive the girl next to me for spiashing her drink on my best shoes, whilst I totally wonder what they're going to sing next the way mysterious rock real men have since Gene Vincent. They remind me a bit of The Jam, a little of Ted Leo, the recent UK folk-rock kids, and then there's all those 60s freak-beat followers. They're here to bring the clap-along to the secular, bringing out the singalong from those who don't meet much mercy. Their scrappy but solid songs make fun of their bosses "selling those good times," chatting unemployment and borrowed car blues in exactly the opposite tones (chin up mate!). This is Caleb Thompson (singer/guitarist), Robb Benson (drummer), and Jake Uitti (bassist), and there isn't much out there about them now but they're going to change that by playing gigs and asking some very decent questions. Do you yearn for the day when groups like Dolour would jump out of the shadows from behind the bar down the street from the all ages club, building a bridge out of music niches and the nestles of the mundane? This is that kind of band. Choice track: "Stay," a song John Lennon should have and could have written. Then right away, "Daydream" reminds me of McCartney fronting Big Star. Whoa.
The Glass Notes, As The Building Crumbles
Jake Uitti plays bass here too and writes the sublime, winding, soulful lyrics for this brother-band to The Great UM, which kind of makes me nervous about reviewing both in the same round-up. But Robb Benson (vocals, guitar, songwriting, you might remember him from Dear John Letters), Perry Morgan (drums and bomp), Tim Dijulio, Ty Bailie (swinging bluesy folky rock lead swirls) do with 70s deep-album rock what The Great UM do with 60s anthems, and they both superbly compliment each other (socially and musically). You need your novels and you need your short stories, your 45s and your double-gatefolds, to make a bed-sit proper and appealing to comrades. It's hard to imagine a better match of poet and vocalist than Uitti and Benson of late, the latter capturing a way to sing the often-abstract grasps at desire and sanity with all the humor and honesty intended by the verse. As The Building Crumbles rewards frequent relistens, but it's not just those excellent lyrics, they've been turned into songs of melodic invention and confident rockandroll playing. Again, this isn't genre-bound music, and any implication of time period is possibly me grasping at a way to describe a feeling back when I was stoned underneath a neighbor's trailer on a muggy summer night. It's their second outing, and floating through all the great images and sweet guitar I eagerly await many more.
Pissed Jeans, Honeys (Sub Pop)
Damn it, Jim. I had no idea the raza unida righteous pissah punks Pissed Jeans had released four full-lengths! I thought they was the pokey neighbors' kids, peering into my basement with little pink faces at the whiff of some burnt-skin sludge coming off my shick Dynaco Stereo 70 power amp. They're just begging to plug their bogue Sears gear into my boss ashtray-shakers and kick up a racket. But: psych! I am stoked to hear their new wipeout Honey. Like Greil Marcus says about what and how holding a string down on a feedback-fed fretboard and the bong-illions of typewriter monkey noise novels that noise can make, Pissed Jeans is all about the shagadelic buzz I scarf. Now the Allentown tots are "recorded by Grammy nominee Alex Newport" (as if that wasn't a strange thing for a sludge-rock quartet to cop to, but whatever) and this twelve pack goes down wicked. "Bathroom Laughter" kinda reminds me of a Dead Milkmen parody, with a whole lot of lyrics crammed in about a man's lady in the kitchen, crying. S'notcool! He should treat his lady right, man. You need to get yourself some Al Green, bro. "Chain Worker" actually breaks down like a mean Fear jam, all Lee Ving at a P.O., and the bass churl reminds me of how Mr. Dukowski of Black Flag would play his instrument by wanging it on his (nope) knee. No margin for error with rumble! That slides into third base and closest thing to punk-pop here, "Romanticize Me," which has the totally copacetic lyrics, "Take all your thoughts and twist 'em in your head 'till I am a thoughtful man." I admire your candor, sir. "Vain In Costume" has the sputtering Circle Jerks lurches down pat, and "Cafeteria Food" is like the resurrection of Flipper, if Flipper was that bird-thing from the bonfire and not the heroin fish. Around this point of the album singer Matt Korvette starts to sound a little like David Lee Roth, which is actually quite punk (atomically so, I might add). Then on "Loubs" he blends Danzig with Geza X and I get that cross-generational culture hangover that only comes from listening to musicians who worked too long in used record stores. "Fuck doctors!" is the only real social protest here ("Health Plan"), for which we can all be thankful.
Starflyer 59, IAMACEO (Undertow)
Starflyer 59 are a great 90s-spawned SoCal band, but they were for my friends, the ones who loved David Lynch and My Bloody Valentine a little too much, the ones that started groups like System Of A Down where you really can't hear their influence but it has a lot to do with weed-gospel and the holy headphone experience. A caveat: I worked at a previous label of theirs, but I preferred their lesser known experimental EPs to the albums that got them standing ovations from fellow stylish expressionists. So: never a fan, but their blurry miniatures were not my canvas of fan-lust. I wouldn't think to write about them now, but Trey Many of Velour 100 played drums on their new album, and sent this my way shortly before Xmas. I took a while to listen to it, but by the third hearing shortly after New Years I was full on hooked. I believe this is Starflyer 59's best record, which wins me no points with the old school cool kids who bought every import B side, but I don't care. IAMACEO is a tantalizing trip into aging from a band that always worried about entropy and commodity, as Jason Martin's voice has mellowed into a provocatively somber baritoney instrument as hypnotic as his beloved guitarisms. Clued by the title, this is an album about "those of us who married (and/or) went to seminary" and then sort of tripped up, spilling souls out everywhere along with banged knees. Martin's vocals eerily recall a certain Goth artist from the era in which he formed his band (I doubt you would have heard of them), but there are other forces at work here too: Father John Misty fans should give "Father John" a shot (appropriately enough), and Wovenhand fans who want a bracing, roots-paved-over Eurock variant would be most pleased. I can't enthuse enough how delighted I am with the way Starflyer 59 has matured, and handled that maturity in their fascinating lyrics (the sobering-warning of "Open Hands," the burnt-joy compromise of "Bicycle Rider") but so deftly in their seductive musicianship.