Pen Pals 1: Appendix A – The Dutch

I don’t know how many of you were listening to Amazing Radio on Sunday afternoon. If you were, and you happened to catch the second half of Bethan Elfyn’s show, you may have also noticed the part where Beth took a break and some weird guy started talking about Dutch indie music. Well, I was that weird guy. In case you missed it and would like to hear it for yourself, you can listen again on the Bethan Elfyn Show page on (I start talking just before the 96 minute mark).

On the show, I covered some Dutch indie bands and one of my favorite Dutch labels. I only had time to talk about two bands, but if any of you remember our Dutch Week we had here a few years ago, you probably also remember that there are far more than two good Dutch bands. So, I promised I would write a post to highlight some of the other artists who, sadly, had to be left out of the final broadcast.

The first track I played was “Destroyers of Worlds” by The Sugarettes. Some of you may remember The Sugarettes from Dutch Week, at the time, they were pushing their first LP on Subroutine Records call Love and Other Perversities (a good album, which I still own, and one you should pick up). Earlier this year (March, I believe) The Sugarettes released a new LP, Destroyers of Worlds, which I’ve been listening to constantly for a couple of months now. If I were to pass judgment on it (which I will), I would say it’s a more mature work than Other Perversities was. They’ve really got the girl-fronted nerd rock thing down, and it’s working out nicely for them—kind of like if The Coathangers formed a Blondie tribute band. And if this sort of nerdy indie rock is your thing, you’ll definitely want to check out the various other projects The Sugarettes are involved with. Joep van Son has a few of them. We covered the boy-girl indie rock of The Very Sexuals a few years ago, but Joep is also a member of Nikoo a noise pop ensemble. He has also recently launched Waste No Fun, a collaborative indie pop project with Sydney-based illustrator Bas van Genugten, releasing a free lo-fi single every six weeks, which also offers limited edition prints of the artwork. The Sugarettes’ lead singer Mariska Louman also has a shoegaze-inspired band of her own called Iskaa and the Red Cars, who just recently released their first EP.

And while we’re on the subject of Subroutine Records, they have recently released the first LP from noise rockers Space Siren. When I first heard Space Siren a couple of years ago, they had only ever released a seven inch, and that several years before I heard them. I just assumed that they had disbanded. I never expected to see an LP from them, nor did I expect it to be so well-worth the wait. The band’s debut LP, Mr Wagner, Please Give Us A Call, is on the noisier side of the Subroutine spectrum, certainly more so than The Sugarettes, but it’s far from being noise for the sake of noise. There is almost a sort of shimmering violence with a glamorous tinge about the ten tracks that make up Mr. Wagner, which is apparent in the video for the single “Oh My God, Someone Killed Kelly”, for instance. It’s sort of a shoegaze ethos with a post-riot grrrl attitude (think My Bloody Valentine covers “I Think I’m Paranoid” by Garbage).

Of course, it’s an unfortunate reality of the guest appearance business that you never have as much time as you want (or even need), especially if you’re as prone to enthusiasm as I am. (Seriously, I’ve written 600 words so far, and only really talked about two bands.) And one of the most heartbreaking cuts I had to make was an entire label, namely Snowstar Records. For those who prefer the softer side of DIY, Snowstar is a great place to look (though not always—you’ll also find things like the mid-’90s inspired indie rock of Lost Bear). We covered the lo-fi electronic folk of The Secret Love Parade a couple of years ago. Since then, in February, the girls released their second LP on Snowstar, Mary Looking Ready, which builds promisingly on their previous work, achieving a fuller and more singular sound than ever before while still maintaining the relaxed, almost conversational feel of their self-titled debut LP.

Also on Snowstar, you’ll find the frighteningly prolific and equally talented I Am Oak, who seems to have a new single or album out every time I check the label’s Bandcamp page. Usually, turning out music at such a pace would send up red flags all over the place, but there’s something about I Am Oak that keeps me coming back for more. Maybe it’s the melodies and sparse textures. Or it could be the harmonies and haunting vocals. Very rarely do you see someone do so much with so little. Here is a the first I Am Oak track I ever heard, “Gold and Porcelain”, which you can find on this free Snowstar compilation:

Which brings us to Kim Janssen of The Black Atlantic, whose most recent solo record, a beautiful folk concept album called Ancient Crime, which draws on the character and ethos of the northwest of England, was released on Snowstar Records in March of this year. And, speaking of The Black Atlantic, I have to come clean and admit that they released a new EP on Beep! Beep! Records early this year which I have failed to review here or even make sufficient public mention of. Which should not, in any way, be considered a reflection of the EP itself, which is, in fact, absolutely gorgeous. If you were listening to the Bethan Elfyn Show when we played the title track “Darkling, I Listen”, you have, most likely, already figured this out. If you missed it, head over to or to the band’s website. You can listen to the whole thing there and it’s well worth your undivided attention. The five tracks on Darkling, I Listen fit together so seamlessly, they function best as a single piece of music, featuring all of the lush harmonies that were the hallmark of the band’s Reverence For Fallen Trees, Geert and company also make fine use of the sort dramatic, subito dynamic changes that characterize the longer form choral works of Arvo Pärt, for instance, and which jar the listener to beautiful and hypnotic effect.

I should probably start wrapping this up. Congratulations if you’ve managed to read this far. You actually have an attention span, which is an increasingly rare thing. (You’re practically a collector’s item!). There’s plenty more to cover, but I’ve already kept you too long. If you’re curious, go back and read some of those old Dutch Week posts. There are a whole lot of other tips and leads in there that I didn’t even bother to rehash in this post (as much as I would have liked to). But as it stands, I’ve already given you about a day’s-worth of music to check out, and that’s enough for one night.


Getting Cultured

The only photo with more than one discernible band member

There’s not a whole lot of indiepop in Columbus, Ohio. Sure, Super Desserts had the local twee market cornered for a couple of years, but with banjo player Tyler Evans now a New Yorker, it could be a while yet before we hear from them again. Now, maybe I’ve just been going to the wrong gigs, but I can’t recall hearing anything around here with solid connections to C86. But one would think a city this size with monthly club nights dedicated to The Smiths and to 60s garage/soul could sustain its share of indiepop acts. We do, however, get the occasional brush with Madchester’s progeny when they roll through town on tour, as Bay Area shoegazers Young Prisms did in March. And it was in this guise, just this past weekend, that I caught a brief glimpse of a local scene I didn’t even know existed.

On tour was 28 Degrees Taurus, a seasoned pop-oriented shoegaze act from Boston making their first Columbus appearance in five years. Their performance was slick and high energy and they sure make a heck of a lot of noise for three people (I love to see a guitarist unleash on his instrument the way Jinsen Liu does). But the surprise of the night came in the form of local quintet, Love Culture.

You know how it is. There are bands who long to break out of the small rooms and into stadiums. And if you’ve ever seen one of these bands play (as I did not long ago) you know how difficult it can be to watch. (And, no, I won’t tell you who they were, mostly because I can’t remember their name.) Conversely, there are those bands who make those small rooms feel like stadiums. Love Culture are one of those bands—and that’s not just the fog machine and lasers talking. They may not be the most shining example of textbook shoegaze (while their sound owes a lot to My Bloody Valentine, there are also healthy doses of Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead, and other mid-90s icons in there), but Love Culture have that swirling epic haziness down, all the way to the extensive pedal boards and androgynous lead vocals.

Yes, while the fog machine and laser light show may be a bit eccentric, but they are all part of the ethos of Love Culture. To hear the opening strains of a song like “Karolyne”, for instance, emerge from a set of laser-lit silhouettes, especially at a distance of a mere seven or eight feet, lends an already strong track an otherworldly eeriness that makes a lasting impression. So, maybe Love Culture aren’t the second coming of Talulah Gosh that I’ve been hoping for, I’m still glad to know—latecomer though I may be—that there is strong shoegaze in Columbus.

Love Culture’s recent Aquamarine EP can be had for free from Bandcamp, where you’ll also find their earlier EP. You can also find them on Facebook and probably other places, too. Love Culture’s next Columbus show is May 26 at Rumba.

Indiepop’d dance party

I’m out of town right now on a whirlwind trip to Chicago and don’t really have the time to write a real post. So here are some videos to keep you entertained until I can sit down and write some of those year-end listy things that people like because they’re so easy to argue with.

‘Chicas De Oro’ is a newer one (November) from Guatafán, taken from the eponymous limited edition 7″ (another contribution to Elefant’s fantastic New Adventures In Pop series, which you may remember from last week).

‘Chicas De Oro’ limited 7″ (white vinyl, 500 copies)
1. Chicas De Oro
2. La Vida Me Sonríe
3. Examen Sopresa
4. Un Día De Verano

I think it’s fair to say that Vidulgi OoyoO are one of my favorite bands in the world right now (top 5, easy). They’re more of a rock band than most of the artists who usually end up in these Indiepop’d posts, but they still land firmly in that dizzying whirl of  shoegaze and dream pop, so they still qualify. According to this Chinese blog (which is quite good and [mostly] in English), they will often play full hour-long sets straight through without a single pause (though I cannot personally attest to this since a scheduling conflict prevented me from seeing them at Canadian Music Week). Until they come back to this continent, though, I guess I will have to remain content to lose myself in their many live performance videos on YouTube. Though, the more I listen, the more I think Vidulgi OoyoO may be enough of a reason for me to justify a trip to Korea.

And another Vidulgi OoyoO video, because I just can’t get enough.

This week, I was also introduced to the Girls In The Garage compilations. I don’t know why it has taken me this long to start exploring the long lost world of all-girl 60s garage bands, or even to realize that that sort of thing existed back then. But, if you’re like me, you know that it’s nice to be reminded that there are still all these amazing pockets of brilliant music you haven’t even explored yet. And to know that these girls could produce great songs without Phil Spector’s help is just an added bonus. So we’ll wrap things up with a couple of my favorite tracks from Girls In The Garage, vol. 1

The Chymes – ‘He’s Not There Anymore’

The Blue Orchids – ‘Oo Chang-A-Lang’

Indiepop’d: Los Bonsáis – Noise from Spain

It pays to check out your Twitter followers (and I don’t mean that in the police state paranoia way or creepy leering sense). But, really, it’s not a bad idea. Not only will it save you from a robot army wielding free iPads, but sometimes it puts you in the path of Spanish shoegazers brandishing guitars and powerful fuzzboxes.

Such is the case with Los Bonsáis. It only took about 30 seconds of “Es Mejor” for me to know that I had stumbled onto something I really loved. With their subtle, melodic vocals, it’s easy to place Spanish duo in the same camp as My Bloody Valentine and their variously fuzzy descendants, but the 60s surf inspired-inspired rhythms also owe a great deal to the noisier side of late 80s indiepop, like The Fizzbombs or Meat Whiplash/The Motorcycle Boy—or, in more directly relevant, contemporary terms: “like a Spanish Raveonettes” as a friend from another blog described it.

Head over to Bandcamp to check it out, I think you’ll see where we’re coming from on this. (You can also download the “Es Mejor” b/w “Un Instante” single for free there.) Of course, if you’re anything like me, you are probably thinking something along the lines of “I’ll bet they sign with Elefant soon”. I was when I listened Sunday night. I spent a good amount of time this week thinking of all the arguments I was going to make in this week’s Indiepop’d piece for why Los Bonsáis + Elefant Records is a match made in heaven only to plug this post from the band’s blog into Google Translate and find that my revelation had come to me a few hours late.

So the good news, for those of you digging the sweet noise of Los Bonsáis as much as I am, is that there will soon be a new 7” EP released as part of Elefant’s New Adventures in Pop series and one more disc to spin at your respective indiepop club nights. It would be redundant, at this point, to predict that “match made in heaven”. But it is never too late to celebrate a match well made.

That’s “Obviouslies”, as in more than one obviously

Ryan Lydon took this photo

I’ll be honest with you; I’ve been trying to write this post for about two weeks now. That’s because, two weeks ago, I caught Obviouslies opening for Adult Fiction (or Dead Indians or whatever they’re calling themselves these days) and have been in the throes of a minor obsession. And over the course of the last fortnight, I have probably sketched about a dozen drafts only to abandon them all for one reason or another.

I don’t know what it is about Obviouslies that makes me so reticent to commit my thoughts to html. It’s almost as if I’m afraid that, if I phrase it wrong, I might break something. It’s a ridiculous notion, really. Obviouslies are a new band comprised of veteran musicians. And even though they can be a pain to classify, they know what they’re doing, and it shows.

While on record they may at one point sound like straight up shoegaze only to channel a sound more reminiscent of Letters to Cleo than My Bloody Valentine a few tracks later, it is live where the true genius of Obviouslies becomes—well—obvious. On stage, the sound is much more cohesive, as if Jack White had embarked on a noise-pop side project with Gareth Campesinos! and ex-Pipettes Rosay and RiotBecki. But even a description that convoluted falls short because there is also an otherworldly Sacred Harp quality to tracks like “A Couple Honest Years” and “Only Lives” (especially “Only Lives” version 2). In this case, you’re really just going to have to listen for yourself.

The band have an LP in the works. For now, you will have to content yourself with the “Wish for You”/ “A Couple Honest Years” 7-inch from Datapanik records (which does a good job of capturing the band’s live sound, though is sadly lacking in the onstage antics of vocalists Ianna and Jamie or guitarist Nick Schuld’s Comfest unitard). You can download the single free of charge, but it would be even cooler if you emailed the band and bought one ( It might also be worth contacting the band via Facebook or MySpace. But, if you’re in Columbus, it would be well worth the effort to catch them live.

I wish I had an mp3 or a half-decent video to offer you. I don’t. So, go listen, either on Facebook or MySpace. Also, here is the best video I could find. (And if you are listening/watching and you think to yourself “Golly, that girl looks/sounds a lot like that one girl from Super Desserts”, that’s because it is.)

It’s about time you heard of The Joy Formidable

A Balloon Called MoaningScore: 93

I’ve owned The Joy Formidable‘s debut EP, A Balloon Called Moaning, for over a year now. Since then, I’ve embarked on monthly TJF listening binges, lasting up to a week at a time. So why have I waited this long to review one of my favorite albums of 2009? Throughout the year, it was only available to the Brits, Japanese, and savvy blog-lurkers with PayPal accounts (and they’d already heard the good news). But the EP has finally been set for an American release on May 4 (Black Bell), and it’s time the rest of these kids got educated.

It’s not fair to call A Balloon Called Moaning a “grower”, implying that, at some point in the past, I didn’t like it so much. If anything, it is the sort of monstrosity that evolves from great to phenomenal. I admit, there were times when I didn’t fully comprehend the genius of The Joy Formidable. I thought the opener, “The Greatest Light is the Greatest Shade”, was ok, but long and boring—that is, I did, until one day last summer, when it emerged from my subconscious (much like it does on the record) and planted itself at the forefront of my mind until I listened to it half a dozen times to satisfy my craving.

One of the great things about TJF is that they are a band that works on multiple levels. Constantly swirling among a sea of shoegaze fuzz is an innate pop sensibility, always melodic but never overbearing. Though other reviewers have suggested it, I think it would be a mistake (and contrary to their nature) to push the pop too far to the front. As it stands you could power most of North Wales with the amount of energy expended in any given TJF performance—a trait apparent in their live shows and recordings as well as select tracks at the heart of A Balloon Called Moaning.

So while A Balloon Called Moaning will make pleasant surface listening for most any shoegaze or dream pop fan, it is with more focused listening that the music really begins to shimmer in all it’s fuzzy brilliance. Listen, for instance, to the half-step guitar dissonances in the second verse and the double kick drum underlying the post-chorus (around 2:45) of “The Greatest Light…”. That moment comes across as the climax of the song until the final 45 seconds, with vocalist Ritzy Bryan repeating “happy for you”, propels the listener into a relentless four-song barrage including the EP’s three pitch perfect singles (“Cradle”, “Austere”, and “Whirring”) and the obsession-worthy “While the Flies”. The downtempo (and down-volume) “9669” offers a welcome respite before the band flip the fuzz pedal switch and unleash their final two tracks: the high-octane “The Last Drop” and “Ostrich” (which is as shoegaze-y as this band gets).

About a year ago, when I first suggested people keep an eye on North Wales-via-London power fuzz trio, The Joy Formidable, there were mixed reactions: our British constituency agreed; a good portion of the Americans were pissed that we were ignoring the great Grizzly Bear and stopped reading. Since then, they have toured with Editors and Passion Pit, played sold out shows in NYC, and are preparing a short US tour in early May (with a full-length album waiting in the wings). For those who have stuck with us over the last year, no doubt you’re not surprised by this. If you’re just now condescending to give us a second look, welcome back, hipsters! You’ve a lot of catching up to do.

A Picture Perfect EP from Strawberry Whiplash

Picture Perfect EP - Design by Jimmy with image from Gordon
Picture Perfect EP - Design by Jimmy with image from Gordon

Once upon a time, I told you about a band from Glasgow. No, not that one. Not that one either. This one. At the time, Strawberry Whiplash were coming off the release of their debut single “Who’s in Your Dreams” on Matinée Recordings. With it, Sandra and Laz (the same man behind Bubblegum Lemonade, also on Matinée), found an audience well prepared to be seduced by their brand of fuzzed-up C86. And now, this month, Strawberry Whiplash are back with their follow-up, the Picture Perfect EP (and, dare I say it, it nearly is).

Strawberry Whiplash reach a degree of excellence in the opening measures of this EP that few bands can even dream of and, even more impressive, manage to sustain it throughout all four tracks without ever becoming pretentious. Sandra’s vocals are hypnotic and intoxicating; delivered with such a straightforward, unassuming sweetness that the listener would certainly feel like the scum of the earth for turning a deaf ear. And yet, the fuzzy (at times, even crunchy) sound of Laz’s guitar, keeps things from ever turning saccharine.

And the Picture Perfect EP has the sixties stamped all over it. The title track features the perfect simple sixties drumbeat, reminiscent of just about every good song released from 1961-1965, whilst “Celestial” betrays shades of Strawberry Alarm Clock in between bursts of organ, a la The Doors. “Hay in a Needlestack”, with the prominent pairing of a glockenspiel doubling Sandra’s vocals on the refrain, is by far the pinnacle of sweetness on this EP. The EP closes with “Falling Through”, which is, quite simply, quintessentially Strawberry Whiplash.

I’ve been spinning this EP since Saturday. I must have listened to it about a bazillion times by now. At 11 minutes, this is not a difficult feat to accomplish, made all the easier by the fact that the band’s trademark brand of shoegaze-y C86 is particularly easy to swallow. My only issue with this picture perfect EP is that I wish it was longer; now that would be even perfecter.

You would be well advised to head over to Matinée and make your purchase as this release is limited to 1000 copies. However, if you’re the sort of person who likes to try before you buy, you can download the title track, “Picture Perfect”, here.

MP3 – Strawberry Whiplash, “Picture Perfect”