Phantom Handshakes are the New York-based duo of Federica Tassano (also of the band Sooner) and Matt Sklar. Their debut full-length, No More Summer Songs, was recently sent forth into the world, and it’s an exquisitely delivered set of jangled shoegaze and dream pop.
In what’s become, I imagine, a depressingly typical scenario in “these COVID times” [Bad Brains ensemble voice], the entire album – as was the case with last spring’s No Better Plan EP – was recorded by Tassano and Sklar separately, but it’s difficult to tell with the depth of musical understanding throughout. It’s a lovely album that – in the way of many of the best albums of the genres from which it is sourced – can burnish, elevate and/or validate a mood.
From the trepidatious opening chimes of ‘I Worried’, No More Summer Songs sets a melodic course through bands like The Sundays, Sarah Records artists like The Field Mice, The Radio Dept. and newer fellow travelers like Jeanines. Guitars jangle, basslines reverberate, while Tassano’s vocals convey a cathartic melancholy á la Harriet Wheeler with a hint of the scrape of Karin Dreijer. Lyrically, the album feels confessional – accepting and letting go of unhealthy thoughts/people – while also touching on societal angst and the feel of the world falling into the proverbial handbasket bound for something other than glory. It’s a forehead pressed to a rain-streaked window, silently contemplating and questioning.
While the album title could be a bit of cheek – given the chosen oeuvre’s predilection for slickers over sundresses – I can’t help but feel that it fits just as well for those desirous of bright sun, white sands and bejeweled waves as for those who enjoy (prefer?) a foggy embrace, sea spray kisses and a bit of a rocky vista.
No More Summer Songs is out now, courtesy of Z Tapes, with a portion of online proceeds donated by Phantom Handshakes to The Trevor Project.
Pop Crimes is a Paris-based quartet who share a name with the title of an album from Rowland S. Howard (RIP), and include members of (amongst others) En Attendant Ana. Debuts, the band’s appropriately titled first release, is a brilliant four song introduction to a very anglophilic sounding group of francophones.
On Debuts, Pop Crimes demonstrate a wicked proficiency in fusing the blissful and the barbed – c86-style jangle and slacker indie, weighted with the crunch of garage and shoegaze and a soupçon of Libertines-like louche swagger. Perfect example: the hazy, scuffed pop of ‘Goes’, with antipodean shades of groups like The Church and the swing and swagger of early Ride or The House of Love. Like the best of bands who wear their collective influences on their sleeves, the set brings fond memories without sounding like mere rehash. Very much looking forward to hearing what comes next.
Debuts was released in January, courtesy of Howlin’ Banana – allez, go pick it up!
A new band of old hands, Minneapolis (Janet voice)-based Green/Blue present a jagged kind of garage-pop on their self-titled debut. Initially a recording project featuring the guitar/vocal stylings of Jim Blaha (of The Blind Shake) – whose solo basement musings formed the bases for the album’s eleven tracks – and Annie Sparrows (of The Soviettes), the group is now a quartet, having added Danny Henry (drums, also of The Soviettes) and Hideo Takahashi (bass, of The Birthday Suits).
The album is a hodgepodge of familiar sounding styles, blended into something very immediate. According to a press release, the tracks on Green/Blue were born partially from Blaha’s “newfound love of lo-fi pop jangle” (namechecking The Chills), but Green/Blue’s handling of the sound feels similar to the way The Misfits approached late-night 50’s croon or The Jesus and Mary Chain worked with girl-group, surf and other 60’s pop. There’s certainly sugary tones to be found here, the band exhibiting a deft touch for catchy melodies – but the ear candy is often chased with cough syrup, Blaha’s whispery vocals and he and Sparrows’ dual scuzzed up axe attack providing more than a hint of menace to the romance alluded to in many of the lyrics. Highlights ‘Proto Caves’ and ‘Way Down’ throw off a kind of haunted nostalgia, the former sounding like a roughneck Everly Brothers demo in spots – a leather-clad sock hop leading to a fogged up rear window. It’s great how the band are able to infuse so much energy into the boogie chug of ‘That Face’, while the JAMC pyres blaze bright on the brilliant ‘Find a New World’. Qué bella.
Green/Blue is out now, courtesy of Slovenly Recordings. The band also have really rad shirt designs (see here), so hopefully if we’re ever allowed out of our houses again and Green/Blue tour, I’ll snatch one up.
Difficult to know what, when, how much to post these days. We find solace in music, and hope that you find some somewhere amongst these new lists. Curated over the past several, bewildering weeks, there’s a range of emotion on display, which seems appropriate.
We also now have a Spotify page, so click the button top left of the homepage if you’re into following. Thanks, and stay safe.
Great reissue from the always fabulous La Vida Es Un Mus label of classic, Japanese hardcore from the early 80s. Must admit I’d never heard of The Comes, but was unsurprised to discover they came up alongside bands like GISM, who I’d run across in years’ past on various comps (notably, this). The Comes seem similar in sound and overall feel, as the tracks on No Side share a penchant for strident/batshit crazy vocals paired with music that tilts and twirls like someone’s changing the record from 33 to 45 (and back), mid-track. Fantastic record and a welcome introduction.
Daisies, What Are You Waiting For?, 2 (Perennial Death; JGAP)
Daisies are an Olympia, WA-based trio, featuring members of CCFX and TransFx that, over the course of four releases, have quickly become something of an obsession. Their two long-players from 2019 – What Are You Waiting For? (which included previous singles, “Just Yesterday” and “Anyone’s Style”) and, fittingly, 2 – provide a musical roadmap through most of what was interesting on the dancier end of 90s indie. What? is a glorious run through Madchester/‘baggy’, druggy trip hop and swinging, jangled sophsti-pop. 2 hits a bit harder, adding jungle and drum and bass snap and crackle to the still heady mix. Valerie Warren’s multi-layered vocals are pitch perfect and the arrangements bring moments of absolute bliss – plus, 2’s “Paradise” pairs d’nb’s tactile energy with lyrics from “Pure Imagination”. St. Etienne, Primal Scream (esp. Screamadelica), Goldie, Baby Fox, TheRebirth of Cool series – if any of these mean something to you, do yourself a favor and dig into Daisies.
Both albums are out now, What Are You Waiting For? courtesy of Perennial Death and 2 via JGAP.
Featuring members of Ultimate Painting, >Beak and others, Modern Nature’s debut, How to Live, is a slow burning walkabout. Throughout, the band expertly molds a color palette involving motorik, trip hop, jazz, drone and psych – squishing them through one of those Playdoh contraptions that kind of looked like a mini meat grinder and was used to style rainbow ‘hair’. Vocalist Jack Cooper’s voice has a kind of hushed, tremulous quality reminiscent of Syd Barrett and Colin Newman, while the arrangements call to mind bands like Spiritualized (“Turbulence”), Radiohead (“Peradam”), and Pink Floyd (“Criminals”). At its best, as on the aforementioned “Turbulence”, Modern Nature’s music creates a mood so tangible it seems inhabitable, with a cinematic quality that makes the melodies visual as much as aural. Punchier tracks like “Nature” blow out the cobwebs, a bit, while retaining the pleasant haze. Very much recommended.
How to Live is out now, courtesy of Bella Union, and Modern Nature are in the midst of a tour in the US of A, dates here.
Neon is an Oakland, CA-based quartet who presented us (and the world) with some of the best, most thrillingly messy punk to cross our radars last year with their self-titled album (cheers to Bryony Beynon for including it in her year-end wrap up for Maximum r’nr and, thereby, reminding us). Piercing feedback gives way to post-punk angularity while rhythms start, stop and wreck like bumper cars. The spoken/sung/wailed vocals pair diffidence with strident takedowns of our glorious modern times, including the effects of corporatism on art creation/consumption (“everybody/likes to see/money on the walls”, from ‘Modern Art’) and gentrification (“build it/tear it down/build it…those poor people/crushed by the weight of their own hard work”, from “Contained”). There’s threads of Olympia-bay area synergy in the arrangements, hints of bands like The Fall in the antagonistic repetition – and it’s exhaustingly affecting. Must be a treat to catch live.
Special Friend, Special Friend EP (Hidden Bay; Howlin’ Banana; Buddy; Gravity Music)
Special Friend are a duo comprising Guillaume Siracusa (guitar, vocals) and Erica Ashleson (drums, vocals). Their debut, self-titled EP is a beautifully lo-fi work, showcasing a dexterity with both the wistful lushness of jangle and dream pop as well as the rugged stomp of garage rock. Tracks like opener, ‘Before’, feel like a walk on a northern beach on an overcast day, and calls to mind the less bombastic side of Prefab Sprout. Uptempo cuts like ‘Mean Street’ are the upturned collar on a black leather jacket, bearing traces of bands like The Vaselines, The Raveonettes or early White Stripes. The lack of gloss on the production and resulting demo feel lends warmth and intimacy, allowing the dueling male/female vocals to take center stage. Great set of songs – can’t wait to hear what they do next.
The Special Friend EP is available now, a joint release of French labels Hidden Bay, Howlin’ Banana , Buddy Records, and Gravity Music.
Cover art for Germ House/Far Corners split cassette.
Jeckyl/Hyde, Bowie/Ziggy, Urkel/Urquelle – history is littered with famed alter egos. To this storied list, add Rhode Island-based bands Germ House and Far Corners, musical alter egos conjoined via frontman/guitarist Justin Hubbard.
The bands’ split cassette, released in June on the New York-based Fuzzy Warbles label, is an excellent showcase for Hubbard’s (together, in Far Corners, with co-conspirators Joe Corluka and Dave Dougan) musical stylings. Side Germ House (a project described as both a solo project and “partially fledged live rock outfit”) is an artful indie pop collage recalling, at times, Beck and Devo with its shards of jangle, twitchy post-punk/new wave, garage, and 70s rock (personal fave, “Inside the Room”). Side Far Corners feels an overall heavier and headier endeavor, upping the fuzz and folding in psych, punk/hc and noise (personal fave, “Gold Choice”). Excellent.
Grab a copy of the split cassette here, and catch Germ House live at one or more upcoming dates, which you can find on fbook.
Thigh Master/Dag, Euro Tour Split EP (Bruit Direct Disques)
We here at tgh stumbled upon Thigh Master, a merryish band from Brisbane, AUS, last year when they released the excellent “BBC” 7” single on 12XU. More recently (February, to be precise – we’re nothing if not punctual), the band released a new, split EP with Dag (also from Brisbane; each band sharing players) in connection with their tour of Europe.
The EP is chock full of woozy jangle of the highest order. Side Thigh Master features personal fave “Exodus”, the track’s gritty, delightfully ramshackle veneer belying some serious chops and a shit-eating grin worthy melodic refrain. Side Dag (a band new to us) is a more languid affair, highlight “Up the Wall” recalling a bit of early REM with its warm melancholy. There’s movement in the tracks and the lyrics – escapes, time passing, perhaps through the open window of a tour van – that make this EP well worth repeated listenings on a long car trip. Or sitting on a couch. You do you.
Rat Columns is the project of NYC-by way of Western Australia’s David West, whose previous work with bands such as Total Control, Rank/Xerox and Lace Curtain, as well as his solo material (most recently, last year’s great Peace or Love), explored different musical territory, from noirish post-punk, new wave imbued rhythmic explorations and dazed and confused psych.
Candle Power, his latest release with Rat Columns, finds West stitching together these various elements into a seamless and truly wondrous indie pop gem. “Blinded by the Shadow” expands on the Hot Chip (and their 80s antecedents) stomp of Lace Curtain, burnished with the addition of backing vocals from bassist Amber Gempton (featured throughout) and the inspired use of violin to add texture. “Northern Soul” weds the jittery, gothic post-punk of West’s work with Total Control and Rank/Xerox (I also kept hearing Lords of the New Church) with hazy psych. The album is shot through with moments of sublime, pop bliss. Opening one-two, “Someone Else’s Dream” and “She Loves the Rain”, jangled perfection in the spirit of classic Flying Nun on through to The Byrds. Closer, “Dream Tonight” a dancefloor ready mashup of New Order and Prefab Sprout (“Time’s No Vessel” also reminds of a less blissed-out Sprout with a shot of Orange Juice).
A dreamy, sepia-tinted melancholy hangs over the album, showcasing West’s ability to coalesce wide-eyed melodies with urbane, sometimes caustic lyrical takes on love and relationships, which are at variously “like driving a motorbike straight into a wall” (“Is This Really What You’re Like?”), an ephemeral, ‘did that really happen?’ experience (“Someone Else’s Dream”), and portentous “dark cloud that rains down from above” (“Time’s No Vessel”). It’s brilliant.
Rips is a four-piece based in Brooklyn. According to their bio, they’ve developed quite the following through “virtuous melodies and sheer ferocity amidst an endless flurry of shows” (crikey!).
Not situated in the Tri-State area, I had not run across the band until hearing their self-titled debut, and was hooked from the off. It’s fantastic, start to finish, showcasing a host of styles and incluences – the ‘artier’ end of the early CBGB days, post-punk, 70s power pop and rock, 60s via 80s jangle, 90s psych-slack – blended in such a way as to make them new again. “Break” is like REM covering Tom Petty; “Malibu Entropy” a woozy elegy to a relationship; “Save Room” as instantly familiar as the proverbial open road. The arrangements are sharp and taught, vocals recalling, to these ears, Love Battery’s underrated Ron Nine or Pete Doherty in their ability to seem both plaintive and beyond caring.
While much seems to have been made of the NYC/‘downtown’ feel of the band’s compositions, using as exhibit ‘a’ the involvement of Parquet Courts’ guitarist Austin Brown as producer, it rings too limiting. For me, the funneling of disparate eras and sounds into something so cohesive and, frankly, catchy gives Rips the feel of one of those ‘lost classic’ platters missed by many and later held up as a landmark. Let’s not wait.
Rips is out now, courtesy of Faux Discx (Wharf Cat handling distribution in the US). Follow along with the band Rips on fbook and their site, where you can find their current slate of upcoming gigs.