Sunday, December 1, 2013


Black Checker has been a steadily improving local power pop band for some time now. Their new EP should establish them as a serious player in that field. Of course, serious power pop is serious fun, especially with these three guys bringing it. The drums gallop along with speedy bass lines, crunching and fuzzy melodic explosions, and vocals that some how manage to keep up and stay tuneful. The speedy cuts sound like the Nerves with a dose of the Fastbacks, while the final song has some of the pop stylings of a Grant Hart song. I expected a good record from this band, but instead they delivered an excellent record that faithfully reproduces the intensity of a live show. Many power pop bands sacrifice the power they posses on stage when they record, but not here--these six songs rock hard.

Los Angeles based singer songwriter Cate Le Bon was originally from Wales, although this music in spite of being accessible yet personal would be extremely hard to put on any two dimensional map. From New Zealand to Japan through the UK to various points in the American continents (and realistically, all six of the occupied ones), pop music has certain styles to it. Cate Le Bon pulls from many different pop areas and is not afraid to experiment as she places a ton of personality in every cut. It is not quite as intense as Kate Bush, as there is more of a laid back feeling in a majority of the songs. That has more to do to tempo as the vocals and the guitars seem to be making mysterious observations and occasionally asking a tough question or two. There is a more somber Marissa Nadler style here as well, although the electric music is quite different and does not compare well with too many bands. If you are a fan of smart music, give this a try, I think you will have a good experience. And I have enjoyed the live show as well.

Cate Le Bon comes back to DC at the DC9 on January 15th.

Songs to try first:

I Can't Help You - The jangle is light, but the pop hook is strong and avoids being overly cute.

Duke - A lot of interesting songwriting moves going on here and maybe even a teaspoon of Kate Bush.

Sisters - I love the quirky keys, guitar, and bass in this one, plus the vocals sound like Penelope Houston trying to sound like Jennifer Miro.


There is little like the magical feelings evoked by a high quality finger style guitarist. Minnesotan Kyle Fosburgh has both the technique and style to bring out a lot of emotion from the guitar strings and hollow guitar body. There are just four cuts here on this EP, but they are strong and are a wonderful entrance to his music, if you have not been there before. Although you hear a lot of the great guitarists in here as influences, I think the resulting music does land in between that of John Fahey and Robbie Basho. There is that Fahey precision and inventiveness, but he jumps on the Basho style at times by going way, way out there with throbbing drones of shifting intensities. There are three instrumentals with one song employing some fine vocals and was recorded live in the studio.

This six-song electronica EP hits all the right buttons for me, which is not easy to do in this genre. There are crazed female vocals that remind me of some of the off kilter west coast punk bands that never made it big, such as No Mercy. The electronics, drums, guitars are all gnarly and attack oriented. This is akin to combining the Coathangers with Chrome. This is crazy stuff that even has the playfulness of Devo worked into songs that sound like traffic jams.

You can see them live (if you dare) at Comet Ping Pong on Friday, December 13th.


I was initially worried this might be a rather slight entry into the psychedelic low-key Americana genre. The vocals have that otherworldly sound and the instrumentation has a slower stoned pace to it all with a lot of acoustic instruments and echoey electric guitars and other sounds. There is a very easy going, Americanized version similar to the lighter side of what Jason Pierce does with Spiriualized. That this is a strong, professional record with lovely songs will be of no surprise to the many Fresh and Onlys fans, as this band features Tim Cohen of the F+Os. And as for my worries? Never mind, this record had me wrapped around its finger from early in the second song until the final notes drifted away. It is a fine achievement.

Songs to try first:

Blinding Light - Warmth amidst the spacey landscape of this excellent cut.

Bridge of Gold - What starts out almost too slight grows into a steady psychedelic vision.

The Store - Nimble light rocker with a great refrain. This one is addictive.


There are a lot harder things to do in life than review Magik Markers records, but the challenge of trying to figure out what this music grew out of, what makes it work, and who would like it is a true test. Covering the first point, although they clearly come out of lo-fi indie rock with a strong DIY ethic, there is much more going on. I suppose some of the style can be traced back to the Velvet Underground through Sonic Youth with a songs that pull back into thoughtful quieter moments to others that blast out in fury. If you can imagine refining Teddy & the Frat Girls a bit, that may be the root of the Markers. It works because of the odd guitar lines, murky rhythms, and intense vocals. The variety of songs keeps an album as well as a live set highly engaging from beginning to end. This band has developed a solid cult of fans out there and many others have turned to safer music, but anyone who wants a challenge. And how can you resist when they recorded songs in J. Mascis's attic and used a mellotron that he has in there?

Songs to try first:

Acts of Desperation - Some of the best music comes from acts of desperation.

Bonfire - Raw garage punk that sounds straight out of an echo filled concrete garage.

American Sphinx Face - Actually don't start with story of throbbing noise, unless you are already a fan of this or V.U.'s "The Gift".

This local trio is always such a pleasant band. This four song EP is filled with instrumental guitar and drum music that manages to sound so relaxing while staying busy and engaging. It is a neat little trick and it seems that they take progressive moves and put them to pop structures. They are far more nimble than many shoe gaze bands that aspire to these kind of melodies. The resultant appetizer here will leave a tang on your tongue as you wait for more.  And that more is coming right up as…

Sansyou plays the Marx Cafe tonight, Sunday, December 1st.

This local instrumental outfit puts on intriguing sets when I have caught them in the clubs. They fill the void of several working or defunct Socket Circuits bands, with closest resemblance to Buildings. They offer even a bit more variety, which is essential when you eschew vocals, such as the shifts in pace and volume in "Boogie Worms". I particularly enjoy the sound of the bass on much of this, which approaches something akin to Gang of Four/Big Black. There still is not quite enough variety for me to enjoy this style of music in my home as much as I do live. This band is really close, but I still prefer them in the club, as here I want more from an hour's active listening. You have to be as amazing as Mogwai or Mozart to instrumentally hold my interest that long. Even a band like Mono who I love in the clubs does not make my playlists with their recordings. But if you really get off on this style of music, do buy this record as ShowPony will offer you a lot to listen to with busy fluid guitar runs, popping drum rolls and that throaty bass. They are much better than many of their peers. And by all means catch them live and you can do that at the record release party…

ShowPony plays the Galaxy Hut on Monday, December 16th.

Normally I get turned off by hype over hot, high rising fliers in the rock world, but I keep it at the skeptical level and am always willing to join in if the music is good enough. Ty Segall has pretty much lived up to the hype with everything I have heard, even with a prolific pace that that could mirror that of Jay Reatard and maybe even Robert Pollard. And like them, an editor could help make for steadier albums. But adventurous listeners want it all and he is here to oblige. Segall is off more in psychedelic folk direction with this release--something between Marc Brierley and Marc Bolan, perhaps. There are some misses here, but the hits are quite good and the overall feeling is strong if like oddball folk with a warm psyche mist permeating the music. He often has a second vocal or surprise melodic shift to add some originality to this form. Some may want to try his more rocking albums, but this is just right for me.

Songs to try first:

The Keepers - Lilting psyche folk with a Germanic/UK crossed feeling.

The Man Man - Psyche folk tune twists into a gnarly rock ending.

Queen Lullabye - Murky distant percussion with spacey vocals and churning acoustic guitar--odd and interesting.

This album is very simple… and very seductive. Female voice and acoustic guitar and precious little else enters into play in these ten songs. In fact, even the guitar work follows the simple pattern of individual note picking through the basic and repeating chord shifts. The vocals are delicate with a careful use of harmonies at various points. There is not quite enough variety here for this to be a 'classic', but the steady unvarying style does create a rich atmosphere you can get lost in for 35 minutes. So if you like something between Anne Briggs and Marissa Nadler, give Sumie a spin.

Songs to try first:

Spells You - A warm welcome with lovely voice and equally lovely acoustic guitar.

Hunting Sky - Mesmerizing guitar repetition and quietly powerful voice.

Midnight Glories - The longest cut keeps the steady momentum throughout, aided with great harmonies.

This crafty area band continues to put their creative touches on new garage pop music. There are great hooks, jangly guitars, nice harmonies and a whole lot of what you remember from the 1960s. Yet they add electronics and modern touches at key moments to keep everything clearly grounded in the present. I hear reminders of other fine bands like Hush Arbors and even Dead Meadow at times, which works for me. And unlike many albums, the good songs are not front loaded making listening to the entire album more of a chore than a pleasurable exploration. These guys keep bringing on the quality songs with further and further creative flourishes to keep you at rapt attention. I highly recommend spending some time getting to know this album, there are a myriad of pleasures to be had.

Songs to try first:

Cardigan's Fable - I like the subtle menace of the guitar lines, as the song rocks along with great depths of sound.

What If - Invitingly warm vocal line wrapped around a classic 1960s jangly guitar and spirited rhythm.

Digitalis - Incredibly psychedelic and modernly lush with killer vocals. Gorgeous song.

This band centers around San Francisco musician Tim Presley. He has done at least one record with Ty Segall, which does get your brain working in the right direction immediately. But jumping right into this Iive recording will also give you an idea of Presley's approach to combining sixties garage rock, seventies punk, and modern indie jamming hookie nuggets. I am not a fan of live albums or having every recorded performance of even my favorite bands, but they do work well enough when they capture at least some of the fun of being there. This record succeeds, because even a it sounds kind of rough, this is garage rock that works just as well (maybe better) within rough sounding environments. And it is a great place to start to become a fan of White Fence, which I consider myself now. I look forward to the next tour out east.

Songs to try first:

Swagger Vets and Double Moon - Serious garage jamming in a Chocolate Watchband meets MC5 sort of way.

Baxter Corner - A real punk sound here, yet it is 2-3 times longer than the rest of the songs at over 8 1/2 minutes. It's epic and brilliant.

Lizards First - Crazed slide guitar work doesn't stop even with melodic vocal work carrying the tune.


This is a compilation of pop music made by fifteen (mostly) California bay area bands of today, many of which sound like they exist somewhere in the 1960s. There is everything from the harmony laden, tremolo guitar sound from the early part of the decade to the dreamy psychedelia dished up toward the end. There is even a few cuts that sound like 1980s interpretations of that sound. And just a few more songs morph into the odd nomadic psychedelia of Serpent Power and Joseph Byrd and more post-punk pop projects, so there is a lot to choose from here. And like most successful compilations, it plays well on its own because of its theme and quality AND  also gives you some ideas for bands to follow or see live. This was curated by Sonny Smith of Sonny & the Sunsets who are featured here.

Songs to try first:

The Memories - Higher: This has a great lilting hook to it in that freak folk way without being annoying in that freak folk way.

Jessica Pratt - Dreams: Double tracked vocals over acoustic guitars creating a warm psyche folk environment a bit lighter than Smoke Fairies.

Burnt Ones - Premonition: Heavy twisted fun.

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