September 17th

Halfway through September, there’s a lot of cool music and so little time, so this will be a brief entry. I want to discuss some music that came out in the past few days.

Spearmint // Holland Park (hitBACK Records)

The new record from the indie group hits all the hallmarks of Shirley Lee’s writing style. Tales of days gone, bands dissolved, hearts broken. I had a particular affinity for the singles, namely “Bundunyabba Blue”, but there’s a lot of appreciation for the title track, “Holland Park”, which narrates the story of Shirley’s father’s prog band in the 1970’s. The dynamic structure of the song matches the album, swapping melancholy for cheer in instrumental bursts. Consistency is key for the group, and as a newer Spearmint fan, it’s clear I won’t stop being a fan any time this century.

122 North // Drive (Too Good to Be True Records)

The new project from Danny Provencher (Under Electric Light) exhibits a complete love for acid house/Madchester, driving basslines and phenomenal synth sounds. Night Drive is more than just a title. It’s a scenario. One I hope I find myself in. As the nights get cooler, the release begs to be blared out open windows. “Lost” is my favorite, layering synths and ghostly chorus into a buzzing breakdown. I prefer the original tracks, but the 3 Drive remixes are a welcome addition. I’ve taken the time to learn about Too Good to Be True, and I’m realizing the strength of music they’ve had in just 5 releases. You can buy the CD from them at the Bandcamp link below.

swan dive’s ‘june’ 20th anniversary … and how i learned to love the songwriter

Bill Demain and Molly Felder, members of Swan Dive, sit in a diner. The photo is black and white.
An outtake photo for Swan Dive’s album “June”. (https://www.facebook.com/Swan-Dive-220422927975366/photos/5860959883921614)

In 2017, I was a Sophomore in college, spurred by the euphoria of spring to drop out of school and live elsewhere for a bit. It ended up being a rough year, but that spring remains one of the loveliest times of my life. I skinned my knee trying to skateboard, listened to Deee-lite in a sweaty dormroom, and ate Cocoa Pebbles every single morning.

But where would I be without March Records’ 2006 compilation “Moshi Moshi (Pop International Style)”? The companion piece to “Pop American Style” had two hours of new sounds and fell into my lap at the perfect time, introducing me to 800 Cherries, The Cherry Orchard, Club 8, Girlfrendo, The Shermans and more. I was specifically captivated, however, by Swan Dive‘s “Breezeway”. It seemed to perfectly summarize the summery mood I was in. And I was falling in love to boot, so everything about it felt perfect to me.

That year ended up wiping the smile off my face, regrettably. And it wasn’t until I fell in love again last year that Swan Dive popped back up on the radar. Now thoroughly versed in bossa pop, their U.S. compilation (of the releases Circle, Wintergreen, etc.) hit me like a wave, and I knew I had to listen to everything else from the group.

Bill DeMain is a powerhouse of a songwriter, and “June” is the perfect showcase for his talents, celebrating its 20th anniversary today, June 3rd. In the live performance accompanying the anniversary (which I will link below), Bill talks about the album and the people who worked on it with him. I ended up learning a lot here, finding out I already knew some of those talented songwriters and performers!

Starting from the second track is “Truly, Madly, Deeply”, a song that came out of an invitation from the incredible Marshall Crenshaw to fill out a melody that Crenshaw had written. This perfect end-of-summer song feels like a gentle sigh on its verses, despite its cheery and bittersweet chorus. Hate to say it, but it beats out Savage Garden for the name. Next comes two Jill Sobule co-written songs, “One-Sided” and “Go With Love”. These songs enter into the more melancholy, which you can easily guess from the titles. Jill is an artist I’m only now exploring, but both songs speak so much to her talent. Her work with Bill is incredible. The lounge pop sound on “One-Sided” puts it as one of my favorites on the album. Catch that Wanderley organ sound?

Now come some surprises. I had no idea Bill worked with both Boo Hewerdine and Gary Clark of The Bible and Danny Wilson, respectively! Boo co-penned “Mountains”, “Have You Ever Been in Love” and “My Mistake”, while Gary’s sole credit on this album is “Katydids”. The album truly shines in these songs, the childish nostalgia embodied in “Katydids” is also apparent in “Have You Ever Been in Love”. On the other hand, “Mountains” and “My Mistake” enter truly gutwrenching territory. I’m thankful it didn’t, but if this album followed one of my messier break-ups, these songs would be all-too-perfect.

Bill DeMain and Molly Felder sit at a grand piano, smiling towards the camera.
Bill DeMain and Molly Felder in the studio during the making of June. (https://www.facebook.com/Swan-Dive-220422927975366/photos/845560285461624)

Still a surprise to be had: Pat Sansone of Wilco and Jenifer Jackson worked on that stellar tune “Safe and Sound” with Bill. The versions on “Words You Whisper” show just how beloved this song is, a light bossa tune with chanson influence creeping in on vocalist Molly Felder‘s French chorus. Both musicians are new to me (surprisingly), and I’m excited to see Jenifer had a release on both Bar None Records and Parasol Records (some of the greatest indie music from Illinois comes from that wonderful college town of Champaign-Urbana).

That’s not all, however. Kelley Ryan, who I’m unfamiliar with, starts the record spectacularly with “Girl on a Wire”, something I wish I heard on MTV as a kid (it easily would have changed my life as it had done now). Brad Jones forms the backbone of this album’s songwriting with Bill, heard in “Automatically Sunshine”, “Kaleidoscope”, “Augustine” and “Puzzle Ring” on the Japanese release. Love songs and songs about spring will always shoot me past the moon, but Bill and Brad’s work on “Augustine” is perfectly brooding, much like a cool summer night.

The moral of the story is that in my journey to write songs, having idols and friends is more than a great thing, it’s almost necessary. Bill meeting his idols Boo and Gary are heaven-sent, and listening to “June” is absolute proof of it. How he writes for both himself and Molly is fantastic, and Molly herself is one of the most talented vocalists I’ve heard sing pop music, strong here and breathy there.

A friend of mine mentioned that the indie pop of Nashville deserves a name, and I agree with her. She recommended “heartland chamber pop” or “Nashville chamber pop”, to describe that pocket of singer-songwriters that includes Jill Sobule, Paula Kelley and more. Maybe I’ll revisit that in another blog post.

Swan Dive in the 20th anniversary "June" livestream from left to right: Bill Demain, Jim Hoke, Brad Jones, Molly Felder.
Swan Dive in the 20th anniversary “June” livestream from left to right: Bill DeMain, Jim Hoke, Brad Jones, Molly Felder.

In Swan Dive I’ve found a love for love, a music that transcends the headphones with which I hear it and fills the world around me. It accompanies me through the cold winter into the thaw that spring brings. I’m more than happy to share Swan Dive’s performance of “June” below as well as encourage you to listen on Spotify or Apple Music. Bill’s also got this cool greeting card company with the cutest handmade bird collage art, and if you’re interested in that, you can contact him at oddbirdsco@gmail.com. Below is the performance, which is sweet and fun from start to finish (Molly tears up on some of the sadder songs and I can’t blame her, because I was, too). I’m so thankful for this group, and so happy to share my thoughts about them with you. See you all soon!

[album review] axolotes mexicanos, “:3” (2021)

Yesterday was so energetic and full of great music that when I checked the clock and saw that it was 2 a.m., I could only wish my day would never end. I began the day with the German indie rockers Readymade and visited the Hong Kong shoegazers Thud (who have an album on the way) when it struck midnight in Spain and the new Axolotes Mexicanos album dropped.

To be transparent, I had only discovered the group last week. But I did a lot of catching up, playing 2015’s Holi<3 and 2018’s Salu2 as well as the new album’s singles to prepare. And in Axolotes Mexicanos I discovered something extremely exciting: the finest blend of any two genres I could have imagined is tontipop and j-pop, something La Casa Azul excelled at in the presence of neo-shibuya-kei. On top of that, it’s the most fun pop punk I’ve heard in a long time.

The tracks leading up to the album were some of my favorites on the album itself. From the Uwu single are “Te Quiero (…)” and “Cuando_estoy_contigo.mp3”. They’re songs that talk to and answer each other, the former being about the dizzying and aggravating loneliness that accompanies a break-up and the latter being about the simultaneous anxiety and comfort of being together. “Te Quiero (…)” whips up into pop punk frenzy in its chorus, while the simple jangle pop stylings of “Cuando_estoy_contigo.mp3” are the twee-est I’ve heard the group so far.

The later single, “Cara de idiota”, has the perfect self-deprecatingly sweet lyrics as one might expect from twee, but here taking a fantastic cue from Kero Kero Bonito‘s recent work. I think it’s one of the strongest songs on the album. Perfectly catchy, a true pop song.

When approaching the album itself, it’s fun to see that there are both opening and ending tracks for the album, much like you would find in anime. “Opening” is charming with its marching drum beat and lyrical disdain for an imaginary partner. It transitions into “Cara de idiota” really well. On the other side, “De Aquí A Un Año” swells over with its fear of the future, leading into “Ending”, a track about being so desperate to see someone that you’d risk fatal injury. And even this track, much like the opening, has its share of comedy.

Their songs approach bittersweet and otherwise sad songs with a bright energy that to someone not proficient in Spanish, you’d never guess “Verano en espiral” was about idealized lives and dissatisfaction. This sort of energy comes over from the work of Elefant Records’ past and a number of other influences and infuses the lyrics with a truly youthful feeling. “Oshare kei”, named and styled after the subgenre of Visual kei, reminds me of an especially painful breakup I had, where life had to keep going but I felt so directionless.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, I really adore this album, and I’m excited for my record to come, which has this wonderful electric blue color. I encourage everyone reading not just to check out the album, but buy it either digitally or physically! Give it a year and physicals may be hard to find. 😉

For Europe (and Canada, it seems), shop from Elefant Records/Axolotes Mexicanos Bandcamp. For the United States, Darla has copies available for preorder.

remington super 60, z tapes, + the week ahead

I wanted to jot a quick post down because the weather’s getting nicer (and windier), and I’ve been listening to cool music and doing cool things.

Every day I discover something new, which I guess is part of the diligence of being an RYM/Discogs contributor. But as an indie pop fan, I’m always woefully behind the curve. Apparently, so is RYM! I went to listen to Remington Super 60 and log some ratings when I realized it (and Christoffer Schou’s label Cafe Superstar Recordings) has been totally neglected!

It’s going to take a while to get it current. The last addition to Remington Super 60’s page was a 2009 release. But that’s actually not true! A 2020 sampler from Z-Tapes stood as the most recent addition to the site. And yes, I know. I remember listening to this EP in 2020, but I’m much lazier than you’d think. This blog has laid dormant since the same time!

Well, as luck would have it, I couldn’t have picked a better time to get into Z Tapes, a Slovakian tape (& more!) label and store owned by Filip Zemčík. Their release of Port Lucian‘s compilation Trans Musicians & Allies for Change has received quite a lot of notice and even more downloads. I’m about to be one of them. So, I’ll link that below.

That’s all I’ve got for today. On my horizon: Axolotes Mexicanos new album “:3” comes out March 12th. I have a few records inbound as well: a reissue of Enon’s debut LP from Blind Rage Records, a reissue of Josef K’s Sorry for Laughing, the new Axolotes Mexicanos, Sweet Trip’s reissue of You Will Never Know Why and their new single Walkers Beware… / Stab Slow. The latter is all from Darla. Great stuff.

Readers, my advice to you: curiosity leads you to cool stuff. It should lead you to Z Tapes. Check them out! See you soon.

new year, not me

Don’t be so naive. Happy new year.

Hi folks. The last time I posted was in 2019, my naivety at an all-time high. I had expected a burst of energy to accompany me into 2020, and the floodgates to truly open on this blog. No one can account for a pandemic and more life changes.

That’s actually more motivating to blog and to document the changes. Not in the sort of detail where you, the reader, will be able to scrape extremely personal information, but just enough to get an idea of where my head is at.

A girl on “Hey, Hey Girl”, Rocketship 1994.

I’ve opened up an internet channel to discuss indiepop. Scientists and practitioners have been doing this for ages. What does it mean if I do it? Young people (the punkish youth) ought to learn about indie pop… and destroy it.

I want to contribute. I’ve purchased a drumset (electric, so as not to disturb the neighbors). It can plug into my computer or into my headset or into a speaker, and it changes sounds on a whim. I’ve bought a domain here and I’ll probably buy Reason’s new subscription program. Things I own: Drumset. Things I don’t own, but pay for: domain, Reason+.

Will I play my own music? Surely. But what kind? The name of my band is Contraptions. My name is Ana Garda. Punk. Twee. Noise. Clatter. Pop. I like neat things but I know what my closet looks like, so I won’t pretend. Plug into the computer and fill it with drum strokes.

Enough of all that. Here’s what I’m listening to.

French indie-pop artist Essiar’s only tangible release.

Fall asleep in the woods and you may hear Cyrille Essiar’s en-chant-ing melodies. Fuzzy, spacy, rather lovely tunes. Released on Radio Khartoum as a 3” CD. How I’d like to have the artistic talents of Bügelfrei. This is as short as an EP so please give an attentive ear.

‘Till next time. Happy new year.

To collect moments

To our good comrade:

Unfortunately, I’m beginning my first post with a small dedication to Vojtech Jasny, the Czech filmmaker whose versatility has left more than a few impressive films in his filmography. Born 1925 in Moravia, he was already 25 at the time he started making films in 1950, two years after the Communists came to power in Czechoslovakia. Charmingly, in the era of lack of visible truth, he created “The Cassandra Cat”. The 1963 film showed how something as silly as a cat who can reveal things like adultery can make children riot. And his finest came during that rebellion known as the Czech New Wave: “All My Good Compatriots”, a film that chronicles the changes a small village undergoes as the war ends and socialism enters in its place. Cheerful agrarian life turns into a culture of betrayal. I watched it twice this year. A longtime professor in the United States, Jasny has left imprints on so many. I thought it fitting to watch one of his films today, and I was not disappointed.

Ansichten eines Clowns (1976, West Germany).

Jan Niklas (L) and Helmut Griem (R) as Leo Schnier and Hans Schnier, respectively.

For nearly 25 years, after leaving his home country, Jasny directed a number of films in Germany. One was West Germany’s 1976 submission to the Academy Awards, an adaptation of Heinrich Böll’s “The Clown”, as it’s known in English. Böll’s novel rattled 1963 Germany and brought the ire of the CDU for its negative portrayal of the Roman-Catholic church during and after the war; for its complacency and role in Nazism’s success, and its readiness to forget after the war. Böll, Günther Grass, and others formed a powerful wave of criticism, and many of their stories were adapted to film, most notably Jean Marie Straub’s “Not Reconciled”, after Böll’s novel “Billiards at Half Nine”, and Völker Schlöndorff’s “The Tin Drum”, after Grass’ novel of the same name. Jasny’s film precedes “The Tin Drum”.

Jasny seems to opt for a melancholic, close perspective of its clown-comedian-protagonist Hans Schnier, the voluntarily estranged son of a coal magnate family. Half of his German productions are made for TV, and this film doesn’t seem too far from that, but is more than successful in representing moments (“Augenblicke”) from Schnier’s life that are about love and pain. Helmut Griem is charming and infuriating as an immature comedian whose rudeness defies social conventions. Truly, I believe this approach is better than the cinematic-surreal nature of “The Tin Drum” and the static nature of “Not Reconciled”. To perform as someone with bounds of happiness, a clown must carry the right amount of melancholy to empathize.

The plot follows Schnier as he returns to his childhood home in Bonn after an unsuccessful run and subsequent injuries to ask his parents for money so he can recover. Arguments with his family are in-cut with memories of the end of the war. The most shocking one is the pride that caused his mother to send Schnier’s sister Henrietta to die on an anti-aircraft battalion. On the other hand, he reflects on his failed relationship with Marie Derkum, a Roman-Catholic woman whose love for Schnier fades when she realizes he has no interest in joining the faith. Schnier’s hate for the institution and hate for Germany’s readiness to forget the crimes committed during the war drives him into a corner: as a Clown, he’s no better than a beggar.

Jasny and Böll do well in incorporating the text into the film while also making it feel approachable. There’s a lot of push and pull in Griem’s performance. He’s sympathetic, but also incredibly pathetic. There’s nothing offensive here, really. No absurdity like in “The Tin Drum”. It’s melancholy, a cold society. All that Schnier has are moments, memories, sentiments. That’s what makes his role as a clown possible.

Jerry Lewis, Gore Vidal, and me…

It’s really tempting to know everything. I wasn’t feeling well yesterday so I watched a Norman Taurog-directed Jerry Lewis film called “A Visit To A Small Planet”. It’s not really one of his best, but it was cute. I was surprised to learn it was based off of a Gore Vidal play of the same name (and that Vidal hated it!). The play and the film don’t share endings, however. Jerry “gets” the girl, but only briefly, as his rival chases him back out to space. The play ends with the alien nearly starting a war on Earth for fun, a comment on proxy wars. It made me realize maybe Vidal wouldn’t be a bad author to read into: he wrote “Ben-Hur”, “Suddenly, Last Summer”, and more. You can tell I’m mostly interested in the queer content of those films. Who can blame me?

And me? I start my new position at my company in a couple weeks. I feel lost! How come I always feel lost when things become stable?