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CC Dust – CC Dust

Washington coast Olympic peninsula

Olympia has never stopped producing great music. CCFX, the supergroup that released some of my favorite music last year, is composed of members of CC Dust and Trans FX. CC Dust released one EP, “CC Dust,” and it is incredible. Mary Jane Dunphe and David Jacques were (are?) the band. Dunphe’s voice dominates the record. The music is synthscape post-punk, early 80s, full of drama. You can hear it all loud and clear on “Abra.” That bass is authoritative, dark and menacing. And Dunphe’s voice does so much on this track: she’s up-and-down on the verses, changing dynamics, and then it’s full-throated, open exuberance when she sings the chorus. Her vocals on this EP (and on the CCFX EP) are astounding. The CC Dust EP is $5 on Bandcamp for 20 minutes of beautiful music, go get it.

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Astronauts, etc. – Living In Symbol

Oakland, seen from Holy Names University

Music comes in so many forms and serves so many purposes—it can provide catharsis, inflame passions, deliver solace, inspire hope, cultivate lethargy, frighten/freak you out, make you dance, etc. I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of Gebrauchmusik (utility music or music for use), popularized by Paul Hindemith, since it can provide a fun way of thinking about certain pieces of music and which scenarios they might be most appropriately utilized for. E.g., to my mind, Joe Jackson’s “Steppin’ Out” is the correct music to have playing when you’re sitting in the dentist’s chair, mentally preparing yourself to be anesthetized against forthcoming harm, etc.

“Living In Symbol,” the new album by Astronauts, etc., like a lot of pleasant and fun music, is a good hang. The whole album is great. You can pay a lot of attention to the sweet melodies and the production, or you can kind of zone out and let it pass you by, but it will seep into your brain and you’ll end up humming these songs to yourself no matter what. This album feels like a close friend who will always forgive your faux pas, your crankiness, your inattention, your negligence, and will still invite you over to their summertime cook-out.

Also: Astronauts, etc. (Tony Peppers) is from Oakland, and this album sounds like Oakland (where I lived for four years) to me. Oakland is welcoming, forgiving, and fun. You can find people who will support you in Oakland, people to play music with, to make art with, to discuss ideas with, to hang out with. “Living In Symbol” sounds like everything’s that’s great about a city like that, where you can be yourself.

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Casiotone for the Painfully Alone – Etiquette

Mount St. Helens, the north face, taken from Johnston Ridge

Casiotone for the Painfully Alone (CFTPA)’s “Etiquette” is like a short story collection, specifically like one that covers the day-to-day granular mental transactions and emotional events of young people living in the city. Although at first blush that mind sound annoying or supremely trite and goofy, the lyrics on the album are fascinating and pretty great—Owen Ashworth is a believer in the effect and still-powerful power of rhyme. This, from “New Year’s Kiss,” is a wonderful scene in a handful of lines: “Not the way that you’d imagined it/on a balcony with champagne lips/but in a pantry against the pancake mix/you had your New Year’s kiss.” Like a Belle & Sebastian character wandering into a Magnetic Fields track. All of “Etiquette” has moments like that—carefully observed and deftly expressed, sent out through the delivery systems of sweet, brief songs.

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Collections of Colonies of Bees – Hawaii

Very small guitars, micro-guitars, playing in a stuttering rhythm. Voices emerge and dissipate. Someone comes in and plays a tight little riff, a pocket riff. Damn. Two people enter from stage right. They're speaking tenderness to each other, face to face. They start marching place, this is where the story takes off, you know. They're like, "You got it right, dark with the night." Everything bops along for a minute; the song is powered by guitar strums. Then it collapses into exhalation, percussion, tones, breaking down into vapors, atmosphere.

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Tancred – Nightstand

Kalaloch Beach Driftwood

Tancred's new album, "Nightstand," was informed, in part, by Jess Abbott's need to connect with people. During the time she was writing the album, she was reading, getting into different activities, and connecting with people, in an effort, she said, to "figure out what it really meant to be alive." Something about this reminded me immediately of David Hume and his "A Treatise of Human Nature," towards the end of which he remarks on the fact that doing philosophy often makes him sad as hell and the only thing that cheers him up again is going out to eat, or going to play backgammon with his friends so he can chop it up with them. You can kind of hear this vibe in "Nightstand" and in songs like "Something Else," where Abbott is celebrating how much fun, how energizing and invigorating it is to encounter someone in the world who lights up those pleasure centers in your brain. Musically, the song feels like a long-lost cousin of a 90s rocker, like a Breeders B-side, maybe, tons of fuzz, guitar-forward, blazing. "Nightstand" is a good time.

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Smerz – Have Fun EP

Hoh Rainforest ferns

Smerz opened for Mount Kimbie on a recent U.S. tour, and I saw them in Seattle. I didn’t know what to expect, but they were incredible. Heavy beats and crazy soundcraft paired with Catherina Stoltenberg’s and Henriette Motzfeldt’s vocals, which range from a sort of dead-eyed monotone to tender singing to sharp-edged taunting. Their songs were so unpredictable and lively, morphing every couple seconds into a new phase, a different vibe. Their EP, “Have Fun,” is a great representation of their skills: the songs float and change directions in such interesting ways, and it feels like, within each song, any kind of music could emerge—long drones, early Junior Boys-style beat programming, ambient chanting, etc. It’s thrilling.

(Mount Kimbie were also fantastic—I’d never seen them before and they played a lot of stuff from “Love What Survives,” one of the best albums from last year, along with deep cuts (and shallow cuts?) from their whole discography. They have much more of a ‘band’ setup than I would’ve expected, which drove home again how “Love What Survives” reminded me obliquely of UK post-punk albums like The Sound’s “Jeopardy”)

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Melody’s Echo Chamber – Bon Voyage

Samarkand

"Bon Voyage" sounds like the kind of album you make when you want to make something risky and wild and brave. An aesthetic declaration. Melody's Echo Chamber is not chasing trends--Melody Prochet is making the kind of music she wants to hear. This is all to say that "Bon Voyage" feels deeply personal and weird in the best way, an expression of a person, or group of people, pursuing their musical ideas faithfully and intensely, no matter how bonkers they might be (or sound) on the surface. Thinking back on my own listening experience with this album, I can recall, without giving my impressions a forensic examination, sounds of sighs and heavy breathing, a man screaming in what sounds like Japanese, helium-high vocals, beat-boxing, flute solos, French and English mingling, blazing bright guitars, amazing percussion.

Prochet worked on the album with Reine Fiske from Dungen (in addition to Gustav Esjtes and Johan Holmegaard, also from Dungen, and you can hear that sound coming through), the Amazing's Fredrik Swahn, and Nicholas Allbrook from Pond. I would love to know what music served as touchstones for Prochet and the rest while they were recording this album--it sounds to me like there are little allusions here and there to records by Stereolab and Broadcast, among many others (like a snippet from the beginning of "Shirim," the last song on the album, reminded me of a Steven R. Smith tune that in turn was reminiscent of the music in "Pather Panchali").

"Bon Voyage" is a beautiful, exuberant album, seven vivid and high-energy songs that are bigger on the inside than they are on the outside.

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Glass Famine

Ice cream sundae washington glass famine

Craig and Vincent, who released a handful of great tunes as Casimer and Casimir (Craig was also in the wonderful and long-gone Pas/Cal), are now Glass Famine, and they just put out their debut single, "Grumbling Bellies," which is a pretty, tumbling song. I think one of the aspects of Pas/Cal's music (and the stuff from Casimer and Casimir too) that I always found impressive was the number of ideas packed into each song: there are almost always three or four little sections to each song, and they're all compelling in their own right (reminiscent in some ways of the Unicorns and how their songs often took very unpredictable trajectories). Besides its wonderful restlessness, this song has great details too—to wit, there's some especially fantastic guitar business in the margins of the last minute of this song, while Craig repeats "It's the lie that makes them pretty." Looking forward to hearing more.

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CHVRCHES – Love Is Dead

Photo of ferns in Quinault Rain Forest

In "Graffiti," from CHVRCHES' new album "Love Is Dead," is Lauren Mayberry writing about the loss of romantic love, putting a what-if counterfactual to music, or is she writing about the imminent death of the world? She sings, "I've been waiting for my whole life to grow old/and now we never will/never will." There's a lot of talk about writing names on bathroom stalls and standing in streetlights and making a mess, about "being kids then," so there's a sense of looking back on an intense love that dissipated somewhere along the line (for undisclosed reasons), and there also seems to be a powerful regret about the loss of this love, which possibly represents an irremediable wrong that will affect Mayberry forever and preclude her enjoyment of her old age (because she'll always be thinking about what might have been with this former love). This is nostalgia turned into poisonous rumination, set to CHVRCHES usual array of erupting, overflowing synths. But there's also that "we" in "and now we never will," which suggests that this is a collective fate: none of us will grow old; our mistakes will come back to haunt us and there will be no relief. "Graffiti" is at once very pretty and very grim, and most of "Love Is Dead" has that same beautiful and punishing vibe.

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Forth Wanderers

Fredericksburg Baptist Church

Remember chaotic shows, in small theaters, in basements, in a hot attic in Virginia? Early morning Wawa donuts, coffee, and cigarettes. Sitting on brick walls. Someone always brought back handfuls of candy from work. Food, we were always searching for free food. Racing against the clock to get beer before midnight. Our friends snuck into the pool at the Holiday Inn, but we stuck with the one in our apartment complex, full of leaves and dead spiders. We went to see bands in Richmond and Newport News, bands that then dissipated like they’d never existed. You went to Fredericksburg and never came back.

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