Summer Singles Spectacular 2006

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While Fall is typically the time of year when most high profile albums are released, summer is high season for singles. Though the singles market may not be what it is in the UK, we still stumble across some great extended players out here in the states. Whether the width of the circle be five, seven or twelve inches, a finely sequenced EP makes for great listening, and will no doubt contribute to the themed mixes you make for your friends (or yourself). So here are twelve new ones that captured our interest.

Mew – The Zookeeper’s Boy EP (Columbia)

For a few years, Mew was one of the many bands of which US fans had been unfairly deprived. This Danish group has been around for ten years or so, but only became known to most fans after their 2003 album, Frengers, a combination of the words `friends’ and `strangers.’ Describing their own music as `pretentious art rock,’ they’ve gained more fans by combining elements of Radiohead, Muse and New Order, earning them supporting slots with the likes of R.E.M. and Bloc Party. After huge success in their native land, they’re finally ready to conquer America, and The Zookeeper’s Boy preview acts as a warning shot across the bow, heralding one of my new favorite bands. The first three tracks from the EP come off of the upcoming full-length, And the Glass Handed Kites, an album already released in Europe, while the last two are the bookend tracks from Frengers. “Apocalypso” and “Special” are truly memorable songs with upbeat choruses and the distinctive voice of Jonas Bjerre, sounding not unlike Jónsi Birgisson of Sigur Rós. “Am I Wry? No” and the epically beautiful “Comforting Sounds” come from their previous album and are a magnificent bridge into the new material. But the true standout is the title track, already released to huge acclaim in Europe, gaining the title of “Hit of the Year” in Denmark by its main rock radio station and music magazine, and it’s no stretch to hear why. The song will no doubt end up in my end of the year best list. How could they have kept them from us for so long? Maybe there were copyright issues with the Pokemon character of the same name?

Similar Albums: Sigur Rós- ( ); Radiohead- OK Computer; Muse- Absolution – Terrance Terich

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Professor Murder – Rides the Subway (Kanine)

There already seem to be quite a few bands with funky basslines, erratic singer/shouters, disco hi-hat heavy beats and more cowbell than they know what to do with. And yet, it’s never a bad idea to replicate such a surefire way to get asses wiggling. New York quartet Professor Murder understand this, and as such, create a hell of a funky disco post-punk party on their new EP, Rides the Subway. And according to the amusing cover illustration adorning this five song disco jam, rappers, chickens, cats, female bodybuilders, SWAT teams, divers and, apparently, the Ayatollah, are all welcome on this publicly funded party on the move.

Perhaps this is to illustrate that a simple dance song is universal. Whether it’s the sirens blaring on “Champion,” the melodica on “The Mountain” or the new wave synths on “Free Stress Test,” each song only requires the slightest bit of ornamentation to further their cowbell and bass heavy good times. And if you need a break from the beats, you can scat along with the band as they recite their name a cappella on “Pedigree.” But the one thing you won’t hear on Rides the Subway is guitar. This funk-punk is strictly of the minimalist sort, and even though the band makes their case for “progressive post-punk,” they’re actually stripping it down and taking it back to the basics and making something much more raw.

Similar Recordings: ESG – Come Away With Me, Out Hud – One Life to Leave, LCD Soundsystem – Yeah! — Jeff Terich

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Professor Murder - Professor Murder Rides the Subway - EP

Test Icicles – Dig Your Own Grave (Domino)

London trio Test Icicles are best known for their dance punk overdrive, as heard on debut album For Screening Purposes Only, but on Dig Your Own Grave, we find their aggressive style given the remix treatment, with elements of electro-hip hop, hardcore rap mash ups, and tinctures of new wave, techno, and urban club beats. Their songs have scattered movements like The Hives, chaotic upheavals like The Noisettes, and a dominance of synth sequences like Peaches. Yet many of the mixes lack direction and rely on digitalized fixings and patches of synth composites to carry the music like on “Catch It.”

“Circle Square Triangle” has three versions on the album, all of which seem to lack purpose. The James Ford mix shows punk abrasions that are confusing while The Chrome Hoof remix demonstrates animatronics that work off of a DJ turntable completely. The Arman XXXChange remix makes use of a vocoder and urban club signatures but it still lacks something for the listener to hold onto and relate to. “What’s Your Damage,” a remix with Alan Braxe and Fred Falke has nu-wave fashion sense like a New Order soundtrack with grunge style vocals. The remix version to the song by Digitalism exhibits more hard rock rhythms but the song carries awkward laterals and shifts cemented by elusive vocal echoes. “Boa vs. Python” is a hardcore rap number peering into phrases of aggression with a Genghis Khan style carnage, but the track remains empty of something for the listener to believe. The final track “Pull The Lever” is a digitalized track garbing synth effects of horns, whistles, and tapping drums in experimental designs and making deranged chord exchanges.

Similar Artists: The Noisettes – The Three Moods of The Noisettes, Peaches – Impeach By Bush, Busta Rhymes – Touch It – Susan Frances

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Test Icicles - Dig Your Own Grave

I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness – According to Plan (Secretly Canadian)

Earlier this year, Austin’s I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness gave us a meaty platter of deliciously dark, atmospheric post-punk on their album Fear Is On Our Side. And from that very album comes “According to No Plan,” the perfect mascara-smearing, black nail polish flaking dance anthem for 2006. With a slinky, industrial bassline and a steady, crashing beat, the rhythm section offsets the atmospheric tones of the high end, creating a blend of dark and light, as Christian Goyer’s raspy vocals glide just barely above the controlled destruction.

This standout A-side comes packaged with a few non-album b-sides, as well, which are definitely worth a listen. “Close To Here” begins with miasmic clouds of guitar delay and Goyer’s barely there vocals, as bass and a bass drum pound out a waltz, interrupting the ambiance ever so slightly. Meanwhile, “Better Strangers” is a highlight for shying away from any jagged edges, opting instead for an ambient wash of melancholy darkwave, harkening back to Joy Division’s moodier pieces.

Similar Recordings: Joy Division – Atmosphere, Interpol – Interpol EP, Comsat Angels – Total War — JT

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I Love You But I've Chosen Darkness - According to Plan - EP

New Buffalo – New Buffalo EP (Arts & Crafts)

Oh sweet Lord in heaven! Arts & Crafts has signed someone who isn’t from the Great White North! New Buffalo is actually Sally Seltmann, hailing from Melbourne, Australia. On her self-titled EP, she brings her lounge style laid-back beauty to us with the help of a few guest stars. Opening track, “Inside (The Corrections)” features Sweden’s indie it-boy of the moment, Jens Lekman, combining to make one of the best lounge pop songs of the year. “Trigger” is even more laid back, sounding like an updated pop version of an old jazzy torch song. “I’ve Got You and You’ve Got Me” originally appeared on New Buffalo’s album, The Last Beautiful Day, but is updated here with a remix by her label’s founders, Broken Social Scene. Seltmann uses spare instrumentation to highlight her introspective lyrics and delicate voice, but when strings and keys swell, one can sense a kind of magic in the air. I am reminded of the `Haunted House’ attraction at Disneyland, where the holographic spirits begin to dance around the great hall, an image I never found frightening, but instead somewhat celebratory and enchanting. “The Beginning of the End” is even sparer, with just Seltmann’s captivating voice set to acoustic guitar. Seltmann’s work has been compared to the likes of Björk, Beth Orton and Cat Power, and all are deserved. New Buffalo is a welcome and apt, if not Canadian, addition to the Arts & Crafts family.

Similar Albums: Cat Power- Moon Pix; Feist- Let it Die; Architecture in Helsinki- Fingers Crossed – TT

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New Buffalo - New Buffalo

The Everyothers – Pink Sticky Lies (Kill Rock Stars)

While it may not come as any immediate surprise that The Everyothers are band from New York City, their influences are clearly drawn from more distant locales—Detroit and the UK. If you see where I’m going with this, then you’ve already caught on to who I’m referring to, specifically, namely Ziggy and Iggy. With a Stooges-like furor and a Bowie-esque flair for flamboyant tuneship, The Everyothers combine the best elements of rock’s past and funnel them into a brief set, titled Pink Sticky Lies.

Vocalist Owen McCarthy, in particular, sounds like a young Iggy Pop on tracks like the outstanding “Something Wrong,” yet on the title track, he affects a slightly loungey delivery. No matter what direction he takes, however, he has a great, rock `n’ roll voice, all swagger and charisma. Each song finds his powerful pipes backed by riff-tastic rock and roll, at times diverting, such as on the title track, which, again, is a bit lounge-flavored, and the closing “A New Inebriation,” which has a Franz Ferdinand-like post-punk good time feel. The Everyothers’ name must certainly be meant as ironic, because while there may be plenty of bands wearing Bowie and garage rock on their sleeves, nobody else does it quite as well.

Similar Recordings: Iggy Pop – Lust for Life, Brendan Benson – The Alternative to Love, Franz Ferdinand – Darts of Pleasure – JT

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The Everyothers - Pink Sticky Lies - EP

Acid House Kings – Do What You Wanna Do EP (Twentyseven Records)

Swedish pop just doesn’t die! Twee darlings the Acid House Kings are back with another EP release in 2006 called Do What You Wanna Do, confectionary pop at its absolute finest. Like a mashup between Belle & Sebastian and the Cardigans, the Acid House Kings put together songs that seem as if they were made of gingerbread and topped with powdered sugar. Every note is pitch-perfect, every instrument perfectly placed, and every lyric cleverly written. Who else, besides maybe the Beautiful South, could come up with a line like “They say your middle name is trouble / but I know it’s Caroline“? Rumor has it that the Acid House Kings formed as a result of being disappointed by the breakup of Felt and Morrissey’s Kill Uncle album. What I want to know is what kind of pop perfection will result from the eventual demise of the Acid House Kings and the possible follow-up to The Ringleader of the Tormentors?

Similar Albums: Belle & Sebastian- The Boy with the Arab Strap; The Legends- Up Against the Legends; The Cardigans- Life – TT

Model/Actress – Model/Actress (Thick)

Reportedly started because of a disdain for Gang of Four soundalikes, Model/Actress has something to teach every young upstart planning on starting a dancepunk band. A trio consisting of former members of Brainiac, Chamberlain and Bullet LaVolta, Model/Actress are seasoned veterans and they know how to make a spastic punk rock record with danceable sounds, scary synths and intense, yet catchy melodies. Their new self-titled EP recalls Brainiac more than anything else, which is beyond wonderful. Since their untimely end, things haven’t been the same. It’s almost comforting to hear Monostereo’s synths mashing up against guest guitarist John Schmersal’s six-string treatments again.

Another notable guest lends his talents to the record—The Jesus Lizard’s David Yow. Howling atop the manic “The Nodder,” Yow does a fine job of adding a much needed layer of panic to the already paranoid punk tunes. And closing track “Sleep the Day Away,” while no means sleepy, ends the album with a fist-pumping anthem that only heightens the overall sense of terror that looms large above the record. One can only imagine the sort of brilliance they might be capable of with the wide canvas of a full-length.

Similar Recordings: Brainiac – Hissing Prigs in Static Couture, Jesus Lizard – Mouth Breather, Enon – High Society – JT

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Model/Actress - Model / Actress - EP

Freeheat – Down (Planting Seeds)

Just in case you forgot that an entire generation of bands worshipped at the altar of the Velvet Underground, one of that generation’s heroes is still riding that already crested and broken wave until it finally washes ashore on rocky ground, that being the Jesus & Mary Chain’s Jim Reid. Together with J&MC touring guitarist Ben Lurie, and the Gun Club’s Nick Sanderson on drums and Romi Mori on bass, Reid formed Freeheat, another Warholian burst of pop hedonism. “Down” is the first single from the new album Back on the Water, which should be music to the ears of Reid brothers fans everywhere, literally. Reid still sounds like a mixture of Lou Reed and Ian McCulloch, and his new band still plays feedback laden, guitar driven, psychedelic rock `n’ roll. If “Down” is any indication, Freeheat should win over those fans who are still trying to bring the Reid brothers back together again. Let’s face it, you can either live in the past and collect the newly reissued five CDs from the Chain, or you can still somewhat live in the past and pick up the new album from Freeheat.

Similar Albums: The Jesus & Mary Chain- Psychocandy; Echo & the Bunnymen- Crocodiles; The Gun Club- Fire of Love – TT

Relay – Type/Void (Bubble Core)

There is a legacy of bands in Philadelphia, creating swirling, trippy shoegazer rock with all the haziness of a Kevin Shields composition, but without the overwhelming density. It begins with the Lilys, continues with The Swirlies and Mazarin, and has been passed on to the newest Philly-gaze talent, Relay. Just like those bands before them, Relay creates a surprisingly atmospheric and hypnotic sound, yet in a realm that’s much more “pop” than most might associate with a shoegazer sound. Not that My Bloody Valentine weren’t without their singles, mind you, but this is lighter, sunnier fare, though no less compelling. In fact, while it may be a six song EP and a preview of their upcoming full length in October, it’s one of the most surprisingly interesting and spellbinding releases I’ve heard all year.

Driven by songwriter Jeff Ziegler, Relay have more than a few sonic tricks up their sleeve, such as creating a krautrock-meets-4AD sound on opener “Safe.” “Driver,” which will appear on their full-length debut, is tuneful and sweet, blending some synth in with the band’s gauzy layers of guitar. And “Half Of” speeds up some syncopated rhythms to counter the droning melodies put forth by the layered instrumentals. It will be another two months before Relay’s first album is released, but after hearing the melodic wonders on Type/Void, I will be counting down the days until it arrives.

Similar Recordings: The Lilys – Selected, Swirlies – Blender Tongue Audio Baton, Mazarin – Watch it Happen – JT

The Glasses – Modern Day Ichabod Crane (The Glasses)

I began a tradition over ten years ago when I was living in Los Angeles. Every Halloween, rather than go to parties or wait on trick-or-treaters who never showed up to my cockroach infested apartment building, I would read Washington Irving’s classic tale, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” I have since faithfully read the story every year, but that first year still remains in my memory. At the time, songs by the likes of the Sugarplastic, Weezer and the Trashcan Sinatras ran through my head consistently. Leave it to Seattle band, and literature aficionados, the Glasses to bring both together in one perfect pop package. Modern Day Ichabod Crane is their latest EP, and one that will surely brighten the day of any socially awkward schoolteacher trying to win the heart of the local beauty. Will Wagler’s guitar jangles while his endearing voice aims straight for the hearts and minds of every book loving music geek within earshot. Wagler’s voice may not be pitch perfect, but then again, was Gordon Gano’s? Was Rivers Cuomo’s? In this way Wagler sticks to the literary maxims, paraphrasing, find your own voice and sing what you know. He does this wonderfully and makes it all seem effortless, as if songs just seem to roll off the fingers and tongue, even though one may get tongue-tied when faced with one’s own Katrina Van Tassel.

Similar Albums: The Sugarplastic- Bang! The Earth is Round; The Trashcan Sinatras- Cake; James- Strip-Mine – TT

The Rosewood Thieves – From the Decker House (V2)

The Rosewood Thieves have a tendency to sound British; this is nothing necessarily novel in and of itself. But it’s not because of any sort of affected accent of any kind. Rather, this New York band is strongly informed by the best of British pop, going back to the ’60s with The Kinks, through the ’70s with John Lennon’s solo work, and even up to the present with dreamy bands like The Clientele. Yet, it’s the band’s folky, almost country sound that gives away their American identity. Even the sleeve of their debut EP From the Decker House uses a sepia-toned photo and old-school fonts to give the illusion of the record being a classic, dusty Americana record. It’s the way that the band combines their American and British influences into a new and intriguing blend.

More importantly, it’s the band’s top-notch songwriting, helmed by frontman Erick Jordan, that makes this release a true standout. The bouncy piano of “Los Angeles” opens up the record with a laid-back melody, then veering toward bluesy Britpop on “Back Home to Harlem.” “Cold in the Country” is a spectacular psych-country tune that sees organ, acoustic plucks and lap steel combining in a lovely, George Harrison-esque masterpiece. Yet the band does get to rocking now and then, as on the “Subterranean Homesick Blues” like “Doctor.” The band is still young, and many of these tracks were written when Jordan was only 20, but they’re off to a very promising start with this fab EP.

Similar Albums: The Sleepy Jackson – Lovers, Elliott Smith – XO, Supergrass – Road to Rouen – JT

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The Rosewood Thieves - From the Decker House

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