The Best of 2015

Man, 2015 was an absolutely fantastic year.  Holly and I got to do some traveling, going to Portland (OR) and Salt Lake City to see concerts, doing some record shopping in Ireland and Paris, and of course attending our seventh consecutive Iceland Airwaves Music Festival.  We went to shows with friends, listened to new music, and discovered new bands.  So with all that in mind, here’s a recap of Life in the Vinyl Lane’s musical year.

Top 5 New Releases in 2015

1.  Halleluwah – Halleluwah
2.  Lífsins Þungu Spor – Dulvitund
3.  .A:A. Mix. 1 – Alexandra Atnif
4.  II – Albino Father
5.  Grey Tickles, Black Pressure – John Grant

halleluwahcd

A lot of great music came out in 2014, and I had a hard time whittling down my initial list of a dozen albums to pick the Top 5.  In fact I thought I had my list ready to go until I played Lífsins Þungu Spor for the first time about two weeks ago, and it actually bumped another album off of the list.  I was confident in my choice of Halleluwah for the top spot because I’ve been playing their debut (not available on vinyl at this time) a ton, and it’s actually the second time they’ve made my year end best of list, with their 10″ K2R (which stylistically is miles away from Halleluwah) held down the #4 spot on my 2012 list.  Dulvitund, Alexandra Atnif, and Albino Father were all performers I encountered for the first time in 2015, and John Grant rounds it out with his second appearance on one of my Top 5 New Releases lists.

I’m particularly happy with this list because, unintentionally, all the performers fall into different genres.  Halleluwah brings a sort of old school popular music sound, something that reminds me of an updated version of Edith Piaf; Dulvitund is electro darkwave; Alexandra Atnif creates some edgy experimental industrial beats; Albin Father is the second coming of garage psych rock; and of course John Grant is John Grant in all of his loquacious brilliance.  There’s something for just about everyone on that list.

Top 5 “New to Me” Bands/Performers

1.  Alexandra Atnif (US/Romania)
2.  No Stayer (US)
3.  Captain Moonlight (Ireland)
4.  SGNLS (US)
5.  Kælan Mikla (Iceland)

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This was a super-tough list for me this year.  The first two choices were easy.  We discovered Atnif this summer when we picked up one of her split tapes at Amoeba down in Los Angeles, and acquired two more of her cassettes over the course of the year.  She’s super talented and isn’t afraid to experiment with some very severe sounds.  No Stayer also came to me via a cassette (Rogue) when my friends over at Philadelphia’s Sit & Spin Records sent it my way.  I was down with their style of hard rock/metal, but then sort of forgot about them for a bit before re-discovering them on my iPod a few weeks back, and I’ve pretty much been listening to them every day since.  Captain Moonlight’s working class, Irish-issues-themed hip hop was a refreshing return of hip hop to being social protest music.  I enjoyed SGNLs synth punk enough to pick up two of their records this year, SGNLS and II (not to be confused by the Albino Father album of the same name).  Kælan Mikla was sort of a darkwave dark horse on this list, because they don’t currently have any physical releases (though they do have a track on Iceland Whatever, Vol. 1), but I was very impressed by their live show at Airwaves and can’t stop thinking about them.

Top 5 Vinyl Purchases

1.  Philly’s Dopest Shit, Vol. 1 – Various
2.  Lengi Lifi – HAM
3.  Hype! Boxed Set – Various
4.  W.C. Monster – Bootlegs
5.  Great White Wonder – Les Rallizes Denudes

suicidebongphillysdopest

OK, I’m cheating a bit here, because my top choice is a cassette, and my #2 pick is a CD.  But both of those were important additions for me this year.  Philly’s Dopest Shit turned me on to a ton of great bands like No Stayer, SGNLS, Ruby Buff, and Spent Flesh.  Lengi Lifi is a very difficult to find, CD-only HAM live album and was the last one I needed to complete the HAM discography.  The Hype! Boxed Set was an opportunity for me to reconnect with some great Sub Pop 7″ records and exorcise those demons that still haunt me after selling my Sub Pop singles 20 years ago.  W.C. Monster is a collectible Icelandic thrash record, while the Great White Wonder box set is just a flat-out psych noise trip from Japan’s Les Rallizes Denudes.

Top 5 Live Shows

1.  The Kills – Roseland Theatre, Portland OR
2.  Bubbi & DIMMA – NASA, Reykjavik
3.  Bo Ningen – KEX Hostel, Reykjavik
4.  The Sonics – Easy Street Records, Seattle
5.  Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Pioneer Park, Salt Lake City UT

thekillslive

This is the second consecutive year that The Kills (right) have taken the top spot in my Top 5 Live Shows, and I kind of feel like any year that I see them live, they’ll probably be my number one pick – they’re quite simply that damn good.  At Airwaves the combination of Bubbi Morthens and DIMMA was a perfect blend of old school punk rock and new school technical metal, while Bo Ningen played the most insane, high energy set of crazy that I’ve ever seen.  Easy Street Records crammed 200 people into their shop for show benefitting KEXP radio, and The Sonics played along with a veritable who’s who of Seattle rockers, including Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder.  And BRMC… well, they’d been at the top of my list of bands I wanted to see for years and years, and this summer we were able to use some airline points to basically get down to Salt Lake City for free to see them live, and they were outstanding.

This was probably the toughest list for me to put together, because we saw so many great shows this year.  Agent Fresco, Hot Chip, Thievery Corporation, Steel Panther, HAM, Halleluwah… there were just so many awesome performances to choose from.  But the five that made the final cut all had something special about them that took them to that next level and made them more memorable.

Top 5 Favorite Places to Buy Records

North America
1.  Easy Street, Seattle
2.  Silver Platters, Seattle
3.  Diabolical, Salt Lake City
4.  Fingerprints, Long Beach (CA)
5.  Amoeba, Los Angeles

The Rest of the World
1.  Lucky Records, Reykjavik
2.  Reykjavik Record Shop, Reykjavik
3.  Bell, Book & Candle, Galway (Ireland)
4.  Syncrophone, Paris
5.  All City, Dublin

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Easy Street and Silver Platters are my regular local haunts, so it will be hard for them to ever get knocked out of the top spots.  The same is true for Lucky and Reykjavik Record Shop – any year that we make it to Reykjavik, these two are likely to be at the top of list.  One thing that all these places have in common is that they’re very supportive of their local scenes, and that’s important to me because when I travel I like to look for local music.  Plus they had some cool and knowledgeable people, people who are obviously passionate about music.

Top 5 Music Books

1.  Girl in a Band:  A Memoir, by Kim Gordon
2.  Lexicon Devil: The Fast Times and Short Life of Darby Crash and the Germs, by Brendan Mullen
3.  For Whom the Cowbell Tolls: 25 Years of Paul’s Boutique, by Dan LeRoy
4.  The Truth of Revolution, Brother: The Philosophies of Punk, by Robin Ryde, Lisa Sofianos, and Charlie Waterhouse
5.  Crate Digger: An Obsession With Punk Records, by Bob Suren

girlinaband

I probably read about 15-20 music books in 2015, and the above were easily the best of the bunch.  And of these five, Kim Gordon’s was by far the most compelling, probably more so as the story of an artist’s life and struggles than for anything specifically related to Sonic Youth.  Truth be told, I’ve never owned a Sonic Youth album, and I couldn’t name single one of their songs if I tried (I may have to give up my music blogging card for that admission, but whatever), so I wasn’t particularly predisposed to feel any particular way about Girl in a Band.  The Truth of Revolution, Brother is a pretty unique project, one that I sponsored via Kickstarter.  Part of the appeal was that a couple of OG Icelandic punks were interviewed in it, specifically Einar Örn Benediktsson and Jón Gnarr.  It was an interesting take on punk philosophy, which resonated even more so after hearing Einar Örn talk for a few minutes prior to a Ghostigital show about what being a punk means to him.

 

This year Holly asked if she could contribute a few lists of her own, and it seemed like a great idea to me since her perspective is often quite different from mine.  So with minimal commentary, here are some of her top musical picks for 2015.

Top 5 New Releases in 2015 (Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane)

1.  Dodge and Burn – The Dead Weather
2.  FFS – FFS
3.  Born Under Saturn – Django Django
4.  Adjust to the Light – Fufanu
5.  “Inside Paul’s Boutique”

We didn’t have any albums in common in our Top 5 lists, and in fact she only had one album I’ve even written about on hers!  Number five is an outlier – it’s the roughly 12 hour incredible show that KEXP radio did in which they deconstructed all of Paul’s Boutique, literally playing in full every single song sampled by the Beastie Boys on that album, in the order they appeared on it.  It’s epic.  Don’t believe us?  Check it out for yourself HERE.

Top 5 “New to Me” Bands/Performers (Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane)

1.  East India Youth (UK)
2.  Islam Chipsy (Egypt)
3.  russian.girls (Iceland)
4.  Alexandra Atnif (US/Romania)
5.  Operators (US/Canada)

Again, not much overlap between the his-and-hers lists, only Alexandra Atnif.  That being said, all four of the other bands here made it to my initial list as well, they just ultimately didn’t crack my personal Top 5.

Top 5 Live Shows (Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane)

1.  The Kills – Roseland Theatre, Portland OR
2.  Thievery Corporation – Showbox Sodo, Seattle
3.  Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Pioneer Park, Salt Lake City UT
4.  East India Youth – NASA, Reykjavik
5.  Bubbi & DIMMA – NASA, Reykjavik

We actually have quite a bit of overlap her, and both Thievery Corporation and East India Youth made to to my short list.  There were just so many good shows in 2015.

 

So there you have it, ladies and gents.  Another fantastic year is almost in the books, and I can’t wait to see what 2016 has in store for us.  And since we’ve already purchased our tickets for Iceland Airwaves 2016 and to see Devil Makes Three at Red Rocks in Colorado in May, I suspect it’s going to be pretty excellent.

SGNLS – “SGNLS” (2013)

Early this year I stumbled across the band SGNLS on a comp tape by the Suicide Bong label called Philly’s Dopest Shit, Vol. 1.  They were one of the better groups on the cassette, so I ordered a copy of their 2014 LP II from the label and really dug it.  I even exchanged emails with Tony from the band, and he told me that unfortunately their eponymous 2013 debut was sold out, which was too bad since I wanted to hear some of their earlier stuff.  Fortunately we have this thing now called the internet, and this website called eBay, and in less than a week I had a copy of SGNLS waiting for me in my mailbox. From there it promptly went onto my “unplayed” shelf where it remained for way too long, competing for turntable time with all kinds of other new toys that came into the house.  Today it was time to rectify that situation.

sgnls

SNGLS has a less heavy vibe than the subsequently recorded and released II.  That’s not to say it doesn’t have an edge, though.  While II seemed to add elements of metal to the overall darkwavey sound, SGNLS feels a bit more stripped down and punk rock.  Yes, the synths that define the band’s sound are still here, and they still rock out with them.  And there’s still that undercurrent of darkness (the first line sung on the album is “God is dead” on the song “Double Edged Sword”).  But man, if “Backlash” doesn’t remind you of a raw new wave version of the Dead Kennedys, I’ll refund the price you paid to subscribe to this blog (which is free, BTW).

I couldn’t escape the feeling that SGNLS was some sort of a concept album, though I have no reason to think that is the case.  The eight songs fit together well, and the instrumental tracks contributed to it feeling more like a  soundtrack than just an album.  I can’t explain it – it just has a certainly level of integration that made me feel like the album as a whole was greater than the sum of its eight songs.  But hey, you don’t have to take my word for it – you can listen to the entire thing for free, as well as all of II, right HERE, so decide for yourself.

SGNLS – “II”

I can’t tell you how nice it is to be back home after two weeks of near continuous travel.  Look, I get it; lots of people can “top” that, and do so quite easily.  But spending eight days overseas then immediately heading out for a four day work trip was an ass-kicker, plus it contributed to a backlog of new music.  And that makes me antsy.  So while I fully plan on chilling out now that I’m back home for a conveniently occurring three day weekend, that chilling will include spinning some records.  Because vinyl.

sgnlsii

Last month I wrote a post about the Suicide Bong label comp cassette.  My favorite track from that tape was by a Philly based band called SGNLS, who I described as “trippy synths on meth.”  It turns out they were playing a small club in Seattle right after I posted that, but unfortunately I couldn’t make it out to see them (because work…).  However, I did exchange some emails with their parent label (FDH) and as a result ordered some records, including the latest (2014) SGNLS LP entitled simply II.  And I knew when I woke up this morning in a Los Angeles hotel room that this would be the first thing I’d be spinning tonight when I got back to Seattle.

So how do I explain SGNLS’ sound?  Well… that’s a bit tricky.  They would fit comfortably into any synthwave/darkwave bill.  They have a bit of a retro feel with the prominence of their deliberate synthy sound.  I mean, look.  If Lou Champagne fronted fronted a NWOBHM band that changed their direction to be more Devo-esque… it would be something like SGNLS.  There are stripped down 80s style synths, but there are also some pretty shredding guitars.  In fact Holly just explained their sound to me as “a darkwave band going sort of soaring heavy metal,” so I think we’re both coming away with the same general impressions.

And my impression is awesomeness.

I really want to emphasize the darkwavey feel I get from SGNLS.  While I do think there is some obvious metal influence here, II is absolutely, positively not a metal record.  Like, at all.  Songs like “Black Current” truly distill the band down to their core sound, which is centered on the synths and almost a bit Warsaw/Joy Division-ish – dark, moody, but with a good pace that keeps it from bogging down and becoming like gothic church music.  The song that got me to buy II is on here as well, “Someone Else Is Here,” and it sounds every bit as good as part of the album as opposed to an isolated single.  It’s probably the fastest number on the album, so in that respect it’s a bit of an outlier – the rest of II certainly has similarities to this song, but it’s sort of on the fringes (and it’s a fantastic fringe).  “Horizon” is truly frenetic and brings SGNLS’ metallic elements to the forefront; “No Connection” is pure post-punk; “Black Current” puts the dark into darkwave with its heavy moodiness.  II is a bit chaotic (as, apparently, my impressions of it), but the sound stays within a very broad, identifiable structure that gives it sufficient consistency despite the breadth of its influences.

You can check out the whole album HERE.  So GO CHECK IT OUT.  It’s that good.  In terms of up-and-coming bands I’ve been fortunate enough to be turned on to via Life in the Vinyl Lane, SGNLS ranks right up there with Mallevs and The Weir.  Trust me – for all the time that goes into the blog, it pays me back by helping me find these kinds of great  artists.  So go listen to some SGNLS and get yourself a copy of II.

“Suicide Bong Mix Tape – Philly’s Dopest Shit, Vol. 1”

suicidebongphillysdopestA few weeks back I binge listened to a bunch of cool metal and punk tapes I got in the mail from Philadelphia’s Sit & Spin records, THE place in Philly to get your metal and punk itch scratched.  Ironically the one tape that didn’t make that post was the one that originally let me to contact Sit & Spin in the first place – the new comp tape from the Suicide Bong label subtitled Philly’s Dopest Shit, Vol. 1.  I had put it aside because I figured it was going to be a bit more work than the other tapes given that it features 44 different bands, making at least a little note-taking essential.

Well, I just gave it a listen.  And I have to say, the tape is indeed as advertised – this is some dope shit!  Much of the music falls within the various punk/metal subgenres, but there’s some different stuff on here as well like “Stay Asleep” by Night Windows, a groovy shoegazeish number that somehow managers to not sound out of place.  But the meat and potatoes is in the more aggressive stuff – there are some raging bands out there in Philly.

While I’m not going to take the time to go through this thing for you song by song, I did want to share my own personal “Top 5 Songs from Philly’s Dopest Shit, Vol. 1,” so away we go!

  • SGNLS – “Someone Else Is Here” :  So remember how I said the more aggro stuff was the meat and potatoes?  Well, the best song on this comp is actually more of a  sped up early 80s style synth-wave number.  And it’s awesome.  Trippy synths on meth.  Killer.  I WILL be looking for more songs by SGNLS.
  • Janelle – “Bed of Lies” :  Huh, well this isn’t on the fast side either, though it does have a certain weight to it.  Heavy shoegaze vibe, sort of early 80s darkwave, and like SGNLS synths are a big part of the sound.  This has a great groove to it.
  • The Magnificent Shithawks of Greater Northern America – “Kill the Rat” :  In case you were starting to scratch your head and try to figure out why the first two picks off what I described as a punk/metal comp were neither punk nor metal, I bring you The Magnificent Shithawks of Greatern Northern America.  They would like to open up a hardcore assault on your ears and remind you to Kill the rat / Shoot the fucking snitch.  They do throw in a touch of bizarro electro feedback right in the middle of this act of sonic battery, but make no mistake – this is 1:25 of hardcore coming right at you.
  • No Stayer – “Stand On Your Own” :  I previously wrote about No Stayer’s tape No Remorse, and they’re probably my favorite Philly band right now.  “Stand On Your Own” also appeared on that EP, and it’s a fast hard rock train coming right at you.  The guitars are like Ted Nugent back when he was making cool music, with vocals reminiscent of Lemmy from Motörhead.
  • The Dirty Cut – “The Biggest Loser” :  Hardcore.  The way it was meant to be.

Though not noted anywhere on the tape or packaging, Suicide Bong Mix Tape – Philly’s Dopest Shit, Vol. 1 is a limited cassette only release of 400 copies.  The label still has it listed for sale on its website HERE… and for just $4.  Four dollars!  Hell, the shipping will cost you as much as the tape, but even then it’s well worth it with 44 bands and a download card.  You might be able to get copies from Sit & Spin as well.  So go get your damn credit card and order it already!