Summer’s almost gone. And while that obscene yellow ball of gaseous flame in the sky doesn’t feel like slinking away just yet (here in Seattle, at least), it doesn’t have a habit of sticking around much past the first week of September.
That lends some urgency to these recommendations, as all of them have made the tail end of my summer really damned sweet. Here’s hoping they’ll do the same for you.
Charlie and the Rays (self-released):
You really can’t get a sunnier sound than Charlie and the Rays’ latest, self-titled full-length. It’s a short, incomparably sweet record that goes down like a tall cool glass of lemonade on a sweltering summer day, spiked with just enough whiskey to give it some kick.
At first blush, the Seattle trio—lead guitarist/singer Gracia Bridges, guitarist/singer Rebecca Stobbe, and bassist/singer Jordan Stobbe—walks the roots and Americana corner of the woods, what with the band’s three-part harmonies and sturdy, wonderfully unadorned songwriting. But the-whisper-to-an-exultant-shout of the first single, “Babe, It’s Time to Go,” just scratches the surface: “Tell Me When” sounds like a great lost Rubber Soul-era Beatles track, sung by Linda Ronstadt; “Little Kitty” kicks up some strutting rockabilly dust; “I’ve Got a Feeling” finds the Rays shifting from sensual, low-key Zeppelin-esque blues to jumpy boogie-woogie and back again; and the ethereal “Sun Song” just might be the most lambently pretty 2.5 minutes I’ve heard all year.
There’s a ferocious, hard-won intelligence and fiery lyrical spirit amidst the catchiness and harmonic beauty, too, as wonderfully exemplified in the no-bullshit lyrics of “Words” (“Words, they’re a real thing, honey/Truth, it means something, honey”).
hERON (Concuss Music):
I suppose it’s cheating, or sacrilege, or something, that this eponymous debut came out last October and I’m only now writing about it. But I just discovered it last month, and in that time it’s become the surprise jam of my late summer. Plus, the band unleashes new material this October, so now’s a great time for catch-up.
Clocking in at a lean 32 minutes, hERON’s subtly mutated variety of trip hop/instrumental hip hop employs a deceptively bone-simple template. Texan Erick “Progeny” Frias lays down beats that sound 100% pulled from sampled real drums, while he and co-conspirator Rob Castro (former purveyor of beats and noise for noir-ish Seattle rap crew Greyskul) usually ride one sampled hook through to the end of each track. All at once, the end result’s raggedly expressive, organically danceable, and mesmerizing as Hell.
I’m hard-pressed to pinpoint most of the sampling sources, but there’s a cinematic vibe coursing through the sounds surfacing on hERON—like marooned space aliens hiding in a tenement basement from ICE, composing some imaginary pulp movie soundtrack on a duct-taped pile of electronics and musical instruments to ease the isolation.
“flipout” sports a moody central melody driven by a sampled trumpet and Progeny’s discreetly-deployed surf guitar. “evilfortress” flirts with post-punk, with Castro’s minimal, melancholy Peter Hook-inspired bass intertwining with the percussion. Castro’s shining-steel space-age keyboards open “vagabond” before it shifts into a shuffling, piano-punctuated dance groove. And it’s fascinating to hear these guys dissecting and reassembling the melody to The Beatles’ “And I Love Her” with tinkling triangles, glistening pianos, and Progeny’s wounded-romantic guitar on the atmospheric “melt away.”
hERON’s brevity ensures that no one track overstays its welcome, but it flows so consistently it’s incredibly easy to listen to repeatedly.
Lately, I’ve completely given in to the urge to continually loop hERON’s closing track, “holding each other.” A catchy, playful little tune that cobbles together cartoon video game doinks, sampled marimbas, and siren-song vocals to form an airily sexy dance shuffle, it’s the perfect soundtrack for when those space aliens fall in love and dance in the dark, just before the goons from ICE break through the basement door.
Slang, “Warm Enough”:
The term ‘indie supergroup’ is enough to make most rational humans hurl, but it really applies to Portland duo (now four-piece) Slang. Singer/guitarist/sonic chameleon Drew Grow has delivered some of this region’s finest Americana with his old outfit The Pastors’ Wives, and some great new-wave-flavored pop with his latest ensemble, Modern Kin. Drummer Janet Weiss pounds the skins for Quasi, and used to work behind the kit with none other than Sleater-Kinney. The two of them have recruited The Thermals’ Kathy Foster and Anita Robinson of Viva Voce to flesh out the lineup.
“Warm Enough” is a compact, fuzzed-out killer of a track, with Grow’s jumpy voice suggesting The Violent Femmes’ Gordon Gano channelling Bryan Ferry. Weiss’s drily sturdy groove, meantime, drives a distorted acoustic guitar line so sharp it’d cut your fingertip. The song’s defiantly spastic melody would sound perfect pogo’ing out of some car speakers, while the summer sun defiantly clings to the sky and warms the inside of the convertible. Jump on it, before the clouds come around to bum-rush things. [Slang plays their first live show ever in Seattle at El Corazon this Sunday, September 9. Tickets here.]