Shana Cleveland & The Sandcastles – Oh Man, Cover the Ground – 2015


Shana Cleveland is an illustrator, short story writer, and musician based in Seattle. Her most active project is La Luz, a surfy, harmony-centric band. This band, The Sandcastles, despite its beachy name consistent with her previous work, represents a woodsier, forrestral growth in Cleveland’s music. The album’s highlights capture brilliant streaks of somber, sharp, acoustic light. Harmonies, heavy strings (heavy-sounding, not omnipresent), and a prickly rhythm help songs like “Holy Rollers,” “Itching Around,” and even the instrumental “Death Riff” thrive through the night. Other songs go mellow, try to live without as definite a rhythm, but, for me, the Sandcastles do ramblin’ better than they do languishin’. Some songs never wake up. Most of the album shines, though, especially its guitars. It groups well with works by William Tyler and Chris Weisman.

Holy Rollers
Itching Around

mp3, LP, and CD from the Suicide Squeeze Records store. Cheaper mp3 from Suicide Squeeze’s bandcamp. Cassette from Hairdo Records.

Great Neck – Esoterexorcism – 2015


In 2012, I did my best to cheerlead an awesome demo by a band called Great Neck–a band featuring Derek Perry and Casey Lee of Fake Problems, as well as Lonnie Dillinger, Jeb Barrows, and Sean Stevenson. The word was that a proper record was imminent, but years went by, and it never surfaced. Esoterexoticism is that record, made on the heels of the demo, finally available. In an introductory note, Casey Lee writes of the record, of the time passed since it’s recording: “I don’t expect anyone to have a strong reaction about this. I don’t care if anyone does. I think this is more for us than anyone else.”

I hope it was helpful for the band to get these songs of their chest. But I must say, I had a strong reaction from the second I became aware the record existed. I woke up on Saturday to an email from the Great Neck bandcamp saying there was a new release. I left my fiancee asleep and ran out of the bedroom to listen to it. Track after track, I was volleyed between 2012 and now. In both cases, I happened to be newly relocated a thousand miles from home. These feral Florida songs mean a lot to me. Esoterexorcism holds up well in any year. Every song is just as vivid as if it were made today. But there’s also a significance to the years that these songs were kept to the musicians. Perry’s vocals are wild. Like he’s exorcising himself (as the title suggests, esoterically, and erotically?). Frothing like the dude from Milk Music, growling like Paddy from D4, wailing purply like Adam Sandler losing his mind in The Wedding Singer. Even on the one familiar song here, the song carried over from the demo, hearing Perry’s new take on, “tried to be another person / tried to be a different place / but I! Miss! You!” is unsettling, believable.

“I loved someone who died / in the fires of their own mind,” Perry sings on the first track. The band performs the rest of the album from those very fires. I’m thankful and stoked on this 22 minutes of music. Thank you, Great Neck.

Feeling… Questionable
Fucking Ponderous

Stream, name your price, download the album from Great Neck’s bandcamp.

State Champion – Fantasy Error – 2015


In an essay called “Gone with the Wind,” rock writer Greil Marcus talks about a documentary released in 1983 called Seventeen. In the documentary, a teenager dies–a friend of the film’s central family. In commemoration, the surviving teenagers call a local DJ and request Bob Seger’s “Against the Wind.” The DJ obliges. The family sits around the radio in the teenage daughter’s room and listens to the song; they crank it up. Marcus notes how cinematic it is for a documentary. “Rituals cross over,” he writes, “one, of how you are supposed to behave when a friend has died, another of how you are supposed to behave when a star has played your favorite song. It seems inescapable that the latter ritual has contained the former.”

State Champion’s music swells with cinematic crossover. It’s diegetic to itself.

It’s infused into these scenes:

You know how to smoke, but not, when in resting position, how to hold the cigarette. You know Sweetheart of the Rodeo is major, but still don’t quite get it yet. There isn’t a volume knob in your arsenal that goes as loud as you need.

You know how to roll a joint, but not that you shouldn’t break it out in front of the house show police are already looking to ruin. You are terrified of being unfuckable, but still you’re happy. You’re careful not to crest too soon. You take David Berman very seriously and you should. There isn’t a volume knob in your room or your car or the bar that goes as loud as it should.

You work in a mall. You work at the university. You never get the cool restaurant or record store jobs. The volume knobs don’t go loud enough.

Drummers tell you in confidence which bands are about to break up. Coworkers say more anti-Semitic things than you thought you’d ever hear. They look at you expecting cahoots. You wish you had a warmer jacket and something more to say. You embrace Warren Zevon as a link between your childhood and this adult life you were slow off the block for, and you’re right. The volume knob goes no farther right.

Boredom is a struggle, if a luxurious one. But you enjoy being alone. All the famous scenes in music history were only really a summer or two. No one invited you.

The Smiths are great, The Potatomen greater. Sometimes too loud is too much to bear.

You appreciate that your car remains in good repair.

A band from Louisville comes through town. They’re a few years older. They’re loud. They’re so loud. They’re more than that. A ritual of communal basement amp explosion. A ritual of front porch solitude.

How do you behave when you hear feedback in response to your worship? How do you behave when you realize you can glean more from feedback than from clarity? You–in moments when this band’s phrases stampede through your head, when all that’s required of ritual is ecstatic flailing, stiffening, shouting–become loudness itself.

Don’t Leave Home Without My Love
Wake Me Up
There is a Highlight Reel

This album is Essential Listening. Digital from Amazon, iTunes. LP from Sophomore Lounge.

Holly Miranda – Holly Miranda – 2015


Holly Miranda‘s third solo LP bursts into a cluster of this year’s many excellent, full-sounding, songwriting-driven albums, unconcerned with landing in one genre. If you’ve enjoyed the recent work of Mac McCoughan, Waxahatchee, Natalie Prass, Fred Thomas, Elvis Perkins, Laura Stevenson, you’ll find similar pleasures here.

Each song has its own character and its own arc. They create a cohesive album in a way I don’t often experience and that I don’t fully understand. All I know is that mid-album, on the track “Come On,” Miranda weaves some fluttering strings around a percussive piano and drum machine to create one of the album’s most exciting songs, pairing it with a triumphantly sung yet fatally written chorus: “I know this town could be the death of me / there’s no way out, we’re in too deep … I know this flirt could be the best of it / but if there’s more, give up the rest of it.” Then, near the end of the album comes “Heavy Hearts,” and the return of that percussive piano, this time sounding as hollow and haunted as the lyrics of the “Come On” chorus. By the album’s end, chrome appearances have been sanded down, but there’s more freedom moving forward with scuffs instead of polish. The summery strum of track two, “All I Want is to be Your Girl,” dissolves into a delicate picking by the penultimate track, “Until Now.” The “I wasn’t looking for love / but it found me” infatuation of “All I Want” becomes a new kind of certainty in “Until Now,” in which Miranda sings “You got some kind of sweetness / tied up in the string I’m tugging on / but i’m pulling out…It’s been no comfort in the sun until now.”

Every song possesses its own charms. I’ve heard more beauty and fulfilling composition in this album each time I’ve listened. Highly recommended.

Mark My Words
All I Want is to Be Your Girl
Whatever You Want

Stream and buy the digital from her bandcamp.

Broken Water – Wrought – 2015


Karl Blau–prolific songwriter from Anacortes WA–made a cool album a few years ago wherein he played grunge versions of songs written by women who influence him. He covered songs by a lot of my favorites–heroes of the pacific-northwest K-Records scene that a young southeastern sun-sickened boy like me mythologized–Mirah, Jean Smith of Mecca Normal, Lois Maffeo, Laura Veirs, Khaela Maricich of The Blow, and Ashley Eriksson of Lake. One songwriter I didn’t recognize was Konako Pooknyw (who sometimes credits herself reversely as “Wynkoop”) of Olympia WA bands Sisters and Broken Water. Her song “Michael Row” leads off Blau’s album, a testament to her place in a newer Olympia mythology.

Though Broken Water’s discography stretches back over five years, Wrought is their first new release since I learned about them. And what an entry point it is. Wrought finds Pooknyw trading off songs with collaborator Jon Hanna, creating a whirlpool of murky, kelp-entangled rock. The trade-off powers the album through at an excellent pace. Hanna’s voice reverberates between Lou Barlow and Bob Mould; Pooknyw’s hits closer to Doug Martsch’s slippery heaviness. Even within many of Wrought‘s songs, there’s a vacillation between noisy and sugary messes–earthquake begetting tidal wave. This collection is not to be missed. Accessible doses of pop destruction are great to come by.

Psycho Static

Find the LP on Midheaven, the digital from Amazon and iTunes, and the rest of Broken Water’s catalogue on their bandcamp.

Free Cake for Every Creature – Moving Songs – 2015


I wanna be a funny lady when I’m forty / but for now I’m not sure what I’m doing

Katie Bennett’s move from Upstate New York to Philadelphia inspired this collection of quarter-life questioning. Or questing–because she comes upon an awesome directive:

and all you gotta be / when you’re 23 / is yourself /call yourself an artist / work part-time at whole foods / it’s all good / wear stupid lookin’ shoes / defuse left-over teenage blues / it’s all gooooooooooooooooooood!!!!

In 17 mere minutes, Bennett kicks all the tires on the rented U-Haul of her young adulthood: empty rooms, Lynda Barry comix, claiming “Take on Me” for her theme song, slipping into hyperbole like quicksand, Joan Didion’s allure, discovering new foods, keeping her sights on her future as well as the person’s face in front of hers.

Through spare guitar, restrained vocals, and sharply detailed lyrics, Bennett crafts a vivid journal of moving songs, totally winning that precious pun.

the day-to-day

moo moo movin’

Get the digital for a bandcamp donation and the cassette from Double Double Whammy Records. It makes a good companion to M. Lockwood Porter’s 27 from last year–an album set a few years further ahead. Follow Free Cake on facebook. Catch their cover of “Half as Much” from a good Hank Williams tribute album from a couple years ago.

Ryan Davis (State Champion, Sophomore Lounge Records) Interview – 5/15/15

State Champion don’t just take up space, they fill it. I listen to State Champion and think Oh, right, music is supposed to sound this good. What fuckery are other bands wasting time with?

A lot of that fullness is due to songwriter Ryan Davis’ eye/ear/nose/fingers/toes for story. Davis’ lyrics lead double-lives as coffee-soaked short stories and violently howled hymns. There’s a heritage that pinballs between song-haunted fictioneers David Berman, Barry Hannah, and maybe most of all, zinester and writer Hunter Kennedy. From about 1992 to 2012, Kennedy wrote and edited The Minus Times, a zine/journal of modern fiction, illustration, poetry, pre-Florida Man absurdist news stories, and interviews. There’s one David Berman story in The Minus Times about a guy going to a bonfire after arguing with his girlfriend; he chops at a log in the fire with another log and says “You see, the log is trying to hold itself together. The log doesn’t want to burn. It’s freaking out. This is a bad night for this log.” In the first issue, Kennedy printed a newspaper clip that read “An Eastover man drowned Tuesday afternoon when he stepped into a Lower Richland County pond to rinse mud from his clothing.” When I listen to Davis’ songs, I hear a lot these type of lines; lines you can see in print, lines that explain themselves until they’re stark naked and yet, still, remain mysterious.

From Deep Shit, 2011: Bottom of the Bleak

So, in celebration of State Champion’s forthcoming album, Fantasy Error, Ryan was kind enough to give Ninebullets some time for an interview. I thought it fitting to do the interview Minus Times style. These are the five questions Hunter Kennedy asked all of his subjects over the years–from Stephen Malkmus to Stephen Colbert to Chan Marshall to Vic Chesnutt. Thank you, Ryan, for your kind answers!

1) A family trip that made an early impression:

My parents took me to England when I was seven. In retrospect, I think I was a little too young for it. I remember complaining a lot about how much walking we had to do and generally just wanted to swim at the hotel pool and eat McDonald’s, but we took a day trip one afternoon to visit some extended family in the English countryside. I would perform “shows” for them in exchange for a few quid, which I would collect over the course of our stay and spend exclusively on chocolate candy bars. Fast forward 20 years and I’m basically doing the same exact thing except that now it’s in exchange for our standard pay of “two free PBRs per member”

I also remember my dad taking me to the Tate Modern and being enthralled, primarily, by their collection of Francis Bacon paintings. He bought me a postcard from the gift shop, I believe it was one of the Pope images (I should check, I still have it), and apparently I studied that for hours, trying to copy it by scribbling my own distorted Bacon-like portraits of people on the flight home.

2) A dream you can’t shake:

It’s only ever so often that I’m struck by a dream I can even remember. They tend to escape me pretty quickly, if I retain them at all. I can recall a few from over the years though. I dreamt once that Jennifer Aniston and I were climbing this ladder up a couple stories tall so that we could jump into a gigantic bowl of Caesar salad. Still think about that one sometimes.

From Stale Champagne, 2010: Keeping Time

3) An awkward moment with a neighbor/ stranger/ lover:

We were on the start of a tour back in Spring of 2013. Our first night was at some little fest in the suburbs of Chicago on the night that U of L squeaked past Wichita State in the Final Four. I’m a huge fan of college basketball, specifically the Louisville Cardinals, so we all had a blast watching it and this win meant a great deal to me. Two nights later, we were booked to play a house show in Bloomington, IN. When setting this show up a few months prior, I hadn’t even considered that if we made it to the championship, we’d be just an hour away from home (in Bloomington) on the night of the game. We were playing with excellent psychedelic homeys Thee Open Sex, so I hated to cancel, but I also hated the idea of missing out on such a culturally seismic celebration if we were to win. I’ve watched these games with my friends and family for my entire life and it’s always an important part of our year.

Anyway, we decided it was ultimately in our best interest not to cancel the show, so we made sure the game was on upstairs while the bands played in the basement. We were the jocks of the party, screaming and high-fiving and standing on things and drinking heavily in pursuit of a comeback that would soon result in our third national title. It was nothing short of glorious, and the celebrations continued through the night. To be honest, I couldn’t even tell you where we went after the show. Probably some bars on campus, I don’t know. But by some path of action, we ended up in a graveyard across the street from the house where we had played. We continued to finish off whatever beverages we had as we wound ourselves down from the intoxicating elation of victory and called it a night.

The next morning, I awoke to the sound of spraying. I was under a tree, alone, surrounded by empty bottles and cans and trash. Doug (Douglas Ryan, of Animal City) and Sabrina had apparently been unable to sleep as soon as the sun rose and had walked back to the house, hours earlier. It was 10:30 am at this point. I look to my right, and witness the source of the spray — a middle-age man pissing on the front of a tombstone. He meets eyes with me, penis in hand, and says “Hi! I’m Tom. What’s your name?” “Ryan,” I said. “Are you ok?” he asked me. I told him I was fine. He asked if I was going…somewhere. I didn’t understand what he said, but I was starting to gain cognizance at that point and realized that he must have been under the impression that I was homeless, using the shade of the cemetery as temporary refuge. I think he was homeless as well and, in retrospect, that he was probably asking if I wanted to go with him to a shelter of some sort. I said “No, thank you. I’m going to go find my friends.” at which point he shook the rest of the pee out of himself, zipped up, and told me to have a good day as he walked off across the graveyard.

I cleaned up the beer cans, dusted myself off, buttoned my own pants, and emerged from the tree in search of our van.

4) A missed opportunity (or second chance):

I was invited to participate in the on-stage theatrics of a Flaming Lips performance at a festival in Poland once, but I opted to take a cab back to the hotel and check my e-mail instead. No regrets.

5) Two artists you respect & a movie you’d pay to see but they’ll never make:

Michael Andrew Turner and R Clint Colburn. Stroszek II: The Search for Bruno’s Gold.

From the Horse Paint Cassette, 2008: Bite the Dus


Fantasy Error comes out on 5/26. Pre-order the LP now from Sophomore Lounge Records. Look for our review of the album and part two of our interview with Ryan Davis in the coming weeks. In the meantime, GO SEE State Champion on Tour:













Scattered Points in Space. And Hop Along.

I wake up early to make lunches for myself and my fiancée to take to our jobs. I put on headphones and listen to something as I shuffle back and forth between fridge and countertop. Some days I listen to a podcast. It’s conversation, it’s pleasant and funny and it’s like I have company. But on days when I start with podcasts, that usually turns out to be all I listen to–I get sucked into other human’s voices and let myself zone out and pass the time without thinking about my own voice or my work. Most days, I try to at least start my days with music. It’s stimulating, it’s active, less like pleasant company and more like an intense date. It structures the day. If I’m dancing by 5:30 am, what do I have to fear?

Last Friday I listened to The Coroner’s Gambit by the Mountain Goats–an album from 2000 mountaingoatsproduced and played and written solely by John Darnielle. Person, guitar, voice. I heard the line “the wind began to wail / and you gathered your hair behind your head / like god was gonna catch you by the pony tail.” If I’ve heard a moment of such powerful, pummeling beauty by 5:45 am, coming from one single person, what else is left to accomplish today?

Later that night, my fiancée and I went to see the Florida Orchestra play a few things I’d never heard of: Barber’s “The School for Scandal Overture,” Mozart’s “Bassoon Concerto, K.191,” and Holst’s “The Planets.” In relief of my Darnielling that morning, the orchestra interested me for its lack of vocals–which seems obvious. Here were dozens of musicians speaking to each other, playing with such impressive dynamics, communicating the character of the cosmos with just wire and wood and brass; here was a conductor making me realize the heft of that job for the first time, conducting the music from the players to the audience, from the dead composers to the players, from the vast history of far-off everything through those once-living men–like lightning that could pass through much more than atmosphere. I understood so much by watching him; and none of it could match the significance of Darnielle’s single line, which dealt with the same cosmic emotions by tossing off the god reference and investing everything in the girl in the scene. Darnielle is a great conductor.

hopalongFrances Quinlan and her band Hop Along are great conductors. Like Darnielle, she can deliver you a line obviously brilliant and make it seem like she just stumbled upon it. She comes upon a line and her voice coils around it. She squeezes it until the last breath, but not like murder, like murder-suicide, like something mutual and powerful enough to shove back at life. “The world’s gotten so small and embarrassing,” she screams. To me, it’s an answer to her call from the last album, “Why’s everything so expensive?” The band is masterful at intensifying conversation. Like an orchestra, the band and her voice can surf awesome dynamics–swells of terror and confessional whispers and harsh silences. No band right now captures as much cosmos in pop song as Hop Along. Painted Shut, their Essential Listening second LP, is out on Saddle Creek.

A last grasp at meaning: A week after the orchestra, Dave Dondero played in Ybor and he played a cover of Don McLean‘s “Vincent.” “Starry, starry night, portraits hung in empty halls / Frameless heads on nameless walls.” In between earlier songs, he yelled at the Scientology center across the street. A week before I had pitted an orchestra against John Darnielle as conductors. Now it was Dondero and Scientology: once again, a guitar and a man, whose van had broken down earlier in the week, and who had then, in thanks, brought along his mechanic (himself a songwriter) to play the rest of the tour with him…strumming to handful of people in relief of a religion purporting to literally channel the cosmos. A cosmos they, or one of them, invented for profit. Is that a different kind of conducting than Darnielle or Quinlan or Dondero or Van Gogh or McLean’s version of Van Gogh or Mozart? Is it a question of who would be there for me at 5 am with a short, sweet song?

From Hop Along’s new Painted Shut. Get it all the ways from the band. Or from Saddle Creek.

Horseshoe Crabs

Powerful Man

From the Mountain Goats’ new Beat the Champ. Get it all the ways from Merge.

The Legend of Chavo Guerrero

Heel Turn 2

Paige Anderson & The Fearless Kin – Foxes In June – 2014


This came out just last December but I still got really mad at my ignorance when I learned of its existence only a few days ago. An extra day without new Paige Anderson songs is a wasted day indeed.” I said that about Paige Anderson and Fearless Kin‘s last album, 2012’s Wild Rabbit EP, and history repeated itself for their new LP, Foxes in June, released in the final weeks of 2014, but unknown to me until now.

Foxes in June is as great as you’d expect an Anderson Family offering to be. They create country soundscapes awesomely tense, dark, dense, sparse. Out of banjo, fiddle, and guitar they weave some kind of ruthless wicker sea–steady seams of banjo swelled and crashed by their tidal vocal harmonies. They sound great.

For me, the thing at stake for a band who’s played so well for so long from such a young age is Paige’s songwriting. How has that grown since Wild Rabbit? This is the biggest batch of original Paige Anderson songs yet. What does she have in mind for their first full-length?

In Foxes in June‘s first few tracks, she continues to prove herself a unique narrative storyteller. She sets a beautiful scene in “Rebel’s Run:” “a small town / with too many trees / and not enough men.” The song plays out almost like a morally bereft version of the standard “Saginaw Michigan.” Anderson’s stories often reach back through history and haul forth some older iconography, old words–similar to the writing in Austin Lucas’ first few albums. If these stories want for anything, it’s a little more immediacy–songs where the singer is a character in addition to a narrator. We get that side of Anderson’s songwriting in the beautiful title track:

Everything is much too fast / everything is so demanding / I run through desert dust and cross both my fingers / that I know to do better this time around

Foxes are running in the middle of June / It made my heart numb / Wasn’t easy to do / The lessons I’ve learned on my lungs (maybe numbed my lungs?) / It’s easy to breathe again.

“It made my heart numb, wasn’t easy to do”–that line is staying with me. There are tons of gorgeous descriptive moments throughout the album. Anderson displays a Neko-like knack for detail. And the music is always there framing those moments. “Flying Rocks” is a song hauled forth from 2010’s Lubricated Zine mixtape, where it was recorded by Paige solo. Over four years older, the song is understandably more confident than that recording, but it still maintains that wobbly momentum, the vocal melody leaning a moment ahead of the guitar. On “Enable,” Anderson carries the stark, almost empty folk tune into jazzy, crooner territory. Her voice is heavy with so much drama, it’s like she’s swallowed up in a brutal Shepard dialogue with the accompanying fiddle. The album leaves us with an instrumental, the dusky western “Sonoran Moonrise,” reinforcing the power of this family unit, as able to propel stories without words as with harmonies.

Rebel’s Run

Foxes in June

Beautiful Poisons

Find the physical version at the band’s own store. Get the digital from iTunes or Amazon. Follow the band on Facebook so you don’t miss any more of their releases, Mike!

Personal Best – Arnos Vale – 2015


Personal Best are a trio from Bristol UK that I was fortunately wise to because their singer sang a lot on Bedford Falls’ last album. I enjoyed their first EP quite a bit. It hinted at a Superchunk-y, ecstatically astute power-pop, but I remained at a distance for some reason. This album, though, has smitten me stupid.

Lauren Denitzio, from The Measure [SA] and Worriers, did the album art, and Personal Best seems to have channeled some of Denitzio’s ferocious melodicism into their already poppy songs. The ten songs bluster by in 24 minutes, but each one is memorable, beautiful. The relative ballad is “This Is What We Look Like,” which only sticks around for 3:44 and features some of the best dynamics on the album, lugging distorted guitars, dropping them for a jangly refrain. Almost any song could be a single, even the 38-second intro statement, “The Mission,” which prays that “All of my shame / has gotta be worth something to you.” It ends with a song called “Beauty is Terror” and it made me ask myself whether that’s what I’ve been terrified of this whole time. I don’t think it is, but it was worth asking.

Personal Best can sell the romance of “This is What We Look Like” (“I wanna kiss you in the street / where everyone can see”) and the honesty of “Beauty is Terror” in the same “pleasant,” love-centric pop. Pleasant in a non-derogatory sense–(what’s wrong with being pleased by music?)–pleasant in the way of Superchunk or newer bands like Chumped, whose joy is unrestrained on record, who summon love by making meaning out of guitars and choruses. I love this album. It gives me the same satisfaction as The Rebels Not In by The Halo Benders, A Nod is as Good as a Wink by Faces–albums so impressively solid that they come unstuck from time and just are great.

If You Meet Someone in Love (Wish them Well)

This is What We Look Like

This Time Next Year

Join me in unstuckness by downloading the album from the band or getting the vinyl from UK’s Specialist Subject.