… March, April & May: PopFest Preview: Birmingham PopFest

birmingham_web

 

march_april_may_2.5x5How many interviews have you read with bands you love? Now, think back: How often do you read an interview with someone involved behind the scenes? Summer is quickly approaching and with it comes various festivals and weekenders, each organized by people who want to share their love for indiepop with the rest of us. Some of these festivals are brand new, 2014 being their first year in existence. Others have been ongoing traditions for fans spanning several years.

At its very beginning, February Records promoted DIY pop shows and was responsible for setting up three years of the Elm City Popfest, which sadly is no longer in existence. We have an idea about what these festivals entail and we thought the people organizing these events not only deserved to discuss them outside of their own self-promotion, but could also shed a light on what they have personally experienced.

So, we reached out to everyone we could possibly think of that was involved with organizing an event in 2014: Wales Goes Pop, the Popfests in Madrid, Berlin, Copenhagen, San Francisco, Birmingham, Baltimore, and New York City, Indietracks, Indiefjord, the All-dayers or Weekenders such as those coming from Oddbox, Nottingham, and Light it Up, even the indiepop showcase at SXSW.

Who knows? Perhaps they’ll inspire you to start organizing something, too.


Birmingham, which has the second-largest population in England, seems like an ideal location for one of these brand new festivals. Birmingham Popfest, which will take place April 25-27 at The Actress and Bishop, highlights 14 bands from France, Sweden, and the UK.

One of the organizers involved in bringing Birmingham Popfest to you this year, Gavin Priest, answered a few questions for us.

1. Can you give us a history of Birmingham Popfest (dates, organizers involved, etc.)? How and why did you come to be involved? Why did you choose to set up this event?

Its a new Indie Pop festival running from April 25th to April 27th in Birmingham, UK. It’s based on similar Indie pop events that run all over the world. We are passionate music fans, we love indiepop and thought why not give it a go. A great excuse to see some of our favourite bands in our hometown!

2. What is the process of choosing bands like? Do you contact them or do they have to request to play? Are there any rules as to who can or cannot play?
No we don’t have any rules, just that the bands/artists have an indie pop feel. We have been inundated with bands wanting to play, (we reply to them all by the way!) but we would really hate to set up an application process, I can’t understand how that works. Our bill is a mixture of bands we have met whilst playing in our own band The Proctors at other popfests, and groups we weren’t aware of who have come highly recommended to us by people with great taste! The bands are positioned on the bill by merit (popularity, releases etc)

3. What has experience taught you when it comes to organizing Birmingham Popfest?
Go with the flow, and stay loose :-)

4. When does organization start? Is there a timeline you follow? How soon after the festival ends do you begin to plan the next one? Or, if this is the first of such event, when will you start planning for next year?


There is no timeline, we are pretty disorganised, but the love of the music will see us through. Next year if it happens is dependent upon what happens this year! As things stand we have a strong feeling this will happen again though :-)


5. Do you have any inside tips for festival goers?
Go with the flow, and stay loose :-)

6. What are some of the best and worst moments of any Popfest that you can remember?
Probably one band having the plug pulled on them at a popfest I attended. Going to make sure that won’t happen here! :-) Great highlights have been playing at Madrid, Berlin and New York Popfests!

Thank you, Gavin!
If you’re interested in attending, it’s not too late! Visit the Birmingham Popfest website for more information regarding the line-up and purchasing tickets.

… March, April & May: Tour of England

england_web

The internet can be a marvelous thing, can’t it? Sure, we all find our reasons to complain about it, but you’re reading this on the internet right now. February Records wouldn’t exist without it and, to some extent, the trip I’m about to write about wouldn’t have happened without both. At least not in the capacity that it did.

I traveled to England for several different reasons. I had some time off from work and, having only been living in Europe for a month, I wanted to take full advantage of the opportunity. So, why England? I ultimately decided that it would be nice to fully understand the language around me again, which somewhat quickly transformed into meeting the first two bands I worked with on February Records — Finnmark and The Swapsies. During the planning stages of their releases, and even afterward, we stayed in contact. I didn’t have to think twice about contacting any of them when I decided England was my destination. And, within hours of my decision, I was already confirmed to spend time in Liverpool and Leeds.

Arrival

After a long bus ride and sitting around a very small airport for hours, I finally landed in London and caught the first express train from Stansted Airport to the Liverpool Street Station. It was late by the time I reached my apartment in Rotherhithe, some time after 10 p.m. I was worn-out from waking at 7 a.m. for work followed by all that traveling, but I was in London for the first time. Instead of giving in to my exhaustion, I followed signs through gardens and parks, past the roar of the famous Angel pub, and eventually found my way to the banks of the Thames. I followed that path until I reached Tower Bridge, lit up magnificently in the darkness. It was the beginning of a great adventure.

I spent the following few days in the south of England, wandering around London and taking an impromptu trip to Brighton on an unseasonably warm Sunday. I frequented record shops in both cities where I found myself flipping through rows and rows of garage and pop vinyl, though I held back on making any purchases. I did far too much walking and saw the sights, went to the British Museum on two separate occasions, and shared pints with friends, both old and new. The Lexington had great wallpaper, but The Mayflower still remains my favorite pub.

Liverpool with The Swapsies

I caught a train to Liverpool on Tuesday. The overcast skies covering London eventually broke to a clear blue, littered with only a few sparse clouds. The book in my lap was never opened; instead, I stared at the landscape as it passed by. Rolling green hills, growing richer and brighter as the trip progressed. The half-crumbled ruins of old stone houses mixed between farmland and sheep pastures. Narrow canals cluttered with small boats and roads lined with hedges on both sides. I sat and absorbed everything I could, listening only to the hum of the train as the wheels rattled over the tracks. Those hours passed so peacefully and pleasantly. I also knew what was awaiting me on the other end of those tracks.

My first stop was to see The Swapsies, the four lovely Liverpudlians who had become great friends over the course of the past several months. Huw met me off the train, determined to give me a warm welcome. He succeeded. We wandered around the city center: Albert Dock, the Mersey, the bombed-out church, Liverpool Cathedral and Saint James Gardens. Sean, Huw, and I eventually made our way to the studio and were met by Elaine and Andy. There, The Swapsies re-recorded a couple of vocal takes for their Between Two Waves collaboration. The song is quite good! I only regret not being brave enough to sing one of the lines myself when given the chance.

It was surreal for me to be in that environment — I looked around the basement studio and saw collages of Swapsies artwork, the Feb Recs logo right in the center. Andy was wearing one of the badges I sent them on his dufflecoat. The Swapsies were celebrating a milestone (happy belated birthday, Swapsies!) and there were these endearing, heartfelt DIY books passed around. These books were full of images, reviews, and even some of my emails from over the course of the past year. What a sense of delight that gave me — knowing that I somehow played a part in all of this, however small it may be. Little did they understand how much I’ve appreciated all they’ve done, as well. Finally being there and meeting the people I’ve exchanged an untold number of emails with, both professionally and personally, had already been a great experience even after a few hours. I got to see the band’s dynamic and each individual’s personality for what they really were, though they weren’t far from what I imagined them to be. All sweet, shy, and friendly. I even met Fruitcake, Elaine’s lhasa apso and perhaps the band’s unofficial mascot. She didn’t disappoint, either.

The remaining days of my visit to Liverpool were spent in Sefton Park and the city center, with each member of the band in different capacities, almost always accompanied by large pots of tea. Four people after my own heart. There was indiepop on the stereo: The Icicles, Belle and Sebastian, Jam on Bread, Banana and Louie. There were collectable football coins, Irish monopoly, the 1983 UK edition of Trivial Pursuit, and autographed Stephen King novels. My first ever Bounty — which was basically a Mounds bar. The group sent me off with my very own personalized poem from the Lark Lane poet, the bar playing an album by The Shins from front to back. I felt like I was with friends I’ve known for ages, people who went out of their way to make me feel at home. Leaving was so bittersweet.

Leeds with Finnmark

Alas, there were two more cities to visit before my return to Sweden. I only spent a few hours in Manchester, but that was enough time to do the reasonable thing and find the Salford Lads Club. I also had to limit my purchases in Piccadilly Records, but walked away with Lightships’ Sweetness in Her Spark 7” and the new Withered Hand album. I spent what seemed like ages waiting for Edward at Manchester Piccadilly. So long, in fact, that we ended up missing the last train of the night — a Leeds right of passage, I’m told. We had a pint at a lively Manchester bar before finally catching a train to Leeds just after 1 a.m. and arrived an hour or so later, where Betsy the cat eagerly greeted us.

Apparently people don’t visit Leeds just for the sake of visiting. Despite that fact, Edward is actually a great tour guide! I saw all that Leeds has to offer; the mix of new architecture overtaking the old. The area of Leeds University that was used in a scene of A Clockwork Orange. The Dark Arches and subsequent bizarre underground compartments turned into expensive parking spaces. The art gallery where Edward educated me on the paintings of John and Paul Nash. The vast rows of identical looking houses once used for the employees of the now inoperative factories of the area, entirely disorienting as to how alike they all looked. We frequented several different bars, in which I remember a conversation concerning Half Man Half Biscuit. We met various people throughout the course of the day. I even managed to meet two more members of the “Finnmark Four,” the members of the live band, Ben and Sandra. Sadly, I missed seeing Owen, the fourth member of Finnmark and the talented musician behind The French Defence. I tried a great deal of local beer, though I couldn’t tell you what they were now. Edward is exactly as I’d expected him to be – charming, friendly, and entirely entertaining. It was a whirlwind of a day and waking up to catch my taxi at 6:30 a.m. after a Saint Patrick’s themed night at The Brudenell was incredibly tough.

Departure

I was sitting on the coach driving down the M1 between Leeds and London when I wrote most of this, the memories still fresh in my mind. Now I’m sitting on the express train back to Stansted, having spent one last sunny afternoon in London and having said one final goodbye before I catch my flight back to Västerås. I’m still trying to recover and struggling to simply stay awake after complete sleep deprivation from last night’s outing, the lull of the train not making it any easier. But as I look back on the previous ten days, it seems like I have been in England for much longer. Though I’m returning to another city that I love, I feel a bit sad about leaving this country. Being a part of February Records, and, to some great extent, this little indiepop community we all speak of, has brought a lot of people into my life. I know I’ve written about that before. I had the chance to finally meet some wonderful people on this trip, several outside of the bands I visited, who have gone unnamed in this account but have had an equally positive impression on my journey. I can honestly say that I have even left a couple of real, true friends in England.

By the time this is posted online, I’ll already be back home in Sweden, removed from the people I’ve met, the places I’ve seen, and all the things I’ve just described to you now. I know this isn’t the last time I’ll be seeing Huw, Sean, Elaine, Andy, Edward, or anyone else I spent time with over the last 10 days. There’s a summer full of pop festivals right around the corner, after all.

Photo by Kristin Gill. Photo illustration by DG.

… March, April & May: Tim Brown

tim_web
  
march_april_may_2-5x5_greenFebruary Records is pleased to announce that, in the coming weeks, we will be digitally re-releasing Lunchbox’s Glow Like There’s No Tomorrow 7″, which was originally released by Magic Marker in 2001.

Tim Brown and Donna McKean are the two constants among a revolving lineup in the critically-acclaimed indiepop band Lunchbox. Forming in 1994, Lunchbox released a string of albums between 1996 and 2002 — their self-titled debut on San Francisco’s Not Happy label,The Magic of Sound and Evolver on Portland’s Magic Marker, and Summer’s Over on Stewart Anderson’s (Boyracer) 555 Recordings.

This coming May, a reformed Lunchbox, featuring one of the band’s “classic” lineups will play the San Francisco PopFest alongside other late ’90s and early 2000s indiepop icons Boyracer, Rocketship, The Softies and The Cat’s Miaow’s Bart Cummings performing as Bart and Friends. A new album from Lunchbox — the band’s first since 2002 — should also be available around that time from Jigsaw Records.

In 2010, Tim reached out to February Records looking for a label to release some songs from his then-band Birds of California. The Great Expectations EP received quite a bit of blog buzz at the time and was followed by a full-length on Jigsaw Records.

We got in touch with Tim to see what he’s been up to in the last four years and talk about the new album, San Francisco PopFest and moving across the country, among other things.

March, April & May: Hi Tim, last time we spoke was in 2010 when February Records was releasing the Great Expectations EP from Birds of California. It looks like you’ve been pretty busy since then — relocating from the Boston area to Oakland, Calif., reforming Lunchbox and getting ready to release a new LP on Jigsaw, and signing on to play this year’s San Francisco PopFest. When did Lunchbox reform? How did that come about? Does that signal the end of Birds of California?

Tim Brown: It all just sort of happened by accident. I was in discussion with Chris from Jigsaw, who was saying he wanted to re-release an early Lunchbox album, and I asked him if he wanted to release this album of material we recorded in Boston after the Birds of California album, One and Only. He was enthusiastic about that, and we agreed that we’d do a vinyl LP, which I was excited about.

Then Stewart from Boyracer messaged me to tell me that Boyracer was playing the [San Francisco] Popfest, and offered to play drums if I wanted to do a Birds of California show. Somewhere around that time Chris said, “If we’re doing an album, you ought to play the Popfest.” So the whole thing somehow morphed into a Lunchbox reunion show. Stew gracefully bowed out so that our old Lunchbox drummer, Shannon Handy, could play. So now it’s going to be the “classic” Lunchbox lineup (one of the “classic” lineups), with me on guitar and vocals, Donna on bass and vocals, Shannon on drums, Jeremy Goody on trumpet, and Amr Toppozada on guitar and keyboards.

It definitely does signal the end of Birds of California. Birds played the SF Popfest in 2009, but then, because of various obstacles, the record didn’t come out until 2013, and even before that, for various reasons (not least because Donna and I lived in Boston, Stew in Arizona, the others in the Bay Area), it proved impossible to continue the band.

M,A&M: Both Lunchbox and Birds of California featured you and Donna McKean. How much of an overlap in band members was there between Lunchbox and Birds of California? Was there a specific reason you released under the different name instead of just Lunchbox with a different lineup?

Tim: Well, the new Lunchbox album is almost completely me and Donna. Donna played bass, sang lead on a lot of the songs and I played guitar, drums, and everything else (except for trumpet, strings, and flute). The live bands are actually the same, except for Shannon being on drums instead of Stew. Jeremy and Amr are both incredible musicians, so I would never willingly not have them in the band. I got together to rehearse with Amr last week — mind you, we haven’t played a Lunchbox song since 2002 — and he just started playing the songs again, almost like we never stopped. Amazing. I think he remembers them better than I do.

The reason the Birds of California album was not a Lunchbox album was partly because I always hated the name Lunchbox, since (as even a little consideration should have told me) it’s such a generic name, that other bands are bound to have it (and do). More fundamentally, it had been so long since Lunchbox that I wanted to do something fresh and new, and part of the idea was that this is a band we would do with Stew, and it would ride on his powerful Keith Moon-like drumming, and we would combine that with electronics and a kind of shoegaze-y wall of sound type of thing. And live, it was definitely like that. But I’m pretty sure that band did not benefit from being recorded with our usual piece-it-together-in-the-studio method; it would have been a good band to rehearse with for a while and then record live, with everyone doing their own thing, building into some kind of organic climax. But the time-frame and geographic situation did not support that. Recording the album sucked for me. Protools too-many-tracks madness, combined with geographically-dispersed band, drums tracks completed before songs were finished, with corresponding arrangement and tempo problems, etc. By the time the album came out four years later, the band was already defunct. I do like the Birds of California album, but it is an artifact of kind of an isolated, hard time in our lives.

M,A&M: Tell us about the new Lunchbox LP coming out on Jigsaw Records, “Lunchbox Loves You.” When will we be able to purchase it?

Tim: The record is supposed to come out in May, in time for the Popfest. It’s going to be a red vinyl LP, which I’m happy about, because, at this point, I’m all about the physical artifact. We stayed analog on this one (as on all the previous Lunchbox records). It’s simpler and it sounds better. I’m not the first one to say it, but it’s far better to have fewer tracks and be forced to make mixing and bouncing decisions along the way. The sound degradation of tape just helps matters. I don’t like separation, I like sonic glue. The more bouncing the better!

M,A&M: When February Records released Great Expectations, the band was based out of the Boston area. How long have you been back in California? What prompted the move?

Tim: We moved back to Oakland about a year and a half ago. That’s where we’re from, and we basically moved back there at the earliest opportunity. Oakland is a great place to be right now, but even if it wasn’t, it’s home.

M,A&M: What did you think of the Boston/New England music scene when you were living here? Were you involved in local music at all?

Tim: I was only nominally acquainted with it. Boston seems like a good music town as far as I can tell. The only music we did was recording those two records (Birds of California and new Lunchbox) in our mildewed semi-subterranean basement. In Oakland, the “basements” are actually at ground level — much healthier! We saw a few shows, at Great Scott or whatever; but I was really busy with work, and just really found it hard to meet people to do music with locally.

M,A&M: You played San Francisco Popfest in 2009 with Birds of California. Are you excited to return to the fest with Lunchbox?

Tim: Yes. It’s really fun to do Lunchbox again, and play with Shannon again, and sort of reclaim the oeuvre. When we stopped doing Lunchbox in 2002, we had been at it hard for years, and were kind of burnt out on it; but now it seems fresh again. 

M,A&M: Are you playing with the original Lunchbox lineup?

Tim: There have been so many lineups; but this is one of the classic lineups, since Shannon played on Magic of Sound, and Amr became our main “utility person” not long after that.

M,A&M: What can festival goers expect to hear?

Tim: We’re going to play songs off all three of the old Lunchbox albums (Magic of Sound, Evolver, and Summer’s Over) plus songs from the new one. Stew will be making a guest appearance to reprise his ace guitar work on “Letter from Overend,” so that will be fun. It will be the less shoegaze-y Lunchbox; trying to keep it pop for the kids :)

M,A&M: What do you think of the San Francisco PopFest lineup? A lot of the bands harken back to the late ’90s and early 2000s — Rocketship, Boyracer, Dressy Bessy, The Softies. Other festivals, such as New York PopFest have followed this trend as well, recently featuring Close Lobsters, The Bats and, this year, The Flatmates. How do you feel about bands like these reforming, touring and even releasing new music?

Tim: I love all those bands. I love Boyracer, and Rocketship is fundamental for us. If there was no Rocketship, there would have been no Magic of Sound, I think it’s fair to say. I’ll never forget walking into Mike Schulman’s shop, Dropbeat, back in the ’90s, and seeing the Rocketship LP, and thinking, “fuck, some smart person called their band ‘Rocketship’,” and then I heard the record, and that was a game-changer. We went off to live in Berlin for a year in 1996 with Rocketship ringing in our ears (among other things), and we moved back to Oakland a year later steeped in drum and bass and kind of Berlin-haunted, and that was really the genesis of the Magic of Sound/Evolver/Summer’s Over era. I am stoked that Rocketship is releasing a new LP on Jigsaw, so that we’re now label-mates.

As to all of them (and us) releasing new music; I see no reason to stop, and I’m sure they feel the same way. If people like it, or want it, then it’s a great thing to be able to do.

M,A&M: Are you planning more shows for Lunchbox? Will you tour to support the new LP?

Tim: I want to. I’ve made a few inquiries about some West Coast dates. I told Chris at Jigsaw to tell Dusty from Rocketship that I want them to tour with us. Dusty, if you read this drop, me a line — it’s not too late!

M,A&M: What else have you been up to musically since we last spoke?

Tim: Donna and I have a new band, with Lindsay Romig (Pennywhistle Park) and Jon Braham, called #1 Smash Hits. It’s a return to our earliest loves, basically Buzzcocks plus feedback, mostly fast, very pop, but no wistful Major 7 chords like Lunchbox. We’ve been gigging around the Bay Area quite a bit with some bands we like (Kids on a Crimespree, Terry Malts, etc.). The goal of the band is to keep it simple — no studio skullduggery, no painful self-exposure, just fun. It’s working out pretty well. We’ve recorded an LP, which hopefully will come out somewhere at some point.

There’s a new Lunchbox bandcamp site up with some tracks from the new LP; and we’re working on a video this spring for the Lunchbox song “Tom, what’s Wrong” with our friend Claude Cardenas.

Interview conducted via email and compiled by Dan Goodwin. Photo illustration by DG.

FEB037: “Jealous Waves” by The Pretty Greens

TPGS_JW_cover

FEB037 —

Philadelphia’s The Pretty Greens are Carly, Julia, and Kool Schmool – three women who fully embrace the DIY aesthetic and are an active and integral part of their artistic community. Their songs express a variety of influence and style and often carry a hint of the band’s “proud feminist-grrrl philosophy.” With recent line-up changes, an on-going fanzine, and new songs recorded, The Pretty Greens are stronger than ever.

This digital download includes and exclusive interview with all three members of the band.

Purchase a CD single directly from The Pretty Greens. If you order online, you’ll also receive a button and sticker.

img018_sm

“ … a shambling pop tour de force who rattle out the sort of tunes that seem to be missing this side of the ocean.” — A Layer of Chips

“What can you expect from this Philly based band? ‘Dual girl vocals, surf-sounding guitar with a little twang, melodic bass lines, shimmery cymbals, peppy drums, and tremolo – all peppered with cat-eye glasses, mini-skirts, bangs, headbands, glitter, and a whole lot of charm. But don’t let the name and girly-image fool you, The Pretty Greens know their stuff and will impress with the whole package.’ ” — SisterSpace Weekend website

FEB035: “Похожий на осень” by Малыш Камю

lt007_500

 

FEB035 —

Малыш Камю (Malish Kamu) is Evgeniy and Ekatarina, a duo from the southern Russian town of Taganrog. Their style of slow, beautiful pop songs will win you over, despite the language difference. Taganrog doesn’t have a vibrant pop scene, so the duo creates their music simply for the love of it. The couple writes songs that reflect their relationship, saying that their songs are often just another means of communication between themselves. Evgeniy and Ekatarina have stated in the past that “Our hope is that what we cannot say in English will come through in the songs we share. Things like love, tenderness, and happiness are things that go beyond language barriers and are things we can all understand.”

This digital download includes an exclusive interview with Малыш Камю’s Evgeniy Khandiy.

This is a joint release with Little Treasure (007) part of the Bubbletone family. Order Похожий на осень on 3″ CDR at www.littletreasure.es

malish_500

 

“Malish Kamu consider lyrical themes through the prism of what another fan has called ‘pleasant, quiet, and carefree dream-pop. It all sounds beautiful…’ ” – Far From Moscow

“They are a young couple whose love serves as the inspiration for much of their music.” – Luna Guitars

FEB036: “In Your Ruin” by Caténine

catenine_500

 

FEB036 —

Caténine is the Massachusetts-based recording project of Dylan Connor. Begun in a studio apartment in Boston and transplanted across the state, Caténine channels the jangly pop of The Field Mice, the synth-heavy work of The Wake and New Order, and the textural depth of Disintegration-era The Cure. The live band also consists of Brian Bartus, Andrew Kapinos, and Kiana Saroce. Caténine has previously released a self-titled cassette, a 7″ split with Funeral Advantage, and is currently in the process of recording another album.

The free downloadable track comes with an exclusive interview with Caténine’s Dylan Connor.

catenine_bio_500

 

“At times, listening to this, it’s hard to believe it is not the demo tape Wild Nothings sent to Captured Tracks. It’s this wonderful batch of hazy, dreamy indie pop that would have been right at home circa 2010.” – c86’d

“…it is evident that Caténine is poised for something great with a style of music that harkens back to the post-punk of the early 80′s. Musically, they share a kinship with New Order and The Cure but with a push to go beyond and expand on the sonic palette already laid out.” – The 1st Five

Best of 2013: Kristin Gill

kristin

 

I’m typically a pessimist, but what a year this has been.

I know that it’s hardly been a year since the label became active again, but this year has been a pop-filled adventure nonetheless. At least for me, personally.

I’m not typically one to write “best of” lists at the year’s end. I always find it impossible to narrow down my list to a manageable number and this year has certainly been no exception. There have been countless releases that I’ve fallen in love with – some hold personal significance in my life while I simply love others for the jangly, frenzied pop songs that they are. My own personal list, without explanation or detail, would be as long as this page. My list for the first half of the year was more than 20 releases long if that’s any indication. But, if you really want to know what my favorite albums or singles of the year were, they’re listed on my personal blog. It was a struggle!

So, instead of focusing on those loved songs or albums that were released this year, I wanted to concentrate on songs that impacted or shaped 2013, regardless of their release date. I don’t know anyone who strictly listens to new releases, anyway.

I have moments in time that encompass my favorite memories of 2013 and many of them involve, or coincide with, particular songs or albums. The songs that made their way to my speakers through hand-written letters or mixtapes, during sing-a-longs on long car rides or listening parties in Swedish living rooms, flipping through LPs in record stores or curled up on snowy mornings. These are those songs that, for myriad different reasons, made this year the tremendous twelve months that they were.

“No One Goes for the Most Clever Girl in Class” – Florian
A good portion of my year concerned my adventure to Sweden. It was spent with one of my favorite people, record shopping around Stockholm and exploring a city I’ve grown to really love and, in a month’s time, will be moving to. One of many favorite memories from my recent trip to Stockholm was sitting around the living room and going through boxes and boxes full of 7-inch EPs, comical record store finds, and old rare indiepop LPs. I was able to listen to (and subsequently sent home with) a good portion of the Fabulous Friends discography, most of which I’d never heard. Florian, Funday Mornings, The Tidy Ups, and Danny Says have all been constant staples on my turntable since my return home.

“Let It Slip” – The School
There isn’t much of a pop scene in New England, but I feel lucky enough to be a little part of it. Cozy basement live recording sessions, video shoots, and long drives to see bands and friends I admire and support. I was lucky enough to see The School twice during their US tour. Danny and I did a lot of driving around this year – sitting in rush hour traffic while attempting to get into Boston for gigs, up the Maine coast where I’d inherit hats found on the beach, or to simply find milkshakes somewhere. As Danny already noted, it also included venturing three hours in a torrential downpour to simply watch The School play in some weird Northampton, Mass., bar. We missed all the other bands, but we didn’t care. This song was a constant staple during our sing-a-long drives. Who could blame us?

“Just a Pup” – The Very Most
NYC Popfest was easily one of the highlights of this year, pop-related or otherwise. I met some incredible people, some of whom I can now call friends. Being around so many people who share an obsessive love of this music just as I do is energizing. The little moments between bands or after each gig were the moments I remember the most. It was picking Danny up at Penn Station because he can’t navigate the subway system, grabbing a bite to eat with Howard and Liam, dancing with Mark, Matthew, and Michael, whiskey with Olive, Lagunitas with Tobias, discovering Sockerbit with Adam. The performances I saw were fantastic, too, of course, but I think that goes without saying. I had the privilege of hanging out with Jeremy (and making sure he wasn’t getting too lost) during the course of the weekend. And, since this summer, Jeremy has become a good friend of mine. He’s an incredibly talented musician and, quite possibly, the nicest person you may ever meet. I’ve been a fan of The Very Most for several years now but I think that the title track of their most recent EP, on the now-defunct Manic Pop! Records, is among my top five favorite TVM tracks.

“Perfect World” – The Proctors
I still remember where I was when I first really heard this song. Actually paying attention, hit full force with those jangly guitar chords. I was standing outside of the Zinkensdamm T-bana station in Södermalm, just two days before my scheduled departure from Sweden. I had two bottles of Loka in my bag, purchased at the same shop I frequented nearly every day for the past two weeks, giving the cashier the same terrible, heavily accented Swedish. He was a real sport about it. One of those bottles of water was probably chocolate milkshake flavored. Very rarely am I actually moved by a song, but this was one of those moments. Blame it on perfect timing, my surroundings, a lot of personal things. Now it just evokes this overwhelming sense of nostalgia. Sometimes I think I am too sentimental for my own good.

In all honesty, though, these moments are so memorable and positive in my mind due to the people I was surrounded by.

It was getting involved, kind of on a whim, with Candy Twist. Granted, Dennis does most of the work, but being able to get to know him, interview some of my favorite bands, and be a part of something I genuinely admire has been a wonderful experience.

It was reviving this label with Danny and interacting with some of the sweetest people I’ve ever encountered – Edward, Huw, Andy, Elaine, Sean, Katie, Patrick, Jason, Elyse, Lisa, Jason, Carly, Evgeniy, Ekaterina, Dylan, and Nathan.

In the same token, the year has been a success because of all of you, the listeners. Without your support or enthusiasm for our releases, it would be unlikely that February Records would carry on after my departure from New England. But that’s not the case. There have been so many nice things said about the songs we’re released and we couldn’t be happier or more thankful for all of you.

So, to everyone who has made 2013 the incredible year it has been, I thank you. I can’t wait to see what 2014 has in store.

Kristin x

Best of 2013: Brad San Martin

brad2

 

march_april_may_2.5x5Brad San Martin is a Boston-based musician, most well known in indiepop circles as a member of One Happy Island. Brad also released an EP on February as Secret Charisma. He admits that he doesn’t listen to much new music these days, yet he does find himself digging through crates of old LPs at record stores and buying whatever he thinks looks promising. Brad created a list of his favorite record store finds of 2013.

Ten Best Flea Market or Yard Sale Finds of 2013

The older I get, the less desire I have to keep up with the current Pitchfork graduated class and the more time I want to spend flipping through discarded LPs in junk shops, flea markets, yard sales and the like. Risk is minimal ($2-4 tops), reward is maximal. And, as is often the case, the journey becomes the destination … here are a few cherished records unearthed during this past year’s travels – in no particular order.

cottonpickersThe Cotton Pickers
1968-69
(Artisan Sound Recorders, 1969)

Terrifying. Not quite sure what this is, but I think it’s a rather large collegiate folk group from the now-nonexistent Sullins College in Virginia. They sing loud and proud, accompanying themselves on ukuleles, bongos, washboards, banjos, spoons, and other household ephemera. Sounds wholesome enough, but add in a ton of reverb, beats of metronomic simplicity, and mostly unison non-harmony, and the result is rather Manson Family-esque. I think their take on the risqué old novelty “The Virgin Sturgeon” is supposed to be sexy in a wink-wink kinda way, but it just sounds like a gaggle of home-schooled psychopaths trying to entice weary longshoremen.

beegeesBee Gees
Odessa
(Atco, 1969)

Does a grown man need three copies of the Bee Gees’ harmony pop masterpiece Odessa? No. A grown man needs two copies: Rhino’s massive stereo/mono/outtakes boxed set and one of these — an original pressing in comforting bright red velvet. Unearthed in the loft of a New Hampshire junk shop, it’s in near-perfect shape, and, more importantly, boasts some tremendously great songs. Probably not the best of the Bee Gees’ early orchestral period, but certainly worth a buck or two…

stankyStanky and the Coalminers
Polka’s Good to the Last Drop
(Stan-Dotm 1978)

Jimmy Sturr, the multi-Grammy-winning polka impresario and bandleader, once told me (and everyone else – the man speaks in soundbites) that polka is an “underground music,” and damn, he’s right. It’s kind of a punk-rock genre: DIY records, non-traditional venues (like the outdoor pavilion at Palaski Park, which is where we got the title for the second One Happy Island EP), and a die-hard fan base that refuses to cave to mainstream tastes. One could make a very entertaining book of small-press/self-released polka LPs. Maybe there already is one.

I couldn’t resist the title, the band name, the artwork, everything. Turns out Stanky (aka singing accordionist John Stankovic) is something of a legend, and is now celebrating over 65 years in the business. The music is no frills, propulsive, and fun. He utilizes fiddle as a front-line instrument, which folks say was unusual in polka bands. Amazing that no hipster types have tried to give this genre an alt-country-style makeover. Good. It’s fine the way it is.

riniRini and Meredith Willson
… and then I wrote The Music Man
(Capitol, 1958ish)

So, I have a weakness for hearing golden-era Broadway composers and lyricists (who are rarely trained vocalists) sing their own compositions (which are written for trained vocalists). Hearing the complex poetry of the Great American Songbook rendered with an almost casually knowing, offhand avuncular charm is totally fascinating – and often shines a new light on the tune at hand.

That said, The Music Man isn’t one of my favorites…but this disk, again, uncovered in New Hampshire, is a trip. Basically the composer and his opera-aspiring wife (with an unplaceable accent) recount the plot of the musical, and render its songs (with just Willson’s piano as accompaniment) at a manic, breakneck pace. Clearly they’re trying to fit it all on two sides of an LP. It’s like they are pitching the musical right in your living room. Put it on, pretend you’re a big Broadway producer, and refuse to put on their show.

squirrelyShirley, Squirrely & Melvin
Live
(Excelsior, 1981)

I was familiar with Shirley & Squirrely, and was wondering what the addition of Melvin would bring to the mix.

After doing absolutely no research, I’ve concluded that the Chipmunks (of the Alvin/Simon/Theodore persuasion) had three eras of popularity: Their original ’50s heyday, their ’80s Saturday-morning resurgence, and the current David Cross-abetted CGI movie thing. This little wonder is an attempt to cash in on that second phase, with lots of helium-voiced covers (“Soul Man,” “Get Back,” “Mercedes Benz,” even Jackson’ Browne’s “Boulevard” for Christ’s sake!) and retch-inducing originals such as “I Like Reggae, Too.” The title promises awful things, and the song delivers. The version of “The Gambler,” delivered absolutely straight as a duet with guest vocalist Denny Richards, is spine-spasm hilarious. Hear it for yourself here:

 

changesDavid Robert Jones
Changesthree
(Grace, 1983)

Ah, the most elusive of flea market/yard sale treasures: An actual good record that is exceedingly rare. This bootleg LP, augmented by the Spirograph-inspired doodles of a previous owner’s child (I assume), gathers up a bunch of choice David Bowie outtakes – many of which were eventually officially released on the expanded Rykodisc CD editions of Bowie’s classic catalog. It’s cleverly disguised as an official release (the label graphic is a play on RCA), in line with RCA’s Changes series of Bowie compilations. This was actually at the SAME flea market for several weeks in a row, giving this digger the hopeful impression that no one flips through LPs anymore. Otherwise it would have been gone.

pattoPatto
Hold Your Fire
(Vertigo, 1971)

I’d read about these guys for ages in various zines (like the fantastic Ugly Things), and heard guitar geeks whisper Olly Halsall’s name in hushed reverence…but I never quite got it, based on the little that I heard. But this…despite it’s atrocious cover (“Let’s just put our faces in an alien’s head, ok?”), is a fascinating spin on late-60s/early-70s blues-rock. I’m not sure if I like it, but Halsall’s guitar playing is remarkable: fleeter, more fluid, faster, and jazzier than anyone else on the scene at the time. He blows through notes – clearly articulated, mind you – with the speed of a bop sax player. It doesn’t always fit the music, but here is definitely a unique voice that never really got his due…although, yes, he did sing and play on The Rutles LP.

hulabluesHula Blues
(Rounder, 1971)

You wouldn’t know it by their current release schedule, but Rounder Records (now absorbed into the vast Concord Music Group family of labels) was once the go-to outlet for eccentric, expertly annotated releases spanning a variety of roots music genres. This examination of the intersection of pop music and Hawaiian instrumentation, which thrived in the ’30s and ’40s, is a delight, right down to the adorably pre-computer artwork. There’s a CD of this stuff, but what fun is that?

motorheadchuckChuck Higgins
Motor Head Chuck
(Rollin’ Rock, 1974)

Rollin’ Rock was a west coast label that seemed to be Italian-born “Rockin’” Ronnie Weiser’s one-man campaign to return record making to the ramshackle energy and minimalist production values of early rockabilly and R&B. This title, like many a Rollin’ Rock platter, sports type-written sleeve notes and DIY cut’n’paste graphics.

The idea here is certainly intriguing: Take an aging, honking’ R&B sax player and vocalist (who had some regional hits long before these sessions) and have him sing and blow over a program of new and old tunes, accompanied by…one guy: Rockabilly revivalist Ray Campi, who provides upright bass, guitar, steel, and beats out the rhythm on a trash can lid. A totally beguiling mix of two distinct old school genres, made all the more urgent and otherworldly by the one-man-band overdubbed backing.

rayparkerRay Parker Jr.
“Ghostbusters”
(Arista, 1984)

Fifty cents bought me this limited edition UK-pressing of Ray Parker Jr.’s mega-hit single. There just aren’t enough pop-up record sleeves. Also, “The Blockbusting Theme from the Ghostbusting Movie” is just a terrible, terrible slogan.

ghostbusters

 

Opening photo by Amber Duntley. Album photos by Brad.

Best of 2013: Малыш Камю

malishkamu

 

march_april_may_2.5x5Малыш Камю is Evgeniy and Ekatarina, a duo from the southern Russian town of Taganrog. Their beautiful pop songs will win you over, despite the language difference. You can expect a joint release between February and one of our favorite labels sometime before the end of the year! Evgeniy and Ekatarina decided to compile a list of Russian (and one Ukranian) song that they enjoyed throughout 2013.

Subjective playlist of Russian little known indie 2013 (by Малыш Камю)
We know that all Russian music is unknown for USA listeners :) But we decide to make our playlist not with mainstream artists, only with the unknown, just because we love these songs more than the famous ones. We don’t know how all of these tracks sound to foreigners, but we hope it will be nice! :)

 

 

1. Пёс и группа – Не убирай волосы
We really love this band, because they are so strange :) But in their songs we find something similar with our feelings every time.

2. Andrey Zeberti – Я и твой кот
Song about gentleness and love, memories and dreams from a Russian singer-songwriter.

3. unoworse – An Avatar
This band plays post-punk in the best traditions of this genre. We love to visit their performances, they are very cool!

4. The Retuses – Ara (Astra)
This band plays very poetic songs, we believe that you’ll feel the message of this song despite language barriers.

5. Melan! – Better, Than I
A song from the last album by the folk-singer Melan. We love this song’s simpleness and elegance.

6. jerk & листья – Harmonic Wind
This is a duet of two young songwriters from another Russian city. Two voices and the atmospheric sound of instruments make us feel romantic all the time.

7. Даша Шульц – Весна
Sweet and gentle song about spring and love by a young singer-songwriter girl.

8. Lucidvox – Мечта
Song about ways to dream of an ordinary man in big world.

9. Leafs on the wind – Bird
Atmospheric song with “bedroom” sound. When we listen to it, we imagine that we dancing the waltz in a small house deep in the woods.

10. Мутафория Лили – Идиотвесна
This project is from the Ukraine, not from Russia, but we put it here because it’s fantastic. This guy records so much avant-garde music and has crazy performances. You should watch it someday! :)

Best of 2013: Finnmark!

FinnmarkFoto_web

 

march_april_may_2.5x5Finnmark released two great singles on February this year. As a matter of fact, “Everyone’s Dying,” was the first release February had since coming back from hiatus. Finnmark still has EPs available for purchase, too, if you haven’t managed to get yourself a copy yet. Finnmark’s own Edward Forth put together a lovely in-depth list of his favorite albums of 2013. I think we all feel the same way about that Garlands LP, too.

When it came to thinking about my top ten albums of the year 2013, I instantly thought “Right, The Garlands album at the top,” but then I realised that it was actually released at the end of 2012! A good start!

I was also going to put Just Handshakes’ “Say It” in too, but I have had to discount it from the list as I played bass on it, so I’m not allowed to include it on the principle of self promotion!

I always find these lists quite difficult, but this year, I found it especially hard as I have been listening to a lot of older stuff, but I finally came up with it, and enjoyed listening back over the year. When looking over the list, I realised that all of the albums are in fact European, so well done Europe!

In no particular order, here it is:

Fear of Men – Early Fragments
When I first heard “Mosiac” at the end of 2012, I thought it was brilliant, and this was one of my hotly anticipated releases when 2013 came round. More a singles collection than an album, it still sits together perfectly. I got to see them at Indietracks in the summer, and again in Leeds recently, and they were great both times. Interesting drumming, shimmery guitar and great vocals. Fantastic.
Listen to: “Mosaic”

Yast – Yast
Yast are a band that I discovered through the studio they recorded in. I really like this album; jangly, woozy, summery, lovely. I had really enjoyed the singles before it was released, but was really pleased to find an album full of great tracks. And brilliantly recorded at Studio Möllan in Malmo.
Listen to: “Stupid”

Veronica Falls – Waiting for Something to Happen
This was an easy choice! I loved the first album, and this one is similar, just replacing the gothier side with more pop! “Buried Alive” is my favourite track from it, but there are plenty to choose from!
Listen to: “Buried Alive”

Dutch Barn – Lighter Later
I first heard of Dutch Barn through the brilliant Eardrums Pop who posted up the lead single from this album. I liked it so much I bought the album straight away. Brilliant singing, brilliant melodies, brilliant guitar, brilliant songs. I like this a LOT!
Listen to: “Lighter later”

Spook School – Dress Up
I first saw the Spook School at last year’s Indietracks, and I liked them, but it wasn’t until they were on a Cloudberry Fanzine compilation that I really stopped and took notice. A fantastic live band, the album shows that there are some really great songs, above all the nakedness and jokes of the live show. Some brilliant slower quieter songs too, showing a different side to the band. See them live, buy the record and fall in love!
Listen to: “Are You Who You Think You Are”

Shout Out Louds – Optica
I have always been a huge fan of the Shout Out Louds, so when they released this piece of ’80s-sounding pop brilliance, it was to inevitably end up in my top ten! Sadly, this is the first of their albums that I haven’t seen them play live, as they haven’t played any Northern shows in the UK, but I am looking forward to it when they do.
Listen to: “Sugar”

British Sea Power – Machineries of Joy
Another band I have been a fan of for years. This album is somewhat of a return to the less experimental/more pop side of the first three albums, and I love it. Classic BSP.
Listen to: “Machineries of Joy”

When Nalda Became Punk – Farewell to Youth
When Nalda Became Punk are one of my big discoveries of the year. A brilliant band from Spain with an album absolutely full of great pop songs. I won’t go into much explanation, just buy the record and you won’t be disappointed! What made it even better was meeting them at Indietracks and seeing them play my favourites live. A great band and absolutely lovely people!
Listen to: “Before5″

Makthaverskan – Makthaverskan II
There is so much good pop music coming out of Gothenburg at the moment, and a lot of it is on the Luxury label (Alpaca Sports, Westkust, The Sun Days, School). The first Makthaverskan album was quite brilliant, and the second one certainly doesn’t disappoint! Expanding on the themes of the first album, it adds a little more jangle and chorus, and sounds great! Both albums you can stream on their bandcamp, and I would recommend that you do.
Listen to: “Asleep”

Ice Cream Cathedral – The Drowsy Kingdom
This Danish band should be far bigger than they are, as they are quite brilliant! “The Drowsy Kingdom” is quite an apt name for the album, as they make the dreamiest of dreampop! With stunning vocals, beautiful synth sounds and relaxed electronic drum beats, they tick so many boxes! Released as a 500 copy 12″ by a Copenhagen collective, this album is beautifully obscure and underground, but has been on solid rotation on my record player. They also have a pay-what-you-want EP on their bandcamp, which is just as good and I would very much recommend having a listen.
Listen to: “The Ranger”

Roll on 2014!