A weekly feature from Far Out Magazine see’s Timothy Mudd, our man in the States, give a monthly update from the West Coast.
Timothy’s feature will follow his move from place to place and spending his time in San Diego, LA and Seattle, he’ll stopping off at music venues along the way. Here, in his third episode, we follow him up the coast:
NOTES FROM THE WEST DESK
Growing up in England, the clockwork seasons of Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter were just something I was used to; but twenty years in Southern California has—frankly—turned me into a bit of a pussy. Sure, us Ex-Pats love to wax poetic of our yearning for a climate that isn’t 22°C and sunny almost year-round, but when faced with anything cooler or wetter, we suddenly act like vampires doused with holy water.
So, now that my wife and I are settling deeper into life around the Seattle area, the average temperature of 10°C, and around thirty-one inches of annual rainfall, I quickly realise that, atmospherically, I need to grow a pair. All said, I took nostalgic comfort in the seasonal shift that occurred in Washington State over the Labor Day weekend (the US equivalent of the UK’s August Bank Holiday). Somehow, the cooler air and greener trees made the sunlight feel more glorious than the baking monotony to the south. And rather than grousing about drought—and how hard it is to spend the year’s final few months in shorts—I appreciated the sun for the first time in what felt like, well, twenty years.
So, what better way to spend the coming seasons of weather-induced confinement to indoor activity than in a club, a gallery, or between the cans, next to a turntable searching for our truth in the art of others? Let’s go.
Like the rising sun or setting moon, you can always count on September and October to deliver a bounty of great new releases. For now, here are just a few off-piste considerations for your continued musical joy and edification.
In the same way Wilco grew beyond their alt-country roots with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Dawes are looking beyond their modest Laurel Canyon revivalist beginnings and making a play for the modern sound of Los Angeles. Crunchy Moogs, raunchy bass, and guitars that teeter like a Hollywood Boulevard hooker—We’re All Going To Die is the sound of sunshine and the soulless masses who bathe beneath it. Insightful as he is honest, singer/guitarist Taylor Goldsmith stands back and observes each depravity like a sober Tom Waits, with an infinitely more melodic tone. Topped with tasteful strings and the group’s trademark vocal harmonies, this may not be the album to make you feel better about the colder seasons, but it will certainly bring a ray of light to any rainy day.
Feeling wistful? A little pensive? Ready to pull up your jacket collar and take a moody walk to nowhere in particular? Chris Staples’ Golden Age is one for the solitary journey. Fans of Sufjan Stevens will delight in the monochromatic acoustic guitars and close-miked vocals of ‘Relatively Permanent,’ ‘Cheap Shades,’ and ‘Park Bench.’ The instrumentation opens up on ‘Golden Age’ and ‘Full-Color Dream,’ standout tracks that invoke pop boredom ever-so-beautifully, like a sad clown petting a puppy. Ideal for post-argument blues, breakups, and general loneliness.
Hijacked from Hawaii and stereotyped for generations as a one-trick pony for country music, the pedal steel guitar has an unmistakable sound until it found it’s way into the hands of Daniel Lanois. Goodbye To Language is a gorgeous elegy to a beautiful instrument that sounds like the heart feels. This whole record is an absolute must-have for those who enjoy Sigur Ros, ambient electronic in general or simply having a soul. For those familiar with the instrument, I promise you—you’ve never heard pedal steel like it.
With each release, Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds grow closer to the ether. There are already many words penned in tribute to their sixteenth full-length, Skeleton Tree. Most attempt to capture the indescribably sad personal event for Cave and his family that occurred during the record’s inception; portrayed by many as a master, rather than a canvas for the art. No matter your frame of reference, Skeleton Tree is a beautiful, pulsing, rhythmic tribute to melody, to lyricism—to life. If death is the canvas, life must be the art. The sound of those who grieve is not the sound of sadness—it’s the sound of tenacity. The sound of resilience. The sound of not giving up just yet. If you’re going to invest in just one record this year, let this be the one.
A staple Seattle venue since 1994, Neumos hosts nightly sermon to the sonic heavens with both breaking and seasoned acts. We visited the legendary facility for headlining Canadian punk metal darlings White Lung and their scrappy upstart opener, Greys. Kicking things off with sneering piss and careless vinegar, Greys careened through their thunderous set like a drunk in a fun house smashing every mirror en route. Leaving none of their six records unchecked, Greys left the stage one by one, fading into the ether with a thumping percussive echo. An act to revisit at a later date for sure. With a gaping hole left in the musical stratosphere, suddenly the eruption of Kenneth Williams’s guitar-scorched through the muggy August dark with the speed of a burning comet carrying Mish Way-Barber’s indomitable vocals and propelled by the atomic clock rhythm section of Anne-Marie Vassiliou and Lindsey Troy. White Lung are a force. Whether on record or in-person, their interpretation of studied genres are as sincere as they are genuine. Check ‘em out when you can.
Heading south to San Diego, the Irenic is a church in the city’s North Park neighborhood, renowned as a temperate home for some of the best touring artists to grace the city on Friday and Saturday nights as some kind of sacrilegious community service. I’d been waiting a long time to see Girl Band. I can’t tell you why exactly; maybe it’s my love for the reckless abandon that permeates their recordings from France 98, through The Early Years, and most recently, Holding Hands With Jamie? Maybe it was the fact that they never seem to tour through these parts and I just happened to catch they were abetting only a three date west coast run before heading back east? Maybe it’s because I had a sixth sense they were simply going to melt my brain? All of the above. Girl Band is that and more. Bass player Daniel Fox slides groves in a menacing stalk, while the haywire bat attack of Alan Duggar’s guitar reigns tracer fire from above. Drummer Adam Faulkner lopes behind the trees like an ominous boogieman who chases the frenetic howl of Dara Kiely’s vocals. This band means every beat, every note, every word. Bottle sliding, head banging, shirt-ripping noise. Girl Band is as refreshing as they are vital and given their evolution in just a few short years, I can’t wait to watch them grow (see interview further down for more on that). The travesty of the evening was that Girl Band were the opening act for Parquet Courts. Apologies if you’re a fan, but they kinda sucked. Slacker Rock for the Millennials? Okay, sure. But I lived through the nineties, and Pavement were boring then. Just an opinion.
Let’s bounce back north to the Emerald City and round out this live trifecta with Bumbershoot, Seattle’s ‘Goodbye Summer, Hello Autumn’ festival held in the parklands at the foot of the city’s skyline-famed Space Needle. A relaxed affair that displays all the signs of the modern music festival: art, food, drink, drugs, and people—all blended into a cultural smoothie. Yes, I did say “Drugs.” And for those of you who are unaware, weed is legal in Washington state, which turns most events such as this into a walking contact high. To best convey this, let’s focus on two of the festival’s Sunday performances: Tame Impala and Billy Idol. Yeah, I can’t tell you why either, but that’s where I landed. Having hiked what felt like miles of the festival grounds to witness the multi-colored love struck intensity of Tame Impala’s near perfect set it didn’t feel like things could get much better. The purple haze of CBD lifted each spirit higher toward the Yahweh orb of Nirvana, and Kevin Parker’s falsetto croons were the magic carpet that brought us back home. And we were right—it didn’t get better, but the spectacle of Billy Idol that we happened upon, paused, and then stared in fascination like some moribund train wreck was just delightful.
Sure, you could mock the guy—a writhing tender of shirtless gristle, peroxide tipped and gravel toned. But he’s still there. He’s dependable; he will always be Billy Idol. Predictable beats, tired guitar solos, horrendous lyrics. But he’s Billy. And he’s honest. He’s never stopped not stopping. For that I salute him—long may he howl into the midnight hour.
We had the good fortune of running into Mr. Dara Kiely smoking a cigarette outside a San Diego church. With full recognition that this was not a scheduled interview, here’s a little of what the Girl Band frontman had to say.
Far Out Magazine: I’ve always been curious about your writing process—could you enlighten me?
Dara Kiely: For the most part, we used to start in a room with our respective instruments and Alex starts a beat. We then mold his performance before Als and Daniel layer the bass and guitars; then I’d just start screaming on top of them. Now we do it a little differently. Daniel’s also our engineer and he’s been experimenting with all kinds of tape machines and equipment in our demo space. Once we’ve built something, we do our best to replicate it live. We’ve got around twenty working tracks that we’re now approaching in groups of four toward our next release. It’s a different approach to the work than we took for our last records, but we’re consciously trying to avoid releasing the same album twice.
FOM: Well, there’s certainly an evolution beginning with France 98, through The Early Years, to the most recent Holding Hands With Jamie. It’s as though your sound becomes more realised with each release.DK: We want each release to document what happens in our lives at that time, particularly on a lyrical front. For Holding Hands With Jamie, I’d had a psychotic episode right before the recording and felt I had nothing to write. I was just depressed and mad. So I wrote about that. I used David Bowie’s technique of cutting up a diary so that the lyrics weren’t bland. “Catch me if I fall,” and all that shit pisses me off, so I wanted to make sure that wasn’t where we landed. Now that I’ve started pushing past those boundaries, I’m free to explore ideas that are completely different. It takes longer, but we’d rather have something of quality that we care about.
FOM: That’s refreshing to hear. So what are you listening to right now?
DK: At the moment (thinking) I’m a massive Leonard Cohen fan. I’ve always got some Leonard Cohen on hand. I’ve also been listening to Scott Walker. Through Scott Walker I’ve recently got into Jacques Brel, then from him into Serge Gainsbourg, then Jacques Dutronc… So lots of really great French artists. Jacques Dutronc just has this swagger like a one-man French Beatles—so cool.
Honestly, I’m listening to Spotify a lot. I buy the odd record, but my record player’s broken, so I just buy them and think “(sigh) Someday…” (laughs). I still listen to loads of punk; I’m a massive Beatles fan… And a lot of local stuff. Dan recently engineered the second record for a guy named Paddy Hanna which is excellent. Als is really into Brazillian rough cuts, Adam loves techno, Daniel’s really into Gershwin and stuff like that, so we share different artists all the time. Our touring playlist is quite strange, but it takes us all in lots of exciting directions. Richard Swift today—I enjoyed that. Have you heard ‘The Bully’? Great track.
And with that, we exchanged appreciation and parted ways. Dara was catching the red-eye flight to Dublin that night so that he’d make his sister’s wedding the following day, which was Saturday. Then he’d be flying straight back to the West Coast for Girl Band’s next gig in Los Angeles on Tuesday. I said I may try to make it (which sadly I couldn’t); he said this might be the last time I see him cohesive. Then suggested it may be a good title for the piece. Consider it done sir.
SITTING IN THE INBOX
Next time out, we’re going’ ‘Country’ and there ain’t shit you can do to stop us pard.
Stay thirsty y’all.
Lost in America, Englishman Tim Mudd is an artist, musician, and writer who splits his time between Southern California and the Pacific Northwest. He enjoys romantic dinners, long walks on the beach, and brain-caving rock n’ roll.