10. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Unknown Mortal Orchestra [NZ]
Unknown Mortal Orchestra is one mysterious dude from New Zealand. Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about all the squelches and improbable chords changes and hooks that make this an excellent album. Ffunny Friends, right at the start, is basically just one long glorious guitar hook over bopping drums, broken up by some wobbles, the kind of thing you’d whistle if you were just a happy-go-lucky guy about to get eaten by the monster in a monster movie. How Can U Luv Me (right at the start of what you’d have to presume is Side 2) has another one of those glorious hooks broken up by whatever you put into songs to space out hooks, except this time it’s on top of Sly Stone burp bass and sounds like it’s being played through a shoebox. It’s also vaguely exciting for some reason that someone has rediscovered almost-lost ability to make good songs that sound like the Beatles. It nearly feels like Nelson, rather than simply listening to a lot of psychedelic music and replicating it, has succeeded in the Borgesian task of discovering mind-altering drugs and applying them to rock music in a vacuum with identical results. That’s kind of a meaningless thing to say, but the thrust is basically that it’s difficult to sound like Unknown Mortal Orchestra does without coming off glib or directionless. The record is never glib or directionless, and that’s a feat.
Not unexpectedly trippy music video and the dude not being mysterious at all.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Ffunny Ffriends
9. Milk Maid – Yucca [UK]
It was a weird feeling when, after months and months of listening to this record, I discovered about thirty seconds ago that Milk Maid is a “home recording side-project” of one of the dudes from Nine Black Alps. I have no idea whether or not that would have had an effect on how I absorbed it. After all, I did discover Milk Maid through clicking the last ten or so emails I got from the various PR companies who got my email either from this blog or something magazine-related. I liked it then. I was actually a little shocked and it made me reconsider whether or not I should really be ignoring 98% of the emails I get. Because this is a good band. Yucca is absolutely embedded in the “home recording” aesthetic, certainly, in what might be logical given that the ‘auteur’ has plenty of access to real studios in his day job if he needs it. It’s lo-fi in a conceptual sense as well as just a quality sense, everything sounding a little limp and turned up to a mild fuzz to compensate for that. That’s a good thing. It makes it sound not only personable but personal, lazily underwritten for the most part but with all the focus on the parts of the songs that are supposed to stand out, like a collection of demos for a power pop band. Dead Wrong and Not Me are what should (and might, I have no idea) be the seven inches, the things you keep on regular rotation by themselves, and they’re split artfully by Girl, a sort of disingenuous-sounding Velvet Underground via REM b-side fingerpicked song about an American girl. It all sounds a little disingenuous really, but the convenient thing about this sort of aesthetic is that you can basically get away with anything on the basis that it’s just bedroom bullshit. It’s just a dude imagining himself playing the types of songs he listens to, and the only reason it made it this far is that the songs in his head are good ones. It also, contrary to all of that, has the emotional shifts of a real major label college rock classic, which makes it feel somehow more serious and less throwaway than it might.
Not unexpectedly poor quality music video and all the Milk Maid interviews are boring so fuck that.
Milk Maid – Not Me
8. Hunx And His Punx – Too Young To Be In Love [US]
This is basically just a collection of fake early 60s singles by indie rock’s gayest man. The first record, in fact, was literally a collection of fake early 60s singles called Gay Singles, but this one, being an actual LP, is still wrought from the same unashamed flaying of the Be My Baby drum beat with the attendant oohs and sloganeering lyrics about boy troubles. But, strangely for what seems on the surface like the most repulsively ironic idea for a band since being from New Jersey and liking Bruce Springsteen somehow swung into being Pitchfork cool, it feels honest. There’s a respect for melody to the extent that anything that doesn’t add to a song is left out of the song, and anything that wouldn’t get jukebox plays in 1962 is left off the record in the first place. Yes, certainly, Hunx can’t actually sing that well, and yes, he occasionally writes songs that aren’t even in his range, like Keep Away From Johnny. But where Cassie and Kickball Katy feel like they’re playing at this level of naivety, Hunx seems to own it. It’s not a world he’s creating for fun and nostalgia so much as a refusal to admit that it’s weird or unusual to pretend that the sort of music that now sells Time-Life collections is no longer transgressive in the way it was when your local evangelical pastor was first against it. The lyrical concerns are so simplistic it’s ridiculous: “why won’t you do it with me, I want to do it with you” or “I just wanna be the one who gets to hug and kiss ya tonight”. He’s Coming Back is the closest thing in terms of immediacy and brilliance to Hunx’s flagship anthem, You Don’t Like Rock And Roll. It’s essentially a threat that his boyfriend is about to arrive and beat you up for hitting on him, trading lines (“you better watch your back”) with his female backing singers (“yeah, my boyfriend’s coming back”) until you get the point, and then repeating them again until you can’t forget it. Like any great collection of fake early 60s singles, the record doesn’t stop being catchy for long enough to get boring or annoying. It’s stupid amounts of fun.
My original review for AU and a short email transcript from an interview I did for a short AU introductory piece.
Hunx And His Punx – He’s Coming Back