New Playlist: January 2023

Welcome to the Rosy Overdrive January 2023 playlist! This one features less “new” music than these typically do–there is some here, to be sure, but the bulk of my January listening was taken up by two “projects”. One was that I read the entirety of Endless Endless: A Lo-Fi History of the Elephant 6 Mystery by Adam Clair and subsequently listened to about two dozen Elephant 6 albums I hadn’t heard before (plus I re-listened to almost all the ones that I had heard previously), and the other was listening to a ton of music from 1997 (if this part of the playlist interests you, stay tuned for another blog post about it in the coming weeks).

The Tubs, The Apples in Stereo, and The Olivia Tremor Control get multiple songs on the playlist this time.

Here is where you can listen to the playlist on various streaming services: Spotify (missing one song), Tidal (missing two), BNDCMPR (missing a few). Be sure to check out previous playlist posts if you’ve enjoyed this one, or visit the site directory. If you’d like to support Rosy Overdrive, you can share this (or another) post, or donate here.

“Spanway Hits”, Flake Music
From When You Land Here, It’s Time to Return (1997, Omnibus/Aural Apothecary)

“Spanway Hits” opens When You Land Here, It’s Time to Return, the only record by proto-Shins band Flake Music. It’s pretty easily the best song on the album, and a lot of what makes James Mercer’s writing on the first two Shins records great is already present here. It’s a little more lo-fi and “rocking” than those big Shins songs, but “Spanway Hits” is deft power pop no matter in what clothes it dresses itself.

“Good I Feel Bad”, The High Water Marks
From Songs About the Ocean (2004, Eenie Meenie/Racing Junior)

The High Water Marks are very much still around (last year’s Proclaimer of Things appeared on Rosy Overdrive’s Top Albums of 2022 list), but this was my first listen to the debut record from Hilarie Sidney and Per Ole Bratset’s band. They hit the ground running with “Good I Feel Bad”, an opening track that features plenty of the group’s hallmarks: a catchiness rivaling the best from Sidney’s other/older band The Apples in Stereo, a noisiness that colors rather than overwhelms the melody, and excellent trading-off vocals from Sidney and Bratset.

“Wretched Lie”, The Tubs
From Dead Meat (2023, Trouble in Mind)

The debut full-length record from The Tubs is here, and it delivers on the promise of their 2021 EP Names as well as singles like “Sniveller”. As the record’s third advance song, “Wretched Lie” was an excellent piece of jangle pop with a chilly streak; as the closing track on Dead Meat, it’s downright stunning. The song is quite full between the post-punk bass and an excellent instrumental guitar hook, and Owen Williams’ vocals deliver the title line (“I have told a wretched lie”) with understated horror. 

“Skyway”, The Apples in Stereo
From New Magnetic Wonder (2007, Simian/Yep Roc/Elephant 6)

The Apples in Stereo’s reinvigoration/reinvention of themselves as a slick Electric Light Orchestra-inspired power pop group is one of my favorite later-era Elephant 6 developments. The “big” songs from New Magnetic Wonder (“Energy”, “Same Old Drag”) still sound magical and hold up better than you’d think if you haven’t heard them in awhile, but even lesser-heralded tracks like “Skyway” are so infectious and, yes, energetic as well. 

“About Last Night”, Peter Hall
From About Last Night (2023, Subjangle)

About Last Night is the second solo album by Nottingham singer-songwriter Peter Hall and his debut for Subjangle Records, which proves to be a fitting home for Hall’s jangly indie pop music. The opening and title track to the record brings big hooks out from the beginning, throwing out all the stops from massive leads and brightly-strummed acoustic guitar to full-sounding self-harmonies and melodic bass work.

“Crayon Box”, The Gerbils
From Are You Sleepy (1998, Hidden Agenda)

I’ve probably listened to “Crayon Box” more than any other Elephant 6-related song that I’ve discovered since reading Adam Clair’s book on the scene. There’s something really refreshing about, after listening to a lot of music that goes deep into heavy psychedelia and opaque/symbolic lyrics, just enjoying a song that’s openly about indie rock and awkward relationships. Scott Spillane really sells the Portastatic and Sebadoh name-drops, and I can just see the shit-eating grin when he cheerfully bellows “I feel so empty”.

“Live Forever”, Ex-Pilots
From Ex-Pilots (2019/2023, Smoking Room)

Ex-Pilots is a Pittsburgh noise pop band featuring members of other excellent groups from that area like Gaadge and Barlow; their self-titled debut record was released four years ago, and has now gotten a remastered release from Oakland’s Smoking Room Records. Ex-Pilots feels like a key puzzle piece to this “scene”, with noisier, more shoegaze-invoking songs sitting alongside tracks like “Live Forever”, which is a very pretty piece of reverb-dressed indie pop.

“Clap and Cough”, Discount
From Half Fiction (1997, Kat)

Discount was Alison Mosshart’s 90s band, where she made excellent melodic pop punk before blowing up in the following decade as part of the garage rock revival with The Kills. “Clap and Cough” is an excellent single–it’s clearly part of the Jawbreaker/Samiam/etc wing of indie punk rock that was in full swing around this time, but differentiates itself in no small part due to Mosshart’s voice. 

“Gypsum Oil Field Fire”, The Olivia Tremor Control
From Presents: Singles and Beyond (2000, Cloud)

The Olivia Tremor Control’s Presents: Singles and Beyond is full of gems like this–these really infectious and catchy lo-fi poppy indie rock tracks that feel like you’re stumbling onto something hidden when you hear them. “Gypsum Oil Field Fire” is originally from a 1994 split single with The Apples in Stereo, which makes a lot of sense–The Olivias hadn’t quite hit on their dense, layered psychedelic pop sound yet, and, at this point, didn’t sound too far off from the 90s indie rock/60s pop synthesis the Apples were also doing. I like where both bands ended up, but this early stuff is very cool too.

“Power Down”, Chris Whitley
From Terra Incognita (1997, Sony)

Terra Incognita is a perfectly fine alt-rock album with some blues and Americana undertones, although “Power Down” is the one song from the record that really sticks with me. It’s an excellent song that I could’ve imagined being a hit radio rock single around this time, with Chris Whitley sounding like a post-grunge Adam Duritz in the song’s monster chorus.

“Temporary Arm”, Elf Power
From Vainly Clutching at Phantom Limbs (1995, Arena Rock/Orange Twin)

Vainly Clutching at Phantom Limbs was effectively an Andrew Rieger solo recording, although longtime Elf Power multi-instrumentalist Laura Carter already pops up on this song playing drums. The record’s lo-fi, home-recorded sound doesn’t quite reflect where Elf Power would end up headed sonically (they got “more Elephant 6-ized” starting with their next album and blossoming with 1999’s A Dream in Sound), but the chugging “Temporary Arm” is as catchy as anything from their later psych/power pop-indebted sound.

“Lilly Isn’t There”, That One Crocodile
From Many States (2022, Canadaway)

That One Crocodile is the project of Rochester, New York’s Ben Baker, although it features a host of contributions from other musicians, including bassist Dan Jircitano (Rectangle Creep, Shitcanned) and Ann Rorick, who is the co-lead vocalist on album highlight “Lilly Isn’t There”. It’s a very intriguing song that sets the stage for Many States quite nicely, starting out as a singer-songwriter piano track that morphs into a pedal-steel featuring folk-country tune as Rorick and Baker introduce Lilly and trade off vocals.

“Volcano Girls”, Veruca Salt
From Eight Arms to Hold You (1997, Outpost)

It’s not often you’ll find a song that one could also conceivably hear on alt-rock radio in one of these playlists, but I gave Eight Arms to Hold You a full listen last month, and my biggest conclusion from it is that “Volcano Girls” is still an excellent 90s rock single. It’s a big hook and riff fest from Nina Gordon, who I do appreciate as a songwriter a little more after hearing some of her album tracks as well, and I like that they do the “Glass Onion” self-referential thing with the lyrics. That’s amusing to me.

“Weird Sisters”, The Telephone Numbers
From Weird Sisters (2023, Meritorio/Prefect)

The Telephone Numbers’ 2021 album The Ballad of Doug was a slow-burner for me that year (it’d be significantly higher on my year-end list if I redid it today), so I’m happy to welcome the San Francisco band back again with their “Weird Sisters” single. I know that The Telephone Numbers’ Thomas Rubenstein is a big Game Theory fan, and I can hear some Scott Miller in the vocals of this song, where the breezy jangle pop of the verses pushes for something higher-up in the chorus.

“Sparkly Green Couch”, Secret Square
From Secret Square (1995, Elephant 6)

One of the first new bands to emerge from the Denver division of Elephant 6, Secret Square was the project of Hilarie Sidney (Apples in Stereo) and Lisa Janssen (probably most known otherwise for her bass work on Neutral Milk Hotel’s On Avery Island), who wanted to make weirder music than Robert Schneider was making with the Apples. Secret Square is definitely a more-difficult-to-crack record than anything Sidney’s other band was doing at the time, but “Sparkly Green Couch” is quite catchy in a mid-tempo, late-night/early-morning slacker rock kind of way.

“The Deserter”, Leiah
From Endless (2023, Thirty Something/Coypu/Friend of Mine)

There’s something about Scandinavia that seems to excel at producing emo-tinged, nostalgic-sounding indie rock groups at a high rate. Leiah fits into this mold, but it’s also worth noting that they’ve been around for a while–they arose in the late 90s, broke up in 2004, and have returned nearly two decades later with Endless. “The Deserter” is one of my favorite songs of the year so far, a massive power pop tune with an explosive, synth-aided chorus.

“Death Drive with Julie”, Fire Man
From Yerself Is Fire (2023)

Yerself Is Fire is a fun and exciting noise rock/post-hardcore record; it recalls the best of 80s labels like Touch & Go and Alternative Tentacles, but its lack of self-seriousness helps it not sound like some kind of dull past imitation. Some of the best moments on Yerself Is Fire are the most overtly pop ones, like “Death Drive with Julie”, which is a “car song” for people with their knuckles gripped ghost-white to the steering wheel that nevertheless explodes into a noisy rock and roll conclusion. Read more about Yerself Is Fire here.

“Rough Necks”, Handturner
From Good Moon (2022)

Handturner is the Michigan-based duo of Franki Hand and Isaac Turner, who readers of Rosy Overdrive know as two-fifths of kraut/psych-rockers Wowza in Kalamazoo. Handturner has released two records over the past two months; December’s Good Moon is “both an album and a sizzle reel…for those seeking music for soundtracks [etc]”. A lot of the album thusly feels more interstitial, but “Rough Necks” is a solid indie pop tune in its own right, with Hand’s vocals singing melodically over chiming keyboards and percussion. Not on streaming, get it on Bandcamp.

“Boyfriend”, Ex-Vöid
From Bigger Than Before (2022, Don Giovanni)

I already talked about The Tubs earlier in this playlist, but the other prominent ex-Joanna Gruesome band is still getting spins from me in 2023, too. I put the Ex-Vöid album at number six on my year-end list; if I made it again today, it might crack the top three. It’s songs like “Boyfriend” that do it–it’s almost too short, cutting out or condensing a lot of the things that feel like pop-song no-brainers (for example, Alanna McArdle cramming some of her best lyrics in between the “normal” verse lines) to make something just slightly off and even more memorable.

“Hooray for Tuesday”, The Minders
From Hooray for Tuesday (1998, spinART)

I thought it was interesting how The Minders are discussed by Endless, Endless–Martyn Leaper and Rebecca Cole’s early connections to Robert Schneider and Bill Doss notwithstanding, they’re acknowledged as somewhat as a “peripheral” Elephant 6 band, but they also seem quite revered as people and musicians by a lot of the “core” (read: Athens-based) Elephant 6 figures. I don’t know them personally, but Hooray for Tuesday and (especially) its title track are both great–it’s more straight-up power pop than most Elephant 6 music, sure, but that’s far from a bad thing.

“State Line to Eagleville”, Labrador
From Hold the Door for Strangers (2023, No Way of Knowing)

Philadelphia alt-country five-piece Labrador waste no time establishing themselves on the first song of their new record, Hold the Door for Strangers. The gorgeous, jangly instrumental that begins both the album and its first track, “State Line to Eagleville”, is a triumph right out of the gate, shading a song that both fulfills and transcends the band’s “alt-country meets power pop” ambitions. Read more about Hold the Door for Strangers here.

“Autocade”, Prolapse
From The Italian Flag (1997, Radarscope)

The Italian Flag is all over the place from Prolapse, a British group that understandably has a bit of a cult following after releasing four really interesting, noisy indie rock records in the 90s. The Italian Flag is probably my favorite one of them–there’s both clanging post-punk and tracks like “Autocade”, a really beautiful early Stereolab-invoking drone pop single.

“Chapter 8 – Seashore and Horizon – ”, Cornelius featuring Robert Schneider and Hilarie Sidney
From Fantasma (1997, Trattoria)

My 1997 listening and Elephant 6 listening intersected here–how could I not highlight this song? It certainly helps that it’s a very good track, revealing just how well of a match Cornelius’ cribbed-from-many-decades-before it collage pop is with Robert Schneider and Hilarie Sidney’s 60s inspired music. “Chapter 8 – Seashore and Horizon – ” could very well be an Elephant 6 song, although it’s more Olivia Tremor Control float-along psych pop than the Apples’ more band-centric records.

“Prison Song”, Beauty Pill
From Blue Period (2023, Ernest Jenning)

Beauty Pill’s much-welcome Blue Period compilation re-releases their 2004 debut full-length The Unsustainable Lifestyle, in addition to the You Are Right to Be Afraid EP and various non-album tracks. “Prison Song” is a spare, vulnerable highlight from The Unsustainable Lifestyle (there’s a reason why the band explored it again for their 2020 Please Advise EP), with vocalist Rachel Burke delivering lyrics that are almost challenging in how straightforward they ring. Read more about Blue Period here.

“Don’t Look Now”, My Dad Is Dead
From Everyone Wants the Honey, But Not the Sting (1997, Emperor Jones/Scat)

My Dad Is Dead was (at this point, over a decade into their career) making power trio indie rock recalling stuff like Karl Hendricks, Gaunt, or Ron House’s bands–very good if not especially-remembered songwriting-first rock music. Everyone Wants the Honey, But Not the Sting is something of a litmus test to see just how barebones you can take this kind of music, but the pop hooks in the chorus of opening track “Don’t Look Now” make this song for everyone, in my opinion.

“Dying to Go”, Spice World
From There’s No “I” in Spice World (2023, Meritorio/Tenth Court)

Western Australia’s Spice World land squarely on the “loose and ragged” end of the guitar pop spectrum on their debut record, There’s No “I” in Spice World. “Dying to Go” comes at the end of the record, and the band saves one of their peppiest numbers for last, with a chorus heavy on the “oh oh oh”s. “Dying to Go” is also the song where Spice World establish themselves as the biggest Spice Girls fans in jangle pop by calling out the girl group directly in their lyrics. Read more about There’s No “I” in Spice World here.

“Motorcar”, The Apples in Stereo
From Science Faire (1996, spinART/Elephant Six)

Maybe it’s due to the sheen on some of their later work, but I feel like early Apples in Stereo maybe does not get its proper due as excellent lo-fi 90s indie rock. Their 1996 Science Faire compilation in particular is full of fuzzy hooks–Robert Schneider and his bandmates were just as inspired by Pavement as they were by 60s pop groups at this time, and anyone who’s a fan of the more tuneful side of underground 90s bands like Guided by Voices and Built to Spill should give it a listen.

“All Jets Are Gonna Fall Today”, Chocolate USA
From All Jets Are Gonna Fall Today (1992, Bar/None)

Chocolate USA was Julian Koster’s band before joining Neutral Milk Hotel and starting The Music Tapes (or, at least, before The Music Tapes became an on-the-record band), and featured at various points Bill Doss and Eric Harris from The Olivia Tremor Control. They don’t seem like the most fondly-remembered group in the context of Elephant 6 (I believe Koster said the records never captured the band in the way he wanted them to), but I thoroughly enjoyed both of their albums, particularly All Jets Are Gonna Fall Today, the title track of which is sublime, sleepy indie pop.

“Strength”, Comet Gain
From Magnetic Poetry (1997, Wiiija)

“Strength” opens Magnetic Poetry, the sophomore record from long-running British indie pop group Comet Gain, and it’s an excellent piece of Jazz Butcher-y, post-C86 pop music. Horns feature prominently throughout the track, the electric and acoustic guitars both do their jobs in being melodic and bouncy, and David Christian’s vocals soar to match the giddy instrumental as well.

“Nixon Peace Fingers”, Slime Lush
From Custom Slaughter (2022)

Slime Lush are a nineties-inspired indie rock group from Oklahoma, and their latest record, last year’s Custom Slaughter, opens with “Nixon Peace Fingers”, an eighteen-wheeler of a desert rock song. They cite the usual 90s indie guitar hero names (Built to Spill, Dinosaur Jr.) on their quest to make indie rock as classic rock, a thing that Silkworm (and, yes, sigh, Pavement) did well. “Nixon Peace Fingers” is six minutes of fairly straightforward rock and roll that derails just a bit before it’s over.

“Punched a Friend”, The Holy Cows
From Blueberrie (1997, Big Pop)

The Holy Cows came from Michigan, and they put together a fun Midwestern college rock/alt-country mix on their second album, 1997’s Blueberrie. Like a lot of bands from this time, the Holy Cows land somewhere between R.E.M. and The Replacements, but these songs are spirited enough to not fade into the background. Opening track “Punched a Friend” makes the titular question land like, well, a punch, I suppose.

“Ballroom Etiquette”, Guided by Voices
From La La Land (2023, GBV, Inc.)

Hello, it’s another Guided by Voices album! La La Land feels like a departure from GBV’s twin 2022 releases, a bit less muscular than Trembler and Goggles by Rank and Crystal Nuns Cathedral and a little more ornate and regal. The straightforward “Ballroom Etiquette” is a clear and early highlight on the record; it’s jangly and has some nice bass work going on in it, and Pollard’s delivery of the refrain (the “most likely if you go…” part) is nice and understated, letting the hook work for itself.

“Love Athena”, The Olivia Tremor Control
From Presents: Singles and Beyond (2000, Cloud)

Another excellent lo-fi pop hit from the early stages of the Olivia Tremor Control, “Love Athena” originally kicked off the 1994 California Demise EP. The band was effectively Will Cullen Hart, Bill Doss, and Jeff Mangum at this point, and although a lot of early music produced by this trio was fairly experimental, “Love Athena” is a perfect, simple pop song buried underneath fuzz.

“California Summer”, The Summer Hits
From Beaches and Canyons 1992-96 (1997, X-Mas)

The Summer Hits were a California band that combined surf rock and sunshine pop with heavy noise pop, lo-fi fuzz-fest indie rock and almost-shoegaze on a string of singles collected here. Not every song on Beaches and Canyons “works” for me, but the big “pop” hits of the compilation are all great realizations of an intriguing combination of genres. “California Summer” is brightness and chaos all at once.

“Illusion Pt. II”, The Tubs
From Dead Meat (2023, Trouble in Mind)

The Tubs open Dead Meat with “Illusion Pt. II”, a song that references (but is not the same as) “Illusion” from their 2021 Names EP. The original “Illusion” was a sharp two-minute pop song about not feeling like a real person; “Illusion Pt. II” stretches itself out to over four minutes with a post-punk bass groove running underneath it, highlighting the urgency that The Tubs always seem to be putting out on display in some form or another.

“Bumper Ships”, Hello Whirled
From The Kids Don’t Wanna Have Fun (2022, Sherilyn Fender)

Late 2022 and early 2023 saw the release of three Hello Whirled albums over the course of as many months. The IN THE NO trilogy, as Hello Whirled head Ben Spizuco deemed the three, found the project both excelling in and pushing around their lo-fi indie rock core sound. “Bumper Ships” is from the second of those albums, The Kids Don’t Wanna Have Fun, and it’s one of the most intriguing things I’ve heard from Spizuco. It’s a tight march of a pop song with some fun synth additions, a key addition to the ever-expanding Hello Whirled songbook. Read more about IN THE NO here.

“Meadowport Arch”, The Ladybug Transistor
From The Albemarle Sound (1999, Merge)

The Ladybug Transistor were, along with their sibling band The Essex Green, a couple of New York groups that became associated with Elephant 6 thanks to Robert Schneider’s efforts to expand the label in the late 90s. Unlike The Essex Green, I don’t think Elephant 6 released any of the Ladybug Transistor records, but listening to songs like the baroque pop “Meadowport Arch”, there’s a clear stylistic fit here.

“Glide”, Status / Non-Status
From January 3rd (2023, You’ve Changed)

Following last year’s Surely Travel (which appeared on Rosy Overdrive’s 2022 best-of list), Status / Non-Status rang in the new year with the three-song January 3rd EP. My favorite song on the record is the acoustic closing track “Glide”, an incredibly moving tribute (to “our dear mother, mentor and friend who slipped into the ice and never came home”) that bandleader Adam Sturgeon left unfinished for emotional reasons.

“Life Forms (Transmission Received)”, Major Organ and the Adding Machine
From Major Organ and the Adding Machine (2001, Orange Twin)

Major Organ and the Adding Machine is the quintessential Elephant 6 project, comprised of recordings made by, seemingly, almost everyone in the Athens Elephant 6 scene and passed between each other for years. The result is a very strange record; few of its tracks are as straightforward as closing track “Life Forms (Transmission Received)”, whose vocal chant is obscured but is otherwise a pounding, uplifting benediction song.

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