Apartment, Sparkle Bicycle (Waikiki).
Tatsuya Namai, a young Japanese man recording under the nom-de-group Apartment, has herein tossed upon us one of the greatest homemade, one-man, semi-fi bedroom creations in D.I.Y. history. Not always pausing to make sure every single string is properly tuned, mind you, the songs beneath consistently sport a deceptively sophisticated aura of mid-period Raymond Douglas Davies vs. Daniel Johnston.
Scotty Campbell and His Wardenaires, Smokin’ and Drinkin’ (Black Sparrow Records).
Campbell’s sound – buoyed in no small part by the dulcet drums and backing vocals of the masterful Jack Diamond – can make Western swing like a horsewhip to the jugular. Yet somewhere, somehow, even Buck Owens and his Buckaroos are, yep, smokin’ and drinkin’ in appreciation.
Johnny Dowd, A Drunkard’s Masterpiece (BongoBeat Records).
This particular Masterpiece, divided into three distinct thematic opuses, has refined Dowd’s once utterly contrary approach into that of some story-churning uncle long ago banished to the attic. His beyond-crack band lands every single note exactly where it should, just as Dowd’s lyrics, often appearing unadorned as spoken-word segues here, tell truly tall tales of all-American love, life, hate and thankful death.
Garfields Birthday, Let Them Eat Cake (Pink Hedgehog Records).
Come meet and greet the genuinely U.K. born ‘n’ bred sonic descendents of Teenage Fanclub and even those long-lost La’s! Mainly hailing from Weymouth, a town on the Dorset Coast best known (according to the enclosed info sheet) for its golden beach, candy floss and donkey rides, Garfields Birthday willfully produce a sound every bit as sand-coated, sugary and galloping as its ancestry.
The Grip Weeds, Infinite Soul (Wicked Cool).
While that Village Voice may declare them to be “the natural progression from The Who to The Jam to Oasis,” I’ll go that one further by claiming, as I have before, that The Grip Weeds are just about the only outfit left working out of New Jersey that deserves – no, make that demands your undivided attention. Infinite Soul compactly presents 16 of their greatest career-spanning four-minute blasts so that, if you haven’t already caught on, there’s surely no excuse anymore.
Joe Soko, Floss Like a Beast (Fuzzy Planet Productions).
I’m simply going to identify the dozen tracks on this disc and leave the rest to your imaginations: “I’m Like Totally, Oh My God,” “Everybody Has One,” “Renegade Cows,” “Sneezerman,” “What Kind of Jerkoff Do You Think I Am,” “My Nuts Are on Fire,” “Floss Like a Beast,” “Single Green Creature,” “Yum! Yum! Yum! (And I Am Insane),” “The Chillbilly Zone,” “When Gerbils Go Berserk,” “Brain Gobblers From Outer Space.”
The Spongetones, Always Carry On: The Best of The Spongetones 1980-2005 (Loaded Goat Records).
Like the above-mentioned Grip Weed gathering, Always Carry On is oh-so-much more than just another Best Of retrospection. The Spongetones, defiantly birthed as a beat combo in the musical wasteland that was late ’70s North Carolina, produced nine jangleful albums over the next decade and a half. Now the cream of this most powerfully popping crop is gathered here in one handy, hand-clapping 75-minutes plus.
Frank Lee Sprague, Fulton Chateau (Wichita Falls Records).
For those who prefer Neil Finn to Neil Young, and/or would much rather hear Paul McCartney write for Peter and Gordon than John and George, Fulton Chateau presents pop firmly rooted in the Everlys and Buddy Holly mode. Yet with a maturity to the lyrics and chord progressions especially which place it, and everything FLS does, in fact, so very high above the typical man-alone-with-six-strings-sitting-by-telephone-ruminations-upon-ruin.
The Squires of the Subterrain, Feel the Sun (Rocket Racket Records).
Like the Fireman let loose upon a cache of contraband Todd Rundgren outtakes, Feel the Sun duly pays mock homage to all of our fave cult icons of yore, but always with a sense of pure pop respect that thankfully keeps tongues from sliding too far up cheek. For Chris Earl knows, lives and breathes of what he sings, and that makes his latest disc far more entertaining and ultimately endearing than most such quote tributes unquote.
Teenage Head, Teenage Head With Marky Ramone (Sonic Unyon Recording Company).
When Hamilton, Ontario’s rightfully legendary Teenage Head forever lost its frontman-par-excellence Frankie Venom a few months back, at least the group could take solace in the fact that he’d lead the Head through one helluva parting shot with this disc. All the band’s bona fide Canadian classics are here, but with none other than Marky Ramone manning the drum stool these three-minute blasts of pure, unapologetic straight-razor charm hit even harder and, yes, happier than before. Alas, poor Venom. What a way to end the year.
— Musician/writer Gary Pig Gold is the co-founder of the To M’Lou Music label.