Sweet Rot Summer Singles
by Kevin J. Elliott

Sweet Rot is to Vancouver what Hozac is to Chicago and CDR is to Columbus, that is a more than trustworthy, homemade label, bridging the gap from being relatively unknowns to household names on the burgeoning Woodsists and In the Reds of the world. This latest batch is no different from the last one in terms of quality and craftsmanship. Though my accolades sound like the adjectives used to describe a line of oak furniture, I’m talking about Sweet Rot’s ability to handpick bands that seem to have absolutely nothing in common. But by the last B-side of the last record in your pile, there’s inherently something intangible linking them together. Best of all in this batch, the debuts from Flight (who will likely make another appearance here soon) and the Shackles, not to mention the continuity of the super-thick cardstock artwork that houses these puppies. Go at it.

Jeffrey Novak, “One of a Kind” b/w “Short Trip Home”
Mr. Novak’s solo career so far has been a conundrum. Why is it that he wants to stray so far from the Cheap Time nest to produce this cockney pap? I knew that Robert Pollard’s über-faux accent was a put on from the beginning, but it fit the tone—especially when it was caked in cassette detritus and lending itself to grandiose middle-class hooks. Novak, on the other hand, has jimmied off the governor and appears to be almost play-acting as a bawdy British knave or a townie character in one of the Kinks provincial narratives. That said, I can appreciate “Short Trip Home” for it’s allegiance to the Television Personalities and for the feigned air about it that perhaps the Beatles never really existed. His guitars chuckle with a churlish sneer and chubby deliberate chords, while tin cans get kicked down the lane or pianos get plucked and Novak fantasizes of a life more organized and proper. Maybe he’s fed up with the breakneck bubblegum blast of Cheap Time or maybe this is simply his double-life taking hold. I want to believe that with the right amount of effect and shuffling “One of a Kind” could highlight his glam fetish, but for now I’m inclined to dismiss this as a novel bowl of cold porridge. Every once in a while, though, I enjoy the folly from the stage so it’s not a total loss.

The Shackles, “Broken Arm” b/w “Funeral Shroud”
It was Sweet Rot that led me to the rustic, yet saccharine, folk of Meth Teeth, a band not exactly twee but precious in its own distinctive way. The Shackles from Seattle give me the same warm fuzzies in my gut—adorably fragile and perfectly “normal” compared to the qualities of most bands whipping it up in the Sweet Rot camp. Without the cotton-balled organ lining the interior of the trad-indie slacker guitars on “Broken Arm,” the quartet would be levying an obvious ode to Pavement, but instead accomplishes a jangled charm of their own creation, full of sing-a-long melodies and rickety, but inviting, structure. “Funeral Shroud” is the better, riding a bouncy bassline as the group joins hands in cultish revival, everyone joining in on the “na-na-nahs,” likely dancing in their cramped practice space. It’s rare to see this much craft in such simple tunes. Even rarer to see a band reach back to a simpler time, albeit the mid-90s, to mine a sound that, no matter the nostalgia factor, still reflects a certain unabashed joy that’s tough to squeeze from today’s brand of musical smugness.

Woven Bones, “Your Sorcery” b/w “Howlin’ Woof”
As one of the Agit Reader’s favorites in the ’09, Austin’s Woven Bones are not particularly unique. Nothing that they do is shocking, inventive, or particularly modern. So it’s that lack of pretentious trappings that make this band focus on their spooky Velvets on Halloween vibe. What they do on “Your Sorcery” is something rare, which is to remake the garage model (that’s been remade nth number of times) and manage to keep a dead horse satisfyingly enthralling from the first note till the reverb drenched ending. Usually the Cramps cum Muddy Waters rocka-blues-billy of “Howlin’ Woof” is a huge turn-off ’round these parts, but again that suffocated dungeon grime, which coats and obscures any crib notes the band might have up their sleeves, keeps things from rotting a slow death. This is a band with a strict aesthetic (ghoul punk?), both in sound and vision, even if it’s lost in a sea of similar imitators of a well-worn genre.

Flight, “Flowers” b/w “Johnny’s Mixed Up”
Who knew that the Wavves’ waves could be made duplicate on a small patch of shoreline in Mississippi (or is it a tiny portion of sweat cake in the boondocks)? The answer being that everyone and everybody were privy to the fact that the ephemeral good times and party fouls aurally executed on extremely crowded studio tape (or on easily erasable digital bytes) could be replicated with enough panache and bum luck. Whoever is manning the mouthed and endlessly distorted woo-hoos on “Flowers” knows this quite well, and I’m not expecting this mysterious figure to crash and burn on a stage in Barcelona, for his might is much darker. Flight could be four, but is likely just one dude, “dreaming of” his own death, somewhere in the same cloud of pinkish purple smoke from which appeared Ariel Pink and Blank Dogs. I’d like to think that “Flowers” and it’s equally bewildering B-side “Johnny’s Mixed Up” is an attempt at seriously no-fi stadium stoner metal. It’s got such a sinister edge, such a plodding but sharp march to it, enlivened by a genuinely catchy anthem (that’s where the Wavves comparison feels apt). It’s not metal of course, but I wouldn’t be surprised to find pics of him chilling in his cave, tearing up the Bible to achieve his incredible levitation between the dark arts and the indie rock universe. More please.