Valentines Day Party ft. The Coathangers

The Coathangers

Be leery of any punk band with initial ambitions that go beyond just playing shows with their friends. Sure, great bands ascend beyond basements and handmade demos all the time, but the best acts start with little consideration for the outside world. The groups are their own insular worlds, where the reward comes from the process, not accolades and riches. And the bands that thrive on their own artistic satisfaction usually wind up being the bands that are able to grow beyond the donation jar into sustainable successful musical careers. Their charisma is contagious, their songs exist outside of fads, and their spirits can weather the inevitable ups and downs of life as touring musicians. Such is the case with the Atlanta trio The Coathangers.

When The Coathangers started up in 2006, their aspirations were humble. “I think all bands in their early twenties start for fun,” says guitarist/vocalist Julia Kugel when talking about their early years of cheeky no-wave and irreverent garage rock. But Julia and her bandmates Meredith Franco (bass/vocals) and Stephanie Luke (drums/vocals) were serious about their craft, and that combination of modest outside expectations and absolute dedication to their music made for exhilarating live shows and contagious records. Ten years later, The Coathangers are still going strong, and while their palette has expanded over the years to touch upon hip-shakin’ classic rock, soulful country ballads, and golden oldies pop, their primary attack strategy still relies heavily on the jagged hooks and boisterous choruses of their formative years. Their fifth album Nosebleed Weekend retains all the devil-may-care magnetism and serrated instrumentation of their debut, but it flourishes with a decade’s worth of songwriting discipline and chemistry.

Nosebleed Weekend kicks off with “Perfume”, a song that marries sultry pop vocals with toothy guitar riffs in a manner that would make Ann and Nancy Wilson proud. It’s hard to imagine The Coathangers writing a song this accessible in their early years, but in 2016 it fits perfectly into their canon. From there the band launches into “Dumb Baby”, which harkens back to the gritty neo-garage rock of Murder City Devils. Longtime fans who still clamor for their brash post-punk angle will be immediately satiated by “Squeeki Tiki”. And after hearing the noisy loud-quiet-loud bombast of “Excuse Me?” it’s no wonder that Kim Gordon has become an outspoken fan of the band. It’s an eclectic album inspired by life on the road, lost loved ones, and Kugel’s recent move to Southern California. “We always say that each record is a snapshot of our life at the time,” Kugel says. “As far as style… it’s just what came out of us at that point.” So whether it’s the foreboding garage rock of the title track, the post-punk groove of “Burn Me”, the stripped-down pop of “I Don’t Think So”, or the dynamic grunge of “Down Down”, The Coathangers command their songs with passion and authority.

The biggest departure for Nosebleed Weekend was the recording process. While all their previous albums were recorded in Atlanta at The Living Room with Ed Rawls, their latest album found the band out in California’s North Hollywood at Valentine Recording Studios with Nic Jodoin. “The Beach Boys and Bing Crosby both recorded there!” Kugel says excitedly. “It was an amazing experience, not to mention a ghostly one too. The studio had been custom built by Jimmy Valentine and he was very protective of his passion. It sounds weird, but his spirit was there, checking in on us and fucking with us a bit.” Nosebleed Weekend was the first session at Valentine Recording Studios since Jimmy’s professional interests were diverted elsewhere in 1979. The studio doors were shut, capturing a time capsule of the LA music industry back in the ‘70s. Thinking back to the early years of The Coathangers, it’s hard to imagine the scrappy Southern ladies ever recording in a historic studio in the San Fernando Valley, but it’s a classic demonstration of what can happen when humble young punks stick to their guns.

Fred Thomas

Following the release of his critically-lauded 2015 album All Are Saved, songwriter/producer Fred Thomas entered a period of enormous transition. He gave notice at the writing job that had offered stability for years, got married and moved to Canada, all between multiple tours that ran the spectrum from sold out opening slots to sleeping in the car after empty gigs. At the end of yet another tour he returned to Athens, Georgia to again work with producer Drew Vandenberg (of Montreal, Mothers, many more) on an album aiming to encapsulate the nonstop changes that had sprung out of this phase of his life. Naturally, this record is named Changer.

The unflinchingly direct lyrical approach that defined All Are Saved continues here, with themes of uncertainty and struggle coming up over and over. A working title for the record was “Hope I’m Funny,” a reference to the opening line of an especially bleak Richard Pryor routine. The comedian found himself confused at the audience’s applause before he’s even uttered a word, certain he was going to disappoint them and feeling a little set up, but still hoping for the best.

That sense of floating between dread and promise runs through the album, present in the drunk-dial desperation of live favorite “Brickwall” as much as the chopped up harp samples that propel the electronics-heavy “Echolocation.” The production here is some of the densest in Fred’s catalog, with straightforward guitar pop burners like “Voiceover” melting into synth-heavy instrumental segments like the glistening, Boards of Canada indebted “Oval Beach.” That these moments of textural ambience make sense alongside stripped-down guitar pop speaks to the overall flow and vision of the album, which was meticulously edited from an hour long first draft to the lean 33 minute final product.

Taken from start to finish, Changer slowly tells a story that is more felt than explicitly narrated. Rather than insisting on finding an answer or some greater meaning in the shifting nature of lives in motion, these songs simply offer vivid snapshots and strange scenes. Even in its darkest moments, however, there’s an underlying sense of hope, that every mundane laundromat trip, every bummer night, every empty gig, hours logged at pointless summer jobs, or even the pain of tragedy could be for something bigger and lead to the next beautiful change.

As Detroit continues its seemingly irreversible slide into the tar pits of economical despair, new traditionalists Tyvek have unashamedly taken the reins and harnessed the ambition to keep their slurred and manically refreshing noise pop bouncing around the skulls of everyone still breathing in the real, uncategorizible fumes of the original new wave. With an already impressive trail of essential releases left behind them, including last year's debut album and an infinitesimal stream of "tour-only" CDRs, the band seems to always be evolving, yet never straying far from the original cacophony that earned them a spot in the hallowed halls of modern punk's elite erratics.

And as dynamically diverse as Tyvek's recordings have become, their live set also seems to shift dramatically with each new appearance, ranging from a monstrous five piece to the currently stripped-down three-piece that easily gets the job done without sacrificing any of the intensity or brazen brevity that's earned them their fanatical following. With relentless touring, razor-esque songwriting and the ability to adapt to their surroundings without resistance, it's no wonder why they're so adept at captivating the off-center sounds of bygone-era DIY scrapings and spinning it into gold, all without ever really showing any influence of the Detroit "sound" that's known the world over. This trait alone deserves massive respect and forges their creativity in a unique light, as pioneers and as individuals who set forth to create their own thing in their own time, and in essence, are clearly executing some of the most exciting sounds in underground music today.

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