Author Archives: Rick Taylor

Happy Refugees: Thoughts on Beyond Moth and Rust

For devoted record obsessives, few joys are as exhilarating or rewarding as THE DISCOVERY—the moment you uncover a GREAT overlooked band that’s been inexplicably ignored or forgotten.

I live for those moments. But as most record crate diggers worth their weight in limited edition seven-inch pressings know, the truly revelatory discoveries don’t happen every day. They happen infrequently, and when you least expect it—almost by some cosmic design to ensure the band in question hits you with the maximum possible impact.

That’s exactly what happened when I first heard Happy Refugees. A few years before Acute Records valiantly rescued and reissued their classic 1984 mini-LP “Last Chance Saloon,” I experienced that only too uncommon feeling of exhilarated discovery thanks to the Mutant Sounds blog, where some kind soul had shared the record with unsuspecting music fans.

I was immediately struck by the band’s restless creativity and sense of adventure, the wonderfully odd way they married the shambolic with the elegant, the unexpected left turns, the often cinematic scope of their reach, and just the sheer quality of everything I was hearing. To my ears, Happy Refugees were every bit as thrilling and imaginative as cult post-punk heroes like Television Personalities, The Monochrome Set, and The Fall.

How could this band go unnoticed for so long?

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TVD Recommends: Sansyou at DC9, 10/17

While DC instrumental trio Sansyou has an undeniable knack for crafting moody and contemplative soundscapes, their music never comes across as chilly or aloof. Indeed, the four tracks that comprise the band’s new, soon-to-be-released EP, “The Dilettante,” have a warm and elemental quality, seemingly sprung from the earth like exotic wild flowers.

Sansyou members David Nicholas (guitar), Matt McGarraghy (guitar), and Davis White (percussion)—all veterans of DC’s underground music scene—have also widened the band’s sonic palette, offering listeners a more varied range of sounds and tempos, all while preserving their trademark minimalist mix of delicate, interlaced guitar patterns and meditative rhythms.

From the gently driving “Best Ones Choose You,” and the refined title track to the immersive atmospherics of “The Enthusiast” and the seductive “Three Ways of Being,” the new EP takes listeners on a rich journey of tranquil reflection.

Like the band’s debut five-track release, “When We Become Ghosts,” the new EP has an understated elegance that’s more in line with the solo work of Michael Rother than traditional dream pop or post-rock. Put more simply, this is music for ears that appreciate thoughtful, layered sounds that unspool gently and gradually, and are rich with both melody and possibility. Needless to say, Sansyou isn’t the sort of band that relies on effects pedals or keyboards to create a mood.

Not only is Sansyou celebrating the imminent release of a highly recommended EP, the band is playing tonight at DC9 with the legendary Tone. To mark the occasion, we got in touch with Sansyou’s David Nicholas to find out more.

What can you tell us about how the four tracks that comprise “The Dilettante” came about? Was the writing process different in any way from when you wrote your debut EP, “When We Become Ghosts?”

It was very different since this reflects three perspectives now from Davis, myself, and Matt. We tried some new approaches; things I’ve certainly never attempted before. As we were taking stock of what songs to work on, Davis brought in a piece that he had written entirely on keyboards and drum machine. It was a challenge to transcribe it for two guitars and drums, but it was fun and ultimately became “The Dilettante.”

As short as it is, it’s still a demanding piece to play. We also took our time with this one as opposed to recording and mixing the first EP in two days!

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TVD Recommends:
We Fought the Big One at Marx Cafe, 9/6

Calling all fans of classic post-punk, John Peel, and obscure DIY gems! We Fought The Big One, DC’s highly unwieldy, Belgian beer-fueled, post-punk DJ party, is thrilled to welcome back behind the turntables this Friday, Fire Records A&R maestro and internationally renowned design guru, John Foster!

In recent years, John has done bravura work for the legendary Fire Records label, home to ESG, Mission of Burma, Pere Ubu, Guided By Voices, Blank Realm, Surf City, Spacemen 3, Half Japanese, Television Personalities, Teenage Fanclub, Bailterspace, Bardo Pond, Pulp, Neutral Milk Hotel, The Pastels, and many more.


John’s eye-catching design work has graced some of Fire’s most memorable releases, including ESG, Pigbag, and Close Lobsters. The man has also authored numerous books on the subject of design, including 1000 Indie Posters and Dirty Fingernails: A One-Of-A-Kind Collection of Graphics Uniquely Designed By Hand.

This Friday, John will be spinning personal favorites as well as showcasing gems from Fire’s rich catalog and new releases, including some yet to be released tunes exclusively for WFTBO! To whet our appetites, John has curated an exclusive We Fought the Big One mix for TVD readers, complete with an informative track-by-track commentary:

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TVD Recommends: Teething Veils at Judy’s Bar & Restaurant, 7/12

Names like Leonard Cohen, Lee Hazelwood, and Scott Walker are hardly among the more common musical reference points in DC’s indie rock and underground music scenes, but those are exactly the artists that Teething Veils calls to mind on its ambitious debut album, Velorio, out today on Etxe Records.

Over the course of the album, Teething Veils’ singer/ songwriter Greg Svitil examines the shattered pieces of past relationships, tracing the hidden contours of heartbreak, memory, longing, and obsession through an unavoidably personal lens.

The track “Cobblestone” is one of many album highlights, built around little more than sparse guitar and Svitil’s voice—the type of intimate performance that has long been the hallmark of Teething Veils live shows. The vocal contribution of Christin Durham elevates the song to another level of exquisite beauty.

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Richard Davies and Eric Matthews of Cardinal: The TVD Interview

Cardinal play Washington, DC’s Velvet Lounge tonight, 5/15.

The baroque, neo-psychedelia of Cardinal’s classic, self-titled debut album couldn’t have been more out of step with the indie rock world when it was released in 1994.

The album paired the prodigious talents of Australian songwriter Richard Davies, who had previously been a creative driving force in The Moles, with Eric Matthews, a bravura arranger and multi-instrumentalist who plays everything from harpsichord to trumpet and marimba.

Critically acclaimed upon its release, the record was both strangely anachronistic and remarkably prescient––it’s hard to ignore its influence on much of the chamber pop that followed (Belle and Sebastian and The Flaming Lips, in particular).

Despite the album’s unexpected success, Davies and Matthews went their separate ways shortly afterward to concentrate on vibrant solo careers and other collaborations.

Fast forward to 2012: Davies and Matthews surprise and delight music fans by announcing they have reformed Cardinal and are putting out a new album, Hymns, through Fire Records. To celebrate the album’s release, Cardinal is embarking on a short tour, which thankfully includes a stop at the Velvet Lounge tonight with Kuschty Rye Ergot and Cigarette.

To find out more about this most unexpected (and hugely welcome) reunion, I asked Davies and Matthews some questions via e-mail.

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The luminous sounds
of Silo Halo

Is it just me or has DC been getting a little moody lately?

I’m not talking about the palpable, election year angst in our nation’s capital or any gloom related to the city’s draconian budget cuts. I’m referring to an emerging strain of fiercely independent, DC-area bands with a predilection for darker sounds and emotions, not to mention a propensity for spindly guitar arpeggios and plenty of volume.

Silo Halo is one of the newer bands in this growing scene, which to my mind, also includes Buildings, Lenorable, Sansyou, Washerwoman, and the John Carpenter-obsessed, synth-noise deviants known as Screen Vinyl Image (by the way, more evidence that something is definitely afoot: Slumberland heroes Lorelei have reformed and are prepping a new album.)

But while the members of Silo Halo clearly have more than a passing interest in effects pedals, the band’s obvious affection for the late 80s/early 90s U.K. shoegaze scene is just one of their musical reference points. In seeing a recent Silo Halo live show, I was struck by the realization that the band probably owe just as much to the doomed romanticism of Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave as they do to early Ride and Lush.

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TVD Recommends: We Fought the Big One at Marx Café, tonight, 2/3

There are a lot of little indie labels doing great things these days, but one of the most consistently impressive is What’s Your Rupture? Records based in NYC. Run by Kevin (“no big deal”) Pedersen, the label has remained defiantly independent and impeccably curated since its inception in 2003.

Iceage. Cold Cave. Love Is All. Comet Gain. These are all bands that bear the What’s Your Rupture? imprimatur.

When asked what makes him decide to sign certain bands, Kevin once said it’s when, “You’re sure that a song is the best thing you’ve ever heard. Your mind runs wild and you don’t have to think about it.”

Or to use one of Kevin’s favorite phrases: “Best. Record. Ever.”

Tell me about it.

To coincide with Kevin’s guest dj stint at tonight’s We Fought the Big One at the Marx Café, I thought I’d highlight some of his label’s best moments from over the years…

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Happy Refugees
Return from Exile

It’s not surprising that the kings of moody garage pop, Crystal Stilts would handpick unsung U.K. post-punk heroes Happy Refugees to play with them at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn this Friday.

In case you haven’t heard, the members of Crystal Stilts are big-time crate diggers: these cats know more than a thing or two about not just the great records you know, but the ones you don’t.

So when it comes to those very special obscure records – the ones that fetch collector’s prices on eBay and elicit equal amounts sighs of wonder/gasps of envy from a small group of “in-the-know” music obsessives, chances are pretty good at least one of the Stilts owns a first-edition pressing. (The band’s new 5-song EP, “Radiant Door,” out on Sacred Bones, underscores their scholarly reputation with inspired covers of Lee Hazelwood’s “Still as the Night” and Blue Orchid’s “Low Profile.”)

For a certain type of independent music aficionado, Happy Refugees’ 8-track mini-LP, “Last Chance Saloon,” is a lost classic that’s right up there with the best work of the Television Personalities, The Monochrome Set, and The Fall.

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TVD Recommends: Sansyou at Galaxy Hut, tonight, 11/7

It makes perfect sense that the cover of Sansyou’s debut release would feature a striking photograph of an Ama girl diving for pearls. On the 5-song When We Become Ghosts EP, the DC-based instrumental trio conjure an echo-laden, subterranean atmosphere replete with chiming guitar arpeggios that hover and float like bubbles slowly making their way to the ocean’s surface.

Highly dramatic, Explosions in the Sky-style instrumental theatrics this most certainly isn’t. Sansyou eschews the standard soft/loud post rock bombast in favor of a more reflective and tranquil musical path—one that recognizes the quiet power of slowly descending (and ascending) melodies, as well as the gravitational weight of silence itself.

To celebrate the release of “When We Become Ghosts,” Sansyou will be performing tonight at the Galaxy Hut (9pm, 2711 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA). For tonight’s show, the band, which includes guitarists David Nicholas and Matt McGarraghy, will be augmented by Lorelei drummer Davis White. The superb guitar and cello duo Janel and Anthony are also on the bill. Intrigued, The Vinyl District sent David a few questions via e-mail to find out a little more.

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Blank City: The TVD Preview & Giveaway

Mention “New York” and “mid-to-late 70s” to most readers of The Vinyl District, and you’ll likely spark endless smiles and more than a few conversations about some of the most influential and significant figures in alternative music history: Patti Smith, Talking Heads, The Ramones, Blondie, Television, etc.

Not as well known though are the incendiary underground artists that comprised the highly contrarian No Wave post-punk music scene—the subject of the critically acclaimed new documentary film Blank City, which begins its exclusive one week engagement in Washington, DC on Friday, June 17 at the E Street Cinema (555 11th St., NW).

So what was the No Wave scene? That’s not a question that can be answered succintly. Highly contrarian acts such as Mars, Teenage Jesus & the Jerks, DNA, the Contortions and Theoretical Girls viewed the city’s punk rock sounds as too conservative, relying too much on rock and pop conventions for comfort. Though there really wasn’t a uniform musical style for No Wave, these bands often shared similar predilections for abrasive atonality, primitive rhythms, harrowing vocals, and jarring textures.

During his two album tenure with Roxy Music and much of his 70s solo work, Brian Eno had often tested the boundaries of the pop and rock format via his use of strange sound manipulations and avant-garde impulses. It’s not surprising then that Eno became intrigued by the No Wave artists and ended up producing what became the scene’s defining recording: No New York. (the compilation featured four of the scene’s most noteworthy artists: Contortions, Teenage Jesus & the Jerks, Mars and DNA.)

As the Blank City documentary shows us, music was just one aspect of the No Wave scene. Many of the musicians were also filmmakers and performers, serving as a key creative driving force behind the No Wave Cinema scene. Like its musical counterpart, No Wave cinema rejected professionalism in favor of a stripped down, guerilla/DIY approach. Mood and texture trumped story line and narrative. The movement marked a new era of independent filmmaking, launching the careers of Jim Jarmusch, Tom DiCillo, Steve Buscemi and Vincent Gallo.

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Posted in TVD Washington, DC | 6 Comments
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