Steve Wilson. On music.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Thus Continues the Top 25 for 2010 Countdown! (with No. 18)

Welcome to the top 25 for 2010 Countdown! Each day we'll countdown, today we continue with number 18, culminating with our (okay, my) numero uno album of the year. When they're handy I'll borrow my earlier reviews from the KC Free Press, as I have in this case. In the event one of my top 25 selections isn't something I've reviewed previously I'll dash off a new review.

I welcome all comments, criticisms, questions and dialog in general.

25. Jon Langford - Old Devils (Bloodshot)
24. Vaselines - Sex with an X (Sub Pop)
23. Drive-By Truckers - The Big To-Do (ATO)
22. Magnetic Fields - Realism (Nonesuch)
21. Dum Dum Girls - I Will Be (Sub Pop)
20. Peter Case - Wig! (Yep Roc)
19. Bettye Lavette - Interpretations: The British Rock Songbook (Anti-Epitaph) 
18. Super Wild Horses - Fifteen (Hovac) 

“Aussie girl duo with instant pop hooks and punk drive”

Where the Like employ considerable skill only to hedge their bets on pop hooks, the less experienced Super Wild Horses produce pure pop-punk gems like it was no bother at all, proving once again that technique isn’t everything and that craft is learned quickly by the savvy. Amy Franz and Hayley McKee trade guitar, keyboard and drum duties, alternate lead vocals (much like Harlem, whose Hippies was reviewed earlier for “Reverberations”) and sing in gloriously close, unstudied harmony. Fifteen is their debut full-length. Recorded in Steve Albini-esque verite by the Eddy Current Suppression Ring’s guitarist Mikey Young, Fifteen is an instant gem from these daughters of Melbourne, Australia.

Opening cut “Lock and Key” introduces their insistent mix of syncopated guitar chords, stuttering one-note fills and rapid-fire drums. Super Wild Horse’s natural gift for a tune is strikingly clear on “ Fifteen,” the second, title track. Subtle piano embellishment complements their guitar-drums minimalism, and every phrase is a pop hook leading to another pop hook. Franz and McKee met at age fifteen and the song is in part an evocation of the age and its charms and anxieties (“your gang is coming to town”). Super Wild Horse’s sweet and strong vocal blend is a curious mixture; imagine the Dolly Mixture with less Brit-coy vocals and Exene Cervenka sharing lead vocals. The duo kiss off an ex-lover, harmonizing like Cindy and Kate from the B 52’s, on “Mess Around” (“I don’t need you no more, I’m gonna mess around”), as the girls showcase their canny comfort with minor/major shifts. The declamatory “Golden Town” has a punky edge, the band sounding a bit like a junk shop Raveonettes.

There’s a hint of Exene again, over a Gang of Four meets surf beat feel, on “Love,” the slightly crazed chant of “love” making the proposition sound more ominous than inviting. The Wire influenced “Enigma (You Say So)” puts forth the musical query: ‘the baby Jesus, what did he teach us?” You can hear teenage days spent learning to play to old Cure records on tracks like "Degrassi” and “Stranger by the Day,” the latter closing this appealing twelve-song, 26 minute, 32 second autodidact pop-punk marvel.

Fifteen was released by the independent label Hozac, purveyors of charming indie-pop, based in Chicago. Most of their releases have been on vinyl. The Super Wild Horses being one of a handful of Hozac compact disc releases.

Some cool indie stores will have Hozac product, but here’s a link to their website - Hozac’s catalog includes a host of releases that will charm the pants off devotees of fuzzy, indie-pop with punk roots.

Reverberating: 8.4 (original), upgraded to 8.7