I have one more “meeting the band” story to tell.
Once upon a time there was a band called Splashdown. There were three members: Adam Buehler on guitar and bass, Kasson Crooker on keyboards and electronics, and Melissa Kaplan on vocals and piano. They released an album called Stars and Garters which was pretty great, but really only hinted at how extraordinary their next releases, a pair of EPs called Redshift and Halfworld, would be. The production got better, the songwriting got tighter, the overall sound got more exotic and vibrant. Both EPs are full of amazing songs: “Sugar High,” “Halfworld,” “Over the Wall,” “The Archer,” “Mayan Pilot,” “Waterbead.” And they both contain “Ironspy,” the song that my girlfriend liked enough to play over and over on her radio show — it’s not my favorite, and it’s probably why I didn’t realize how much I would like the rest of their stuff, but it’s impressive enough and hard to ignore.
Splashdown were hugely popular in the city where we went to school — the local alternative station was pushing them as hard as we were. Eventually they came to play a gig in a local venue and generously agreed to meet us for an interview in their hotel room. As always, I remember so little of the actual conversation that calling it a “meeting the band story” is a cruel tease, but they couldn’t have been cooler. We did talk a bit about the struggles they were having with their record company and trying to get their next full-length album out, and I remember it was mostly Adam and Kasson talking because Melissa’s voice was flying on a wing and a prayer and she needed to be able to sing that night. But as we were walking out after the interview (did we all walk to the venue together? did we drive them?? why didn’t I keep a diary of these???), Melissa noticed the 4AD sticker on the back of my car (the best record label since Factory? home to Lush, the Pixies, the Breeders, Throwing Muses, Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, so many more) and pointed to it and gave me a silent thumbs up. Little things make me proud.
The show was fabulous; Melissa’s voice was raw but on-target and Kasson and Adam sounded great. It was also, for us, the end of something amazing. Splashdown never got that record out, which was called Blueshift and would have dominated this project in whatever year it was released. The good news is that you can download it for free online with the band’s blessing, so don’t take my word for it: go and listen for yourself.
See, after that Splashdown split up. Melissa went on to record an album as Universal Hall Pass, which is available on iTunes, and — if only because of the vocals — reminds me more of Splashdown than any of the other members’ next projects. And Kasson went on to form Freezepop, who are absolutely the most fun synthpop band available.
Their first two albums, Freezepop Forever and Fancy Ultra-Fresh, are pretty stripped-down, with deceptively simple synth lines and deadpan vocals from one Liz Enthusiasm about trying to hook up two of her friends (“Harebrained Scheme”), trying to hook up with her tennis partner (“Tenisu no boifurendo”), building a love android (“Science Genius Girl”), that sort of thing. That first album also features an ode to “Tracey Gold” sung by Kasson, and a tongue-in-cheek introduction to the band called “Freezepop Forever.” I liked the second album, which included such gems as “Boys on Film,” “Chess King,” and a cover of the theme to 80s cartoon Jem, but it didn’t hook me the way the first one had. So their third album, Future Future Future Perfect, caught me by surprise.
The sound is much richer and more fleshed out on FFFP; probably some fans were taken aback by the move away from minimalism and by Enthusiasm’s more traditional, melodic vocals, but I think it suits them just fine. “Less Talk More Rokk” contains a keyboard riff I’d never believe they could play live if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes; “Pop Music Is Not a Crime” is a defense — as if they needed one — of their dedication to fun; “Frontload” is about driving to the club and is one of the best songs ever to have on the car stereo as you’re doing just that.
It’s the album that got me interested enough in Freezepop to pay attention to their tour dates and finally catch them live again a year or two ago, playing plenty of their old stuff but also some of the fantastic songs on Imaginary Friends, their latest album. I’m sad Kasson’s no longer with the band, and that I didn’t see him at the show, but the band and their songwriting are as strong as ever; “Natural Causes,” “Strange,” “We Don’t Have Normal Lives,” and “Hot Air Balloons” continue the move toward melody and keep just enough of the band’s eccentric vibe to remain some of the most interesting, catchy, and memorable synthpop out there.
I have to end with a story about not meeting the band. Freezepop encouraged people to stick around and chat after the show. I chickened out. Partly it was not knowing what to say apart from “goddamn, I love you guys,” because what? am I going to improvise one of these essays at them? Still, next time I’m going to try. And maybe then there’ll be another story to tell.
Radiohead, In Rainbows
I felt like a Luddite for not wanting to follow Radiohead on their journey into sounding like a full-time migraine, so I was relieved when they posted this after three albums of whatever the fuck that was. I mean, they’re still not a barrel of laughs, but they never have been, and for some reason these songs worked for me where the songs about rabbits with skin tumors just didn’t. I still don’t listen to it often, so my memory’s hazy, but I think I like “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” and “Faust Arp,” and I know “Reckoner” is one of the most gorgeous things they’ve ever recorded.
Of Montreal, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
I haven’t listened to this full album in a while either. I remember I liked it, but maybe not quite as much as The Sunlandic Twins; it’s more interesting in a lot of spots, and I love the insane places it seemed to be taking the band, but…it goes to some pretty insane places. “Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse” is one of those titles that’s destined never to be spoken live in concert twenty years down the line by some other band saying, “And now we’d like to play you an Of Montreal cover…”, but good song, and I love “Gronlandic Edit” and “Faberge Falls for Shuggie.”
Spoon, Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
“You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb” is one of my favorite songs of the decade. It makes me want to cry, it’s so simple and so good. “Finer Feelings” is pretty great too. They’re probably why I have a soft spot for this album, but the rest of it ain’t half bad either. I like Spoon. They’re not the kind of band I usually hang out and have a beer with, largely because I’m not the hang out and have a beer type, but they’re a good time if you’re ready for one.
- The Shins, Wincing the Night Away
- Bloc Party, A Weekend in the City
- Rufus Wainwright, Release the Stars
- Metric, Grow Up and Blow Away
- St. Vincent, Marry Me
- Emily Haines, What Is Free to a Good Home?
- Tegan and Sara, The Con
- Bat For Lashes, Fur and Gold