Tullycraft – Old Traditions, New Standards

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I had read about Tullycraft many times before I got around to purchasing some of their eight (!) albums; I will probably end up getting them all. This is a band that seems designed specifically for me to fall in love with. Tullycraft is from Seattle, and they formed in 1995, with Sean Tollefson (bass/vocals), Gary Miklusek (guitar/vocals), and Jeff Fell (drums), and by the end of the next year, they’d released a number of singles and a full-length album. Indie-pop fame followed, and the rest is history largely unknown to the public. Miklusek left the band and Chris Munford joined, and a number of other co-vocalists and guitarists have come in and out, but Tollefson appears to be the heart and soul of the band, and Fell has been around for all but the most recent album (in 2017).

What I Think of This Album

The first thing to know about Tullycraft is . . . well, no, the first thing to know is that they are a fantastic band. The second thing to know is that Sean Tollefson’s boyish, almost nasal, definitely amateurish vocals are not for everyone, and if you can’t get past that, you’re probably not going to be able to focus on the high quality of songwriting (and to a degree, the skilled musicianship). Once you accept that Tollefson’s vocals are actually a plus, you can revel in the clever lyrics, tuneful melodicism, playful energy, boundless sweetness, and intense dedication to indie pop and, fundamentally, self-acceptance.

Instant indie-pop classic “Pop Songs Your New Boyfriend’s Too Stupid To Know About” is as good a summation of the band’s aesthetic and raison d’etre as any words I could write. The tune is a misguided but sincere attempt to woo the object of the narrator’s affection away from her boyfriend with a mix of references to obscure indie-pop artists and the repetition of the withering put down of the title. In this song, there are mentions of Neutral Milk Hotel, the Halo Benders, Nothing Painted Blue, Cub, and Heavenly. And those are just the ones whose albums I own. I left out the Orange Peels, Lois, the Pastels, the Crabs, and the Bartlebees (the last two being bands I’ve never even heard of). We are not done yet. The song also names more mainstream bands like the Breeders, Green Day, U2, Weezer, the Lemonheads, and even Sting. To the extent this sounds incredibly annoying, it is actually catchy as all get out and ridiculously charming. If it sounds like something you would enjoy, then you need to buy the entire Tullycraft discography (and keep an ear out for celebratory song “Twee,” which contains even more opaque indie references).

The subtext of “Pop Songs,” and as communicated by the band’s other work, is the confidence to love what you love unabashedly. Thus, “Josie” is about the leader of Josie and the Pussycats deciding that she “wants to be in a punk rock band” and that she will let her bandmates “know when it’s punk enough.” Robynn Iwata of Cub sings on “Josie,” and producer Pat Maley adds some keyboards.

There are also more or less straightforward and utterly guileless love songs, like “Willie Goes to the Seashore,” “Sweet” (which will melt your heart), and “Meet Me In Las Vegas.” And Tollefson broadens his horizons with ditties like the unexpected “Superboy & Supergirl,” which offers empathy to the beleaguered heroes, and more lyrically abstract songs like “Wish I’d Kept a Scrapbook” and “Dollywood,” the latter featuring some impressive guitar work from Mikulsek.

Even a deep track like “Then Again, Maybe I Don’t” is bursting with surprises, including an infectious chorus, a punk intro/refrain that won’t quit, and a creepy whistling interlude. This track contains guest vocals from Susan Robb (Incredible Force of Junior). Tullycraft puts their money where their indie cred is by covering the Bartlebees (“Miracles Are Hard to Find”) and the Judy’s (“Mental Obsession”). The Judy’s were an early ‘80s trio from Texas who played with the B-52s, the Talking Heads, and the Go-Go’s, and whom I will probably have to check out. The Bartlebees are a German band formed in 1990. An interesting note is that Chris Munford guested on the Bartlebees cover, and by the time of the next Tullycraft album, he was a full time member.

My version is the reissue on Darla (which does not appear to add any extras). My ONLY complaint with this album is that I wish there had been a lyric sheet supplied.

The Best Thing About This Album

The fresh and fearless approach.

Release Date

1996 (original); 1999 (reissue)

The Cover Art

Meh. I don’t hate it, but I don’t like it.

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