Tullycraft – Lost In Light Rotation

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 3)

There are good Tullycraft albums and great Tullycraft albums. This – the band’s sixth studio offering – is one of the great ones. What is surprising is that it appears to be their penultimate one, as the band has been silent since 2017’s The Railway Prince Hotel. Surprising because the band seemed to be evolving and growing and on the cusp of something more. Much like fifth album Every Scene Needs a Center saw more creative arrangements, here the band incorporates a trumpet, ukulele, and keyboards on multiple songs to broaden and diversify their sound. Too, the decision to work with Pacific Northwest legend Phil Ek (Built to Spill, Modest Mouse) to mix the album speaks to larger ambitions. Finally, Sean Tollefson abandons bass duties for the first time ever in order to focus on his vocals, particularly the more intricate interplay with co-vocalist Jenny Mears. All of this suggested a rising trajectory, so for it to seemingly come to an end is not what I expected.

What I Think of This Album

Six years separate Lost In Light Rotation from its predecessor, and the quintet sounds completely reenergized and refreshed. Every Scene Needs a Center was certainly a good album (with some great songs) but whereas that work sometimes (and oddly) indulged in B-movie imagery (e.g., vampires, werewolves, UFOs, fanged bats, goths), here Tullycraft focuses on buffing and shining their indie pop songs – with the usual subject matter of love, bands, and obscure references – until they gleam.

Frenetic opener “Agincourt” offers the lie of “I used to be clever / But it didn’t last,” even as Sean Tollefson spins out creative and charming couplets while reveling in thrift shop finds and lost love’s binds. The triumphant trumpet at the end is pure majesty. Tollefson and Jenny Mears collaborate a little more closely on the fizzy “Queenie Co.” The xylophone and various guitar tones that color the rambunctious title track demonstrate that Tullycraft is not messing around; you may dismiss indie pop as light and insubstantial, but this song is one of many that should prove the genre is capable of depth, complexity, and musicianship.

A hypnotic bass line anchors “Westchester Turnabouts,” on which the band slows down slightly and gives ample room to Mears. She bursts forth on “From Wichita With Love,” as they create a surprising medley with 1958’s “Do You Want To Dance?” (also covered by the Beach Boys). The hilarious refrain of “Shut up / Shut up/ Shut up” is but one small element of what makes “Elks Lodge Riot” such a fun, memorable song, with drummer Jeff Fell adding rapid fills throughout. The story of a failed band, as told on “All Tic, No Tac” is poignant and inspiring. The band rocks out on the celebratory “Dig Up the Graves,” on which Mears’ double-tracked vocals are a thing of beauty, and the subtle trumpet in the background is perfect.

Handclaps and an organ transform “Wake Up, Wake Up,” which is actually relatively sedate, and a ukelele is the foundation for the tender “We Knew Your Names Until Your Heart Stopped.” Mears’s powerful, clear vocals on “Heart” make it sound like she is auditioning for the next incarnation of the New Pornographers. Closer “Anacortes” (with a throwaway reference to Squeeze) is an ideal bookend to A-lettered, geographically-oriented opener “Agincourt,” giving you everything you could want from a Tullycraft song. 

The Best Thing About This Album

I should appreciate that this is the last great Tullycraft album.

Release Date

April, 2013

The Cover Art

Again the product of band member Corianton Hale, this simple but effective t-shirt would make a great birthday present for me, if anyone is so inclined.

Tullycraft – Disenchanted Hearts Unite

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

I spent a month in El Paso in 2021. I was putting in twelve hour days six days a week, living in a hotel, and eating unhealthily, but doing very rewarding work. I had a twenty to thirty minute commute and on my days off, I drove even more to get in some sightseeing (e.g., White Sands, Carlsbad Caverns). At some point, Spotify offered me a Tullycraft tribute album, and I accepted. It had some great covers – Bunnygrunt’s “Not Quite Burning Bridges,” Sprites’ take on “Wish I’d Kept a Scrapbook,” and “Rumble With the Gang Debs” as interpreted by Fishboy. But three songs really grabbed me:  “If You Take Away the Make-up (Then the Vampires They Will Die),” (by L.A. Tool & Die), “Fall 4 U” (courtesy of the Special Places), and most of all, “Our Days In Kansas” (wonderfully done by Darren Hanlon and Rose Melberg (Tiger Trap, the Softies)). I played those three songs on repeat for maybe three weeks straight, any time I was in my rental car. I ended up altering the lyrics to “Kansas” to make it apply more to someone I could not stop thinking about (any more than I could stop listening to those songs). I know it was unhealthy, but I was stuck. God, I am so lonely.

What I Think of This Album

A magnificent achievement, this is a glorious indie-pop album bursting with melodicism, filled with warmth and wisdom, and generous with the surprises.

I need to start with “Our Days In Kansas,” which references Soviet experimental aircraft, raves, the Kansas University fight song, and disco, via couplets that leave you in awe. It also features at least four shifts in feel (including one stark change from a waltz to 4:4 time), but is always catchy and endearing, with wonderful group harmonies (including from recent member Jenny Mears). The bridge, though. Jesus. The bridge sideswipes you with a shocking lyrical reveal that renders the song a completely different shade of sad.

“Fall 4 U” is sweet and swoony, with call-and-response vocals between Sean Tollefson and guest Jen Abercrombie (Rizzo); the squiggly and bleepy keyboard backing is unexpected. Opener “Stowaway” immediately reveals the importance of adding Mears’s vocals, which create a much richer sound (and serve as a soothing counterpoint to Tollefson’s less professional singing). Meanwhile, closer “Secretly Minnesotan” boasts perhaps Tollefson’s most winsome vocal ever, with some impressive guitar work, plus wonderful harmonies from Mears (and a sort of New Order melody at the end).

“Every Little Thing” is full of sonic details and brimming with confidence, and “Leaders of the New School” is convincingly heart-breaking and self-flagellating. “The Last Song” is thematically too close to “New School” to justify sequencing them together, but the arrangements and feel are very different, enough so that each song can exist on its own merits. The relatively subdued “Polaroids From Mars” is an excellent deep cut, easily on par with the more uptempo songs found here. “Rumble With the Gang Debs” is an odd, borderline silly tune but completely enjoyable, while the rapid tumble of “Building the Robot” is endearing and exciting.

“Molly’s Got a Crush On Us” is a barely reworked cover of BMX Bandits’ “Kylie’s Got a Crush On Us,” but again, the female harmonies are fantastic. Meanwhile, “Girl About Town” is a cover of song by Welsh indie band Helen Love (though Helen Love is also a person in the band Helen Love).

The Best Thing About This Album

Obviously, “Our Days In Kansas.”

Release Date

May, 2005

The Cover Art

Backing vocalist on “Fall 4 You” (and future lead guitarist) Corianton Hale won an award for the design and layout of the album. I do like the vertical lines and the colors, as well as the fonts and the “stereo” graphic.

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.

Veronica Falls – Waiting for Something to Happen

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

I’ve been listening to Veronica Falls almost non-stop for several weeks now. This sort of compulsion is nothing new. Typically, compulsive behaviors are employed to drive out intrusive thoughts or to minimize the anxiety those thoughts produce. I’m not sure that’s how it works for me. I suspect the music actually makes me dwell on my feelings more. It might be soothing at first to listen to the music, but when the music stops I need to hear it again, because the feelings are still there and I feel exposed. So I play it again but the music itself has become associated with the feelings, so hearing it only reinforces them. Eventually, I break free, but it can take some time. I spent 30 days in El Paso for work earlier this year, and every day for about two weeks, I listened to the same three Tullycraft covers during my commute, over and over again (and truth be told, I really just focused on one song – “Our Days In Kansas” – and the other two were mostly just to pretend I wasn’t completely insane, as if a diet of three songs is appreciably more normal).

What I Think of This Album

I’m very into this Veronica Falls album. The cymbals sound strange, and it lacks the icy mystery of the debut, but it also strikes me as a much more romantic set of songs. And by romantic, I of course mean that tragic sadness of forgotten hopes, abandoned dreams, and discarded desires. Those songs serve to remind you of the very things you forgot, abandoned, and discarded – not that you need or want the reminder – while at the same time producing a sense of gratitude for the existence of a collection of four random strangers who can articulate such feelings, and marry them to delightful melodies, too. Over and over. And that is something that you need and want, even if it is a poor substitute for the things you truly need and want, and even if in the end it leaves you more hollowed out than you already were.

The specific moments that tear me apart and put me back together again just to reduce me to ashes once more include the title track’s cascading harmonies, the string-bending coda of “Teenage,” the empathic lyrics of “Broken Toy,” the warmth of “Everybody’s Changing,” the sorrowful mien of “Buried Alive,” and “Falling Out”’s rising/falling melody.

The band broke up after this album. Drummer Patrick Doyle died in 2018; he is pictured on the back cover of Belle and Sebastian’s The Life Pursuit.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Everybody’s crazy / What’s your excuse, baby?”

Release Date

February, 2013

The Cover Art

Not as good as the debut, but still pretty fucking good. There is a sort of Vampire Weekend feel to this. I wish the model wasn’t wearing a watch.

Black Tambourine – Black Tambourine

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

Excavating the past can be a little embarrassing. Discovering some great band from my youth that was unknown to me at the time sometimes makes me think “why wasn’t I listening to this and what the hell was I listening to instead?” While I am not prone to cutting myself slack, I think I can be forgiving of my absolute ignorance of Black Tambourine, who were a blip on the scene and whose importance was only made apparent later. Formed in Silver Spring, Maryland in 1989, Black Tambourine ended up having an outsized influence on American indie. Guitarist Archie Moore was in Velocity Girl at the same time, and Brian Nelson eventually joined Velocity Girl as well. Band member (drummer?) Mike Schulman founded the influential Slumberland label, and vocalist Pam Berry, who had co-founded the Chickfactor zine, went on to sing for bands like Veronica Lake, Glo-Worm and the Castaway Stones.

What I Think of This Album

Listening to this, you hear the first stirrings of American shoegaze, and the inspiration for scores of domestic indie bands. It’s not hard to draw the line from Black Tambourine to Vivian Girls (“For Ex-Lovers Only”), The Pains of Being Pure At Heart (“We Can’t Be Friends”), or Veronica Falls (“Black Car”). It’s all the more impressive because the band lasted approximately two years and released just nine original songs, one an instrumental (their tenth released song was a Love cover). This album adds two demos and four songs recorded by a reconstituted Black Tambourine in 2009 – those songs date back to the band’s active period and which, while played live, had never been committed to tape. And honestly, the songs are pretty awesome.

The hooky lead bass on the darkly ethereal “Black Car” is magnificent, and the noise pop of rumbly “For Ex-Lovers Only” is timeless. “Pack You Up” is basically the American version of a 4AD single. The cover of Love’s “Can’t Explain” sounds like kids who have learned that adding Jesus and Mary Chain sonics improves most songs by 300%. “Throw Aggi Off the Bridge” is an insular, hilarious, and heartfelt, as well as highly melodic, tumbledown plea to Pastels’ leader Stephen Pastel to dispose of Pastels’ keyboardist Aggi Wright (Shop Assistants) and make room in his heart for the narrator. The drums on this are fantastic; the demo version adds a whammy bar inflection at one point (2:12, to be more or less exact) that will make you stand up and cheer.

Releasing the short instrumental “Pam’s Tan” as the band’s very first single was a weird decision. The nervy “I Was Wrong” and speedy, distortion-laden “We Can’t Be Friends” are delightful. “Drown” is a girl-group number that predicts the 2009 recording of Buddy Holly’s “Heartbeat” and is just okay. There is a calming, deep, foreboding to “By Tomorrow,” with its trance-inducing bass line and waves of distortion.

Kudos to the band for recording the 2009 songs in a way that sounds exactly like the 1990 songs; tracks “Lazy Heart” (with sludgy bass and a xylophone) and double-timed “Tears of Joy” fit in nicely with the original, original songs. That said, the greatest revelation from the more recently recorded tracks is the cover of Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream,” (more xylophone!) which sounds like a kinder, gentler Spacemen 3 (who also covered Suicide).

“Throw Aggi Off the Bridge” is referenced (along with about 500 other indie pop signifiers) in the classic Tullycraft song, “Fuck Me, I’m Twee.” If you care at all about indie, you need to own this album.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Throw Aggi Off the Bridge” is an indie-pop classic for a reason BUT . . . listen to the scuzzier demo version because it hits different.

Release Date

March, 2010

The Cover Art

Yeah, I like this. Simple and direct, and I am a huge fan of denim jackets. Also, props for adding a glossy texture to the button (or badge, as they would say in the UK).

The 6ths – Wasps’ Nests

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

I am not entirely sure what the point of this Stephin Merritt side project is. That is not in any way an insult; I love this album. It’s just that the sound is not distinguishable from the Magnetic Fields’ work and in that project, too, the lead vocals are handled by a rotating cast. I guess the conceit here is that each vocalist only sings one track – there is no repetition (not even extending into the second 6ths album, Hyacinths and Thistles). Speaking of which, Merritt undoubtedly intended to make all this as difficult to pronounce as possible. The exasperating effort required to enunciate “the 6ths,” Wasps’ Nests, and Hyacinths and Thistles, is enough to make Henry Higgins throw himself out a window. I would very much like it if someone who double-majored in psychology and linguistics could please tell me what it all means. I don’t know why the 6ths never released a third album. This debut is far better than the follow-up (which I owned but then sold).

What I Think of This Album

This album only served to further my devotion to Stephin Merritt, who is a lyrical genius and phenomenal songwriter, and I undoubtedly came to it having already had some minimal exposure to the Magnetic Fields. The melodies are superb and the keyboard-driven arrangements vary enough to keep things interesting. Naturally, the lyrics are peerless.

The only flaw is the reliance on different vocalists; while most are well-known in the indie universe, few, if any, are renowned as singers. It is unclear why they were recruited or how they were matched to any song. Why use Lou Barlow on the delicate “In the City in the Rain”? Why use Lou Barlow at all? Generally, none of the vocalists is able to lend any particular flavor to the material. Amelia Fletcher (who I love) does nothing for “Looking for Love (in the Hall of Mirrors),” and Robert Scott (whose band, the Bats, I also love) is unrecognizable on “Heaven in a Black Leather Jacket.” But these are relative quibbles.

There are some true Merritt gems on here:  “All Dressed Up in Dreams” is heart-shattering; “Falling Out of Love With You” is humorously cruel and resigned (and Dean Wareham’s deadpan actually fits perfectly); “Pillow Fight” is winsomely hopeful, with a great and too short guitar lead from Mitch Easter (Let’s Active); and “You Can’t Break a Broken Heart” is a fantastic yin-yang of vulnerability and defiance. These are the standouts, with another six or seven solid tracks supporting them.

Among the notable vocalists are Georgia Hubley from Yo La Tengo, Mark Robinson from Unrest, and Chris Knox of the Clean.

Tidbits: “Broken Heart” is sung by Velvet Crush’s Jeffrey Underhill (née Borchardt), who was earlier in Honeybunch, whose drummer was Claudia Gonson, who is the drummer/pianist/sometime vocalist/manager of the Magnetic Fields. Gonson also guested on an album by Amelia Fletcher’s Tender Trap. Tullycraft eventually covered “Falling Out of Love With You.”

The Best Thing About This Album

“You tried science, you tried art / But you can’t break a broken heart”

Release Date

March, 1995

The Cover Art

Borderline cool. I like the separate sections for the artist, album title, and label info and then for the art proper. I think the London records logo has vintage elegance. Confusingly, the title is in all lowercase on the cover but all uppercase on the spine. The art itself has a vaguely ‘60’s feel – sort of sexy and mod, in part based on the grainy character of the photo – as if it came from an episode of “The Prisoner.” I like how the curved space between the upper arm and the bottom loop of the 6 essentially becomes the model’s eyebrow, and relatedly, how the model’s eye becomes the oval space enclosed by the bottom loop of the 6. I feel like the stray hair encroaching on the upper arm of the 6 should have been addressed. I’m not a fan of the color palette.

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