rewind 2020: top whatever lists from artists, writers and musicians (round two)

Screen shot taken by chickfactor

James McNew (Yo La Tengo, Dump)

What’s That? 2020

Noise in refrigerator: evaporator fan

Noise in kitchen: steam-angle radiator valve

Noise in hallway: can now identify every person in building by sound of their footsteps

Noise in car: alternator/ serpentine belt

Noise in toilet: fill valve 

Noise from outside #4: fireworks (all summer, every night)

Noise from outside #3: maskless rich drunk asshole neighbors partying and blasting music in their well-appointed backyards at 2am (May–September)

Noise from outside #2: sirens (March–June: ambulances; June–December: cops)

Noise from outside #1: one minute of applause/noisemaking at 7pm daily, in appreciation of essential workers; said appreciation ended promptly June 1. More than one person within earshot has (= shouldn’t have) a trombone.

Photograph by Katrina Mitchell

Stephen McRobbie (Pastels, Geographic, Monorail)

1. One of the best best things about 2020 for me was starting to see Glasgow in a slightly different way, one in which the river is the essential part. In May I started cycling to work on a daily basis along the Clyde, rediscovering landmarks that I had loved and forgotten and new ones too. It was a time of dramatic change and sometimes cycling slowly home or stopping off to examine something was the best way to find some perspective on what was going on and to feel hopeful that in the end there would be a way through. 

2. Music was incredible in 2020. Not us so much us, in fact we didn’t play together at all. At the start of the year I thought I had three strong ideas for new songs. At the end of the year I had what I still felt were three strong ideas for new songs. So it was more a year of archive things. It was really nice to finally release two songs from a 1997 John Peel Session – “Advice To The Graduate” and “Ship To Shore” on a 7”. “Advice To The Graduate” is of course a David Berman song – thought about him often. 

3. Music was incredible in 2020. Really fell for the Cindy album, Free Advice. It just had real confidence about playing softly and being there but not fighting for your attention or anything. And it opened up a scene of other groups via a mix cd… Present Electric, Reds, Pinks & Purples, Hectorine. It felt new but also existed in the spaces between Galaxie 500, Yo La Tengo, Movietone and various Flying Nun groups. There are always spaces, you can always make something new.

4. So many other great records came out. Amazingly Plone came back with Puzzlewood for Ghost Box, and by now more or less working from home, I’d lots of time to write about it for Monorail. It was a really fabulous return, so unexpected, I was often smiling their tunes as I cycled along.

5. The Jarv Is record was amazing too – he somehow managed to make it of the times but above or at least to the side of them too. I interviewed him on the day it came out. He said that when he was researching stories for This Day In History on his Sunday Service he realised that most news stories at any time are bad news and this had given him a bit of perspective on things. His group just now is dynamite. 

6. As if that wasn’t enough he ran his Domestic Disco on Saturday nights for a large part of the year. These were magical (Jarvis is a great dj) and ok, maybe a little drunken at certain points. Along with Tim Burgess’s Tim’s Twitter Listening Parties and various BBC6 shows especially Gideon Coe, something similar to going out to shows was always there. We always felt we were part of a great community.

7. Great songs belatedly dropped out of the seeming nowhere. That Dump single, “Feelings 1 & 2” is so special. I got a preview of a new Johnny record (all Joe Meek songs) performed with a super lightness of touch and sheer pop joy by Norman Blake and Euros Childs. People are going to love this record.

8. I was working on various archival projects I thought I could close out but didn’t – Strawberry Switchblade, Pastels, a Glasgow music comp. I did manage to make a fanzine called Yesterday Was Another Day, Glasgow 1979-82 to coincide with the reissue of The Bluebells Sisters album. It was a collaboration with the group and my friend, Musho Fernandez, who is a great graphic designer. Felt a real sense of pride about how it turned out.

9. The more I think about it the more I realise that music more or less got me through 2020. It seemed deeper than ever with so much music – Jon Brooks, Robert Lippok, Andrew Wasylyk, Tenniscoats, Bridget St John, Stereolab, Broadcast, Movietone, Brian Eno. In the kitchen Katrina and I listened to lots of mix cds, probably the most played being one that Gerard made for the Monorail Film Club night we used to have at the Glasgow Film Theatre.

10. Steve McQueen’s Small Axe series was important and righteous. It was beautifully made too. Janet Kay’s “Silly Games” from the Lovers Rock episode became an absolute obsession. There are so many Janet Kay Top Of The Pops appearances on Youtube (a couple even with the great Dennis Bovell who wrote and produced it). Still not enough, song of the year, music of the year. Fight on.

Janice Headley (KEXP, Meow Mix, Copacetic zine, chickfactor)

Like many of us, I’m sure, I needed a mental break from the horrors of 2020, and books have always served as a trusty escape hatch. So, here’s a random sampling of ten that I happened to read last year. Just to be clear, this isn’t a list of “Best Books of 2020” or even my personal “Top Ten.” As you’ll see below, several of them didn’t even come out this year, and one of them I didn’t even really like! Just ten random books. Here ya go.

• When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole (2020, Harper Collins)
Described in the press release as “Rear Window meets Get Out” — and I legit thought “this is so Hitchcock-ian” while reading it — When No One is Watching is the gripping tale of a fictional Brooklyn neighborhood on the brink of gentrification… but there seems to be something even more insidious at play. I found this book breathtaking, and I consumed it in less than two days. And during a year of relentless (and disheartening) racial unrest, this book was even more powerful and unsettling. 

• Earthlings by Sayaka Murata (2020, Grove Press)
I loved Murata’s 2016 novel Convenience Store Woman, so I was excited to get my hands on her latest. That said, WHOA, this was nothing like that charming tale of a small store clerk; Earthlings has abuse, violence, incest, cannibalism, and more, all crammed into less than 300 pages. This was another one of those books that was just exhilaratingly engrossing, and the ending was such a smart surprise. I can’t say I “recommend it,” per se, but I’ll just say, it sure as heck was a page-turner.

• Wow, No Thank You. by Samantha Irby (2020, Vintage)
Discovering comedic essayist Samantha Irby was one of the very few bright spots of 2020. I somehow stumbled across her 2017 collection titled We Are Never Meeting in Real Life, and felt an instant kinship. I then went on to inhale everything she’s ever written. Like me, she recently moved from a big city (for her, Chicago; for me, Seattle) to sleepy Southwest Michigan. And, like me, she loves Sassy magazine, receiving mail, and being indoors. I feel like she and I need to be friends, but I am also slightly afraid of her.

• Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh (2020, Gallery Books)
I bought Brosh’s 2016 book Hyperbole and a Half at the airport ages ago — I mean, just the fact that I wrote “airport” tells you it wasn’t in 2020 — and proceeded to annoy my fellow passengers because it was literally laugh-out-loud funny. But shortly after the book’s release, she mysteriously disappeared. There were Reddit threads of readers wondering if she was okay. The concern slowly died down as fans seemed to assume and accept that she had chosen the unpublished life after all. But, in 2020, she returned with her first new book in seven years! I’ll admit, I didn’t “LOL” as much as I did with her first one, but maybe that’s ‘cause 2020 just wasn’t a real “LOL” type year. But I liked it a lot. 

• My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix (2016, Quirk Books)
This year’s season of the podcast Conviction sent me down a “Satanic Panic” wormhole. I wanted to read, listen, and learn everything I could about this weird ‘80s phenomenon, even culminating in an article for my day job (gratuitous self link here). I scrolled past this book on the library app while doing research, and the funny VHS-style book cover inspired me to check it out. It’s a fictional story of two best friends, one of whom seems to have been possessed by an evil spirit. It’s somehow both funny and creepy. Hendrix has also written a story about a haunted IKEA titled Horrorstör that I have definitely added to my “must read” list. 

• The Witches Are Coming by Lindy West (2019, Hachette)
I’ve been a fan of West’s since back in the days when she wrote for Seattle’s alt-weekly The Stranger. It’s been rad to see her writing get such national attention, and she even has a TV show on Hulu titled Shrill. (The aforementioned Irby is a staff writer.) The Witches Are Coming is a much-appreciated attack of “Tr*mp’s America” (sorry, I can’t even type it without throwing up in my mouth a little). She somehow released a new book toward the end of 2020 titled Shit, Actually that I’m currently reading. 

• A Very Punchable Face by Colin Jost (2020, Crown Publishing Group)
I don’t know why I like Saturday Night Live. It’s not even that funny most of the time. But, it’s something that’s been in my life since I was a kid. I still remember my best friend and I sharing Jack Handey’s Deep Thoughts on the playground during recessor going to see Wayne’s World at the dollar theatre. So, I’ve read a lot of cast member memoirs, and this one was pretty entertaining. (I still enjoy Tina Fey’s Bossypants the most.)

• Over the Top: A Raw Journey to Self-Love by Jonathan Van Ness (2019, HarperCollins)
The release of season 5 of Netflix’s Queer Eye was an all-too brief spark of sunshine during the dark summer of quarantine. I checked out Ness’s auto-bio audiobook to fill the void and found myself appreciating the grooming expert even more. He shares how he overcame childhood sexual abuse and drug addiction — stuff he can’t really address during the hour-long episodes, which are mostly focused on the nominees. (Do they still call them “heroes”? I can’t remember if that’s a throwback to the original series.) 

• Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back): A Memoir of Recording and Discording with Wilco, Etc. by Jeff Tweedy (2018, Dutton)
This book came out a couple of years ago, but, as I’m not really a fan of Wilco, I never bothered with it. But then, in April, a podcast I listen to (Rivals: Music’s Greatest Feuds) did an episode detailing the conflict between Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar during their Uncle Tupelo days, and I was so intrigued I wanted to learn more. What I learned is, Tweedy is a very funny writer. (Either that, or he has a good ghostwriter/editor.)

• Remain in Love: Talking Heads, Tom Tom Club, Tina by Chris Frantz (2020, St. Martin’s Press)
I’ll be honest, this isn’t a very good book. Frantz isn’t the most engaging writer, and many of the chapters just blur into each other. (“We played a concert and got an encore. We ate fish for dinner. Some random lady was good-looking.”) But the David Byrne barbs are both relentless and hilarious, and you can tell from his writing how much he still really loves Tina, which is so sweet after 40+ years of marriage. 

Rob Pursey (Catenary Wires, European Sun, Heavenly, Tender Trap)

I’ve been running an online poetry-reading event during 2020.  Basically, I choose a collection, everyone gathers on a zoom call, and then we take it in turns to read out loud.   Sometime the poetry is canonical and old, sometimes it’s contemporary (and on most of those occasions the real-life poet has joined us on the zoom call).  It works better than I can have expected.  Hearing 30 people’s voices, taking it in turns to read, is very moving and a good antidote to loneliness and isolation. 
So my top ten readings were

PARADISE REGAINED by John Milton.  An old, blind man finds himself on the losing side of the English Civil War and tries to come to terms with the restoration of the hated monarchy by re-telling the story of Christ in the wilderness.

DIVISION STREET by Helen Mort.  Legacies of the Miners’ Strike, passionately re-imagined by someone too young to have been there.

SONGS OF INNOCENCE AND EXPERIENCE by William Blake.  Apocalyptic poems for children.

RECKLESS PAPER BIRDS by John McCullough.   The excitement and fear of living in London when you are young and gay.

BRIGGFLATTS by Basil Bunting.  On a par with ‘The Wasteland’, but less celebrated because rooted in the landscape and dialect of the North-East.

ISN’T FOREVER by Amy Key.  Funny, fragile, sometimes self-lacerating poems by a really great new writer.

SONNETS by William Shakespeare.  He couldn’t put his plays on because of a pandemic, so wrote lots of these instead.  Lucky us.

HAPPINESS by Jack Underwood.  Beautiful, funny, very self-aware poems on straight male identity and anxieties.

VENUS AND ADONIS by William Shakespeare.  Him again.  A little epic, where his medieval roots are audible.

SMOOTHIE by Claudine Toutoungi.  Another really great new poet; spiky, witty, dramatic and energetic.  

Gail chickfactor

Music That Got Me Through the Year 

Minnie Riperton, Come to My Garden

A Girl Called Eddy, Been Around

DestroyerHave We Met (the live show I saw in February was *amazing* except the annoying girl screaming gross borderline harassment the whole time)

Bill Callahan, Gold Record

Joe Pernice, Richard and Manilow covers record, but mostly his live sets on Instagram

Shopping, live — the last show I saw in early March before the world went pear-shaped

Brazilian music (especially Jobim and Veloso)

Tweedy Show

Various Artists, Strum and Thrum

Bridget St John, Vashti Bunyan, Sandy Denny, Rodriguez

The Clientele, Oh everything. Musical anti-anxiety remedy and life-affirming soul boost. More please! 

Yo La Tengo’s very sad but very necessary Hanukkah show. Please music gods, don’t make them go through that again. Shoutout to Amy Rigby (my friend Shawn called her “a female Jonathan Richman, but funnier”) and Ira’s sweet mom, slaying us. 

All the best to everyone in 2021. Keep fighting evil.

chickfactor parties in new york, london and portland, oregon

We are thrilled to celebrate our 25th anniversary with friends, bands, and our awesome community this year in three cities. Please join us! Ticket links for all the shows are below.
+ a paper issue of chickfactor (#18) will be out in december so please make sure we have your news, records, ads, etc! 

Thursday, Nov 2: CF25 New York
Kicking Giant, The Pacific Ocean, Bridget St John, HoneyBunch at Union Pool + MC Sukhdev Sandhu
Get tickets

Saturday, Nov 4: CF25 New York (daytime show 2-6)
Laura Cantrell, Joe Pernice, Cotton Candy & Special Guests at Union Pool + MC Gaylord Fields
Get tickets.

Saturday, Nov 11 All-Ages Matinee: CF25 London
A benefit for Shelter featuring Wait What + The Numberz + more at the Lexington
Get tickets (100% of the proceeds to Shelter)

Saturday, Nov 11 Evening Show: CF25 London
The Pastels, Kicking Giant, Lois, Kites at Night (featuring Rose Melberg) at the Lexington + MC Gaylord Fields
Sold out.

Sunday, Nov 12: CF25 London, Night Two
The Softies, Stevie Jackson (from Belle & Sebastian!), the Would-Be-Goods, the Catenary Wires (featuring Rob & Amelia ex-Heavenly, Marine Research, Talulah Gosh) at the Lexington + MC Gaylord Fields
Get tickets

Saturday, December 9: CF25 Portland
Rocketship (first full band show in Portland since 1996)
Kites at Night (featuring Rose Melberg)
Lida Husik
+ DJ Calvin Johnson
Get tickets.

Sunday, December 10: CF25 Portland (free, daytime 11am–2pm)
Indiepop Brunch chickfactor special featuring DJs gail chickfactor, Jen “Softies” Sbragia, and chickfactor webmaster Janice Headley
at the Toffee Club (no tickets required)

Rocketship photo by Gail O’Hara, 2017

chickfactor 25: a series of fortunate events

The Softies


The Pastels

chickfactor & the hangover lounge are thrilled to present a celebration of 25 years of pop, friendship & community at the Lexington in London

Saturday, November 11 // Doors 7:30, Show 8

Sunday, November 12 //  Doors 7:30, Show 8

THE SOFTIES
STEVIE JACKSON (from Belle & Sebastian)
THE WOULD-BE-GOODS
THE CATENARY WIRES

Both nights will feature MC Gaylord Fields (WFMU)
& chickfactor / Hangover Lounge DJs downstairs

 

Lois


Kicking Giant

Kites at Night

Stevie Jackson

The Would-Be-Goods

The Catenary Wires

 & & &
ABOUT THE BANDS:
 
• THE PASTELS — The pop geniuses Stephen McRobbie, Katrina Mitchell & Co. came down from Glasgow to play at CF20 in London. We are thrilled to have them back.
• LOIS — Lois Maffeo is indie royalty from Olympia, Washington, where she has made many great albums for K Records.
• KICKING GIANT — Tae Won Yu & Rachel Carns formed this powerful union in New York via Olympia, WA, in 1989. This is their first-ever show in the UK. A double LP reissue of their early work, This Being the Ballad of Kicking Giant, Halo: NYC/Olympia 1989–1993, will come out on Drawing Room Records later this year.
• KITES AT NIGHT are Rose Melberg & Jon Manning (with Jen Sbragia on bass for this show), whose previous band was called Imaginary Pants. This is their first show in London.
• THE SOFTIES — Indiepop queens Rose Melberg & Jen Sbragia (from Vancouver BC & Portland OR, respectively) reunited for the chickfactor 20 shows in 2012 in NYC, Portland and SF. This is their first-ever show in London.
• STEVIE JACKSON is the amazing guitarist, singer and songwriter in Belle & Sebastian! He also happened to write a song named after our zine “chickfactor.”
• THE WOULD-BE-GOODS — Jessica Griffin, Peter Momtchiloff, Debbie Greensmith & Andy Warren are indie legends based in London & St Leonards.
• THE CATENARY WIRES — This super-duo formed in 2014 when Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey (ex-Talulah Gosh, Heavenly, Marine Research, Tender Trap) moved out of London.
• Gaylord Fields is an excellent WFMU DJ, a music writer and a longtime MC for chickfactor events.
• The Hangover Lounge is a much-beloved event that happened for years at the Lexington, a label and a community that’s often collaborated with chickfactor before.
• chickfactor is a fanzine started by Pam Berry and Gail O’Hara in 1992. Currently based in Portland, Oregon, it will publish a new print zine in late 2017.

new pastels!

the_pastels_slow_summits_1369841239

we are pretty excited to hear today that the new album from the pastels, slow summits, will be released on may 28! when they played at our chickfactor 20 party in london in november, they sounded as ace and fresh as ever, and we are chomping at the bit waiting to hear this one! recorded in glasgow by john mcentire and bal cooke, and mixed in chicago by mcentire, it features stephen mcrobbie, katrina mitchell, tom crossley, gerard love, alison mitchell and john hogarty. guests include annabel wright and norman blake. contributions from members of to rococo rot and tenniscoats too! watch the trailer here.

chickfactor 2012: for the love of pop! london announced…

chickfactor fanzine continues its all-year-long 20th-anniversary celebration with a series of concerts around the U.S. and UK.  cf heads to Los Angeles on Sept 20 for an amazing show, followed by San Francisco on Sept 22 for another! And then there is our beloved London Nov 16, 17, 18. Here is the lineup below — get your pop plane ticket now and come on over!

November 16
Film screening and pop quiz (venue TBC)

November 17 at Bush Hall
The Pastels! The Aislers Set! Amor De Dias! Would-Be-Goods!

(Doors 6:30, super-early showtime 7pm) Tickets are here!

The Pastels
The Pastels and chickfactor go way back. the inventive Glasgow pop group has a new record coming out early 2013 on Domino, recorded Glasgow, mixed Chicago with John McEntire.  It will be their first record since the 2009 collaboration with Tenniscoats, Two Sunsets.  The group is currently Stephen McRobbie, Katrina Mitchell, Gerard Love, Tom Crossley, Alison Mitchell, John Hogarty.

The Aislers Set
The wonderful Bay Area pop group led by Linton reformed for chickfactor 2012: for the love of pop! brooklyn earlier this year and blew the roof off the place. These days we have to fly them in from the East Coast, West Coast, Sweden and Germany — shows with them all are rare indeed so do not miss!

Amor De Dias
We at chickfactor cannot get enough of The Clientele and Pipas, so when members of those bands — Alasdair MacLean and Lupe Nuñez-Fernández — formed Amor De Dias (means Love of Days), we were stoked. They are finishing up their second album this summer, and we can’t wait to see their delicate set tonight.

Would-Be-Goods
Fronted by Jessica Griffin and featuring seasoned pop stars Peter Momtchiloff, Debbie Green and Andy Warren, the elegant London group has been around since Jessica released her first record on él Records in 1987. Like most of the artists here, they have played many a chickfactor show including the 10-year anniversary parties in NY, DC and London.

& DJ and MC Gaylord Fields (WMFU)

November 18 at the Lexington
chickfactor / Hangover Lounge All Dayer (2–10:30pm)
Ticket link here!
Tender Trap!
Pipas!
The Real Tuesday Weld!
Bridget St John!
The Legendary Jim Ruiz Group!
The Starfolk!
MC & DJ Gaylord Fields!

 

Tender Trap
Fantastic London pop group fronted by former Talulah Gosh / Heavenly singer Amelia Fletcher, we are very excited to be seeing them! Their latest release, Ten Songs About Girls, is out now on Fortuna Pop! records.

Pipas
The super-charming Brooklyn-London electropop duo of Mark Powell and Lupe Nuñez-Fernández have performed rarely in recent years, but did reunite in April 2012 for chickfactor’s Brooklyn show. Do not miss this show!

Bridget St John
The stellar British singer-songwriter who John Peel started Dandelion Records for back in the day moved to New York years ago and occasionally returns to the UK, often for chickfactor parties. She performed at our chickfactor 2012: brooklyn show along with our 2004 party at Bush Hall called “Mon Gala Papillons,” which inspired her to write a song.

The Real Tuesday Weld
The ace TRTW is led by the talented Mr Stephen Coates, once inspired by the actress Tuesday Weld and the 1930s crooner Al Bowlly to make crackly vintage swoon-worthy pop tunes. His group’s 2011 release, Songs for the Last Werewolf, was a soundtrack to a book, and they have been known to put music to film as well.

Legendary Jim Ruiz Group
A rare show from the sparkly Minneapolis jazz-pop combo led by the Legendary Jim, who recently completed the long-awaited third LP with help from California pop dude Allen Clapp, titled Ambassador Jim – 1965. Also fresh from the stage of chickfactor’s recent anniversary parties in Brooklyn and Los Angeles, the LJRG lineup tonight will be Jim, Emily on drums, and Allison and Brian from The Starfolk. “I’m leaning strongly toward taking a 1964 le beat group approach,” says the Legendary one himself.

Harvey Williams and Josh Gennet
Fluffy-haired Harvey is well known to the pop kids as a former member of Field Mice and Another Sunny Day and an excellent if not prolific solo artist of a gentle nature; tonight he will play with former Holiday frontman Josh Gennet for what will certainly be some serious pop stuff.

The Starfolk
Fun Minneapolis orch-pop trio The Starfolk is fronted by Brian Tighe (The Hang Ups, The Owls) vocals and guitar along with Allison LaBonne (The Owls, Typsy Panthre, Legendary Jim Ruiz Group) on bass, Stephen Ittner (The Hang Ups, The Owls) on drums and Jacqueline Ultan (Jelloslave, Saltee, Anti Gravity) on cello, though tonight Allison and Brian will be backed by Jim and Emily. The Starfolk is currently finishing up their debut full length, the mixing will be completed in September.

Gaylord Fields Fake Beatles Talk
The inimitable Gaylord Fields is a DJ on the prestigious New Jersey radio station WFMU, along with a chickfactor contributor and MC for these two nights! He will do a special presentation on Fake Beatles starting at 3pm.

chickfactor / Hangover Lounge DJs!

Thanks to the Hangover Lounge, WIAIWYA, Half Pint Press, Tae Won Yu, LD Beghtol, Lucy Hurst, Fortuna Pop! and Slumberland for helping us!