It’s clear from the music he makes—both as Business of Dreams and with Terry Malts—that Corey Cunningham has an encyclopedic knowledge of, and an enthusiastic appreciation for, pop music. On Business of Dreams’ gorgeous self-titled album, he melted down late ‘80s new wave and Britpop to create gently-flowing songs lit up by blinking synths and distant vocals. On Terry Malts’ intoxicating 2016 album, Lost at the Party, he leaned hard in the other direction, using biting guitars and ricocheting drums to recapture the fuzzed-out sound of late ‘90s indiepop.
Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)
But for all their reference points, Cunningham’s music never sounds derivative; he’s got an innate knack for pop hooks that makes his music feel instantly classic. He’s also a vocal supporter of other bands, using the Terry Malts Twitter account to boost groups he loves. So he was a natural choice for Big Ups, where we ask artists to select five of their favorite albums on Bandcamp. “I read an article that said that fans have more control than they realize on how well their favorite bands do,” Cunningham says. “A lot of times people will see something on Twitter from a band they love and not even bother to retweet it, not realizing that they’re kind of hurting the band. So I decided that I’m going to use whatever social media platform I have to highlight other people.” As you’d expect from such an evangelistic music fan, the albums Cunningham selected run the stylistic gamut, from moody ambient to obtuse, detuned post-punk.
FWY!, San Gabriel
FWY! is a guy named Glenn who was half of a band called The Art Museums, who were on Slumberland. I loved the Art Museums. I think they’re one of the great lost bands of the 2000s. Everything they did was good, and they came and went, and nobody seemed to notice. I just try to follow everything that Glenn does. So I listened to the track ‘San Gabriel Library’ and was just immediately blown away by it. I thought, ‘There’s a whole album of stuff this good?’ As it turns out, he’s got lots of albums, and they’re all themed around this kind of nostalgic idea of a Southern California childhood—that’s my guess, anyway. There’s something so specific about this that it’s hard to nail down what makes it so unique. There aren’t a lot of musical touchstones for it. Maybe Penguin Cafe Orchestra, but with a bit of post-punk rigidity to it. Some of the voicings of the overdubs are placed in a way that vocals would be placed. Making instrumental music can be a lot harder than making a normal song, but he has it figured out. It feels very intentional, and he’s very natural with it.
nunofyrbeeswax, On Everything
This was a group that Terry Malts played with in Berlin when we were touring Europe last year. I hate to sound negative but, on a lot of our tours, we play with so many garage rock bands and so many bad punk bands, and that stuff just gets so uninteresting to me after a while. So seeing something like nunofyrbeeswax, which was a genuinely awesome live experience, is such a breath of fresh air. They had an interpretive dancer—and when you listen to the music, you wouldn’t think they’d have something like that, or need something like that. That visual is still ingrained in my mind when I listen to the record, because it was so refreshing. It was so obtuse. I like it if a band can make me feel uncomfortable and confused. They remind me, in a way, of Life Without Buildings—it doesn’t sound exactly like the band’s guitar work, but it has some of that same abstraction and unusual melodic vibe, where it almost seems like the vocals don’t belong with the riffs. I really like early Pavement records, but then as they went on, they got so much more boring, in my opinion. And that’s what people think of if they’re trying to do indie rock now—something that’s really composed and styrofoam-y and just so boring. I like it when the musicians are kind of bad, and are taking pride in that as part of their sound.
Cool Angels, Slow Chase Scenes
This album is by a guy named Nick Ray, who I first met when he was doing what was basically a precursor to Cool Angels, called Speculator. It was almost a more accessible version of what Cool Angels is. At the time, I didn’t know his music that well, but he was living with members of Weekend and Terry Malts at a dentist’s office in Oakland. I’d go over to hang out, and I’d see this roommate going around the house, plugging a million pedals together, and running them through multiple tape machines to get whatever that effect is on the record that puts that distance between you and the actual tones. I got really curious, and I started going to see him live, and when I heard this album, it just seemed like the culmination of all of that seeking he was doing, making music in that house. His dad was a renowned film critic of some sort—he’s actually named after the director Nicholas Ray—and there’s a lot of cinematic qualities to this music. I think a lot of people use ‘cinematic’ as a buzzword, but in this case, this actually sounds like really fucked-up film music.
Junto Club, Junto Club
Junto Club are another band we played with live, and they had a real ‘piss and vinegar’ stage presence. The singer was doing these weird dances, and at first I was thinking, ‘I hate this, but I also like it for some reason.’ By the end of the set, I was like ‘OK, I definitely like this.’ A few weeks later, I was still thinking about their music and that show, and I was like, ‘You know what? I’m a huge fan of this band. They’re haunting me.’ The lyrics and the delivery of the vocals clash with what they look like visually. Live, he does these slow, romantic, expressive dances, folding his arms in these funny ways. Some of the lyrics are a bit mean. I was trying to think of how I would describe them, and it’s almost like: Sure, they clearly love The Fall and Section 25, but I think they’d also put something like Sade really high on their list of influences. That might just be a visual cue from me seeing them live, and their use of toned-down drum machines and synth sounds—I think I was just standing there watching them play and thinking, ‘Sade.’
Puzzled, Okay, fine
People have been saying ‘Music is dead in the Bay Area’ for about five or six years now, but I don’t think it’s ever died. I think when those big dinosaur garage rock bands left, it finally had a chance to start getting good. It’s more diverse than it’s ever been. There are way more indiepop and shoegaze bands—stuff that just wasn’t around in the early ‘10s. There’s also a lot of real genuine indiepop—not stuff that just has the name ‘indiepop,’ but that actually sounds like indiepop. It’s such a pure, untouched genre—you’ll never make a million dollars marketing that stuff, you’ll never get huge press making that stuff, but there’s this untouched purity to it. I think that hooks are the hardest thing to write, and most people don’t know how to put them into songs these days. There are some huge bands out there who have figured out how to maneuver the system and become noteworthy, but they don’t know how to write hooks. I appreciate it so much when you can listen to a band play a song one time and go, ‘There it is! I’ll remember this song.’ I’m just so happy that there’s music like this in the Bay Area. It reminds me of when I first moved to San Francisco, and Aislers Set were still a band. They were my favorite band in the world. I went to see them like they were my Grateful Dead. I’d see every single show. I just connected with that Bay Area indiepop sound. I’m just a sucker for it.
—J. Edward Keyes