Posts Tagged ‘Alternative’

Daniel Romano

There have been few busier songwriters in 2020 than Daniel Romano. The artist was bound for tour when pandemic grounded him, and as chance had it that meant holing up with the touring band for the time being. They certainly made the most of it with a run of nine albums, mostly released to Bandcamp over the past few months. While the offerings explore many of Romano’s strengths — some curio covers, and genre-dense jaunts — his planned LP for You’ve Changed showcases a seasoned pop master hitting stride and feeling completely comfortable in the gilded pop pedigree that recalls extravagant recording budgets and studio habitations that stretch the limit of necessity. It hearkens to a time of major label spending that would make a young band blush these days. Surprising then, that the band nails this one with the implementation of a few rules that keep it completely crisp and keep them from forwarding mail for months to a studio address. Each song was recorded in order of its appearance on the record and by rule none got more than three takes.

Much of the success of How Ill Thy World Is Ordered then, comes down to the aforementioned backing band, a group of players dubbed The Outfit. The group have been shaping Romano’s stage show up through a near euphoric live record released earlier in the year that serves as a primer for those who haven’t been keeping tabs on Daniel for the last few years. While Okay Wow tallies up the past, the future blossoms in How Ill Thy World Is Ordered. Romano has long had a way with tying the ends of pop, country, and ‘70s rock into a tight package, but this record amplifies each of those impulses, pushing him into grandiosity without wallowing in opulence. Like the shifts towards bigger vistas that inhabited recent records by Kevin Morby and Kyle Thomas, the record doesn’t hold back from letting horns, huge hooks, and stadium-sized backup sections drape over every track here, a feat that makes that three-take limit only more incredible.

There’s a feeling of career shift in the belly of How Ill… and records like My Morning Jacket’s It Still Moves or Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever come to mind, stretching Romano’s reach and never looking back. The horns in “Green Eye Shade” and “Never Yet In Love” rise their songs to the rafters. The guitars crash down like he’s got something to prove in each note. Ardent fans will be more than pleased and newcomers with a soft spot for large-scale pop should find plenty to hold onto here.



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ZEEL

This compilation LP culls together an album and bonus single from Boston’s Zeel and the feeling is both familiar and refreshing. The sounds here could easily have sat somewhere between the output of SST and Homestead in the ‘80s, mixing the hard-scrabble rock of Hüsker Dü with the gnarled weirdness of Dinosaur Jr. The band’s more interested in grit that the shiny promise of a hook and I have to respect that. Guitars are rush through stomp box fuzz and through the speakers in graveled saunter. The vocals fight with the amplifier fuzz for dominance, giving equal footing to riff and ramble.

The record makes a great case for a return to the ripped denim and unwashed tee shirt smell of pre-grunge. Every song here is working hard to hit that sweet spot when punk met head on with the wanting touch of the jangled sweat that was brewing in the backroom of college radio stations and stuck between the pages of zines with more passion that direction. They embrace that moment before the tide turned and the Singles soundtrack came and threw the goodwill into the fan, spreading it far and wide through suburban America. Sure, there’s a case to be made that the sounds have been mined, but there’s more probably more to carve out of the rock. This one sits nicely next to Milk Music and early Gun Outfit on your shelf of new rumblers.





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Hypnolovewheel – “Parallel Universe”

Growing up through the ‘90s it seemed that those of us in more remote areas had to scrap a bit harder to find music outside of limited shelf space in the few stores that existed in the area and the FM dial. I’m still coming upon pockets of bands that seem like they should have had prominence that were just completely lost on the wider net of listeners. Long Island band Hypnolovewheel definitely falls in this category. The band suffers from the ‘90s phenomenon of “horrible cover art overshadows the music inside.”. There was plenty of this trend at the time, but maybe see their collection of covers for yourself. It’s too bad, though, because the band embraced a wide swath of sounds prevalent at the time and made them all work.

From their alt-jangled beginnings on Turn! Turn! Burn! that recall The Embarrassment, to the smudged shoegaze blare of Angel Food and their final stop at power pop swagger on Altered States, the band had an enviable aural trajectory but never seemed to grip too long. Even with a bit of push through ‘90s Marvel (Hypnolovewheel would feature in at least one Spiderman comic at the time) and with opening slots for plenty of large-scale NY headliners, they seemed pretty contained to the East Coast. There wasn’t a huge push behind them. Their first two albums appeared on Fabian Aural Products and they moved to Alias for the rest of their output, but would dissolve after Altered States in ’93. The band’s Dave Ramirez would play with King Missle for a bit while they were still active and following their demise he’d work with James McNew in Dump.

Aptly this collection from Cara Records really ties together their catalog, with selections across their spectrum of sound plus some exclusive demo cuts that haven’t appeared elsewhere. Its a good primer and tends to wrap up some of the band’s most interesting singles and cuts, but their whole catalog is worth perusing at length as they do have plenty of deep cuts that don’t appear here. This is a nice spotlight on a band that seemed to get lost in the cracks like so many swallowed by the ‘90s.



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Weak Signal

I’ve been enjoying the arc traced by Weak Signal over the last couple of years, scraping out of the skeletal bones of their 2018 debut through a very solid split with Endless Boogie earlier in the year. Keeping us all on our toes, they lobbed a surprise album out last Friday and it thickens up the gravy they’ve been stewing over the past couple of years. Bianca amplifies the guitar growl that’s been festering beneath the floorboards of their sound but doesn’t discard the sinewy, sly bass work that’s marked their work as well. What they’ve mastered on their second album is a sense of heaviness with an appreciation for pop. There’s a wasteland scuzz that buzzes behind Weak Signal, sickened and malcontent, but the band doesn’t growl on top of the turbulence. They preen and linger, they find the quiet cool and bring it bubbling to the surface before skimming off a few indelible pop hooks.

While still sounding like a band that’s completely contemporary, Weak Signal funnel a certain brand of familiarity into their work. Bianca sounds like it could have existed in the verdant valley between SST and Touch and Go as ’89 wafted into ’90, or at least like it’s found solace in those catalogs during its conception. The album chews on the gristle of post-punk and post-hardcore, but it’s beyond them both, merely using the genres as fuel for a more noxious and yet intoxicating mix that gets into the blood with ill intentions. As with their past records, Weak Signal seem to only exist at night. The pre-dawn hours fuel their impulses. Streaks of sunlight could only dim the glow of their tube-lit saturnine souls. As the dawn decorates the horizon, Bianca dissipates into the ether with a static crackle of feedback and a reverberating hum. The band’s been aching for a breakout and with Bianca that moment seems like it may finally be here.



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Silver Scrolls – “Walk Two (I – Nature’s Promise)”

Offering up a new cut today from the debut album from Silver Scrolls. The band is the latest work from David Brylawski (Polvo, Black Taj) and Brian Quast (Polvo) and centers around a meditation on walks, and their connection to free association and waking dreams inspired by The Christopher Bollas Reader. Gnarled and inherently rhythmic, the songs beat like an internal metronome, but spiral off into vibrating tangents of sound, both tense and amniotic. While some songs lean on the idea of walking as an escape from inner turmoil, some let that turmoil spill out into the streets and back in again. Honestly, its a rather prescient concept for a record in a time when movement is coupled with anxiety and allowable space has become a constant force in so many lives.

For this particular track, Brylawski explains, “The overall conceit is a person who goes for a city walk then anxiety comes in and (he) decides that a nature walk is what is called for – Nature’s Promise, a ‘Doom Blues’.  However, he realizes anxiety has entered this walk as well – nature does not guarantee tranquility, so (he) must seek something else.   This part of the album, the nature walk, was influenced by an actual walk my family took in Montana a year ago.  There was a sign saying ‘last bear sighting 5 days ago’ and someone had crossed that out and wrote ‘three days ago’.  My family started on the walk but as the path became more narrow and the forest became dense – my wife and I at the same time became worried about our kids and literally running into a bear so we turned tail and got the heck out of the trail.” The album lands July 10th on Three Lobed.



 

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Woolen Men – “Alley Cat”

Always good to hear a new one from those cats in Woolen Men and the start of a singles’ club coinciding with a revenue share day on Bandcamp seems like a damn good reason to get over and pick this one up. “Alley Cat” is a straightforward chugger with a lightly toasted twang that ought to get your head noddin’ and the grooves stuck squarely in your head. Northwest indie goodness filling up the speakers on a Friday afternoon. Can’t ask for too much more than that these days. Nab this one and keep an eye out for the rest of the series.





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Sachet

The new LP from Aussies Sachet threads the needle of ‘90s nostalgia, but winds up pulling its thread through some of the more admirable moments along the way. The band’s sound is fuzzed, and lightly flecked with an angst that soaks up the discomfort of the decade, while lacing Nets with a head-nodding melodicism that burrows under the skin to stay. Interlaced guitars, a thick froth of feedback, make the record a formidable contender, but they push it past the threshold with the quiet cool of Lani Crooks’ delivery. Her vocals add a coiled approach to the record, steady but always ready to strike with a hook that hurts and heals. In the past I’ve brought up Kay Hanley and Anna Waronker as touchstones for her sound and aside from the flashpoint closer of “Arncliffe Babylon,” the comparison sticks to the whole LP as well. Crooks slots herself in as a sly striker whose hooks take a minute to manifest but latch on for keeps.

The band grew out of the soft slip-away of Day Ravies, which contained both Lani and the band’s Sam Wilkinson. Where’ their previous band was more caught into the coven of jangles that’s spread far and wide across their homeland, with Sachet they’re moving into a thicker porridge. There’s a slower tempo, like the jangles were caught in humidity and then shocked to live with the gnarl of fuzz and froth. Despite the dodgy name, Day Ravies had an infectious reach, but Sachet seems to be the realization of what they were reaching towards all along. Reverence to an older sound can sometimes sink a band, but their influences and how they digest ‘em seem to make Sachet soar, making Nets one of the low-key charmers of 2020 that deserves a sight more attention. Friday’s a Bandcamp support day, give ‘em some love eh?



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Modern Nature – “Harvest”

Modern Nature rev up the release of their new EP with yet another taste from the ranks, this time featuring fellow RSTB fave Itasca (Kayla Cohen) on vocals. As with the bulk of their previous album, the track is built on a low-slung tension that seems to simmer and steam through the speakers. This time, though they build a symbiosis with Cohen turning a yearning folktale into a vibrating mass of sound that’s streaked with melancholy. The song has the feeling of staring into your reflection in a fogged up mirror — immersive, meditative, but obscured by a layer that distorts the truth. This is one of the most complete visions from the band, turning their haunted pop into an aching three-minutes of salvation. The EP is out June 5th.

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Flat Worms

There’s something fitting about Flat Worms naming their sophomore album after the last safe space in the world from a human contact perspective, while also naming it after one that’s in dire danger from humanity at large. Antarctica is a brittle, brutal, and quite honestly fair assessment of the predicaments we all find ourselves facing in 2020. Even before the proverbial rug was pulled from the amassed nations of the world, the band found themselves in a pessimistic crouch, uncompromising and unrepentant. Who else to bring these brutalities to fruition, then, but the patron saint of disposition himself, Steve Albini. The veteran producer gives little in the way of softness to the band and, in turn, they give little back. The record is fashioned in the mold of ‘90s rock that seeks to bring on a full body itch like an unwashed wool sweater. Though that doesn’t mean its not without comfort.

There are certainly hooks dug into their disdain, but they wear their frustrations on the surface first and foremost. The fire is warm here, but the smell of lighter fluid makes it unpleasant all the same. The L.A. band has been steadily building their sound over the past few EPs and singles — working up a ferocity that breaks loose on Antarctica. Their debut was lean and lanky, but this one’s put on muscle. The bass thunders but keeps its hips limber. They lay down a bedrock of metal bitten rhythm that traces the tail of the Northwest down a rabbit hole lined with Wipers singles, Mudhoney deep cuts, and Green River nihilism. The leads scream from the strain of feedback and bile. There’s been a revival of ‘90s impulses lately, it was bound to happen, but few of the revivalists have dug into what made the crux of grunge vital like this trio has. With this album Flat Worms find that same match strike that melds the hip-thrust hunger of metal with the careening trajectory of punk. Nostalgia be damned, this one feels like its got a talon in ya, and the twisting is both brutal and glorious all at once.



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Romy Vager on Psychedelic Furs – Forever Now

Still plenty of essentials on the way in this strange timeline we’re on and RVG’s sophomore LP is pretty high on that list. The band’s debut was an emotionally fraught, tumultuous record that stood high with ‘80s classics from Echo and the Bunnymen, The Go-Betweens, or Siousxie Sioux. The band has only refined and expanded on that sound with their follow-up, out soon on Fire Records and Feral aims to be one of the best of the year. Naturally, that put the band’s songwriter and driving force Romy Vager high atop the list of inquiries for a Hidden Gems, and she digs further into that ‘80s influence with a spotlight on Psychedelic Furs’ mid-period gem Forever Now. While its predecessor may have gotten all the acclaim for the John Hughes tie-in, this one begs further exploration and Vager explains how it came into her life and the impact its had on her own writing.

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