Posts Tagged ‘Sophomore Lounge’

Styrofoam Winos – “Stuck In A Museum”

Despite forming in 2016 and gigging extensively through their native Nashville music scene, 2021 marks the debut from Styrofoam Winos. The band’s an egalitarian collective of music minds that bounce around the indie spectrum with chameleonic glee. On the first taste of the eponymous player, due out in February from Sophomore Lounge, the band is in full tilt New Wave jangle, wrapping their strums in some synth frizzle and lobbing vocals between members with ease. “Stuck In A Museum” is swerving the pavement with an itching engine of nail-bitten guitars that are soothed by the sweet sweat of vocal harmonies. Real glad this one is on the horizon for the new year. Keep this high atop the anticipated queue.




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Wren Kitz

This is a nice swerve into heavier territory from Vermont’s Wren Kitz. The Burlington artist has often found himself enmeshed in the kind of psych-folk that would have played nice with Hush Arbors, Skygreen, and Six Organs during the boom of ’04, but with an album running with split support from Sophomore Lounge and Feeding Tube, Kitz has swerved into a feedback-fraught rock territory that’s a bit heavier. Early Worm bakes its riffs in the sun, never quite erupting into the kind of psych scorch that might emanate out of the MV & EE camp, but certainly traveling down the Golden Road for a touch. Kitz’ vocals have an aqueous float to them, lost in the waves like his folk works, but riding against a stronger tide this time around.

Early Worm soaks into the skin, an apparently easy record on the surface, tinged with a bit of sadness and sway. As it flips into the second side, though, the album takes on a bit more bite that the opening few salvos might let on. The gnarled pair “Intro (improv 1)” into album stunner “Georgie” elevate the record from a sunset melt into something that’s got a bit more aural heft. The intro tiptoes up to squelch before the 8+ minute “Georgie” lays out a quaking centerpiece for the album that’s tender and torn. The rest of the second side balances sunset and storm with a bit more improv squall and a couple of half-light closers. Kitz’ last LP for NNA was hard to pin down, but this one blossoms in the heart of the amplifier — a nice direction that I hope isn’t a one off.



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Frank & The Hurricanes

It’s only been a year since Frank & The Hurricanes released the languid charm of Life Is Spiritual into the air and they’re already back and not one ounce of palatable positivity has ebbed away. Frank exudes a burly ease and familiarity that barrels into the room but never takes up more space than is needed. Its welcome affable and oddly tender under the skin. Frank is hugging and joking before its jacket is off and while you’re offering it a beer he’s pulling one from his pocket and beating your hospitality before you even catch yourself. Coming from small town life myself, the skinned knees and feedback familiarity of The Hurricane’s tales feel like they ring particularly hard, but Frank delivers them with a denim-dragged country quality that gives the record a Meat Puppets / Giant Sand saunter to them and I’ll be damned if he doesn’t make it sound easy.

Spiritually the album is a companion piece to its predecessor, but musically it seems like the trio that’s coalesced on Love Ya Love Ya has blossomed in the interim, it is as tight as Frank’s vision has ever sounded. With Jake Merrick on bass, vocals, and keys and John Spiegel on drums, the trio cook out a Crazy Horse on SST vibe that stops just short of Always August (who most definitely did that first). It’s hard not to be drawn into Frank’s light. We all have a friend like that — at once disarming and rough-edged, yet uplifting. He takes that likability and pins it to a particularly potent rollick of Cosmic Americana, which only makes the smiles grow broader. Frank’s been building his sound for years now, and its undergone a lot of changes, to say the least, but this is the first true Hurricanes album and quite certainly Frank at his best.

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Little Gold – “Rear House”

2020’s full of surprises and this little gem from previously thought defunct Athens band Little Gold is certainly one of them. With Christian DeRoeck (Woods, Meneguar, Shepherds) and the band back at it, this finds them in an introspective mood, kicking at the alt-country crossroads that so many of his peers seem to be finding around the same time. The first cut, “Rear House,” seems like an allusion to his time with the NY crowd, sharing a name with the studio that many in the Woodsist orbit found themselves calling home. With a Jayhawks saunter, the song hits a nice whiskey burn that’s built on bar band looseness and some guitar bite that mows down the melancholy and tears away with the windows locked low. Its easy to see how this was a set of songs that spurred him to get the band outta hock and back to the studio. The new LP lands on Sophomore Lounge November 20th.




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Frank & The Hurricanes – “Balsam Babe”

Another one from the Sophomore Lounge stable today and it brings news of a new LP on the way from Frank & The Hurricanes. The band last popped up as The Hurricanes of Love with a release split between Feeding Tube and Crash Symbols, and the worn-in, reclined vibe that Frank was hitting on the lat release remains in tact. Frank’s got a way of translating summertime backyard beers to an entire aural aesthetic, feeling like a half ton of tension-melting good will in every bar. He’s only shored up his grip on the Americana trickle out of classic rock, perpetrating his mud-caked gospel over the sunny tangle of strings on “Balsam Babe” Its good to know that Frank’s out there taking it easy for all of us sinners. The new LP lands November 20th on Sophomore Lounge.



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Home Blitz – “What We Wore”

Home Blitz has been bubbling sub-underground for years, perhaps sticking their necks out most notably on a pair of Mexican Summer releases in ’11/ ‘12 back when the label was throwing a few darts at the wall to see what stuck. The band has since stuck it out around the Richie / Gulcher axis and on their own, but they jump to Sophomore Lounge for an upcoming EP that starts out strong with the bright, infectious, though all too brief, “What We Wore.” The song is wrapped in an ‘80s power pop aura, but where it could have dug in and let the hook draw blood the band gets in and out like Tony Molina playing things loose on the East Coast. The band has never shied away from brevity, but this one knocks their tightness up a notch. Still, its a bright, buoyant slice of Home Blitz that’s hard to resist. All Through The Year is out August 7th from Sophomore Lounge, as I mentioned.





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Huevos II – III EP

I mentioned the relatively low-profile pop of Huevos II a little while back, but a deeper look into their inviting EP for Sophomore Lounge is worthwhile. The band boasts a solid lineup featuring Michael (Ma) Turner who’s held down time in Warmer Milks, State Champion, Teal Grapefruit and duo’d with Nathan Boweles. Turner hooks up with some fellow Western Mass heads, but eschews the obvious – swerving shy of the noise laden squall and psychedelic folk of his peers to work in a clean combed vision of pop that’s at least paid a day trip to the alters of Kiwi-pop and Fort Apache-bred US indie. They poke the wounds of Eric’s Trip. They lean back into the mellower moments of Hüsker Dü round about the Zen Arcade days. They dig though the remains of Angst and pick out the sprightliest sections for reexamination.

There’s something bygone about the EP, a remnant of the past unperfected. In exploring Hidden Gems on the site, I’m always looking for the connective tissue from scenes that didn’t materialize, but somehow seeped into the unconscious ether and this is a record that feels like the very notion of that. The Paisley Underground harmonies of “Alright” feed on the slightly misaligned angles of Flying Nun jangles in “Sandy Goes.” The slight twang of “Memories” sighs out of the East Coast Boston basements and the record does a good job of making the case that they were all part of one spontaneous continuum. There’s every indication that the bad isn’t doing this for keeps, but after this five-spot start, I definitely want more.




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Huevos II – “My Time Is Gone”

A jangled gem out of Massachusetts gives off glimmers of ‘90s practioners of the palette. There’s a hooky, harmonious feeling to Huevos II’s rose-colored collapse and it’s littered with the debris of The Pastels, The Chills, and The Sneetches. Like those, the band exhumes some ennui, though theirs seems to be a more American brand of sadness than these others, perhaps snagging a few Eric’s Trip allusions on their way out of the speakers. “My Time Is Gone” is a delightful downer that sinks into the marrow and mellows. The song sets up the band’s upcoming LP for Sophomore Lounge with some nice expectations. The debut EP lands on January 24th. Get that one on the wishlist.




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Bill Direen – A Memory of Others

In the lore of New Zealand rock, Bill Direen is a mythical figure. More than just a songwriter (though he’s a hell of one to be sure) Direen also served as a literary guide at the head of Percutio Magazine and he’s written as extensively on the page as he has in his songs. This new volume from Sophomore Lounge acts as a bit of a musical accompaniment to his life and works. Simon Ogston has directed a documentary about Direen — Bill Direen: A Memory of Others — and this serves as a companion piece to the film. It’s not a soundtrack, since the film itself doesn’t pull strictly from the recorded versions of Bill’s work, but the songs themselves are as integral to getting to know Direen as the film itself.

Direen kicked through several early bands in his youth – forming (the) Vacuum in 1980 along with soon to be members of The Pop Group. His band The Urbs laid the groundwork for The Builders (or Bilders depending what year it is.) The group’s debut Beatin’ Hearts still stands as an essential of pre-Flying Nun primal New Zealand rock and has cemented Direen in the roots of a sound that would continue to expand and explode in and around Christchurch in the years to come. The album, covers his time in The Builders and beyond, but this is no chronological arc. The record skips scattershot between periods and players, giving a three-dimensional picture of Direen’s work.

The songs move from early, fuzz-caked but brilliant pop nuggets to arid and affecting poetry backed by more organic and quieter players. Direen traversed post-punk to folk while making it all seem like one long spectrum. Like the film that portrays him, the album is euphoric and melancholic, hallucinatory and revelatory. Direen’s name should always be among those being discussed in the formation of the Kiwi sound, but more than that, he should be among the best of those seeking to shove pop from its ivory pedestal – a punk in the truest sense of the term. He’s a peddler of pain and a seeker of light. His music and art deserve to be brought to the surface worldwide. I highly recommend checking out Ogston’s film to get some insight into Direen’s arc with some great commentary from a litany of fellow NZ players, and picking up this anthology of South Hemi bedrock.






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Warren Winter’s Band – “Crossbar Hotel”

Sophomore Lounge digs up a real gem here – a heady mix of folk, West Coast-leaning mellow rock ripples, and biker psych. The record is the work of Edward Winterhalder, now a leading authority on biker culture and author of several books on the subject. Around the time Winterhalder was based just east of Tulsa, OK, and working with the Bandidos, a club with a sizeable following that helped form the lyrical bent of Warren Winter’s Band. The record follows in the wake of Winterhalder’s previous outfit The Connecticut Dust Band, which Winterhalder fronted for 10 years previous to the formation of Warren Winter’s band. Where that band leaned heavier into the folk, here Winterhalder adds in the dose of hangdog country and prison blues that gives this one more heft.

Winterhalder taps his childhood friend Kurt Newman to drum on both this LP and its predecessor As I Was (’84). Alongside Winterhalder and Newman the band nabbed studio ringers and laid this down at Grace Studios in Connecticut. Both albums were released on Winterhalder’s own imprint Shovster records. While the haunting, desperate sound resonates nicely all these years later, its easy to see how it might have landed out of step when it was released in ’88. Thankfully, though, Sophomore Lounge followed the trail back to this one and given it a right proper release that features a hand-cut die cut sleeve and a limited 500 press. Fans of Gary Higgins, Raven, Spur, Circuit Rider and the spirit of outsider rock should find something to love here.

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