Pressing Concerns: Cheekface, Fuvk, Camp Trash, Cicala, Squitch, Matthew Sweet

It’s January again, which doesn’t actually mean anything in and of itself, but it does coincide with this post about some albums I’ve liked from the baby new year. I hadn’t really planned on giving much attention to this year’s new albums until February at earliest, but here I am barely halfway through the first month of the year (as of writing this) having collected enough writeup-worthy albums that I’m happy to fire this off already. Part of this is probably due to me being more Tuned In than normal since making this blog an active concern, but most of these I’d have heard regardless of my half-hearted attempt to re-enter society in 2021. This is the least-important part of this post, so let’s move on to the contestants already.

Cheekface – Emphatically No.

Release date: January 11th
Record label: New Professor Music
Genre: Participation Trophy Rock
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull track: Emotional Rent Control

“All-the-time influences: Modern Lovers, Malkmus, Lou Reed” begins a tweet from @CheekfaceREAL. This proverbial Big Three’s shadow over Emphatically No. goes beyond what I’m going to get into here, but the lyrical and vocal stylings of Greg Katz is what you’ll pick up on first. Like them, Katz aims to make catchy and re-listenable pop rock music despite talking over the music as frequently as he sings over it. Cheekface (also consisting of bassist Amanda Tannen and drummer Mark Echo Edwards) accomplishes this with two ingredients—their love of a good hook (the choruses of “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Calabasas” and “Original Composition” back to back in the middle of the album won’t leave my head) and Katz nailing the majority of his put-it-all-out-there, swing-for-the-fences lyrics. There’s too many to quote—I’m certainly fond of “Boyfriend with a soul patch, I know, I know, it’s serious”, but “I am eating like it’s Thanksgiving, but without the gratitude” is a really good under-the-radar one too. It also features a guitar solo from the great Devin McKnight, so what more could you want? Resistance is easy—listen to Emphatically No. (Bandcamp link)

Fuvk – Imaginary Deadlines

Release date: January 11th
Record label: Z Tapes
Genre: Bedroom pop, indiefolk pop
Formats: Vinyl, cassette, digital
Pull track: Tiny Figure

Fuvk is the Austin-based bedroom pop project of Shirley Zhu. Though what I’d heard from her in the past sounded more like straightforward indie folk, Imaginary Deadlines is more of a stretching-out. There are still acoustic flourishes, such as in the late-album highlight “Bluebell”, but there’s also an honest-to-God rap feature on opener “Take Me Back”, and “Retainer” begins humbly and lo-fi only to evolve into a roaring alt-rocker in its second half. Where Imaginary Deadlines earns its “bedroom pop” distinguisher is either in its modern-era attitude towards influence, which sees no reason why synthpop, emo, hip-hop, ambient, folk and rock can’t sit side-by-side on the same shelf, or in its pacing-the-room, up-late-at-night lyrics like in “Wishful Thinking”, which is exactly what it says it is, and the “I love you, will you hate me” duet of “Subside”. (Bandcamp link)

Camp Trash – Downtiming EP

Release date: January 22nd 
Record label: Count Your Lucky Stars
Genre: Emo power pop
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull track: Sleepyhead

Forget “twinkle emo”—the Florida-based Camp Trash have debuted a tour-de-force EP of pure sunshine emo. A quarter-century of alt-rock history is reflected in these four songs—the effortless cool of the Gallagher brothers, Drive-Thru Records, Bleed American, the Clone High soundtrack, The Get-Up Kids covering Superchunk, PureVolume, MySpace, inconsistently-numbered “waves” of genres that never actually went away, Jade Lilitri. Of course, this wouldn’t be as notable if the songs themselves weren’t very well-written to boot. The “Hey Jealousy” intro of “Sleepyhead” gives way to a troubling and surreal scene that nevertheless doesn’t get in the way of that driving, anthemic chorus, and “Weird Carolina” traps a fleeting feeling in amber the way that the best records about the impermanence of one’s station in life as a young person do.  Even though the mountains do, in fact, know my name, I am still able to easily recommend Downtiming to those in favor of good-timing. (Bandcamp link)

Cicala – Cicala

Release date: January 8th  
Record label: Acrobat Unstable
Genre: Alt-country, “post-country”, Emoricana
Formats: Digital
Pull track: Truck Stop

Quinn Cicala’s alt-country-tinged emo-rock (or is it emo-tinged alt-country?) band found its way to me somehow, and we’re all the better for it. Any reader of this blog will recognize them as “an extremely Rosy Overdrive band” by about 8 seconds into the opening and pull track. The characters in several of these songs can be found alternating between driving somewhere and stopping at some kind of liminal space, making grand proclamations and life decisions somewhere in the turns, only to eventually come back to Earth, resolving that their denouement will come in the next few miles, or at the next rest stop. With the full knowledge that I have already compared another band to Lucero this month already, man, I can totally hear early-2000s Ben Nichols sing “I’ve smiled at you like six times today / but it’s all good” from “Will” with the inflection Cicala gives it.  Plus, I always respect bands flying flags for their respective micro-genres, and “post-country” is as worthy a cause as any. (Bandcamp link)

Squitch – Learn to Be Alone

Release date: December 31st 
Record label: Disposable America
Genre: Math rock, post-punk
Formats: Cassette, digital
Pull track: Night Star

Oh no, you don’t. Squitch tried to disqualify this album by burying it on New Year’s Eve, but this is something we’re taking with us into 2021. Mathy riffs abound for the Boston band, particularly in the throwing-you-into-the-thick-of-it opener “Egg” and the post-hardcore “Kaleidoscope”. On the other end of the ‘scope, “Night Star” is positively catchy and could’ve been a beefier Frankie Cosmos song, while “Sink into the Sand” is the Squitch version of an earnest, affecting ballad. Local influences/contemporary touchstones abound such as Exploding in Sound Records and Wendy Eisenburg, as well as Dischord Records and some squirrellier 90s alt-rock bands like Helium and Slant 6. Plus, the album artwork kind of reminds me of Pardoner’s Uncontrollable Salvation, and that’s certainly not a bad thing. (Bandcamp link)

Matthew Sweet – Catspaw

Release date: January 15th  
Record label: Omnivore
Genre: Power pop, alt-rock
Formats: Vinyl, CD, digital
Pull track: Coming Soon

I’d like to start out by highlighting Ric Menck’s drumming contributions to this album. I skipped around Catspaw the other day trying to find a specific song and was struck by how many of the songs started out with a percussive intro. His playing remains prominent in the mix throughout the songs’ bodies—if I didn’t know better I would’ve thought it was recorded by Steve Albini at Electrical Audio. Menck’s playing really elevates the whole album—it’s the sound of one longtime collaborator trusting another, to the benefit of us all. The rest of Catspaw, however, is pure Sweet. It is not the side of him, however, that one might expect from a home-studio-recorded album wherein Sweet plays nearly every instrument. Stripped down and solo-heavy, it’s more Crazy Horse than Beach Boys. A studio-rat creation a la In Reverse this is not. That doesn’t mean that Catspaw isn’t shaded as vividly, however, despite the smaller toolbox. Sweet saunters through tracks like “Challenge the Gods” and the galactic “Stars Explode”, turns reflective on “Drifting”, and gives us one of his greatest pining numbers in “Come Home”. (Omnivore link)

Also notable:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: