Pressing Concerns: Tucker Riggleman & The Cheap Dates, Subsonic Eye, Palberta, Dave Scanlon, Cub Scout Bowling Pins, Kiwi Jr.

The first month of 2021 is about to be wrapped up, and I’m back to tell you about the albums I enjoyed the most over the past few weeks. In this installment of Pressing Concerns, I review the debut LP of Tucker Riggleman & The Cheap Dates, Kiwi Jr.‘s avoidance of the sophomore slump, left-turn albums from indie rockers Palberta and Subsonic Eye, a solo release from Dave Scanlon of JOBS, and the latest Robert Pollard side-project: Cub Scout Bowling Pins.

This is Rosy Overdrive’s second installment of 2021 album highlights–be sure to check out the first edition from earlier this month, featuring Cheekface, Matthew Sweet, and more.

Tucker Riggleman & The Cheap Dates – Alive and Dying Fast

Release date: January 29th 
Record label: WarHen Records
Genre: Alt-country, roots rock
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull track: Storming in Memphis

Tucker Riggleman has been working the Appalachian DIY circuit for the past decade or so, playing in bands such as the fuzz-rockers Bishops and The Demon Beat (which also featured Jordan Hudkins of Rozwell Kid, who created the artwork for this album), as well as making music under his own name. Alive and Dying Fast is the debut full-length of his new band The Cheap Dates, and while it hews closer to the country-punk of the group’s previous singles and EPs than the grunge and garage rock of his previous concerns, that genre doesn’t quite encapsulate what’s going on here musically, either. With Alive and Dying Fast, the band isn’t afraid to slow things down a bit in order to accentuate and compliment the real star of the show here—Riggleman’s evolved songwriting.  

Moments like the lilting shuffle travelogue of “Storming in Memphis” recall the songwriting of fellow traveler William Matheny, but while Matheny’s best recent moments find him looking back with a new-found clarity, Riggleman paints himself as a man very much still in the middle of it all, and still feeling everything as if it’s just happened to him. Over the course of Alive and Dying Fast, Riggleman, chases his vitamins with beer, clings to his music idols (Paul Westerberg in “Void”, the obvious in “Robert Smith Tattoo”), tries to convince someone that he’s “an artist, man”, shouts into the void, loves everything too much, wonders when and if that “big break” is going to come, and ends the whole thing by imparting “You might light up like a candle, just to wind up in the dark” on us—all we can do is experience it with him in the moment. This is not the work of a wide-eyed neophyte singer-songwriter, no—but the guy who wrote “Curtain” can’t be too jaded, either. Alive and Dying Fast is something better than either extreme: it’s an emotional journey of an album, helmed by someone with the skill and depth to shade and color every single peak and valley. (Bandcamp link)

Subsonic Eye – Nature of Things

Release date: January 15th  
Record label: Middle Class Cigars
Genre: Indie/dream/jangle pop
Formats: Vinyl, cassette, digital
Pull track: Fruitcake                                   

Singaporean indie rock band Subsonic Eye pull away from the noisier elements of their sound to hone into something more sublime with Nature of Things, somewhere between Sonic Youth’s last couple of albums and The Sundays (a band that probably do not get enough credit for their influence on where we’re at now). A more modern touchstone would be New Zealand’s The Beths—which, due to my ignorance of the East Asian jangle pop scene, also function as the nearest geographical reference point I can offer. They can do pure guitar pop (such as in “Fruitcake” and half of “Further”), but they’ve also got a melancholy streak to them (the heartstring-tugging “Kaka the Cat” and the other half of “Further”). The album cover is perfect—the map with the record’s song titles as fake landmarks is unabashedly corny, but by making it look real enough to use for navigation and combining it with the “field guide” motif and the strange image to its left, it strikes the balance between “sweet and comforting” and “venturing into the unknown”. (Bandcamp link)

Palberta – Palberta5000

Release date: January 22nd 
Record label: Wharf Cat Records
Genre: Post-punk, experimental punk
Formats: Vinyl, CD, digital
Pull track: Corner Store

I walked out of a Palberta show fairly early on into their career because, well, I didn’t get it (Remember walking out of shows? Can’t even imagine doing that now) . It wasn’t until I heard how 2018’s “Sound of the Beat” effortlessly molded their sound into a digestible pop “hit” that the possibilities of a Palberta started being unlocked to me. Now, here we are in early 2021, where me being at my most open to Palberta has collided with the band themselves making their most inviting collection of songs to date. There’s no shortage of winning vocal hooks and melodies throughout these 16 tracks. Hearing the band turn their base ingredients into pop gold all across Palberta5000 is like watching Sully land on the Hudson a dozen times in a row. But this is still Palberta we’re talking about, mind you. It’s all still topsy-turvy. The near-four minute “Big Bad Want” is one of the simplest tunes, content to ride out one line over and over again in some sort of bizarre endurance test, while the 90-second stomper “Summer Sun” just might be the most fully-developed pop song of them all. They even flirt with some multi-suite prog-pop a la Guided by Voices in the last couple of songs on the record. That big step, they’ve taken it. (Bandcamp link)

Dave Scanlon – Pink in Each, Bright Blue, Bright Green

Release date: January 15th 
Record label: Whatever’s Clever
Genre: Indie folk, ambient folk
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull track: We’ll Ride in Your Car

I am not overly familiar with Dave Scanlon’s “main” band, JOBS, but I’m aware of enough of them to know that Pink in Each, Bright Blue, Bright Green is a departure from their experimental rock. Scanlon has made a minimal folk album here, the vast majority of which features solely his fingerpicking and voice speak-singing frequently pastoral lyrics. Its sparse instrumentation and gentle vocals remind me more of Phil Elverum’s recent work over anything else, but there isn’t any one Dave Scanlon “style” over the course of the record. “Water’s No Crop” and “She Is the Girl Behind Your Money” are the album’s fullest moments, grabbing your attention through vivid lyrics and busier picking, while the rest of the album plumbs various depths—“Everybody Knows” floats along through ambience and harmonics, while “Indoors” is a near-spoken word rumination on the place we’ve all been for God knows how long. “We’ll Ride in Your Car” is the biggest surprise of all—a beautifully straightforward slowcore ballad that would be an attention-grabber anywhere. Pink in Each, Bright Blue, Bright Green—a good an argument as any for “less is more” in 2021. (Bandcamp link)

Cub Scout Bowling Pins – Heaven Beats Iowa EP

Release date: January 22nd  
Record label: GBV, Inc.
Genre: Lo-fi indie rock, power pop
Formats: Vinyl, CD, digital
Pull track: Heaven Beats Iowa

Robert Pollard has seemingly finally found stability in the last half decade. Unless you count Cash Rivers (which I don’t), Cub Scout Bowling Pins is the Guided by Voices ringleader’s first side-project in about four years—shocking for someone who was more likely to average four per year for most of his career. And this “new” band only goes further to prove Pollard’s happiness with his current group of collaborators. Heaven Beats Iowa is credited to nearly the exact same people as the current Guided by Voices lineup—the lone change being producer Travis Harrison is promoted (or demoted?) to being a sixth member. Heaven Beats Iowa has been described by the band as having a more “collaborative” writing process than GBV, but exactly what that means is for us to speculate on. The six tracks have a kind of muddier and less formal feel to them than the last few proper GBV albums, with Pollard’s vocals being buried a bit in the mix. It feels, in spirit, kin to Guided by Voices’ mid-90s kitchen sink EPs, but sonically it reminds me most of 2019’s slapdash, recorded-on-tour-buses-and-hotels Warp and Woof. All the songs are classic Pollard, but the last two are the ones that deserve to live on in future setlists and compilations—the most exhilarating moment on the record is when the band spends almost a third of “Funnel Cake Museum” floating in on a murky intro only to tear into the main riff about 50 seconds into it. (Bandcamp link)

Kiwi Jr. – Cooler Returns

Release date: January 22nd 
Record label: Sub Pop
Genre: Jangle pop, 90s indie rock
Formats: Vinyl, cassette, CD, digital
Pull track: Highlights of 100

Football Money was one of my favorite debut albums of either 2019 or 2020 (depending on what country you were listening in), so it’s a pleasant surprise that Kiwi Jr. is back already with their sophomore LP. They feel ever-so-slightly less eager to please on Cooler Returns—they don’t slow down the tempo too much or abandon hooky choruses, but dialing back the number of those instant-gratification electric guitar jangling arpeggios and upping their acoustic instrumentation is a subtle but nonetheless bold move. This and a subsequent (perhaps necessary) emphasis on the bass lead to a surprising point of comparison for me—early Spoon, when they were still navigating their transformation from Pixies/Pavement fetishists to the unflappable groovers they would end up becoming. Thankfully, however, Kiwi Jr. have too much to say to worry about trying to look and sound “cool” just yet. It’d be far too dramatic to say that Kiwi Jr. have strangled the jangle pop band of Football Money with Cooler Returns (cut and paste the “In the Mouth a Desert” guitar solo about one minute into “Norman Jean’s Jacket” and I bet it’d fit perfectly), but what they have made is a distinct and rewarding follow-up to a debut that merited one. (Bandcamp link)

Also notable:

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