Pressing Concerns: Editrix, Yasmin Williams, Captain Frederickson, Hello Whirled

We’ve broached February, and I am once again here to tell you about the good music from the recent past, present, and future. The third installment of Pressing Concerns is a little smaller than the first two, but let’s just say we’re dealing with a “quality over quantity” scenario (which is somewhat amusing considering the final entry on this list). In this post, I review the exciting debut album from Editrix, try to explain why Yasmin Williams has been the artist I’ve listened to the most over these past two weeks, learn about sporting trivia from Captain Frederickson, and ruminate on a curiosity of a release from the prolific Hello Whirled.

It remains to be seen whether four albums over six is merely the product of how things shook out this time or the future of this format, but I will say that the back half of February is stuffed with potential entries to this column, so you will be hearing from Pressing Concerns fairly soon in one form or another.

Be sure to check out the previous two Pressing Concerns posts, both from January, if you haven’t already and just, like, need more.

Editrix – Tell Me I’m Bad

Release date: February 5th 
Record label: Exploding in Sound
Genre: Avant-jazz-math-pop-junk, post-punk, chillwave(?)
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull track: The Sound

Editrix are a power trio of sorts, voiced by Wendy Eisenberg (whose excellent solo album Auto made my end-of-year list in 2020). You could say that Tell Me I’m Bad sounds like a beefed-up Auto and be right on some level, but that doesn’t really do justice to all that’s going on here, particularly what the other two pieces—drummer Josh Daniel and bassist Steve Cameron bring to the table. Tell Me I’m Bad somehow pushes forward on both the chaotic and catchy ends of the spectrum, dealing in guitar squalls and a kinetic rhythm section that nevertheless do not get in the way of Eisenberg’s strong vocal hooks. Nearly as effective as the hooks are Eisenberg’s memorable lyrics, which frequently serve as one-liner mile markers between instrumental breaks (Samples include: “What kind of monster makes the summer last forever”, “What’s your moon, what’s your sun, what’s your rising—stop hiding”, and all of “Bad Breath”).

The one-two punch of “She Wants to Go and Party” and the near-masterpiece “The History of Dance” suggest Editrix is dead serious about not being serious, but check the blistering, anti-capitalist “Chelsea” lest you get lulled into any sort of anything. Bands who claim prog influence but still trade in reasonable song lengths intrigue me, and Tell Me I’m Bad backs this up through technical expertise by everybody involved as well as frequent left turns, like when “Sinner” morphs into a bizzaro marching number in its second half. There are moments—such as the one-liner drop and subsequent instrumental rave-up of “Instant”—that remind me of a zippier Grifters, while the sing-song vocals fitted into the margins of “Anna K” are reminiscent of Eisenberg’s old band, Birthing Hips. It’s hard not to think of fellow Bostonians Squitch at that band’s most raucous, but Tell Me I’m Bad also has the warped pop ambitions of Palberta5000. It’s like a 1000-piece jigsaw puzzle—jagged edges, rewarding, greater than the sum of its parts. (Bandcamp link)

Yasmin Williams – Urban Driftwood

Release date: January 29th 
Record label: SPINSTER
Genre: Fingerstyle acoustic guitar 
Formats: Vinyl, CD, digital
Pull track: Swift Breeze

Urban Driftwood is the kind of album that can stop you in your tracks. It’s the kind of album that could inspire a writer who has never attempted to tackle any instrumental music to give it a shot in an effort to capture just a little bit of what I find special about it. It hooked me from the beginning—the way the quiet picking on opening track “Sunshowers” gives way, about a minute in, to a giddily melodic riff and adds on from there. The way the other bookend to the album, closer “After the Storm”, similarly builds around a memorable melody but delivers it in a more subdued, relieved manner. These are songs, and they communicate their ideas, themes, and throughlines just as well as does any other album on this list, perhaps better.

Despite my praise for how it starts and ends, for me, the album towers the most in its midsection. “Swift Breeze”, which begins with a busy, squeaky intro, soars when Yasmine Williams launches into the arresting tap-heavy main instrumental part of the song, all the while not losing any steam from the introduction. “Adrift”, featuring cello accompaniment from Taryn Wood, builds into a swirling number that intertwines both instruments, but its slower tempo also allows Wood’s and Williams’s playing to shine individually. Williams chooses her accompaniments wisely, not being overly wedded to a one-person show but also confidently knowing her playing could carry the entire album and not allowing too much to get in the way of it. The only other featured credit is the title track, featuring djembe and cadjembe from Amadou Kouyate in what amounts to a powerful homage to West African musical tradition. I am not sure what the ceiling is in 2021 for the kind of music that Yasmin Williams makes, but Urban Driftwood makes it feel like the stratosphere. (Bandcamp link)

Captain Frederickson – Absolute Disaster

Release date: February 12th 
Record label: Self-released
Genre: Post-punk, noise rock
Formats: Digital
Pull track: Ant & Dec Break America

I don’t really know what goes on up there in Buffalo—I’ve never been close enough to reach the signal of anything remotely CBC-related. If I’d had to guess, though, I would’ve said more “sleepy, snowy village”, and very little like anything depicted in the arched-eyebrowed, noise-mumble-rockers Captain Frederickson’s manifesto Absolute Disaster.  In a move that will shake out to be either incredibly canny or deeply misguided, Captain make a bid for both-sides-of-the-pond dominance, penning tributes to cricket player Ben Stokes and (British) footballer Stuart Pearce (“Ben Stokes” and “He’s Got to Go to Middlesbrough and Get Something”) while planting one foot stateside in their paean to the (American football team) Buffalo Bills and their fanbase in “Get the Tables”. I’ve learned so much already!

The real draw here, however, is the frequently overpowering music the band cook up, which ping pongs between straightforward garage rock and distorted synths and drum machines, and even ends with a straight-up piano ballad in “I Used to Be Over”. I’m more predisposed to like something meaty like “Didn’t Get All of It”, but there’s something oddly…hypnotic about some of the more experimental fare. One might find themselves smirking at C.F. bragging about their song being a certified banger in “Certified Banger” over what’s mostly percussion, but, well, maybe they’re onto something. Why wouldn’t it be one? Yes, to the top of the charts it goes. (Bandcamp link)

Hello Whirled – Down on Sex and Romance

Release date: January 30th
Record label: Self-released
Genre: Lo-fi, power pop
Formats: Digital (free)
Pull track: White World

I have to include this project (“album” doesn’t quite cover it) just for the sheer scope and ambition of it. It’s a 64-song, career-spanning Robert Pollard cover album recorded by, as far as I can tell, just one person from New Jersey. And these are all pretty deep Pollard cuts here—the casual Guided by Voices fan might recognize two, three songs here tops. What’s the most well-known song on Down on Sex and Romance—Chicken Blows? The Brides Have Hit Glass?

I am not near to tell you that H. World, Ben Spizuco, has beaten his biggest influence at performing his own songs, or that each of these 64 covers unlocks an exciting new dimension to the original (although quite a few of them do). Spizuco doesn’t have the vocal range of Pollard, but this is only overtly noticeable on a couple of the ballads. The album’s at its best when it’s triumphantly plowing through rockers like “Expecting Brainchild”, “Useless Inventions”, and “White World”. That it dresses up over 30 years of varying lineups, songwriting partners, and recording techniques in the same lo-fi clothing is a feature to my ears rather than a bug. Whether these songs were originally recorded in a slick studio, in a basement with friends, or alone on a 4-track, Spizuco provides the throughline—it’s all Pollard. Something from Alien Lanes isn’t more sacred than something from Force Fields at Home on Down on Sex and Romance—why shouldn’t they sit side by side? All of it adds up to an almost-69 Love Songs tribute to one of the few songwriters who inspires the devotion necessary to see through such an endeavor and has the back catalog to make it possible. (Bandcamp link)

Also notable:

2 thoughts on “Pressing Concerns: Editrix, Yasmin Williams, Captain Frederickson, Hello Whirled

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