Pressing Concerns: The Crowd Scene, Anika Pyle, Longstocking, The Fragiles, The Boys with the Perpetual Nervousness

We are back again! In this fourth, mid-February installment of Pressing Concerns, I highlight the third album from Virginia’s The Crowd Scene, the first solo record from Anika Pyle (Katie Ellen/Chumped), the second album from janglers The Boys with the Perpetual Nervousness, the reissue of 90’s queercore band Longstocking’s discography, and a new release from the lo-fi pop stylings of The Fragiles. You aren’t gonna want to miss any of these albums, folks. You’ll want to be sitting down for this. You’re going to be on the edge of –oh, just read these.

If you can’t get enough of album roundup posts, be sure to check out previous Pressing Concerns entries. I’m hoping that the next edition goes out roughly a week from when this one goes live, so watch this space!

The Crowd Scene – South Circular

Release date: December 11th 
Record label: Self-released
Genre: Power pop, orchestral pop
Formats: CD, digital
Pull track: Soho Square

Virginia-by-way-of-England band The Crowd Scene certainly work at their own pace. Their debut album, Turn Left at Greenland, was released in 1998, and their sophomore effort followed merely a decade later. With this in mind, I think Rosy Overdrive can be forgiven for being a couple months late to December 2020’s South Circular, their third LP. Led by the duo of Grahame Davies and Anne Rogers, South Circular clearly takes influence from the lush orchestral pop of the early Rock era, but the time period it takes me back to above all else is the early 2000s, when troubadours like Brendan Benson and Elliott Smith could find success by marrying their smartly-penned tunes with cherry-picked pop production and instrumentation from decades past and present.

The album starts with the airy, minimalist “Mistake I Had to Make” that’s reminiscent of the lounge-pop of Ivy or even a trimmed Stereolab, but this is either a red herring or an example of The Crowd Scene’s dexterity depending on your point of view. By the halfway mark, they’ve already run through the twang of “Too Late to Send Letters”, the bright hues of “Soho Square”, and the closest thing South Circular has to a straight-up rocker in the extended guitar soloing of “Records You Love the Most”. Davies’ clear and ageless lead vocals throughout the record remind me of Jon Brion’s solo work, while the languid “You Can Always Come Home” would fit right at home on an album by one of Brion’s frequent collaborators, Aimee Mann. The around-the-fire, reflective acoustic closer “Brotherhood of the Leaky Boot” sounds like something off of Paul McCartney’s latest album, which South Circular actually predates by a week. Time is a funny thing. The Crowd Scene has shown throughout their career that they don’t allow themselves to be controlled by it, and with South Circular they’ve put together a collection of ten strong songs that will help them weather it. (Bandcamp link)

Anika Pyle – Wild River

Release date: February 12th                      
Record label: June/Quote Unquote
Genre: Indie folk, synthpop, spoken word
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull track: Emerald City

Anika Pyle spent the majority of the 2010s fronting emo-tinged DIY punk bands Chumped and Katie Ellen, far from household names but revered in certain circles and widely influential in several scenes, particularly in her current stomping grounds of Philadelphia. That someone as musically active as Pyle has finally made her first solo album isn’t surprising, especially as it’s inching up on four years since the last full-length she was involved with (Katie Ellen’s sole LP). Wild River, however, is not the “Anika Pyle solo album” that a casual Chumped or Katie Ellen listener might conjure up in their head. It’s a sparse album, built from minimal synths, quiet acoustic guitar, and Pyle’s words—often spoken, but even when sung landing as evocative and arresting as her poetry does.

This didn’t exactly come out of nowhere—Katie Ellen was just as likely to break out the acoustics and slow the tempo down as they were to rip like Chumped, but that seemed like such a natural progression for Pyle that I didn’t notice it too much. With Wild River, however, we’re confronted with this dimension of Pyle’s songwriting head-on. The album’s musical palette is, to me, reminiscent of Allison Crutchfield, another pop punker who made the transition to solo album by embracing a similar toolbox. Lyrically and thematically, however, comparisons to Wild River fall flat—it is a deeply personal record that could only have been made by Pyle herself.

Turning down the amps on one’s music and “pivoting to synthpop” conjure images of trying to make a finished product that’s more widely palatable for mass consumption, potent if successfully threaded but at its worst merely wallpaper to blend into the background of a mood playlist or melodrama. Wild River is no such compromise—Anika Pyle uses her new music vocabulary to command your full attention. Spoken word pieces, recurring themes, and an unflinching account of a very real loss make Wild River nothing short of active listening. This is not to say that individual songs from it can’t stand on their own—“Emerald City” and “Haiku for Everything You Loved and Miss” are, in their own way, confident, modern pop songs. It is to say that as powerful as “Orange Flowers” is by itself, hearing it immediately after “Mexican Restaurant Where I Last Saw My Father” stirs up emotion that musicians rarely attempt to stir, let alone succeed in doing. “The significance of letting a grown man cry” carries that much more heft. It is to say that “Look up, you dummy” and “Life is a funny haha” become more than just single lines as you carry them with you throughout Wild River. It’s music that will make you appreciate a piece of pie—like, really appreciate—and there’s nothing stronger than that. (Bandcamp link)

The Boys with the Perpetual Nervousness – Songs from Another Life

Release date: February 5th 
Record label: Bobo Integral
Genre: Jangle pop
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull track: Can’t You See?

When Teenage Fanclub put out their breakthrough Bandwagonesque in 1991, it was so widely anointed a spiritual sequel to Big Star’s three-album run in the 1970s that Big Star itself acknowledged this fact in a reissue’s liner notes. While the Fannies have thankfully stayed together long after their initial rise, this has nevertheless not prevented The Boys with the Perpetual Nervousness from submitting their bid to become third-generation torchbearers. And what a bid it is—Songs from Another Life’s all-too-short runtime is stuffed to the brim with jangling guitars, beautiful vocal melodies, and bright, shiny numbers with titles like “Waking Up in the Sunshine” and “Summer” that still somehow have a melancholy cloud hanging over them.

The Teenage Fanclub comparisons are unavoidable, right down to the Scottish accent of Andrew Taylor, one half of the duo behind TBWTPN. But Taylor and his counterpart, Gonzalo Marcos, know better than to stake their reputation on one act (of course, so did TFC look elsewhere than Big Star to draw from their sound). They cite both other mile markers in their jangle pop lineage (The Beach Boys, The Byrds, R.E.M.) as well as offshoots from it (Dinosaur Jr., Weezer, Fountains of Wayne)—and the synth accents of the album’s final two songs suggest that they’re no Luddites on principle. TBWTPN work very hard to wring genuinely affecting emotional material from these well-worn tools, and their best moments are completely transcendent. The under-two-minute plea of “Can’t You See?” is instantly memorable, and the way they subtly shift from “urgent” to “contemplative” for the following track (“Rose Tinted Glass”) without fundamentally changing up their sound is deft indeed. There’s very little not to like about Songs from Another Life. (Bandcamp link)

Longstocking – Once Upon a Time Called Now and Singles & Demos: 1994-1998

Release date: February 5th                   
Record label: Jealous Butcher
Genre: Queercore, riot grrl
Formats: Vinyl/digital (Once Upon a Time Called Now), digital (Singles & Demos)
Pull track: Jehu on a Rollercoaster

The first reissue I’m covering in Pressing Concerns is a monster. Los Angeles’s Longstocking released one album (1997’s Once Upon a Time Called Now) and a handful of singles before disintegrating as the century turned. Some members of the band, mainly lead vocalist and primary songwriter Tamala Poljak, later showed up in other bands afterwards, but during their brief, obscure run, Longstocking put together a reappraisal-worthy body of work. Jealous Butcher Records has risen to the task, putting out a remastered reissue of their sole LP, and appending a digital compilation of the rest of their recordings (Singles & Demos: 1994-1998) for good measure—all of which presents a picture of a band that achieved plenty in a short period of time.

The most immediately striking thing about Once Upon a Time Called Now is just how good it sounds. Musically and vocally, this could’ve been a major label release, sounding just as close to The Breeders as Bratmobile, if not closer. This is a function of recording and producing choices, of course, but also the songs themselves. Barely half a minute into “Jehu on a Rollercoaster”, they pull out all the stops on the chorus: plenty of “ooh”s, vocal harmonies, guitar-stab underscores. This is the first indication of what exactly Longstocking are capable of, but not the last—“Goddess, Pt. 4” is coming up, its “you look like a goddess, Shakespeare wrote about you in his sonnets” refrain being, if anything, the polar opposite of holier-than-thou punk posturing. If that alone wasn’t enough to put them in the pantheon of queercore royalty, Poljack kicks it over the finish line with the ripping alt-rock of “Not a Jerk”. Once Upon a Time Called Now is a half-hour all-killer, no-filler statement, and I’d recommend it to anyone who cares about punk or indie rock music. Singles & Demos: 1994-1998 is more optional listening—the early versions of the songs that would end up on the LP are interesting, but don’t merit many repeat spins for me. The compilation’s originals, however, contain quite a few gems. While not as cohesive or polished as the studio album, songs like the swinging “Rocking Chair” and the busy “Chance to Laugh” are as well-written as anything on Once Upon a Time, and you could fashion a nearly-as-worthy collection of songs from the recording dump presented. 

Riot grrl is on track to become reissued and repackaged just about as much as the original wave of punk rock has suffered through, as it arrives at its mid-life crisis of large-scale reunion tours and being namedropped by celebrities for cool points. Longstocking’s discography, however, in all its original glory, is a breath of fresh air from all that burgeoning cultural baggage. Once Upon a Time Called Now serves as a reminder of everything good and powerful that triggered the gold rush around the scene in the first place, as well as proving just how important a second glance with the benefit of time can be to understanding and appreciating an album. Once Upon a Time Called Now planted itself a ways off from MOR mainstream palatability, but was still a little too glossy for a movement that, even among the wider landscape of punk rock, stood out for its disinterest in concessions. The great trash compactor of time has crushed all these once-binding genres and scene dividers together. Longstocking, regardless of when and where they were, made a strong collection of songs that stand up against any rock music coming out over two decades later. (Album Bandcamp link) (Singles compilation Bandcamp link)

The Fragiles – On and On

Release date: February 12th                      
Record label: Living Lost
Genre: Fuzz rock, lo-fi rock
Formats: Cassette, digital
Pull track: Kaleidoscope

David Settle continues to keep busy. Last year he released two albums as Psychic Flowers (which ended up on my best of 2020 list) as well as another solid record from the longer-running Big Heet. This time it’s The Fragiles’ (mostly Settle, with a couple drum credits and a lead guitar credit) turn to drop an album with On and On, which continues the pop songwriting Psychic Flowers explored but also allows itself to stretch out a bit more than that project’s ramshackle nature. It’s all still very lo-fi, 8-tracked and all that, but that doesn’t constrain Settle’s dynamic ambitions—see opening with the five-minute, slow burn (for this kind of music, at least) of a title track before letting loose with fuzzy power pop of “Kaleidoscope”, a lead single if I’ve ever heard one.

One of the clearest influences on The Fragiles is Martin Newell, with On and On coming off as a scuzzier Cleaners from Venus on several occasions. The pastoral “Garden of Cleaners” is the lyrically explicit tribute, but to my ears “Armistice Day” (which shares a title with a Cleaners song) is the real dead ringer, the way it builds around a simple, catchy riff and then spends the rest of the song alternatively riding it out and trying to knock it off balance. This will only get you so far, however—if there’s a comparison point for the lumbering “Success Is…” on one of Newell’s albums, I haven’t heard it. Since time seems to be the unofficial theme of this post, I’m pleased that the album brings it all together again at the end with “Hourglass”, which calls back to the previously-mentioned “Kaleidoscope” and trades in the kind of beautiful existentialism of The Chills and Flying Nun Records—two more shadows cast over this album. Whatever the moniker, it’s another worthy effort from Settle and his collaborators. (Bandcamp 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: