Pressing Concerns: Personal Space, MJ Lenderman, Mo Troper, Fake Fruit, Really From, Nineteen Thirteen

Today in Pressing Concerns, I highlight new releases from Personal Space, MJ Lenderman, Mo Troper, Fake Fruit, Really From and Nineteen Thirteen. Also coming out today (March 26th) is Chart for the Solution by Writhing Squares, an album that I wrote about earlier this week. For even more new music, be sure to check out previous editions of Pressing Concerns. I’m not sure when the next blog post will be, or what it will be–I do have a few albums earmarked to highlight in the coming weeks, and it’s about time for a new playlist too.

Personal Space – A Lifetime of Leisure

Release date: March 19th
Record label: Good Eye
Genre: Indie pop, chill math rock
Formats: Digital
Pull track: North Fork Wine

Brooklyn’s Personal Space ask more of the listener than your average chill indie guitar rock band—on A Lifetime of Leisure, they have quite a lot to say. The album’s ten tracks are populated with character sketches that look at various archetypes through the band’s leftist activist lens. Some of these are obvious—the chapeau-clad narrator of “Thinking Man” is a clear take on rise-and-grind Silicone Valley true believers, while it takes a bit of inferring to connect the (incredibly earworm-y) chorus of “North Fork Wine” to the failures of liberalism to which the song’s verses refer. “Ethical” media consumption, choices of wine, biting a Greek philosopher’s style—there’s nothing Personal Space can’t and won’t put under their analytical microscope. Even when the band gets more personal, it’s couched in similar language. “Overture” manages to be affecting and relatable in its portrayal of romantic uncertainty despite its talk of “standard issue reservations”, various European tourist destinations, and of course the titular transactional way of describing human connection.

Although I can’t really test this, I don’t think you need to fall on the same axes as Personal Space to enjoy A Lifetime of Leisure—if you aren’t paying attention to the lyrics, they’re just another ingredient in their oddly soothing brand of indie rock. Musically, the album is made up of languid pop songs that don’t neatly fall into jangle pop, psych-pop, or math rock boxes. I called The Shins “chill XTC” in a different post on this site, and I like that label here too—they have a new wave sensibility but without the nerviness of that band or, say, a Dismemberment Plan. The similarly-tough-to-pigeonhole Pinback also merits a mention. Ian MacKaye and G.W. Sok have their places in music, you know, but decades of bands raging against machines and the continuing death of the myth of “apolitical” culture have opened up new ground for Personal Space to explore on the same lyrical subjects.

That is to say, despite its critical analysis-bait lyrics, A Lifetime of Leisure is less “exhausting” and more “commiseration and comfort for the exhausted”. Is the conservative cultural echo chamber featured in “Dad USA” worth seething over? Sure, and Personal Space give the song a little more bite than the rest, but they never give into the anger at the expense of completing the image. Has the flattening of the curve of time perpetrated by how we engage with social media caused societal ripple effects with which we haven’t adequately grappled? Sure, but like “A Document of Every Occasion” describes, sometimes we can’t really do anything about it, other than just kind of dissociate into whatever years-old memory is served up to us on a silver platter. It’s chill, man. I’m supine. (Bandcamp link)

MJ Lenderman – Ghost of Your Guitar Solo

Release date: March 26th
Record label: Dear Life
Genre: Alt-country
Formats: CD, cassette, digital
Pull track: Someone Get the Grill Out of the Rain

Asheville singer-songwriter Jake Lenderman plays in the dreamy indie rock band Wednesday, but under his own name he’s made an album of lo-fi, offbeat country-punk that falls somewhere between David Berman (a noted lyrical influence) and early Simon Joyner (particularly in the voice cracking of “Catholic Priest” and the singsong melody of “Gentleman’s Jack”). Lenderman is an intriguing songwriter, finding fertile ground in the sight of Jack Nicholson sitting courtside at a Lakers game or the bizarre feeling of shame caused by seeing a friend or lover’s mother sleeping. Some of these songs come off as sketches, like the 70-second “Someone Get the Grill Out of the Rain”, which quickly presents its idea and doesn’t overstay its welcome, preferring to fly by like a twangy Guided by Voices or Magnetic Fields album track. Still, Lenderman gets out the line “Precious memories are the ones that suck” before the song ends—he’s not playing around.

Ghost of Your Guitar Solo is a short album, 25 minutes and anchored by two mostly-instrumental title tracks and a live version of one of the songs, but none of these potential padders really come off as filler. The first “Ghost of Your Guitar Solo” is a five-minute album opener that’s a bit of a red herring for the rest of the record but certainly lives up to its name, while the alternate version of “Gentleman’s Jack” offers up a livelier take on one of the album’s strongest moments. The second “Ghost of Your Guitar Solo” is really the only song here I could’ve done without, and even that one works as an interlude between the last track (the beautiful, groggily confused “Catholic Priest”) and the rest of the album. Perhaps Lenderman embraced brevity with Ghost of Your Guitar Solo as a change of pace after the last album released solely under his name, a 2019 self-titled record, clocked in at over an hour. The quality of these songs, however, leaves me wanting more and hoping we hear more from Lenderman soon. (Bandcamp link)

Mo Troper – Revolver

Release date: March 12th
Record label: Self-released
Genre: The Beatles
Formats: Digital
Pull track: Got to Get You into My Life

First of all, it was incredibly thoughtful of Mo Troper to choose my favorite Beatles album to cover in its entirety. As tempting as it would be to hear him plow through the White Album, instead we get to hear him tackle Revolver: the album that’s all hits, no misses. Well, except for “Yellow Submarine”. And the lyrics of “Taxman”, I guess. Anyway, the flipside is because Troper covered this album, and because his version of it is very good, now I have to figure out something new to say about the goddamn Beatles, or at least about their songs—so here goes. Revolver is a fit for Troper’s style in that it’s a collection of unmoored-from-time guitar pop songs that could’ve reasonably came from any decade of the post-rock-and-roll era. Where they differ, however, is in that Revolver is a foundational psychedelic rock document, whereas I’ve never really contemplated doing any hard drugs to Troper’s comparatively grounded music. And while there have been horns on his records before (“Dictator Out of Work” is a personal favorite), that still didn’t explain how he was going to tackle some of the album’s more baroque material on his own. So, how he approached the psychedelic and orchestral songs was what I was most curious about upon entry.

The droning sitars of “Love You To” and “Tomorrow Never Knows” become layered guitar workouts—they both end up sounding close to the non-album Beatles tune “Rain”, which Troper includes here as a bonus track. For the symphonic songs, “Eleanor Rigby” is played entirely on keyboard, while he goes the other way on “Got to Get You into My Life”, ending up with an even busier sound than the original. I do appreciate Troper’s innovations, and it’s also a treat to hear his versions of songs already firmly in his wheelhouse, like “I’m Only Sleeping” and “And Your Bird Can Sing”. However, my favorite moments on Mo Troper’s Revolver Presented by Mo Troper fall somewhere in between, like when he soars into the chorus of the aforementioned “Got to Get You Into My Life”, or his supremely fuzzed-out but otherwise mostly faithful take on “She Said She Said”.  The album closes with a reverent but distinctly Troper version of “Rain”, which despite not appearing on the original Revolver is, to me, the album in a nutshell—Troper could have tried to stick to the Beatles versions as much as possible or made everything sound exactly like a Natural Beauty outtake, but he’s too fond of these songs to be content with either narrow view.

Also, all proceeds from this album are being donated to Defense Fund PDX and Austin Mutual Aid. (Bandcamp link)

Fake Fruit – Fake Fruit

Release date: March 5th
Record label: Rocks in Your Head
Genre: Post-punk
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull track: Old Skin

Oakland-based four-piece band Fake Fruit offer up an economical version of post-punk on their self-titled debut album. They cite Pink Flag-era Wire and Pylon as influences, and musically they capture the same wobbly punk sensibilities as those bands, as well as the newest generation of acts drawing from that well (“Milkman”’s vocal chant and tight groove could be the foundation of a Parquet Courts song). That’s all well and good, but where they really set themselves apart is in frontwoman Hannah D’Amato’s lead vocals and lyrical interjections. She has no problem twisting and contorting her words to fit the music, trading in repetition and wringing the most out of a line via changes in inflection, but she still manages to pack a load of meaning into the lyrics that remain. “Lying Legal Horror Lawyers” gleefully begins with D’Amato shouting “Let’s talk about men’s rights! Let’s talk about their plight!” and the titular phrase. It’s not a linear narrative, but it’s evocative and it’s not hard to figure out where D’Amato’s mind is at from there. Likewise, the eventual refrain “I stuck my neck out for you, I did / It was a swing and a miss” from “Swing and a Miss” tells you more about what’s going on in a pair of sentences than most lyricists would give you in a full-length song. Fake Fruit is at their best when the band serves up appropriately punchy music for D’Amato to do her thing over, like the 60-second runaway train of “Old Skin” and the kiss-off “Don’t Put It on Me”. (Bandcamp link)

Really From – Really From

Release date: March 12th
Record label: Topshelf
Genre: Emo-jazz, math rock
Formats: Vinyl, CD, cassette, digital
Pull track: Quirk

With their third, self-titled album, Boston’s Really From take a musical turn towards the expansive, opening up their unique blend of jazz, emo, and math rock in new ways but never letting this get in the way of their most cutting and focused lyrics to date. In the record’s first trio of songs, we get both the down-stroked alt-rock verses of “Yellow Fever” and the ambient floating of “Apartment Song”, but the mood-setting of the former and the punchiness of the latter both make sense in context. “Yellow Fever” in particular benefits from the dexterity, with co-lead vocalist Michi Tassey grappling with the anger and hurt with being fetishized as an Asian woman in the verses, only for Really From and Tassey to both take a step back in the chorus and reflect on the broader questions these experiences pose. Really From grapples with identity throughout its length—prominently in “Try Lingual”, which is about attempting to learn to speak the language one’s parents grew up speaking, and in other vocalist Chris Lee-Rodriguez’s harrowing acoustic closer “The House”, which is unflinching in its portrayal of familial racial dynamics growing up in a half-Puerto Rican and half-Chinese household.

Really From is about moments as much as anything else. It’s about when the freewheeling, jazzy body of “Quirk” gives way to Chris Lee-Rodriguez’s stark proclamation that “Your father did this, your mother did too / The fault’s not on them” with minimal musical accompaniment, or when Tassey hands the lead vocals over to Lee-Rodriguez right before the second and somehow even more powerful climax of “I’m From Here”. A band putting together something this musically adventurous always runs the risk of getting lost in the weeds, which would be a shame here given what’s going on underneath in Really From. Moments like those, however, showcase just how potent this band can be when it all comes together—and come together they do. (Bandcamp link)

Nineteen Thirteen – MCMXIII

Release date: February 26th
Record label: Self-released
Genre: Hard rock, noise rock
Formats: CD, digital
Pull track: Post Blue Collar Blues

Dayton, Ohio’s Nineteen Thirteen make dramatic heavy rock music that comes fully-formed on their debut EP, MCMXIII. Even though they employ traditional guitar-bass-drums instrumentation, their stated influences of Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Western film soundtracks are reflected in the sprawling song lengths and conceptual turn-of-the-century industrial class themes that tie the record’s four songs together. Both the band’s name and the title of the EP refer to the year of the Great Dayton Flood, and the immediate and prolonged aftermath of this natural disaster is where vocalist Brett Hill finds fertile writing ground. In album thesis statement “Post Blue Collar Blues”, the band surveys a mid-American wasteland, Hill growling “Oh, we’re a damnable lot / Raised in abandoned factory plots” over a doomy stomp. The clouds don’t part after that, with Nineteen Thirteen then serving up the nine-minute World War I horror story “Dog Fight”, and “Old Face on the Wall” looks inward to no less ominous of a result. Though a new group, the members of Nineteen Thirteen have cut their teeth in various heavy metal and hard rock bands for multiple decades at this point, and it shows on MCMXIII. The EP (which, at 26 minutes, is longer than the MJ Lenderman album from earlier in the list) confidentially offers up crushing riffs, eerie atmospheres, and exhilarating build-ups, often right next to each other. (Bandcamp link)

Also notable:

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