Pressing Concerns: Stoner Control, 7-11 Jesus, Herzog, Snowhore

New Pressing Concerns, just in time for Bandcamp Friday! Today I talk about new albums from Stoner Control, 7-11 Jesus, and Herzog, as well as a reissue of Snowhore’s debut EP. It’s a smaller edition this time around, but I wanted to spotlight these four under-the-radar releases for the big Bandcamp holiday rather than holding on to them and adding more later. Several of the “also notables” are albums that intrigue me and I reserve the right to write about later—normally I’d hold them back until then, but since I’ll probably take a week or two off before I do another full one of these, I wanted to mention them.

Also out today (4/2) is Eleventh Dream Day’s Since Grazed—which I will have more to say about early next week (hopefully). Check it out in the meantime. And as always, be sure to consult previous editions of Pressing Concerns for hours upon hours of good new music. Look for a March 2021 playlist post sometime in the next two weeks.

Stoner Control – Sparkle Endlessly

Release date: March 19th
Record label: Sound Judgement
Genre: Power pop, pop punk
Formats: Digital
Pull track: Sparkle Endlessly

Portland’s Stoner Control are a real power trio. Guitarist Charley Williams, bassist Sam Greenspan, and drummer Michael Cathcart all contribute vocals and songwriting to the hooky, shiny, and appropriately-titled Sparkle Endlessly, which sees the band confidently plows through ten remarkably well-written guitar pop songs in thirty minutes and change. Before the record runs its course, they’ve done variations on their open-minded blend of catchy power-pop-punk that skew breezy, caffeinated, wistful, snotty—all the songs have distinct personalities that make listening to Sparkle Endlessly in full just about as rewarding as you can get with this kind of music.

Either a testament to their individual skills or how well they all work together, there’s no weak link throughout Sparkle Endlessly, regardless of who’s on vocals or credited as penning the song. Greenspan’s carefree, aurally sunglasses-clad talk-singing in “Learning to Swim” is the record’s first “wow” moment, while every second of the title track is immaculately executed, from the “Flagpole Sitta”-aping opening to the literal aping in the chorus. The starry-eyed “Only” sounds like Nick Thorburn fronting a jangle pop band, and it pairs nicely with the earnest charms of the album’s next track, “Open Ocean”. “Elevator World” is the (hypothetical) side two highlight, which dethrones Fountains of Wayne’s “Elevator Up” for the title of best power pop elevator-based song the moment Williams stretches the “go” in the “You gotta let me know / You gotta let me go” chorus into multiple-syllable territory.

Williams’ vocals sound like the midpoint between Mo Troper (who co-produced and contributed some guitar to the album) and Doug Martsch of Built to Spill, and Sparkle Endlessly does take the smart pop sensibilities of the former and works them out in a tight band setting like the best moments of the latter. I’m thinking of songs like “The Best Thing”, which starts off simply with Williams singing and playing alone, but then morphs into a soaring alt-rock number in its second half. The record closes with “Ctrl-F”, a garage rocker that contains some of the album’s sharpest lyrics and works as a send-off despite not really sounding like any of the songs that came before it. But that’s the story with Stoner Control on Sparkle Endlessly, an album that never stops finding ways to impress for its entire runtime. (Bandcamp link)

7-11 Jesus – Tree Dream

Release date: February 12th
Record label: Self-released
Genre: Shoegaze, noise rock
Formats: CD, cassette, digital
Pull track: Tried So Hard

Tree Dream is the self-recorded and self-released second album by the San Francisco-based in-the-red fuzz rock trio 7-11 Jesus. The band’s guitarist and singer, August Darula, has a weary but still emotive voice that’s sure to garner J. Mascis comparisons—J’s band is a clear influence on 7-11 Jesus, whose members all originally hail from Boston. Nü-shoegaze-grunge bands like Ovlov also come to mind throughout Tree Dream (they have a song called “Where’s My Dimi”, I feel obligated to point out). However, other than some moments in the Dino Jr. pastiche “Kill Your Friends”, 7-11 Jesus doesn’t really soar like the revved-up sonic blast-offs that characterize those bands—Tree Dream prefers to lumber. Most of the album lodges itself firmly in mid-tempo territory, hammered into place by the pounding of drummer Kieran Gill. Lyrically it’s hard to tell what’s going on over the squall, but “Tried So Hard” and its message of futility (“Things that I do won’t add up to very much”) pop up again and again throughout the record, and “Talk Show Host” isn’t the only song where a talk show host pops up.

The record subsequently ends up with a dark, Pacific Northwest vibe despite its California origins. The lurching instrumentals, Darula’s Sisyphean laments while attempting the Sisyphean task of singing over the guitar and Emma Jacobson’s bass—it all contributes to a lost and confused feeling that permeates Tree Dream, like the album title, which to me conjures up wandering around in the forest with increasing franticness, thinking “have I passed that tree before?” The album’s last two songs are a nice pallet cleanser after the wall of noise—“Death of a Son” is an oddly eerie synth interlude, and “Time to Die” plays Tree Dream out with a clear ringing piano and acoustic guitar. They’re both certainly curveballs, but I like the choice—it’s almost a thank you note from 7-11 Jesus for cranking it up and circling the drain with them for the majority of Tree Dream. (Bandcamp link)

Herzog – Fiction Writer

Release date: March 19th
Record label: Exit Stencil
Genre: Power pop
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull track: Today’s the Day

Herzog have been making their fuzzy garage rock out of Cleveland, Ohio for a decade now, and an entire year of that decade has been spent slowly rolling out Fiction Writer—the band released one song a month, finally completing the 12-song record in March. I’m not sure if this had been their plan all along, or if it was an adaption to the havoc COVID wreaked upon the process of putting out music, but listening to all these songs in the same place has confirmed to me that they’re all very much of a piece with each other and form something greater than the sum of their parts. Fiction Writer is a frequently roaring but multi-layered collection of meta-rock anthems that find Herzog both playing with and taking literally the album’s title and how it relates to themselves as a band. And they have a blast playing along with it, too.

Lead singer Nick Tolar’s clear, affable voice combined with the band’s populist (“subtlety-free”) music reminds me of Boston’s Hallelujah the Hills, and like with that band’s last album, Herzog now seem more inclined to look in the mirror and self-reflect as they transition from being a new, young band to a longer-running institution.  “Shadows” is about songwriter Tony Vorell’s time working at Cleveland’s Beachland Ballroom (and features an unexpected but welcome pedal steel guitar interlude courtesy of Stephen “Tebbs” Karney), while the title track and “If You’re Alone, You’re in Our Band” are both songs about being in bands and the strength Herzog take from this relationship, albeit in very different ways.  They still indulge in the garage rock numbers that garnered them semi-accurate Cloud Nothings and Weezer comparisons back in the day (see “I’m Being Replaced” and “Money”), and “Wrong Way”’s instrumental is a pure classic rock pastiche, but all of these songs have a similar aging musician/songwriter narrator, and it’s hard not to take the retro feel of the latter in particular as a deliberate extra layer of subtext. However, you don’t really need to connect the dots to appreciate Fiction Writer and its impressive assortment of hooky pop songs that just happen to do all of the above. (Bandcamp link)

Snowhore – Everything Tastes Bad (Reissue)

Release date: March 29th
Record label: Devil Town Tapes
Genre: Bedroom pop, lo-fi indie rock
Formats: Cassette, digital
Pull track: Laughing Waters

Everything Tastes Bad, the debut EP from Philadelphia’s Snowhore, initially received a limited, Bandcamp-only release in 2018, but a recent cassette reissue from Devil Town Tapes will hopefully see these songs reach a wider audience. The band is led by Veronica Isley, who is backed for the majority of Everything Tastes Bad by bassist Katee Della Monica (from the Rosy Overdrive-approved No Thank You) and drummer Greg Mendez. Most of these songs hover around the two-minute mark, and if you blink you might miss the short but effective snapshots that characterize Isley’s lyrical style. “Bad Friend” is a slice of brutality from the self-described “sensitive with a capital ‘s’” Isley, and even the upbeat opener “Laughing Waters” has a nostalgic sadness to its summer childhood imagery. At least “Gwynnie” closes the original version of Everything Tastes Bad with its head held high. The new reissue of the album comes with the previously-unreleased tunes “Sad Song” and “Maybe When I’m Older” added to the end of the release. Both of these are sparse, acoustic numbers reminiscent of Waxahatchee’s American Weekend—particularly the latter song, which is built off a delicately played riff that mirrors its lyrical question mark. The intimacy of these bonus tracks is an appealing alternate look at Isley’s songwriting, although songs like “Field of Dreams” do show that Snowhore can translate this weight to a full-band setting, and perhaps hint at future heights for the band. (Bandcamp link)

Also notable:

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