Pressing Concerns: Fishboy, This Is Lorelei, Oblivz, The Royal Arctic Institute

Pressing Concerns is back, this time talking about four new releases. I’m covering the newest LP from Fishboy, as well as EPs from This Is Lorelei, Oblivz, and The Royal Arctic Institute.

As always, be sure to check out previous Pressing Concerns for more new music. Expect another one of these next week, and I’m also working on something else exciting that should be done soon.

Fishboy – Waitsgiving

Release date: April 2nd
Record label: Lauren
Genre: Power pop, twee pop, folk rock
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull track: Greatness Waitress

Waitsgiving, the latest album from Denton’s Fishboy, is an intricate, detailed work of indie rock storytelling that weaves a cohesive and unique narrative across ten songs, forty years, and three generations of characters.  Singer and bandleader Eric Michener isn’t deterred at all by the fact that such unabashedly lyrical works are usually reserved for the likes of progressive rockers and other music genres noted for grandiosity. Instead, Fishboy gleefully marry their pop rock instrumentals to Michener’s grand tale. Musically, Fishboy recall the midpoint between Elephant Six orchestral pop and folk punk in which Nana Grizol often reside (another folk punker, Sean Bonnette of AJJ, makes a backing vocal appearance on “Snocone Creator”), and they use their relatively humble brand of folk rock as a launching pad for lofty ambitions like fellow Texans Okkervil River (particularly in the pivotal “Seventies Singer”). Meanwhile, the pontificating, limousine-commuting narrator of “Driver Choreographer” reads like a character John K. Samson would write. 

It should be noted that those aforementioned acts are contemporaries of the long-running Fishboy project, rather than influences, and also that, for all those acts’ love of story-songs, none of them have ever made a record-long narrative as clear as that of Waitsgiving. It’s the first record I’ve covered here that could legitimately be described as needing spoiler warnings. With that in mind, I won’t go too heavily into the plot of Waitsgiving, except to say that one begins connecting the characters and threads together on the first listen and I was able to get the gist after a few times through, and also that Michener’s song-by-song discussions on the Fishboy website are helpful in filling any remaining gaps. Taking all of Waitsgiving in at once, it’s refreshing to hear a band just go for it like Fishboy have done here. Could the aggressive sincerity of record be read as “corny” for someone as “poisoned by irony” as this author is on occasion? Sure. But the album works for two reasons. One: the album’s celebration of the creation of art for art’s sake has been well-earned by Michener and Fishboy, who have been doing just that for nearly two decades. When Michener sings, “If no one hears, that don’t mean a song shouldn’t be sung”, he’s in character, but it’s clear that the author is right there with the Bass Digger. Second, and just as importantly: Waitsgiving has the songs to back up their conceptual moon-shot (and then some). It’s does seem little ironic that a concept album about waiting serves up songs as immediate and catchy as “Greatness Waitress” and “Drive Choreographer”. But irony doesn’t have anything to do with it—if there’s anything to take from Waitsgiving, it’s that these songs would be just as valuable if we weren’t hearing them. (Bandcamp link)

This Is Lorelei – Bad Forever

Release date: April 2nd
Record label: Wharf Cat
Genre: Pop punk
Formats: Digital
Pull track: Garbage

Nate Amos wants to be bad forever. His solo project, This Is Lorelei, has been churning out a steady stream of singles and EPs over the past few months (I’ve highlighted some songs from a couple of them) but the latest release under his moniker stands a cut above the others. Bad Forever, which plows through nine songs in about a dozen minutes, finds Amos with the guitars cranked up, in full pop punk mode. It’s (yet another) left turn for This Is Lorelei, but one that makes sense for the versatile yet typically hooky music made by Amos. The ripping, hard-charging rock band fare of Bad Forever is sloppier and, in a sense, trashier than the (relatively) more restrained, measured textures of the usual This Is Lorelei output—and Amos’ lyrics rise to the occasion. “I know that I’m garbage, but why the hell you throwing me out?” he cracks in “Garbage”, while the nightmare trip of “Unhappy/Acid” is effectively a Blink-182 song from a darker (in theme, not quality) timeline.

Amos gets an assist from Lily Konigsberg and Ani Ivry-Block of Palberta, who feature prominently throughout Bad Forever. Although at least one of them sings backing vocals on almost every song, the staggered a capella intro to “Another Banger” qualifies as the most Palberta moment on the EP. Elsewhere, they take on the function of a Greek chorus to some of Amos’ wilder lyrical moments: “You’re a shit talk man! Well, you’re not that bad…” they shout over the penultimate rave-up of “Crack”.  Amos comes off as teetering on the edge of something throughout the frenetic pace of Bad Forever. That he broke out his pop punk banger persona for these songs in particular almost feels like he’s partying through it—when he says he “wants to fucking go” in the fuzz-fest “Laughing”, I wouldn’t test him. All of this gives the closing title track—an acoustic number whose reflective lyrics come in the form of a duet—a surprising weight. How unexpected, and beautiful. (Bandcamp link)

Oblivz – Uplifts

Release date: April 5th
Record label: Self-released
Genre: Synthpop
Formats: Cassette, digital
Pull track: Time Cop

Oblivz is Charlie Wilmoth and Andrew Slater, who are (slightly) more well-known as half of the Pittsburgh/Morgantown rock band Fox Japan. Their main project released the excellent album What We’re Not last year, but while that record recalled vintage guitar pop bands like The Chills and Teenage Fanclub, Oblivz veers headfirst into electronic territory. Slater does interject his guitar into Uplifts’ four tracks (his triumphant riff at the end of “Two Is Impossible” is a highlight), but there’s no mistaking this for anything but a synthpop EP through and through. Neither Wilmoth nor Slater live near each other anymore (the former is in Los Angeles and the latter in Bloomington, Indiana), so Uplifts was constructed remotely last year. Its existence is a product of the COVID-19 pandemic, and this is reflected in the opening track, “Eat Shit”.  The song floats along over a mid-tempo drum machine and synths, which belie its scared and angry lyrics. It captures the feeling of helplessness in the face of an uncaring world that’s only been exacerbated since last March, and distracting oneself with mindless streaming content just to carry on. “Life is rough but entertainment’s cheap,” laments whichever of the two is singing at that point in the song.

Oblivz has admitted that the band’s lyrics don’t stray far from those of Fox Japan, and there’s certainly familiarity in the darkly humorous “Only the Weak Survive” (featuring the brag “You could knock me over with a feather duster, kid, so come on” over swelling synth strings) and in “Two Is Impossible”’s tale of struggle and futility. Most fascinating to me are the thorny words behind the treadmill-pop of “Time Cop”. I asked my partner what they thought the titular phrase was, and it made them think of the voice inside one’s head that criticizes every moment that isn’t being spent on “productivity”. I was thinking more along the lines of how social media can destroy the idea of time in any meaningful sense of the word (key line: “I can’t live my life on the Internet / Because I can’t feel alive on the Internet”), and it probably has something to do with the pandemic too, but either way, “Time Cop” has a chorus hook that rivals anything from Fox Japan. None of their main band’s wit has been lost in translation, and Wilmoth and Slater have proven themselves to be just as deft at constructing this kind of music with Oblivz. (Bandcamp link)

The Royal Arctic Institute – Sodium Light

Release date: April 2nd
Record label: Rhyme & Reason
Genre: Post-rock, jazz rock
Formats: Cassette, digital
Pull track: Tomorrowmorrow Land

New York’s Royal Arctic Institute are an instrumental group that makes “post-punk, cinematic jazz” and cites both Slint and Dick Dale as influences. The band’s various members all have impressive pedigrees, having shared stages or recording studios with the likes of Roky Erickson (guitarist John Leon), Townes Van Zandt (bassist David Motamed), and Arthur Lee (both Motamed and drummer Lyle Hysen). This collection of musicians (which, for this release, are rounded out by lead guitarist Lynn Wright and keyboardist Carl Baggaley) could probably play just about anything they wanted, which lends some extra weight to the deliberate musical choices they make and what they evoke on their latest EP, Sodium Light. “Tomorrowmorrow Land” opens the record up with some languid guitar work, but Hysen’s steady drumbeat doesn’t let the song drift off into “sleepy” territory—it’s all upbeat and alert. The track slowly builds to an eventful second half that features percussion crashes, keyboard stabs, and busy bass playing from Motamed underscoring it all.

Sodium Light’s middle section is where the band allow the songs to wander a bit. The relatively sparse percussion of “Different in Sodium Light” lets Wright fill the space with delicate solos, while Leon lets his guitar playing drift in and out of “13 Christmases at Sea”, content to let the instrument reverberate as the rest of the band leisurely move along. The strutting of closing track “Prince of Wisconsin” is the most overtly jazzy The Royal Arctic Institute get on this EP—it’s also the one song where Baggaley lets his playing loose, rather than showing restraint in service of the record’s overall atmosphere. If Sodium Light is the cinematic experience that The Royal Arctic Institute strive to evoke, then “Prince of Wisconsin” is the jaunty closing credits number that plays the audience out and lets them know that the long journey is now over. It’s an ending note of hope from the band, who created this EP in the midst of a global pandemic and I’m sure would love to get a chance to play these songs for an audience before the next Royal Arctic Institute release comes around. (Bandcamp link)

Also notable:

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