Pressing Concerns: Rosali, Dan Wriggins, Ganser, Mope City

I’m capping off an incredibly busy week at Rosy Overdrive with four new records to discuss on this Bandcamp Friday. Here, I talk about new albums from Rosali and Mope City, Dan Wriggins‘ Utah Phillips cover EP, and the Ganser remix EP. Also out today (May 7th) are new albums from Jacober and Oblivion Orchestra, which I reviewed on Monday along with a couple others. I also wrote about the new Guided by Voices album on Wednesday–it was supposed to be part of this post, but, unsurprisingly, I went way too long on the subject at hand for it to fit here. Finally, part two of my collaborative post with Zach Zollo of Osmosis Tones is up today, and you can always check out Part I if you haven’t yet.

Rosali – No Medium

Release date: May 7th
Record label: Spinster
Genre: Folk rock, country rock
Formats: Vinyl, CD, digital
Pull track: Bones

No Medium, the third album from Philadelphia’s Rosali Middleman, is a folk rock record—in that it genuinely sounds like a rock band playing these songs, rather than a “roots” music group that just happens to utilize traditional rock instrumentation. Some of that can be attributed to Middleman’s backing band for No Medium, the Midwestern lo-fi garage rock David Nance Group. I’m a fan of David Nance’s albums with his own band, but I did have some trepidation that they might overwhelm Middleman’s songwriting. The record suffers from no such malaise, however—if anything, Middleman sounds sharper than ever. Of course, Middleman herself is no strange to the “rocking” music—check out her work with Long Hots, or even the guitar showcase midway through “I Wanna Know” from her 2018 solo album, Trouble Anyway, both of which help explain why the team-up makes more sense than it did to me at first blush.  No Medium ends up a varied album, containing some of the most cathartic rock moments of Rosali’s solo career as well as stripped-down, mid-tempo breath-catchers.

Middleman and the band converge to make fireworks early on in No Medium with the back-to-back punch of “Bones” and “Pour Over Ice”. The former’s careening opening riff is an instant attention-grabber, and Middleman doesn’t let go while singing of extricating herself from an unpleasant relationship (“I’ll gather my bones and go back home / And be alone, be alone”).  Middleman’s lead guitar in “Pour Over Ice” rivals the blast of “Bones” just one song later, propelling her lyrics grappling with substance abuse to that of a soaring anthem. “Whatever Love” isn’t as in-your-face as those two songs, but its smooth country-rock style is another full-band musical success, and Middleman’s poignant lyrics about resolving to be okay in spite of the swirling of emotions both within and around her is a theme that feels central to No Medium.

The slower moments on the record are just as impactful. The instrumentation on these songs is no less deft, and Middleman saves some of her best writing for them, such as in “Whisper”, which according to Middleman is about a psychic New York taxi driver she met on the way to a show, or her tale of grief on “Your Shadow”. “All This Lightning”, the album’s centerpiece, is a smoldering song about staring down the blossoming of an interpersonal relationship and taking joy in giving into wherever it goes without fear. While “Lightning” lands right in the heat of the moment, album closer “Tender Heart” comes across like its older, settled-down sibling. The former song’s radical honesty and openness that comes from rush of euphoria contrasts with that of the familiarity-birthed, long-term openness that “Tender Heart” has earned.  “By and large, we’ve stormed this weather,” Middleman sings—she’s now conquered the lightning, and is able to look across everything with clarity and consider what comes next. Fascinatingly, “Tender Heart” actually predates “All This Lightning” by over a decade—it was written in 2006—but Middleman makes the right choice to finally give it a home on No Medium. It’s the perfect capstone for a record that grapples with some fairly universal themes in a confident and affirming way but, instead of giving into the shallow and cliché, works precisely because of how personally evocative Middleman makes these songs. (Bandcamp link)

Dan Wriggins – Still Is: Dan Wriggins Sings Utah Phillips

Release date: May 7th
Record label: Orindal
Genre: Folk, country
Formats: Digital
Pull track: I Think of You

Friendship’s Dan Wriggins is fresh off of his debut solo releases, the “Dent / The Diner” single and the Mr. Chill EP, and he’s back for a third time this year with a collection of covers from the songbook of folk singer and labor activist Utah Phillips. These five songs are (mostly) from the same recording sessions from the aforementioned EP and single, and have found a home as a digital-only Bandcamp release after Wriggins was unsure whether or not they’d ever be released. One doesn’t have to be familiar with Utah Phillips’ work to appreciate Still Is—that’s a testament both to Phillips’ original songs and how Wriggins performs them. Wriggins’ five selections reveal in Phillips a talented writer who could be bluntly, blisteringly political and just as affecting on the personal level.

“All Used Up”, which from what I understand seems to be one of Phillips’ signature songs, doesn’t sugarcoat the human effects of capitalist exploitation but remains defiant in its face, and it’s easy to see why it would resonate as a folk standard and how it helped earn Phillips his reputation. Wriggins adds updated lyrics to “This Land Is Not Our Land”, which itself is an update (but not a refutation!) of the Woody Guthrie song, and the drawn out punchline about investment bankers shows Wriggins gets the power of humor and of not being so deadly serious all the time in conveying these kinds of messages. The middle section of Still Is is made up of “I Think of You” and “Going Away”, a pair of more intimate songs that find Phillips ruminating on loneliness, love, and nature, among other topics. With slightly less references to trains, they could pass as Friendship or Wriggins solo songs, especially the heartbreaking “Going Away”, which was recorded by David Settle of The Fragiles on a porch in Philadelphia.

Still Is concludes with the nuclear dread of “Enola Gay”, a recording that I find genuinely difficult to listen to. Wriggins’ typically warm voice, the one that made him Mr. Chill, becomes transformed into a strained howl that grows more and more unhinged and troubled over cheerily-strummed cowboy chords. I don’t believe that I need to explain how such a performance is necessary to capture one of the most disturbing moments in all of human history, or how “Enola Gay” remains relevant in American politics in 2021, two things of which I’m sure Wriggins was cognizant when he chose this particular song. Indeed, Wriggins has said that the EP is called Still Is to emphasize that these songs are our present, not just the past. The pilot of the Enola Gay may sit in a far-off control room instead of in the cockpit, but he still is. However, the narrator of “All Used Up”, who uses what remains of his facilities to give back to those who deserve it, and the vow to organize in “This Land Is Not Your Land”—they still are, too. 

All proceeds from this EP are being donated to the People’s Fridge in West Philadelphia. (Bandcamp link)

Ganser – Look at the Sun

Release date: May 6th
Record label: Felte
Genre: Post-punk, dance-punk, electronic
Formats: Digital
Pull track: Emergency Equipment and Exits (Bartees Strange Remix)

With all due respect, I cannot relate any less to the people who bemoan not being able to break out of the cycle of listening to the same three or four albums on repeat and never branching out musically. I have the opposite problem—I’m like a shark, always moving from new (to me) album to album, to the point where I know damn well I’m not giving everything I listen to the attention it probably merits. Starting Rosy Overdrive has helped with this, because now I’m always considering what, if anything, I want to say about a given album or EP or song and it helps me return to them. In November 2020, however—which is when my Notes App says I first listened to Ganser’s sophomore album, Just Look at the Sky—Rosy Overdrive was just a vague idea in my head, and I was just someone plowing through every album from The Hell Year that looked interesting and wanted to hear before the end of December (after which, I guess, I can’t listen to music from 2020 any more?).

Which brings us to Look at the Sun, an EP of remixes from Just Look at the Sky that not only is enjoyable in its own right but caused me to go back to last year’s Ganser record and appreciate that one more as well. These five revamped songs (constituting over half of Just Look at the Sky’s original track list) are helmed by an all-star cast of collaborators who interpret their tracks in fairly divergent fashion. Bartees Strange takes on “Emergency Equipment and Exits”, and he wisely keeps that song’s propulsive energy intact, kicking the song into an even higher gear. Meanwhile, Algiers’ take on “Told You So” converts the track to the dancefloor with surprising ease. Sadie Dupuis of Sad13 takes the opposite route from Bartees Strange in her remix of “Bad Form”. The original version was a slice of garage rock/post-punk that recalled Gang of Four and Wire and made for one of Just Look at the Sky’s more accessible moments, but in Look at the Sun, the song floats along, unmoored from its original musical grounding. I’d be disappointed if there wasn’t one remix here that’s absolutely bonkers, and thankfully Girl Band’s Adam Faulkner delivers by turning “Self Service” into a barrage of noise and percussion that renders the song’s vocals nearly inaudible. Perhaps I took the long way around with Ganser by getting into the original songs through their remixes, but it’s not like this was the “wrong” way to do it. Nothing wrong with Look at the Sun at all. (Bandcamp link)

Mope City – Within the Walls

Release date: April 30th
Record label: Tenth Court
Genre: Slowcore
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull track: Don’t Understand the Shorthand

The third album from the Sydney, Australia-based Mope City is a record of subtly beautiful, electric slowcore. The band’s two vocalists, Matthew Neville and Amaya Lang, frequently trade off between each other or harmonize together in a way that reminds me of Carissa’s Wierd, and both of them can trot out a flat vocal inflection that sounds at times like a less angry Unwound, without any of the screaming parts. This particular comparison is at its most prevalent in the nervy, thorny “Covered in Might”, but elsewhere, such as in early highlight “Don’t Understand the Shorthand”, Mope City opt for shimmering bursts of melody. That song’s tale of communication woes over languid guitar is vintage slowcore melancholy.

Within the Walls, somewhat surprisingly, seems to make an effort to not trade entirely in the homogenous sound of their chosen genre, throwing the claustrophobic, acoustic “Trapped as a Child” and the late-night, bass-driven jazz of “A Mannequin Head Smiled (A Mannequin Head Smile)” in the middle of the album, not to mention the minimalist album closer of “When X Means Y”. Still, Mope City always return to their (ahem) core sound, with songs like “Umbilichord” and “Figure in My Peripheral” populating the album’s second half with the kind of crescendoing, post-rock-evoking slowcore a la Bedhead. I love a lot of this kind of music, but bands that plant themselves firmly in the middle of it are playing a dangerous game—it’s just as easy to lapse into something generic and forgettable as it is to craft a surface-level imitation of the genre’s greats.  Within the Walls threads this needle and creates a memorable collection of songs in the process. (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: