At long last, the Rosy Overdrive “songs I enjoyed listening to in April 2021, not necessarily released in April 2021 but obviously there’s a lot of overlap” overview has gone live. Featuring: plenty of songs from albums/EPs that I’ve already written about on this blog, new music from upcoming releases I hope to cover further in the future, songs from new albums I probably won’t get around to discussing but wanted to highlight here, and a handful of older songs that I have exhumed for your benefit.
Eleventh Dream Day, Dazy, Dinosaur Jr., Emperor X, and Proper Nouns all get two songs this time around. Remember Sports get three songs—it’s a Remember Sports world, and we all must accept this. Check out older playlist posts if you’re liking what you see and hear.
Listen to/follow the entire playlist on Spotify here—Bandcamp links/embeds included below when available.
“Since Grazed”, Eleventh Dream Day
From Since Grazed (2021, Comedy Minus One)
The title and opening track of Eleventh Dream Day’s latest triumph, Since Grazed, is an early sign that the band has taken a different route this time around. The song doesn’t greet the listener with EDD’s typical Crazy Horse-esque electric theatrics, but rather the muted strumming of an acoustic guitar. Lead singer Rick Rizzo doesn’t even begin his vocals until over a minute into the track, and the song only starts to take shape when the first chorus arrives a minute later. “Since Grazed” then takes off with incredible vocal harmonies, echoing drums, and a triumphant lead vocal from Rizzo. It’s expansive, it’s dramatic, it’s both like nothing I’ve ever heard from Eleventh Dream Day and instantly one of their best songs ever. Read more about Since Grazed here.
“Greatness Waitress”, Fishboy
From Waitsgiving (2021, Lauren)
“Greatness Waitress” is not the opening act to Fishboy’s detailed, intricate indie rock opera Waitsgiving—that would be “The First Waitsgiving (Waitsgiving Founder)”, which does its scene-setting deftly in its own right—but it’s the moment when Fishboy’s latest record lets us know what we’re all in for as listeners. “Greatness Waitress” doesn’t let all the recurring people and objects it sets up for the album’s narrative (the sisters, the cassette tape diary, the record store) get in the way of one steamroller of a pop song. It’s ironic that a concept album about Waitsgiving serves up something so immediate and catchy as this. Read more about Waitsgiving here.
“Pinky Ring”, Remember Sports
From Like a Stone (2021, Father/Daughter)
I fucking love the new Remember Sports album, and I’m making up for not formally reviewing it by throwing a good quarter of Like a Stone on this playlist. “Pinky Ring” was released as a single, and I must’ve heard it on its own, but hearing it kick off Like a Stone really made it click for me. The band roars through the song with a bite that’s like a sharper cousin of the sloppy indie punk that put them on my (and most Remember Sports fans’) radar, slowing down their tempo but not their intensity. Bandleader Carmen Perry is fully equipped to take advantage of the space opened up around her vocals—“I wanna be the girl that talks, makes you fall down to your knees” is just the kind of attitude “Pinky Ring” needs.
“See the Bottom”, Dazy
From The Crowded Mind (2021, Very Loud Sounds)
The opening track to Dazy’s The Crowded Mind EP is an instant gratifier, blasting the listener with warm fuzz and wasting no time getting to the monster hook in its chorus. The band is actually the solo project of Richmond’s James Goodson, who delivers his short, sweet, revved up power pop over a drum machine and distortion. “See the Bottom” is the work of the one-man, lo-fi pop punk hero we need, if not the one we deserve. Read more about The Crowded Mind here.
“I Met the Stones”, Dinosaur Jr.
From Sweep It into Space (2021, Jagjaguwar)
I’m not the first one to point this out, but the new Dinosaur Jr. album sounds like they decided to make a whole record out of the hooky alt-rock singles from their “reunion” albums—nothing but “Almost Ready”s, “Over It”s, and “Tiny”s. It’s too early to proclaim Sweep It into Space their best since You’re Living All Over Me or Bug or Where You Been, but that they pulled something like this off is worth celebrating. Take album track “I Met the Stones”, which starts off with mid-tempo, chugging power chords as J. Mascis sings about, well, the time he met the Stones (“I got excited, I got depressed”, in case you’ve forgotten what a genius lyricist J. can be) before unexpectedly delivering a classic Mascis-Dinosaur Jr. chorus featuring perfectly-deployed backing vocals. The blistering guitar solos are…less unexpected, but no less welcome.
“The Tyranny of Either/Or”, Evan Greer
From Spotify Is Surveillance (2021, Get Better/Don Giovanni)
Activist, author, and singer-songwriter Evan Greer is no stranger to rolling the issues for which she fights and her experiences with them into her recorded output, whether it’s not letting institutional terror and fear win in “Last iPhone” from 2019’s she/her/they/them, or the other songs on Spotify Is Surveillance which tackle everything from digital invasion of privacy to the banal cesspool of modern liberal bullshit. “The Tyranny of Either/Or”, an angry fuck-off anthem to TERFs and other transphobes, is perhaps the most powerful message on Greer’s newest album. “Why can’t you see our liberation’s intertwined?” Greer pleads to someone using their own gender as an excuse to attack others merely for existing. Greer then offers a rebuke to the tyranny alluded to in the song’s title: “We refuse to comply / With your pathological need to categorize”. “The Tyranny of Either/Or” is also an incredibly catchy song, with roaring power chords and Greer’s defiant vocals making sure the lyric packs as much of a punch as it possibly could.
“Time Cop”, Oblivz
From Uplifts (2021)
While Oblivz’s Uplifts EP doesn’t have a single dud, the treadmill-synthpop of “Time Cop” and its puzzle-piece lyrics make it a gem among gems. 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. Either way, the chorus hook of “Time Cop” has been lodged in my brain since I’ve heard it, and Oblivz co-creators Charlie Wilmoth and Andrew Slater have put together a song that’s as strong as anything from their main band, Fox Japan. Read more about Uplifts here.
“Donkey Kong”, Noods
From Blush (2021, Get Better)
So, one of the best songs of the year so far is called “Donkey Kong”. It’s not about Donkey Kong, per se, at least not any more than it’s about cable TV, futons, and heartless bastards. There’s such a glorious separation between the music and lyrics to “Donkey Kong”, the best song on Noods’ promising indie pop debut LP, Blush. Singer Trish Dieudonne guides the song through three minutes of ups and downs, seemingly describing the end of a relationship but through Dieudonne’s train-of-thought lyrics instead of a clear narrative. Confident, self-critical, momentarily at peace—Dieudonne has tried all the moods on by the time “Donkey Kong” is over. As much as the words to “Donkey Kong” deal with inner and outer turmoil, musically Noods have it all together on the track. “Donkey Kong” is a perfectly-constructed song—the melodic bass plodding that undergirds the whole thing, the triumphant synth that guides the song to its emotional peak, Nick Seip’s backing vocals, and of course Dieudonne’s excellent voice of her own. Noods are now very much on my radar, and I would encourage everyone else to keep an eye on them too.
“Marionette”, Ross Ingram
From Sell the Tape Machine (2021, Hogar)
“Marionette” is part of a biting one-two punch in the middle of Ross Ingram’s otherwise slower-paced and contemplative (but still very good) Sell the Tape Machine, along with the nearly-as-good “Oh You’re So Silent Now”. Ingram thunders “I am no cause, I’m no effect / This too shall pass, right through us” for the majority of “Marionette”’s length, his strained vocals reminiscent of the earlier, angrier work of fellow producer-songwriter John Vanderslice. Whether Ingram is trying to convince someone of the ephemera of the song’s lyric or repeating it to himself like a mantra, the emotional ups and downs throughout “Marionette” capture the entire essence of Sell the Tape Machine in under three minutes. Read more about Sell the Tape Machine here.
“The Dirt”, Nervous Dater
From Call in the Mess (2021, Counter Intuitive)
I like Nervous Dater. I’m not sure why it took me a couple months to get to Call in the Mess—2017 feels like so long ago, maybe I forgot how solid Don’t Be a Stranger was, but Call in the Mess is a great album that was worth the (self-imposed on my part) wait. Drummer Andrew Goetz takes the vocal lead on “The Dirt”, with usual vocalist Rachel Lightner taking a backseat. Lightner’s still featured prominently on the song, being somewhat of a co-lead singer on the verses and taking part in the shout-along chorus. “The Dirt”, even without said shout-along chorus, is an incredibly catchy song, featuring one of those classic power pop synth hooks as well as plenty from both Goetz’s and Lightner’s vocals. I love Goetz’s rough voice on the song, it reminds me of Adam Solomonian from Needles//Pins in the way it stubbornly remains melodic in spite of itself. The lyrics to “The Dirt” are emo gold in its telling off of a bad partner (“Loving something’s always gonna hurt”…”I regret all the time I wasted / All the time I spent on you”) and complete the package.
“Sad React”, Emperor X
(2020, Dreams of Field Recordings)
It’s hard to write a song about the fucking internet. All the examples I can think of (which I will graciously not name here) feel like they have to do it with a nod and a wink, like they’re saying “Oh, the novelty! A song about social media, how silly!” even when they have a real point they want to make. Emperor X’s Chad Matheny does not need these kinds of training wheels. This is the person who wrote “Allahu Akbar”, after all—he’s been thinking about the digital flow of information and rhetoric in a geopolitical context long before the current-day liberal panic about social-media radicalization. “Sad React” works because it’s serious as a heart attack. The titular phrase is played terrifyingly and hopelessly straight, while Matheny rattles off lyrics that perfectly capture the unavoidable feeling of ineptitude and helplessness that comes with watching every tragedy in the world unfold in real-time and being unable to do anything of consequence about it (“Somebody just stole my laundry: sad react / They threw our friends in a labor camp: sad react”) over a traditionally-Emperor X mix of acoustic guitar and electronic touches for a backing track. This song about the limits and consequences of “awareness” (as opposed to actual power) as a political solution are incredibly powerful after over a year of quarantine—surprisingly, the song actually pre-dates the pandemic by a month or two, but Emperor X also have some very good lockdown recordings that are worth checking out.
“Y2k”, Proper Nouns
From Feel Free (2021)
I went on about the similarities between Game Theory’s Scott Miller and Proper Nouns’ Spencer Compton last time I touched Compton’s music, and it still stands, but this time I’ll bring up a new point of comparison: Ted Leo, with or without his Pharmacists. I know I’m not the first to bring up Leo while discussing Proper Nouns’ latest album, Feel Free, but go on, listen to “Y2k” and tell me you don’t hear the similarities. The Nouns even throw in a reverby-dub outro at the end of the song, just like Leo’s band were wont to do! (It also begs the question—Is Ted Leo just agitprop Scott Miller? But I digress). There’s clearly a lot going on in the lyrics to “Y2k” that I can’t quite parse but that hasn’t stopped a few of its memorable lines from lodging themselves into my head (For example: “Narrative, no big deal, re-sidled bore (??) / Side-by-side, left to right, that mirror we look for (??)” and “Taste is gone, vision’s cut, life smells like past / Now I see nostalgia for a rung (?) I couldn’t grasp”).
“Faustina”, John R. Miller
From Depreciated (2021, Rounder)
The latest single from West Virginia’s John R. Miller is a rambling folk-country ode to both physical and internal restlessness. Nearly every line in “Faustina” is revealing, whether Miller’s singing about substance abuse, his inner fears, or his attempts to escape them. “[I’m] running from the deafening sound / Of a future with no one around”, he admits, accompanied by Russ Pahl’s the gorgeous pedal steel guitar—the way the instrument swells while Miller confesses “I’ve had friends, and I’ve let my friends down” couldn’t be any more lonesome. Miller’s wandering finds him name-checking both Vestal’s Gap (in northern Virginia, not too far from Miller’s hometown of Hedgesville) and the titular saint of divine mercy.
“Sentimentality”, Remember Sports
From Like a Stone (2021, Father/Daughter)
“Sentimentality” just gets better every time I hear it. This album track doesn’t quite immediately grab you the way the previously-discussed “Pinky Ring” does, but it’s perhaps an even better example of how Remember Sports has grown from scrappy college rock band to the absolute beast of a group that laid down Like a Stone. It’s a mid-tempo number that lulls you into false security by flirting with reverb-y jangle rock, only to knock you out in the chorus. Carmen Perry’s vocal turn is strong enough on its own to turn pacing-back-and-forth lyrics about relationship angst (as cover for personal angst, I think) into an unlikely anthem, but the rest of the band sees no reason why they can’t go as hard as Perry and play the shit out of the song right below the surface in a way a lesser band couldn’t pull off.
“Margaret Middle School”, Guided by Voices
From Earth Man Blues (2021, GBV Inc.)
While Guided by Voices’ 33rd album, Earth Man Blues, is ostensibly a linear rock opera, the pieces of evidence in favor of this—the many illusions to schooling and youth and the band sounding a lot like The Who—usually show up on “normal” Guided by Voices albums, too, so it’s hard to know what to make of this aspect of the record. Still, if going into Quadrophenia mode is what gets Robert Pollard to deliver songs like the 70-second sugar rush of “Margaret Middle School”, then I say: long live John H. Morrison Musical Productions! Read more about Earth Man Blues here.
“Confession”, Gold Connections
(2021, Gold Connections LLC)
The last time we heard from Richmond, Virginia’s Gold Connections on Rosy Overdrive, the Will Marsh project had just released the Ammunition EP, led by the shiny power pop single “Stick Figures”. Marsh’s latest, a one-off, represents more than a small left turn for those expecting more of the same. “Confession” features copious amounts of guitar reverb, atmospheric synths, a drum machine-led build-up, and low spoke-sung vocals from Marsh. The Gold Connections pivot to darkwave/post-punk has officially taken off. I don’t know whether this is a harbinger of future Gold Connections material to come or a stray exploration of Marsh’s other influences (Marsh explicitly cites Nick Cave, but I also hear more dancefloor-friendly acts like New Order). It’s not an entirely different world than previous Gold Connections releases, however—Marsh’s distinct vocal delivery and lo-fi guitar lines link the song to the band’s past, and both help guide “Confession” to a successful midpoint between their lo-fi indie rock and synthpop.
“Definite Darkness”, Cymbals Eat Guitars
From Lenses Alien (2011, Barsuk)
I wrote about Cymbals Eat Guitars with Zach Zollo over at Osmosis Tones earlier this month, so if you want to hear more about my thoughts on this band I’d advise you hop over there (and enjoy plenty of other quality music writing from Zach and maybe even me too). My research led me back through the Guitars’ discography and I found myself particularly enjoying Lenses Alien, which is not their best album per se but it might be the most Cymbals Eat Guitars of all the Cymbals Eat Guitars albums. And “Definite Darkness” might be the most Cymbals Eat Guitars song ever, a mid-tempo number that allows John Agnello’s lyrics to truly shine. He gifts us “There are people who put dirty hypodermic needles / Beneath the seat cushions in the movie theaters” and “I’ve been hearing the soft step of the gray-eyed governess” in the same song, the latter coming in the midst of a musical break for maximum impact.
“Don’t Be Fooled”, Heavenly
From Heavenly Vs. Satan (1991, Sarah)
I’m not sure why I never really got around to Heavenly until now—turns out they’re pretty good! The twee pop royalty group is of the Refined British Twee variety rather than the Sloppy American Twee, and while I don’t necessarily prefer the former over the latter, it works in the case of “Don’t Be Fooled”, where the clean guitar parts and bouncy bass work just as hard in service of getting the song lodged in your head as singer Amelia Fletcher’s airy vocals do. The lyrics to “Don’t Be Fooled” are as simple as they are inscrutable, with Fletcher imparting “When the one you love’s not the one that you’ve been dreaming of / Don’t be fooled by dreams” in the chorus—which, sure, but I’m not sure how this relates to the somewhat troubling verses.
“Hide Another Round”, Dinosaur Jr.
From Sweep It into Space (2021, Jagjaguwar)
Let’s not get complacent. I know J. Mascis gives off the impression that he could churn out something like “Hide Another Round” in his sleep, and while it does sound a little like “Tiny” from Dinosaur Jr.’s last album at times, “Hide Another Round” is the kind of Dinosaur Jr. song that makes the world a better place by merely existing for us to hear. Mascis leans pretty heavily on drummer Murph for this song, who pounds the immortal chorus hook into one’s head while J. remains the master of infusing his vocals with subtle inflection and emotion, giving just enough to make “Hide Another Round” stick. Like I said when I talked about “I Met the Stones” earlier, Sweep It into Space is fully stocked with hits like this—narrowing it down to just two songs for the playlist was difficult. Dinosaur Jr. remains firing on all cylinders long after most reunited bands would’ve run out of goodwill, so here’s to them.
“Bloomsday”, Samantha Crain
From I Guess We Live Here Now (2021, Real Kind)
The opening track from Samantha Crain’s latest EP, I Guess We Live Here Now, is a charming bit of folk-pop-rock and also doubles as the most uplifting song I’ve heard from Crain yet. The Oklahoma songwriter’s new record has been characterized as a positive epilogue to last year’s A Small Death, and “Bloomsday” (whose title is a reference to the day from Joyce’s Ulysses) certainly rises to the occasion. Crain interpolates “This Little Light of Mine”, of all things, to complement lyrics about agency and taking back control of one’s life (even if you are just, as Crain says, “making due with wax and pride”) accompanied by lilting country guitar and piano.
From 0 + 2 = 1 (1991, Alternative Tentacles)
Supposedly Nomeansno are going to have their discography reissued by Alternative Tentacles soon, and while I considered holding this song back until that happens, I decided to just highlight it “now” because there’s no date attached at the moment and these kinds of dealings (which, from what I understand, have been brought forth due to malpractice on the part of Nomeansno’s previous label) can end up in purgatory for God-knows-how-long. While “Now” isn’t on Nomeansno’s best-known album (that would be 1989’s Wrong), it’s perhaps their signature song. Lyrically, “Now” is some sort of manifesto, its punk poetry verses giving way to the battle cry (“Let’s get started: now”) at its heart, and musically it showcases Nomeansno’s heavier-and-more-technical Minutemen sound that is a key puzzle piece in the shape of punk to come. Hopefully Alternative Tentacles is able to make Nomeansno’s music accessible again in the near future.
“Stupid Thing”, Swim Camp
From Stupid Thing / First Day Back (2021, Know Hope)
The A-side to Philadelphia act Swim Camp’s latest single is a gorgeous piece of introspective pop rock. The creator of the project, Tom Morris, has a voice that reminds me of LVL UP/Trace Mountains’ Dave Benton, and “Stupid Thing” comes off as a more slowcore-influenced version of Benton’s nostalgic indie folk rock. It’s the kind of music that would get tagged as “bedroom pop” if it weren’t so immaculately produced, with violin performed by Molly Germer accenting Morris’ words. While “Stupid Thing” does reach back to childhood experiences at its outset, it doesn’t stay there, with Morris taking inspiration from his desire to collect “stupid things” as a kid to look inward as an adult (“Fixate on it / Dig it up now, let’s just make it whole”). “Stupid Thing” and its B-side, the musically heavier but similarly evocative “First Day Back”, have put Swim Camp firmly on the Rosy Overdrive radar.
“Laundry List”, Hit Like a Girl
From Heart Racer (2021, Refresh)
The opening track to New Jersey emo-indie-rock band Hit Like a Girl’s third album, Heart Racer, starts off gently and acoustically and slowly builds into a full sound by the end of its four minutes. “Laundry List” is an affecting song about a long-distance relationship, with the titular list being comprised of everything frontperson Nicolle Maroulis wants to do with the subject of the song when they’re together in person again. Maroulis is deep in the throes of what I like to call “big feelings” throughout the song, which finds them wondering if they’re crazy for waiting all day to receive a text from a certain person (no, that’s something that just happens) and brainstorming the best time and delivery system in which to first say “I love you” to their partner (yeah, I dunno the answer to that one).
“Rumblestrip”, Mikey Erg
From Mikey Erg (2021, Rad Girlfriend)
Pop punk ringer Mikey Erg’s latest self-titled album is 26 minutes of him excelling at what he does best, and the 90-second “Rumblestrip” is the most efficient hook delivery system on Mikey Erg. Erg has served us up a song that’s entirely just a chorus, all unnecessary fluff eliminated, aside from a brief but just-as-catchy guitar riff. “Rumblestrip” is ostensibly about being tired of touring, which makes me wonder if the “you” in the song is actually an “I”, but you can still pogo along either way. Erg also lays down a perfectly-executed cover of Green Day’s “Going to Pasalacqua” on the same record, and between that and Dazy’s lo-fi Billie Joe thing, I’m coming dangerously close to getting into that band again for the first time since high school. Can’t say I didn’t warn you.
“Thank You x3”, American Poetry Club
From Do You Believe in Your Heart?! (2021, It Takes Time)
American Poetry Club makes maximalist, heart-on-sleeve indie rock for the fifth wave era. “Thank You x3” is actually one of the band’s simpler, more sparse numbers, but it works incredibly well as the opening track to their latest EP, Do You Believe in Your Heart?! the way it builds to that big cathartic, communal finish. The triumphant “Yeah we get sad, yeah we get lonely / Yeah we get scared, it might go slowly / But you should always call me” is earned after singer Jordan C. Weinstock (I think? Sorry, most everybody in this band has a “voice” credit) spends the majority of the song navigating an emotionally-fraught but ultimately rewarding situation in a friendship.
“Compressor Repair” (Live at a Farmhouse in Rural Massachusetts), Emperor X
From Nineteen Live Recordings (2013)
I went down a minor Emperor X rabbit hole which led me to the Chad Matheny project’s live album, aptly tilted Nineteen Live Recordings, which I don’t believe had been widely available until Matheny co-founded the label Dreams of Field Recordings with Christian Holden of The Hotelier last year. Anyway, now we can all listen to it and appreciate it, especially the absolutely stunning version of “Compressor Repair” (originally from 2011’s Western Teleport) that opens the album. The song is classic Matheny, with lyrics that use the mundane machinery of a malfunctioning air conditioner in an emotional context that I probably wouldn’t have thought possible before hearing it. It’s one of the most pure love songs I’ve heard in awhile. When Matheny shifts from singing about BTUs and EnergyStar to the heart of “Compressor Repair” in the way only he can, the delicateness of the live performance only adds to its power. “I want you to be cool / I wanted you to be cool”—who wouldn’t try everything they could to meet a basic human need of someone they care about, even if it isn’t their skillset?
“Sick of Everything”, Gorgeous Bully
From Sick of Everything (2021, GWR)
The A-side of the first single from the formerly-prolific Manchester bedroom pop act Gorgeous Bully in three years is a brief spurt of acoustic lo-fi fuzz that’s as jaunty musically as it is bleak lyrically. “I am bored, I’m confused, I have nothing left to lose / Sick and tired of this game, sick and tired of everything”, cheerily imparts Thomas Crang as a fast-strummed guitar and simple drumbeat barrel forward. Elsewhere, he ponders if he’s even still alive amongst his daily monotony. The foggy nihilist pop anthem we all deserve in 2021.
“Emma”, Proper Nouns
From Feel Free (2021)
Another dangerously catchy pop rock track from Proper Nouns. Although I can’t say for sure who the Emma is in the title, the lyrical subject matter and the fact that I follow bandleader Spencer Compton on social media would suggest it’s Goldman (and that’s some nice wordplay in the song’s first couple lines if so), although I’m nowhere near smart enough to truly dissect how she relates to “Emma” the song, which I think is about academic leftism and its contradictions? Well, whatever it is, the part about the heart of the institution built on what one stands against is just a good pop hook, and I didn’t realize I needed Compton singing “Anarcho-capitalism / In your blood and on your dishes” in perfect falsetto until I heard it.
“Juno”, Spud Cannon
From Good Kids Make Bad Apples (2021, Good Eye)
The first single from Spud Cannon’s upcoming album Good Kids Make Bad Apples is a formidable college rock party song. The Spuds’ rhythm section is firing on all cylinders with “Juno”, with an insistent bassline running under the whole thing and a quick and steady drumbeat that reminds me of basketball dribbling (although it was apparently recorded on Vassar College’s squash court). The biggest attention grabber in “Juno”, however, is lead singer Meg Matthews’ voice, which jukes and dives all around the song theatrically. In the verses she’s drawing out all kinds of lines for emphasis (“Gonna catch some eyes / Or at least I’ll tryyyy” or “Guess I’m not his type / Wonder what he liiiikes”) only to hop onto the song’s motor-mouth chorus just as easily (“Work! The! Crowd!”). The music of “Juno” captures pretty well the chaos of a college party while being guided deftly above the fray by Matthews, who rolls with every punch from a missed ride to spilled wine, all the while.
“Blind Faith”, Velvet Crush
From In the Presence of Greatness (1991, Creation)
The troll in me wants to proclaim In the Presence of Greatness the best album released by Creation Records in 1991, and while I cannot go full Joker and claim that it’s better than Bandwagonesque, the two albums are a lot closer in quality than you nerds would like to admit. In some ways, Velvet Crush is the perfect 1991 British band, forging a middle ground between Teenage Fanclub’s wistful power pop and My Bloody Valentine’s wall of sound. That they were originally from Rhode Island is of no import to the matter, and I will not be discussing it any further. “Blind Faith” just might be my favorite song from the whole album—it may not be the most “in your face” number from …Greatness, but I don’t know how anyone could deny that chorus. Velvet Crush somehow hold off on busting it out until about halfway through the song, but once the cat’s out of the bag, the rest of “Blind Faith” is basically just them riding the hook off into the sunset.
“Weatherman Got It Wrong”, Dazy
From Revolving Door (2021, Very Loud Sounds)
At around 90 seconds, “Weatherman Got It Wrong” is even shorter and sweeter than “See the Bottom” earlier on this playlist. This one’s from the three-song Revolving Door EP (single?) from the beginning of the year, but it feels of a piece with The Crowded Mind. It’s more…I’m not sure if “subtle” could ever be applied to this kind of hooky lo-fi pop, but it’s one of James Goodson’s more effortless-sounding numbers. Goodson lets his Billie Joe Armstrong flag fly with his lazily melodic delivery in the verses, and caps it all off with a positively groovy guitar solo. Read more about Revolving Door here.
“We Need a Bigger Dumpster”, Cheekface
(2021, New Professor)
Good news, everyone: the somewhat regular occurrence of one-off Cheekface singles still appears to be on, even after the release of their sophomore record Emphatically No. in January, which collected a few of them as well as new material. Now a couple months later, we get “We Need a Bigger Dumpster”, which both continues vocalist Greg Katz’s somehow-incredibly-melodic talk-singing and functions as yet another Cheekface state of the nation whose conclusion about, you know, everything is: this is fine, actually. It’s cool. I could go on about “We Need a Bigger Dumpster”’s lyrics, but I would like to give a tip of the hat to the music, and how the band (Katz, bassist Amanda Tannen, and drummer Mark Echo Edwards) build up the chorus in a way that makes “We Need a Bigger Dumpster” sound, well, bigger and feels like a step forward for the trio.
“Like a Stone”, Remember Sports
From Like a Stone (2021, Father/Daughter)
Now, here’s the Remember Sports song from Like a Stone that throws the band back to their breakneck, slop-pop punk days. Sort of. Sure, “Like a Stone” accomplishes a lot in two minutes and change, but what makes the song is how it goes about it. The title track builds up, slows down, and tosses off multiple movements, guitar explosions, and synths touches like a mini-opera. It reminds me of one of my favorite short songs, “Raging Bull” by Silkworm, the way it confidently packs all of this into its short length. And also, we all love to hear a Jack Washburn lead vocal, if only for a couple lines, and the way his and Carmen Perry’s voices link up right before the big finish is very Italian chef’s kiss emoji.
“Look Out Below”, Eleventh Dream Day
From Since Grazed (2021, Comedy Minus One)
Tucked away at the bottom of Since Grazed’s Side Three, “Look Out Below” is both one of the largest departures from Eleventh Dream Day’s typical sound and sneakily one of the best songs on the entire album. A tender acoustic ballad, the song is enhanced by excellent backing vocals from drummer Janet Bean and what sounds like some studio wizardry from piano/synth player Mark Greenberg. I’m still not sure what the phrase “Michael came before me” in the second verse refers to exactly, but I can confirm that the line is not “my cocaine before me”, as I kept hearing initially. Read more about Since Grazed here.
“How Many Times”, That Hideous Sound
From That Hideous Sound (2021, Repeating Cloud)
“How Many Times” leads off the debut, self-titled single from Portland, Maine’s That Hideous Sound, which is the solo project of Elijah Cressinger. The song kicks off with bass and a drum machine before launching into a lo-fi but still busy-sounding garage rocker. Cressinger pulls out all of the classic bedroom pop stops for “How Many Times”—the drum machine, of course, but also those synth accents, and plenty of self-harmonies and backing vocals. Like any worthwhile lo-fi pop-punk song, “How Many Times” is an earworm above all else—pretty much the whole song is the hook. Its title could be interpreted as “How many times can they sing that title line, and will it ever get tired?” It hasn’t yet, as for myself.
“Look the Other Way”, Sour Widows
From Crossing Over (2021, Exploding in Sound)
The latest EP from the Bay Area’s Sour Widows is a solid collection of four casually beautiful indie rock songs that push the record past twenty minutes without overstaying their welcome. If “Look the Other Way” isn’t the best song on Crossing Over, it must be close, and it’s a good introduction to Sour Widows—I know this because it was the first song of theirs I heard, and it worked on me. The harmonies between co-lead-singers Susanna Thomson and Maia Sinaiko give the song an almost folk-rock feel, despite it being a fully electric guitar affair. “Look the Other Way” is too clear to be “dream pop” and too fast for “slowcore”, but evokes similar feelings to those genres, as well.
“Knock Out”, Xiu Xiu and Alice Bag
From OH NO (2021, Polyvinyl)
Wow, I sure do enjoy putting quiet Xiu Xiu songs in the penultimate slot for these monthly playlists. If you’re looking for an OH NO take, I don’t really have one—I thought it was fine but it didn’t really grab my attention too much and I don’t know if I’ll go back to it. I liked “Knock Out”, though. Instead of Eugene Robinson, who guested the most recent time we talked about a Xiu Xiu song, here we get the equally-great but quite different Alice Bag duetting with Jamie Stewart. Bag steals the show with her final solo verse—“Killing a scorpion with an orthopedic tennis shoe against your hotel room tile” is the most immediately memorable line, but “A crude and inaccurate drawing of your feet and ankle and ankle brace” tops it.
“Love Song #2”, Upper Wilds
From Venus (2021, Thrill Jockey)
Not only have Upper Wilds just announced the highly anticipated (by me) follow-up to 2018’s Mars, but they seem to be positioning it as a sequel of sorts to that record. They’ve stuck to a similar cover art motif, for one— oh, and also it’s called Venus. Bandleader Dan Friel and company (bassist Jason Binnick and drummer Jeff Ottenbacher, this time around) seem to be leaning in to the “named after the goddess of love” aspect of the planet, seeing as the track listing for Venus the album is Love Songs #1 through #10. The second Love Song is a classic Friel-led rocker—loud, fast, and incredibly catchy. It’s apparently about Friel’s cousin, a long haul trucker, and of being away from loved ones in, as he puts it, “plague times”. “This year turns to next year / Time ain’t on our side” bellows Friel in the middle of a song that makes four and a half minutes speed by in what seems like much less.