Pressing Concerns: Hello Whirled, Refrigerator, This Is Lorelei, Sunny Jain

Today I’m writing about new albums from Hello Whirled, Refrigerator, and Sunny Jain, and also one of the handful of new This Is Lorelei releases. I’ll be back with more next week, and in the meantime you can check out older editions of Pressing Concerns for more new music.

Hello Whirled – No Victories

Release date: May 14th
Record label: Sherilyn Fender
Genre: Lo-fi power pop
Formats: Digital
Pull track: I’ll Hold the Mirror

Hello Whirled, the project of Mount Laurel Township, New Jersey’s Ben Spizuco, has released 100 albums and EPs over the last half-decade, all of which can be found on the act’s monster of a Bandcamp page. The 99th Hello Whirled album, a 64-song Robert Pollard cover album called Down on Sex and Romance, put Spizuco on my radar, and Pollard’s influence is unavoidable when considering No Victories, Spizuco’s centennial release under the name. Even without the recorded tribute as evidence, Guided by Voices are a clear influence on Hello Whirled—the similarities abound, from the project’s collage cover art to its prolific output pace and hooky lo-fi rock stylings. On the band’s latest, the GBV sonic influence is most obvious on “Mrs. Matter”, whose wordplay title, stop-and-start music, and that descending-root-note-chord-thing Pollard does make it a dead-ringer for a later-era Guided by Voices song. The horrifying distorted-voice spoken word piece “Heroes Are the Best Villains”, meanwhile, is a reminder that Spizuco just as frequently reached for a nightmare-prog Circus Devils song as he did a more well-known Pollard song on Down on Sex and Romance.

It’s not all GBV pastiche, however—other than those two obvious examples, the influence is more implicit. Spizuco falls especially far from that tree on No Victories’ quieter numbers, like the ambient synths of “Chariot”, which sounds like a deconstructed Cleaners from Venus song. When Spizuco really pushes both the music and his vocals, it reminds me of a few different underground 90s indie rock bands, specifically Nothing Painted Blue and DiskothiQ. Hello Whirled sound the most like Nothing Painted Blue frontman Franklin Bruno on “Money Is the Death of Art”, a cheerfully nihilistic song touching on such lighthearted matters as imminent climate catastrophe and, of course, the dead-end future of art and those who value it—for example, Ben Spizuco. “Money Is the Death of Art” ends with its singer lying bleeding on the pavement, suffering dramatically for his creative vision. I should mention that No Victories is a dark album, populated with violence, bodies, and spilled blood. The opening title track is an even-more apocalyptic “Baba O’Reilly”, with Spizuco declaring “Here’s your second coming / as blood fills up the skies” over a swirling synth, and we get “There’s a flag hanging over our bodies / Bodies hanging over our land” just a few songs later in “The Way It Is”.

I get the sense that Hello Whirled is just kind of like this, with Spizuco either refusing or being unable to dial down his grandiosity even when singing about smaller topics, like how he doesn’t want to dance and please don’t ask him to dance in “Please Stop Dancing” (“I wish not to be expected / To perform this ritual / Tradition be damned with all due respect”). No Victories was apparently recorded as Spizuco’s college senior thesis project, and it makes sense that it was made by somebody young enough to really feel things (as well as to, you know, have the will to make 100 records about it). With No Victories, Hello Whirled has put forth an album brimming with ideas and strong songwriting, and if we’re here already, I look forward to seeing where Spizuco’s music ends up over its next hundred albums. (Bandcamp link)

Refrigerator – So Long to Farewell

Release date: May 14th
Record label: Shrimper
Genre: Lo-fi indie rock
Formats: Vinyl
Pull track: Broken Glass Shore

There’s nothing Rosy Overdrive appreciates more than a long-running, consistently strong indie rock band, so I am happy to report that Refrigerator is back with a new record that excels at everything one would hope to hear in a Refrigerator album. So Long to Farewell is the twelfth LP from the Inland Empire-based band, and it appears that the Fridge have softened their recent physical-only approach by premiering the whole thing via Magnet Magazine and even putting it up on streaming services. While I don’t know if they’ve done this because they viewed So Long to Farewell as a worthy introduction to Refrigerator’s brand of lo-fi rock, it functions as such all the same. Right out of the gate, Refrigerator greet us with the warmly familiar album opener “Broken Glass Shore”, which exemplifies the slow-moving, deliberate and delicate atmospheric pop rock at which Refrigerator excels. “Drink Ourselves to Death” follows immediately afterward, which finds the band trafficking in the shambolic, guitar-distorted, classic-rock-in-the-basement feel of the other side of Refrigerator. It doesn’t lapse into pure chaos like an early-career Refrigerator song might’ve, though, sounding as if lead singer Allen Callaci and the rest of the band haven’t drunk themselves to death just yet, and are instead confidently and gleefully plotting it out in advance.

Most of So Long to Farewell probes the ground between these two poles. “Tulsa” and “Greyhound Sundown” are clear-eyed acoustic numbers, and the band grow even more sparse with “All the People I Lied to Are Dead Now” and “From Eternity to 4am”, both of which featuring haunting Callaci vocals over what are effectively ambient-drone instrumentals. “David Jove the Acid King” and “Jealousy Is Gone” feature the push-and-pull between pop songwriting and rowdy electric guitar, and the rocking “Corvette Winter” surprisingly kicks up dust in the middle of the album. After frequently collaborating and playing with each other for years, it’s not surprising to recognize traces of other bands from the Shrimper Records/Inland Empire scene in So Long to Farewell—the “song about a song” of “Part Time Lover Part II” feels like something written and performed by Simon Joyner, and I’d tag “I Could Be Anything” (which is mostly about being a bear) for a Wckr Spgt song if I didn’t know better. Indeed, Wckr Spgt’s Mark Givens joined the rest of the band as a second guitarist for So Long to Farewell (previously Allen’s brother Dennis was the only one), which adds yet another dimension to their sound in their third decade of existence—not that they needed one. (Grapefruit Records link)

This Is Lorelei – Love Is Everywhere

Release date: May 13th
Record label: Self-released
Genre: Folk pop, lo-fi rock, pop punk
Formats: Digital
Pull track: My Friend 2

In the time since I last wrote about a This Is Lorelei release (the Bad Forever EP), the Nate Amos project has continued its steady drip of singles and one-off songs, but Love Is Everywhere is a solid, sturdy collection of four breezy pop songs that all seem right together. Also, Palberta is back again—Lily Konigsberg and Anina Ivry-Block from the trio had guested frequently on Bad Forever, and both of them plus third member Nina Ryser all show up on the Love Is Everywhere EP to continue Berta’s hostile takeover of This Is Lorelei. Their roles in these songs are even more foregrounded this time —EP opener “My Friend 2” is the only one of the four where Amos sings lead on his own, although he also helms part of “She Dress Unreal”.

The songs on Love Is Everywhere are just as immediately catchy as the ones on Bad Forever, but whereas the revved-up pop punk on the latter found Amos at his most pessimistic and self-critical, this EP is an overall lighter affair. The most obvious example of This Is Lorelei’s change in hue would be that Love Is Everywhere starts with two different songs called “My Friend”, compared to Bad Forever’s opening track, “Not My Friend”, and the content of the songs only confirm it. “My Friend 2” is an acoustic pop ode to what its title suggests, and while the other songs are closer sonically to Bad Forever, they come off as positive mirror images to that EP’s trashy-pop rock, particularly the infectious auto-tune closing track “She Dress Unreal”. The This Is Lorelei of Love Is Everywhere is still one of big emotional ups and downs—“My friend, feels like I’m walking on eggshells with you” is the refrain of “My Friend 1”, and “It’s a Hack” finds Ryser asking “And if I’m lovesick always / Oh god, like, what am I supposed to with that?”—but for these four songs, Amos and Palberta explore the feeling of being at the peak. (Bandcamp link)

Sunny Jain – Phoenix Rise

Release date: May 21th
Record label: Sinj
Genre: Bhangra, jazz, psychedelia
Formats: Digital
Pull track: I’ll Make It Up to You

The latest “solo” album from Sunny Jain—dhol player, drummer, and frontman of the New York bhangra band Red Baraat—is actually a collaborative effort, featuring contributions from over fifty musicians and vocalists brought together virtually during COVID-19 quarantine to flesh out ten songs initiated and arranged by Jain. Most of these songs began as percussive pieces by Jain and, while his playing is prominent for the majority of Phoenix Rise, it shares the spotlight with an incredibly wide range of instrumentation that helps steer the album through several genre shifts. The beautiful “Where Is Home” features mbira from John Falsetto and violin from Raaginder, the latter of which also accents the bass-driven next song, “Say It”. “Wild Wild East (Recharge)” (a reimagined version of the title track from Jain’s last solo release) is led by busy saxophone from Lauren Sevian and the wordless vocals of Grey McMurray. “I’ll Make It Up to You”, meanwhile, is a straight-up rock song, with trombone and a blistering guitar solo from Black Pumas’ Adrian Quesada punching up vocalist Kushal Gaya’s lyrics about American gun violence. While many of the other songs don’t have lyrics as straightforward as “I’ll Make It Up to You”, Jain and his collaborators use what is there to speak on and support shared issues and causes—the “it” in “Say It” is that black lives matter, and the instrumental “Pride in Rhythm” has been used as a fundraiser for Black Trans Femmes in the Arts.

Phoenix Rise is a recipe book (that can be purchased on Bandcamp) as well as an album. I’ve enjoyed musical artists integrating how quarantine increased their interest in cooking into their music in the past, and a collaborative collection of recipes makes perfect sense to go along with an album like this. While none of the songs on Phoenix Rise are explicitly about food, the similarities between it and this kind of music—as a necessity for life, as a force for community, as a place to share divergent backgrounds—are all over it. It would be easy for Phoenix Rise to be an overstuffed affair due to there being too many cooks in the kitchen, and while perhaps not every wrinkle on the album is an unqualified success, for the most part it comes off as a group of people building something that’s more than the sum of its considerable parts.

All proceeds from Phoenix Rise will be donated to the Center for Constitutional Rights. (Bandcamp link)

Also notable:

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