Pressing Concerns: Spud Cannon, The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, Meat Wave, Olivia Kaplan

Pressing Concerns is back, today looking at new records from Spud Cannon and Olivia Kaplan, the new Meat Wave EP, and the newly-issued-on-vinyl album from The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, which originally came out late last year. I should be on vacation by the time this goes live—I’m not planning on doing any writing this week, so it might be awhile before anything else goes up here! I have a few things for July I’m excited to write about, though, so—patience is a virtue. In the meantime, you can browse previous editions of Pressing Concerns for a lot more great new music.

Spud Cannon – Good Kids Make Bad Apples

Release date: June 25th
Record label: Good Eye
Genre: Pop rock, garage rock, power pop
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull track: Supersonic

To quote the poet laureate Jake Ewald: “Hey man, I went to college too”. During my time in school I remember seeing a few bands that remind me of Poughkeepsie, New York’s Spud Cannon—a fun, musically-talented group of people who livened up the few parties I attended. The lifespan of these bands is generally no longer than the members’ shared years at their college of origin, and Spud Cannon seemed like it could meet the same fate when the band found itself at a crossroads in 2019. With no resources to record or release a follow-up 2018’s Squeeze, members on the verge of graduating, and everyone dealing with the exhaustion of finishing school while being in a touring band, they stared everything down and decided they wanted to make Good Kids Make Bad Apples instead. Regardless of how many of them currently attend it, this record will be forever linked to their old stomping grounds of Vassar College—I imagine most of the album’s scenes and settings take place on its campus, and Good Kids Make Bad Apples was recorded surreptitiously one of Vassar’s squash courts over a few late-night live sessions.

Spud Cannon sound great on Good Kids Make Bad Apples, and only so much of that can be written off as squash court acoustics. It really does come off as a document of a group that had just toured heavily together—the band’s rhythm section of bassist Lucy Horgan and drummer Ben Scharf is incredibly tight, with Scharf grounding lead single “Juno” with some basketball-dribbling percussion and Horgan letting songs like “Out!” pop as much as possible. Good Kids Make Bad Apples is such a full-sounding record that I was actually surprised that they only have one guitar player, but Jackson Walker Lewis’ Andy Gill dance-rock playing style is more than enough to make these songs work. And above it all is the singular vocals of Meg Matthews, who aurally jukes and jives all over the record—her range includes the motor-mouth opening scene of “Juno”, the pop punk Kate Bush high notes of “You Got It All (NOT)”, and the fittingly dreamy croon of “Sleeper”.

Spud Cannon are committed to having a good time—while that’s clear from the opening notes of Good Kids Make Bad Apples, delving deeper into the record only reaffirms their position. Sometimes this means straight-up party anthems like “Juno”, or outright goofing off, like the bizarrely catchy minute-and-change glam punk track “P.O.T.A.T.O.”. Other times it’s marrying sadder lyrics to more upbeat music, like the bittersweet “we had some good times” breakup song “Lovely”, or “Sleeper”, which seems to be about trying to reach someone who stubbornly refuses to be. Good Kids Make Bad Apples ends with two songs that both find Matthews’ narrator cajoling a friend to leave a bad relationship—with the message that life is too short to entrust yours to an unreliable caretaker. “Don’t waste everything you might be / There’s no way you see him clearly,” notes Matthews in “Na Na Na”, and “Easy” is perhaps even stronger in its resolve to help its addressee see that they’ve outgrown their emotionally unavailable partner. “You’re only young once / Wake up, embrace your luck /Now, girl you gotta get out” is some tough medicine to swallow but Spud Cannon, as always, help it go down easier. (Bandcamp link)

The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick – Ways of Hearing (Vinyl release)

Release date: June 11th
Record label: Count Your Lucky Stars
Genre: Slowcore, emo
Formats: Vinyl, cassette, digital
Pull track: God’s Country

Ways of Hearing was something of a late 2020 sleeper hit, at least to the degree that a string-heavy slowcore album released on cassette by a band with a classically-laborious emo band name can be a “hit”. The debut record from The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick came to my attention after earning a vinyl pressing mere months after its initial release last October, and it’s not hard to see why the Philadelphia-based band has picked up some steam off the back of this record. Ways of Hearing is a delicately-crafted album that’s made up of plenty of interesting quirks and flourishes that lodge its songs into my brain—the vocal interplay between the band’s two singers, keyboardist Becky Hanno and guitarist Ben Curttright, is an essential part of their sound, as is the prominent bell accents from drummer Alyssa Resh and the winding, meandering pace of several of these tracks. Some of Ways of Hearing’s tracks, like the opening two songs “An Olive Coat” and “We Love You So Much”, start off relatively unassuming before gradually swelling into a crescendo of violin, percussion, and Curttright and Hanno’s vocals, which help The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick reach toward post-rock gravitas without losing the record’s underdog charm.

The band doesn’t rely too much on their ability to go all-out to the point where it might become exhausting, however—some of Ways of Hearing’s best moments are its sparsest. Album closer “Everyone Around Us” sends everyone off with little more than a simple keyboard riff and hushed vocals from Curttright, and “The Best of All Possible Worlds” and “Joseph Stalin” are acoustic numbers that end on more or less the same foot as they begin but don’t lose any weight for this steadiness. “Joseph Stalin” in particular is an example of the best of this record, a wistful indie folk song that’s a showcase for Hanno’s vocals and some historical lockbox lyrics. Ways of Hearing is marked by similarly confusing, occasionally contextless reaches for specificity—“They’re killing all the cattle and breaking all their ribs / While I’m mulling over calendars for six” mutters Curttright over a moody instrumental in “The Cat Stands on My Arm”, and muses “I hope your robberies went well, I read about them in the Times” in “The Best of All Possible Worlds” (the song’s Bandcamp page gives a jumping off point: “for Ulrike Meinhof”). Ways of Hearing is a record that invites the listener to get lost within its contents, and its from-a-distance position only enhances this aspect of it. (Bandcamp link)

Meat Wave – Volcano Park

Release date: June 11th
Record label: Many Hats/Big Scary Monsters
Genre: Post-hardcore, noise rock, punk rock
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull track: Tugboat

Chicago’s Meat Wave had a bit of a moment in 2017 with the release of their third album, The Incessant, a sharp noise punk record that’s only grown in my esteem with time (frankly, I don’t think I was entirely ready for it four years ago). They’d been mostly silent in the interim, and while I imagine there’s a few reasons for that, this month’s Volcano Park EP is a heartening sign that Meat Wave are alive, well, and making some of the best music of their career. The Incessant was a royally pissed-off album that sounded like Hot Snakes at their most agitated, and while Volcano Park still rages, the record comes off like that particular mask is slipping to reveal a frantic, even more existential core underneath. Volcano Park is surprisingly musically dynamic while at the same time being an incredibly thematically-cohesive set of songs. In a larger-picture sense I would consider the EP to be fairly opaque in its subject matter, but Meat Wave make it clear that it’s all connected.

Threads of individual commodification and wear and tear, perhaps befitting of a band barreling towards its second decade of existence with a relatively unknown future, run through Volcano Park. “You wanted it new / You wanted it back / It couldn’t be had / You’re used to it now,” puts forth vocalist Chris Sutter in the opening “Tugboat”, and he roars “I am for sale / Buy me” one song later in “For Sale”. “Yell at the Moon” finds him musing “Slow ride, high tide, truth died,” before moving into the next song called, indeed, “Truth Died”—and the entire bridge of “Tugboat” later gets repurposed as a mantra repeated in “Nursing”. While some of Sutter’s lyrics push up against the classic Meat Wave post-hardcore sound, Volcano Park gets a bit “out there” in its second half, particularly in “Truth Died”, which flirts with synth-colored psychedelic pop rock, and in “Nursing”, which deconstructs both “Tugboat” before it and “Fire Dreams” immediately after it via feedback and callback. The final song on the EP, “Fire Dreams” is entirely devoted to vividly describing the image of flames its title suggests, and fully illuminates the Meat Wave of Volcano Park: equal parts blazing inferno and controlled slow-burn. (Bandcamp link)

Olivia Kaplan – Tonight Turns to Nothing

Release date: June 25th
Record label: Topshelf
Genre: Indie folk, folk rock
Formats: Vinyl, cassette, digital
Pull track: Still Strangers

The debut album from Los Angeles’ Olivia Kaplan is an incredible-sounding record; this is confirmed from the moment halfway through opening track “Spill” where Kaplan’s voice and its lone picked-guitar accompaniment give way to a full-band sweeping mid-section. Part of why Tonight Turns to Nothing sounds like it does likely has to do with the cast with which Kaplan has surrounded herself. Bassist/producer Adam Gunther’s fingerprints may be the most obvious—his slinky bass playing pops out throughout the album, and it positively drives songs like “Wrong”. Gunther’s most recent notable credit is working with Sharon Van Etten—one of the more musically adept leaders in this strain of modern folk rock—and more sonic touchstones can be found in the “main” bands of collaborators Buck Meek (Big Thief) and Alex Fischel (Spoon). But Kaplan is still very much the star of Tonight Turns to Nothing, and it never really feels like she’s in danger of being outshined by her backing musicians.

It is a bit surprising that Tonight Turns to Nothing is Kaplan’s debut full-length record, as she already seems to have developed a distinct songwriting voice, one that shows remarkable restraint and control despite dealing with some messy and uncontrollable topics. “I’m casual, it’s cool / And this conversation’s just a tool / To get you where you wanna go,” she quips in “Spill”, a song that also finds her bent over drunk on the side of a highway. This “cool” serves her well and makes Tonight Turns to Nothing a bit of a wild card lyrically; you’re just as likely to get musings such as “In the age of forgetting, we’re excessively evading / The facts and the physics of what’s becoming nonexistent” in “Talking to the Dead” as you are to get hit with a blunt object like “I’m not asking you to love me / I’m just talking about some company / I know I’m not alone in wanting” in “Still Strangers”. The latter track is the songwriting peak of Tonight Turns to Nothing, and it’s also the record’s most musically stripped-down moment. As great as some of the album’s busier moments sound, “Still Strangers” suggests multiple paths forward for Olivia Kaplan, all of which sound promising based off what she’s put together with Tonight Turns to Nothing. (Bandcamp link)

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