Pressing Concerns: Matthew Milia, Gnawing, John Murry, o’summer vacation

Welcome back to the first Pressing Concerns in a while! Today we’re covering new albums from Matthew Milia, Gnawing, John Murry, and o’summer vacation. Be sure to check out previous editions of Pressing Concerns for more recent albums and EPs that are worth your time.

Matthew Milia – Keego Harbor

Release date: July 16th
Record label: Sitcom Universe
Genre: Alt-country, singer-songwriter
Formats: Vinyl, CD, digital
Pull track: Autumn America

Detroit’s Matthew Milia has played in the band Frontier Ruckus for nearly two decades and a half dozen releases, and has simultaneously built up a couple albums’ worth of a solo career. Keego Harbor is either Milia’s second or third record (depending on whether one counts his 2015 “mixtape” Even Fuckboys Get the Blues), but I didn’t need any context to appreciate its ten songs. The album is a exploration of suburban Michigan, specifically the titular small town where Milia grew up. Keego Harbor is a parade of hyper-specific images and relics which, of course, have their mirror images beyond the outskirts of the Detroit metropolitan area. The pedal steel-heavy “Me and My Sweetheart” embellishes its tender chorus with references to Dairy Queen and Baskin Robbins’ 31 flavors, in addition to Ford Tauruses and Detroit Lions game-day traffic, “With the Taste of Metal on Its Tongue” features cars that “jump the gun” at stoplights and vibrate with cranked stereo systems, and “Home Improvement” references I-75, Franklin Cider Mill, and of course, the Tim Allen vehicle that looms large over the Mitten State.

Milia lets things stretch out in his album-length tribute to the site of his upbringing—songs frequently reach past the six-minute mark, but Keego Harbor is never a drag. Some of the aides towards this end are Milia’s melodic vocals (even when bemoaning his “Midwest nasality” in “Home Improvement”), frankly compelling lyrics, and a keen sense of sequencing—after the relatively sparse “With the Taste of Metal on Its Tongue” comes the toe-tapping piano rocker “Autumn America”, for instance. Keego Harbor is more than a simple collection of images from Milia’s past—they’re just one feature of this album’s charms. If one has a hard time picking up on how the Keego Harbor of which Milia sings is more than just “the third-smallest town in Michigan by area”, the closing and title track should make it clear. Milia describes a mid-thirties life adrift (“So you just re-sign the lease in perpetuity / You can do your grocery shopping in a blindfold with acuity”), admitting that “keeping alive’s hard” but not lapsing into total despair. Milia has “kept the sacred place safe inside of me” (“Like the robin’s nest nestled in the letter C / In the mini-mall sign for Nail City”, to quote one of the record’s best similes) in a way to keep the past and present in conversation.

I recently visited my hometown for the first time since the world got all shook up by a global pandemic. For the first time, I felt the pull that, when I tore out of there with my few possessions in tow to start the Brand New Next Phase of my life, I swore I would never feel. And that’s what Keego Harbor is about. (Bandcamp link)

Gnawing – You Freak Me Out

Release date: July 9th
Record label: Refresh
Genre: Alt-rock, grunge revival, fuzz rock
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull track: Blue Moon New

You Freak Me Out, the debut album from Richmond’s Gnawing, announces its intentions from the opening sound of an amplifier buzzing followed by a distorted guitar riff in all its ragged glory. The trio take influences from everything 90s-alt-rock-related, from kingpins like Pavement to relative obscurities like Australia’s Smudge to fellow Alternative Nation revivalists like Milk Music and their geographical neighbors Late Bloomer. Towering over all these contemporaries and forbearers, however, is Dinosaur Jr., who are evoked from the moment bandleader John Russel’s J. Mascis drawl is unleashed in “Contract”. Gnawing, which originated in North Carolina, clearly find kinship with J.’s love of the twangier side of alternative rock, with Russell shining on the strummy “Blue Moon New” and the downbeat “Crenshaw Ave.”, which are apparently about the same period of Russel’s life from different perspectives. More than just a vocal similarity, Russel also appears to take influence from Mascis’ pop songwriting style, which (despite his larger reputation as a guitar noodle-hero) centers around simple, rhyming melodic couplets that provide the foundation for everything else on You Freak Me Out.

Tracks like the aforementioned two give You Freak Me Out some shading, hint at future avenues for Russell’s writing and the band’s playing to wander down eventually, and provide the listener with a nice reprieve. A reprieve from what, you might ask? The Fuzz. Gnawing have a grunge anthem for every occasion: the joyous lead single “So Glad”, the towering, mid-tempo “Summer Heat”, and the aggrieved, accusatory “Happy for You” all rise to the occasion. The album’s two most aggressive moments actually follow the loping country-rockers: “Crenshaw Ave.” bleeds into the 90-second feedback assault of “F.A.B. – 1”, and as if refusing to let You Freak Me Out end on a cheery, hopeful note, Gnawing bang out the lacerating “Worst Person I Know” (as in, John Russel is the worst person he himself knows) to close things out after “Blue Moon New”. “Worst Person I Know” is the record’s “punk rock” moment–it’s as heavy as Gnawing get on You Freak Me Out, even before giving way to a torrent of noise in its final minute. Gnawing’s version of a freak-out apparently includes an LP’s worth of satisfying, hooky rock and roll music, but the band’s final message seems to be: it’s still a freak-out. (Bandcamp link)

John Murry – The Stars Are God’s Bullet Holes

Release date: June 25th
Record label: Submarine Cat
Genre: Folk rock, alt-rock, singer-songwriter
Formats: Vinyl, CD, digital
Pull track: I Refuse to Believe – You Could Love Me

You do not need to know John Murry’s backstory to enjoy The Stars Are God’s Bullet Holes. It doesn’t hurt, and in spots it can add some weight to the words of the Mississippi-raised, Ireland-based musician (content warning for sexual assault and drug abuse), but you don’t need to know John Murry. I didn’t know anything about Murry when I discovered his second album, 2017’s A Short History of Decay, but I knew he could write a hell of a song after listening, and his proper follow-up record is no different in that regard. The Stars Are God’s Bullet Holes is a big rougher around the edges than A Short History of Decay, and it finds some freedom in that roughness. It’s still recognizably Murry, but songs like the fuzz-heavy title track, the urgent “Time & a Rifle”, and the chugging “You Don’t Miss Me – So Long” have almost a tossed-off, garage-rocking feel to them. Legendary producer John Parish (PJ Harvey, Giant Sand, 16 Horsepower) probably had some influence on this part of The Stars Are God’s Bullet Holes, but it’s more “finding a sound that suits this edition of Murry’s writing” than “imposing one’s style on an already-established musician”.

The looseness befits a record of songs that are some of Murry’s most upbeat and least bleak yet. This isn’t to say the clouds have lifted and the heaviness is gone, however. Things are not “okay”, but there is hope—or at least a desire to move forward to a place where hope is possible. “I will prune this family tree, because there’s nothing left but greed,” sings Murry in “Di Kreuster Sonata”, resolving to leave behind an abusive childhood in the final verse of a delicate ballad that’s arguably the album’s emotional center. In terms of cover songs, the determination with which Murry imbues his version of Duran Duran’s “Ordinary World” makes it practically “Walking on Sunshine” compared to A Short History of Decay’s dire take on The Afghan Whigs’ “What Jail Is Like”. “Time heals nothing,” Murry states one song earlier in “Time & a Rifle” (and alludes to again in “You Don’t Miss Me – So Long”), but through the words of Simon Le Bon, Murry affirms that he doesn’t interpret this as a personal dead end: “I will learn to survive”. (Official link)

o’summer vacation – Wicked Heart

Release date: June 23rd
Record label: Damnably
Genre: Noise rock, math rock
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull track: 扁桃腺のモニーク

“There are no deep messages to read into in the lyrics. Google translate or Babbel will not help you. It is to be felt, rather than to be understood,” reads a warning in the press release for Wicked Heart, the debut album from Kobe, Japan’s o’summer vacation. It then goes on to quote the band’s lead singer, Ami, citing as examples the vocals of bands like Cocteau Twins and Ponytail (the latter of which is a pretty good reference point for the band’s sound as a whole). Perhaps that’s for the best, as the 19-minute record has more than enough going on without introducing punk poetry into the fray. o’summer vacation barrel through Double Nickels on the Dime-length mathy post-punk fragments with a couple of “normal-sized” songs peppered in (“DxOxN/Eight” is effectively a 90-second ripper with a just-as-long extended instrumental outro).

Bassist Mikiiii plays their four-string like a regular old guitar, which is good because the trio (Ami, Mikiiii, drummer Manu) don’t actually have a guitarist. It wouldn’t be inaccurate to compare them to Melt-Banana, one of the bands from their home country whom o’summer vacation reference, but Wicked Heart feels like a more pointedly Spartan affair—they allow themselves few luxuries other than mikiiii’s “arsenal” of bass pedals (they’re jamming econo, if you will). The record is also incredibly catchy in its own way, aided by both mikiiii and Ami’s ability to wring melody out of their chosen noisemakers. The bass proves it can carry a song early on with “Oilman” and Nuts”, while Ami is more than game to step up to the plate in songs like “Hommage” where mikiiii is more interested in kicking up some noise with Manu. (Bandcamp link)

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