Pressing Concerns: BRNDA, Canandaigua, Pile, Chet Wasted

It’s been about a month since we talked about some new records here on Pressing Concerns, so it’s nice to be back in the saddle, so to speak: today, I’m discussing new albums from BRNDA and Chet Wasted, the new Canandaigua EP, and a new record of re-recorded older songs from Pile. I have two more Pressing Concerns planned for the next 2-3 weeks, but in the meantime you can browse previous editions of Pressing Concerns for plenty of new music.

BRNDA – Do You Like Salt?

Release date: August 20th
Record label: Crafted Sounds
Genre: Post-punk
Formats: Vinyl, CD, digital
Pull track: Aunt Linda, c. 1989

Do You Like Salt?, BRNDA’s third record, doesn’t waste any time before placing itself squarely into the ever-growing arena of spoken-word vocals over post-punk music that’s reminiscent of acts like Parquet Courts, or fellow D.C. band Priests. In fact, Do You Like Salt? feels like it’s speaking on the same cultural wasteland that Priests’ 2019 opus The Seduction of Kansas explored, but BRNDA decide to spew their observations uncontrollably instead of mimicking academic study. Some songs, like the record’s first two, find the members of BRNDA (all of them share lead vocals) in carnival-barker-slam-poetry-free-association mode, and “Diner” is straight-up just a spoken word piece with mood music in the background. The band (the core trio of guitarists Dave Lesser and Torrey Sanders and drummer Leah Gage, aided by bassists Christian Whittle and Nick Stavely) have given themselves the task of making music that matches this energy, and they do it well. Songs like “Year of the Hot Dog by Burger Gang” and “Wrong Taco” keep time admirably while the respective vocalists go off on their tangents (the customer service nightmare patient in the latter, and god-knows-what’s-going-on in the former), only letting loose once the BRNDA member who’s stepped up to the microphone this time around has had their fill.

The aforementioned “Wrong Taco” and its follow-up, “The Avocado”, are where Do You Like Salt? does its best to make its mark against the listener, with the record’s food fixation and irreverent ranting coming to a head. It’s almost too much, but Do You Like Salt? gets out from under itself in under 25 minutes, and also throws a couple of curveballs in during side two. The two biggest outliers are the lilting “Aunt Linda, c. 1989” and the closing shrug of “Red Iguana”. The mellow pop of the former, replete with actual singing and vocal harmonies, calls to mind Girlpool’s finalist moments, and while the goofy lyrics of the latter put it closer to the cholesterol-addled heart of Do You Like Salt?, it relies entirely on hammock-strummed acoustic guitar and Dave Lesser’s clarinet to spin its Technicolor warped Aesop fable. These detours are essential for the record as a whole, and “Aunt Linda” is a great pop song on its own, but most of Do You Like Salt?’s memorable moments to me are its most bizarrely relatable: the burden-of-being-conscientious intrusion of “Diner”, or the banal freak-out of “Wrong Taco”. Or maybe it’s that sick vibraphone slap in “Perfect World”. No, yeah, let’s go with that. (Bandcamp link)

Canandaigua – Slight Return

Release date: August 6th
Record label: Baja Dracula
Genre: Folk rock, alt-country
Formats: Digital
Pull track: The Margins

Washington D.C.’s Raul Zahir De Leon has been in several bands around the District area, but Slight Return is the most substantial release yet from his solo project, Canandaigua. Preceded last year by a single featuring John Prine and Songs: Ohia covers, this EP features six De Leon originals that show off his compelling, off-kilter interpretation of Americana. The music has a fairly ramshackle feel, but intentionally so—De Leon and his collaborators jump from ragged electric rock in the second half of “All of Us” to the more traditional sounds of harmonica and pedal steel in the first two tracks as befits the songs. None of the instrumental choices ever obscure De Leon’s unique, talk-singing vocal delivery, however. De Leon mentions “mythmaking” as a source of inspiration for Slight Return, and this is reflected by these songs’ elemental lyrics, which describe love, sadness, toil, and friendship in a way that refuses to date the songs. “Lament for John William Henry” features one of the few proper nouns on the EP, with De Leon following the lead of Jason Molina and countless others in finding inspiration in the story of the American folk hero. However, the modern is still visible in Slight Return— the song also contains the lines “Words penned by mortal men should deliver us from fear / And yet we do find so little room for us here,” in context nodding to the nativism practiced today in De Leon’s country.

Similarly, “Calm Through the Clearing” mentions hearing the news of “another child dead” on the radio, followed by the “sorrowful” but “enraged” crowded streets bracing for more senseless violence. The rumbling “All of Us” seems to grappling with difficult societal truths, both in facing them (“Daylight came so sudden, caught every last one of us off-guard”) and in making sure these unpleasant facts stay remembered (“The truth today inevitable, but tomorrow much the same”). The mythmaking is confronted most head-on in “The Margins”.  De Leon proclaims “I know who the heroes are supposed to be / the ones on which we always fixate” in the chorus, and elsewhere he illuminates the flaws contained therein: his dissatisfaction as to how people like him are portrayed in the American canon (“I found there to be cast more a shadow than a reflection”) as well as his recognizing that while bigotry may only be pushed by a powerful few, it takes societal compliance to enshrine it as historical fact (“Will it be the wicked hand, or will it be the timid / Who does the most or does the least ensuring I’m not in it?”). That all this comes over a swelling country-rock instrumental only sharpens the effect. (Bandcamp link)

Pile – Songs Known Together, Alone

Release date: August 20th
Record label: Exploding in Sound
Genre: Slowcore, ambient rock
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull track: Mama’s Lipstick

I referred to Pile as my favorite noise rock band once upon a time, and I got a good rise out of a noise rock purist. If that was enough to miff them a few years ago, I can only imagine how apoplectic they’d be after the band’s twin 2021 releases: the improvised ambient In the Corners of a Sphere-Filled Room and Songs Known Together, Alone, a sparse reinterpretation of selections from the Pile songbook. Essentially a pandemic-induced Rick Maguire solo album, half of it was recorded using synthesizer and (mostly in the form of accents and flourishes) electric guitar, and the second half (beginning with “No Bone”) Maguire plays alone on piano. With a few exceptions, Maguire pulls from the moody and atmospheric side of his band—songs like “Hair” and “Milkshake” are translated fairly faithfully to the piano and are immediately recognizable, and even among the “spacier” synth-and-guitar tracks, “Keep the Last Light On” doesn’t undergo a radical transformation.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, the most remarkable “before and after photo” here is “Afraid of Home”, which goes from a post-hardcore thrasher to an ambient-industrial instrumental. Maguire doesn’t just follow this blueprint all the way through Songs Known Together, Alone, however—louder Pile songs like “Dogs” and “Mama’s Lipstick” still come through intact on the piano, and “I Don’t Want to Do This Anymore” actually is reconfigured from a short piano-led instrumental into a full-length song with a strong Maguire vocal. The record’s most transcendent moment comes with “Rope’s Length / My Employer” around the midpoint, which finds Maguire seamlessly interpolating the two previously-separate songs into a nine-minute experience. The former is a slow-burning track from 2017’s A Hairshirt of Purpose that rides itself to a cathartic ending, while the latter is perhaps the band’s most archetypical “tired” mood piece—on Songs Known Alone, Together, it all comes together as one piece of a unified whole. I’d like to see Unsane do that. (Bandcamp link)

Chet Wasted – Raspberry

Release date: August 27th
Record label: Count Your Lucky Stars
Genre: Baroque pop, indie folk
Formats: Cassette, digital
Pull track: Walking in Circles

Fourth-wave emo-ers Perspective, a Lovely Hand to Hold took their name from a lyric by Relient K, a Christian pop punk band that didn’t try to hide some of their older musical influences. Perspective’s vocalist and guitarist, Jacob McCabe, similarly has an appreciation for 60s harmony-heavy pop rock, and Raspberry, his solo debut as Chet Wasted, is a short, casual exploration of acoustic guitar and baroque pop that lands a world away from his “main” band. Despite McCabe’s interest in the flowery psych-pop of The Zombies and Brian Wilson, Raspberry isn’t wholly a bright affair. Although the opening title track could conceivably be called “lush”, its subdued undertones only grow in the following track, “A Moment Captured in Time in Space”, and the haunting echo of “Anybody Laughing” later in the record could pass as an Elliott Smith demo.

Despite Raspberry being a solo record, McCabe doesn’t feel the need to be front and center ever moment, like when his vocals take a backseat to the cascading orchestration in “Once in a While”. It’s not that he doesn’t have any presence, mind you—on Raspberry’s more spirited, upbeat numbers, like “The Noose and “Walking in Circles”, McCabe sings in a melodic croon that reminds me quite a bit of XTC’s Andy Partridge, and the pastoral instrumental and harmonica of the latter in particular is a good look for Chet Wasted. Although perhaps the best comparison is a much more recent one: Jimmy Montague, who helped out with the music video for “The Noose” and is also a member of Perspective, a Lovely Hand to Hold, released a Harry Nilsson-inspired solo album early this year, and while that isn’t enough data points to confirm a trend, Rosy Overdrive wouldn’t be upset at all if more emo musicians started leafing through their parents’ (grandparents?) record collections for inspiration. (Bandcamp link)

Also notable:

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