New Playlist: August 2021

The August edition of the Rosy Overdrive playlist has landed, for all your reading and listening needs! You will find plenty of new music here, as well as a few discoveries from my 1996 deep dive, and a couple of miscellaneous tracks.

The Cocker Spaniels, MJ Lenderman, and Wednesday all have two songs on the list this time around. There are four Dazy songs on here, in an attempt to make sure you’re aware of Dazy.

You can hear the entire thing on Spotify here, and be sure to check out previous playlist posts if you’ve enjoyed this one.

“Cranes”, Thalia Zedek Band
From Perfect Vision (2021, Thrill Jockey)

Rosy Overdrive will always be a safe haven for unfussy, speaks-for-itself, “workmanlike” indie rock. It’s why I was so high on the Eleventh Dream Day album earlier this year, it’s why Chris Brokaw got a similarly plum playlist spot at the beginning of the year, and it’s why if you ask me what the best American rock band ever was, there’s a good chance I’ll say “Silkworm”. Thalia Zedek was the bandmate of Brokaw in the great 90s band Come, which is in the midst of reissuing their second album, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and she has continued to make good music (solo and otherwise) in the two decades since that band’s dissolution. The opening track from her eighth album as Thalia Zedek is the singer-songwriter at her most sublime. If the soaring, pedal steel-aided instrumental isn’t sufficiently 90s-indie-by-way-of-Neil-Young for you, the wearily determined state-of-the-union lyrics should be more than enough to get you there (“The pride of a nation has been erased, drowned in waves of shame”).

“Thread”, Dazy
From MAXIMUMBLASTSUPERLOUD: The First 24 Songs (2021, Convulse)

I’m really excited that there really seems to be an organic groundswell of goodwill towards James Goodson’s one-man-band Dazy project. I was on the Dazy Train back in April (when only obscure, ramshackle, deep-internet blogs like, uh, Stereogum were covering him), and the Revolving Door and Crowded Mind EPs have only sounded better in the time since. Goodson released a cassette of those EPs, some early singles, and five new songs last month called MAXIMUMBLASTSUPERLOUD: The First 24 Songs, and it’s 52 minutes of lo-fi-pop-punk-power-pop-fuzz bliss. If you don’t have that kind of time, “Thread” (one of the five new tracks) nails everything great about Dazy in less than sixty seconds, imagining a world where “Undone (The Sweater Song)” was nothing but a garage rock hook.

“Daffodils”, Dummy
From Mandatory Enjoyment (2021, Trouble in Mind)

For fans of a certain vein of indie rock, Dummy should hit like a warm blanket. The bright droning synths that run throughout “Daffodils”, the lead single from their upcoming debut album Mandatory Enjoyment, evoke the steady hand of Stereolab’s shiniest pop numbers. The intertwined male/female vocals, as well as the amplifier-blasted closing moments of the song, are pure Yo La Tengo. “Daffodils” resists being merely hero worship, however—for one, the band are all functioning too well together here to be dismissed as a pale imitation of anything, and the jaunty energy that runs throughout “Daffodils” is a nice balance against the psychedelia that’s evoked by everything from the lyrics to the record’s cover art. Read more about Mandatory Enjoyment here.

“Snuff Film”, The Cocker Spaniels
From The Cocker Spaniels Are Still Alive, and So Are You (2021, Evil Island Fortress)

The cassette and streaming release of The Cocker Spaniels Are Still Alive, and So Are You is more than enough occasion to revisit one of Rosy Overdrive’s favorite June releases. One of its most immediate highlights has to be “Snuff Film”, which introduces itself with what I’m going to call a “math-funk-rock” guitar riff and a synth jolt before getting to the track’s meat. Some of Cocker Spaniels vocalist and songwriter Sean Padilla’s strongest material comes from his attempts to address his white peers (see: “Racism Priest”, from last month’s playlist), and this song is the furious companion piece to “Priest”’s humor. Regarding the titular videos, Padilla’s point is simple: you shouldn’t need any more of them. We’ve seen enough. “Snuff Film” is also about how common sense gets lost in these debates  (“Who believes that I am able to kill a heavily armed man / With nothing more than the strength of my skinny piano hands?”) and the fickleness of online activism (“Are you gonna wait for Shaun King to tweet the snuff film before you march for me?”) in just two minutes. Read more about The Cocker Spaniels Are Still Alive, and So Are You here.

“Walking at a Downtown Pace”, Parquet Courts
From Sympathy for Life (2021, Rough Trade)

I’m not super plugged into the Parquet Courts fanbase, so I don’t actually know how “Walking at a Downtown Pace” has been received by the faithful, but I’ve seen enough comments to assume it’s at least a little bit “mixed”. I’ve always had an affection for the Courts, but I’d heard enough of their influences previously to the point where my mind wasn’t exactly blown by Light Up Gold or whatever. So, I’m not so attached to them that it’s going to bother me if they keep going down the dance-rock alleyway Wide Awake! hinted at, especially not if it means more songs like “Walking at a Downtown Pace” which, dare I say, is more successful at it than anything off of their last record. The quarantine-inspired lyrics are nothing special, but Andrew Savage sells them with a vocal that seems different despite still sounding exactly like A. Savage. And besides, the song still rocks. We’re all hearing the same guitar track, right?

“My (Limited) Engagement”, Guided by Voices
From It’s Not Them. It Couldn’t Be Them. It Is Them! (2021, GBV, Inc.)

While Guided by Voices albums almost always start with a “hit”, closing tracks are more of a mixed bag. Robert Pollard is just as likely to end a GBV LP with the record’s most straight-up rocking moment (“With Glass in Foot”, “An Unmarketed Product”, “Captain’s Dead”) as he is to indulge the band’s left-turn, prog-aping tendencies with a head-scratcher (“Evolution Circus”, “Sons of the Beard”). “My (Limited) Engagement”, the lead single and final track off of the upcoming It’s Not Them. It Couldn’t Be Them. It Is Them! might be in a category of its own—it’s a bit more spirited than the mid-tempo, casual pop rock closers (“On the Tundra”, “Just to Show You”), but it’s nowhere near as souped-up as something like “No Transmission” or “Bomb the Bee-Hive”. It’s got an awesome “Exit Flagger”/”Echoes Myron” descending chord progression in the verses, and a casual, almost Todd Tobias solo album-esque chorus. I’m curious to hear the rest of the album with this as its first taste.

“Left Before Your Set”, Mister Goblin
(2021, Exploding in Sound)

Towards the end of Mister Goblin’s latest album, Four People in an Elevator and One of Them Is the Devil, is a quiet, acoustic track called “Cover Song”, which appeared in one of these playlists in February. It’s a delicate tune in which Sam Goblin plays a song “everybody likes” while something nags at the back of his mind. “Left Before Your Set”, the Goblin’s latest single, is about as far away from “Cover Song” as one could get. Coming just as touring is winding back up again (or is it already going away again?), “Left Before Your Set” is a throaty post-hardcore chronicle of the heroic strength to go see a friend’s “shitty fucking band” and the high-level calculus undertaken to ascertain when it’s “safe” to duck out. We’re given a litany of potential reasons why Mister Goblin has to leave early: he’s got a meeting in the morning, he has to drive to Poughkeepsie, his dog is having a seizure (“You didn’t know he was epileptic? Well, ME EITHER”). The restraint in the bridge is the only trace of Four People in an Elevator…’s sensitive side, but I’m ready for wherever this one-off track leads.

“It’s Coming Around”, Dazy
From MAXIMUMBLASTSUPERLOUD: The First 24 Songs (2021, Convulse)

Here is a sampling of song titles pulled from Dazy’s MAXIMUMBLASTSUPERLOUD cassette compilation: Easy-Go-Round. Perpetual Motion. Accelerate. Revolving Door. It’s Coming Around. When I Come Around (the last one is actually a famous song by Green Day, but you get my point). These titles, purposefully or not, get to the heart of what makes Dazy’s pop songs work as well as they do: comfort through repetition and being as loud n fast as necessary. Dazy could be the official lo-fi pop punk band of NASCAR, if there were such a thing. “It’s Coming Around” was originally released in September 2020 along with “Wind Me Up”, and the whole song seems to take place in between the few seconds between a lightning strike and thunderclap (“I saw the light but I heard no sound / I’ve been waitin’ on the thunder, it’s coming around) like a prequel song to Upper Wilds’ “Roy Sullivan”, one of the other best fuzz-pop-rock songs about lightning strikes.

“Thanksgiving Pt. II”, TIFFY
From TIFFY (2021, Dollhouse Lightning)

About thirty seconds into “Thanksgiving Pt. II”, Boston’s Tiffany Sammy (aka TIFFY) yells “Yeah!”, the drums hit, and the song transitions from a quiet indie guitar pop tune to…a not-as-quiet indie guitar pop tune. This is, I believe, a defining example of the “soft punk” that Sammy uses to describe her music. The opening track to TIFFY’s second EP actually covers a lot of ground over its three minutes underneath its “indie rock singer-songwriter” sheen—it actually grinds to a stop another half-minute after its soft punk arrival, then slowly ramps up to a fuzzy conclusion that actually does rock. Lyrically, Sammy is in the middle of an internal pacing-around-the-room debate about her mental health (“They say you can’t change your brain, just be made aware…/ Well what’s the point if I can’t change?”), with the musical build-up at the end seeming to mirror her own brain as well (“My thoughts are so loud now / How can anyone not hear them”).

“More”, Low
From HEY WHAT (2021, Sub Pop)

I think this should come out before HEY WHAT drops on the 10th. If this playlist shows up after that, I’ve probably set it to auto-publish, because this album is shaping up to, at the very least, knock me unconscious. The pixelated church choir-turned-to-ambient comedown workout of “Days Like These” caught my attention in June, but “More” cuts to the bone in (ironically, I suppose) less than half of that song’s runtime. Mimi Parker gives one of her most memorable vocal turns of the modern Low era here, over top of a churning industrial trash-compactor instrumental that remains stubbornly melodic and beautiful. Like “Days Like These”, I could imagine a slowcore-Low version of this song without too much squinting, although unlike “Days Like These”, I would put “More” up there with “Walk into the Sea” on the list of “Low songs that actually rock”.

“My Little Hell”, Unpheromones
From Nerd (2021)

One of the many services Rosy Overdrive provides is that we will listen to your musical confessions (Rosary Overdrive?); whatever sins you need to get off of your chest, we’re here. Such is the case with Portland, Maine’s Unpheromones, whose members have committed the cardinal sin in the eyes of the Church of Hardcore—aging out of playing “fast music” and starting a slick Rentals-esque power-pop-punk band instead. That’s a bit of a fib, since the keyboard synths are not quite as prominent throughout Nerd as they are here in album opener “My Little Hell”, but Unpheromones put them to very good use in this song. There’s something very turn-of-the-century in Myles Simcock’s breathy, understated lead vocals, and I’m into it—but the eighth-note (sixteenth-note? this isn’t my area) power chords and melodic bass are timeless.

“Jean Paul Sartre”, The Crabs
From Brainwashed (1996, K)

“Americans are not that smart, ‘cuz they know about Jean Paul Sartre / Everything they’ll ever know: football games and TV shows”. This is why I spend so much time listening to decades-old indie rock. There’s so much genius out there that I’ve never heard, and you probably haven’t either. 90s Portland, Oregon indie/twee pop band The Crabs are not new to me (“Swallow the Sea” from 1995’s Jackpot is a favorite song of mine), but having finally gotten around to the following year’s Brainwashed, I can report that it’s just as good, and if you’re into minimalist indie pop/rock it’s got everything one could possibly want. In the nearly percussionless “Jean Paul Sartre”, the utilitarian electric guitar playing of Jonn Lunsford and the vocal interplay between Lunsford and Lisa Jackson take center stage, both of which absolutely shine here. There’s a “ba ba ba” chorus and everything. Plus, the song is a history lesson, and the detail that Sartre “Took a chance with libations / All he sees are crustaceans” is more than just a band name reference.

“Knockin’”, MJ Lenderman
From Knockin’ (2021, Dear Life)

In the midst of a prolific year from MJ Lenderman, the surprise digital-only EP Knockin’ might quietly be the strongest batch of songs from the Asheville songwriter yet. From the get-go of the record’s opening title track, we get the invocation of John Daly singing “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door“, which is one of Lenderman’s most memorable images so far, and then he casually rhymes it with a line that’s nearly as good on its own (“Bird calls comin’ from the rafters at the hardware store”). The song takes off like a lo-fi country rocket in the last minute or so—watch the oddly stirring, cat-starring music video for maximum effect. Read more about Knockin’ here.

“Sandstorm”, Laura Stevenson
From Laura Stevenson (2021, Don Giovanni)

I still need to give Laura Stevenson’s self-titled sixth album some more time to decide how it compares to her past work—I think it’s better than The Big Freeze, not sure if I like it more than Cocksure—but “Sandstorm” was an early highlight for me. It’s classic pop rock Stevenson, immediately trotting out its main hook and never losing its thread as it moves forward. The bridge brings a couple of piano flourishes that would almost be too much, but the song is just fun enough to incorporate them seamlessly. If lead single “State” was Stevenson evoking the angriest tension present in Kristin Hersh’s songs for Throwing Muses, “Sandstorm” is one of Tanya Donnelly’s cheery pop interjections. Underneath the brightness, Stevenson’s lyrics appear to be of the urging type (“Think of how many days that you wasted / Hurry up and break my heart” … “I’ve been twitching between days / For you to search your pretty thoughts”), but whether it’s the end of a relationship or something more obscure I couldn’t say. Sounds great, though.

“Winnebago Skeletons”, The Handsome Family
From Milk & Scissors (1996, Carrot Top/Scout)

“Winnebago Skeletons”—now there’s a hell of a title. If you’re unfamiliar with The Handsome Family’s unique blend of gothic alt-country: jump on in, the water’s nice and murky. They’re a husband-and-wife duo, the Sparkses: Brett sings, plays guitar and writes the music, Rennie plays bass and writes the lyrics. Milk & Scissors is their second album of many—The Handsome Family were still in their fuzzy alt-rock phase musically (their best phase), and Brett’s just-enough-emotion baritone is as lonesome as ever. The detritus-describing Americana poetry is what really puts “Winnebago Skeletons” over the top, however. The banal beer can waste and “whiffle ball bats” rest alongside apocalyptic and suicidal imagery in the Handsome Family’s dark hall of curios, and they never explain who (or what) the entity narrating the song is supposed to be.

“Double Space”, Smaller Hearts
From Attention (2021, √-1)

It appears that I’ve unwittingly put two husband-and-wife bands in a row in this playlist, but the dark goth-country of The Handsome Family is a pretty far cry from Smaller Hearts. The Dartmouth, Nova Scotia duo of Kristina Parlee and Ron Bates are starry-eyed synth-poppers through and through, their minimalist version of electronica giving their third album Attention an intimate feel through the machinery. Lead single “Double Space” is one of the record’s fuller moments, with a busy drum machine soundtracking one of their best vocal melodies—Bates gets to deliver it, with Parlee’s wordless backing vocals giving “Double Space” a sort of 80s dream pop edge. By the end of the song, where the synths, drums, and both vocalists are all singing over each other, it’s almost a lo-fi Madchester single.

“Gary’s”, Wednesday
From Twin Plagues (2021, Orindal)

My favorite thing about “Gary’s” might be its title—“Gary’s” being short for “Gary is”, not “belonging to Gary”. I can’t think of another song that uses this particular naming convention! Most songwriters would just call the song “Gary”, but not Wednesday’s Karly Hartzman. The two-minute song is comprised of three scenes: a woman named Amanda yells at her boyfriend and breaks a screen door, Gary’s yelling outside the house with his cigarette in mouth and oxygen tank in tow, and a fight breaks out in a baseball game. In the context of Twin Plagues, it’s a respite from the fuzzy country-rock side of the North Carolina band, with even its closing guitar solo (possibly recorded by MJ Lenderman, who appears on this playlist as a solo artist as well) feeling lazy and sunburned. But it’s Hartzman’s vocals, particularly in Gary’s vignette, that pushes Wednesday above the current crop of dreamy indie rock acts.

“Living in the Good Times”, Naked Raygun
From Over the Overlords (2021, Wax Trax!)

It seems like Naked Raygun’s first album in over thirty years should be a bigger deal than it is. Maybe it’s not the “classic” line-up, but the majority of the personnel that made their biggest albums are on Over the Overlords (including bassist Pierre Kezdy, who passed away in between recording and release). Maybe it’s just kind of hard to write about Naked Raygun; they’re “political”, but not always in a straightforward way. A song like “Superheroes” is fascinating, but I couldn’t tell you what it’s supposed to be from the perspective of: Greed? America? Capitalism? The military? “Living in the Good Times” I understand, however. It’s a punk anthem about just wanting all the dang fightin’ to stop. Jeff Pezzati is done with “all this talk of revolution”; he’d rather not get caught “in some asshole’s sightline” and ending up “on the wrong side of a police line”. It’s somewhere between “Revolution #1” and “Give a Fuck Fatigue” by Tropical Fuck Storm. Just another reason for Steve Albini to call them sellouts, I suppose. But I get it. Naked Raygun and Pezzati are still taking to the soapbox, even later on the same album. Just for a moment, though—can the man rescue raccoons in peace?

“Broca’s Ways”, Zumpano
From Goin’ Through Changes (1996, Sub Pop)

Remove Zumpano’s second and final album to the “been meaning to get around to it” list. Goin’ Through Changes is a classic expansive sophomore record; where their debut, Look What the Rookie Did, brought power pop hit after power pop hit, Changes dove into classic pop song structures and instruments. It actually reminds me of Carl Newman’s solo career more than what he’d go on to do with The New Pornographers, but there are elements of both here (By the way, Newman is clearly the best New Pornographer. Maybe it’s a boring answer that exposes my biases, but as good as Neko Case and Dan Bejar can be, neither stack up to Carl’s oeuvre). “Broca’s Ways” is one of the most immediate songs on Goin’ Through Changes, with a bursting chorus that’s one of his best and a squiggly synth riff that’s oddly charming.

“Faking My Harlequin”, Robert Pollard
From The Crawling Distance (2009, GBV, Inc.)

The Crawling Distance is a good album. Like the previous year’s (relatively) lauded Robert Pollard Is Off to Business, it’s ten tracks in 35 minutes, but it chafes at the notion of being as refined and stately as that one. Lumbering cock-rockers like “Cave Zone” and “Too Much Fun” sit alongside delicate songs like “It’s Easy” and “Imaginary Queen Ann” that would be easy to dismiss as “adult contemporary” if you have a Robert Pollard review that you don’t really want to write due in a couple hours. Even if you don’t have the patience to see The Crawling Distance for what it is, however, you can appreciate “Faking My Harlequin”. It’s an insistent, driving opener—the verses have a nice melody, sure, but Pollard’s rolling on pure vibes here. I know the drumming is a sticking point for some with the Todd Tobias-produced solo Pollard albums, but the thumping, robotic percussion here is perfect for the track. And that refrain! I dare you to get that one out of your head.

“Fool in the Mirror”, Dazy
From MAXIMUMBLASTSUPERLOUD: The First 24 Songs (2021, Convulse)

Another new Dazy track, released for the first time on the MAXIMUMBLASTSUPERLOUD compilation. James Goodson’s vocals here are maybe one of his purest “pop” takes among the first 24 songs, even in the moments when the music washes over him. “Fool in the Mirror” is one of the songs that really justify the “lo-fi Fountains of Wayne/Teenage Fanclub/your favorite 90s power pop band here” comparisons, and the non-studio setting doesn’t prevent a terrific melodic lead guitar from guiding “Fool in the Mirror” along as well. I know about the fool in the mirror, Dazy, I’ve got one too. I wonder if they know each other?

“COLLAPSE!”, Jeff Rosenstock featuring Laura Stevenson & JER
From 2020 DUMP (2020, Really)

I was hyped when Jeff Rosenstock shared his nine hour ska/reggae/dub playlist awhile back, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that “COLLAPSE!”, which leans heavily on that sound, is my favorite song off of 2020 DUMP, Rosenstock’s rolling collection of quarantine recordings that recently turned up (sans three covers) on streaming services. Although one might think I’m talking about a ska-punk song (in the vein of Ska Dream, one of my favorite albums of 2021 so far) here, “COLLAPSE!” actually finds Rosenstock venturing into dub-curious reggae rock territory here, a much less frequent alleyway for him. Musically it’s fairly “chilled” (for Rosenstock, at least), but it’s more “numb” than “good vibes”, a snapshot of a summer of intense protests. Rosenstock, I should say, gets some quality help on “COLLAPSE!” from trumpeter Jeremy Hunter (from Skatune Network and We Are the Union) and Laura Stevenson (from earlier in this playlist).

“Space Manatee”, Heavenly
From Operation Heavenly (1996, Wiiija/K)

Heavenly and Heavenly-related bands have become something of a staple of these playlists, which on the one hand is a little odd because I didn’t really know much about Heavenly before starting these, but on the other hand, if you know anything about this band, it’s that they were good for an indie pop classic at any time. “Space Manatee” is the pull track from Operation Heavenly, their final record, released posthumously after the death of drummer Matthew Fletcher. It’s a bright, shiny pop creation that builds perfectly from its bass-driven opening to its exuberant chorus, and, as it came out in the midst of a time when British guitar pop bands just absolutely going for it was en vogue, it’s hard not to play the “what if” question. On a related note, here is an article written by Craig Finn (of Rosy Overdrive favorite The Hold Steady) that uses “Space Manatee” as a jumping-off point to talk about The Power of Music and other weighty topics (content warning for suicide).

“Blitzer”, Oscar Bait
From Everything Louder Than Everything Else (2021, Little Elephant)

The title of the latest track from Chicago melodic punk band Oscar Bait is referring to NFL’s Blitz 2000, apparently. I don’t know, I’m out of my depth there. “Blitzer” is the second single from their upcoming EP Everything Louder Than Everything Else, and it’s a shining example of their gruff-but-catchy breed of anthem (we’re squarely in orgcore territory here). I would imagine the NFL video game has to do with the song’s lyrics, which deal with being disillusioned with the “grown up world” as an (increasingly less) young adult, although when the 90-second track is speeding by, it’s more about the feeling than what Jim Howes is belting. For your viewing pleasure, their label has premiered the song’s “smashing” music video—that is, they’re literally smashing things in the video. It looks cathartic. Read more about Everything Louder Than Everything Else here.

“The Margins”, Canandaigua
From Slight Return (2021, Baja Dracula)

The Americana mythmaking examination of Canandaigua’s Slight Return EP is most explicit in “The Margins”, the record’s closing track. The chorus finds Canandaigua’s Raul Zahir De Leon proclaiming “I know who the heroes are supposed to be / the ones on which we always fixate,” and the rest of the song critiques De Leon’s observed reality. He expresses 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. Read more about Slight Return here.

“Aunt Linda, c. 1989”, BRNDA
From Do You Like Salt? (2021, Crafted Sounds)

“Aunt Linda, c. 1989” is a sore thumb, the eye in the middle of BRNDA’s zany stream-of-consciousness post-punk hurricane. Instead, the D.C. trio put on their best Pacific Northwest bummer pop faces (Girlpool come to mind) for a subdued musical still life about “Vanilla Aunt Linda and suburban TV”. The song’s three-minute world features long workdays, new suits, mall parking lots, slow-moving traffic, and potpourri. Aside from one reference to chopped and boiled liver, BRNDA’s food fixation is at a minimum, making “Aunt Linda, c. 1989” a nice breath of clean air in between workouts like “Year of the Hot Dog by Burger Gang” and “Wrong Taco”. Read more about Do You Like Salt? here.

“Love Special Delivery”, Los Lobos
From Native Sons (2021, New West)

The new Los Lobos cover album is quite fun! It wasn’t exactly very high on my list, but I’m glad I threw it on on a whim—Los Lobos are the kind of band you can throw on on a whim and very rarely be disappointed, and Native Sons doesn’t disappoint. The conceit is that it’s a tribute to their home of Los Angeles, with twelve of the thirteen songs originating from L.A. bands and musicians (the title track is an original). Buffalo Springfield’s “From What It’s Worth” is probably the only household name here, but cuts from Jackson Browne, The Beach Boys, War, and The Blasters also feature. “Love Special Delivery”, which opens Native Sons, is an R&B-flavored tune originally released as a single in 1966 by Chicano rock band Thee Midniters, and its confident horn punches are the perfect way to start off a record.

“She Buys Herself Flowers”, The Umbrellas
From The Umbrellas (2021, Slumberland)

I don’t know when the Bay Area became such a hub for modern jangle pop, but I’m certainly not complaining. The latest band to debut on the evergreen Slumberland Records, The Umbrellas are the latest San Francisco band to arpeggiate their way onto Rosy Overdrive with “She Buys Herself Flowers”, the lead single from their self-titled debut album. Singer Morgan Stanley’s front-and-center, plainly-delivered vocals and a chiming guitar that only gets bolder as the song goes on anchor a track that wouldn’t be out of place on any 1980s C86 compilation or, perhaps more accurately, Captured Tracks’ Strum & Thrum: The American Jangle Underground compilation from last year. Regarding the title, it sounds like the self-gifted flowers are part of a “learning to love one’s self” attempt, although it sounds more like one part of a personal journey than its end result.

“Cops Don’t Care About the Drip”, The Cocker Spaniels
From The Cocker Spaniels Are Still Alive, and So Are You (2021, Evil Island Fortress)

Although “Cops Don’t Care About the Drip” is, like, “Snuff Film”, about racist police violence and murder, Cocker Spaniels frontman Sean Padilla is addressing a different audience here: fellow black men who believe (or at the very least hope) that they can use “respectability” to skip the effects of white supremacy via their wardrobe. Nearly every line in “Cops Don’t Care About the Drip” is sharp as a tack and infinitely quotable—“Your skin will still be black, your blood will still be red”; “Ain’t none of these crooked cops Mark Twain, they just don’t give a damn; “You’ll die watching the goalposts shift”. Read more about The Cocker Spaniels Are Still Alive, and So Are You here.

“Walking in Circles”, Chet Wasted
From Raspberry (2021, Count Your Lucky Stars)

Chet Wasted is the alter (main?) ego of Jacob McCabe, most notably the vocalist and guitarist for emo band Perspective, a Lovely Hand to Hold. Like Perspective bandmate Jimmy Montague, McCabe has ventured outside of his main project to craft a record exploring a different side of his influences—60s baroque and psychedelic pop. While other songs on Raspberry delve into either the darker or more orchestral parts of this sound, the pastoral instrumentation and harmonica of “Walking in Circles” makes a breezy folk-pop song that’s one of the most successful tracks on the record. McCabe sings in a melodic croon that reminds me quite a bit of XTC’s Andy Partridge, and if it’s more Bob Dylan than Brian Wilson, the backing vocals in the chorus are a reminder that the middle ground here is larger than one might think. Read more about Raspberry here.

“Sacred Heart”, Mark Eitzel
From 60 Watt Silver Lining (1996, Warner)

Mark Eitzel and his sometimes band, American Music Club, got retroactively put in the “slowcore” box presumably because of how liberally Red House Painters cribbed from them, but as a genre tag in 2021 it’s less than helpful in parsing Eitzel’s dramatically regal pop music. Not counting a self-released cassette and a live album, 60 Watt Silver Lining was Eitzel’s solo debut, and its edge-of-the-continent emotional-oil-tanker-spill ballads like “Mission Rock Escort” and “No Easy Way Down” would, I imagine, be quite a shock to anyone weaned on “indie rock”. “Sacred Heart” is one of the record’s “jauntiest” tracks, with mid-tempo acoustic guitar strums and a loping drumbeat perking up a classically Eitzel lyric and vocal. “Track me down and I’ll give you my pomegranate heart, my throwaway heart,” Eitzel more-than-asks at the song’s climax, and if that was too subtle for you, he ends “Sacred Heart” with a simply earnest “I’m always alone, and I don’t want to be always alone”.

“Somewhere Fast”, So Cow
From Bisignis (2021, Dandy Boy)

Galway, Ireland’s So Cow have been at the lo-fi pop rock game for the majority of this century—Bisignis is the seventh record from the band (which seems to be at the moment solely comprised of founder Brian Kelly). “Somewhere Fast” is the most immediate attention-grabber on Bisignis, a gleeful hooky garage rocker hidden in the middle of the album’s second side. Classic pop song chords come barreling out of the gate, which combined with Kelly’s best sing-song vocal melody all give “Somewhere Fast” the quality of “song you could dance to in a basement somewhere” (or perhaps in a shed, which is apparently where all of Bisignis was recorded). “You are the reason I’m getting out of my own way” has to go down as an all-time slacker rock sentimental lyric, as well.

“Pretty Girl in the Rain”, Colm O’Mahony & the Hot Touches
From Colm O’Mahony & the Hot Touches (2020, Mile 16)

Colm O’Mahony and his Hot Touches hail from Killarney, Ireland, although their self-titled debut album feels like it could’ve spawned from any sufficiently-stuck-in-time bar stage in middle America. The most obvious musical point of comparison for me would be Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, especially on the breezy pop-rock of “Pretty Girl in the Rain”, my favorite track from last year’s Colm O’Mahony & the Hot Touches. The track (and much of the record as well) is so heart-on-sleeve that if O’Mahony didn’t come off as such a true believer, it wouldn’t work, but he’s dipping into the same stuff that made rock music shine before it was the domain of jaded burnouts (oh no, is that me?). It kind of reminds me of a rootsier version of the Benjamin Belinska album, a track from which I highlighted earlier this year.

“In My Dreams”, Dazy
From MAXIMUMBLASTSUPERLOUD: The First 24 Songs (2021, Convulse)

Another older Dazy song, this one originally came out last October as a digital single with “Disappear”, and it’s another monster chorus that carves itself out a niche using pure inertia. “In My Dreams” is just as much a foot-on-the-gas track as the previously discussed tunes, with James Goodson declaring “We’re headed straight for power lines, going way too fast,” at the start of the two-line second verse, before taking us back to riding the hook for the majority of the song. I’m running out of things to say about Dazy by now, but this song is as good as anything else on MAXIMUMBLASTSUPERLOUD.

“All We Ever Got from Them Was Pain”, Alex Chilton
From Free Again: The “1970” Sessions (2012, Omnivore)

In between Alex Chilton’s time in The Box Tops and Big Star, he recorded a record’s worth of songs on his own that went unreleased and unheard until a dozen of them were released in 1996 in an album titled simply 1970. Omnivore revisited this era of Chilton a few years after his death in 2012, releasing Free Again, which featured all of the 1970 songs, a few alternate versions and demos, and “All We Ever Got from Them Was Pain”, which was for whatever reason not originally included among these songs. Without a trace of R&B residue from his time with the Box Tops and not exactly Beatles-by-way-of-Memphis either, “All We Ever Got from Them Was Pain” is a fragile acoustic song that’s somewhere between 60s harmony-emphasizing folk and, say, “Thirteen”. I interpret the bitter, defeated lyrics as a reflection of Chilton’s disillusionment with the Top 40 hit-making machine that he fell into as a teenager with The Box Tops, but I’m just speculatin’.

“Minefield Searcher”, Boston Spaceships
From Let It Beard (2011, GBV, Inc.)

“Nobody writes ‘Happiness Is a Warm Gun’-type songs anymore. So I figured I would. And for this record, I wrote a bunch of them.” It’s a tale as old as 1987: a Robert Pollard album that I’ve always viewed as “okay” unlocks itself, and that pulled quote is the key to understanding the overstuffed, thorny Let It Beard. It’s no hit factory like previous Spaceships records like Our Cubehouse Still Rocks and The Planets Are Blasted. I probably reduced it to “it’s got twice as many tracks and half as many pop songs as those two; what’s the point?” The point is songs like the under-the-radar “Minefield Searcher”. Unlike a lot of Let It Beard, it doesn’t really go through a “Happiness Is a Warm Gun”-type metamorphosis; rather, the entire song itself is a turn inward in between the J. Mascis-aided “Tourist U.F.O.” and the mid-tempo stomper “Make a Record for Lo-Life”. But, like “Happiness”-style songs, “Minefield Searcher” is a journey, with its low-key but satisfying payoff being the surprisingly emotional final refrain.

“Constance”, Mouth Washington
From Remiss (2021, Repeating Cloud)

I’m not generally one to borrow from other music websites while I’m doing my own thing, but Sam Pfeifle of the Portland Phoenix got it too right with “Mouth Washington will not improve your mood with ‘Remiss’”.  It’s a dark and frustrated post-hardcore record narrated by the alternatingly furious, pleading, and anxious vocals of singer/guitarist Max Hansen. The title of “Constance” nods to a particularly grim true crime story whose shadow looms over the record; I would call the song one of the “brighter” moments on Remiss. Musically, at least—big warning for harrowing child abuse both in that article and in the lyrics to “Constance”. Whether the track’s guitar bombast and backing “whoa-ohs” soften the blows or sharpen them depends on whether or not one gives into a false sense of security, which is sort of hard to do while taking in Remiss as a whole. Some of the six-string on “Constance” was presumably recorded by Mouth Washington’s second guitarist, Will Held, who unexpectedly passed away after the album’s recording in May—I can only imagine how difficult Held’s death has been for the remaining members of the band and the surrounding community, and I give them my deepest condolences.

“Handsome Man”, Wednesday
From Twin Plagues (2021, Orindal)

We hit quiet Wednesday earlier on with the dirt road cruising of “Gary’s”; “Handsome Man” is Wednesday fully plugged in. I still think I prefer the band’s sparser moments, but “Handsome Man” makes it closer to a wash, proving that Karly Hartzman can toss off excellent lines even when the band’s threatening to overshadow her lyrics (maybe you’re of a “Holdin’ a crossbow in a family photo person” mind, or lean towards the “The only reason I’m coming home is for my second-hand handsome man” axis). Sonically, the push and pull between jagged alt-rock and insular singer-songwriter faire reminds me of Ratboys, but the distinctively southern Appalachian style of Hartzman stubbornly refuses to make this a slam-dunk comparison. The song’s music video prominently features Ring Pops and vans, two things that my market research tells me Rosy Overdrive readers enjoy disproportionately.

“TLC Cage Match”, MJ Lenderman
From Knockin’ (2021, Dear Life)

“It’s hard to see you fall like that, though I know how much it’s an act,” begins “TLC Cage Match”, one of the most tender songs about wrestling that isn’t on Beat the Champ. The penultimate track of MJ Lenderman’s Knockin’ EP is the record’s “ballad”, sandwiched between the southern groove of “TV Dinners” and the rousing closing track “Tastes Just Like It Costs”. Lenderman does his most delicate Jason Molina voice, and this combined with the David Berman, Daniel Johnston, and Mark Linkous influence throughout the rest of Knockin’ makes the lines “I always believed it every time you said you were gonna be like our heroes somebody, well, baby / All our heroes now are dead” hit even harder. Read more about Knockin’ here.

“Dying to Believe”, Buck Gooter
From Head in a Bird Cage (2021, Ramp Local)

“Dying to Believe” closes out Head in a Bird Cage, the final Buck Gooter album that Terry Turtle worked on before his death in November 2019. The “bird cage” is how Turtle referred to the neck brace that hung around him in his final, hospital-bound months, and many of Head in a Bird Cage’s vocals were recorded live from his bed. But according to Billy Brett, the other half of Buck Gooter, the band “will always have Terry in it”, thanks in part to a surplus of half-finished Terry Turtle songs that Brett intends to complete or incorporate in some way. So “Dying to Believe” isn’t some neat end to the “Terry Turtle era”. It is, at the very least, a mile-marker of some sort, beginning with the way that Brett and Terry rein in their “primal industrial blues” for a modern gothic folk hymn. The Kurt Cobain nod in the first line only underscores the hauntingly beautiful vibe that “Dying to Believe” shares with Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged session. “So today I will not leave,” Brett and Terry sing together, and Buck Gooter is still here.

“When Will the Sun Rise Again”, Simon Joyner
From Songs for the New Year (1996, Sing, Eunuchs!/Team Love)

If you were rooting for another very long folk songs to close out the playlist (first since March, I believe), then you’re in luck. Simon Joyner has always been good for stretching out his Midwestern prairie epics past the six minute mark, and the late 1990s might’ve been his expansive heyday. Joyner followed up Songs for the New Year with the double CD Yesterday Tomorrow and In Between, which is just absolutely full of tracks like that, and I’d love to get to it someday, but New Year does just fine on its own. “When Will the Sun Rise Again” is that record’s centerpiece, an uncertain weather-watching song (“The parade had to be postponed, but we watched the balloons ascend / Though we all know that they explode as they got closer to Him”) that floats through seven minutes of Joyner’s four chords, Bill Hoover’s minimally uplifting accordion, and barely-there percussion. I don’t know when the rain will stop falling, or when the sun will rise again. Nor do I know if we’ll end up swimming around Noah’s boat while he and his circle float leisurely along as Joyner suggests, but…

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