Pressing Concerns: Torment & Glory, Supernowhere, Man Random, Sweet Nobody

In this week’s ahead-of-schedule edition of Pressing Concerns, I look at two albums I’ve been meaning to get to for awhile now (the debut from Brian Cook’s Torment & Glory and the re-released Supernowhere record) as well as two brand new releases from Man Random and Sweet Nobody.

If you’re looking for more new music, you can browse Rosy Overdrive’s site directory or peruse previous editions of Pressing Concerns.

Torment & Glory – We Left a Note with an Apology

Release date: August 27th
Record label: Sargent House
Genre: Blown-out folk, singer-songwriter
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull track: No Big Crime

The origin story of We Left a Note with an Apology is certainly intriguing. Brian Cook is most notable now for playing bass in the instrumental post-metal group Russian Circles and the sludge metal band SUMAC, and historically for occupying the same position in mathcore legends Botch. Torment & Glory is Cook’s first album as a solo artist, and he traces the moment of inspiration for the album to hearing a dust-covered record player attempting to play a beat-up copy of Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska, resulting in “a wall of fuzz distortion” with glimpses of The Boss’ sparsest moments peaking through the haze; Cook then set out to make an album in the mold of this experience. I have seen We Left a Note with an Apology tagged as “post-rock” or “drone”, perhaps in an attempt to better connect it with Cook’s previous, heavier work, but to be clear: this is, more than anything else, a singer-songwriter folk album.

That isn’t to minimize the distortion and feedback that shade We Left a Note with an Apology, especially given how well Cook incorporates it into Torment & Glory’s sound. In moments like the transition between “Mexican Hat, Utah” and “All Men Are Forever”, the fuzz overwhelms everything, and even when Cook’s quiet singing and delicate acoustic guitar playing take center stage, it’s still lurking underneath. But these are songs first and foremost, not drone pieces with incidental vocals. The record begins and ends with its biggest blasts of feedback, but once accustomed to it, opening track “The Burning Car” reveals an excellent sketch of the image depicted on the record’s cover and song title. The instrumental closer should be considered a companion piece to “Mexican Hat, Utah”, a delicately-picked acoustic ballad whose windswept desert determination is more in line with the majority of We Left a Note with an Apology.

Elsewhere, the humming of “The Kick Drum” could only have been written by someone with Cook’s history; beginning with a vivid description of the power of loud live music before fast-forwarding to the denied dream of gentrification and disillusionment (“The neighborhood doesn’t want you anymore / They subsidize the trash sold at the store”) and concluding on a bittersweet note, with a hauntingly simple refrain that kind of reminds me of Eric Bachmann’s solo material. Cook doesn’t need to tackle such heady subjects to give the songs on We Left a Note with an Apology weight, however—single “No Big Crime” is effectively an ode to shoplifting cigarettes, and how it might be in the past tense for Cook but he sees no issue with the action. “No grand gestures now, just petty victories,” is how he summarizes learning how to stealthily sneak a pack. This is similar to the small victory in “Bolyston and Pike”, where Cook resolves to “Ignore the dust and stains and footsteps down the hall,” in a song about the quiet triumph of apartment living alone. Just another understated but compelling moment in a record that seems to exist for them. (Bandcamp link)

Supernowhere – Gestalt (Re-release)

Release date: August 11th
Record label: Topshelf
Genre: Shimmery indie rock
Formats: Digital
Pull track: Truly a Great Night Like Many Other Nights

Supernowhere’s debut album is one of the more subtle albums that has appeared in Pressing Concerns. Gestalt was originally self-released in 2018 before being remastered, remixed, and re-released by Topshelf Records last month, and though I knew I wanted to touch on it since I heard it, it’s taken awhile because I wasn’t sure how to talk about it. It has the off-kilter songwriting that could get flagged as “math rock”, but it feels languid and unhurried, for the most part. At the same time, it’s a little too jittery to be called “slowcore”, even as it has the same casual beauty as a lot of those bands. It’s got plenty of arpeggiated guitar playing, but doesn’t fit neatly under “jangle pop” or “twinkly emo”. Before the trio (bassist/vocalist Meredith Davey, guitarist/vocalist Kurt Pacing, drummer Matt Anderson) relocated to Seattle, Gestalt was written and recorded in Vermont, which seems about right.

Loosely speaking, the first half of Gestalt is the “pop” side, and the back half is a little more “jammy”. The bass-heavy “Truly a Great Night Like Many Other Nights” is an early “single” candidate and features Davey’s most arresting vocals and some controlled-demolition instrumental work, while “David” and “Paper” condense Supernowhere’s sound into pleasant breezy, pastoral portions. The one straightforward “rocker”, the driving “Fast Pilgrim”, also shows up early on Gestalt. The B-side finds Supernowhere stretching out a bit, with songs like “Darl” and “Cascade” pushing up against the five-minute mark and the latter appearing as a buffer between two more conceptual tracks called (appropriately) “Thaw” and “Unthaw”. Gestalt is entirely the work of a guitar, bass, and drums trio, and yet it still feels towering—which only underscores how well-served these songs are by Supernowhere. (Bandcamp link)

Man Random – Present Tense

Release date: September 24th
Record label: Camp Random
Genre: Pop punk, alt-rock, power pop
Formats: CD, digital
Pull track: Something Good

If you’re looking for the obligatory Rosy Overdrive 90s rock revival pick of the week, stop scrolling here. Milwaukee’s Man Random boldly describe themselves as “if Smashing Pumpkins were 5th wave emo”, and while I like their spirit, if pressed, I would contend that they fall somewhere around “millennial, Midwestern Billie Joe Armstrong with a Blue Album-esque wall-of-guitar sound punching him up”. Lead singer Steven Baird has a theatrical voice that pairs well with the existential, stream-of-consciousness lyrics that pour out of Present Tense. The album—Man Random’s debut LP, by the way—almost follows a linear theme, beginning with a trio of songs that are as confidentially hooky musically as they are dire thematically.  Opener “Everything Gets Worse” cheerily asks “What’s the point of making long-term plans on a dying planet, in a society that’s set for self-destruction?”; the defeatist “Never Get It Right” and the self-explanatory “Full-Blown Existential Crisis” continue the endless grey (Oh, and the next song is called “Endless Grey”).

The midsection of Present Tense, while not exactly uplifting, at the very least is animated by a righteous indignation, like in the gang-vocal kiss-off of “Waiting for Apologies” and the requisite state-of-the-union “See No Evil”. Man Random save their half-fullest glasses for the end of the album, however. The bittersweet “Something Good”, even though it’s about a downer of a subject (the loss of a good relationship), chooses to reminisce on its peaks rather than mere wallowing. “Freezerburn” functions as a personal resolve from Baird (“I’m gonna make it through the winter if it kills me”), and closing track “…Before It Gets Better” (get it?) takes this and runs with it for a big, communal, upbeat send-off. Although I can trace a narrative throughline across Present Tense, the one static feature throughout the record is its fuzzy power pop enthusiasm—whether they’re accentuating the positive or the negative, Baird and Man Random feel like the best antidote or celebration is to belt it all out. (Bandcamp link)

Sweet Nobody – We’re Trying Our Best

Release date: September 17th
Record label: Daydream/Relief Map
Genre: Jangle pop, pop rock
Formats: Cassette, digital
Pull track: Five Star Diary

Long Beach, California’s Sweet Nobody had the release of their second record delayed due to the pandemic, but We’re Trying Our Best coming out four years since their debut album has done nothing to dampen these songs. The band float through ten tracks of confident, earnest guitar pop that feel like a logical step forward from 2017’s Loud Songs for Quiet People. The record’s brightest pop moments, like opener “Not a Good Judge” and lead single “Five Star Diary”, fall somewhere between jangly American college rock like 10,000 Maniacs and the C86 bands of which Sweet Nobody profess admiration. The band does shake things up a bit elsewhere, though—the light disco-accented guitar in the verses of “Why Don’t You Break My Heart?” reminds me of fellow pop-rockers Spud Cannon’s latest album, and while no one is mistaking Sweet Nobody for a punk rock band, songs like “Rhoda” and the one-two punch of “White Lies” and “Little Ghost” have a garage rock energy behind them.

Lead singer Joy Deyo’s vocals are front-and-center throughout We’re Trying Our Best, and help the album stand out among the crowd. Deyo sings her heart out on ballads and mid-tempo tracks like “Million Yard Stare” and “Young in Love” (“…and it’s so awful”, goes the chorus), and the way she turns lyrics about dealing with chronic pain and love into a song that should be immediately ushered into the Jangle Pop Singles canon with “Five Star Diary” is worth the price of admission alone. That this song comes immediately after the post-punk/surf rock groove of “Rhoda” is just one example of Sweet Nobody’s dexterity. (Bandcamp link)

Also notable:

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