Pressing Concerns: Kitner, Blunt Bangs, Nora Marks, Oscar Bait

Do you enjoy punk rock music? Because there’s quite a bit of it in the latest edition of Pressing Concerns. Today, we’re looking at brand new records from Kitner, Nora Marks, and Oscar Bait, as well as the Blunt Bangs album from a couple weeks ago (which is also the biggest genre outlier among these four).

If you’re looking for new music, you can browse previous editions of Pressing Concerns or visit the site directory.

Kitner – Shake the Spins

Release date: October 1st
Record label: Relief Map
Genre: Emo-indie-rock
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull track: Malden, MA

The indie rock that ended up being formative for me was of the irony-steeped and “esoteric” variety; I enjoyed plenty of albums and bands from the more earnest emo and punk scenes that ran simultaneously, but casually, and from a distance. I have no strong opinion on when Vagrant Records and Warped Tour “stopped being good”, and the only Conor Oberst album I’ve heard in full is the one he did with Phoebe Bridgers. That is to say, I immediately recognize and appreciate the sphere into which Boston’s Kitner have placed themselves with their debut LP, Shake the Spins, but I’m not fluent in it. If “the Omaha indie scene” means anything to you, songs like the heartland emo of “Junebug” and “Orient Heights” will be familiar in the warmest and best way. The lead singer of Kitner, Conor Maier, sounds the most like Conor Oberst’s warbling voice on these quiet-to-dramatic tracks. 

Kitner aren’t neatly slot-able into “Bright Eyes clone” territory. Guitarist James Christopher cites the Get-Up Kids as a starting point for his contributions to the band’s sound, and throughout Shake the Spins, the delicateness of Maier’s voice and the ornamental keyboard of Brianne Costa are just as likely to be accompanying a straight-up pop punk instrumental, like the first proper song “Suddenly” and the latter half of “Beth Israel” (which utilizes that classic, ‘acoustic first, then full band’ punch). The band reference local heroes Dinosaur Jr. as an inspiration for the most “rocking” song on Shake the Spins, the exuberant “Malden, MA”, but the geographical title and bar-band harmonica remind me more of The Hold Steady (Tell me that “I’m starving but I’m not an artist / They say Pollock was too drunk to paint and that I’m too drunk to stand up straight” couldn’t be a Craig Finn lyric).

Shake the Spins also just sounds great—credit to engineer Ryan Stack and the extra dimension that Costa’s keyboards give the record for that, among other things. I already mentioned “Beth Israel”, but “New Haven, CT” also relies on the acoustic-to-full-band transition and the dynamic shifts that come with it, and even electric-from-the-get-go songs like the mid-tempo “Bowery” and “Henry Miller ‘91” take a few turns that help deepen the record as well. Shake the Spins has been described as a “Lost Saddle Creek Records album”, and while it absolutely sounds like it could’ve emerged from that camp, this also rings true in the “lost” sense. The record comes five years after Kitner’s promising but rough-around-the-edges debut EP, so it’s somewhat of a surprise that the record even came together at all. At least, that might be how it looks from the outside—once you hear Shake the Spins, it’s pretty clear what a shame it would’ve been if songs this strong and a band this tuned-in to each other had just faded away. (Bandcamp link)

Blunt Bangs – Proper Smoker

Release date: September 17th
Record label: Ernest Jenning Record Co.
Genre: Power pop, alt-rock
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull track: Tom Ford

Reggie Youngblood made a name for himself in Black Kids, the Jacksonville post-punk revival band had a huge moment in the late 2000s. Christian “Smokey” DeRoeck was an early member of Woods in their lo-fi freak folk days, and most recently surfaced in the Silver Jews-indebted alt-country band Little Gold (who have appeared on Rosy Overdrive before). Together, the two make…power pop? Yes, the debut record from Blunt Bangs definitely showcases a different side to its two primary songwriters, something that becomes apparent from the moment opening track “She’s Gone” busts out its descending-chord structure, melodic guitar solos, and breezy vocal harmonies. By the time lead single “Decide” rolls up in the album’s second slot, Youngblood and DeRoeck (along with drummer Cash Carter, also of Little Gold) have fully transported us all back to 1993, with shades of Teenage Fanclub, The Posies, and even the Gin Blossoms coloring their work.

In defense of making a straight power pop record, Carter emphasizes that “we’re not trying to reinvent the wheel”, which, sure, but Proper Smoker never reverts to boring or unremarkable. The clever “Silence Is Golden” (a re-recording of an old Woods demo, apparently) harkens back to DeRoeck’s alt-country work, and the fizzy college rock of “Speed Reader” lands somewhere around mid-period Superchunk—just a couple of the details that help Proper Smoker feel very much like a product of all three members’ adopted home of Athens, Georgia. The fast, organ-tinged “Tom Ford” is an alt-rock hit from another universe hidden away in the middle of Side Two, and “Moshi Moshi” also stands out among the last couple of tracks due to Youngblood’s gleefully profane lyrics about “twirling at a Christian rave”, among other activities. Blunt Bangs had been kicking around for a few years before Proper Smoker eventually showed up, presumably due to the members’ other projects, but hopefully the record’s solid foundation encourages the trio to build upon it sooner rather than later. (Bandcamp link)

Nora Marks – Opt Out

Release date: October 1st
Record label: Take a Hike
Genre: Punk rock, pop punk
Formats: Digital
Pull track: The Ballad of the Surfin’ Cowboy

It’s apparently Chicago Punk week at Rosy Overdrive (see also: the next entry), and there’s no better place to start than the debut full-length from the Windy City’s Nora Marks. Opt Out is characterized by a nice, clean punk rock sound that’s accompanied by singer Michael Garrity’s nervous, post-punk-y vocals and occasional Dismemberment Plan-ish keyboard stabs. Although Nora Marks barrel out of the gate with the full-on anthem “Epiphany I’ve Had Before”, the rest of Opt Out fucks around with everything from kitchen-sink instrumental interludes (“Warshboard”, “Transmission”) to rockabilly piss-takes (“66”), all the while making its bones with mid-tempo, alt-rock sing-along belters. The band really shines on songs like “I Think You Earned It”, “Nice to Me”, and “The Ballad of the Surfin’ Cowboy”, which get a lot of mileage out of relative restraint, and helps give Opt Out a “making music for the sake of making music” Chicago indie rock feel a la Silkworm and countless other bands that have passed through Electrical Audio’s doors.

Garrity characterizes Opt Out as having grandiose ambitions regarding the Internet and AI’s effects on human behavior and emotion, but despite (or perhaps because of) this, the record is thematically marked by small, futile-feeling moments. It starts right at the beginning with the “here we go again” sigh of “Epiphany I’ve Had Before” (“You almost did something brave,” Garrity remarks to himself, ruefully) and continues to the “it’s all downhill from here” energy of “Nice to Me” (“I never even did enough to truly fail,” he mumbles). The narrator of “I Think You Earned It” spends the song reckoning with the fact that they’re “not so great” and devoted their life to creating “garbage”, and “A General Malaise” details a failed attempt to break out from the titular affliction. It’s relatively straightforward to figure out how, for example, the information overload of “Too Much History” relates to Garrity’s lyrical inspiration for Opt Out, but the personal snapshots and stream-of-consciousness, riddle-esque lyrics shine perhaps even brighter for Nora Marks. I could try to parse the chorus of “The Ballad of Surfin’ Cowboy” in relation to the rest of the record, sure, but the reason I come back to it is because everyone in the band injects “Intend to never stop / Raging bull, China shop” with a real sense of shout-along catharsis, shaking something worthwhile out of the noise Nora Marks sift through in Opt Out. (Bandcamp link)

Oscar Bait – Everything Louder Than Everything Else

Release date: October 1st
Record label: Little Elephant
Genre: Melodic hardcore, post-hardcore
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull track: Blitzer

It seems like melodic post-hardcore music is having a bit of a moment—Drug Church has worked their way into being one of punk’s most beloved new bands, Fiddlehead released one of the most acclaimed records of the year so far in May, and Militarie Gun’s pair of EPs show that they’re well on their way to greater heights. Everything Louder Than Everything Else, the second EP and first release since 2018 from Chicago’s Oscar Bait, might be the platonic ideal of this brand of heavy music. For one, the EP rips through six catchy bursts of energy in less than ten minutes. For another, they’ve got the tough exterior backed with an introspective underneath thing down pat. Musically, lead singer Jim Howes jumps between throaty yelling and clean singing as the song calls for it. Lyrically, Howes pulls from both ends of the punk-dude-poet continuum, with song titles nodding to both David Foster Wallace (“This Is Water”) and a former NFL player and announcer (“Trent Dilfer for a Year”).

One doesn’t need to own a half-read copy of Infinite Jest or to tune into Monday Night Football in order to enjoy Everything Louder Than Everything Else, mind you. Jim Howes’ lyrics, characteristic of no small amount of orgcore-adjacent music, deal with fairly universal themes of the weirdness of growing up, and of taking lessons from the chaos of youth without becoming overly attached to it. “Cheap Sunglasses” and “Denim Days” are the two tracks that most heavily mine the past to this end, with both Howe and those around him playing the chaos agents, while the final two songs feel more future-pointing. “Trent Dilfer for a Year”, in particular, ends with Howes’ ultimatum of: “Send me back for another college / Or take me out of here and bring me back to life”. Of course, Oscar Bait’s brand of high-energy rock and roll is plenty enjoyable even without taking the microscope to Howes’ lyrics, but there is enough going on there to warrant the look. (Bandcamp link)

Also notable:

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