Pressing Concerns: Alex Orange Drink, Flower Crown, Hello Whirled, Screamcloud

In this early-week Pressing Concerns, we’re looking at new albums from Alex Orange Drink, Flower Crown, Screamcloud, and Hello Whirled. If you’re looking for more new music, you can browse previous editions of Pressing Concerns or visit the site directory.

Alex Orange Drink – Everything Is Broken, Maybe That’s O.K.

Release date: September 17th
Record label: Self-released
Genre: Punk rock, folk punk
Formats: Digital
Pull track: Brooklyn Central Booking

Two connected but distinct themes stand out on Everything Is Broken, Maybe That’s O.K., the latest album from Brooklyn’s Alex Orange Drink. One of them should be familiar to most—that of love, heartbreak, and a general frustration with the fact that humans are controlled by and addicted to chemicals created by their own bodies. The other theme is homocystinuria, a serious, life-threatening, long-term metabolic genetic disorder. Alex Zarou Levine is most famous for being the lead singer of the garage-punk band So So Glos; “Alex Orange Drink” is the name of the music he makes on his own, and the moniker “orange drink” refers to a specific medication for his disease. Alex Orange Drink’s sophomore record seems to have flown under the radar a bit compared to his “main” band, but Everything Is Broken, Maybe That’s O.K. is a major work in its own right.

As alluded to earlier, Levine doesn’t shy away from getting into the specifics of how homocystinuria impacts his life—in fact, that’s how Everything Is Broken, Maybe That’s O.K begins. Opener “Brooklyn Central Booking” starts with Levine, picked up by the cops for “drinking”, “smoking”, and “public urination”, hallucinating after the police confiscate his medication, and wondering if this is the future for him and his home (“Another noise complaint and we’ll be through”). “Homocystinuria, Pt. 1 (1987-1994)” and “Homocystinuria, Pt. 2 (1995-1999)” provide a concrete backstory; in the former, Levine begins to recognize the unfairness of the health care system (“They take my blood and my mommy’s dough”) and to use music to “drown” out the effects of his disease, specifically punk and hip-hop. It seems to work to some degree until the second part of the saga, a pissed-off garage rock track about how coping with pre-existing conditions gets more complicated as one grows into a self-conscious person of one’s own.

Perhaps above anything else, Everything Is Broken, Maybe That’s O.K. wants to make the point that everything is chemical, and that’s where homocystinuria and love intersect. “It’s Only Drugz (Limerence)” and “Oxytocin (Love Buzz)” both explicitly reckon with this seemingly simple fact, while “Clickbait, Click Me” folds yet another source of dopamine into the equation. These personal distance-attempting songs about love and romance are something of a counterbalance to the more emotionally vulnerable tracks on the record, which find Levine hanging on for dear life in a bad relationship in “How High?” (“Could you give me some good news / That don’t end in self-abuse?” Levine asks the subject of the song, who appears to have complete control over him), and cheerily wounded in “I L.U.V.I.O.U.” (“You still owe me words that I don’t ever wanna hear you say”…ouch). Although at one point Levine mourns that his problems have isolated himself to the point where he’s the only one “who’s ever felt this uniquely lonely”, maybe if Everything Is Broken, then no one truly can be that alone. As he says in “Teenage Angst Forever”: “I think there’s an army marching behind me”. (Bandcamp link)

Flower Crown – Heat

Release date: September 24th
Record label: Crafted Sounds
Genre: Dream pop, psychedelic pop, jangle pop
Formats: Vinyl, CD, cassette, digital
Pull track: The Billy

Pittsburgh “haze pop” group Flower Crown make a blurrily beautiful brand of indie rock that fits naturally well on the band’s current home of Crafted Sounds Records. Over their half-decade or so of existence, they’ve put out an EP, two full-lengths, and grown from the initial duo of Richie Colosimo and Aaron Mook into a quintet. Their third record, Heat, is an unabashed dream/psychedelic pop record, but also clearly benefits from the full band lineup that Flower Crown have built up in recent years. The first half of the record features a pair of easy pop rock successes in “Only Life” and “The Billy”; the former features a taut, Dehd/Ne-Hi-esque guitar riff that counterbalances its reverb-laden vocals, and “The Billy” is a slightly swirlier version of classic C86 jangle pop. “The Heat”, falling in between the two aforementioned tracks, is a little spacier, but it has a prominent drumbeat that keeps the song anchored in the realm of rock music.

The second half of Heat continues the momentum that Side A builds up, offering more indie jangle rock done Flower Crown’s way (“Islands in the Sky”), slices of psychedelia played by a rock band (“Through It”), and a genuine left-turn surprise in the crooner “All That You Ever Need” (which they describe as their “first-ever waltz”). Heat is a short, sweet listen—it only barely makes it across the 30 minute mark, and is a little below it if you discount the “Intro” and “Interlude” instrumentals (which you shouldn’t, because like their heavier labelmates in Gaadge, they thread these short gap tracks between the “normal” songs in a way that makes a lot of sense). Nevertheless, Heat is an album that you can throw on and enjoy any time; if you want something light or something a little busier, if you want pop music or something to chew on, Flower Crown have you covered. (Bandcamp link)

Hello Whirled – Wood Anniversary

Release date: October 4th
Record label: Sherilyn Fender
Genre: Lo-fi indie rock
Formats: Digital
Pull track: Full Blown Makoto

The wood anniversary is the fifth one, if you’re unfamiliar, and for Hello Whirled, the title is to be taken literally. Wood Anniversary comes out on a Monday because that’s five years to the date of the project’s first release. Ben Spizuco, more often than not the sole person behind Hello Whirled’s music, has celebrated multiple milestones this year—No Victories, from this May, was the 100th Hello Whirled release—which seems inevitable if one releases material at Spizuco’s rate. In fact, even though the centennial release threshold is undoubtedly impressive, it may be the more useful marker for something like Hello Whirled’s discography (“38 albums, 103 releases, 1021 songs” in a half-decade), to break the large mass into time-based chunks. Wood Anniversary loosely follows the structure of Hello Whirled’s most recent album, July’s History Worth Repeating, in that it begins and ends with two attention-grabbing tracks, with the more “normal” songs filing in between them.

The dour opener “Chance Encounters With Everyone I Thought I Loved: A Fiction” sort of picks up the thread that History Worth Repeating’s closing track, “Thousand”, despondently played with, while the record closes with “Wallpaper”, effectively a surreal story set to music that indulges Spizuco’s irreverent/creepy/fantastical side. “Wallpaper” is also over 12 minutes long, which helps explain what might be the biggest difference between the last couple Hello Whirled albums and this one: it’s over 70 minutes long. History Worth Repeating tore through the midsection of its runtime, but Wood Anniversary lets the “quick” tracks stretch out a little bit. While there are clearly a few tracks that stick out over the others—the mid-tempo bummer “A History of the Road”, the energetic “Full Blown Makoto”, the synth-buoyed “Maximum Riffage and Cartoon Violence”—it’s harder to pick out anything (other than perhaps the slightly irritating interlude “Three Songs Played at Once at Incorrect Speeds”) that should’ve been left on the cutting room floor. To those unfamiliar with Hello Whirled, No Victories and History Worth Repeating are probably friendlier initial listens, but Wood Anniversary is more than worth stopping along the Hello Whirled Highway to admire for those aboard. (Bandcamp link)

Screamcloud – Let’s Break Something

Release date: October 1st
Record label: Self-released
Genre: Grunge, garage rock, alt-rock
Formats: Digital
Pull track: Bad Habits

Screamcloud make music for people who enjoy the low end. The debut album from the Philadelphia trio certainly doesn’t skimp on that front, led by the buzzsaw attack of Emily Daly’s baritone guitar and backed up by bassist Danielle Lovier and drummer Charles McQuiggan’s rhythm section. Their heavy but still pop-based alt-rock puts them squarely in the same ballpark as fuzz-rock revivalist peers like Screaming Females, Rid of Me, and Low Dose, not to mention much of the Exploding in Sound Records roster. Even though it’s absolutely loud, Let’s Break Something isn’t always running at a breakneck pace. “Let’s Break Something” opens the record up with a propulsive full-band workout, but the number two track, the Breeders-esque mid-tempo “Take without Looking”, is the song that’s more reflective of Screamcloud’s overall sound.

The record’s catchiest moment is probably the stomp of “Bad Habits”, which turns into a kind of grunge sing-along led by Daly and Lovier in the song’s second half. Let’s Break Something is something of a push-and-pull album; there are certainly moments of restraint (like most of the empty-space showcase “Pull Me Under”) and jolts of energy (like the guitar solo that rips through the last part of album closer “Drop of Bleach”).  Introducing a bit of dynamics seems like a smart move on Screamcloud’s part, given that song titles like “Drop of Bleach”, “Dark Times”, and (of course) “Let’s Break Something” all conjure up images of the grey dystopia that noise rock bands love to call home. Let’s Break Something ends up being an album that alternatively makes you want to break something and to question whether or not it even matters if you break it. (Bandcamp link)

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