Pressing Concerns: Antietam, Weak Signal, Mt. Oriander, Gypsum

Another week, another edition of Pressing Concerns. This week, we look at a tribute record inspired by Wink O’Bannon featuring Antietam plus a wide cast of guests,  the re-released Weak Signal sophomore album, the debut EP from Mt. Oriander (Keith Latinen from Empire! Empire! I Was a Lonely Estate and Parting) and the first Gypsum album.

If you’re looking for more new music, you can browse previous editions of Pressing Concerns or visit the site directory. The September end-of-month playlist also went up last week, and that’s highly recommended as well.

Antietam Plus – His Majesty’s Request: A Wink O’Bannon Select

Release date: October 15th
Record label: Motorific
Genre: Indie rock, punk rock, post-rock, jazz, post-punk, folk rock
Formats: Digital
Pull track: Beware of Darkness

Matthew “Wink” O’Bannon was a longtime fixture of the Louisville, Kentucky music scene, from the late 70s until his death in June of last year. I was familiar with him as a member of indie rock behemoths Eleventh Dream Day; though he was only in the band for a couple of years, he helped record perhaps their two best records, 1993’s El Moodio and 1994’s Ursa Major. He also played in the roots rock band Bodeco and released a solo album, but there may be no greater measure of his impact on the music world than seeing just how many great musicians have lined up to help make His Majesty’s Request: A Wink O’Bannon Select happen. The album is helmed by Antietam, themselves a long-running Louisville institution, and also features, among others, several members of Eleventh Dream Day, Will Oldham, Todd Brashear of Slint, Tara Jane O’Neil of Rodan, and all three members of Yo La Tengo (who, having covered an Antietam song way back in 1989, are honorary Louisvillians).

His Majesty’s Request is a covers album—the idea being that it’s fourteen of O’Bannon’s favorite songs performed by his friends and collaborators, plus one of his originals covered at the end of the record. One can chart O’Bannon’s favorite music along the rock history timeline, with British Invasion and psychedelic/baroque pop of the 1960s giving way to the punk rock and post-punk of the following decades. His Majesty’s Request subsequently (intentionally or otherwise) makes a case for the dark Americana, post-rock, and post-hardcore misfits that arose disproportionately from Kentucky in the 1990s as an inheritor of this lineage. 60s pop songs like The Beatles’ “The Night Before” (sung by Georgia Hubley) and Donovan’s “Hurdy Gurdy Man” (sung by a chorus of voices, many of whom appear elsewhere on the record) are in capable hands, and Will Oldham singing George Harrison’s “Beware of Darkness” is such an obvious pairing that I’m surprised it had never (to my knowledge) happened until now.

The core trio of Antietam make their presence most known on the punk numbers—they rip through the Ramones’ “Commando”, the New York Dolls’ “Vietnamese Baby”, and The Clash’s “English Civil War” either on their own or with guest vocalists, and they assist Rick Rizzo ably in capturing the moodiness of Joy Division’s “Shadowplay”. But O’Bannon and those around him were never merely narrow-scope garage/punk rock revivalists, so it’s telling that both the earliest (Wolf Knapp’s take on Charles Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”) and latest (Tortoise and Eleventh Dream Day’s Douglas McCombs’ faithful rendition of Sonny Sharrock’s “Who Does She Hope to Be?”) songs chosen for the album are jazz compositions, and at least one punk number (Gang of Four’s “To Hell with Poverty”) gets gloriously deconstructed by experimentalist Jaime Fennelly and Eleventh Dream Day’s Janet Bean. The album ends with an extended Antietam jam on O’Bannon’s own “Hundred” from his sole release under his own name, featuring actual recording of O’Bannon himself playing as the song fades out. Wink O’Bannon is no longer with us, but His Majesty’s Request is just one reminder that he isn’t gone.

Proceeds from His Majesty’s Request: A Wink O’Bannon Select will be donated to Girls Rock Louisville and AMPED. (Bandcamp link)

Weak Signal – Bianca

Release date: October 15th
Record label: Colonel
Genre: Garage rock, fuzz rock, psychedelic rock
Formats: Vinyl, cassette, digital
Pull track: I’m a Fire

An unmastered version of Weak Signal’s second album, Bianca, appeared on Bandcamp with no lead-up in May of last year; after making a few waves as word spread, the New York band is seeing the record’s physical and formal release over a year later thanks to Colonel Records. It seems appropriate that I talk about Eleventh Dream Day elsewhere in this post, because Bianca deals in the same brand of fuzzy, guitar-heavy indie rock that the marked the early records of the former band. Singer and guitarist Mike Bones has played as a hired gun with everyone from Cass McCombs to Run the Jewels, but Weak Signal is where he gets to take center stage. The rhythm section of bassist Sasha Vine and drummer Tran are more than bit players, however—they’re certainly up to the task of building a foundation for Bones’ six-string.

When Vine and Bones sing together (as they often do), it reminds me of a harder-psych version of another band that feels like a reference point for the group—Yo La Tengo (this is particularly pronounced in slower songs like “Come Back” and “I’ll Stay”). It’s not all so quiet as the two previously-mentioned tracks, of course— the Vine-led opening track “I’m a Fire” and the lumbering paranoia trip “Drugs in My System” light things up early in Bianca, in addition to the chugging power chords of “Voice Inside My Head”. In “Don’t Turn Around”, Weak Signal let loose with their own version of southwestern desert rock a la Giant Sand or Thin White Rope, and the galloping “Sorry” is pretty much the band’s turn at pop punk. Bones always seems interested, either during the rockers or the space-out songs, in the interaction between his instrument and the others’—less-immediate tracks like “Zones” seem to exist almost entirely for the moment when the trio come together musically in its second half. It’s always compelling when Weak Signal does this. (Bandcamp link)

Mt. Oriander – This Is Not the Way I Wanted You to Find Out

Release date: October 8th
Record label: Count Your Lucky Stars
Genre: Midwest emo
Formats: Cassette, digital
Pull track: Nothing After Nothing Came Bursting Out

The title of the surprise-released This Is Not the Way I Wanted You to Find Out is a little piece of self-deprecation on the record’s part. Keith Latinen (former frontman of emo group Empire! Empire! (I Was a Lonely Estate) and head of Count Your Lucky Stars Records) has spent the last few years writing and recording the debut album for his new solo project, which presumably has been delayed due to the current state of things, leaving this quickly-recorded five song EP to introduce Mt. Oriander to the world instead. While the record’s name might be an attempt to lower stakes and expectations, This Is Not the Way I Wanted You to Find Out needs no such shunting. Latinen already returned to making new music earlier this year as co-leader of the band Parting, and here he picks up where that band’s debut record left off, albeit in a more subtle fashion.

The most distinct aspect of Latinen’s music is his voice: clean and melodic, and capable of portraying a palpable heaviness. These five songs, in which Latinen plays every instrument and sings every word himself, place him even more front-and-center than normal. I’ve been listening to a lot of slowcore lately, and Mt. Oriander contains a similar gravitas to the likes of full-band Idaho and early Pedro the Lion, but with the Michigan-based Latinen providing his typical Midwestern emo spin. For one, look at the verbose media references of song titles—I get “It’s Always Been Wankershim” and “I’m Never Going to Say My Lines Faster Than Jamie Taco”, but had to look up “Dream Ruby Glitch”. The Jamie Taco song in particular, despite all of those words in its title, is a bummer of a song whose sting is enhanced by its vagueness. Although Parting dispensed with something of a positive, cathartic ending on Unmake Me, Latinen gives us no such relief on his own, with the especially rough “Nothing After Nothing Came Bursting Out” offering up only numbness and the marching of time. Can’t wait for that LP. (Bandcamp link)

Gypsum – Gypsum

Release date: October 12th
Record label: Sonic Ritual
Genre: Indie rock, post-rock, psych rock, dream pop
Formats: Digital
Pull track: Follow Me

The debut album from Los Angeles’ Gypsum reminds me a bit of the reissued Supernowhere album from earlier this year—similarly to that group, they’re a trio that manages to craft a “big” sound and hop across structures and genre signifiers with the relatively simple guitar-bass-drums setup. They do claim the post-rock mantle, and the spindly opening to first track “Follow Me” inhabits that world—until they reach the chorus, where a showy bassline and a smart backbeat (from drummer Jessy Reed) steers the song into directly into dance-rock territory. Such is the way of Gypsum; a sonically intriguing record that’s characterized by a high, soaring, reverb-heavy lead guitar that tugs against a grounded, sturdy rhythm section, all while the voices of singers Sapphire Jewell and Anna Arboles stand firmly in the center of it all.

These ingredients help give a trippy, skewed edge to some of Gypsum’s more “pop” songs, like “Give It” and “Kaleidoscope”, which combine rhythmic experimentation with strong melody, and in the case of the latter, a loud, spirited psychedelic rock stomp that takes over the track’s second half. The less immediate songs, like the steady, motorik “Gull Lake” and the firm, restrained album centerpiece “Snow White”, make up for less obvious hooks with extended compelling spacey-psych instrumentals. Appearing in the middle of Gypsum’s second side, the stop-and-start of “Satisfied” might sneakily feature the strongest vocal turn of the album, but lest they show off too much, they follow it up with the spoken-word “Margaret”. Album closer “Disappear” has a foot in both ends of the Gypsum spectrum—even though it pushes boldly past the six-minute mark and takes awhile to develop, it still boasts a solidly melancholic chorus to cap off a successful first outing. (Bandcamp link)

Also notable:

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