Pressing Concerns: Dummy, The Stick Figures, ZOO, Cuffed Up

This week, a very special episode of Pressing Concerns discusses debut albums from Dummy and ZOO, an archival release from The Stick Figures, and the latest EP from Cuffed Up.

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

Dummy – Mandatory Enjoyment

Release date: October 22nd
Record label: Trouble in Mind
Genre: Noise pop, shoegaze, neo-psychedelia
Formats: Vinyl, CD, cassette, digital
Pull track: Daffodils

The Los Angeles-based Dummy arrived in 2020 with a pair of EPs on the quality indie labels Pop Wig (Big Bite, Angel Du$t) and Born Yesterday (Stuck, Café Racer), and have since landed with Chicago’s Trouble in Mind for their debut full-length. Broadly speaking, Mandatory Enjoyment is the kind of crate-digging guitar pop music that fits well among their new label’s roster, but instead of the minimalist post-punk kind (like Nightshift or Smoke Bellow) or breezy jangle pop (The Tubs, Salad Boys), it is of the sensory overload, noise-pop variety. “Fissured Ceramics” and “Final Weapon”, the first two non-instrumental tracks that open the record, marry the buried vocals and heavy reverb of My Bloody Valentine with a krautrock rhythm section and droning keyboards, grabbing one’s attention fully and setting the stage for the rest of Mandatory Enjoyment to expand on the set-up.

The delicate dream pop of “Cloud Pleaser” and “Tapestry Distortion”, as well as the five-plus minute mid-album psychedelic journey of “H.V.A.C.”, fit with the opening salvo of Mandatory Enjoyment like a glove but avoid merely retreading it. Although “Cloud Pleaser” and “Tapestry Distortion” slow things down a bit, they’re still relatively busy tracks. When Dummy do turn it down a notch, it’s for justified reasons: the restrained post-punk of “X-Static Blanket” and the spare lounge pop of “Aluminum in Retrograde” are both welcome late-half left-turns. The last turn on Mandatory Enjoyment is a bit of everything—the closer, “Atonal Poem”, is effectively four minutes of pure synth experimentation before ending everything with an understated, brief noise pop outro.

At the bottom of Mandatory Enjoyment’s Bandcamp page, Dummy list a huge group of modern similarly-minded bands to listen to, many of which I’ve covered or wanted to cover on Rosy Overdrive. Krautrock/psychedelic noise pop isn’t known for inspiring the kind of scene-unifying devotion that, say, punk rock or emo seems to, and many that are truly hardcore about the genre are more often than not stuck in the past instead of looking for new bands. This is to say that seeing a list of a bunch of acts making this kind of music is inspiring to me—and that it’s attached to something as strong as Mandatory Enjoyment certainly gives it more weight. (Bandcamp link)

The Stick Figures – Archeology

Release date: September 3rd
Record label: Floating Mill
Genre: Post-punk
Formats: Vinyl, CD, cassette, digital
Pull track: September

One of my favorite “no, I’m serious” things to say to a certain kind of person is that American post-punk is better than British post-punk. If you stop being a stick in the mud and widen the idea of the genre to something greater than “a band that sounds like a band that sounds like Joy Division” (as well as discarding that pesky stipulation that it has to be entirely “post” the initial wave of punk rock), it doesn’t seem like such a crazy idea. Pere Ubu, Devo, Mission of Burma, The Feelies, The Wipers, The Minutemen, plenty of other SST bands that didn’t fit neatly into “hardcore”, everything coming out of Athens, Georgia…The Brits just had better press, is all. Which brings us to Tampa, Florida’s The Stick Figures, which formed in the late 70s at the University of South Florida and could’ve ended up just as revered as any of those bands listed previously in a different life. The aptly-titled Archeology is an expanded reissue of the band’s only official release, a four-song 1981 EP, that adds a full record’s length of unreleased studio and live recordings.

Of the bands and scenes mentioned above, Athens, Georgia is the closest to The Stick Figures geographically, and it lands not too far off to how they sound as well. Songs like “N-Light”, “Energy”, and “Green” are Pylon/B-52’s-esque dance-punk that also proudly display a funk rock influence. At their cleanest and most straightforward (the slinky “Yesterday” and the two poppiest songs, “September” and “Make a Fire”), they’re as immediate as any crowd-pleasing post-punk revival group. At their most inscrutable (the two scuzzy noise-punk live tracks, particularly “Screaming”, and the experimental “Ellis Otivator Dub” and an even wilder 2021 remix of said dub), they’re more adventurous than most of this brand of music. The Stick Figures broke up less than a year after the release of their only EP, but apparently they amassed another record’s worth of unreleased recordings that Pittsburgh’s Floating Mill Records is planning for a 2022 release. I imagine there are plenty of inspired post-punk bands from moderately-sized U.S. cities that continue to languish in obscurity worth revisiting. I doubt any of them sound exactly like The Stick Figures, though. (Bandcamp link)

ZOO – No Man’s Land

Release date: October 22nd
Record label: Good Eye
Genre: Psychedelic folk
Formats: Cassette, digital
Pull track: Sleeping Dogs

Cincinnati’s Cody Pavlinac has been making music under the name ZOO for the better part of a decade, so the project’s full-length debut, No Man’s Land, is some time in the making. The record’s ten songs are full of laid-back, unhurried instrumentals that befit the self-described introverted Pavlinac, who recently became a father. Although he hails from the same city as famous ‘sad dad’ group The National, Pavlinac’s airy vocals and the lightly psychedelic-tinged Americana of the music puts ZOO closer to the new strand of retro folk rock practiced by the likes of Hiss Golden Messenger, Cut Worms, and Daniel Romano. Some Byrdsian jangle-rock is audible in No Man’s Land, but Pavlinac hews closer to the psychedelic subsection of the 1960s. In addition, No Man’s Land’s intimacy and relatively humble presentation reminds me of the Mike Uva album I reviewed earlier this year.

No Man’s Land eases us into ZOO’s sound with the understated, pastoral “Go with Me”, where Pavlinac builds a delicate, subtly intricate soundscape that isn’t too busy and still leaves a lot of open space. The especially vulnerable side of Pavlinac rears up again in the tender “What’s There to Lose” and the pin-drop sparseness of side-one closer “Worry”, which has a cavernous quality that really lends weight to Pavlinac’s confession of “I’ve got worry on my mind”. Thematically and musically, No Man’s Land isn’t all so dark; lead single “Sleeping Dogs” masks up lyrics about political anxiety and isolation with a bouncy, upbeat instrumental track, and “Honeybug” doesn’t need to disguise anything about its contentedness. Like several of the tracks on No Man’s Land, “Honeybug” casually pushes the four-to-five minute mark and evolves from a grounded folk-rock song to trippy psychedelia. “What can I say now that’s already been said?” Pavlinac sings over a wash of synths in album closer “Trash Night”, a beauty-in-the-mundane epilogue, before following it up with “turn off the TV and get ready for bed”. It’s just another vivid dispatch from No Man’s Land. (Bandcamp link)

Cuffed Up – Asymmetry

Release date: October 22nd
Record label: Royal Mountain
Genre: Post-punk
Formats: Vinyl, CD, digital
Pull track: Bonnie

Cuffed Up is a Los Angeles-based post-punk band led by the alternating vocals of guitarists Ralph Torrefranca and Sapphire Jewell and backed by the rhythm section of drummer Joe Liptock and bassist Victor Ordonez. Jewell in particular is having a notable 2021; she is also a member of the shimmery post-rock band Gypsum, who just released their debut album, as well as currently playing in a band you may have heard of, “tenderpunk” group Illuminati Hotties. Cuffed Up explores a different genre of music than either of those concerns: dark, dramatic post-punk. The four-song Asymmetry is the band’s second EP since their debut in 2019 and comes in at under 15 minutes, but it’s a shiny, polished affair that succeeds at maximizing its limited time.

Asymmetry was produced by the prolific Brad Wood, who’s had his hands on everything from 90s radio-ready alt-rock (Veruca Salt/that dog.) to thorny post-hardcore (mewithoutYou/Touche Amore). Even though Asymmetry clearly has one foot in the world of the largely-U.K.-based current wave of reverent post-punk revival, these songs have a massive sound that isn’t particularly constrained to that arena (look at this video of the band citing Foals and Deftones, among others, as beloved music, for instance). Take the track that’s one of the most clearly post-punk influenced: “Bonnie”, which has that classic sense of propulsion (like “Canaries”, the other obvious one), but also manages to get an icily intense alt-rock chorus shoehorned in there. The cinematic, noir-ish “Terminal”, meanwhile, is practically all chorus, without dithering on the way there. Cuffed Up has yet to make a full-length album, and though they describe themselves as a “full time band”, it’s fair to wonder how much Jewell and Torrefranca’s other pursuits might impact the group going forward. Nevertheless, Asymmetry is quite a firm foundation.  (Bandcamp link)

Also notable:

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