Pressing Concerns: Massage, Uncle Bengine and the Restraining Orders, Piel, Joe Peppercorn

Rosy Overdrive’s last Pressing Concerns of 2021 looks at the new EP from Massage, as well as December full-length releases from Uncle Bengine & The Restraining Orders, Piel, and Joe Peppercorn.

If you’re looking for more new music, you can browse previous editions of Pressing Concerns or visit the site directory. Rosy Overdrive is in the midst of year-end list season, having done albums and EPs already, and hoping to have a reissue/compilation list up eventually. Even so, there’s a good chance this is the last post to go up in 2021, so thanks for reading and we’ll be back in 2022.

Massage – Lane Lines

Release date: December 10th
Record label: Mt.St.Mtn.
Genre: Jangle pop, post-punk
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull track: In Gray & Blue (Haçienda Verison)

The four-song (six on the vinyl edition) Lane Lines EP is Massage’s second release of 2021, following June’s Still Life. That album’s release on Mt.St.Mtn. and Bobo Integral Records as well as the band’s West Coast headquarters placed Massage squarely among several other modern jangle/guitar pop groups, although they claim a distinct subsection of the genre for themselves. Massage—led by guitarist/vocalists Alex Naidus and Andrew Romano— are on the more subdued, rainy side, calling to mind The Clientele and the more guitar-heavy side of 80s British post-punk. The four completed tracks on Lane Lines—one alternate version of a Still Life tune, two originals that “fell through the cracks” or otherwise didn’t make it onto a record, and a cover—reaffirm all this in fifteen minutes.

The “Haçienda Version” of “In Gray & Blue” that opens the EP earns the New Order-referencing descriptor, with unmistakably Peter Hook-influenced melodic bass running prominently throughout and a great New Romantic vocal. Although it isn’t as obvious, the new wave influence also runs through the best of the two exclusive-to-this-EP songs, the title track. “Lane Lines” is a builder, pacing forward confidently until letting loose with some of the EP’s purest pop in its final minute. Massage claim The Feelies quite a bit as an influence, and that one’s where I hear it the most. The last non-vinyl exclusive song is a cover of poet/folk singer Ivon Cutler’s 1967 song “I’m Going in a Field”, and the band slips into the requisite “pastoral” and “sunburnt psychedelia” mode deftly. One of the two demos on the vinyl edition of Lane Lines (“Without Your Love”) is slated to appear on Massage’s next record, but what’s here in completed form—to say nothing of the full-length record they released six months ago—will be more than sufficient for the time being. (Bandcamp link)

Uncle Bengine and the Restraining Orders – Write Home

Release date: December 17th
Record label: Funny / Not Funny
Genre: Alt-country, country rock
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull track: Bleeding Out

The first full-length record from Uncle Bengine and the Restraining Orders in around a decade was recorded in various locations and with various musicians over the last seven years, the one constant being Uncle Bengine himself—Harrisonburg, Virginia’s Ben Schlabach. Schlabach anchors the ten tracks of Write Home, an unhurried, casual alt-country record that’s no less deep because of it. The Restraining Orders’ loose mix of more traditional instrumentation (upright bass, violin, and pedal steel) with their garage rock sensibilities places the album in the “country punk” sphere of bands like State Champion and Lucero (as well as Tucker Riggleman & The Cheap Dates, another group with a Harrisonburg connection). The woozy “Walk Home” introduces Write Home with relatively little fanfare, sporting an acoustic-guitar/pedal-steel shuffle instrumental and the voice of Uncle Bengine, an everyman with an ever-so-slight Appalachian twang.

Write Home then goes into two of its strongest tracks: the harried travelogue of “Trucks”, whose isolated, pill-popping trucker main character belies its upbeat, propulsive music, and “King Bed”, an anxious spiraling ballad brought on by the narrator’s mystery illness. The second half of Write Home kicks off with “Bleeding Out”, where Schlabach’s raving speak-singing reminds me a bit of Micah Schnabel from Two Cow Garage—it’s the tightest moment on the record, a controlled rock-and-roll demolition triggered from Schlabach’s troubled ruminations. Most of the songs aren’t quite as openly dire, at least not musically—just a couple songs later, “Black Smoke” succeeds mostly resting on violin and vocal harmonies for the track to work. The other exception to this is closing track “Ghost Woods”, which cranks the amps high, but not high enough to distort Uncle Bengine’s parting message: “I hope I die in the trees”. Even without Schlabach’s declaration, the fiddle triumphantly breaking through the fuzz-rock guitar at the same time delivers much the same message. (Bandcamp link)

Piel – A.K.A. Ma

Release date: December 10th
Record label: Birs
Genre: Shoegaze, psychedelia
Formats: Vinyl, CD, digital
Pull track: Custodian

The latest record from Los Angeles’ Piel is 24 minutes and six songs long, but the five-piece band views A.K.A. Ma as an album rather than an EP. There’s certainly more than enough going on in these songs to where it feels like a full experience—what appears to be the group’s first album in a decade is a dense, busy record where sounds form layer on layer over singer Tiki Lewis’ vocals. The title of the record also comes from Lewis: it’s a tribute to her mother, who passed away in 2019 shortly before these songs were written; the band (Lewis, plus drummer Kenny Ramirez, bassist/guitarist Jonathan Burkes, and mult-instrumentalists Yegor Mytrofanov and Cisco DeLuna) handle the songs of A.K.A. Ma with an appropriate delicateness to match.

A.K.A. Ma opens with “Custodian”, a shimmery dance-rock tune that also might feature the record’s most profound lyric from Lewis, in which she embraces the responsibility and caretaking at the heart of its title (“I take what I need without greed”, she vows over the swirling instrumental). The driving “The New” is the other clear upbeat track on A.K.A. Ma, coming after two songs (“Lost in Translation” and “Reach for Me”) in which Piel reach for a slightly less overwhelming industrial throb, and the synth-hypnosis of “Easy As It Feels”. The latter is the closest Piel get to “dream pop” on A.K.A. Ma, especially when Lewis’ breathy spoke-sung vocals take the spotlight. Like the best moments of the record, it’s straightforward despite all the textures Piel have layered on top of its core. (Bandcamp link)

Joe Peppercorn – Darkening Stars

Release date: December 8th
Record label: Anyway
Genre: Pop rock, psychedelic pop
Formats: Digital
Pull track: Walked on the Moon

Joe Peppercorn has made three records (most recently 2012’s Somber Honey) as part of the Columbus, Ohio indie/folk rock band The Whiles, and more recently has gained some notoriety through something called “Sgt. Peppercorn’s Marathon”, a concert in which he and some other Columbus musicians play every Beatles song ever in one 14-hour sitting. Rosy Overdrive is no stranger to elaborate Beatles tributes, but today I want to talk about Peppercorn’s original music. Darkening Stars is Peppercorn’s proper solo debut, and it’s an earnest collection of guitar pop songs clearly made by an artist with “Beatlesque” influences, but one who aims beyond imitation as well.

Darkening Stars is, musically, a lush orchestral album with harpsichord and psychedelic flourishes that recall Peppercorn’s love of 60s and 70s pop, as well as certain strains of the 2000s—Elliott Smith is explicitly cited, and I hear plenty of Jon Brion-esque studio pop here too. Unlike a lot of similarly-minded music, there’s not so much “power” in this pop; Peppercorn prefers to float through these fifteen songs, which is appropriate for Darkening Stars’ dreamy, airy world of moons, ghosts, and, yes, a sky full of stars. The bittersweet triumph of opener “Walked on the Moon” is one of the only really upbeat songs on the record, but it’s far from the only track that finds beauty in both the familiar and the unknown, in both the well-trodden and the remote. (Bandcamp link)

Also notable:

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