Pressing Concerns: Russel the Leaf, Clear Capsule, Shoun Shoun, The Royal Arctic Institute

Third Pressing Concerns of 2022! This time around, it features new albums from Russel the Leaf and Shoun Shoun, and new EPs from Clear Capsule and The Royal Arctic Institute. Half of these bands released something in 2021 that appeared in Pressing Concerns as well. Half of them didn’t. All four are good, though. I’m working on the January playlist, which will be a little late–probably next Monday.

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

Russel the Leaf – My Street

Release date: January 22nd
Record label: Records from Russ
Genre: Power pop, indie pop
Formats: Cassette, digital
Pull track: Oh, No

Russel the Leaf’s Evan Marré declared his intention to release five records in 2021, and while that didn’t end up happening, he’s been prolific by most other metrics. My Street comes less than a year after last February’s Then You’re Gunna Wanna, which was one of my favorite records of last year, and a few of these songs were previewed a few months ago on the Re-Mix “My Street” EP. The fuzzier, almost pop-punk sound of the EP was distinct from Then You’re Gunna Wanna’s Brian Wilson-esque studio pop while still being distinctly Russ, and My Street splits the difference between the two. The EP’s four songs all sound more casual and slowed-down in their versions on My Street, but the album on the whole feels like it’s in “rock band” mode more often than Marré’s last full-length—even though, as usual, the music is played mostly by Marré with a couple of featured contributors (here it’s his brother Josh and Connor Armbruster) .

That doesn’t mean the Beach Boys influence is any less felt on this record, though—album opener “Listen to Me” and the violin-aided “Little Italy, Again” are both piano-led baroque pop as clear-eyed as ever, and closing track “I’ll Go Away” is an ambitiously-built and -layered final statement. My Street is just as likely to bust out a bouncy acoustic, almost folk-pop song like the exquisite title track or the incredibly catchy “Catch the Spell”. Two such songs comprise the record’s peak: the ironically grinning “Oh, No” and the subtler sincerity of “How Long Does It Usually Take to Care?” The former is a go-for-broke starry-eyed song about how everything is going wrong (“Haven’t you seen me today—I’m the mess of the week”); the latter takes place long after any of the chaos-induced adrenaline has dissipated, leaving oddly quiet self-reflection. “I want to take it a little bit easier, even though I won’t,” Marré allows in a small step. A few tracks later, he’s unloading in a song called “Run Right Over Me”. It’s no less deft. (Bandcamp link)

Clear Capsule – Gravity Licker

Release date: February 1st
Record label: Mutation
Genre: Shoegaze, noise pop, psychedelia
Formats: Cassette, digital
Pull track: Grace Face

Clear Capsule like their rock music fuzzy and reverb-drenched. The Los Angeles five-piece band’s latest EP, Gravity Licker, starts from the reference point of landmark 90s shoegaze records (hell, Clear Capsule might not even know that albums don’t have to sound like that), but they’re not unwavering re-enactors. They fit very nicely into a newer wave of omnivorous, Swirlies-influenced loud-feedback rock groups that aren’t afraid to take a few detours—bands like The Spirit of the Beehive and Gaadge. Clear Capsule helpfully demonstrate their breadth within a few seconds of the opening track “Collin Hit Car”, which shifts from a lightly psychedelic intro into a stomping, wall-of-sound Smashing Pumpkins-esque rocker, and they then keep the good times rolling with the straightforward noise pop of “Surface Dweller”.

Not content to bash out a few more (quite worthy) Siamese Dream-era bangers, Gravity Licker then veers hard into the drum machine-driven slither of “Bacteria”, which is tempered by lead singer Bryce Pulaski’s voice appearing as central and melodic as ever. But the following “Familiar Becomes Foreign” dispatches with even that, leaving Clear Capsule with something that’s purely dreamy atmospheres and sounds closer to turn-of-the-century plunderphonics and trip-hop than anything that could’ve graced DGC Records. And then the heavy pop bliss returns with “Grace Face”…eventually. It sifts through plenty of noise to get there. Once it does, though…the second half of the track is probably my favorite spot on the record. Gravity Licker is a worthwhile trip. (Bandcamp link)

Shoun Shoun – Monsters & Heroes

Release date: January 28th
Record label: Self-released
Genre: Alt-rock, post-punk
Formats: CD, digital
Pull track: My Daughter

Monsters & Heroes is either a particularly dynamic garage rock record or a fairly economical art rock album, depending on your perspective. It’s the debut full-length from Bristol’s Shoun Shoun, and it’s rooted in meaty but austere alt-rock—bassist Ole Rudd and drummer Giuseppe La Rezze are both central to about all of Monsters & Heroes’ sound. Songs like “Stuck” are virtually nonstop rhythmic sprints, with everything else seeming incidental to the central loop—except for the vocals, that is. Monsters & Heroes, probably unsurprisingly for a record that’s got as sharp a rhythm section as it does, has a clear post-punk bent, but vocalist Annette Berlin is one of the biggest reasons why the album doesn’t fall into a sea of nameless British post-punk revival bands.

Berlin can drolly sing-speak with the best of them, sure—check out her motor-mouth delivery in “Much Sweeter”, for instance, let alone her muttering in “Stuck”—but that’s just one facet. Berlin has listened to a lot of Nico and Kim Gordon, and probably picks up an attitude from them as much as their specific styles. She offers up restraint in one of Monsters & Heroes’ least restrained songs, the 90s alt-rock opener “Did I Play Games”, and showiness in songs like the slow-burning “Sway with Me” and the tension feast of “Refresh & Replay”. Berlin can also fall in line with a sharp pop song, which Shoun Shoun surprisingly bring forward in the galloping “My Daughter”, hidden away in the second half of the record. Altogether, Berlin and the band offer more than enough to keep their debut intriguing throughout. (Bandcamp link)

The Royal Arctic Institute – From Catnap to Coma

Release date: February 4th
Record label: Already Dead Tapes
Genre: Jazz-rock, post-rock
Formats: Cassette, digital
Pull track: Fishing by Lantern

New York instrumental quintet The Royal Arctic Institute released the quite good Sodium Light EP in 2021, and they’ve already followed it up less than a year later with the equally-substantial From Catnap to Coma. Like their last EP, the new one lays out five tracks in over 20 minutes, and if their clear, guitar-lead-heavy version of cinematic jazz-rock intrigued you the last time around, From Catnap to Coma certainly doesn’t disappoint on that front either. Guitarists John Leon and Lynn Wright glide across the textures provided by keyboardist Carl Baggaley and the backdrop provided by rhythm section David Motamed and Lyle Hysen, ebbing and flowing to match the tides that a couple song titles conjure up.

There are differences between the two EPs, though. Sodium Light was the more upbeat, jauntier of the two, while Catnap, befitting of its name, is more languid and spends its time stretching out a little more. That’s not to say the songs are “simpler”—taking a visit to the busy second half of “Shore Leave on Pharagonesia” should disabuse one of that. The EP was recorded by James McNew of Yo La Tengo, and while I won’t lay too much credit for From Catnap to Coma at his feet, his own band is a reminder that subtlety takes its own skill to create in an interesting manner. The last two songs in particular drift off in a particularly unmoored fashion, with the last couples minutes of “Anosmia Suite” seeming to come from somewhere off in the distance. (Bandcamp link)

Also notable:

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