New Playlist: January 2022

Rosy Overdrive’s January overview is going up a week into February, but that’s pretty par for the course, and one can’t rush perfection. Or playlists. There are fewer songs on this one, mostly because two of them push ten minutes, and the December/January playlists are always a little weird, but there’s no dip in quality here.

Artsick is the only band with more than one track on the playlist this time around (they’ve got two), but there are three different Silkworm-related songs on here spread across three separate projects.

You can hear the entire thing on Spotify here, and I’ve also added other options for the first time, in light of recent events: BNDCMPR, and Tidal. Neither of these are perfect, as they are each missing a couple of songs (noted in their respective descriptions), but it’s a start. Be sure to check out previous playlist posts if you’ve enjoyed this one.

“You Gave Me the Key”, Julie Doiron
From I Thought of You (2021, You’ve Changed)

There are only so many hours in the day. I know a lot of people love Julie Doiron’s music, and I expect I would/will like it when I get around to listening to more of it. I Thought of You is a good album, so I suppose I’m already on my way. “You Gave Me the Key” kicks it off, and it’s a great song. It’s under the three minute mark and somehow feels even shorter, like Doiron distilled the country-rock side of her music to its barest parts but without losing anything. I hear some Daniel Romano (who plays several instruments on the record and is her You’ve Changed labelmate) in the music, and Doiron’s lyrics here could work just as well on a sparse folk tune as this one’s bouncy retro feel. How Canadian of them.

“When Can I See You Again?”, Kids on a Crime Spree
From Fall in Love Not in Line (2022, Slumberland)

Bay Area noise pop trio Kids on a Crime Spree open their debut LP with a bang with the chiming march of “Karl Kardel Building”, and then kick it into high gear with the runaway train of “When Can I See You Again?” Like the best moments of Fall in Love Not in Line, the brisk song balances the delicate lead vocals of songwriter Mario Hernandez with the rest of the group’s tuneful squall. Read more about Fall in Love Not in Line here.

“Hangover Game”, MJ Lenderman
From Boat Songs (2022, Dear Life)

Another couple of months, another step forward for Jake Lenderman. Last year brought the glorious lo-fi country mess of Ghost of Your Guitar Solo, and then the rounding-into-shape Knockin’ EP not much long after. The lead single from Lenderman’s next record, April’s Boat Songs, follows the line. “Hangover Game” feels as fleshed-out as any of Knockin’s five songs, but even slicker and harder-rocking. The instrumental that roars in the lyrical breaks and the surprising ascending-chord thing going on in the refrain feels like Lenderman taking a page from his other band, Wednesday, but the core is vintage MJ Lenderman. “Hangover Game” is about (what else) the alleged Michael Jordan Flu Game, which I’m surprised it took Lenderman this long to tackle in song form. Yeah, I like drinking too. Read more about Boat Songs here.

“Getting Warmer”, Party’z
From Party’z (2022)

An offshoot of the ace Chicago emo band Kittyhawk, the debut EP from Party’z is, somewhat surprisingly, an electric record of amp-cranked, fuzzy power pop. Opening track “Getting Warmer” kicks Party’z off with the sound of a guitar plugging in and subsequently sprays the listener with feedback, before a soaring instrumental marked by heavy reverb, Delia Hornik’s melodic keyboard, and Mark Jaeschke’s earnest vocals takes shape. Read more about Party’z here.

“Five Hearts Breaking”, Alejandro Escovedo
From Gravity (1992, Watermelon)

Gravity is such a great debut album, isn’t it? Of course, Alejandro Escovedo had been making music for quite some time before he began his solo career, so I’m sure that helped. “Paradise” is on a playlist I made a few years ago that I might get to on this website eventually, but upon revisiting it for the first time in awhile, “Five Hearts Breaking” is the one that really stuck out to me. It’s as sharp a tune as any Escovedo has written, and one of the ones that reminds you of how singular a talent he is. It’s a good example of why his music been called “punk” and “country” over his career, even though this particular song sounds like neither.

“I Feel Fine”, Reptaliens
From Multiverse (2022, Captured Tracks)

For their third record, Portland, Oregon’s Reptaliens upped the guitar intake of their casually futuristic lounge-pop, as the steady downstroked electric guitar and shuffling drumbeat that confidently announce album opener “I Feel Fine” exemplify. It’s a dose of six-string clarity, with singer Bambi Browning’s sung-spoken melody grounding the song as much as does the music. Read more about Multiverse here.

“The Brain”, Silkworm
From Italian Platinum (2002, Touch and Go)

“The Brain” is one of those subtle masterpiece Silkworm songs. It’s not as immediately attention-grabbing as, say, “I Hope U Don’t Survive” from the same record, but the more one listens to it, the greater it sounds. Tim Midyett’s songs in particular are likely to fall into this camp. Midyett is a vocal fan of Jamaican music, and I can hear its influence especially in “The Brain”’s choppy main guitar part. Aided in large part by Matt Kadane’s keyboard, this is one of Silkworm’s more “new wavey” moments. But mostly, it’s just another great Silkworm song. Read more about Silkworm here.

“Milk Crates”, Pigeon Pit
From Feather River Canyon Blues (2022, Reach-Around)

“Milk Crates” and, indeed, Feather River Canyon Blues as a whole, takes me back. It’s an album made in the spirit of early Against Me! and the Mountain Goats, and reminds me of getting rocked by the actually good folk punk groups like Defiance Ohio and Nana Grizol (although Nana Grizol is still around and still good). Pigeon Pit’s Lomes Oleander leads, with the exception of an endearing false start, a nonstop, extremely potent survival singalong anthem that’s already more than won me over by the time she gets to the ending refrain that gives the song its name. “No fucked up world to drown out,” indeed.

“She’s Evil”, Guv’ner
From The Hunt (1996, Merge)

Guv’ner were 90s indie players. They were a New York band with connections to Sonic Youth and Pussy Galore (without sounding particularly like either) and released a couple records on Merge before dissolving completely. One of the singers was named Pumpkin Wentzel, and she had a line of maternity clothes sometime after the band’s demise. None of this really has anything to do with “She’s Evil”, an instantly-great indie pop song that still deserves to be heard in 2022, even if it takes the pushing of people like me who spend their free time searching stuff like this out. Listen to that chorus harmony!

“Freon Dumb”, Zinskē
From Murder Mart (2022)

The upcoming debut record from Philadelphia’s Zinskē takes the infinitely familiar (to me) tools of 90s indie rock and builds something thorny and intricate out of them. The latest single from Murder Mart, “Freon Dumb”, is a pretty good example—it starts with some tough, catchy downstroked power chords and rolls out some restrained but sharp alt-rock underneath of lead singer Chris Lipczynski’s dark sung-spoken vocals. Read more about Murder Mart here.

“The Spaces in Between”, 40 Watt Sun
From Perfect Light (2022, Cappio/Svart)

Yes, I put this ten-minute song right in the middle of this playlist. You’re not going to avoid it that easily. Trust me, you want to hear this one. I was partially drawn to 40 Watt Sun’s Perfect Light because the album artwork and group name reminded me of Mark Eitzel’s 60 Watt Silver Lining, and, well—the record doesn’t disappoint on this front. Patrick Walker, the mind behind 40 Watt Sun, apparently has a doom metal past, but Perfect Light is all gorgeously ornate, heartbreaking slowcore. Most of the record’s eight songs stretch beyond eight minutes long; “The Spaces in Between” isn’t even the longest one. It just might be the best one, though—Walker’s vocals are strong but vulnerable, the piano and guitar quiet but insistent.

“Oh, No”, Russel the Leaf
From My Street (2022, Records from Russ)

“Something’s been wrong with my mind for a long, long time,” Russel the Leaf’s Evan Marré announces loudly at the beginning of “Oh, No”, a highlight from January’s My Street. Marré doesn’t let up from there: what follows is a go-for-broke starry-eyed power pop song about how everything is going wrong (“Haven’t you seen me today—I’m the mess of the week”, goes another memorable line) that’s both catchy and cathartic. Read more about My Street here.

“Ain’t That Easy”, D’Angelo
From Black Messiah (2014, RCA)

From what I recall, I think D’Angelo’s Black Messiah got a little bit a critical acclaim. Something about slowly becoming one of the most longed-for and vainly-anticipated records of the century so far and then meeting or even surpassing those expectations. Maybe. Truthfully, “Ain’t That Easy” is just here because I like that one guitar part. Okay, it’s not just that, even though that would be on-brand for me. There’s also the matter of Pino Pallandino’s bass playing, which I obviously can’t ignore, and D’Angelo and Questlove’s weird mix of percussion, which I can ignore even less.

“Stress Bomb”, Artsick
From Fingers Crossed (2022, Slumberland)

A rising figure in twee and indie pop/punk, Christina Riley’s latest project Artsick has melody and energy in no short supply. Fingers Crossed is a sharp record that nicely positions itself along the likes of Tiger Trap, Boyracer (of which Riley is also a member), and plenty of groups on their home of Slumberland Records. “Stress Bomb” threads sweetness (like the way Riley delivers the hook-bomb of the title) and darkness (like the droll way Riley requests “just shoot me” as the stress takes hold) with the best of them. Read more about Fingers Crossed here.

“Apology Accepted”, Joel R.L. Phelps and the Downer Trio
From Inland Empires (2001, Moneyshot/12XU)

Joel R.L. Phelps’ mostly-covers release Inland Empires is one of his more difficult records, but it does contain something of a reprieve in his version of the Go-Betweens’ “Apology Accepted”. It’s probably the most upbeat that Phelps and his aptly-named backing band, The Downer Trio, ever sounded—acoustic guitar strums and what sounds like a light accordion backing warmly shade Phelps’ vocals, which are never going to sound joyful but can compromise with “wistful”. Read more about Joel R.L. Phelps here.

“Brushstrokes”, Maxwell Stern & Gordon M. Phillips
From You Are With Me (2021, Alchemy Hours)

I missed Maxwell Stern and Gordon M. Phillips’ collaborative You Are with Me EP when it came out in November, and when I did become aware of it, I was too preoccupied with Phillips’ one-off single “The Hotel” to give it proper attention, but it’s worth circling back to now. Like “The Hotel”, it pulls Phillips away from the cinematic post-rocky emo of his band Downhaul to folk/country/”Americana”; the storytelling in “Brushstrokes” confirms this as a natural fit. One of the two Phillips-penned and sung songs on the EP (I need to check out Stern/his band Signals Midwest, his material is good here too), “Brushstrokes” features Phillips taking a backseat to the gold-toothed man with whom he shares a brief but song-worthy conversation. Like “The Hotel”, it’s a puzzle, but a less dire one—it seems unlikely the events in the song have changed the trajectory of anything one way or the other.

“Version of You”, Heart Shaped
From No Contact (2022, Poison Moon/Unique Technique)

The latest release from Poison Moon Records is a single from the Belfast-based group Heart Shaped, led by Texas native Kendall Bousquet. I wrote about that label’s last offering, K. Campbell’s sharp power pop “Breaking Glass” single, a few month ago, and while Bousquet’s writing is no less catchy, it deals in different sonic terrain. Although copious reverb and Bousquet’s airy vocals mark “Version of You” as “dream pop”, Heart Shaped sound wide awake and in control throughout. Bouqsuet’s backing band gives the song a spirited reading, and the prominent melodic lead guitar truly makes the track.

“Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror” (Radio Edit), Jeff Tobias
From Recurring Dream (2022, Strategy of Tension)

Multi-instrumentalist Jeff Tobias has played in bands like Sunwatchers and Modern Nature; his debut “pop” album as a solo artist both takes advantage of and streamlines his various talents. Recurring Dream’s closing track, “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror”, is a great example; it builds to a chirping synthpop climax, but spends plenty of time gliding along a simple, mid-tempo propulsive groove that it feels like it could go on forever. Read more about Recurring Dream here.

“Memory Tone”, Anton Barbeau
From Manbird (2020, Gare du Nord)

Anyone who follows Rosy Overdrive because of its namesake likely recognizes the name of Anton Barbeau thanks to his work with the late Scott Miller. If you (like me) haven’t been keeping fully abreast of Barbeau’s recent output, you should be pleased to learn that he’s been both prolific (he’s released three records since 2020) and ambitious—which brings us to Manbird. A double-album concept album inspired by Barbeau’s many “homes” of California, Berlin, and Oxford, Manbird stretches Barbeau’s shape-shifting power pop to impressive limits. My favorite track from it, “Memory Tone”, is a subtle but fascinating blend of classic guitar pop, glam, and piano rock, even getting a little Prince in the bridge.

“Sleeping/Daydreaming”, Onsloow
From S/T (2022, How Is Annie/Friend Club)

Onsloow are a Norwegian power pop/pop punk group, and their eight-song debut record feels like it doesn’t waste a moment. I could’ve gone with the chugging “A Good Day to Forget” or the honey/darkness mixture of “Overthinking” for this playlist, but opening track “Sleeping/Daydreaming” just grabbed me too strongly to ignore. It’s hard not to compare them to fellow countrymen Spielbergs, who similarly trade in big, earnest choruses, but Onsloow follow their own path. Lead singer Johanne Rimul sounds not unlike Neko Case (a commanding vocal presence to which I do not compare her lightly), and combined with some showy melodic synths, updates the New Pornographers for the not not emo-influenced indie rock era.

“How It Seems”, treesreach

Marion, Iowa’s treereach play an earnest, songwriting-first Middle-America style of indie/rock/folk, and their latest single is a triumph in that particular field. It’s a pastoral, lilting instrumental that nevertheless features a soaring chorus led by singer Dillon Rairdin’s spirited vocals that comes out of nowhere. I don’t know if I would’ve figured out that “How It Seems” is about quitting a job without Rairdin explicitly saying so, but maybe it reflects positively on his pop songwriting chops that he can pen lyrics this pointed and confessional-sounding without giving up too much in the body. Midwestern through and through, Rairdin tempers the bold proclamation in the chorus with the title line: “at least that’s how it seems”.

“Teenage Sequencer”, Pedro the Lion
From Havasu (2022, Polyvinyl)

The list of singer-songwriters who I will allow to transport me back in time to middle school is very short indeed. If David Bazan wasn’t on it before Havasu, he’s probably somewhere near the top of it now. His latest record with Pedro the Lion sketches the titular Arizona military town in which he lived for a small but pivotal time in his youth. Like 2019’s Phoenix, Pedro stick to an austere rock band sound to call up the desert, but one of my favorite tracks from it is one of the songs that pushes against the setup the most. The cleverly-titled “Teenage Sequencer”, while still keeping its feet planted in rock music, takes the shape of a Headphones/David Bazan-solo era beat-driven track, which somehow elevates Bazan’s distant but tender lyrics recalling a junior high relationship. Everything marches forward, whether the narrator is ready or not.

“Restless”, Artsick
From Fingers Crossed (2022, Slumberland)

The opening track of Fingers Crossed presents something of Artsick’s main contradictory driving force—musically, it’s a triumphant gallop, with a steady stomping drumbeat and a great melodic bass undergirding the track, while Christina Riley’s lyrics find herself ennui-gripped and grasping at various methods of dulling the titular emotion over the celebratory instrumental. You can tell Riley is a pop lifer by the way she spins it all together. Read more about Fingers Crossed here.

“Slide Away”, The Dream Syndicate
From Out of the Grey (1986, Big Time/Fire)

Recently reissued by Fire Records, 1986’s Out of the Grey found The Dream Syndicate regrouping with an altered lineup and embracing the sharp, classic-rock-indebted side of their music that had always been there. Smack dab in the middle of the album, “Slide Away” is one of the best pure pop moments the band ever put together, all giddy chord changes and melodies everywhere. It could almost pass for a more muscular mid-period R.E.M. song. Read more about Out of the Grey here.

“Rhinelander”, Bottomless Pit
From Blood Under the Bridge (2010, Comedy Minus One)

“Rhinelander” is the subtlest track on a record that’s pretty much all subtlety. The underappreciated Blood Under the Bridge is the quiet calm after the pure emotional release of Hammer of the Gods, and the record’s second track is a micro-version of the same in a way, coming after the seven-minute “Winterwind”. The song has no percussion, which allows all of its other elements to cut a little deeper: Tim Midyett’s almost-to-himself vocals, the plodding bass guitar, and a guitar solo that’s far from the Silkworm-verse’s showiest, but still one of its best. Read more about Bottomless Pit here.

“Mary Marionette”, Dwaal Troupe
From Lucky Dog (2021)

Dwaal Troupe are a Chicago band that I believe has some personnel overlap with Lifeguard, a group that’s shown up on Rosy Overdrive before. The Lifeguard single I wrote about was a brief jolt of Unwound-esque post-hardcore; Dwaal Troupe’s latest, Lucky Dog, is a sprawling collection of tuneful but lo-fi 90s-style indie rock. “Mary Marionette” is one of my favorite tracks from it; it’s got an almost Flying Nun-ish light psychedelic tinge to it, which is certainly helped by the complete shift the song pulls off deftly in the (I guess?) bridge, but the chorus is as strong and straightforward as could be.

“The Other End of the Telescope”, Elvis Costello & The Attractions
From All This Useless Beauty (1996, Warner)

Post-Imperial Bedroom Elvis Costello is, I think, no less spotty for me than the average music writer (although he’s been on a bit of a roll lately). Nevertheless, I still listen to these mid-period records because I’ll find something as good as “The Other End of the Telescope”, the opener to All This Useless Beauty. Why I really like this despite not being able to find anything memorable in 1998’s Painted from Memory I couldn’t quite say, although it being an Aimee Mann co-write probably has something to do with it. In fact, apparently Mann’s band ‘Til Tuesday recorded “The Other End of the Telescope” years before Costello did, which I didn’t know when I selected it for this playlist, but I still think this is the superior version. It wanders more, but it never drifts away from its core.

“Fiscal Weeks”, Heaven’s Cameras
From Shutters Firing (2022, Repeating Cloud)

Heaven’s Cameras is the solo project of Lemon Pitch’s Alex Merrill, and the lead single from his record Shutters Firing wastes no time in establishing a distinct sound. “Fiscal Weeks” opens with a classically clear jangle-pop intro before Merrill’s droll vocals come in to counterbalance the guitar. As the somewhat-rudimentary instrumental goes on, it rarely deviates from its initial sound, and the prominent bass guitar plodding underneath it becomes more noticeable. It ends up sounding something like Kurt Wagner or Stephin Merritt fronting one of the bands from Captured Tracks’ 2020 Strum & Thrum compilation, dipping in and out of the picture as he remembers something else he needed to get off of his chest.

“Fall Town”, Brock Winthrop
From Pity on a Hill (2016)

Massachusetts’ “puritan pop” project Brock Winthrop takes unlikely inspiration from the deep and obscure religious history of their surrounding New England, as some of their songs’ lyrics and artwork suggest. Instead of the gothic doom-folk or prog-metal one would expect to be wrought from such sources, Pity on a Hill is a quite accessible jangle-pop EP, although songs like “Fall Town” certainly have a dark side. The track marries a squiggly, spooky synth shadow to more traditionally-shimmering guitar arpeggios, and would be remarkably unique even without Winthrop’s oddly specific lyrical concerns.

“Don’t Turn the Light On, Leave Me Alone”, CAN
From Soundtracks (1970, Liberty/United Artists)

Like any good 90s indie rock fan, I’ve made a few halfhearted attempts to get into CAN over the years, because, like, you know, all your favorite bands are just stealing from them or whatever. This time I tried Soundtracks, which is seemingly well-regarded but never really spoken of as the pinnacle, and I’d recommend it for people in my position. It’s very digestible, and the one “out-there” track (“Mother Sky”) is a blast, but I’ll pull out “Don’t Turn the Light On, Leave Me Alone”. Apparently the band’s first recording with vocalist Damo Suzuki, it’s a sub-four-minute track that manages to be both jammy and melodic (both in terms of Suzuki’s singing and in the band’s playing).

“All We Wanted Was a Gem That Wouldn’t Fade”, Zaq Baker
From This Time It’s Personal (2022)

Zaq Baker’s latest album is titled This Time It’s Personal, and he’s not kidding around. It’s an intimate listen both musically (most of the record’s eight songs find Baker alone with his piano) and lyrically (the introspective turns and interpersonal relationship analyses certainly don’t feel like they’re holding anything back). Baker takes a few self-critical turns on This Time It’s Personal, and “All We Wanted Was a Gem That Wouldn’t Fade” doesn’t necessarily contradict those, but it’s my favorite song from the record in part because it doesn’t view that as a dead end. It’s harder to present subtleties when one performs in Baker’s chosen musical theatre-inspired style, but “All We Wanted Was a Gem That Wouldn’t Fade” does it.

“Note to Self (To Say Goodbye)”, Patrick Brayer
From Cabbage and Kings: An Inland Shrimpire Anthology (2022, Shrimper)

Cabbage and Kings is Shrimper Records’ attempt to rectify the surprisingly small number of physical Patrick Brayer records that have come out over the Claremont singer-songwriter’s half-century music career. The album’s seven expansive songs are the sound of a folk singer with nothing to prove but plenty of places left to explore and probe. “Note to Self (To Say Goodbye)” takes over nine of those minutes to complete its stare, but Brayer doesn’t blink the entire way through. Read more about Cabbage and Kings: An Inland Shrimpire Anthology here.

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