Pressing Concerns: Bellows, Sooner, Mo Dotti, Really Great

Today’s Pressing Concerns looks at new albums from Bellows, Sooner, and Really Great, and a new EP from Mo Dotti. Most of this was written awhile ago and even this intro is several days old at this point, so sorry if anything in here has somehow already become dated.

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

Bellows – Next of Kin

Release date: March 23rd
Record label: Topshelf
Genre: Indie pop, indie folk, art pop
Formats: Vinyl, cassette, CD, digital
Pull track: No One Wants to Be Without a Person to Love

The latest album from Bellows, the project of New York’s Oliver Kalb, has grandiose ambitions, but Next of Kin seems equally concerned with not losing the plot at the record’s sturdy core. Kalb and his group of collaborators (including but certainly not limited to violinist Lina Tullgren, pianist Frank Meadows, and multi-instrumentalist Jack Greenleaf) dress up Kalb’s songs in a colorful, brimming, busy palette throughout the record. Bellows tosses instruments and melodies at you like Kalb and company are rifling through an old chest, looking for something deeper underneath. Even when Next of Kin sounds like the equivalent of a circus or light show, Kalb’s vocals are breathy and impassioned, which preserves the songs’ intimacy. It’s an important wrinkle for Next of Kin, an album that sits with losses that are felt from the slight-remove of the title on down.

Next of Kin is, naturally, a bittersweet record. In songs like “My Best Friend”, “Marijuana Grow” and “Thumb in the Dam”, Kalb is singing about people, places, and times he has loved, and subsequently don’t feel like “sad” songs—even when the past tense is clearly felt. An after-school special piano riff introduces “Death of Dog” in as friendly a way as possible for a song where Kalb starts with the passing his beloved Loubie before delving into the loss of innocence at the heart of Next of Kin. The record’s centerpiece is a six-minute track called “Biggest Deposit of White Quartz”, a fairly dark song that floats across the last few years of Kalb’s life and the world around him in general. It uses the titular quartz sitting underneath Asheville, North Carolina as a jumping off point for a bizarre explain-all theory that, being no more bizarre than reality, illustrates pretty well how the burden of having to make sense of the world of today can lead to broken and astray people.

For a moment in “Biggest Deposit of White Quartz”, Kalb’s friends and family become pieces on a string-covered corkboard, something that only throws the rest of Next of Kin into starker relief. The centering of these strong emotions and interactions, unmoored from time or relationship to the present, are what mark Next of Kin. (Bandcamp link)

Sooner – Days and Nights

Release date: March 25th
Record label: Good Eye
Genre: Shoegaze, dream pop
Formats: Digital
Pull track: Boscobel

Brooklyn’s Sooner have been around for over a half-decade and have a couple of EPs to their name, but Days and Nights is the dream pop band’s debut full-length. The group (vocalist Federica Tassano plus an instrumental trio of John Farris, Andrew Possehl, and Tom Wolfson on guitar, bass, and drums) have come prepared for this moment: Days and Nights is equipped with strong, satisfying songwriting and a confident delivery of melodies and vocals in the midst of a genre where neither of which are necessarily required for some degree of success. Opening track “Boscobel” is a flawlessly-executed dream pop single, with Tassano’s vocals soaring to Elizabeth Fraser heights while the band supplies a Sundays-esque a beautiful electric/acoustic guitar mess. Immediately following, the propulsive “Thursday” takes a bit of a different path, holding out for a chorus catharsis, although the melodic bass in the verses is its own reward.

The acoustic “Blue” has the feel of a vintage Smashing Pumpkins ballad, the way it starts out sparse and strummed, then layers on more instruments for a big finish. Possehl’s bass again takes center stage in “Oh”, one of the album’s more hypnotic numbers, but a no less catchy one. Some darker undercurrents pop up in Days and Nights upon further listening, with several lyrics dealing with addiction, depression, or harmful relationships. These topics aren’t too directly correlated with the music—“Thursday” is one of the brightest songs on the album despite the hurt the narrator is clearly experiencing, while one of the darker musical moments on Days and Nights, “Kingdom”, has a more removed and muted lyrical sadness (and this is to say nothing of the horror at the heart of the shimmery “Pretend”).  Whatever Tassano is inspired to sing about, she and the rest of Sooner make it satisfying to listen to and follow. (Bandcamp link)

Mo Dotti – Guided Imagery

Release date: March 18th
Record label: Self-released/Smoking Room
Genre: Shoegaze, dream pop
Formats: Cassette, CD, digital
Pull track: Loser Smile

Los Angeles’ Mo Dotti make loud pop music. The six songs on Guided Imagery, their latest EP, make extensive use of reverb and noise, but it’s always a tuneful storm, and vocalist Gina Negrini’s voice always finds melodies to match. They’re more of a guitar-forward dream pop band on steroids than a straight-up shoegaze group, even as they’re clearly students of that genre. The pop-friendly side of Mo Dotti is on display early with opening track and lead single “Loser Smile”, an amped-up, propulsive anthem, and the one song on Guided Imagery the band didn’t write, a cover of Stephin Merritt project The 6th’s “All Dressed Up in Dreams”. Mo Dotti don’t sound interested in burying Merritt’s hooks in their cover version, instead working to emphasize them.

Elsewhere on Guided Imagery, the “pop” remains, but Mo Dotti explore the other end of “dream pop” more thoroughly. The title track in particular is a gorgeously-set soundscape, stretching out the song’s simple core over five minutes with lengthy interstitial instrumental passages. “Come on Music” is the other song with a longer runtime, although it reaches its peaks by stringing together a few disparate sections and rocking out all the way through. “Hurting Slowly” takes things down a bit (except for the feedback-laden outro), a bit of minimalist bliss that nonetheless fits right in with the loud family. As friendly as Mo Dotti’s music can be, it’s the stretching out that pushes Guided Imagery over. (Bandcamp link)

Really Great – So Far, No Good

Release date: March 4th
Record label: Self-released
Genre: Punk rock, emo-punk, pop punk
Formats: Cassette, digital
Pull track: Bodybag

Allston, Massachusetts’ Really Great are something of a sibling band to (T-T)b. Guitarist Jake Cardinal and drummer Nick Dussault are members of both bands, and Really Great’s vocalist/songwriter Owen Harrelson has played on some of the latter’s music. There’s very little of (T-T)b’s chiptune influence on So Far, No Good, though—Really Great present their ideas with a decidedly guitar-forward pop-punk sheen. Harrelson’s lyrics (which are begging to be described as “confessional”) and voice (which can veer from “tender” to “emotionally strained” in the same song) both remind me of Jeff Rosenstock’s solo material, among other indie/punk influences. Like Rosenstock’s best work, So Far, No Good is a theatrical rock record that ranges from quiet ballads to loud belters.

So Far, No Good kicks off with two rippers in “Missive” and “JO Bud”. Both rock, and both cram in a lot into their brief lengths—Harrelson shouts out The Weakerthans’ “Manifest” as an inspiration for the brief former track, and the latter is effectively Harrelson coming to terms with parts of their sexuality in a two-minute pop songs. Cardinal’s guitar leads are a somewhat surprising highlight throughout So Far, No Good, with spirited playing and even some straight-up solos figuring heavily into the structure of songs like “Bodybag” and “Whole Again”. Elsewhere, the mid-tempo “All My Problems” is one of the record’s most Rosenstock-y moments, the slow-building ballad “Record Breaker” is a surprisingly subtle turn that has a bit of Midwest emo in it, and “Whole Again” is particularly showtune-esque in the way it speeds up and slows down for emphasis.

Finishing this up, I noticed that the themes of So Far, No Good—of loss, that of innocence, friends, and even a pet—is similar in theme to the first record in this post, Next of Kin, but it sounds completely different musically and (maybe less obviously) Harrelson and Oliver Kalb have different ways of addressing it in their writing. Music is cool like that, no? (Bandcamp link)

Also notable:

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