Pressing Concerns: Prathloons, Balkans, U.S. Highball, Papercuts

Happy Wednesday! The last Pressing Concerns in March drops in on new albums from Prathloons, U.S. Highball, and Papercuts, as well as next month’s reissue of Balkans‘ self-titled record.

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

Prathloons – The Kansas Wind

Release date: March 25th
Record label: Sweet Tart Lover Thrills
Genre: Indie rock, slowcore, emo
Formats: Vinyl, cassette, digital
Pull track: Chagrin

Prathloons is the project of Minneapolis’ Collin Dall, although the credits to The Kansas Wind indicate that he’s hardly working alone these days. Dall’s third album under the name (he previously made music as part of slowcore band Yeah Wings) is a full-sounding record, featuring swelling instrumentals augmented by keys, bells, and strings, among other accents. Dall’s vocals are delicate, frequently tempering the musical tapestry around him. He’s practically whispering throughout The Kansas Wind, such as in opening track “Resemblance of Mercy”, which helps turn it into a somewhat understated start to the record, even as the fully-developed song builds to a big finish. The muted passion of Dall’s voice, the expanded musical palette, and the frequent crescendos all place The Kansas Wind somewhere on the post-rock/emo spectrum, in line with bands like Really From and The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick. With one major exception, though, The Kansas Wind funnels these ingredients into three-minute indie rock songs that are “friendly” if not completely “poppy”.

After a long percussive opening, Dall takes control of single “Chagrin” to deliver a pleasant melodic drive of a song, and “Bedhead” (which I would assume to be a nod to the Texas slowcore band even if the simple piano opening didn’t feel particularly Kadane Brothers-esque) eventually shifts into nostalgic alt-rock. Even though its refrain is the musical equivalent of a sigh, the trumpet-aided “Drawings for Radio Time” is actually fairly upbeat overall, and also features a spirited Dall vocal towards its ending. The one major exception I mentioned (discounting minor ones, like the atmospheric sophisti-pop sort-of-interlude “About Trailing Riviera”) is the thirteen-minute album closing duo of “The Kansas Wind / Matthew I’m Flying”. Even then, though, Prathloons turn in something not entirely foreign to the rest of The Kansas Wind. The first half of the ten-minute “Matthew I’m Flying” feels like something that could’ve fit earlier on the record, except presented looser, with the band letting out something they’d been careful to balance up until that point. And then the equilibrium returns, with The Kansas Wind ending with a long meditation on the lyric that gives the album its title. (Bandcamp link)

Balkans – Balkans (Reissue)

Release date: April 8th
Record label: Double Phantom
Genre: Garage rock, garage punk
Formats: Vinyl, CD, digital
Pull track: Let You Have It

Atlanta’s Balkans released a few singles in the late 2000s and early 2010s, but the only full-length they made together was a 2011 self-titled effort. Singer/guitarist Frankie Broyles went on to play with two other notable Atlanta bands after Balkans’ dissolution: Deerhunter (during the Monomania era) and Omni (which he co-founded with Philip Frobos). Balkans is clearly a different beast than either of those groups, but it’s not a stretch to say that the more accessible elements of both of them are present in the earlier band: Deerhunter’s retro pop rock side and Omni’s kinetic spaghetti guitar riffs. Unlike either of those bands, though, Balkans presented it all in a straightforward garage rock package. They got a few Strokes comparisons, and there’s no getting around that Broyles sounds a little bit like Julian Casablancas. The most important difference between the two bands, I think, is that Balkans sounds less like it was made by aliens, and more like an actual garage band.

There are benefits to being a tightly-controlled group like The Strokes were underneath all the backstory, but you’re not going to get something as off-the-wall as discordant album closer “Violent Girls” that way, nor are you going to be content to do something like ride out the mid-tempo “Flowers Everywhere” for four minutes. These moments aren’t really that “out there”, but they’re a nice counterpoint for Balkans’ several fastballs. So many of these songs just come barreling right out the gate—the chiming opening to “I Can’t Compete”, the in-your-face, vaguely creepy riff that leads off “Zebra Print”, the aural paint splatter that kicks off “Let You Have It”—it creates a situation where the cruising-speed post-punk of “Trouble and Done” functions as something as a breather, “angular” riffs be damned.

The reissue’s four “bonus tracks” mainly come from the B-sides of singles—they mostly sound like a rougher version of Balkans, and instrumental “Sarasota” is nice and weird, but the low-stakes pop rock of “Cave” is the one song that stands up to the album cuts. They aren’t essential for newcomers, but I’m sure they’re more than welcome for everyone who’s been listening to Balkans for the past decade and wishing there was more to it. More importantly, they don’t take anything away from the original record, which still sounds incredibly fresh. (Bandcamp link)

U.S. Highball – A Parkhead Cross of the Mind

Release date: March 25th
Record label: Lame-O/Bingo
Genre: Jangle pop, indie pop
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull track: I’ve Stopped Eating

U.S. Highball is the Glasgow-based duo of James Hindle and Calvin Halliday; A Parkhead Cross of the Mind is their third record under the name since 2019 (before that, they made music as part of The Pooches). Their latest is an extraordinarily breezy and quite catchy mid-fi guitar pop record—even as it sounds deftly recorded and performed, there’s a directness that shines via a strong emphasis on melodies and the simple yet effective drum-machine backbeat throughout A Parkhead Cross of the Mind. The album’s twelve songs whisk by in under thirty minutes, but there’s plenty to hold onto across its length. The hits start coming early on in A Parkhead Cross of the Mind’s runtime with the triumphant-sounding opener “Mental Munchies” and the excited hooks that run around in “Double Dare”. Not long after, “I’ve Stopped Eating” is a gorgeous harmony-stuffed track that leans into U.S. Highball’s C86 influences.

 A Parkhead Cross of the Mind feels like it’s frantically trying to cram in pop choruses up until the referee’s whistle—penultimate track “Jump to the Left” might be the biggest earworm of them all, and while (amusingly-titled) closing track “Let’s Save Bobby Orlando’s House” is an appropriately pensive closer, it’s not so out there that its selection as a single doesn’t make sense. In the context of Hindle and Halliday’s modest indie pop, the bittersweet earnestness of “Grease the Wheel” make it practically feel like a power ballad. But closer inspection to A Parkhead Cross of the Mind reveals that the song’s no outlier—there’s a lot of humanity in the more straightforwardly zippy guitar pop songs, as well. The bite-size power chords and whirling organ are nice touches in “Down in Temperley”, but the refrain of “Why’d you have to be so fucking cruel” is what drives the song home. And a two-minute home run is still a home run. (Bandcamp link)

Papercuts – Past Life Regression

Release date: April 1st
Record label: Slumberland/Labelman
Genre: Dream pop, psych folk, soft rock
Formats: Vinyl, CD, digital
Pull track: I Want My Jacket Back

Jason Quever has been putting out dreamy indie pop as Papercuts for the majority of this century, persisting through the ebbs and flows of the genre’s popularity. It appears that Past Life Regression is the seventh or eighth Papercuts record, and the first since Quever moved back to the Bay Area after a few years of living in Los Angeles (where he helped record another record I’ve written about recently, Massage’s Oh Boy). Past Life Regression is a full-sounding record, the songs layered with organs, harpsichord, hypnotic bass, and strings, among other instruments. It’s a sign of Quever’s experience that it feels as busy as it does without coming off as cluttered. Quever’s vocal melody floats along lazily in opening track “Lodger”, even as the music underneath propels in several directions at once. He never sounds too lazy, though—just like he’s trying to see just how far the song can stretch out. “Sinister Smile” shuffles and shimmers its way to a classic mid-2000s chamber pop/folk chorus, all the while undergirded by a surprisingly sharp drumbeat.

It takes three minutes out of “Fade Out”’s four for the song’s slow groove to click into place, but the payoff is worth it when it does. Single “I Want My Jacket Back” is one of Past Life Regression’s more immediate moments: a clearly-presented, upbeat pop song that still features some of Papercuts’ bag of tricks and manages to be “odd” with its stop-start coda finish. Several of the other most straightforward songs come towards the end of Past Life Regression—the mid-tempo strummer “Palm Sunday” turns its bell-tolling chorus into something of a gallop, and the lifting chorus of penultimate track “Remarry” features Quever and a fluttering synth competing for catchiness. On the other end of the spectrum, the five-minute “Hypnotist” sets its synths to “wash-over” and percussion to “heartbeat” to live up to its title (but even that one is song-first, with no less of a melodic vocal than the others). The extra psych-y moments on Past Life Regression are often just that, extra—flaring up either at the end of or in between verses of pop songs, making for an engaging blend of textures throughout. (Bandcamp link)

Also notable:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: