Pressing Concerns: Sonny Falls, Jeanines, Crime of Passing, ASkySoBlack

This week’s Pressing Concerns? New records from Sonny Falls, Jeanines, Crime of Passing, and ASkySoBlack, all of which have come out or will come out the week this post goes live.

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

Sonny Falls – Stoned, Beethoven Blasting

Release date: April 20th
Record label: Forged Artifacts
Genre: Garage rock, alt-country
Formats: Cassette, digital
Pull track: Stoned, Beethoven Blasting

Over the course of 2020, Chicago’s Sonny Falls (aka Ryan “Hoagie Wesley” Ensley) released the double album All That Has Come Apart / Once Did Not Exist in multiple installments on Elise Okusami’s then-nascent Plastic Miracles label. It’s a dense, ambitious, dark, but frequently accessible record of country-tinged garage rock that stands as one of my favorite albums of that year today. The recent success of MJ Lenderman has given me hope that there’s some room in the indie rock Overton Window for Sonny Falls, but Ensley’s first record since All That Has Come Apart isn’t exactly the sound of a musician angling for the spotlight. Stoned, Beethoven Blasting is a brief burst of tangled ideas presented with tangled guitars, a constant roar that packs a hell of a punch in its seven unruly songs.

Ensley apparently wrote Stoned, Beethoven Blasting (album title of the year, by the way) working at a pizza chain, “delivering food through quiet streets” early on in the pandemic, and it certainly sounds like an album made by somebody who’s been given either the gift or the curse of a lot of time to explore and roll around in their own head. “This place is never closed / Twenty-four hours a day there’s a show,” he mutters of his own mind in “Audience of Thoughts”, and opening track and lead single “Wringing Out My Brain” finds Ensley doing just that. “I think by spring it’ll be fixed, and we can start to decorate,” he estimates optimistically of the titular metaphor in “House in My Head”, before allowing “[I] feel like that’s always the case”. I can’t quite follow what Ensley is shouting over the Superchunk-esque pogoing distortion-fest of the song before that one, but its title (“Dream Is Drunk”) is in line with the rest of Stoned, Beethoven Blasting.

The rumbling rhythm section and trailblazing lead guitar that open the record’s title track might be Stoned, Beethoven Blasting’s single most “pop-friendly” moment, but the theatrical, splintered classic rock sound of “Joy Is Outta Luck (The Waiting)” (which mirrors the carnival-inspired lyrics of “Stoned, Beethoven Blasting”) is also worth mentioning. I was initially a little disappointed in the record’s length after the nearly hour-long All That Has Come Apart / Once Did Not Exist, but after sitting with Stoned, Beethoven Blasting for awhile, it’s becoming more and more apparent that Sonny Falls has packed more into these 20 minutes than most bands could in a normal LP’s worth of music. And we may not have to wait too long—Ensley is apparently sitting on at least another record after a recent prolific spell. Stoned, Beethoven Blasting is enough to digest for now, though. (Bandcamp link)

Jeanines – Don’t Wait for a Sign

Release date: April 22nd
Record label: Slumberland
Genre: Pop rock, indie pop, power pop
Formats: Vinyl, CD, digital
Pull track: Wishing Well

The first I heard from Brooklyn’s Jeanines was 2020’s Things Change EP, a casual record of casual guitar pop from the duo of Alicia Jeanine (vocals/guitar/songwriting) and Jed Smith (bass/drums).  The band’s follow up, Don’t Wait for a Sign, their second full-length record, sticks to Jeanine and Smith’s hallmarks of a humble guitar pop setup, short (1-2 minute) song lengths, and Jeanine’s confident but not showy vocal delivery, but they sound bigger here, somehow. Jeanines come off as students (or at the very least aficionados) of guitar bands past, from the 60s psych-tinged jangly folk rock that birthed their chosen genre to the British C86/Sarah Records explosion two decades later that came to define it. Don’t Wait for a Sign clears thirteen songs in a little over twenty minutes—tracks that are just long enough to feel fully formed, and not a moment too long.

Don’t Wait for a Sign’s first two songs both clock in at around 90 seconds, and both completely hit their mark as successful pop songs—the former (“That’s Okay”) sets the stage with a simple repeated refrain over a propulsive instrumental, and the latter (“Any Day Now”) features a Magnetic Fields-worthy airy chorus delivery from Jeanine. The barebones instrumental setup doesn’t have to mean “crudely played”, as the busy bass guitar and marching drumbeat of “Got Nowhere to Go” remind us, and the duo bash out “Dead Not Dead” in a way that makes it clear they have everything they need. Songs like “I Lie Awake” and “Who’s in the Dark” have a notably dark atmosphere to them, as catchy and jangly as they are, which adds another wrinkle to the record one might need a couple of listens to catch. There’s a lot going on in Don’t Wait for a Sign, but Jeanines keep it up throughout, perhaps even saving the best song for last with the swaying dreaminess of “Wishing Well”, which jauntily toe-taps its way out the door, ending a very replayable record appropriately. (Bandcamp link)

Crime of Passing – Crime of Passing

Release date: April 22nd
Record label: Feel It/Future Shock
Genre: Post-punk, synth punk
Formats: Vinyl, cassette, digital
Pull track: Tender Fixation

The latest release from Feel It Records (co-released by local label Future Shock) is a dark post-punk album that comes thundering out from the depths of Cincinnati, Ohio. Crime of Passing’s self-titled record is, after putting out a handful of demos, EPs, and singles, their proper full-length debut—although “proper” might not be the word that comes to mind upon an initial listen to the LP. There is a cold industrial edge throughout Crime of Passing, even as it sounds foremost like the work of a gritty garage rock band. Songs sound eaten up by crunchy distortion, even as synths, guitar lines, and throbbing rhythms all stick out across Crime of Passing. And then there’s lead singer Andie Luman in the center of it all, with forceful vocals that directly counteract the mechanical aspects of Crime of Passing with a decidedly human range of performance.

Pretty much all of Crime of Passing falls under the umbrella of dark, brooding, but energy-spiked post-punk, whether it’s most distinguished by the rhythm-section-driven propulsion of the record’s first two tracks and “Midnight Underground”, or by the live-wire lead guitars that usher “Tender Fixation” and “World on Fire” into basement garage rockers. On the more synth-heavy side of town, “Vision Talk” builds to a chaotic wall of noise while “Hunting Knife” is content to transform into something of a hypnotic dance groove. The album ends with the title track, which beats the listener over the head with a high-in-the-mix drum machine stomp before threading a surprisingly mellow dream pop-esque vocal from Luman and throwing jangly guitar into the fray. Another Ohio punk band with its share of surprises. (Bandcamp link)

ASkySoBlack – Autumn in the Water

Release date: April 20th
Record label: New Morality Zine
Genre: Shoegaze, alt-rock, post-hardcore, emo
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull track: See You Scared

New Morality Zine has spent 2022 introducing or reintroducing us to new bands probing different shades of heavy rock music, and Philadelphia’s ASkySoBlack is another spirited addition to their roster. Their second release following last year’s What Is Yet to Come? EP, Autumn in the Water is a four-song collection that’s squarely in the thriving “heavy shoegaze” world, evoking bands like Hum, Shiner, and, yes, The Smashing Pumpkins. Although the typical emo touches appear throughout Autumn in the Water, ASkySoBlack present themselves mainly through a muscular alt-rock sheen, aided in no small part by drummer Alec Martin, who’s doing appropriate Jimmy Chamberlain homage throughout the EP.

Lead singer Jordan Shteif’s vocals are probably the least outwardly intense aspect of Autumn in the Water, although they’re not a “weak link”. Shteif prefers to lean into the Matt Talbot way of doing things, a somewhat emotional but clean and calm delivery cutting through the noise, rather than opting for post-hardcore theatrics. Although the EP is only eleven minutes long, ASkySoBlack already show a bit of their influences’ ambition in opening track “Made Up Face”, which surprisingly shifts its tempo mid-way through, and in the way “Tell By Touch” veers from the hardest to softest moments on the EP. Shteif lets a little emotion crack the vocals in the quite dark closing track “Defacing You”, straining through the lyrical climax (“I don’t think I’m coming home this time / Coming home tonight”). It’s a nice touch, but ASkySoBlack have already proved they don’t need to just rely on it. (Bandcamp link)

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