Pressing Concerns: SAVAK, Gorgeous Bully, Elephant Gym, Mace.

Pressing Concerns is back, and a day earlier than usual! It’s kind of an odds-and-ends week, as I look at some albums from the past month or so that I either missed initially or didn’t have time to get to earlier–specifically, new records from SAVAK, Gorgeous Bully, Elephant Gym, and Mace.

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

SAVAK – Human Error / Human Delight

Release date: April 15th
Record label: Peculiar Works
Genre: Post-punk, garage rock
Formats: Vinyl, CD, digital
Pull track: No Blues No Jazz

Brooklyn’s SAVAK is usually introduced by way of naming other notable bands in which its members have played (Obits, Holy Fuck, Edsel, The Cops), but the trio, now on their fifth album together, have now eclipsed or matched their earlier groups in terms of output. Human Error / Human Delight sounds like the work of a band that’s automatically in tune with each other—I imagine that’s due to a combination of their decades of experience in those other, previously-mentioned bands, their ever-growing repertoire as a unit, and a shared love of the less exploited (and subsequently more interesting) sides of punk and post-punk music.

Drummer Matt Schulz and vocalist/guitarists Sohrab Habibion and Michael Jaworski make what actually constitutes “no-bullshit rock band music”—instead of nicking a couple of tricks from Unknown Pleasures or Entertainment! or whichever one of those records is currently en vogue, present-day SAVAK is the result of years of honing the friendlier sides of Wire, Sonic Youth, and Mission of Burma into something new and distinct. I doubt SAVAK has ever done anything other than make exactly the music they want to make, but Human Error / Human Delight marks an even greater step towards complete independence; it was released on their own label, Peculiar Works Music (which also released a very good album by French noise rock band Pays P. last year). Like I alluded to earlier, though, these songs are still fairly accessible to people other than alt-music historians—to me, it reads as SAVAK not only being guided by “making the music they want to make”, but by “making what they’d want to listen to” as well.

Opening track “No Blues No Jazz” is a scorcher, a blaring saxophone-punk tune that’s catchy in a sloganeering (maybe anti-sloganeering, in this case?) way, but then the sugary melody of second song “Empathy” is just catchy in a “that’s a really good pop song” way. One of the most exemplary songs on Human Error / Human Delight is “Baltimore Moon”, which effectively has two back-to-back choruses—a bouncy, melodic power pop one and then a stomping post-punk one. Even the smaller moments on the simpler-seeming songs, like the various guitar flourishes and flare-ups throughout “Trashing the Ghost”, speak to a band understanding that wrinkles and “minor” touches can make or break a record, as does their ability to turn their basic ingredients into a suspenseful ballad in “Recanted (Free the Singer)”. Album closer “Dumbinance” (one of two tracks on the record to feature bass from Tortoise/Eleventh Dream Day’s Douglas McCombs) floats alongside its low-end anchor; as driven as Human Error / Human Delight is, it ends by letting go just enough. (Bandcamp link)

Gorgeous Bully – Am I Really Going to Die Here

Release date: May 6th
Record label: Self-released
Genre: Lo-fi indie rock, indie folk
Formats: Cassette, digital
Pull track: Live This Way

After a flurry of activity in the mid-2010s, Manchester’s Gorgeous Bully had gone quiet in recent years. However, a steady stream of singles that began about a year ago has culminated in Am I Really Going to Die Here, the project’s first full-length album since 2018. Only some of 2021’s singles ended up on the album, including opening track “Sick of Everything”, which I wrote about last April. It’s a cheery, acoustic lo-fi indie rock song that introduces a bleak lyrical sensibility (sample: “I am bored, I’m confused, I have nothing left to lose / Sick and tired of this game, sick and tired of everything”) that is perhaps the defining trait of Am I Really Going to Die Here. Sometimes Gorgeous Bully (the solo project of Thomas Crang) matches the upbeat musical energy of “Sick of Everything” on Am I Really Going to Die Here and sometimes the songs are more hushed, but the lyrics are always going to be a downer.

Second track “Live This Way” follows in “Sick of Everything”’s footsteps as a more subdued but no less catchy bummer anthem (“I can’t live this way”, sings Crang), but the one song on Am I Really Going to Die Here that truly goes all-out in the same way is “Ugly Baby”, which is effectively a Gorgeous Bully pop punk anthem (“If I die in my sleep, I couldn’t care less / Nothing good about me, I have nothing left” are the opening lines). Lest one should get a little burned out on the twisted juxtaposition of upbeat music and sad words on Am I Really Going to Die Here, not to worry—the album has plenty of quiet sad songs as well. These more acoustic-based tracks largely find Crang a little more contemplative, digging a little deeper than the pop songs’ pure angst spillage. “Wasted” (which we also heard last year) hangs on the somewhat double entendre of its title and “Docile” finds Crang particularly reflective—although “Parasite”, one of the quietest songs on the album, is also one of Crang’s more brutal self-assessments. I don’t enjoy Am I Really Going to Die Here because it feels hopeless, nor do I enjoy it in spite of this feeling; I find Gorgeous Bully compelling enough that I am willing to follow it wherever Thomas Crang leads it. (Bandcamp link)

Elephant Gym – Dreams

Release date: May 11th
Record label: Topshelf
Genre: Math rock, jazz rock, post-rock, dream pop
Formats: Vinyl, cassette, CD, digital
Pull track: Shadow

Dreams is the third record from Kaohsiung, Taiwan’s Elephant Gym, and it’s certainly an ambitious effort from the trio of Tell Chang, KT Chang, and Cia-Chin Tu. Although generally described as “math rock”, the inventive guitar riffs and percussion intervals are merely one element comprising Dreams’ atmosphere. A host of orchestral instruments, jazz-inspired compositions, and busy piano are just a few more of the touches that mark the record’s dozen songs. Occasionally, Elephant Gym guide these tracks into the world of three-member rock and roll, but just as frequently (in fact, probably more so) they drive past that exit in search of something new. Dreams covers a good deal of ground early on in its runtime—opening track “Anima” begins the record peacefully with a flute-driven soft rock tune that’s nevertheless played with virtuosic vigor, “Go Through the Night” pulls a similar truck with a piano-based instrumental, and then “Shadow” veers hard left with its opening off-kilter funk drumming.

The jazzy second half of “Shadow” is one of Elephant Gym’s best “rock group” moments, as is the straight math rock ending to the following track, “Witches”. Instead of locking into this particular groove, however, Dreams continues exploring in its second half—including the driving orchestral rock of “Wings”, the exhilarating percussion-fest of “Deities’ Party” (featuring the Chio Tan Folk Drums and Art Troupe), and the synth-heavy pop of closing track “Dream of You”. The interpolation of more of their typical math rock moments (“Dear Humans” and “Gaze at Blue”, as well as in a few sections of other previously-mentioned songs) keeps Dreams from feeling disjointed; Elephant Gym’s foray into the non-waking world is a refreshing and uninterrupted one. (Bandcamp link)

Mace. – Unclothed & Unbothered

Release date: May 13th
Record label: Freakazoid
Genre: Punk rock, alt-rock, pop punk, emo
Formats: Digital
Pull track: Water’s Fine

Listening to Unclothed & Unbothered, it’s not too hard to pick up on from where Boston’s Mace. are coming. A bit of mid-period Joyce Manor hooky alt-rock-punk here, some orgcore-indebted throaty vocals and weariness there, and frequent unadorned, quote unquote slacker guitar moves learned from 90s indie rock. All microgenres that didn’t exactly play nice and intermingle with each other at their times of inception, but bands like Mace. have the clarity of hindsight, and Unclothed & Unbothered is all the better for it.

Unclothed & Unbothered is the first full-length from Mace. (who use the amusing variation “Mace Like Windu” to differentiate themselves from similarly-named bands on social media) after a couple of EPs, and the four-piece group stuff the album with forty-five minutes of ideas, hooks, and a couple of (thankfully brief) skits. The first proper track, “Water’s Fine”, shows off Mace.’s ability to put together a full-on catchy alt-rock single, and it’s actually built a bit more complex than the breezy refrain (“Come on in, the water’s fine”) would suggest. The ambition of Unclothed & Unbothered is also seen in the way several of its songs sprawl past five minutes—while I’m not sure all of these songs justify their length, the tracks that do (like mid-tempo album centerpiece “Treble Dead”) make up for any trepidation I might have about the others. Considering the energy behind their first record, I look forward to seeing where Mace. goes from here. (Bandcamp link)

Also notable:

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