Pressing Concerns: Oblivz, R.E. Seraphin, Abby Gogo, John Jody

The last Pressing Concerns of May hits on four solid, sturdy records out this week: new EPs from Oblivz, R.E. Seraphin, and John Jody, as well as a reissue from Abby Gogo. This week and June 3rd are both “big” Fridays in terms of music I want to highlight on Rosy Overdrive, so I’m not done with the week of the 27th yet.

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

Oblivz – Managers

Release date: May 23rd
Record label: Self-released
Genre: Synthpop, post-punk
Formats: Digital
Pull track: Coronet

On its surface, Managers isn’t a world away from Oblivz’s previous release, 2021’s Uplifts—both EPs find the duo of Charlie Wilmoth and Andrew Slater exploring a more electronic and synth-based sound after years of making up half of indie rock group Fox Japan. There’s a different feeling to the two records, however—Uplifts was something of a curiosity, the product of two familiar collaborators trying something new after a over a decade of making a decidedly different style of music. Managers, meanwhile, sounds like a full-throated commitment, the debut of Oblivz as something more than a “Fox Japan side project”. The songs sound fuller and denser, with Slater and Wilmoth finding a New Order-ish medium between guitar rock and electronic music. Slater’s six-string slices through the blaring alt-rock of “Dr. Y” and duels with several synths in “Coronet”, while the percussive dance-funk of opening track “Up in the Air” rumbles along belying the complexity that’s been constructed underneath.

Managers also represents a recommitment in terms of Oblivz’s subject matter. The black humor and undercurrents of corporate unrest and horror that marked Uplifts and the most recent Fox Japan record, 2020’s What We’re Not, are present in Managers from its title on down. Album centerpiece “Out of Time” finds Wilmoth and Slater delving even deeper into the darkness than before, cutting out the soul-sucking middleman and straight-up depicting the bureaucracy of execution (“We’ll confirm you’re gone and we’ll wipe your blood from the guillotine,” sings Wilmoth matter-of-factly over a swirling, somewhat deconstructed instrumental). Basically tied with “Out of Time” would have to be “Dr. Y”, in which Wilmoth crawls into the skin of a modern mad scientist, pushing past all reasonable restraint while attempting to dress it in a thin, unconvincing layer of progress and innovation.

Wilmoth doesn’t always play the villain in Managers, though—at least not the obvious one. At various points in the EP, it feels like he and Slater are kicking against the dystopia they’ve constructed (well, excellently mirrored at least). The chorus of “Up in the Air” alludes to “a better way”, and finds Wilmoth pleading to the addressee of the song that “It’s not like we’re stars, so let’s find somewhere that’s ours…/ …we’re not in the shot, this ain’t no biopic”. Meanwhile, good luck trying to pull a cohesive narrative out of closing track “Coronet” (no, seriously, let me know if you can do it), but Slater’s propulsive guitar riff kicks off an instrumental that feels particularly evocative of escape, of leaving all the garbage behind in the dust. “Made to play make-believe,” Wilmoth declares toward the end of the song, although who’s trapped in whose fantasy isn’t clear. (Bandcamp link)

R.E. Seraphin – Swingshift

Release date: May 27th
Record label: Mt. St. Mtn./Dandy Boy/Safe Suburban Home/Tear Jerk
Genre: Jangle pop, power pop
Formats: Vinyl, cassette, digital
Pull track: Playing House

The latest release from the Bay Area’s R.E. Seraphin is a seven-track EP that’s more than enough to showcase the singer-songwriter’s talent. Seraphin has been circling the San Francisco area jangle pop scene for a couple years now, releasing an EP and a record on Paisley Shirt Records in 2020, and this month’s Swingshift (which is, between international and cassette editions, being co-released by four different labels) should be enough to get him in the conversation with some of the area’s more well-known guitar pop revivalists. The bones of Swingshift were recorded by Seraphin alone in his bedroom before a wide range of collaborators contributed several more layers to these songs.  These homespun origins, plus Seraphin’s quiet, low-in-the-mix vocals would suggest that Swingshift ought to fall on the dreamier, sleepier end of the jangle pop spectrum, but interestingly enough, the EP has other ideas.

Opening track “Playing House” drives up with a thumping drumbeat and a blaring guitar line, and at one point lets loose a triumphant guitar solo that justifies Seraphin’s citing of Cheap Trick as an influence on its own. Although “Playing House” is probably the most massive power pop moment on Swingshift, the rest of the EP stays in the saddle and delivers one spirited guitar pop tune after another. “Big Break” is the bass-driven one, bouncing along with melodies sailing over top of it, while the center of the EP (specifically “Stuck in Reno” and “The Virtue of Being Wrong”) stretches out with some beautiful arpeggiated guitar showcases. Towards the end of the EP, Seraphin pulls out a somewhat lesser-known Wipers song (“I’ll Be Around” from 1999’s The Power in One) to take on, and while his cover version doesn’t sound like Wipers, the way Seraphin throws everything into chanting the title of the song suggests he and Greg Sage might have more in common than things might seem on the surface. (Bandcamp link)

Abby Gogo – Abby Gogo (Reissue)

Release date: May 27th
Record label: Double Phantom
Genre: Shoegaze, psych rock
Formats: Vinyl, CD, digital
Pull track: Louder Than Dreams

Atlanta’s Abby Gogo released two albums and a couple of singles during their decade (2005 to 2015) of recording activity, although for whatever reason it appears that the group (led by twin brothers Bon and Jon Allinson and also featuring drummer Puma Navarro) didn’t quite get the attention that the material merited. At the very least, that’s clearly the opinion of Double Phantom Records, who, fresh off of re-releasing a more well-known relic of early 2010s Atlanta alternative rock in Balkans’ 2011 self-titled record, have now turned their attention to Abby Gogo. Abby Gogo, originally released in 2010, is a loud and heavy shoegaze-inspired rock record. It feels like there’s a lot more heavy shoegaze-inspired music today than a dozen years ago, but usually it’s in the form of shoegaze shot through with grunge, emo, or post-hardcore influences—Abby Gogo instead reach for straight-up psychedelic rock music to beef up their reverb-drenched tunes.

Abby Gogo starts off pop-friendly enough, with the swirling guitar riffs and pounding percussion of opening track “Louder Than Dreams” harkening back to the initial wave of shoegaze, and the heat haze-evoking “The Lost Song” throwing western desert psychedelia into the mix. Abby Gogo hit these sweet spots again on the record (namely in “Feelin’ Slow” and “Come On”), but they begin to explore denser, headier climes immediately after Abby Gogo’s relatively welcoming beginning. The seven-minute, towering “Torpedo” carefully stacks tension only to blaze it down in its final third, and the dense “Guitar #0” is basically Abby Gogo going drone. It’s a catchy enough record to get attention from modern pop-shoegaze aficionados, but with more going on to pull in other guitar music fans—Abby Gogo is definitely a record worthy of a second look. (Bandcamp link)

John Jody – Crooked Star

Release date: May 27th
Record label: Ramp Local
Genre: Folk, alt-country
Formats: Digital
Pull track: Chelsea Encounter

Last year, New York singer-songwriter John Jody released a record of slippery, somewhat deconstructed indie rock under the alias Black Nash, which fit in perfectly alongside his record label, the experimental rock-friendly Ramp Local. Jody is still on Ramp Local, but his first record under his own name is a surprising left turn in the form of sincere, straightforward acoustic folk. The four-song Crooked Star EP is stark both in terms of its arrangements—where pedal steel flourishes are frequently the most notable addition to Jody’s voice and guitar—and its lyrics, which Jody describes as “lasers” (meant to be direct and clear in terms of subject matter).

Crooked Star doesn’t need weird mid-song tempo shifts to make a mark—look no further than the juxtaposition between its first two tracks: the wide-eyed daydream of “Chelsea Encounter” and the reality-check put-down of “Nothing to Me” one song later. Delivering divergent stories and feelings, both songs rely equally on barebones folk-country arrangements, although Jody can’t resist a bit of oddness in the bizarre background vocal effects applied to the latter. Jody’s decision to aim for simplicity on Crooked Star shouldn’t be mistaken for an attempt at pastiches of the genres in which he’s working. Instead, we get something more interesting and unique, like a wistful country ballad with the refrain “God, I wish I was in Tokyo”. (Bandcamp link)

Also notable:

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