Pressing Concerns: Personal Space, The Rosie Varela Project, TJ Douglas, Teenage Tom Petties

Today’s Pressing Concerns looks at a new album from The Rosie Varela Project, a new EP from Personal Space, a re-released album from TJ Douglas, and an album from Teenage Tom Petties that’s actually shorter than the Personal Space EP.

Rosy Overdrive’s May Playlist also went up this week, which I’d recommend checking out as well. If you’re still looking for more new music, you can browse previous editions of Pressing Concerns or visit the site directory.

Personal Space – Still Life

Release date: June 3rd
Record label: Good Eye
Genre: Indie rock, post-rock, math rock, soft rock
Formats: Digital
Pull track: Long Live the New Flesh

Personal Space’s second album, 2021’s A Lifetime of Leisure, was a subtly-crafted record that steadily wormed its way into being one of my favorites of last year.  Their songs are comprised of familiar indie rock ingredients, but no one band quite provides the template for their unique blend of “chill” vibes, unusual song structures, and left-wing political lyrics. A Lifetime of Leisure ebbed and flowed across ten tracks, so it’s interesting that the Brooklyn four-piece have chosen to follow up the record with a four-song EP that gives them a lot less room to leisurely stretch out. Still Life is not a world away from the Personal Space of last year, but it feels a little more pointed, and makes the most of its relatively short length by covering a wide breadth of sonic and lyrical ground.

The EP’s first two tracks (“Enron’s Trip” and “Long Live the New Flesh”) find Personal Space dipping their toe into the worlds of Stereolab-esque krautrock chugging and Thrill Jockey-adjacent post-rock accents. The latter’s lyrics describe a tightrope-walking-act of trying to feel okay surrounded by bad vibes in what feels like a callback to their last album. Similarly, “Enron’s Trip” also feels like vintage Personal Space with its mixture of compassion and contempt for its finance-bro subject, finding him somewhat pathetic but knowing that he’ll always have some kind of advantage over the rest of us due to his lack of morals.

After those two songs, Personal Space lob “Ceviche from Kew Gardens” at you, in which Sam Rosenthal delivers a more straight insecurity/anxiety-laden song about infatuation and not being able to stop thinking about one person. It’s not completely uncharted territory for Personal Space (see “Overture”) but just how fully Rosenthal veers into it (“You take me back to when crushing on the AIM was new / Now it’s something kind of blue”) is kind of jarring, and intriguing. Still, the ending refrain sounds like chill-math-rock-Personal Space at its most classic, reinforcing the fact that nobody else is doing it like them. (Bandcamp link)

The Rosie Varela Project – What Remains

Release date: June 3rd
Record label: Hogar
Genre: Dream pop, psych pop
Formats: Vinyl, CD, digital
Pull track: Louise

Readers of this blog may recall Rosie Varela as the lead singer of El Paso shoegaze band EEP, whose Winter Skin was one of my favorite records of last year. That album, the band’s sophomore record, found the five-piece group incorporating influences (electronic, psychedelic, funk) beyond shoegaze, but even considering that expansion, Varela still had an entire record’s worth of songs she felt didn’t fit in with EEP’s sound. Every member of EEP contributes musically to What Remains and it’s being released by EEP’s home label of Hogar Records (which also released EEP member Ross Ingram’s Sell the Tape Machine last year). Nevertheless, the resultant product isn’t really something that I’d easily mistake for “EEP LP3”, and one gets why Varela chose to release the record under her own name.

What Remains has been described as an “avant-pop/dream pop” record, and I’d emphasize the avant- and the dreaminess over the pop—it feels like a more subtle, less immediate record than Varela’s past work. That’s not to say What Remains is devoid of pop songwriting, which becomes apparent early on as Varela takes us through the massive-sounding opening track “Louise” and the slow-burning, acoustic “Wound”, which sounds like ghostly 90s-esque dream pop shot through with the sounds of Varela’s desert home. Both of these songs contain ace melodies, but I’ll emphasize the “slow burn” here—songs stretch out, and various instruments drop out and reappear throughout the lengths. Songs like the rollicking psych-rock of “My Sunshine” keep the energy up in the second half, but I believe that the core of What Remains is the pairing of the lounge-y title track and “Leave Me Alone”. The former is haunted and urgent, the latter confident and in control, but both find Varela rejecting and tossing off the sinister and the degrading, and urging the listener to do the same. (Bandcamp link)

TJ Douglas – Lo 2.0

Release date: June 10th
Record label: Beach Plum Tapes
Genre: Indie folk
Formats: Cassette, digital
Pull track: Evelyn

TJ Douglas’ Lo was initially self-released as a digital-only album in March 2020, in the midst of everything that was going on back then. The original version of Lo—seventeen songs and nearly an hour long—flew a bit under the radar (for instance, I greatly enjoyed Douglas’ previous record, 2017’s Our Lady Star of the Sea, Help and Protect Us, but didn’t find Lo until months after its release). Douglas wrote Lo while attending a seminary, training to become a hospital chaplain, and they view those songs as particularly confessional, even considering that “all [their] albums are personal”. Deciding that these songs were worthy of a wider release, Douglas chose ten of them (plus one new song) to re-release on cassette as Lo 2.0 with Beach Plum Tapes, and the result is an intimate-sounding but varied collection of indie rock and folk songwriting.

The simply-strummed acoustic guitar chords that mark the first half of album opener “Take Heart” eventually give away into a full-band climax, while the more urgent-sounding electric guitar that guides Douglas’ vocals throughout “You Are Not” actually ends up being their only accompaniment. Douglas’ “comfort zone” is slow-burning, guitar-led indie rock, and they put together really moving songs in this fashion like “Evelyn” (my personal favorite from the original Lo, happy to see it made the cut) and “Friend Breakup” (which is about exactly what it says it is). Still, Douglas works in some other methods in Lo 2.0, like the piano hymn-sounding “Anywhere Everywhere”, the hazy synths of “Catholic Radio”, and the curious electronic-organ sound of closing track “House on a Hill”. Douglas’ lyrics, which frequently reference their faith and struggles with sobriety, are serviced well by this collection of music, and one doesn’t need to be grappling with either of those subjects to get something out of Lo 2.0. (Bandcamp link)

Teenage Tom Petties – Teenage Tom Petties

Release date: June 3rd
Record label: Repeating Cloud/Safe Suburban Home
Genre: Lo-fi power pop
Formats: Cassette, digital
Pull track: Lambo

Tom Brown is a bit more well-known as one-half of the English indie rock duo Rural France, but less than a year after that band’s latest record (October’s RF), he’s debuted a new solo project called Teenage Tom Petties (named after a Rural France song, or maybe the song is named after the project). Teenage Tom Petties is pure lo-fi power pop, similar to Brown’s band but perhaps a bit more direct and fuzzier. At eight songs and 14 minutes long, the record wastes not a minute, kicking off with two incredibly infectious noise pop songs in “Boatyard Winch” (which buries something of a glam strut in its chorus) and “Lambo” (a dingy piece of suave power pop).  The only somewhat kinetic “Boxroom Bangers” is something of Teenage Tom Petties’ version of “pensive”, or maybe that label best applies to “Last Starfighter”, which marries its pop to rather sad lyrics (“I don’t care if you love me, my heart’s not in it now”).

Songs like “My Name Is Chaos” and “Boxroom Blues” are both would-be killer singles, even though their function here is just to punch up the middle and closing sections of the record. Even though Brown calls Bath, England home, most of his musical touchstones seem to be 90s American indie rock and punk. Teenage Tom Petties subsequently comes off like a weird mix of British landmarks and Americana—multiple songs taking place in “boxrooms”, cool car vibes, references to the Beastie Boys, James Brown, and Wu-Tang, not to mention Brown’s chosen moniker. “I met a girl in America / But America won’t let her go,” sings Brown at the end of a hidden acoustic closing song. It’s not exactly an endorsement of the cultural soup in which Teenage Tom Petties gestated, but if songs like the ones on this record can come out of it, there must be something worthwhile there. (Bandcamp link)

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