Pressing Concerns: Gordon M. Phillips, New You, Nina Nastasia, Ben Woods

New music? Yes! This week’s Pressing Concerns looks at new albums from Gordon M. Phillips, Nina Nastasia, and Ben Woods, and a new EP from New You.

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

Gordon M. Phillips – Seasonal

Release date: July 22nd
Record label: Self-released
Genre: Folk rock, singer-songwriter
Formats: Digital
Pull track: Tarmac

Gordon M. Phillips is probably best-known as the lead singer of Richmond’s Downhaul, whose PROOF was one of my favorite records of last year (or maybe you know him as a very good music writer in his own right). It is, perhaps, not a huge surprise that Phillips does not attempt to recreate the baritone-guitar-led, cinematic emo sound of PROOF on Seasonal, the first full-length released under his own name. However, Phillips’ solo debut album also doesn’t quite sound like the material he’s released under his own name thus far—the relatively slick country-ish songs of the You Are With Me EP he made with Maxwell Stern, and the one-off single “The Hotel”. Seasonal was recorded entirely by Phillips on a Tascam 4-track, and it’s subsequently a sparse-sounding album.

The pared-down sound doesn’t mean Seasonal is all quietness, however—it’s recognizably Phillips-sounding, which means I can hear echoes of Downhaul and his other solo material in these songs. Opening track “Tarmac” and mid-record highlight “The Fall” both strain against their acoustic foundations, recalling some of the big choruses of Phillips’ past (the titular strip of the former joins the train stop of “Brushstrokes” and the docks of “Dried” as transportation-based fertile songwriting locations for Phillips). The twangy “April” could’ve been adapted to fit into Phillips’ more country endeavors, and the moody “At, At” feels like something from PROOF stripped to its barest elements.

Even the songs on Seasonal that sound the most like the product of a home-recording session all take different paths on this journey. For one, there’s the drum-machine and sample-aided “On Purpose”, which would feel completely out of place if it wasn’t for the familiarity of Phillips’ vocals throughout, and then immediately after it, the minimalist acoustic guitar that marks “I.N.T.L.” is necessary to quietly and unobtrusively give the heartbreaking story at the center of the song some space. “I.N.T.L.” looks down a bleak abyss and ends with Phillips quietly resolving “What I know is this: I need to live”, something that gets echoed in “Somebody”, another Seasonal song that’s well-served by the spareness of the record. Over just a casually-strummed guitar and ample background noise, Phillips cycles through a litany of experiences, distractions, and circumstances before shrugging and saying “Somebody’s gotta do it, I guess”. (Bandcamp link)

New You – Candy

Release date: June 24th
Record label: Lonely Ghost
Genre: Power pop, fuzz rock
Formats: Digital
Pull track: Listerine

I first heard of New You last year through their one-off single “Suffer”, a Smashing Pumpkins-indebted piece of hooky alt-rock that put them somewhere between the one-man power fuzz of Dazy and the more melodic side of New Morality Zine’s roster. Last month’s Candy EP is the Seattle group’s most substantial release yet, and as its name implies, it veers hard into a muscular power pop sound, evoking “Super-” bands like -Crush and –Drag (who they’ve covered before). The fuller sound is no accident—after beginning as guitarist/vocalist Blake Turner’s solo project in Massachusetts, his move back to the Pacific Northwest has resulted in the band growing to a four-piece, and Candy sounds like it.

Opening track “Listerine” is a monster of a loud pop song, with Turner’s melodic vocals steadying the exuberant instrumental, and when he matches it in the chorus (with “They’re playing our song on the radio,” aided by some excellent backing vocals), it’s just the right amount of familiarity. The EP’s other bookend is “Fairweather”, which finds New You rising and falling to meet the song—the first minute is just Turner’s voice accompanied by some choppy power chords, before it soars in its second half. Although those two tracks are the biggest personal standouts, the middle of Candy doesn’t really fall under the realm of “album tracks”—hooky lead guitar parts, big choruses, and Turner shining over blaring fuzzy rock abound throughout. (Bandcamp link)

Nina Nastasia – Riderless Horse

Release date: July 22nd
Record label: Temporary Residence Ltd.
Genre: Folk
Formats: Vinyl, CD, digital
Pull track: This Is Love

Nina Nastasia’s sparse folk music has always existed in the realm of noise rock, metal, and just generally “heavier” genres—she regularly records with Steve Albini, has released records on Touch & Go, and toured with Mogwai this year. This heaviness associated with her music feels especially relevant with the release of her seventh record, Riderless Horse. Both the dozen-year gap that separates it from her most recent album and the actual contents of Riderless Horse are linked inextricably to Kennan Gudjonsson, her longtime romantic and musical partner who died by suicide in 2020 and with whom she had a difficult relationship until his death.

Riderless Horse sounds like a Nina Nastasia record in that it’s marked only by Nastasia’s voice and acoustic guitar, presenting these songs as simply as possible. With nowhere to hide, the record dives into the relationship at its core from the beginning—the understated “Just Stay in Bed” frets around the corners and gives into the unblinking account of “You Were So Mad”. The bleak “This Is Love” is perhaps the most ear-catching example on Riderless Horse (“I guess I’ll just stay in hell with you if this is love”), but Nastasia examines everything up to the last track with lyrics, “Afterwards”, which acknowledges the loss of Gudjonsson before closing with Nastasia’s assessment of herself: “I want to live / I am ready to live”. (Bandcamp link)

Ben Woods – Dispeller

Release date: July 15th
Record label: Shrimper/Melted Ice Cream/Meritorio
Genre: Experimental rock, slowcore, chamber pop
Formats: Vinyl, CD, digital
Pull track: Trace Reel

Christchurch’s Ben Woods has played in notable New Zealand bands Wurld Series and Salad Boys, but since the theme of today’s post seems to be “solo artists making different music than they’ve made with bands”, Dispeller is pretty far removed from either of those groups’ jangly guitar pop. The wide sonic palette of the record—one that frequently hovers away from traditional guitar-based music—makes it seem like an odd surface fit for lo-fi indie rock haven Shrimper Records, but a close listen reveals Dispeller mixes pop music and experimental fare in equal measure, much like Shrimper’s flagship band, Refrigerator.

Take “Trace Reel”, which floats a ringing piano part around in the first half of the song, and then congeals around it for a rousing finish. Elsewhere, “The Strip” is a sleepy dream pop ballad evoking Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness of all things, and “Punishing Type” builds something warm and welcoming out of intrusive noises and a molasses tempo. The shuffling “White Leather Again” closes out the record in slow-moving pop mode as well, an appropriate ending for an album that has a lot to appreciate, but only if one is willing to meet it at its own, unhurried pace. (Bandcamp link)

Also notable:

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