Pressing Concerns: Cheekface, Kal Marks, Hellrazor, Tomato Flower

It’s the first Pressing Concerns of August, and it is a big one! Here, we look at new albums from Cheekface, Kal Marks, and Hellrazor, and a new EP from Tomato Flower. For the first time in what feels like forever, all four selections came out/will come out this very week (and there are a couple other albums from this week that I didn’t get to but plan to cover in the near future).

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

Cheekface – Too Much to Ask

Release date: August 2nd
Record label: Self-released
Genre: Garage rock, post-punk, Cheekface
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull track: When Life Hands You Problems

Another year, another quality Cheekface album. January 2021’s Emphatically No. was probably the first great record of last year, and the surprise-released Too Much to Ask ensures that the Los Angeles trio won’t be left out of the 2022 discussion either. Like Emphatically No. before it, the band’s third album is partially made up of singles that steadily appeared over the past year and a half: “We Need a Bigger Dumpster” showed up in a post here last April, and “Next to Me (Yo Guy Version)” and “Featured Singer” have been out since 2021 as well. If Too Much to Ask was just a compilation of songs at that level it would still be worth discussing, but it also hangs together quite well as a whole album.

To be sure, the cohesion of Too Much to Ask has to do with the vintage Cheekface sound and feel—Greg Katz’s monotone vocals and flung-at-a-cultural-dartboard lyrics pared with pop-friendly instrumentals that are nonetheless somewhat hard to pin down musically. But it also has to do with the record’s willingness to stretch their sound. Even as Too Much to Ask opens with three pure Cheekface anthems, “When Life Hands You Problems” speeds everything up to a surprising and rewarding degree. And that’s only the start of it: “I Feel So Weird!” veers hard immediately after the opening trio, featuring Katz straining his vocals in a way that’s completely opposite of a typical Cheekface tune (fear not, the verses still deliver excellent lines like “It’s the ten year anniversary of everything from ten years ago / Think about it, just think about it”).

Meanwhile, the jaunty “You Always Want to Bomb the Middle East”, the groovy “Friends” (shout-out to the rhythm section of bassist Amanda Tannen and drummer Miark Echo Edwards for that one), and the roundabout sincerity of “Next to Me (Yo Guy Version)” all feature some unabashed guitar heroics, and “Featured Singer” completes the most daring idea on the record (Cheekface explicitly as dance music) in a completely appropriate way. There’s no song on Too Much to Ask that feels out of place on the record, and none of the moves within the songs feel like wrong turns either. So, come on: let yourself feel Cheekface’s energy. (Bandcamp link)

Kal Marks – My Name Is Hell

Release date: August 5th
Record label: Exploding in Sound
Genre: Noise rock, punk rock
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull track: Everybody Hertz

My Name Is Hell is the fifth record by Boston’s Kal Marks, but it’s the first one featuring the band’s new four-piece lineup, comprised of founding guitarist/vocalist/lyricist Carl Shane and entirely new members otherwise. While the band’s new players (guitarist Christina Puerto of Bethlehem Steel, bassist John Russell, and drummer Dylan Teggart) haven’t taken Kal Marks in a radically different direction, the expansion to a quartet from a trio ironically seems to have cleaned the band up a little bit. Shane’s vocals are cleaner, and the four of them all seem game to put to tape what ends up being a straightforward meaty rock record.

Like any good noise rock album, My Name Is Hell leans quite a bit on its rhythm section—songs like “Shit Town” and “Who Waits” come alive because of notable low ends and pummeling percussion. However, Kal Marks make it clear that they can use their other tools in key moments in My Name Is Hell as well— opening track “My Life Is a Freak Show” introduces a theatrical lead vocal from Shane that steals the proverbial freak show, and his howls in the title track compete with a dueling lead guitar for the starring role of the song. In the mid-section of the record, songs like “New Neighbor” and “Ovation” prove that “atmospheric” tracks can still be quite noisy and rocky.

Of the two biggest departures for the band, “Everybody Hertz” is the more familiar one sonically—it’s basically just a friendlier version of the loud rock that typifies Kal Marks—but despite its titular wordplay, the sincerity buried underneath is surprising in its bluntness. The other outlier is closing track “Bored Again”, a mid-tempo slow-builder that features Shane vowing that “We’ll find a way” towards its end. Kal Marks did find a way to go on, and My Name Is Hell makes it clear that it was the right call. (Bandcamp link)

Hellrazor – Heaven’s Gate

Release date: August 2nd
Record label: Self-released
Genre: Fuzz rock, grunge, punk rock
Formats: Digital
Pull track: Globbed

New Haven’s Hellrazor is led by Michael Falcone (currently of Speedy Ortiz, formerly of Ovlov), and the version of the band one hears on Heaven’s Gate also features bassist/vocalist Kate Meizner (of The Glow) and drummer Michael Henss (who has since left the band “under friendly circumstances” to focus on his solo material). Heaven’s Gate is Hellrazor’s first record in six years (following their 2016 debut Satan Smile), and the band describes it as a “best of” album culled from everything Falcone and company had been working on in the gap between releases. Heaven’s Gate is indebted to classic alternative rock (you know, the underground version of it), but, as the album’s nine songs helpfully demonstrate, there’s a wide range of music within this field for Hellrazor to explore.

The record opens with two incredibly hooky loud-pop tunes that are dead ringers for Bleach-era Nirvana (“Big Buzz” is the more consistently Cobain-esque, but the chorus to “Globbed” is the clearest single moment). From there, Hellrazor serve up acid-fried, Butthole Surfers-esque punk (“Demon Hellride”), Soundgarden-evoking downtuned riff rock (“Lanscaper”), and 1995 Modern Rock Radio-ready catchy singles (“Jello Stars”). Heaven’s Gate comes off noisier and more sonically busy than fellow Dinosaur Jr./Nirvana revivalists like Late Bloomer and Gnawing, but it’s not any more of a straight shoegaze record than, say, You’re Living All Over Me is. Heaven’s Gate is on the shorter side (it’s 26 minutes and change, and that’s counting closing track “All the Candy in the World”, a Henss creation that is…decidedly an outlier), but both in hooks and breadth, it covers plenty of ground. (Bandcamp link)

Tomato Flower – Construction

Release date: August 5th
Record label: Ramp Local
Genre: Psychedelic pop, space pop
Formats: Cassette, CD (with Gold Arc), digital
Pull track: Aparecida

Only a few months after their debut release (February’s Gold Arc EP), Baltimore’s Tomato Flower are already back with a second six-song record in Construction. Not so much a sequel to Gold Arc as a companion piece, the two EPs were recorded simultaneously, but the staggered release makes sense, as they feel like two separate statements. Construction is not an entire world away from the colorful psychedelic pop of Gold Arc, but it feels a bit darker and, somewhat appropriately, more visibly displaying its base elements than the previous record’s more frequent sensory overload.

The spacey, lounge-y pop of Gold Arc is still there—“Aparecida”, for one, might be the strongest version of it that Tomato Flower have put together yet, and the harmonies of closing track “Taking My Time” also evoke the previous EP’s best moments—but Construction opens with the curveball of “Bug”, which stops and starts for three minutes hypnotically, and also offers up the languid, stretched-out “Blue”. The EP’s title track is perhaps the best synthesis of Tomato Flower’s multiple sides—it contains moments of kaleidoscopic, kitchen-sink-instrumentation indie pop, but (in a reflection of Construction as a whole), this is merely one section of a larger, multi-part structure. (Bandcamp link)

Also notable:

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