Pressing Concerns: Oneida, Dust Star, Freak Genes, Ali Murray

This week’s Pressing Concerns covers new albums from Oneida, Dust Star, and Freak Genes, and the latest EP from Ali Murray. It’s a wild one!

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

Oneida – Success

Release date: August 19th
Record label: Joyful Noise
Genre: Garage rock, psychedelic rock, krautrock
Formats: Vinyl, CD, cassette, digital
Pull track: I Wanna Hold Your Electric Hand

Brooklyn’s Oneida has amassed perhaps one of the most intimidating discographies in indie rock over their twenty-five years as a band. Their records are typically colossal, unpredictable masses of heavy psych, kraut, and experimental rock music, not the least of which is their last full-length together, 2018’s Romance. The opening guitar chords of Success’ first track, “Beat Me to the Punch”, however, invite the listener to throw out their all their ideas of what an Oneida record should sound like (and, if one is unfamiliar, assures them not to worry about all that). Effectively, Oneida have circled all the way around the sun and put together what’s first and foremost a straightforward garage rock record.

Success is a lot closer to Oneida’s 2017 one-off single “Town Crier” than anything off of Romance, but even that track’s demented psych rock doesn’t prepare one for just how…pleasant the band can sound on this record. “Beat Me to the Punch” isn’t an outlier on Success; its plainly-presented, basically two-chord structure also marks the other two singles from the record, the euphoric “I Wanna Hold Your Electric Hand” and the matter-of-fact “Rotten”. There’s a kick to these songs despite their simplicity that reminds me of the more transcendent moments of studious rock bands like Yo La Tengo, Silkworm, Stereolab, and Eleventh Dream Day, all groups who can switch casually between pop music and stranger fare.

Because it’s Oneida, these relatively accessible moments still feature occasional bursts of noise and feedback, and most of the rest of Success is comprised of three longer jams—“Paralyzed” crosses the ten-minute mark, while “Low Tide” and “Solid” aren’t far off from that. While the former two aren’t “pop” songs, they are both propulsive sprints, remaining grounded as they confidently traverse through time and space. If closing track “Solid” is the least-structured song on Success, that’s because it’s where the band lets loose for pure guitar heroics—ending with a declaration that the traditional Oneida way is, in fact, consistent with rock and roll. (Bandcamp link)

Dust Star – Open Up That Heart

Release date: August 5th
Record label: Lame-O
Genre: Power pop, garage rock
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull track: Work It Out

Dust Star is the duo of Justin Jurgens of Sirs and Cameron Wisch of Cende, and their debut record together is a desert-touched album of garage-y power pop. Open Up That Heart (released by Lame-O Records, which—between this, their recent signings of Mo Troper and Dazy, and their longtime flagship band Hurry—may need to be broken up by power pop antitrust monitors) occupies a middle lane between fuzzy West Coast psych-garage-rock and retro-70s inspired pop rock. It comes off as the work of studious fans of those genres, but it also features the songwriting necessary to stand against their predecessors. Open Up That Heart’s thirteen songs seem to fly by (even as some come in at nearly twice as long as your typical two-minute garage rocker), and the tracks’ hooks present themselves eagerly and often.

The speedy, bass-anchored “Nothing in My Head” kicks off Open Up That Heart on a psych-tinged garage rock note, but then the harmonies in the mid-tempo title track and the leisurely classic rock of “Work It Out” introduce the less frantic side of Dust Star. I can’t read the title of “Can’t Stop Thinkin’ of You” without its hook appearing instantly in my head, and the middle-of-record breather “I’m Waiting for You” evokes the more spare moments of Brian Wilson’s music. Open Up That Heart doesn’t lose any steam in its second half; in fact, it feels like Jurgens and Wisch saved some of their most straight garage rockers from the end of the record. They tear through “Get a Grip”, “Miles Away”, and “Ash” in the album’s twilight moments, before riding off into the desert with the perfunctory stomp of “March”. (Bandcamp link)

Freak Genes – Hologram

Release date: August 19th
Record label: Feel It
Genre: Synthpunk, post-punk, garage rock, new wave
Formats: Vinyl, cassette (with Power Station), digital
Pull track: Moving Target

Freak Genes, the British duo of Charlie Murphy and Andrew Anderson, have been rolling out their garage-y take on synthpunk for a half decade now, and starting with 2021’s Power Station, have found a natural home on Feel It Records. Hologram is the band’s fifth record, and it feels like a particularly grandiose and dramatic entry into their discography. Although some of Freak Genes’ past material could have been plausibly described as “minimalist”, this doesn’t feel like the case with Hologram—both the synths and the guitars sound ramped up and as if they’re competing for attention.

There’s no small amount of Devo-core throughout Hologram—it’s unsurprising given Freak Genes’ aesthetic, but the new-wavey attitude and nervous rhythms of the title track and “New Crime” go beyond surface-level similarities and capture the true essence of their inspiration. Elsewhere, the duo do straight-up, ripping synthpunk just as well—songs like “Strange Charm” and “The War” blow by determinedly—and on the purely robotic end of the assembly line, the bubbling tension of “Step Off” and the dark dance club vibe of “The Future Is Mine” also grab one’s attention. The latter features guest vocals from Ketty M. Marinova, who pops on several songs on Hologram to contribute an unsettlingly stoic presence among the sirens. As busy as Freak Genes make these thirteen songs, their twists and accents all feel sharp and purposeful. (Bandcamp link)

Ali Murray – Passing Through the Void

Release date: July 31st
Record label: Dead Forest
Genre: Slowcore, indie folk, dream pop
Formats: Digital
Pull track: Passing Through the Void

I first wrote about Ali Murray, the prolific singer-songwriter from the Isle of Lewis in northern Scotland, earlier this year with the release of his most recent solo album, April’s Wilderness of Life. That record found Murray exploring everything from quiet dream pop to traditional folk to full-on indie rock over the course of a full-length LP. The three-song Passing Through the Void EP can’t cover the same ground simply due to time constraints, but it’s still a worthwhile presentation of Murray’s strengths.

The appropriately-named title track is perhaps the most vintage Murray song we get on Passing Through the Void—it’s a gorgeous-sounding, deliberately-moving electric slowcore song that ends on a transcendent note by contrasting Murray’s tender vocals with a soaring guitar lead. “Passing Through the Void” is the most immediately attention-grabbing song on the EP, but neither of the other two tracks are filler. “Boy” is the acoustic-based one, with Anna MacKenzie’s cello contributions tilting it more towards the “folky” side of Murray’s acoustic songs. “Silence of Space” is the one where Murray’s shoegaze influence comes through the clearest—it’s not a straight shoegaze song per se, but a demonstration of Murray’s ability to layer sounds without losing the gentle beauty that marks the best of his music. (Bandcamp link)

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