New Playlist: September 2022

Welcome to the September edition of Rosy Overdrive’s monthly playlist! This month in particular was hard to whittle down to two hours–I wrote about 28 different records in Pressing Concerns over the past month, which probably had something to do with it.

Emperor X and Mike Adams at His Honest Weight have three songs on the playlist; 2nd Grade and Norm Archer have two.

Here is where you can listen to the playlist on various streaming services: Spotify, Tidal, BNDCMPR. Be sure to check out previous playlist posts if you’ve enjoyed this one.

“Expert in a Dying Field”, The Beths
From Expert in a Dying Field (2022, Carpark)

The Beths are three for three in terms of perfect album openers. The title track to Expert in a Dying Field might even best “Great No One” and “I’m Not Getting Excited”, which is high praise coming from me. The Auckland band balance wistfulness and exuberance as well as ever on “Expert in a Dying Field” (if you weren’t sure if they actually count as a power pop band, that spiritually puts them right there), in which Elizabeth Stokes’ vocals and the band’s playing defaults to restraint, then lets loose.

“Special Hell”, Expert Timing
From Stargazing (2022, Count Your Lucky Stars)

Expert Timing’s second record and first as a quartet opens with a scorcher in “Special Hell”. The husband and wife duo of Jeff and Katrina Snyder trade lead vocals throughout Stargazing; Jeff takes the lead for most of “Special Hell”, although Katrina unmistakably pops up in the bridge. Either way, it’s a spiky pop-punk tune that twitches itself into an all-timer of a chorus. Read more about Stargazing here.

“Teenage Overpopulation”, 2nd Grade
From Easy Listening (2022, Double Double Whammy)

Easy Listening is a record completely loaded with effortless pop rock, and “Teenage Overpopulation” is the maybe the shiniest pop song on the entire album. The song’s conceit (“There’s too many teens in the world, ruining the human experience,” is how 2nd Grade’s Peter Gill begins the song, and goes from there) is so goofy that it should be something of a throwaway, but the band commit hard to it. Read more about Easy Listening here.

“Communists in Luxury”, Emperor X
From The Lakes of Zones B and C (2022)

It feels like Chad Matheny has been building up to writing “Communists in Luxury” for a while now. It lives in the same realm as the direct and occasionally rabble-rousing nature of 2020’s United Earth League of Quarantine Aerobics EP (not to mention its preoccupation with the pandemic and its impact on labor; the song references mass-quitting and Omicron directly), but it also twists and turns like vintage Emperor X. A lot of the hard-hitting lines are delivered by Matheny secondhand through “a friend”, and as desperate he is to hammer home the titular point, he can’t help but pack in asides like the final line (“No CCP / Quit!”).

“Tell That Girl”, The Trend
From Sgt. Pepper II (2022, Yellow K/Good Soil)

The Trend’s excellent Sgt. Pepper II is (among many other things) something of a game of “spot the 90s power pop band that influenced this song”. The strutting “Tell That Girl” reminds me of, above anything else, Sloan, although the Blue Album influence that runs throughout Sgt. Pepper II is clearly here as well, as are the likes of Superdrag and Matthew Sweet. Read more about Sgt. Pepper II here.

“Leap Day”, Remember Sports
From Leap Day (2022, Father/Daughter)

The Leap Day EP was a nice little surprise from Remember Sports, a band who released one of the best albums of last year with Like a Stone. Leap Day is a low-key release, especially compared to their last record—drummer Connor Perry is no longer in the band, and these four songs recorded as a trio veer into synth-and-drum-machine-aided bedroom pop rather than attempting to seamlessly replace him. “Leap Day” is still vintage Remember Sports, however—it’s a mid-tempo, kind-of-emo track featuring Carmen Perry in her best form (opening lines: “Face is hot / You call me dumb again, I know I’m not”).

“Me & Tammy”, Mike Adams at His Honest Weight
From Graphic Blandishment (2022, Joyful Noise)

“Me & Tammy” is a fascinating song to me because Mike Adams delivers a chorus that’s pure conviction, even as the song is not exactly about something that inspires a lot of devotional pop music, and also because Adams delivers it in the capsule of humble, aw-shucks power pop. Graphic Blandishment is full of catchy tunes, but the refrain to “Me & Tammy” is maybe the top one, and Adams rides it for all it’s worth. Nobody can change Adams’ mind, nobody can make him doubt it…the it being that things are “just fine”.

“Worry”, Green/Blue
From Worry / Gimme Hell (2022, Feel It)

Oh, wow, what a song. Green/Blue has had a busy 2022; the Minneapolis trio has already put out two records (Offering and Paper Thin) this year, and if the two-track Worry / Gimme Hell single seems slight by comparison, well—the A-side might just be the group’s strongest song yet. The hazy, reverb-accented post-punk of Paper Thin is shockingly cleared up on “Worry”, and in its place we get a shout-along, absolutely stomping piece of punk rock. Green/Blue are doing hype songs now, and they’re very good at it apparently.

“Big School”, Guided by Voices
From Scalping the Guru (2022, GBV, Inc.)

Alright, so “Big School” was originally on 1993’s Static Airplane Jive EP, which has long been absent from streaming services and digital retailers. It’s the lead-off single for the upcoming Scalping the Guru compilation, in which Robert Pollard has combined and sequenced songs from that EP and a handful of others from the same time period into a single LP. I have some mixed emotions on the project as a whole, but bringing the Static Airplane Jive songs to a wider audience is an objective good, and none of them are stronger than “Big School”, the “hit” from the EP and a shortlist performance from this era of Pollard vocals.

“Tin Life”, Tin-Ear
From Cadastral Maps (2022, Home Late/Gentle Reminder)

Tin-Ear is a cool band that I didn’t know existed until recently. They’re from Prince Edward Island, for one, which is very cool on its own, but Cadastral Maps is an emo record that could at various spots be called “math rock” and “twee” (and also there’s a nine-minute song on here). “Tin Life” is a weird but extremely catchy pop song—it gallops from the beginning, and Helaina Lalande’s vocals keep up with the runaway tempo pound for pound.

“I Wish Life Worked Like That”, Quinn Cicala
From Arkansas (2022)

I was a big fan of Cicala, last year’s self-titled release from Quinn Cicala and their South Carolina-based band. Since then, it appears that Cicala is a solo act now, and they’re based out of Atlanta, and they’re still making good music. The Arkansas EP was basically slowly rolled out over the past few months, and my favorite song from it, closing track “I Wish Life Worked Like That” hits the emotional “post-country” highs of their past work. Cicala sounds both ruminative and strained in the verses, and the way they holler the chorus (which is also the title of the song) is pure catharsis.

“Hunch”, Nora Marks
From The Buzzing of Flies (2022, Take a Hike)

The lead single from The Buzzing of Flies picks up gamely where Nora Marks left off with last year’s Opt Out LP. The Chicago trio’s debut record sounded fun and off-the-cuff even when Michael Garrity’s lyrics veered toward the serious, and with “Hunch”, Nora Marks is as anthemic as they are grouchy. Garrity barks the chorus (in a literal sense, a non-sequitor) over a pop punk stomp, and he gives the rest of the lyrics  (“Sucked into chasing tedious stagnation / Authentically arranging your personal mythmaking,” is the territory we’re in here) an appropriately tired read. Oh, and I like the music video for this one too.

“The Seatbelt Won’t Release”, Norm Archer
From Flying Cloud Terrace (2022, Panda Koala)

Norm Archer was a quality find for me this past month. It’s the new project of Portsmouth, England’s Will Pearce, who has played in bands for most of this century but has embraced home recording recently, and Flying Cloud Terrace is the result. Pearce cites plenty of Rosy Overdrive-core underground pop bands as influences—The Bevis Frond, Guided by Voices, The Cleaners from Venus—and he certainly has an ear for melody, although the high-flying “The Seatbelt Won’t Release” cranks things up a bit, almost in the realm of lo-fi pop punk.

“Poor People”, Weak Signal
From WAR&WAR (2022, Colonel)

I thoroughly enjoyed Weak Signal’s second record, Bianca (originally released in 2020 and reissued last year), but it took me a while to get to its follow-up, March’s WAR&WAR. The trio of Sasha Vine, Tran, and Mike Bones still have “it”—it being quality guitar-heavy, lightly psychedelic indie rock. It’s not a huge departure of a record, but there are moments in WAR&WAR that feel looser than Bianca, like “Poor People”, which stomps its way through three minutes of fuzzy garage rock.

“Tie-Dyed and Tongue Tied”, Mike Adams at His Honest Weight
From Graphic Blandishment (2022, Joyful Noise)

If Graphic Blandishment is any way representative of the rest of his discography, I’m going to have to get into Mike Adams at His Honest Weight, because this is a beast of a pop record. “Tie-Dyed and Tongue Tied” is maybe the biggest song on the record—because it’s what I come to music for, the mid-tempo bass chugging along with Adams’ insistent vocals is actually my favorite part of the song, but I can hand it to a huge chorus when I see one as well, and “Tie-Dyed and Tongue Tied” certainly has one.

“Slime”, Golden Apples
From Golden Apples (2022, Lame-O)

Yeah, there’s something about “Slime”. The closing track to Golden Apples’ self-titled second album sounds like 90s-inspired indie rock at its simplest and most casual, building off a downstrummed acoustic guitar riff that revs itself into power pop. Oh, and also the song is about being covered in slime. Pretty much all of the lyrics reference it. “I’m covered in slime at a table for two,” has to be a metaphor for some kind of body appearance issues or social anxiety or something, right? Or maybe I’m projecting. Maybe Russell Edling is actually “Fuckin’ covered in slime, baby, how about you?”

“Terminal Love”, More Kicks
From Punch Drunk (2022, Dirtnap/Stardumb)

Punch Drunk, the latest record from London’s More Kicks, is a blast of 70s punk, power pop, and garage rock. There’s a clear love for multiple decades of guitar music throughout the record, but the one influence I hear loud and clear on “Terminal Love” is that of Ted Leo. Singer James “Sulli” Sullivan is very adept at the Leo-esque “speak-singing while still delivering the melody” kind of vocals, and the rest of the band give him the runway to take off.

“Facecard”, Upchuck
From Sense Yourself (2022, Famous Class)

The debut record from Atlanta’s Upchuck is made of up fierce garage punk, but moments like single “Facecard” are unambiguously accessible in a pop way. The song, which comes squarely in the middle of Sense Yourself, finds Upchunk embracing zippy garage-y post-punk, and vocalist KT moves into full motor-mouth mode. Read more about Sense Yourself here.

“Stars”, Emperor X
From The Lakes of Zones B and C (2022)

Fuck “stars” this song made me cry. I don’t want to be sung to, not tonight, Chad Matheny.

Alright, alright, I’ll say a little more. It’s musically gorgeous, for one—I love the music of Emperor X, but I’m not used to this. The saxophone solo is the obvious one, but the slick, metro vibe going on here just in general sends me. I listened to Emperor X a lot a few years ago when I was living something of a transient life, and the verse about the airlines and DHL losing all of our furniture put me right back into the thick of all that. So that, plus the chorus, which also just happens to be where I’m at in my life right now—again, not tonight.

“Big Time Things”, Office Culture
From Big Time Things (2022, Northern Spy)

Warm-sounding keyboard tones abound throughout Big Time Things, which give the record an inviting and comforting sound. The record’s title track offers up a slow but steady drumbeat and a memorable keyboard hook—the left-turn is in the lyrics, where all of this is to accentuate Office Culture’s Winston Cook-Wilson (aided by Carmen Q. Rothwell and Caitlin Pasko’s backing vocals) singing the decidedly not relaxed refrain of “Stop, I feel nervous”. Read more about Big Time Things here.

“On Warmer Music”, Chisel
From Set You Free (1997, Gern Blandsten/Numero Group)

I talked about a Ted Leo-inspired song earlier in the playlist, so why not drop in on the man himself? I wrote about Leo’s 90s mod revival/power pop band Chisel last year on the blog, and while the bad news is that some of their music has been removed from streaming services since then, the good news is it’s part of a reissue campaign from Numero Group. Set You Free, the band’s second and final album, resurfaced earlier this year, so you can enjoy the album in full, beginning with the completely perfect opening track “On Warmer Music”. It’s a killer power pop song, to be sure, but the way the song is half buildup and half release weirdly shows off a D.C. influence.

“Cambrian Age”, Bed Bits
From Bed Bits (2022, Plastic Response)

Bed Bits opens with the animal noises and steady drumbeat of “Cambrian Age”, which then morph into a jangly pop tune that introduces the key aspects of Bed Bits head Alex Edgeworth’s project perfectly. A simple but effective guitar riff and bouncy bass circle around Edgeworth’s psychedelic, transportive lyrics that reference (among other things) Gondwana and the trilobites of its titular age. Read more about Bed Bits here.

“Hot Water”, Red Pants
From Gentle Centuries (2022, Painted Blonde)

The latest EP from Madison, Wisconsin’s Red Pants finds the duo exploring some territory that feels akin to Stereolab or the spaceier parts of Yo La Tengo, but Gentle Centuries also finds time for the 60-second lo-fi pop of “Paper Moon”, in which Jason Lambeth and Elsa Nekola bash out their best Guided by Voices-esque ramshackle hooks. Read more about Gentle Centuries here.

“Nowhere, LA”, Why Bonnie
From 90 in November (2022, Keeled Scales)

Why Bonnie are a band that I’ve been aware of as part of the dreamy-indie-folk-alt-country scene for a while now, but 90 in November has really stood out to me amongst a genre that I can enjoy but can also get same-y. Part of it is just that songs like “Nowhere, LA” simply rock—Blair Howerton’s lyrics are appropriately road-bound, and her vocals are appropriately wistful, but the rest of Why Bonnie (guitarist Sam Houdek, keyboardist Kendall Powell, bassist Chance Williams, drummer Josh Malett) give the song a full-band punch.

“Flaming Television”, Graham Repulski
From Zero Shred Forty (2022, Shorter Recordings)

Graham Repulski has been making his brand of Guided by Voices-esque lo-fi pop for over a decade at this point, and Zero Shred Forty shows that he remains inspired. Songs like “Flaming Television” call up the best parts of the GBV’s hungry, lo-fi era, with Repulski’s vocals reaching emotional, melodic heights that a lot of Robert Pollard imitators don’t quite reach. Read more about Zero Shred Forty here.

“Know Completely”, Booter
From 10/10 (2022, Midwest Debris)

“Know Completely” is the kind of sneaky powerful pop song that can only be bashed out by a rough-around-the-edges indie rock group. The Winnipeg quartet of Booter (I don’t know about that name, apparently it’s some kind of Canadian slang—it certainly sounds Canadian) is led by singer-songwriter Alannah Walker, whose vocals enthusiastically bound over the bouncy, bass-led instrumental that feels controlled but still energetic.

“Candle”, Old Moon
From Under All Skies (2022, Relief Map)

Under All Skies, the latest EP from the prolific Tom Weir’s project Old Moon, falls somewhere between jangly college rock and melancholic post-punk, and “Candle” is the best of both worlds. The song starts out with a synthpop intro, but it eventually rolls into a big New Order-esque chorus that evokes the more guitar-based tracks from that band. Read more about Under All Skies here.

“Mainly Crows”, Status/Non-Status
From Surely Travel (2022, You’ve Changed)

Adam Sturgeon has been busy as of late. Surely Travel is the follow-up to his band Status/Non-Status’ 2021 EP 1 2 3 4 5000 Years, and he also released the very good album Sewn Back Together as half of the duo OMBIIGIZI in February. Single “Mainly Crows” is reminiscent of “Find a Home” from 1 2 3 4 5000 Years thematically, in that it’s something of a road anthem, but while the EP’s song was a peaceful rumination, “Mainly Crows” is all swaggering alt-rock. Sturgeon makes it sound like a lament with regard to those who flee their small towns for the city, but he also throws himself into the middle of it as a guy with a band.

“Dinosaur”, Snow Coats
From If It Wasn’t Me, I Would’ve Called It Funny (2022, Alcopop!)

Snow Coats are a Dutch indie pop band whose second album, If It Wasn’t Me, I Would’ve Called It Funny, is really packed with hooks, and “Dinosaur” stands out among them. The way Anouk van der Kemp’s vocals spill out over a quickly strummed acoustic guitar is a striking intro even without that memorable first line (“Jurassic Park dinosaur, now I can’t sleep anymore”), and it blooms into a sunny sheepish grin of a pop song from there.

“O Anna”, Wilder Maker featuring Adam Duritz
From Male Models (2022, Western Vinyl)

Wilder Maker are a Brooklyn trio led by singer-songwriter Gabriel Birnbaum, and their latest record Male Models features a host of—okay, let me cut to the chase: that’s Adam Duritz on lead vocals for “O Anna”. The guy from Counting Crows. I have a lot of fondness for the Crows, and I generally don’t get to talk about them on Rosy Overdrive, so I’ll just point out that Duritz is a really inspired choice for this song, whose groovy 90s alt-pop instrumental already puts it in the Crows ballpark, and Duritz is certainly good at singing a chorus with a woman’s name in it.

“Your Fucking Sunny Day”, Lambchop
From Thriller (1997, Merge)

I heard this song for the first time in a while recently, and I knew almost instantly that I couldn’t leave it off the next playlist. “Your Fucking Sunny Day” is the sound of everything Lambchop had done up until that point converging to make their best pop song yet—and then them throwing an f-bomb in the title just for the fuck of it. I don’t even know how to describe what Kurt Wagner is doing with his vocals here, but it works (“Bend the hose to stop the sprinkler” never sounded so memorable).

“Cruising”, Kolb
From Tyrannical Vibes (2022, Ramp Local)

Tyrannical Vibes is a welcoming but smart pop album, operating in the same sphere as Water from Your Eyes (of which the titular Mike Kolb is a touring member) and its various members’ side projects (This Is Lorelei, Thanks for Coming), as well as recalling contributing vocalist Ani Ivry-Block’s main band, Palberta. The record’s most accessible moments are carried by sheer exuberance, like opening track “Cruising”. Read more about Tyrannical Vibes here.

“Rosey”, New Junk City
From Beg a Promise (2022, A-F)

“Beg a promise: When I die, please don’t bury me in this town,” goes the final line of the chorus of “Rosey”, the lead single from New Junk City’s upcoming Beg a Promise LP. It’s a sincere and satisfying record of Menzingers-esque heartland punk, and the Atlanta trio sound particularly adept at it on “Rosey”, in which the quoted, album-title-birthing line is the culmination of one weary declaration after another.

“A Human Not”, Norm Archer
From Flying Cloud Terrace (2022, Panda Koala)

“A Human Not” is more of a mid-tempo number than “The Seatbelt Won’t Release”, and its reverb-y guitar lead hook does somewhat approach Martin Newell territory, although Will Pearce still retains a lo-fi punk gruffness throughout the song. The cadence of the title sentence (“A human not for sale”) feels Pollardesque, and the weariness in the verses feels Westerberg-ian to me.

“Scars”, New Age Healers
From Demolition Stories (2022)

New Age Healers seem to be generally labeled as a “shoegaze” band, but to me they sort of occupy the “heavy pop music” end of that spectrum and throw psychedelia, grunge, and industrial into the mix as well. They cite FACS as an influence, which got my attention, and “Scars” is an incredibly crunchy and busy but still quite tuneful highlight from Demolition Stories that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Present Tense.

“Mayonnaise”, Courtney and Brad
From A Square Is a Shape of Power (2022, Dear Life)

One thing you’ll pick up on quickly listening to A Square Is a Shape of Power is just how many genres and styles that Courtney and Brad (the duo of Courtney Swain of of Bent Knee and Bradford Krieger of Big Nice Studio) can throw at one another. The pedal steel-heavy “Mayonnaise” is a gorgeous and shockingly-straightforward folk-country tune, especially coming after the icy synthpop of opening track “You Must Be Asleep Now”. Read more about A Square Is a Shape of Power here.

“Natural”, Ylayali
From Separation (2022, Dear Life)

Separation is a record that falls on the modern “lo-fi indie rock”/”bedroom pop”/”slowcore” continuum, but Ylayali (aka Francis Lyons, who also plays in 2nd Grade and Free Cake for Every Creature) hops several more genre fences to get there. “Natural” is a rickety shoegaze/noise pop song that’s almost bouncy and one of the clear “hits” from the record, even as it contains a lot of the dreaminess that marks the rest of Separation. Read more about Separation here.

“Hands Down”, 2nd Grade
From Easy Listening (2022, Double Double Whammy)

One of my favorite aspects of Wish You Were Here Tour-era 2nd Grade is Peter Gill’s ability to grab onto a simple-sounding sentiment and make it something profound (“Work Til I Die”, “Wish You Were Here Tour”), and he still does that on Easy Listening with “Hands Down”, one of the most moving moments on the record that gets a lot of mileage out of simply repeating “I’m your biggest fan, hands down”. It’s very sweet, as is Gill’s request to the recipient of the song to “remember [it] when you’re shooting off flares and nobody cares”. Read more about Easy Listening here.

“How’s the Messes”, Mike Adams at His Honest Weight
From Graphic Blandishment (2022, Joyful Noise)

“How’s the Messes” is a bit more low-key of a pop song than either “Me & Tammy” or “Tie-Dyed & & Tongue Tied”—but, when not graded on the curb of Graphic Blandishment, it’s still a monster of a catchy one. “It doesn’t take a lot of shame to make a mess like the one I’m in,” Mike Adams confesses in the chorus, turning something pretty rough into a pretty effortless hook.

“The Crows of Emmerich”, Emperor X
From The Lakes of Zones B and C (2022)

We’ll do a third The Lakes of Zones B and C song—what can I say, that record is really good. “The Crows of Emmerich” falls into the genre of “beautiful Emperor X ballad”—the plucked acoustic guitar and piano chords put it somewhere between “Canada Day” and “Compressor Repair”, and considering that those are two of the finest songs Chad Matheny has ever written, that’s high praise. And like “Compressor Repair”, Matheny takes unorthodox routes to get at love—in this case, it’s even more harrowing (clinging to the landing gear, that poor football captain falling to her death) and more direct (“I still love you!”).

“I Was Here But I Disappear”, Bent Shapes
From Feels Weird (2013, Father/Daughter)

Every few months I listen to the two Bent Shapes albums and get bummed out that the band no longer exists (and also that Ben Potrykus’ post-Bent Shapes band, Fruiting Body, has still only released one song). For now, I must be content with “I Was Here But I Disappear”, the closing track to 2013’s Feels Weird. The song was actually originally by Portykus’ pre-Bent Shapes band, Girlfriends, but it gets a fizzy pop read here, and it is probably my favorite song that mentions getting kicked in the testicles.

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