Pressing Concerns: Joan Kelsey, Cheval de Frise, The Laughing Chimes, Convinced Friend

Joan Kelsey – Standing Out on the Grass

Release date: November 11th
Record label: Dear Life
Genre: Indie folk
Formats: CD, cassette, digital
Pull track: Pachomius

The latest release from the consistently solid Dear Life Records is a humble-sounding but strong entry to their discography. Standing Out on the Grass is Seattle singer-songwriter Joan Kelsey’s second release on the label, following 2020’s House of Mercy and a handful of self-released EPs and a full-length beforehand. Kelsey’s newest record is an extraordinarily accessible and listenable indie folk record, carried heavily by their comforting, melodic vocals and featuring a host of musical contributions from familiar faces to Rosy Overdrive readers (Evan Marré of Russel the Leaf, Ben Seretan, Michael Cormier O’Leary of Friendship).

Guest list aside, Kelsey is the unambiguous center of the album, with the instrumental flourishes coloring the edges of a stark collection of songs that reminds me of last year’s Dave Scanlon album. Standing Out on the Grass is openly a record about grief, written in the aftermath of Kelsey losing a loved one to suicide, the signs of which are present throughout the album. Opening track “Alone” is as pleasant of a listen (led by Kelsey’s finger-picked acoustic guitar and Connor Armbruster’s violin) as its lyrics are heavy: “I know you loved me / Even though you couldn’t say it,” sings Kelsey in the refrain, and then inverting the pronouns when they repeat the line later—and the line that gives the album its title is just as affecting.

Kelsey’s lifting voice matches the gently flowing folk of “Pachomius”, with a wide-ranging lyric that touches on everything from the titular historical figure to Kelsey breaking down outside a Trader Joe’s. Standing Out on the Grass stirs in its middle with “Hero”, in which Kelsey pushes their vocals to compliment a busy instrumental that actually features a distorted electric guitar-colored refrain. Kelsey and their collaborators color the songs of Standing Out on the Grass with just the amount of embellishments (like the clarinet in “Aiden” and the saxophone of “Survivor”) that the material deserves. (Bandcamp link)

Cheval de Frise – Cheval de Frise (2022 Reissue)

Release date: November 18th
Record label: Computer Students
Genre: Math rock, post-rock, experimental rock
Formats: Vinyl, cassette, digital
Pull track: Connexion monstrueuse entre un objet et son image

Cheval de Frise rose from Bordeaux, France around the turn of the century; the duo released two full-lengths and an EP before disbanding quietly in the mid-2000s. The instrumental group, comprised of guitarist Thomas Bonvalet and drummer Vincent Beysselance, nevertheless left enough of a mark to be remembered by label Computer Students.  CS has previously put together elaborate reissues of other less-than-remembered underground groups like Oxes and Big’n, and this year they have resurrected Cheval de Frise’s 2000 self-titled debut album and pressed it to vinyl for the first time.

Bonvalet plays an amplified classical guitar throughout Cheval de Frise; although the record fits the descriptor of “math rock” with its odd time signatures and exploratory guitar playing, this wrinkle in their setup assures that the album retains a unique sound. The songs on Cheval de Frise feel wobbly—six-minute opening track “Connexion monstrueuse entre un objet et son image” begins with the classical guitar sounding very much like a classical guitar before Bonvalet shifts into more “traditional” rock sounding music later in the song. Similarly, “Construction d’écorces d’arbres” starts off slowly and deliberately before entering into stop-and-start noise rock territory, and ending with a transcendent gallop.

Opening behemoth aside, the tracks on Cheval de Frise are surprisingly brief, frequently coming in bursts of around two minutes in length—and these songs are furthermore divided into subsections, moments even. Some of the most memorable moments on Cheval de Frise include (but are not limited to) a fleeting strut that arises in “Langue hastée” and the massive riff that briefly takes over “Lundi deux mars”—and there are a couple of seconds toward the end of “Incliné et chenu” where the music sounds like a gong being rung. All this is being created with relatively rudimentary instrumentation, as “Douche froide, harmonium”, one minute of classical guitar spiderwebbing, reminds us toward the end of the record. (Computer Students link)

The Laughing Chimes – Zoo Avenue

Release date: November 18th
Record label: Slumberland
Genre: Jangle pop, lo-fi power pop
Formats: Cassette, digital
Pull track: Laurel Heights

I’m more familiar with southeastern Ohio than I’d like to be. It’s a land of Bob Evans restaurants, moderately-sized hills, and very little else. It doesn’t seem like a breeding ground for the next great jangle pop band—but Evan and Quinn Seurkamp seem blissfully unaware of this. The two teenage brothers play vintage-sounding jangle rock that recalls the best of classic Flying Nun Records and the mid-fi, wide-eyed sound of early Guided by Voices (which began a couple hours to their west). Evan is also in Patches, who released an excellent record that dealt in everything from bright power pop to dark post-punk earlier this year—with The Laughing Chimes, he and Quinn hone in squarely on the jangly side of their influences to great success on their latest EP’s six songs.

The Robert Pollard comparison is as much for their lyrics and subjects as for their sound and geography; the Seurkamp brothers build a sugary utopia on Zoo Avenue, from opening track “Ice Cream Skies” to the giddy “Laurel Heights” (“a place for you, for me, for everyone”) to the drive through the title track’s street. Evan’s vocals are pitch-perfect for this kind of music, melodic and enthusiastic while wavering a little bit in a melancholic, wistful way. The guitars on Zoo Avenue are always chiming; they soar in the first two, single-ready songs, and they shade the more pensive songs as well, like the slightly-more-psychedelic “Airplane Under Water” and the closing acoustic ballad “King with the Hawthorne Crown”. Next time I’m driving from Dayton to Point Pleasant, I’ll have to remember to put Zoo Avenue on—maybe it’ll unlock something. (Bandcamp link)

Convinced Friend – Convinced Friend

Release date: November 11th
Record label: Relief Map
Genre: Indie folk, alt-country
Formats: Cassette, digital
Pull track: White Collar

The Rhode Island-based A.S. Wilson has been playing in bands for a decade at least, although Convinced Friend (produced by Bradford Krieger of Courtney and Brad) is his first solo album. Convinced Friend slots, in a big tent sense, under the “folk-country” umbrella due to Wilson’s occasional use of acoustic instruments and some hints of a southern twang in the Louisiana-born singer’s voice. Really, though, Wilson is a singer-songwriter above any kind of genre adherent, taking influences from artists like David Bazan who let the core of the song dictate its dressings, whether that’s stark or layered, dream pop or country rock.

Convinced Friend opens with the full-sounding, fuzzy folk rock of “White Collar”, the cascading guitars never overwhelming Wilson’s earnest lyrics that take stock and stare down the overwhelming nature of modern life. The rest of the record isn’t as much of a “rock” album as its opener would suggest, but there’s still plenty going on in Convinced Friend. Songs like “Sackcloth” and “Taken Apart” feature layered dream pop synths and R.E.M.-esque southern jangle pop guitars hidden in the mix, and album closer “All at Once” takes this sound to hypnotic levels. Elsewhere, Wilson embraces folk troubadour mode, like in the roaming alt-country of “Safeway” and the mostly-acoustic “Wander”. “Muttering God” is Convinced Friend’s other “rocker”, with steady bass-driven verses cresting in the chorus. Wilson holds together the various aspects of Convinced Friend’s sound nicely, creating a record that sounds of a piece. (Bandcamp link)

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