Welcome to January 2023, and the first Pressing Concerns of the new year. And it’s a good one! I look at new albums from Labrador and Julian Never, a new EP from Perfect Angel at Heaven, and catch up on the latest three Hello Whirled records. What a great start to the year, no?
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Labrador – Hold the Door for Strangers
Release date: January 13th
Record label: No Way of Knowing
Genre: Alt-country, country rock
Formats: Cassette, digital
Pull Track: State Line to Eagleville
Labrador is an alt-country band based in Philadelphia and led by singer-songwriter (and music writer) Pat King. Although Hold the Door for Strangers isn’t the first Labrador release, it’s the first one from the Philadelphia incarnation of the group (which was formerly a Brooklyn-based King solo project). Now a five-piece, Labrador’s latest record (produced by Kyle Gilbride of Swearin’) is a full-sounding folk rock album that takes full advantage of contributions from violinist Grace Kim and drummer Chris Arena, not to mention the two-guitar method of King and longtime collaborator Kris Hayes. The upstate New York-originating King sings in a hollering, lonesome manner, which contributes to the cavernous feeling of Hold the Door for Strangers’ nine songs in a way that reminds me of one of Labrador’s biggest influences, Jason Molina and the Magnolia Electric Co.
Although lumbering, Neil Young-inspired country rock doesn’t always make the most room for variety, Labrador pull out their fair share of it throughout Hold the Door for Strangers. The gorgeous, jangly instrumental that begins both the record and “State Line to Eagleville” is a triumph right out of the gate, leading into a song that both fulfills and transcends the band’s “alt-country meets power pop” ambitions. The spoken-word “I Lost My Gun” reflects their quieter, folk-troubadour-inspired side, and one song later the scorching “Guy with a Job (That Nobody Wants)” is Labrador at their most Crazy Horse. One of the most “country” things to me about Hold the Door for Strangers is its tempo–it’s not afraid to take its time. Even when the songs sound urgent, the album doesn’t come off as hurried. I do, in fact, believe that this album would take the few extra seconds to hold the door open for me. (Bandcamp link)
Hello Whirled – IN THE NO (It’s a Difficult Joy, But It’s a Joy / The Kids Don’t Wanna Have Fun / Here Comes the World)
Release dates: November 4th / December 2nd / January 6th
Record label: Sherilyn Fender
Genre: Lo-fi indie rock
Pull Tracks: The Makings of a Cop / Bumper Ships / Falling into Your Head
It’s been a bit since we checked in on Hello Whirled. Last year, the Ben Spizuco project released its physical debut, the Hoping for a Little More…Pizzazz cassette, on Repeating Cloud Records (Teenage Tom Petties, Log Across the Washer, FonFon Ru) but I’m guessing the notoriously prolific Spizuco has been–oh, Jesus, we’ve got three whole albums to cover now. Hello Whirled closed out 2022 and are opening 2023 with their IN THE NO trilogy, unveiled over three months with November’s It’s a Difficult Joy, But It’s a Joy, December’s The Kids Don’t Wanna Have Fun, and January’s Here Comes the World.
IN THE NO finds Hello Whirled continuing to explore heavier sonic territory. Spizuco is associated with noise pop groups like Ex Pilots and Gaadge, and while these aren’t shoegaze albums, Spizuco is as game to amp up the fuzz and distortion on his lo-fi 90s-inspired indie rock as ever. It’s across these albums, but particularly apparent in the second half of It’s a Difficult Joy…, from longer noise collages (“Girlfriend with Bangs”) to brief, chugging pop-punk (“The Makings of a Cop”), and “You Can Be a Hero When You’re Dead”, which might as well just be shoegaze at this point.
The Kids Don’t Wanna Have Fun boasts a similarly-beefy sound (with eight songs in 35 minutes, Hello Whirled’s stretching out a bit here), but it feels a bit more varied musically. “Bumper Ships” is one of the most intriguing things I’ve heard from Spizuco, a tight march of a pop song with some fun synth additions–and none of my other favorite tracks from the album (the warped ballad “Imaginary Star”, the gliding “Breathing Underwater”, the minimal “Self Parody”) sound much like each other, either.
The third installment of IN THE NO goes even further, recalling 2021’s Masters Copy in how it offers just six songs over half an hour. Here Comes the World accomplishes this with a couple of multi-part, Spizuco-prog tunes; the seven-minute “Your Bright Blue Evening” and twelve-minute blowout closing track “I. Disappeared Boy. II. Destroyed Man. III. I Am Obliterated”–although the quieter in-between songs are, I think, where this record shines. If I have to choose the best album of the trilogy, I’d go with The Kids Don’t Wanna Have Fun, but all three are distinct and full enough to stand on their own. (Bandcamp link)
Perfect Angel at Heaven – EP
Release date: January 6th
Record label: Self-released
Genre: 90s indie rock, noise rock, post-punk, no wave
Pull Track: Tunnel Vision
Perfect Angel at Heaven is a new Indianapolis trio made up of members of other Hoosier state bands–vocalist/guitarist Casey Noonan played in Spandrels, bassist Alex Grove in Kevin Krauter’s band, and drummer Daniel Thacker with…the Indianapolis Colts drumline. The group’s debut release is a self-titled EP that feels inspired by 1980s and 90s underground rock–Perfect Angel at Heaven specifically cite Sonic Youth and no wave, although these songs don’t fit neatly into those boxes. Even though Perfect Angel at Heaven only spans four songs, it doesn’t feel slight for a first record–all the songs are substantial, and “Miami” and “Tunnel Vision” especially find the group stretching out beyond basic indie rock structures.
Even as the band take inspiration from noisier groups, there’s a refreshing clarity to Perfect Angel at Heaven, both in Noonan’s upfront vocals and in the instrumentals, which have a pristine, unadorned feeling, even when the trio launch into long instrumental breaks like they do in “Tunnel Vision” (and the more chaotic moments, like the pretty overtly no wave middle part of “Miami”, feel like natural progressions). Noonan’s vocals hew toward the theatrical side, almost crooning at points, in a way that evokes a completely different kind of 1980s music than the rest of Perfect Angel at Heaven. It works to add another layer of intrigue to Noonan’s observations and questions that populate the EP, from him asking “Is it God or is it Mom who keeps you from having fun?” in “Is It Mom”, or opening “Tunnel Vision” by matter-of-factly stating “Every man I’ve met needs a mother / But my body can’t deliver” over a post-punk instrumental. (Bandcamp link)
Julian Never – Pious Fiction
Release date: January 13th
Record label: Mt.St.Mtn.
Genre: Jangle pop
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull Track: Silver One
Julian Elorduy was a fairly active musician in the late 2000s and early 2010s, playing in Sacramento bands like Mayyors and Fine Steps, but after a few quiet years and a couple of self-released solo recordings, Elorduy is beginning 2023 with the full-length debut of his new home-recorded jangle pop project, Julian Never. Pious Fiction is nothing if not generous, featuring fifteen songs of light, synth-touched guitar pop that recall both C86 and 80s sophisti-pop. The album was recorded over several years and in several locations (mostly by Elorduy on his own, but aided in part by Mark Kaiser of Mayyors and Male Gaze), and it feels about as “sprawling” as this kind of music can be.
Pious Fiction is a consistent and steady listen; Elorduy keeps the songs flowing into another naturally even as some tracks (“Come On (Now)”, “High School”, and “Silver One”) shoot for big pop rock anthem status and others (the slow-moving “Grassharp”, the blurry noise pop of “Luv”) occupy their own lanes. Pious Fiction is too casual to feel overstuffed, but it does take a few listens for one to appreciate each individual pop moment and turn (especially when a few of the record’s best songs, like the post-punk-inspired “Precious” and single “Radio Memphis”, are tucked away near the end of the album)–and that’s a fairly good problem to have. (Bandcamp link)
- Whelpwisher – Cool Good EP
- Status/Non-Status – January 3rd EP
- Stalled – Contentment EP
- Frank Ene – Cruel a l’amour
- Nag – Human Coward Coyote
- Kane & James – Kane & James
- Fairmont – Fairmont EP
- Handturner – Good Moon
- Beer Breakfast Dungeness Crab – Beer Breakfast Dungeness Crab
- Nicole Dollenganger – Married in Mount Airy
- Fogart – Fogart
- GRMLN – Dark Moon
- MOLLY – Picturesque
- Co-Op – Reward System
- Andorra – Boogie Night Blues
- We Are Only Human Once – Every Dog on Earth
- Ali Murray – Tourniquet EP
- Hibou – Arc EP
- Sun Is Poison – God Gave Him a Wolf’s Heart (Outtakes 2022) EP
- Ian Hinkley – Guy Wonder