Pressing Concerns: Vista House, Dignan Porch, Grey Factor, The Royal Arctic Institute

Welcome to a new Pressing Concerns! I’m glad you’re here. Today features new albums from Vista House and Dignan Porch, a new EP from The Royal Arctic Institute, and a reissue of the discography of Grey Factor. Earlier this week, I shared some thoughts on a bunch of albums from 1997 that I listened to for the first time this year, so check that post out too if you missed it.

If you’re looking for more new music, you can visit the site directory to see what else we’ve written about lately. If you’d like to support Rosy Overdrive, you can share this (or another) post, or donate here.

Vista House – Oregon III

Release date: February 10th
Record label: Anything Bagel
Genre: Alt-country
Formats: Cassette, digital
Pull Track: Vivista House

Portland, Oregon’s Tim Howe first appeared on my radar last year as one half of First Rodeo, a project he started with Cool Original’s Nathan Tucker and whose self-titled debut was one of my favorite records of 2022. Howe has also fronted the country rock group Vista House since the mid-2010s, and 2023 sees the release of Oregon III, the latest full-length from the band. Released on cassette tape by Anything Bagel Records, Oregon III contains plenty of the twangy sound found in Howe’s contributions to First Rodeo, but it also feels on the whole a bit fuzzier and rockier than the more folk-rocking First Rodeo. It achieves a full-band indie rock sound in places, although it also has a bedroom pop charm in others as well. Howe’s voice is the main constant throughout Oregon III, a comforting and deep-felt presence throughout the record. 

Oregon III eases us in with “Halfway Home”, a collage-esque opening track with piano, saxophone, and audio clips that feels a bit like Howe’s take on Cool Original’s kitchen sink pop, before the determined roots rock of “King of Rock ‘N’ Roll” shows off Vista House’s louder, anthemic side. Songs like “Fate” and “Room to Breathe” hit on big choruses that show off Vista House’s power pop and 90s indie/alt-rock influences, and both of them have fun wrinkles (the melodic guitar leads in the former, and Howe pushing his vocals in the latter). The busy “Vivista House” is one of the more sonically surprising songs on the record, an excited drum machine-led piece of country-tronica that nevertheless feels right at home in the middle of the album. The last two songs of Oregon III sum up the record quite well: the acoustic duet “Prickly Bear” tiptoes its way into “Rage On”, an electric alt-country tune that closes things out with grinning straight-up classic rock–and Howe sells them both equally enthusiastically. (Bandcamp link)

Dignan Porch – Electric Threads

Release date: February 10th
Record label: Repeating Cloud/Safe Suburban Home/Hidden Bay
Genre: Lo-fi pop, psychedelic pop
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull Track: Pictures

Dignan Porch began over a decade ago in South London as a vehicle for singer-songwriter Joe Walsh, whose early, Captured Tracks-released records revealed a knack for slightly fuzzy, slightly psychedelic jangle pop music. Now based in Manchester, Walsh remains devoted to lo-fi, hooky indie rock, as the fifth Dignan Porch record, Electric Threads, reveals enthusiastically. Clocking in at under half an hour and featuring ten songs, Electric Threads is split fairly evenly between brief, zippy lo-fi indie rock tracks and some longer numbers that embrace the project’s more psych-indebted side.

Opening track “Pictures” is an immediate acoustic-guitar led pop song that feels reminiscent of 60s pop rock groups (particularly The Kinks), and Electric Threads offers up a few more quick hits in the brisk noise pop of “Hidden Levels” and the brightly-hued “Mezmerized”, neither of which break the two-minute barrier. The first third of Electric Threads certainly feels like the most straightforward part of the record, although “Simulation One” and (especially) “Walk!” hold down the pop rock fort in the album’s second half. The midsection of Electric Threads is where Dignan Porch really let the songs float along, with the title track and “VR Park Keeper” taking their time to get to their destinations, and while “States Revealed” has a quicker tempo, it settles into a drone-pop groove over its four minutes. Electric Threads is a subtle record–there’s quite a bit to reveal itself here, and it’s worth spinning it until the landscape begins to come closer into focus. (Bandcamp link

Grey Factor – 1979-1980 A.D. – Complete Studio Recordings

Release date: January 27th
Record label: Damaged Disco
Genre: Synthpop, post-punk, coldwave
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull Track: All in a Day’s Work

Grey Factor surfaced in Los Angeles in the late 1970s, originally a four-piece group made up of Jeff Jacquin, Joey Cevetello, Jon Pospisil, and Paul Fontana and later featuring Anne Burns and John Cevetello during their brief two-year window of activity. Grey Factor was an early West Coast outpost for synth-heavy post-punk music, recording two EPs that saw no official release beyond self-dubbed cassettes handed out at shows before breaking up in 1980. Some four decades later, Damaged Disco (a new label run by Dave Trumfio of The Pulsars and Mekons) has given the group’s The Perils of Popularity and The Feel of Passion EPs a single vinyl release, revealing an intriguing sound that still sounds fresh today.

The first six songs of 1979-1980 A.D. are from The Perils of Popularity, and they’re the more “minimal” version of Grey Factor–these songs are pretty much just synths, vocals, and a drum machine. This combination proves more than enough to fully realize these tracks, however–the pure dread of “Guerilla Warfare”, the driving synthpop of “You’re So Cool”, and the electronic pastoral charms of “All in a Day’s Work” showcase the band’s range. The instrumental expansion of the final four tracks (The Feel of Passion) doesn’t result in a new “Grey Factor sound” so much as the band exploring a few new lanes–the industrial, bass-led “No Emotion Needed” is the closest the band got to a “normal” post-punk song, “Inhibitions Run Wild” remains minimal despite some prominent saxophone, and “Looking for the Hotel” is a bright and shining song that fully takes advantage of the band’s expansion. (Bandcamp link)

The Royal Arctic Institute – From Coma to Catharsis

Release date: February 3rd
Record label: Already Dead Tapes
Genre: Post-rock, jazz rock
Formats: Cassette, digital
Pull Track: K-Style Circuit

New York five-piece group The Royal Arctic Institute have been establishing themselves as consistent purveyors of instrumental jazz rock and post-rock over the past few years, as exhibited by 2021’s Sodium Light and 2022’s From Catnap to Coma EPs. Their third EP in as many years, From Coma to Catharsis positions itself as a sequel to last year’s Royal Arctic Institute record just by the title, and, like From Catnap to Coma, the band recorded it at Neumann Leather Factory in Hoboken with Yo La Tengo’s James McNew and is releasing the record on cassette via Already Dead Tapes.  From Coma to Catharsis finds the five-piece lineup of The Royal Arctic Institute solidifying, with the three newer members (keyboardist Carl Baggaley, guitarist Lynn Wright, and bassist David Motamed) taking a more active songwriting role alongside the founding duo of drummer Lyle Hysen and John Leon. 

The Royal Arctic Institute is already a fairly “chilly” sounding group, and From Coma to Catharsis may be their mellowest through-journey yet–there’s nothing as openly dramatic as From Catnap to Coma’s “Shore Leave on Pharagonesia” here, although the cresting “Passover Buckets” and some particularly inspired guitar work on “K-Style Circuit” give the EP some immediately attention-grabbing moments as well. Perhaps the best example of subtlety on the EP is Wright’s “The Elated World”, a swirling bass-led track that fits right in with the rest of the half-dozen tracks. From Coma to Catharsis marks something of the end of this fertile era of The Royal Arctic Institute, with Wright moving to Berlin and subsequently bowing out as a full-time member of the band. Judging by “The Elated World”, Wright’s contributions will be missed, but I suspect The Royal Arctic Institute will continue to soldier onward. (Bandcamp link)

Also notable:

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