Pressing Concerns: Total Downer, The Church, Jordan Holtz, Cor de Lux

Welcome to Pressing Concerns! Today’s issue looks at new albums from Total Downer, The Church, and Cor de Lux, and a new EP from Jordan Holtz. This Friday (February 24th) is a pretty big release day, so I’m going to be tackling records from this week for a while.

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.

Total Downer – Caretaker

Release date: January 27th
Record label: Just Because
Genre: Power pop, pop punk, emo
Formats: Cassette, digital
Pull Track: Taylor Lautner

Total Downer are a Cleveland quartet led by guitarist/vocalist Andy Schumann and also featuring bassist Arfil Pajarillaga, guitarist Clay Reid, and drummer Dante Foley. Schumann’s been making music under the name for a while now, but Caretaker is Total Downer’s debut full-length album, and it’s an excellent collection of punk-y power pop tunes that establishes Schumann as both a hooky and weighty songwriter. Caretaker is a brief record, coming in at about 26 minutes, but Total Downer tear through thirteen fiery and catchy tracks that find Schumann covering lyrical subjects that can be as wide-ranging as they are hard-hitting.

Caretaker doesn’t start in the shallow end, so to speak–opening song “Stupid Smile” is a sixty-second pop punk song that’s unmistakably about childhood sexual assault. Over top of a careening instrumental, Schumann’s uniquely emotive vocals swing between understandably violent imagery and a couple moments of more pensive self-analysis–it’s the strongest example I’ve heard in a while of wielding a “fun” genre like power pop in the service of pure catharsis. Total Downer simply roll on full speed ahead from that point on, with a handful of pop-culture-figure referencing songs in “Dr. Phil” (which feels like it’s grasping at straws in a personal way), “Dolly Parton” (also grasping at straws but on a, like, societal level), and “Taylor Lautner”. The latter of the three is Caretaker’s finest single moment, a song about body image that uses the genuinely disturbing-in-hindsight way that a literal teenager was treated by the media at large for a conflicted-sounding but empathetic message from Schumann.

Schumann’s lyrical subjects stay memorable throughout Caretaker, whether he’s enjoyably skewering a shitty boss in “Big Man”, calling down an acquaintance who’s hurt other people in “Big Mouth”, or mourning the loss of a close friend on closing track “Luis”. Total Downer offer up an excellent rendition of Blue Album-esque loud power pop on most of these songs, but the record sounds freewheeling enough that all the songs differentiate themselves (and some of the biggest departures from the “Total Downer sound”, like “Shut Up”, which combines Dazy-esque minimalist, groovy power pop and some Cheekface sing-speaking, are some of the most successful). Caretaker is an instantly enjoyable and listenable record, but both Schumann and the band leave plenty here to reward coming back to it. (Bandcamp link)

The Church – The Hypnogogue

Release date: February 24th
Record label: Communicating Vessels
Genre: Psychedelic rock, college rock
Formats: Vinyl, CD, digital
Pull Track: C’est la Vie

When I think of Sydney, Australia’s The Church, I (along with, I imagine, a fair amount of Rosy Overdrive readers) recall their 1988 record Starfish, which is a masterpiece of psychedelic-tinged jangle pop and the catalyst for some commercial success beyond their home country, as well as some of the records immediately preceding and succeeding it. It should be noted that The Church never went away after their time as college rock stars, with sole constant member Steve Kilbey (vocals, bass) continuing to explore and expand his band’s unique sound for over four decades at this point. The Hypnogogue is The Church’s twenty-sixth record, and the first since 2017’s Man Woman Life Death Infinity. Although that six-year gap represents the largest between The Church albums up to this point, Kilbey and his crew (drummer Tim Powles, guitarist Ian Haug, and newcomers Ashley Naylor and Jeffrey Cain) offer up a massive record that certainly doesn’t feel like the work of a band intending to slow down. 

The Hypnogogue spans thirteen songs and clocks in at over an hour, with the majority of these songs stretching past five minutes. The Church have mixed and changed up their sound over the years; their latest falls squarely into the “dense-sounding, leaning heavily into their psychedelic side” camp. With The Hypnogogue, The Church first and foremost are building an intricate world of the kind of fascinating textures that the album title implies, rather than focusing on offering up friendly pop songs. Still, the “entry points” are there if one is looking for those– “C’est la Vie” and “I Think I Knew” are both pretty and hummable jangly alt-rock tunes early on in the record–once those grab you, you’re ready for the minimal atmospheres of “Flicking Lights” and the towering title track immediately afterwards. The Hypnogogue continues this balance in the second half, with highlights like “The Coming Days” and “No Other You” containing some light in their own layered structures. The Hypnogogue is a lot to take in, but it’s not too much–and it’s a commendable way to approach things for a band who’s been at it for as long as The Church. (Linktree)

Jordan Holtz – Not Close for Comfort

Release date: February 3rd
Record label: Pretty Purgatory
Genre: Slowcore, 90s indie rock, experimental bass rock
Formats: Cassette, digital
Pull Track: Sweaty at Palm Beach

Seacoast, New Hampshire’s Jordan Holtz is known to me through her work in a couple of notable Granite State bands–she’s the bassist and vocalist for Dover 90s indie rock revivalists Rick Rude, and she also plays bass for the Peterborough alt-country/folk group Footings. Not Close for Comfort is Holtz’s debut release as a solo artist, however, and this EP (released on cassette by Maine’s Pretty Purgatory Records) finds her embracing a slow, deliberate sound that utilizes her electric bass prominently. Not Close for Comfort’s five songs are centered around Holtz’s striking vocals and carefully plodding bass, but they are layered with synth and guitar additions from Holtz, not to mention help from collaborators like Pretty Purgatory labelhead Peter McLaughlin, Rick Rude bandmate Ryan Harrison, and Mount Misery’s Ty Ueda.

Not Close for Comfort eases in with “When I’m Around”, which is based on a simple repeating bass riff and some glowing synths. This is the primary mode in which the EP settles itself, although it isn’t overly stubborn in staying there–“Sweaty at Palm Beach” similarly begins with the bass, but it adds percussion, guitar, and explodes into an alt-rock finish. Holtz’s singing throughout the EP is very full-sounding–even on Not Close for Comfort’s weirdest moments, like the deconstructed-sounding “Blinders”, her firm and grounded singing gives the track a foot in pop songwriting. Not Close for Comfort apparently took five years to come together, but coheres thanks to Holtz’s distinctive musical style–she had already developed one with Rick Rude, but stripped of that band’s noisy indie rock veneer, it’s even clearer and more obvious. (Bandcamp link)

Cor de Lux – Media

Release date: February 10th
Record label: Self-released
Genre: Post-punk, psych rock, dream pop
Formats: Cassette, CD, digital
Pull Track: Snap Out of It

Hailing from Kill Devils Hills, North Carolina (nope, definitely haven’t written about a band from the Outer Banks before), Cor de Lux is a quartet that makes post-punk music that’s both icy and noisy, reigning in the sprawling nature of mid-to-late-period Sonic Youth with dream pop swirliness. Their sophomore album, Media, finds the band (guitarist/vocalists Tim Lusk and Dawn Moraga, bassist John Bliven, and drummer Thomas McNeely) charging through ten songs of towering instrumentals and vocals that are frequently understated but never enough to get overshadowed or drowned out by the music.

The dramatic “Idol Season” sets the stage for Media with a pensive, meditative opening, hanging up quite a bit of empty space, and then the driving “Futures” follows it by setting up several Cor de Lux hallmarks (shimmery guitar leads, dual vocals, and a steady, brisk tempo) in a three minute pop song. The rest of Media serves up varying levels of Cor de Lux’s noise-and-melody mix, veering into post-punk darkness (“Whose Side”) and bright new wave (“Snap Out of It”) equally enthusiastically. The songs on Media are very tight, with the quartet all sounding in tune with each other–tracks like the speeding “Syncopated” and the crashing fuzz of “Glass Like Drinking” work because every aspect of the songs feel like they’re placed just right. Media closes with “Ships”, a dreamy piece of guitar pop in which Cor de Lux relinquish their grip on the song just a bit and let it float on and stretch out. (Bandcamp link)

Also notable:

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