Pressing Concerns: Ivy, Prefect Records, Nicholas Merz, Lemon Pitch

Welcome to a Monday Pressing Concerns! For the last edition in February, we’re looking at a reissue from Ivy, a compilation from Prefect Records, and two brand-new records from Nicholas Merz and Lemon Pitch. Something for everyone here!

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.

Ivy – Apartment Life (25th Anniversary Edition)

Release date: March 3rd
Record label: Bar/None
Genre: Indie pop, dream pop
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull Track: I’ve Got a Feeling

Ivy emerged from New York in the mid-90s, a trio made up of Andy Chase, Adam Schlesinger, and Dominique Duran whose lineup stayed consistent until their final album in 2011. The three of them combined their love of 1980s jangle pop and C86 bands with 90s dreaminess and electronic influences to make some of the best indie pop music of their era. Apartment Life was the band’s sophomore record, following 1995’s debut Realistic and it represents the absolute pinnacle of the band’s accomplishments (arguably, yes, albeit an argument I’d be happy to make). A lot of Rosy Overdrive readers are probably already familiar with and love Ivy. However, it’s not every day that a record like Apartment Life gets a proper reissue (as Bar/None Records has done for its 25th anniversary, and plans to do for the rest of the band’s discography eventually), and it’s more than worth taking advantage of that to revisit it.

At the time of Apartment Life’s release, Adam Schlesinger’s other band had already released one record, establishing him as a force of nature in terms of power pop. Fountains of Wayne fans coming to Ivy looking for pop hooks will not be disappointed by Apartment Life, although the differences in the two bands otherwise are stark. Teamed up with Chase and the Paris-originating Duran, Ivy pull from breezy French pop, synth-accented dream pop, and more traditionally guitar-based alt/indie rock across Apartment Life’s dozen tracks. Often the genre-hopping happens in the same song, like when opening track “The Best Thing” starts off with a lightly electronic feeling before roaring into soaring power pop in its second half. Songs like “I’ve Got a Feeling” and “I Get the Message” are massive pop songs that balance the guitar-based and electronic sides of the band fairly evenly, although when they dive deeper into the former (“You Don’t Know Anything”) or the latter (“Never Do That Again”) they’re just as adept at it.

Bar/None’s reissue of Apartment Life represents the first time the record has ever been pressed to vinyl (something that feels long overdue for an album like this), and the re-release also entails the wider availability of two bonus tracks initially only released in Japan. Both of the songs fit right in with the album proper; the jaunty “Sleeping Late” is certainly the more immediate of the two, but the relatively sparse, Velvet Underground-esque “Sweet Mary” has grown on me as well. It’s not a massive package of extra demos or outtakes or anything like that, but Apartment Life doesn’t need that to still resonate in 2023. (Bandcamp link)

Various Artists – 14

Release date: February 23rd
Record label: Prefect
Genre: Jangle pop, indie pop, power pop
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull Track: Xenogenesis

Prefect Records is a Northeast England-based record label co-founded by Owen Williams of Joanna Gruesome and Mark Dobson of The Field Mice around 2019. Initially, Prefect mostly released music from the various ex-Joanna Gruesome bands that sprung up after that group’s break-up (The Tubs, Ex-Vöid, GN), but Prefect has recently branched out to put out music from The Natvral, EggS, and The Telephone Numbers in the U.K. All this has placed them squarely in the center of the international guitar pop scene, as a new compilation from the label, 14, keenly illustrates. As the title implies, it features fourteen contributions from fourteen different jangle pop groups–Prefect Records alumni, like-minded groups, and plenty of bands with whom regular Rosy Overdrive readers will be familiar.

The thriving Bay Area/West Coast indie pop scene (led by labels like Slumberland, Mt. St. Mtn., and Paisley Shirt) is well-represented on 14, with Rosy Overdrive favorites like The Reds, Pinks and Purples, Massage, and Chime School all offering up sublime tunes. The former’s “Monday Is Fine” opens 14 with a perfect piece of Glenn Donaldson wistful guitar pop, while Chime School’s “Summer Sun” is surprisingly noisier and a bit rougher than that band’s last record (but still extremely catchy). New material from these bands is always welcome, but a good various-artist comp also introduces you to new groups, and 14 doesn’t disappoint here–from early highlights from The Kitchenettes and Mt. Misery to Semi Trucks’ Calvin Johnson-shouting-out “Halo Girl” to Dressed Like Wolves’ massive noise pop in “The Death of Girls” to Cosial’s piano-indie-pop closing track, there’s plenty of intriguing material from bands with which I’m unfamiliar or only passingly familiar. 

Still, my favorite song on 14 is one from a band I already knew, and a band that falls in the middle of the “Prefect Records bands” and “Bay Area jangle pop bands” Venn diagram. The Telephone Numbers’ “Xenogenesis” is a breathtaking piece of guitar pop, relatively stripped-down but sounding anything but incomplete or unfinished. Thomas Rubenstein is very quickly becoming one of my favorite new songwriters, with his Scott Miller-esque arresting vocals and emotionally-bruised lyricism all wound up in effortless-sounding hooks. If “Xenogenesis” was the only great song on 14, then the comp would be worth it–but that’s far from the case. (Bandcamp link)

Nicholas Merz – American Classic

Release date: February 24th
Record label: Aagoo
Genre: Alt-country, gothic country, experimental country
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull Track: American Classic

I’m familiar with Nicholas Merz due to his work as one-half of Seattle post-punk/noise rock duo Darto (I wrote about a compilation cassette from them about a year ago), but the now-Los Angeles-based musician makes records of a decidedly different bent under his own name as well. Merz’s third solo album, American Classic, is an intriguing record of dark, country-inspired indie rock songs, a captivating set of a dozen tracks that present Merz as just as adept at more “traditional” songwriting–even as the record remains somewhat skewed as a whole. Merz’s deep sung-spoken vocals are the immediate highlight of American Classic, hitting the same spots as the likes of Kurt Wagner, Scott Walker, or Michael Gira while still being unique-sounding, and the music veers from minimalist to fuzzy alt-country to timeless-sounding American pop music.

Merz makes the bold choice to open up American Classic with “The Dixon Deal”, a sparse piece built around upright bass and saxophone accents, letting his voice take the center stage. The record gets a bit more full-sounding and accessible from this point, although it still ranges a bit, with first-half highlights including the groovy up-tempo indie rock of “Great Spiders”, the baroque country of “Condor”, and the gently crooning “Balding Is Beautiful” (in which Merz concludes “Unless you’re tall–then you’re fucked,” an excellent sample of his lyricism). American Classic has a few more electric moments in the crunchy and incredibly catchy title track and the surprisingly straightforward (musically at least), 60-second “Roger Felgs”. This side of Merz is always great to hear, although as the acoustic-based closing track “Young Man, Short in Stature” reminds us, he certainly doesn’t need to crank the amps up to create something attention-grabbing. (Bandcamp link)

Lemon Pitch – Threat of Weather

Release date: February 24th
Record label: Repeating Cloud
Genre: 90s indie rock, power pop
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull Track: Valentine

Lemon Pitch is something of a Portland, Maine supergroup, led by three singer-songwriters who have plenty of other irons in the fire in Brock Ginther (who’s also in Midwestern Medicine and Divorce Cop), Alex Merrill (who makes music as Heaven’s Cameras), and Galen Richmond (who runs Repeating Cloud Records), in addition to drummer Jeff Hamm. Threat of Weather is the band’s second album, following 2020’s Flat Black Sea, and it certainly sounds like the work of a group of artists with a lot of ideas between them. All of Lemon Pitch clearly had their lives shaped in some way by indie rock in the 1990s (Pavement, Sebadoh, and Guided by Voices, sure, but I also get the sense that they went a bit deeper into the Matador and Sub Pop catalogs than those bands as well), yet this album is too overstuffed to get tagged as “slacker rock”.

Not only is Threat of Weather shaped by three different visions, each songwriter in Lemon Pitch has a pretty wide range of their own. Ginther can be the most unhinged of the three, as the stop-start opening track “Mow Around” and the mini-epic “Drown Lotto” show, but he can also turn in a solo-Malkmus-pretty song like “California Commando”. Richmond settles into a Robert Pollard-esque indie-rock-power-pop lane with “Yellowjackets” and “Turbulent Jets”, but his other songs get into thornier musical territory. Merrill reveals himself to be an intriguing writer and gets the closest to sticking with one style with songs like “Valentine” and “Married to the Muse”, which sport a Franklin Bruno-esque melding of classic pop hooks and long-winded lyrical twists and turns–but all his tightly-constructed crafting goes out the window with roaring closing track “First Wasp”. With all this to take in, Threat of Weather is a record in which you’ll find something new to appreciate each time you listen. (Bandcamp link)

Also notable:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: