Pressing Concerns: Connections, The Natural Lines, SLOT, Quiz Show

Welcome to the Thursday edition of Pressing Concerns! Today, we’re looking at three great albums that are coming out tomorrow, courtesy of Connections, The Natural Lines, and SLOT, and we also have the Quiz Show album from last week to discuss. If you missed the Monday edition, an eclectic one covering R.J.F., Feast of the Epiphany, Weird Numbers, and Spencer Dobbs, I recommend checking that one out too.

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.

Connections – Cool Change

Release date: March 24th
Record label: Trouble in Mind
Genre: Lo-fi power pop
Formats: Vinyl, cassette, digital
Pull Track: In Space

Connections make classic rock for a small subsection of us. They rose from the ashes of 90s indie rock group 84 Nash, and between Ron House, Guided by Voices, and Times New Vikings, have been connected to several decades’ worth of a certain brand of underdog Ohio indie rock. Connections got off to a sprint upon conception in the early 2010s, releasing five full-lengths from 2013 to 2018, all of which are excellent power pop records–their debut Private Airplane may be “the one”, but 2016’s Midnight Run and 2018’s Foreign Affairs easily kept the quality at a similar level into their fourth and fifth outings. The five-year gap between the latter of those two and their newest record, Cool Change, then, is somewhat surprising; keeping things coordinated with a band of this size (they expanded to a six-piece during this LP’s recording) during a pandemic likely was difficult, so Connections went on ice for a bit. Lead songwriter Andy Hampel made a quality solo album. Bassist Philip Kim joined former member Adam Elliott’s new band, Long Odds.

But with Cool Change, their second album for Trouble in Mind, Connections are back. And, as opening track and lead single “In Space” makes quite clear, it’s not a soft re-launch. The five-minute introduction roars to life with a sense of clarity and purpose, kicking things into overdrive with its busy and appropriately spacey-sounding chorus. While the rest of Cool Change doesn’t quite shoot for the same level of gravitas, shades of it touch the eleven tracks of vintage Connections pop-rock hookiness that follow. While the suave power pop of “Slow Ride” could’ve appeared on any Connections album in some form, it’s presented here in a way such that all of its elements–jammy lead guitars, a melodic bassline, and, most surprisingly, some new wave-y Cars synths– get a chance to shine individually. 

Smack dab in the middle of Cool Change, the 90-second downcast jangle of “I Confess” feels like an odd choice for a single, but it’s a captivating exercise in subtlety for the band (especially in context, where it comes in between two big-sounding heavy hitters in “Steppin’ Out” and “It’s a Start”). Connections have always been a remarkably consistent group, so it’s no surprise that the back half of Cool Change possibly bests the A-side, both in terms of tracks that sport the “classic” Connections sound (“Let Me Eat Cake” and “Unsolved Mysteries”) and in the more “pensive” department (“Vacationland” and closing track “You Are All You Need”, both of which push the band’s chiming guitar pop into more meditative and/or haggard places). With a half-dozen records under their belt (and no plans to slow down for another half-decade now), Connections remain at their peak. (Bandcamp link)

The Natural Lines – The Natural Lines

Release date: March 24th
Record label: Bella Union
Genre: Folk rock, chamber folk
Formats: Vinyl, CD, digital
Pull Track: Alex Bell

Matt Pond PA was a fixture in 2000s indie folk rock, never finding themselves as the buzz band of the month but rather putting out records at a steady, workmanlike clip starting with their 1998 debut. Matt Pond declared his intention to retire the “Matt Pond PA” band name in 2017, although miscellaneous collections and reissues of Pond material continued to surface under the moniker until the announcement of a new Pond-led band, The Natural Lines, last year. The debut Natural Lines record was 2022’s First Five EP, which was an intriguing mix of upbeat pop rock (“It’s a Trap”), classic Pond folk (“The End of the World”), and more synth-based forays (“Spontaneous Skylights 2”). Perhaps in the interest of making a more thought-out formal opening statement, the self-titled Natural Lines full-length record doesn’t do as much genre-hopping as the EP, instead opting to focus and develop a full-sounding, well–orchestrated folk rock sound across its eleven songs.

The Natural Lines’ opening track, “Monotony”, is a classic Pond-penned tune, a wide-eyed piece of sweeping folk rock that wields its title deftly–declaring Pond’s capacity to find inspiration a few decades and over a dozen albums into this whole “singer-songwriter” thing. “No More Tragedies” and “HELP” help give the early part of the record and electric flavor, although the guitars don’t overwhelm the songs and instead sit nicely among several other contributions from the nine or so other musicians taking part in The Natural Lines. The midsection of The Natural Lines, where Pond and his bandmates lean into the “chamber folk” side of their sound, is the most rewarding over time–“Alex Bell” and “Spontaneous Skylights” float along, while in between, “My Answer” shapes the sound of The Natural Lines into something dramatic and frantic. Not every song on The Natural Lines is built to pop out immediately like “Monotony” or mid-record anthem “A Scene That Will Never Die”, but there are rewards hidden all throughout the record if one looks for them. (Bandcamp link)

SLOT – Limbo

Release date: March 24th
Record label: Self-released
Genre: Noise rock, post-punk, industrial pop
Formats: Cassette, digital
Pull Track: Doctor

Baltimore has been a sneaky hotbed for offbeat music of several stripes in recent years, from the fluttery psych-pop of Tomato Flower to Smoke Bellow’s minimalist post-punk to the bluesy noise rock of Gloop. The latter of those three bands features Max Detrich, who is also one-half of SLOT, along with Abby Chapple. In his other band, Detrich makes skewered Americana-flavored punk rock inspired by Captain Beefheart and the Butthole Surfers, but SLOT is noisy rock music of a decidedly different flavor. The nine songs on their debut album, LIMBO, are made up mostly of a drum machine backbeat, bass guitar, and Chapple’s memorable, sneering vocals. A self-described “industrial pop” duo, LIMBO lives up to this billing–equal parts catchy and seething, all parts in-your-face completely.

Sure, the average song on LIMBO is fairly barebones structurally, but SLOT never once leave you with the question of “is it enough?”–it’s more than. Opening track “Dig In” establishes that from the very beginning–the pounding drum machine, the lumbering bass guitar, and Chapple’s demented taunt of a vocal all leave very little breathing room for anything else, anyway. “Doctor” and “Sick Joke” keep this sound rolling in the record’s first half, prowling through some aggro-danceable noise rock. LIMBO is a tough record through and through, although the songs that emphasize the band’s industrial-pop side (“Pop!”, “Minto”) feel a little less threatening. The second half of LIMBO contains both the album’s heaviest song (“Peel”, which tilts toward drum-machine-metal) and the most purely industrial (the conveyor belt lurch of “Pearl”), but SLOT make sure to end things with the noisy dance party that is “Drusilla”. (Bandcamp link)

Quiz Show – Quiz Show

Release date: March 17th
Record label: Magic Door
Genre: Post-punk, post-hardcore, alt-rock
Formats: Digital
Pull Track: What If?

Chris Matthews was a founding guitarist in legendary D.C. post-hardcore group Shudder to Think, playing with them from 1986 to 1994 and contributing to all of their Dischord Records-era albums. After leaving Shudder to Think, Matthews pretty much stepped away from music–until about a half-decade ago, when he emerged with a new band, Quiz Show. Quiz Show singles began to show up in 2018, recorded at Magic Door Studios in Montclair, New Jersey with producer Ray Ketchem and drummer Kevin March–who, interestingly enough, also played with Shudder to Think, joining a couple of years after Matthews left (another Shudder to Think member, reunion-era bassist Jesse Krakow, is involved with Quiz Show–he did not contribute to the original singles, but is in the current lineup of the band).

Quiz Show’s self-titled debut full-length mostly collects the singles that Matthews recorded between 2017 and 2020, with a couple of previously-unreleased tracks thrown in as well. Quiz Show certainly sounds like the work of musicians that came up in Dischord-era D.C. Matthews’ songwriting style hews more toward the early “surging, alt-rock/punk anthem” side of his old band, less so the more offbeat material they’d make in their later records. It’s not a one-note collection, though–the full-throated singalongs like “Almost Famous” and “Pom Pom Boy” are Quiz Show’s predominant mode, but they deviate from it from the beginning (the thorny opening track “Sound of Kissing”) to the end (woozy, multi-part album closer “Mannequin Sun”) of the record. Sometimes Quiz Show pulls off the transition in the same song, like when the roiling verses of “What If” erupt into a pop-punk chorus. Matthews didn’t lose his ability to make rousing music while away from recording–Quiz Show is nothing but proof of that. (Bandcamp link)

Also notable:

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