Pressing Concerns: Rob I. Miller, Downhaul, Dogwood Tales, Autoescuela

Welcome to Thursday’s Pressing Concerns. Today, we have new albums from Rob I. Miller and Autoescuela, a new EP from Downhaul, and a pair of new EPs from Dogwood Tales. If you missed Monday’s post (featuring Michael Cormier-O’Leary, Gueersh, BIKE, and Alien Eyelid), I suggest checking that 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.

Rob I. Miller – Companion Piece

Release date: May 12th
Record label: Vacant Stare
Genre: Lo-fi indie rock, jangle pop, singer-songwriter, power pop
Formats: Cassette, digital
Pull Track: Wedge

One of the best records of the year so far by my estimation is Blues Lawyer’s All in Good Time, an incredibly sharp, catchy, and weighty album from the Bay Area power pop quartet that came out in February. Little did I know at the time that one of the band’s two principal songwriters, Rob I. Miller, had an entire solo album in the works as well–Companion Piece, out this Friday on cassette via his own label, Vacant Stare. It was a little surprising to me that Miller had a solo album ready to go concurrently despite having a (very good) full band outlet for his songwriting, but one listen to Companion Piece makes one hear why it’s a “Rob I. Miller” album and not a Blues Lawyer one. For one, it’s a full-on breakup album, with the album’s eleven songs focusing intently on a disintegrating (and subsequently disintegrated) relationship. And, befitting of the solo nature, Companion Piece is a lot more humble-sounding than All in Good Time’s relative polish, mostly recorded at home by Miller himself (with drums from Marbled Eye/Public Interest’s Andrew Oswald and a couple guitar contributions from Blues Lawyer’s Ellen Matthews).

But in a formal studio or at home, alone or with others, Miller is still the same songwriter, and his pop instincts are no less potent on Companion Piece. Miller starts the record on a subtle note with “Clean”, an understated song whose chorus (“We couldn’t clean, we could only move the dirt around,”–Miller says a lot with a little here) nevertheless sticks with you. A lot of these songs fall on the sparser end, like the ruminative “Capacity”, or are otherwise less friendly, like the cold noise pop/shoegaze of “Bloodlust”. Miller still exercises his power pop muscles throughout Companion Piece, however, and the sweetness sharpens some of the tougher lyrics–“In Circles” stomps around a relationship that’s clearly doomed but still chugging along, “Hide” sends “I wish I didn’t have a clue” into the stratosphere, and “Wedge” is a massive piece of Teenage Fanclub fuzz-pop that glazes over some lyrics that…well, they sound like what I imagine a San Francisco-area breakup sounds like. Companion Piece ends with a pretty brutal moment of clarity in “Wrong for Us” and the curious “The One”, which is as catchy as it is uncertain. “The One” decidedly doesn’t wrap up the album cleanly, although Miller makes the ending sound great. (Bandcamp link)

Downhaul – Squall

Release date: May 10th
Record label: Self-released
Genre: Alt-rock, emo
Formats: Cassette, digital
Pull Track: Fracture

Back in 2021, I wrote about Downhaul’s PROOF on this blog–a massive, towering record of emo, alt-rock, and post-rock from the Richmond band, it ended up being one of my favorite albums of that year. Since then, Downhaul’s singer Gordon M. Phillips has kept himself busy with a solo album, a collaborative EP, and some one-off singles, while the band themselves roared back into the picture in February with their standalone song “The Riverboat”. Yesterday, Downhaul surprise-released their most substantial offering since PROOF, a four-song EP called Squall. Released all at once, these four tracks are all in the same key, bleed into each other, and can be thought of as “one 12-minute song with four suites”, according to the band. I personally think the tracks are distinct enough to be considered on their own, but either way, it’s a dozen minutes of Downhaul doing what they do best without sounding complacent at all.

The Downhaul of the past few years has such a recognizable sound–rising and falling emo-tinged alt-rock (or alt-rock tinged emo) guided by Phillips’ distinct vocals–that it takes a second to realize just how weird they get on Squall. The EP opens with “Fracture”, the song on the record that makes the biggest bid for “big-chorus anthem” status, but by the time that blistering guitar solo kicks in at the end of the song, the band have already moved on towards trying some other things. “Sink” is, for most of its runtime, Downhaul at their most restrained–they can’t resist ending it with a really triumphant-sounding dueling vocal, however. “Autumn” might be the weirdest one here–it starts in a vintage Phillips-esque way (when the music drops out and he sings “You want something beautiful and all I want is quiet”–nobody else does it quite like him) before basically deconstructing itself in its second half. The minimal “Up” is a closing sigh in comparison. At four songs, it feels all too brief, but Downhaul make the most of Squall’s dozen minutes. (Bandcamp link)

Dogwood Tales – 13 Summers 13 Falls / Rodeo

Release date: November 18th / May 12th
Record label: WarHen
Genre: Alt-country, country rock, folk rock
Formats: Vinyl, CD, digital
Pull Track: 13 Summers 13 Falls / Rodeo

Dogwood Tales is a five-piece group that hails from Harrisonburg, Virginia, and they make an intriguing blend of folk and country music that’s befitting of their scenic, relatively isolated home. The band has grown from the founding duo of singer-songwriters Kyle Grim and Ben Ryan to also include bassist Danny Gibney, drummer Jake Golibart, and pedal steel player Stephen Kuester, which is the lineup that contributed to the most two recent Dogwood Tales releases: last November’s 13 Summers 13 Falls and this week’s Rodeo EPs. Coinciding with the release of Rodeo, Charlottesville’s WarHen Records is also putting out an LP and CD featuring both of the EPs. Both EPs are excellent country-folk; 13 Summer 13 Falls might place a bit more emphasis on dreamy, reverb-y folk rock and Rodeo is more of a country-rocker, but there’s overlap between the two and they work well together.

13 Summers 13 Falls captivated me immediately with its lost-in-time folk rock sound, captured excellently by the blurry Ferris wheel on the record cover. “Hard to Be Anywhere” is a weary but rousing opener with a big chorus, and the EP also offers up emotional ballads (“25”) and the band’s clearest foray into dream pop (“Since Yesterday”). The title track’s casual alt-country is both a great sendoff to the first EP and a solid transition to Rodeo, which opens with the instrumental twang of “GRVANGL”. Songs like “Stranger” and “Only Want Out” have an Anywhere, USA Americana feel to them that reminds me of Matthew Milia’s Keego Harbor, and the breathtaking title track and “Paul’s Valley” find Dogwood Tales practicing their restraint and letting these songs fully develop from their pin-drop quiet beginnings. Whether you take in 13 Summers 13 Falls and Rodeo as two separate EPs or one album, there’s a lot to appreciate here. (Bandcamp link)

Autoescuela – Mal

Release date: March 31st
Record label: Humo Internacional
Genre: Lo-fi indie rock, lo-fi pop
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull Track: Bien Ho

Autoescuela are an indie rock duo from northwestern Spain who have been at it since the mid-2010s. The band (“David y Santi”, per their Bandcamp page) have put out a lot of music–their latest album, Mal, is being released through Humo Internacional, a label I hadn’t heard of but seems to put out a lot of Spanish indie/alternative/punk music (I’ll have to keep an eye on them in the future). Although it doesn’t come from any of the areas I’m used to it coming from, Autoescuela make a familiar kind of music to me on Mal–barreling through fourteen songs in twenty-five minutes, David and Santi are clear aficionados of Guided by Voices-esque lo-fi pop, and they’re also definitely inspired by a sort of early Wire-esque guitar-forward, post-punk informed pop music (which also brings to mind Guided by Voices, notably big Wire fans).

Mal is sort of a choose your own adventure–though brief and relatively simple, these songs all “hit”, it’s just which version of Autoescuela’s minimal, drum machine-riding pop rock feels better to you at any given time. The album opens with a couple of weirder tunes in the atmospheric “Vs.” and the crunchy “Muay Thai”; “Arthur” is a no-nonsense, mid-tempo earworm that works almost perfectly. Mal really shines in its mid-section–the fuzz rocker “Colloto Dax” into the acoustic, lo-fi Pollardesque “Mos Eisley” into the big alt-rock anthem “Bien Ho” is an incredible streak. Mal ends where it begins–with the weirder, more experimental side of the band rearing its head, even more so than before: “7up” is a woozy, swaggering piece of psych-fuzz, and “Radiotaxi” closes the record with a noise piece. (Bandcamp link)

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