Pressing Concerns: Westelaken, Ben & Keely, Miranda and the Beat, Soft Idiot

Welcome to Pressing Concerns! Today’s issue features four albums that come out tomorrow: new ones from Westelaken, Ben & Keely, Miranda and the Beat, and Soft Idiot. Earlier in the week, I wrote about new albums from Gnawing, Brewster, Sumos, and GracieHorse–check 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.

Westelaken – I Am Steaming Mushrooms

Release date: May 26th
Record label: Self-released
Genre: Folk rock, alt-country, slowcore
Formats: CD, cassette, digital
Pull Track: Fixed Up by Orange Light

Toronto country group Westelaken shuffled onto the scene in 2018 with their self-titled debut album, which they followed up in 2020 with their second record The Golden Days Are Hard. The sophomore album found the band (led by singer-songwriter-guitarist Jordan Seccareccia and also featuring bassist Alex Baigent, drummer Rob McLay, and keyboardist Lucas Temor) stretching out their songs a bit, something that also clearly marks I Am Steaming Mushrooms, the quartet’s third record. However, their previous album’s frequently chaotic and noisy country rock is not the dominant mode here–over eight songs and one hour, Westelaken allow silence, empty space, slowed tempos, and overall subtlety to populate their new recordings. Throughout the record, Westelaken explore cavernous, percussion-led slowcore, ghostly, minimal folk songs, probing jam sessions, and, yes, still some moments of explosive folk rock.

I Am Steaming Mushrooms begins with summiting the thirteen-minute peak of “Ozzy’s Palace”, a breathtaking and meandering trek whose piano and “rock band instruments” rise and fall several times, reminding me a bit of earlier Okkervil River or some of Simon Joyner’s more expansive moments. Westelaken blow their songs up to similarly long lengths a few more times on the record, each time sounding like themselves but showing off a different side–the eight-minute “Annex Clinic & Pharmacy” is a sparkling, piano-heavy piece of (rough around the edges) chamber rock, while the ten-minute “Fossilhead” is a somewhat droning piece of fuzzy folk rock that appeals to the Microphones/Neutral Milk Hotel/Jordaan Mason part of their sound. These widescreen tracks anchor I Am Steaming Mushrooms, but the songs that connect them to each other–particularly the beautiful folk of “Pear Tree”, the swinging Canadiana of piano rocker “Fixed Up by Orange Light”, and the skeletal “Ribcage”–are anything but mere interludes. The sequencing of these tracks–varying in size and appearance but in conversation with another–helps I Am Steaming Mushrooms feel like a living, breathing ecosystem of an album. (Bandcamp link)

Ben & Keely – The Tell-Tale Party Noise

Release date: May 26th
Record label: Count Your Lucky Stars
Genre: Slowcore
Formats: Cassette, digital
Pull Track: Fine

A couple of years ago, I wrote about Ways of Hearing, the debut record from Philadelphia slowcore band The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick. That group is led by two-singer-songwriters, one of which is Ben Curttright, who recently moved across the country to Omaha along with Keely McAveney, and the two of them commemorated this major life change by making an album together. For those of you familiar with the Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick record, you will probably not be surprised to hear that The Tell-Tale Party Noise (featuring McAveney on harp and vocals and Curttright on all other instruments and also vocals) explores the kind of heartbreaking, acoustic guitar-and-piano-heavy slowcore favored by Curttright’s other band. Unlike the six-piece The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, however, The Tell-Tale Party Noise is by necessity more minimal of an endeavor–often there’s little more accompanying the vocals than the acoustic guitar or piano, and the percussion is programmed, if it’s there at all.

The Tell-Tale Party Noise starts off on a fittingly quiet note, with Curttright whispering through the acoustic strumming and keyboard accents that populate opening track “Fine”. Curttright and McAveney’s vocals then intertwine in a couple of songs that up the scale a little bit (“Old” and “Hail Song”). While they don’t exactly built to post-rock crescendoes, the two frequently sing over each other in what becomes Ben & Keely’s “dramatic” mode. The Tell-Tale Party Noise keeps things humble throughout–“Toaster” is mostly some acoustic picking with mumbled vocals, a song featuring a drum loop prominently is titled “Loop”, and the forty-second “Recluse” has two lines (“If I was a recluse, I never would have met you / And we would’ve never fallen in love”). Songs like “Gun” and “Union of One” stretch out to five minutes, taking Ben & Keely’s basic ingredients and making some fairly grand statements–the album’s relative simplicity is far from limiting. (Bandcamp link)

Miranda and the Beat – Miranda and the Beat

Release date: May 26th
Record label: Ernest Jenning Record Co./Khannibalism
Genre: Garage rock, psych rock, soul
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull Track: Concrete

Although Miranda and the Beat have roots in southern California (and currently reside in New York), the four-piece band trade heavily in a specific and welcome brand of Motor City garage-soul-punk. For one, they’ve got a Farfisa player in the band (Dylan Fernandez, who rounds out the quartet along with bassist Alvin Jackson and founding duo Miranda Zipse and Kim Sollecito), and they’ve also put out a single on Third Man Records. They’ve toured extensively with The King Khan and BBQ Show, and Khan’s label is co-releasing their debut record along with Ernest Jenning Record Co. (Beauty Pill, Pigeon Pit, Blunt Bangs). That’s all well and good, but, more importantly–do the songs on the self-titled, Nick Zinner-produced Miranda and the Beat album hold up on their own? Decidedly yes–it’s a spirited and varied collection of rock and roll music that pulls from several decades and sounds like the work of people quite inspired and excited by it.

Miranda and the Beat opens in the middle of a hell of a groove with “Sweat”, a mid-tempo workout that pretty much immediately lets us know we’re not dealing with some one-gear garage punks here. Songs like “Out of My Head” and “I’m Not Your Baby” are sharp, timeless pop rock songs that are in the same vein as contemporary bands like Sheer Mag and Romero, although Miranda and the Beat have perhaps a more traditionalist streak in their interpretation of this kind of music. This isn’t Miranda and the Beat’s only mode, however, as the ripping new wave-y rocker “Concrete” and the forty second punk rock of “ODR” demonstrate. The fact that the band can actually let loose, as those songs demonstrate, makes their restraint and discipline in delivering the rest of the record more impressive. (Bandcamp link)

Soft Idiot – Some Captured Light

Release date: May 26th
Record label: Oliver Glenn/Cicada Choir
Genre: Folk rock, indie folk
Formats: Cassette, digital
Pull Track: Songbird

Justin Roth is a Philadelphia-based folk rock musician who has been making music under the name Soft Idiot since the mid-2010s. Like most of his music, the latest Soft Idiot album, Some Captured Light, was self-recorded largely by Roth alone (with a couple instrumental credits from live band member Mike Whalen, and co-writing credits by Whalen, Rob Blackwell, Eric O’Neill, and David Solomon on “I Can’t Make It Make Sense”). Soft Idiot had been putting out records regularly up until 2021’s Younger Moments, at which point Roth found himself disillusioned with making music (the Bandcamp description for that album refers to it as “the final soft idiot record”), but with Some Captured Light, a record full of “songs about birds and mammals mostly”, Soft Idiot is reinvigorated and exploratory again.

Some Captured Light is clearly the work of someone who’s a fan of plenty of folk-tinged indie rock, and while I can hear bits and pieces of Roth’s influences in these songs (Magnolia Electric Co. but less sprawling, Neutral Milk Hotel but calmer, Peaer but more acoustic), the album builds its own leisurely style out across these eleven songs. Soft Idiot bounce through some full-sounding but concise folk rock in “Owl” and “I Can’t Make It Make Sense”, although the mid-section of Some Captured Light is where Roth really makes his mark. The floating “Captured Light I” and the bare strumming of “My Head Became a Pool” both distill Roth’s songwriting down to its finest points, and right in between the two of them is the nine-minute “Songbird, Pt. 2”, which towers quite nicely (and “Songbird”, which follows this trio, is an equally-rewarding piece of three-minute fuzz-folk). The whole thing is sturdy and welcoming. (Bandcamp link)

Also notable:

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