Monthly Recap: The Best Music from February 2019

Zack makes up for all the time he’s missed. The best music on Not a Sound for February 2019.

February was a quiet month for us at Not a Sound. Due to a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances we did not cover nearly as much music as we would have liked to, which is all the more unfortunate because a lot of great albums came out this February. To make up for all the stuff we missed out on, this monthly recap will cover several albums that we did not have time to review. Hopefully we will be able to revisit these albums in the coming weeks to give them the full coverage they deserve, but for now enjoy this run-down of absolutely killer records!

2020 – Shin Guard (8.2)

Post-hardcore, Hardcore, Screamo
Flowerpot: February 14, 2019

Shin Guard’s expansive 2018 debut Cerebral showed us a creative young band with a lot of potential on tap. Their unique brand of progressive screamo breathed new creative life into a subgenre that was never famous for being particularly mutable and made Shin Guard a clear band to watch in the DIY touring circuit. Less than a year later we once again have a new Shin Guard album and once again they’ve caught us by surprise. Where the melancholic Cerebral shifted seemlessly between melodic emo and harsh posthardcore, 2020 is markedly more angry, more technical, and more heavy hitting, calling to mind Svalbard and Rolo Tomassi. On songs like Spears and the later half of Soliloquy of the Hourglass Shin Guard devolve into frenetic mathcore almost reminiscent of Dilinger Escape Plan, and yet they still manage to contextualize beautiful cinematic moments in Sure and a smooth jazz saxophone line in You Will Be Held Accountable For Your Actions without ever feeling hoaky. 2020 is a bold evolution in sound and focus for the young band and a critical step forward in establishing them as a band that should be on everyone’s radar.

new breed – Dawn Richard (8.0)

Pop, Art Pop, R&B
Our Dawn Entertainment: January 25, 2019

Dawn Richard’s 5th studio release is art-pop at its finest, a catchy and concise homage to her home town of New Orleans. There is hardly ever a dull moment on new breed. Book-ended by two mostly A Capella pieces that catch the ear and establish the album’s narrative, and carried by amazing standout tracks new breed, spaces, jealousy, and the feel-good we, diamonds Richard’s newest is exhilarating start to finish. Driving the album is Richard’s powerhouse vocal performances, which when combined with lyrics that are sharp and socially aware without getting too heady help make a rare record that is substantive without sacrificing any fun. If you’re looking for something that is accessible without forsaking creativity, understandable without becoming vapid, and through it all maintains a unique, engaging perspective then this is the ideal album for you.

thank u, next – Ariana Grande (8.0)

Pop, R&B
Republic: February 09, 2019

Whereas listening to Sweetener felt like sitting on a cloud, thank u, next feels firmly grounded in reality.  Opening track “imagine” is a classic Ariana ballad that paints a picture of a simple vision of love, the subtext of course being that she knows this vision is impossible.  The sadness in her voice is palpable. Although lyrically it is similar to past releases, she sings it differently than she would have if the song had been released six years ago.  thank u, next definitively places Ariana in the cannon as an era-defining pop star in the vein of Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey.  Her record is not perfect, but it doesn’t have to be. It is not this record alone that accomplishes this, but the thrill of her artistic progression over the last six or so years.  For the first time, she has truly shown us her flaws, and the result is her biggest statement as an artist yet. 

Read Our Whole Review

The Language of Injury – Ithaca (7.9)

Hardcore, Chaotic Hardcore, Metalcore
Holy Roar: February 02, 2019

Holy Roar is hands down the best label for inventive heavy music right now. Last year they put out two of our top 25 albums, Svalbard’s It’s Hard to Have Hope and my album of the year Rolo Tomassi’s Time Will Die and Love Will Bury it. Not only were they both incredible records, but they were also two of only four metal or metal-adjacent records that cracked either of our editor’s end of the year lists. Continuing on their path to domination, Holy Roar can now also tout London’s newest and most ferocious hardcore act Ithaca and their dynamic new record The Language of Injury. In a genre filled with a lot of solid, but very similar bands, Ithaca shatter the mold to deliver an album that is at times mathy, at times sweeping and emotive, and at times chaotic. From the very first track Ithaca seemingly conjure and channel the ghost of Josh Scogin’s youth, creating an album that feels as fresh and free as early Norma Jean and The Chariot did in their day. It is a huge breath of fresh air for the genre and a huge statement from a band that should quickly become a mainstay in the hardcore/metalcore commnity.

Suffer On – Wicca Phase Springs Eternal (7.5)

Hip-Hop, Emo Rap, Emo
Run For Cover: February 15, 2019

Suffer On is a startling return-to-form for Mcllwee.  Although his melodic style never changed drastically from Tigers Jaw to Wicca Phase, the parallels are even more apartment on the new record.  This is largely due to the acoustic nature of many of the tracks.  Previous Wicca Phase releases have featured production from a variety of artists in the emo hip-hop sphere, including Doves, Fishnarc, Nedarb, and the like.  On this record, Mcllwee takes production largely into his own hands, and the result is a more minimalistic sonic world than many fans will be used to.  There are no obvious samples, and very few fully electronic sounds.  Instead, the music is mainly driven by acoustic guitar chords that call to mind the emo music of the Tigers Jaw days.  The song “Crushed” doesn’t even have a beat, and wouldn’t have sounded out of place on 2013’s Charmer.  It offers a strong connection to Mcllwee’s emo-rock past.  Fans of Wicca Phase’s acoustic EP, Raw and Declawed, will most definitely be pleased here.

Read Our Whole Review

Stuffed and Ready – Cherry Glazerr (7.4)

Alternative, Power Pop, Grunge
Secretly Canadian!: February 01, 2019

After a ringer of an album in 2017’s Apocalypstick, Cherry Glazerr are back with their solid follow-up Stuffed and Ready. Back again are Clementine Creezy’s sardonic lyrics and gleaming hooks, but this time they are contextualized in a much more straight-forward package, giving up some of the quirky experimentation of the previous album for big, sludgy, grunge. The result is a thoroughly enjoyable power pop record that revives some of the best parts of 90s alternative and finishes it with a dark psychedelic sheen. Fans looking for another Apocalypstick may find themselves disappointed in the album’s more conventional approach, but there is still a whole lot to love condensed into this 30 minute escapade.

Abject Bodies – Minors (7.0)

Hardcore, Powerviolence, Chaotic Hardcore
Holy Roar: February 22, 2019

Continuing their aforementioned trend of putting out good heavy records, Holy Roar once again deliver with the newest release from Ontario powerviolence band Minors. While some heavy bands go for flashy guitar playing and epic soundscaping, others, like Minors, favor a more brute force approach. Abject Bodies contains 8 of the meanest, heaviest, most dissonant songs in recent memory. Each passing song is like being bludgeoned with every single tool in the shed one by one, and then for good measure, again but all at once. For those who love this sort of thing, it is a wonderfully cathartic album that stands out firmly from its crowd. Needless to say, however, it is definitely not for everyone.

Everything For Sale – Boogie (6.8)

Hip Hop, West Coast Hip Hop
Shady/Interscope: February 01, 2019

Boogie’s first commercial record is most enjoyable when he locks into a groove and runs with it, as on album highlight “Lolsmh (Interlude).”  The first half of the track features one of the sweetest instrumentals on the album as Boogie delivers some vulnerable bars, “It’s hard for me to be happy / Wish my girl would just dump me / I done showed you all my ugly, but why the fuck you ain’t judge me? / No, my skin ain’t thick, it’s thin, it probably bleed soon as you touch me / I love it if you hate me, I hate that you fucking love me.”  His flow is flawless and delivery sincere (calling to mind Saba’s incredible CARE FOR ME); on tracks when he is on, he is a very captivating and believable.

Read Our Whole Review

Monthly Recap: The Best Music of January 2019

An overview of the top Albums on Not a Sound from January, 2019.

January 2019 is in the books and so is our first real month as a website! We covered 19 albums, produced one think piece, made a “Fantasy Indie Label League,” and released our first podcast this month. It’s been busy, but Ian and I have enjoyed every moment of it.

If you’re new to the blog or if you missed any of our coverage this month, don’t worry: just like your favorite teacher back in high school, we’ve made a cheat sheet for you. Here are some January highlights from Not a Sound, just for you.

Top 3 Ranked LPs

Tomb – Angelo De Augustine (8.8)

            Folk, Singer-Songwriter, Ambient

            Asthmatic Kitty: Jan. 11, 2019

When someone experiences a significant breakup or loss of a romantic partner, there is usually a rush of conflicting feelings.  Sometimes they manifest in betrayal and anger.  Sometimes there is only shock and an inability to process the event.  But more often than not, the most overwhelming feeling is one of deep mourning over the fact that something that was once good and beautiful is now gone.  The mind spins trying to make sense of everything; relishing memories, attempting to sort out how we got from there to here.  On the title track and album opener of Angelo De Augustine’s excellent Tomb, he captures this initial feeling perfectly, at once evoking remembrances of a beautiful relationship, wondering how it is now gone, “I walked into your life at the wrong time / never quite been perceptive of real life / it was not your fault or a fault of mine / but it’s hard to let you go this time.”  It is more than mourning; it is a search for justification, a deep and resounding “why?” 

Read Our Full Review

Better Oblivion Community Center – Better Oblivion Community Center (8.0)

            Alternative, Folk, Emo

            Dead Oceans: Jan. 25, 2019

Apparently, Phoebe Bridgers really likes working with other people.  After releasing last year’s excellent boygenius EP in October with fellow indie stars Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus, she has returned with another collaborative album, with virtually no prior warning.  This past Thursday, our ears were blessed by the self-titled debut from Better Oblivion Community Center, a collaboration between Bridgers and emo-folk veteran Conor Oberst (most famous for his work with Bright Eyes). 

Read Our Full Review

Future Ruins – Swervedriver (8.0)

            Alternative, Shoegaze, Fuzz Rock

            Dangerbird: Jan. 25, 2019

The sixth studio album by U.K. shoegaze outfit Swervedriver is a dynamic musical exploration of modernist dystopia. It is the second new record from the band since reuniting in 2013, building on their 2015 comeback I Wasn’t Born to Lose You with a more experimental spirit while still delivering all of the touchstones fans from their 90s heyday have come to expect. Though the end product isn’t overwhelmingly groundbreaking for the band, it is a thoroughly impressive album on its own merits, swinging easily between massive arena fuzz rock, expansive shoegaze, and 70s-inspired progressive rock tendencies.

Read Our Full Review

Top 3 Ranked EPs

Change of Scenery – Buddie (7.8)

            Alternative, Power Pop, Fuzz Rock

            Super Wimpy Punch: Jan. 11, 2019

“How can I live with myself not helping anyone else?” As the flurry of distorted guitars reach their blaring crescendo on opening track Sloth, vocalist Dan Forrest of Philadelphia alternative outfit Buddie sets the tone with just one line. Once a conservation biologist in Equatorial Guinea, Forrest now spends his time writing fuzz rock in the vein of Pavement and early Weezer, though where his forebears made their careers writing about unrequited love, on Change of Scenery Forrest instead writes songs that are much more uniquely conscious. They may still be dorky, but only in the sense that anything passionate that isn’t drenched in cynicism isn’t patently “cool” in 2019. 

Read Our Full Review

The Mystic and the Master – Laura Stevenson (7.4)

            Folk, Singer-Songwriter, Acoustic

            Laura Stevenson LLC: Dec. 20, 2018

The Mystic and the Master is the first new release from the New York songwriter since her 2015 full-length Cocksure. It is a two-song double single released on her mother’s birthday as a nod of appreciation for “enduring” the raising of her and her sister. In contrast to some of her prior work, both tracks are performed with only acoustic, strings, and voice. This stripped back arrangement feels even more intimate than usual for Stevenson, who makes use of the opportunity to deliver some of the sharpest and most nostalgic lines she’s penned yet. 

Read Our Full Review

I Carry My Awareness of Defeat Like a Banner of Victory – Chained to the Bottom of the Ocean (6.8)

            Metal, Doom Metal, Sludge Metal

            Howling Frequency: Dec. 14, 2018

Titled after a line from Fernando Pessoa’s pseudo-autobiography The Book of DisquietI Carry My Awareness of Defeat Like a Banner of Victory carries, in a roundabout way, an almost positive message considering the extreme nihilism that birthed it. It wears disillusionment like a coat of arms, not knowing exactly for what reason, and knowing full well that time will bury it just the same as all other banners. But in a world that seems incoherent and meaningless, it is a banner nonetheless, a marker designating something in the endless desert of nothingness, the awareness of the void, the one true victory that the emptiness can offer. Chained to the Bottom of the Ocean mirror this bleak landscape through the EP, offering little comfort while exploring the open face of the abyss with their eyes wide and their confidence unflinching.

Read Our Full Review

The January DIY Deep Dive

Parental Guidance – Ok O’Clock

            Emo, Indie Punk, Grunge

            Ivy League DIY: Jan. 20, 2019

The sophomore full-length from Kansas City, MO songwriter Lance Rutledge is a vulnerable reckoning with grief on the cosmic level. Here he tries to process a world that seems to be unraveling; attempting to reconcile the death, suicidal ideation, and substance abuse pervading his circumstances with the concept of a loving and caring God. It’s confessionalism at its most frank and unapologetic, calling to mind recent emo monoliths Sorority Noise and The Hotelier.

Read Our Full Review

To hear all the artists we covered this month (and a few we didn’t), check out our Monthly Listen playlist below.

Review: “Future Ruins” by Swervedriver

The sixth studio album by U.K. shoegaze outfit Swervedriver is a dynamic musical exploration of modernist dystopia.

FFO: Dinosaur Jr., Cloakroom, My Bloody Valentine

The sixth studio album by U.K. shoegaze outfit Swervedriver is a dynamic musical exploration of modernist dystopia. It is the second new record from the band since reuniting in 2013, building on their 2015 comeback I Wasn’t Born to Lose You with a more experimental spirit while still delivering all of the touchstones fans from their 90s heyday have come to expect. Though the end product isn’t overwhelmingly groundbreaking for the band, it is a thoroughly impressive album on its own merits, swinging easily between massive arena fuzz rock, expansive shoegaze, and 70s-inspired progressive rock tendencies.

At its core Future Ruins is an album envisioning the present day through the lens of 60s modernism. It juxtaposes the optimism of that time surrounding the future with the chaotic future that the Western world actually inherited. Much of this is done using iconic imagery from the golden era, referencing the Berlin Wall, advances in war technology, and a world made more accessible by feats of mechanical engineering yet a world growing increasingly divided. One of the most prominent and most repeated images is spacial exploration. This is incredibly fitting not only because the space race was perhaps the greatest beacon of hope for a generation hedging their future on technological progress, but also because it dually serves as a monument to human isolation in what is ironically the most connected era of our existence.

The opener, Mary Winter, sees an astronaut drifting out in space longing for a home he cannot yet return to, isolated in the great black void. On the very next track, The Lonely Crowd Fades in the Air, we flash back to earth where the same loneliness pervades mankind as they uneasily march towards the end days. We are simultaneously in the future, as seen by the 60s, but entirely uncertain if we have a future to look forward to in the present. As vocalist Adam Franklin croons into the title track with the quite direct line “we are ruled by fools”, it becomes clear that the future ruins in question are both the present, built on the failed future promise of the 60s, and the immanent future we walk into uncomfortably every day.

Musically Future Ruins leans on a palette as large scale as its message. Though the album switches between several tempos and feels, every single one of them is united by a focus on being as enormous as physically possible. At times it is reminiscent of American shoegaze-cousin Dinosaur Jr., at other times Built to Spill hopped up on human growth hormones, and at still others the spacey, otherworldly sounds of My Bloody Valentine, each presented in monolithic packaging. It’s wonderful, fully immersive noise. Swervedriver are at their best when they embrace this noise, like in the guitar freak-out at the end of Theeascending or the slow build of closer Radio Silent, which gradually adds layers until it roars into a beautiful cacophony. None of this is inherently new to shoegaze as a genre, but Swervedriver execute each maneuver with the precision expected from a band in their prestigious position, resulting in a truly masterful album.

The downside, as many critics before me have pointed out, is that despite its successful experiments, Future Ruins is still a very safe album for a band that continually hints at the ability to truly transcend their genre. It needs stated, however, that a safe album from Swervedriver would be an artistic odyssey for many other bands, so I don’t count it nearly the strike that many would. What could stand improvement on the other hand are the lyrics, which at points feel distant and disconnected. Despite a few clever lines, some clear standout images, and some very heady subject matter, the general lyrical collection is fairly ho-hum, fitting easily into the atmosphere and tone of the songs, but only seldomly jumping off the page.

All in all Future Ruins is a marvelous album, a great new edition to the band’s already cult-revered canon. Even if you aren’t familiar with the band’s back-catalogue it easily stands out on its own: this was the first Swervedriver album I’ve ever heard and I can honestly say I was immediately impressed by it’s artistic scope and musicianship. It’s certainly one of the best releases of a relatively quiet January 2019 and a dark-horse end of the year list contestant.

8.0/10 (Best New Music)

For more information on how we score our albums see Our Rating Scale.

Label: Dangerbird Records
Release Date: January 25, 2019

The DIY Deep Dive: “Parental Guidance” by Ok O’Clock

“Life isn’t PG 13, Life has language And full frontal nudity
Its got drug abuse and depictions of minors drinking
Its got gore and it gets ugly”

FFO Sorority Noise, The Hotelier, Free Throw

The DIY Deep Dive is a monthly column to showcase impressive DIY touring artists who are in the very early stages of their career. These artists may not always have the most glitzy or refined recordings, but their underlying talent shines through their low budget. To qualify for this column an artist must have less than 2000 social media followers and preferably be independent, while displaying the talent and creativity of acts much larger. Think of this as a column for early-adopters: get in on the ground floor with these artists and help them get to the next level.

Our DIY Deep Dive for January, 2019 is Parental Guidance from Kansas City emo artist Ok O’ Clock.

“Parental Guidance” by Ok O’Clock

Lance Rutledge, aka Ok O’Clock

Life isn’t PG 13, Life has language 
And full frontal nudity 
Its got drug abuse and depictions of minors drinking 
Its got gore and it gets ugly 
Its a compilation of every life colliding 
It’s a conflagration of stressful nights and anxiety 
It’s the mom next door worried about her son 
Because its 3 AM in the morning 
And he hasn’t come back from that party

Parental Guidance (song) by Ok O’Clock

The sophomore full-length from Kansas City, MO songwriter Lance Rutledge is a vulnerable reckoning with grief on the cosmic level. Here he tries to process a world that seems to be unraveling; attempting to reconcile the death, suicidal ideation, and substance abuse pervading his circumstances with the concept of a loving and caring God. It’s confessionalism at its most frank and unapologetic, calling to mind recent emo monoliths Sorority Noise and The Hotelier.

There is an overwhelming sense of unease that carries through the whole album. This manifests itself not so much as hopelessness, but as helplessness, the by-product of hearing a friend say “we’re all gonna die anyway”and fixating on that moment at the funeral, or watching the ambulance cart your roommate off after he overdoses on pills.  It’s the frantic feeling of wanting to help, but not knowing how to make the situation better. “Never be afraid / To talk to me / Never be afraid / To say I need you,” Rutledge pleads quietly on Talk, but soon he too needs saving. As the song transitions to Waltz in 4/4 he finds himself in the midst of self-destruction: “You either go out fighting / Or you go quiet in the night / Not at all like it should be / Not everyone survives.”

The lyrics are the clear focal point on Parental Guidance, asking hard questions in hard situations through well-crafted line after well-crafted line. Perhaps the most probing stanza of all comes partway through The Optimistwhere Rutledge tries to make sense of the phrase “God has a plan”: “Mad Scientist of the cosmos: / ‘Have you met my finest specimen Job?’ / ‘he ran the maze in record time’ / But what about his wife and kids? / Go on about your pottery / Why did you orchestrate all this / At the expense of their eternity?” He closes the song with bewilderment, “I was supposed to be the careless one / Not you.” Every painful moment is laid out in detail; raw, emotional, and afraid.

Parental Guidance is Ok O’Clock’s most complete work to date, a well-thought out record complete with recurring musical motifs, found sound interludes, and a full narrative arc. For fans displaced after Sorority Noise’s recent fall from grace, or anyone looking for a potent and relatable emo album with its sights set much higher than highschool relationship drama, this should prove a worthwhile listen. You can check it out below and follow our DIY Deep Dive playlist on Spotify to hear selections from this and other DIY Deep Dive albums any time.

Review: “Princess Diana” by The Mañana People

“Princess Diana, the debut full-length from German freak-folk/psyche-country duo The Mañana People is the kind of album that almost seems tailor-made for a quirky coming of age indie-movie.”

FFO: Space-Westerns, Olde-Timey, Freak Folk

In the early 2010s there was a string of movies where the protagonist somehow ends up involved with an eccentric indie band. Jim Carrey fell in love with the singer of an avant-garde noise pop band in Yes Man, Michael Fassbender wore a giant papier-mâché head and fronted a psychedelic rock band in Frank, and of course Ellen Page and Michael Cera formed their own quirky folk duo in the smash hit Juno, which briefly popularized bubbly, cutesy folk with its accompanying soundtrack. It was such a popular trend for those few years that it almost became its own subgenre and launched specifically Michael Cera and Zooey Deschanel into the spotlight. 

While these movies put a ton of underground artists in the spotlight for a brief moment, there was a certain sense that the viewer was supposed to see these kinds of music as weird, perhaps endearingly so, but still other to them. Where the obscure musician stereotype wasn’t fetishized (like in Scott Pilgrim V.S. the World) it was often played as a sort of joke. Fortunately for the actual artists in these obscure corners of music, these movies had an unintended side effect: a bunch of kids who never would have known these genres existed genuinely fell in love with the new musical world now in front of them. I was one such kid. 

Princess Diana, the debut full-length from German freak-folk/psyche-country duo The Mañana Peopleis the kind of album that almost seems tailor-made for a quirky coming of age indie-movie. Their blend of lo-fi country, harmonies that fall somewhere between The Beach Boysand The Eagles, and inventive sci-fi storytelling plant them firmly in a niche all their own. Top that off with the occasional whirligig synth line, a few timely handclaps, and the always-essential theremin solo, and you have the recipe for an immediate cult classic and/or the soundtrack to the next popular Sundance film. It’s infectious fun from the very first song, practically oozing with good-natured joy. 

The Mañana People draw from quite a variety of host material to create their unique brand of entertainment. What is particularly impressive is the way they contour their harmonies to further distinguish each song. On Matchstick Manthey resemble The Beach Boys, while on Anthrophagus they sound more like 70s Southern rockers The Outlaws, and on People Who Don’t Know They’re Deadthey once again reimagine themselves as a barbershop quartet. Musically The Mañana People are equally prone to experiment, usually leaning on old-timey country guitars, but occasionally dipping into Frankenstein organs, surf guitars, lo-fi electronic drums, and old-English balladry, doing each separate style justice and maintaining their indie-pop chops throughout. 

The lyrics more often than not tell tales of zombies, murder mysteries, and traveler’s woes, calling to mind the classic monster movies of the 1930s and 1940s. Though hoaky at points, both writers consistently display a talent for penning gripping lines that jump beyond their narrative context. Perhaps the best example of this comes on the chorus of the penultimate track It’s Harder to Try, a old-timey country tune akin to The Carter Family“May the road rise to greet you / May the songs fill your head / May your house be safe from tigers / May your youth be well-spent / It’s so hard to be kind / But it’s harder to try.” While their particular brand of lyricism certainly isn’t for everyone, it is unusually captivating for what it is. It takes a rare songwriter to get a listener invested in a song about zombie battles, but The Mañana Peoplepull it off more times than not.

While Princess Diana is a very unique album and generally quite engaging, it can feel a bit disjointed at times. The album’s composition is a little inconsistent, with the track order sometimes seeming very thought out and at other times haphazard. It sits in that awkward, uncanny valley between albums that were designed to be cohesive and albums that were really just a collection of songs, not really committing to either side. This makes listening to Princess Diana as a unit an uneven experience, despite each song for the most part standing on its own merits. Despite this, however, it is still quite a fun and enjoyable collection of tunes.

All in all the debut LP from The Mañana People makes for an intriguing listen, so unique as to peak your interest and yet with enough familiar ground to keep your attention focused. Fans of freak-folk and psyche-country will find plenty to enjoy here, but Princess Diana is such an endearing album that it also merits a listen from any outsider who might be curious. While it may be fairly obscure as an art-form it is also so laden with catchy hooks and infectious, quasi-space-western energy that most anybody can find something to enjoy.  

7.3/10 (Stand-Out)

For more information on how we score albums see Our Rating Scale.

Label: Unique Records
Release Date: January 18, 2019

Review: “nice!” by kinda alright

Where so many progressive bands create stone-faced, mechanical spectacles, “kinda alright” choose instead to make music that’s downright fun.

FFO: Chon, Polyphia, Free Throw

Guitar music might not hold the same position of prestige in American culture as it once did, but it is far from dead. In sweaty bars and suburban basements across the country there is a thriving community of artists and fans still devoted to distortion and pushing the boundaries of their instruments. One place where this culture is particularly alive and well is Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; a haven for punk, posthardcore, shoegaze, and all other forms of alternative. Known for producing such bands as mewithoutYouThe Wonder Years, and Modern Baseball, the “City of Brotherly Love” has developed a knack for spawning cult classic bands in niche genres. 

Math rock, with its emphasis on musical virtuosity and complexity, is a subgenre that is particularly popular in Philly, so much so that the city has developed its own distinct flavor of the genre. Where a lot of math rock is inspired by bands like This Town Needs Guns or borrows heavily from twinkly Midwest Emo, in Philly there is a tendency to combine the more technical parts of math rock with pop punk grooves, heavier overdrive, and an unusual reverence for Built to Spill. On their newest EP, nice!kinda alrightexemplify this distinct cultural trend and employ it to great effect.

Nice! is fifteen minutes of immediately satisfying guitar shredding and feel good grooves. Where so many progressive bands create stone-faced, mechanical spectacles, kinda alright choose instead to make music that’s downright fun. You can tell that each member is incredibly proficient at their instrument, because they make a point to show you as often as they can, but there is no overarching air of superiority. They may take their playing seriously, but they clearly don’t take themselves too seriously; a refreshing change of pace for technical bands. 

Stylistically kinda alright is comparable to Chon, had the latter gotten their start in pop punk instead of jazz guitar. Each track is energetic and rhythmically bouncy, none more-so than early stand-out track no chumpswith its ear-catching stop-and-start natural harmonic riffs. All of the songs except the closer algerbong copweeddealerare instrumental, but they have enough dynamic movement and guitar hooks to remain engaging even without vocals. The few lyrics that did make it on the album are pretty standard emo fare, but they do exactly what they need to do: provide a catchy and relatable melodic hook in between the riffs, which still serve as the focal point of the song.

As far as math rock goes, nice! is a pretty solid EP. Fans of this niche genre and its musical neighbors will find a lot to be excited about on the Philly three-piece’s newest release. It may not be the most groundbreaking thing to come out this month, but it also isn’t trying to be. Above all nice! is just a record made by a couple talented guys trying to have fun by making cool shit, and in that regard it is a wild success.

6.3/10 (Solid)

For more information on how we score records, see: https://notasound.org/2018/11/01/our-rating-scale/

Released: Jan 10, 2019
Record Label: Independent


Review: “Change of Scenery” by Buddie

“Change of Scenery” is as fun as it is earnest, a raucous album intent on engaging the world rather than escaping it, a thoroughly enjoyable musical paradox.”

FFO Weezer, Pavement, Built to Spill

“How can I live with myself not helping anyone else?” As the flurry of distorted guitars reach their blaring crescendo on opening track Sloth,vocalist Dan Forrest of Philadelphia alternative outfit Buddiesets the tone with just one line. Once a conservation biologist in Equatorial Guinea, Forrest now spends his time writing fuzz rock in the vein of Pavement and early Weezer, though where his forebears made their careers writing about unrequited love, on Change of Scenery Forrest instead writes songs that are much more uniquely conscious. They may still be dorky, but only in the sense that anything passionate that isn’t drenched in cynicism isn’t patently “cool” in 2019. 

Second track and early stand-out Sinktouches on exactly that: “Wear my heart on my sleeve / But it’s not cool to be naïve / And now I look a fool / While everyone else tries to be called cool.”It’s a shockingly vulnerable lyric for a song that eventually builds into an infectious power-pop hook centered on the lyric, “Oh no, I’m feeling like I’m Michael Cera.” But that is precisely the magic and strength of Forrest’s songwriting; he writes songs that deal with big-picture problems in a tone that is strikingly modest and good-natured. Though his background gives him plenty of room to preach, he never patronizes the listener. Even his most confrontational lines come out more earnest than angry, because at the heart of these songs there is more carethan there is angst. That posturing sets Buddiein a corner all their own in the world of fuzz rock, a genre usually reserved for the slacker, the stoner, and the lackadaisical character motifs.

Nowhere is this difference more apparent than in the anthemic closer Privileged Youthwhere Forrest grapples with his position of advantage as a white American, capping it off with the pseudo-psychedelic bridge: “The institutions are racist / The institutions are bigots / The institutions are fascists / And I reap the rewards / And they keep the poor poor.” Lyrically it’s more akin to early Anti-Flagthan Weezer, but even here at his most direct and unapologetic Forrest chooses to appeal to humanity first and foremost, concluding his thought with one last run of the chorus: “…It’s the same road everyone’s walking / There’s no traffic from here / I know you’re working, everyone’s working / But can’t you see we have the upper-hand? …” It’s a breath of fresh air from a perspective not often found in fuzz rock or even alternative as a whole.

Change of Scenery is much more than a rare endearing, political album, however. Beyond it’s thoughtful lyrics, its true strength is that it’s also just a kickass rock record. There are enough cathartic choruses, huge chords, and tasteful tempo changes to keep casual and critical listeners alike engaged and satisfied from start to finish. It’s proof that you don’t have to play it cool and put on a sullen demeanor to make impactful art. On Change of Scenery, Buddienever miss a second of fun while making their point; it’s the kind of album equally as conducive to guitar flips as it is to inspiring contemplation. 

If there is one weak spot on the EP, it would probably be the middle track Selva,which has the misfortune of falling between two of the hookiest songs on the album Sink and Anxty. It’s not a bad song by any means, an internal monologue about leaving the Equatorial rain forest after experiencing so much personal growth there and then trying to re-adjust to life in America, but it is the lone song that doesn’t reward the listener with an immediate earworm of a hook. Considering that’s the worst thing I can say about this EP, it’s pretty fair to say that Buddie nailed their debut.

All in all the new EP from Buddie is a clear stand-out within its genre, a fresh voice and perspective from a talented new songwriter with a dynamic musical core as his vehicle. Change of Scenery is as fun as it is earnest, a raucous album intent on engaging the world rather than escaping it, a thoroughly enjoyable musical paradox. We can’t wait to see what this promising young band does next.

7.8/10 (Stand-Out)

For more information on how we score albums see:
https://notasound.org/2018/11/01/our-rating-scale/