Zack Bowman is the founder and co-editor of Not a Sound. He was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and after attending Geneva College, where he recieved degrees in Philosophy, Social Theory, and English, he moved to his current home in the Philadelphia suburbs. When he's not writing for Not a Sound Zack is playing guitar and singing in his indie-punk band Second to Safety.
A Crash Republic’s energy is infectious throughout the EP, leaping from riff to riff, nailing satisfying hook after hook, and swinging into surprisingly virtuosic guitar solos in almost every song.
FFO Dropkick Murphys, Greenday, Four Year Strong
One of the joys of writing for a small music blog is sifting through artist submissions, hearing their pitches and deciding whether or not their music is a good fit for our blog. Generally these submissions come with a brief blurb where the artists describe themselves in the most alluring way they know how. Some are quite effective, others… not so much. Mostly these blurbs end up being basic genre descriptions, but occasionally you get a pitch that catches you off guard and raises a few eyebrows. For instance, when I received an email from a band claiming to be “an easy-core Dropkick Murphys”, I have to admit my immediate reaction was “there’s no way that sounds good.” After listening through A Crash Republic’s new EP Homewreckers: Sweet Apathy however, I also have to admit that I was wrong.
A Crash Republic is the kind of band that consistently shatters your expectations. When the opening track Last September kicks in it really does seem to be a Dropkick Murphys song minus the Celtic bits. It has the big power chords, the driving drums, and two vocalists that both sound miraculously like Al Barr each singing the same bar-fight melodies he was famous for. But once it hits the second verse the power chords give way to dueling easy-core guitars reminiscent of Four Year Strong, which should seem out of place, but somehow flow effortlessly out of the first chorus. Before you even have time to express how impressed you are by this, the lead guitar takes off in a bombastic solo the likes of which has been missing from rock music for the better part of a decade. It’s the kind of choice that feels over the top in the best possible way: definitely a little schlocky but so perfectly placed and cathartic that it outweighs the possible negatives.
A Crash Republic’s energy is infectious throughout the EP, leaping from riff to riff, nailing satisfying hook after hook, and swinging into surprisingly virtuosic guitar solos in almost every song. Because of the impressive musicianship and the memorable hooks the formula never gets boring either. This is aided by the central narrative of Homewreckers: Sweet Apathy, which is conceptually the first of three EPs about a man descending into anarchist ideology and committing himself to counterculture. Lyrically it lands somewhere in the vicinity of American Idiot-era Greenday or Die For Your Government-era Anti-Flag: anti-establishment anthems with enough pop sensibility to make you want to listen and enough grit to convince you they mean what they’re saying. It’s quite literally the kind of anarchy the whole family can get into.
All in all Homewreckers: Sweet Apathy is thoroughly enjoyable. One of the greatest strengths of pop punk as a genre is it’s ability to be fun no matter what the subject matter and A Crash Republic do not deviate from that norm in the least. While the content may not be the most earth-shattering thing we’ve ever heard, it’s the perfect subtext for angsty shout-alongs and push-pits, which is exactly what this kind of music is meant for. Unfortunately, as with most bands in this scene, A Crash Republic are the kind of band that you’ll like if you’re a fan of their native genres, but probably won’t have much appeal to you otherwise. They’re music is unique within their context, which makes them a must hear for fans of old-school pop punk, but they also don’t break the mold in way that makes them transcend their labeling. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that though, so pop Homewreckers: Sweet Apathy into the cassette deck of your 2002 Taurus and let the angst consume you.
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 HourglassShin 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.
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.
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.
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
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
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).
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.
“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.
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.
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 Disquiet, I 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.
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.
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.
“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
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.
“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.
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 mewithoutYou, The 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.