Review: Suffer On by Wicca Phase Springs Eternal

Adam Mcllwee is a surprisingly influential artist.  He is the founding member of Scranton, PA’s emo-revival flagship, Tigers Jaw, a band known for their uniquely harmonic and heartfelt rock songs that always evoked a strangely otherworldly feeling, both in terms of lyricism and tone.  When Mcllwee left Tigers Jaw in 2013, his intent was to release music as a solo project, experimenting with electronic sounds that were not part of the Tigers Jaw musical pallet.  He ended up getting connected with alternative hip-hop collective THRAXXHOUSE, and then founded the Goth Boi Clique collective, which was brought into the mainstream eye by the pop-punk influenced hip-hop of the late Lil Peep.  Now, aided by Run For Cover Records, he has released his second full length album under the moniker Wicca Phase Springs Eternal, a name bestowed upon him by a tumblr artist (in case you didn’t think this could get more 2009).

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. 

Lyrically, the album also feels even more personal than past releases.  It deals starkly with the isolation that many with clinical anxiety and depression feel on a daily basis.  Stand out track “Just One Thing” captures this poignantly, “In the darkest of ways I go to sleep / wrapped in a death bag / alone in a death bed / with no one to talk to / still trapped in my own head.”  There is no hiding behind mythology as on 2018’s Corinthiax EP.  Nowhere is this more blatant on “Does Your Head Stop” where he sings, “It’s depression and it takes over totally / I think I’m a fake in mind and body.”  There is not any hope offered here, but a strong focus on the darkness brought on by mental illness. 

Suffer On is one of the stronger albums in Mcllwee’s career.  The consistency of sound and theme are its most powerful traits, as he latches on to one topic and really delves headfirst into it.  Fans of his debut Secret Boy might be a tad disappointed if they were hoping for a more sample-based, electronic sound, but the record serves as a fitting new chapter to a groundbreaking artist who will surely grow in popularity as time goes on. 

Rating: 7.5 (Stand Out)

For info on how we rate albums see our rating scale.

Label: Run For Cover Records

Release Date: Feb. 15, 2019

Review: “Oliver Appropriate” by Say Anything

“With 2024 fast approaching, the record provides a moment to stop and reflect on how long ago that “glam-era” moment really is.”

FFO: Motion City Soundtrack, The Front Bottoms, PUP

Say Anything has always held a unique place in the emo-cannon.  They are most often associated with the 2000’s “glam-era,” in which the genre reached its peak of mainstream popularity with the success of bands like blink-182, Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance, and Paramore, to name a few.  Although their debut, the excellent Is A Real Boy, came out in 2004, it stood out from the others because it wasn’t . . . cool.  Front-man and mastermind Max Bemis’ voice was a bit too over the top, a bit too musical-theater to fall into the cool, sexy sad boi sweet spot that Pete Wentz ruled over.  On top of that, he literally said anything, with lyrics riddled with sarcasm and irony that cut deeper into genuine self-criticism and existential doubt then most glam-era bands.  Bemis also chose to model his lyrics around characters, speaking from multiple personalities throughout his work, making for more nuanced, interesting listens. 

Oliver Appropriate, Say Anything’s self-proclaimed last album, is a bit of a return to form.  Their previous few releases (I Don’t Think It is, and Hebrews) played off as experiments, and lacked a certain something, maybe passion, that their previous work had.  Oliver Appropriate finds Bemis returning to the guitar, but this time, it’s an acoustic.  The songs have an acoustic-but-not quality to them; nearly every track is based around Bemis’ strumming, but there is plenty of instrumentation surrounding it.  It would be inaccurate to call this the record unplugged.  There are drums on most tracks, distorted guitar leads, and backing vocals that flesh out the sound, making it anything but hushed. 

Bemis’ classic, snarling delivery is also back in full.  The hooks are there, the poppy melodies, the sarcasm.  On this album he embodies the character of a washed-up rock star, and uses this perspective (suspiciously like his own) to offer an insider’s critique of the scene, years down the road from where he was in 2004.  “I know a lot of men in hardcore bands / collectively funding the Columbians / straight edge guys who turn to weed and beer / ‘til they all got divorced and they all grew beards,” he belts in his ironic sing-song voice on “Pink Snot.”  He addresses it even more directly on highlight “Ew Jersey,” “Tonight I’ll meet my friends, we were once the greatest / a band that’s coming back from a fake hiatus / hoping that the girls clinging to the bar / know who we are.”  It is partly a critique and partly admission.  The album is a reckoning with the past, a reflection on a band who’s moment has gone, for better or for worse. 

This album is not likely to gain Say Anything any new fans, which is okay because it’s their last.  Instead, it’s a return to everything they have always done best.  At its core Oliver Appropriate is a pop-punk album, done in the theatrical style that their fanbase has always loved.  And with 2024 fast approaching, it provides a moment to stop and reflect on how long ago that “glam-era” moment really is.

Rating: 6.9 (Solid)

For info on how we rate albums see our rating scale.

Label: Dine Alone Music Inc.

Release Date: Jan 25, 2019

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: “Phoenix” by Pedro The Lion

“Phoenix” successfully places the listener into the world of Pedro The Lion, memorializing a past with an urgency to be remembered.

FFO: Jeremy Enigk, Mineral, 90’s Alt. Rock

“But I remember what it was like / astride my yellow bike / first freedom, second life / all the places I could ride / Leaving early, packing light / that little ache inside / my kingdom for someone to ride with.” 

I knew very little about Pedro The Lion when I first heard these lines over the weekend.  My only experience with the late 90’s legend was a casual listen of 2004’s Achilles Heel, which I listened to with a good friend who loves the band.  My interest was piqued enough that when I discovered that indie-rock mastermind David Bazan was releasing his first album in fifteen years under the his old moniker “Pedro The Lion” (he has released under his own name since then), I decided to give Phoenix a listen with very little context for the projects’ long life span.

Jumping in on a new album from an artist decades into their career can feel like a daunting venture, but as it turns out, the album requires little-to-no context to enjoy.  I was instantly hooked on the first full song, “Yellow Bike.”  Everything about it instantly felt nostalgic to me . . . the guitar chords, thudding drums, Bazan’s worn, passionate voice that somehow calls to mind the bluesy tones of Randy Newman.  Through the image of his childhood bike, Bazan beautifully and simply ties his six-year-old self to his present day, forty-three-year-old self; it is an ode to freedom, and a yearning for companionship and belonging within it.  The closing chorus subtly changes the last line from “my kingdom for someone to ride with,” to “I’d trade my kingdom for someone to ride with,” exemplifying masterful songwriting, showing how the simple addition of two words can powerfully change the direction and meaning of a song. 

The album continues this reflective thread on later tracks, painting vivid images of childhood and connecting them firmly to the present moment.  In the song “Model Homes,” Bazan turns memories of house shopping with his parents to the adult longing for change, “Tired of where we live / hoping that it’s not if, but when / when will the wait be over?”  This motif is accomplished perhaps most memorably on “Circle K,” where Bazan reminisces on childhood overspending at the convenience store as if it were a prophesy, with a simplicity that denies heavy-handedness, “I spent it all at Circle K / and the good Lord smiled and looked the other way.” 

Sonically, Phoenix is a pretty standard rock album, which suits the ballad-like story telling very well.  On “Black Canyon,” the haunting tale of a man’s gruesome death under an eighteen-wheeler is punctuated by dissonant guitar chords as pounding toms underline the track, while the chorus jumps out like a stadium rock song.  The album’s big guitars and gritty bass could be played in massive arenas or small rock clubs; it does not sound underground, but not so produced that it feels phony. 

For as strong as the highlights are, there are some duller moments that don’t stick out as readily, making the album feel slightly uneven.  Songs like “All Seeing Eye” towards the end of the record (while brief) drags on a bit, as does the repetition of the simplistic chorus in “My Phoenix.”  They are not bad songs, but compared to the richness of the others, play out as obvious weaker-links. 

 The title Phoenix carries not only the mythical imagery of rebirth but also the name of the city where Bazan grew up.  This feels appropriate in both senses, as it seems to signify a new era in Bazan’s career that is firmly rooted in memories of the past with time-worn songwriting that pulls the two together quite well.  It successfully places the listener into the world of Pedro The Lion, memorializing a past with an urgency to be remembered.

“We could write me some reminders, I’d memorize them / I could sing them to myself and whoever’s listening / I could put them on a record about my hometown / sitting here with pen and paper, I’m listening now.” – “Quietest Friend”

Rating: 7.7 (Stand Out)

For info on how we rate albums, see our rating scale.

Release Date: Jan 18, 2019

Label: Polyvinyl Records

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: “Tallies” (Self-Titled)

Toronto band Tallies debut self-titled record manages to create a captivating blend of jangly shoegaze and indie pop.
FFO: The Innocence Mission, Slowdive

With the 2020’s fast approaching, 1990’s nostalgia is more common than ever.  Today’s youth (and some younger adults) were born after 2000.  To them, 90’s seems as distant as the 80’s did to those of us who were born in the 90’s. With the inevitable romanticizing of the era, many music acts have cropped up looking to capitalize on this, some doing it successfully, others not so much.  Toronto band Tallies debut self-titled record manages to do the former, successfully creating a captivating blend of jangly shoegaze and indie pop.  It is a sound that would not be out of place on college radio in 1992, but still manages to escape falling into the throwback category by capitalizing on their youthful energy. 

A big contributor to this is the voice and energy of frontwoman, Sarah Cogan.  Although her voice is set in a different context, it brings to mind the vocal style of dream-pop band The Innocence Mission, Karen Peris.  Her voice has a child-like, almost otherworldly quality that brings a dreamy quality to the record.  Instrumentally, this record could be compared to many shoegaze bands of the golden-era.  In particular, some of the bass lines are reminiscent of Slowdive, and while the instrumentation is not necessarily as dense, it has plenty of pop to it to keep the listener interested the whole time. 

I found the back-half of the record to be particularly strong.  The song “Beat The Heart” on the second half has one of my favorite hooks, as Cogan sings over a driving beat, “Oh we’re ticking down, ticking down the days / It’s longer than missing, longer than hoping / beat the heart, beat it, we’re beating.”  The vague, almost impressionistic quality of the lyrics fits well with ambient soundscape.  Elsewhere on the track, Corgan evokes an almost cosmic quality, “the voice that makes us move / glides amongst our melting shoes / we’re illuminated / spaced out, feel the difference / Earth set from the moon / we’re floating.”  It places the listener in the stratosphere in a sort of ecstasy in a masterful way that the genre is known for achieving. 

This record establishes Tallies as a band to watch out for in the coming years, especially as the soundscape of rock music begins to shift again in the coming decade.  It’s an impressive debut in terms of its consistency and lack of filler, as well as pop sensibility.  It’s possible that they may be seen as a leader if this sound catches on and begins to take fire (even more than it already has) in the indie scene. 

Score: 7.1 (Stand Out)

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

Label: Kanine Records

Release Date: 1/11/2019