Indie pop gets little attention and even less acclaim. I don’t understand why. It’s not challenging in any musical way, but it’s a treat to see how bands exist within the parameters. We live in a post-Twee As Fuck world. It’s been codified and troped to hell, but it still has a vibrancy that a lot of punk offshoots just don’t. There has been a kind of renaissance in recent years with bands like Kitty Kat Fan Club and the Jeanines getting a fair amount of attention. Cape Chacon should be right up there with them, and I Can’t Muster It is a perfect addition to the indie pop canon.
Things start strong with a one/two punch. “All My Best Friends” lays out the thesis of the record, and “Crushin” introduces the conflict. Is that too “literary analysis” for a pop record? I’m just going to quote their Bandcamp bio then. “Indie rock that’s kind of like when you forgot your pencil in sixth grade but ur bff had an extra.” It’s a record about interpersonal relationships, both in celebration and reflection. “Antiques Roadshow” is about thanking someone for being great during a rough time. “LIbertarian” is about the challenge of staying friends with someone who is kind of shitty. It’s not super high stakes, and it’s relatable entirely for that reason.
My favorite thing about this record is how the songs aren’t structured like normal pop songs. I mean, shit, you might not even get a proper chorus in some of them. But the songs are still hooky as fuck. They also play with your expectations. Like, I’m going to go back to “All My Best Friends.” The song builds exactly how you would expect in the first verse. In a genre standard, a fast guitar part would have kicked in immediately. We get two more verses instead. But, goddamn is it great when that guitar kicks in right at the end. It makes an expected bit sound fresh as hell. It made me smile, and I love when that happens on the first song.
Cape Chacon weren’t on my radar, but they absolutely should have been. There’s sweetness to these songs, and a lot of heart. It’s pure bubblegum, and it fucking rules.
It’s hard to make an engaging emo record these days. I don’t want to get full “old man yells at cloud” about it, but I’m a little jaded when it comes to the genre. We have spent the better part of the last decade awash in shitty Kinsella rips and skramz nonsense. It’s hard to stand out, and it’s hard to write about. What does a band need to do to rise above the noise?
A lot of the more interesting bands to me are coming out of Canada. In fact, most of the stuff that jumps out from my inbox is coming out of Vancouver, BC. Oblomov is a trio that definitely represents that. Their sound is jagged and rough, but not completely abrasive. The easy description of their sound would be emo, but the kind that remembers it’s roots in punk and hardcore. They are extremely dynamic, and they can fucking go.
Steady Drip of a Broken Spout is a hard record to pin down. The record starts with “Feel Alive.” It has a strong Jets To Brazil vibe. “Airplane” hits at the halfway point, and it’s definitely a turning point in the record. It introduces spoken word bits all while maintaining the driving punk edge. Things can change at the drop of a hat, and it’s refreshing as hell. You got your requisite twinkly guitars, but the distortion adds an uncharacteristic edge.
A lot of this kind of music is guitar driven, and Ethan Reyes is certainly no slouch. It’s the rhythm section that stands out to me though. Darren Mountain and Colin Osler absolutely hold it down. Their bass and drum propel the record. It would be easy to let things spiral out of control, and I have to give them credit for reigning things in. Especially in the more intense moments. It’s the same thing that bands like Algernon Cadwallader did so well.
The emo revival thing has come and gone. The genre isn’t the new hotness anymore. We have gone back to the underground. This is a record that embodies what that means to me.
We’ve gotten in touch to share our new single, “Best Interests,” with you.
It describes people living in a state of nature deprivation, one person pulling the other out of the city and running with them to the coastline.
This song questions overconsumption, with its lust for capitalist greed and concrete.
What started out as a lonely guitar riff led to the whole band jamming on it, creating a fun and spontaneous experience that our producers Gus van Go and Werner F. rolled with.
Right now we are all being encouraged to consider the health of us as a community. Now is the time to be caring for each other and to learn from this experience so we can move forward with our collective planet’s best interests in mind.
There isn’t a lot to say on this one. I love the vocals, the music, and the overall vibe. This song is as close to a total package as anything will be for me. I like to type little blurbs about stuff I share in this feature. I don’t know. This is one I just like. It’s just a solid as fuck indie/pop type song. Maybe I should editorialize more, but ehhh.
The cliff notes version of AANTHEMS would be that they are a duo from Vancouver, BC. They play a style of punk rock that borrows from post-hardcore, pop punk, and a little noise. They are a drummer and bassist, and they both do vocals. They will probably appeal to people who are stoked on the Latterman family of bands. But that’s dry a dry description, and also kind of boring. Let’s over-complicate things. AANTHEMS first popped up on my radar about five years ago. Their 2015 EP, Old Dogs, was a release I was really stoked on. It was a great 11 minutes of punk rock. They followed it up with another EP the year after. 2020 brings their debut full length, and it’s as solid as you would expect.
Blood Fortune is an angry record. These are songs about inequity, and the shortcomings of modern culture. These are well worn topics for a punk rock record, but goddamn do we need it right now. The vocals work especially well for that. There is a hardcore delivery to them. There is a lot of shouting, and a lot of pissed off energy. The band refers to their vocals as howling and yelling. That is very apt, and goddamn does it work. Especially given the overall sound of the music itself.
Not a lot of punk bands would base their sound entirely on bass and drums. This bands has a sound that is very heavy on the low end, but not in an oppressive way. It works so fucking well. I’m not encouraging everyone to start playing your bass like it’s a guitar, but AANTHEMS is proof that it can work. It is such a specific sound, and it really makes this record stand out. I think this record would suffer if it stuck to the traditional guitar/bass/drum set up. It would be just another melodic punk record in a world full of melodic punk records. Instead, we got a bass that propels the songs forward while the drum relentlessly drive the point home.
I’ve heard a lot of punk rock records over the years. It takes a lot to get me really invested in the genre these days. A lot of bands are content being a copy of a copy of a copy. AANTHEMS is not that kind of band. They bring an interesting sound to the table, and they fucking nail it. You wants a complex record of working class anthems, or just a great record to yell along with? This should be 100% your shit.
Melkbelly is a noisy post-punk band that turns standard rock songs into a mess of lo-fi experimentalism. I’ve had a passing interest in them for a while now, but they never really clicked for me until I heard Miranda Winters’ solo record back in 2018. It put a lot of the songwriting into perspective. There are some great melodic songs buried in the noise, sludge, and experimentation.
Pith, as a record, is the deconstruction as final product. You have so many moments where you think this record is going to go in an expected direction, but then it just turns left. The album opens this way. “THC” is a straight forward, melodic song that devolves into extended noise. “Sickeningly Teeth” just keeps changing tempos to the point that it’s an uncomfortable, jittery listen. “Kissing Under Some Bats” is a three minute song that turns into the guitar repeating a single chord for damn near the rest of the seven and a half minute run-time. All while the background just layers and layers until it is a wall of noise. But, even at its most out there, the songs remain coherently songs. To keep this review Chicago centered, this is what I think U.S. Maple would have sounded like if they gave a fuck about theory.
It’s a very real possibility that someone from Chicago will read this and label me a suburban asshole who is missing the point. And, to be honest, they’d probably be right. All I know is that I love this record. It’s not an easy one to define, but it’s definitely worth a listen. Especially if you have an ear for melodic music that is covered in noise.
Some of my favorite version of punk and hardcore come from places where punk and hardcore aren’t huge. A lot of great stuff has come out of the Midwest and the South, and we don’t really give it the attention it deserves. DayWaster seems like one of those bands. My knowledge of Paducah, KY is limited to driving through it on my way to Tennessee, but I can’t imagine there being a lot of youth counterculture there.
DayWaster is a hardcore band for assholes like me who generally don’t like the genre. It’s a hardcore band made up of people who are probably too talented for the genre. Every song, even the simplest sounding ones, have some shit going on in the background that you might miss if you focus on the overall package. “DW” opens the album with an intense Dead Kennedys vibe. “Stuff The Leg” has this start/stop riff going throughout that adds a stuttering tension to the song. It’s these little things that sell the record for me. You’re expecting some by the books 4/4 bullshit, but you get these little leads and shifts that add a lot of nuance and dimension. I know that sounds like faint praise, but I don’t mean it in a condescending way. In a genre where the norm is “angry dude yelling over simple chords,” this kind of stuff stands out.
So, I mean, I don’t know. I’m definitely not the target demographic for this record. I only have a passing interest in the genre. I don’t come from a small town scene. But, despite all that, this record worked for me.
You will see a lot of SST Records references when people talk about Bauwaves. I hate starting with that kind of reference, but it is very apt. From a musical and production standpoint, there is more than a little Hüsker Dü and Dinosaur Jr influence to this band. Most of the songs on u r everything would definitely fit on a playlist of stuff from Flip Your Wig or You’re Living All Over Me. Maybe throw some Lemonheads in there too. If that sounds appealing to you, go listen to the record. It can really be that simple. But, as always, I need to make everything a whole thing.
One of the greatest parts of early alternative rock was the way bands were willing to take chances. More specifically, that they allowed themselves to be vulnerable in a way that punk didn’t necessarily allow up to that point. Punk was still young, and in the throes of the nascent hardcore scene. The genre still had an angry, nihilistic edge to it. Alternative rock came out of that, but made some changes. Sonically, the music was still punk. Lyrically, it was something a bit different. The lyrics were more personal. The bands were able to express other emotions. It’s that tradition that Bauwaves is part of.
u r everything isn’t a fun record. It’s not a happy record. In fact, it is a profoundly sad record. These songs are Lew Houston telling you exactly what he was going through in detail. It’s a record about depression. It’s a record about angst. It a record about knowing that you are fucking up your life, but you just can’t seem to stop. That is what makes the record so goddamn engaging. You are listening to someone using music as a way to deal with trauma. It is a record of catharsis. You can hear this all over the record, but I think “Years Later” and “It Ain’t Real” are the strongest.
On their debut, Bauwaves make a 30 year old style sound fresh and vibrant. This style of alternative rock has largely fallen out of fashion, but it’s nice to see some people still care. Bauwaves are students of the genre, and they have added a great piece to the overall canon.
I made a spreadsheet of new releases in 2019. I tried my best to listen to as much as I could. I managed to listen to about 30% of it. Not super great. Anyway, in alphabetical order, these are records I liked this year. Also, a Spotify playlist of 2019 stuff. Alright.
beabadoobee – “Space Cadet” (but, also “Loveworm”)
Ceremony – “In The Spirit World Now”
The Coathangers – “The Devil You Know”
Dowsing – “Sky Coffin”
Elton John Cena – “All Rats Go To Heaven”
Faye Webster – “Atlanta Millionaires Club”
Foie Gras – “Holy Hell”
Funeral Advantage – “Nectarine”
Girl K – “For Now”
Haybaby – “They Get There”
Jay Som – “Anak Ko”
Jetty Bones – “-”
Kitty Kat Fanclub – “Dreamy Little You”
Lettering – “Harbinger / Less Violent”
Lili Trifilio – “Book Club”
Lilith – “Safer Off”
Long Knives – “The Subject”
Murs – “The Illiad Is Dead and The Odessey Is Over”
Otoboke Beaver – “ITEKOMA HITS”
Overo – “Overo”
Pedro The Lion – “Phoenix”
Perennial – “Food For Hornets”
Petite League – “Rattler”
Pivot Gang – “You Can’t Sit With Us”
Quelle Chris – “Guns”
Ramona – “Deals, Deals, Deals”
Sheena, Anika And Augusta – “Simple Pleasures”
Slow Pulp – “Big Day”
Strangers – “Good Enough”
Looking back at the religious upbringing that guitarist/vocalist Chrisy Hurn has – for the most part – since left behind, and gazing ahead at the person she hopes to become, “Have I Been Deceived” finds her further questioning “the shit I’ve held on to” in a dreamy country-rock sway.
Speaking on the new track, Hurn says: “Think about “Have I Been Deceived” as an open letter to God. This past year, I have been feeling like I was brainwashed. I was taught to think in a particular manner, taught to love in a specific way, taught to think about my body and sexuality in a specific (ahem oppressive) way, and quite honestly at the time, I ate that shit up. I was the girl in highschool trying to convert all my friends, telling everyone to stay abstinent, listening to every Christian band that sounded almost as good as the real thing. That was my entire identity. Throughout my twenties, this identity fell apart.
I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable with who I was, so much that being around any type of Christian culture, makes me feel nauseous, or worse.
I want to let that go, I want to think clearly about faith, but I am afraid that I am not able to. I am afraid that I was gaslighted into loving something that is wrong or an ugly version of something that could be good. I don’t know who I am without my past. I don’t know who I am moving forward. I wish I had a more clear answer but I don’t; I am just here.”
Basement Revolver is a band who has been kicking around for a minute now. I posted one of their songs back in 2017. I always wanted to give them a proper write up, but I never did. I love fuzzy sounding indie rock, and their new single delivers that. It also adds a little country twang to the sound too. This particular song has a definite Cranberries vibe to it.
Lyrically, the song is also great. People who grow up in religious environments can really only go one or two ways. They continue with it, or they question and defy it. It’s a personal story that is always compelling to hear. Even in subtle ways.
Finally, the video is great. Stop motion is always a thing I’ll love.
In theme and style, A. Billi Free effortlessly slides between the present and the future and between earth and space on her debut album I Luma dropping August 12th on Tokyo Dawn Records. Meaning “in front” in the Samoan language, I Luma centers A. Billi Free’s sincere musings on discovery and adventure in her universe over soulful, uplifting, dance-ready jams.
I Luma is backed by an electronic/pop/alternative R&B sensibility entirely composed and produced by Chicago production duo and Tokyo Dawn artists, Tensei. Interstellar jazz multi-instrumentalist Angel Bat Dawid on clarinet sets the tone for this enchanted musical journey on the track “Flourish”.
Recorded in New Mexico, Illinois, and Massachusetts, the resulting magic outweighs the challenges of this type of creation as the album’s sonics are strong and richly layered, providing a solid foundation for A. Billi Free’s smooth tone and earnest message to transmit through the cosmos. Rooted in an eclectic blend of hip hop, soul and electronica, she has spent the last decade in the deserts of southern New Mexico and west Texas fusing elements of both the city and the border into her sound.
Video by Scott Iulianelli, Analog Prints.
A. Billi Free is exactly the kind of surprises I like getting in my email. Her new record is absolutely fantastic. I can’t recommend it enough. It’s just a great mix of pop, hip-hop, R&B, and soul.