Nots – Cosmetic – Heavenly Recordings

Nots
Cosmetic

Heavenly Recordings
Street: 09.09
Nots = Perfect Pussy + Holograms

To the bone, punk has always been DIY. One of the newer strains that have mutated out of that junk-riddled corpse is this almost poppy, intentionally amateur garage rock that seems to draw its life and blood from the riot grrrl crowd. Nots are faded the way that that hole-riddled, pastel T-shirt from high school is faded on the floorboards underneath your never-washing-again pile. I don’t know—maybe Alan Vega spit on you once while you were wearing it.

Nots feel cohesive throughout Cosmetic, even if the synth seems out of place in a couple songs. The lead guitar has a scratchy reverberation that makes it seem both front and center and totally out of focus at the same time, all while the drums give off a driving propulsion even in their rhythmic simplicity. Natalie Hoffmann, lead guitar and vocalist, has a voice that seems stamped with the fuzzy technicolor of the golden ’90s, only making herself intelligible in brief spurts that get lost in the mix of a lot of apathetic, almost lethargic, rage.

This apparently is their take on the grunge aspect of the genre. With song titles almost to the point of the cliché (“Rat King” and “Entertain Me”), they manage to hold on to the ethos of the city: a pool of Narcissus with the green muck of mass populations floating around. It’s music that makes me feel like they’re complaining about something without ever actually complaining. The chords can be jarring and pining while the little synthesizer creeps around in the back of the songs, just making little space-cadet noises, which gives off the effect of playfulness even when they’re trying to sound badass. It’s fun and self-defeating, and I kind of like it.

One thing Nots definitely have going for them is that their sound across the album remains varied enough that I don’t ever feel like it’s being sucked into one hard glob. Instead, the music carries us from one end of the parking lot to the other and showcases all the rundown vintage-car wrecks along the way. When we get to the end, where the fence blocks off the end of the lot to some secret city just out of reach, we find ourselves at the beginning, ready to see the carnage again.

One message seems to come across that is something only an all-girl punk band could really portray without seeming to hammer it in too eagerly: the idea of beauty. The title track of the album has this sort of frustrated and anxious wall of noise that actually happens to sit as a backdrop to Hoffmann’s vocals, something the rest of the album doesn’t seem to worry about, as she yells out, “Cosmetic! Aesthetic!” in a bitter and somewhat jealous sneer. You get the image of these girls trying to live the CBGB life where anything went and you didn’t have to worry about your look except to make sure you looked like you didn’t care about the way you looked. Here, just a few decades later, the Nots are trying to hold onto the idea that floated across that decade’s headspace while still trying to be relevant in an image-obsessed world. We’re all still trying to decide if it’s working.

Brian Udall

Odonis Odonis | No Pop | Felte Records

Odonis Odonis
No Pop

Felte Records
Street: 10.20
Odonis Odonis = Suuns + Metz + TR/ST

It’s only been a year since the last release from this Toronto-based trio, Post Plague, was released, ushering in a new phase of Odonis Odonis’ music. Gone is the fuzzy, industrial surf rock of their first few releases—with No Pop. The synth-heavy, rhythmic dystopia introduced on Post Plague has evolved into something much more polished, if “polished” is a good word for something you’ll want to get fucked and dance to. They haven’t diverted from their new direction at all. Instead, they’ve turned it into a tighter, more captivating sensation.

Odonis Odonis have moved away from their usual specific topics of future scientific catastrophes to something less message-driven. On the opener, “Check My Profile,” the lyrics are yelled/drawled out in a way that makes it feel like the song wants to tease anyone listening into throwing the first punch. It’s malevolent and sticks to common topics of theirs about how technology can be used to hurt people, regardless of intentions. But there’s something new.

The genre of music that they’re exploring has changed the dynamic of how it feels to listen to their music. Across their discography, each album focuses on a specific emotional chord. They play with a range that continues to amaze. Earlier releases seemed as if the band was taking modern post-punk motifs and attaching them to the older beach rock days. It was fantastic and someone needed to do it, but instead of pigeonholing themselves into that position of nostalgia, they’re taking their ability to flesh out a sensation of rhythmic dread and planting it firmly into the forefront of underground music. No Pop has an organic feeling that carried over from the band’s previous sound, but it almost makes you forget that the music is entirely digital now. The finesse and the range are spot on, and they’re getting caught back up to the level of mastery over this new genre of heavy electronic dance as they had with their earlier, mostly analog sound in just one year, speaks volumes.

I wasn’t sure about their last album, Post Plague. To be honest, it faltered at times and seemed like such a leap that it was definitely not guaranteed that they would be able to make it work, despite some really solid tracks. But they stuck with their idea of embracing modernity, and in a short time, they managed to break the metaphorical stallion and take control of their new arena. It’s hard to imagine what the music scene looks like in Toronto, but there are exciting things coming out of it.

The No Pop music movement is headquartered in Toronto, and Odonis Odonis are firmly involved in its call for musicians to stop trying to be something they’re not—namely, a billion-dollar industry with legions of workers pumping out radio hits. No Pop is a call to make music that resonates with the musicians themselves. If it’s real and you can capture it, it’s going to make a bigger impact on the listener than trying to guess what some anonymous everyman wants to hear. No Pop is a defining marker in that movement. If you want to know what’s relevant in the underground, if you want to dance to something that isn’t fluffy and bright, I can’t recommend these guys enough. It’s not for everyone, but that’s actually the whole point. –Brian Udall

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Heat Dust
Self-Titled

Flenser Records
Street: 09.25
Heat Dust = Holograms + A Place to Bury Strangers + Iceage

There’s a spectre coming across the Atlantic—a spectre called post-punk rock n’ roll, and Heat Dust are coming in hot on the jettisoned surf. It’s catchy, it’s grungy, and best of all, it’s barreling down the pipeline to a record store near you. Hailing from New Orleans, Heat Dust are taking what the Scandinavians were doing so well and making it their own. It’s a big day in the industry when genres are crossing international borders, and that is exactly what is happening here. The same, old heavy riffs are snarling back at Heat Dust’s nihilistic, guttural lyrics that may, at times, try to be too politically profound for their own good. But maybe not. Across the genre, the same motifs of disillusionment, angst and helplessness are popping up. It’s CBGB’s without a lease agreement. Maybe sticking it to the man hasn’t become too cliché after all. (Kilby, 10.18) –Brian Udall

Marching Church
Telling It Like It Is

Sacred Bones
Street: 10.28
Marching Church = Dirty Beaches + Iceage + Lou Reed

Singer Elias Bender Rønnenfelt (Iceage) has this pained but definitely nonsubmissive crooning that brings the simple but soulful songs together on Telling It Like It Is. They form a sort of plea/declaration that sounds a lot like what we would hear coming out of an abandoned inner-city street if we were there to hear it. Instead of a tree falling in the woods, it’s concrete on a dark, empty street singing out, and Marching Church says yes. It does make a soft, little sound, even if no one is there to hear it—in fact, only if no one is there to hear it.

It bleeds with a modern civility that seems to be pushing its way into our young, animal minds—growth pains for the self-aware, and if that hasn’t been felt before, this album is an insight into what it’s going to feel like. At times alienating and at others playful and collective, it’s a lot like opening a letter from a time capsule signed by rock n’ roll itself. The mindset that started the whole damned movement is prescient across the pickings of Rønnenfelt’s electric guitar.

When he calls out, “When one can’t belong, one feels the urge to ruin” on “Heart of Life,” it conjures a visceral image of the torch being handed off to our generation, our wave heading nowhere as we feel the weight of the world settle and rise upon us incrementally. On “Lion’s Den,” Rønnenfelt sings, “They never cared too much for you / Come on in / Just come on in.” Sung over some hushed whooping and what sounds like pipes being hit together, we get the feeling of a present that hasn’t changed since the past was still close to us—still coming in and going out of this world one at a time, still searching for the question that will put our minds at ease, for the things we know will make us whole, but wondering why it has to be those specific things that do.

Anthemic at times, it’s a definite shift from their previous work. The album as a whole carries a specific message that Rønnenfelt has attempted to convey over multiple bands and albums. Marching Church, what used to be Rønnenfelt’s solo project, has done the most to depict the demon that seems to be dancing on top of the prolific artist’s chest. He’s not complaining about any of it—he just needs you to understand what it is that is happening in his mind. The opposite shore of the anthemic is the harrowing hush of being in a crowd and not knowing anyone but getting excited about the freedom it entails.

Across the entire album, Rønnenfelt is about as close as you can possibly get to what it would sound like to be half-singing in a pitch-black forest, comforting yourself as you stumble around without knowing where you’re going. It’s this sound, maybe even more than the lyrics, that conveys the state of mind of a man emerging from out of whatever cocoon he’s been stuck in and finding it difficult to understand the place he’s been growing up in—as if what was once known has suddenly become not so. –Brian Udall

Angel Olsen | Phases | Jagjaguwar Records

Angel Olsen
Phases

Jagjaguwar Records
Street: 11.10
Angel Olsen = Sharon Van Etten + Nick Drake

The aptly titled B-sides release from Angel Olsen, Phases, feels like a collection of passing moments more than a unified message. But if anything holds the collection together—and it is held together—it’s Olsen’s complexity itself. Throughout the album, it becomes increasingly apparent that Olsen holds these two forces within, a tidal strength that is felt and understood but only within the frame of her underhanded, lion-in-a-housecat’s-body way of singing.

This comes in varying levels of intensity, but the range of variations of this one idea is enthralling. In “Tougher Than the Rest,” the timidity of Olsen’s voice belies the content of the lyrics, which warn a would-be lover of what they’re up against as they try to find some affection in her. It’s not that she’s uninterested—it’s almost as if she doesn’t want to have to be as cold as she is. It’s this fragility that she feels toward others that has hardened her after too many times it’s broken her to feel that way. She lets her words sift out of her like a passing phrase at the end of a difficult but enticing night out—a taxi ride back to her place, where she warns you to stay away and then invites you up for a drink.

Olsen gets more playful on “How Many Disasters,” where she sings about someone with such familiarity that the feeling of an artist’s otherness, as opposed to being human, is shattered. In a way, it conjures up a feeling of a friend that’s known you for too long not to know how to see through a fake attempt at looking like everything is fine when it isn’t. The emotions are too real and complex not to be honest. It’s difficult not to notice this personal touch that stands to defy the monosyllabism of second-rate musicians.

Many of the songs are musically stark, with only a background stance to Olsen’s voice. Several tracks don’t include any other instruments at all beyond the lone guitar in Olsen’s hands. “Special” is a song that has the band playing along with this minimalism a little, but which slowly teases its way toward a bluesy climax. It’s nothing close to some of the more bravado titles on her previous album, MY WOMAN, but certainly more intricately produced than other songs on this release. Not tying the sound to any one set of requirements connects the title Phases to the range of Olsen’s discography. Each of these rarities are tied to a particular moment in Olsen’s progression toward who she’s become today, and while that progression never happened to be in the same place as the last, Phases gives some solid insight into how Olsen has stayed true to her own personality. It’s sexy and solemn and makes you want to be a little more real in the hopes that you could hold the attention of someone as intricate as Olsen, for a moment or two, if such a person ever crossed your path. Luckily for us, Olsen drops markers along her path in the form of music, and for those of us with less depth or attention, we can at least catch a glimpse of what it’s like to have a thought like someone who has taken on that role in life. Think of Phases as a loosely drawn map between those small and vibrant markers on Angel’s path between subtlety and strength. Her passion and her pain. A lion-in-a-housecat’s body. –Brian Udall

Ought

Ought
Sun Coming Down

Constellation Records
Street: 09.18
Ought = The Velvet Underground + Deerhunter + Perfect Pussy

Tim Darcy’s preening, anxious lyrics are endlessly quotable. Decrying an imagined love, he carries himself along the tensely paranoid line between the surreal and existential. At any given moment, he’s leaning toward the bizarre and then back again to the mundane, only to find himself standing iron-footed in the middle the whole time, simply swaying in the breeze. “It’s a little bit strange,” Darcy breathes out on “The Combo.” And the music is a little bit strange, with the at times droning guitar seeming to percolate Darcy’s thoughts with a chattered picking, and the drum relaying itself in a hazy version of your favorite math rock anthem. It’s intelligent rock n’ roll peering through the eyes of the coolest beta male at that Dada-themed house party you and your friends never got invited to, but you know you wish you had. –Brian Udall

King Dude – Sex

King Dude
Sex

Not Just Religious Music
Street: 10.28
King Dude = Morrissey + Swans + Johnny Cash

King Dude are some of the most qualified spelunkers to the darkest corners of the mind. If you’re among that certain class of civilians in the world who enjoy depth to the point of peril and religiosity to the point of insanity, let TJ Cowgill show you what rock n’ roll sounds like in hell. And that’s not an exaggeration; the genre they’ve labeled themselves as online is “Luciferian,” and Cowgill references the great Beelzebub at several points across the album in a submissive respect that’s transcended fear to a level of shriveled, ashy acceptance of the mortal coil.

The first half of the album goes back and forth between a sad and gloomy folk and heavier, not-quite-metal rock. It stays consistent thematically, but the mood changes so often that it’s hard to ever get comfortable. “Who Taught You How To Love” is an un-danceable serenade to an 18-year-old actress from L.A. In her Lolita-esque love story, Cowgill is both narrator and participant. Turning on a dime, “I Wanna Die at 69” has Cowgill crooning, “I want to put myself between both of your legs / And have you kiss my lips to taste what I taste” in this guttural, drunken way that gets darker and less sober with each turn. A heavy, melodic riff amplifies the stumbling through the streets, a loaded revolver jumps in at the chorus to bring red into the King’s eyes, and then in the background, this young woman confesses, court-witness style, to the violence and Satanism of the man. And that’s just the beginning of the album.

At the halfway point of the album, demarcated by the post-punk, instrumental number “Conflict & Climax,” the music becomes slightly more poppy and, at times, experimental. King Dude have touched the lightness of pop in previous albums, but in this latest attempt, it seems as if they’ve managed to incorporate a gothic vibe. “Swedish Boys” has backup vocals faintly ooh-ing in the background, something you’d expect to find in the newer styles of beach garage or alternative indie music. Then “The Girls” comes into play, with a theatrically absurd introduction to the sound of applause. In an almost avant-garde style, Cowgill sings the first line only to be drowned out by that applause, and he pauses to tell the audience to stop before he continues. It’s a fun little trick that a number of experimental groups are incorporating, whether it’s laughter or applause or some other form of audience participation, which brings to mind a self-conscious humor usually associated with groups less involved with the dark prince.

But, let’s be real: This swaying across the bright and shadowed cracks on the face of man could put anyone in a daze. What’s great is that the band is able to lend out the stark religious motif running through the album—hedonism in the vein of nihilistic sexuality—an emotional power that conjures up all those subconscious mental states that the world’s conservatively religious parents have worked so hard to atrophy. But, if anyone’s looking to get deeper than drugs could ever take them—to see the humor in the dark—let King Dude pour black water across the pagan soil sitting forgotten in the fields of your soul. Let him baptize you in the rivers of hell and decry Jesus’ retribution. Just remember that the Devil’s river runs dry, and soon, so will you. –Brian Udall

Beachmen Pink

Beachmen Pink

Beachmen
Everybody’s Pink Inside

Self-Released
Street: 09.12
Beachmen = Pinback + Beach Fossils + Cloud Nothings

With the second self-released album from one of Salt Lake’s most up-and-coming bands, the conversation has changed. Everybody’s Pink Inside is an almost entirely new approach for the band, but still sticks to the same strengths that have established Beachmen as a rollicking good live show (evocative vocals and catchy but substantial drumming). The album is intimate, an inwardly searching trail of breadcrumbs to reach a distant, psychic shore and come back again. As a live band, the energy is up. It wouldn’t be unusual to walk into a show to find the dancefloor crowded and vibrant. It’s almost as if the private recordings of the album were torches, lighting the way to the celebrated, frequently visited destination of a live show—a show where all the members of the band give off the persona of a well-established, inventive-but-consistent local group that is meant to be noticed—and they are. –Brian Udall

Conor Oberst | Ruminations | Nonesuch Records

Conor Oberst
Ruminations

Nonesuch Records
Street: 10.14
Conor Oberst = Elliot Smith + M. Ward + Nick Drake

Conor Oberst’s talent as a musician has been established for so long that it’s amazing that he can still come out with new material that has his same incredibly distinct style and still flows across with an emotional prowess whose equal you honestly may never find anywhere else in your lifetime. And while the music itself carries along well, it sits very much in the background of the defining feature of Oberst’s music. His lyricism.

The beautifully rhyming words have this weird attribute of being exactly what needed to have followed the line before and being the one you never would have seen to put there yourself. This album feels like Oberst is acknowledging and emphasizing this aspect of his music. The band has been sent on vacation while he sits around with nothing but a guitar, a piano, and his harmonica peeling away yet another layer of his soul. If he keeps it up he may one day peel his way right into the raw, sensitive ectoplasm we’re all running around looking for.

But this introspective voyage Oberst has been on has two very different sides lying to his left and right. On “Gossamer Thin” he has this verse that goes, “She likes the new pope, She’s not scared of hell, They meet once a week at a secret motel.” And while it’s actually really charming and oddly heartwarming to think about a young fling the pope is caught up in, the characteristic, heartbroken tone Oberst has always had gives the scenario this existential import that only he can manage. This bittersweet feeling of a happy situation being sung about in a way that drags your mind inwards.

His voice has this grounding effect when paired with sweet lyrics but when Oberst dips his feet into the black pool the tone keeps him floating at the top instead of drowning in it. On “Counting Sheep” he sings, “Temperature’s cool, Blood pressure’s fine, One twenty one over seventy five, Scream if you want, No one can hear you.” While the lyrics sung in any other way could come across as too much, his realist, matter of fact tone has the ability to point you towards his acute sense of ennui without forcing you down to that low, twilit setting where all the beauty and all the terror in the world is born.

He travels from fame and adultery to bar conversations to Ronald Reagan. Calls out for love and calls out for death. His is a mind that eats continuously and it’s obvious that some things are bitter to taste but don’t worry cause he’s willing to regurgitate it into your skull. You get all the nutrients and don’t have to bother to chew. Life of a poet. And now that’s official, a la Bob Dylan. Now that musicians are poets too I think all we’ll have to do is wait until Oberst doesn’t sound like he’s in his late twenties so the immortals handing out the Nobel prize will take notice. I got a hundo that says he’ll get nominated some way down the line. And I got another hundred that says he’ll disappear into the fuzz of history’s maw but I think he’d prefer that anyway. –Brian Udall

Suuns | Felt

Suuns
Felt

Secretly Canadian
Street: 03.02
Suuns = Odonis Odonis + Temples + Dirty Beaches

Suuns have always stood in their own realm between noise, post-punk and dance with a dark and isolated dystopian vibe. Their experimental style evolves with each album, but with the upcoming Felt, the band is in an around-the-world scenario that finds them in a more playful mood than that of the rest of their work. Their attraction, at times, to cold and unwelcoming rhythms that deny the listener a sense of connection has largely given way to a warmer, if still undanceable, sensation. Their world remains bleak and dark, but it feels less like the band is hidden in a maze of dark alleyways and more like they’ve moved to some tucked-away venue where the crowd dances together while still being completely alone.

The tone for this starts with the opening track, “Look No Further,” where boozy percussion drawls behind singer Ben Shemie as he evokes primordial scenes of rock, clay and myth. It’s a stark progression from their past as an alienated and alienating force. The aesthetics of the sound have become more palatable without becoming commercial.

Something else the band plays with is the percussion of the album: some solid house rhythms that fit well into their new style. It lends itself to the “club collective buried in the slums of the future” mindset they’ve placed themselves in. It’s not as if they’re adding anything particularly new, instrument-wise, to their repertoire. Instead, their experimental nature has led them to fresh, new grounds that demonstrate that they still have room to explore. They certainly haven’t given up their outsider status: Their sound is uniquely their own, but their wandering sound has brought them closer to what other artists are already doing, which gives them an approachability that may have been less apparent before—all without sacrificing the arena they’ve been harvesting from for years.

One thing they try out on a few songs—which is a little more hit-or-miss—is their use of autotune. In more than a couple songs, the vocals are drenched in this pop cliché. At times, it seems to work: “Materials” is entirely autotuned, and it’s one of the groovier tracks with a southerly, minimalist approach. Unfortunately, on other songs, it can seem a little grating in its disconnect with the rest of the band’s elements. To be fair, this doesn’t take away from the album much. The nature of an experimental group feeling their way through uncharted territory almost demands that not everything is going to be a polished gem of a track.

Suuns are anything but smooth at the edges, and for them to have as many successes on this album as they do is definitely evidence that these guys are really coming to settle into themselves without becoming complacent. If anything, the fact that they make it feel easy and natural to have my head nodding to the beat of some woozy little number while there are sirens and something being digitally devoured in the background is fantastic. And in another song, they have table saws setting the tempo off for a heavy post-punk number. Suuns haven’t stopped challenging the idea of melody and rhythm—they’re just continuing to make it a lot harder to say that you can’t do it well. –Brian Udall