This week’s Pressing Concerns highlights new albums from Sadurn, Erica Eso, and Jacky Boy, as well as a vinyl re-release of a cassette from Tony Jay that originally came out last year.
Sadurn – Radiator
Release date: May 6th
Record label: Run for Cover
Genre: Alt-country, indie folk
Formats: Vinyl, cassette, digital
Pull track: Snake
Philadelphia’s Sadurn has been kicking around for a few years, first releasing a couple of EPs as singer-songwriter Genevieve DeGroot’s solo project, then developing into a full band, recording a session for the Under the First Floor podcast and having their debut delayed by the pandemic. I was intrigued by Sadurn’s version of alt-country when I heard those still-unreleased songs—sincerely devoted to the country side of things, but still quite accessible and built to emphasize DeGroot’s songwriting—and I’m pleased to say that Radiator is a strong document of this new band. Throughout the record, I hear a mix of Magnolia Electric Co.-era Songs: Ohia (who they have covered) and country-adjacent singer-songwriters, both in the form of their predecessors (like Lucinda Williams) and contemporaries (like Jodi and Waxahatchee). In fact, Radiator sounds something like if Katie Crutchfield had been embracing the twang of Saint Cloud when she was making the intimate American Weekend.
The full band is an asset throughout Radiator, and it’s rarely guilty of overplaying. They’re invaluable in elevating songs like the shuffling roots rock of album opener “Snake” or the mid-record drama of “The Void / Madison”, but they hang back in the acoustic folk of “Moses Kill” and let drum machines and synths take over in “Icepick”. Musical variations aside, DeGroot’s vocals are steady throughout Radiator, and their lyrics are enough to establish them as an upcoming and worthwhile songwriter to watch. These songs play back moments that seem to cycle through DeGroot’s head, coming off as oddly calming except for the occasional line that reaches out and smacks you, like when DeGroot backs out from a commitment to zone out in the title track, or when they punctuate the slow-building “Special Power” with “If you think that means that I’m over you, you’re dreaming”.
Walking the tightrope of trading in bright, melodic pop songwriting while also committing to the at-times naked emotion of folk music is as difficult as it is rewarding when done right, and it isn’t done better than “Icepick”, the last song on Radiator to feature vocals. The song’s unflinching relationship analysis is quite compelling, to the point where it might be difficult to pull back just a little bit and catch just how much DeGroot’s delivery adds to the lines. Not that pulling back is necessary for appreciating Radiator, mind you—it’ll meet you wherever you are. (Bandcamp link)
Tony Jay – Hey There Flower (Vinyl release)
Release date: May 6th
Record label: Mt. St. Mtn.
Genre: Lo-fi indie rock, bedroom pop, psych pop
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull track: Hey There Flower
Earlier this year, Mt. St. Mtn. reissued Oh Boy, the debut album from Los Angeles’ Massage, with a vinyl re-pressing. Their next re-release project also sees a West Coast indie pop record see a wider release, but Tony Jay’s Hey There Flower is a decidedly different strain of guitar pop than Massage’s. The latest album in a long string of releases from the project of San Francisco’s Michael Ramos (who also plays in the bands Flowertown and April Magazine), Hey There Flower saw a limited cassette release last year on Paisley Shirt Records, and while the faded, lo-fi sound of the album might feel like it fits the tape medium more than anything else, Mt. St. Mtn. and Ramos correctly saw something in these songs that merited a second life for them.
Ramos’ breathy vocals are the most obvious throughline in Hey There Flower, often accompanied by little more than a simply-strummed guitar or two and minimal percussion, not unlike an even more stripped-down version of Flowertown’s most recent album, 2021’s Time Trials. Sometimes the layers of these songs create a sort of cavernous echo, like in “Another Time” or parts of “Deep in Squalor”; in other tracks like “Melted Car” and “Say It Now”, Ramos keeps the music to a low hum and his voice to a hushed whisper. A few of these songs are more “neatly” put together than the rest: the hazy jangle pop of the title track moves forward confidently through the record’s molasses, and the bittersweet indie pop “Unled Lives” features inspired vocals from Hannah Lew in its captivating chorus. These more lucid moments are nice pace-changers for Hey There Flower, but they’re just enough to not overwhelm the record at its core—they don’t distract from the wealth of highlights that feature just Ramos and a couple of acoustic chords. (Bandcamp link)
Erica Eso – 192
Release date: April 29th
Record label: Hausu Mountain
Genre: Experimental pop, art pop, alt-R&B
Formats: CD, cassette, digital
Pull track: O Ocean
192 is the third album from Kingston, New York group Erica Eso, and their first for Chicago’s Hausu Mountain Records. It becomes apparent from the soft opening of first track “Y.L.M.E.” that this record skews more pop-friendly than the majority of their new home label’s releases, but 192 slowly reveals itself as a fitting addition to Hausu Mountain’s experimental/free-form oeuvre. The band is a quintet led by vocalist/synth player Weston Minissali (also of prog-pop weirdos Cloud Becomes Your Hand), and while his gentle singing and synth washes are two of the most prominent features of 192, the contributions of the other members make it feel more like a band/collective than a solo endeavor. “Y.L.M.E.” is marked by the dueling vocals of Minissali and Angelica Bess (of Kalbells)—a feature that pops up throughout 192, to its credit—but it’s also just as notably anchored by the drums and bass of Rhonda Lowry and Nathaniel Morgan, respectively, which help the song glide along for seven minutes without dragging.
Erica Eso get “locked in” like they do in “Y.L.M.E.” throughout 192—the propulsive bass-led “O Ocean” might be the record’s finest moment, and they slow the groove down just a bit in closing track “Acclaimed Evacuation (Part 2)” for maximum hypnotic effect. These long-stretch-of-highway songs are very rewarding avenues for Erica Eso, but they’re split up by more “searching” moments—“O Ocean” wanders off into the weeds a bit before regrouping at the finish, and “Acclaimed Evacuation (Part 2)” is preceded by an ambient-ish intro in “(Part 1)”. These moments also encompass 192’s more R&B-indebted moments, like “Home Is a Glow” (which jumps between an easy listening rollout and weird prog-pop moments), and “YOLK” (a minimal synth-based number that should feel like something of an outlier but fits in nicely). 192 is a comfortable-sounding album, but it’s not content to coast off of that, and reaches all the further for it. (Bandcamp link)
Jacky Boy – Mush
Release date: April 29th
Record label: Darling
Genre: Power pop, alt-rock, pop punk
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull track: Get Me Out
The second record from Bloomington, Indiana’s Jacky Boy feels familiar in a more-than-welcome way. Mush follows the trio’s 2017 debut record, On Good Terms with Everyone You Know, and from the chunky mid-tempo guitar riff that kicks off opening track “Live It Up”, they make it clear what era of rock music from which they take the most inspiration. The record’s nine songs would feel right at home in the parade of permutations of pop rock music that marked the late 1990s—there’s some straight power pop, some of the lighter side of post-grunge radio pop a la Third Eye Blind and Everclear, and, in a couple of the more upbeat tracks, something that isn’t a world away from pop punk. At times it reminds me of last year’s Telethon record, which is big praise from me. Guitarist/vocalist Steve Marino is currently a touring guitarist for power pop enthusiasts Angel Du$t, which is another indication of from where he and his bandmates are coming.
Any of Mush’s first four songs could’ve been the lead single and made perfect sense. The aforementioned “Live It Up” and “Good Enough” (which actually was the lead single) both find Jacky Boy in 90s alt-rock mode, with Marino’s conversational everyman sung-spoken vocals adding to the songs’ musical friendliness. “Get Me Out” picks things up with a pop-punk urgency, although Marino’s vocals still come off as affable. If there’s a fault with Mush, it’d be that it can’t help but feeling slightly frontloaded off of the strength with which it comes out of the gate, but there’s plenty of like in its second half as well. There’s a weariness and a darkness (at least, “dark” graded on the curve of power pop) to Side B that sacrifices a bit of immediacy for depth, but it’s not like the Lemonheads-y jangle of “If You Mean It” (where they also bust out the strings, courtesy of Diederik van Wassenaer) or the killer fuzz-drenched melody in the title track are hard to grasp. There just happens to be a couple different handles from which to choose. (Bandcamp link)