This week on Pressing Concerns, we’ll look at new albums from MJ Lenderman, Golden Boots, and Ali Murray, and a new EP from La Bonte. If you like alt-country and/or slowcore, then this is the week for you.
I also wrote about Bunny, the latest record from Mister Goblin, earlier this week. If you’re looking for more new music, you can browse previous editions of Pressing Concerns or visit the site directory.
MJ Lenderman – Boat Songs
Release date: April 29th
Record label: Dear Life
Genre: Alt-country, country rock
Formats: Vinyl, CD, digital
Pull track: Hangover Game
If you’re reading this website, you probably already know about and hopefully enjoy the music of MJ Lenderman. If not, I’ve cleared failed you in some way, because Rosy Overdrive has been on him since his Dear Life debut last March with Ghost of Your Guitar Solo. Since then, Lenderman has released the Knockin’ EP, as well as a cover album and an original album as part of the band Wednesday (Lenderman and Wednesday also released the Guttering EP together in early 2021). It’s tempting to view Boat Songs as the culmination of Lenderman’s recent run (as I imagine many do); at 34 minutes, it’s the most substantial record to come out under his name in this flurry of activity. It’d be especially easy to slide into a “Boat Songs is the realization of Lenderman’s scattershot, lo-fi earlier releases” narrative after hearing its first two tracks: “Hangover Game”, a roaring country rock anthem that’s the most immediately attention-grabbing song Lenderman has ever put out, and “You Have Bought Yourself a Boat”, a mid-tempo southern groover that feels like Lenderman has fully unlocked something.
Here’s what I view Boat Songs as above everything else, though: another piece in the puzzle of MJ Lenderman. It’s a major one, to be sure, but it fits right in with what’s come before. The relative gloss of “Hangover Game” and “You Have Bought Yourself a Boat” are what MJ Lenderman sounds like now, but so are the record’s lo-fi fuzz-fests like “SUV” and “Dan Marino”—these are just as vital songs, not half-formed ideas for him to motor past eventually. To further the connective strings between releases, I don’t know if you get “You Have Bought Yourself a Boat”, for instance, without Knockin’’s “TV Dinners. Speaking of Knockin’, two of its five tracks (“TLC Cage Match” and “Tastes Just Like It Costs”) thankfully get a wider release here.
The two re-recorded songs are polished up to better fit on Boat Songs, but if you think the arc of MJ Lenderman is pointing unilaterally in a shinier direction, I’ll point out that the latter of the two is followed up by “Six Flags”, a dense six-minute closing track that’s maybe the toughest thing to swallow from Lenderman yet. As eerie as “Six Flags” is sonically, there’s no denying that the theme park observations contained therein are vintage Lenderman, something Boat Songs has in spades—hungover Michael Jordan, Dan Marino at the Harris Teeter, the unpretentious straightforwardness of all of “Under Control”, and the curious shouted title of “You Are Every Girl to Me”, which is a perfect song. Great artists build up formidable back catalogs—at his current rate, MJ Lenderman is creating an entire world. (Bandcamp link)
Golden Boots – Liquid Ranch
Release date: April 28th
Record label: Pass Without Trace
Genre: Alt-country, lo-fi indie rock, psych-country
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull track: 10 Things to Know Before Visiting Transylvania
There’s an overused quote about Lambchop that calls them “Nashville’s most fucked-up country band”. Replace Nashville with Tucson, Arizona and you’ve got a working starting point for Golden Boots, the Grand Canyon state’s long-running desert country duo. Liquid Ranch is apparently the group’s seventeenth album in twenty years (they could be bullshitting me about that, I suppose), and while it’s the first Golden Boots album I’ve heard, I feel like I understand where they’re coming from just based on its contents. The band’s core duo of Ryan Eggleston and Dimitri Manos cite both 70s country and 90s lo-fi indie weird pop (Pavement, yes, but also eyebrow-raising names like Bingo Trappers, Strapping Fieldhands, and Tall Dwarfs) as wells from which they draw their sound. Liquid Ranch “celebrates…20 years of being a band” and showcases two extremes—it’s a very accessible record at its core, but it isn’t without its share of odd, scenic-route detours as well.
Liquid Ranch comes out of the gate eager to please, with a host of fine hooky alt-country tracks stacked one after another. Album opener “Lookout” finds Golden Boots setting off on a propulsive and upbeat note, and while the next two songs are a bit hazier, they’re both friendly: “Sedona” is reminiscent of mellow Ty Segall and a lot of the recent West Coast lightly-psychedelic garage rock scene, while “Party USA 666” is jammy noise pop in something of a Shrimper Records way. Oddly enough, the most triumphant pop song is “10 Things to Know Before Visiting Transylvania”, a rolling country-rocker singalong that seems to only sort of be about vampires.
Liquid Ranch gets a little restless after rolling out the red carpet early on, though—that’s where we get tracks like the odd digital-only interludes, the deconstructed “Chemical Burn”, and “Sky Light”, where the record’s cosmic and extraterrestrial undertones saunter into the limelight. Liquid Ranch ends with a couple more twangy pop songs, but both seem touched by the record’s radioactive center: the travelogue chant of “Odd Essay” lives up to the wordy hypnosis implied by its title, and closing track “Suicide Electric” sounds defiant in a uniquely western way—even if its weariness sounds like it’s aware of the reasons why it maybe shouldn’t be. (Bandcamp link)
La Bonte – Grist for the Mill
Release date: April 29th
Record label: Anxiety Blanket
Genre: Slowcore, alt-country, folk
Formats: Cassette, digital
Pull track: Angel
Los Angeles’ “quiet rock band” La Bonte is led by its namesake, singer-songwriter/guitarist Garrett La Bonte, and backed by a stable of musicians including Darto’s Nicholas Merz on pedal steel and Chase Petra’s Evan Schaid on drums. Their latest release, April’s Grist for the Mill EP, is the follow-up to the group’s debut full-length, last year’s Don’t Let This Define Me. Featuring five songs, two of which are covers, La Bonte’s latest might seem a minor release in comparison to their last one, but Grist for the Mill doesn’t sound that way, nor does it seem like an EP of leftovers and outtakes. Don’t Let This Define Me is a record of emotional, widescreen California slowcore that evokes American Music Club and Red House Painters; Grist for the Mill is not a major departure from this sound, but it feels a little more insular, more indebted to glacial-paced spaciousness of bands like Songs: Ohia and early Low.
EP opener “Angel” is about as “immediate” as this genre of music can be, finding its sweeping beauty-evoking sweet spot early on and launching directly into space for six minutes. It’s the fullest-sounding song on Grist for the Mill by some distance, but it feels of a kind with the rest of its songs. “15 North” in particular feels like it could match the ambition of “Angel” if it wanted to, but instead opts for the odd feeling of building up to something it never quite reaches (it sounds almost like a Wrens song towards the end, with La Bonte and Janey Riech’s voices intertwining). Somewhat paradoxically, it’s the songs that La Bonte didn’t write that lend Grist for the Mill its most intimate qualities. The band chooses one somewhat-contemporary song (Gracie Gray’s “Oregon in a Day”) and one older selection (Townes Van Zandt’s “Colorado Girl”) to make into their own, and they do so delicately and reverently. Like the great Joel R.L. Phelps (who covered Van Zandt multiple times himself), La Bonte seems to have the gift of being able to completely inhabit these songs, letting himself, and subsequently the listener, get lost on a level deeper than the specific geography mapped in both tracks. (Bandcamp link)
Ali Murray – Wilderness of Life
Release date: April 17th
Record label: Self-released
Genre: Indie folk, slowcore, dream pop
Pull track: Nectarine
Wilderness of Life is a gently chaotic listen. Singer-songwriter Ali Murray hails from the Isle of Lewis in the Hebrides of northern Scotland, and is actually quite prolific between his solo career and several side projects. For the latest record under his own name, Murray has decided to offer up a little bit of every one of his genres of choice—throughout Wilderness of Life, one will find everything from shimmery slowcore to Celtic-inspired folk to upbeat indie rock to reverb-y, drum machine-aided dream pop. From the opening title track and the faded photo of a Ferris wheel on the record’s cover, one might get the impression that Wilderness of Life is going to be a dreamier version of nostalgic, Red House Painters-esque slowcore, but the stark banjo stomp of “The Burning Skies” one song later burns down any sense of predictability early on in the record.
Murray embraces the electric guitar on several cuts from Wilderness of Life to different ends—on one side, the roaring “Nectarine” rivals “The Burning Skies” in terms of surprises, embracing the kinetic spirit of 90s indie rock and even throwing out an inspired solo towards the end. Meanwhile, songs like “Rain Box” and “Twilight Hill” probe the more lonesome end of the instrument, with unadorned playing accompanying Murray’s voice along with various accents and flourishes from piano and synths. “Baby Dove” is one of the more shoegaze-inspired songs on the record, with the amped-up guitar not quite overwhelming Murray’s vocals enough to be purely shoegaze, but, aided by its drum machine background, ends up fitting well into modern reverb-y indie rock. Murray also offers up dreamy, acoustic-based lost 4AD-sounding cuts like “Wasted Eden” and “Never Get Old”. Wilderness of Life navigates through these various detours and straits deftly, presenting a portrait of an intriguing under-the-radar songwriter. (Bandcamp link)