London trio Big Hug is another band that I found via Instagram—well, technically they found me—who released their debut EP back in March. Five songs of very solid emo/indie that's soft 'n' shimmery but also carries with it a smidge of abrasiveness and somewhat of a mathy edge. It makes me think of Initial Records during the early-2000s, though there is something more "modern" about this. The dual vocals make for some nice harmonies, and overall you'll encounter strong musicianship with a wonderfully warm and natural recording (I love the bass presence). They're not rewriting any books, but certainly hit the mark in quality form, and in front of the right ears, I do feel that this project deserves to gain a bit more attention. Fans of this genre: take note.
Norwegian post-punk/hardcore/metal/etc. peculiarities Damokles have already followed up last year's Nights Come Alive with album #2, Swing, Pendulum, Swing—once more through Vinter Records. By the second track, it becomes clear that this outing explores a much wider range of territory, as you'll start hearing everything from Mastodon to Tool—though still filtered through the atypically dark and angular "post-"isms of the band's core sound, which herein tends to be accented by an increase in subtle atmospheric textures. It feels like this material has the potential to start branching out into wider audiences, whether that be open-minded fans of nontraditional progressive metal, gloomy alternative rock that exists on the periphery of the mainstream, etc. Having been fortunate enough to gain early access to these tunes, I can also report that Swing, Pendulum, Swing is the type of album that—as time passes between listens—will strike differently every time, with a slew of new details to discover upon each return.
No CDs this time, just red vinyl with a massive 28-page booklet. The increasing costs of vinyl combined with higher and higher international postage rates means that the total cost outside of Europe is likely tough to handle, but the digital is super well-priced, so head to Bandcamp for your pick of LP or mp3s. For the rest of you, there's always streaming: Spotify, Apple Music, and more.
I had been eagerly awaiting the debut six-song EP from Portland's FeverSleep based on the strengths of a couple of pre-release singles, and indeed this is a promising 20-minute spin. The general tone reminds me of Neckscars (not the most-recognized band for a comparison, I know, but a high compliment from me) as far as presenting ever-so-slightly grungy "punk rock" with an alternative lean, in that Hot Water Music type of vein. Melodic and emotional, but certainly not pop-punk. Slow, relaxed builds (but nothing overly atmospheric) drift toward some very memorable songwriting, especially in tunes like "Little Pins," which opens up a bit more and was the immediate standout for me. Great recording, too. Very balanced. The bass tone is killer and firmly sets the central pulse, allowing the mix to highlight some nice layering and interplay between guitars panned left/right. Tons of potential here, I'll be quite interested in hearing their future efforts...
The self-titled 12" is limited to just 200 copies, 100 on starburst black with purple from Ashtray Monument (U.S.), and 100 on purple and black marbled from Thirty Something Records (Europe). I have to credit both labels, too, as the vinyl is very fairly priced—even the European pressing shipped to the U.S. is bearable! Digital peeps should visit Bandcamp, and streamers of streams can utilize Spotify, Apple Music, and all that.
Finnish trio Glass Wipe hit me up on Instagram not long ago regarding Co Lo Mone, which looks to be their third album since 2016, and let me say: this is some absolutely fantastic pop-punk. The overall sound brings to mind Does This Look Infected? era Sum 41—which I personally view as and intend to be a compliment. However, knowing that such a comparison might scare more narrow-minded purists away, I will clarify that in this scenario, we'd be talking about a Sum 41 who rather than being an obnoxious major label "punk" band would have been more scene-respected and on a label like Fat or Epitaph or something. I mean, come on, check out tracks like "Don't Fuk Wit Me," "Replace My Heart," "Indecision," and then some. We're talkin' fast-paced, crunchy-yet-melodic power chords and killer backup vocal harmonies aplenty. Great songwriting, solid production, cool album cover (a massive improvement over the visual aesthetic of their prior albums)... this is awesome. Big fan. Highly recommended!
Through tracing Discogs lineup connections to Chinchilla, I recently stumbled onto Seattle alt.-rock outfit Guest Directors. They've issued a bunch of EPs dating back to 2016, but just released their debut full-length late last month. The group seems to sort of boil their sound down to "bluesy, dreamy, shreddy, psychedelic"; which is interesting in that it does accurately indicate that there are a lot of different influences factoring in here, but perhaps ever-so-slightly misleading in the sense that it's not the type of callout I would see and think, "Ooh, I need to check this out!" I do, however, quite enjoy all of the band's output to date. I'm likely poorly-versed in where they're coming from musically, so all I can do is attempt to describe what I hear as an intriguing lesson in contrasts—whether that be the two singers, jangly/bendy chords and driving rhythms, bright shimmer with occasional twang or some fuzzed-out noisiness, memorable energy and relaxed atmospheres, or tonalities that sway from slightly uplifting to slower and more somber. Good stuff.
I've actually had a few different sources hit me up about the debut full-length from Washington, D.C.'s Skymender in recent weeks, and coincidentally it's quite a good fit to follow Guest Directors herein. Self-described as "shoegaze-adjacent," the quintet does indeed possess 'gaze-like characteristics, and not to the point of what I would truly call shoegaze. Fuzzy chords and textures create a dense base for shimmery melodies and dreamy dual vocals mixed barely ahead of the instruments—engineered and mixed by J. Robbins, you know it sounds quite nice. The compositions are a little more mid-paced and subtly energetic than most of this niche, too, which I appreciate very much as it not only separates their take from the herd, but is simply more enjoyable to listen to than a wide swath of comparable artists who can tend to be overly reliant on borderline dull pacing. Nicely done.
If and Only is available on pro CD-R (100 copies) from the always cool Handstand Records, and transparent orange vinyl (368 copies) through Steadfast Records. (Handstand also has the vinyl for sale, while Steadfast has a few copies of the CD.) Head to Bandcamp for your digital needs. If you prefer to listen to your "shoegaze-adjacent" tunes on a "music-adjacent" platform, find the album on Spotify, Apple Music, and so on.