It’s weird to think it’s the last weekend of June, with that unusually stacked May we had still looming over us. There’s no Beyonce/Drake/James Blake/Chance the Rapper/Radiohead-type album out this week, which is a good thing for the smaller (or unfairly forgotten) bands that have something to say. All five of my picks this week fall into that category.
Check them out below. What was your favorite release of the week?
Tallahassee, FL’s Look Mexico have been at it for over a decade, having previously released two full lengths (and a handful of EPs) that pull from the math rock side of Midwest-style emo. With their third full length and first since 2010, Uniola, they’re focusing more on hooks than angst and applying their musical complexity to straight-up pop music more than ever before. Not to say they’ve abandoned their roots, but Uniola has a lot more in common with Minus the Bear’s Highly Refined Pirates, Maps & Atlases’ Perch Patchwork, and A Great Big Pile of Leaves’ You’re Always on My Mind than, say, Analphabetapolothology. If you dig any or all of those albums, you need Uniola in your life. That approach of focusing equally on technicality and truly sweet choruses is one that never really goes out of style, partially cause it’s never really in style either. Math rock has a very small devoted following, but the albums that really transcend the genre only come along every now and then. Personally, I’d say Uniola is the best album in this style to come out in a few years, and it deserves to reach audiences that don’t normally listen to this kind of stuff.
Mike Yannich (better known as Mikey Erg) is one of the busiest drummers in punk, having played in The Unlovables, The Measure [sa], Star Fucking Hipsters, The Slow Death, Pale Angels, Worriers and more over the past decade-plus. Oh, and of course his beloved band The Ergs, hence his stage name. The Ergs are reuniting this year, but it wouldn’t be a year in the life of Mikey Erg if that was the only exciting thing he did, so he’s also releasing his first-ever solo album. He teamed up with the likeminded (and also very busy) Jeff Rosenstock, who produced it, and churned out 11 instantly-likable pop punk songs. For the uninitiated, “pop punk” in Mikey Erg’s world has nothing to do with bands currently playing Warped Tour, it has everything to do with the Ramones, Lookout!/Recess Records, Superchunk… you get the idea. Like the Ramones, the “pop” here is rooted in classic ’60s pop, just with a snottier delivery and a whole lot more fuzz. Also like the Ramones, sometimes the album’s best moments come from the few songs that change up the pace a bit. My personal favorite is “Scenic Turnout,” a rumbling minor key song with a briskly strummed acoustic guitar and the album’s busiest drumming. He’s got plenty of great moments packed into the more straightforward songs too. He sounds familiar but never too predictable, and I’ve found myself singing along to the choruses after just a few listens.
If and when you saw that Hot Hot Heat announced their “farewell” album, you may have thought, “they didn’t already break up?!” They in fact did not, and I for one am pretty happy to get one more album out of these guys. After their instant-classic 2002 debut on Sub Pop, Make Up the Breakdown, Hot Hot Heat entered their much less interesting major label period (though “Middle of Nowhere” is still a jam) and then just when you least expected it, they put out the speaker-blowing 2010 album Future Breeds which was easily their best since their debut. Now, six years later, comes their fifth (and apparently final) album. It’s less of a raw, antsy record than Future Breeds, instead sounding somewhere in between Make Up the Breakdown and Elevator. It never reaches the radio-ready choruses of “Goodnight Goodnight” and it’s never quite as frantic as “Bandages,” but the middle ground suits them well. You’ll still never mistake Steve Bays’ voice for anyone else, and Hot Hot Heat proves he’s still a natural at crafting good pop songs. It’s a good note to go out on.
Kayo Dot are a band with roots in the metal world who pride themselves on defying genre. I’m not sure exactly what genre Plastic House on Base of Sky is, but even more so than 2014’s Coffins on Io, one thing it’s definitely not is metal. Not in the way that people say “Deafheaven isn’t metal.” Like, it literally is not metal. It most resembles the synthpop/goth/industrial world, but it’s even too strange to be tied down to that. Vocal effects, spastic timing, and dissonant sound clashes take this thing way into outer space. It’s kind of like Trent Reznor taking a lot of acid and going through an avant-garde jazz phase. (Which maybe has happened, come to think of it.) It’s challenging music for sure, but there’s always an underlying pop song. Not that you should throw any of these songs on a party mix or anything — it’s five tracks long and four of them are between seven and ten minutes — but as far as Kayo Dot goes, these songs are some of their easiest to listen to. If you’re really hoping for something like Choirs Of The Eye, you should probably look elsewhere. But if a strange, proggy synthpop album sounds like your jam, Plastic House on Base of Sky should hit the spot.
Just in case you’re a release date stickler, this album did quietly drop last week (and it still isn’t streaming online anywhere), but its release didn’t cross my radar until a few days later. And Unnecessary Evil absolutely deserves to be talked about, so here goes. The Lees of Memory is the current band of Superdrag frontman John Davis and guitarist Brandon Fisher (with drummer Nick Slack of John’s band Epic Ditch), and while their 2014 debut Sisyphus Says had them diving into MBV-style shoegaze, this one is way closer to prime-era Superdrag. Most of it is the kind of crunchy power pop we got on Regretfully Yours and In the Valley of Dying Stars, but a few songs (like “Squared Up,” “Artificial Air” and the title track) have them taking the psychedelic leanings of Head Trip In Every Key into even trippier territories. The title track comes with a killer sitar solo, and “Artificial Air” evolves into a droney, krauty jam. If you dig that middle ground between ’90s punk and indie rock that’s been having a huge resurgence lately, those first three Superdrag records are essential for your collection. And Unnecessary Evil may be the best record John Davis and Brandon Fisher have put out since then.
Unnecessary Evil isn’t streaming anywhere, but you can pick it up on vinyl/CD from PledgeMusic, on cassette from Burger Records, or digitally via iTunes.
Stream “Any Way But Down” from the album above.
Looking for more recent releases? Browse the Notable Releases archive>.