Pressing Concerns: Gaadge, Dan Wriggins, En Garde, Mal Devisa, The Death of Pop, Russel the Leaf

Pressing Concerns is back! This post caps off a busy week for Rosy Overdrive–I reviewed a playlist I originally made in 2019 on Monday, and on Wednesday I reviewed Shoot Out the Speed Cameras by John Sharkey III, which was initially slated to be included here before it became apparent that I was going too long on it. Three posts in one week! That probably won’t happen again anytime soon. Anyway, today I’m rounding up new albums by Gaadge, Mal Devisa, Russel the Leaf, and The Death of Pop, as well as new EPs by Friendship’s Dan Wriggins and En Garde.

Be sure to check out previous editions of Pressing Concerns for more new music. Consider this the first of a two-parter that will conclude around a week from now, when I’ll talk about a couple albums coming out on March 26th plus a handful of releases I didn’t end up having room for here.

Gaadge – Yeah?

Release date: March 19th

Record label: Crafted Sounds

Genre: Shoegaze, noise pop

Formats: Cassette, CD, digital

Pull track: Creeping Weeks

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania’s Gaadge are a swirly rock band that started as the project of Mitch DeLong, but has since evolved into a full-band effort. Their debut album, Yeah?, finds Gaage carefully crafting a wall of sound, only to kick it back down throughout the record. Their reverb-heavy sound nods to, among others, the revved-up hard-shoegaze of Ovlov and Swervedriver, the chaotic noise pop of The Spirit of the Beehive, and the tender lo-fi melodies of Guided by Voices and Alex G—often in the same song. The first (full-length) song “Creeping Weeks” starts with a dreamy intro and doesn’t transition to the mid-tempo rocker it eventually becomes until nearly two minutes into the track. They continue similarly with the relative restraint of “All You Can Absorb”, but then throw in “Do What Now”, which finds the band furiously playing over DeLong’s intoned vocals and landing somewhere pretty close to a punked-up My Bloody Valentine.

There is a tradition of grandiosity among this kind of deeply-layered, sensory-overload music, and Gaadge dip their toe into that with the six-minute psychedelic rock odyssey of “Thrill”, which doesn’t reinvent their sound so much as expand on it. As if a little nervous at their audacity, they bookend the song with two sub-two-minute breather songs written by bassist Nick Boston. It’s an odd choice, but both of them are actually pretty good in their own right, particularly “Murphy’s Law”, which starts off as one Yeah?’s more subdued moments until the band lets loose in the second half. The true “breathers” on the album might actually be the straightforward alt-rock of “Flipping Shit” and “Holy Formers”—songs that still work without (or, at least, with less of) the bells and whistles of some of Yeah?’s busier moments. All in all, I’m left with a strong first impression of Gaadge—they’re a band that’s already nailed a particular sound, but DeLong and company give the songs a solid foundation underneath and hint at a duality they could explore in the future. (Bandcamp link)

Dan Wriggins – Mr. Chill

Release date: March 12th

Record label: Orindal

Genre: Alt-country

Formats: Cassette, digital

Pull track: Mr. Chill

Dan Wriggins has gained modest notoriety as the lead singer for the Philadelphia “ambient country” group Friendship, who have made three strong albums over the past half-decade. The five-song Mr. Chill EP is Wriggins’ first solo release, and it’s drawn from the same recording sessions as his single “Dent / The Diner” earlier this year. Mr. Chill is not too far from his work with Friendship—that is, it continues the minimalist twang the band explored on 2019’s Dreamin’, and Wriggins’ distinctive warble is as front and center as ever. If anything, the EP is even sparser than his band. There’s no bass on the record, which means a good portion of Mr. Chill is filled out instrumentally by only Wriggins’ acoustic guitar and fellow Friendship member Michael Cormier’s steady drumming, with occasional organ and piano stabs, also by Wriggins.

“All Things Being Equal” is a classic Friendship-style number, with Wriggins stretching out his vocals for emotion and ample use of empty space to let the words hang out in the open. “Season” is even better, treading into darker territory and opting for “cold” rather than “chill”. Wriggins’ writing is as strong as it’s ever been, turning out several memorable lines over the EP’s 17 minutes. “I can tell you stuff I can’t tell anyone else / Because you don’t threaten to help” from the title track cuts like a knife, and “Everything’s a clue to a green detective” is a hell of a thesis from “Yellow Bricks”. The best example, however, is in “Lucinda on June Bug”. That’s Lucinda Williams—Wriggins explains that the titular phrase is meant to be read in “the way an egghead might say ‘Tolstoy on morality’ or something”. It’s a roundabout way to write about taking comfort in one’s favorite records in a personal rough patch (“Prince on crying doves” also gets a mention). The song then sums everything up with a take on a famous George Bush quote (“Read my salty lips: no new love”), and if that’s not an indication of the quality of songcraft here, I’m not sure what is. (Bandcamp link)

En Garde – Debtors

Release date: March 19th

Record label: Count Your Lucky Stars

Genre: Post-hardcore, emo, math rock

Formats: Cassette, digital

Pull track: Our Hands

I’ve talked about some stuff in Pressing Concerns that could be described as “emo-tinged”, and some albums that flirted with post-hardcore, but I’ve yet to dive in too deeply until Debtors. But by the midpoint of this five-song EP, when I got to the zippy math rock riff, tasteful screams, and stomping chorus of “Self Poortraits”, I was more than ready. The debut release from Akron, Ohio’s En Garde, a duo made up of vocalist/guitarist Ross Horvath and drummer Andy Hendricks, is nearly ten years in the making, having been tracked by Hop Along/Algernon Cadwallader’s Joe Reinhart in Philadelphia in 2012. Despite the long gestation period, Debtors thankfully does not sound too over-worked or labored-over. This isn’t to say the EP is slight or lightweight, either—just that En Garde stays remarkably consistent over the record’s five songs, making any chaff hard to identify.

There is a sort of biblical drama to the lyrics and feeling of Debtors that evokes cult heroes mewithoutYou, among others—titling your song “Cri de Coœur” and playing with that scorched-earth style will even give a lyric like “Boy scouts have never seen a knot like the one I have in my stomach” some serious heft. En Garde establish a few other recurring motifs throughout the EP—closing track “Tightropes” takes the math rock hints of “Self Poortraits” and stretches them out for the full length of the song, while both “Self Poortraits” and “Edentulism” feature odd, left-field, brief but remarkable instrumental breaks. It gives the whole thing the vibe of two collaborators throwing ideas at each other and creating something unique and lively, so it surprised me to learn it was Horvath and Hendricks’ first time working together. (Bandcamp link)

Mal Devisa – Wisdom Teeth

Release date: March 2nd

Record label: MalDevisaArt

Genre: Alt-soul-rock, hip-hop (among others)

Formats: Digital

Pull track: JD’s tune/The Spring

Wisdom Teeth arrived early this month with little fanfare, which seems to be Mal Devisa’s modus operandi at the moment. However, “little fanfare” doesn’t apply to the music within at all—there’s a bit of everything here. While Devisa is no stranger to genre-hopping (I’m thinking of “Raised in the Pit” and “You Are My Sunshine” coexisting on 2018’s Shade and the Little Creature), Wisdom Teeth is a particularly dynamic album, with forays into roaring rock, soul, hip-hop, synthpop, and jazz. Album opener “JD’s tune/The Spring” is a breathtaking dramatic guitar workout that recalls Double Double Whammy-era Mitski. Right after that, however, we get “Round Midnight/Pack for Free”, a noise pop song led by a simple, piercing riff as Devisa’s vocals fight for equal weight (“One ear doesn’t work. First attempt at Recording myself” reads the song’s Bandcamp description).

The road keeps twisting from there. “Melanin Like Sunrise” makes a musical reference that most readers of this blog will recognize and combines it with lo-fi beats and a verse by Amherst rapper Kyalo, and then Devisa herself spits in “Old Intro”. The jittery groove of “The Room Is Spinning/Rough” is hypnotic, and shockingly doesn’t even get to the main hook until around the song’s final minute. The strongest point of the album is a three track run in its second half, starting with the bass-and-keys soul number “Dangerous” and continuing into a straight cover of the jazz standard “You Go to My Head”. The third of the three, the triumphant “Skyline Arms/Reach Out”, with its lifting keys and some of Devisa’s best vocal work, would be an obvious closing song. Devisa doesn’t make it so easy, however, instead ending Wisdom Teeth with the ruminative, minimal bass-driven “I Could Tell” followed by eight minutes of a drum machine loop. It’s not an album that’s willing to slot itself neatly into one category, but Wisdom Teeth will give you a lot to enjoy over its runtime. (Bandcamp link)

Russel the Leaf – Then You’re Gunna Wanna

Release date: February 26th

Record label: Self-released

Genre: Psychedelic pop, power pop

Formats: Cassette,Digital

Pull track: Classic Like King Kong

I have to touch on a couple things on Then You’re Gunna Wanna that lifted Philadelphia’s Russel the Leaf out of the “bands I’ve sort of heard of” pile straight onto this list. The first is sole member Evan M. Marré’s high, ageless voice, which reminds me of Michael Doherty from Another Michael, or Chris Farren. It’s not particularly en vogue to sing like this (unfortunately for me), but it works very well with the kind of music that’s featured on Then You’re Gunna Wanna, which brings me to point two. Marré is a producer, you see, and has accrued several personally eye-catching credits, including albums from the just-mentioned Another Michael and the mentioned-earlier-in-this-post Friendship. As Russel the Leaf, Marré trades in the type of busily beautiful baroque pop that’s frequently associated with producer-musician studio rats. Brian Wilson is an unabashed influence throughout Then You’re Gunna Wanna, and several of the songs also sound like they could’ve come out of a pissing match between Andy Partridge and Todd Rundgren. Marré invites Beach Boys comparisons right from the start with the nautical croon of “Sailin’ Away”, and the strings and vocal theatrics of “Skipping School” giddily continue them. As strong an opener as “Sailin’ Away” is, Marré has the tunes to keep Then You’re Gunna Wanna from being top-heavy, with the pure pop of “Hey! (It’s Alright)” and “Classic Like King Kong”, the confident spooling out of “’Til I Hit the Ground”, and the two-minutes bag-of-tricks indulgence that is “California” highlighting the rest of the record. Like the best albums in this vein, Then You’re Gunna Wanna has grown on me significantly since I first heard it­, and as of press time it’s still rising. (Bandcamp link)

The Death of Pop – Seconds

Release date: March 19th

Record label: Hidden Bay/Discos De Kirlian

Genre: Indie pop, psychedelic pop

Formats: Vinyl, CD, digital

Pull track: Fade Away

The Death of Pop, a London duo made up of brothers Oliver and Angus James, filter several decades’ worth of psychedelic music through their own lens on their latest album, Seconds. The record falls somewhere between a softer version of nü-shoegaze acts like Gleemer and post-Animal Collective 2010s hypnagogic dream pop, with similar shades of the Beach Boys and Emitt Rhodes. The Cleaners from Venus also appear to be a big influence, which, given how frequently I cite them in these Pressing Concerns pieces, seems to be a good move for bands who’d like to be covered on Rosy Overdrive. Where they differ is in songwriting—the Jameses don’t attempt to ape Martin Newell’s rural English pastoral vibes, instead using similar instrumentation to conjure up a busy, modern late-night-metropolitan feeling.

“Fade Away” sets the stage immediately with sparkling jangly guitar, lilting synths, and copious amounts of reverb. It’s chill, it’s easygoing, not afraid of the dreaded “soft rock” label, and you could easily slip some saxophone into it—and The Death of Pop do, seamlessly, on the album’s title track. “Once Good” sticks out among the album’s second half—here, The Death of Pop ask for your attention just a little more forcefully, with its self-conscious dance pop hook and its simple, effective lyrical plea. And if you like that, “Ready for Us” does it all again nearly as effectively. Not to let us be too content, Seconds does throw as a curveball towards the end—“First Day of Six” sports a driving tempo and fast, syncopated guitar playing unlike anything else on the album, but dressed in the same production as the rest of the record, it doesn’t come off as out of place. While the album might not convert any skeptics to this kind of music, the true believers could do far worse than the tightly-constructed and very well-executed Seconds. (Bandcamp link)

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