Pressing Concerns: Jeff Tobias, Artsick, Patrick Brayer, Party’z

It’s late-stage January, so let’s get on with what music 2022’s had to offer so far already. The first Pressing Concerns of the new year hits on new records from Jeff Tobias (Sunwatchers, Modern Nature), Artsick (Burnt Palms, Lunchbox, Boyracer), and Patrick Brayer, and the debut EP from Party’z (Kittyhawk).

If you’re looking for more new music, you can browse previous editions of Pressing Concerns or visit the site directory.

Jeff Tobias – Recurring Dream

Release date: January 7th
Record label: Strategy of Tension
Genre: Experimental pop, post-punk, synthpop
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull track: We’re Here to Help

New York’s Jeff Tobias is a ringer of sorts—he’s played various instruments, most notably saxophone, for bands like Sunwatchers and Modern Nature—but his debut “pop” album as a solo artist is something new for him. Recurring Dream is an adventurous album—Tobias alone is credited with playing fourteen different instruments on the record—but it’s also a highly cohesive one. Tobias loosely settles into a synth-pop style across Recurring Dream, but that gives him a lot of room with which to work. Just in the first two songs, we get the blaring alarm sounds that twine with saxophones on the urgent chaos of “Our Very Recent Past” and the minimalist funk rhythms that help “We’re Here to Help” pull off something of a smooth swagger.  Like all of Recurring Dream, these two songs are grounded by the steady presence of Tobias’ voice—it’s a subtle voice that sounds both fervent and intimate.  The barely-there but certainly audible smirk in the titular line of “We’re Here to Help” (that is, help relieve the wealthy of the burden of their horded wealth) is why it works.

The nonprofit grifter and offshore tax cheat character studies in “We’re Here to Help” aren’t atypical here—Recurring Dream is a heady record with a lot on its mind, something of a synth-heavier version of the Personal Space record from last year, and the lyrics don’t always spell out their messages in the way that song’s does. But Tobias glides us confidently from scene to scene, pushing his voice in the soft rock lament of “Transparency” and throwing us into the thick of it with the dire opening of “Venezuela”. Even between Tobias’ bag of musical tricks and at-times intimidating lyrics, Recurring Dream commits fully to being a pop album—every song I’ve mentioned has something I’d consider a hook, and it ends with “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror”, a shimmering piece of synthpop propulsion that feels like it could go on forever. Recurring Dream has all the tools to confuse and overwhelm, and it does when it wants to, but it’s just as likely to artfully smooth out its own creases and ripples. (Bandcamp link)

Artsick – Fingers Crossed

Release date: January 21st
Record label: Slumberland
Genre: Twee, indie punk
Formats: Vinyl, CD, cassette, digital
Pull track: Stress Bomb

Christina Riley played guitar and sang in Burnt Palms for most of last decade, and more recently has been playing with long-running indie pop punk group Boyracer, featuring heavily on last year’s Assuaged. Boyracer isn’t the only 90s twee/indie pop connection that can be traced to Riley’s latest band, Artsick: both members of Lunchbox are involved in Fingers Crossed as well (Donna McKean plays bass on the record, Tim Brown recorded it). Not surprisingly, the Oakland-based trio (Riley, McKean, and drummer Mario Hernandez of Kids on a Crime Spree) sound right at home on indie pop royalty Slumberland Records: Riley’s frequently droll vocals prominently anchor the sound of a band bashing out loose but confident pop music. Like Boyracer, Artsick are on the louder end of the twee spectrum: Fingers Crossed isn’t afraid to rock. They cite Tiger Trap as an influence, and I certainly hear it.

Artstick balance the pop and the rock well: the crunchy fuzz of “Despise” also pulls out enthusiastic handclaps, and if “Ghost of Myself” is a workout, it’s because they’ve sped up a jangly pop rocker just a bit more than your average K Records band would (and one doesn’t get any more pop-reverent than that song’s intro, no?). As a vocalist, Riley delivers: she holds her own in the noisier numbers, but when the clouds part a bit, she takes full advantage of the clarity. The triumphant gallop of opening track “Restless” contrasts with an ennui-gripped Riley grasping at various methods of dulling the titular emotion, and then in “Stress Bomb”, she just as memorably mutters “just shoot me” at the lobber of the title. Only 28 minutes long, Fingers Crossed is a brief yet not ephemeral first look at the latest chapter of Christina Riley’s pop music career. (Bandcamp link)

Patrick Brayer – Cabbage and Kings: An Inland Shrimpire Anthology

Release date: January 21st
Record label: Shrimper
Genre: Folk, country
Formats: CD, digital
Pull track: Note to Self (To Say Goodbye)

Patrick Brayer is something of a contradiction, or at the very least a curious case. Major folk players like Alison Krauss and Dave Alvin have covered his songs, but here he is releasing an album on Shrimper Records, primarily known as an underground lo-fi cassette label from the 90s. He’s a prolific songwriter, as evidenced by scores of digital releases on his Bandcamp page, but there’s only ever been a small handful of official, physical Patrick Brayer releases. His first record came out in 1979—over forty years ago. So, what to make of Cabbage and Kings? Well, the record does keep one foot planted firmly in the underground—if there’s any question as to how Brayer fits in with the Shrimper world, these songs reveal traces of Refrigerator’s quieter side and Simon Joyner, and there’s a desert-folk ramble a la Howe Gelb of Giant Sand that’s not too far off either.

But at the same time, Cabbage and Kings places Brayer among more well-known company. If Leonard Cohen and Johnny Cash could make great records in the later years of their careers, well, so can he. Brayer sounds infinitely comfortable on Cabbage and Kings’ songs, which stretch out to hold everything Brayer has to give. “If you’ve had a life as rich as mine, I doubt it, but good for you,” he sings in “Empty Cage”, a tribute to Chris Darrow that, first-personal or not, is one of several songs that succeed in spanning a lifetime into a few minutes. “Note to Self (To Say Goodbye)” takes over nine of those minutes to complete its stare, but Brayer doesn’t blink the entire way through. These songs are incredibly captivating; it really does come off as the work of someone who’s spent decades mapping out a unique version of well-trodden songwriting hills. (Midheaven link)

Party’z – Party’z EP

Release date: January 14th
Record label: Self-released
Genre: Fuzz rock, noise pop
Formats: Digital
Pull track: Getting Warmer

One of my favorite compilations of last year was Mikey’s Favorite Songs by Kittyhawk, a collection of non-album material from the Chicago emo band. While Kittyhawk seems to be active again in some capacity, that hasn’t stopped a couple of its members from debuting as Party’z this month. It’s the project of Kittyhawk’s guitarist/vocalist Mark Jaeschke, with the band’s bassist Clare Teeling joining a lineup rounded out by keyboardist Delia Hornik and drummer Andy Hendricks. However, very little of the elder act’s Midwest emo sound is apparent in Party’z’s four-song debut EP, at least not on the surface. Jaeschke and the band have put together a record of amp-cranked, fuzzy power pop.

In the opening kick-off of “Getting Warmer” and (especially) the closing reverb-fest of “Follow the Sound”, Party’z flirt with being a straight-up end-of-the-2000s shitgaze band—they sound closer to Times New Viking than any of their “main” group’s fellow fourth-wave emo revivalists. Intentionally or otherwise, however, the Party’z EP argues for some common ground here: these are four earnest pop songs underneath the feedback. Hornik’s keyboard routinely pokes out, delivering hooky Rentals/Anniversary synths even as the guitar threatens to drown it out, and Jaeschke is as likely as not to use the distortion to emphasize the emotion in their vocals as to obscure them. Party’z already have plans for a follow-up full-length record, and what they’ve put down together so far suggests that one should keep an eye on the young band. (Bandcamp link)

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