A Reader staffer shares three musical obsessions, then asks someone (who asks someone else) to take a turn.
Jamie Ludwig, Reader associate editor
Insect Ark, Marrow Hymns I was looking forward to new material from Insect Ark, and the new Marrow Hymns surpasses my expectations. The bicoastal duo of multi-instrumentalists Dana Schechter and Ashley Spungin painstakingly crafted its exploratory, mind-expanding doom over 18 months, employing recurring themes of time, space, and discontent. The album’s slow-burning, wordless soundscapes of shape-shifting bass and synth, forlorn lap steel, and instinctive drums seem to contain stories of their own.
The Messthetics This instrumental trio—guitarist Anthony Pirog and Fugazi’s rhythm section, bassist Joe Lally and drummer Brendan Canty—release their self-titled debut album on Dischord Records next month, but they’ve been tearing up the east coast for over a year. Given their lineup, of course the Messthetics are good, so I’ll just say that if you dig punk, jazz, and torrents of proggy guitar interspersed with moments of shimmering tranquility, you’ll want to keep an ear out for these guys.
Utro Utro is an offshoot of dreamy indie band Motorama, also from Rostov-on-Don in southern Russia. Utro warp the light in Motorama’s sound with a fun-house mirror, and I can’t stop listening. The lo-fi, minimalist postpunk of Utro’s 2010 self-titled debut (with vocals in Russian) is bleak, menacing, and bizarre. On the EP The Sun and the full-length Third Album, both from 2017, they’ve stripped back that maniacal edge while enhancing their music’s foreboding, hypnotic qualities.
Jamie is curious what’s in the rotation of . . .
Heather West, founder of Western Publicity and publicist for Riot Fest
The Wolfmanhattan Project Ever since I saw the Gun Club live in London eons ago, I’ve been fascinated by Kid Congo Powers and his louche guitar stylings, including his snarling contributions to the Cramps. Imagine my delight to discover that he’s joined up with Bob Bert (Pussy Galore, Sonic Youth) and Mick Collins (the Gories, the Dirtbombs). The Wolfmanhattan Project is here to shake your rafters and fill you with the feral stank of stripped-down rock.
Habibi Speaking of the Cramps, their cover of the eponymous classic by Texas protopunk/garage legends Green Fuz introduced its mighty stomp to a new generation—and now perhaps the most engaging version yet has appeared. The women of New York’s Habibi throw down Middle Eastern-tinged psych-rock replete with 60s girl-group singing—their cover of “Green Fuz” with Farsi vocals is spellbinding. Their EP Cardamom Garden arrives March 2—don’t sleep on this one.
Ron Gallo Ron Gallo is a kid from Philly with an outsize personality and talent to spare. On record, he sounds like a hyperliterate Screamin’ Jay Hawkins fronting a power-pop band, backed by thunderous drumming and the fuzziest bass playing I’ve ever heard. Gallo’s songs are urbane but juvenile, puerile but perceptive: when he sings “Why Do You Have Kids?” you can practically see the cigarette ashes falling in the strollers of the dead-eyed zombies shuffling toward ignominy. Live is the way to go on this: I recommend the Audiotree session for the midsong guitar freakout.
Heather is curious what’s in the rotation of . . .
Jim Kopeny, aka Tankboy, music critic
Songs to get divorced to Chicago band the Kickback released one of the best albums of 2017 that you probably haven’t heard. Weddings & Funerals documents Billy Yost’s imploding marriage and manages to wed acidic hooks to visceral lyrics in a way that tugs at your guts yet still keep your hips shaking. Brutal. And beautiful.
Bar rock that raises the bar Sonny Falls are an odd outfit. When you look at this Chicago group, they seem like a bunch of disheveled mountain men, but their sound takes Bruce Springsteen’s America and infuses it with a wanton punk approach, making even the most mundane things feel profoundly moving. Their live sets never fail to impress, and their six-song 2016 debut is free on Bandcamp—I can’t wait for the proper full-length they’re currently working on.
Slacker power-pop My biggest surprise of 2018 has been Seattle’s Unlikely Friends. Their new album, Crooked Numbers, takes midwestern power-pop and laces it with northwestern slacker sensibilities. The result is a collection of songs that feels immediately familiar—your dorm-room record player would explode with nostalgia if you threw this vinyl on top of it. Pull on your Sub Pop “Loser” T-shirt and then drop this album into the mix.