Every so often a band comes around whose music is met with the kind of universal acclaim from listeners across the spectrum. Norway’s post-hardcore/rock outfit, Spielbergs, have rocketed into that sphere with their debut album This Is Not The End. Mainstream press are enjoying the record, so is the indie underground, and judgmental old punks like myself are already finding it hard to not consider it one of the year’s best with every repeated listen.
Premature? Perhaps, and hopefully it is not because we are all caught up in the swell of praise and lost in all the adulation it has received. But as soon as the feedback-laden fuzz of the opening cut “Five On It” kicks in, you know you’re in for something of a great ride. The Superchunk sounding “Distant Star” made its mark on their debut EP last year, but it doesn’t mean the song doesn’t stand out again on the LP. Its melodic overtures, coupled with the low-end vibrations swirl in a delirious, joyous amalgamation of indie rock’s best moments. And there’s just something about the synthesizer coated ending to the song that makes it complete. If This Is Not The End doesn’t end up being one of 2019’s best albums, then “Distant Star” certainly makes its case for best track.
It isn’t all frenetic guitars either, “Familar” sounds a little like a cut from the Drive soundtrack, while “Sleeper” takes on quiet acoustic reflection. The fantastically titled “McDonald’s (Please Don’t Fuck Up My Order)” is a little more post-rock than the rest of the album. Seven and a half minutes of guitar painted soundscapes that slowly ascends and descends into and out of, “musical neon noir” (actually this song could have been a cut off the Drive soundtrack too). The single “4AM” is Speilbergs at their most urgent; a beautiful mix of melody and buzzsaw guitar chaos. “SK” is a throwaway atmosphere track which is a little unnecessary, but This is Not the End closes with the pretty grand “Forevermore”. A more wistful adventure down shoegaze-y indie rock that provides a good closing to the procession.
This Is Not The End is a moment in time, and that time is now; perfectly noisy, subtly melodic, frenetically composed. The only fear is that the album, the music, the sound, isn’t timeless and we’re all a little blinded by the haze. Whether we look back at this album in ten years and remember it as one of the greats remains to be seen. But that’s something we can talk about in ten years. Take away all the talk and you have an album that demands repeated listens- both enjoyable and rewarding. For now, like this album, the moment is something to savour.
Tennis System – Lovesick
This is furious noise
It is impossible to read music that taps into the shoegaze lineage without finding mention of My Bloody Valentine or The Jesus and Mary Chain. While the aforementioned bands are certainly the epicentre of the genre, bands like Los Angeles’ Tennis System aren’t all too interested in being just another page in the Kevin Shields songbook. Unlike the genre’s progenitors, Tennis System only graze the often plodding, overly moribund nature of shoegaze, and instead find more inspiration from uptempo punk urgency. Lovesick, their third album, is a culmination of what the band call their “putting it all on the line” mentality, wrapped in fuzzed-out, loud guitars, breezy percussion work and that ‘let’s go’ punk attitude.
Songs like “Alone” and “Esoteric” come cut from the same mold that crafted early emo band Cap N’ Jazz; manic, loud, frenzied, while opener “Shelf Life” digs deep into the fuzzy, distorted heaven of Jawbox meets Burning Airlines. The song itself feverish sudden changes, one that mimics what vocalist/guitarist Matty Taylor told Flood Magazine about the song’s “journey of realization, denial, and finally acting upon things”. It’s true then that songs on Lovesick owe more to J. Robbins than Kevin Shields, but it is not to say the album is not without its more shoegaze moments. It’s the moodier soundscapes of “Cologne” and almost whispering “Fall” that paint from that brush.
The album’s strongest outing is the terrific “Turn”. It is a song that is a well constructed effort combining early emo and elements of shoegaze with the furious noise of guitar powered alternative/punk, packing together all the best qualities of the band in alluring freneticism.
As the title track closes proceedings, the listener is left with a sense of aural delight that came with albums like Loveless, or Trail of Dead’s brilliant Source Tags & Codes. It doesn’t mean to say Lovesick is a trailblazing record, but what it does mean is that the album’s tightly wound energy and furiousness explodes in euphoric delight- even if it is temporary. In the song “Lovesick”, Taylor sings, “please don’t let me burn out”… and perhaps, with this much aural euphoria, it is inevitable. But as the saying goes, “it’s better to burn out…”
Pom Pom Squad – Ow EP
The latest EP by this Brooklyn four-piece is beautiful vulnerability
Brooklyn “quiet grrl” band Pom Pom Squad may have a cute moniker and description of their sound, but like their riot grrl brethren that it comes from, it’s anything but tame. Pom Pom Squad is a four-piece led by vocalist and songwriter Mia Berrin, who on their second EP, have taken the twinkly sounds of Rilo Kiley and Mitski and injected it with the grungy, manic energy of Hole and Bif Naked and the distorted, punk urgency of Bratmobile.
Ow stands out from the opening “Ow (Intro)”, a song of delicate heartbreak that is both pensive and biting. It’s mostly just Berrin and her guitar, sparkling in a glow of Midwestern emo-esque strings and her voice. The song is beautifully wistful when it sings “he says he wants what’s best for me” and biting when it comes back and says “they all say they want what’s best for me / but they never try to be the best for me”. It’s from this you hear the strength of the EP; that when it gets a little brooding, melancholy, pained, it’s also gorgeous, vulnerable and definitely unafraid to show the listener honesty and character.
In songs like “Heavy Heavy” and “Honeysuckle”, Pom Pom Squad get a little dirtier, a little grungier, amping up the distortion and sludgier percussion work. The hazy bellowing of “Heavy Heavy” adds to the angry introspection of the song; its lines of “It’s getting heavy heavy / Telling everybody that I’m fine / I’m feeling heavy heavy does it mean / I wanna fucking die?” painted by lusciously loud guitar work that would make Steve Albini smile. “Honeysuckle” takes on a similar pained look inside the mind but with a more fuzzed-out, alternative-rock veneer. Berrin’s lyrics come across as vividly as she sings “If I’m nothing without you am I anything at all?” It’s songs like these, with words like these, that hint of comparisons between Pom Pom Squad’s captivating allure with that of Courtney Love and Babes in Toyland during their heydey.
“Cherry Blossom” taps into that beautiful sorrow again, plugging into the aura that is painted when it is just Berrin and her guitar again. It’s almost hypnotic at times, and just as quickly as the tension and the magnetism builds, it ends. The anger of the album works because unlike angst, it’s calculated and targeted, leaving Ow as much of a substantial outing as it is growth from their 2018 EP Hate It Here. The only real downside to Ow are some moments like on the closing notes of “Cut My Hair”- a song that builds up to its crescendo with more dazzling vulnerability but ends a little quicker than it ought to. In truth, that’s the only real con of the EP, that when the orchestral fade-out of “Owtro” howls away, you’re left searching for more, with only repeated listens as your respite. But in the end, what could be better for an artist you’ve recently discovered than to get under your skin and leave you wanting more?