New Music: Friday Roll Out! With Dessa, Anna McClellan, FRIGS, Lionlimb, Dana Buoy

Why is it that everyone seems to want to fight with me? Oh, I’m not referring to the redundancy of back and forth arguments either on social media or via email, but rather those guys that talk smack, and tell others “he and I are going to have a problem.” I mean, I’m a swell guy. People like me. For the most part anyway. Unless I insult someone, and then I just don’t care if someone steps in front of me ready to throw fisticuffs. By no means do I support violence for violence sake but if it’s justified, sometimes things happen. But I like to think that world is in my rearview, never needing to handle anything, or anyone, this way. We’re a more civilized bunch here and it’s much easier to cut someone down using words, and humor, unless that 2018 mentality seeps in and someone’s psyche can’t handle it, and I’ve hurt someone’s “feelings.” But that’s a story for another time.
It’s difficult not to start off with the new album by Dessa, the songbird who is part of the Doomtree collective. Her new album Chime (Doomtree) has been 5 years in the making, or that’s what I like to tell myself considering her last release, Parts Of Speech, was released back in 2013. That’s not to say she hasn’t been busy the past few years as she’s performed live with orchestras, contributed to the Hamilton Mixtape as well as Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hurricane Maria Relief single “Almost Like Praying” to benefit Puerto Rico. She’s been busy, and there’s also 2015’s All Hands Doomtree release which had the group on the road. Right now, it’s all about Chime though and it seems like a departure from her last solo outing. Many of the tracks take a different approach, as she eschews the driving drum patterns for something more intimate and sonically expansive. From the get-go, “Ride” builds around a keyboard base as instruments are layered on top as her lyrical twists & turns keep your attention, trying to make sense, and dissect every nuance, cadence, & inflection of her words. Like I mentioned, the music builds to a slow crescendo of sound, billowing like the wind in a storm before finally subsiding. The technique always fascinates me.
But then Ms. Dessa hits the gas harder with “5 Out Of 6,” with quirky tones that lead into varying dynamics but they’re not flagrant start/stop motions, always continually flowing. I’m sure heads will gravitate to the challenge of “Fire Drills,” with that pummeling beat and what sounds like rocked out sitars subtly fitted throughout the track in its entirety. One thing you won’t miss on here is her witty lyricism which you may have you thinking is about one thing, but you’re probably off the mark. At moments it’s empowering to listen to her words as they steadily cut through reality. While she does have those songs that are made to make listeners move, it’s the soft and subtlety of songs like “Velodrome” that I’m drawn to. Is it the strings or the expansiveness that I’m drawn to? Is it her soft delivery? The lyricism? Possibly all of the above? Yeah, everything. There’s thought process to a number of her songs here and we’d be fools if we didn’t catch it. “Jumprope,” is probably one of the most beautiful tracks here, swirling around harmonies and a great melody. It’s nice to see Dessa doesn’t take herself so seriously all the time with her .46 second “Shrimp,” and there’s no way she’s going to be pigeonholed, obviously creating her own style as “Half Of You” travels a different path of sheer, unabashed pop sensibility. There’s so much musical sweetness around songs like “Say When” and standouts like “Good Grief,” that’ll make you want to wrap your arms around whomever you’re standing next to. Get my point here? There’s an assortment of emotions Chime is able to convey, but in the end, it’s an amazing listen. The evolution of Dessa continues.

Lionlimb, the duo comprised of Angel Olsen former and current members Stewart Bronaugh and Joshua Jaeger respectively have released their sophomore release Tape Recorder (Bayonet) today and I’m not sure what I was expecting from it. While containing just 6 songs, many of which pass the 5-minute mark, the album doesn’t move as quickly as you would think. I don’t want to sit here and toss the album under a bus, considering there are many things that I did enjoy it musically. Throughout the album you have strings, keys, and horns aching for space while the percussive beats and occasional guitars fly by but unfortunately, they’re always alongside a quietus vocal delivery that never rises above a whisper. When it sounds like it may, the delivery remains the same, giving songs the feel of tortured artist. I understand the artistic quality one needs to imbue each of their songs with but maybe differentiating tracks might go a long way there. Musically the title track has a lot going on, halfway through moving at an explosive pace and I can appreciate the strings that are filled throughout it while “Maria” is a different beast altogether, a hell of a song with pop sensibilities. This is the duality here. While I don’t hate Tape Recorder, I don’t love it. I want to hold it close to my heart, but I’d want to rip it apart at points. This isn’t an easy task or an easy listen. I’m not certain where I’m left, either in the Lionlimb’s grip or as distanced as I can be.

Can things get any worse? Possibly but I’m not hoping to go downhill from here. With that said, Anna McClellan graces the world with her Yes And No (Father/Daughter Records) full-length, but this isn’t her first go-around. Her sophomore release follows up 2015’s Fire Flames (Majestic Litter) and I’m sitting here trying to make sense of what’s going on here, what’s going on within Anna McClellan’s head, and how her lyrics are interpreted by her vocal delivery. Literally. Let it be written: McClellan’s delivery is laconic and monotone, a description that could fit many artists, but I can’t help but think J. Mascis for some reason. But here? One may look at her and find it quite charming. Charming like the Shaggs are charming because you know if there were more than one McClellan, those missed notes would all be hit perfectly together if they were harmonized. But I get the idea that McClellan couldn’t give two shits about what anyone’s opinion is about her music, including mine. She keeps things engaging from track to track, all the while sounding bored AF although we all know it’s exactly the opposite. But I mean, we’ll just call it like it is right? I’m sure everyone would think my first reaction to McClellan’s music would be hateful and venomous but no, it’s the opposite side of that spectrum because as mundane as one may think her music is, I’m hit with a sense of earnest simplicity.
We can all guess right off the bat that McClellan may not have the best voice but what she lacks in quality she makes up with quirkiness, having a unique quality in her own right, and unabashed sincerity. And the songs themselves? They’re more than just well-written, evoking emotion throughout the entire release. It’s a balance within the guitar-bass-drums interaction, but there’s also the inclusion of the obvious keyboard, which holds everything together most of the time. You’re going to find a consistency in flat notes now and again, but she quickly fills them with a breath of fresh air, every single time. On “Holding On Too Tight” she completely turns a corner and lets that voice of hers work to her benefit as she belts those notes over her piano keys. If you hate the 9 songs compiled together here on Yes And No, that’s your right. But then again, it’s also your right to be a blabbering idiot. Just saying. There’s no doubt in my mind that Anna McClellan has something special here. I see it and I’m sure most will too.

So not onto the Toronto-based FRIGS. When people think of Canada, words like “post” and “punk” aren’t usually in the same sentence. Maybe all that will change after everyone hears the group’s self-produced full-length debut, Basic Behaviour which sure to turn a few heads at the least. The quartet of Bria Salmena on vocals rounded out by Duncan, Lucas, and Kris on bass, drums, and guitar, create a pastiche of sound that draws directly from their influences, but completely indirectly. The racket the quartet has put together here is refreshing. The group’s own press draws comparisons to both NYC’s lower east side denizens as well as English songwriters that have taken music into an entirely different direction with their brand of songwriting in pop culture in general. Being likened to such powerfully created individuals isn’t such a bad thing but I’m not willing to limit the Frigs that way. Hearing Salmena’s guttural vocals and seeing her diminutive stature is such a juxtaposition all it’s own but if there would be any similarities to anyone, I see her as raw and rugged as Thalia Zedek was in her Uzi/Come days.
No fucks seem to be given as Salmena holds her own with the boys. There’s a give and take here as the band leaves room for her and vice versa. The opening “Doghead” is abrasive but engaging and the explosive drumming with her vocals above it. The unity of the band is clear and concise. The FRIGS even seem to drift off at times letting the music find its own way. The 5-minute “Waste” opens like a free-flowing jam session but slowly congeals together as if its own meandering was a ploy in of itself. Dissonant notes are blended together and released, but the group is completely in control of everything it does here as they end with Salmena ending things with a Lydia Lunch-esque fervor. There’s a sublime beauty hidden in the confines of the band’s songs. “Gemini” slowly creeps in and as the band gently plays Salmena sings with restraint, but she doesn’t need to hit any high peaks at all. But it’s the drive of “Chest” that’s captivating. Repetitive notes are found here but it works to the band’s favor with its interplay because when they hit the chorus, it’s grand. And then it’s torn to pieces, slowing the pace down before reverting back. The group closes the album out with “Trashyard” a 7 and ½ minute opus of noise, melody, harsh vocals and glory. I don’t think there’s anything more I could ask for. With Basic Behaviour, all I can think is finally, a band that brings the true meaning of post-punk and noise. This could possibly be my new favorite band.

And to close things out with have Dana Buoy. While this isn’t the first-time members of the band have made their foray into music, it’s hard to believe the album takes such a different turn. Songwriter/vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Dana Janssen honed his musical chops with Akron/Family, the folk-influenced experimental rock band that formed in 2002 that released 7 official albums and about 8 others. We don’t fact check here but there’s a lot of material floating around in some capacity. He’s joined by longtime collaborator Justin Miller and for this new album, Ice Glitter Gold (Everloving), which the follow up to 2012’s Summer Bodies, and they take a different approach to music. There’s obviously the dance-pop electronic vibe going through the album in its entirety which I can appreciate it, but will it put off the fans of Janssen’s previous works? Who cares? I’m sure Janssen’s decision to express his inner pop side wasn’t based on what others would think or care about. But if his choice here was to move the crowd and get rid of stigmas & labels, he’s done so without reservation. It seems Dana Buoy is grabbing those pop sensibilities and running them straight into the ground! “Twisted Sky” burns with an edginess that urges for freedom there, as instruments blend into one another to create a sonic cacophony of melody. As soon as it’s done you’re hit with the title track which is pure pop genius. The electronic vibe isn’t missed, and that melody will make you want to hit the dancefloor. You may fit hand-in-glove so well with the track you won’t even notice you’re hitting that repeat button. WTF is that about? Well, you’re ready to run that song again, over, and over, and over again. But you can’t stop there, or you’ll miss all the candy-coated goodness that follows which are love songs like the bouncy “Whatever,” the haunting drum patterns of “Colours Out,” or the earnest pop sensibility of “Too Early,” which is bound to give their contemporaries a run for their money. There’s a lot of sweetness in Ice Glitters Gold, there’s no denying that and I’m sure it won’t be the last time the group gives me a toothache.