There are some things that are difficult to describe in words but there are others that are not. I think I’ve shared my thoughts on songstress Angelica Garcia once or twice before which leads us to her new single “Y Grito” out this week. She sings fluidly in both English and Spanish but with the new single she offers it up in her mother tongue. “Y Grito” seems flawless in its aggressive delivery as Garcia hoots and hollers and while just a few words may get lost in translation, this song is testament to Garcia’s eventual rise. Oh I’m getting ahead of myself. Garcia is meant for great things and while it’s still early in her musical career, she’s set to become one of the greatest artists of our time.
That moment when you think to yourself, “Ok, this takes me back.” And not just by a few years, it’s been some time. Music can sometimes be redundant but how often is it redundant unto itself? It seems that’s what we have here but while No. 2 – the brainchild of Neil Gust – has had other releases under the same name, it seems easy to move back to Heatmiser, the rock outfit that featured Gust, Elliot Smith, and Sam Coomes (Quasi). This is where my head is, was, is, well, you get it. Neil Gust has put that ghost to rest and resurfaces with a new No. 2 album after…20 years! After so many years, that’s a surprise.
With the new First Love (Jealous Butcher Records), it seems Gust has had his passion for music reignited, doing things his own way as he and the rest of the band, singer/bassist Gilly Ann Hanner (Calamity Jane) and drummer Paul Pulvirenti (Eyelids), always have. First and foremost, No. 2 has always been a rock band with a penchant for catchy melodies, but the rock always comes first and that’s clear from the opening “I’m On A Mission” with its stomping riffs, soaring harmonies, and directness. It’s almost what one would refer to as a call to arms with arms pumping, “WE’RE BACK!” Now that the group has your attention, it hits you with the subtleties as harmonies abound over distinctive melodies on “Ravers In the Sky,” incorporating guitar solos when fitting. But it’s the more subdued “Model Of The Universe” that catches the ear, with overdubbed vocals, cooing backing vocals, and hazy guitars the band builds around. Once the chorus hits though, that’s the moment everything in the world makes sense!
It’s no secret No. 2 is a talented group of musicians whose songs slowly creep their way in after a few listens. It’s undeniable actually, and the larger-than-glamourous life of “Times Up” makes it all too clear. The band plays a bit with dynamics here and challenges itself vocally, addressing the group’s versatility musically. It harnesses everything within the glory of the song itself. The lazy moves of the closing “No One Needs To Know,” offers up a moment when the group doesn’t need to attack quickly, allowing the song to glide along at its own pace.
Not every song on First Love is going to bite hard but when it does, it’s unbridled passion. The album is a good introduction to the band and we’re all aware the music gets better with time.
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Do you ever feel like you’ve been out of sync with the rest of the world? Time occasionally moves at a tortoise pace and then suddenly you’re bombarded with the happenings of the past few years. We can only assume pandemics will do that to one but we’re probably a year out of the extremes of it to focus on the present. With that said, my last interaction with Calgary’s Preoccupations was the band’s 2016 self-titled album, so what the hell happened? Well, the band had released New Material (2018) and a couple of singles after that and now follows with its new Arrangements, the band’s fifth proper album release. But this isn’t a history lesson so let’s get on with it, shall we?
From the start, the band seems to understand how to quickly garner one’s attention. “Fix Bayonets!” begins with a grind of metallic guitar, as if metal picks were scraping against strings before the band kicks off with the quick-pattered percussion. Its thick, melodic bassline is captivating within an array of guitars and monotone-like vocals that hit with a certain amount of melody. The track doesn’t coast through, it tears the atmosphere to shreds, inviting listeners but keeping them at bay as well. The song is thicker than a Hunts Point prostitute and just like those ladies, lets you know they’re ready. The band sculpts sonic arrays of sound, toying with us all. For just over 30-seconds, “Ricochet” is wrapped in a loop of guitar feedback and bliss before the band blends in the sweet melody of guitars, accented by Matt Flegel’s voice that’s inviting. The band’s classic post-punk sound is endearing but it isn’t filled with nostalgia, it simply expands its own creative process here.
Preoccupations isn’t about creating quick 3-minute pop songs. The band invests time and effort when dealing with its own compositions. You need to look no further than “Advisor,” which isn’t a slow burn but the detail throughout is astounding. Instruments find solace against one another but it’s the strings – oh the strings – wrapped around the eerie beauty, that make all the difference in the world. It’s exciting to listen to, in over 7 and a half minutes, pulsating with abandon. Midway through, it becomes a beautiful mess of cacophony before morphing into something different. Two different movements in one track and broken up the way it is, works! The second half of it has odd vocal harmonies but they’re fitting, blending in alongside the hypnotic rhythm, and, well, the song just hits differently.
There’s quite the difference between listening to the band in 2016 and in 2022. Yes, obviously it’s growth but just like that last track, Arrangements hits differently, exponentially even! There are moments that astound but Preoccupations seems to do it with ease. There’s no pause here in saying, “Fuck, this is amazing,” because yeah, it really is.
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Call me cynical or any other colorful word and expletive in the book but Oregon’s Cigar initially sounds like just about any other skate punk k trio. I did say “initially,” because it’s deceiving. The band’s frantic pummeling almost completely overshadows everything else that’s going on here on The Visitor (Fat Wreck Chords), the band’s new album. Almost. The band’s unrelenting harmonies and melodic output throughout seem to outmatch all of its contemporaries and the group makes quick work of the songs on the new release.
The band has a formula and it sticks with it, revving up every song in just about the same fashion, with what sounds like double kick drums as those drumsticks never pause, filling every available space with melodies, harmonies and quick-fingered string work. We could go in and dissect everything but there’s no need. I will say though, bassist Jonathan Hischke has skill that borders on insanity. Listening to “Legacy Of The 7 Plies” is a testament to that.
Listen to The Visitor after just one time and you can judge for yourself the prowess the band has. Whether you enjoy this style of music or not isn’t a factor, they’re probably the best at what they do, and that’s not hyperbole.