New Music | Friday Roll Out: John Dwyer, Ryan Sawyer +, J. Robbins, Her Head’s On Fire, The Jukebox Romantics, Old Moon, Max Look

I realize I’ve been fascinated by Old Moon, the project of one Tom Weir out of Lyme, New Hampshire. There’s a nostalgic feel to the songs he writes, and while both of his releases this year, Dreamer, Sleeper (Sister Cylinder), and Altars, are similar, they feel completely different. As we close out the year, Old Moon has released “On The Outside” b/w “Into It All,” which sounds much more singer-songwriter oriented. For “On The Outside,” guitar notes are dreamy and Weir’s lazy & effected vocal delivery matches the song in every aspect. With “Into It All,” musically the song seems to dig in with Americana aspects, not so much folk but it moves in that direction. Still present is Weir’s Old Moon identity which is amazing how he’s able to keep it although sounding different. We should all dig deep into Old Moon’s catalog and see what’s in store for the future.

It’s no secret how the world has a fascination with J. Robbins, his music, his delivery, his clever wordplay, and song structures. The Jawbox frontman stepped out on his own with his debut full-length Un-becoming back in 2019 and has released singles and EPs since and here he’s on half of a split single. Robbins delivers a masterful track with “Uncle John,” enlisting his Burning Airlines/Government Issue cohort Peter Moffett on drums and War On Women’s Brooks Harlan on bass; a powerful rhythm section. There’s also guitar duty, enlisting cellist Gordon Withers accentuating Robbins’ own. While his lyrics may be political in nature, they’re never politicized, and as a whole, this truly is remarkably pummeling and sonically challenging. On the flip side, we have the New York quartet Her Head’s On Fire with “Certain As,” with washes of guitar and wailing distortion across the track as vocalist Sid Jagger’s commanding effort balanced by Jeff Dean’s guitars. Dissonant notes play and bounce throughout but are evident as the song closes. The edgy late 90s feel of the song can give you a clear idea of who they are, and what that is is the next-gen of emotive rock band.

When you grow up on rock, hardcore, punk, and frenetic jams, what you end up sounding like is probably a reflection of your tastes in music. My own first taste of New York’s The Jukebox Romantics came in the form of the band’s video for “Hey Nora,” shot in Rye Playland, a place I’m quite familiar with. The video: intriguing and amusing referencing Mariah Carey sans ODB, as well as a Big Tom Hanks, and here singer Mike Terry bravely sporting those tight cutoffs. Intriguing. The band has been together in some form or another since 2009 and has released 4 albums and countless EPs and singles. The band’s Files Forming EP (Sell The Heart Records) closes out the year for the group with a 5-song release that isn’t short on fiery deliveries and punchy rhythms.

The aforementioned “Hey Nora” is a blistering juggernaut of a track and the melody throughout is underscored by great backing harmonies. If you haven’t noticed, I’m all in. I can’t help but notice that “Time To Fly” is all about that hardcore punk with a wide array of pop inflections throughout. It’s frantic, but the melody and vocal harmonies are cleverly juxtaposed against it. I’m trying to make sense of “You Spin Me (Right Said Fred)” but I don’t know how much the song title has to do with the track itself, with its chunky riffing and “oh oh” vocals. Does it matter? Not really, and we can all imagine a Sunday afternoon matinee at CBGB. Let the kids dance and let the band play to their heart’s content.

There are no problems with The Jukebox Romantics, in fact, with Files Forming, the band takes listeners to a place where no fucks are given. Just music, life, drinks, and lazy abandon. That’s always a good place to be in at times.

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It seems like every month we get some form of release that features John Dwyer (OSEES), Ryan Sawyer, and a number of artists, all collaborating with one another. It may be an extensive amount of hyperbole on my part but it’s the end of the year and we’ve all had a rough one. So this time around it’s John Dwyer (OSEES), Ryan Sawyer, Greg Coates, Wilder Zoby, and Andres Renteria with the new Gong Splat (Castle Face Records).

We can keep this short and simple; while Gong Splat is an improvisational release, the songs seem fully formed, wound tightly but frequently loose, moving through psychedelia, hints of jazz, but far from being too free to leave it with unhinged direction. Everything throughout this release is inviting, addictive, vying for post-rock affinity rather than no-wave loftiness. The instrumentals range in length, from one and a half minutes to nine. Everything here has a purpose. With that said, Gong Splat is fantastic!

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Crossroads are where we all end up at some point or another and depending on your direction, you have to consider if you’re going to take it up a notch. It happens. To all of us. Sitting here listening to the new 8 song player Sorority At Heart by Max Look, I’m not sure if he’s doing that. California by way of Ohio musicians delivers direct songs, falling in with mainstream Americana vibes. The sound is friendly enough but is there anything that allows the release to stand apart from the rest? I’m not so sure.

Let there be absolutely no confusion, Max Look is a great musician with the ability to generate punchy song structures like “Calendar Girls,” and even stir at emotions with the strumming of “Only Child” but the album falls short of captivating with any true fervor. It looks like with “Terri Irwin,” this is the only point where Max Look seems to be taking chances, utilizing keyboard & rhythm changes. Aside from that though, the music throughout is pretty safe, and that may not be a good place to find yourself all the time.

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