New Music: Friday Roll Out! Ganser, Monograms, Ghetto Kumbé, and Bob Nanna

This week I’m not feeling so…overwhelmed. I’m thinking that’s a good thing because while I have less time during the day to get everything I need to get completed, personally it’s not too bad. I’ve been wallowing in distortion and overdrive the past week so that could attribute to it, as well as the noisier, and earlier material, of P.E. There’s truth in music soothing one’s soul, allowing notes to fully captivate and change the direction of emotions.

But there’s something else I’ve been pondering, and that’s Bob Nanna who recently released an album earlier this month that went mostly unnoticed. Of course, we should all blame the “new normal” around the world since things that were even released just a couple of months ago seem so distant now. But if you’re not familiar with Nanna, you should know he played a pivotal roll in what was once touted as “emo” with the Champaign, Ill group Braid. Since the early 90s, the band’s approach was full-frontal within the indie rock, post-hardcore context of its sound. The band was a favorite of many as well as Hey Mercedes, which he also played in, but this isn’t a history lesson, it’s about Nanna and his new release, Celebration States (New Granada Records). For this release, he’s put out an album of new acoustic songs.

Now this isn’t something new for him because if you take a look at his previous work, he’s released a collection of cover tracks in 2015 of some of his favorite songs. But this is his follow-up to his solo debut Threadless Songs, which is more akin to early Sebadoh where you’ll find everything, including the kitchen sink, and at 35 tracks, it’s pretty hefty. But I digress. Here Nanna has 10 completed tracks complete with vocal harmonies, a crisp/clean guitar, and clever songwriting from beginning to end. Standouts like “Mr. Albatross,” imagination can take root enabling a full band if he chooses to perform it that way but it’s perfectly fine bare to its core. The sweetness of his playing is front and center on “Come Home” while the melancholy of “In Reverse” permeates throughout, landing on the surface. Bob Nanna is a familiar voice and I for one, embrace this new album with open arms. I’ve even moved backward here rediscovering Braid and Hey Mercedes.

3 years since Ganser released its full-length debut, Odd Talk (No Trend) and to say there’s been an exponential amount of growth from one album to the next would be a misnomer. The band’s new Just Look At That Sky (Felte Records) is possibly what we would all expect for an artist’s sophomore full-length release. It seems this go around Nadia Garofalo (keys/vocals), Alicia Gaines (bass/vocals), Brian Cundiff (drums), and Charlie Landsman (guitar) opted for a bit more feedback, dissonance, and edgy spoken-word deliveries, along with an enthusiastic punk sneer from track to track.

From the start, Ganser builds “Lucky” organically, allowing the crescendo’s rise before sifting through dissonance and Cundiff’s steady hands beating away. The magic here sets the tone for what’s to follow which slightly varies from track to track but the band always hold tightly onto its identity. “Self Service,” is maniacally controlled with guitars holding steady and we can all understand that Cundiff truly is the backbone that holds everything together. One track that forces repeated listen is “Told You So,” which takes elements of dance-punk for something that’s a bit tricky but composed really well. Still present is the band’s signature wall of guitar that permeates through most tracks but blending both melodic vocals and spoken allows the group to play with its intricacies.

The more frantically paced “Projector” encases all the elements Ganser has mastered to make it the go-to track. It’s controlled chaos that’s purposeful and direct with a rhythm section that’s unrelenting. But then moving forward again we get a taste of the power the band’s capable of directing in its sound with “Bad Form.” It’s direct, in-your-face, and holds loads of attitude within it. But Ganser isn’t a one-trick-pony, not by a long shot. “[No Yes]” shows the band’s softer side as they tenderly play instruments, storming around the instrumental, with what sounds like recorded messages throughout it.

If Ganser ever had anyone questioning its aesthetic, its sound, its generational gap to the band’s influences, they can end right there. Just Look At That Sky lays every question to rest and allows the band the privilege to stand shoulder to shoulder with all of its contemporaries. The new album raises the bar and I’d be hard-pressed to think anyone else can match it.

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With just a few releases under his belt, Ian Jacobs, who is Monograms, creates something rather poignant for a one-man-band. The Brooklyn-based project is what he lovingly refers to as ‘nuke wave,’ which makes sense yet, doesn’t. Or maybe it does. Either way, the new album, Only A Ceiling Can Stay Inside Forever (PaperCup Music) is interesting and at moments, quite captivating and follows the intricate progression from 2018’s Living Wire.

Jacobs pushes and pulls from 80s influential artistry of both punk and new wave genres and gives way to organically produced material. If I’m being completely honest, there are songs that are fascinating. “Lines (feat. Kat E.)” for example, this one urges on with sparse instrumentation, led by the dueling vocal harmonies. The free space within it entices while the sensuality of the number makes it hypnotic.

There’s power in the music within songs, without filling an overbearing headspace. “American Dreamz” plays a little with dynamic changes but doesn’t go over the top. Its darkly maneuvered bassline sets the mood and pace here, while on “Still Vision” we get much of the same, as the lower end captivates as the shadowy timbre seeps to the surface from beginning to end. But the music doesn’t always wrap itself around a singular tone, and you get that from the melancholic “Me And You.” Recording this album in a world of isolation has obviously taken a toll on Jacobs but with this, we’re all the better for it. The vocals sound distanced while the instrumentation stands up close and personal. We get a much more distorted-mirror effect with “You And Me,” a punchy and catchier number that showcases Jacobs’ unwillingness to wallow in misery, here with much more enthusiasm.

On Only A Ceiling Can Stay Inside Forever, there’s much to be offered here. Jacobs’ clever compositions are catchy with just the right amount of instrumentation added from song to song. Monograms don’t overdo things, allowing a natural flow from song to song. Yeah, Jacobs is good at what he does.      

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Occasionally, we all need a change. Whether it’s looking at things from a different perspective, a change of scenery, or even listening to something that’s outside our comfort zone. Yes, sometimes this is something that we all need but are either afraid or unable to be openminded to something…new.

Enter: Ghetto Kumbé, a trio of Columbianos that has pieced together multiple factors into the group’s full-length debut offering. The predominant Afrocentric sounds bellow out loudly from song to song while the house beats are masked alongside. Much of the album is centered around West African rhythms which influenced much of Columbian culture, as well as South America in general, and the Afro-Latino mixture permeates throughout the group’s self-titled release (ZZK Records).

On “Sola” singer Edgardo Garcés raps and sings over the electronic African rhythms, and while a Reggaeton influence might be obvious in his delivery from time to time, it’s not all-encompassing or a major factor. But it’s “Vamo A Dale Duro” that wraps the trio around electronic music, dipped in House with a Columbian native influence. But it’s the African rhythms and dark continent influence that’s obvious on songs like “Pila Pila.” With a Santero-influenced vocal delivery and repetitive beat behind it, the Santeria edginess dominates it.

Ghetto Kumbé’s full-length debut here is here for a reason: a reckoning is coming over the horizon. Ghetto Kumbé will be at the forefront of it all.

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