I really like the word ‘bully’, just as a word. It’s kind of a sentimental and infantile word which still brings with it some of the force and rawness of childhood that your beautiful sense of nostalgia might have bleached out. In nostalgia world it was only ever always kind of sunny or snowing at Christmas and Bully’s debut EP sinks meaningfully into that world without forgetting some of the realness of it.
‘Brainfreeze’ is the first track on the EP and demonstrates Bully’s peppy, buzzy variety of sunshine-punk. The song is about climbing on the roof which I never did because my roof is really steep, but now it feels like I did. The sugar-rush vocals, bristling with childlike exuberance and lyrics, which take us through stories of milkshakes and bleeding knees, combine with the lo-fi guitar lines, breezy without being inconsequential, to create a song that is probably what Bully’s members wish their nine-year old selves had written in the 90s because that’s what it would have been about and that’s how it would have sounded. But it just sounds so fresh and vibrant. Even when the tone shifts, becoming slightly darker towards the end of track with the line ‘I know you’re in your room/but I can’t look at you’, vocalist Alicia Bognanno carries it off in such a way that it’s still the song you sing to yourself as you skateboard your way through a couple of flower beds.
The whole EP is a real treat and available here
Joanna Gruesome are pretty ‘in’ right now, and that goes for a lot of female fronted lo-fi bands with punky sensibilities. In a year which saw the release of their especially warmly received debut LP, Weird Sister, the band offer up a cover of Galaxie 500’s ‘Tugboat’.
I found it first nestled in the middle of a Joanna Gruesome live performance in March. As it crept into recognition, it cut deeper than the rest of their brilliantly brash set. Now released as a B side to ‘Sugarcrush’, it pays its respects to the original, but the band take ownership of this slurring, delicate piece of dreamy indie; it clocks in at over a minute more than the original, for example, allowing the brooding slushings of fuzz and reverb to take hold at every breakdown. The lyrics themselves are perfectly timeless and are of any era where such teenage disillusion with the teenage world is present – ‘I don’t wanna stay at your party/ I don’t wanna talk with your friends’. Lead singer Alanna Gruesome tackles these words with her own deceiving beauty, her vocals sinking back into the weight of the three guitars at every chorus. Drawn in, we then hear her haunted scream, the precursor to another deluge of melody-laced noise.
This cover is equally as emotionally authentic as the original, but with a ballsy twist, which is very much becoming the signature of any Joanna Gruesome track.
‘Expectations’ is the title track from Moses Campbell’s second album released on L.A’s Big Joy Records. The Echo Park 5 piece could be said to particularly noteworthy in that they include violinist Pauline Ley in their number and indeed it’s the slow lament of the violin which opens ‘Expectations’. The track is a lesson in tempering tenderness and aggression, catching the listener off guard with every change of tempo. There is a rawness to their performance and throughout their album the lyrics demonstrate a blunt, teen-angst sensibility – ‘‘I don’t know what to do/ Can’t live up to expectations’. Further reading into the lyrics of the album will bring up themes of seclusion and suicide.
In the breakdowns, the mathy guitars gleefully bounce around, until the sobering and searching chorus:
‘I don’t know who you are/ and I don’t know what you want/ From meeeeeee’.
‘Expectations’ presents a band trying to harness the correct emotion to throw at the song and in the end they give us everything they’ve got and it’s almost hauntingly sincere.
The other day I remembered that having a blog meant that I could embed songs from Soundcloud, so, trawling back through Soundcloud ‘likes’ I refound this, and remembered how much it needs to be shared.
Châteaux’s ‘It’s Magic’ is dream pop at its most perfect. It’s probably still relevant to say that they are young, although not so young as they were, but this track is accomplished for a band of any age. Staccato guitars jump throughout the verses giving a distinctly tropical vibe, broken up only by the hushed refrains of ‘it’s magic’ in the choruses. Châteaux embrace dream pop in all sincerity and ask only that we, as listeners, do too. It serves as proof of the song’s value that hearing a couple of late-teen mancunians croon ‘it’s magic’ doesn’t come off at all twee or awkward but instead it is consistent with the track’s assured, bright tone, which glows with a fresh sense of nostalgia. Dream pop doesn’t have to be light and wistful (read: boring), as Châteaux prove with a full-bodied example of poppy enthusiasm.
Last Christmas they released ‘Châteauxmas’, a seasonally themed 3 track cassette including a slightly different recording of ‘It’s Magic’ and two other equally solid tunes, ‘Everything Seems Better’ and ‘Somebody Else’s Dream’. Get yourself a late Christmas present at the Twisted Tapes bandcamp.