Chasing Fridays: Camila Cabello, Blushing, Trail of Lies, and more

My thoughts on Tryhardi XCX, Syracuse hardcore's heavyweights, some shoegaze I initially dismissed, and more.

Chasing Fridays: Camila Cabello, Blushing, Trail of Lies, and more

Hello hello! For the the vast majority of you opening this email right now, this is your first dose of Chasing Fridays  â€” a weekly roundup of music I consumed and shows I attended over the last seven days.

Many of you subscribed to Chasing Sundays earlier this week to read my exclusive interview with Whirr's Nick Bassett, which I appreciate very much. Seriously, thank you to everyone who spent time with that extremely long and very emotional Q&A. For me personally, it was definitely one of the most meaningful articles that I've ever published in my eight years as a professional music journalist, and I'm very flattered by the reception it's gotten — the gushing praise and the insightful critiques alike.

I still consider this blog/newsletter to be in its early stages, so I'm still figuring out how often I'll be publishing interviews of that nature on here. But something I'll definitely continue to churn out with regularity is this weekly column of music criticism, which usually includes my thoughts on a few albums/songs and a few brief-ish live show reports. This week, I actually don't have any live shows to report on (next week's edition will have three, though, so don't worry), but I did have thoughts on some new hardcore, indie-rock, shoegaze, and pop music releases. Check it out.

If you like what I wrote down below, or anything else I've ever published on Chasing Sundays, then I'd appreciate it if you subscribed at the $5/month tier. You can subscribe for free, too, and that's also much appreciated. But my paid members (thanks to all of you!) help me dedicate a bunch of hours each week to keeping this blog as active as I'd like it to be. The more income I'm able to generate from this, the more time I'll have to spend on big stories like the Whirr interview. So thank you for supporting the type of independent music journalism/criticism that's getting rarer and rarer to find at the established sites that still exist.

Camilla Cabello - "He Knows"

Earlier this spring, Camila Cabello earned the flummoxed curiosity of tastemakers and critics who'd roundly ignored her the five years prior with "I Luv It," the mega-star's perplexing pivot into "experimental 🤪" pop music. The song was divisive among my friends and peer writers, with most people dismissing it as Tryhardi XCX, and others, like myself, finding the ill-fitting Playboi Carti linkup strangely alluring.

I'd be lying if I said I've returned to the song with any regularity since the week it dropped, but I at least found the concept of "I Luv It" interesting. It had the ijbol wtf-ness of bumping into your high-school's prom queen doing a line of coke in the back of a Snow Strippers show. Cabello's follow-up song, "He Knows," has the exact opposite effect on me. This is Uber music. As in, the type of song I would otherwise never hear — or hear once but never be able to recall even with a gun to my head — unless I was hitching a ride with someone who keeps the dial locked on Kiss FM to provide customers with the inoffensive comforts of a hotel lobby.

In that sense, "He Knows" might be a more effective pop song to Cabello's decidedly general-interest audience, whereas "I Luv It" is at once too eccentric for radio and too un-chicly wacky for coastal city clubgoers. But that also means I find "He Knows" extremely boring. Lil Nas X's verse is as flavorless as ever, and after two listens the hook makes me feel like I regrettably ordered a Red Bull vodka as my first drink of the night.

The most interesting part of the track is most likely unintentional. The fact that Cabello repeats the words "like that" so much during the chorus that you'd be forgiven for thinking the song bears the same title as Future, Metro Boomin', and Kendrick's current chart stalker. There's an almost charming desperation in how Cabello's outré era still finds her treading so closely to other artists' music. Whether it's the obvious Charli XCX aping of "I Luv It," or how "He Knows" made it through so many of her team members' headphones without anyone raising the point that, "Hey, isn't this hook built around the exact same two words as one of the biggest songs in the world right now?" The daftness of "He Knows"? I luv it.

Blushing - Sugarcoat

I gotta say, for whatever reason I was skeptical that I would like the new Blushing album — and I was wrong. Very wrong! Blushing first came onto my radar for their 2019 self-titled LP, which I found to be a pretty serviceable take on the classic Ride-style shoegaze formula. Brisk tempos, a lot of open space, driving riffs, and the sort of reverb on the vocals that makes them tower rather than smear. I thought it was fine, but nothing all that memorable. I know I gave their 2022 follow-up Possessions a couple listens, but I frankly don't remember much about it. This new record, Sugarcoat, has gotten a healthy amount of good praise, and it's currently one of the best-selling shoegaze albums on Bandcamp, so after dismissing it during the rollout, I finally gave it a listen earlier this week and haven't been able to turn it off since.

Songs like "Tamagotchi," "Fizz," and "Silver Teeth" have gigantic, slicing riffs that sound really cool in contrast with the vocals, which are full-throatedly sung — not murmured — throughout this record. I think that's part of what turned me off to Blushing initially. I typically prefer shoegaze where the vocals are used more like an instrument and serve an explicitly textural function within the songs. Blushing are doing a slightly more lo-fi and stripped-back version of the early Lush sound on this record, where the vocal melodies and the quality of the singing performances are really strong, so I think the present-ness of the vocals works for them in a way it wouldn't for other bands. Most shoegaze bands don't have the writing chops to cook up a hook that jabs into your ears the way "Charms" does.

I've long been open about the fact that I find most modern shoegaze bands who are doing a direct rehash of the early 90s sound to be boring. Most of the time they miss the mark and the music rings as incredibly stiff, hollow, and uninspired. I unfairly lumped Blushing in with that cadre of fine-not-great shoegaze bands, and maybe before this record there was some validity to that critique. But Sugarcoat is a big level-up. It's just sweet enough, just ethereal enough, just shit-kicking enough, just plush enough, and just frayed enough around the edges to give its vintage sound a fresh (sugar)coat of paint.

Argo Nuff, Take Care - "she cried"

Late last year, I spoke to Liam McCay of the viral slowcore project Sign Crushes Motorist for my story about shoegaze's explosion on TikTok. Any indie-rock lover under the age of 25 has likely heard — or knows someone who's heard — his unlikely hits "Better" and "loser monologue," the former an unabashed Duster ripoff (Sign Crushes Motorist is, of course, the title of a Duster song) and the latter a slowcore song with a "Dead Flag Blues"-style spoken-word monologue in it, which is the snippet that's found its way into thousands of TikTok videos.

While researching Sign Crushes Motorist for my piece, I learned that the 19-year-old McCay has released music under at least a dozen other monikers, including the name Take Care. where he essentially does the same type of slowcore as he makes in Sign Crushes Motorist save for one song (the project's most viral one) that's just a solo violin piece. When I spoke with McCay, he said a contemporary artist he's been enjoying a lot is Argo Nuff, a California-based ambient slowcore musician who's been putting out music since 2019. I can still hear the way McCay said the artist's name to me, "Arr-gough Noof," in his thick Irish accent.

Last month, the two artists, Take Care and Argo Nuff, teamed up for a collab song called "she cried," and I think it's a really lovely post-rock tune with an MBV-ish guitar stream running through its center. There's some pretty clean strums, delicate layers of reverby ambiance, and a gently rustling cymbal in the background that nudges the tune along as it expands and then contracts for four-and-a-half blissful minutes. It reminds me of a Labradford song, or something else that would've come out on Kranky in the late Nineties. It's simple, but it's really well-produced and very well-done. If it's the start of a collaboration between these two figures then I'm definitely excited to hear more.

Trail of Lies - "Only the Strong"

When music writers (myself included) use the alliterative tag "hardcore heavyweights" in a sentence, it's usually a way of half-heartedly finding a different way to say "hardcore band." "Heavyweights" is usually a little hyperbolic. Sure, maybe the band is heavy, but so are most hardcore these days. But Trail of Lies are hardcore fucking heavyweights. Their sound is like a dumbbell with four plates on each side dropping out of the ceiling and landing right on your chest. The type of music that, as their new single spells out with no-bullshit directness, is reserved for "Only the Strong."

The Syracuse band were on a bit of a run back in the late 2010s, with 2018's W.A.R. and 2016's Strength Through Discipline EP being two of the gnarlier metallic hardcore releases of that era. But then Trail of Lies faded into the background over the pandemic, and since then their members have been busy with their other bands like Regulate, Candy, and No Pressure. Earlier this year, the band played a surprise return show at the New Year's Day matinee in Syracuse, which felt like a big deal not only because Trail of Lies were back, but because they were returning in the heat of a Syracuse hardcore boom that they helped lay the foundation for.

This spring, they're opening for a few dates of the Drain headlining tour, and then they'll play a couple hardcore festivals this summer to celebrate their new LP, Only the Strong, which they've been cryptically teasing all year by plastering fliers on the walls at fests like FYA and LDB. The first single is aptly the title-track, and it''s a weird fuckin' song! Trail of Lies have never been an adventurous band, instead playing Terror-style metallic hardcore at slower, chuggier tempos, centering frontman Tom Damiano's inhaling wind-warrior howls. The first three-fourths of "Only the Strong" are pretty much more of what people have come to expect (and want) from the band: A nasty, down-tempo riff piled with gang vocals and a bunch of gibberish lyrics about strength and strongness and fortitude.

But then in the second half, a Sepultura-ish tribal drum groove enters and the gang chants start to sound like a crowd of sports fans shouting "hoo!" while stomping on the bleachers. The track just kind of fades out that way, ending with some plucky tom thuds that sound like an intro for whatever the next track on the record is gonna be. It's a strange single, and I'm not sure it really concludes in a way that will translate at all live. But it sure is heavy as all hell, and I never get tired of hearing Damiano roar like that. Seeing them live in a couple weeks is gonna be a fucking hoot. Even if I might not meet the qualifications for physical and mental brawniness laid out in "Only the Strong."

Merce Lemon - "Will You Do Me a Kindness"

Since I moved to Pittsburgh in 2017, the local indie artist who's consistently felt the most primed for an inevitable breakthrough is Merce Lemon. When I first started seeing her perform, her sound felt tied in to what Frankie Cosmos, Florist, and Lomelda were doing in the 2010s, and Dear Nora in the decade prior. Her songs were generally short and pared-back, giving her stoically sincere lyrics and warmly melancholic voice the floor. Over the years, the membership in her backing band has changed and her songwriting has evolved, and in Merce Lemon's current iteration, she's writing her greatest songs with her greatest collaborators, and "Will You Do Me a Kindness" is one of them.

It's five minutes of gracefully unwinding indie-folk with a simmering intensity, both in the crescendoing instrumentation and Lemon's rippling singing, which starts at a bassy murmur and peaks with a yearning near-belt. The nodding groove. The ripping guitar solo. The sturdy rhythm section. It's just an incredibly well-crafted song, and it's not even the best new one her and her band have been playing live recently. If someone made a version of that Hot 100 gambling company for indie-rock hopefuls, then I'd put some money down on Merce Lemon. Her music's about to be everywhere (or at least it should be).