Chasing Fridays: Draag, Belong, Torture live, and more

I review some of 2024's hottest shoegaze releases, report on seeing the fastest-rising band in extreme music, and recap an awesome hardcore show.

Chasing Fridays: Draag, Belong, Torture live, and more

What's up, it's another edition of Chasing Fridays  — a weekly roundup of music I consumed and shows I attended over the last seven days. This week, like many of my weeks, I listened to a shit-ton of shoegaze and saw a bunch of hardcore bands, so that's what I wrote about down below.

I've got a full-scale review of one of 2024's trendiest shoegaze bands, some thoughts on a couple other new shoegaze singles, and then live reports of two ass-kicking hardcore shows — including a first-hand account of seeing the fastest-rising band in underground extreme music. Six days later and I'm still sore from how violently I was moshed on, so you best appreciate my gonzo journalism and give that writeup a proper read. If only so the bruises are worth it.

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 time to bigger stories like the huge Q&A I'm currently working on — with someone far more famous than Whirr's Nick Bassett, for what it's worth.

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Draag - Actually, the quiet is nice

Anyone paying attention to modern shoegaze likely has Draag on their radar. The L.A. band are touring the West Coast with Wednesday right now, and their new EP, Actually, the quiet is nice, is out today (May 17th) on Julia's War, the overwhelmingly prolific shoegaze et al label run by They Are Gutting a Body of Water. There's a chance it might be one of the defining shoegaze releases of the year, so I figured I'd weigh in.

I thought Draag's 2020 EP, Clara Luz, was refreshingly experimental when it dropped, and now the angular, digitized shoegaze they've been tinkering with for half-a-decade has become The Hot Thing. Actually... is one of the most 2024-sounding "rock" albums I've heard this year, for better or worse. It reminds me of the deconstructed indie-pop of Water From Your Eyes' Everyone's Crushed merged with the mystifying psych-gaze of Spirit of the Beehive's ENTERTAINMENT, DEATH. It's strange, it's intensely labored over, it's trying to subvert all of shoegaze's conventional tropes, and like those aforementioned avant-pop albums, I think it works about half of the time.

When it does, the results are glorious. Opener "Your Light" centers a pulsing techno beat that's blanketed by interweaving guitars and Bilinda Butcher-esque coos. My only complaint is that I wish it was longer than two minutes. "Microgravity tank" features the fullest, most satisfyingly loud guitars on the project, and when the clean guitar peaks through during the roaring climax, and the vocals sound like they're being detuned in real-time, it's like Deerhunter's Halcyon Digest with distortion pedals. It's glorious, and so is the circular rhythm on "My Hell" that swirls into a magnificent sunrise of auto-tuned vocals and blissful synths.

Elsewhere, the EP suffers from an overabundance of ideas that clank together awkwardly and pull me out of the otherworldly trance. "Orb Weaver" sounds like two songs playing in separate computer tabs. The abstruse guitar lick, braying synth, and dueling, slightly out of sync vocal tracks are all are competing for the same spot in the mix. The glide-guitar purrs are relegated to the background, and the trip-hoppy drumbeat is difficult to cling to amid the hubbub. When everything lines up during the chorus it's undeniably beautiful, but that brief vista doesn't feel worth the trouble of crossing a five-way intersection to get there.

When I interviewed Feeble Little Horse in late 2022, they said they wanted to make hardcore music on their third album, and "Recharge" is what I imagine that would sound like. An ugly, sludge-punk upchuck that saunters forward with the hunched-over gait of the Barbarian monster. Frustratingly, by the time the track feels like it's building to a grand finale, it screeches to a halt and channel-flips to a pointless extension of longing ambient synths that drag on for another minute. "The day has come" has the same issue. I love the way the beat is lagging a half-step behind the guitars, and the key-bending vocal intonations are awesome, so when it all fades away and segues randomly into a shoehorned Alchemist type-beat, it kills my buzz.

For every moment on Actually, the quiet is nice that makes my ears perk up with delight, there's another that feels too needlessly obtuse and overcrowded. It's the issue I had with the Philly psych-pop weirdos Empath, or even an art-rock institution like Deerhoof, who Draag feel like they're spiritually channeling through a shoegaze framework. Actually, the quiet is stuffed with so many ideas that every great one is suffocated by two other mediocre ones. There's brilliance here, for sure, but I think a more slender approach would actually be brilliant.

Wishy - "Love on the Outside"

My first thought while hearing this was, "Hm, I'm kinda surprised no one's already claimed this space. Guess Wishy are stepping in." I'm talking about shoegaze for millennial/Gen-Z cuspers who got really into Third Eye Blind over the pandemic, for some reason. Basically, if Hotline TNT were actually as energetic and catchy as people say they are. I thought Wishy's late 2023 debut EP, Paradise, was forgettable indie-pop that was kinda like Jay Som with a little more punch, but without the concise songwriting that makes Jay Som so good.

I think this song is a lot better. I don't love it, but it feels contemporary in a way that has my attention. The vocal delivery is more similar to Oso Oso than singer Kevin Krauter would probably like to be told, and frankly it's a little too nasally for this type of music, in my opinion. But that hook is good enough that it doesn't matter, and the Narrow Head-y breakdown locks into a groove that could crack even the stiffest necks in the room. I hope this band is annoyingly loud live. I want to hear this song played annoyingly loud. And maybe some other Wishy songs, too, depending on how the rest of the record is.

Belong - "Souvenir"

Sometimes (and by sometimes I mean a few times a week, if I'm lucky) I hear a song that makes me proclaim aloud, "Good god that's good." You know that feeling? When you're midway through a track and the shell of neutral positivity you felt during the first half falls away, and you get that little rush of joy in your stomach as your body begins to process how fucking glorious the sounds coming through your ears are. And all you can really do is shake your head in amazement, scramble to take note of what you're hearing, and mutter some form of hyperbolic affirmation while you dreamily relish how cool it is to have found a song that'll be with you for the rest of your life.

You know that feeling? Yeah, that's how I felt listening to "Souvenir" by Belong, one of two gobsmackingly incredible singles the NOLA shoegaze twosome returned with this week after a 13-year gap between their last album, 2011's Kranky-assisted Common Era. I was only familiar with Belong's 2006 LP, October Language, a triumph of abrasive, drumless, instrumental drone-gaze that sounds kind of like Grouper crossed with Jesu. After hearing this new material, I went back and checked out Common Era, which tosses some moody, far-off vocals and terse drum-machine thwacks in the background of their billowing guitar streaks. It's cool, I like it, but it doesn't sound anything like "Souvenir."

"Souvenir" is an intensely rhythmic song. There's a motorik groove propelling it forward that basically sounds like the nexus point between early Seefeel and early Stereolab. Actually, imagine both of those groups in a room together in 1993 trying to cover My Bloody Valentine's "Off Your Face" by memory. That's what "Souvenir" sounds like, except with some chopped, twisted, rendered completely inhuman vocal coos that sound too precise to have been crafted before the Pro-Tools era. This is one of the best shoegaze songs I've heard in a long time. I don't really know any other ways of intelligently describing this song because it evokes an expressly physiological response in me. I can feel this song but am having trouble finding the words to intellectualize it. My first reaction might actually be the most astute: God god that's good.

Torture, Remorseless Trauma @ Preserving Underground

Every now and then I see a show that I know is going to be a moment in history. Usually, I get that feeling as soon as the show ends, but in this case I knew as soon as soon it was announced that seeing Torture's fourth-ever show in a basement-sized venue at 11:30 p.m. was going to be era-defining. I just didn't know it would be that era-defining. For the uninitiated, Torture are a one-man slam band who've been a bedroom project for several years now, but just started to pick up steam when their Enduring Freedom album dropped in late 2023 and the hardcore scene took note.

The project is explicitly anti-war and has a carefully curated aesthetic that flips post-911 war propaganda into scathing indictments of the military industrial complex and U.S. war crimes. Torture convey that message without any discernible lyrics in their music. In typical slam fashion, the vocals could be mistaken for bullfrog mating gurgles, and the instrumentation is almost exclusively death-metallized breakdowns. There are no fast sections. No complex riffs. No spaces in the songs for your ears to breathe. Every second of music on the album can be moshed to. It's relentlessly brutal in such a way that "brutal" doesn't even feel like a good enough word for it. Skull-softening music. Femur-disintegrating music. Spine-burning music. Just revolting sounding stuff, in the best way possible.

At first, the Torture hype was decidedly niche and limited to people who are super plugged-in to DIY-level hardcore and death-metal. But over the last few months, Torture's profile has risen organically, and they really broke beyond the "if you know you know" crowd when Knocked Loose frontman Bryan Garris named them his favorite new band in a recent interview. Even as their internet hype intensified, the band had never played a show until late last month, when the Torture live lineup debuted in Wisconsin and footage of the gig momentarily "broke" hardcore Twitter. Shortly thereafter they announced a week-long tour of the Midwest and East Coast, and they stopped on Pittsburgh the night of May 11th, marking the tour's third date.

There was a metalcore show at the venue, Preserving Underground, already scheduled for the venue's 250-cap room, so doors for Torture were at 10 p.m., the time most shows at Preserving are wrapping up. The gig also went down in Preserving's "DIY Room," a gutted storage closet off to the side where I've seen Year of the Knife and some other local-level acts over the years, but never a show as packed-out and violent as this Torture one was. Well over 100 people rolled out, mostly familiar faces from Pittsburgh's heavy hardcore scene, including the region's hardest, most unapologetically violent moshers.

I knew shit was gonna pop off, but I didn't quite realize how violent it was gonna be until the opening band Remorseless Trauma went on. They're a recently-formed slam band made up of local moshers and scene vets, and within the first five seconds of their set, some big dude swung on me and fucked up my hand, rendering me out of pit commission for the rest of the night. Frustrating, but probably for the best since the rest of that set was a perverse bloodbath of merciless crowd-killing — and there was nowhere to hide. Nowhere. I just had to throw up my arms and duck for cover against the wood-paneled wall whenever some dude twice my size started ballistically kicking or punching into me, and just pray that I didn't get a fist to the face. I did, but fortunately nothing that left a bruise.

That was the first band. Torture's set was somehow, almost improbably, even crazier. The moshing never stopped. It was every single dancer in the scene going harder than I've ever seen them go; somersaulting into motherfuckers, throwing fists into heads, spin-kicking into necks, hammering onto hands that were raised in desperation for a last line of defense. Myself and the other scrawny teenagers I was next to were right on the edge of the pit with nowhere to go. We were squeezed into the far left corner and all we could do was gawk at the violence and raise our arms when the next dancer approached.

In between songs, Torture mastermind K.K. — seated behind the drumkit with a Britney Spears mic strapped to his head — encouraged people to "kill each other" with a bloodthirsty cheeriness in his screeching voice. If he wasn't calling for ruthless assaults, he was shouting out "Free Palestine" and listing off the number of civilian casualties the U.S. and Israel have been responsible for in the ongoing genocide, striking rage into the room by a different means.

By the time the set was over I couldn't even really speak. My friend and I just looked at each other and laughed, unable to comprehend how we made it out of there without our glasses smashed or our teeth on the carpet. It was the scariest show I've ever been to, simply for how much carnage was taking place in the pit without any opportunity to escape it. If you were in that room, you were in it. It was a war zone. It was terrifying. I saw some people get seriously fucking beat up in there. As soon as I came home I energetically relayed the night's activities to my girlfriend, who nodded along with her eyes wide and then asked, "So you're saying it was a good show??" Yes. Yes it was. It was fucking perfect.

Spy, Jivebomb, Destiny Bond, Princess, Big Baby @ Mr. Roboto Project

After the barbaric crowdkilling of the Torture show, it was fun to hit a hardcore gig that was comparably much tamer, but still super fun. Spy and Jivebomb are the two bands you mention when someone asks for "bands that sound like GEL," as the three of them are leading the charge on ugly, stompy, punk-based hardcore in the 2020s. Their tour with Denver's Destiny Bond — a slightly less heavy, more 80s D.C.-influenced 'core act who released one of my favorite hardcore LP's of 2023 — rolled through Pittsburgh, and the whole package was on-point.

Openers Big Baby feature my friend Gem Fair on drums, and they basically sound like a hardcore band beamed out of 1980. A year or two before the genre became sonically codified, and punk bands who stubbornly believed the genre didn't die with the Sex Pistols were stumbling into sounds like Big Baby's; anxious but not fast, musical yet faintly sloppy, angry yet clever, and abrasive but not heavy. Local rising stars Princess followed, and there couldn't have been a better active Pittsburgh band to fill that slot. Expressly influenced by the headliners, but also moshier than any band on the bill, the scene's hottest young act whipped the dancefloor into a frenzy; a harmonious melange of two-steppers, fist-swingers, and goofy flailers just letting it all out.

Destiny Bond didn't get quite the same physical response, but musically they were my favorite band of the night. I don't know any other band in the genre who's doing their sound right now, which flits between anthemically catchy punk burners and jagged, boot-clomping outpours, all played with a degree of sincerity and precision that can't be learned, only gifted. Their singer Cloe stalked the floor, mugging mere inches from people's faces and razzing the room for not dancing hard enough. By the last few songs, people were getting sweaty, and the room stayed steamy for Jivebomb. Unsurprisingly, the Baltimore band had people threatening the structural integrity of the venue walls with how furiously people dashed from side to side. It was the sixth time I've seen them in less than two years (they tour through Pittsburgh a ton), and while I think they're overdue for new material, it's cool to see how hard people move to them.

Spy capped off the night, and while the pit reaction Princess whipped up went unrivaled to this point in the evening, I think the Bay Area band just barely eked out the trophy for Evening's Most Dangerous Set. At one point, the singer, who my friend compared to Dethklok's Nathan Explosion, lunged off the back end of the stage and knocked over a few people who'd been safe all night like bowling pins. The stage isn't high enough for any legitimate dives, but people tried anyways, rolling and smashing into each other to Spy's lyrically unintelligible detonations of animalistic grunts and gravelly power chords. There were no fights, no major injuries (that I saw), and no bad attitudes. Only cathartic bashing. That's hardcore.