Chasing Fridays: MJ Lenderman, Friko, Horse Vision, and more

Thoughts on a critically underrated cult album, a weird band from Stockholm, the new single from ~the next Kurt Vile~, and other opinions on music.

Chasing Fridays: MJ Lenderman, Friko, Horse Vision, and more

Welcome back to Chasing Fridays, my weekly roundup of music criticism and gig reports. Thanks to those who gave me feedback last week when I asked if I should continue including live capsules in this column. The response I received was a unanimous, "yes, please," so I'll be giving the people what they want. On the topic of programming notes: I'll be on vacation next week chilling lakeside in upstate New York, so I'll be taking a week off from Chasing Fridays. However, expect a big essay from me that I'll publish on Tuesday or Wednesday. And nope, it's actually not about shoegaze (sorry and/or congrats).

Since this was a holiday week that was slow on new releases, I took the time to check out some stuff that's dribbled out over the last few months. That led me to writing about the new Friko album, the latest MJ Lenderman single, a track by this band Horse Vision, and my favorite song on the actually pretty good new Camila Cabello album (trust me). Then, I wrote up my great experience at a Her New Knife show in Pittsburgh. Check it all out down below.

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MJ Lenderman - "She's Leaving You"

MJ Lenderman is cultivating the kind of reaction where you're either all in on him or you don't really have an opinion. Among my Endless Scroll co-hosts, I'm by far the coolest on his solo output thus far. I think 2022's Boat Songs is a good record with some great songs that's hampered by an extremely uneven A-side. "Hangover Game" is one of the decade's most rousing anthems, and then all of its momentum is stymied by a thicket of muddy ballads that never fail to kill my buzz and sour my opinion on what's otherwise a very gratifying album. I think his guitarwork with Wednesday — particularly his playing on their deliriously fun covers album — is my favorite stuff he's done thus far, though Lenderman's 2023 live album, And the Wind (Live and Loose), reinvigorated my impression of his solo catalog and got me pumped for what's coming next.

"She's Leaving You" is the zone where I think Lenderman thrives. The song has inertia. The cleaner production accentuates his earworm licks and bumps his vocals up in the mix for an extra watt or two of oomph. The song's rickety build is unassuming but its sneaks up on you. By the end, I'm banging my head and crooning along to his drawn-out, "leaaaaa-vingggg youuu"'s. Wednesday singer Karly Hartzman provides some subtle yet essential harmonies that frame Lenderman's chalky timbre against a less granular vocal, further highlighting the character in his delivery. It's a great song. I wasn't that hot on the previous single, "Rudolph," but this one's undeniable. There you have it: a normal, measured reaction to MJ Lenderman.

Horse Vision - "Partly Get By"

Last week, I wrote about how Alex G is one of the most influential indie musicians of the 21st century. Anyways...Horse Vision are a band I stumbled into this week while combing through weird-ass Spotify playlists. They're on Bladee's Stockholm label Year0001 and only have three singles to their name, their most recent being "Partly Get By" from a couple months back. Horse Vision are the duo of John Nilsson — a Hollywood sound designer who worked on the Aftersun soundtrack — and Gabriel Von Essen, also of the Stockholm band World Gym.

The singer's svelte, nasally voice and thick Swedish accent sounds like Bladee if he could actually sing in tune. The simple acoustic chord progression on here recalls any Alex G song recorded before his ongoing country era, while the pangs of silicone smooth, bleach-white synths sound like an A.G. Cook song before the bass comes in. It's a pretty elemental this plus that sort of sound, and it clicks together with such a casual coolness that it makes you wonder why it hasn't already been done before. Last year's "My Man" single has the same hazy familiarity to it. Will be keeping an eye on this band, for sure.

Friko - Where we've been, Where we go from here

I was playing the new Friko album for my girlfriend the other day and she was like, "Oh, this sounds like old Bright Eyes." Then I showed her the album art and she was like, "Wow, that looks exactly like old Bright Eyes." She's not wrong. Supposedly, the Chicago band weren't really familiar with Conor Oberst's music prior to making Where we've been, Where we go from here, and were instead doing their best to channel Arcade Fire's Funeral. I hear that album in here, too. Even though the early 2000s aren't a period of indie that I carry much nostalgic fondness for, when a band captures the nervy earnestness of that era as well as Friko do here, I'm not immune to the contagion.

This seems like the album from 2024 that's most exposing the gulf between music critic consensus and indie message board consensus. On r/indieheads and Rate Your Music, it's one of the most highly regarded albums of 2024. However, it didn't appear on Stereogum, Brooklyn Vegan, or Pitchfork's best albums of the year so far lists. Hell, the reason I revisited the record this week for the first time since its release is because it didn't appear anywhere on my podcast Endless Scroll's mid-year report either. That doesn't mean the critics are wrong. I don't love this record enough to go to bat for it in that way. I just think it's interesting that music journalism is in such a strange place in 2024 that even an aughts indie critic-bait record like this is being shrugged off as, "Eh, we've heard it before." Personally, I've heard Hovvdy before. I'd take Funeral and Mirrors over it any day.

Camila Cabello - "June Gloom"

I was mostly following this album's rollout for the awkward spectacle of it. The naked Charli aping, the head-scratching Playboi Carti collab, the two Drake features, the kooky aesthetic rebrand from one of the most banal pop giants of our time. The whole thing felt kind of like watching a drunk person at a party who's promising all night to attempt some ill-advised stunt in the driveway, but you don't really believe that they're going to go through with it. And then they actually do, and you can't even look because of how bad the repercussions would be if they don't land it.

And then....oh. That's what that looks like? Yeah, I thought that was gonna be way more dangerous, but they clearly know what they're doing. OK, well...can we go back inside now? That's how it felt when this tentative disaster dropped last week. It's not nearly as wonky and hyperpopped as "I Luv It" insinuated it would be. In fact, the album has more of a visual identity than a sonic one. It's a half-hour hodge-podge of danceable pop-rap, muggy pop, half-baked interludes, and Lana-esque balladry. Whatever it's trying to be, it's not all that weird or bad. It's actually kind of good? The closer "June Gloom," especially.

It's like Lana Del Rey without any of the pretense crossed with a Frank Ocean Blonde song that would actually fit better on Channel Orange. Cabello's taunting an ex who's clearly still interested, breathily asking if his new beau gets him all hot and bothered the way she does. "If she's so amazing/Why are you on this side of town?" she asks with a conversational directness, like she's so invested in the song's plot that she forgot to sing and just talked over the beat. By the end, the two of them are "fallin' to the kitchen floor," and uh-oh, "this could be a problem." The musical denouement to this homewrecking affair? A squelchy synth motif and a clomping beat that happily bobs like a "follow the bouncing ball" to the song's conclusion. And then the album ends. Ta-da!

James Castle, Her New Knife, Hit Like a Girl, Dogmeat @ Mr. Roboto Project

Although it was cool to see the emo/screamo band Hit Like a Girl for the first time in many years, I mostly went to this show to catch Her New Knife. They're one of the central players in the Philly shoegaze scene, and their two most recent releases, 2023's lead dreams/flayed so light and 2024's nightcore +++, are two of the best projects in the Julia's War catalog (the label run by They Are Gutting a Body of Water). They played a set of entirely new material that sounded more like Deerhoof or Sonic Youth than the slowcore-ish shoegaze they're known for. The songs were clangy and non-linear, and much less fuzz-addled than a track like "douglasland.v1", their biggest tune on streaming.

I spent some time chatting with the band at the show and can tell that they're clearly an energized and motivated group who're nonetheless still trying to figure out their own identity. Fortunately, every "experiment" they've thrown at the wall thus far has stuck, and I think Her New Knife are one of the most compelling and promising groups in the ever-expanding world of TAGABOW/Feeble Little Horse associates. I highly recommend seeing them live if you can, and all I'll say about the new material is this: Get ready.

The other highlight of this show for me were James Castle, a relatively new Pittsburgh band comprised of four dudes who barely look a year out of high-school. One of the guitarist-singers is the little brother of Joe Praksti, singer of Rave Ami, one of my favorite Pittsburgh rock bands — who are sadly calling it a day next month. James Castle sound a lot different. I described them on Twitter (see below) as early Dinosaur Jr. if Cloud Nothings' batshit drummer was in the band, and I think that's about as precise a description I can muster after seeing them a couple times over the last year.

Right now, they're just a local band with only a few songs available on streaming, but they seem to be playing out more often and they've only gotten better since I first saw them open for TAGABOW in spring 2023. Their drummer's energy is mind-blowing, and the guitarists know how to whip out a shredding solo without succumbing to ostentatious wankery. I think as they continue honing their voice they'll quickly become one of the most formidable rock units in Pittsburgh, and I think it's only a matter of time (and a good recording of their live magic) before they're no longer just a Pittsburgh secret. Toss 'em an Instagram follow if you know what's good for you.