Chasing Fridays: Still House Plants, Wisp, Ekko Astral live, and more

Reviews of new art-rock, shoegaze, and rap albums, and some hardcore/post-punk gig recaps.

Chasing Fridays: Still House Plants, Wisp, Ekko Astral live, and more

Heyo, I'm back bloggin' with this week's Chasing Fridays — a roundup of music I consumed and shows I attended over the last seven days. Last week, I traveled to D.C. to catch Drop Nineteens' first show in 30 years, where I interviewed the band backstage an hour before their set, talked to some young fans in line, and then wrote about the shoegaze legends' eventful comeback in this here article.

Since then, I've been listening to a ton of new music, and have my thoughts on a few recent releases down below. I also saw a few shows this week that I had some thoughts on. A couple hardcore gigs, featuring good and bad (and very bad) bands, and a freaky post-punk show that was almost entirely amazing.

If you enjoy this article and/or the others I write, I'd appreciate if you subscribed to Chasing Sundays at the $5/month tier. I've got some more longform ideas gestating at the moment and plan to dedicate some time next week to getting at least one of those off the ground, in addition to my weekly Chasing Fridays roundups. Your monetary support means a lot. Now get readin'!

Still House Plants - If I don't make it, I love u

This is one of the most critically-acclaimed rock albums of 2024 thus far. It got a Pitchfork "Best New Music," a five-star Guardian review, "Album of the Week" in Stereogum, and earned the London band a Wire cover story. Those are ringing endorsements for a slowcore-ish art-rock band, and based on the hype alone and a vague idea of what I expected this to sound like, I figured I was in for a treat. But holy shit man, I fucking hated this.

Listening to this album made me feel like I had poison ivy in my ears. Listening to this album made me feel like I was in a room full of people who all knew a dirty, embarrassing secret about me but wouldn't tell me what it was. It's so uncomfortable. It's so itchy. The seasick, off-key vocals give me vertigo. The detuned, chiming guitars and limping drums make me feel like I'm hungover in an elevator that stops at every floor during its 20-level descent. Each note this singer wails makes me want to only listen to instrumental ambient music for the rest of my life. Their vocals evoke the feeling of being in an Uber where my friend on one side is puking out the window and the drunk person to my right is explaining to me, in agonizing detail, what Black Country New Road sound like.

It gestures toward something I would enjoy while remaining several football fields of distance away from delivering an iota of pleasure. This sounds like anesthesia wearing off in the middle of open-heart surgery. It's painful to listen to. No, like it genuinely hurts my ears to listen to. I'm incredibly flummoxed by how much I dislike this album. I'm not your down-the-middle Wire reader with an insatiable appetite for the avant-garde, so maybe I'm not the target audience for this record. But idk man, I can get down with some weird stuff! I'm open to something like this. In fact, I kind of enjoy the first minute-and-a-half of opening track "M-M-M," where the guitars are ping-ponging between each channel and the singer is kind of doing a languid rap delivery. But then once they start moan-singing, I'm out.

I envy people who enjoy this because I don't relish in disliking music I find interesting on paper. This is music I find interesting on paper. Actually listening to it? Utter fucking nightmare. You like it? Cool, take it — get it away from me! On to the next thing.

Wisp - Pandora

Last year I interviewed teenage shoegaze star Wisp for my sprawling report on the TikTok shoegaze landscape. Her first-ever song blew up on the app last year and got her signed to Interscope. She was selling out shows with only two songs to her name. Her trajectory is insane and previously unfathomable for a shoegaze artist, and earlier this month she finally issued her debut EP, Pandora. I mostly feel about this the way I feel about "Your Face," the single that rocketed her to fame: Meh.

It's forgettable, derivative nu-gaze that doesn't find any ways to innovate — or even illuminate — the Nothing/Whirr strain of sullen grunge-gaze she's pulling from. She's been writing songs for less than a year at this point, and I didn't expect to love this based on her first few singles, which I only found interesting for how ordinary they sound in contrast to her extraordinary popularity. There's not a lot to hate on here because there's just not a lot to this project in general. It's pretty one-note.

However, the one song I actually really liked on the EP is "Luna," which features a staticky, blown-out riff that slices through the icy-hot vocals and adds some real texture to a project that otherwise suffers from its uniform smoothness. There's also some cool synths buffing out the song here, and Wisp throws a stuttering effect on her voice during a couple lines that make her sound like she's singing into a helicopter blade. Closing track "Mimi" uses spikey distortion on its main riff that clasps around the taut bassline like a Venus flytrap. It's the only other sound on here that pulls me into what I'm hearing instead of making my mind wander, but "Luna" is a much more interesting song overall.

That review might read as harsh, but it's only because, having spoken with Wisp, I know she's an incredibly knowledgeable shoegaze fan with an immense amount of passion for the genre and its myriad sounds. Clearly, there's something about her sound/vibe that's magnetizing people, and I'm intrigued to see where she takes the project in the coming years. Maybe she has a kickass record in her. I'll be listening to whatever she puts out going forward with an open mind. But Pandora, even at its best, is the kind of EP I'll forget exists in two months tops. Frankly, I already can't recall what that "Mimi" riff even sounds like, and I just listened to it 10 minutes ago.

Bladee - Cold Visions

Is this the best Bladee album? It might genuinely be the best Bladee album. Holy shit. Historically, Bladee's Whole Thing is how his dainty, powdery voice blows up against go-to producer Whitearmor's icy beats, creating a sound that lands on your ears with the gentle tingle of a light snowfall grazing your cheeks. Cold Visions takes the opposite tack, as the Swedish rapper does his best to bear his fangs atop speaker-knocking F1lthy beats. The type of instrumentals that far more venomous rappers like Playboi Carti and Ken Carson muddily slur and percussively "da-DA!" over with apoplectic glee. Hearing Bladee's childishly delicate voice over those type of instruments makes for an intoxicating contrast that breathes new life into his output, which I'd mostly lost interest in over the last couple years (up until this year's Psykos album with Yung Lean, which was basically a post-punk record, but Drain-ified). Between that and this 30-song behemoth, I've got enough Bladee to hold me over for a long time.

Alovesopure - "until it's my reality"

Alovesopure is the electronic project of Tobby Davilmar, who plays in two of the best Florida hardcore bands right now, Collateral and Ephemeral. Evidently he's been releasing music under this moniker for nearly a decade, but I discovered Alovesopure this week when he signed to Sunday Drive Records, a DIY hardcore/alt-rock label with a pretty good hit ratio. His upcoming full-length You'll Be a Memory fucking rules, a set of Aphex Twin-y, Warp Records-y electro that's both pillowy and propulsive. The album isn't out until early May, but lead single "until it's my reality" gives you a great taste of how this sounds. I listen to so much Aphex Twin and other ambient-y house/techno shit while I write, and I can already tell this is gonna be my go-to for this style for the rest of the spring.

Cloud Nothings - Final Summer

I feel like Cloud Nothing's 2021 album, The Shadow I Remember (an album I associate more than any other record with Bandcamp Friday-era pandemic lockdown....oof what a terrible time) was heralded by a lot of people as their best album since Here and Nowhere Else. I certainly thought that at the time, but in retrospect, I loved that record so much during the week it dropped and then completely forgot it existed for the last three years. In fact, I remember revisiting it at some point at the end of 2021 and not really understanding why I was so gung-ho about it earlier in the year. I think it just felt refreshing to hear a Cloud Nothings record with hooks again after the caustic yet sterile Last Building Burning and the wildly boring, gutless Life Without Sound.

Final Summer, on the other hand, actually feels like Cloud Nothing's best album since Here and Nowhere Else. In fact, it might actually be their best since Attack on Memory, because — while it's still early, and I need this album to pass the one-week test before I say anything rash — I think this record miiiight actually be better than Here and Nowhere Else! This is one of those albums where I was just astounded by how much I enjoyed every single song. I ran the record back three times in one day last weekend and only enjoyed it more each time.

Opener "Final Summer" has a line ("Oh I have some thoughts/Oh I have some dreams/But I need to be happy/With what I've got for me") that feels like a wisened callback to the hyperbolic fatalism at the center of "Stay Useless" ("I thought I would be more than this"). Dylan Baldi is still dissatisfied with what he's got, but he's not wallowing so much as he's viewing his still-unchecked boxes as a reason to appreciate the ones he's ticked thus far. The song propels forward with the band's trademark stutter-stomp, palming the melody like a perfect skipping stone but never letting 'er rip across the water. Not yet at least.

Second single "I'd Get Along" might genuinely be the best Cloud Nothings song since "I'm Not Part of Me," but then I had the same thought when "The Golden Halo" came on. I thought Baldi had lost the ability to write songs this catchy, but apparently he was just in hook hibernation. The guitars sound awesome on this album, fuzzy and full but not at the expense of the band's heightened production quality compared to their early days. The three-song run that closes out the record is great. Again, it's only been a week. Maybe I'll forget about this record, too, come December, but I have a feeling I won't.

Ekko Astral, Pop Music Fever Dream, Lylyth at Mr. Roboto Project (4/20)

When noisy D.C. post-punk band Ekko Astral signed to Topshelf Records earlier this year and started rolling out their new album, the hype was pretty immediate. People were stoked on this band, and then when the record, pink balloons, dropped last Wednesday, it was instantly met with pretty wide acclaim among music writers, fans, and fellow musicians on my timeline. I liked the album a good bit on my first listen, and figured I should see them play the humble DIY den Mr. Roboto before Ekko Astral inevitably play a venue twice that size the next time they come through Pittsburgh. I'm glad I did.

I showed up halfway through local opener Lylyth's set, and it felt like I was walking into a party where everyone was transfixed on a strange parlor game. The band's lead vocalist was out sick, so the group had a rotating cast of friends coming up onstage to help sing the songs, which sounded like the Misfits at some points and like an Elephant Six band gone folk-punk at others. The bassist-vocalist took a Plan B pill onstage after a song riddled with the chant "my body, my choice," and then someone strummed a shitty electric ukulele during the last song while the band and their friends chanted the refrain, "bad bitches cry," ad infinitum. It was strange and messy and endearing all at once.

NYC's Pop Music Fever Dream were up next, which marked their first-ever show outside of New York. It was a radical vibe shift into squally no-wave, and their members didn't stop lurching and squiggling, both onstage and throughout the crowd, for the whole set. Their style of talky post-punk merged with searing feedback and tuning-while-playing anti-riffs isn't always my bag, but Pop Music Fever Dream's relentless energy and thespian flair — not to mention how locked-in they were sonically — made them impossible to dislike. Their torrent of sound was provocative and cathartic in all the right ways. Not just a simulacrum of Teenage Jesus and the Jerks' irreplicable tantrums, but a genuinely abrasive musical confrontation that spoke to this unavoidably confrontational time to exist in.

Ekko Astral's set also didn't shy away from protest subject matter, with numerous references to the genocide in Gaza and an exercise where singer Jael Holzman made onlookers project their feelings on the world around us ("blaaah" was the most common response) and then encourage us to use our voices like that more often. The songs they played from pink balloons are oozing with Holzman's lived experience, which I don't know much about, but I could tell from the way they were played and the repeated references to "missing murdered people" and people "buried under gravestones of strangers," that every word matters — in the way some band's lyrics don't, or at least not to the same degree.

Ekko Astral could be funny and sharp-witted too, Holzman's eyes rolling back as she smiled through her line about mispronouncing Bon Iver. With three guitarists, their sound had a lot of punch to it, and while the devastating closing track to pink balloons, "i90," kills on the record, I knew that I would never again hear it in quite the same way as when they drew it out to close their set. The guitars pounded, Holzman's voice seared through the monitors, and the refrain — "low rider! hang 'em higher!" — was burned into my memory forever. It was one of the best rock performances I've seen in a long time. Ekko Astral are a truly, truly special band.

Deletär, Ultimate Disaster, Living World @ The Rock Room 4/23

I decided to hit this show last-minute mostly because I thought it'd be fun to see a gig at Pittsburgh crust-punk haven The Rock Room one night and a gig at Pittsburgh Earth Crisis lover ground zero, Preserving Underground, the next night. The Rock Room is a ridiculous local treasure that looks and smells like it hasn't changed since the 80s: a graffiti-covered smoke hole where you can order 15-cent perogies, slam $2 beers, and blast cigs indoors while watching bands play on a tiny stage. I've seen many shows here over the years but always seem to forget about the smoking part until I'm already there, where I'm always the most showered and un-inked person in the space, but still end up reeking of cigs for days after.

Pittsburgh's own Living World opened the show, ripping through their scabby, loose-fitting hardcore romps that aren't really mosh-able or fist-pump-able, but still enjoyable nonetheless. Richmond's Ultimate Disaster were next, and they were one of the most boring bands I've seen in a long time. Extremely run-of-the-mill d-beat without any memorable riffs, charisma, or flavor. I don't like d-beat hardcore most of the time, and after this 10-minute set (thank god it wasn't any longer) I began to regret showing up in fear that the headliners would be just as middling.

Thankfully, they weren't. France's Deletär are a d-beat band who are well-reviewed among the MRR punk literati, and live, I got to see why people think their explicit Totalitär scholarship is more than just a limp genre exercise. Having a vocalist who's not burdened by an instrument definitely helped their cause, as the tall, thin singer hollered into the mic and pumped his fist all while wearing some sort of scarf around his neck throughout the entire sweaty performance. The band's riffs fucking ruled, the solos had tons of personality, and there were even a couple side-to-side parts that got the boozed-up room bashing and bumping.

At one point, a fresh-faced punker was skanking with a lit cig dangling out of his mouth, and at another, the bassist of Living World started chucking those party snap firecrackers into the pit, which was fun and goofy — and the band didn't even seem to notice. The 50-some people at the show were really into Deletär and the band seemed to really appreciate the dingey vibes of the Rock Room. By the time they wrapped up their 20-minute set, I actually wished they could've kept going. I think that's the first time I've ever thought that about a d-beat band. Props to Deletär.

xRepresentx, Lead Spirit, Vindictive Malevolence, Left to Burn @ Preserving 4/24

Preserving Underground is the main venue in Pittsburgh to see heavier hardcore bands, and this show went down in the smallest of their three rooms, the "DIY Room." Which is basically just an oversized closet connected to the 300-cap basement stage where bands usually set up their merch. As you can imagine, it's a great place to get your ass beaten since there's really nowhere to hide, and I knew that Erie straight-edge vets xRepresentx would bring out the fist-swingers.

Sadly, to get to them, I had to stand through a couple of the worst sets I've seen this side of the pandemic. Left to Burn are a new band who play what I guess sounded like Clevo-style hardcore, but done in the most mind-numbingly boring way possible. It was heavy but not hard enough to mosh to, and the vocalist's one-dimensional howls had no character to them whatsoever. Somehow, Vindictive Malevolence were worse.

My podcast Violent Treatment just did an episode where we pushed back on the upswing of "hardcore kids making death metal" over the last few years, and Vindictive Malevolence are one of the rotten fruits that that trend is sprouting. Atrociously simplistic deathcore without the breakdowns or the riffs or the vocals or the presence or the musicianship or even the look to justify their existence outside of the practice space. The guitarist played an eight-string guitar, so clearly he used to be a djent dOOd until like three years ago when he heard Sanguisugabogg, and now he and his bandmates think they can do Cannibal Corpse type shit. Genuinely awful set, and I don't say that lightly.

Omaha's Lead Spirit redeemed the evening with their 90s youth-crew revival sound, which only really got a good reaction out of me and the one kid in a Youth of Today shirt. The rest of the beatdown knuckle-draggers in the room just sort of nodded along politely while Lead Spirit played the kind of set that would've had 50 people two-stepping at once at FYA. But so it goes, they seemed like they had a good time, and xRepresentx showed them a ton of love on the mic during the set that followed.

The Western PA vets play a style of hardcore that kind of feels like a dying breed right now, which is true-blue late-Nineties Victory Records 'core. They did an old-school Hatebreed cover (can't remember which song, sorry) and the rest of their songs could've been forgivably mistaken as Hatebreed covers. Bands from today who cite Buried Alive as an influence don't really sound like that in the way xRepresentx do, and it was interesting to see a band who would've been considered in the upper echelon of hardcore heaviness back in '06 who honestly sounded kinda tame in comparison to, like, Pain of Truth or Sunami. Regardless, they put on a great show and people were finally movin', so ultimately the night was a W.