Media Mail: Sweet twee, mod-synth melancholia, gnashing metalcore, and more

The column where I review any vinyl, CD's, and cassettes people send me.

Media Mail: Sweet twee, mod-synth melancholia, gnashing metalcore, and more

As devoted readers of (now dubbed Chasing Sundays, for those who didn't read my last post) well know, I started a new column last year where I committed to reviewing any physical media that anyone sent me. Vinyl, cassettes, CD', like, a flash drive with mp3's on it, I guess? Well, now I've decided to title that column Media Mail (clever, right?) and this is the latest edition.

For the last Media Mail write-up, I was flattered to receive five products at my doorstep from artists/publicists/label owners soliciting my opinion on their music. This time, I received upwards of 14 submissions (with at least one that's still on its way), which is fucking insane lmao. Thank you, sincerely, to everyone who sent some stuff my way. Given the amount of music I'm now tasked with sifting through and reviewing, I decided to split this latest batch into two different posts, so this is part one. Part two will follow later this month, so if you sent me something and it doesn't appear here, don't worry, it'll be in the next one.

I've been transparent about the mission of this column from the jump, but I'll reiterate once again so you know what to expect before you dive into these reviews. My goal with Media Mail is to call back to old-school zines from the eighties and nineties like Sub Pop and In Effect, where the writers would promise to review anything they were sent. Crucially, the writeups weren’t always positive; they were honest, critical, and, at their best, boldly opinionated.

This isn't me doing pay-to-play music criticism. You're not gonna get a nice flowery write-up just because you sent me some free shit. I'm doing this as an exercise to engage with material that either didn't end up in my email inbox, or that I probably wouldn't have reviewed to begin with. Either because it missed me, or because it's a style of music I don't typically cover.

If someone (an artist, label, publicist, etc.) values my opinion on music so much that they send me a physical copy in the mail to solicit a review, then I pledge, as I did with the six items below, to spend quality time with the music and give it an honest, thoughtful review. No matter what.

Without further ado, below are my takes on a bunch of music ranging from sweet twee-pop and mod-synth melancholia, to chaotic metalcore and twangy rock & roll.

My mailbox is closed right now, but if you're an artist, label or publicist who wants to send me stuff for review in the future, email me at

Cootie Catcher - Curlicue 

Wow, I love everything about this so much. I love that it’s a tape-only release from this Toronto twee band — as in you can’t listen to it anywhere online. Ya gotta buy the cassette. That's cool as fuck. I love the adorable, fold-out lyric sheet with a collage of kittie images on one side and neatly handwritten lyrics on the other. I wouldn’t expect any less from a band called Cootie Catcher. The design of this is entirely perfect; cutesy and saccharine in the best way. And most of all, I love the music on Curlicue. This is some absolutely excellent twee-pop. Like, genuinely so good! Wow! 

There’re tunes on here like “New Guitar” and “About Face” that click right into the K Records lineage, with warbly, barely-sung masc vocals and equally breathy, bedroom-volume femme vocals that evoke both sides of the Beat Happening/Frankie Cosmos spectrum. Sophia Chavez’s squelchy synths and DJ chop-ups have a strong presence on these tracks, too, adding bursts of sonic color and ooey-gooey texture to the indie-pop tunes, and taking the more experimental tracks on Curlicue in fun and unexpected directions. 

Cootie Catcher sound like a band comprised of folks who came up on Kero Kero Bonito and Weatherday, and maybe even had a real Superorganism phase (before they got canceled, ofc), but have decided to go a more lo-fi route with Cootie Catcher, explicitly calling back to the Epoch twee bands of the mid-2010s on some of these songs. Parts of “New Guitar,” especially, sound like the era of Frankie Cosmos when Porches was in the band harmonizing with Greta Kline, and “About Face” rings of old-school Told Slant. But I especially love that they're doing that while also putting a very modern bedroom-pop twist on it. Closer “House” is a scratched-up, sampladelic instrumental cut that sounds like The Books crossed with the oddball electronic songs on Alex G’s last two albums. “Traffic Jam” is a flurrying punk jaunt that verges on chiptune and could almost be compared to a band like Hey, ILY. 

Given that this is a tape-only release, the sheer variety at play here gives me the sense that Cootie Catcher used Curlicue to try on a bunch of different hats and just have fun messing around. The stakes feel decidedly low, and it allowed me to breathe out and engage with the project in a more casual, laxed manner than I might a Proper Album, or whatever. That said, I do think there’s serious potential here for an awesome full-length if the band are so inclined to make one. This is an immensely charming collection of songs and the way the band went about releasing and presenting them makes them even more endearing. 

Curling - No Guitar 

According to the press bio for No Guitar, the album’s name spurred from Curling's initial mission to make a record without guitars. But by their own admission, that constriction lasted for about 30 minutes before they picked up their six-strings and started strumming away. The most annoying (but accurate) way I can think to describe this record is by saying that it’s in a situationship with post-rock but can’t commit. About two thirds of the album are abstract, through-composed songs, and the other third are somewhat conventionally structured rock tunes that weave between power-pop, nineties-style emo, shoegaze, folky indie-rock and more. The more Song-y songs sound like they have a panging desire on their mind to be weirder than they actually are, and the Less Song-y songs are just plain weird, but not necessarily in a way that's interesting or provocative to listen to. I struggled with this record more than I thought I would.

When I received this LP in the mail, I had never heard of Curling, who’ve been around since the mid-2010s and released two albums before this, but I’ve since seen some buzz for No Guitar out on the timeline. Friend, fellow blogger, and member of the coveted Power Pop Chat Keegan Bradford lumped Curling in with the New Wave of Power-Pop (or whathaveyou) that's being spearheaded by Mo Troper, Dazy, Hurry, etc. I just don’t hear it, dog. The whole ethos of power-pop can be boiled down to worshipping pre-Sargent Peppers Beatles and/or pre-Pet Sounds Beach Boys. And this record is too lovestruck by the other half of those band's catalogs, the studio-as-instrument years, to qualify as power-pop proper.

This is a record that's trying some weird shit. It’s heady and nonlinear and there’s tons of open space and knotty basslines and chiming math-rock licks and songs without choruses and portions of songs where the vocals just drop away with no rhyme or reason and waft into new-agey instrumental passages. And then there’re lyrics like, “You are the husk of a pony today/Ethereal in the window out this dimension.” None of that shit is power-pop at all whatsoever, and the small handful of tracks that do rub shoulders with the form are fleeting. Moreover, only a couple stray moments on this whole record managed to weasel their way into my head after repeated listens. 

Opener “Shamble” is a red herring in that it actually is a jangly, classic-sounding power-pop track that does its damndest to evoke Raspberries and Badfinger. I’m not sure which vocalist sings on that track because both Joseph Brandel and Bernie Gelman are credited as singers on this record, but whoever it is sounds more than a little bit like Mo Troper, the nasally king of modern power-pop who Curling apparently opened for last month at a gig in Oregon, per their Instagram. “Shamble”’s a pretty cool track and I like the way it uses horns during its second half to really smack you over the head, but the thrill doesn’t last long. 

“Pastoral” reaches for what “Shamble” does but doesn’t get there due to its glaring lack of a discernible chorus, and then “Pop Song” veers wildly into Pinegrove-ian indie-folk. From there, it’s total discombobulation. “URDoM” is built upon braided guitar licks of the Midwest emo variety while “Hi-Elixir” is an upbeat indie-rocker with a bit of shoegaze noisiness on a couple of the riffs. Neither are particularly memorable or complementary to one another, and they're separated in the tracklist by a run of high-falutin post-rock that either works nicely or really grates on me. “Reflector Mage” basically sounds like an interlude with a quarter of a math-rock song tacked on its end. However, the plaintive, pastoral flow of “Dysfunction” reminds me a lot of Young Jesus; both instrumentally and in the way Curling’s singer intones here, with the same quivering delivery as Young Jesus’ John Rossiter on albums like Welcome to Conceptual Beach, which I have to imagine Curling were listening to during the writing of this record. 

I like “Dysfunction” because it actually has a build to it and features some weird guitar delay in the second half that piques my interest, but the next track, “Majesty,” is simply too abstract and directionless to leave any impression on me. The only song I like less than it is “Husk,” a meandering folk-drone number that sounds lost for its first four minutes before it hobbles to its feet and tries to cram an indie-rock tune into its last minute, to no avail. There might’ve been a time in my life where that sort of chin-stroking attempt at form-inversion did something for me, but now I’ve listened to too much Talk Talk, Disco Inferno, and Bark Psychosis, and a post-rock song like “Husk” just pales in comparison.

Ironically, the best song on No Guitar, by a longshot, is the one with the most guitar on it. “Patience,” arriving nine songs deep into the tracklist, is a total ass-kicker that merges barreling shoegaze fuzz à la Dinosaur Jr. with, like, Louder Now-era Taking Back Sunday. There’s an actual chorus on here, a bouncy groove, crunching guitars, and two-part vocals that shout back and forth with real verve and emotional interplay. It’s such a vivacious jolt of energy that's, to me, such an obvious display of what Curling are best at: rocking the fuck out. It’s a shame that they only leaned into those instincts for one song on No Guitar, an album that could use a helluva lot more of ‘em. 

forceghost - unknowing the known 

forceghost make music that's constructed out of hypnotic modular synth loops and kaleidoscopic psych-pop vocals, not unlike their contemporaries in Sonic Boom, Panda Bear, and even Dan Deacon. Except, whereas Sonic Boom used colorful modu-tations to explore psychedelic planes of consciousness on 2020’s All Things Being Equal, and Deacon uses similar components to sculpt wondrous playgrounds for shimmying through and sliding down, forceghost’s polychromatic structures are built to house some seriously dark shit. 

In an interview with a local blog, Augusta Good News, forceghost singer-guitarist Eric Kinlaw describes he and Marcus Barfield’s debut EP, unknowing the known, as being “about loss – picking up the pieces and finding a way to move on.” I think that's underselling it. These are some incredibly down-bad tunes that read like they were penned in the throes of an awful breakup, long before the “way to move on” had even come to fruition. 

”Never fall in that love again/Never make it to the top/We descend/All my friends have gone instead,” Kinlaw sings in the very first track, which has the misleadingly cheery title of “high score!” Here, Kinlaw uses unbeatable video game feats as a metaphor for a waning romance, a “high score” he and this person will never be able to beat. Instead, he’s destined to repeatedly fail at the game and glumly stare into the “Galaga table top” scoreboard that tauntingly displays the highs they once achieved. 

A little ham-fisted? Sure. But the eighties arcade jingle at the center of the track is just the right amount of playful without tipping over into cloying, and I like how it gets smeared with yawning washes of ambience and then speckled with a cutesy little guitar riff. The loping “birdies” is slower and slightly more depressed in tone, and it finds Kinlaw moping about the futility of seeking out a new romance if there’s an overwhelming chance it’ll result in wasted effort: “Love crashes/She might be the one/Low chances/No more wasting all my time.” 

There’s no light at the end of the gloomy tunnel. In “triangles,” Kinlaw wonders aloud if he’s caught up in a “plotted plight” of despair, and he groans about the dull boredom of post-breakup solitude on closer “oobly doobly.” After six tracks of this shit you start to feel like one of Kinlaw’s friends after one too many ear-fulls of moaning, fighting the urge to shake him and tell him to snap out of it, to go take a walk and move on. Fortunately, the drab lyricism is offset by a number of delightful musical choices that swallow up Kinlaw’s voice and allow you to zone out unperturbed by his din of woes. 

The modulated synths are actually layered quite tactfully throughout unknowing the known, and each song is rife with squeaky, squelchy little runs of psych-pop melody. There’s always a lot going on, but the compositions never feel overindulgent or jittery for the sake of it. The free-jazz keystrokes on “iffy” add a dash of improvisational flavor, but the fact that they're used sparingly is what makes them effective. 

My favorite song is “melanchronik,” where Kinslaw employs the vocoder to be emo in a way that undoubtedly tips its cap to 808s and Heartbreak. Or maybe more accurately, like the self-titled Dirty Projectors album with “Up in Hudson” on it, where Dave Lonstreth, fresh off his own breakup and feeling hella raw about it, filtered his skronky psych-pop through the lens of late-2000s Kanye. I like the whirring synths, the chopped-up vocal harmonies, the way the bass gurgles, and how a wistful synth brays through the fray during its yearning climax. 

By the time “oobly doobly” comes around, I’ve reached capacity with the piercing squeals of synths. The first verse of that song sounds like an animatronic bear that's programmed to sing the Beach Boys but has an eroded battery in its chamber, and therefore sounds like it’s dying. Multiple times throughout the track, forceghost drop in a sample of a robotic voice saying, “I am happy/I am positive/I am enthusiastic,” with a manufactured deadpan. The messaging is heavy-handed and it’s the only track on here that really drags. These songs are dense thickets of interweaving noises that are kinetic and rich — but they're best served in small doses. Six cuts of forceghost does the trick, but if unknowing the known was any longer then it’d run into some trouble. As it is, though, there’s a lot to dig here. 

Lockslip - Lockslip 

This was actually the one thing I was sent in this batch that I’d listened to before I received the tape. Lockslip are a new metallic hardcore band from L.A. who’re fronted by Sara of the band Entry, who put out a pretty gnarly EP on Convulse Records last year, and at one point (not sure if they still do) boasted members of Touché Amoré in their lineup. Entry play raw, nasty, eighties-style hardcore, and Lockslip play apoplectic, brooding, nineties-style metalcore. So two very different sounds. 

In terms of modern reference points, this EP sits squarely in the lane that Vein have occupied for the last half-decade or so. In an interview with No Echo, Sara said she actually used to live in Pittsburgh (shoutout my city) and hit the road with Code Orange during their early days. I mention that because old-school Code Orange is also the sound Lockslip are evoking on these songs. 

These tracks are skronky and restlessly shifty, but a little too heavy and dark to sound like straightforward Dillinger Escape Plan rips. They're much closer to Martyr A.D. and Turmoil, but there’s an ineffable quality to this tape that rings of music made by people who grew up listening to Slipknot before they found hardcore. Hell, there’s one isolated riff on “Guillotine Blueprint” that made me think of early Korn. 

There’s nothing wrong with a little nu-metal in this stuff. Code Orange and Vein have already proven as much with their best material, and Lockslip are keen to pick up where those bands left off right before they started throwing clean vocals on their albums. I’m so glad there aren’t any Thursday choruses on this tape because those would’ve been completely unnecessary. Lockslip’s sound is fucking decimating and misanthropic, and they definitely have what they're going for down on their first go. 

Live, I think this band would kick my ass, but on recording, I can recognize the talent here while also admitting that it’s just not my bag. This simply isn’t the type of metalcore that I reach for. I feel like a broken record saying this sometimes, but I just don’t like sitting at home listening to any hardcore that could be described as “chaotic.” I’m a simpleton and prefer my heavy hardcore to be on the moshier, chuggier side of the spectrum. My favorite moments on this tape are the breakdowns and Sara’s unrelentingly menacing vocals. The dissonant riffage and squirmy drums don’t do much for me. 

But I can’t deny the talent here. This is really well-done for what it is — from the sound to the recording to the art, which depicts a bug-eyed maniac glaring out of a jail cell door. It’s always great when a hardcore band has the full package right out the gate. Respect to Lockslip, I’m just not the target audience for this. 

Dweller - All the Things We Carry 

The Bandcamp bio for Dweller’s debut EP not-so-subtley avoids using the word “emo” altogether, instead describing their influences as “modern alternative” and “90s grunge.” Lmao c’mon, ya’ll, you don’t have to be coy about it. This is emo! You like emo! You tapped Billy Mannino to produce this for a reason: Because you like the way the Oso Oso, A Will Away, and All Get Out records that he’s done sound. Because you like emo! 

Unfortunately, I don’t really like emo anymore. At least not this kind of emo. And I know exactly what kind of emo this is. In the early-to-mid-2010s, after Balance and Composure and Citizen and Seahaven got pretty big making a style of grunge-inflected emo with nasally vocals, the rosters of Run for Cover, No Sleep, Triple Crown, etc. flooded with bands who were jumping on that sound. Bands like Have Mercy and Better Off. Head North and A Will Away. Daisyhead and Elder Brother. That final Major League record no one besides me liked when they ditched easycore after hearing Balance and Composure’s The Things We Think We’re Missing and decided to embrace their childhood love of the Foo Fighters. And countless others who inhabit this milieu of emo that's divorced from the energy of punk, but isn’t subtle or “cool” enough to be called indie-rock. 

I stopped caring about that kind of emo by the end of the 2010s, but at the time I was editing at The Alternative and my inbox was constantly inundated with requests from bands in that world of drab alt-emo, so I stayed mildly tuned-in to it. Since then I’ve completely stopped following this type of thing and can’t foresee myself ever rekindling that interest going forward. I feel like I’ve heard all that this idiom of music has to offer, and once I hit my early twenties it became like a sound grenade that only resonated with my younger ears. 

Alas, All the Things We Carry does almost nothing for me. Basically all five songs hover at the slightly-slower-than-mid-tempo pace that all the stuff in this vein seems to think is a good place to reside. It’s incredibly samey to me, and there’s no reason any of these songs need to surpass the four-minute mark, as all but one of them do. There’s almost zero dynamic range in the songwriting, and each track ambles forward with no particular creative direction. I love slowcore, so I don't have some sort of principled issue with glacially-paced music. But given how tiring the nasally vocals are on these songs, it’s impossible for me to get wrapped up in the music itself. There’s virtually nothing melodic for my ear to cling to, and the stray screamo yowls that occasionally pop up rarely add enough punch to justify their inclusion. 

Thematically, the album is wrapped up in the grief of losing a former bandmate. The death of their bassist Bryan in 2019 obviously inflicted a great deal of pain on Dweller’s surviving members, and I can imagine that it was a tough yet cathartic experience to address that tragedy through these songs. “In Passion,” with its spoken-word elegy during the bridge and the scorching screamo pummel that follows, is the only track on here where the listener can take part in that cathartic process. The screams are less stylized and more heartfelt, and the climatic musical build gives the refrain, “I still miss you by my side,” a sense of urgency that the rest of this project lacks. 

The Scratch Offs - The Scratch Offs 

You’re crammed between three good friends and four acquaintances in a wood-paneled dive bar on a cold Friday night. It’s around 11 p.m. and the first couple bands have already played. The whole room is good and liquored up. You have to yell to speak but you’re all so beer-battered that it doesn’t even feel like you’re yelling. The din of chatter leaks out onto the street every time someone opens the door to step outside to smoke. Steam is coating the windows because it's gotten mighty toasty in there, hot even. You’re the type of boozy-sweaty where you have to take off your flannel and kind of awkwardly hold it even though you’re just rubbing up against everyone on either side of you, so it’s actually less trouble just to keep it on and sweat it out. But fuckkit, you’ve already made the choice to ditch it so you just keep it in a rumpled pile under your arm and commit yourself to untangling it from every sixth person that brushes past. 

The Scratch Offs have been onstage for 20 minutes just setting up, taking their time to test the cables and have an inefficient back-and-forth with the sound guy, who has to keep trudging through the crowd to get to the stage so he can bend down and make some inane tweak. Nobody in the room is paying attention to any of that, everyone’s just drinking and laughing. But eventually, The Scratch Offs’ singer speaks into the microphone, drawing everyone’s attention to the stage. They make some minorly amusing quip and their friends playfully jeer at them and then they break into their first song. And the first song feels good. You don’t really remember what it sounds like by the time it’s over but what’s important is that it felt good to hear. For the second song, the girlfriends of the guys in the band are up front singing along, and the bassist’s parents come dancing in through the crowd with drafts in each hand. They're the type of ambiguously middle-age people (probably closer to 60 than 55) who still know how to party. The mom bumps into you and she splashes you with some of the beer but it’s OK because you’re already sweaty and beery and it all just feels too good for that mishap to matter anyways. 

The Scratch Offs have the whole room dancing and rocking and swaying and creaking their knees together in unison for the third and fourth songs. For the fifth they pull out a ballad and a noticeable portion of the crowd retreats to the back bar to load up on more beer. Everyone who stays put is in that hypnotic state after four or five beers where your eyes glaze over and you want another drink, but you don’t want to push through the crowd so you just stand there and try to focus on the music. The Scratch Offs are playing a song with the chorus, “I drink to forget her/I smoke to remember.” You think it’s clever in a stupid way, but that might just be ‘cause you’re buzzed. Wrong, it actually is pretty clever in a stupid way, and the line pops into your head when you’re fighting a screaming headache the next morning. 

By the sixth and seventh song the room is rockin’ and swayin’ again. A second wind has infected the whole room and even though you’re sobering up it feels like you’re still kinda drunk and it’s great. It’s song number eight. The Scratch Offs say it’s their last. Several people in the room go, “awww boohoo” and some doofus guy yells, “play nine more!” A friend of the band makes the crowd part down the middle so she can deliver four shots of well whiskey to the band, and they down them swiftly before ripping into the final tune. It’s a song called “Virginia Jean” about a hustlin’ woman who “talked real mean” and “swung at her sister for dancin' with me,” who smokes all your keef and “had a booty beyond belief.” 

People are hootin’ and hollerin’ during this song. The bassist’s drunk parents are really rocking back and forth with a concerning amount of momentum, sloshing what remains of their warm beers all over the place while the crowd of late-twenty and thirty-somethings does that thing people in that age group do where they kind of bend their knees and act like they're jumping but they're really just lightly springing up and down so as not to exert too much energy and risk spilling the beer out their bellies. The set ends and everyone starts to funnel out of the bar but you get caught in a conversation with an old high-school friend and end up standing off to the side of the door, using one-half of your brain to engage in conversation while the other half can’t stop thinking about how you should’ve kept the flannel on, ‘cause now your damp, sweaty t-shirt is being berated by gusts of wind coming in from the doorway and it’s really uncomfortable. 

The conversation ends abruptly when someone else comes up and pulls your high-school pal away. You step outside and find your friends idling outside in their car waiting for you, just seconds away from pulling off without you. You hop in the backseat and are immersed in the conversation they were having before you got in. Eventually you all settle on a late-night fast food run and by the time that's over and everyone else is dropped off, you get home and saunter upstairs and crash down on your bed and fall asleep. You haven’t thought about The Scratch Offs’ witty lyricism or their affinity for Chuck Berry riffs. You might never think about The Scratch Offs in those terms. But as your heavy eyelids pull down over your eyeballs you smile soundly knowing that the vibes of that evening were just right. The kind of vibes that bands like The Scratch Offs exist to provide.

My mailbox is closed right now, but if you're an artist, label or publicist who wants to send me stuff for review in the future, email me at