My Listening Week: Mannequin Pussy, A Country Western, TAGABOW & 7 more

Thoughts on Philly shoegaze's best, some slowcore newcomers, some hardcore old-timers, and a lot more.

My Listening Week: Mannequin Pussy, A Country Western, TAGABOW & 7 more

Yo! It's been a while since I last published something here. The primary reason for that will be revealed in due time, but it's been a very busy start to the year for me, and I simply didn't have the bandwidth in January and February to post on here. But I'm back, and I'm planning to kick off a whole new era of this website. And what's a new era without a new name?

The URL for this blog has and always will be, but I've decided to start referring to this blog as Chasing Sundays. That was the title of my shoegaze column back when I wrote for The Alternative, and while I retired that specific column in 2020, I've always been fond of the way those words look and sound together. They're taken from a Nothing song, "Guilty of Everything," and coincidentally, I'll be travelling to Philadelphia this weekend to see Nothing play that album front-to-back in celebration of its 10-year anniversary. I literally didn't even make that connection until I started typing this out, Guess the stars they are a-lignin'.

I already have a whole other post queued up to publish early next week, but I figured it'd be cool to get the engine running again with a good 'ole round-up of what I listened to this week. I've got my grid posted above, which is generated by a website that tracks everything I stream on Spotify and then creates that grid based on the albums/EP's I played most during that seven-day period.

Below, are a a few pullouts from that grid, and then a few things that didn't make it in there because I was listening on Bandcamp, YouTube, etc. I've got some thoughts on the new Mannequin Pussy record, a couple hardcore recommendations, some slowcore, some shoegaze — you know, the works. Check it out.

And one more thing...Please consider subscribing to Chasing Sundays by clicking the "subscribe" button in the bottom right hand corner of the screen, or visiting the homepage. That way, if you like what I write then you can get all of my posts delivered right to your inbox.

And one other thing actually. Shoutout to my Endless Scroll co-host Miranda Reinert and fellow music scribes Josh Terry and Molly Mary O'Brien for including me in their recent blogrolls. I appreciate their kind endorsements about what I've written for this website and other ones. Anyone who reads me should also read them, so check out Miranda's step one of a plan, Josh's No Expecations, and Molly's i enjoy music.

Alright, now you may continue scrolling.

No Reason to Live - The Price of Disloyalty

This week we got a new EP from Pittsburgh's premier beatdown death metal band No Reason to Live. That string of words, "beatdown death metal," has a certain connotation in today's heavy music landscape. Over the last few years, there's been a huge influx of bands — many of them signed to Maggot Stomp Records — making rudimentary, "caveman"-style death metal with hardcore breakdowns. Sanguisugabogg, Bodybox, Tribal Gaze, Gates to Hell — and then stuff on the slammier side like Snuffed on Sight and Volcano. The bands who do that sound best (Japan's Kruelty and Ohio's 200 Stab Wounds, imo) are fun to see live when the crowds they draw are young, rowdy, and down to hardcore dance, but this wave of "hardcore kids making death metal" has basically run its course in my mind.

No Reason to Live make a type of music that, on paper, sounds very similar to the aforementioned bands, but is actually quite different in practice — and for the better. The songs on The Price of Disloyalty are stupidly heavy, but the mosh parts are woven into compositions that are otherwise quite technical and riff-a-licious. Hardcore kids love to sing the praises of Dying Fetus these days (and so do I), but I think people tend to over-emphasize how punishingly moshy that band is while under-emphasizing their dizzyingly technical side. Dying Fetus' breakdowns hit as hard as they do because they're interspersed by tippy-tappy fretboard runs and techy blasts.

No Reason to Live's music, even moreso on this EP than on 2016's Only Death Is Certain, has the same quality. There're riffs on this thing that honestly veer toward Gothenburg-style melodeath, and other portions where really great fast-picking is overlaid atop some utterly pummeling drum fills. I find myself enjoying these songs as death-metal songs — and they just happen to have brain-bashing, Pittsburgh-style mosh parts dropped in for some added chaos. I saw No Reason to Live open for Sunami in Pittsburgh last year and it was one of the most violent sets I've ever witnessed. People were beating fucking ass for this band, and it's awesome that that they can get that reaction while also making music that's actually interesting to listen to.

Token Entry - Jaybird

I've been sifting through the gargantuan, 700-page In Effect zine anthology that my girlfriend got me for Christmas, which covers NYHC in the late eighties and mid-nineties. It's introduced me to a bunch of cool stuff like Our Gang and Wrecking Crew that I previously wasn't familiar with, and one of the review sections also convinced me to give Token Entry another try.

This band didn't click with me the first time I did my eighties NYHC deep-dive, but their 1989 LP Jaybird — dumbass album art and all — really hit the spot this time around. Maybe that's because I've had Bad Brains' I Against I in heavy rotation for the last month, and this LP is clearly picking up on the melodic funk-thrash that the Brains were putting down on that record (their 1989 LP Quickness is also an easy comparison to Jaybird). But also, I just think these songs are great.

Timmy Chunks' voice has a punk-ish vocal delivery that rests somewhere between the youth crew shouts of the Revelation Records material and the snottier melodic hardcore coming out of the West coast like Bad Religion. There's awesome shredding and plenty of bouncy mosh on Jaybird, but it doesn't have the grit of their NYHC thrash-core peers in Killing Time, Leeway and Rest In Pieces. It's a little sunnier than that, a little closer to what would happen to NYHC in the 1990s when alt-rock melody replaced Agnostic Front snarl. I like it.

Mannequin Pussy - I Got Heaven

I wouldn't say that I was harsh on this record when I reviewed it during a recent episode of Endless Scroll, but compared to the universally glowing coverage its gotten (an 8.8 on Pitchfork, a NYT endorsement, high praise from basically every other music outlet that still has the lights on) me and my cohost's takes on Mannequin Pussy's third LP were uniquely mixed.

After 2016's cathartically crashing Romantic I counted Mannequin Pussy among my favorite bands, and 2019's increasingly tuneful and lyrically gutting Patience only made me double-down on my belief that they were one of our generation's greatest rock groups. I still think there's merit to that statement, though I don't feel quite the level of intimacy with this band's music that I once did. Part of that is my ever-evolving taste shifting away from the indie-punk milieu they inhabit, and then some of it has to do with them not releasing an album for five years. They just hadn't felt front-of-mind for me in a long while.

That said, I feel the need to reiterate that while I don't love this record front to back, there're some incredible fucking songs on here. The four-track run from "I Got Heaven" to "I Don't Know You" might be the best in their whole catalog, and I'd give the same accolade to "Softly." During its bridge, the instruments cut away and Marisa Dabice whispers, "What if one day I don't want this anymore?" The bassline starts to simmer and then she asks it again, tweaking the subject from "this" to "you." The drums start to rattle like a pot about to boil over so she just outright says it: "What if one day I don't love you anymore?" The tension snaps, the distortion kicks in, and instead of letting that existential fear hang in the air any longer, she just wails. A painful, guilty, helpless wail. As if the impending consequences of what she just admitted are too terrible to accept, but she knows that she couldn't have possibly kept that sentiment bottled up any longer.

Gut-punch passages like those are when Mannequin Pussy are at their best. I think the harder, faster punk songs on this album are actually pretty good for what they are ("OK? OK! OK? OK!" and "Of Her" especially), but they perform emotion more than they deliver it. I come to Mannequin Pussy for poetically raw lyricism and some of the best clattering indie-pop since the Pixies and the Breeders. Most of this record delivers on those fronts. I just wish that all of it did. Too nit-picky? Nah, I just have high standards for the greatest rock bands of our time.

Transient Waves - Transient Waves

I saw someone recommend this late-nineties ambient-gaze deep cut for people who like Bowery Electric and Seefeel. I agree, this is for people who like those bands and want to hear something objectively less interesting that resides in the same wheelhouse. This record's not very good, but if you really like the minimalism of Beat-era Bowery Electric, then you might like a couple tracks on here.

Transient Stellar - rkodr

Another late-Nineties ambient-gaze band with Transient in the name. This one's helmed by Scott Cortez of Loveliescrushing and Astrobrite fame, and he made this record over the course of a few years in the late-nineties and early 2000s. It's only on his Bandcamp but it's really good — way better than Transient Waves. This is some of the earliest (that I've heard) incorporation of jungle beats into shoegaze, a move that current-day 'gazers like They Are Gutting a Body of Water and Full Body 2 are making waves with. Check it.

Shallowater - There Is a Well

This is some really good twangy slowcore that occasionally pulls itself out of bed and erupts into a shoegaze-y squall. Fans of old-school groups like Acetone and Bedhead will enjoy, but it feels of a piece with Greet Death's 2022 country-gaze EP, New Low (immaculate stuff, if you haven't heard it), and some of the more yearning MJ Lenderman songs. If you like Horse Jumper of Love and Wednesday, I can't imagine you not liking this.

Loveblaster - The Way Things Work

I've seen a few people hyping this up and now I'm sneaking in around back to slyly find my spot among the chorus. This Madison, WI, trio make slowcore that's refreshingly un-fuzzy in an era where Duster's influence looms large. Loveblaster's minimalist, piano-laden, masc/femme-harmony sound is un-shy in its devotion to Low, but they find a way to make their take feel vital. The crisp, you-can-hear-a-pin-drop production elevates this from good to great. I love plenty of lo-fi slowcore, but getting a really clean, close-mic'd recording goes a long way with music that's this stark and pretty.

A Country Western - "The Dreamer"

A Country Western used to make what I call "philly shit" in the context of shoegaze and slowcore. Their 2022 split with They Are Gutting a Body of Water is crucial to this wave of American gazers, and the LP's they released before that, Birdfeeder and A Country Western, are even better. Think Duster-y slowcore crossed with Blue Smiley-ish shoegaze.

Their new single "The Dreamer" is a lot different, but I like it just as much. It's a peppy power-pop tune with a bright chord progression, a sticky keyboard line, and juuust enough fuzz on the guitar to beef it up without scuffing its shine. It sounds kind of like The Apples in Stereo, a band I've become obsessed with in recent months. I wouldn't call it "philly shit," but I'd call it great.

Bleary Eyed - "2 True"

Now thiiiis is some philly shit, boy oh boy. If TAGABOW and Full Body 2 and Feeble Little Horse are already there, as in no longer relegated to East coast basements and actually known by people who've never heard of Spellbinder, then Bleary Eyed are up next. This band's early 2023 EP is fucking awesome, the songs on their three-way split with Sun Organ and Euphoria Again are fuckin' sick, and this new song "2 True" is another goddamn gem.

It's got the huge streaks of synths that drip like candlewax across the cloudy gusts of guitars, it's got the downtrodden vocals, it's got some glide-guitar riffing, and the melodies are gorgeous all around. This band knows exactly what they're doing and they're fucking nailing it.

TAGABOW x Sun Organ x Greg Mendez - "krillin"

And it just feels right to close out this week's column with the philliest shit of all philly shit — "The Philly Trinity," as one YouTube commenter put it. They Are Gutting a Body of Water are leading one of the most creatively vital movements in all of shoegaze history, and hearing them link up with the madly underrated gazers Sun Organ and the cult-adored singer-songwriter Greg Mendez is just feels good, man.

TAGABOW have a very specific sound. If you already know you don't like it, then you probably won't like this. But if you've liked their chorus-addled, pitch-shifted, obliquely haunting shoegaze ear-melters before, then you'll probably agree that this is one of their best songs yet. It feels like an instant classic, and I have a hunch that I'll get to watch them pull it out onstage this weekend when they play with Nothing, Swirlies, Loveliescrushing, and many more in their home city. What a time to be alive.