My Listening Week: 8/11/23

Thoughts on Computerwife, Militarie Gun, Only Living Witness and more.

My Listening Week: 8/11/23

It's been a while since I did one of these! Frankly, Friday mornings are my busiest workday of the week, and now that I do two podcasts (which often means three episodes a week, and all the preparation that comes with that) and, I don't know, also enjoy doing things that aren't writing during my mornings, I've been slacking on this blog series! I do enjoy writing about my listening week, though, so here're some thoughts on a few things I've been jamming.

Only Living Witness - Prone Mortal Form

My Violent Treatment co-host and I just recorded an episode about the East Coast Assault compilation, a hardcore comp from 1993 that features early songs from Life of Agony, Merauder, Converge and many other lesser-known Nineties bands who were concurrently taking the genre in heavier, groovier new directions. Boston's Only Living Witness have a song on there, "Twitching Tongues," which probably wouldn't ring as "hardcore" to anyone who isn't initiated with the niche undercurrent of Alice In Chains-y metal that trickled out of the East Coast scene in the early 90s. Life of Agony are the closest comparison to Only Living Witness, as both vocalists sing with a bluesy, blustery, soulful, Southern-inflected bellow with a genetic makeup that's 90% Layne Staley or Chris Cornell, and 10% Cro-Mags singer John Joseph.

Musically, Only Living Witness' 1993 debut, Prone Mortal Form, is littered with Jerry Cantrell-style riffage that swings and surges more than it thrashes and whips. It's effectively metal music — or even hard-rock! — but the band emerged from the hardcore scene and have gone on to influence future hardcore touchstones like Cold World and Twitching Tongues (recognize the name?), and never got anywhere close to achieving the popularity of their grunge influences. As recently as a few days ago, I didn't really like Only Living Witness, and struggled to connect with this record on the couple tries I gave it earlier this year, when I finally got really into Life of Agony and built up a tolerance to this type of swaggering metal-core (mind the hyphen).

The morning I'm writing this, I had a great fucking time with this record. The pounding fury of the riffs finally made sense to my ears when I stopped trying to listen as if they were a hardcore band and just treated it like beefy rock music. There're some huge fucking moments on this record, and also some peculiar ones; like the unexpectedly ornate string interlude, "Darkly," and the weird Lou Reed-ish riff of "Silo," the other instrumental interlude. "Prone Metal Form," "Voice of Disrepair" and "Twitching Tongues" were the heavier highlights, and I caught myself thinking that my friend who knows nothing about hardcore, but loves AIC and Soundgarden, would really get a kick out of this record.

Computerwife - Computerwife

About once a month I get really excited about an album and say something vague like, "This is the best record I've heard in a while." I don't know how to quantify the greatness of Computerwife in those terms, because I've heard a lot of amazing music this year that blurs the lines between shoegaze, muddy indie-rock, slowcore, etc. But I will say that I haven't heard any bands in the Feeble Little Horse/They Are Gutting a Body of Water/Hotline TNT universe who sound quite like this debut full-length from New York singer-songwriter (and maybe producer?) Computerwife.

On its surface, this is another helping of weary, downtrodden, dust-covered indie-rock with meek, lackadaisical vocal mews, bleary, chorus-laden strands of guitar, occasional bursts of smoggy shoegaze noise and a shit-ton of Bandcamp-era bedroom production; sprinkles of cutesy synths, rustic drum machine loops and scuzzy, artfully un-mixed vocal effects. If that sounds like any number of indie acts from the last five years, you're not wrong, but Computerwife reshuffle the deck and make all of those elements sound fresh.

Opener "Vacation" sounds like a B-side from Japanese Breakfast's Psychopomp with its celestial glow, anxious beat and smeary, yearning vocals. But next track, "You Make It Look So Easy," is completely different, beginning with an off-kilter drum break and dingey guitar riffage that grows into a throbbing, thwacking indie-pop song that sounds like Spirit of the Beehive's "Fell Asleep With a Vision" as sung by Vivian Girls. A band like Weatherday feel like a good point of comparison, in how Computerwife bounces freely between styles, is wrapped together by a cohesively fizzy production style, and isn't afraid to get freaky.

"Happy Girl" gets panicky and borderline punky by its end-point, but so much of its oppressively tape-hissy atmosphere and supple, stoney pulse reminds me of Elvis Depressedly — an artist who achieved new levels of bedroom-pop otherworldliness by drawing from chillwave, which Computerwife also does, and to great effect. Songs like "Hehehe" and "Pathetic" just sound like even more lonesome, haunted versions of early Small Black or Memory Cassette, eschewing typical shoegaze crescendos or clever indie-rock guitar twiddles for spongey, groovy vibes. I love this album.

Militarie Gun - Life Under the Gun

When we discussed Militarie Gun's debut album, Life Under the Gun, on a recent episode of Endless Scroll, I think I came across a little more lukewarm on the record than I actually am. Going into it, I told myself that I wanted the album to be rawer and scragglier than I knew it would, but I think I genuinely underestimated Ian Shelton's talent for writing parasitic hooks. I took a couple weeks off from this album after bingeing it for the pod, and bits of songs would continually pop into my head at random times of the day. Clearly, so many moments on this thing stuck with me.

The stupidly catchy chorus of "Very High." The line, "I haven't cried a day in my life/Or I cry all the time," in "My Friends Are Having a Hard Time." The "biting bastard leaches," chant in "Seizure of Assets." Basically the entirety of "Never Fucked Up Once," which sounds like a half-speed video of someone jumping up and down in a grassy field on a sunny day. I thought I wanted more songs like "Ain't No Flowers" from Militarie Gun, but actually I just want more jangly indie-rock like "Never Fucked Up Once" and "Very High." That's probably where the band is going next, so lucky me.

Gaadge - Somewhere Down Below

I need more time to digest this record before I have anything all that intelligent to say about it. But for now, I'll say that it's a really, really, really good shoegaze album. Most of this band also plays in another Pittsburgh group called Ex-Pilots who do Guided By Voices worship type stuff, so there're a few GBV-ish melodies that make there way on here. But mostly, this is a nicely varied bundle of shoegaze with some rickety indie-rock vocals, some supple drum machines, and a helluva lot of beautifully textured squalls of classic, noisy 'gaze guitar (Drop Nineteens, MBV, etc.).

Star 99 - Bitch Unlimited

My Endless Scroll co-host (and birthday girl) Miranda Reinert plugged this album on a recent episode, and made it sound like something right up my alley. It is! Indie-punk of the Gladie/Swearin'/Chumped variety, but with a dash more late-2000s pop-punk in its DNA. I told Miranda that I thought it sounded like the band Mixtapes, an Ohio pop-punk band I really loved in high-school. She said it sounds "like if Mixtapes was better." Ouch, but maybe true! These are great tunes. Play 'em while sitting on your bedroom floor sifting through old photos.