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Alvvays // Antisocialites  •   Album Review, Indie / Alternative

alvvays cover

Alvvays channeled the bane of youth on their self-titled 2014 debut. “Too late to go out/Too young to stay in,” singer/guitarist Molly Rankin bemoaned on “Archie, Marry Me,” cementing herself as the voice for preoccupied twenty-somethings who feel like the first generation to experience quarter-life-crises all on their own. Three years later, Alvvays’s newest release Antisocialites sees Rankin and company still feeling preoccupied, but this time, the crossroads between commitment and abandonment, nostalgia and uncertainty are textually more defined and far more intimate as Rankin catalogues broken promises and painful choices.

Much of Antisocialites is engaged in a larger struggle to pin down what, exactly, happiness is—at least for now, at a point in life when true adulthood starts to meet reality and aging suddenly becomes a creeping thought, consciously or not. Sometimes Rankin looks for contentedness in simple routines. “Meditate, play solitaire, take up self defense,” she sings on lead single “In Undertow.” These small acts of control help stave off the dread of growing old, or just growing up in general, but not for long as Rankin asks in the very next line, “When you get old and faded out will you want your friends?”

Other times, Rankin wonders if lovers might ease some of this anxiety, mostly finding that they just add to it. On the punchy and distorted “Your Type” she laments a crush that leaves her feeling lonely, “I die on the inside every time/You will never be all right/I will never be your type.” Songs like “In Undertow” and “Your Type” are as much homages to 60s romances as they are send-ups to the submission and loneliness that underlies many hits within that era of early bubblegum pop. But Alvvays is able to place that feeling in the present. “I can’t buy-in to psychology/And won’t rely on your mood for anything,” Rankin coos before the chorus of “In Undertow,” highlighting her ability to tap into the frustration of love at a time when there are myriad ways to “know” how someone feels, most of which seem like open-ended pseudoscience.

Alvvays' "In Undertow" is one of the songs in this month's edition of Heavy Rotation

Alvvays’ “In Undertow” is one of the songs in this month’s edition of Heavy Rotation

Musically, you’ll find Antisocialites highlights Rankin and lead guitarist Alec O’Hanley’s ability to write using musical cues beyond vaguely alluding to their influences here-and-there. Rankin takes on the indignantly cool attitude that plagues indie music on “Plimsoll Punks” singing, “Your postures blocking out any possible light/I can hardly see … You’re the seashell in my sandal/That’s slicing up my heel.” Over this, O’Hanley’s standout guitar work plays with song structure, calling and responding by inverting earlier musical motifs in the song as the second chorus comes along. It’s cheeky, and you can feel the “See what I did there?” moment coming from O’Hanley, but it adds to the playfulness of Antisocialites, which feels like such a rare quality beyond just indie rock when its pulled of as expertly as it is here.

Ultimately, Antisocialites is for anyone who knows the power struggle between what we feel and what we want to feel. Rankin plays it like she’s losing this game for much of the album, but she knows better than to leave the listener so low. In the album’s finale “Forget About Life” she calls a truce with her bleak outlook on relationships and adulthood. Letting out a gentle, but nonetheless celebratory “woo” she asks, “Underneath this flickering light/Did you wanna forget about life with me tonight?” It’s a complicated question for a complicated relationship, but Rankin knows it’s at least possible.

Jeff Rosenstock @ the Holland Project  •   Show Spotlights

July 25J saw the return of Jeff Rosenstock to our favorite all-ages DIY venue in town: the Holland Project. Show-goers were easy to spot, many clad in t-shirts bearing the logos of AJJ, Asian Man Records, and the like.

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Reno’s very own math rock darlings, Rob Ford Explorer, opened up the night with a killer set. I’m ashamed to say I hadn’t seen Rob Ford Explorer live before that night. I only knew I had high expectations for them, thanks to multiple friends of mine raving about them. And my expectations were more than met: I’m no musician, but I was blown away by the duo’s sheer technical skill- RFE proves that you don’t need vocals when you’re THAT good. Guitarist Cameron made an endearing little speech about meeting Jeff Rosenstock and how inspired by him he was before the pair launched into a song called, quite fitting for the night, “Jeff Rosenstock.” Rob Ford Explorer was sort of an odd choice considering the rest of the lineup, but I certainly don’t have any complaints, and judging from how difficult it was to find parking before they had even gone on (rare for an opener), I’m not alone.

The second act of the night was also a duo, rock n roll sisters Gwennie and Lucy Giles, AKA Dog Party, fresh off of a tour backing Green Day. I’m right in between them in terms of age, with Gwennie being 21 and Lucy 19, and seeing them play made me think, “Damn, what am I doing with my life?” The first time I saw them, two years ago, they were backing Kepi Ghoulie at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco. They were great to begin with, but since the last time I saw them play, both Gwennie and Lucy have improved exponentially. That night, they treated the crowd to some older songs off of Lost Control and Vol. 4, as well as a song off of their upcoming record.

36601196502_fa8a746d83_kDog Party via the Holland Project.

Rob Ford Explorer blew me away with their technical skill playing the drums and guitar; later in the night, Laura Stevenson blew me away with her vocal skill. One of my notes from that night is literally “Holy shit her voice is just as good live,” but in retrospect, her voice is even better live than on recordings. On this tour, Laura, who also plays guitar, is backed by John DeDominici on bass and Kevin Higuchi on drums (both are also members of Jeff Rosenstock’s band). Jeff himself joined Laura on guitar for a few songs, including the extremely catchy “Torch Song.” One of my favorite Laura songs is “The Move,” which I listen to when I’m in my feels- so when Laura dedicated it to her husband, about whom the song is about, I was feeling some typa way.

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Laura Stevenson via the Holland Project.


In the same romantic vein, Jeff dedicated “I Did Something Weird Last Night” to his own spouse, Christine. I’d seen Jeff Rosenstock twice before, but never at Holland, and not after they had recently been paid $7500 to play freakin’ Pitchfork Festival. Jeff made a shoutout to Laura with the first song, “We Begged to Explode,” but it was during the second, “Pash Rash” that a pit erupted. For all my fellow rude kids: there was even a circle pit during “Rainbow,” perhaps reminiscent of Jeff’s Arrogant Sons of Bitches days. I was most excited when the band played “Dramamine,” which was partially written in Reno- it shows how Jeff personalizes the setlist every night, tailoring the songs to the location.

That was one of the most stacked shows I’ve ever attended at the Holland Project. To top it off, every single band gushed about how lucky we were to have such a great venue.

Maria Hackman // I’m Not Your Man  •   Album Review

The cover of Marika Hackman’s third album I’m Not Your Man is a beautifully lopsided pastel-clip art nightmare. But even with all the off-green tinting, and a strangely ominous partially chopped cucumber in the background, it’s Hackman’s figure on the front that grabs your eye. Verging on uncanny-valley territory, Hackman’s glossy eyes and porcelain facial features give her the appearance of a wax statue seconds away from coming to life. This not-quite-blank expression and tight framing leaves the feeling of uncomfortable ambiguity, and with the songs contained therein, Hackman’s soothing, often angelic voice serves the same context—providing a lushness for the undercurrents of anxiety and discomfort hidden beneath a gorgeous façade.

I’m Not Your Man finds Hackman mastering the art of subverting her flawless voice with violence, rage, and mystery. On lead single “Boyfriend,” Hackman airs her frustration with the view that lesbian relationships are somehow “lesser,” nearly whispering in the pre-chorus, “Heaven knows we’re meant to be/But it’s turned into a mess/No one takes us seriously just because I wear a dress.” By the end of the song, the hypnotic guitar hook and crashing drums play back up to Hackman’s literal screams. “My Lover Cindy” breaks its seemingly out of place jangle-pop tone with Hackman singing, “’Cause I’m a greedy pig/I’m gonna get my fill/I’m gonna keep my eyes on the prize/And I’ll suck you dry, I will.” The thick, single strummed guitar chords just barely exist underneath biting lyrics sung so effortlessly and not hiding behind the intrinsic irony of such emotional self-deprecation.

While the album is led by Hackman’s propulsive full band hits, the slow burners contain just as much angst and anger, and call back to her previous work’s more synth-heavy sound and acoustic guitar base. “Cigarette” combines the gentle finger picking of modern folk acts like Fleet Foxes with choir-like keyboard swells, creating beautiful soundscapes as Hackman focuses on a night out gone horribly wrong. And tracks like “I’d Rather Be With Them” highlight Hackman’s proclivity for emo-revival lyricism, singing in the song’s bridge, “I’m so fucking heartless/I can’t even cry/I’ve opened up my body and it’s hollow inside,” followed by, “So ring up my parents/And tell them I’m dead.” But that last threat isn’t a gimmick, and it’s not even really subversive. Whereas a weaker singer/songwriter might decide to deliver such lines with an on-the-nose cheekiness, Hackman is able to fully embody irritation, confusion, and whole-hearted sincerity. There is one strictly sensual love song on the album, that being “Violet,” a floating, carnal come-on akin to the less subtler tracks of bands like The Last Shadow Puppets. “I love your mouth,” Hackman repeats, savoring every word as she breathes in deep before each cooing take. The song’s desperation for some kind of sensation by any means possible is inherent in its completely tactile recording. But it’s not hedonistic, or drenched in thrill-seeking. If anything, Hackman’s words ring true in a world where numbness can be a survival technique, and it reinforces I’m Not Your Man as the proper arrival for this bold, young British force.

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