By Misc Penny Contributors
Week by week, the Penny email inbox and our Instagram DMs are filled with review requests for new and exciting musical content from up-and-coming artists. After surveying the pile of albums, EPs, and singles we've received recently, a handful of our writers have chosen to tackle a select few. You can read their thoughts and listen along below.
Erin Christie: “Louis XI” - Been Stellar
Indie-leaning five-piece Been Stellar are all too familiar with the ups and downs involved with coming-of-age in a tumultuous and tragic time such as this (not to mention in a place as chaotic as NYC). That said, their material (including their 2020 EP, Nihilist) is tinged with honesty and up-front real-world parallels. The band's newest single, "Louis XI," is a perfect example of this trend as it's an abrasively catchy alt-pop shredder, combining toe-tapping yet erratic riffing with commentary on power complexes.
The single's accompanying music video (which was largely shot in the bay of a U-Haul) opens with the group engaged in their version of the biblical last supper, the table before them decked out with cig-smoking fish heads, Spaghettios, a baked ham, and loads of other (questionable) delicacies. With guitarist Nando Dale taking on the role of a power-hungry tyrannical figure, the visual evolves into a kaleidoscope of chaos, a collage of clips bathed in red and blue light and mind-numbing strobes, as the dinner party escalates into madness.
Meg McCarney: Sun - tomemitsu
Martin Tomemitsu, an Echo Park resident recording under the stage name of tomemitsu, crafted much of his latest album in a sunlit room in California, reflecting the DIY nature that is characteristic of bedroom pop. On Sun, his first album since 2016’s Loaf Eye, he establishes himself as another purveyor of the ultra-trendy, ultra-available bedroom pop genre. Thus,the record is light, airy, and palatable to all, but in its quest for accessibility, however, it negates its own potential for uniqueness.
Sun is an apt name for an album that would work perfectly as a picnic or garden party soundtrack, something idle to fill the gaps in conversation. It goes down like the indie equivalent of waiting room music, which isn’t to say that it isn’t enjoyable to listen to, but it comes across as a little more than means-to-an-end noise that fits the tone rather than setting it.
Throughout, tomemitsu’s lackadaisical vocals remain shockingly steady throughout the album, very rarely rising in pitch, lending to the sense that most of these tracks sound identical. There are a few notable moments: the ultra-satisfying drop on opening track “I’ll be Alright,” the ‘80s reverb on “Secrets,” and the overall pep of “The River.” All-in-all, though, Sun is too reminiscent of the work of other players in the bedroom pop scene to fully endorse it as a noteworthy project. It doesn’t make a name for itself in terms of diversifying the sonic range of an overwhelmingly monotonous genre. The album, however, is consistent in its consistency; if you like the ambient, meandering sounds of other bedroom pop acts, Sun will be a hit.
Rachel Laurie: “Belladonna” - Echo Frame
Vancouver-based musician and producer, Luke Frame, recently released his latest dreamy single, “Belladonna,” under his musical pseudonym Echo Frame. Prior to this release, though, he experimented with some disco-rock earlier this year, releasing his second single, "On the Avenue," an upbeat walk that embraces psychedelia and romanticizing a mundane moment (such as walking along the avenue, hence the title). Following that trippy tune, indie-rock centered “Red Carpet” took another stab at a fusion of genres, this time adding a subtle nod to '80s pop. All of this leads us to the enchanting and poppy ballad, “Belladonna.”
The disco-tinged serenade encapsulates romance in a funky jam reminiscent of the '70s. Staying true to his blend of lo-fi and surf-rock technique — rooted in his debut single, “Blue for Many Moons" — Echo Frame sails the listener away on a relaxing otherworldly journey reminiscent of the likes of Mac Demarco and Real Estate with this release.
Holistically, Echo Frame’s strength lies in the ability to successfully fuse genres together to seamlessly flow while providing a unique sound — this is a tactic that can be hard to pull off, but Echo Frame releases the tension with a relaxed voice and unmistakable confidence. “Belladonna” particularly plays to this strength, melting indie-pop, lo-fi, and psychedelia into an easy ride that shifts into an upbeat outro consisting of instrumental twists and turns.
Claire Russell: Cassie’s Crutch - Cassie’s Crutch
The self-titled debut album from Cassie's Crutch shows a lot of promise for the West Hartford rock four-piece, especially considering they’ve only been playing together since 2019. As shown with the record, their technical prowess, along with their songwriting skills, are palpable.
Throughout, each track has its own distinct sound which, while impressive in of itself, possibly prevents the band from having a unifying, distinctive sound. The album seems to be more genre-spanning than genre-defying, though — particular musical influences can be picked out of each track but they rarely meld to create something new. The most prominent influences seem to be metal, psychedelia, and prog rock. All the while, the lyrics, in particular, have the dark, existential tone that are reminiscent of these genres, while the the vocals remain light and poppy throughout — this creates a slightly distracting disparity between the vocals and instrumentals.
While at times too derivative to be truly memorable, there are some standout tracks and moments throughout. “You” has a saxophone solo that grabs the listener’s attention while still fitting right in. “Cerulean” has a distorted spoken-word intro that interestingly complements the song’s prog sound. “Sol” is definitely the album’s highlight, though; the instrumentals are uncharacteristically light and dreamy, suiting the vocals far better than the rest of the album. It begins sounding like a sweet acoustic Beatles-esque ballad, but the texture becomes lusher with strings and brass about halfway through. Overall, the album is worth the listen, though the band should continue to search for their voice as their career develops.
Rachel Laurie: “Anthropology Apology” - Charlie Havenick
LA musician Charlie Havenick isn’t afraid to surprise her listeners, which actually turns out to be a great thing. Recently venturing from her previous band, The Stamp Collection, Havenick has tried on different styles and experiments on her own. Taking advantage of her talents as a multi-instrumentalist, her first two solo releases feature a blend of instruments, including, but not limited to, guitar, trumpet, drums, and piano.
Her latest release, “Anthropology Apology,” lacks the presence of various instruments, replaced instead with an acoustic guitar and stripped-down vocals. Don’t let this fool you, though, as her vulnerable lyrics and voice pack an even harder punch in this style. Similarly to the likes of Sloth Rust and Chastity Belt, Havernick possesses the talent to perform both experimental and acoustic music, while simultaneously producing impactful and rare lyrics, which is definitely shown here.
Sarah Zimmer: No Hard Feelings - Pure Intruders
Pure Intruders' debut EP No Hard Feelings was written and recorded between the band’s three members while in quarantine. Despite the distance between them, and this being their first EP, the band’s resulting four-track is confident in both sound and execution.
Lead singer Madeline’s voice sounds like a mix between Clairo, Waxahatchee, and Frances Forever. She whispers to you over surfy guitars, jazzy piano riffs, and Latin-inspired percussion. If you’ve longed for indie music was haunted with disco’s roots, this is the band for you, too. "Dorothy" is a stand-out, casually offering the line “this world is a disappointment” as the song eventually breaks out into a mellotron-like synth that feels almost cathartic. The band has a particular knack for instrumental breaks and outros, with "Sweet Nectar” having one of the most beautiful piano moments pulled right from the masters of jazz and classical, somehow fitting in perfectly. Keep an eye on these ones.