Editor's Note: As a new feature to the monthly roundup, we now offer a podcast version of the reviews. Get a quick sample of all the music in one easy listen!
Pain in the Yeahs
Suffolk • February 6, 2018
When James Wagner throws down on the darkwave dance floor, all bets are off. His latest record after nearly two years is Dopamine Noir, an intimate declaration of self-reflection amidst a weariness of the nocturnal life and a deep longing for sobriety. Nowhere is this more evident than on “Drinking with the Boys.” “I look stable from the outside, but there’s a war behind my eyes,” he sings as crystalline eruptions shatter around. Wagner’s struggles constantly play out on a grandiose sonic scale, assisted by dense laser precision synths, beats, and the best use of chimes I’ve heard since Joy Division’s “Atmosphere.” The exquisitely glistening production is courtesy of Wagner and Norfolk’s Jacki Paolella, with assistance by Wagner’s brother Jon Ryan.
Even with churning internal conflicts, the whole record struts and smolders, encouraging you to groove along with it. There is also an ever present sense of sincerity throughout, allowing the listener to immediately relate. Wagner’s gravelly vocals have a touch of Trent Reznor, but he can elegantly croon like an underworld crown prince when he wants as on “Psychic Vampires.” The heart wrenching shout out to his stomping grounds “Exile on Colley Avenue” is particularly affecting.
Richmond • January 9, 2018
Phil Green returns with an emoji-titled EP, setting his chaotic verbal sights on Paul Ryan, nazis, and the temperance movement as a whole. “Another One About CVS” starts with a weekend robotrip before he transforms into a medieval wizard halfway through: “I am a sorcerer now / I am a sorcerer--BLAOW / That was my sorcerer power”. Green closes out with the tight “No, Thank You,” in which acid trips, having kids, and cannabis all have the same pros and cons. With a runtime of less than fifteen minutes, the aural onslaught is short enough to not wear out its welcome.
Dumfries • January 17, 2018
Ty Sorrell keeps the social consciousness coming with the positively immersive For Now. His inclusion of handpainted members of the Tribe 95 collective on the album’s cover highlight the communal nature of the music they create. Among the many notable guest spots are RVA’s utmost gentle Alfred (“King’s Buffet”, “Realm”) and NYC’s baritone Namaste Humble (“Synergies”). Melody Sage’s production on Passion Pimpin’ emulates Alain Goraguer’s alien tones for the Fantastic Planet soundtrack. Sorrell’s smooth rhymes, which speak to self-improvement and close friendships, synchronistically flow through the music like rushing water. Digital download via pay-what-you-want model.
Harrisonburg • May 8, 2017
Kettling (noun): A method of controlling a crowd in which police form lines around the crowd and prevent people from leaving a particular area. Organ-esque buzzsaw synths whir with hypnotic abandon. Blistering vocals, in true hardcore fashion, are minimalist, political, and nearly unintelligible. Full marks are awarded plus extra credit for recording and mastering some of the tracks on their phone. My favorite line, repeated at full volume with the open interpretation of pure joy or blinding rage, is undoubtedly “Ostriches have the unique ability to stick their heads into the sand!” Oh, what marvelous birds they are.
Must Be Nice
You Could Be Summoned for This
Fredericksburg • January 1, 2018
This debut release from a versatile teen trio contains capable and singalong harmonies. Take opener “Pickup,” an uptempo number where falling asleep behind the wheel and Seinfeld binges lead to deep existential despair before the oh-so-catchy “woah-ohs” kick in. Band members rotate on instruments, vocals, and songwriting responsibilities. This leads to some slight tonal inconsistency as the earnest songs of adolescent loneliness trade out with the mock anger-fueled lustful anthem “Saturday Night.” Actually, such tonal shifts represent exactly what it is like to be a teenager. A more unified focus would help, but it’s not a bad start.