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  1. The Drums

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    On Brutalism, the fifth LP from The Drums, a lot is different. It is quite possibly the best collection of songs in the band’s ten-year career. The album is defined by growth, transformation and questions, but It doesn’t provide all the answers. Brutalism is a form of simplistic architecture defined by blocks of raw concrete. Brutalism is rooted in an emotional rawness but its layers are soft, intricate and warm, full of frivolous and exquisitely crafted pop songs that blast sunlight and high energy in the face of anxiety, solitude and crippling self-doubt.

    In 2017, The Drums put out its first record as a solo project. Abysmal Thoughts belonged to Jonny Pierce alone. It discussed his painful divorce. Since, he has returned to New York and now lives between there and LA. “I felt my work in LA was done. I was exhausted, depleted and sabotaging myself, partying so much but in reality running away from pain. It was a downward spiral.” He wanted to deal with unresolved facets of his relationship with himself so he did therapy. “It was do or die,” he says. “Figuring out what it is that makes me happy, and acknowledging that I deal with depression.” He looks at Brutalism as an extension of self-care. “In order to take care of yourself you have to ask questions. Those are the things I needed to confront. It’s interesting talking about the past, dealing with things that are long overdue. I’m delivering something unsure and unclear.”

    Even the fact that Brutalism sounds intentional, focused and efficient is a symbol of how Pierce’s prioritizing of his own health and wellbeing has bled into how he makes music. For the making of this album, between his lake house in Upstate New York and a studio in Stinson Beach, California, Pierce was more open than ever, keeping his control freakery at bay, working with others to produce and record the album. He brought in Chris Coady (Beach House, Future Islands, Amen Dunes) to mix it. If there was a guitar part he wanted to write but couldn’t play, he brought in a guitarist. It’s also the first Drums record with a live drummer. Delegating freed up Pierce’s time to produce a more specific vision.

    His intentions were rooted in pop, as they’ve always been. Back in The Drums’ previous iterations, however, the pressure was on Pierce to maintain the innocent and nostalgic sound of this surf-pop indie band and it didn’t allow him to explore sex, drug use, darker emotions or how he felt currently. Abysmal Thoughts was the first occasion he had chance to do that. Lyrically Brutalism is another giant step in that direction. It’s much more cut-throat. “I think there’s a parental advisory sticker on the cover!” laughs Pierce. “I didn’t have the courage to stand up for what I wanted before. I felt I had to keep things whimsical and that’s not who I am. It feels empty.” Sonically he had been devoid of external influences, so afraid of being accused of losing the purism of The Drums’ sound. Now he’s rediscovering music: everything from SOPHIE to 90s band Whale. They inspired the loop-based, breakbeat drums on ‘Kiss It Away’ and ‘Body Chemistry.’ “I used to think our songs sounded like they were held together by scotch tape. These are more bulletproof.”

    Every track on the album is a standout. ‘Body Chemistry’ is the most infectious, a song about learning how to not escape in other people. “I think you can’t be intelligent and not be a little bit sad,” says Pierce, of his own permanent rain cloud above his head. ‘626 Bedford Avenue’ does what the best pop songs do: it alerts the nostalgia cog in your brain. It’s a familiar melody that you think you’ve heard before, which works given the context of looking back on a specific time and place. ‘Brutalism’ is about a love so intense you feel destroyed by it. Pierce tends to find himself loving in a very extreme way that’s almost harmful. ‘Loner’ documents the painful process of healing. “I don’t want to be alone and I am scared of all the people in the world,” he sings about not knowing how to socialize. A reassuring thing has been in rediscovering that Pierce was building a community in the intricate relationships he has with listeners. Now that he’s alone in this project it’s even more apparent.

    “That’s the one thing that’s kept me going through this,” he says. Brutalism is defined by vulnerability. It is truly pop at its core with thoroughly modern production. “I love pop but I feel that there’s a sensitivity that’s missing,” he says of the landscape. Pierce wants to sacrifice ego in favor of tenderness. “I wanted to make a pop record where I’m not declaring how great I am,” he laughs. “I’m questioning if I could ever be great? I’m a grown man saying: ‘ I feel more crazy than ever. I feel lost. I’m terrified of the future.'” With ‘Blip Of Joy’ he ends on a note of hope. “I hope that one day I won’t deal with depression, that I can love in a way that doesn’t feel scary,” he says. That’s why you can dance to Brutalism and you can laugh to it too. Even though it’s heavy.

    In many The Drums has always belonged to Pierce, but it wasn’t until 2016 that he reclaimed ownership. Back in 2008 Pierce and his childhood best friend Jacob Graham conceived of a collaboration that was never intended to become what it did. “Jacob and I were writing pop songs. I didn’t think anybody would hear it. I recorded it with broken equipment and guitars that were out of tune.” Pierce put it on MySpace and weeks later interest was lining up. “I scrambled and found the first people I could to turn it into a band.” The runaway train lasted four albums. Pierce never felt he belonged. “Sex, drugs, rock’n’roll and hanging with my buds doesn’t resonate with me. I never found community in that,” he says. “I was so terrified that if I hit the brakes even for a second everything would fall apart. I was trapped with a sound I wasn’t crazy about, stuck in a culture I didn’t connect with. I’m finally in my mid 30s starting to take care of myself.”

    The past year has been transformative. “I don’t think I’ll ever really find myself,” he adds. “I don’t think people do. I don’t think there’s a day that you wake up and you go, Now I know who I am. The best way for me to be an artist is by taking a goddamn minute, being still and listening to what it is that I want and need.” It was a real year of growth for him, but growth towards what? “I don’t really know, and that’s OK.”

  2. (Sandy) Alex G

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    Alex Giannascoli began writing the songs that would ultimately become House of Sugar in the fall of 2017. Whereas with earlier efforts, such as 2011’s self-released Winner or the landmark 2014 release DSU, music was written and recorded at a prolific clip, with these new songs Giannascoli approached the recording process with a newfound deliberateness, concentrating on a smaller collection of songs and laboring over each with more focus and acuity than ever before.

    Giannascoli worked closely with Jacob Portrait, who mixed both Rocket and 2015’s Beach Music, and helped to balance each of House of Sugar’s dense, multi-faceted tracks. As the product of extended focus and planning, House of Sugar emerges as Giannascoli’s most meticulous, cohesive album yet: a statement of artistic purpose, showing off his ear for both persistent earworms and shifting textures, and the out-there sonic adventurism that’s made previous (Sandy) Alex G records so singular.

  3. Kero Kero Bonito

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    We’re Kero Kero Bonito, a band from London, England. We met on an internet forum in 2013; singer Sarah was born in Nagoya to a Japanese mother and British father, before moving to Kenilworth, UK at the age of 13, while producers Gus and Jamie have been friends since school.

    We shared our pop universe on Intro Bonito (mixtape, 2014), Bonito Generation (album, 2016) and singles like “Flamingo” and “Trampoline”. In 2017 we returned to the suburbs that made us and started rehearsing with guitar, bass and drums.

    We introduced our new style with TOTEP in February 2018, and our second album Time ‘n’ Place was released October 2018. Signposted by the songs “Only Acting” (pop-punk noise) and “Time Today” (chipper Casiotone melancholy), Time ‘n’ Place is our response to indie-rock history.

  4. METZ

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    METZ, our own widely-adored and delightfully noisy 3-piece punk band from Toronto (ON, CANADA), have been laying waste to stages around the globe for over 10 years. During that tumultuous chunk of time METZ, comprised of Alex Edkins, Hayden Menzies, and Chris Slorach, have cemented their reputation as one of the planet’s most exhilarating live acts and trusted providers of bombastic outsider rock.

    Along the way, they’ve earned enthusiastic support from The New Yorker, Mojo, NPR, The New York Times, KEXP, Pitchfork, Stereogum, The AV Club, Q, Uncut, Exclaim, and a bunch of others .

    Referring to the trio’s tireless tour regime and unquenchable thirst to bring their music to the people, John Reis (Hot Snakes, RFTC, Drive Like Jehu) once said, “your ambition is really unflattering, chill out.” They did not listen. Instead, their love of the road and passion to create uncompromising and challenging music remains unwavering and has only grown over time.

    Their recorded output to date, a cornucopia of pop-inflected noise punk and damaged fuzz anthems, includes 3 critically-acclaimed LPs with Sub Pop, as well as a plethora of limited-edition releases, collaborations, covers, and rarities.

    Which brings us to Automat

    Automat is a collection of METZ non-album singles, B-sides, and rarities dating back to 2009, available on LP for the first time, and including the band’s long out-of-print early (pre-Sub Pop) recordings. And Automat is a chronological trip through the lesser known material of METZ.

    Included here are the band’s first three 7” singles, recorded 2009-2010 and originally released by We Are Busy Bodies Records; a demo version of “Wet Blanket,” the explosive single from 2012’s METZ; two tracks from the limited-edition bonus single that accompanied preorders of METZ; “Can’t Understand,” originally released in 2013 by [adult swim]; and both tracks from the band’s 2015 single on Three One G.

    Consumers of the vinyl format of Automat will be rewarded with a bonus single that includes three additional tracks: a cover of Sparklehorse’s “Pig,” from a very limited 2012 Record Store Day split single originally released by Toronto’s Sonic Boom record shop; “I’m a Bug,” a cover of The Urinals’ art-punk classic, originally released on YouTube (not an actual record label) in 2014; and METZ’s previously unreleased rendition of Gary Numan’s “M.E.”

    All tracks on Automat have been lovingly remastered for maximum soundiness by Matthew Barnhart at Chicago Mastering Service.

    METZ are currently hard at work on their 4th full-length LP which will be released on Sub Pop when we are all damn good and ready.