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Listen Up, Nerds: The Week Of May 3, 2024

Listen Up, Nerds: The Week Of May 3, 2024

Hey! I hope you're having a good week. Welcome back to the Listen Up, Nerds Newsletter. I saw Cindy Lee at the Hi Dive last week and I listened to the new claire rousay and Full Of Hell records. Here's what I thought:

Cindy Lee at Hi Dive

On Sunday, 4/28, I went to the Hi Dive on South Broadway to see Cindy Lee play a show. I’ve sung the praises of the new Cindy Lee record elsewhere but allow me to repeat them here: It’s very good. If it weren’t as long as it is, it’d be an instant classic. Right now, it’s Patrick Flegel’s masterwork, standing a hair higher than Women’s beautiful and engrossing final album, Public Strain. Maybe it’s only taller because it’s on its tip-toes, not for attention but to reach beyond what’s normal. It could also be taller due to Cindy Lee’s beehive hairdo. The release of the album was the subject of much ado simply for forgoing traditional outlets. No press, no streaming services, just Cindy Lee and a geocities website against the world. I saw Meaghan Garvey post it first and I listened to it on YouTube the next day, finally downloading it in full when Flegel posted it for free, the mandatory donation now just a suggestion. I donated later that week. Besides, what’s $30CAD? $10USD? $4USD? I couldn’t tell you. Take my money. Anyway, the album’s whole-body embrace of radio-ready singles and sticky-sweet guitar licks cemented it as an immediate front-runner for favorite album of the year. It’s a little long, but it does truly hit the spot for almost every mood I find myself in. 

There’s a bit of hubbub around the release because of its presentation, what with its bare HTML website and link to mega.nz with the .wav files on a .zip. It’s a reminder of what it used to be like 10 years ago to get records. Hell, bandcamp was around 10 years ago so it’s more like downloading albums in 2007. While I’m a sicko who downloads music constantly and is more than happy to throw .wav files into a media converter that I’ve already got on my laptop, I can see this being a bit of a wrench in the gears for someone who’s slightly less literate than me but wants to own the record. The marketing professional in my brain says, "Hold on! Think about the conversion! That's enough to stop someone from downloading the album." Oh well! That’s how it works sometimes. If you really cared to have the music and be able to listen forever, you’d go out of your way to learn how to own it. If anyone says that I am endorsing “gatekeeping,” I will sue you for libel. Besides, this is the kind of gatekeeping we need. It's just enough to put a wall up and shake the people who are clueless but it's not especially prohibitive.

I went to the show and I don’t have a ton to report that others haven’t reported. It was sold-out, packed to the brim with people who still read Pitchfork like a bible. I bought my tickets two or three days before the review dropped and I’ll keep my newest “Ahead Of The Game” trophy on my mantle with the others. I am not as ahead as my friend Harlan, who asked me if I’d like to see Cindy Lee last November. I said I was out because I wasn’t really into the music, and I wasn’t at the time. The new Cindy Lee album is less abstract and ambitious sonically than previous releases. I got there fairly early to get a good spot but it was still crowded inside and the entrance was crowded with smokers. I set up shop on the wall and almost as soon as I did, the music started. 

The local openers, Pink Lady Monster from Denver, were great. They play art-punk/no wave music (+ a saxophone, if that sweetens the deal) that fit the bill perfectly. They reminded me of post-punk/ska/no wave band The World, whose music made some waves in the Bay Area before disbanding in 2020. Freak Heat Waves played next and it was also great but nobody danced, which was disappointing. I’m not sure if it’s because it was a rock crowd or because putting the DJ on a stage makes you want to stare at them more than if they were confined to a booth, but I would’ve loved to move around rather than bob my head. It’s a hip crowd, for sure, but nobody’s ever too cool to dance. Cindy Lee accompanied the group on guitar for their final couple of songs before playing her set. Ian Cohen mentioned that she plays it “deadpan” on his podcast with Steven Hyden and he was right. Cindy Lee plays the guitar like it’s a piece of heavy machinery. There’s no grimacing, no fighting the neck, no jerking the tones out of it like so many guitar heroes before, just the steady hands of someone who plays like they’re operating a switchboard at peak hours. It’s beautiful and almost frustrating to see cold precision give some of the most soulful and skilled playing you’ll see live. Perfect, quick set before I walked outside and walked home from the gig, not feeling changed by the experience but definitely happy to have seen it. 

Full Of Hell - Coagulated Bliss (Closed Casket Activities)

Every time Full Of Hell drops something, I think, “Oh cool, another Full Of Hell record,” and expect to hear more of the same thing I’ve heard for years. It’s not worn out by any means, they’re the only band who sounds like Full Of Hell, but I think I know what I’m getting into. I don’t think it’s fair to include their split releases here, either, because the band is notoriously experimental on those. They’ve shown the capacity for new sounds, but they’ve been in their bag for years making extreme music that sounds closer to harsh noise. To paraphrase rock philosopher and cinematic auteur Robert Zombie, Full of Hell has always been more inhuman than human. Coagulated Bliss is the band’s first full-length that sounds truly human. I’m referring both to the corporeal form and also Human, the 1991 album by Death. Bliss is a death metal record, for sure, but it’s not like the band has gone pop. The mix is much more digestible than ever, sounding like a band rather than opening the door to hell by accident. I get how, reading this, one might mistake this for a complaint. “Doesn’t sounding inhuman and otherworldly make them stand out from their peers? Does that not sound cool?” Yeah! It does! I think Trumpeting Ecstasy is one of the best extreme records of our time! But I also think it’s cool to see Full Of Hell stretch their legs out (or maybe get stretched out like that one guy in Hellraiser before he says “Jesus Wept”) and step into another world where they make an industrial-and-noise-inspired death metal record.

Lyrically, it dips into Full Of Hell’s usual fare of religious gore (“Gelding Of Men”), but there’s also songs about the environment (“Gasping Dust”) and more human tragedies (“Coagulated Bliss”). My early pick for a fav song off the album is “Bleeding Horizon,” where the band gets a little stoner-rock with it but never gets out of their own sound. It’s slower but it’s certainly not wasting any time. All in all, yes this is the band “maturing” but it’s more the sound of a band who’s taken what they’ve learned by getting out of their comfort zone on splits with Primitive Man, Nothing, and Gasp and bringing that into their own work. Tomb Mold and Blood Incantation have become pillars of death metal in the past few years, presenting their music as cosmic possession. Their art is a transmission from another world that exists in our universe but remains unknown to you and me. Its knowledge and power is too much for us to comprehend. On Coagulated Bliss, Full Of Hell set it all straight: there’s nothing more evil than humanity.

claire rousay - Sentiment (Thrill Jockey) 

“Bedroom Pop” is dead, long live “Bedroom Post-Rock." claire rousay’s Sentiment is a record about bedrooms and a record of her bedroom, starting with a depressive episode marked by sobbing for three weeks straight in her bed. She’s aware of how it sounds when artists bare all to the world, but that’s not going to stop her from pleading with the universe to get her out of this tailspin. rousay’s record sprinkles bits of her real life into the mix while playing stripped-down Duster-like guitar lines, recalling week-long trysts and the decadence of the rare Coke Classic. I could confuse some of this for voyeurism, reading her diary/Notes app and hearing the field recordings she includes, but taking in those inclusions doesn’t feel like juicy gossip. It’s getting more than you asked for, breaking down the walls to allow intimacy to form a true bond. “It Could Be Anything” has a chorus built for an ‘80s pop song but the emotional weight of the verses crushes any hope I had for a happy ending. Every lyric on this album is drenched in vocoder and mixed with whiskey over ice. The melodies verge on lullabies and have whisked me off to sleep a couple of times, but not because they’re boring, more that rousay’s just that good at writing music for every act in the bedroom. From sleeping alone, to sleeping with someone new, to sleeping with someone old, to the afternoon nap, to months spent in bed with no plan of getting out, Sentiment is an ode to the solitude found from staying in one space. Maybe that’s her hometown, maybe it’s her bed, but it’s impossible to listen to this record and not find something charming about it.

Old Record Of The Week: Nina Simone - 'Nuff Said!