In Notes from Left of the Dial this week, I spend some time with new music from Caustic Casanova, Stevie B Wolf, Ocean Carolina and Skittish. What have you been listening to this week?
Caustic Casanova, “Show Some Shame“
Washington, D.C.-based trio Caustic Casanova doesn’t have time to mince words-their music is immediate and direct in all the best ways. Favoring aggressive rhythms and elastic melodies over something more timid and controlled, the band excels in this sort of progressive rock landscape. Composed of singer/bassist Francis Beringer, drummer/singer Stefanie Zaenker and guitarist Andrew Yonki, the band bases their heavily layered sound on a handful of influences and genres. From psych to classic rock and indie rock, the band devours these genres in a bid to inexorably reassemble their inspirations. They’re set to release their latest record, “Breaks,” on Sept. 25 via Retro Futurist Records.
On recent single, “Show Some Shame,” they churn through a laundry list of sounds before settling on a potent mix of hard rock, proto-metal and early ’90s indie rock tendencies. The song sends blistering guitar squalls, thudding percussive blasts and vocals that sound as though they’re slowly dismantling the building around you, allowing each moment to hit with an appropriate force. The band isn’t waiting around for anyone to get accustomed to their ferocious rock inclinations but is plowing past in a blur of battered guitar strings, splintered drumheads and strained vocal cords. It’s a perfect representation of that one last roar we all have before we’re ready to let go of summer and begin the slow descent into autumn.
Stevie B Wolf, “Nothing But a Name“
Stevie B Wolf is the kind of musician who finds solace in the pent-up release of emotion and experience. His music is intensely personal, taking moments from his life and twisting them into narrative fodder for his songs. He delves deeply into pop territory but also works within a skewed singer-songwriter aesthetic, the result of which is a discography full of cathartic choruses, heartfelt revelations and a determination not to repeat the mistakes of the past. And with the upcoming release of his new EP, “Alone + Alive,” Wolf seeks to explore the past in even more detail and with an even more self-effacing approach.
And on “Nothing But a Name,” his pop influences iridescently shine through, with Wolf documenting the death of a relationship and the anguish that accompanies such a traumatic experience. A steady percussive beat provides the framework for his soaring vocals and the melancholy melodies that quickly give way to an ecstatic chorus that wants to get your fists pumping and head moving. It explodes from your speakers in a shower of heartache and regret, but despite these downbeat themes, Wolf never wallows in self-pity. It’s a gorgeous bit of emotional pop venting that carries with it a desperate need for love and companionship.
Ocean Carolina, “All I Can Do“
Ocean Carolina is the result of one man finding his own voice in a sea of other sounds and distractions. EDM producer Michael Simone was facing something of a musical crisis when he suddenly realized that his heart belonged in a completely different rhythmic direction. He dropped the beats and programmed music, and picked up a guitar and formed Ocean Carolina, a band whose influences include roots rock, ’70s rock and more than a touch of modern Americana tendencies. Drawing from a nearly limitless collection of inspirations, Simone creates swathes of beautifully formed acoustic rock that wouldn’t feel out of place on an album from Ryan Adams or even The Band.
Ocean Carolina’s latest record, “Maudlin Days,” was released in June, but it’s a collection that deserves to have more time in the spotlight-and with the release of single “All I Can Do,” the band has given people who might not have heard the record a chance to become familiar with their wonderfully affectionate odes to the joys of alt country and classic rock bands. But the band and this song in particular aren’t the result of piecemealing Simone’s influences-they’re more a reconstruction of the sounds that have guided him throughout his life. “All I Can Do” has him gleefully playing around with these sounds in a way that feels completely respectful but also finds him sporting a slightly mischievous grin.
Skittish, “Shot in the Dark“
It’s difficult to describe the music of St. Paul, Minnesota, quartet Skittish without invoking the names of some pretty well-known bands, including Queen, The New Pornographers, and She and Him. Skittish makes music that feels like it comes from the crossroads of a handful of genres. It casually sidesteps the borders of its own inspirations and fashions a miraculous amalgam of rhythm and tone that sounds like your favorite band from your college years that you never heard. The band will release their new record, “Two Legs Bad,” in September and is looking to share their hook-heavy alt pop with anyone within striking distance.
With their latest single, “Shot in the Dark,” the band injects their bombastic pop aesthetic with a jolt of emotional vulnerability and chronicles the first few uncertain steps of a new relationship. Whirling guitar theatrics and singer Brianna Tagg’s forceful voice play tag inside this wonderland of pop abundance and intricate rock rhythms. The song has that ability to become lodged in your head, keeping you awake because you just have to hear it one more time before you fall asleep. Careening from one raucous moment to the next, the band hits upon the perfect musical companion for when these hesitant and insecure thoughts creep into your mind-only to have them dissipate under the weight of true affection and the understanding that no one is perfect, we’re all just doing the best that we can.
Joshua Pickard covers local and national music, film and other aspects of pop culture. You can contact him on Facebook, Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.