From jump Holy Wire’s “Dream” feels like a journey back to a time when one would hear C86 bands alongside the likes of New Order, Felt and The Smiths on college radio. And be struck by how that music could employ both intimate acoustic rhythm guitar with synth and spare electric guitar melodies to create an evocative backdrop to stories of heartbreak, crisis and times of existential introspection. But for this song Holy Wire doesn’t bother with the words, it lets the melancholic and nostalgic tenor of the song transport the listener to a time in life when horizons seemed in the distance and a broken heart could be soothed with the power of music seemingly written as the soundtrack to getting over a breakup. Listen to “Dream” on Spotify and connect with Holy Wire at the links below.
Sleepyhead is a rock band that formed in New York City in 1989 at a time when the underground rock of the 1980s in the USA and the UK flowed into what became alternative music by the 90s. But for a brief period Sleepyhead began in the golden age of the indiepop that that one heard in the music of the C86 bands and on Sarah Records. One might have heard echos of the Paisley Underground in the music and of criminally underrated groups like Game Theory and Let’s Active. But Sleepyhead had firmly established its own vibrant musical identity by the time of its 1993 debut album Punk Rock City USA on the even now respected forward thinking pop imprint Slumberland, home to the likes of Black Tambourine, Peel Dream Magazine, Weekend, Papercuts and The Reds, Pinks and Purples. Musical history may remember Sleepyhead in the same company as Chicago’s Material Issue whose own legacy of great pop songwriting and great energy and intelligence and warmth informing the songwriting was critically acclaimed at the time but largely neglected since. With a bit of an extended hiatus following the 1996 album Communist Love Song, Sleepyhead returned with 2014’s Wild Sometimes and a strong reminder of how Sleepyhead’s sharply observed lyrics and creative songwriting concepts remained intact. In 2022 the group, a trio of Rachael McNally, Chris O’Rourke and Derek Van Beever, released New Alchemy, named for the New Alchemy Institute, a research center that did work in organic agriculture, aquaculture and bioshelter design and operated between 1969 and 1991. It was the sort of very pragmatic, sustainability research steeped in the ideas of thinkers like R. Buckminster Fuller that the world could honestly use more of in the face of the multitude of challenges we face with the climate and adapting economic thinking toward something more rational and nurturing not just of the planet but of our own civilization and individual lives. The music is graced with that great shiny jangle guitar work and exquisite vocal harmonies that have made Sleepyhead’s music standout from the beginning and with it a freshness and exuberance that hits the ear as something wholesome and nurturing yet subversive in weaving in heady ideas and focusing on songcraft over adhering to a trendy style. Every song makes great use of space while also brimming with a fortifying denseness of detail and musical ideas. Classic Sleepyhead and a welcome entry in the catalog of one of the great bands of the alternative era.
We had a chance to speak with the band and you can listen to that interview on Bandcamp and to connect with Sleepyhead visit its website where you can find links to listen to their music including New Alchemy. Before the interview you can check out the music video for the single “Pam and Eddie” on YouTube.
Foyer Red’s ebullient pop single “Pickles” contains a richness of ideas and concepts both thematic and musical if you take the time to give its nearly four minutes a listen. It starts off with a spare but intricate twin guitar line and accented bass line before the vocals come in with lines seemingly sketching thoughts and observations on modern living and its attendant anxieties. But also imagery suggesting how in clinging to certain relationships and associations from those romantic, social, civic, artistic can hold us back from growth until we’re willing to let it go. When the two vocals trade off lines we are treated to a literary examination of these social phenomena as we feel them and not in some theoretical or ideological way but in how they impact us daily though at the time we can ignore how things are decaying and failing to serve our life or the function these things had for us or for anyone. The lines “torpid/standstill/what grew/shriveled/pillars of sand/are no match for tempered winds/facing the north side/you don’t get enough light” and then “huffing/slow burn/building/friction/save what/you can/watch the walls as they give” could really refer to anything but is so poignant in capturing what it’s like to be around when you’re the lifer in any situation (job, music scene, band, DIY space, school, relationship etc.) and maybe you should salvage what you care about and move on. You don’t need to carry the pressure of preserving some ideal that isn’t there anymore. It’s not a song about giving up or being cynical about what matters, it seems to be about self-care and with the aim of actually getting on with what’s important once again and maybe building something somewhere else with other people or at least not clinging past the time when all the juice and life is gone. Musically it has resonance with classic C86 bands but more contemporaneously with groups like Palm, LVL UP and Lithics with a bit of math rock and twee and the clear, yet unpretentious, artistic ambition of not just the lyrics but the dazzling array of sounds and song dynamics that are irresistible from beginning to end. Listen to “Pickles” on YouTube and follow Foyer Red at the links below.
“Cool Waters” finds Belfast, Ireland’s bobsled team draws us in with a simple and strong bass line in the beginning of the song on a journey through sparkling guitar tones and unconventional counter melodies with vocals that stand out like a spirit working its way through a mist of noisy drones that somehow sit find in the mix of tonal imagery. The contrasting aesthetics remind one of a time in the mid-90s when a bunch of naff, ersatz alternative rock and tough guy aggro nü metal pushed aside more interesting sounds and tenderness and sensitivity out of mainstream music. So much was louder without saying a whole lot and the bravado then as now was insufferable. But in the underground there was indiepop of the variety that embraced strong songwriting and unconventional pop hooks as well as noise and a spirit of experimentation that operated without reference to popular trends: Felt Pilotes, Apples in Stereo, Neutral Milk Hotel, Oliva Tremor Control—the whole Elephant 6 thing and its cousin scenes. There was also dream like noise and art rock like Unwound, Versus and Helium that resonated with the ways Sonic Youth took the avant-garde and made it accessible. The fusion of those lineages you can hear in the music of bobsled team and “Cool Water,” from the group’s fantastic full length The Colours Blur, is a fine example of those impulses and influences manifested in a new expression of a similar creative spirit. Listen to “Cool Water” on Bandcamp and connect with bobsled team at the links provided. Score a very limited edition vinyl version of the record on Bandcamp as well.