It’s our Bandcamp Picks of the Week, featuring a pair of alt country barstool jams in Dante & the Mirrors’ EVERYBODY BRING YOUR TROUBLES and Labrador’s HOLD THE DOOR FOR STRANGERS, as well as some honed lo-fi pop from Peel Dream Machine!
Dante & the Mirrors – EVERYBODY BRING YOUR TROUBLES
Genre: Indie Folk, Country Rock
Favorite Tracks: “Knock Knock,” “America’s Not A Football Team,” “Sweet Little Thing,” “Everybody Bring Your Troubles”
EVERYBODY BRING YOUR TROUBLES plays like a tent revival setting up shop in the corner of your favorite dive. Dante & the Mirrors—a collaborative effort between songwriter Jason Lerman and music director Jackson Wargo—follows their 2016 debut with a collection of songs that are equal parts sermon and bar stool banter. Lerman’s lyrics channel the works of classic songwriters like Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, and whether he’s singing about football, The Divine Comedy, or The Book of Job, you’re inclined to believe his passion. Wargo’s production and the group of session players whose collective resume includes Jamestown Revival, Pronoun, and Ben Folds, truly bring the songs to life, giving the audience something familiar enough to keep their heads nodding, with enough of a twist to get them to look up from their drink and pay attention.
On lead single “The Cave,” Lerman questions the nature of reality with references to Plato’s allegory of the same name, the band carrying his heavy questions over a lonesome prairie ballad layered with haunting organ and a truly ripping guitar solo. Some of the album’s highest points come when Lerman’s songs are more rooted in the personal, such as “Sweet Little Thing,” a love song built on delicate piano, sparse guitar, and beautifully arranged Beach Boys-esque vocal harmonies. The album is a proud pastiche of ‘60s and ‘70s rock, tipping its cap to the sonic blueprints followed by THE WHITE and HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED. “America’s Not A Football Team,” arguably the heaviest track on EVERYBODY BRING YOUR TROUBLES, channels the foundations of heartland rock played at its fuzziest in a small garage to preach the dangers of treating patriotism as a sport. Lerman’s delivery is cold and calculated, as he reminds rowdy American fanboys that ”There’s poor folks in this country / But I bet sometimes you think that’s funny.” Things get more uplifting on the title-track, a hopeful lullaby that slowly builds into a lush explosion of soaring vocals and a soulful trumpet line, which serves as a closing prayer to the record. Lerman’s exploration of the human condition throughout his songs are bound to contain something relatable for everyone, and serve as a warm invitation to pull up a chair to experience its joys and sorrows together. You can absorb the whole emotional spectrum over on Bandcamp! [Jake Mazon]
Labrador – HOLD THE DOOR FOR STRANGERS
Genre: Alt Country
Favorite Tracks: “State Line To Eagleville,” “Dog Chorus,” “Wear It Like A Badge”
The best bars, for better and oftentimes worse, are the ones that seem to be unaffected by the passage of time. If you’re reading this and have ever stumbled out of hole-in-the-wall dives or local haunts over the years, you likely already have the image in your mind: there is an eerie quiet despite the jukebox playing at a reasonable level, the beer is cheap, and the patrons look as though they haven’t moved in decades, ready for you to walk by and dust their heads off so they can get ready for another night of solemn drinking. The days and hours and minutes (and maybe even years) hang suspended—2 p.m. the same feeling as 2 a.m., 1998 the same as 2023.
Labrador understand this energy about as well as any indie rock band doing it right now—and appropriately they aren’t in much of a hurry. HOLD THE DOOR FOR STRANGERS, the Philadelphia alt-country rockers’ collection of forlorn barstool wisdom, slows down time; like the watering holes you can imagine singer-songwriter Pat King pulling up a seat to, the songs find the desperation and humanity of everyday, blue collar survival. The crunchy heartbreaker “State Line To Eagleville” is a fitting opener; the teary, impassioned guitar playing and downtrodden howl behind a line like “the first time I broke your heart / I needed the practice” feels eternal in its simplistic form and delivery. Similarly the imagery of “putting on Sinatra for those who need uplifting” (“The Last Race of the Season”) is evergreen, and could just as readily apply to Labrador’s own music—though it’s a thin line between finding peace and uplift, the songs on HOLD THE DOOR FOR STRANGERS are about finding the former through the latter even in the hard times. Entirely made up of bluesy, golden hour, mid-tempo songs, Labrador are musically locked in from the first moments of “State Line To Eagleville” through the echoing lo-fi of the closing title track. It may be one note by some definitions, but it’s a note that feels reassuring hearing it from the other end of the bar. You can HOLD THE DOOR FOR STRANGERS over on Bandcamp! [CJ Simonson]
Peel Dream Magazine – MAGIC IS POCKETED EP
Genre: Bedroom Pop, Indie Pop
Favorite Tracks: “You Really Mean It,” “Hell”
This review begins with Unknown Mortal Orchestra. I’ve spent the last decade-plus utterly obsessed with UMO’s self-titled debut, specifically, the ’70s AM radio aesthetic that permeates the LP—it’s just so warm and effective. (It’s a feeling made all the more powerful as UMO moved in other directions for subsequent LPs.) It’s a sense of slightly nebulous magic that I’ve searched for across countless records: a head-rush of nostalgia and whimsy that makes our obsessive retromania finally feel authentic.
And maybe I’ve found another rich vein in Peel Dream Magazine. The brainchild of L.A. musician Joe Stevens, PDM is a kind of free-form, vaguely bedroom pop project steeped in mining the unnamed past. Stevens has said the outfit is for “subcultural wanders. Something you subscribe to,” which exemplifies PDM at-large and especially this EP’s deluge of bright and shimmery vibes. “You Really Mean It?” is a hazy stream of guitar and pianos pulled from a Burt Bacharach song—it’s so creamy you could scoop it out of the air. “Harmony” is stellar chamber pop; the chimes tickle the ears and the oversized organ vibrates your molecules into another dimension. “Hell” is the only “proper” song (the rest feel like interludes), and while not instantly transformative, it invokes ample psychedelic tension. At last, the gentle instrumentation across “Mary, Johnny and Me” is like slow-dancing up a winding staircase into the Great Unknown.
Each track is its own profound experience, with each engaging the listener with sonic prowess to evoke true brain-body sensations. But taken as a whole, it’s an even bigger head-rush of energies and sentiments. It’s the closest thing to dropping acid without risking a bad trip. The problem, then, is that vibes may be the only thing to be found. The EP often feels like “leftovers” from PDM’s 2022 album, PAD. But there’s so much potential here, and these songs could’ve been much more still. Maybe they’re only ideas that inform other songs, or they needed other components (lyrics, instrumentation, a targeted focus, etc.) to go from delightful tidbits into full-blown flights of majesty. The inclusion of “Hell” demonstrates that there’s clearly more ideas to be mined—and for the other songs to feel subsequently emptier feels somehow irksome.
Does this impact the songs’ larger power? Maybe not individually, but collectively it feels like eating only half a five-course electropop dinner. With that unshakable feeling in the air, these scrumptious morsels can feel a little stale, even bitter, with repeat listens. Should any of that stop you from still listening? With vibes this mighty, no way. Instead, what this EP taught me is that, after I’ve been chasing the UMO dragon this long, it’s easy to get obsessed with quick hits of feelings. Getting what you want is good and all, but often the thrill of the chase has a greater value. As such, this EP is a warm mug of magic brew before the journey begins again. Listen to it now over on Bandcamp. [Chris Coplan]