It’s our Bandcamp Picks of the Week, featuring Class’s scrappy punk EP BUT WHO’S READING ME? and If I Promise’s glitzy ambient release ON DEPARTURE!
Class – BUT WHO’S READING ME? EP
Genre: Punk, Power Pop
Favorite Tracks: “Grid Stress,” “No News Could Please”
Class have P.O.W.E.R.
Judge not, but as someone who adores EPs, I’ve developed a handy acronym describing the elements of a truly successful EP. It’s the chemical components that make this bit-sized, frills-free format such a powerful tool in any artist’s repertoire. Across these six tracks, this Tucson punk band exemplifies P.O.W.E.R. with style, true depth, and a heap of ‘tude.
P – Plenty of Oomph
For all 14 minutes, this EP radiates an essential mix of forward momentum and intangible excitement. To some extent it’s the production quality—appropriately lo-fi without sacrificing quality, something steeped earnestly in ‘80s post-punk. It’s also their inherent style: “Grid Stress” blurs some essential motifs (rock ‘n’ roll excess, tight structures, and extra hip cynicism). This thing rides like a turbo-charged ‘88 DeVille covered in graffiti.
O – Oh, Boy, Variety
Atop their proto-punk core, the band experiments readily. “No News Could Please” is country-fried Agent Orange. “Burning Cash” spins in more hardcore flavors for a bitter, angsty feel. Even “Cockney Rebel Vs. The Cult” somehow just “feels” very ’70s British punk in its intent and mood. They’re subtle, but these tweaks show the band’s skills and scope while giving every song a different tinge—all without hampering the EP’s larger identity.
W – Well, This Is Fun
If nothing else, the band’s mega fun. Whether it’s infusing other genre bits (garage and glam) to spice things up; lyrics like “mass procrastinator; my efforts come in late” from “Left in the Sink” (unassuming slacker poetry, right there); or a brash but playful aesthetic, Class exude unfettered good times. The fact that said “good time” is drenched in subtext and cynicism doesn’t make it any less infectious and cathartic. It’s fun like getting into a fight can be a thrill.
E – Endless Energy
There’s a distinction between “oomph” (that’s momentum) and “energy levels” (those are feelings). This EP crackles with an energy that’s equally angry and overjoyed, playful and destructive. It goes back to the production; there’s something about the nostalgic qualities (especially in “Inspect the Receipt” and “No News Could Please”) that reference a lot of essential punk history/themes in profound but subtle ways. It’s also the fact that the band have organized a ton of overarching feelings and banner-like ideas into such a tight package.
R – Respecting My Time
My obsession with EPs is time—both for ensuring immediate satisfaction and cutting through dead weight. Class facilitates that beyond just a streamlined tracklist/runtime. There’s a cleanliness and efficiency across here (even as things get loud and dirty), and they know when to strike and when to retreat. It’s about making noise but being as targeted and efficient as possible. In all that, the band’s sound remains as jagged and catchy as ever.
P.O.W.E.R. Rating: 7.8 out of 10
Listen to it now over on Bandcamp. [Chris Coplan]
If I Promise – ON DEPARTURE
Genre: Glitch, Ambient
Favorite Tracks: “And I’m Dreaming,” “Crane Flies / Off To Sleep,” “If I Promise”
There’s a delightfully human quality to If I Promises’ glitchy, fragile vocal ambient, built on layers upon layers of Atlas’ voice sharpened and colored with all sorts of electronic textures and effects, sensitive electroacoustic with an emphasis on both the negative space surrounding Atlas’ vocals and how his voice informs the structures around everything else. But where his latest album, ON DEPARTURE differs is in purpose: where much of his past If I Promise output was informed by intense personal struggles, many of those problems are no longer present in his life. His relationship to his music has changed, too. Consequently, there’s a restfulness to ON DEPARTURE previous releases couldn’t possess with what Atlas was working through at the time, able to loosen his music and embrace peacefulness in his immaterial electronica rather than the aching dark ambient of WHERE YOU BUILT YOUR NEST or the fight between vaporous ambient and fizzing glitch in his 2022 SOMATIC EP, ON DEPARTURE built on the same fluctuating foundation but creating serenity rather than a space to capture grief. The results are some of his best songs yet and more proof of the mastery Atlas has over his vocal ambient craft.
Not looking to completely forget what his music did for him before, ON DEPARTURE sheds the suffering of the past while looking back on it with kindness and generosity, some songs direct callbacks to previous tracks and occasionally even using layers from those songs to build his new world. “Of A Stranger” calls back to his debut EP with its barely-there pulsing rhythm and icy synth leads, but where the music of PORTRAITS OF A STRANGER was cyclical and tightly wound, “Of A Stranger” drifts about its five minute runtime, background vocals passing like light rays through a swaying curtain and each glitchy tweak in the mix never staying for too long. The drone piece “Kick, Hum” that follows it carries that sense of endlessness forward with a new stability to Atlas’ voice. Even the moments where he digs into the dark ambient stylings of his roots are given a new feel as Atlas strives for recovery rather than relief. Early highlight “And I’m Dreaming” thick in its low-end with a steady heartbeat of a kick drum while the distance between harmonies and his contortion of those bottom vocal layers lands with fantastic bliss, Atlas’ heart drawing out the complex maze of connections the song’s beauty arises from and taking joy in every bit of it. In sound, ON DEPARTURE isn’t far from Atlas’ older releases, but in execution it’s more heartwarming and resonant than ever before.
The album’s strongest track, “If I Promise,” closes ON DEPARTURE with just a little under nine minutes of marvelous, shielding ambient magic, entirely foregoing the glitchiness and distortion and revealing what’s at the heart of both If I Promise as an artistic project and Atlas as an individual: thoughtfulness and warmth. As devastating and emotionally taxing as his past releases have often been, it has never been in search of anything but this one moment, a place where none of the hurt surrounding you disappears so much as it melts into the air with everything else, “If I Promise” so patient in watching its capsule of safety wrap around you that the final embrace of it doesn’t only feel wonderful, it feels entirely natural, Atlas not having to force anything to happen for his gracious sound to find its way to your soul. ON DEPARTURE is a gracious, astonishing listen where the intimate and unreplicable sound of Atlas’ voice and the ways he manipulates it to create tactile, remarkable nests of ambient luminescence finds regrowth. Along with all the music that’s led to this extraordinary listen, ON DEPARTURE is available on If I Promise’s Bandcamp. [Lurien Zitterkopf]