It’s this weeks music roundup, looking back at an under-discussed gem from earlier in the year in Pom Poko’s CHEATER and an over-discussed post-punk debut in Geese’s PROJECTOR!
Geese – PROJECTOR
Favorite Tracks: “Rain Dance,” “Fantasies / Survival,” “Projector,” “Exploding House”
The trumpets haven’t sounded. James Murphy and Julian Casablancas aren’t commanding their army of the dead. 2000s New York indie, the ethos of its late-’70s source material, and its ghost are where they should be: infused into the musk of our snug leather jackets. Geese bear a similar aesthetic, but nowhere near the same ingenuity. The Brooklyn-based high school shredders toy with disjointed melodies and oblique lyricism in a concoction that is unmistakably present-day, but fail to meaningfully innovate the high points of their influences. With entire discographies at their fingertips, a sound that channels the Talking Heads, The Strokes, and the hipster bar milieu is a natural conclusion. It’s just hard not to adjust your judgments accordingly.
Brilliance flashes throughout PROJECTOR. “Rain Dance” does more to build anticipation for the remaining tracks than Stereogum’s “Band to Watch” feature did for the group itself. Dueling guitars float in and out of dissonance behind lead singer Cameron Winter’s impassioned tale of heartbreak and subsequent self-interrogation. To emphasize the daunting need for continual growth, the leadman cleverly characterizes himself as his own son, an ever-evolving embodiment of “What [he’s] seen” and “Who [he’s] known.” The riff-centered “Fantasies / Survival” inspires similar confidence with its anthemic vocals and gradual progression into jam-band insanity. While at their most enigmatic here, Winter’s lyrics ooze with charisma and ease, a feat achieved at varying levels of success throughout the rest of the LP.
Geese’s more labored explorations of romantic minutiae could be forgiven if their vocals didn’t sound like Tom Verlaine trying a little too hard to inflect. The group’s influences eerily triangulate my taste in music, but I haven’t been able to escape the contrived, Alt Nation feeling of it all. We’ve entered the streaming algorithm uncanny valley—CBGBs was converted into a John Varvatos retail space after all, being left with Post-Punk Paulie’s animatronic house band shouldn’t come as that much of a surprise. As if bolted to the carpeted stage, too often nothing builds of Geese’s grooves when they submerge into their long-winded jams. The music doesn’t go anywhere. “Low Era” repeats the slightest variations in arpeggios for an entire quarter of the track. The stale electronic innards do show signs of personality on “Projector,” a song that does much more with noticeably less noise. Dreamy guitars linger on subtle vocal harmonies, before the tom-happy drummer spirals the track towards a triumphant close. Moments like these make my ambivalence towards the LP sting that much more.
PROJECTOR is undoubtedly an ambitious debut album. Influences aside, Geese are not a glorified emulation. There’s a distinct style to explore here, but the record pays homage more than it innovates. Geese can grow into something worthy of significance outside of discussions on the impact of New York rock legends, but much like that of the Big Apple’s psychoactive wonders of choice throughout the years, the highs on PROJECTOR are bound by the mediocrity of its morning-after sobriety. The music blog hype machine is misguided at best. In our haste for the next buzz band we forgot that a goose takes two years to reach maturity. Maybe we shouldn’t rush the process. [Chris Burleson]
Pom Poko – CHEATER
Genre: Math Pop, Experimental
Favorite tracks: “Danger Baby,” “Like a Lady,” “Andy Goes to School,” “Looks.”
As 2021 comes to a close, many records from the beginning of this year are nowhere to be seen on end-of-the-year lists. It’s a shame that an album like Pom Poko’s CHEATER isn’t getting the attention it deserves, but its January 15th release date doomed it to fall into oblivion. It’s a quick, wild ride on both sides of wax, full of chaotic energy and gorgeous arrangements that are impressive for a band that’s just on their second outing. Named after one of the lesser talked about Studio Ghibli films, Pom Poko is Norway’s answer to Deerhoof. CHEATER is the best Deerhoof album Deerhoof never recorded. I’ll kick that up a notch and say it’s the best Deerhoof album Guerilla Toss never recorded. Pom Poko has figured out the recipe for the right balance between beauty and chaos, all the while leaving you wanting to dance in circles. CHEATER will appeal to fans of when post-punk art-rockers have a little extra of that proggy edge to them.
Lead vocalist Ragnhild Fangel’s voice is heavenly—celestial even—but then she’ll cut through you like a buzzsaw by the chorus. The sludgy bass and screechy guitars on “Look” slam into when Fangel sings: “Look at the clouds / Look at the trees / Look can breathe / You can breathe” in a dizzying fashion. “Andy Goes to School” is a bouncy pop cut that feels like it would get a crowd buzzing live on the dancefloor. “Like a Lady” is maybe the most accessible tune on the record, and it still has an explosion of wild time signatures and a grungy wall of noise.
The album is full of powerful and peculiar tracks jammed-packed with technical precision. Take “Danger Baby,” for instance. Seriously, take a minute, put on your headphones, and listen. What starts as a playful, sleepy little tune suddenly drops you through the floor into another dimension. The guitar riffs begin to wobble at the chorus like they’re played on cassette through a junk store boombox. They beep and boop along with Fangel’s angelic falsetto, then oscillate through your brain until it turns into a rainbow of colors. Who needs drugs when you have a record like this? CHEATER is a solid sophomore effort worthy of entering the canon for 2021. It’s a half-hour of well-paced, brilliantly played weirdo-rock perfect when you have too much energy and need to get rid of it quickly. [Jack Probst]