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Quick Hits: Gary B and the Notions / The Fierce and the Dead / Patrick Watson

Last updated on May 11, 2019

Gary B and the Notions’ How Do We Explode is completely aptly named. The band that I praised for ’50s stylings on its last aptly titled release has largely dropped those for noisy, distorted late ’80s/ early ’90s guitar rock. This isn’t grunge, but it certainly comes from a similar spirit: these are pop songs played extremely loudly and with plenty of overdrive. From the Pavement-esque tones of “How to Eat a Brick Sandwich” to the dissonant crunch of “Too Busy for an Ambulance Ride” and “Street Drugs,” Gary B takes listeners through a rock’n’roll album. Those with a penchant for rock that features huge guitars, loud drums, dissonance and sung/hollered vocals will celebrate How Do We Explode. Also, I love the album art.

In my review of The Fierce and the Dead‘s last album, I desperately wanted the post-rock band to buckle down and make a statement. Their follow-up EP On VHS does that, pointing out a direction for the quartet. The four tracks here set out a gameplan of distorted bass, patterned guitar melodies/riffs, and aggression. This is best shown in “Hawaii,” which is not incorrectly described as thrashy in parts. There are melodies and tension in between the heavy sections, but the underlying feel is not one of tension/release; instead, the more apt metaphor is one of a boxer throwing a blitz of punches before retreating back to his stance to reload. It’s a punishing, powerful twenty minutes. If you’re into the heavy side of instrumental rock (Explosions in the Sky’s loudest, Sigur Ros’s loudest, Athletics, etc.), you’ll love On VHS. I’m interested to see where they take this approach in a full-length. Also, the album art creeps me out.

Patrick Watson‘s glorious chamber-pop tune “Into Giants” is impeccably orchestrated, inventively melodic, and intricately constructed. Watson’s tune evokes the complexities of Andrew Bird’s work, while his emotional falsetto cures the sterility that puts me off from much of Bird’s work. While “Into Giants” was an immediate lock in my mind, the rest of Adventures in Your Own Backyard took a while to grow on me. It’s still growing on me, but I’m not sure when it will come to a final resting place, so I just had to write the review.

The chiming “Blackwind,” comforting “Strange Crooked Road” and gentle “Words in the Fire” are all tunes that I had an “aha!” moment with; tunes like the sparse “Swimming Pools” and the woozy “Morning Sheets” still feel a little bit too much like Mark Richardson’s Faberge egg for me (beautiful, but without the ability to connect to me). Still, having a gorgeous album that’s a grower is absolutely no knock: it just means you’re going to have to spend some time with Watson to get the full effect of his album. If that sounds like your sort of invitation, there’s 48 minutes of music with your name written on it here. Also, I’m indifferent to the album art.