This is the first installment of Snack Break—a list of tracks and notable musicians that I’ve been putting on repeat. This week includes Gillian Frances, Hovvdy, Palberta and more. Take a pause from your day and indulge in these finds below.
Gillian Frances – “Loose”
Gillian Frances is an Anacortes, WA-based multi-instrumentalist that has released a chilling pair of songs. You might have heard Frances play bass and guitar in Black Belt Eagle Scout or violin in This Is The Kit, but Frances demonstrates that she’s hauntingly radiant all on her own. In wake of her forthcoming EP Miles Away From Myself, she has shared “Loose” and “Hunting Ground.” The former is bathed in watery reverberating guitars and Frances’s aching vocals as we witness her losing a part of herself in real time. The latter is a woozy critique of humanity’s talent in furthering each other’s pain. Both tracks begin grave, Frances’s voice hovers above stark drum arrangements and spinning guitar riffs. Her voice gossamer and eerie like a spiderweb washed in sunshine. Each track engages with vague settings of pause with a terrifying sense of dread: “I look around the table, around the table/I’m afraid” goes “Loose,” and “Bus rides are the worst in this weather/With meaningless chatter sound,” she ponders on “Hunting Ground.” With the last line, I can easily imagine a army of buzzing and nonsense preparing for battle to takeover the protagonist’s sanity.
Era Bleak – “Struggle”
On their self-titled debut album, which came out a couple weeks ago, Era Bleak are stating the obvious. Era Bleak is a boiling pot of sewage water, illustrative of how poised and wonderful the current world is. The Portland, Oregon punk quartet reminds me a bit of X-Rey Spex or Sham 69. Across ten tracks, lead singer Candy wails about technology infringing on empathy, the inevitability of difference in opinion, mind control, and paranoia. Sometimes their lyrics feels too on the nose, but validating when they strike the right balance of shrewd lyricism and ferocity. My favorite track is “Struggle,” which begins with a looming bass line and rock-crunching guitars. Candy’s vocals repeatedly punch at hardship. Difficult times isn’t a new concept for Era Bleak, or this disastrous year or country that’s built on the false notion of equality, but for some reason hearing Candy scream “struggle” over and over feels galvanizing. “Take it all one day at a time, survival of the fittest is a state of mind,” goes the first verse. But just when I thought this might an ironic rant, it continues with a unifying sentiment: “Gives freely to everyone she meets.” Sure, everything is in the shitter right now, but the resilience of these vocals are a reminder that you can keep going even when you accept how impenetrable the path seems right now. Keep moving, give to others, and forge on together.
Grant Pavol – “Men Who Taught Me Chords”
Grant Pavol reigned in 2020 with the moody, skittering track “Bones,” and has followed up with another that is as poignant and unsuspecting. “Men Who Taught Me Chords” reflects on the white heteronormative musicians that influenced him. Although its significance is profound, the actual progression of cancel culture is still up for debate. I’m in love with this track not only because of the fuzzy reverb that gives me early Hovvdy vibes, but that it’s art reconciling with its own industry that pushed toxic heroes. Pavol takes ownership of idolizing deeply flawed humans. “I used to stand up for, the men who taught me chords,” he sings on the introductory verse. His voice isn’t defensive or rash, but vulnerable. “Men Who Taught Me Chords” illustrates that we learn from those who have not only introduced us to our passions, but who have failed us. Where their mistakes leave scars, we can see them as reminders of who to put in positions of creative power and money. “I just let the strings, force my mouth to think,” Pavol sings on the last verse before the song crescendos, guitar squeals having the final word. He’s signed to Shamir’s Accidental Popstar Records, and his debut album About A Year is coming September 4.
Hovvdy – “I’m Sorry”
I think I would live in most of Hovvdy’s songs, and their latest single “I’m Sorry” is no exception. Shuffling drums and gentle acoustic guitars accompany Will Taylor’s smooth R&B-influenced vocals. “Give me one good reason to say what I should,” he sings, slightly bursting with anticipation. The way his sandy voice curls around that last word is gorgeous.
Palberta – “Something In The Way”
A final track that I’ve been blasting this week is the recent drop from New York’s Palberta. “Something In The Way” sounds dissonant and frantic at times but feels whole. Inspired by a John Coltrane riff and the passing of friend Pablo Ramirez in 2019, “Something In The Way” is frenzied and up-beat. Although this track is the first song of theirs to be released from a “professional studio environment,” there’s still a grittiness to it; it’s a clear recording, but not overly polished. Wiry guitars sprout like verdant weeds, amidst the trio’s cherubic harmonies. It’s a chaotically pretty track that gives a caffeine rush.