Somehow, despite its modest size, Richmond has managed to cultivate over the years a sizable and eclectic music scene. But, with hundreds of active bands releasing music constantly, it can be difficult to keep up and sort the worthwhile from the “needs work”. So, in the interest of highlighting those who are deserving, I have decided to make it my job to do the sifting for you, and present to you, in no particular order, a list of my favorite releases that came out in the month of October.
I had not heard of Strawberry Moon before they showed up on my Instagram feed earlier this month announcing an album release show on October 21st 2022 at Cobra Cabana. The fact that they had slipped completely under my radar for so long and then all of the sudden had an album out immediately intrigued me. Now that’s not to say that they haven’t been around, their first releases are from 2017, and the band released their first full length album Dust Bath in 2018. Unfortunately, their most current line-up formed in the winter of 2019, and they were quickly sequestered by the pandemic. Although a few lo-fi demos managed to make their way to release, this will be the band’s first full length studio album release in four years. For more information on that go read RVA Magazine’s full interview with frontwoman Katie Bowles here.
The opening track “Magnolia Trees” begins with a driving and catchy bass riff provided by Gray Stephenson, cut in with minimalist yet well placed hi-hat hits from drummer TJ Meade while in the background some light synthy pads lend a needed atmosphere of mystique. This provides an excellent foundation for Bowles to slide in with her clear and smooth alto voice. The band rides this groove for about a minute before Liam McElroy explodes in hammering away on an overdriven guitar while Meade slams on the snare and crash cymbals which gives Bowles the room to cry out, “look at these Magnolia Trees!” This is short lived as McElroy quickly falls away again to let the song breathe, only to come back in just a few bars later with a far off and heavenly guitar melody. This dichotomy continues throughout the rest of the track.
Over the course of the next few songs, “Grew This Way”, “Control” (the single off the album they released back in June), “In My Book” there is the establishment of a formula that the group tends to follow for the majority of the record. This is characterized by a fuzzy guitar riff provided by McElroy, a never stagnant and prominently featured bass line by Stephenson, a driving beat by Meade on the kit, and of course the haunting and low vocals howled out by Bowles. The songs often find themselves oscillating between periods of breakdown in the verse and then building into a chorus – or guitar solo – of towering art punk grandeur. That isn’t to say that it doesn’t work, because it does; if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. The group found a unique sound for this record and made the wise decision to be consistent.
What really makes the record interesting though is when the band breaks this mold and they find themselves branching out, such as in the ironically named “Creatures of Habit.” The track opens with the standard formula, fuzzy guitars, the bass is up in the mix, hard hitting drums, and an emotional cry from Bowles. But after a nearly minute and a half long intro the band jumps into overdrive, more than doubling their tempo and absolutely flying. Fun how on the very title track of their album they acknowledge this penchant for engaging in easy rituals, but also bringing the listeners attention to the fact that they’re aware of this, but can, and will surprise you if they so choose.
“We are habitual creatures //
Eyes wide shut to the future. //
We are habitual creatures //
Dove in just to swim deeper.”
You can find Habitual Creatures just about anywhere you get your music, and also on cassettes for sale at the band’s live shows.
Single – “ I Don’t Want To” by Ten Pound Snail (October 14th): Streaming [From their upcoming album]
Richmond is no stranger to heavy Rock and Roll, and in fact it might be what it does best. With bands like Gwar and People’s Blues of Richmond, this city is no stranger to groups with guitar driven heavy sound. Now if you have been following the group Ten Pound Snail over the last two years since their first release, Sunspots in November 2020, you might be wondering why I would be listing them among Richmond’s hard rock groups. Originally striking a slow indie vibe with their first view ep releases and only a hint of something stronger underneath, Ten Pound Snail seem to be stepping away from their days of psychedelic shoegazing to walk back into the scene post-pandemic showing that they can rock, and they can rock hard.
I first met the guys in Ten Pound Snail at a house show I was hosting back in 2019 on Grace Street in Jackson Ward. Back then they were working on the material that would become their first few releases featuring that slowcore sound that I remember from them. That’s why when I discovered their singles that they have been releasing in the lead up to their second album I was completely shocked.
They haven’t left that sound completely behind. In May of this year the band released the second single “Hot Dice” from their upcoming album, and it starts off with the slower ethereal sound I have always associated with them. But, near the end, they absolutely fire off into a hard rock jam that rockets to the end of the song before falling away while an ambling noise outro play reminiscent of the experiments on their last – and title track – off their first record Parlor Tricks.
This track however holds no punches from the beginning; from the first hammered and distorted guitar chord, and the shouted titular phrase “I don’t want to!” it is clear that the group has pointed themselves in a different direction. The distant ambience of the past has given way to in-your-face bravado, with singer Holen Wilson singing so passionately that he almost starts to bear down and scream. It could not be more intriguing to watch a young group so drastically and intentionally change from one self-actualized sound to another, and only time will tell if their album can live up to the hype.
You can hear more from Ten Pound Snail themselves in RVA Magazine’s interview with them from earlier this year.
Closing out this addition is another studio album by a band who has just entered my orbit. I was entirely unfamiliar with Spooky Cool before I stumbled onto their music just a few weeks ago. I had noticed that they had an upcoming album, and so did a deep dive into their music starting with their first singles released all the way back in 2018.
They struck me at first as an alt-indie group making pop influenced rock, but with some interesting rhythmic and dissonant tonal choices that kept it from being entirely vanilla. As I kept listening, however, I heard their music get progressively heavier, and runtime’s getting longer. This eventually culminated in their triumph of a first studio album Every Thing Ever that, although only five tracks long, clocks in at just over a half an hour. This record takes on an almost progressive face with tracks that are not only tunes, but lengthy orchestrations defined by song structures dripping with intention and deftly handled dynamic contrast. To try to dissect it any more than that would be a disservice to the art that it is, as the band blends and comes together to create a piece of music that knows what it’s doing from start to finish. All that I can say is that you must go listen to it the first chance you get. But I’m not talking about Every Thing Ever, I’m here to talk to you about their newest release.
What followed that first record was an almost four year hiatus with no new music, and then a series of singles from, and building up to, their new album Existential Pie. With this new record the band has expanded on not only their sound, but their scope as well with Existential Pie coming in at nine songs and over 40 minutes long. Sonically they have delved deeper into expansive harmonies such as on the track “Only Colour” that also features a lot of electronic percussion effects and synthy lead arpeggios that lend a poppier air than their previous record.
Although losing some of that sense of scale that defined Every Thing Ever, there is a feeling that the band is having fun with catchy and memorable tunes that still manage to somehow infuse that dissonance that defines their early work without sacrificing listenability. An example of this can be found in the shockingly popular “Time Will Tell” which features no less than three different almost atonal guitar riffs – ending on a chromatic line that truly sends the listener reeling – and a vocal line that is thoroughly unpredictable and yet somehow also an ear worm. It’s still not necessarily easy listening, although more digestible I think than their earlier releases, but it is at least tonally pop with that unpredictability that gives Spooky Cool their unique sound.
All of these releases are out now just about anywhere you get your music, and make sure if you found these groups interesting to keep track of them as they move forward. Richmond is watching these young artists, and we couldn’t be more excited.
Top Photo by Miranda Jean