“New Hampshire” — PWR BTTM
PWR BTTM is a pretty unilateral band. A great and unashamedly unilateral band, but one-sided all the same. Frankly, there are only so many types of sounds a guitar-drum rock duo can concoct, and it’s not like PWR BTTM, even at their best, have been bounding through any boundaries, sonically.
Ugly Cherries was remarkable more for what it was (a thrashing, vulnerable paean to queerness and what it can mean in all its iterations) than for how it sounded (pwr chords and pwr vocals that both, in turn, skidded from blared to whimpered with the click of a distortion pedal). As I heard it, their last album’s noises were auxiliary, secondary to and supporting the inescapable choruses, bleeding confessionals and brash, almost gaudy humor that stood at the top of the soundpile.
But what happens to a band like this in the aftermath of a record that’s, almost paradoxically, so inimitable and replicable?
“New Hampshire” (though recorded as a demo almost two full years ago) was just released on August 17, and it starts to give us an answer to that question. Instead of betraying an attempt to imitate Ugly Cherries’ success or to fall backwards into a replication, “New Hampshire” shows PWR BTTM taking the most simple route: just continuing. And while some aspects of the track — the mid-song jumps between soft and loud, some less obvious studio tricks, the more ambitious harmonies — exhibit a PWR BTTM that’s experimenting and maybe even changing, “New Hampshire” isn’t exactly material from a band that’s growing. The shtick stands, at least for now: “New Hampshire” is a song with deliberately memorable lyrics (“When I die / please bury me in New Hampshire / I really like the leaves”), darkly muddled humor (“and the sun will burn out / oh well / you and I will die / oh well”) and a one-of-a-kind transcription of millenial turmoil into an established musical lexicon of big sounds and bigger statements. Which is all to say that “New Hampshire” is a good song, but I guess all of that could have been used to describe every other track in PWR BTTM’s body of work.
Troy Sherman is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Get To Know Ya” — NAO
Some songs just have summer in their DNA. NAO’s debut album For All We Know arrived just as July bled into August, and its opening track (and best song) “Get to Know Ya” delivers what ought to be the summer’s biggest hit. The song is a study in minimalist funk perfection, with slinky, aquatic guitar and an infectious off-beat rhythm. NAO earned immediate comparisons to Prince because of her high, nasal voice and gender-bending lyrics, as well as her (somewhat repetitive) formula of tense, sparing funk that erupts into radiant choruses. However, her sound is far from generic; her voice is soft and almost ghostly, far from Prince’s shrieking, libidinous howl, and her muted intonations are a striking juxtaposition with the unsparing drive of the music.
Lyrically, the song is something of a trick: what sounds like a breezy come-on to a crush reveals itself upon closer inspection to be the complaint of an under-appreciated, under-acknowledged lover. “You don’t even know me,” NAO castigates, and what sounds like the lament of an unrequited crush turns out to be a challenge to a partner that doesn’t have the time or interest to talk about anything other than themselves. “So you call me, and tell me what’s up with you,” she repeats again and again, evoking conversation after conversation dominated by another person’s thoughts. Luckily we don’t have to listen to this part; what we have is a perfect jewel of crystallized pop, to be played again and again.
Jack Jones is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at email@example.com.
“Projection” — PWR BTTM
When PWR BTTM dropped “Projection” on July 21, many commenters immediately flocked to the single’s first lyric. “When the kids go out to play, I like to stay inside/Even though it looks like fun, I’d probably burn and die/My skin isn’t made for the weather,” singer/guitarist Ben Hopkins croons over a quiet, almost-jazzy chord progression. It is easy to forget the anxiety and nostalgia that flows through the duo’s 2015 Ugly Cherries and instead associate them solely with their electric, glitter-adorned live shows, Hopkins’ rapid fire riffing and an effusive social media presence.
Yet, the vulnerability of “Projection” seeps through Ugly Cherries, such as when drummer/singer Liv Bruce sings, “The stars above me are the same ones above you/I’m tryna play it cool but I still love you,” in “West Texas,” and is blatantly evident during PWR BTTM’s live shows. For the band and their fans, vulnerability manifests beautifully in the form of Bruce and Hopkins sharing anecdotes openly during sets and fans running up to the duo with thanks and often gifts after the show.
Like so many PWR BTTM songs that have come before, however, “Projection” refuses to treat vulnerability as a simple trait. The quiet music that begins the song swells into massive, fuzzy riffs as Hopkins’ words fade from nervousness to resignation. Ithaca fans may get a chance to hear the duo play “Projection” and former demo “New Hampshire” (reviewed by Troy Sherman above) live when PWR BTTM opens for Lake Street Drive at the State Theatre on Sept. 30 before the embark on a tour through the United States and Europe
Shay Collins is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.