Independent Record Label | Est. 2009
Wilmington, North Carolina



Monday, June 17, 2024

Blab School – Blab School | Album Review

[Repost from Swim Into the Sound; by Brad Walker, June 10, 2024]

When you grow up in the orbit of an older brother, especially an older brother who could be considered “cool,” there is a sort of unapproachable quality to the bands he listens to… Or at least I think that’s how it is; I don't actually have any older siblings, cool or otherwise.

This is a long walk, but go with me.

I was twelve years old in the year 2000, so all the cool older brothers in my orbit were into bands like AFI, Deftones, Green Day, Bad Religion, Nirvana, Tool, Nine Inch Nails, etc., etc. Being one step removed from these bands may have actually made them seem even more unapproachable and cooler to me. There was something about the scorching disaffection and pseudo-masculine rage of this era of music that I found dangerously alluring at the time. It felt like I was getting into these bands at my own risk, which was part of the appeal.

Blab School’s self-titled debut album reminds me of this era of rock music, not necessarily in tone and sound, but in pure, intimidating coolness.

So, how does one talk about a band whose defining characteristic is that they sound cool? They say comparison is the thief of joy, but this is a band that wears its influences on its sleeve. In addition to my projecting the likes of Deftones, AFI, and Tool onto Blab School, it’s easy to hear the bands they’ve been openly inspired by. In their bio on the Fort Lowell Records website, they namecheck the Wipers, Talking Heads, Joy Division, and Killing Joke as their sonic and philosophical progenitors. More contemporaneously, it wouldn’t be out of the question to see them sharing a bill with bands like Flasher or Protomartyr. This is a record that is steeped in nostalgia, but you’re going to have to adjust your idea of whose past lives we are talking about when we use the word “nostalgia,” this isn’t The Strokes or The Black Keys.

Blab School doesn’t have a narrative arc; that’s not the kind of band they are. In fact, the record is a pretty lean affair, clocking in at just over in just over twenty minutes. Blab School is not trying to tell a story with this record, but that is not to say that they aren’t trying to convey a feeling, and that feeling is chilly disaffection. This fire-and-ice combination of unattainable coolness and simmering rage puts them in a lineage with every band they have likened to by both me and the band themselves. It’s also a proven method for creating compelling music.

This can be heard from the jump with the first two tracks: “Small Simple Ways” and "Scrolls." The former sounds like it would fit beautifully alongside The Smashing Pumpkins on the Batman & Robin soundtrack, and I mean that in the best way possible. The latter is a particular favorite of the band, as it is the first song they wrote post-lockdown, which seems appropriate for a song about doomscrolling (“can’t seem to stop, I’m clicking on buttons, just staring at nothing, back to the top… scroll down, scroll down”). This feeling of dissatisfaction with modern society is on display throughout the record, from “Quit Yr Job” (particularly poignant to me as I write this article while on the clock at a job I’m getting laid off from at the end of the month), to “Never Enough” (we all hate capitalism in this house), to the closing track, “(Don’t Forget to) Give Up” (try the refreshing taste of nihilism today).

But one of the most fascinating tracks on the record is “I Hate the Summer.” On this penultimate track, the band sings, “I hate the summer, I pray for rain. I hate the sunlight, mimosas, and champagne. I hate the beach and all the sand it brings. I hate the blue skies; I hate most hot-weather things.” They’ve got that summertime sadness! Now I’m from Ohio and Blab School is from North Carolina, so we experience very different summers, but I have always found folks that detest the sun and revelry of summertime a little… dorky? But you see, that’s what makes this song so important! In the context of the record, it might be the most important song of all. I’ve gone on and on about how impenetrably cool this band is for this entire article, and we get to the second-to-last song on the album, and it’s just someone whinging about how they’re too hot? It’s brilliant! It makes them human! It invites other dorky folks who get cranky when the weather gets above 72° to be like, “Yeah! They get it!” before bringing it back around to the realm of the unfathomable and the unflappable to wrap things up with “(Don’t Forget to) Give Up.”

Ultimately, there’s something to be said here about the anachronistic idea of “coolness.” What does it even mean to be “cool” in 2024 when the internet has rendered each and every one of us “cringe”? That may be overstating it, but at the very least, social media has revealed that most of us are relatively ordinary in our day-to-day lives... or maybe it’s just leveled the playing field. You can see pictures of Blab School all together as a band on their Instagram, and they look very normal despite the fact that they have made a profoundly cool record. They just look like me and my friends, and I appreciate them more for it. Not to put too fine a point on it, but you can see that as a testament to everyone’s humanity. Just as your friends’ cool older brothers eventually become regular accountants, bitcoin miners, and managers at Chipotle, cool rock musicians are regular people, too. The coolness is part of the performance.

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Wilmington is a vinyl town: How spinning records impacts the culture of the Port City

James Tritten + RizzyBeats at The Underfront Co.; photo by Ken Blevins

[Repost from StarNews; by John Staton, June 10, 2024]

In April, during the annual celebration of music and capitalism that is Record Store Day, James Tritten waited in line for three hours at Yellow Dog Discs on South College Road to buy a special release on vinyl from the British electronic band Ladytron.

Arguably, Tritten wasn't even the most dedicated vinyl fan out there. At least 100 people were in line ahead of him when he showed up that April morning, he said, including a half-dozen people who had camped outside the store overnight to secure their places in line.

At the Modern Legend record and lifestyle shop downtown, recent renovations allowed owner Catherine Hawksworth to double the amount of vinyl she carries. She said that this year's Record Store Day, when many artists drop exclusive releases available only at independent record shops, was the best one for sales since she opened Modern Legend eight years ago.

"I've seen a massive increase in young people buying vinyl," Hawksworth said as a gaggle of twentysomethings browsed the stacks nearby, adding that vinyl records account for more than half of her overall sales. "Then again, my first customer today was a 70-year-old man who bought The Eagles and Steely Dan."

Tritten, who owns Wilmington's vinyl-centric Fort Lowell Records with his wife, the singer Tracy Shedd — they pull from their massive record collection to DJ every Tuesday evening at the Satellite Bar & Lounge on Greenfield Street, and every Wednesday night at The Sandspur restaurant and bar in Carolina Beach — said it recently occurred to him that Wilmington punches well above its weight when it comes to buying, selling, playing and celebrating vinyl.

"It's such a small community, but so rich in the arts," he said, likening Wilmington's affinity for vinyl to its status as a hotspot for such diverse yet cool activities as skateboarding and stand-up comedy.

"People are very interested in vinyl records. All of the venues are supportive of having vinyl DJs," Tritten said. "There's more DJs being booked in Wilmington right now than I've ever seen in the six years we've been here.

"It's a beautiful thing," he added. "I'm here for it all day long."

The explosion of interest in vinyl has had an impact on Wilmington's arts and cultural scene. The outdated stereotype of a vinyl collector is an older guy playing records at home alone, but these days, vinyl is often a highly social activity.

In addition to a half-dozen or more local record stores where vinyl is the main attraction, including School Kids Records on Kerr Avenue and Record Bar on Oleander Drive, area breweries including Flytrap and Mad Mole have "vinyl nights" where patrons can bring in their records to play. A dozen or more DJs with names like Bo Fader, Infinite Spins and Rob Starr spin vinyl records around town, and Wilmington label Fort Lowell is getting the music of local bands on vinyl.

Wilmington even has a vinyl-themed hangout in the Ibis bar and coffee shop on Princess Street in the Soda Pop District, where area DJs hold court in a beautifully designed booth four nights a week.

"I think it's at sort of a peak in my lifetime, definitely in the life of my business," said Matt Keen, owner of Gravity Records on Castle Street, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. "Around 2012 or 2013, I saw a huge shift from CDs to records, and it's stayed that way."

It's not just a local phenomenon, of course. In 2022, vinyl became the most popular physical format for recorded music for the first time since 1987. According to the online data-gathering platform Statista, vinyl accounted for 40% of all album sales in 2023.

The popularity of vinyl has accelerated since the pandemic, record store owners say.

"'I sold them all a few years ago and now I'm buying them all back.' I hear that one at least once a week," said Wilmington DJ and hip-hop artist RizzyBeats, who also works at Gravity Records. The shop's clientele ranges from "10-year-olds whose grandparents are buying records for them" to the grandparents themselves.

"People who buy music in a physical form, that just shows how much they love it," he said.

In early May, RizzyBeats and Tritten teamed up for a special event that packed the house at downtown lounge UnderFront. Part of the Let's Dance series, which has Tritten spinning danceable tracks at different venues around town, the UnderFront show had an '80s theme.

"Rizzy had a very specific vision, "Tritten said. "His perspective of it was, he knows that my roots are in post-punk and new wave, and his roots are in R&B and hip-hop. And his vision was, well, let's bring these two worlds of '80s music together."

The resulting evening was "magical," Tritten said.

'It just sounds better'

The argument for vinyl among music heads has always been the sound quality.

Tritten said he's had people come up to him while he's DJing to comment about songs they might have only heard digitally before. "I've had numerous people tell me, 'It just sounds better,'" he said. "When I recognize a song as a real hot track, I'll go as far as to find that song on a 12-inch vinyl record cut at 45 RPM because it will hit harder than anything else will hit. You can't hit harder than a 12-inch cut at 45."

Safe to say that Tim Jarman, who owns Cargo District record and book store The Fuzzy Needle, concurs.

"The sound quality, it's impossible to beat, especially if you've got a good hi-fi set-up," Jarman said.

He opened The Fuzzy Needle in early 2021, just in time to catch a post-pandemic vinyl wave that has yet to abate. Jarman also spreads his love of vinyl at the Ibis, where he coordinates the DJs who spin there Wednesday through Saturday. (The Ibis used to be affiliated with Gravity Records, but that's no longer the case.)

"Wilmington isn't really thought of as a music town," Jarman said, but given the Port City's vinyl obsession, not to mention its emerging status as a concert hub, that view might need to be reassessed. "Wilmington must love music. Maybe even more than other so-called music towns."

With Wilmington lacking a dedicated mid-size concert venue, Jarman said, perhaps that's driving more people to seek out "authentic" musical experiences on vinyl.

Robin Wood, who plays in the Wilmington punk band Tercel and works at Fuzzy Needle, said that, for some people, vinyl and other forms of physical media are reactions to the increasing digitalization of society.

"We're drowning in this sea of digital overload," Wood said. "Vinyl is an antidote to that."

When she DJs at Satellite on Tuesdays, Tracy Shedd said it's all about "being spontaneous. There's something about having a record on, and only having a split-second to change it."

She can play to the vibe of the room in the moment, or play to her own vibe and hope that others pick up on it.

"The human touch. You absolutely can't replicate it," Tritten said. "And that's (why) Tuesday nights worked out at Satellite so well. Tracy gets compliments all the time, 'I just love what you're choosing to select.' It's just, you're reading the vibe in the room. That's just something an algorithm literally can't do."

'The record is just cooler'

Vinyl's popularity hasn't escaped the notice of chain stores like Target, Barnes & Noble and even Walmart, all of which carry vinyl records now and sometimes partner with artists for exclusive releases, like Walmart did with Taylor Swift.

"That kind of hurts us" at the local record store level, Rizzy said.

Tritten literally winced when asked about people buying vinyl at big box stores.

"Support your local record shops," he said.

Jarman said that while he doesn't love that big box stores carry vinyl, "For some people," especially younger music fans, "it might be a gateway. Once they come to a real record store, they won't buy records at Target anymore. It's just not a cool experience."

And it's not like you can just find everything online instead. Rizzy said it's a common fallacy that everything's on streaming now.

"It's not at all. Especially when you get into certain genres," he said. "I find stuff all the time that's not on streaming. It's not even on YouTube, or maybe it's just on one streaming service."

Another popular misconception, perhaps driven by vinyl's newfound popularity, is that vinyl "is kind of like a gold mine," Rizzy said. "Like, 'There's money in these records!' In reality, there isn't. We'll get people coming in trying to sell us a record that they said is going for $200 on Ebay, when we'd only sell it for like $5."

Most shops stock non-vinyl products to make ends meet. Modern Legend sells clothing and gift items as well as new vinyl. Fuzzy sells used and collectible books along with new and used vinyl, and just added the Folkstone Slow Bar coffee shop in its space. In addition to a huge vinyl selection, Gravity Records offers the only turntable repair service in town.

"Definitely for a town this size, there's no shortage of people selling records," Gravity owner Matt Keen said. "I'm talking to you right now staring at a turntable and trying to figure how to fix it, because nobody else is doing it."

Margins are slim, Keen added, and "the pie is only so big. It's still a niche market. It gets hard to survive on those slivers."

Certainly, the record store business has long been a labor of love to some extent. But when it comes to "supporting both businesses and artists," Jarman said, "buying vinyl is the best way to do both of those."

Thursday, June 13, 2024

Pressing Concerns: Blab School

[Repost from Rosy Overdrive; June 6, 2024]

Blab School – Blab School

Release date: June 6th
Record label: Fort Lowell/Clearly
Genre: Punk rock, post-punk, noise rock, 90s indie rock
Formats: Vinyl, digital
Pull Track: Small Simple Ways

Blab School are a new band formed by four longtime North Carolina indie rockers in guitarist/vocalists Ryan Seagrist (Discount, The Kitchen) and Lizzie Killian (Glowing Stars, Teens in Trouble), drummer Dave Cantwell (Analogue, Cold Sides, In the Year of the Pig), and bassist Fikri Yucel (Veronique Diabolique). The band formed via a Craigslist ad in Durham, but Cantwell has since moved to Carolina Beach–however, rather than slowing things down, Blab School remain quite active, and their drummer’s relocation even led to their self-titled debut album coming out via Cantwell’s new neighbors, Wilmington’s Fort Lowell Records (Kicking Bird, Common Thread, James Sardone). Blab School’s members come from all sorts of musical backgrounds, but the eight-song Blab School (recorded in Yucel’s living room by Nick Petersen) has a meaty, tough, unified sound that straddles the line between “punk” and “post-punk”. Underground rock movements like Dischord-ish limber post-hardcore/post-punk and Albini-recorded noise rock/punk come to mind in places, while in others Blab School sounds straight out of the early 1980s.

Blab School kicks off in overdrive via the pounding, almost-emo punk rock of “Small Simple Ways” that reminds me a little bit of classic Jawbreaker, but the quartet then swerve into “Scrolls”, a dark, guitar-forward post-punk tune in the vein of Killing Joke or early Siouxsie & The Banshees. At twenty-two minutes, Blab School is a record with absolutely no room for excess or embellishment–the band sound driven and laser-focused for its entire length. Whether that’s the retro, almost garage-y punk of “Quit Yr Job”, the massive slab of alt-rock of “Never Enough”, or the Kill Rock Stars-y emotional spikiness of “Will I Ever?”, Blab School remains captivating into the middle of the record, and they even explore a bit of new territory towards the album’s end. The four-minute “Rhizome” and its hammering, wall-of-sound punk rock and final song “(Don’t Forget to) Give Up”, which incorporates a bit of Touch & Go noise-punk ugliness, are two of Blab School’s heaviest moments, both of which help the record start circling the drain as it begins to sign off. Judging by their opening statement, Blab School are the best kind of “new veteran band”–one that draws from the wealth of music its members have made in the past, but all in the service of a unified, coherent sound. (Bandcamp link)

Sunday, June 9, 2024

New Playlist: May 2024 // “Severance”, Female Gaze

[Repost from Rosy Overdrive; June 4, 2024]

What a week! (and yes, I know it’s only Tuesday, Alec Baldwin). Yesterday, Pressing Concerns broke the 1,000-record barrier, and today we have the May 2024 playlist, two hours of absolutely stellar new music for you to peruse.

Here is where you can listen to the playlist on various streaming services: Spotify, Tidal, BNDCMPR (missing one song). Be sure to check out previous playlist posts if you’ve enjoyed this one, or visit the site directory. If you’d like to support Rosy Overdrive, you can share this (or another) post, or donate here.

“Severance”, Female Gaze
From Tender Futures (2024, Fort Lowell/Totally Real)

The latest album from Tucson trio Female Gaze, Tender Futures, intentionally evokes haziness and disorientation and, according to the band, can be started from any song and played “on a loop”. Stretching five songs across thirty-two minutes, Tender Futures is an expansive, vast record that embodies the American southwest. By the end of the album, the disorientation is at a high, as we’re feeling lost out in no-man’s land somewhere–but the last song on Tender Futures is its clearest olive branch. “Severance” is not a departure from the rest of the album, but it’s where everything snaps into focus, as the trio set their sights on fluttering guitar pop for six minutes. Read more about Tender Futures here.

Saturday, June 8, 2024

Blab School: Blab School

[Repost from Here Comes the Flood; by Hans Werksman, June 6, 2024]

Durham, NC based post-punk quartet Blab School looked up a winning recipe in the playbook for recording an angry album. Their self-titled record brushes shoulders with both garage and goth rock, seasoned with a dressing of nihilism and not giving a fuck in general.

Nevertheless, it is very danceable and it will go down well with the dressed-in-black outsiders with a craving for old school twin guitars and an in-your-face rhythm section. It will clear the room of frat boys and sorority girls who might have wandered in by mistake.

Blab School:
Ryan Seagrist: guitar, keyboards, vocals
Elizabeth Killian: guitar, vocals
Dave Cantwell: drums
Fikri Yucel: bass, backing vocals

Blab School is released via Fort Lowell Records (hand-numbered - 100 copies - yellow translucent vinyl, digital).

  1. Small Simple Ways
  2. Scrolls
  3. Quit Yr Job
  4. Never Enough
  5. Will I Ever?
  6. Rhizome
  7. I Hate the Summer
  8. (Don't Forget To) Give Up
Live dates:
  • 06/06 Pinhook - Durham, NC (record release show)
  • 06/07 Satellite Bar & Lounge - Wilmington, NC (record release show)
  • 07/05 The Cave - Chapel Hill, NC
  • 07/06 Monstercade - Winston-Salem, NC
  • 07/14 Pinhook - Durham, NC
  • 07/27 Reggie's 42nd Street Tavern - Wilmington, NC
  • 08/01 Petra's - Charlotte, NC
  • 08/02 Cobra Cabana - Richmond, VA
  • 08/03 [tbd] - Washington, DC

Friday, June 7, 2024

OUT NOW: Forest Fallows "Palisades" ft. John McEntire [Digital Single]

The third single "Palisades" from Forest Fallow's sophomore album of the same name Palisades is available now on all digital music platforms. Not only is the entire album Palisades mixed by engineer John McEntire (Stereolab, Tortoise, Modest Mouse), but the title track also features John McEntire on the drum kit.  Enjoy!  —— For fans of Animal Collective, Ariel Pink, Atlas Sound, The American Analog Set, Beach Boys, Broadcast, Mac DeMarco, Destroyer, Drugdealer, Ducktails, Esquivel, Goth Babe, Richard Hawley, JPW, Lauds, The Ocean Blue, Peel Dream Magazine, The Radio Dept., Radiohead, Real Estate, The Sea & Cake, Stereolab, Sugar Candy Mountain, The Sundays, Kurt Vile, Yo La Tengo, Wild Nothing, and Woods.

Thursday, June 6, 2024

OUT NOW: Blab School 'Blab School' [Debut LP]

Blab School is a post-punk quartet from North Carolina. Their self-titled debut LP comes out on Fort Lowell Records on June 6, 2024. Taking philosophical cues from American post-punk bands like the Wipers and Talking Heads, also incorporating the goth-adjacent tones of bands like Joy Division and Killing Joke, and adding the often danceable and joyfully nihilistic aesthetic of 21st-century punk, Blab School makes music that is simultaneously urgent and fun, upbeat and crooked, loud and thoughtful.

Blab School came together after a drummer living in Durham, NC tentatively placed a Craigslist ad in hopes of starting a new band. Thus, the band started as (mostly) strangers from New York, California, and North Carolina: Guitarist and singer Ryan Seagrist from Discount and the Bis side-project The Kitchen; guitarist and singer Lizzie Killian’s from Glowing Stars and the still-thriving Teens in Trouble; drummer Dave Cantwell from many North Carolina bands since the early ‘90s, including Analogue, Cold Sides, and In the Year of the Pig; and bassist Fikri Yucel, formerly of Durham’s premiere faux-French new wave goth band, Veronique Diabolique.

Blab School recorded their self-titled LP in Fikri’s living room with Nick Petersen (who has recorded and mastered tons of NC bands, including Megafaun, Des Ark, HC McEntire, and several national acts like Bon Iver and the Melvins). It was mastered by Todd Rittmann (guitarist for US Maple and Dead Rider). “Scrolls” is a special track to the band because it was the first song Blab School wrote after people started getting vaccinated and coming out of the covid lockdowns. It is in some ways their most spontaneous and collaborative song: its chilly post-punk tone is tempered by the Blab School’s elation at a successful return to band life: rehearsals, shows, hanging out, and silly text threads. (The song’s “big dumb rock” ending is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but also an expression of sincere musical joy: when you listen to Blab School, hopefully the feeling makes sense.)

Since Blab School formed, drummer Dave moved to Carolina Beach, NC–almost three hours south of the rest of the band. But Blab School still keeps on going, rehearsing and playing shows at least as frequently as when they all lived in the same area. Dave says, “We’re a two-city band now, but maybe it makes us focused. And we kind of love it ‘cause now we can have twice as many venues to consider ‘home’. I mean, that’s more or less how we hooked up with Wilmington’s Fort Lowell and got this record out!”

Blab School's self-titled debut album is out on translucent yellow vinyl record and on all digital music platforms everywhere.

Sunday, June 2, 2024

Throwback to the Out of the Crowd Festival

Red Dwarf Star; photo by Noah Fohl

[Repost from Out of the Crowd Festival; May 25, 2024]

The awesome Red Dwarf Star started at Kulturfabrik Esch-sur-Alzette for an intense show of atmospheric and heavy shoegaze!

Saturday, June 1, 2024

Pressing Concerns: Female Gaze

[Repost from Rosy Overdrive; May 21, 2024]

Female Gaze – Tender Futures

Release date: May 17th
Record label: Fort Lowell/Totally Real
Genre: Psychedelic rock, art rock, desert rock, post-rock, jazz rock
Formats: Vinyl, cassette, digital
Pull Track: Severance

Tucson trio The Rifle debuted about a decade ago, releasing three records in six years and growing from the solo project of guitarist/vocalist Nelene DeGuzman (2014’s Rib to Rib) to a 60s-tinged guitar pop act (2017’s Anababis) to incorporating a bit of desert psychedelia into their sound (2020’s Honeyden). Honeyden would prove to be The Rifle’s last album, but they didn’t break up, exactly–DeGuzman and bassist Kevin Conklin continued on as Female Gaze, with drummer Nicky David Cobham-Morgese replacing The Rifle’s Randy Rowland. Female Gaze debuted in 2021 with the one-off garage-indie-pop single “The Joy of Missing Out”, and while there’s a shade of darkness to that song, it doesn’t prepare one for the huge leap that the trio make on Tender Futures, the trio’s debut album. Stretching five songs across thirty-two minutes, Tender Futures is an expansive, vast record, with DeGuzman and her band embodying the American southwest more than they ever have before. Inspired in part by DeGuzman’s chronic health issues that had left her in a “painful limbo”, Tender Futures does with garage rock what Itasca’s Imitation of War did with folk music–it explores the desert using empty space and towering nothingness as its language.

Tender Futures intentionally evoke haziness and disorientation and, according to the band, can be started from any song and played “on a loop”. Female Gaze choose to begin the “proper” version of the album off with the sparsest moment on the record in “Ghosts”–it’s not the most accessible moment on Tender Futures, no, but there’s a captivating quality to how it sounds, a simple guitar part echoing cavernously with only DeGuzman’s, well, ghostly vocals as accompaniment. “Ghosts” also prepares one to expect extremes throughout the album, which the next song does as well, in a different way. “Broadcast” slides into focus by introducing us to Female Gaze the three-piece rock band, with elements of psychedelia and pop in their sound. It’d be a good choice for the “single”–if it wasn’t ten minutes long, expanding and probing all the while. The middle of the record is completely instrumental, most of which is comprised of the nine-minute title track, an impressive song that slouches towards post-rock and even a bit of jazz-rock (Conklin’s bass gets a nice showcase here), while the echoing piano of “In the Mezzanine” serves as a three-minute coda. By this point, the disorientation is at a high, as we’re feeling lost out in no-man’s land somewhere–but the last song on Tender Futures is its clearest olive branch. “Severance” is not a departure from the rest of the album, but it’s where everything snaps into focus, as the trio set their sights on fluttering guitar pop for six minutes. Ending with the triumphant is Tender Futures on easy mode, though–let’s see how quickly we get lost if we start with the title track… (Bandcamp link)