Despite the fact that I have less and less time to review albums these days, I seem to be getting more and more sent to me. Much of what I hear is not bad, even good, but doesn’t inspire me to set aside time to write a review. In some cases, it just might be a genre I don’t feel knowledgeable enough to weigh in on. In others, I was just way to busy with real life (see missed opportunities to write about the excellent semi-recent releases from Lonnie Walker and Jenny Besetzt). Okay, maybe I’ve had a little writer’s block lately, too. :)
But recently, I’ve gotten a couple of releases that are pretty close to my musical sweet spots. And they both just happen to come from within my own family. The first is Remnants from the Orb by PuzzleQuest, from Champaign-Urbana, IL. Look, whether or not my nephew was their drummer, any band that comes from the same town as Poster Children would have made my ears perk up.
Remnants opens with a Minutemen-esque spiel (The New Flesh), a Pavement-slacker lament (Rick’s Gone), and a mellow stoner groove (Sequential Friends). It hits on these styles throughout. Fun pop-punk ditties are interspersed with jazzy jams, and Dale is just a pure pop gem.
I read another review that said Puzzle Quest couldn’t decide on what they wanted to sound like on Remnants. There’s some truth to that in that there’s a diversity of styles. But to me, that’s part of the appeal. I like not knowing what to expect next. Wowee Zowee and Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain jumped around so much – from wide-open twanginess to punk grinders to nightclub jitters – they gave you whiplash. But those Pavement classics still worked as a cohesive units. Likewise, Remnants of the Orb still “sounds” like Puzzle Quest throughout, and that sounds pretty good.
The second release is Vol. 1 from College Station, Texas band HYAH! Another nephew (Eliot, keys), another college band. Vol. 1 jumps around between funky grooves and indie-punk (their fb page appropriately describes their genre as “punkfunk”). Annie is a little of both, with crunchy guitars merging with jazzy vocals and pop melodies. Alaska is a really cool ‘60s party vibe (think more Peter Sellars The Party than Woodstock). Dimples and Teeth’s fun punk reminds me of Wilmington’s late-great Free Clinic. Angry Fish takes you on a 2-minute noise-weirdness-fest, before Vol. 1 closes with a couple of almost pure funk jams. These guys might even be more schizophrenic than Puzzle Quest! Did I already say that's a good thing?
Were it not for the family connections, I probably would never have heard of Puzzle Quest or HYAH! But I gotta say, relatives or not, if they were locals, I’d definitely be hitting up their shows.
Oh, did I say my niece is in a band, too? Rally Owls. Keep an ear out. (I think musical talent must skip generations in my family)