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Running Away With Jungle Green

Runaway With Jungle Green whirs into existence with the fizzy “Our Love Isn’t Far Away” which leads with rolling drums, swaying along to singer/songwriter Andrew Smith’s gentle vocals. The album sounds like it should be emanating through a jukebox or backing a romantic coming-of-age indie film. The way each track bursts from the beginning makes it sound as if it doesn’t belong in our ground-down dystopian present. But the album was recorded only two years ago by Jonathan Rado (of Foxygen fame). After an intense nine-day studio session in LA, the band emerged with a uniquely charming album. Though it was recorded stationary, the band now plays round robin with no member assigned a specific moving part, the decision of which I’m told over a Saturday night FaceTime with the band is “arbitrary.” This only enhances Jungle Green’s playful nature, whoever plays that instrument? That’s what they’re feeling strongly about and that feeling is to be abided by. They combine a seemingly emotional rule with an incredibly tactful studio production. Runaway is a product of trusted intuition, the whole band having an extraordinary assurance in each other and their abilities. Though a foundational rhythm guides each track the band lends themselves to experimentation with vast layering. They move in a new direction sonically but explore a familiar feeling: love. 

Photos by Mitch Mitchell  Jungle Green is: Andrew Smith - he/him (songwriter/singer/drums), Alex Heaney - he/him, Emma Collins -she/her, Adam Miller - he/him, Vivian McCall - she/her, Adam Obermeier - he/him

Photos by Mitch Mitchell

Jungle Green is: Andrew Smith - he/him (songwriter/singer/drums), Alex Heaney - he/him, Emma Collins -she/her, Adam Miller - he/him, Vivian McCall - she/her, Adam Obermeier - he/him

The concept of love is somewhat omnipotent on the album and when asked about it Smith answers “I’ve always written about it. I think we all want it and we all need it. I think people are meant to be with one another and that it’s a pretty timeless topic.” There’s no naivety to his response, just an authentic ideology. He then jokes “but these days I’m trying to write less about love and more about never making it.” There’s no one catalyst to the creation of Runaway With Jungle Green; it’s an organic exploration. But the feel-good is intentional, “I’m ready to be happy” says Smith. The simplicity may give Runaway a retro feel, but Jungle Green understands that reaching for unfounded nostalgia is a barren pursuit. They don’t fetishize the past like pop-leaning Greta Van Fleet—Jungle Green is just so earnest that it doesn’t assimilate to our current soundscape. There’s no ego on Runaway With Jungle Green, no algorithmic clamor. It’s part of what separates them from so many DIY bands. It’s an impossibly genuine album.

“Now That I’m With You” swings around the room with ease, lucky to be guided by the sturdy bass line. “I Need You” is shamelessly wanting, shifting between an old school simplistic love song and a boogying needing bop. The band’s humor comes through mid song with someone ad libbing “get me my pinot noir” and a brief laugh heard over the bridge. Though the most melancholy track on Runaway, “Cryin” is perhaps the best description of Jungle Green as a whole. The music video features the band from the perspective of a VHS tape as they appear decked out in assorted Village Discount ‘fits as the static of the “tape” flits in and out. In various states of emotional disarray they play seated on the floor and in front of a generous green screen, blurring together in transitional overlays and reconvening with their friends/extras, all as Alex Heaney bangs away at a large box that reads “piano.” This sums up the band’s dynamic pretty succinctly. Bassist Viv McCall tells me that for the nine days they were in the studio, there was barely an argument (let me remind you that there are six people in this band). At this point another band member lovingly chimes in that they observe the Purge. The group’s collaborative curiosity and varietal nature is audible.

Though Smith is the sole songwriter, there is never a song that serves only his purpose, each member is interwoven to serve the song; Whatever the song needs, Jungle Green offers. They allow for the lyrics to breathe. But the dynamic of so many bodies and instruments is heard, never tugging at each other but falling comfortably into place, happy to be there. In many ways the album is a version of Smith explored by other people. Each member elevates the other’s talent, but they’re exploring the same topic. “Please Run Away With Me” is a rollicking track with the jazzier vocals of Emma Collins that plea for the subject to leave their troubles behind and bask in the light of being in love. A testament to Jungle Green’s ability to make the present seem eternal. They suspend you in a temporary alleviation from inevitable environmental disaster and impending election. “All My Life” is the defacto funkiest track of the album with a grooving bass line and syncopated synths. Smith chimes “don’t you worry little mamma, I can make you feel alright,” sneaking in something a little more indulgent to his otherwise meeker songwriting. Though Smith’s voice is often hushed, he’s not tentative. Jungle Green modulates their intensities into something more enchanting than demanding. The final track, “Happiness” could be described as anti-capitalist if I thought there was a political motive. Here Smith sings “working 9-5, trying to stay alive, they deserve happiness as far as I can tell” in reference to grumpy cashiers. It’s a clear and buoyant end.

Runaway seems to understand that songs can be as simple as they appear, that we don’t have to mine ourselves or our environments for emotional exploitation. Sometimes we can just speak plainly, sometimes we can just focus on the heart. This is part of what makes the album so irresistible. A tender streak runs through Runaway With Jungle Green, the record churns sweetly at its core, unclenching the jaw most of us are used to muscling into place. 

Diving Into Goodnight Gorillas

A review of Goodnight Gorillas’ new album Splash!

Photo by Sam Bramble   Goodnight Gorillas is:  Joe Graves (he/him/his) - Guitar and vocals  Jake Braun (he/him/his) - Guitar  Shun Matsuhashi (he/him/his) - Bass  Connor Peck (he/him/his) - Drums

Photo by Sam Bramble

Goodnight Gorillas is:

Joe Graves (he/him/his) - Guitar and vocals

Jake Braun (he/him/his) - Guitar

Shun Matsuhashi (he/him/his) - Bass

Connor Peck (he/him/his) - Drums

Splash! ricochets off Goodnight Gorillas’ last five albums, providing their most cohesive sound yet. The band is at their best with a clear production and tenacious tracks. Even though this album maintains Goodnight Gorillas’ DIY sensibilities, it’s bright and engaging. The nine tracks are incapable of sitting still, leaping up at unexpected times for choruses to arrive abruptly, all with a healthy amount of “doo doo doos” left to edge their way into the band’s more alternative style. The titular track is dynamic, peppy in sound and ill in lyrics, with vocalist and lead guitarist Joe Graves singing “the chemicals enter my skin and find where my depression lives.” “Splash” then suddenly rolls into the bashing drums of Connor Peck before its immediate end.

Splash! is lyrically boundless, shifting around doused in Millennial ennui. On “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs,” Graves mocks the older generation of down-turned noses singing “you’re awfully young to be selling your soul.” Unlike the alt rock bands before them, there’s more of a happy-go-lucky sense of humor to Splash! than there is a sense of debauchery. Goodnight Gorillas is rolling their eyes at themselves, whether it be the poor decision of getting a liberal arts degree or the fear of being sold a Hulu package. They leave listeners in a constant state of bemusement. The harmonies on tracks like “Make Out” (a bop for non-committal introverts) were designed for an audience sing-along as Graves finds time to do everything except perhaps the person interested in him. Even the most melancholic of listeners would be unable to keep their heads from nodding along to Splash! That isn’t to say that the album lacks introspection, it has a crisp 20/20 hindsight and reflects on many a missed (romantic) communication.

The recently released music video for “Three Words” depicts Graves beating a wifi router to the ground with a baseball bat after a seemingly innocuous argument with In Lieu’s Nikii Post about glitching (internet) connection. The song hinges around an unstable couple with shit internet, Graves defending the choice not to call Comcast with “I haven’t talked to a stranger in years.” Which is possibly more about anxiety than it is about being an easy sell. Though Splash! doesn’t come to an exact emotional conclusion it speaks plainly, giving you the idea that Goodnight Gorillas understands their pitfalls. On the plucky “Doctor” they regretfully croon “I should’ve realized the things I put you through/I should’ve realized what we were gonna do” before repeating “don’t get serious.” “Phase One” hits with gargantuan hooks as The Breakup Anthem of the album with Graves crying “I swear I’ll learn to bark like a good dog.” Here Splash! takes an emo-esque turn with Graves’ voice twisting into a squeak with a tense sincerity. Goodnight Gorillas throw their arms wide open to anyone with a convulsing heart. The band uses extreme volume and addictive riffs to distract from the nerves of living in uncomfortable skin. There is a tenderness that hovers right below the album as they mix dejected songwriting with polished melodies. Maybe it’s irresponsible for Goodnight Gorillas to make their heartbreak sound so damn catchy, maybe it’s just a Midwest nicety. Splash! is a testament to the band’s ability to make the bleak blinding. The album is constantly in motion, the sound both perfectionistic and distressed. It’s not uncommon for the labor pains of one album to be felt on their next, and Splash! is certainly proof of that as an album that feels especially worthy of the effort. After years of treading water Goodnight Gorillas finally jumped off the deep end. And they emerged with a fresh pulse. 

Splash! is out everywhere tomorrow, August 6th.

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Catch their album release show at Icehouse on August 16th

tickets here

Feature: The Vulnerable and Vibrant Debut Album from Minneapolis' Sass

Sass is Stephanie Jo Murck, Willem Vander Ark, Joey Hays, and Alex Mcormick // Photo by Cleo Pupillo

Sass is Stephanie Jo Murck, Willem Vander Ark, Joey Hays, and Alex Mcormick // Photo by Cleo Pupillo

I remember seeing Sass for the first time, lead vocalist and guitarist Stephanie Jo Murck bounding up the stage strapped with a sparkling guitar and donning rose-colored sunglasses. It was a set with a powerful sort of vibrancy that doesn’t really allow you to forget it. And Sass’s first full length record, Chew Toy, is much of the same…Vivid and relentless. Chew Toy comes in reckonings, with the titular song being the gritted teeth finally opening into a gaping maw. “He was my favorite guy/ I liked him all the time/ He was my favorite boy/ I was his chew toy” Murck sings, reconciling the form of love you may still carry for someone who violated you. Chew Toy has a resounding resilience to it; Murck delving into her own experience with sexual assault as a child, creating a catharsis in listening. The buoyancy of Chew Toy isn’t so much surprising as it is heartening. Sass maintains a subversively cheery sound, reflected in track titles like “See Saw” and “Nice Things.” Though its title sounds positive, “Role Model” captures that moment of realizing that other people expect adulthood out of you when, in reality, getting stick ‘n pokes is your greatest coping mechanism. It’s one of the many peaks on Chew Toy in which we feel literal growing pains. Murck listlessly singing “filling myself with empty calories, what even is an empty calorie?” as Joey Hays’ manic drumming punctuates her sentences. The song reaches a combustive peak before devolving into chaos with Murck’s voice rolling into a squeak. The worry that, if people really knew who you were, they wouldn’t love you underscores this album. On “Gut Feeling,” Murck admits “I still feel ashamed, yeah who knows how to heal. The ways I taught myself to hide instead of deal” before the frenetic guitar and screeching amp give way to her wails. Chew Toy peers over that wall desperately wondering “what’s next?” It occupies that point in life in which we are ambling around without a map just trying to do the right thing. This doesn’t mean that Chew Toy is devoid of joy, there’s a playfulness to it that seeps in on songs like “Minutes” where Murcks bouncily taunts “When you’re desperate and horny come on and whore me” and the band chants “horny” in harmony before the track’s sudden end. On “Freshwater Pearls” Murck spreads her Pisces energy and claims water as her greatest healer (a common theme throughout the album). There’s a sweetness hovering right above the debut that keeps it all from collapsing in on itself. Chew Toy is steered by the steady bass line of Alex Mcormick, not to be tipped by the staggering, wayward guitar of Willem Vander Ark. It’s all wonderfully lopsided, with Murck’s elastic voice expanding and shrinking like the musical equivalent of a rubber band snapped against the wrist. Her malleability is part of what makes Chew Toy such an addictive listen. Murck can be stretched thin, clenched tight, or totally snap— and it’s that volatility that propels this defiant debut. At times the guitars of Murck and Vander Ark become indistinguishable from Hay’s drumming, all merging into a fever break. From the moment Murck screams “I want to do everything” on the opening track, you can feel the frustration to the vivacious energy. The vulnerability displayed on Chew Toy isn’t so much spilling your guts as it is flipping your stomach inside out. This debut is tremendous and tender and ragged, it’s a mouth holding you gently on its tongue until you’re decidedly let loose. Chew Toy is not so easily discarded as the title suggests.

Chew Toy is out this Friday, May 31st via Heavy Meadow Records— Pre-order it here.

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