Hear First is Talkhouse’s series of album premieres. Along with streams of upcoming albums—today’s is Mister Goblin’s Final Boy—we publish statements from artists and their peers about the mindsets and impressions that go into, or come out of reflection on, a record. Here, Sadie Dupuis (Speedy Ortiz, Sad13) shares her thoughts on men in rock and her friend Sam Woodring’s debut solo EP, which you can also listen to right here.
—Annie Fell, associate editor, Talkhouse
What’s it like to be a man in rock? There was a microsecond when I thought I might know, back when my band played all-basement, all-boy tours with the musically kindred East Coast friends who comprised Exploding In Sound’s early roster. In the intervening almost-decade, women take up a lot more space, both at EiS and in rock at large; at a parallel pace, a lot of those aforementioned all-boy bands have called it quits (or called it hiatus, a rose by any other name). Many of these bands’ lyrics were philosophical, conscious, aware of and pushing back against the political context in which they were released—I’m thinking of bands like Krill, Grass Is Green, LVL Up, Big Ups, and Two Inch Astronaut—which is why it’s no shock that many of my ex-tourmates have gone into community organizing, or social work, or other crucial roles outside of the music world. But for the most part, no matter how woke, my frontmen friends (maybe Ted Leo excluded) rarely had to write or speak about their gender in a substantive way. It’s a luxury that, as A Woman In Rock™, I’ve resented.
So I’m tickled that Mister Goblin, the newest solo project from Two Inch Astronaut’s guitarist and lead singer Sam Woodring, has chosen Final Boy as the title of its debut EP. Of course it’s a play on the horror trope of the “final girl,” in which the slasher flick ends after a triumphant woman outsmarts the killer, surviving at least until the next sequel. But Sam goes hard on a double meaning, and I can’t help thinking his title’s tongue-in-cheek, a reference to the shifting demographics in our scene. Of the bands that filled up Exploding in Sound’s first dozen-or-so releases, Sam’s pretty darn close to the final boy.
Not like Two Inch’s music was exemplary of outdated rock machismo. Cello, barbershop harmonies, and some sensitive-ass songs hallmarked their prolific discography, which was uniformly great in both the songwriting and playing. But Mister Goblin as a solo project doesn’t have to adhere to the sonic constraints of a band—folk fingerpicking and nu metal-lifted chorus and drum machines happily cohabit here—and as a solo artist, Sam only has to speak for himself. It’s so unusual for a man in rock to even reference what it’s like to be one—the implications of your gender, the space you occupy, and whose space you might be taking up—and I think that’s why Sam’s interrogative lyrics betray a self-conscious insecurity, as on “Nothing You Do (Happens),” when he sings, “nothing that I do happens to you, or anyone for their entertainment, or any reason.” He seems to grapple with whether, in this day and age, anyone should be listening to him at all.
But I’m listening to Mister Goblin, and I’m glad you are too. These songs make twists and turns and hit all the right unexpected notes to build to a chorus that you wake up with in your head, again, for the fifth day in a row, and then you’re pissed about it, and then you have to listen fives times more. Lyrically, there’s a wonderful narrative sensibility, storytelling that lights up on small, color-saturated details (“time of year the tomato plants are wilting/and you get ready to join the family plot” on “Be Right There”). But they also delight in associative punnage, like “skip to my losing” off “Night Lighting.” Creepy characters fill the scenes, hand in hand with that genre buff title; these are sweet and gentle songs, but not a single one goes by without death, dying, blood, vampires, chupacabras, or Lucifer. And that’s OK, because even with sweet people in the world trying to do the right thing, a lot of the planet is pretty dark.
A lot of that darkness is because of our disappointment—not just women’s disappointment, everyone’s disappointment—in the men who were once our cultural vanguards and heroes. But as much as I love Woman World, it’s not like everyone with a coffee mug reading “Male Tears” actually wants a whole gender to be obsolete. It’s just that we don’t want EVERYONE ELSE OTHER THAN MEN to be saddled with the burden of talking about issues like consent and inclusivity and privilege. We don’t want to be the only ones trying to do better.
So those insecurity-signaling Mister Goblin lyrics are a relief, a signal of self-awareness I don’t hear too often, and a sign that non-men aren’t the only people questioning and trying. “Fixing it is a lonely thing to do, and it hurts as bad as a pat on the back for trying to be good,” Sam sings on “Fixing the Jokes.” And maybe it does hurt, but to me it feels like a good omen that he’s trying, too.
Earlier this year, Maryland emo-punks Two Inch Astronaut announced their indefinite hiatus after almost a decade. But the trio’s former frontman Sam Woodring is still releasing music under his new solo moniker Mister Goblin. Woodring returned two weeks ago to announce his forthcoming EP Final Boy and debut lead single “Be Right There.” He’s sharing its follow-up “Nothing You Do (Happens)” today.
The EP’s title is a twist on the term for the last girl left alive in a horror film. Following suit, “Nothing You Do (Happens)” inhabits a dark, creeping atmosphere that ends up snaking its way into a percussive, power pop chorus. It’s a poppier extension of Two Inch Astronaut’s punk experimentations. And Woodring’s lyrics trace an existential emptiness.
In an email, Woodring exposed the song’s meaning alongside his and producer Michael John Thomas III’s in-studio tinkerings:
“Nothing You Do (Happens)” is about the general sense of political and personal futility that I think a lot of people are feeling, and not assuming that that is going to be eternal. Me and Michael John Thomas III were listening to a lot of 21 Savage in the studio, so we decided to throw in some wacky digital hi-hats, which I thought turned out really neat.
Listen below. The Final Boy EP is out 12/7 via Exploding In Sound.
Ah, the underrated rock band. A trope that’s become cloying in its ubiquity, but a phenomenon that we’ve built an entire website around. Hell, Exploding In Sound took it one step further. They created a record label for bands that really do it for a really small portion of the population. They’re obviously just one of a million little labels putting out music that may otherwise drown in the endless sea of basement bands, but their ear for talent is one in that million. Washer and Bethlehem Steel are two of the best bands on their roster, and two of the most promising acts on the punker side of indie-rock. Aside from being Brooklyn-based labelmates, their music isn’t outwardly similar. However, on their new split, which we’re premiering in full below, both bands play off of one another in unexpected and exciting ways.
The project is just four songs; a new track from each band, and then a cover from the other’s catalog. Brevity has always been Washer’s m.o., and their fresh cut “Super Pop” is another fine slab of gravelly power-pop that’s over and done in a minute-and-change. The Bethlehem Steel track that follows is triple its length. It begins with a crashing post-hardcore breakdown, and then folds itself up into an intensely quiet verse that builds anticipation for the inevitable torrent of noise to return. It’s a brooding song that swaps melody for menace, a stark contrast to the Washer “classic” they chose to cover.
“Porky” is one of the catchiest (and best) tracks Washer’s ever penned, and Bethlehem Steel crushes it with a gang of voices belting the entire thing. The song’s vocal trajectory bobs like a wavy day at the ocean, with high notes built for screaming, holding, and then lowering in tandem with the curling melody. It’s a sing-along, and this version, with more voices than just frontman Mike Quigley, arguably outdoes the original. Washer’s cover of “One Giant Fuck Machine” re-imagines the track—one that pairs Rebecca Ryskalczyk’s pretty falsetto with suffocating fuzz—as something cleaner and clearer, but also more aggressive vocally. The song has a buildup that’s actually very Washer-esque, just as “Porky” has vocal inflections that Bethlehem Steel might write.
The split is a great exposition of two bands hitting their strides simultaneously. Stream it below:
Winter can bear the heart of darkness, as it ushers in daylight saving's premature sunsets, brutal drops in temperature or, as Brooklyn-based quartet Bethlehem Steel bluntly puts it in a press release: "Post-tour depression, seasonal depression, depression depression."
Bethlehem Steel's single "Fake Sweater" takes a stab at contentedly weathering the conflicting emotions attached to the most wonderful time of the year, as frontwoman Becca Rsykalczyk's shouts alternate between "Will I be alright?" and "I will be alright." The volatile ebb and flow of mild and unsparing guitar riffs mirrors Rsykalczyk's uncertain vocals. In the song's thrashing visual treatment, co-directed by Becca Ryskalczyk and Adam Kolodny , a dancer twirls and headbangs while encircled by a group of ghouls.
In a time of division and paranoia, where the news cycle is an endless barrage of stress and negativity, the search for wholesomeness has never been stronger. There’s always been a shared sentiment for optimism among the general population — a collective desire for hope, warmth and positivity. Feel good movies were made for a reason, right? Enter Verb for Dreaming. Today, Post-Trash is delighted to premiere Rick Rude’s particularly exuberant sophomore LP. The New Hampshire four-piece build their latest around deep interpersonal connections, lyrically pinpointing the emotional weight of shared experience through an individual’s perspective.
By swapping songwriting duties, the voices of Rick Rude assemble and blend in familial fashion, tackling themes of love and loss, confusion and comfort. Verb for Dreaming is a comprehensive approach to life’s abundant complexities, wrapped in its own charisma and sharp influence. From the slow-burning open of “Dollyhook” to the fiery punk jolt of “Jupiter,” the album casts a wide net for stylistic flexibility, showcasing the varied vocal techniques of Ben Troy (guitar), Jordan Holtz (bass) and Noah Lefebvre (guitar). The band channels Guided By Voices’ acute power-pop on the glorious lo-fi closer “Firewater,” while lead single “Slow Cooker” picks right from the tottering melodic tension of bands like Speedy Ortiz and Aye Nako. Verb for Dreaming is a pleasant exercise in camaraderie — a breath of fresh air in a period of oppressive corruption.