We pit two of the week’s new releases in music one-on-one in PressureLife’s Album WAR!
This week, freshman rockers take on folk rock spouses as Great Grandpa’s Plastic Cough goes to war with Whitehorse’s Panther in the Dollhouse…
Double Double Whammy
It’s almost fitting that slacker rock outfit, Great Grandpa, hails from Seattle, Washington, considering the unbashed love affair with mid-‘90s pop grunge on display throughout their debut release, Plastic Cough.
It’s not that Plastic Cough is reductive. In fact, it’s the opposite. It does too much at times, but its these learning curves that make the freshman release feel so vital. There is something new and untested happening in its ten tracks. Their awkwardness is their own charm as they own their small town stoner nihilism on “Favorite Show” for all the suburban ennui it’s worth. If Green Day had broke for pop grunge instead of pop punk all those years this is how their “Longview” may have sounded.
The pop on Plastic Cough is subversive in its inclusion. Either bubbling through a mire of sludge rock at the end of rage-fest “NO” or laying the groundwork for tracks like “Pardon my Speech” to devolve into wonderfully chaotic noise rock, the genre is sprinkled like spice but never served as the main dish. However, this mélange of genres can prove a head recipe to master.
The album struggles to find room for the band’s ability to whiplash from grunge, to garage rock, to flirtations with metal and even folk; sometimes within the same track. The disconnect comes from their inexperience with finding balance among their assets. Too much of the album stutter steps from one track to the next. For every gem like the vibrant Sleater-Kinney-like opener, “Teen Challenge” there is a pop/grunge misfire like “Fade” and “Grounded” on the ready to stall any momentum Plastic Cough can muster in its lean running length.
There is a budding maturity hinted at in “Faithful” and “All Things Must Behave/Eternal Friend” The latter is a wistful track that reframes all those other songs about smoking ganja, zombies, and binge watching television into a much more bittersweet perspective. The halcyon days of high school are not so close in the rear view any longer as she laments, “remembering last season, got caught up in loose ends / all my friends are almost dead.”
Don’t let their well-earned rank of slacker rock misrepresent the album’s bona fide overachiever, it’s closer, “28 J’s L8r”. An outright space rock saga about stoners versus zombies born of so many “what-if” sessions on your buddy’s couch. As Plastic Cough’s curtain call swells, revolving on their mantra “I never thought the zombies would come when I was at home smoking ganja alone,” “28 J’s L8r” serves a defining signature for a band that reaching for the stars even if it’s from someone’s smoke-filled basement.
Standout Track: “Teen Challenge” – A strong stand-alone single. If you want to make a good first impression, you lead with “Teen Challenge” like Great Grandpa. its choppy power chords belie Great Grandpa’s affinity for the 90’s grunge without sounding dated.
Rating – 3 out of 5
Panther in the Dollhouse
A married Canadian folk duo of Luke Doucet and Melissa McClelland, Whitehorse stretches that moniker to its limits in the surprisingly expansive Panther in the Dollhouse. The release is a moody and smoke-filled, driven by nightclub noir that leaves their tracks feeling dangerous. The Portishead-like electronic drums that opens the album on “Epitaph in Tongues” does not break their genre but enhances it while offering a wider sound palette to work within.
“Boys Like You” shifts gears and presses the gas, leaning into more garage compositions akin to similar duo act, The Kills. Again, what is most impressive is the wide range captured by Whitehorse throughout Panther in the Dollhouse. “Boys Life You” typifies this skill not only with a driven arrangement but clever edits in post that chop and screw the refrain, offering a much more dynamic finished product. This is not to say that Whitehorse cannot play to strengths when they choose to. The rarity of their stripped down minimalism leaves the tender moments all the more rewarding when McClelland steals the show on the defiant and soaring ballad “Die Alone”, vowing “I’m damned if I’ll die alone.”
There are a few cool-down tracks, so to speak. “Kicking Down Your Door” is something of a waiting room between Panther in the Dollhouse’s more captivating tracks. Even while set in autopilot the track is an expert meditation in the simple contentment found in a peaceful pop tune with low stakes and nothing to prove. There is a beautiful tragedy on display on “Gracie” whose plodding pace laments a life less lived, “Is it cocaine or heartbreak? You never can be sure.”
Working as a duo, much of their drum work is forced to looped samples which serves to enhance the cinematic undertones on skuzzy toe-tappers like “Trophy Wife” and Americana hand-clappers like “Pink Kimono” whose infectious rockabilly riffs seem tailor-made for to serve as the slick backing track for some HBO trailer about vampires or dirty cops; dirty vampire cops?
The tradeoff for this artificial percussion is a certain disposable lifelessness that is ever threatening at the door. For the most part Panther in the Dollhouse avoids the unwelcome guest but tracks like “I Can’t Take you With Me (Charlene’s Theme)” flounder for a tepid lack of personality while “Nighthawks” spins its wheels for 3:23.
Tying the album into a bow for its final track, “Manitoba Death Star”, Whitehorse is able to distill the best of its parts into an accomplished whole. Tight lyricism spins an inter-stellar ditty set to jangly distorted echo chamber guitars and persistent keyboard plunking that could stand to redefine an entire genre to their image.
Standout Track: “Die Alone” – While other tracks on Panther in the Dollhouse like “Boys Like You” and “Pink Kimono” are objectively more catchy, there is such poignant tenderness on display on “Die Alone” that it threatens to make the rest of the album seem fleeting in its weighted shadow. A stirring aspiration of a golden future often out of reach but never out of view.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Winner of the Week: Whitehorse – Panther in the Dollhouse
Panther in the Dollhouse is a great jukebox album that checks all the boxes from blues, rockabilly, Americana, and garage rock. Both Great Grandpa and Whitehorse provided impressive releases that really expand the reach of the pre-supposed genres. Panther in the Dollhouse goes above and beyond the sum of its parts with a greasy noir that is confident enough in its own merit not to overexert.
Rather than cloying reaches for a readymade audience, Panther in the Dollhouse’s cool patience draw us in over its ten tracks.