MJC’s Records of the Week: 3/21

Every week at WSUM, our Music Director, Izzi, chooses her favorite new releases to add to our music library. In turn, WSUM’s Music Journalism Club shares what records they’ve had on repeat. From new releases to classic albums, here’s what the members of MJC have been listening to.

Unwound, Fake Train (1993, Kill Rock Stars)

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS: “Dragnalus,” “Nervous Energy,” “Valentine Card / Kantina / Were, Are and Was or Is,” “Feeling$ Reel” 

GENRE: Post-harcore, noise rock, emocore 

RIYL: Rites of Spring, Sonic Youth, Fugazi, Moss Icon 

1993’s Fake Train is for all intents and purposes, the first record from legendary three piece post-hardcore outfit, Unwound. While the band would garner more fame as the decade progressed for their despondent, adventurous, and cryptic approach to the realm of punk music, the compositions on Fake Train stand up as some of Unwound’s heaviest, rawest and impassioned recordings. For example, the opening track, “Dragnalus,” may lyrically deal with the subject of apathy but in no way does this reflect on the biting, belligerent and boisterous performance the band gives on this track, with a scream halfway into the track from vocalist and guitarist Justin Trosper signalling the band to drive into full frenzy as the track continues. “Nervous Energy,” plays upon some loud/quiet dynamics with its verses being full of uneasy harmonics before the band charges into the track’s razor sharp chorus. While Fake Train is Unwound’s heaviest record I would also argue that it’s one of the band’s most emotionally vulnerable records as well. For instance, the track, (or tracks, apparently the reason all three tracks are listed together is due to a pressing error on the original CD release of the album) “Valentine Card / Kantina / Were, Are and Was or Is,” is a fourteen minute masterpiece that features lyrics of romantic longing and dejection. It truly is one of the band’s most impassioned performances, every member of the band is on top form on this series of songs, with “Valentine Card,” being one of the albums most aggressive tracks with the whole song seeming enraged and unhinged, “Kantina” one the other hand has a much more subtle approach, with the track slowly building and unleashing itself multiple times over its near five minute runtime, lastly, “Were, Are and Was or Is” serves as the extended post-rock style outro of this piece, providing some much needed serenity from the rest of the piece’s tangible emotional turmoil. Finally, the album closes on the song “Feeling$ Reel,” which serves as by far the heaviest song on the record, being almost borderline sludge metal with its apocalyptic atmosphere and hard hitting noisy approach. Unwound is by far my favorite band, and it’s truly records like Fake Train that cement my opinion of them, showcasing that the band had absolute mastery in delivering angular, crushing, and emotionally powerful punk.  Matt Jarosinski

Union J, You Got It All

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS: “You Got It All,” “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” “Midnight Train,” “Central Park”

GENRE: Pop, ‘10s pop

RIYL: The Wanted, The Vamps, Why Don’t We

A British boy band from the 2010’s with good hair and it’s not One Direction? *GASP!* While radio stations were looping “What Makes You Beautiful” on endless repeat, high school freshman me would sit in the back corner of the art studio inwardly jamming out to “Save the Last Dance” by Union J, so this album is such a throwback for me. On this sophomore album, the songs range from super upbeat and happy, to slow and mellow piano or guitar ballads, all of which flow nicely individually and work well together. The album is not very full of deep meanings or heavy contemplations of life and existence, but rather enjoyable music about living in the moment, hanging out and making music with your friends, the excitement or nerves of a crush – the simple and everyday that lifts your mood on a busy day and just lets you escape for a while from a crammed schedule. I also think that it’s common to overlook boy bands in terms of vocal strength, but Union J is really talented at seamlessly merging their voices into incredible harmonies, particularly pronounced in “You Got It All,” and Jaymi Hensley’s voice is just so powerful – the lead vocal even without an official lead. Light bells at the beginning of “Midnight Train” give it a fun vibe and the echoing chorus of “Tonight (We Live Forever)” really make it feel like a group of friends singing together on a weekend night. Overall, I feel like You Got It All has, in fact, got it all for me to relax and dance to this album after a long day of work and study. — Martha Kowalski

Ethan Gruska, En Garde

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS: “Event Horizon,” “Enough for Now,” “Another Animal,” “Teenage Drug”

GENRE: Alternative, singer songwriter

RIYL: Clairo, Phoebe Bridgers, Your Smith

Ethan Gruska, who is probably best known for being Phoebe Bridgers adjacent, is criminally underrated in his own right. His 2020 full length En Garde is a 35 minute exercise in restraint. In less capable hands, it is evident how the production could easily have gone overboard, but Gruska manages to reign in the instrumentation to create a lush soundscape that supports and interweaves with his vocals rather than obscures them.

The Bridgers-assisted “Enough for Now” is uptempo enough to support the ballad-heavy brunt of the record, as is the liberal use of gentle drum flourishes and rhythmic piano lines. The bombastic “Another Animal” manages to crest just short of orchestral, while the galloping “Event Horizon”, at once ominous and introspective, is a three minute whirlpool of piano licks and drum fills falling into one another. Album closer “Teenage Drug” is perhaps the most straightforward piece, a nostalgic look back on first love that rides an easy soft rock beat, gently setting the listener down into familiar territory. — Sigra DeWeese


HIGHLIGHT TRACKS: “テイク・ミー」(Take Me),” “ドミノ・ライン (Domino Line),” “スウェアー」(Swear) “

GENRE: Jazz fusion, Japanese jazz, mallsoft, soft rock

RIYL: Musak Orchestra, vaporwave, royalty free music, hold music when you’re trying to reach your phone carrier. 

I’ve always been fascinated by what mall culture could’ve been if the 80s and 70s magically never ended. There’s something inherently special about the soft pastel decoration, fake plastic trees, and food court neon lights that just triggers a nostalgia point in my brain. While the decadence of today’s malls are charming in their own way, with bankrupt giants now being overtaken by cheap off brand shirt offerings and questionable nail salons I can’t help but imagine how incredible it would’ve been to pace around a lively mall at their golden age. And in this utopic scenario my weird obsession has created the calming music playing on those muffled cheap sound systems is Mint Jams by CASIOPEA. This japanese jazz fusion band has been absolutely rocking the world of elevator music for over four decades, with a discography spanning over 40 albums as well. Their sound is characterized by long guitar solos, syncopated drums, stellar funk slap bass, and as the piece de resistance we have vintage Moog synthesizers punctuating the liminal commercial appeal the band has. I absolutely adore the charm Moog synthesizers bring to songs, there is a hopeful futuristic undertone behind them of a future we never will have, and it ties in perfectly with the faux-nostalgia I felt while listening to Mint Jams (by the way, I go way more in depth about Moog synthesizers on my Plantasia review, if you like this album Plantasia is a must-listen!) The EP is essentially a live recording of the band playing their quintessential early hits. Songs like “Domino Line” have charming compositional quirks, where the four core instruments of the band rotate playing a note followed by the 16th note on a different instrument, all while building up to an intricate bass solo followed by a drum solo worthy of being featured in Whiplash. The album also reminded me of Japanese city pop, coming from a very much similar point of Japanese history the musical connections are extremely prevalent between both genres. Casiopea has recently been the perfect background music for my late night midterm cramming sessions, as it’s not only extremely calming but their interplay between instruments is constantly amazing, it’s rare that session musicians sound so natural together. Overall this album has just fueled my daydreams of a triumphant return of the mall era, and I just wish I was able to be at the Chuo Kaikan Hall in 1982 Tokyo to experience these 7 songs live! —Arthur Machado