Blis., Straight To VHS
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Common Blah is the debut full-length by Portland, Maine’s Weakened Friends. Founded by songwriter Sonia Sturino, bassist Annie Hoffman, band is a low pressure outlet for emotionally volatile music. Engineered and produced by Hoffman the record broadcasts heavy feelings amid screech and feedback with little more than a fuzz pedal to clog up the signal chain.
For Sturino, writing in Weakened Friends is more of a physical process than a mental one.
“I have to feel the vibration or sound coming out of my body. I need the physicality to do it, to enjoy singing it,” she says. “People probably hear the vocals and think, ‘she just puts on that weird voice,’ but it’s really just what comes out. It’s my body making that sound.”
Many of the songs reckon with deep mid-20s malaise — with the feeling of being young, stuck, and settling for less. “Sometimes, things look good on the outside, but they’re not working. That’s how it used to be for me. I’d hear, ‘You have a really cool job. You live in a cool city. Your band is cool.’ It was ‘Common Blah’ though because I was miserable. I didn’t care. Now, I’m at the other end of the spectrum. People do something that they think they’re supposed to do when it’s not what they should be doing and it doesn’t make them happy. In a lot of ways, this is the first time I’ve found happiness. I wrote the lyrics about the time before that happiness.”
On Common Blah, Weakened Friends use volume — instrumental and emotional — to reassert a sense of control in a time when daily life has slid out of tune. The album also features guest shredding by peer and kindred spirit J Mascis on the song “Hate Mail.” Common Blah is out on CD, LP, and digital download via Don Giovanni Records.
Debut albums are rarely fully-formed. They’re ground zero for artists to experiment, breathing room to allow musicians to form identities within their project. Atlanta, GA’s Blis. debut LP, No One Loves You, avoids the trope: it’s an album of a band that’s lived a lot of life, exploring sonic realms that on the surface, should not go together, but manage to find cohesion. The record mosaics their influences—the intricate rock riffs of American Football, Pedro the Lion’s midtempo balladry gone awry with crucial aggression, indie rock sensibility that has mainstream press publications referencing Modest Mouse and Silversun Pickups. It was their 2015 Starting Fires in My Parents House EP that inspired Sargent House Records to sign them, a cathartic, unexpected release that garnered press from top-tier places like Pitchfork, Stereogum and Consequence of Sound. It’s easy to see that something’s in the water—and Blis. have come to prove that it’s not just hype. Far from it.
The band officially started recording under the Blis. name a few years ago, but frontman/primary songwriter Aaron Gossett has been pursuing the project for much longer. “It’s pretty much the first musical endeavor I did after high school,” he recounts. “I started biting off more than I could chew so I had a couple of friends help me. We did a record that has since been taken offline. After that we kept going, certain people worked out, certain people didn’t and we finally solidified our lineup around 2012.” The quartet—drummer Jimi Ingman, bassist Luke Jones, guitarist Josiah Smith and Gossett—have found a system that works, though the process was arduous. In the two years since their last EP, they’re at home with their lineup, they’ve spent an impossible amount of time on the road (including a two month U.S. tour with now label mates And So I Watch You From Afar) and the most life-altering: Gossett became a father, having a son with his long-term girlfriend from a very different background—she grew up in a very wealthy, very white and very Christian household. “That’s the only thing I have to write about,” he says. “We kind of created our own family.”
No One Loves You is a record of complex musicianship and even more complicated emotional development—despondent songs that criticize the negative forces in Gossett’s life while never feeling particularly hopeless. Almost every track mentions God or religion. “You have these groups of people who feel obligated by tradition and habits to follow a belief system,” he explains. “If you get to the core of a lot of religions, they’re kind of awful: really disgusting homophobic, misogynistic shit.” It’s harsh, but near the heart of Blis. —there’s loving sentiment beneath the percussion, beneath the moments of riotous riffing and explosive texture. Even the title of the record itself reflects the duality of Gossett’s interpretation. “Lost Boy” is a love letter to his partner and a criticism of blind belief: “No one loves you / Like I do,” he sings, later “No god loves you like I do.” As a stand alone phrase, it’s something much darker.
After recording the album in the mountain home of drummer Jimi Ingman, Gossett is happier with this record than anything the band has done before, the kind of joy that comes from making something beautiful after growing pains. “Prior to this…I don’t think I had really been tested by life. I was a totally different person,” he pauses. “I hope that people who listen to it think for themselves. Question the things you’re submitting yourself to.” Perhaps those are ambitious aims for a debut, but Blis. is coming out of the gate swinging. The questions is, are you with them?
These days, it wouldn't be unfair to call Straight to VHS the little band that could. The indie-garage trio, formed in 2009, have finally broken out of their local scene in New London, CT thanks to their most recent record, Weekend Weekend Weekend. Their third release, Weekend has garnered the attention of outlets such as top New England music blogs, numerous college radio stations, and most notably, CBS Connecticut, who named VHS one of the state's top 5 bands to watch in 2015. The album has also earned the band top prizes at New London's Whalie Awards (Best Indie Band, Rock Album of the Year) and the Connecticut Music Awards (Best Punk Band). Straight to VHS will release a new EP, Landmind, in June 2016.