Before there was Big Bldg Records, there was Big Bldg Bash—the festival that gathers tons of local acts into a faded turquoise warehouse venue under the viaduct each summer. That history feels important to the ethos exuded by two of the burgeoning label’s latest local releases, from Roy Rodgers and Western Haunts. Both tap into the murkiness of that big building, interpreting it in contrasting ways.
If You Can’t Feel the Markers Then You Better Believe
If the lengthy album title wasn’t a giveaway, Roy Rodgers thrives in abundance and complexity. Throughout If You Can’t, the band often takes the maximalist route. In less capable hands, this might be a problem. However, Roy Rodgers prove more than capable of balancing looping math-rock guitar lines and cinematic string arrangements—cinematic being the keyword here. The album plays out like a dense art-house film, revealing itself slowly and sticking with the listener well beyond the initial interaction. Every track is so thick with guitar flourishes and sprawling melodies that it can be overwhelming at first, yet it’s an album that’s worth investing the time it takes to unlock. It aches and contorts from track to track, embracing that aforementioned murkiness as an asset and not a crutch. The track “Acid Reflux” bounces and shakes, slowly distorting the opening melody and growing more nauseous with each passing measure. The music feels like it’s evolving and changing as the band plays, and being able to wrangle in its clearly immersive vision and ambition is a noteworthy feat. Roy Rodgers straddles the line between impulse and intricate structure and does so expertly on this record.
If Roy Rodgers is a late-night fog, Western Haunts’ Problem Pop is an early morning haze. From the opening chords of “Man Made Heart,” the band feels like it’s reaching out for something to hold on to. The songs feel almost transparent, spreading out in all directions and filling the room. The distant vocals pop in and out of the glacial guitars, and the synthesizers are drenched in reverb to the point of obscurity. The band puts it best on “Like Smoke,” with vocalist Jake Witt plaintively cooing, “What I wanted most slipped through my fingers like smoke.” And that’s really the core of the record—searching, wanting, trying and still not getting. But in that sonic exploration for answers, Western Haunts ends up creating something that’s even lovelier than the songs’ narrator may have imagined. Even when Witt is singing about the pains of seeing your friends group up and start families on the shimmering “Start a Family,” it feels like the band could instead be sending out signals to space or messages to some other mystic beyond. The band includes all its lyrics on its Bandcamp page, ready to be parsed and obsessed over, but there’s also a beauty in not knowing what Witt is saying from song to song. The murkiness that Big Bldg was born out of is vibrant in his voice and the way his lines echo and stutter into oblivion.