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Forth Wanderers employ a tin-can-telephone style of composition which they use even when living in the same area code. Since first collaborating in 2013 as Montclair, New Jersey high schoolers, guitarist and songwriter Ben Guterl and vocalist Ava Trilling have passed songs back and forth like pen pals. Guterl will devise an instrumental skeleton before sending it to vocalist Ava Trilling who pens the lyrics based off the melody. The duo then gather alongside guitarist Duke Greene, bassist Noah Schifrin, and drummer Zach Lorelli to expand upon the demo. It’s a patient and practiced writing system that has carried the quintet through two EPs (2013’s Mahogany and 2016’s Slop) and one LP (2014’s Tough Love). Forth Wanderers, the group’s sophomore record and Sub Pop debut, is the groups’ most comprehensive and assured statement yet.
Now living in Ohio and New York respectively, Guterl and Trilling have evolved their separate but collaborative writing process. “The only way I can really write is by myself in my room with a notebook, listening to the song over and over again,” Trilling says. “I’ve never sat down to write a story, I write the song as it unfolds.” Since her lyrics are often embedded with intimate truths from her life, the private writing experience often leads to intense self-reflection.
On Forth Wanderers these introspections include meditations on relationships, discovery, and finding oneself adrift. Despite the inherent heaviness of those themes, Forth Wanderers feels joyous, a rock record bursting with heart. Take “Not for Me,” a romping track about “the ambivalence of love.” Trilling’s confession of “I can’t feel the earth beneath my feet/Flowers bloom but not for me” resists feeling like a dreary, pitying complaint; instead, as her bandmates bolster her melancholy with interlocking harmonic intricacies, she soars with self-actualization. Opener “Nevermine,” is a surge of confidence inspired by an ex-lover who is still captivated by her image. “I don’t think I know who you are anymore/ and I don’t think I knew I was before” she jabs with relish. On “Ages Ago” Trilling paints the image of a constantly-shifting enigmatic lover. “I wasn’t sure who they were, they changed constantly (hence the metaphor describing the “grey coat” and cutting their hair just to “stay afloat”),” she says. “I wasn’t going to wait any longer to find out.”
Recorded over five days by friend and audio engineer Cameron Konner at his Philadelphia home studio, Forth Wanderers amplifies the heartfelt sentiments of the band’s earlier works into massive anthems. Guterl and Greene’s guitars have never sounded so sharp, Schifrin and Lorelli’s terse rhythm section is restless, and Trilling seems more self-assured than ever. “We have embraced our roles in the collaboration process,” says Guterl. “Everyone’s gotten better at their instruments and we trust each other more because we know how the machine works.” This spirit soars through Forth Wanderers, resulting in exuberant, profound songs driven by tightly bound melodies and a loving attention to detail.
Hoops thrive in the in-between. The Indiana quartet craft hyper-melodic songs, built around power-pop chords, deceptively complex drum patterns, and rock-anthem sentiments that hide some tellingly dark thoughts. Their full-length debut, Routines, sound both warmly familiar and jarringly distinctive. A kernel of ache lies at the heart of each verse and chorus: nothing cynical or pessimistic, just bittersweet and honest. Not knowing the right way to do things, they came up with their own way—a solid DIY philosophy. “We had an idea of how we wanted our music to sound, but we didn’t always know how to achieve it,” says Drew Auscherman, who plays guitars and keyboards, writes and sings. “There was always some exploring and figuring things out, so it took some time to get to what we wanted to sound like.”
Hoops are a self-taught band that started in Auscherman’s teenage bedroom, where he obsessed over Oneohtrix Point Never’s landmark 2011 album Replica, to the extent that he started making his own beatdriven music. He named the project Hoops after the hoop houses at the nursery where he worked (not for his home state’s mania for basketball). Eventually he corralled a few of his friends to flesh out his songs, and the music inevitably shifted toward something new: more melodic, more guitar-driven, more extroverted. The high schoolers played basement shows for their friends, mostly cover songs with a few originals thrown into the setlists. “We really sucked,” says Auscherman with a laugh.
“It was completely amateur, but so much fun,” adds Kevin Krauter, who plays bass and guitar and is one of Hoops’ three songwriters and singers. “We were writing songs here and there, even though none of us even knew how to write songs.” Crammed onto makeshift stages, memorizing others’ songs while developing their own, the musicians developed a buzzy chemistry that would draw them inexorably together even after they had grown up. “It was just a natural thing that we all ended up doing this together,” says James Harris, who plays drums. “We’ve always been each others’ go-to’s for band members.”
Hoops remained only a loosely defined band, with members coming and going—some lasting only one show. Eventually the current line-up settled in: Auscherman and Krauter, Harris and Keagan Beresford. (Jack Andrews, of the Bloomington band Daguerrotype, counts as an occasional touring member.) Three of the four members write and sing, each a frontman and a sideman simultaneously. The setup isn’t democratic so much as it is simply adaptable and committed: doing what the song demands, getting the sound just right.
Their first releases—three cassettes and one EP—were recorded on four-track tape machines in living rooms and basements (their own and their parents’), with the band piecing everything together with determination and resourcefulness. Those tapes became popular well outside the Hoosier music scene, even attracting the attention of Fat Possum Records, which signed the band in 2016. “There’s a lot of trial and error and frustration,” says Beresford. “If there’s a song or even just a part of a song that you really like, then pick a vibe and shoot for it. You try to get as close as you can to what you have in mind, but you invariably fuck up along the way. But sometimes the fuck-ups are what make the songs.”
Routines marks the band’s first sessions in an actual studio—namely, Rear House Recording in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Working in that environment with Jarvis Taveniere—who co-founded the influential indie band Woods and produced albums by Widowspeak and Quilt—was initially a rocky experience, but they quickly adapted to the new environment, the new procedures and perspectives, and most of all the new possibilities.
Those sessions, however, were just one step in the band’s careful creative process. After a few months of touring, they returned to Indiana to set up their gear in Krauter’s parents’ basement and began experimenting with the studio-recorded tracks. Some they only tinkered with, emphasizing different sounds or recording different parts. Other songs they scrapped completely and rebuilt from the ground up. They were determined to make a record that sounded like Hoops: to ensure the music sounds as rich and nuanced on tape as it did in their heads and, as Auscherman explains, “to make sure everything catered to the song rather than the song catering to the production.”
“We’re all in the same headspace,” says Krauter. “We all have a hand in devising a sound and arranging the songs, whether we wrote them or not. First and foremost, we’re just trying to get a song to sound right, because that’s how the emotional message is going to get through.” The curiosity and perfectionism motivating those sessions in New York and especially in the Hoosier State make Routines the sharpest and clearest delineation of the Hoops sound thus far, drawing from and emphasizing each members’ dis