Laura Stevenson is finally learning not to worry. After more than a year of national and worldwide touring following the release of her critically acclaimed album Wheel, both headlining, and alongside such varied acts as Against Me!, The Go-Go’s, Kevin Devine, Tim Kasher of Cursive, and The Gaslight Anthem, the songwriter made the move from her between-tour home base of Brooklyn, to upstate New York’s Hudson River Valley. There, she rented a nineteenth- century Victorian, a former brothel in a cement-mining town-turned hippie-enclave, and converted the attic into a makeshift studio. It was in this space that she and her band went to work arranging and demoing the eleven songs she had written that would make up Cocksure, Stevenson’s fourth album. The record features musicians Mike Campbell, Alex Billig and Peter Naddeo, who in various incarnations have performed with her for over seven years, as well as newcomer Samantha Niss, a long-time Hudson Valley resident and the veritable go-to drummer of the region.

Where 2013’s Wheel was full of lingering uncertainty, harkening to Stevenson’s folk and country leanings, Cocksure is a straightforward, to the point, emboldened rock and roll album. Although some existential dread still peaks through the cracks, Stevenson treats themes as heavy-hearted as sudden and tragic death, self-imposed exile in small windowless rooms, and that back-of-your- mind anxiety that the road you’re on may not be the right one, as their own signs of life; a life that is brightly colored by those realities.

With influences ranging from The Lemonheads, Liz Phair, and The Replacements, to early Weezer and the Smoking Popes, Cocksure maintains Stevenson’s unique vulnerability, and steadfast devotion to a solid and honest melody. In the writing process, she challenged herself to be true to whatever was going to come out of her, with many of the tracks featuring melodies that were purely stream of consciousness. “I felt like over-working it would suck some of the spirit out of the songs… this record needed that spontaneity. Spending so much time editing and second guessing yourself takes all the life out of it.”

This sense of spontaneity was maintained in the way Cocksure was recorded. In May of 2015, Stevenson and her band traveled city-bound to Room 17, a studio located in her old neighborhood of Bushwick, Brooklyn. “It’s this very positive and amazing space, and Joe Rogers, the engineer, was so enthusiastic about what we were doing. Everyone was comfortable enough to just really play and not get caught up in anything else.” All the main instrumentation on Cocksure was performed live, no clicks/no punches, under the watchful eyes of Rogers and producer Jeff Rosenstock, Stevenson’s long-time friend and collaborator. “Jeff was the perfect person for the job. All of his Bomb The Music Industry! and solo recordings have this energy to them, they’re like living things. I wanted to capture some of the magic he has.” The album was later mixed and mastered by Jack Shirley (Joyce Manor, Deafheaven, Tony Molina) at Atomic Garden Studios in Palo Alto, CA.

Self-assurance is a new hat for Stevenson, and on Cocksure she confronts her usual tendencies toward self-deprecation head-on. “It’s freeing to stop being so hard on yourself, and to quiet down all of the outside noise,” she says. “Once you’re able to do that, you can actually write what you should be writing.”

The most political music is often the most explicit, battering its audience with its beliefs. But that isn't always the case; sometimes it embeds its ideas in subtler, more successful ways.

Take The Hotelier (previously The Hotel Year), whose second full-length Home, Like Noplace Is There is comprised of what can only be described as anthemic, cathartic rock songs, sent occasionally to delicate and destructive extremes. Singer Christian Holden pushes his clean voice until it crumbles, on "The Scope of All of This Rebuilding" against a strutting pace, and on the furious "Life in Drag", but most powerfully during the chorus of "Your Deep Rest" where his words are heart-wrenching and haunting. As drummer Sam Frederick stamps out an enormous beat and chords—strummed by Cody Millet, Scott Ayotte, and Chris Hoffman—clamor around him, Holden sings, "I called in sick from your funeral / tradition of closure made it feel impossible… / I should have never kept my word to you / Not a cry not a sound / Might've learned how to swim but never taught how to drown /You said remember me for me, I need to set my spirit free."

A careful listen to Holden's lyrics reveals that each song on Home, Like Noplace Is There makes a political statement, albeit by showing rather than telling. They may be most visible on "Housebroken" on which Holden addresses an abused dog; after inviting it to be free, he sings as the canine above a jangling guitar, saying, "Master's all that I got, keeps me having a purpose, / Gives me bed keeps me fed, and I'm just slightly nervous / Of what I might do if I were let loose / If I caught that mail car or ate garbage for food, / So as I bear all my teeth, I will ask of you please / to just leave." As this swaying song rises dramatically from this revelation, that some individuals prefer their restraints, it becomes clear that there's more to the record than its powerful melodies.

By making political statements through personal explorations, The Hotelier has not only make a uniquely political record, but also a subtler, more successful one.

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