Tancred, Nnamdi Ogbonnaya
1811 14th St. NW
Washington, DC, 20009
PWR BTTM is a queer punk band consisting of Ben Hopkins and Liv Bruce. The band was formed at Bard College where Bruce and Hopkins bonded over a mutual interest in bringing elements of performance and drag artistry into DIY culture. While at Bard the duo recorded a demo, Cinderella Beauty Shop, and the Republican National Convention split EP with Jawbreaker Reunion. On these releases, Hopkins plays guitar and sings, and Bruce plays drums. Since then, the two have begun to share vocal/songwriting duties and have also started to trade off instruments.
This development is very much apparent on their debut LP, Ugly Cherries, an album documenting the duo's experiences with queerness, gender, and adulthood over the course of a year of living in upstate New York. Ugly Cherries was recorded by Christopher Daly at Salvation Recording Company in New Paltz, NY and mastered by Jamal Ruhe at West West Side Music. Since recording the album, the band has toured alongside Ra Ra Riot, Mitski, Car Seat Headrest, among others, as they spread their infectious live show across the USA and beyond. Their full-length record is out now as a dual release on Miscreant Records and Father/Daughter Records.
Though technically the band's third full-length, Out of the Garden is Tancred's first truly cohesive record: a mission statement that underscores the "power" in power-pop and is punctuated by lyrics as razor-sharp as the hooks.
Written over a two-year period during a break from touring, the album's emphasis on re-defining feminine expectations was shaped by primary songwriter Jess Abbott's experiences living in Minneapolis and working at a liquor store in a rough part of town.
"I learned how to speak up when I needed to and how to truly be myself without reservation," Abbott recalls. "I felt afraid walking home at night, and after a couple of months I just got sick of it and started getting into self-defense and self-empowerment as a means of coping. Finding my own strength changed everything."
After writing and tracking every song in her apartment, Abbott (also of beloved Minneapolis trio Now, Now) enlisted Kevin Medina and Terrence Vitali to add drums and bass to her demos. The band then traveled to LA to record with OFF! bassist Steven McDonald and That Dog vocalist/guitarist Anna Waronker.
Both producers proved to be the perfect collaborators, with each elevating the final takes via their specific areas of expertise — Waronker helped Abbott achieve the raw vocal attitude exhibited on songs like the seething "Hang Me," while McDonald orchestrated the tailor-made guitar tones and trashy drum sounds highlighted on standouts like "Joey."
As a result, Out of the Garden showcases Tancred shedding its former skin in favor of a bolder and infinitely more confident sound.
Opener "Bed Case" bolts off the starting block with a guitar salvo straight from the '90s before "The Glow" ups the amperage with crunching riffs and pummeling distortion. Soon after, smooth as silk "Sell My Head" serves up a chorus so intrinsically catchy you'll already be singing along the second time around.
As Abbott reveals, "I wanted these songs to sound sickly sweet, with a looming, gory shadow behind them. Sugary, but when listening closely, unsettling."
This juxtaposition is presented flawlessly during the chorus of "Pens" when Abbott sings "I'm insanely healthy in my head / It's crazy how stable I am" amidst a background refrain of "oohs" and "aahs." While your head reflexively bobs along to the melody, your brain is compelled to decode the ominous double meanings embedded in her cleverly chosen adjectives.
Her fearlessness to discuss these and other personal topics is referenced in the album's title, an allusion to exiting Eden and leaving behind all the restrictive cultural norms ingrained in the Biblical "paradise": tradition, purity, holiness, binary gender, heterosexuality, and the idea that anything is forbidden (especially for women).
Says Abbott, "Out of the Garden represents doing what you want, what you need, without letting anything or anyone stop you — and smiling while you do it."
Nnamdi Ogbonnaya is a multi-instrumentalist composer, producer, and performer. His musical identity was forged in the DIY community of Chicago. Relentless participation in numerous musical projects bridged genres and created inroads between scenes. Near constant activity quickly made him a locus of gravity in the community.
Constant participation at the local level quickly opened channels to a broad cross-section of the arts world. Nnamdi toured the USA and Canada with projects ranging from punk to jazz. He played the basements of Mexico and Europe in his hardcore band, Itto. His jazz-fusion project Monobody opened for Tortoise on one of Chicago’s premiere stages in January 2017. A full accounting of his musical activity over the last eight years includes approximately 15 bands and dozens of tours.
All the while, Nnamdi has released a stream of records and EPs under the ironic moniker “Nnamdi’s Sooper Dooper Secret Side Project.” His solo styling combines hip-hop, math, gospel, rock, and jazz. The releases range in tone from the colorful hip-hop of 'Feckin Wierdo' (2014) to the bleak post-punk atonality of the 'Despondent' EP (2013). His songs often contain a sense of satire that can be just as humorous as it is critical. Nnamdi’s lyrical insights draw on the diversity of his cultural experience as a Black, Jewish, first generation Nigerian-American.