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I Blew It/Roller Derby - Pretoria EP Review

Pretoria is a Grand Rapids five-piece band, but you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a two-piece from texture alone. And despite the Bandcamp description saying it’s a five-piece, only two are identified. Nonetheless, a big-volume band definitely suits their aesthetic. Going through their discography, Pretoria always goes for an older vibe with their tracks, something to sit out as the sun sets on a vacation to. Tracks like “Expert” splash originality into their classic concepts and predicate their latest EP, “I Blew It/Roller Derby,” certainly some of their best so far.

I Blew It is simple but not necessarily clean. Pretoria’s opener features a rocking gentle and natural beat, well-constructed if generic. The Glass Animals and Tame Impala inspiration in the vocal mixing is obvious, like it’s being played over speakers in an empty Rollerworld, which I suppose is relevant given this song’s follow-up. The lyrics, like the beat, seem generic. “It's a gust of evening when carrying away the paper lanterns” evokes typical, tried sad-music imagery, and “but as I was hanging on the edge of my seat/Trying to form my sentences/My synapses were firing off a wild shot of electricity” is just clunky to hear. Rather than evoking a sense or summarizing a concept in an image or words, it feels like Pretoria wrote what they wanted to express with more refined lyrics and just went with that initial draft. At about 2:30 is the most interesting part of the song, where a sitar-like arpeggio starts repeating, and the vocal mixing becomes less cloudy—it feels like standing over a rest stop in Tennessee, looking out onto the Appalachians and thinking about who you could be looking at it with, had you not wrecked your chances. The ending, unfortunately, interrupts this too-short new sound with a glitchy fadeout and random-seeming synthesizer ambience effects. While sometimes these make a song feel like a real jam, listening at a rehearsal, the lack of any predicate for that—no gearing up at the start of the song, barely anything synth-y besides—is odd, and leaves me missing the sitar that could have faded out forlornly. Perhaps, however, this is the purpose: as a song about dropping the ball and losing a perfect relationship, Pretoria grabs you thematically with a wonderful sound and then scatters it away.

Roller Derby seems to describe the relationship I Blew It laments, giving the listener the woe and then the experience that led to it. It injects a new very ‘50’s sensibility to the story, though, adding much more interest. The simple chord progression at a fast and fun bouncy pace is interspersed with sounds evocative of revving, providing a lot more energy than the last piece. And aesthetically it fits perfectly, given the song is a little story piece about action, and the ‘50’s association with cars and teen romances kissing in the backseat. There are even doo-wop factors playing in, with a call-and-response styled chorus. The lyrics are much more interesting, conveying love for a passionate partner in a busy, busy life. “The clock is always ticking down/(What a rush falling in love in the city)/Ticking down, it's ticking down/(What a rush falling in love)” is intense, the sounds of the words themselves conveying this exciting rush as well as the glitz they imply. Enjoyably, the song opens with how the couple met, the girl throwing elbows into the narrator at the roller derby, and then closes with the concept of “we were dancing, touching/Bumping into each other” to convey how reactive the relationship was. A good bit of parallelism and even recontextualizing past lines is always welcome. The last chorus is a lot of fun, and the lead’s confidence in his pacing and rhythm he sings with comes out of nowhere and is something I’d love to hear more of. I’m passionate about when artists come back to a chorus and add flair, excitement, syncopation, or even ad-libs to it, and this seems like something the lead singer could be strong at!

Definitely, the standout of the two is Roller Derby, aesthetically and conceptually unified in a way I Blew It isn’t. While both about losing love, the pairing of these two songs seems more like Pretoria simply finished them at the same time and released them together. There’s not really an auditory consistency between the two, and they probably would do great on an album at the same time, but are less coherent this way. While it opens on a bit of a bummer, immediately closing with a higher point does make the pair stick in the listener’s mind a bit more than it would besides.

Since the release of this EP, Pretoria also released a single: Fat Chance, on March 31st, 2023. This piece combines my favorite parts of their previous EP. The lead singer seems to be having a ton of fun, almost riffing on the groovy, wonderful beat and synth line. The lyrics aren’t the newest thing ever, but the concept allows for more new ideas than “I’m sad we broke up,” which requires something very new to be injected into it to be interesting. Resenting and rejecting an ex trying to get back with you is not nearly as common of a topic lyrically, and the snideness is very welcome. There’s constant changes in the composition, but it all feels like one coherent song, and a jammy outro actually feels relevant to the piece. It may be my bias toward fast paced, bouncy music, but Fat Chance shows a lot of growth and brings much more anticipation to following Pretoria a bit.


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