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Artist Feature Interview Music

Been Stellar Plunge Into an Uncertain Future on “Kids 1995”

From Protomartyr to black midi, Dehd, Dry Cleaning, and Iceage, an exciting barrage of guitar rock bands are finally making their way through the sludge. There’s still debate over whether the Strokes opened up a new world for indie rock or if they simply put a collective curse on guitar music after 2001. But New York-based indie outfit Been Stellar can certainly feel the weight of that legacy looming over them. “You should never cover a Strokes song if you’re in a guitar band from New York City. Never,” they told Monster Children in September. “Word gets out that you do a Strokes cover and that’s what you do.”

Crawling out of the crevices of New York’s DIY art scene, Been Stellar was first formed by high school friends Sam Slocum (Vocals) and Skyler St. Marx (Guitar). Slocum and St. Marx later attended NYU where they would be joined by Nando Dale (Guitar), Laila Wayans (Drums), and Nico Brunstein (Bass). The gritty and enticing post punk five-piece emerged last year with their initial singles, “Fear of Heights,” “The Poets,” and “Louis XIV.” The three aforementioned songs are melodic and confrontational indie rock psalms that unravel the harsh realities of growing up in a city where culture is eclipsed by corporate commercialism and American tourism.

Been Stellar’s latest single, “Kids 1995,” is an emotional unfurling of self-reflection against washed out guitars and a semi-detached delivery reminiscent of Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation. Inspired by the controversial Larry Clark and Harmony Korine film Kids, the song directly references the movie in the lyrics, with lead singer Sam Slocum reciting dialogue from the end of the film as well as the soundtrack (“‘What the hell happened?’ And then the credits rolled/’Spoiled,’ Sebadoh”). The song evokes moving images of young students smoking and waxing poetic outside at a party on the eve of their college graduation, marking the end of youth and the start of an uncertain adult life (“It’s up to you/But it’s also up to you”).

A Grrrl’s Two Sound Cents sat down with Been Stellar for a chat about growing up, their favorite albums, and the the undesirable parts of living in New York in your early twenties.

Congrats on the new single! How’s the release cycle been treating you?

Skyler St. Marx: Pretty good. Can’t complain!

Sam Slocum: It feels pretty weird to put it out now. We wrote it around two and a half years ago, so we have a [totally different] connection with it at this point. It was also a lot of fun making the music video. We did a showing the other night and people seem to really like the song, which is awesome.

Laila Wayans: Yeah, we did write it a while ago. I would say we definitely altered the song to make it more aligned with what we’re doing now.

That’s interesting. How do you feel your relationship with the song has changed since you wrote it?

Slocum: Well we definitely connect with it, cause we wouldn’t ever put out a song we didn’t like. But it’s always a little weird to revisit an older part of yourself, especially since the world has changed so much since we wrote the song. It almost feels like I’m watching a movie of my past self whenever I hear the song. People seem to really connect with it, though.

You open the song recalling a first-time viewing of the movie Kids. Was watching that film the catalyst for the song in real life or was it something else that transpired that inspired the actual song?

Slocum: No, that was it. I watched the movie Kids in my sophomore year of college and it made me really reflect on my own life. To be honest, the song doesn’t really have much to do with the actual movie, it’s more about the internal thoughts I had after watching it.

What kind of internal thoughts?

Slocum: I guess it’s a sort of self-examination by way of another person. It has a lot to do with my own personal experience witnessing a person I was close with grow into a different person and using that as a foil to examine my own internal struggles. A lot of it has to do with the loss of innocence, which is displayed in the film — the idea of being robbed of this sort of protection [from an unforgiving world] that shelters you as a child.

It definitely strikes me as hopeful. To me it sounds a lot like the narrator is giving their friend some really sound advice, and hoping that the friend will take their advice to heart and do the right thing.

– Been Stellar

I could definitely sense that, but the song also seems to contain a degree of hope. Would you agree?

Slocum: There’s one lyric in the song that goes, “It’s up to you, but it’s also up to you.” I think it can go either way because on one hand it sounds optimistic and on the other hand it’s kind of sad. I feel like you can place the emphasis of hope on either side. I don’t know if we thought about it that deeply while we were writing it, though.

St. Marx: It definitely strikes me as hopeful. To me it sounds a lot like the narrator is giving their friend some really sound advice, and hoping that the friend will take their advice to heart and do the right thing. The end of the song seems to demonstrate a sort of restored faith [in humanity] and self-assurance.

What is one album that changed the way each of you listen to music?

St. Marx: For me the first album that really made me fall in love with the intricacies of music is probably Turn on the Bright Lights by Interpol or The Velvet Underground & Nico. The Velvet Underground really taught me how lyrics can really be integral to a song without seeming too complimentary to the instruments.

Slocum: For me it’s probably Kid A by Radiohead. That was the first time I listened to something outside of the pop realm and it really changed the way I thought popular music could sound.

Nando Dale: I would say Loveless by My Bloody Valentine. Hearing the guitar tones and the way it’s produced really made me reconsider the formula of a rock song. I definitely carry that influence with me today.

Wayans: I’m torn between two polar opposite albums. The first is Product by SOPHIE because I’d never heard sounds like that in my life. That album shook my whole world.

The other one would be [Siamese Dream] by Smashing Pumpkins, because I’ve listened to that album since I was a kid but didn’t have the wherewithal to understand the lyrics. Listening to “Today” in my early-twenties really made me reconsider the weight of these lyrics that had previously gone over my head as a child.

Nico Brunstein: I would say Let It Be (The Naked Version) by The Beatles, because it was so interesting hearing how that record got from point A to point B — what the band wanted the album to sound like versus what the producer made it sound like. I thought that was a really interesting way to look at how music can change based on who is at the wheel.

Returning to the city in the middle of the pandemic to create really enhanced our sound, so that time away was actually good for us.

– Been Stellar

What drew you to the realm of sound you embody in your music?

St. Marx: Well we all come from a very diverse background of influences. There’s definitely some core records that we all really like, but we all bring something different to the table. Our songwriting process is very collaborative and we tend to write as a unit, rather than one person writing everything. We’ve gone through a few different evolutions of trying stuff out that we aren’t super stoked on in retrospect. We’ve found over the years that we like the lyrics to be really clear and at the forefront with guitars that are also transparent but simultaneously washed over with sound like the Sonic Youth/shoegaze type of sound. What got us there was a lot of hacking away at different ideas. In the middle of the pandemic we got a practice space of our own, which was new because before the pandemic we would only practice at NYU facilities, which didn’t really give us the tools to thrive creatively because it wasn’t our space. Having a space of our own has helped us out a lot.

Dale: Returning to the city in the middle of the pandemic to create really enhanced our sound, so that time away was actually good for us.

St. Marx: Absolutely. Especially the point New York City’s at now. To be our age in New York at this time is just very strange. There’s a lot of stuff about the city that we really don’t like, but there’s also a lot of stuff we’re hopeful for. We’re all really drawn to the idea of song lyrics being tethered to one place. You can always tell on certain albums that were made at certain locations that they couldn’t have been made anywhere else. That’s something that we’re very conscious of, but New York as a whole has always been confusing to us.

What was it like to go on your first national tour after everything that’s happened in the past year?

Wayans: It was absolutely crazy.

Dale: Yeah, it was definitely at the right time too. Everything was starting to open back up and we were all so eager to experience life and see the country. It was definitely the most tired we’ve ever been in our lives.

St. Marx: Yeah. For our first tour to be really DIY was weird. We were supporting Catcher at really interesting venues around the country, but the logistics of everything were in our own hands.

Dale: There were certain points where we couldn’t even hang out or have a drink cause we had to drive for seventeen hours to get to the next stop.

Wayans: Definitely. But in the same token after being stuck in one place for so long, being on the road sort of kept us sane. We were finally able to experience life after lockdown and see the country.

Slocum: We came back and for a good five days and we were really out of it. It took a minute to adjust to being in one place again.

We’re all really drawn to the idea of song lyrics being tethered to one place. You can always tell on certain albums that were made at certain locations that they couldn’t have been made anywhere else.

– Been Stellar

What was the most interesting stop you made on tour?

St. Marx: Definitely Texas. Going to Texas is like going to another planet. We also really enjoyed Birmingham, Alabama and Seattle. San Diego was also cool. Not to sound like a coastal elite, but we had a very cursory experience of each city, and I still can’t see myself living anywhere other than New York.

Do you have anything else to plug?

St. Marx: We’re playing a show at Elsewhere on November 21.

Dale: We also have a music video for the B-side coming out soon, so stay tuned for that.

Tickets to Been Stellar and Sub*T at Elsewhere, November 21.

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Artist Feature New Music

Chatting with Sub*T About Their Debut EP ‘So Green’

Despite not releasing a full-length project yet, bi-coastal duo Sub*T has already captivated a sizable audience around the world, with heaps of praise from Atwood Magazine and an Alt. Press feature to boot. Their debut EP So Green is slated to come out on November 19th. Produced and mixed by Bully’s Alicia Bognanno, So Green is a buzzing and infectiously melodic body of work that unapologetically tackles relationship naiveté, vulnerability, and the act of looking at the past through rose-colored glasses.

Pulling from alternative rock staples of the ’90s like Liz Phair, Tiger Trap, and Sleater-Kinney, bandleaders Jade Alcantara and Grace Bennett’s cutting lyrical humor and deft poetic zingers perfectly meld together with their charming lo-fi soundscapes and hair-raising riffs.

I sat down with Alcantara and Bennett to talk about their self-taught/DIY grassroots approach to music-making, writing songs with found words in Marvel comic books, and prioritizing safe environments at their shows.

How did the two of you initially meet?

Bennett: We were internet friends and we met IRL at a 1975 show at MSG four years ago.

What’s it like making music on opposite sides of the country?

Bennett: A lot of voice memos and texting back and forth. We sometimes do a zoom meeting, but that isn’t always effective in sessions. We’ve seen what can happen with the echoes and the lagging feedback, so that would not be ideal.

Alcantara: Yeah, definitely. That said, writing apart is definitely not as challenging as you would imagine.

What were some of the most memorable parts of writing the EP?

Bennett: I think we need to talk about “Bruce Banner.”

Alcantara: Oh absolutely! The first song on our EP [“Bruce Banner”] was a classic case of me being bored at work and coming up with lyrics or a melody. In this case it turned into a song based on Bruce Banner [aka the Incredible Hulk]. I’m a huge fan of Marvel so I have all these superhero comic books in my house. We sort of threw ourselves into a writing session where we set a timer and started blowing through all the books to find ideas for lyrics. We do a lot of songwriting when we’re apart, but that was a cool way to work on writer’s block and engage in a creative activity together.

Being “green” [is] a metaphor for the naive childlike perspective. When we wrote “Bruce Banner,” we brought in our personal experiences with first relationships, where we misunderstood the ways we were being treated in those relationships.

– Sub*T

What were the first songs each of you learned on guitar?

Bennett: The first one I learned was “Octopus’s Garden” by The Beatles. That was the song that my teacher gave me to learn when I was eighteen, so it wasn’t really my choice, but that was my first.

Alcantara: Probably some adapted form of “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys.”

How did each of you initially become fully devoted to music?

Bennett: My mom used to take me to shows as a kid. I would always get so mad cause she would take me to see like, Norah Jones and I would be so bored. But looking back, I think that was what made me a genuine fan of the live experience. When I was thirteen I started going to concerts by myself. I was fully obsessed with One Direction at the time.

Alcantara: Oh yeah, me too. That was the first time I got on an airplane to go to a show. When you become old enough to travel and create your own experiences through music and the internet, it totally consumes your life in the best way imaginable.

Your sound strongly reminds me of Rose Melberg and the work she did with Gaze and Tiger Trap. What would you say influences the sonic architecture you craft in each of your songs?

Alcantara: I think we’re very inspired by a lot of the music from that era, but we also strive to make something different from what we’re used to hearing in popular music now. Even when you look at what’s classified as “alternative rock” there are a lot of similarities. And we wanted to have those undertones but also make sure it sounded fresh and new. We are also very inexperienced with making music, so we’ve never felt like we’ve had to follow certain rules. We just like to experiment with our sound and see what sounds good to us. For the most part, we’ve formed our sound by sharing sonic and visual influences with each other. We don’t necessarily [emulate bands from the past] intentionally, but it often shows up when we sit down to write and record it. And it’s really nice to hear [the Tiger Trap] comparison, so thank you.

I would say we focus way more on [sonic elements] in the music. I’m much more drawn to emulating the sound rather than the lyrics.

– Sub*T

Was the color green a symbolic choice for the project, and if yes, what does it signify?

Alcantara: When used in a song being “green” [is] a metaphor for the naive childlike perspective. When we wrote “Bruce Banner,” we brought in our personal experiences with first relationships where we misunderstood the ways we were being treated in those relationships. But it’s more about the newness and the freshness. We don’t feel like everything we’re doing has been done with certainty, but sometimes it’s fun to have no idea what you’re doing. So we’re talking about being “green” not just as a metaphor for being inexperienced, but also being able to enjoy the process of growth.

What are your thoughts on the riot grrrl revival?

Bennett: In my experience [riot grrrl] never really went away. Only those who don’t look for it would know that the movement was always around and [it’s constantly being updated]. I think what frustrates me is that in the last 5-10 years, I’ve seen feminism get commodified just to sell products, and unfortunately the riot grrrl aesthetic seems to have fallen victim to that as well. Regardless, it’s still an incredibly powerful way for women to express themselves and unleash their anger. It’s a very raw and personal form of expression and that’s what makes it so attractive to young women who have no other outlet to express themselves or have that type of urgency in their emotions. I think it’s awesome to see, and whoever wants to take part in it should.

Alcantara: Definitely. It’s really cool to be included in something like that, but that mentality is just a way of life for us. We’ve had to live with it our entire lives and we will continue to do so as we move forward. We always want to make sure all of our shows are creating a safe environment and we always strive to work [in parity] with other women.

What would you say are the most important themes on the EP?

Bennett: In these songs there’s a desperate form of escapism and wanting to get unstuck from the physical and mental places that we’re in. On the second song “Cozad,” we sing about the physical aspect of movement. With the third song “Fur on Porcelain,” we sing about being stuck in one place mentally. “Table for Four,” which closes out the EP, is about remembering. In each song we reconsider our identities and find new ways of looking at personal memories, which is a common thread among most of the songs on the EP.

Alcantara: Overall, it’s about escapism but also adventure. It’s about coming to terms with reality, moving forward, and not running from the past, but being at peace with it as we move on to the next chapter in our lives.

I found “Cozad” to be the most interesting part of the EP because it sounded very bright and fun, but the lyrics had certain undertones of rage. What can you tell me about that song?

Bennett: I was on a roadtrip with Kenzie, our manager. We drove from the East Coast to Oakland to be with Jade. That song was written in the car in the town of Cozad in Nebraska. We finished it at Jade’s house.

Alcantara: We thought that “Cozad” was such an interesting-sounding word, so we looked into the name of the town and found out that it was named after a man [John J. Cozad] who murdered someone [and was never tried for it]. I think the song stems from our newfound freedom to do exactly what we want, but there’s also layers of rage that speak to what it’s like to be a woman, where we often feel unprotected and unsafe on a roadtrip, so we end up having to protect each other. Overall the song is a buildup of raw emotions related to adventure, independence, and tongue-in-cheek ways of expressing our anger.

In these songs there’s a desperate form of escapism and wanting to get unstuck from the physical and mental places that we’re in.

– Sub*T

What predominantly inspires your lyric writing?

Bennett: I would say we focus way more on [sonic elements] in the music. I’m much more drawn to emulating the sound rather than the lyrics.

Alcantara: I agree. But if I had to pick a person who I strongly relate to lyrically, it would definitely be Kim Gordon. Other than that we’ve never followed a pre-determined formula in our lyrics.

Bennett: I remember when we started out we thought we had to follow a formula, but once we started caring less and stopped taking ourselves so seriously we had a lot more fun with it.

What are some of the most memorable shows you’ve been to in recent years?

Bennett: I had the most amazing time at a Hinds show in New York pre-covid. I also saw Dehd at the Market Hotel and I thought the floor was gonna collapse, it was insane.

Alcantara: I did Hinds’ makeup on the road for a while, and that was a lot of fun cause their fans are so cool. I also had a lot of fun at a Twin Peaks show in Chicago. The Bikini Kill reunion show was also incredible.

How did you end up getting that Hinds gig?

Alcantara: I went to most of their U.S. shows and we became fast friends. I did some Florida shows with them and all of their California shows and it was a lot of fun. I’ve always loved their energy. They’re so down-to-earth and their fans are incredible. This was at a time when a lot of people were anxious about the current political climate and there was a lot of talk about really shitty environments at shows with stumbling drunk dudes harassing women and mosh pits getting out of hand. Carlotta started crying at one of the shows because she couldn’t believe how incredible it was to tour America and see all of their amazing female fans who drove for 6 hours just to see them. And that’s exactly what we aim to do as a band. We want to create that type of environment at our shows where it feels cathartic and we have the upper hand in controlling the situation and making it as safe as possible.

What was it like to work with Alicia Bognanno on this EP?

Bennett: It was the best. I don’t think I can put into words how awesome she is as a person and an artist. She was an incredibly supportive mentor and collaborator, and it came from a place of genuine love for the music that we had sent her. She was really invested in what we wanted to do, which made for a super awesome and productive environment in Nashville. It was the best experience we could have possibly had. It was extremely validating.

Alcantara: She knows a lot about engineering and mixing, so she instantly understood the kinds of tones we wanted on our songs, not just from her personal background as a musician, but because our tastes align very closely with hers. I’m still in disbelief that she made time for us even though her schedule was packed. It was pretty insane to get to work with someone I’d looked up to for so long, and now she’s like our sister. She really understood our vision from the beginning and believed in it.

What else would you like to plug?

Bennett: We’re playing two Brooklyn shows, one one on November 21st at Elsewhere in Brooklyn with Been Stellar and another one on December 3rd with Razor Braids.

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So Green will be available on streaming platforms November 19.

Categories
Artist Feature New Music

Lily Arminda Talks New EP “DTR (Define the Relationship)”

Lily Arminda is making the type of endearing indie pop that enfolds the listener in an atmosphere of soft pink lighting and black lipstick as she spills her innermost secrets over darkly serenading dreampop instrumentation. Proclaiming herself as a “soft-spoken songstress” early in her career, Arminda migrated from making intimate folk songs on her first two EPs The Hourglass (2016) and Mismatched Poetry (2017) to effervescent bedroom pop on her 2019 sophomore project, Neighborhood.

Photo by Alec Ilstrup

Now with her forthcoming studio EP, DTR (Define the Relationship), which she worked on with Dan Alvarez and Jordan Dunn-Pilz of the beach goth band TOLEDO, Arminda continues her onward trajectory of embracing bolder, more ambitious sounds. Combining the echoing guitars of Galaxie 500 with the sweet and sour lyrical vignettes of Soccer Mommy, Arminda unfurls the incessant self-questioning that comes with being in a relationship where other party isn’t as invested as you. “It hurts to think I love you when you don’t see me like that/I can’t afford to spend my life wide-eyed,” she laments on the title track.

I spoke with Lily Arminda about this exciting new chapter, signing to an independent label, obsessing over pop stars, and finding comfort in the familiar.

If you could sum up this project in one word what would it be? 

Intimate.

What sorts of records have you listened to over the course of recording DTR?

My listening is always all over the place – I listened to a lot of indie rock/pop which definitely translates over to this project (albums like Clean by Soccer Mommy and Pang by Caroline Polachek) but I also listened to country albums (lots of Glen Campbell and Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris, and Dolly Parton’s Trio II album) equally as much. There’s a moment on “I Miss Knowing the Extent of Goodbye” near the end where I sang something that one of my producers Jordan Dunn-Pilz deemed my “Kacey Musgraves moment,” so maybe the country influence comes out a little bit. I was also really caught up on Guerilla Toss and Kate Bush as well as Roméo Elvis who is this great French rapper. 

I haven’t put out any music since 2019 and my sound has definitely evolved a lot since then so I’m excited to put out a project that feels much more “me.”

– Lily Arminda
Photo by Alec Ilstrup

What was it like working with TOLEDO on this project and how did you initially link up with them?

A couple friends of mine went to college with Dan so I met him and Jordan through them right before the pandemic. We put the recording part of the project on hold until September 2020 but I sent them songs over the summer so once I got to the studio they already had so many ideas for production. Dan and Jordan are best friends so it was cool to see them play off of each other while we’d collaborate and they were super welcoming to me as well. Their studio was right near me in Bushwick so I got to walk over there a few days a week for a couple months and work for a while. Since we were working long hours we would always go get deli sandwiches and just hang out in between recording.

From what I’ve read, this record sounds like it’s been years in the making. What part of unveiling this project are you most excited about? 

I’m excited that this EP is my first studio project. I’ve put out a lot of bedroom projects which are special in their own ways but I like that this one feels more polished. I haven’t put out any music since 2019 and my sound has definitely evolved a lot since then so I’m excited to put out a project that feels much more “me.”

My favorite part of this project was the lush and dreamy instrumentation. How did you and your collaborators initially arrive at this stylistic touchstone?

I was listening to a lot of indie rock and pop around the time of making this project so I was just really inspired by what I was listening to. I feel like my soft vocals are supported well by the kinda dream pop sounds we incorporated into this project. 

Songwriting for me is usually done to process something or memorialize something, so writing these songs helped me work through lots of feelings.

– Lily Arminda
Photo by Alec Ilstrup

Who are some of your most seminal vocal inspirations? 

Sophie Allison of Soccer Mommy has been super inspiring to me in many ways and I especially love her voice. Her vocals can be kinda soft like mine and that’s cool to see because I used to be a bit insecure about the power of my vocals. There have been so many times when audio engineers at venues have begged me to sing louder when if I do it makes my voice lose its unique tone and magic. It’s reassuring to see her be so successful as someone who sings like me. I’m also inspired by Adrianne Lenker and particularly the cry to her voice – it’s inspired me to play around with singing more.

How do you feel that your personal growth has been showcased in this project? 

Songwriting for me is usually done to process something or memorialize something, so writing these songs helped me work through lots of feelings. I’ve been writing songs my whole life but it’s cool to see that I am always improving at expressing myself and understanding myself. 

Something that I’m always curious to ask artists about is how the pandemic has expanded their record collections. Were you able to take advantage of the extra time at home to discover more music, and if yes, what are some of the most valuable new discoveries you’ve made?  

There are so many artists I could list but to name a few, I got really obsessed with pop stars like Mariah Carey and Katy Perry (in her Teenage Dream and One of the Boys eras). I found this disco inspired duo called Ultraflex that I’m still super into. I found a lot of specific songs that I fell in love with like “Sorry You’re Sick” by Ted Hawkins, “Onie” by The Electric Prunes, and “Blue Flower” by Mazzy Star. My favorite album to come out during the pandemic was Death of a Cheerleader by Pom Pom Squad. I listened to a lot of old favorites during quarantine as well because I think, like a lot of people, I wanted to feel comforted by the familiar. 

What artist (living or dead) would be your dream collaboration? 

I’ve always wanted to make a country album so I think working with Glen Campbell (if he was still alive) would be my dream collaboration. He has one of my favorite voices of all time.


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DTR will be available to stream on all platforms September 17th, 2021.

Categories
Artist Feature Music New Music

Goth Lipstick Returns with “formless, shapeless”

There’s no doubting the fact that Goth Lipstick—the eclectic duo helmed by frontwoman Francesca Fey and her creative partner Paperface—is one of the most exciting acts in the underground DIY pop scene. Last year their debut album, crystalline corset—a trans feminist coming of age album inspired by characters from Francesca’s favorite anime and Ghibli films—found its way onto several “Best of the Year” lists on Bandcamp. 

Now, with their sophomore LP formless, shapeless, Goth Lipstick has adopted a much more raw, textured, and haunting sound that hearkens back to the ghostly dance pop of Farrah Abraham’s My Teenage Dream Ended, while staying true to their semi-fictional introspective roots. The production takes cues from SOPHIE’s Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides, clipping’s Visions of Bodies Being Burned, and My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless. The album is narrated in the style of the Japanese Isekai literary genre–which revolves around characters being transported to a fantasy world–to tell the story of two wraiths on the run together who are forced to survive in a parallel universe.

“After being first exposed to [Isekai] in anime, I have been spellbound by the idea of resurrection in a new world.” Francesca tells me. “The genre was the perfect way for me to reflect on what it means to be a young trans woman growing up with a vision of what an ideal existence could look like as well as on the struggles I have faced personally that have shaped my [own concept of identity].”

The titular track, “formless, shapeless,” opens with a whirring drone that is promptly followed by glitching percussion and a succession of computer-blip effects that lay a sturdy foundation for the track with repeated chants of “I wanna be your love, I wanna be your love,” and paradisiacal background vocals from her girlfriend Gwendolyn.

The following track, “wraiths awake,” is an anthemic wakeup call from the previous track’s dream sequence, with blasting candy-coated synths and head-banging percussion plucked straight from the PC Music handbook. Fey delivers the line “If you wanna find the way to my heart/Then buying me a dress is the place you wanna start,” with so much conviction before letting out a blood-curdling scream of “WAKE UP!” 

“Identity thief” opens with one of the nastiest, coarsest, and bombastic basslines I’ve ever heard, which rears its head at ongoing intervals throughout the song as Francesca professes in her whispery cadence, “I feel something when you sculpt me/Shapeshifting into anything/Skin like water, body of ice/When I’m someone else, there’s a place I can hide.” These specific lyrics highlight the malleability and plasticity of an unfixed identity, a philosophy that Francesca’s hero SOHPIE has also preached on songs like “Faceshopping” and “Immaterial.” 

The fourth track is a cover of the 1975’s saccharine tale of chemical romance, “Chocolate.” It is an excellent reimagining of the original work. The engaging production begins with computerized synth blips that gradually build to a climax with distorted basslines, faded background screams, and glitching android sounds, making for a much more experimental reinterpretation of the song that is far more interesting than the original.

“I wanted to write a song about [two wraiths] getting super high together and falling in love, but the only way I could truly represent that kind of experience was with a song written by people who had been through it themselves,” Francesca says before going on to say, “a good cover should stand alone from the original, and the best way for me to achieve that was to completely reimagine everything from the ground up, distorted synths, wild vocal effects, and all.”

This is quickly followed by “fangs,” a sinister rumination on recklessness and self-destruction. It’s a whirlwind of unpredictability with masochistic lyrics (“Love is grip that squeezes me like a tourniquet/Take a whip to my hands leaving marks on my wrists”), complemented by sporadic blasts of glitching machines, which are guaranteed to catch every listener off guard in the best way, making it impossible to resist the urge to violently thrash your body along to the song.

“[That song] started when YouTube recommended a video [to me] about songs composed in extremely fast tempos, and that inspired me to write these quick, glitchy drum patterns that play throughout the track,” Francesca tells me.

The penultimate track, “faceless, nameless” opens with high, fuzzy guitar overdrive that hearkens back to My Bloody Valentine in their prime—specifically “When You Sleep” off the group’s iconic 1991 album Loveless—before climaxing in a crashing, grandiose solo and closing with cinematic piano keys. The abstract lyrics and the tinkering percussive droplets over the piano at the end transition into the final track, a brief love song entitled “forever,” which is forty seconds of utter silence that hearkens back to John Cage’s 4’33.

“John Cage actually went to my college! He might have subconsciously influenced that track, but it has a completely different intention than “4’33.” The main inspiration comes from my difficulty with writing love songs,” Francesca says. She then goes on to say that her aim with the track was to write “a song that quite literally can be performed for a lover regardless of how physically far away anyone in the partnership may be, [no matter] what technology or instruments are available, or even if anyone in the partnership is alive or dead. To me, it is the ultimate love song.”

What makes the silence at the end so profound is that it leaves the listener with a pang of bittersweetness, but plenty of space to breathe. It’s the perfect ending to the harrowing, heavenly whirlwind that the album takes the listener on. It’s our favorite slice-of-life movies with a mystical twist.  

Score: 10/10

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