As artists continue to reassemble themselves after being perpetually shut inside for over a year and a half–many of them refusing to release music until they’re able to tour again–new records in 2022 are continuing to illuminate what each artist’s process of self re-examination looks like in light of the pandemic.
Here is a list of some my favorite records of the year so far by womxn and non-binary artists.
Guerilla Toss: Famously Alive
This is the sound of Guerilla Toss at their euphoric peak. Lead singer Kassie Carlson has spoken at length about taking an active role in her self-healing in the midst of 2020 lockdown, and that sense of peace is apparent on the album in the most quintessential Guerilla Toss way, complete with driving percussion, schizophrenic synths distorted to high heaven, and lyrics about treating the body as a sanctuary rather than a prison.
Just in the last few weeks, Sunflower Bean has gained legions of new followers since their song “Moment in the Sun” was featured in the viral web-comic-turned-Netflix-series Heartstopper–a therapeutic gift to the LGBTQIA+ community if there ever was one–just in time for their album release, too! And for people already familiar with the band’s work, this record is an undeniable breakthrough. I got to hear Headful of Sugar in advance of the release, and I was utterly floored by every artistic decision, from Julia Cumming’s euphoric melodies on the breezy dancefloor paean “Post Love,” to Nick Kivlen’s starry Marquee Moon-esque guitar solos on “Who Put You Up to This,” and the immediate, clashing orchestrations on the dystopian “Roll the Dice.” This album is an entirely new introduction to the trio who’ve been proclaimed “the hardest working band in New York City,” and they deserve every ounce of meteoric success that’s headed their way.
Consider my muffin buttered. Ever since their 2021 debut single “Chaise Longue” went viral, Isle of Wight post punk duo Wet Leg have been touted one of the most promising new bands of the decade by nearly every music publication in existence. Lead singer Rhian Teasdale’s trademark sardonic and hilarious lyrics (“Suck the life from my eyes/It feels nice, I’m scrolling, I’m scrolling, ahhhhh”) paired with Hester Chambers’ accented downstrokes make for a potent elixir, combining all the driving musical elements of our favorite garage rock revival bands (The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs) with the introspective, belly laugh-inducing lyrics of their whip-smart ’80s forbears (Delta 5, Gang of Four).
Recorded and pieced together from separate locations in the midst of lockdown, Radiate Like This is a wholly different Warpaint experience. Each dreamy track is sparse and ethereal with eerie, warm tones. Each band member’s respective parts are layered together masterfully in equal measure. Hearing Emily Kokal’s soft and inviting croons on the lead single “Stevie” feels like the most warm and enveloping hug from a dear friend I haven’t seen in ages. It is the perfect reintroduction to the band after their six-year hiatus.
When Chelsea Jade isn’t writing songs for global pop stars, dancing in Lorde’s music videos, or creating graphic designs for bands like Deafheaven, she’s building an immersive world of buzzing and intelligent pop. Whether she’s musing on vulnerability and desire on “Optimist,” waxing philosophical about the concept of idol worship on “Superfan,” or bringing listeners to the dance floor on “Best Behavior,” it’s obvious that in addition to knowing exactly what she’s talking about, Jade has also had a blast making this album.
Squeeze opens with “Skin a Rat,” a violent sludge metal polemic on the perils of late capitalism with Megadeth’s Dirk Verbeuren on drums. If that alone isn’t enough to get listeners onboard with this project, I don’t know what is. SASAMI is an agent of pure chaos on several cuts on this album. But she balances the chaos superbly with a capacity for restraint, as can be heard on sparser cuts like “Call Me Home,” and “Not a Love Song.” But my favorite has got to be “The Greatest,” which achieves a perfect middle ground between both extremes. If this album doesn’t get to the top of everybody’s “Best Of” lists by the end of the year, I will riot. That’s a promise.
Named after the dense laurel bush thickets in the Southern Appalachian mountains, emotional entanglement is the most prescient theme on Laurel Hell. Mitski reflects on her turbulent, co-dependent relationship to music on tracks like “Everyone,” and “Working for the Knife.” Laurel Hell is also her most sonically expansive record yet, from the warm synth pads to the clashing pianos, clanging percussion, and soaring guitar feedback that is at times dissonant and overwhelming. Mitski knows that her painstaking self-awareness is both a strength and a hindrance. She’s not yet comfortable fitting into that liminal space between the two, but she’s working on it. And isn’t that all we really can do?
Raw, uninhibited chaos has always been a hallmark of the live experience for neo-psych noise pioneers Guerilla Toss, and their April 29 show at TV Eye was no exception. Their openers LLVX and Operator Music Band served as excellent primers for the audience with minimal ambient, jazzy grooves. But as soon as Guerilla Toss took to the stage, all bets were off. Frontwoman Kassie Carlson emerged with the rest of the band in tow, gently swaying from side to side with her hair flowing in the wind machine, awash in hallucinogenic fever-dream visuals that decorated the projector behind her.
The audience was immediately immersed and awestruck within the first three minutes of their set as Carlson led the band through the opening number, “Famously Alive,” a slow-building vocoder-laden track off their latest album of the same name. This was then followed by the slithering synth groove, “Cannibal Capital.” But the minute the band launched into their unhinged post-punk ode to aliens, “Betty Dreams of Green Men,” they blew the lid off the place. Carlson inched closer to the crowd and gave one of the audience members upfront a nudge and a shove as if to say, “Let the riotous moshing ensue!”
Specific highlights of the night were getting to hear Carlson’s doomsday cheerleader dance polemic “Meteorological” live, in addition to watching bassist Zach Lewellyn rock from side to side as he played like he was David Byrne doing the shaky knees in Stop Making Sense. The energy in the room was vibrantly positive as the band made their way through several of their beloved hits and deep cuts, the audience alternating between high-energy thrashing, friendly body-slamming, and belting their hearts out along with the band on songs like “Famously Alive,” “Wild Fantasy,” and their immediate, cacophonous cover of The Velvet Underground’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties” that closed out their set.
So here’s the takeaway: If you go to a Guerilla Toss show, there are two guarantees. One: It doesn’t matter how many basement punk gigs you’ve been to; here you’re going to perspire like you never have before in your life. And two: if you’re upfront, the venue platform is low, and there is a mosh pit behind you, be prepared to get shoved onstage ass-backward… a lot. It’s a proper punk frenzy with schizophrenic disco synths and an overload of sleek bass grooves with wah-wah effects. And it’s heaven.
When it comes to crafting irresistibly catchy guitar pop with serious character, nobody weaves sardonic lyrical humor with ruminations on emotional detachment quite like Colleen Green. After a six-year hiatus following the critical success of her 2015 sophomore album I Want to Grow Up, Green tapped indie producer extraordinaire Gordon Raphael (The Strokes, Hinds) to help bring to life her long-awaited third album Cool, a collection of fuzzy earworms that touch on isolation, adult responsibilities, and troubles with modern day communication.
Now on her long-anticipated North American tour supporting the album, Green played an intimate set at the Sultan Room in Bushwick last night on a bill with Dropper, Shred Flintstone, and Ben Katzman’s DeGreaser, three extraordinarily charismatic and rambunctious acts who served as excellent hypemen for the audience before the main act. When the time came for Green to grace the stage, she emerged wearing a simple white top and black shorts to match her signature black Strat with “Happy Birfday Jeff” scrawled on the front.
Long known for DIY minimalism and playing solo sets with a drum machine, this tour marks Green’s first time ever playing with a full live band, which includes Mike Hunchback on rhythm guitar, Michelle Tucker on drums, and Jay McGuire on bass. Green maintained a hilarious rapport with the band, and was unafraid to correct mistakes. At one point Tucker started to rip into a drum solo on “Grow Up,” until Green abruptly yelled “STOP!” and the entire band laughed it off before quickly restarting the song.
A few specific highlights of the night were “You Don’t Exist,” and “I Wanna Be a Dog,” two pop-rock ragers off the new album with twangy guitar tones and irresistible hooks, the latter interpolating the refrain from the Stooges classic “Now I Wanna Be Your Dog.”
Before the band launched into the final song on the setlist, “TV,” Green announced that it would be their “last song” with a wink and air quotes, indicating that there would indeed be an encore. She later re-emerged by herself to play one final song with her drum machine, popping on her signature Wayfarer-style sunglasses that have now become an unmistakable marker of her aesthetic.
Green isn’t necessarily a “showy” performer, and being showy is rarely ever necessary when you have a palpable stage presence. What makes Green such a convincing performer is the fact that she plays to her strengths. Her impassioned belting, charming charisma, and emotional bliss was firing on all cylinders last night, making her performance truly memorable. To borrow a humorous quote made by Dropper’s Andrea Scanniello earlier that night: “Colleen Green fuckin’ rips!”
Like Rina Sawayama crashing a Harley on speed, SASAMI has set a gold standard for wholesale showmanship on her latest tour supporting her newest album of nu metal-inspired paeans. The former classical composer-turned-indie-icon took the stage at Music Hall of Williamsburg on Friday. Her backing band were the first to emerge, three long-haired men who looked like distant relatives of Slayer, all three of them donning royal blue hooded cloaks.
SASAMI was quick to follow suit, looking like a medieval vigilante princess in a frilly white bodice and corset along with fishnets and a leather harness. Her entrance was met with an eruption of cheers from the demographically diverse crowd of indie kids and queer BIPOC pop and metal fans. One male audience member threw out a suggestive comment about her looks, which was quickly shut down by a corral of boos from surrounding concert-goers. “KILL HIM!” SASAMI jokingly sneered in response, making it abundantly clear that she’s not afraid to mobilize her following to annihilate anyone who threatens to exploit her or her fans.
After attentively tuning her Gibson Explorer, she opened her set with “The Greatest,” a slow and towering cut that immediately set the mood for a liberating two hours of SASAMI ripping and roaring through a searing lineup of hair-raising tracks off her expansively cathartic sophomore album Squeeze, which included a violent thrash cover of Daniel Johnston’s “Sorry Entertainer.” Squeeze was written to express the beauty and violence of the human condition through fuzzy walls of metal rage, with assistance from Megadeth’s drummer Dirk Verbeuren.
Throughout her raucous set, SASAMI commanded the stage with outrageous antics that teetered on the edge of self-destruction. This included bellowing and coughing through blood-curdling screams, sticking the amp cord in her mouth and gyrating as if she’d electrocuted herself, violently ramming herself into her bandmates, mounting the drum-kit to jump on her guitarist’s back, and engaging in elaborate choreography that evoked the motions of a shaman calling to the spirits in a protective ritual.
The energy in the room was radiantly positive as SASAMI clawed her way through each song, her dedicated followers relishing every second they had in her presence. In the middle of her set she beckoned her opening act Zulu, a powerviolence metal band from L.A., to join her onstage, who joyfully grooved on the sidelines for the rest of the show.
Near the end of SASAMI’s set she got close to the verge of tears, expressing her immense gratitude for the sense of community she’s found at her shows. This was topped off with a heartfelt shoutout to her queer fans who feel understood and valued through the anger and deliverance expressed in her music. There is nothing subtle about SASAMI, and this live performance only solidified her promising output.
As her name would suggest, the musical output of Trophy Wife—the solo project of 21-year-old Berklee student McKenzie Iazzetta—is inherently subversive. Her songwriting and her distinct vocal delivery constantly contradict one another, with lyrics where she leans into the role of the austere and unaffected “cool girl” trudging her way through the endlessly messy charade of daily life. Take songs like “Involved,” and “Knife Fight” for example, where Iazzetta wails through gritted teeth, “I didn’t mean to get excited, I didn’t mean to get involved,” and “I do not need it, you were only a test in the first place, try me, try me, try me.”
These lyrics function as a form of protection against ever being perceived as emotionally damaged or wounded, a similar technique employed by her contemporary indie predecessors like Phoebe Bridgers, Mitski, Snail Mail, and Japanese Breakfast. But don’t be fooled by the text. The strained cracks in her voice give her away every time. It is this naked vulnerability and juxtaposition of earnestness and defensiveness, hopefulness and despondence, infatuation and disgust, that makes her songwriting so compellingly sincere.
I caught Trophy Wife on Wednesday at The Mercury Lounge on a bill with Charles Irwin and Sub*T. She was the first of the three acts to take the stage, donning her best babydoll grunge getup while she attentively tinkered with the tuning pegs on her baby blue Fender Jazzmaster before leading her band through the opening number of their setlist, “Ask Me Anything.”
Throughout her eight-song set, Trophy Wife performed every song on her latest EP Bruiser, as well as an unreleased song called “Baby’s Breath” and an enthralling cover of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ classic lovelorn ballad “Maps,” which she was quick to deem “the best song ever written.” It was a gorgeous tribute to the NYC garage rock legends that evoked the same visceral growing pains Karen O had to be feeling when she wrote the song close to Iazzetta’s age.
One of the most enjoyable highlights of the performance was the undeniable chemistry between Iazzetta and her live band. Near the climactic end of their closing number, the seven-minute long opus “I’m Getting Better,” her guitarist Mario Perez shredded violently on his back while her drummer Michael Martelli continually thrashed his head wildly as he played, throwing his entire body into robust snare hits that would make you think he was chipping away at cement. But none of this detracted from the captivating pull Iazzetta had on the audience, her spellbinding croons and dreamy guitar strums grounding and centering the rest of the band in a divine form of dynamic synchronicity.
A Grrrl’s Two Sound Cents caught up with Iazzetta prior to her set at the Mercury Lounge to discuss the icky feelings of growing up that inspired Bruiser, her love of Liz Phair, and how re-recording a song she wrote at nineteen allowed her to forgive her younger self.
You’re currently pursuing a degree at Berklee. How has it been balancing school life and the responsibilities of a working musician?
Luckily it’s easier if you go to music school. It’s a lot of time management but it normally works out well since most of the shows I book are on the weekends.
If you could morph into any rock star, living or dead, who would it be?
Probably Mitski. A close second would be Fiona Apple, but she’s got enough bullshit to deal with already. I wouldn’t exactly want to live through her particular circumstances.
I understand that you grew up listening to several artists in the Lilith Fair lineup (Liz Phair, Ani DiFranco, Indigo Girls, Tori Amos). Who in that camp has influenced your writing the most?
Definitely Liz Phair. I had the song “Johnny Feelgood,” in constant rotation as a child because my mom would always play it. She chronicled the trial-by-fire way of navigating life in a very blunt and tongue-in-cheek way that I really gravitate to as a songwriter.
How did you go about writing and recording Bruiser?
I already had a batch of songs written and one of my roommates Micah said, “You should definitely record these.” Micah played drums on the record and got his friend who runs a studio to let us use the space. We had rehearsed the songs a bunch and showed up to the studio with a really fresh and open mind. It was all done in a weekend.
My favorite track on the EP is “I’m Getting Better.” What did the process of bringing that song to life entail?
I just sat down one day and thought “I really needed to write a longer song,” and it ended up being twice as long as I anticipated. That one came together the smoothest. All of the vocals were done in three takes before we layered them. We really just wanted it to sound like it was being delivered “through gritted teeth,” and for listeners to feel that tension and sort of hold their breath.
What made you decide to re-record and repurpose “Knife Fight?”
I just didn’t feel like it sounded like me anymore. The first one was recorded when I was nineteen. I was still figuring myself out when I first wrote it and didn’t think the song was as fully-realized as I wanted it to be.
Do you still resonate with that song now?
I wrote it a long time ago, so it’s not so much that I still resonate with it now, but more that I can better understand what I was feeling at that time. I can look back at that time with more perspective and this new version is sort of an ode to baby me. A way of forgiving my younger self.
What has been the most interesting takeaway listeners have had from this EP?
I think what’s been really cool is that listeners have made all these thematic connections between all the songs that I never noticed until they were pointed out to me. I was using a lot of sarcasm as a defense mechanism and deflecting blame in these songs, basically “cool girl”-ing my way through the trial-and-error situations of everyday life.
You’ve received many comparisons to Phoebe Bridgers and Snail Mail. Does that ever put pressure on you?
Not really. I have my own thing, but I think it would be pretty flamboyantly egotistical to claim, “No! I’m not influenced by that at all,” because that’s obviously not true. I can definitely see the parallels, because I make music that is a certain flavor of coming-of-age with a tinge of anger, which is very on brand for them. It’s certainly flattering that I’m even receiving those comparisons at all.
Finally, what’s the best thing to listen to to get hyped up before going onstage?
Definitely Wednesday. They’re a shoegaze band from Asheville, NC and I’m obsessed with their latest album Twin Plagues.
Marissa Nadler officially staked her claim among the greats in 2014 with her sixth studio album July, where she made a strong departure from her indie folk roots and showcased an ability to juxtapose the sinister and surreal with the mundanities of everyday life.
Today Nadler unveils her new EP, Wrath of the Clouds via Sacred Bones and Bella Union. A companion project to her 2021 album Path of the Clouds, Wrath of the Clouds consists of of three songs from the vaults Nadler had written during her last album cycle and two covers. Throughout the EP, Nadler continues to make waves with her distinctive spectral acoustic compositions and ghostly croons evocative of a David Lynch dream sequence.
The opening track “Guns on the Sundeck,” is an ominous six-minute epic written from the perspective of the historic RMS Queen Mary, a British transatlantic ship that carried military personnel in World War II. The ship was purchased by Long Beach in 1967 and has served as a paranormal hotspot for California tourists ever since. Over sparse acoustic strumming and ambient strings, Nadler’s delivery is controlled and unwinding all at once as she laments, “Fall ’67 was her last hurrah, then they painted her like a movie star.” Then comes the knife-twisting refrain: “‘I miss the ocean,’ she said, ‘It’s nice in the sun, but I need a break from the dead people.'”
“Some Secret Existence,” chronicles the disappearance of Dottie Caylor, an agoraphobic woman who was dropped off by her controlling husband at the Pleasant Hill BART station in Walnut Creek and was never seen again. “Dottie never went outside/She hadn’t since that terrible July/Did she do it for revenge, or did she have some secret existence,” Nadler ponders over an uncoiling tunnel of ghostly synths and a simple finger-picked acoustic arrangement.
“All the Eclipses,” is a bone-chilling dream pop duet with Amber Webber from Black Mountain. While Nadler’s cover of the Alessi Brothers’ “Seabird” remains faithful to the original, her take on Sammi Smith’s “Saunders Ferry Lane” trades the Western twang and spare country drumming of the original for Nadler’s unearthly cadence and a piercing drum machine that could cut glass.
A self-confessed lover of true crime, Nadler urges the subjects of these stories to become agents of their own freedom, whether that be an old haunted vessel or a woman who vanished in 1985. In the great country tradition of women like Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton infusing stories of helplessness with agency and control, Nadler’s sympathetic songwriting and penchant for experimental ambience is what truly makes this EP shine.
Covering songs is a science. Remaining faithful to the original creator while simultaneously reinventing the wheel as you sing lyrics that were written by somebody else is no easy balance to strike. But it takes an exceptionally unique individual to render a well-known tune almost unrecognizable.
Cat Power’s Chan Marshall is a master at transformative cover songs, which was displayed on her two previous well-loved cover albums, TheCovers Record and Jukebox, where she turned stomping libidinous renegades like The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” into lethargic and yearning dirges.
Marshall’s newest self-produced installment in this series, Covers, transforms and reinvents both well-known hits and beloved obscurities by the likes of The Replacements, Billie Holiday, Frank Ocean, Iggy Pop, Lana Del Rey, Kitty Wells, Bob Seger, Jackson Browne, the Pogues, Dead Man’s Bones, and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.
Throughout the album, Marshall draws from each track a well of untouched themes and nuances with lush, dynamic arrangements—a strong departure from her signature minimal sound. The album opens with a swinging piano-laden take on Frank Ocean’s “Bad Religion,” trading Ocean’s soulful keening and weeping organ solos for a foggy lounge groove with tentative breaks of snare hits and reverb-drenched guitar.
A remarkable standout moment on the record is when Marshall covers herself on “Unhate,” an unnerving and defiant reinterpretation of the song “Hate” from The Greatest. Unless listeners had the lyrics right in front of them, I wouldn’t blame them for thinking these were two completely different songs. With chopped up vocals over twangy lo-fi strumming and full-bodied idiosyncratic percussion, never has Chan Marshall uttering the words “I said I hate myself and I want to die,” felt more unhinged. The only way I can describe the track is that it feels like you are listening to Marshall perform an exorcism on her past self right before your very eyes.
On her approach to covering songs, Marshall has said “When I work, I don’t look back—I just keep going. Trusting my gut is a survival technique. My approach is elementary—it’s not technical or super academic. My mission is to complete what I see, and as soon as the fibers of that vision are realized, I move on to the next song.” And this organic outlook and radical sense of self-trust is precisely what makes this record sound as fresh as it does.
From faithful tributes to Jackson Browne/Nico’s “These Days,” The Replacements’ “Here Comes a Regular,” and Billie Holiday’s “I’ll Be Seeing You,” to the propulsive, ominous rattle on her update of Nick Cave’s “I Had a Dream Joe,” and the roiling guitar feedback on her cover of Iggy Pop’s “Endless Sea,” Marshall subverts listeners’ expectations at every turn, transcending the art of covering itself and eviscerating any lingering expectations of her that audiences might have held onto in the past.
All of Them, the latest album by Chicago queer music collective Glad Rags, is an eclectic orgy of disco, post punk, psychedelic garage rock, and chamber pop with shiny orbs of synths, sitar, cello, and dynamic vocals. The album balances heavy subject matter with candy-coated pop melodies, its lyrics unraveling the politics of pleasure in addition to ruminating on cancel culture and the nuances of community-oriented healing in art spaces.
Today, Glad Rags unveils the music video for their single “What’s My Body Up 2?” which was directed and edited by core band member and synth player Jacqueline Baker. The video’s vibrantly animated graphics are intercut with footage of the band cavorting and dancing around their homes in an infectious burst of LED flashes and fuschia-tinted jubilation.
I caught up with Glad Rags to discuss the process of shooting the video, their ethos as a collective, and their latest album.
How would you describe Glad Rags to new listeners?
Jacqueline Baker: Whenever people ask us to describe the band, we never quite know how. It’s pretty hard to pin down our sound. All of our songs are quite different. From a genre standpoint, I would say I always end up describing us in terms of what other people have told us we sound like. But whenever I talk about our vibe or how we operate creatively, I always make it apparent that we have a lot of fun bouncing ideas off each other.
Kelsee Vandervall: I will never forget this, but the first time I met Mabel, they described Glad Rags to me as a Randy Newman dance band.
What is the biggest benefit of operating in a collective as opposed to a band with a fixed set of members with predetermined roles?
Baker: I feel like there’s always a lot of room for growth. It certainly doesn’t diminish growth if a band does operate in the more traditional sense, but what’s nice for me is that I never feel boxed in with this group. If there’s a song where I want to add or change something, I never feel weird or uncomfortable asking Mabel if I can change it. Our strengths as individuals are always nurtured, and that’s what’s really nice about being part of a collective. Everyone wears a lot of different hats.
Mable Gladly: We’re pretty much the six core members, but we always bring in other people from our network to collaborate with in the studio.
Baker: I feel like right now the lineup that we have has been stable for a while. Post-COVID it’s been interesting, because there have been a lot of lineup changes since the pandemic. At this point a lot of the session musicians who had played with us in the past aren’t here now, we have to figure out how to re-adapt the music. We have to bring in new ideas constantly, but it’s fun to go with the flow.
Your sound is very eclectic. What’s it like to cobble all these different influences together in the studio?
Gladly: It’s kind of all over the place. We all enjoy very different styles of music, so having all these different genres [cross-pollinate] allows it to never be boring.
Vandervall: I think it gives us a really big range. We all put ourselves into it in some way or another. With my string lines, I might be able to react to [another compositional choice from a band member] and we’ll help each other out. Some people hate using the word organic, but something really natural always comes out of us just playing music together.
Mah Nu: Whenever we bring in the skeleton of a new song, we tend to patchwork our own individual parts together. Coming from all different musical backgrounds really adds to it as well.
Baker: My music taste has really changed and evolved a lot since I started playing in Glad Rags. Mable is very into disco, and I’ve found myself doing a series of deep dives into disco since first joining the group. I’d totally written disco off for a long time and the more that I play with different musicians with various backgrounds, it makes me appreciate different styles of music that I probably wouldn’t have before.
What were the first albums that got each of you into music as a whole?
Patrick Sundlof: I would say Emerson, Lake & Palmer, Trilogy. There was something about the instrumentation that made it sound bigger than what it was, and that’s what I wanted to do personally.
Salem Iyabode: Thundercat’s Golden Age of Apocalypse comes to mind. That was a fun discovery. That album really shows the versatility of bass playing.
Gladly: I feel like one that’s definitely influenced me was Swing Slow by Haruomi Hosono. There’s a lot of dissonant little sensory sounds in the background which really affected the way we would record and sequence the flow of our albums.
Vandervall: I’m a classically trained string instrumentalist, and I grew up listening to a lot of what my parents were listening to, which was a lot of old school R&B and disco. I was just about to finish my degree when Daft Punk came out with their Random Access Memories album. It was just the perfect blend of pop, disco, and those really thick, heavy string lines. I was a ’90s baby, so to have Pharrell Williams and Nile Rodgers on that album, it basically had everything that I was really interested in. I spent the entire summer after graduation listening to that album on repeat during my day job or on the train. Still, to this day, there’s elements of that album I just never get sick of.
Baker: For me it’s really hard to pick just one, because there’s so many albums that have been so formative for me. One where I can really define the point where my relationship to music changed was when I heard Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys. There were so many choices they made that were completely new. They were like the Justin Bieber of their time. They were at a point where they wanted to do something really experimental, and they were told it would destroy their career. That album was such a brave jumping off point for Brian Wilson and the band. The choices they made from a sonic standpoint were so monumental. I think that was the first ever charting rock album to use a theremin. All of those insane choices are what made that album so great, and that’s why I love making impulsive choices. It gives our albums so many cool quirks.
Nu: There’s a Brazilian psych rock compilation called Tropicalia that really expanded my horizons as far as imagination goes with music. It has a lot of Brazilian artists on it like Caetano Veloso, Gal Costa, and Os Mutantes. I heard that album my freshman year of college and it really opened up my brain to the process of collective collaboration. I really liked the looseness of how it was recorded. There’s a lot of lo-fi background noise and really showcases the fusion of sounds that psychedelic music can have.
What would you say the driving throughline on All of Them is?
Gladly: A lot of it is pretty heavy, particularly the tracks that delve into community responses to harmful behavior like sexual and financial abuse. A lot of the songs jump perspectives of various situations and ask how we can heal together.
Baker: There’s also a lot of stuff that reckons with how to navigate an art world where we’re asking ourselves a bunch of questions about harmful behavior in art communities that’s been glossed over for such a long time.
Gladly: And there’s often no resolution for a lot of these things. A lot of it can end in a glare of smoke or people move to another state to avoid accountability.
Nu: Yeah. A lot of the content is very heavy and I think making it into a pop song can make something so disturbing a little more digestible.
Baker: Absolutely. Taking dense subject matter and trying to make it palatable through a pop song is a major part of it. You can enjoy it on multiple levels. You can listen to it in a more synthetic way through instrumentation, and you can also digest the lyrics in a more conscious way.
Gladly: A lot of us also work to curate live events, where there’s no formal structures in place to reckon with harm. You can’t just not respond to it, whether that’s on an artistic level or in reality.
Baker: I remember going to a lot of DIY shows where there would be a lot of the same garage rock type stuff, and trying to go to a show like that now would be very strange. I would go to venues and there would be literally four of the same bands playing and there was a very specific type of sound that people wanted to hear. When I look at the origins of garage rock, it’s just a bunch of cis white dudes thinking there’s no other way to express their anger. I used to have to work really hard to seek out bands that were actually worth listening to, and now those bands are playing really big venues and it’s so nice to see.
The new music video seemed a lot of fun to shoot! What were your favorite parts of conceptualizing it?
Gladly: Jackie directed and edited the video. We did a little demo of the song and people seemed to really like it so we decided to make a music video.
Baker: Yeah. Right from the jump I wanted the music video to not take itself seriously at all. A lot of the inspiration came from a video that I saw by Kiana Ledé, who’s a really cool R&B/hip hop artist who makes a lot of singer-songwriter type stuff. She made a song with Ari Lennox called “Chocolate” and I was reading about the video where she said that they had this huge video shoot planned in Joshua Tree and they had to cancel it because of the pandemic, so she just ended up shooting a video of her and her friend lip synching on FaceTime. The fact that they took this situation that could have been so disappointing and still managed to have a blast with it was really nice to see in the video. We really wanted to showcase the joy and maintain the friendship in the music video without taking ourselves super seriously either. Visual editing wasn’t something I was an expert at but I took the opportunity to really have fun with it. I borrowed Salem’s camera and everybody was super helpful in making it a really fun process.
Regardless of music preferences, we can all agree that Britney Spears has left an indelible mark on pop culture that will be remembered for decades to come. Britney is one of the few pop stars who exists in a realm outside the rigid structures of genre. Everybody loves Britney, from classic rock dads to indie kids, hip hop heads, and even K-pop stans. As the author of Being Britney Jennifer Otter Bickerdike said, “There is no other artist who has had the same cultural impact as Britney, except maybe Elvis and The Beatles. Britney transcends presidents and she transcends the progression from brick and mortar music stores to the digital age.”
As a celebration of Britney’s freedom from her conservatorship and a tribute to her legacy, a collective of DIY artists from Boston and Canada have banned together to render a genre-bending collection of Spears covers in a compilation titled Now That’s What I Call Britney, Bitch.
This labor of love was organized by Andrea Neuenfeldt of Boston-based DIY bands Birdwatching, Fake Rays, and Pismo Beach Disaster. “As the Britney Spears conservatorship news and the grassroots rallying cry for her freedom became a front-page mainstream issue, I started rediscovering her as an artist, and as a formative part of my musical coming of age,” Neuenfeldt tells me. “Like so many fans, I saw a tiny bit of myself in her as someone who has struggled with mental health. I decided after watching a few docs on her and listening to her early albums on repeat that this could be a cool little project, and a way to honor a pop icon.”
The track list consists of nine reinterpretations of Britney hits, from Al Z’s lo-fi slowcore take on “(You Drive Me) Crazy,” to Phased Approach’s bubblegum glitch version of “Till the World Ends,” and a post-punk noir cover of “Toxic” by Daphne Blue Underworld with skittering drum patterns and zany guitar licks.
“It’s really impressive to see what people are capable of, especially given time and technology constraints,” Neuenfeldt continues. “Another aspect of covering an artist is the chance to try new instruments, and being adventurous with choices that we don’t always make when we’re writing our own music. I love being surprised with the end result. This has been such a gratifying project to organize, to see DIY musicians in a new light and to witness the depths of their abilities.”
A Grrrl’s Two Sound Cents is thrilled to premiere this eclectic tribute to the pop icon, which is available exclusively on Bandcamp. The proceeds will go to It Starts With Us, a community database documenting missing and murdered Indigenous Two-Spirit, trans, non-binary, and femme individuals in Canada.
Forgiveness is uneasy ground to tread. How do we forgive without giving the transgressor a pass? Perhaps we’ll manage to convince ourselves that the purpose in forgiving is for self-preservation and we really aren’t co-signing what happened to us. But why is it always more difficult to forgive ourselves?
Mitski ponders this invariable question on her forthcoming album, Laurel Hell. “I needed songs that could help me forgive both others and myself,” she confessed. “I needed to create this space mostly for myself where I sat in that gray area.”
Yesterday, Mitski unearthed the album’s spellbinding third single, “Heat Lightning,” which was preceded by the equally arresting “Working for the Knife” and “The Only Heartbreaker.”
“Heat Lightning” is a blossoming rumination on guilt-induced insomnia. “And there’s nothing I can do / Not much I can change / Can I give it up to you / Would that be okay?” she muses over pulsing synths, orchestral string swells, and dynamic reverb-drenched piano melodies. The song closely echoes the Velvet Underground’s “Venus in Furs” with its screeching guitar parts and Moe Tucker-like drum arrangements.
When asked what her intentions were on her upcoming album, Mitski answered, “I wrote what I needed to hear, as I’ve always done.” And the unrestrained urgency on “Heat Lightning” only further cements her uncanny ability to transform affliction into exaltation.