In the land of DIY indie rock, it would be a crime not to acknowledge the influence of lo-fi twee pop three-piece Beat Happening. Formed in Olympia, Washington at Evergreen State College by Calvin Johnson, Heather Lewis, and Bret Lunsford, Beat Happening were one of the seminal bands to break the conventional rules of musicianship in the ’80s and ’90s. The band has influenced several groups that emerged from Olympia, Washington, including Fugazi, Bratmobile, and even Nirvana. Calvin Johnson was also the founder of independent label K Records, which kickstarted the careers of several indie bands like The Vaselines, Built to Spill, and Modest Mouse.
Beat Happening has become one of my favorite bands over the past few years. Like many others, I discovered the band through Nirvana, specifically when Kurt Cobain referenced the group on the Nevermind song Lounge Act.
Beat Happening’s records are well known for their naive and childlike aesthetic, which is utilized to navigate mature subject matter in their lyrics. This is beautifully complemented by the band’s primitive instrumentals, the gentle unorthodox lead vocals of Heather Lewis, and Calvin Johnson’s soothing, almost hypnotizing baritone voice.
The band’s 1991 record, Dreamy, was released hot off the heels of their critically-acclaimed self-titled record (1985), and the following releases of Jamboree (1988) and Black Candy (1989). The band used childlike imagery and motifs to highlight the unique trials and tribulations of adolescence and adulthood. The song “Hot Chocolate Boy” illustrates an awkward young man trying to work up the courage to talk to a girl he is attracted to, and also trying hard not to capitulate to unhealthy standards of manhood (“Hot chocolate boy/Every girl yelling/Wanting him to be the terror”).
The wistful vocals of Heather Lewis on sweeter cuts like the buoyant love song “Fortune Cookie Prize,” and the more distorted, fast-paced cuts like “Collide,” are also a large part of album’s charm. On “Cry For a Shadow,” Calvin Johnson sheds the menacing tough guy veneer and bares his soul over Bret Lunsford’s twangy guitar riffs.
“Nancy Sin,” “Me Untamed,” and “Collide,” are all unabashedly sexual in nature. The former’s booming percussion and Johnson’s urge to be dominated as he chants the lyrics “FILL. MY. MOUTH. WITH. HOT. SAND,” is guaranteed to jolt the listener out of the trance that previous tracks will easily put them in. It’s definitely a change of pace, as is the closing track “Red Head Walking.”
Trauma is experienced and expressed in varying degrees and there are many ways that people who experience abuse cope with their trauma.
Alice Glass, formerly known as the brutal, thrashing front woman of Toronto electro punk band Crystal Castles, released her debut EP in 2018. The project was self-titled, illustrating Glass’s determination to reclaim her identity and re-assert her autonomy after leaving an abusive partnership with her former bandmate in Crystal Castles. It is a sheer departure from Crystal Castles, this time with Alice at the wheel, her guttural vocals this time buoyed by the digital hardcore mix and trap beats, no longer obscured by the production.
In a conversation with Interview Magazine, Glass expressed her love of post-punk and riot grrrl bands including Kleenex (formerly known as LiLiPut), Bratmobile, and Bikini Kill. The sonic brutality on songs like “Natural Selection” off her EP perfectly matches the vengeful fury of the riot grrrl sound and aesthetic, and the pulsating synth bass lines on “Forgiveness” feel like a throwback to the industrial electropunk of the Normal and Cabaret Voltaire.
The center focus of the EP is Glass finding catharsis in her attempts to heal. Many of the songs focus on her determination to permanently gouge her abuser out of her life. “Tell me where to spit/Don’t tell me what to swallow,” she asserts in the opening track “Without Love.”
Near the end of the third track, “Natural Selection,” there is a monstrous roar coupled with the explosive, clashing sound that I would liken to tinsel being tossed in a microwave. This is followed by Glass screaming “GET THE FUCK OFF OF ME!” four times in a row. This energy carries into the following track, “White Lies.” “This is not the voice in my head/You’re depraved, soaking to the bone/Wash away what’s left of my blood,” she chants defiantly. On “Blood Oath,” this roaring sound is looped throughout the song and embellished with squeaking synths and production glitches that sound like gunshots.
The EP’s closing track “The Altar,” strongly contrasts with the remaining songs on the EP. It is the only slow cut on the project, and also much shorter in length. “Somewhere else, someone else feels worse/Forget that the sun is in the universe,” she repeats, continuing her internal monologue. She’s persevering in the face of adversity, hoping that one day she will find peace. This track shows Alice coming back down to earth after ruminating on her anger and giving the listener a level-headed reflection of what she went through.
Being a hyper masculine edgelord is officially gay™ now, thanks in no small part to queer hyperpop icon Dorian Electra and their new album, My Agenda. With colorful production by Count Baldor, Dylan Brady, Clarence Clarity, umru, and many others, the versatile soundscapes on My Agenda embody every conceivable sound from bubblegum-bass to dubstep and aggressive noise rock.
Dorian’s previous album, Flamboyant, deconstructed gender roles and masculine archetypes ranging from the cowboy to the sugar daddy, business mogul, and boxers/street fighters. On My Agenda, they are cranking the satire up to eleven, tackling the culture surrounding incels and gamers on tracks like “Edgelord,” featuring Rebecca Black, as well as “Gentleman,” and “M’lady.” They also hilariously unpack the sexually ambiguous homosocial dude-bro dynamic on “Sorry Bro (I Love You).”
The standout tracks are “My Agenda” featuring Village People and Pussy Riot, “F the World” with the Garden, Quay Dash, and d0llywood, and “Ram it Down,” with Mood Killer, Lil Mariko, and Lil Texas. These tracks all embody the tortuous relationships that men have with sexuality and masculinity that the patriarchy imposes upon them. “Ram it Down,” speaks from the perspective of a person who perpetuates the age-old homophobic trope of being “fine with gay people, as long as they don’t shove their sexuality in my face,” (“Hey man/Love all you want/But just don’t ram it down my throat”). The breakdown of the song, which culminates in Lil Mariko screaming, “RAM IT DOWN! RAM IT DOWN! RAM IT DOWN!” over and over again, is a sonic assault of chaotic, hard-hitting dubstep beats and death metal vocal dynamics hitting the listener over the head.
On the outstanding title track “My Agenda,” Electra reclaims all the disparaging rhetoric that straight people love to rattle off at the expense of queer people, spreading their conspiracy theories about the quote-un-quote “gay agenda.” Dorian touches on the Lavender Scare, which prevented people from hiring queer people during the Eisenhower administration (“You can always spot us/By the way we walk/As we’re plotting to take over/And destroy you all”), the AIDS crisis (“My agenda/Will infect ya”), and even those infamous InfoWars conspiracy theories about frogs (“We’re out here turning frogs homosexual”).
There are up to eleven features on this album, which can be a risk for many artists, because the guests could easily outshine the main act. However, like their collaborative pop contemporary, Charli XCX, Dorian is an excellent collaborator. These features add so much quality to the project. Mood Killer and Quay Dash are two of my favorite underground acts at the moment, and both of their verses are hilarious and deliciously fierce.
Tackling topics as grim as incels, edgelords, toxic masculinity, and homophobia is not an easy wormhole to venture into. Dorian Electra’s ability to satirize such grim subject matter and collaborate seamlessly with innovative producers and futuristic sounds makes them one of the most exciting artists of today.
Emerging alt-pop powerhouse and Vegas native, Sizzy Rocket, deserves to be on everybody’s radar. Her unique soundscape of rebellious, punk-tinged dark hyperpop is a bold combination that music consumers like myself have been starved for.
Her sophomore album, Grrrl–one of my absolute favorite releases of 2019–was a trap-infused dark pop album about self-discovery, heartbreak, and sexuality. The title was influenced by her love for Riot Grrrl and the production invoked shades of modern hip hop acts like Travis Scott and Denzel Curry. Her iconic raspy falsetto, and the emotionally-wrought soundscapes of each song coupled with her messy and unfiltered lyrics that detailed her life of excessive partying, touring, and fleeting romantic relationships with men and women was awe-inspiring, gritty and fresh.
Her newest album, ANARCHY, is a much more bold, definitive, and liberated body of work. Rocket has described the album title as “a nod to [her] punk roots and [her] own personal chaos… [Anarchy] is a state of disorder due to non-recognition of authority. Nobody can tell you what to do or who to be.”
Recorded in an “eight-day creative outburst” last winter, ANARCHY is the chaotic, messy, and unfiltered soundtrack to Rocket shedding an old skin after a breakup, obliterating old ideas of who she thought she could be. If Grrrl was the product of a star emerging from underwater, ANARCHY is her bursting to the surface.
Her punk attitude and unapologetic rockstar bravado on two of the album’s opening tracks, “That Bitch,” and “Running with Scissors,” is contagious. The repackaged trap-punk instrumentatals are also extremely fresh and gritty. “& It Feels Like Love” is an ode to the ’70s and ’80s, complete with nods to “Strawberry Fields Forever,” and Janis Joplin. The distorted bass also sounds like it could easily be a riff that was plucked from PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me.
Her dark humor is another massive highlight. The most reviled type of person in our society is often a woman who acts out for attention. “Crazy Bitch” sympathizes with this archetype and unpacks the spectacle of the “crazy bitch.” The song is told from the perspective of the “crazy bitch,” allowing her to control her own narrative outside of the horrendous jokes and comments people make at her expense. The lyrics take shots at the people who claim to hate her, when in reality they are the same people who depend on her antics for entertainment (“I would die just to be someone/Ain’t that exactly what you want”).
The sonic outbursts on the album’s closer, “Queen of the World,” perfectly mirror the pure chaos in the chorus as she paints a picture of herself hanging out the window of a speeding car, screaming at the top of her lungs “I could live forever in this moment!” Her mission statement for this album was to take back her power, to be reckless, and unapologetically own her stories without having to water down her identity. And it’s very clear that the process was extremely cathartic for her.
Twenty-nine years ago, the legendary alternative rock band Hole released their seminal debut album, Pretty on the Inside—an urgent and formative collection of songs that drew from the band’s hardcore punk roots.
Produced by the legendary Kim Gordon, the instrumentation is a chaotic, messy and accessible product of Sonic Youth’s no wave formula, with a hardcore punk and sludge-metal edge. Eric Erlandson’s abrasive guitar work coupled with the thrashing screams from prophetic rock goddess Courtney Love as she details her experiences with violence, womanhood, and self-actualization are what make this album stand the test of time.
On “Garbage Man,” Love details her experiences with abuse and emotional abandonment at the hands men like her father and stepfather, which culminated in a reluctance to trust men as a whole (“Where the fuck were you when my lights went out?”). “Teenage Whore” explores the complicated relationship that many women have with their sexuality, and the learned repression and shame they develop as a result. Love tells the story of a young woman dealing with this specific struggle, and also takes on the voice of her mother, who doesn’t approve of her daughter engaging in such behavior. The title track, “Pretty on the Inside,” tackles the commodification of beauty through sex work, which Love wrote when she worked as a stripper at the Orange No. 5 Club in Vancouver.
Whenever I revisit this album, there isn’t a single skippable track; every single song is immaculate. I have always thought that Courtney Love was a criminally underrated lyrical genius. Couplets like “I’ve seen your repulsion, it looks real good on you,” and Love’s angry, feverish tone and delivery on the song “Babydoll” as she screams “My raw hand, my fever blister/Watch me, watch me, watch me disappear,” is so emotionally evocative, and it’s incredibly clear that every time she screamed those lyrics from the pits of her core, she meant them with every fiber of her being.
Discovering this album at a turning point in my life when I turned 19 was monumental. I was struggling to come to terms with my own identity as a young woman whilst dealing with chronic anxiety and body dysmorphia. Courtney Love was a force of nature; in the same vein as the riot grrrl bands that were adjacent to Hole, the way she acted was the polar opposite of a meek little girl, and I found a great deal of comfort and catharsis in her writing and rock star persona, leaning on her rage as a crutch.
Temper tantrums are necessary, but if they were socially acceptable it would never be considered embarrassing or inappropriate to have at least one temper tantrum a day. Instead we are left to choose more productive and private outlets to channel outrage. This album filled that void for me, and continues to transcend space and time even now. Courtney Love has since distanced herself from the album, but I will always look upon “Pretty on the Inside” with awe and admiration beyond comprehension.
The self-proclaimed soft-spoken songstress Lily Arminda is known for writing songs that immaculately weave poetry with intricate melodies that ecompass a myriad of emotions ranging from heartbreak to joy as she moves through different phases of her life. Hailing from Columbus, Ohio, Lily got her start opening for local bands and touring artists like Lucy Dacus and Benjamin Francis Leftwich. Her ability to imbue emotionally-crippling lyricism into subdued folk tunes like “Lullaby,” as well as write joyful, more upbeat dream-pop on songs like “Greatest Hit,” showcases her versatility. Her latest EP, Neighborhood, is an experimental collection of lo-fi songs that ruminate on her love life and navigating her early 20s in the Lower East Side of New York, where she now resides.
I spoke with Lily over email and we discussed a wide range of topics, including her songwriting process, working with Corey Kilgannon, and her biggest songwriting inspirations.
What was the scene like for you growing up in Ohio? Do you have any personal music heroes who were also brought up in your town?
Lily: I grew up opening for nationally touring artists in my hometown (Columbus, Ohio) at local venues like The Basement and Newport Music Hall. I was more involved with opening for artists foreign to the local scene than to local artists. I wish I would have been more involved with the local scene growing up but have found that sense of community in the NYC music scene. I am a huge fan of the Columbus based band Snarls though. They’re making the Columbus scene cooler.
How old were you when you first learned to play, and what gave you the drive to continue?
LA: I started playing guitar when I was 15. I took a few guitar lessons at first but ultimately taught myself. Soon after, I taught myself ukulele and enough piano to get by for producing. Guitar was a little difficult at first but I kept at it because I knew that it would help me make the music I wanted to make. I was determined to be more than just a singer and playing an instrument felt necessary to my songwriting.
When I first heard your songs, it felt like listening to a descendent of Joni Mitchell. Who are your biggest inspirations, musically and songwriting-wise?
LA: I’m really into artists who have strong lyricism. I can get pulled into a song sonically but lyrics that I resonate with are what tend to bring me back to a song. At the moment, I’m really into Matt Maltese, Caroline Polachek, and Samia. All of them have distinct songwriting styles that I admire as well as production that I am excited by. I’ve also been into Charlie Puth’s “Voicenotes” album recently. That album has shown me that mainstream pop music doesn’t have to lack integrity and the fact that he produces his songs at that level is really inspiring.
When did you first link up with Corey Kilgannon and when did it occur to you that the two of you had great chemistry as a creative team?
LA: I actually reached out to Corey when I was finishing up my senior year of high school because I was really invested in his music. He has a way of writing that feels very emotionally driven while self-aware which I strive to emulate in my own writing. I thought that we could make something cool together and that he would understand the sound I was going for. I stayed with him and his siblings in his brother’s house in Jacksonville Beach, Florida for a week or so during the summer before college and it was such a privilege to work with him and friend/engineer Jesse Montagna. They both listened to what I wanted which doesn’t always happen when working with producers (especially male producers) so it was so refreshing to be heard and understood by them while they helped me bring my project to life.
“Mismatched Poetry” seemed to have an acoustic folk sound, whereas “Neighborhood” felt more like indie bedroom pop. How do you feel your style and sound has evolved over the years and between projects?
LA: My sound changes from project to project but it always feels like a natural progression. It’s mainly related to whatever I’m into listening at the moment which changes a lot. For example, I rarely listen to indie folk anymore while that used to be almost what I listened to exclusively. These days, I’m more into dream pop, indie rock, and grunge which have all inspired my direction for my next EP.
When you are writing a song does it usually come from personal experience, and have you ever experimented with narrative storytelling from a fictional standpoint?
LA: I tend to write songs from personal experience but I also love to experiment with making things up. Whenever I write songs from a fictional standpoint though, a little bit of truth always seeps through. I feel like I can’t run away from the fact that I almost always write songs as a way of processing, whether it’s a conscious choice or not. This means I always learn something from writing even if I’m not originally setting out to write about my life.
Has moving to New York changed your creative output given the grave change in living circumstances, or do you feel it’s remained the same?
LA: New York City is the primary love interest in each song on my album “Neighborhood.” I feel a deep connection to living here as it’s the first place that’s truly felt like home to me. Living in New York has drastically changed who I am for the better and those changes have informed my songwriting process.
Your lyrical prose is a massive highlight for me, especially on songs like “The Ghost.”Walk me through your songwriting process; what does a typical day-in-the-life look like for you writing-wise?
LA: Thank you so much! I write every day. This is only possible when I let go of my expectation for each song to be “perfect” and shift my definition of a song being “complete.” I’ve only learned in the past year or so that a song can be complete if it’s not perfect. This alleviates a lot of pressure that I used to put on myself which gives much needed space for me to be creative. I write music and lyrics at the same time which is the best way for me to get the emotion across in a song. I love freestyling songs and recording them in my voice memos and then either keeping them as they are or revising later. Revision is super fun for me, it’s fun to experiment with rearranging things and finding the most effective way to express myself.
Do you feel being in lockdown has changed the creative process for you, or has it remained the same?
LA: I’m writing about things I haven’t written so much about before. I’ve also found myself being more secretive about my unreleased music. I have a desire to surprise everyone with the songs on my new EP when it comes out. I was supposed to start recording a new EP in March but that was deterred because of the pandemic. Now that my producers and I are back in NYC, we’re ready to start recording (safely) and I’m beyond excited to see my music progressing in this way.
Memphis indie pop act Divingstation95 just released a collection of emotionally-wrought and meticulously produced songs that delve into topics ranging from death to revenge, body image, and mental illness. The album borders on art pop, post-punk, and even dark wave, with lyrics that ruminate on grim places ranging from funeral homes in Memphis to the remote wastelands off 1nterstate Highway 45 in Texas, also known as the Texas Killing Fields.
I was fortunate enough to chat with Thomas Clark, the creative force behind the project, and we discussed a myriad of topics ranging from the pandemic, to learning to play the violin at three-years-old, Radiohead, and the new album, Fear is My Constant Companion.
Q: So my first question is how would you personally describe yourself as an artist? What is your style, and would you classify your music in certain genres or do you believe you transcend genre? Who are your biggest influences?
A: I’ve been calling myself “doom pop,” which might be a bit pretentious but it’s the best description I’ve been able to come up with. I’m making pretty bleak music most of the time, especially with this last album, and even though it goes into abrasive territory sometimes, I usually try to make sure there’s a fundamentally catchy pop song underneath it. I think a lot of artists limit themselves by setting out to make rock, or hip-hop, or electronic music rather than just letting the ideas flow. For the most part, I don’t actively try to make any genre of music – I just use ideas I think are interesting regardless of where they come from. That’s part of why Radiohead are such big heroes of mine, I feel like they look at music the same way.
Q: I totally agree, and that’s a perfect segue into my next question. I have really enjoyed how you regularly post mini journal entries about your influences, like Xiu Xiu, Nicole [Dollanganger], and Perfume Genius. Would you say that Radiohead was the first act to disrupt the way you looked at music as a whole and your approach to songwriting, or were there others?
A: Definitely – Radiohead was the first really big one. I wanted to be a writer as a kid, and then I heard “Creep” in the video game Rock Band when I was 10 or 11 and that basically changed everything. I dug deeper into their catalog as I got older and it blew my mind.
Burial also changed the way I looked at music, the things I could do with vocal manipulation – initially I didn’t want to use my own voice, so I applied the pitch shifting and autotune techniques he used.
Xiu Xiu was another revelation for me, and the most recent one I think. I first got into them though their album Angel Guts: Red Classroom and was amazed by how it was both brutally harsh and deeply sensitive and empathetic. This was extreme and shocking music, but it wasn’t just trying to push buttons. There was this really sensitive soul to it underneath the harshness, and that set it apart from a lot of the very abrasive music I’d heard before. I had long been obsessed with the epidemic of sexual abuse in our society, the way it’s covered up and treated like it doesn’t happen at all (especially pre-#MeToo), and Xiu Xiu opened a door and provided me with a blueprint for tackling such horrible subjects in a way that was neither preachy nor insensitive.
Q: That was another thing I found extremely refreshing, the way you unabashedly tackled this bleak subject matter–whether it be sexual violence, body dysmorphia, or death–and I was wondering how important it is for you to purge those feelings in your songwriting. How do you feel you are able to find a balance in your life while tackling such harsh subject matter. Do you ever feel that you need to take breaks and decompress?
A: It’s definitely really important to get it out into music. I have obsessive-compulsive disorder, so I don’t let go of bad feelings easily. My life is pretty great compared to a lot of people, but I spend a lot of time struggling with internal problems. I don’t really need to take breaks because there’s nowhere to run, as bleak as that is. We live in a time when things are very, very bad, and to me music and art is a reason to keep going, even if the subject matter is awful. I feel best when I can listen back to a song and go, “yes, that’s exactly what I’m feeling.” It validates those feelings in a way.
When I hear a song like Giles Corey’s “I’m Going to Do It” (“it” being suicide), it doesn’t depress me. It makes me feel like someone else understands. That’s what I try to aim for.
One thing I do try to be careful about is desensitizing myself, because if I’m writing about Junko Furuta and I don’t feel anything, that’s a problem.
Q: I actually wasn’t aware of the Junko Furuta and Nikki Kuhnhausen cases until I heard the songs you dedicated to them on the album, and I remember being in disbelief at what happened to these women and also feeling guilty for not knowing their stories. Did you feel it was almost sort of a responsibility for you to put those songs out for listeners who may have not been aware as well? I would also love to hear your thoughts on the concept of “revenge” since the legal system that had a responsibility to deliver justice to these women is so fucked up globally.
A: Yeah, I’m never sure how to say this without sounding self-important, but I do feel some obligation to write about these things, because it seems like so often people just don’t care. I have conflicting feelings about true crime as entertainment, because I found out about several of the deaths on the album through the unresolved mysteries sub on reddit, so I’m likely as guilty of indulging in that as anybody else. But it bothers me that these things get turned into pure spectacle for people to gawk at and get a thrill from. I feel like people respond differently to music than they do, say, a podcast – there’s a more visceral emotional response there. Songs can get under people’s skin.
As for revenge – I’m kind of an angry person in a lot of ways, and the idea of merciless justice is pretty appealing to me as an idea even if real life is more complicated. The way things are set up now, there’s no real way to make sure any kind of justice is delivered – our system of dealing with sexual abuse is so broken that the only resort victims have left is to rely on public accusations via social media, which comes with its own issues. I liked the idea of a pure revenge fantasy where everybody responsible gets what they deserve with no ambiguity. I wanted people to feel the hate and rage in the Junko Furuta song – to deliver a reminder of its realness in a way that hits harder than just reading the facts to spook yourself.
Q: How did growing up in your hometown [Memphis] shape your music? What sort of scenes, if any, were you surrounded by and do you remember what age you started playing?
A: I’m from Memphis, but the internet was more formative to me than any live scene. I used to go on this long-dead streaming service called Grooveshark and just devour hours upon hours of new music while I did my homework, from The Smiths to Aphex Twin. I had a friend who knew more about music than I did, and I got a lot from her as well.
A ton of great music has come from Memphis but at the moment the only type of music that thrives there is hip-hop, a genre I love and respect but obviously don’t belong to. Every other scene is kind of backward-looking, like at the moment the feeling is “well, we had Elvis and the blues, so I guess we don’t really need to try anymore.” It’s cool that all that history has been documented and preserved, but turning an entire music culture into a shrine for the past doesn’t seem healthy to me.
I was about three years old when I first picked up an instrument – I played violin – and was composing my own pieces within a few years (though obviously they were all terrible, because I was a small child). I never had any interest in following it as a career until I discovered Radiohead, though. They changed just about everything for me.
My mom died when I was young, so I was a disturbed kid – getting into physical fights and things like that. I was depressed from a very young age, I just didn’t know that’s what it was. Music became an obsession because I saw myself in troubled artists like Thom Yorke – they made me feel like I wasn’t alone. It was like having a friend.
Q: I love what you said about musicians feeling like long-distant friends cause that’s exactly the same way that I felt about the third-wave emo of the early 2000s, as corny as some of it was, because those bands were accessible and singing about mental health in ways that felt real and not sensationalized or mocked like it was in mainstream media.
The glitches and distortions on the production with the track “Me and My Fucked Up Body” felt like they obscured your vocals. I was wondering if that was intentional, since being vulnerable and laying bare a lot of those thoughts can be a lot sometimes.
A: Part of why the vocals are mixed like that is because I just think it sounds good. But you’re right that that’s another part of it – it can be really uncomfortable exposing those feelings to people. And it’s not telling strangers that makes me uncomfortable, it’s family members who might listen to it and think of it the next time they see me. This is probably the furthest I’ve come out of my shell, though – I could never have written “Me and My Fucked Up Body” or “Suicide Forest” a few years ago.
The next album is even more upfront, though it isn’t quite as bleak. I’m trying to be more confident in how I write about sex, which is maybe the absolute most awkward thing for family members to hear me sing about, but it’s kind of unavoidable – I have a complicated and tortuous relationship with my own sexuality, and for a long time I’ve wanted to get to a place where I can comfortably dissect that in my work. Nicole Dollanganger has been a big inspiration there.
Q: With “Overseas” in mind, I was wondering how you feel like the current political climate has affected your work with all that’s been happening globally?
A: “Overseas” wasn’t supposed to be the first single, but I ended up releasing it that way because it looked like we were about to invade Iran and start World War 3. I deliberately wrote it so it would be dated to a specific time – the narrator was born in 2003 and turns 17 in 2020 – as a way to capture the way things were at that moment.
Outside of that, I would say the political climate has influenced the music a great deal but mostly indirectly. The perpetual fear referenced in the title might not exist if our civilization weren’t hurtling toward destruction. I spent about a year paralyzed in terror over climate change, smoking as much weed as possible to squash the feeling, and though the album was written after that period was over I think it came out the way it did because I was in such a dark place for so long.
Q: Lastly, I noticed that you also have another project in the works and I was wondering how being in lockdown has changed your approach to creating. Has it made you more productive, or vice versa?
A: Honestly, my process hasn’t really changed much at all, because I’m kind of a hermit. If not for work, I would go lengthy periods of time without leaving the house. It’s an unhealthy habit, but I isolate when left to my own devices. I’m trying to get better about that, though at the moment I don’t have much choice but to stay in my old ways.
The new album is coming together way faster than any of the previous ones, and I’m not sure why, but I’m not complaining – it feels good.
R&B powerhouse Victoria Monét has just released the first act of her debut album, “Jaguar,” which is slated to be released in three acts. Monét has been in the industry for a minute, having written numerous songs for big names like Ariana Grande and Fifth Harmony, and now her impeccable artistry is finally being brought to fruition on a mainstream stage. She worked with D’Mile on production, who has produced for Rihanna, Janet Jackson, and Mary J. Blige, and the result is a stunning body of work that is fulfilling enough to stand on its own, let alone in three parts.
The two promotional singles “Dive” and “Moment” are sultry ear candy with extravagant string quartets, a light snare and airy mezzo-soprano vocals. A majority of this album shows Monét unapologetically celebrating her sexual agency as well. “Dive” is an ode to female pleasure through oral sex, and it strikes a perfect balance between casually sensual and raunchy.
The title track, “Jaguar” shows Monét likening her body to the silkiness and smooth texture of the Latin American panther. The track has extremely sleek production with a vocoder refrain referencing a pussycat’s nine lives as a sexual innuendo (“You got nine times to come hit that”), with extravagant horns and string instrumentals.
“Ass Like That,” is another massive highlight. The bass line is so infectious, that listeners could develop an addiction to it. “Go There with You” shows Monét peeling back her layers and showing her vulnerable side in the midst of a lovers’ quarrel (“Out of all of the things we could do/I’d rather not throw off the mood”) over glitchy guitar riffs, hi-hats and a high-frequency guitar solo.
“Experience” with Khalid and S.G. Lewis, is an excellent synthetic and danceable track, which is incredibly refreshing for a genre like R&B which is often more slow and melancholy. A big takeaway from this album is how much it shows Monét’s dedication to railing against being boxed in or being looked at as one-dimensional, which happens to women way too often in the music industry.
“I wanted to be strong enough to talk about my own body the way men do in many rap songs. I reserve and deserve the right to talk about it, with or without the world’s approval, because they never asked for mine. They never ask for ours,” Monét stated in an interview with Apple Music.
The final track, “Touch Me,” is a sweet and sensual ballad dedicated to a woman she used to be in love with. Fans speculate that the subject of the song is fellow R&B singer, Kehlani. In an interview with the Gay Times Monét confessed, “I literally fell in love with a girl… And I had a boyfriend at the time, and then we broke up. But this woman ended up getting pregnant because she had a boyfriend in a polyamorous relationship,” which was around late 2018, the same time that Kehlani announced her pregnancy. The song is a gorgeous and smooth queer ballad that we don’t often see in the rap and R&B circles, so it was incredibly refreshing to hear Monét share her story in a song.
Victoria Monét’s versatility and ability to bring her creative visions to fruition in such a cohesive way is a skill not afforded to many artists. In just nine songs (perhaps another nod to nine lives?) she did what most artists could not achieve with twenty. The jazzy blues production throughout the album is phenomenal and Monét’s creative genius is only beginning to emerge.
When Alanis Morissette puts out a brand new body of work after five years, it’s like watching a flower that’s been wilting for days get its nutrients back. This brand new album “Such Pretty Forks in the Road,” is packed with emotionally-wrought, emotive ballads with Morissette showing off her signature mezzo-soprano belting with organic, stripped-back instrumentation that includes heavy piano and mosquito guitar-riffs reminiscent of an early Yeah Yeah Yeahs record.
This album sees Morissette tackling fear, trauma, motherhood, notoriety and fame, sexual assault and existential dread. Heavy lyrical themes are rebirth (“Losing the Plot”), biblical references like Adam and Eve with “Ablaze,” “Missing the Miracle,” and “Reckoning,” with lyrics imagining herself approaching the gates of Heaven in the afterlife. Alanis Morissette is known for providing the listener with raw and honest personal experiences, and hearing her stick to her guns while maintain her knack for vulnerable, evocative songwriting on this album was incredibly satisfying.
The reason why I always gravitated to Morissette is because she is unafraid to be vulnerable and bear it all in her songwriting coupled with her assertive and unapologetic tone on records like “Jagged Little Pill” and “Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie.” She maintains these qualities front-to-back on “Pretty Forks,” right from the beginning on the opening track, “Smile,” with lyrics that go “this is the first wave of my white flag, this is the sound of me hitting bottom.”
“Ablaze” is a love-letter to her children that opens with biblical imagery of original sin leading to conflict on earth (“All our devotions and temperaments are pulled from different wells/They seem to easily forget we are made of the same cells”). She warns her children that as they develop they will have to grapple with the ills of society and a cruel world, but she promises that she will always be there to aid them through it (“My mission is to keep the light in your eyes ablaze”). It’s impossible not to get glassy-eyed listening to this song, even if the listener cannot relate to parenthood.
Arguably the most important track on the album is “Sandbox Love,” where Alanis deals with the traumatic aftermath of sexual assault and grapples with the shame and disgust (“Catapult me out of this fantasy/It’s never been mine, it’s always been yours”). It’s never comfortable to talk about, and this isn’t the first time she’s written about the topic from personal experience.
The strongest tracks on this album by far are “Losing the Plot,” “Nemesis,” and “Pedestal.” The former and the latter both grapple with the pressure of having to be the superhero for everybody all the time, and recognizing that it’s okay to be human instead. “Pedestal” grapples with fame in notoriety, with Morissette warning her fans who hold her in the highest regard that she’s going to let them down eventually if they continue to treat her like an untouchable image of perfection (“One day, you’ll see that you’ve never really seen me/And one day, you’ll find out that everything you dreamed of wasn’t who stood before you”).
The instrumental progression on “Nemesis” starts out slow and eventually picks up and reaches a climactic tempo with steady guitar riffs and drum loops. One of Morissette’s hidden strengths is in her lower register, which is how she opens the song, eventually migrating to her signature belting range. The faint drum patterns and light guitar riffs and background synthesizer drones creates a rare atmospheric sound that perfectly weaves into the lyrics.
The production on this album is incredibly lush, organic and smooth. The majority of it is played with real instruments and minimal electronic production, which is becoming more rare in today’s musical landscape, and it makes the album all the more fantastic. Catherine Marks did a remarkable job producing this album.
My favorite thing about Alanis Morissette is that she is unabashedly transparent and brutally honest with her songwriting. She never compromised her image or vision for anybody since she rose to prominence in the ’90s. The most important part of this album is that she acknowledges that she cannot always be the superwoman that her beloved fans, friends, or family need her to be, and that’s okay. On “Losing the Plot” she acknowledges that her “mission is not done yet,” and her world dominance is far from over. Anyone who thought she would fade into obscurity after the ’90s is dead wrong.
There are a myriad of bloggers and music critics who have argued that No Wave is objectively bad because it’s no different than a child experimenting with tools that they know nothing about. On the other hand, experimental projects can also be very compelling, and when no wave bands are committed to their ideas, their talent and musicianship will ultimately shine through as an extension of that.
The new album, Is the Idea of Us by New Fries, the critically-acclaimed No Wave band from Toronto, is a project that resulted from on-the-fly recording sessions with a similar approach to how one might write a stream-of-consciousness journal entry. The experimental noise band have been railing against traditional musicianship since they formed, and have dubbed themselves “non-musicians,” who distance themselves from Toronto pop bands with larger audiences.
Singer/guitarist Anni Spadafora and drummer Jenny Gitman are not trained musicians, and they deliberately do not study or practice instruments either. The only trained musician in the band is bassist Tim Fagan, who gives the band the necessary formula to construct a song in sessions.
The band collaborated with Carl Didur (formerly of US Girls) on production to foster a project of six songs that were recorded on the fly with interpolations of off-kilter instrumentals, pulsating drum patterns, and eerie synth basslines with treble backgrounds. One of the interludes primarily driven by drumming pulls a switch on the listener right away and invades the auditory senses with glitching, inverted frequencies (Genre III). Another interlude sounds like an iPhone Vibrating to tempo (Genre VI).
The opening track “Bangs” begins with string-plucking and an immediate tempo switch with incantations that sound like a hexing ritual. The band remains good on their word to make their sound as disruptive as possible with the blaring synths in the background, and also on “Lily,” with hissing cymbal taps and rapid staccato instrumentation culminating in a sonic catastrophe that is impossible to turn off.
In a press release the band stated that the album was meant to embody an in-between with its contentious sound, which is brought to the surface with dynamic instrumentation and menacing drones and synthesizers. The band has also confessed that they are “less interested in songwriting,” and more interested in “repetition, space, and dynamics.” The smooth bassline coupled with percussion that sounds like the aggressive tapping of drumsticks on the song “Ploce” is an extremely satisfying progression, as is the drone crescendo at the very end of the song.
New Fries is extremely skilled at framing their ideas through a progression of free-flowing production and indecipherable lyrics. This album will ultimately leave listeners reeling with many questions. However, it appears that the band intends to intervene in the useless framing of ideas that consumers tend to project onto musical projects. If you asked them when they came up with the idea for this record, it wouldn’t matter what their answer was, whether they recorded it all in one day, or over the span of a few months. On the track “Mt Tambora” Spadafora poses the question “Are you comfortable with nothing?” and as musicians they seem to be ultimately be satisfied with transcending meaning.
Is the Idea of Us will be available to download and listen to on all streaming platforms August 7th.